Andrew Joel Hamer-Hodges. Born this morning at 5.06am. 7lb 4. Labour was quick and uncomplicated. Mother and baby are home and doing very well. Praise God for his goodness.

This proud dad may not be blogging much this week! Posted by Picasa


How can intellectual people believe the incredulous stories in the Bible?

This will be my last post in the series examining objections to the Gospel. I hope you have found it helpful. I have certainly appreciated all your comments.

What distinguishes Christians from other theists is that we don't just believe in a god, but we believe in the God who has revealed himself through the Scriptures - the Bible. But why do we have such a high confidence in this ancient manuscript? And why do we accept some of the accounts that some find so hard to believe? The creation of the world in six days. All the animals in Noah's Ark during a worldwide flood. Jonah in the belly of a fish for three days, and so on.

First, how do we know that these stories have not been embellished over the years? After all some of these accounts are several thousand years old. Well, this is easy to answer, because the Bible is the most accurately preserved ancient document bar none. The sheer volume of documents from all over the ancient world, means that if any one copyist introduced an error, it would be easy to spot by cross-referencing against the thousands of other manuscripts in existence. Indeed some minor inconsistencies were inevitably found this way. Any good translation of the Bible that you can buy today will not hide these but provide a footnote saying what the alternative manuscripts say. However the differences in meaning these alternative renderings give are almost always subtle, usually inconsequential, and never do they introduce a whole new concept out of thin-air!

So we know that the Bible we have today is an accurate version of the original documents as they were first recorded. We cannot therefore just dismiss what the Bible says, we must either accept it or reject it.

I want to focus on just one of these miraculous accounts. The account of the resurrection. For if the resurrection of Christ is untrue, then Christianity is false, the Bible is irrelevant, and there is no point continuing any further. But if the resurrection is fact, then it means that God can do anything - nothing is impossible for him. If Jesus was truly raised then this surely means that he was who he claimed to be - God incarnate, and everything he said, including his validation of all these Old Testament accounts is also true.

It all stands or falls on the resurrection. If Christ is raised from the dead, then no matter what other intellectual questions you still have, Christianity must be true. If he was not raised, no matter how accurately preserved the Bible is, it must be false.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1Corinthians 15:17)

Now we have already asserted that our New Testament is an accurate version of what was originally written. But we also know that the New Testament was finished around 70AD only 40 years after the death of Christ, and some of the manuscripts date from as early as 50AD only 20 years after his death. We also know that Jesus preached to thousands. If what was written about Jesus' life was fictitious there would have still been multitudes of people who could have come forward and denounced it.

F. F. Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, says concerning the value of the New Testament records as primary sources: "Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective."

But the same is also true for his resurrection:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1Corinthians 15:3-6)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (1John 1:1)

As well as the authors, there were over five hundred eye-witnesses at the time the manuscripts were written who could testify that Jesus was raised from the dead. Substantial evidence by any standards.

But the evidence does not end there for Jesus said that after he was raised from the dead, he would pour out the Holy Spirit upon his believers, and that they would continue to do the works that he had done. Healing the sick, delivering the oppressed, and other signs that would follow. The ongoing miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers is further proof that Jesus was indeed raised.

Athanasius writing in the fourth century after Christ said this:

In a word, then, those who disbelieve in the resurrection have no support in facts, if their gods and evil spirits do not drive away the supposedly dead Christ. Rather, it is He Who convicts them of being dead.

We are agreed that a dead person can do nothing: yet the Savior works mightily every day, drawing men to religion, persuading them to virtue, teaching them about immortality, quickening their thirst for heavenly things, revealing the knowledge of the Father, inspiring strength in face of death, manifesting Himself to each, and displacing the irreligion of idols; while the gods and evil spirits of the unbelievers can do none of these things, but rather become dead at Christ's presence, all their ostentation barren and void.

By the sign of the cross, on the contrary, all magic is stayed, all sorcery confounded, all the idols are abandoned and deserted, and all senseless pleasure ceases, as the eye of faith looks up from earth to heaven. Whom, then, are we to call dead? Shall we call Christ dead, Who effects all this? But the dead have not the faculty to effect anything. Or shall we call death dead, which effects nothing whatever, but lies as lifeless and ineffective as are the evil spirits and the idols?

The Son of God, "living and effective," is active every day and effects the salvation of all; but death is daily proved to be stripped of all its strength, and it is the idols and the evil spirits who are dead, not He. No room for doubt remains, therefore, concerning the resurrection of His body.

So the short answer to the original question is faith. Faith that Jesus was raised from the dead, without which none can claim to be a Christian. Faith that this proves who he said he was, the Son of God. Faith that is means that every word from his mouth is trustworthy and true, and so his validation of the Scriptures are all we need. Faith that the God who raised Jesus from the dead, can do anything.

I'm impressed with the scientist who can solve three-dimensional differential equations in his head, but I'm more impressed in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. I'm impressed with the astronomer whose telescope can look back to the dawn of time, but I'm more impressed with the God who was there when it happened. I'm impressed with all the clever people from whatever their field, zoology, palaeontology, geology; but I'm more impressed by the one who spoke everything that they study into existence. Why do I believe it? Because the Jesus who rose from the dead said that not the smallest letter from all the Scriptures would ever be shown false or void. That's good enough for me!



I'm not finished with this series examining objections to the Gospel, but I don't want to move on from where we are just yet.

Rather than post something new, I invite you to read (and join in) with the conversations taking place on some of the earlier posts.

I don't have all the answers, and some of my readers have got great things to say!


Who put Jesus on the cross?

This is not a question that is asked directly in objection to the Gospel, but it is a parallel question that deals with everything we have looked at thus far.

Who did put Jesus on the cross? Was it Judas who betrayed him? Was it the Jews who handed him over to be crucified? Was it the Romans who did the deed? Was it the Father who sent him to die? Or was it Jesus himself who surrendered his life in obedience to the Father's will?

Well, the answer to all these questions is: "Yes" - they are all true. And because they are all true we see something wonderful. The cross may not be the intellectually watertight answer we were looking for, but it is the answer that God gives. In the cross he demonstrates what he is like.

In the cross God demonstrates that he is sovereign over all things and is good and loving even through the suffering and evil that is in the world. He works even the worst evil towards our ultimate good.

In the cross God demonstrates that Jesus is the only way to come to God. He would not have sent his beloved Son to die if there was any other way.

In the cross God demonstrates that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

And in the cross God demonstrates both just how much he hates sin, and just how much he loves us. He sent Jesus to die and take the full punishment for sin in our place.

The cross is God's answer to all our questions. The Apostle Paul when he went to the city of Corinth said, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." His answer to all their but-hows and but-whys was always the same: "Look at the cross." He resolved not to reduce the mysteries of God to the confines of his own wisdom and understanding (as considerable as those were), but rather to point people to where they could see the full demonstration of that mystery for themselves.

The only way we will ever get the answers we seek to our questions, is when we grasp the meaning of the cross of Christ.

When we do see it for what it really is, we realise there is another shocking answer to the question, "Who put Jesus on the cross?"...

I did!

Accepting Christ died for everyone is one thing, but it's not the same as realising Christ died for me! When I go to the chemist with a sickness, the medicine that the pharmacist hands me may be the same medicine he gives to everyone else, but when it comes over the counter it has got my name written on it. Just so, when I look at the cross, I don't just see Jesus taking the sins of the world. I see God's medicine for my condition with my name written all over it. Jesus hung there for my sin!

This is how Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, who had come from "every nation under heaven":

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:36-37)

When we realise that we put Jesus on the cross, and he hung there for us, it demands a response.


How can a God of love send people to hell?

This is another common objection to the Gospel. It goes something like this: God is good, and he only does what is good. But someone going to hell for all eternity is very bad. So how can a good God do such a thing? It's not just unbelievers who struggle with this either, as Libbie has recently observed, some believers struggle with it too.

So how do we square a God of love with a God who sends people to hell? Well consider the following scenario: Imagine you are in court at the trial of a notorious killer. Everyone is expecting he will get a hefty prison term. However when the judge comes out, he recognises that the accused is actually his estranged son. Moved with compassion he dismisses all charges and lets the killer go free. What would you think of such a judge? Is he a good man because he acted in love? Is that justice? Not at all! Such a judge would be flung out for corruption and abuse of his office.

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)

This is what we must understand about God. He is not just our loving Father, he is also the just Judge of all the world. And even though the office is self-appointed, he takes this position so seriously that he cannot abuse it. No matter how much he loves us (and he does love us more than any earthy father loves his most precious child) he cannot just "let us off". He must treat us according to what we have done.

Well, you might think, that's ok for the notorious killer, but I haven't done anything that bad. Why would God send me to hell? This is where we are guilty of making God in our own image (idolatry), we assume that just because we consider some misdemeanours as not very serious, God must feel the same way.

You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother's son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
~ Psalm 50:19-21

But God is not like us, and his view of sin is often very different from our own! He is not just a God of love, but a God of hate too. He loves all that is good, but hates all that is evil. He is a holy God. He cannot tolerate any wickedness, no matter how small. If he were to do so, he would no longer be good. The standard of what is "good enough" is not ours to set, the standard is God's. It is a standard that all alike have fallen short of.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

And what is the penalty for our sin?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This is why Jesus had to come and die. God could not just overlook our sins and still be the just Judge. But nor would his consuming Father's heart of love allow him to just sit back and watch his children die and suffer eternal separation. So he sent his son, Jesus, to take the punishment in our place. Through him God reveals himself to be both a God of love and a God of justice.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)

We don't often talk about hell. But Jesus warns us that it is a real place of great anguish, a place we should do all we can to avoid going to!

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

There are many things that can prevent someone coming to Jesus. It may just be pride and stubbornness. It may be a relationship or a lifestyle choice that you know you would have to end if you received Jesus as Lord. It might be something that is so much a part of you that you think - "Well, that's just the way I am." It may seem as much a part of you as your right eye. But Jesus' words cause us to stop and pause for thought. Whatever it is - is it worth going to hell for?


If God is the good shepherd why do so many sheep stray?

One objection to the Gospel that unbelievers often raise - indeed it was raised at least once on this blog last week - is, "If God is the good shepherd, why do so many sheep go astray?" If God wants no-one to perish, why don't more people accept the Gospel? Do the sheep have to look for evidence of the shepherd, or should the shepherd look for the sheep?

The first point I want to make, is that the Bible doesn't teach that some sheep have strayed, but that we have all strayed:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; (Isa 53:6)

The other thing, is that once we have come to Christ, he proves that he is the good shepherd by keeping us secure from straying.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (John 10:27-29)

So the real question is "Why don't more sheep return?"

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25)

Jesus himself expressed this problem using another analogy:

"The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." (Luke 10:2)

God has chosen to work though men and women. This was the reason he created them: that they might bring his order to the earth as it exists in heaven. There is nothing wrong with the farmer who sowed the seed, or the harvest that came up, its just waiting for labourers to go out and bring them in. The sheep who have not yet returned to the shepherd need to be told the good news, that they can come back.

The issue is "What will we do about it?" If we are straying - will we return? And having returned, will we then go out again with the message of hope. God doesn't just save us to give us a ticket to heaven, but to make us a part of his great eternal plan for this world.


From the archives: Artificial Intelligence

Well, it's been a busy week here! I've seen my site traffic triple, and a new record set for the number of comments to one of my posts. So far the series on Objections to the Gospel has been more successful than I had imagined. Many thanks to all of you who have taken part. Thank you also to those such as Andrew B, who has spread the word on his own blog.

I'd like to give a special thanks to Steven Carr, who is a brave man to take a stand as an unbeliever on this blog. He has kept us on our toes, provoked good discussions, and has made sure we keep our thinking sharp. I like to think of all of my commenters as my "guests" and treat them accordingly. Steven is just as much my guest here as anyone else.

Rather than post anything new today, I thought I bring something up from the archives. A bit of light relief, but still thought provoking. I'll resume the series on Monday with "If God is the good shepherd, why do so many sheep go astray?" Have your thoughts ready.

Artificial Intelligence

If a Computer Program could think:
  • Would it believe that its programmer exists?

  • Would it think instead that binary data and processor logic was all that was needed to understand its universe?

  • Would it wonder "Who programmed the programmer?" or "Where is his source code?"

  • Would it hold that all different beliefs in the programmer were equally valid?

  • Would it believe in life after reboot?

Originally posted 3 December 2004


Is the UK a Christian country?

"Most people reading this (in the UK) will have a version of Christianity." That is how the quote in yesterday's post started. I want to examine this a bit more.

Statistics from various sources on the 'net suggest that 71% of the population of the UK profess to being Christians. So on the face of it the UK is a Christian country. However in a similar poll, when asked if they believed in God only 55% of the UK said yes! And the percentage for those who actually attend a church meeting is only 6%!

What kind of "version of Christianity" is that?! A Christianity where nearly 1 in 4 disbelieve in God, and less that 1 in 10 do anything about their beliefs!

Let's be straight. The UK is not a Christian country, and the "version of Christianity" that most people in the UK profess is not Christianity at all! This is the problem. There is a massive ignorance about what being a Christian actually means.

Living in a (so-called) "Christian country" does not make you a Christian.

Being brought up in a "Christian home" does not make you a Christian.

Being sprinkled with water in church when you were a baby does not make you a Christian.

Accepting the "basic values" of the Christian faith does not make you a Christian.

Attending church does not make you a Christian.

Even believing in the God of the Bible does not make you a Christian.

The only thing that makes you a Christian is when you make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ; when you surrender your life to him, ask him to forgive you for all your sins, and tell someone that you have done it.

By all current analysis, being brought up in the UK gives you no advantage in this area. It may even serve as a disadvantage, if like me you grew up beleiving you were a Christian, when you were not, just because you believed in God and tried to be nice!

Compare this to Africa where the number of Christians has grown from 3% of the population in 1900 to a figure of 45-50% today, with an estimated 16,000 people converting to Christianity every day!

Or Korea. In 1900 Korea had no Protestant church and the country was deemed impossible to penetrate. Today Korea is 30% Christian with 7000 churches in Seoul alone and several of these churches have over 1,000,000 members.

Or China. There are currently 60-80 million Christians in China with between 10,000-25,000 converts a day.

Or South America, or India... There a places all over this world where the Gospel is exploding.

So, let's not accept the nonsense that Christianity is a "western phenomenon" or a "geographic lottery". It is the largest faith worldwide, with more converts per year than any other - undisputed.

This "version of Christianity" that the quote refers to is what Paul called "a form of godliness but denying its power." This weak and insipid variety of nominal belief only serves to inoculate people against the real deal. People think they know about Jesus when in fact they have never seriously investigated his claims.

If you're not sure if you are a Christian, or what Jesus actually claimed, don't take it for granted - read it for yourself in the Gospel of Mark.

* The statistics on this page are not exact and whilst not deliberately wrong are almost certainly inaccurate to some degree - but they are representative of the overall picture.


With so many religions, how can yours be right?

Here is an excerpt from a previous online discussion I was involved with:

Most people reading this (in the UK) will have a version of Christianity ... from Ma and Pa. Not many will be Zen Bhuddist, for example. But the Zens also get it from their parents. In the words of the old graffito "Religion, like life, is a sexually transmitted disease". Statistically, never mind any otherwise, it's pretty unlikely that we just happen to be hearing about the one true religion from our own mum and dad.

Next, as e.g. Jacob Bronowski pointed out, there is a wide range of religions on offer, each with definite claims to their being the only true one. Obviously, even on their own terms, all but one of them must wrong. Statistically (again) therefore, it's highly unlikely any one of them is right. Logically, you have to reject the lot.

So this is the question I want to examine next: Does the presence of a plethora of other religions invalidate the claims of Christ? Is Christianity just another religion? And, If there is only one path to God, how can we be so sure we have found it? Is there more to faith than just a "geographic lottery" as the above writer would suggest?

First, lets examine this from a purely logical point of view. If you are presented with a set of mutually exclusive statements (about anything) there are only two logical alternatives: either they are all wrong, or only one is correct.

[This is the fallacy in modern "political correctness" about religions. The only way they can all be of equal merit is if they are all equally wrong! This is nothing more than atheism dressed up in the guise of religious "tolerance". Being tolerant of other people irrespective of their beliefs is a good thing (just so we are clear on that!) but the pretence that everyone's opinion is equally valid is pure nonsense!]

However, the logic that the more alternatives there are the less likely that one will be correct is totally wrong. If anything it is the other way round. If a statement (about anything) is true, then it remains equally true regardless of how many false statements are made in opposition.

So if Christianity is true, if what Jesus claimed about himself and recorded in the Gospels is accurate, then it is not affected one jot by the presence of other religions. Christianity stands or falls in the claims made by the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth.

So what did Jesus claim? Well the first thing to note is that Jesus was not keen on religion and religious types. The last thing Jesus came to do was to institute "just another religion". If his mission had been as banal and inconsequential as that, they would never have crucified him! What he came to do was to restore relationship with God. (If you are confused what the difference between religion and relationship with God is, let me point you to a couple of excellent articles my friends Ricky and Mark have recently posted on the subject.)

Next, Jesus did not claim to have one of may ways to know God. He claimed the one and only way. More than that, unlike every other religious leader, he did not just claim to know that way, he claimed to be the way.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:16)

This faith in Jesus is passed on, not by family tradition, or by church attendance, but as each one individually accepts the claims of Christ and surrenders their life to him. The fact that your mum and dad believe in Jesus means nothing if you do not choose to bow the knee to him yourself.

Finally, there is no geographic boundary to the Gospel. Jesus gave clear instructions that his disciples were to take it to the people of every nation, tribe and tongue.

How do we know that we have found the truth? We know because the Gospels, other historic evidence, and millions of transformed lives all over the world proclaim: Christ is risen indeed!

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)


Faith is in the question

I listened to a bit of BBC Radio 4 on the way into work this morning, and caught the middle of a conversation between John Humphries and his guest. His guest was a Rabbi and the question he was asking him was: "If God exists, why is there so much suffering?"

The programme is part of a series called "Humphries in Search of God." Where he has asked this question to a Christian, a Muslim and a Jewish leader. I listened to the previous programme where he spoke to the Archbishop of Canterbury and was disappointed with the answers the Archbishop gave. He was there to represent Christianity, but limited himself to talking purely as a theist. He only mentioned Jesus once in passing, and focused mainly on the philosophical implications of free will.

However, I was very impressed with some of the Rabbi's answers. This one in particular caught my attention. [I'm quoting from memory, so apologies for any inaccuracies]

Faith is in the question. If God does not exist then the Universe is oblivious to our existence. It is blind to our affliction and deaf to our pain. There is no question of suffering if there is no God. To ask the question shows that you are already grappling with faith.

I like that! It had occurred to me too, that those who disbelieve in God, still have a very clear idea of the kind of God they disbelieve in!


If God exists why is there so much suffering?

I'm starting this series, examining objections that are raised to the gospel, by looking at one of the biggest. The existence of suffering, injustice, grief and misery in this world is undeniable. You only have to listen to the news for a few minutes to hear of some atrocity or tragedy that has devastated real lives.

Yet we believe in a loving compassionate God, one who is sovereign and all-powerful. There is nothing that is outside of his power to influence, and there is nothing that is less than perfect and good in his nature. How do we reconcile the two? Indeed, some would ask, can they be reconciled?

First of all, I want say that however we approach this subject it must be with sensitivity and compassion. There are no easy answers, and even if there were, a glib comment gives no relief to those whose lives have been turned upside-down by tragedy. This subject has engaged great minds for centuries, and if we think we are going to come up with something definitive in a few lines in a blog we are in for disappointment!

This doesn't mean, though, that we have nothing to say, or that we have nothing that can be of comfort. The Bible has volumes to say about suffering, and about the suffering of the Innocent; indeed one of the longest and oldest books in the Bible is devoted exclusively to this subject (a book sadly neglected by many Christians) - the book of Job.

Job was a man who faced in one day, tragedy that most will never face in a lifetime. He lost his children, this fortune, even his health. He was left with nothing. In this situation he had to face the issue we now examine, but not as an intellectual exercise, but from the inside. How could a good God cause so much suffering in his life when he had done nothing to deserve it. His own wife told him to abandon his faith in the goodness of God. His friends tried to persuade him that he must have deserved it. But Job set a remarkable example in that in all that he suffered he maintained that God was good and worthy to be praised. In the end Job's faith was rewarded and his fortunes were restored to everything they were before and more.

There is however an even greater example of one who suffered though he had done nothing wrong - the example of Christ himself. Whatever the reason for suffering, it is clear that it is indeed something that God cares about deeply! Wherever he went, Jesus did good and mended broken lives. He brought comfort, healing, forgiveness and restoration to whomever he met. More than this he took upon himself the most horrendous suffering, the like of which we will never know, all for our sakes. God is not detached and aloof from our sufferings. He does not look down and think: "Serves them right!" However much the news of the latest tragedy moves us, it moves God's heart more. Indeed it moved him so much, he sent his only son to die to put it right.

So how did it go wrong in the fist place? Well, when God created man, he was created to give God glory. He was the pinnacle of God's creation. As such, he was not a mindless automaton, or a powerless slave that had no option but to do what God asked. Where would be the glory in praise from such as these? But man was created with both choice, and freedom to exercise that choice. The love and worship he gave to God would be freely given. However in giving man the choice and freedom to choose good, he by necessity gave him the choice and freedom to choose evil.

God did not create evil, but he did allow it to take place because of his greater desire to be united with us - the objects of his affection. In this way the existence of evil no more disproves the existence of God, than the existence of shadows disproves the existence of sunshine.

If what we saw today was all there was or ever would be there would indeed be cause to question the goodness or power of God. But we know that although not all things are good, God is working all things for good. Just like the sufferings of Job, we know that God will not let the situation go on forever, and that there will come a reckoning when every deed will be accounted for, every tear will be dried, and any suffering will be more than compensated for.


Objections to the Gospel

Following my post on "Is Christianity a Crutch?", my friend Mark suggested that it would make a good series to examine other objections that are raised to the Gospel message, and to open them up to discussion. The objective being to make us better prepared and more confident to engage with those who have such objections.

I don't claim to be a gifted evangelist, nor do I pretend to have all the answers to some of these difficult questions; so, dear reader, I'll need your help if this series is to succeed. Don't be shy to offer your thoughts on how to answer these questions, or to share from your experience in engaging those who have raised them.

The emphasis should be not just how to give a good answer, but also to identify what stage on their journey to faith people who ask these questions are likely to be, and how we can help them to take the next step. As I have said before, we want to win people not arguments.

So, I'm opening the series off by taking suggestions on what questions we should tackle.

Here are my own ideas:

  • If God exists why is there so much suffering?

  • With so many contradictory religions in the word, what makes you think yours is the right one?

  • Isn't religion is the cause of all the world's problems?

  • How can intellectual people believe the incredulous stories in the Bible?

Let's hear yours...


Is Christianity a Crutch?

This is one of the age-old accusations that is thrown at Christians. "You need faith because you are weak and cannot cope with life without it: Christianity is just a crutch." I saw this raised again, and a prominent Christian sportsman's response on, the cover of Alpha News.

I'll not go into details of how this guy responded, because to be honest I haven't read it yet. But it got me thinking about this issue. So here are my own thoughts. Take them or leave them. If you find them helpful you are more than welcome to use them. Not all of it may be appropriate though, it depends at what level and in what context you have this conversation. Remember, we are into winning people not arguments!

First, the argument that Christianity is somehow invalidated because I, a weak person, need it, whether that be true or not, is invalid logic. It is an ad hominem fallacy. The relevance of Christianity stands or falls on whether it is true. Not on the weakness or strength of those who believe it to be true.

Second, if I have a need it would be folly to refuse the answer to that need, just because I'm too proud to admit I need one. Leaving aside the emotive description of "crutch", to become a Christian you do have to confess that you are weak. If I am sick, I would be a fool not to call the doctor because of some perceived stigma attached to not being well. Just so, when I become aware of my sin, it would be folly not to call upon the one who can forgive me. I am not too proud to admit that I am weak and sinful without Christ, and that in him I have found strength and forgiveness.

Finally, the analogy of "crutch" is a bad description of what receiving Christ is about. It implies that I could hobble along quite well without him, and that he comes along to strengthen and support me as I continue along in my old broken life. Nothing could be further from the truth! No-one can receive Christ just to "patch up" their old life; there must be a complete transfer new for old. Jesus did not come into my life to help me do my own thing. He came when I surrendered my whole life to him and committed myself to do his thing. My old broken life is gone, and in him I have a new life - forgiven, restored, and full of purpose and power.

I didn't receive a crutch when I came to Christ; I received a complete life-transplant!


Worth the wait

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

Picture the scene: It is late and dark, and cold. I'm out in a carpark miles away from home with my three-and-a-half year old son... He's not happy.

He pleads with me to take him home, but I refuse.

Taken in issolation, if you did not know me, you might think this made me a bad father. Why keep your young boy up so late? Why keep him out in the cold and dark? Why shut your ears to his pleadings?

... but then the fireworks start ...

All discomfort, tiredness and cold is forgotten. His face lights up with delight. Cries of "Wow!" and "I like that one!" replace the pleas to return home. He was glad we had stayed.

A vital part of staying patient through trials, testings, or tribulations is to recall that God is our Father. Human fathers may fail and let us down, but God never will. Although not all things are good, all things are worked for our good if we are called according to his purpose. If he takes us through, or allows us to go through, tough times, we can be sure he has a purpose behind it. One for our good and prosperity and not to bring us to harm. We may need to wait. It might seem like it takes forever. It might seem like God has shut his ears to our entreaty. But he knows what he is doing.

One day we will see the results of our patience... if we do not give up. And on that day we will cry: "Wow! It was worth the wait!"



And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:8 ESV)

The Scriptures say that nothing without faith, or in the flesh, can in any way please God. The obvious inference is that the essentials to please God are faith and being in the Holy Spirit.

In fact the two are really one. For if I am not relying on the Holy Spirit, if I am relying on the flesh - my own natural gifts and abilities - then I have removed the need for faith. I don't need faith to do what I know I can do. It is only when I move beyond my own limits and step out in the Spirit that I need to exercise faith.
The road of faith and the road the Holy Spirit guides us down are one and the same. Nothing we do that veers off this road has any merit before God.


And Justification For All

If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Ro 5:17-18)

I was reading Romans 5 yesterday. I was reading it out loud actually. I love the reading of the Scriptures, even if I am just reading them out loud to myself. When I do it, I wonder why I don't do it more often! Something I have done before, when I really want to get into a book of Scripture is to record myself reading it out loud (a PC and a microphone is all you need) and then burn it to CD to listen to on the way into work. After all faith comes by hearing. I did this with the book of Daniel before I did my series of teachings on it, and I'm doing it now with the book of Romans (not because I'm teaching it, but because we are studying it as part of a course on Evangelism).

The first thing that struck me about chapter 5, is just how difficult it is to read in the ESV! (Try it if you want a challenge.) Part of the ESV's accuracy means all Paul's clauses and sub-clauses are preserved in all their complexity. There are some sentences that you really need to know where they are going before you start off.

Part of the difficulty is the phrase "much more". For someone like me, who has read the NIV for seventeen years, the urge to say "How much more" was overwhelming. Just "much more" didn't quite sound right. It was hard to construct the sentence around this and still make it sound right.

But it does highlight something. Paul was not asking a question; not even a rhetorical one! The work of Christ is much greater than the work of Adam. If it is true that all receive sin and death because of Adam, then it is even more true that all are offered justification and life because of Jesus. This is Paul's main argument in this chapter.

I believe absolutely in the total sovereignty of God. Even the slightest hint of dualism is an anathema to me. But this chapter is the reason I can never consider myself a Calvinist. There was nothing limited about Christ's atonement. There is no economy in his blood. It is of infinite worth, and cleanses not just all who turn to him, but the Cosmos itself!

Although all those who turn to him have their names recorded from the beginning of time, God does not predestine anyone to hell. It's not his will that anyone should perish. Christ did not just die for the elect, or for his church - his blood was more than sufficient for every need of the whole world even if they were multiplied a million times over.

God's power of salvation and justification is offered to all who would believe. I'm catching again why evangelists love this book! I love it too.


Final fishy fun for Friday

Apologies to those with no interest in mathematics. Normal service will be resumed next week, with more insights into God's word.

Just a couple more observations on 153 before I leave the subject.

153 is also rather rare in that it is divisible by the sum of its digits:

153 / (1 + 5 + 3) = 17

Now, if I receive 1 fish on day 1, and 2 fish on day 2, 3 fish on day 3, and so on. How many fish will I have after 17 days?

No need to reply. You should know the answer by now! ;-)

God is the greatest mathematician!


Fish Cubes

Here's an interesting number game for you to try when you have a few spare minutes (and a calculator!):

1) Think of a number, any number, pick one at random. Can be as big or small as you like.

2) Multiply this number by 3

3) Split the number into its digits (e.g. 27 would give you 2 and 7)

4) Calculate the cube of each of these digits (the "cube" is calculated by multiplying the number by itself three times. e.g. 2 cubed = 2x2x2 = 8. 7 cubed = 7x7x7 = 343)

5) Add the cubes together to form a new number

6) Repeat steps 3->5; splitting the number into its digits, and summing the cubes. Stop when the number doesn't change.

What do you get? Post your answer in the comments.


153 - a fishy play on numbers

So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:11)

WARNING: What follows is not a rigorous exegesis of this passage. In fact it's not intended to be an exegesis at all. It's just an amusing play on numbers that will (a) serve as a mnemonic for this number (b) draw out some truth easily exegeted elsewhere.

Let's start with some maths that is indisputable:

153 = 70 + 72 + 11

Now I'm just going to use these numbers as a "hook" without inferring this significance is implied in the passage.

In Matthew 4, Jesus calls the disciples to leave their jobs as fishermen and to follow him to become "fishers of men". In Luke 9 Jesus sends out the 12 (of whom 11 were left at this post-resurrection appearing), and in Luke 10 he sends out the seventy-two, which some texts render as the seventy.

Jesus said he would make them fishers of men, and in this miraculous catch of fish there is a connection to the numbers of men who were sent by Jesus: the 70/72 and the 11. A link between the catch in and the commission.

What I would like to draw out is that Jesus did not just draw men to himself, but fishers of men. Those who would themselves be sent to draw men after him. In turn the disciples were not just fishers of men, but fishers of fishers-of-men. The disciples were not just told to go out and make converts, but more disciples. Those who are drawn are also sent. They are sent to draw men who in turn are also sent, and so on. To switch analogies, the harvest is not just bread for the eater, but seed for the sower. That is, the harvest itself is intended to produce a still greater harvest.

Here's some more maths:

153 + 40 = 193

Now this is definitely not inferred in the passage, but 193 is the number of nations currently recognised by the United Nations. Forty is significant for many things, but in the context the hook I'd like to use is that it is the number of days during which the risen Christ presenced himself among his disciples before he was taken up into heaven.

As fishers of men, the disciples were called to go into all the world; to reach every nation tribe and tongue. But despite all their natural resource they were warned that this is a job they would be unable to do without the empowering presence of God with them - the Holy Spirit poured out by the risen ascended Christ.

Since the number of nations changes year to year, I appreciate this is a hook with a limited lifespan! But for me, and those in related churches it is one that will stick in the mind, as we have recently committed to go into all 193 nations over the next two years. [See www.mission193.com]

This number study is just a bit of fun, but I hope it has blessed you. At least you'll never forget how many fish were caught now! For any School of the Word Students (any of you reading this year?) this is a question, as I recall, in your end of year Bible-knowledge exam, so here's one extra mark on me! ;-)