You Are Amazing!

The story is told of a philosophy lecturer who began the first lecture of the year with a new set of students by asking them a question. Holding up a brand new £20 note he asked who would like to receive it. Unsurprisingly every single one of the 200 students in the lecture theatre raised their hand in the air expectantly. He then took the banknote and carefully, and neatly folded it twice. Again he asked the question who would like to receive it. Again every hand went up. Next he unfolded the bank note and took it and scrunched it up into a ball. For the third time he held the £20 up to his audience and asked who would like to receive it. For the third time everyone indicated that they would like to be given the banknote. Finally the lecturer took the crumpled banknote and threw it on the floor. He then proceeded to stamp on the note. Again he held aloft the banknote covered with dust and grime and asked the students who wanted it. Still everyone in the room was eager to be given the £20 note.

Every eye was focused on the lecturer wondering what his next move would be. He then simply asked why they still wanted the bank note despite the mistreatment he had given it. One student spoke for them all by saying that it was still worth £20 even after all the things that had happened to it.

He then quietly said that this is just like people. We all have intrinsic value regardless of our history. It doesn’t matter what we have been through, the experiences good or bad don’t define our worth. Every human being is precious no matter how painful our lives have been.

Of course the reality is that many people have been through harrowing and damaging experiences that leave us feeling bruised and vulnerable. If we have been treated as worthless by others, or discarded by society we can start to believe that we have no dignity or self-respect. When we feel like this it is helpful to look and see what the bible teaches us about who we are. Thousands of years ago the King David wrote:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. (Ps 139:13–14)

Perhaps the Psalmist was inspired by the birth of a new born baby when he penned these words. In these two verse he recognises the creative work of God in every human being and concludes that each individual that God has made is amazing.

Perhaps at times you feel crumpled and scuffed like the bank note at the hand of the lecturer. If so allow God’s assessment if you to bring healing and dignity – You are amazing!

 

 

This blog post featured in the September 2016 edition of Hook Focus

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Money Talks

I once heard about a very ordinary family who had a friend called Ralph who was a self-made millionaire. For many years he would generously take them away on his boat for holidays as they both had daughters the same age. At the end of each day they would stop at the best moorings belonging to riverside hotels for their evening meal. When the waiter came to their table Ralph would give them a tip before placing the order with the promise of more if the meal was good. He reasoned that it was better to guarantee good service by paying for it in advance than hoping it would be worth rewarding after the event when it was too late. Money talked for Ralph.

You may not have the kind of wealth that opens doors for you in the way that Ralph had, but like it or not, wealthy or poor, the way you handle money speaks volumes about you. Even people who claim that money is not important to them would be surprised how much time and energy they spent earning it, spending it, talking about it, paying bills, and planning for the future. Money does indeed talk!

Therefore it should not be a great surprise to find that the Bible actually has quite a lot to say about money. Jesus said that how you deal with money is an indication of what is in your heart. Agur, who wrote part of the book of Proverbs, penned this prayer:

Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9

Agur realised that too much wealth could lead him to rely on his own means and deny God. Equally, poverty could lead him to pursue dishonesty to provide for his family. Paul too learned through personal experience that contentment in life does not depend upon material wealth but upon our security in Christ:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

Over the next few weeks we shall be looking at what the Bible has to say about money in a series called ‘Money Talks’. As we study this subject from a biblical perspective, invite the Holy Spirit to help you handle money in a God glorifying way.

This blog post featured in the November 2015 edition of Lifelines

 

How Great is Our God?

There are many worship songs that contain the line ‘How Great is Our God?’ or something similar. Even by itself the line communicates something of God’s majesty and wonder because it is in the form of a rhetorical question. That is, it is a figure of speech in the form of a question asked in order to make a point rather than to elicit an answer. Yet it is a very poignant question that we would do well to answer.

How great is your God?

How you answer that question will dramatically affect your life. It will affect the way you think, the way you speak and the way you act. It will also affect the way that you pray! The greater your view of God, the greater your expectations in prayer. The bigger your God, the bigger your prayers can become.

This was brought home to me again recently when I picked up a book called ‘Praying for Your Elephant’ by Adam Stadtmiller. The book is subtitled ‘Boldly Approaching Jesus with Radical and Audacious Prayer.’ Running through the book is a thread about a time when, as a young youth pastor, Adam and a colleague prayed for God to send their youth group a real, live, full grown elephant. (You will have to read the book to understand why he prayed such a prayer, and how the prayer was wonderfully answered!)

From then on ‘praying for an elephant’ becomes a metaphor for praying for something large and specific. He writes: ‘The boundaries of our personal prayer lives often have less to do with biblical restrictions and more to do with the limitations we place on them.’ In other words – our view of God is too small. The book is an invitation to expand our view of God and our expectations of prayer.

Jesus himself taught us an antidote for a too small God in the prayer he taught us. It begins ‘Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your name’. Take a few minutes to mediate on each of those 8 words and allow the Holy Spirit to expand your view of God as you fill out the answer to the question, How great is your God?, in your heart.

This blog post featured in the September 2015 edition of Lifelines

Buy Praying for your elephant from Amazon UK
Buy Praying for your elephant from Amazon US

To an Unknown God

The summer holiday season is on us and many Focus readers will be looking forward to time away from their day jobs. One of the things I enjoy about a holiday is the opportunity to travel and visit new places, especially when this is overseas. It is good to experience different cultures and explore historical sites.

A couple of years back I enjoyed a holiday in Cyprus. One afternoon we visited the ruins of the ‘Tombs of the Kings’ near Paphos. As we walked on ancient roadways and explored the various burial chambers it was humbling to think that the first people to visit these sites did so 2,400 years ago. As we walked around I found myself wondering whether St Paul too may have visited this site. It is recorded in Acts that Paul and his companions arrived by sea at Salamis on the eastern side of Cyprus and proceeded to Paphos where they embarked on another ship headed for Perga (near Antalya in modern day Turkey) during the first of his missionary journeys. In all Paul made 3 such trips and travelled through much of modern day Turkey and Greece before finally being taken to Rome under arrest. Some scholars believe he may also have travelled as far as Spain. These journeys were about as far removed as you can imagine from modern day holiday trips. Even with excellent Roman roads, overland travel was dangerous and arduous and it would take several days to cover distances that would take only a few hours by car. Sea travel too was hazardous and highly weather dependant. It is recorded that Paul was shipwrecked on three occasions, once spending 24 hours adrift in the open sea! Far from being a tourist, Paul was a seasoned and hardy traveller.

During one of his missionary journeys Paul found himself at a loose end in Athens where he was waiting for his travelling companions to join him. So he decided to wander round the city and do a spot of sightseeing. What he saw troubled him because he found that the city was full of idols. Never one to miss an opportunity he began to reason with Jews in the synagogue, and with those who would listen in the market place, explaining to them the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. You can read Paul’s message in Acts 17 but what strikes me as most interesting is that he praises the Athenians for their spirituality. One altar in particular had caught his attention; one with the inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Paul then went on to show them that, rather than having to continue worshipping in ignorance, through Jesus they could know God and worship him in truth.

Many people today have vague notions of spirituality; a feeling that there is some kind of spiritual force operating behind the scenes. They may not have an altar inscribed like the one in Athens, but nevertheless they consider God to be unknowable. The wonderful news that Paul gave the Athenians is just as relevant today. God is not an ethereal, unknowable spirit. On the contrary, Jesus came to make God known to us. If you are willing to put your trust in Jesus you too can get to know the eternal, living God.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2015 edition of Hook Focus

I don’t believe in Stephen Fry’s god either!

Recently a video clip of Stephen Fry being interviewed by Gay Byrne on Irish National TV[i] has gone viral on the internet. Byrne asked Fry to set aside his disbelief for a moment and tell us what he would say were he to find himself face to face with God. For two and half minutes Fry berated God with a blistering attack, at one point comparing him unfavourably with the pantheon of Greek gods.

I was surprised by the emotional intensity of Fry’s antipathy towards a god that he does not believe in. Why does he get so angry about something that he believes is fantasy?

Leaving that aside, I concluded that the god he describes is not the God that I recognise and believe in. Stephen Fry’s key argument is that he cannot believe in a god who has created a world where there is suffering and pain. He cites things like bone cancer in children, and insects who burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind and then declares that it is not acceptable for god to create a world in which these things exist.

There is no denying that in the world there are innumerable things that cause pain and suffering. The question is where do these come from? The authors of the Bible, most notably in the opening chapters of Genesis, but also in other places such as the Psalms and the book of Job, declare that the world God created was good. Indeed at the end of creation God looked at all he had made as said that it was very good. If the world was so good at the dawn of time, where then did all the evil come from? Again the Bible gives us an answer to that. It is the work of a created, sentient being called Satan who drove a wedge between God and man and brought sickness, death and disease into the world.

The book of Job is particularly interesting because it deals exclusively with real suffering in one individual’s life. Satan is identified as the source of Job’s torment. God is shown as restraining Satan from unleashing the full venom of his destructive nature upon Job. Ultimately Job’s suffering drives him towards God rather than away from him; it intensifies Job’s resolute faith in God.

The god that Stephen Fry rails at is at best only a caricature of the God of the Bible; a caricature I am only too willing to reject. Perhaps like Fry you consider yourself an atheist. If so I would urge you to at least investigate what the Bible claims about God for yourself, rather than dismissing him based on what others say about him.

[i] http://youtu.be/-suvkwNYSQo

This blog post featured in the March 2015 edition of Hook Focus

Heaven is for Real

In March 2003 the Burpo family were looking forward to a refreshing vacation after seven gruelling months of back to back injury and illness. The previous summer, Todd had broken his leg and ankle whilst playing softball; this was quickly followed in October by kidney stones. Then in November, while he was still hobbling around on crutches, he was diagnosed with breast cancer requiring a mastectomy. Now at last, as spring dawned, he was able to enjoy some relaxation along with his wife Sonja and their children Cassie (6) and Colton (3 yrs 10 mths).

Nothing could have prepared them for what happened next as Colton developed a severe stomach ache. His condition rapidly deteriorated, and after several doctors, various tests and scans he was finally diagnosed with a burst appendix requiring emergency surgery. With Colton’s young life ebbing away he was wheeled into theatre where he had an out of body experience. He later describes being able to look down on the surgeon operating on his own frail body; simultaneously he saw his father praying in the adjacent waiting room.

Over the months that followed Colton recounts to his parents further details of his experience, describing a visit to heaven where he met his miscarried sister and his great-grandfather who had died 30 years earlier, neither of whom he knew about previously. He provides details about each that convince his parents of the reality of what he had seen. Colton also reveals other aspects of his heavenly encounter including descriptions of Jesus riding a great horse and God seated on his throne. Todd recognises the similarity between what his son saw and the vision of heaven portrayed in the bible; yet at not quite 4 years old Colton has neither been taught let alone read these details for himself.

Reports of near-death-experiences are not uncommon, however the extraordinary details recalled by Colton, which were completely outside his previous knowledge are astonishing. So too are the parallels between what Colton saw and the descriptions we find in the bible. When Colton was asked what message he wanted people to take from his experience his answer was “Heaven is for Real!”

This extraordinary story became a New York Times number 1 best seller when it was published in 2010 and has now been adapted as a movie by Sony Pictures (UK cinema release 9th May 2014). I invite you to check out the story by reading the book, watching the movie and then examining what the Bible has to say about heaven for yourself.

David Grant

This blog post featured in the May 2014 edition of Hook Focus

 

God’s not Dead

The statement – “God is dead” is found several times in the writings of German philosopher Nietzche and was popularised in April 1966 when Time magazine ran with the cover story “Is God Dead?” Nietzche himself was more concerned with the western world’s historic reliance on religion to provide a moral compass and meaning for life. He feared that without a higher morality the world would descend into an age of nihilism with no purpose or moral certainty. Popularly the statement is taken to mean that God does not exist, indeed never has. A God who has never existed by definition can never die. A god who can die is not God, at least not in the Judeo – Christian – Muslim understanding of an eternal, all powerful, Creator who existed before all things and will ultimately judge all things.

It is the philosophical debate about the existence (or otherwise) of God that provides the underlying narrative of the film “God’s not Dead ” which was inspired by a book of the same name written by Rice Broocks. The hero of the film is freshman Josh Wheaton who is enrolled to study an introductory course in philosophy with the fearsome professor Jeremy Radisson who has a reputation for demolishing the faith of Christians in his class. In the opening lecture the students are presented with a list of highly regarded philosophers and scientists who share an atheist worldview. The class are invited to agree with the view that there is no God simply on the weight of opinion garnered by these great thinkers without any supporting evidence. One by one the class follow the instruction to write “God is Dead” on a sheet of paper, sign it and then submit it to Radisson and so skip the first part of the module. All, that is, apart from Wheaton who cannot bring himself to deny his belief in God due to his Christian convictions. The professor permits his dissent under one condition; that at the next three classes Wheaton should take the podium in front of his 80 classmates and defend his belief in God. Alongside Wheaton’s developing argument we are introduced to a number of other character, each of whom has their own experience of God.

The target audience for both the book and the film are essentially Christians seeking help to defend their faith against the claims that science and reason have consigned it to history as a primitive and outmoded irrelevance. The film is a product of its American origin and so inevitably perhaps comes across as a little saccharin in places. Nevertheless it provides a good introduction to some of the more common objections to faith that British Christians also encounter, and will hopefully inspire them to read Broocks’ book which provides more detailed and rigorous answers. It will also be beneficial to sympathetic enquirers. I fear that some of the underlying American culture will prove a hindrance to more cynical audiences.

Nevertheless I whole heartedly recommend the film to all. The story is well told and flows at a good place. Their are moments of humour and the audience I shared the film with clapped and cheered at several points during the film. Following a highly successful run in the US where the film was in the top 5 movies for three weeks in a row it will shortly be screened in UK cinemas. Initially it will be available at selected Showcase and Odeon cinemas between 18-28 April.

Buy God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty from Amazon UK
Buy God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty from Amazon US

Why did God make the world?

I recently heard someone ask ‘Why did God make the world?’ and it set me thinking. After all God being God did not have to make the world, or any other part of the universe for that matter. Having made the world he did not have to populate it with plants and living creatures, or indeed create people to inhabit it. The universe would not exist without God; but God could, indeed did exist without the universe. So why would he bother to create anything at all?

Throughout history kings and leaders have instigated construction projects in order to celebrate their greatness. Whether it has been buildings such as palaces, or cities and even monuments there seems to be something instinctive in humans to create lasting tributes to intelligence and ability to demonstrate their glory.

In a similar way the Bible shows us that God too is motivated to demonstrate his glory in all that he does. The world and everything in it is a visible tribute to God’s eternal power and majesty, to his divine creative genius. So for example we read in Psalms ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’ (Psalm 19:1 ESV) This idea is repeated in Revelation ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’ (Revelation 4:11 ESV) God’s glory was revealed in the earth at the dawn of time yet the Bible tells us that it will increase over time. ‘But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD’ (Numbers 14:21 ESV)

If you have ever gasped at the beauty of a sunset, gazed in wonder at the grandeur of a mountain, or been awed by the vastness of space then you have already been affected by the glory of God in his creation. His desire however is that you should not just be amazed at the beauty of what he has created, great though that is, rather he longs for you to discover him for yourself. If you would like an introduction to meet your creator than why not join us on a Sunday morning, 10:30 am at Elizabeth Hall?

This blog post featured in the July/August 2013 edition of Hook Focus

What breaks your heart?

Do you ever watch DIY SOS? The show always starts with a heart wrenching account of someone’s unfinished project to improve their home that has been delayed due a tragedy in their life. The team come in, and aided by volunteers, transform the home into a haven for the family. Invariably when the improvements are revealed to the owners, tears stream down their faces as joy and relief are mingled together. It gets me every time and I confess I find tears welling up in my own eyes. As we read the gospels we find that Jesus too was a man in touch with his emotions, a man who wept and felt compassion for his fellow man.

When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” Matthew 9:36-38 (MSG)

Do you notice the strength of Jesus’ reaction when he sees lost people? His heart broke! That was Jesus’ motivation for instigating mission. He was not concerned about image or numbers, rather he felt such compassion deep in his spirit for the lost that it stirred his emotions and drove him to action.

First he highlighted the need to his closest disciples, inviting them to share in the pain and sorrow. Second he asked them to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field to rescue the lost people of Israel. If you carry on reading into chapter 10 you find that Jesus’ third action was to commission the disciples to become the answer to their own prayers. The trigger for proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom was hearts broken for the lost.

Does your heart break over lost people living down your street, in your work place, school or college? Do you feel compassion for your town or village? Does this drive you to pray for workers to go out into the harvest field? Does it propel you to become the answer to your own prayers? I suspect that until our hearts break like Jesus’, mission will always seem a heavy chore. Would you dare to join me in praying that God will break your heart for the lost people of Hook, Fleet, Basingstoke or wherever you happen to live?

This blog post featured in the June 2013 edition of Lifelines

Big Questions

A recent survey found that British mothers are called upon to answer 300 questions a day by their small children. Their curiosity can be delightful, frustrating and even embarrassing. Have you ever been in a supermarket when a toddler has pointed at another shopper and asks “Why is that woman so fat?” According to the research, the five toughest questions mums get asked are: Why is water wet? Where does the sky end? What are shadows made of? Why is the sky blue? How do fish breathe under water?

It sometimes seems that as we get older, our curiosity diminishes and we become less inclined to ask awkward questions. Perhaps we learn that it is not always appropriate to ask, or maybe we think that we have all the answers we need. Even so, many people have tough questions that surface in their minds at times of personal crisis and uncertainty. These questions are often addressed towards God and relate to purpose and destiny, origins and endings, pain and suffering.

During the month of June, the members of Life Church are conducting a survey to find out what the Big Questions are that people in Hook would like to ask God. We plan to call at every home in the village to invite you to share with us one Big Question you would like to ask God. If you wish, you can tell your question to the person who rings your doorbell. Alternatively we will leave you with a card giving details of how you can send your question to us online, by email, text or tweet, or simply by post.

We will publish the results of the survey in the September edition of Hook Focus. Also, every Sunday in September our speakers will be taking each of the top five Big Questions in turn and using the bible to explain how we believe God would answer those questions. We are excited by this opportunity to tailor our meetings to the issues that are important to you and look forward to receiving your questions.

Big Questions can be sent:

This blog post featured in the June 2013 edition of Hook Focus