Stepping out in faith, remembering the day I got married

Sometimes it is good to remember times you have stepped out faith and seen God work so powerfully.  Getting married was one such occasion.  Kirstie and myself were working together at the time in the full time ministry leading a church in Wolverhampton.  It was a satellite of a larger church in Birmingham.  I had known Kirstie for a couple of years and shortly after we started working together, I had fallen in love with her.  I found her to be spiritual, kind, thoughtful and caring.  Plus she laughed at my jokes.  I knew I wanted to marry her (mainly because she laughed at my jokes).

I proposed on 4th August 2001 at Blenheim Palace.  The family home of Winston Churchill.  Kirstie was brought there under the guise of helping someone else with their romantic relationship.  She was then directed by someone down a path, and as she past the Temple of Diana (the place where Winston Church proposed), I appeared and got down on one knee.  After what seemed like eternity of contemplation, but was in reality only a few seconds, Kirstie said yes.  In that moment I think she was counting the cost of question I was asking her.

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The security guards around the palace were incredible and really went the extra mile to make this a magical day.  They were on the radios to each other to help orchestrate the moment and helped me find the perfect tree under which I placed my blanket, roses and champagne to overlooking the lake.  A view which had been described as the “finest in England”   They even allowed us to explore the water gardens for 45 minutes to ourselves before they were open to the general public.

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We then had a wedding to plan.  Initially, we thought of having a three month engagement.  However, to help lead the church in Wolverhampton more effectively, we asked by the church leading in Birmingham if we could get married even quicker.  To most normal people, this would seem like complete lunacy, but I liked Kirstie and Kirstie like me, so we jumped at the chance to get married earlier and we set a date seven weeks later.  22nd September 2001 was the date.  Our biggest problem was that we had no plan and next to no money.  Thankfully we worship a God who loves us.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

– Ephesians 4:20-21 (English Standard Version)

God started to come through in some fairly major ways.  In the first week Kirstie went shopping for a wedding dress.  The first shop she went into had a sale on, the first dress she tried on looked great on her, it was reduced from £400 to £200 and didn’t need any alterations.  We found an incredible function room above a working men’s club in a poorer area of Birmingham.  From the outside, it looked like a dive, but the room was large, was in great condition and didn’t get used very often.  It was perfect.  At the time when we booked it, it was being run by a larger than life Irish woman who assured us on several occasions that we would make beautiful children together.  She let us have it room for next to nothing and let us have two cases of sparkling wine for the wedding toasts for a mere £40 per box of 12 bottles.  The Irish woman was no longer in charge of the club as the wedding date got closer.  The new managers were surprised at the extremely low quote we had been given, especially for the cases of sparkling wine, but decided to honour the quote anyway.

So many friends and relatives helped us in big and small ways.  In the Birmingham church there was a friend, Glenn, who worked as a jeweller within the Jewellery Quarter of the city.  He made our wedding rings and did an amazing job and only charged us £50, for the both of them.  Kirstie had a wholesale cash-and-carry card which she used to buy all the food for the wedding and a friend, Gregg, within the church who was also a chef helped prepare the food and put on an impressive buffet for over 100 people.  Kirstie’s housemate Chrissie helped in so many ways, no least in making the reception venue look like a wedding venue on a very limited budget.  The reception was paid for by my parents.  We were very grateful to everyone helped and still very am when I think back to my wedding.

A month before the wedding I had £200 accessible in my bank account.  This much of this was earmarked for our wedding cake.  However, at this time our church was also taking up collection Christian missions work in the third world.  I had given some money forwards the collection, but not what I originally intended.  I was challenged by the senior minister of the church to give more.  I spoke to my wife to be about it and we agreed to give the £200 to the missions collection.  We reasoned that we could have a great wedding even without a cake.  I was now totally broke and was getting married in just a few weeks.  Later that day we attended a staff meeting of ministers from various churches around the UK.  We found out at this meeting that ministers who got married received a one off payment of £200 each.  Later that evening we attended the midweek meeting of our church in Wolverhampton.  A married couple who were members of the church handed us a envelop at church.  It contained £100.  They said that they had been helped in their wedding, and they wanted to pay it forward to someone else without expecting anything in return.  It was incredibly generous of them and we were extremely grateful.  It reminds me of an Old Testament scripture in the book of Malachi, where God was calling the Israelites to test him in their giving:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

– Malachi 3:10 (New International Version)

We started the day with £200, by lunchtime we had nothing.  By the end of the day we had £500 in gifts and generosity of others.  We felt so protected by the hand of God.  We gave in faith and the faith was rewarded.  We could now afford a wedding cake – nothing expensive, three iced fruit cakes from Marks and Spencer with ribbon around the edge, but it was very special.

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God didn’t stop working.  The day went so smoothly.  There were over 300 people at the ceremony and over 110 at the reception.  To be honest, I don’t recall exactly who was there.  I was very fixated on my wife.  All I really remember was we both entered the church building a single people and left the building as a very happy married couple.

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A friend of mine who I had helped to become a Christian a couple of year before very kindly bought us flights to Paris as a wedding gift and my step father generously paid for the rest of our time in Paris.  All I had to do was pay for the first night hotel.  I had booked a nice Best Western hotel in Sutton Coldfield.  However, by the time of the wedding, the money had once again ran out.  At the wedding reception, I quietly spoke to my best man and asked him to search through the wedding cards to look for money to pay for the first night.  A few minutes later he came back to tell me that there was no money in the cards, just vouchers for Marks and Spencer.  As we left the reception, a woman who Kirstie knew from her time working as a women’s minister in London handed her a card in an envelope.  Also in the envelope was some money, it was the exact amount to pay for the first night.  Once more God came through for us again.  I really didn’t have another plan to pay for the first night, all I had was my faith in God.  Unknown to me, my best man had arranged for the our driver (another Christian who had donated his time and his car as an act of kindness on our wedding day) to pay for hotel on arrival, but it meant that we could pay him back in full immediately.

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And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:28 (New International Version)

We have now been happily married for almost 17 years and we have four beautiful children, the Irish lady in the bar was right after all.  It has been a wonderful adventure and it continues to be.

However, in the last few months, my wife has been diagnosed with secondary cancer.  We are now once again digging deep into our faith, unsure of future and how things will work out.  Challenges come which we cannot deal with alone, we need God to get through. Remembering how God has worked in the past gives us hope for the future.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

– Hebrews 11:1 (New Living Translation)

This pattern of remembering how God has worked in the past in challenging times to give hope for the future is common in the Bible.  In the book of Exodus God rescues his people from Egyptians, parts the Red Sea and leads them to safety.  The Israelites celebrate every year the passover as they remember how God saved them from slavery and brought them into freedom.  The story is recalled time and time again throughout the Bible.  Every time was to remind them of God comes to rescue.

However, all this time God wasn’t pointing them backwards into the past, He was actually pointing them forwards into the future.  A new rescue was coming, not from Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but from sin.  A rescue from all the mistakes and failures which entangle and weigh us down.  Jesus became the new passover lamb, perfect and without blemish.  He recuses us from sin and plants us firmly into the freedom of God’s family.

When I look back at my wedding it reminds me of how God worked when I stepped out in faith.  It also points me to look forward to put my hope and faith in Him both now and in the future.

Remember how God has worked so powerfully in your life and look forward to what it will do in the times to come.

For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

– Jeremiah 29:11-13 (New International Version)

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“Well done good and faithful servant”

Tonight I am saddened to hear of the passing of Scott Green.  For many years I had only heard the name as an American who had learnt Chinese in order to plant a church in Hong Kong.   I remember at the time being a young in the faith and being truly inspired by his story. The church he planted grew to several thousand in size and had an impact in mainland China by planting several underground churches there.

The first time I saw him speak was at Alexander Palace in London, which I think was in 1999, in front of thousands of people at a Christian conference.  The next time I heard him talk was to a group of church ministers in the UK at a retreat in Winchester.  What struck me was his out of the box thinking.  Someone who strived to God’s will, willing to challenge current thinking and propose new paradigms to achieve greater things for God.

In 2012 we were extremely privileged to have Scott Green visit and preach at the church in Glasgow.  The sermon is available on the Glasgow church website.  Click to listen “Perfect Love Casts Out Fear By Scott Green on 15 April 2012” After the service Scott and others joined my family for dinner at our house.

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In 2016 I was saddened to hear that Scott had developed brain cancer.  It shocked me especially because my wife had been diagnosed with cancer a few months earlier in the same year.  Since hearing this news, I have been regularly praying for Scott and his family.  As the husband of someone with cancer, Scott’s passing seem particularly poignant and moving.  My thoughts and prayers are very much with his wife, Lynne and their children.

He leaves behind an incredible legacy of faithful followers of Jesus around the world who have come to faith through Scott’s teaching, leadership and determination.

In the gospels, Jesus talks tells the parable of the talents. Three servants who were given something by their master and were expected to make use of what they had been given.  The first two multiplied their talents, to which their master replied “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25).  I am confident, that today, Scott has been welcomed home with similar words.

Times like this bring the priorities of life into sharp focus.  What will be important on that Day.  How did I spend my talents I have been given?  Where do I spend my time, money and energy?  How much did I waste on trivial stuff?  Am I investing in treasures in heaven or in trophies on Earth?

Just before I heard of Scott’s death, I was listening to a recording of the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross”.  The chorus seems ever more powerful this evening:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

Scott has his crown now.  It was a privilege to have heard you speak and to have been taught by you, albeit on only a few occasions.  I rejoice knowing that you are now at home with our Lord, with no more suffering and pain.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?’
1 Corinthians 15:54-55

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Are You Winning?

Soccer Team Raising Trophy

I have four wonderful children.  Each has their own distinct personality and each incredibly special.  The older three each play a musical  instrument. My eldest plays the chanter, a Scottish instrument which is the precursor to the bagpipes.  It is no flute or harp when it comes to the sweetness of the sound made while being practiced.  It has been said that a Scottish gentleman is someone who knows how to the play the bagpipes, but chooses not to.  All this said, I actually really enjoy the fact that he is learning to play, both because of the character that playing an instrument produces and the fact that the chanter and pipes have their own charm.  Anyway, my son wanted to improve his playing so my wife and I sent him to a summer school for chanter and bagpipers.

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When I was picking my son up from the piping school at the end of one of the days, I bumped into my son’s teacher.  A man in his 70s who had been playing the chanter and pipes since a young age.  A man who conducted himself with an air of grace, but also someone who will tell you the truth when required.  We chatted for a minute or so and then he asked me a question, “Are you winning?”

The question somewhat stopped me in my tracks a little.  A couple of days before hand we had told our children that their mother, my beautiful wife, had been diagnosed with cancer.  Life was in a state of being turned upside down and ‘normal’ was being redefined and the future was uncertain.  The answer to the question could so easily have been ‘No.  I am not winning.  My wife has cancer and nothing will be the same again for my family.” Or I could have just been polite and given a simple “yes” to project a facade.

Life is tough, with or without someone close to you having cancer.  We all get misunderstood and treated unfairly on a regularly basis.  We make frequent bad choices and beaten up emotionally because of them, both by others and ourselves.  In speech we can feel that it is all to easy to say the wrong things and put our foot in our mouth, only to open it again to change feet.  With all this it is easy to have a “Why me?” attitude.  It is easy to blame others and resign myself to being a victim of others and my environment.

In that split second, I chose not to be a victim of my circumstances.  I chose to be defined by who I am and not by what surrounded me.  To take responsibility for the direction of my life.  I chose to be a winner.  In the bible, the apostle Paul wrote the following to the church in Corinth (part of modern day Greece):

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

I naturally want to consider myself as something special.  Someone who is better than others.  This attitude puffs up my pride.  It put distance between myself and others.  It ultimately makes me feel alone on a little pedestal of self glory.  The reality is that I am not that much different from other people.  I share similar desires, goals, have similar abilities and have achieved similar things.  In the verses above, Paul describes Christians as an ordinary jars of clay of little value by themselves, but containing inside something of incredible value.

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On the one hand this keeps me humble.  It stops be from becoming arrogant and boastful of my talents, abilities and achievements.  On the other hand it gives me an incredible sense of value, worth and confidence.  Jesus came from all glory to earth where he was given none.  He paid the price on the cross, taking the weight and burden of my sin, my weaknesses, my failings in his body and in return deposited in me the treasure of salvation.  With this treasure inside of me I will not be crushed, not be in despair, nor abandoned or destroyed.

I answered my son’s chanter teacher truthfully and confidently with a statement of “Yes, yes I am winning”.  “It’s good to meet someone winning,” he replied, “not many people are winning” he added.

I had every reason not to be a winner.  But I chose to be winner.  There are times when I wake up and I don’t feel like a winner.  I’ve sat in hospital consultations and received bad news and not felt like a winner.  I have said something inappropriate or not been as diligent as I could have been and not felt like a winner. On each occasion I have to remind myself of the treasure in my jar of clay, and choose once again to be a winner.

Are you winning?

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Meeting God in challenging situations

I am writing this blog sitting in our lovely new house we bought a few weeks ago.  It is a wonderful property which suits my family’s needs perfectly.  However, on the day of the move I wasn’t sure if it was going happen at all.  Here is my story what happened and how our family had to trust in character of God when the situation around us didn’t look very encouraging towards our situation.

We loved our old house.  We had been there nine years.  We had fantastic neighbours, it was very handy for the local shops and for getting to work and the childrens’ school.  The rooms were all well proportioned and gardens were enjoyable.  But then life happened.  A health challenge came into our family.  Our house, which for many years was perfect for us, started to become a problem.  The stairs became a serious problem for someone whose mobility had deteriorated.  We had to move into a home which was all on the same level.  The house hunting had begun…

Within a couple of weeks, we found a great house.  A fairly modern bungalow, attached to a larger Victorian house within a fairly smart area of Paisley.  Most importantly, all the rooms were on the one level.  There weren’t many bungalows in the Greater Glasgow area which could house our family on a budget we could afford.  To find another similar property could prove very challenging.  It was perfect to help meet the challenges which life was throwing at us.  The property had been on the market a while, so we put an offer in and it was accepted.  We now just needed to sell our property.

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We got our place ready to go on the market within a week.  The home report, which is done by a surveyor to give prospective buyers key facts about the house and an estimated market valuation, came back with perfect scores for the condition of the house and good valuation price.  Within 24 hours of the property going on the market, we had an offer at the valuation price.  We turned it down to test the market a little more.  Within a week we had three notes of interest in the property and we decided to set a closing date for offers.  This is a Scottish legal event, when a blind auction is held on the property being sold and on the day set, all the bids are opened for the seller to chose which one, if any, they will sell to.  We got three bids, with two bids offering several thousand more than the valuation price.  The family we chose to sell to we knew from school and felt sure that they would be a great fit for the house and the neighbourhood too.  Over the next couple of weeks, we got mortgage approved and the paperwork sorted out.  All was going so well.  If God was going to block this move, he would have done so by now.  All was going so well, what could go wrong?

A week before the agreed move date, we got told that the mortgage paperwork of buyers further down the chain was not yet in order and we would have to delay our entry date.  All parties agreed a new move date, a week and a half later.  This should give enough time for everyone to get the required paperwork sorted.  Due to the terms of our existing mortgage, we had to buy and sell on the same day, otherwise we would have been hit with large financial penalties which would have prevented us from moving.

As the new move in date approached everything appeared to be going well, although binding contracts still had yet to be signed by any party.  Due to family health challenges, we had hired a moving company and professional packers to help us move.  The packers came into our home the day before the move date to pack our belongings up and to partial load the moving van ready for the move the following day.  Then I got a message at 3pm which made my heart sink.  A problem with the paperwork had been identified further down the chain.  Analysis by lawyers would take days we were told.

I felt like Nehemiah in the Old Testament, when he was rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem and Sanballat and Tobiah were discouraging the work from progressing in the hope that they would thwart Nehemiah’s plans (Nehemiah 4).  The news we got could potential stop us from moving the following day and even collapse the whole chain stop anyone from moving, and leaving myself with large lawyer and moving bills, with nothing to show for it.  Would God allow such a cruel turn of events to happen?

The packers carried on packing and we finished the day not knowing what was going to happen the following day.  We went to bed with the vast majority of our personal belongs loaded onto a van, not knowing where they would end up the following the day.

The next day the packers arrived to complete the loading of the van.   We had heard nothing.  The packers were aware of our situation and asked several times, what I wanted them to do.  My response was “Let’s just crack on”.  It was hopeful and faithful.  God knew that we have had a number of serious family challenges recently, was he going to allow the move to collapse and let us suffer further?  Our prayer that morning was “God please show yourself in this situation.  We don’t see you working at the moment, but we know you are there.  You are faithful and true.  Your character is both merciful and compassionate”.

By 11am all we knew that further downstream lawyers were having a meeting to discuss the paperwork in question.  The packers had moved everything into the van with the exception of the sofas.  The professional cleaners were in to clean the house sparkle clean ready for the new owners.  The head of the packing company came to us and told us that he had never seen anyone in our position and actually move.  He started to offer us options for storage or unloading our possessions back into our own house.  However, he told us that we had to decide by 12 noon in order to give his men time to complete the job.  By this time we had less than 45 minutes to make the move possible.  Our lawyers still could not get in touch with the lawyers further down the chain and did not understand what the problem could actually be, as previously they had been told that the all the paperwork was in order.  Paolo and Cara Ugolini, the ministers of our church were with us.  I sat with Paolo while he prayed for our situation.  It was totally in God’s hands at this point, there was nothing we could do to except trust in God.

In the book of Daniel in the Bible (Daniel 3), there is a story about three men who are told to worship a statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, but they refuse and get into deep trouble.  The are brought before the king before they are about to be thrown into a fiery furnace.  This is their response before the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to explain these things to you.  If you throw us into the hot furnace, the God we serve can save us. And if he wants to, he can save us from your power.  But even if God does not save us, we want you to know, King, that we refuse to serve your gods. We will not worship the gold idol you have set up.” They put all their confidence in God, but they also knew that God was sovereign.  God was still God even if he did not save them from current situation.  Their example is such an inspiration to me.  An attitude of total surrender.  There is a God, and it is not me.  

At 11:45, 15 minutes before our moving deadline, we got a phone call from our lawyer.  The other lawyers had decided that no further analysis was required and therefore all the paperwork was in order.  Contracts could be exchanged and the move could go ahead.

We saw God work in many ways that day.  The prayers were answered and before the deadline.  We were moving!  The removal men finished the final packing and started their journey to the new house.  More faith was still required before we finally got our keys at 4pm that day, but by the end of day we had moved.  God came through.

Back in the story of Daniel, the three friends were thrown into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, but the story didn’t end there…

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Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”  He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

In the furnace they met God.  It was certainly not their choice to be there and given the option before hand, they would not have liked to have been thrown into the fire.  Yet it turned out to be the safest place to be. In fact there was no safer place to be whole of Babylon at that time.

The apostle Peter reminds us not be surprised when we go through ordeals.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

People of faith want to be close to God.  We want to met God when everything is going well, when we get the exam results we wanted, the work promotion we longed for, when life is success followed by more success.  This can happen, but more often we met God in the furnace of life.  We meet God in the places where we don’t want to be.  We meet God when we surrender our will to His in the most challenging of circumstances.  We can meet God when a house move isn’t going as planned.  We can meet God in doctors consulting room when the test results bring life changing bad news.  We can meet God in times of grief.  We even come to cherish the ordeals for the closeness to God we can experience.  When we refuse to be a victim but instead surrendered to God in all situations, we became victorious.

In conclusion, when we surrender our will to instead be the will of God we understand what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth…

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”
 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:53-58)

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Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Church

932039-fidel-castroYesterday, Fidel Castro died.  A man who had lead Cuba for decades and strongly divided opinion.  He survived dozens of assassination attempts by the CIA.  Together with Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and others over threw the Cuban government of General Fulgencio Batista  in 1958.  His death is both mourned and celebrated around the world.

Che Guevera was a medical student from a well off middle class Argentine family.  His CheHigh.jpgdesire to explore the world lead him on a motorcycle road trip, documented in his motorcycle diaries, around south America which transformed his life.  He saw intense poverty, hunger, disease and oppression and a large and graphic scale around the continent.  It lead him to become one of the most well known revolutionaries of the twentieth century.  He was determined to overthrow capitalist exploitation in Latin America with socialism for the people.

The problem is, the regime which Che Guevera helped to install became just as oppressive and even more restrictive than the regime which he helped over throw.

Francis Chan, in his book Forgotten God, tells this story:

A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like.  He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church.

After a few moths, I found out the the guy was no longer coming to the church.  When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like.  When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang.  You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week – we were family.”  That killed me causes I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be.  It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church today.

In the book of Acts, the Bible describes the church in the following way:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

Che Guevera what right to feel disturbed by what he saw on his tour of South America.  Our conscience gets pricked when we see suffering, injustice and oppression.  We have a choice to either do something about it or suppress our conscience until it becomes callous to other peoples’ pain and anguish.  However, the answer is not in revolution.  The answer is the church.  It should be a radical place where God’s spirit is contagious and catches fire in peoples’ hearts. A place where Acts 2 is fulfilled everyday.  A place defined by sacrificial love, devotion and family.  Unfortunately, the is not how the church in today’s society is demonstrated.  It is often not much more than a social club of like minded people, rather than the diverse place of love and sacrifice stated by Christ.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
― Mother Teresa

The church should be the place where Francis Chan’s gang member friend would recognise as a church by seeing genuine, sincere, love, freely given to members and the communities they are in.  It is a place where Jesus lives and his example reigns.

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Why I believe in God

I wanted to put down a few reasons for why I, as a Christian believe in God.  This is a non-exhaustive list of why I changed my life and started to follow Christ.

Evidence of a Designer

As an engineer I like to build things.  However, most of what I build eventually breakdowns and fails.  The human body on the other hand is awesome.  It lives on average for around 80 years or more and what is most remarkable about it, is that it repairs itself.  If I cut myself, the blood which was flowing a liquid, clots and solidifies, so that the skin beneath can heal itself.  This is just one thing, among countless others, which our bodies do which keep us alive on a daily basis which we take for granted.  With my engineering mind, it is hard to imagine designing, creating and building machines which do complex functions in sometimes extreme conditions which have the ability to heal themselves and work well for 80 years or more.  With all human intelligence, thought, wisdom and determination for thousands of years, we cannot create anything which is close to having the performance of a human body.  Yet, some how, many of people believe we are the result of a huge series of random processes happening at the same time.  When I look at my body in the mirror, I see the evidence of a designer.  Someone who with love and care made me into who I am, not the result of an unfortunate random accident of the cosmos.  If you do believe that mankind is the result of random process, then the next time you go on a date or have a romantic meal with your spouse, tell them that they are the result of an unfortunate accident of the cosmos, see how well that goes down.

Until the 1920s, common scientific thought was in line with Aristotle’s view that the universe had an infinite past.  There is little room for a creator, designer or God with Aristotle’s view.  It was perfect for anyone who didn’t believe in a deity or higher power of any kind.  However, in 1927 along came the Big Bang theory.  Common scientific thought now is that this is how the universe began.  The idea is that nothing exploded and formed the universe.   This is a little unfortunate for atheists because to accept the Big Bang theory, an atheist must except that the universe was created and that whatever triggered the Big Bang is the creator (intelligent or otherwise) and the creator cannot be measured in any shape or form, as by definition it must exist outside of the universe.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

I also see the evidence of a designer all around us in nature.  So many of the complex structures we see in nature can be represented as fractals.  A fractal is something which is composed of miniature versions of itself, which are in turn also composed of miniature versions of themselves and so on and so forth.  We see these in places such as fern leaves, snail shells, the human lungs, trees and snowflakes.  Each one complicated, but can be represented by relatively simple mathematically formula.  To believe that these formed without a designer is hard for me to accept.  Everywhere I look, I see the fingerprints of God.

fractals

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. – Romans 1:20

Are Absolutes Real?

If there is no God, no creator and we are just a product of thousands of perfect environmental conditions coming together at precisely the right time (and some jolly good luck), then many of the precepts which human society are built on cannot actually exist.   Atheists will openly admit that if there is no God, then there is no right or wrong, no good or evil, just action and consequence.

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This would also mean that following do not exist either: Justice, Mercy, Truth or Love.  The idea of moral compass would be an illusion.  It would mean that the actions of a psychopath or child molester are no better or worse than those devote their time and energy to serve and care for sick and injured children.  To argue that one is better than the other is an argument which cannot be won if there is no God, to think so would be delusional.

I have four children, they each naturally know what fairness is, especially when it comes to the size of bowls of ice cream. When they have been hurt they want justice. When they are the ones who have done the hurting, they want mercy. These are not abstract concepts which they have been taught by society which has developed them over thousands of years. Their moral compass is built in. This same default moral compass, or conscience, is built into children around the world, regardless of the society they have been born into. C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity calls this Universal Moral Law argument. It can be summarised as:

1. There is a universal Moral Law.
2. If there is a universal Moral Law, there is a Moral Law-giver.
3. If there is a Moral Law-giver, it must be something beyond the universe.
4. Therefore, there is something beyond the universe.

 

How could man alone have written the Bible?

“The Bible is just a man made book full of fairly tales written long after the events.”  This and other similar thoughts form view of many in today’s increasingly secular society.  The Bible is not viewed as accurate or trustworthy to many.  For half of my life, I was sympathetic towards this view.  That was until I actually started to read it.

When I read the bible, one thing that amazes me are the prophecies within it.  Take for instance the following passage of the Bible:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

If I were to ask you who is this passage referring to and where would you find it, many people would instantly say it describes Jesus and it would be found in the New Testament.  It does in fact come from Isaiah (chapter 53), found in the Old Testament and was written over 700 years before Jesus walked on the earth.  There are over 900 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament which Jesus fulfills.  A skeptic might argue that these could have been written after the event.  However, the above prophesy has been found within the Dead Sea Scrolls dated to over 200BC.

The book of Daniel in the Old Testament makes accurate prophecies about each of the Roman emperors long before the Roman empire came into existence.  Reading it today and comparing it to the history of the Roman empire can only lead the reader to one of two conclusions: the book of Daniel was written after the Roman empire or that the prophesies are so accurate that Daniel was inspired by God to write what he wrote.  No other plausible explanation is open to us.  What we find is that the book of Daniel was also found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in this instance, written somewhere between 150BC and 75AD, long before reigns of most of the Roman emperors.

 Elsewhere in the Bible we read about things which various people were told to do by God.  We the aid of modern science and engineering we can analyse these commands and gain a deeper insight into the why behind the command.  I am going to consider a couple of them here which I believe will help the read believe that there is a God and that the Bible is his inspired word.

In Genesis 17:12 God told Abraham the following: “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised”.  Abraham wasn’t told why, he was just told to do it.  It turns out that circumcision has a number of health benefits.  These include: A reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases in men. Protection against penile cancer and a reduced risk of cervical cancer in female sex partners.  This is all very well and good, but why the did it have to happen on the eigth day after birth?  It just so happens that the two key components, prothrombin and vitamin K required for blood clotting, which is vital for circumcision, peek on the eighth day.  See the graph below:

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How did Abraham know about the health benefits of circumcision?  How did Abraham know about prothrombin and vitamin K?  The answer is that Abraham did not know anything about these things, but the one who told him to do it knew all about them.

In another example, in Genesis chapter 6, the Bible says that God told Noah to build an ark.  God even gives Noah the dimensions to use to build the ark.

This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. – Genesis 6:15

This gives the following ratio of beam (width) versus depth (height): 50 cubits / 30 cubits = 1.6666
A cubit is 18 inches or 1.5 feet in length.

Let us compare this to the cross section ratio of modern cargo ships.  The Victory class of cargo ship of which 534 were mass produced during world war II.  It’s has the following cross section dimensions and ratio:

Beam 62ft / Depth 38ft = 1.6315

The Victory was picked for this comparison because it was built in large numbers, but it amazing how close the ratio is to that of Noah’s ark.  Were Noah’s Ark dimensions a really really luck guess or did God tell him.  In Islam, the Koran also contains the story of Noah’s Ark, but in the Koran, the dimensions of the Ark are that of a cube.  A cube would not be very seaworthy and would be tossed about from side to side, killing many of the living creatures inside.

Are the dimensions of Noah’s Ark and medical aspect of circumcision just lucky coincidences?  There are many other examples where God gives direction in the Bible and it has in modern times been shown to be scientifically accurate.  For me, these are all evidence that the Bible is from God and not the rambling collections of men.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

One of the greatest proofs that there is a God and that the Bible is his word is when it put into practice, it works.  I become a better me.  I enjoy life more, by giving to others.  My character is one of a conflict avoider.  The Bible challenges me to not seek it out, but to deal with it when it when it occurs in my life, and it deal with it in such a way that it is of benefit for all involved.  I have seen this work in such a powerful way in my life, which would never have happened if I had not been a Christian.

I have experienced the power of forgiveness and mercy, both as the recipient and as the one giving it.  Leaving resentment, bitterness and revenge behind has brought joy to my life.

I have experienced an incredible marriage where we both put God first and by doing so have ended having a more secure, faithful and loving marriage than I thought would be possible.

I see the Bible work in churches which are striving to follow the Bible:  conflicts get resolved; the needy have their needs meet; people of different backgrounds and political points of view are unified.

When I pray, my prayers get answered.  Small prayers, bold prayer, persistent prayers, they get actions.

The Bible challenges me and brings me back to my conscience. When I became a Christian, I stopped swearing and started to use a better vocabulary instead of profanity.  I stopped telling white lies and being deceitful and found that my live was less complicated and honest.  I let go of bitterness and stopped being a prisoner of my own mind.  I try to make my life about meeting the needs of others, rather than trying to acquire as much as I can for myself, and in doing so I gain contentment.

Jesus says:

 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. – John 7:17

Jesus is like Nike, albeit centuries before, he says “Just Do It”.  Then you’ll know.  You will know that it works.  You will know that Jesus was no ordinary man.  You will know the power in his words. Power that will change your life and the lives of all those around you.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

 

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The Bible – The Evidence – Introduction

Two testments.   44 books in the old and 22 in the new

Written approx. 3500BC to around 90AD by 40 Authors (although some most likely to be compilers rather than authors)

How did the Jews know about that?

Gen 17: 11-12 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.

–          Sign of an agreement between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants

–          Was there more to it?

  • Circumcision almost completely eliminates penis and cervical cancer. Penis cancer is extremely rare among circumcised men, and their wives have cervical cancer at a rate more than 10 times less than uncircumcised men.
  • More hygienic – especially for a nomadic people wondering around the desert 3000+ years ago.
  • God says he will deliver Israel from the diseases of Egypt if they kept his laws (Ex 15:26)

–          Why on the eighth day?

  • Optimal time, as blood clotting compounds are at their highest levels.[1]
  • This fact not discovered by modern science until 1935

Job 26:7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;    he suspends the earth over nothing.

–          Job written between 600-400BC

–          Implies that the earth is suspended in space

–          Contemporary thoughts:

  • Greeks – World held up by the god Altas
  • Hindus – Earth was on the back of eight Elephants which stand on a turtle, if one slips we get earthquakes

Lev 17:14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”

–          The importance of blood is obvious today, but not always the case

–          Bloodletting was a common ‘cure’ for aliments for around 2000 years, up until the 19th Century[2]

–          It is likely that George Washington died of bloodletting for a sore throat

–          Barbers’ poles used to indicate where bloodletting could be performed

Old Testament Prophesies about the Christ

The Birth

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

–          Written around 500BC

–          Messiah born in Bethlehem.

–          Hard for a fraud to orchestrate where they to be born

–          Jesus was born in Bethlehem[3]

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

–          Written around 700BC

–          Immanuel will be born to a virgin

–          Jesus is called Immanuel and Mary was a virgin when he was born[4]

–          Qur’an attributes many miracles to Jesus, and that He was miraculously born of a virgin.

The Cross

Psalm 22

–          Written by David – who would become King David of Israel

–          Dates from about 1000BC

–          Beginning of verse 1 quoted by Jesus on the cross[5][6]

–          Verse 5 – Many people cried out and were saved during Jesus’ ministry

–          Verses 6-8 Parallels the abuse Jesus got while on the cross [7]

–          Verses 14-17 describes the physical condition of Jesus on the cross.

  • Verse 14 – Water came out of Jesus’ body when he was pierced in the side
    Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. – John 19:42 – John wrote what he saw without understanding it fully[8]
  • Verse 15 – Consistent with symptoms of someone who has lost a lot of blood.  Jesus would have lost a lot of blood during the Roman flogging before the crucifixion.  John 19:28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” – hard to make it up if you don’t understand the medical science behind it.
  • Verse 17 – Bones would have been on display from the wounds caused by the nails driven in and the Roman flogging

–          Verse 22-31 becomes a Psalm of victory. cf. Phillpians 2:9-11

Isaiah 53

–          Appears to describe Jesus on the cross

–          Written around 700BC

–          Contains a number of prophecies about Jesus e.g. verse 9 about his death and grave.  Mathew 27:57-60 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.

–          Most importantly, gives the reason for Jesus on the cross.  Our sins are laid on him. By his wounds, we are healed.  Peter refers to Isaiah 53 in 1 Peter 2:21-24: To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 “He committed no sin,

    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

 The Old Testament is a foreshadow of Christ

Sin and slavery to sin entered the world through Adam.  Freedom from sin comes through Jesus, also called the second Adam.[9]  Like Adam, Jesus too was tempted in a garden, but unlike Adam, Jesus passed the test.

Abel was innocent and his blood cried out to God, so too is Jesus who blood cries out for our forgiveness.[10]

Noah – Built an ark which saved those inside.  Jesus is our transport and salvation who saves.  Like Noah, Jesus is also mocked.[11]

Abraham – Sacrificed Isaac, his only son, the son of the promise.  Jesus is God’s one and only son, sacrificed for us.

Isaac carried the wood which Abraham was going to sacrifice him on, Jesus carried his own wooden cross on which he was sacrificed on.

Jacob wrestled with God all night.  Jesus wrestled with God in prayer for three hours before he was arrested.

Joseph – Hated by his brothers and imprisoned after false accusations.  Yet his punishment for things he did not do brings salvation for the family of Israel and for those around him in Egypt.  Jesus’ punishment for things he was falsely accused of brings salvation for the Jews and non-Jews.

Job was tested by Satan.  Likewise, Jesus was tested by Satan three times at the end of a 40 day fast in the wilderness.

Moses – Led God’s nation from slavery in Egypt through the Red sea to freedom.  Jesus lead people from slavery of sin through the waters of baptism into a new life of freedom.[12]

Moses – The snake on the pole.  When the Israelites looked at the bronze snake lifted high on the pole they were saved from the snake bites.  We are saved from our sins when we look to Jesus on the cross.[13]

The Levites were priests who offered sacrifices and interceded between God and the people.  Jesus is the high priest who is the perfect sacrificial lamb.  He intercedes for us.  When Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two.  The bible says the 90ft curtain was torn from top to bottom – not bottom to top.[14]

The Judges of Israel who followed on from Joshua are a foreshadow of the final Judgement of Christ.


[1] A newborn’s liver and intestines do not begin producing prothrombin and vitamin K until about the fifth day after birth, when nursing has commenced and consequently bacteria has formed in the intestines.

These two compounds reach the highest level on the eighth day after birth, estimated at 110% of normal levels of these two important clotting factors.

[3] Luke 2:4-7  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

[4] Matthew 1:18-25

[5] Mark 15:34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

[6] Matthew 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

[7] Matthew 27:31-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

[8] From the wound came a flow of “blood and water.” This is consistent with the spear blow to the heart

(especially from the right side, the traditional site of the wound). Rupturing the pericardium (the sac

surrounding the heart) released a flow of watery serum, followed by blood as the heart was pierced.

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:45-47

[10] Hebrews 12:24

[11] 1 Peter 3:20-21

[12] Romans 6:1-7

[13] Numbers 21:4-8

[14] Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45

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