So runs the headline in a surprising article in today’s Sunday Times.
An evangelical Christian who is one of the world’s top scientists is trying to save the life of Christopher Hitchens, the cancer-stricken writer who told him at their first meeting that God does not exist.
Francis Collins, who led the projec to map human genes, contacted the atheist when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.
Hitchens was sent to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where scientists sequenced the 6 billion letters of his DNA. Using computers in a process that takes several weeks, they also sequenced the 6 billion letters in his his tumours, Then they looked at the two sets for differences.
‘Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith,’ Collins said, ‘But I would like to think that Christopher’s sharp intellect has challenged my own defence of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling.’
The historian, television and radio presenter, David Starkey is gay and an atheist. He is also an honorary member of the National Secular Society. You might therefore expect him to be clearly in favour of the ruling in the High Court this week that banned a Christian couple from fostering children because of their religious beliefs. Watch the exchange of views amongst the five panelists on this weeks Question Time and you may be surprised.
I saw this video of Andrew Peterson singing ‘Planting Trees‘ on Justin Taylor’s blog It reminded me of two things 1) the natural preoccupation we have with ourselves and with the moment in which we live and 2) the absolute need to proclaim, protect and preserve the gospel not just in our own generation but for generations after we are gone.
Given that left to ourselves we naturally live in the moment we need to make a deliberate decision to give of our time to the lives of those who will, for years after we have gone, live and serve and work to his glory. We need to be people looking and living for the next generation. Andrew mentions in the introduction to his song the inspiring example and sacrifice of his wife in raising their 3 children. Whether or not we have children we have opportunity, as did the apostle Paul, to invest in the lives of those who live on after us. To live for our spiritual children.
In Paul’s second letter he refers to Timothy as my dear Son and 2 Timothy is all about passing the gospel on to the next generation.
There is a Chinese proverb that says If you’re planning for one year, plant rice. If you’re planning for ten years, plant trees. If you’re planning for 100 years, educate people. The wisdom of the Bible says, 2 Timothy 2:2, ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.’ Notice the pattern; from Paul to Timothy from Timothy to reliable people from reliable people to others.
All true ministry must have at its heart a concern not just for the gospel in our generation but the gospel secured for the next generation. In the book Trellis and the Vine (the ministry and mind-shift that changes everything), Colin Marshall and Tony Payne make an urgent appeal for gospel workers to plant trees through training.
training (understood in this way) is the engine of gospel growth. People move from being outsiders and unconverted through to being followed up as new Christians and then growing into mature, stable Christians who are then in turn trained and mobilized to lead others through the ‘gospel growth’ process.
But they also recognise that ‘this is a chaotic strategy – an inconvenient strategy. It takes time to train.’
And it’s more than just time. It’s a decision to sacrifice time spent pursuing your own ministry ambitions for the sake of others. Giving up time and opportunity spent doing other things for the quiet, unseen work of close discipleship, mentoring and coaching.
Where are the training opportunities for you?
Maybe you are at a stage in life where you are a young Timothy in need of a Paul. Maybe you could ask an older Christian to meet with you to train you so that you in turn could train others.
If you’re a parent, then like Andrew Peterson’s wife, your dear children must be an urgent priority. How are you doing at training your children ? (Ephesians 6!)
If you lead a ministry area who in your team could you look to develop?
Whose life could you shape, envision, inspire because God has put you close to them?
Who could you look out for in church who might be a potential gospel worker, pastor, planter, missionary, in the future?
As Broughton Knox recognised ‘If this ministry dies out them Christianity dies out.’ Let’s get planting trees.
I have been told by pro-Taliban religious extremists that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law, I will be beheaded.” But he said his faith gave him strength.
As a Christian, I believe Jesus is my strength. He has given me a power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe.”
Today Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian Pakistani Government minister died a martyrs death. The Lord Jesus says ‘Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.’ – Revelation 2:10
An atheist told me recently ‘No one kills in the name of Atheism.’ In fact he was so sure he told me twice. Of course he’s not unique in making such a claim. Richard Dawkins writes in the God Delusion Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things, in the name of atheism.
Dawkins won’t even allow us to think that atheism had any influence on Stalin’s murderous regime. He writes:
the mature Stalin was scathing about the Russian Orthodox Church, and about religion in general. But there is no evidence that his atheism motivated his brutality.
Such a conclusion is a luxury on offer only to those with absolutely no grasp of history. The reality is that it is a plain and simple, indeed brutal, fact of history that over the past 100 years atheism, as an ideology, has been a driving force used directly to plan, plot, organise and carry out the mass murder of millions of people.
For the purpose of this post we will limit ourselves to a consideration of the way in which state-sponsored atheism has been used to justify the intimidation, torture and killing of those whose only crime was belief in God and who posed no other political or ideological threat. I am indebted to John Blanchard’s ‘Does God Believe in Atheists?‘ for some of the quotes but the ideas remain my own.
The ideology that lay behind state-sanctioned killing of Christians in the USSR
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion, as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness.
And for Marx that meant the abolition of religion.
Of course, in periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, when political liberation is the form in which men strive to achieve their liberation, the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine.
Interestingly so indebted to Darwin was Marx that he said of his book The Origin of Species serves me well as a basis in natural science for the struggle in history. He actually wrote to Darwin asking if he might dedicate his next book to him. Darwin put his decision to decline down to the sensibilities of his wider family.
The result of dogmatic Atheism in the Soviet Union
From the very beginnings of the communist revolution in Russia the state set out to apply the atheism of Marx. Religion was systematically targeted as an enemy of the state, an oppressor of the people. It was something therefore not merely to be discouraged but destroyed.
Lenin said: There can be nothing more abominable than religion
And he went on to write
Every religious idea, every idea of god, every flirtation with the idea of God is unutterable vileness…Any person who engages in building a god, or who even tolerations the idea of god-building disparages himself in the worst possible fashion.
Marx’s dogmatic atheism was being used as the philosophical justification for the attack on religion beginning with Lenin, continuing under Stalin and maintained right through to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The fact that the attack on religion continued over generations demonstrates that this state-sponsered attack could hardly be blamed on the actions of one individual.
As the Wikipedia entry on the Soviet Union records;
The state was committed to the destruction of religion, and to this effect it destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept.
An interesting article in today’s guardian.
“Every time I see a mosque or a temple going up,” Rev. Bryan Scott says “I think, ‘That should be a church.’”
A few years back Greenpeace produced a leaflet that went as follows:
Planet earth is 4,600 million years old. If we condense this inconceivable time-span into an understandable concept we can liken the earth to a person of 46 years of age.
Nothing is know about the first seven years of this person’s life and whilst only scattered information exists about the middle span we know that only at the age of 42 did the earth begin to flower. Dinosaurs and the great reptiles did not appear, until one year ago, when the planet was 45. Mammals arrived only 8 months ago and in the middle of last week. Man-like apes evolved into ape-like men and at the weekend the last ice-age enveloped the earth.
Modern man has been around for four hours. During the last hour man discovered agriculture, the industrial revolution began a minute ago and during those 60 seconds of biological time modern man has made a rubbish tip of paradise
He has multiplied his numbers to plague like proportions, caused the extinction of 500 species of animals, ransacked the planet for fuels and now stands like a brutish infant gloating over his meteoric rise to ascendancy on the brink of war to end all wars.
A human life in this timespan lasts a mere 18 seconds. Let’s not waste anymore precious time.
I wonder what you would say as a Christian if a Greenpeace spokesperson knocked on your door and pushed that leaflet into your hand. As you sat down together over a herbal tea I guess that whilst you would disagree on much you would want to agree on that one statement of theirs:
‘Modern man has made a rubbish tip of paradise’. We would agree that human beings really are to blame for spoiling a good world.
Human beings cannot escape the fact that together we have exploited the creation – harmed and abused it – plundered its resources, and so on. But as we munched on our carrot cake together we would want to help our Greenpeace activist to think a little bit further – for we would want them to see that at the heart of the environmental crisis is actually a spiritual crisis.
1. Environmental crisis or spiritual crisis?
For the message of the Bible is that behind our treatment of this world lies a bigger issue – our treatment of God. This world has been made by God and belongs to God.
‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ – Psalm 24v1
‘For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine’. – Psalm 50:10-11
If you’ve ever hired a car, maybe on holiday or something like that you know about the inspection. To ensure that you return the car in the condition you received it before you drive off you walk around the car with the clip-board inspecting it – looking for bumps, dents and scratches.
But imagine that when you come to hire a car your luck is really in – you are the first driver of a brand-new hire car – there it sits in pristine, mint condition, and you sign off the paper work.
You enjoy your holiday and a week later you return it – but as you hand the keys back you have to confess it’s not quite the car it was. You have to admit to being a bit reckless in the way you’ve driven it, a bit careless in how you parked it because the fact is that it is almost unrecognisable as the same car you drove away.
Now the damage done to the car is a real shame, and you’ve certainly spoilt the pleasure for future users by your selfish behaviour, hopefully you’ve not damaged the car beyond repair for future users. But the man at the Easycar counter will probably have a more immediate concern because the real offense is not against the car itself it is against the owner of the car. Easycar will seek some kind of recompense.
And that is the problem behind the problem. That is why the environmental crisis is really a spiritual crisis. Human beings made in the image of God were given responsibility to rule over the creation. To bring glory and honour to God by making this good world fit for purpose – to display the goodness of God as we work it under his rule.
In Genesis 2 Adam is told to work the earth and take care of it. He is to develop the world by working it and conserve the world by taking care of it. And we have failed in our duty.
So as we look at what we are doing to our world we need to remember that our problem is not so much our CO2 emissions as our S-I-N emissions. When we damage our world by harming our environment we are sinning against God.
The BIG inconvenient truth is not that we are destroying the planet but that we are demonstrating our rebellion against God and our resistance to his rule.
As we grapple with questions of climate change and what on earth is really going on we need the creator to help us interpret the creation.
Jesus said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? – Luke 12:54-56
Today across the world millions of pounds is being spent predicting weather patterns and evermore complex models are being written to try to forecast further into the future but Jesus’ warning is that it is possible to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky and yet not know how to interpret the present time. In the Palestine of Jesus day they knew that a westerly wind meant rain was coming – as moisture from the Mediterranean sea carried by the clouds would fall on the land as rain. But southerly winds meant something different – heat from the desert was on the way and temperatures would rise. Yet without God’s word to interpret God’s world they could make no sense of Jesus.
But Jesus point is that it is possible to understand the world around you and yet miss the bigger picture – the fuller forecast. That’s why the church equipped with God’s word need to speak into the issues of our day. One church leader put it this way, – the church is ‘to understand the events of earth and seek to address them with the message of heaven’
James Lovelock and the revenge of Gaia
Lovelock is the author of The revenge of Gaia a book Andrew Marr described as ‘probably the most important book for decades’. John Gray in the Independent described it as ‘the most important book ever to be published on the environmental crisis’
Central to the book is the warning that our relationship with the world is a delicate, two-way or symbiotic relationship between humanity and the world.
It is a relationship that can work for good or ill. When we care for creation – the creation cares for us. Its systems are ideal for human flourishing and when we work with the world we are blessed by the world but when we abuse the creation we find that those very self-same systems act against us and so to speak creation pays us back in kind. But when we chop down a Continue reading »
I received a letter from my bank manager asking whether I could meet with him last week. Seeing your bank manager is like taking a trip to the dentist, you’re sure they’re both going to find a big hole and that they will come up with some pretty painful and expensive way to try and fill it.
When you read the gospels you find that Jesus has a surprising amount to say about money. It’s pretty high up on his agenda. But Jesus isn’t primarily concerned to tell us we’ve got too much money or too little, nor to advise us to spend it, save it or even give it away. He focuses in on money to show us that money and our attitude to it reveals something much more fundamental about ourselves.
In the sermon on the mount Jesus says:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Jesus wants you and me to recognise that money and the thought of what it might buy us has a certain power over us. One survey in the US asked people what they would do for a million dollars. Forty-two percent said they would be willing to spend time in jail, never see their best friend again, move permanently to a foreign country, or throw their pet off a cliff!
1) We all serve someone
The words are so familiar it’s easy to overlook the big surprise in Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say you can either serve God or you can go out and have a good time. Jesus insists that your life is a life given in service of a master.
Such an idea runs counter to how we think of ourselves and how we would describe our lives. We prefer the language of personal freedom. We like to say we’re in control and yet here is Jesus saying, to quote one friend of mine, ‘if you will not let yourself be owned by God you will be owned by something else’.
In describing life as a decision to choose who we will serve, Jesus is saying every human being serves someone or something in the hope that it will bring a reward. The think we serve becomes to use the language of Tim Keller our functional god. It’s the thing that has first place in our hearts, has the greatest call on our time, is the very thing that we are ready to sacrifice for (maybe even our pet for!).
What Jesus shows us in the sermon on the mount is that for many people money is the thing we serve. Money has a power over us and that means money calls the shots. It has an authority over our decisions, it dictates our priorities, it rules our hearts and governs our emotions. So much so that we lose sleep when we don’t have enough, no matter how much we have we need more and we are even prepared to hate those who have more than we do.
Psychologist Oliver James’s book Affluenza highlights just what has happened to us as a result of serving money. He writes;
The great majority of people in English-speaking nations (Britain, America, Australia, Canada, Singapore) now define themselves through earnings, possessions, appearances and celebrity,
Materialism is to place our trust in money. To ask it to provide for us, to protect us, to make us happy and in return we promise to serve it.
But here’s the second surprise from Jesus. Not only do we all serve one master but it’s impossible to serve two masters.
2) We can’t serve two masters
Someone has to have the final say. Someone has to come first and Jesus says whatever that is is your God. That’s why Jesus says no-one can serve two masters – it’s not that it’s quite a hard thing to do it’s because it is a logical impossibility.
You might be able to hold down two jobs, you can have two hobbies, you can share you’re love between two children but no-one can Continue reading »
Imagine you switched on the TV to find your pastor being interviewed by a member of the congregation on prime-time TV and that the interview lasted over 5 minutes and focused on the claims of Christ from the gospel of Mark! Only in America?
Tim Keller’s new book is called King’s Cross and subtitled ‘the story of the world in the life of Jesus’. The book is based on a sermon series given at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Having listened to quite a few of the sermons from the series I’m looking forward to reading the book. What’s more it would make a perfect Easter present for any willing to take a closer look at the person of Jesus.
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