Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Culture (Page 1 of 4)

Come and follow – A sermon for 11 November 2018 (Remembrance Sunday)

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 1:14-20. You can read the text here.


I’d like to invite you to cast your minds back, if you can, to the summer of 1985. Ronald Reagan had begun his second term of office as US President; Mikhail Gorbachev had risen to power as de facto leader of the Soviet Union; scientists had recently announced the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer; and the soap opera Neighbours had made its first appearance on Australian television. And there were no doubt many other significant events that happened that year.

But whatever else was happening in the world back in 1985, for me, as a nearly 15-year-old lad from South Yorkshire, one event happened that summer that far surpassed anything else in its significance and consequences. Under the rather grand title Mission: England, American evangelist Billy Graham held a series of rallies at Bramall Lane football ground in Sheffield.

Looking back, it seems like a bit of a cliché, but after listening to Billy Graham talk about God’s love and forgiveness, I was one of hundreds who responded to the famous invitation to “Get up out of your seat”. I went forward, prayed a prayer of repentance, confessed Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, and turned my life over to God. I can honestly say it was an event and a decision that changed my life forever.

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Time to evolve

10161720723_34754dee50_kIt is time for the human species to evolve.

According to the theory of evolution, when a species encounters a crisis that threatens its very existence (for example, some kind of significant change in its physical environment), it must either adapt or risk extinction.

I believe the human species is facing a crisis that threatens its very existence. I’m not talking about a crisis arising from a change in the physical environment (though, of course, manmade climate change may well present such a crisis). I’m talking about the crisis that arises from a lethal combination of two factors: first, our ongoing inability or unwillingness to tolerate difference, and second, the increasingly easy availability of deadly technology.

Simply put, if we as a species do not learn to get along, sooner or later some group or nation is going to unleash destruction on an unprecedented scale. It’s a question of when, not if. If that happens, the best case scenario is that we will move (or rather regress) into an era of harsh authoritarianism in which the freedoms we cherish will be removed from us in an effort to enforce some kind of artificial “peace”. The worst case scenario is that it will be game over for the human race. Perhaps small pockets of humanity will survive here and there, but as a civilisation we will be back to the drawing board. Maybe that’s what it’s going to take for us to finally learn to live together.

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Sheep and goats redux

Goat‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

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An Advent post: on waiting

Candle(Today I was going to write a post about Advent and waiting, but when I looked back through the archives I realised I’d already written it. So here it is: a slightly edited version of a post first published in December 2013.)

Once when I was a kid my parents bought a new sofa and armchair for the lounge. I remember hearing them say that they had saved up for years to buy it. I don’t know whether it was a couple of years or significantly longer than that, but the period was measured not in weeks or even in months, but in years.

This was only thirty-something years ago. How times have changed. The pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that many young people today think nothing of taking on sometimes eye-watering amounts of debt in order to have something they want now! Whether it’s a car, a house, an exotic holiday, a fancy wedding, or the latest super-sized HD television… Easy credit has largely done away with the notion of having to wait for what you want, or even what you need.

This is the culture in which we, in the over-indulged, supremely pampered West, now live. Two words sum it up well: instant gratification.

And here we are at the beginning of Advent. Advent is deeply counter-cultural, because it is about waiting.

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On social media and the purchasing of worth

Social mediaI have clearly been somewhat quiet lately on the blogging front, for which I apologise. All I can say is, sometimes inspiration can’t be forced; you just have to wait for it and be ready when it comes.

Anyway… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Facebook and other social media.

Or rather, to back up a little, I’ve been thinking about our addictive tendencies as human beings, and how social media taps right into them and exploits them.

I’d like to quote from a couple of authors before bringing this brief reflection back to the specific topic of social media.

First, in his book Addiction and Grace, Gerald G. May writes that “all people are addicts… to be alive is to be addicted.” I happen to strongly agree with that view. My contention is that those who don’t agree with it are simply not yet aware of their own particular addictions.

Second, for the past ten years or so, one of my favourite writers on things spiritual – and one of those who have most influenced me – has been the late Brennan Manning. (If you don’t know of him, do yourself a favour and get acquainted. You could pick any of his books as a starting point and not risk disappointment.) His book Abba’s Child has a chapter titled “The Impostor”, in which he sets out to describe in detail the notion of the “false self”. This is the artificial self that we are subconsciously compelled to present to others in an effort to gain approval and acceptance. In doing so, we tend to bury the real us – the true self – and thus we end up working increasingly hard to manage and hide the growing gulf between who we are deep down and who we sincerely and desperately want everyone else to believe we are.

Here is a sentence from the aforementioned chapter of Abba’s Child:

Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us.

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Jesus, a man of his time

840629969_122163c283_bMost Christians happily and confidently declare that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Indeed, this is one of the central tenets of the Christian faith.

But… I wonder what many people mean when they say Jesus was “fully man”. I suspect what they mean is that Jesus had a body with two arms, two legs and a male appendage (ahem). For many, that’s probably where the similarity with your average human male ends.

But let’s take a moment to think about what it really means to be human.

Among other things, to be human means to be exposed to and influenced by the forces that shape human understanding. Specifically, to be human means that there is much that I do not know, and that there is much that I think I know that is actually the result of my unconscious immersion in and absorption of unquestioned cultural assumptions. Indeed, can one truly be said to be human and not be shaped and influenced by human culture?

So, how does this relate to Jesus?

Jesus clearly knew things that his compatriots did not. For instance, he knew that God blesses all people equally, irrespective of creed or colour; he knew that sin brings its own destructive punishment, whether the sinner happens to be Roman or Jew; and he knew that salvation lies not in ritual sacrifice or violent uprising but in self-sacrificial enemy-love.

However, I contend that, as a first century Jewish male, Jesus was also inevitably a product of his culture. Or, in other words, a man of his time.

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Some thoughts on Halloween (or rather, a response to someone else’s thoughts)

PumpkinsA few days ago, as I was pondering what I might write about Halloween, I came across an article by well-known British evangelist J. John that was published on the website of the Daily Mirror, a UK tabloid newspaper. The article has been widely circulated on social media and, since its author is such a respected figure, will no doubt have some degree of influence in shaping people’s opinion. Since I was struggling a little for inspiration, I thought I might reproduce J. John’s article here and share some brief thoughts of my own in response to each of his main points.

Before I do so, let me just clarify a couple of things. First, I very much respect J.John and his ministry. I think he is a great force for good in the church and in the land. As such, my comments here should not be taken as a personal attack on him or a condemnation of his right to hold and share his views. I’m simply sharing some alternative views in response to the opinions he shared in his article.

Second, I don’t wish to suggest that my views are “right” and that anyone who doesn’t share them is wrong. Christians, and Christian parents in particular, understandably have strong views about such matters, and if you feel it’s important or even crucial for your family not to engage in Halloween in any way, I absolutely respect that stance. Indeed, it’s the one I myself held for many years. The flip side, of course, is that neither should you condemn any Christian who doesn’t adopt that same stance and chooses instead to let their children participate in Halloween. (I think Paul’s guidance in 1 Corinthians 10 on whether or not Christians should eat meat offered to idols is relevant here. Paul’s bottom line is that it’s a matter of personal conscience, but that we should also be careful not to cause those whose conscience differs from ours to stumble.)

With those introductory comments out of the way, let’s get to J. John’s article. The original article can be found here; I’ll reproduce it section by section below, adding my comments where appropriate. (Indented text is from J. John’s article; my comments are unindented.)

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