C. S. Lewis for the ages


CS Lewis for all ages‘Not of an age, but for all time.’

That was what Ben Johnson wrote of Shakespeare’s first collection of plays in a poem prefacing their publication. While I would never compare Lewis with Shakespeare, there is no reason why lesser writers cannot have some of the quality of work which transcends their age. I think C.S. Lewis has already transcended the matrix of his times in the last century, suggested by his pretty much global reception which continues to grow.

Screwtape, the academic devil, and Aslan, the talking lion and divine creator of Narnia, are just a few of the inventions of Clive Staples Lewis, born two years before the opening of the 20th century, and dying just 50 years ago this month. From ‘Jack’ Lewis’s teeming mind and imagination sprang stories and powerful rhetoric aimed at persuading people of spiritual truths that have dimmed in today’s materialistic climate. Not only have his books steadily taken on a global popularity, but he was reluctantly one of the first major media evangelists — with huge audiences for his wartime BBC radio broadcasts. And the media have not ignored him. There have been two film versions ofShadowlands, the story of his love and marriage to a New York poet and novelist, Joy Davidman Gresham, and movies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and two other Narnia stories, with a new one promised.

Success

If success had been what Lewis was after, he had it all immediately after the Second World War. His BBC broadcast talks during the war, and the publication in particular ofThe Screwtape Letters, had made him perhaps the highest profile Christian communicator of his time in Britain. His fame was soon going to spread to the USA. A reporter from Time magazine had been in Oxford in 1944 researching a feature on him, interviewing, among other of his friends, Charles Williams. That story eventually appeared as a lively cover feature on September 8 1947, taking as its angle The Screwtape Letters, and entitled ‘Don v. Devil’. From that point, Lewis’s popularity in the United States, which was already growing, took off, and has been higher there than in his own country ever since.

The 1947 Time magazine feature described him as ‘the most popular lecturer’ in Oxford University, ‘best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world’. They said he lived ‘a mildly humdrum life’ and quoted him saying ‘I like monotony’. Comparing him to G.K. Chesterton, Time put Lewis’s success down to his ‘special gift for dramatising Christian dogma’, and his ‘talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom’ (Time, September 8 1947).

Lewis’s potent spell

What is the secret of the great spell that Lewis has cast around the globe? As well as the spirituality of his The Chronicles of Narnia, attractive in our postmodern age, he elsewhere presents a powerful critique of what he saw as the modern form of magic — the domination of the machine. Bureaucracy can be a form of a mechanical mindset, and Lewis re-envisioned hell in this way in The Screwtape Letters. Lewis’s popularity might lie in four main factors.

In the first place, he is a great storyteller. The Chronicles of Narnia are powerfully accomplished stories, rooted in the central elements of folk and fairy story. Storytelling for Lewis is universal and stories of myth, legend and popular folk tale contain archetypes or universal elements, like the motifs of the quest and the journey. His relatively unknown but accomplished novel, Till We Have Faces, retells an ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche of classical times to explore deep human themes of love and affection, the twisting of good things by evil, and the ending of self-deception. It has some affinities with William Golding’s unfinished final novel, The Double Tongue, exploring dimensions beyond the material world and hints of an as yet unknown god.

Secondly, Lewis’s stories are often given many dimensions by his extensive creation of other, secondary worlds such as Narnia or the planet Perelandra (Venus). Though C.S. Lewis did not, however, produce anything as detailed and mentally inhabitable as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, he has given us Narnia. In terms of children’s literature, The Chronicles of Narnia have long established themselves as classics of popular culture likeThe Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland or, more recently, the Harry Potter stories.

Underpinning The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s friend Tolkien’s carefully worked out idea of sub-creation — the creation of a secondary world — in which the human maker imagines God’s world after him. Lewis’s richly invented worlds open up possibilities, hopes and dreams.

In the third place, Lewis intended some of his stories at least to sound a warning about the consequences of abandoning what he termed ‘Old Western’ or ‘Old European’ values. Even though using the mode of fantasy, he realistically portrays the processes of evil in ordinary life. Lewis’s fiction appears to belong with several other prophetic 20th-century stories with the ring of parable (including George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). They reshape contemporary fiction to come to terms with the horror of palpable evil revealed, for example, in modern, global warfare and ideological control. In his philosophical book,The Abolition of Man, Lewis gives theoretical expression to themes and motifs running through both his and Tolkien’s fiction.

In the fourth place, as hinted at above, Lewis’s popularity may lie in the fact that he presents an attractive spirituality that appeals to a broad readership seeking new meaning and spiritual fulfillment in a greatly secularised world. He helps to formulate in his readers a sense of disenchantment with our secular culture, or rather a hunger for re-enchantment. His emphasis is positive, not life-denying. People today have an uneasy sense that there are dimensions to life untapped by our materialist culture, and that most of us are missing these dimensions.

Tolkien saw a fundamental quality of good fantasy or fairy story as consolation. This was part of the argument he used to convince Lewis of the truth of Christianity. Here sheer grace enters the story. The story of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, he argued, has all the features of the best stories, as the result of a divine shaping of real, historical, first-century events.

More reasons for his popularity

There is another important reason for Lewis’s enduring popularity: his imaginative power, linked to persuasive reasoning. From his teeming mind and imagination sprang stories and powerful rhetoric aimed at persuading people of the truth of Christian faith. For many years an atheist, Lewis didn’t become a Christian believer until more than half way through his life, which meant that he understood from the inside what a materialist universe looked, tasted and smelt like.

There are even further reasons that might explain Lewis’s wide and enduring appeal, not always known to his popular readership.

He was a major literary scholar, an outstanding apologist or defender of Christian faith, a popular lay theologian, a mainstream science-fiction author, a philosopher, and a poet, though a minor one. His poetic sensibility, however, inspired all his prose, whether discursive or fictional, and is a secret of its attractiveness.

These varied facets of C.S. Lewis constantly interrelate in an organic way, making the whole of his personality and presence in his books larger than the sum of all parts.

This article is adapted from the Edgar B. Hollis lecture given by Colin Duriez at the Carnegie Library, Newnan, Georgia, USA, October 1 2013.

Colin Duriez has newly published C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship (see review in August EN) and The AÐZ of C.S. Lewis (Lion).

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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Waiting on God


Waiting on GodLet’s be realistic and honest: waiting is a difficult and frustrating test in life.

But there are ways to cope and grow in testing times. Knowledge apart from application falls short of God’s desire for his children. He wants us to apply what we learn so that we will change and grow. We grow as our understanding of God’s Word increases, and as we apply what we have learned.

We tend to replace waiting on God with hurried attempts at pursuing growth on our own. We use chemical fertilisers in our gardens to force growth. So we settle for shallow roots destined to yield only mediocre growth. We have grown so accustomed to fast food restaurants that they are a way of life. We graft this attitude of hurry into our pursuit of God and it stunts the growth of our inner being. Trees that grow slowly are stronger and their annual rings are more densely compacted.

Biblical examples

God told Noah to build the ark in preparation for a great flood. Enduring his neighbour’s derision and perhaps his own doubts, Noah waited 120 years before that rain finally came.

Job lost his family, his wealth, and his health. One by one the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual supports for his faith were removed. But Job chose instead to wait on the Lord.

Abraham

At the age of 75, a very prosperous and settled Abraham left his native land. He was guided only by God’s promise to make him a great nation. Abraham waited on God a long time before the fulfillment of that promise became evident.

These ordinary people became spiritual giants because they chose to wait on God. If we are to grow in spiritual stature we must learn to wait on God. That stretches us.

Joseph endured 14 years inside a dark Egyptian prison cell for a crime he didn’t commit. But rather than withering and dying, he waited on God and trusted in his sovereignty.

Moses

Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, was well educated. But at the age of 40, he killed an Egyptian and was forced to flee for his life. For the next 40 years this leader lived alone in a desert learning to wait on God. It was a time when Moses learned to replace trust in himself (to get things done) with trust in God and waiting.

Paul was one of the greatest men the religious system of the Pharisees could produce. He zealously led the persecution of Christians. But Christ had other plans for Paul and intervened in his life on the Damascus Road. Paul spent the next three years alone, growing in his knowledge and understanding of his Saviour.

The Lord Jesus

Just before Christ’s public ministry began, Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world if he would only worship him. Jesus endured three tests. Satan tempted Christ to receive glory and power in a way other than God’s way, which was to be through the cross. Christ, however, was willing to wait, to endure suffering, and to become the sacrifice for our sin, before exaltation.

Waiting is the rule

Waiting on God is the rule instead of the exception. When there are no open doors, we try to force the locks. All of us have a natural tendency to make waiting on God the exception and trusting in our own wisdom the rule. This seems to be our default mode. But we need to re-programme our settings to conform to God’s ways. Waiting requires confidence in God that is based on an understanding of who he is. Let us trust him in the silence and darkness.

We must learn to accept the fact that, in many areas of our lives, waiting will be the very process God uses to mature us.

Waiting on God is resting, not hurrying. The difference between waiting and worrying is focus. When we are truly waiting on the Lord, our posture and attitude are like Mary’s (the sister of Martha) as she sat at the Lord’s feet, giving him her undivided attention. When we worry, we’re more like Martha, who, although busy serving the Lord, was distracted and anxious. We may feel trapped and we may be hurting but we can join Mary at the Saviour’s feet at any time.

Scripture counsels: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4.6-7).

There are times when we must wait for God to direct our steps. We need reminding of this when we feel our hearts beginning to grow restless. Trust God to provide for your needs. Our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. This is especially true when it comes to trusting God to provide for us. We’re only too happy to lift up needs in the areas of our weaknesses. But when it comes to the areas of our strengths, our needs are reluctantly lifted up, only after we have exhausted all our skills in trying to provide for ourselves.

Waiting is not easy. It seems unnatural in a world where everything is expected immediately. So we need the supernatural grace of God to help in such times of testing. We grow strong through waiting. ‘They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength’ (Isaiah 40.31).

Two ways to wait

There are two ways to practise waiting. First, we can wait in silence. Some of the best times we may ever spend in prayer are the ones when we stop talking and simply listen. These are times when we meditate upon the things of the Lord through his Word. During these times God may bring to mind a needed truth or something to be thankful for, or a practical application of his Word that we had been missing.

Secondly, we wait with hope and confidence. A student once asked a teacher if there was a course he could take that was shorter than the one prescribed. Many of us, while waiting on God, have asked a similar question. Lord, isn’t there a shorter, less difficult route I could take?

But it’s only by waiting on him (trusting, praying and resting) that our roots will go deep enough for us to be as solid as an oak. Waiting involves trusting. How can I exercise greater trust this week? Waiting includes praying. How seriously have I poured out my heart to God? Waiting implies resting. Am I anxious, tense and worrisome? In what areas can I practise resting this week?

We need to confess our shortcomings in approaching our situations and ask God for help in being still. Ask him for the wisdom to wait. Daily duties continue while waiting on God. Difficulties may increase while waiting on God and so we can become impatient. Delays do not mean God will fail to come through. Never question in the dark what God gave in the light.

Take the advice of the psalmist: ‘Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!’ (Psalm 27.14). Let us be faithful while waiting. Let us expect God to come through in his time.

Kieran Beville is a Baptist pastor in Ireland and visiting professor at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Amsterdam.

 

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The foolishness of atheism – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Psalm 14:1


Foolishness of Athiesm 1 What is a fool? He is a superficial person.

The fool is a man who does not think. He acts in an impetuous manner and does not consider the consequences. That is the biblical meaning of the word fool. And Psalm 14.1 says: ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’.

‘Dear me’, says someone, ‘surely that is a most extraordinary statement. Is that true today? Is that your contention?’ Yes. I believe in the depth of my being that those who say there is no God are just fools. And my business as a preacher is to enlighten them, to expose their folly. I do so out of love and concern for them. This is the vital matter of all matters.

Controlled by desires

Atheists are fools and the first respect in which this is true is that they are people who listen over-much to their hearts. The fool says in his heart. The heart is the seat of the sensibilities. They are governed by what they desire and by what they want to do rather than by certain other things.

Why is this a foolish thing to do? Let me put it in the form of a number of contrasts.

First, they are fools because they listen to their desires instead of listening to that sense that is within them (it is in every man and woman born into this world) — a sense of God. Now people, of course, may try to stifle that and argue it down. But I am asserting that in everyone there is a sense of God. You can study anthropology and investigate the most primitive peoples. Many of them worship stones and trees and find spirits in animals and so on. But they all have this sense of a supreme being, of a God who is at the back of and beyond all the other gods they worship. Men and women who brush aside this innate part of their very being are, I suggest, fools.

Second, in the same way, such people go against the voice of their conscience. We all have a conscience within us. The voice of conscience says: ‘That was wrong! That isn’t true! That’s against God!’ But the atheist sees another kind of life that he has conjured up; he sees people living it. He wants to live it. But his conscience condemns him. So, to live that life, he has to say: ‘There is no God’.

But, thirdly, and I particularly emphasise this, such people are fools because they do not listen to their understanding. The average person today, hearing a statement like that, would respond by saying: ‘Do you know that you’re preaching in the 20th century? Why, it’s because of their understanding that they don’t believe in God!’ That is the argument today, is it not? It is said that these people do not believe in God because of their knowledge and their great brains and the only people who still believe in God are either primitive types or people who deliberately put their heads in the sand and will not look at the evidence.

So let me meet that argument. ‘The LORD looks down from heaven…to see if there are any who understand (v.2).The psalmist’s contention is that atheists are fools because they do not act on their understanding, but on their desires. How do I establish this? Let us ask: Is this disbelief in God confined to the learned and knowledgeable? You see, if this argument is right, then all ignorant people would believe in God but all learned people — especially scientists — would not. But is that so? We know perfectly well that, for every intelligent atheist you can show me, I can show you one who is unlearned and ignorant. Oh, it is wonderful to hear these distinguished intellectual atheists speaking on the media. But people on the street say exactly the same thing as they do. Is denial of God based on learning? Then why do ignorant people say exactly the same thing?

Modern knowledge?

Disbelief in God is not primarily a matter of intelligence. The facts prove it is not.

But let me put that in a still stronger form. Not only can I show that illiterate people who have no culture do not believe in God, I can on the other side show you men of knowledge, learning, and science who have been some of the greatest believers in God and in Christ. For instance, think of Isaac Newton, a scientific genius, or Blaise Pascal, the brilliant mathematician. These men, renowned for their intellectual abilities, believed in God. I could go on. But it is clear that, whatever the explanation may be for the failure of men and women to believe in God, it is not due to knowledge and learning.

But someone might say: ‘Well, of course, all that you have just said might have been quite right 200 years ago, but the reason for atheism is our recent knowledge. There is Darwinism now, and our knowledge of psychology and the study of comparative religions’. But the simple answer to that is that in the time when David wrote this psalm, around 1000 BC, 3,000 years ago, people were saying the same thing. There is nothing new about not believing in God.

Lunatics with brains

Is it not clear then that this has nothing to do with knowledge as such? No it is a question of understanding, and that is a very different thing. People may have great knowledge. They can be aware of many facts, but be fools in their personal lives. Have we not known such people? I have known men in some of the professions whose opinion I would take without a moment’s hesitation because of their knowledge. But sometimes those same men have been utter fools. They have behaved like lunatics. They drank too much even as a less educated man did; they were guilty of adultery even as he was. There is all the difference in the world between knowledge and wisdom, real understanding. Though people may have great brains, they may still be governed by lusts and desires. That is why they are fools.

Foolishness of Athiesm 2
Jumping to conclusions

But let me come to a second point. These people fail to exercise true understanding, and this is something I want to demonstrate in two ways.

First, they arrive at momentous conclusions on insufficient evidence. This is to behave like a fool.

What are these arguments such people bring forward? We cannot, obviously, deal with them all, but let us look at some. Thousands of people say, ‘I don’t believe there is a God’. When you ask, ‘Why not?’ they reply, ‘Well it’s quite simple. If there is a God why are there wars?’ Or, ‘If there is a God, why are there disabled children?’ Or again, ‘If there is a God, why are there earthquakes and things like that?’ And on that kind of reasoning alone they come to the conclusion, ‘There is no God’.

Now it is amazing how intelligent people can argue like that. I had a conversation once with an intelligent professional man who told me the reason for his unbelief was that his wife, for a while, had to endure a very painful illness. And that to him was proof that there is no God.

He had arrived at that tremendous conclusion on that one bit of evidence alone. I asked, had he ever thought that perhaps God had a purpose in allowing this in order to bring something else to pass? I said: ‘How have you and your wife normally lived with respect to God? Have you worshipped him regularly?’ He had to admit that they had not.

‘Has it occurred to you’, I said, ‘that perhaps God permitted your wife to have this pain to make you both think seriously about God and perhaps come to have this conversation with me? So perhaps God has chastised you now in order to bring you to your senses.’ He had never thought about it at all!

I cannot stay with this argument, but there are many people who do not believe in God because of the problem of pain, and yet the answer is a simple one. The Bible gives it in many places. It is so easy to explain, and yet people say, just on that one bit of evidence, ‘There is no God’.

Then people bring forward what they see as the evidence of psychology, and comparative religion, and of course the great question of evolution. And in every single case the answer is the same. All these things are but theories, based on suppositions, ideas conjured up in the minds of men to try to explain the facts. None of them is adequate, all of them are criticised, and there are rival theories and rival schools. And so I maintain that anyone who draws the momentous conclusion that ‘there is no God’ on that sort of evidence is a fool.

Avoiding tremendous evidence

But look at it the other way round. Such people are doubly guilty. They take little bits of evidence and draw this atheistic conclusion; but they do not face the other evidence, the vast, tremendous evidence on the other side. ‘What do you mean?’ asks someone.

First of all, I mean the evidence of creation. I mean the world, the cosmos in which we live. Where has all this come from? And how does it all consist and hold together? Is all this ordered universe, this amazing cosmos an accident? That idea, I say, is unthinkable. As a man privileged to learn a little science and who still has an interest in it, I must say my mind cannot accept such a statement. It is madness.

Second, look at man himself. Are you really satisfied that man is an accident who has come into being, we know not why, nor to what end? My dear friend, you are insulting your humanity. Man stands up as a protest against it all. There is only one explanation for man and that is God! Man is too big to be explained in human terms. He is more marvellous than the cosmos itself.

Further, have you ever considered the evidence of history? Read your secular history, and read the Old Testament history. Can you explain it all apart from God? Can you explain the Jews in particular? Why have they persisted? Where have they come from? How do you explain their whole story, in the Old Testament and since? I say there is only one explanation of the Jews and that is God!

Have you ever considered the evidence of prophecy as we find it in the Old Testament? Have you ever considered the fact that events were foretold 800 years and more before they ever happened? Have you ever written down on a piece of paper the facts concerning the birth and the life and the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you gone back to the Old Testament and, as he himself said, have you found those same facts there? There is only one explanation: God sees the end from the beginning and orders all things after the counsel of his own eternal will.

Jesus of Nazareth

But over and above all this evidence I ask you to look at Jesus of Nazareth. He belongs to history. We all recognise that by numbering the years as we do. He did live. And he died under Pontius Pilate. How do you explain him? Can you get rid of him? There is only one way to explain him, and that is God!

And, indeed, how do you explain the Christian church herself? How did this despised sect become the official religion of the Roman empire after three centuries? How do you explain the mighty revivals in her history — like the Reformation and others — which are acknowledged by secular history? Can men and women bring these things to pass? Of course they cannot. It is God!

That is some of the evidence these people ignore and dismiss when they say: ‘There is no God’. They draw their conclusions out of the flimsiest evidence, and they neglect and ignore this mighty evidence.

Prove that you are wise

But, finally, my third reason for calling such people fools is because they do not hesitate to risk their whole eternal life and their whole eternal future. ‘Ah but’, they say, ‘I don’t believe there is anything after death.’ Well, you may not believe it, but can you prove it? I say that, in the light of the evidence I have just been adducing, anyone who is prepared to risk it is a fool.

You cannot prove there is not a life after death and yet you say: ‘I’m prepared to risk it’. Are you? What if the Bible is right and after death men and women who do not believe in God go on to an eternity of misery and wretchedness — endless, useless remorse, kicking themselves because of their folly?

But look at what they have rejected. Consider what they have refused. There is no life, even in this world, that is comparable to a godly life. It is a clean life; it is a pure life; a life lived in fellowship and communion with God and with Christ. It is a life lived among the people who have done the greatest amount of good in this world. I would simply ask you to read, secular books as well as others; even they prove and demonstrate this. You see, that other life is so empty. I read recently a statement by a certain popular novelist who is now facing the end. He has always been cynical towards the godly life, and there he is now, at the end of his, with nothing. But the life of trust in God has joys and pleasures to give us that the world does not know, even here and now. And as you go on, it gets better. And as you begin to contemplate the end, you are not frightened of death. You do not say: ‘It’s the end of everything’. Rather you say: ‘I’m going on to spend my whole time with Christ in eternity’.

So can you not see the folly of saying that ‘there is no God’? It is the absence of understanding, the absence of true reasoning. Be wise, I humbly beseech you. Come to God to acknowledge your folly, your sin, your shame. Ask him to have mercy. He will tell you he sent his only Son to die for you and your sin and that he will forgive you freely and give you a new life and make you his child. Prove that you are wise!

This article is a heavily edited chapter from Seeking the Face of God: Nine reflections on the Psalms by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published by Crossway (2005), and is used with permission.

 

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Interconnected disconnect


Interconnected DisconnectIn spite of dangers, the internet offers tools that can be used for the gospel. In just the last few years, there have been huge technological changes.

Only ten years ago there was no YouTube, Skype or Smart phone. Facebook was nowhere on the radar, nor was Twitter, Pinterest, or Google. Along with these technologies, or perhaps because of them, there have been changes to the way that people communicate and relate to each other. Today, young people in particular post every detail of their lives online for everyone to see.

Will you be my friend?

In this environment, it is hardly surprising to find that young people may have hundreds of friends on Facebook, and followers on Twitter, seemingly able to quantify how popular they are! They are highly connected, but at the same time, tragically disconnected from the physical interactions that are so crucial to growing up, connections with parents, family and friends, in the church and in the world.

One author1 explained that, while young people may be regular in their attendance at church, ‘what lies beneath their attendance, their easy laughter and even their occasional moments of seeming to pay attention to what you say, [is that] they are experiencing a longing to be known, to be taken seriously, to be affirmed and acknowledged and to be loved’. Tragically, social media can never do this.

The psychological impact

Evidence is mounting that there are significant psychological impacts of mass internet addiction — if you think the word ‘addiction’ is too strong, try asking a young person to spend a week without the internet … better still, try it yourself!

Researchers note that, because of our more ‘connected’ society, ‘children now spend a very limited time with family and actual friends’. ‘There is weakening of family bond and limited real life social interaction resulting in distorted social skills and social cues.’2

The spiritual impact

‘No wonder social media is so addicting — it’s all about you’, or so goes the headline from one recent study3. In a typical face-to-face conversation, people spend 30-40% of the time talking about themselves. On social media, that rises to 80%. Here lies the conundrum. While young people have been called the ‘me generation’, they also crave to be noticed, cared about.

It is also interesting to note the way that young people receive and use information. Vast stores of knowledge are available at the touch of a button, but the way that information is explored is by going from one hyperlink to another — click, click, click every few seconds! We are so easily distracted. We might be looking through information on a particular topic, but then something pops up, maybe another link, a video or an ad, and captures our attention, then off we go along a completely different track!

YouTube reinforces the visual (concrete versus abstract) development of the brain for a generation that has been brought up with videos at any time and anywhere. Experience reigns supreme — as long as it lasts no more than 2-3 minutes!

What should we do?

Recognising where young people are, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, is the first step in reaching them. The Bible itself reinforces the need to understand ‘where people are’, and not where we wish they might be. When the apostle Paul spoke in a Jewish setting, he presented Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 13.16-41). When in Athens, he spoke of the ‘unknown God’ to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (Acts 17). Nor is there anything new about presenting the gospel in highly visual and direct ways. We can imagine the greatest preacher who ever lived, the Lord Jesus, pointing to a field and asking his congregation to ‘consider the lilies’, or to think about how Solomon was clothed (Matthew 6.28). J.C. Ryle, the famous 19th-century bishop, writing about George Whitefield, one of the greatest preachers of all times, noted his ‘singular power of description’, quoting an Arabian proverb: ‘He is the best orator who can turn men’s ears into eyes’4.

Technology can be a vehicle for good, though we need to be aware of its danger — in particular, its addictive nature — and emphasise the need to make and sustain real (physical) friendships. Young people are still in the process of maturing skills such as self-control, so ‘technology-free zones’ might be a good idea, particularly at specific times during youth meetings such as Bible talks.

Much has been written about the negative effects of technology. But it also offers new ways to reach and help young people. While the apostle Paul went into the marketplaces to meet people, in our day the ‘marketplace’ is increasingly digital! If we want to reach young people, we will probably find them ‘attached to their device’! There are amazing examples of innovative uses of video or other technologies to reach young people5. Take a look at a video promoting a university mission6, a flash mob used to advertise a carol service7 or a montage based on asking students to write down what Jesus means to them8.

In New Testament times, the apostles used what was available to them to reach people — whether a common language (Greek) or the wide-ranging network of Roman roads. Today, the internet offers tools that we can use. This should energise our efforts and stretch our imaginations! Videos (typically no longer than two or three minutes) can be a great tool, along with Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The possibilities are endless.

Nothing new under the sun…

At the end of the day, however, the internet is just a tool. Like the printed page, it can be hijacked by the devil, or used to glorify God. History teaches us that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’.9 Interactions between people changed fundamentally as recently as the Industrial Revolution, with the effective breakdown of the extended family. Or, for those who think that young people spend too much time on the internet and not enough time reading, consider that in the Roman Empire literacy rates were probably under 10%10. Throughout history, Christianity has always been the biggest driver of positive change.

Technology may change, but the human heart does not, and our challenge is communicating in a way that can be clearly understood, using the tools at our disposal. The Roman highway may have been replaced by the Superhighway, but ‘The Way’ has not changed!

But the greatest is love…

There is a better way. Much of what we see on social media stems from the need to be noticed, understood, appreciated; above all, to be loved. This is at the very core of the Christian gospel (Matthew 24). The interconnected disconnected may choose an online medium to express their feelings, with everything out in the open, but to us, as ambassadors of Christ, this presents an amazing opportunity to show the love of Jesus. As the world changes, we still communicate the same love that brought Christ to earth so that ‘whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life’. The toys may be smarter, smaller and faster, but the heart is no different. People don’t change nor does the love of God. Because of God’s love to us, and through the power of his Holy Spirit, we also love the young people we interact with. As Jesus said: ‘By this shall all men know that we are his disciples, if we have love one for another’ (John 13.35).

David Clark is the author of You, Your Family and the Internet published by Day One (http://www.dayone.co.uk).

This article was originally printed in the USA in the YouthWorker Journal, and is used with permission.

Footnotes

1. Chap Clark, YouthWorker Journal, Oct. 2 2012
2. From a study by Karishma S. Ramdhonee, a child psychologist with the Mauritius government. The study is found athttp://www.gov.mu/portal/sites/cert/sid2012/Psychological%20Impact%20of%20Internet%20usage%20on%20Children.pdf
3. ‘Stress of modern life cuts attention spans to five minutes’, The Telegraph, November 26 2008.
4. A sketch of the life and labors of George Whitefield, J.C. Ryle.
5. My special thanks to my son Tim for these ideas! He has just spent a year working among students as UCCF Relay worker — http://www.uccf.org.uk/relay/
6. http://www.vimeo.com/58774066
7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICh1stcvuc0&feature=youtu.be
8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOCXYkH1UUY
9. Ecclesiastes 1.9
10. http://www.tektonics.org/tsr/tilliteracy.html

 

This article was first published in the Aug 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Creation Care


Creation careMy son Tom is not yet a Christian. He provoked me recently by saying that he felt that we Christians are living lives of what he called ‘delusional necessity’.

He claimed that we have convinced ourselves that all the creation-damaging activities we do each day are necessary or inescapable and hence acceptable. We think that our low-cost holiday flights, overheated homes, cheap food, two or even three cars and all the other trappings of a consumer-focused 21st-century society are necessary for a fulfilled Christian life. Thanks for saying this, Tom. I believe you’re right. And here’s why.

In all my reading about Christians and the environment I have not once read about sin. I realise the difficulties — people don’t like it. Even many Christians don’t like it. The social norms of individualism and relativism discourage making judgments — at least in certain areas of our lives. We are comfortable saying that things like prostitution, exploitation of children and murder are sinful, to name just three, but when it comes to topics such as consumerism and the environment we are much less happy about making similar judgments. In mitigation, there is also a vigorous debate questioning the reality impact of humankind on the environment especially over climate change.

Of course I recognise that humans are damaging the earth and as Christians we are encouraged to try to ‘do something about it’. As with many others, we are happy to go along with that. Christians buy fair trade coffee, recycle as much as we can, use the bus to go here or there, buy solar panels if we can afford them and forgo strawberries out of season. But if, for some reason, we don’t follow this slightly simpler lifestyle then it’s not likely that anyone will say anything. No one will suggest that maybe we shouldn’t do this, that or the other. There will be no visit from the church leaders suggesting that perhaps that luxury holiday to the Far East is out of order.

Using different words

It is as if lifestyles that lead to environmental destruction fall into some kind of behavioural limbo. Some behaviour is obviously not good. In fact, it is clearly bad, but we resist saying that it’s sinful. Instead we use different words and create patterns of thinking and ways of behaviour that allow us to continue doing just what we want to do! In the developed countries we benefit from a high impact consumerist lifestyle which the remaining two-thirds of the world’s population aspires to match. Our challenge is not to return to a subsistence farming Stone Age but to engage our technological capability to create sustainable, improving standards of life for the whole world.

The predictable result of this debate and complexity is that generally Christians have been weak in tackling the ecological crisis we are facing.

Complacency

Surely we have been lulled into a false sense of what is right and wrong when it comes to ecological lifestyle issues and that’s why I agree with my son Tom that we have fallen into a number of areas of complacency. I have described some below — there may be more!

The first is that we don’t think that the impact of our lifestyles have on God’s creation is really that important. It’s sometimes not a case of wilful neglect. It’s just that caring for creation in a meaningful way is not something that Christians have traditionally thought about, other than to marvel at God’s creation, power and nature’s beauty.

But now we know the huge damage that humankind is doing and there are no excuses these days for not knowing about the effect we have on creation. There is plenty of information around and an increasing amount of Christian writing, but despite this the majority of Christians don’t think seriously about our responsibility to live lives that demonstrate care for creation. Our role should be to act ourselves and alert the wider world to the desperate issues we all face.

Doing enough?

The second complacency is that as Christians we have convinced ourselves that we are doing enough already. It’s true that our lives are much more ecologically minded these days. No thanks to Christians though — most of us are just doing what most other people do, aren’t we? But that’s exactly the problem! We somehow convince ourselves that, because we have made a relatively small number of creation care efforts — recycling, eating some organic food and cycling to church now and then, all this is enough. Of course these are all necessary things to do but not at all sufficient to demonstrate real obedience and creation care. I wonder, in what other areas of our life would we be happy with such low standards? In what other areas of our life would be happy knowing that actually those who are not Christians are probably doing much better than we are at caring for creation?

Perhaps the enormity of the challenge has caused Christians to lose the radical edge that should be changing our lifestyles and convincing the world. As one non-Christian author has said: ‘Being less bad is not the same as being good’.

Can’t help it?

A third area of complacency is that as Christians we seem to have convinced ourselves that we can’t help our behaviours with negative environmental impacts It is true that life in the 21st century is incredibly complex and to some extent it is true that it impossible not to commit creation care sins in normal day-to-day life. It’s the way our economy and society have been designed. Life is complicated, but that is no reason for not trying to do something about the behaviours we do know are harmful. God will forgive us if we have no choice or don’t know about our creation care sin. But what about when we sin knowingly and could easily avoid that sin?

Even in our complex lives there are lots of things we do know about and can avoid and avoid easily without reducing the quality of our lives one little bit. In some areas of our lives it is so easy not to sin! We have choices and we don’t always make the right ones because we are afraid of calling these behaviours what they really are.

Questions

A final complacency is that is that we forget to ask key questions about our creation care lifestyles — questions we ask about other aspects of our lives. When someone approached Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life he was told: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Matthew 22.37-39).

So the questions we should be asking ourselves are:

* How does my lifestyle reflect my love for God and his creation?

* How does my lifestyle reflect my love for my neighbour?

These are simple but quite radical questions in relation to creation care. When we love somebody it means a whole range of emotions and actions, but, basically, it means wanting the best for that person — making their lives better in some way through our actions. Why is it, therefore, that when we think about our creation care behaviour we sometimes seem to accept that, as long as we ‘do no harm’, that’s acceptable? Surely, if we are meant to love and care for God’s creation as he does, then ‘doing no harm’ is not an option — we should actually be doing good!

Love your neighbour

Creation care behaviour for our neighbours is even more radical. In a very real sense our lifestyles in the richer Western countries of the world have a direct impact throughout the whole earth. Climate change is possibly the best example: rising sea level flooding communities, changing weather patterns causing droughts and rising temperatures causing biodiversity loss are just three examples that affect not only God’s creation but God’s people — usually already very poor people at that.

So there we have it, Tom! Christians may be complacent about creation care and thanks for highlighting the dangers. But, being positive, we can through God’s strength do something about them now we know, so that hopefully Christians in the 21st century will be remembered for our actions on creation care, much as those in the 19th century are remembered as leading social reform not just by reforming their own homes and factories but by tirelessly working to change the whole society. As Christians we have to take up the same challenge to be salt and light in care of our God-given world.

James Hindson is a member of Shrewsbury Baptist Church, a part-time teacher and runs his own small organisation called ‘Sense&Sustainability’ —http://www.senseandsustainability.co.uk — working with different groups looking at sustainability issues.

 

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The heroine who said nothing – a Christian missionary who saved Jewish children from the Holocaust


Heroine who said nothingIt is a great privilege to belong to a church with a history.

This year held a great surprise. Surrey Chapel, Norwich, has its own Holocaust heroine! The story first emerged when London barrister Professor Philippe Sands was researching his family history following the death of his father. He opened an insignificant suitcase belonging to his mother. Out fell a yellowing scrap of paper, with a handwritten note which reads: ‘Miss E.M. Tilney, “Menuka”, Blue Bell Rd., Norwich, Angleterre’. After careful research, this clue brought a fascinating story to light.

Confronting the Nazis

The address referred to Miss Elsie Tilney (1893-1974). She was one of a cohort of doughty missionaries sent by our church to far away places in the early years of the 20th century. Her initial calling was to North Africa, but over time she felt drawn to the Jewish people. As the Nazi shadow darkened over Europe in the 1930s, she found herself in Paris. Occasional messages to the church described her ministry of practical and spiritual care to the numerous Jewish refugees accumulating from Germany and Eastern Europe. When Paris fell, she was interned, and, when finally freed, she returned home saying little or nothing about her experiences.

Only now do we know what she was up to when she was in France. Elsie had form when it came to facing up to the Nazis. Days before war began, a Jewish refugee had asked her to travel to annexed Vienna to extract his baby daughter. This she did — risking freedom if not perhaps life at this point — and giving her a first taste of confrontation with Fascist authorities. In July 1939, baby Ruth came to Paris, survived the war in hiding with her parents in France, and eventually became the mother of Professor Sands.

Choosing to remain

Meanwhile, with the fall of Paris imminent, Elsie chose not to flee, but to remain with people she loved. She was imprisoned in Vittel, an internment camp for foreign nationals. These included hundreds of Jews with foreign passports, some obtained through the black market. Theses passports gave protection for a time — ironically, Nazis were sticklers for bureaucracy. Elsie, in her 50s, worked in the prison administration; we suspect this enabled her to help hide the true origins of Jewish internees. Vittel was not a concentration camp; life was bearable in a converted hotel — but for Jews it did not last.

Train to Auschwitz

In 1944, the Final Solution began in earnest; no longer could a mere passport protect you. A train to Auschwitz was due, and hundreds of Jews were to depart. With great consternation in the camp, Elise’s greatest act of courage took place. Sashe Krawech, a young Polish machine-gunner who had survived the Warsaw ghetto because he was ‘South African’, somehow missed the train… It turns out Elsie had hidden him in her bathroom. This continued for the next five months.

Working in the camp office was no holiday — it was a daily life-or-death test of nerve. (‘Is there a Jewish girl in your room, Miss Tilney?’ ‘No, there is no Jewish girl in my room, Herr Commandant.’ Very truthful people, Surrey Chapel missionaries!)

To be discovered assisting Jews by the Nazi authorities at this time would be to die with them. But she did not; and when the Americans liberated the camp, Sashe emerged from the bathroom — distinctly green, but definitely alive!

And so lives were saved and a heroine was born — almost immediately to be forgotten. Elsie later moved to America to live with her brother (who trained body-builders, funnily enough, including Charles Atlas). And, in common with many ladies of her ilk and generation, she said absolutely nothing about it. It was, after all, for God’s glory, not hers, and she will get her reward. So why have we unearthed it? It’s for his sake and for ours, not hers, that we remember the story.

The people God uses

What kind of heroes does God use for his purposes? Read the Bible casually and some famous names appear: David, Moses, Samson…. Big, hairy and male, they famously saved the people of God by their mighty deeds. But please read it again more carefully; look for some other heroes, less well known. You have heard of Esther, I’m sure. But how about Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed and Jehosheba? Look them up. They only get one or two Bible name-checks (guess why?) — but their heroic roles were just as crucial in saving the people and purposes of God as David or Moses. Without them — no people of God, no line of David, no Jesus Christ, no salvation.

In heaven, the ordinary, humble, unsung heroes will outnumber the superstars by several million to one. They reflect God’s glory with equal splendour. And they may include you or me, even if there are no Nazis involved.

So what does it take?

First, Elsie was a lady of character — and let’s not pretend it was all smooth perfection. Sashe Krawech, so it is said, found her so annoying that he was almost driven to giving himself up to the Gestapo! Imagine that young man trapped in the wardrobe or the bathroom of a life-long missionary spinster intent on converting him. It is quite likely Elsie was, shall we say, ‘of a sort’. But it was not the perfection of her personality that made her useful to God; it was her devotion to him that made a heroine. Anyone can do it.

Secondly, Elsie was a lady of compassion and courage. She was willing to risk and sacrifice herself for others — and, of course, in this Christians have no monopoly. By God’s common grace, this human ideal remains evident in people of all convictions and none. We cannot say: ‘As a Christian, Elsie was more compassionate and courageous than others’. But perhaps what we can say is: ‘As a Christian, Elsie was more compassionate and courageous than she would have been otherwise’.

But, thirdly, Elsie had a calling. Everyone deserves compassion — but why was Elsie in Paris with the Jews and not back home in Norwich? She felt a specific call, in her case to the Jewish people, and it was to convert them. She was motivated by her theology to see them come to Christ, not just escape from Hitler.

This may be an embarrassing truth today, but it remains the Christian mission. We are to ‘make disciples of all nations’ by a gospel which is ‘first for the Jew, then for the gentile’. She believed that through the Jews all peoples would be saved. One survivor recalls how, as a teenager, Elsie had met her in a corridor, knelt before her and sworn to do all she could to protect her as a member of God’s Old Testament chosen people. Elsie saved life because of her specific calling, not general humanitarian ideals. So what are mine?

Holocaust Memorial Day

I am glad we have unearthed our own Holocaust heroine. But there have certainly been hundreds of other stories in my church that remain untold. Perhaps most have never risked their physical lives for Jesus, but they certainly gave their lives to him, for him to use day by day, month by month, year by year. And I look forward to hearing all their stories one day.

On January 27 2013, we had the privilege of being joined at Surrey Chapel for Holocaust Memorial Day by Professor Philippe Sands and his family, including his mother, Ruth Sands (74), and Shula Truman (89), who knew Elsie in Vittel.

Professor Sands’ account of Elsie’s life can be downloaded here:http://www.schapel.org.uk/LiveVersion/Sermons/files/2013-01-27_PS_Elsie_Tilney.mp3

Tom Chapman

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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When every day is extra time


An interview with Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Nigeria

(This is an edited version of Hugh Palmer’s interview with Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Nigeria at New World Alive in 2011)

HP: Tell us about the beginning of your Christian life?

BK: I came from a Christian background. A missionary called Max Warren came to Nigeria in 1928. My father was ostracised for accepting the gospel. But Max Warren ensured that my father got all the education he needed. My father passed on that education, which included the 1662 Prayer Book, Hymns Ancient & Modern and all that. So I grew up saying, ‘Thou knowest, thou wentest…’ and all those things.

By the age of 17 I wanted my freedom. So I left. I was now fed up with Christianity. I did not know that I was not a Christian. Two years down the road in 1976 I met someone on the streets of Lagos who was handing out tracts. I knew my Bible so I thought I would put him off. I said to him: ‘You are wasting your time. Jesus wants only 144,000 people in heaven; so only two from Nigeria will qualify!’ He said ‘no’, and gently, with certainty and conviction, led me through John 10.10, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. He assured me that God loved me. I went back to my room and for the first time I saw that it was filthy. I started crying. That began a journey, and I have never looked back since.

Church growth

HP: You don’t become an archbishop overnight. What happened?

BK: I was in the Nigerian Army. But then things changed. The OM ship, the Logos, was in Lagos harbour. I was taken there by someone following me up. We bought books and got groomed for ministry. God called me. But I didn’t want to go into ministry. All the ministers I knew looked unhappy and church was boring. But it was through this that God spoke clearly. I was to go back and help build up the young people in his church.

I went to seminary. Then after four years I was ordained and went to St. Andrew’s Church as the first black pastor. There I got married. But in three and a half years we grew from 60 people to 400. I was then given a leadership role in rural areas and we grew from 30 to 70 congregations in a short time.

HP: You became a bishop. How did you cope with all the committees?

BK: I abolished them all! As a bishop I am a missionary. By my third year we had grown from 85 to 190 congregations and I appointed leaders in the different areas. In another 8 years we were up to 315 congregations. People are perishing so we push on with the work. As we do that I find gifted young people who want to serve the kingdom of God.

Also I came to the conclusion that it was not good for them to be trained in the West, especially because of the suffering situation in northern Nigeria. If they come to the UK for three years of electricity, running water and no persecution, when they return to Nigeria they would be like fish out of water. So we do our own training.

Persecution

HP: The Muslim / Christian divide in Nigeria runs deep. Is it just a geographic thing?

BK: No. Being born in the north, my first education as a little boy was in the Qur’an. My father was an education officer in the north. So we lived and grew up with Muslims. I still have many Muslim friends. The divide that has come in is something new. It began in the early 1980s, largely through the teachings of the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.

1987 was the beginning for me. We were only about four or five years married. I was sitting in my living room, my wife was away, and some security officers came to my home and said I must be evacuated. They had information that I was about to be killed. I thought it was a joke. But the following day I found that both my church and my house had been burnt down. From 1987 on we have seen the steady rise in the killing of Christians. It is not all Muslims who are like that. Governments across the world have failed to identify this strand of violent Islam and they are now armed right across the world.

HP: Jos seems to be at the front line and it is often reported that both sides are attacking each other.

BK: No. Jos is a wonderful, fertile, welcoming place which attracts people from many nations, Christians and non-Muslims. There are HQs of many mission organisations in Jos. But next door there are shari’a states. So any dissatisfied Islamic group can decide to come into Jos and foment trouble. It got to the point where Christians were asking if they should defend themselves. I think none of the violence has ever been started by Christians or by non-Muslims. The non-Muslims (pagan, rural people, etc.) retaliate and are classified by the international media as ‘Christians’. So the church is paying twice. We are paying for persecution and for the sins of non-Muslims.

In my heart it is settled. I have forgiven. I am not going to retaliate ever in my life. I have seen the power of God to save me in difficult times. Whatever happens I will just keep forgiving.

Personal attacks?

HP: How many times have you and your wife, Gloria, been attacked?

BK: Specifically three times. In the first one I have already mentioned I received encouragement from Gloria. She was away and heard of the trouble, so she got a taxi. I took her to the house. There were many things stored there from our wedding and gifts I had brought back from the US. Now it was all burned. I was scared about how she would feel. But when she came she put her arms around me and said: ‘Ben, you preach that heaven and earth will pass away. If that doesn’t start with you, people will not believe’. I was blessed by that. The Lord seemed to say to me that after March 12 1987 every other day was extra time.

The second attack was like this. I was in England. The attackers somehow knew when I was due to return. For some reason I postponed my return. The evening I had been due back they came in after midnight. The mob was more than 40 people. They ransacked the house thinking I was there hiding somewhere. They tortured Gloria in unspeakable ways. She was left half dead, completely blind and with broken legs. It took nearly nine months, but, with some special treatment in the US, praise God she is now fully recovered.

Exactly a year later they came back. Again it was a huge crowd, this time prepared with a sledgehammer to break in. I told Gloria: ‘I think my time is up’. I asked God that they take me and nobody else. They took me out into the compound. They did not beat me. They said: ‘Man of God we are going to kill you’. I said: ‘Please let me pray’. One said: ‘Let’s kill him upstairs in the presence of his wife’. So we went back upstairs. They allowed me to pray. I got down on the floor and was praying. A few moments later I felt cold hands around me. I opened my eyes. It was Gloria. I said: ‘What are you doing there?’ She said: ‘Pray on Ben’, and we prayed. A few moments later my son came in. He said: ‘Daddy, they’re gone’. Now, what they saw, why they didn’t carry out their plan, only eternity will reveal.

HP: Ben, you have visited Britain. You know the culture is getting more hostile. What would you say to us in the UK?

BK: Listen to the Word of God. You must carry the gospel with your whole heart to your children, your relatives and friends. We must agonise in prayer and share the gospel. Inevitably, whether you do this or not, suffering will come your way. It is better to suffer for the gospel than to suffer for no gospel. Whatever is happening by way of Christians suffering around the world, do not think you will be insulated from it. This is going to come with time.

This interview is used with permission of the organisers of New Word Alive.