by Tony Copple
(Continued from the July 2021 post)
I am a poor biblical teacher, and a worse preacher. I am a better thinker and seeker after the logic behind the Christian faith. God either exists or he doesn’t. Whether you believe or not doesn’t affect his existence. It’s not a matter of faith bringing him to existence. No one is coerced into Christianity, but if after the privilege of hearing the evidence you decide not to believe, perhaps because of peer pressure, be aware of the magnitude of that decision. The book of Proverbs has serious criticisms of scoffers. All preachers who enlighten me on any aspect of the faith are bringing me gifts from God. In my very occasional sermons or teaching, or even just praying in a group, as soon as I start to speak I usually sense the guidance of Holy Spirit helping me tell the story, so I am sure that all sincere preachers receive the same help. Without it, preachers would soon give up and enter secular work. What is happening here is the spread of Christianity worldwide. Jesus is still building his church. It is growing fastest in the most dangerous places, such as northern Mozambique. The basic principles and beliefs in Christianity have universal appeal among the poor and rich alike, though unfortunately many of the rich don’t believe they have a need that might be supplied by the faith. Missionaries and pastors can present the Gospel, but the actual decision to follow Christ comes from something happening in the heart. As a long time leader of Alpha courses, my belief is that, at the right time, Holy Spirit comes upon the new believer and suddenly their path ahead seems clear. They decide to jump into the pool. After that they will never be the same. Jesus has become vital to them, even if a few weeks earlier he was an irrelevance. So it is wrong to think badly, as a Christian, of our friends who decline. It is probably negative to harass or pester them. Holy Spirit has it under his control. Our role is to invite people to ‘come and see.’ as Andrew did to Peter. Today in Iran and other countries closed to our faith, Holy Spirit is at work through dreams and visions, and people with no previous Christian knowledge or experience are being drawn to Christianity, despite the personal danger this puts them in. Then, what they need and are desperate for is a copy of the Bible in their language. Using conventional logic, such potential converts really should ignore the call for their own safety, but when offered the keys to the Kingdom which makes all aspects of this life understandable, exposure to danger is an acceptable price to pay.
The Bible invites us (Rom 1:20) to look around us at the wonders of creation if we need proof of the existence of God. I would like to consider just one aspect of creation: water. Water is the only liquid that expands as it freezes. This has huge implications for life on Earth, and elsewhere. It means that as ice forms on water it floats, reducing heat loss from the water under the ice. For this reason, fish and other creatures survive under the ice. Mountains and rocks turn into soil over time because water that seeps into crevices in the rock then expands as it freezes, and the force of the expansion is sufficient to crack the rock. Without soil – no plants. The elegance of the unique design of water in that way is awesome. Most substances can exist as solids, liquids and gases, and they expand as they change state from solid to liquid to gas. To imagine that the water anomaly could have happened by chance, in the face of statistical probability, relatively soon after the cooling of the planets, is an impossible challenge for my brain to imagine. Water came to this planet long before any living thing, yet it contained these special characteristics in preparation for the unique needs of life. This is either an an amount of luck beyond all imaginings, or the minutely detailed pre-planning by a divine mind. Science has revealed thousands of other extra-ordinary and counter-intuitive characteristics that strongly suggest very intelligent design.
Let’s talk about Jesus (with acknowledgement to Johnny Cash). At the age of 30, with no formal education (he taught the teachers), he started his ministry, picking 12 uneducated (but teachable) men to whom he could introduce the notion of a spiritual kingdom that has a presence on earth but also a presence in Heaven. Along the way he introduced a system of morals that simplified the ancient Jewish law, and serves today as the best guide for living this life and the one to come. All of his teaching has remained vital and relevant throughout history and is set to continue so in the future. He knew his identity – the son of God – but was killed for telling the very people who had asked him who he was. To this day millions of smart people can’t accept who he was, because he hasn’t yet ‘knocked on their doors’ (Rev 3:20), while smaller numbers of even smarter and more fortunate people accept his identity without question, as do masses of regular and particularly poor people. He has had more influence on this world than all other influential leaders put together. That’s quite a legacy for three years talking to anyone who would listen. The book about his life is the best selling book in the world, satisfying the huge demand to learn about him. For many of them, particularly in parts of the world where he is only worshipped in secret, he is the object of passionate love. Can you believe that the creator of the universe wants such a personal relationship with those who accept him? YES! Laurie-Ann and I commune with him daily as we navigate life, and we see the results in a calmness in the face of challenges, and in my case a stream of thoughts and nudges, often early in the day with ideas and suggestions for the day ahead. Laurie-Ann seems to have a continual conversation with Holy Spirit, sometimes about her artwork, but really every aspect of her life. Is anyone reading this still doubting that he was who he said he was? That he was not just a man, but the incarnation of God? How can he not be the focus of our lives?
As CS Lewis has famously written, Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important Yet that is exactly the status that nominal Christians give it. How then can any seeker after truth not make it a cornerstone of their lives? Maybe it is peer pressure. Even if we are passionate believers, we may not be accomplished debaters, and arguing against a spiritual unprovable belief is easier than arguing for it. Yet, what value would a belief in God have if his existence was a mathematical certainty? He didn’t want it to be. He wanted faith to be part of the equation, and that we should acknowledge to our detractors that we believe because he invited us to take a giant step that requires courage and the expectation of opposition. Over the years my faith has ripened to the point where there are so many reasons to believe, far outweighing reasons not to.
Miracles permeate the Bible, but they are not an end it itself. They are a sign that there is far more to this world than meets the eye, as Shakespeare famously proclaimed through Hamlet. Jesus predicted that greater miracles would be done by his followers than had been done by him, and so it has proven. Talk to any missionary in the field about miracles in our time, and they will astound you. Miracles abound in our world today, from healings to raisings from the dead to multiplication of food (as in the feeding of the 5,000), even turning water into wine. Why don’t we read about such things in our newspapers or on-line news sources? Editors of secular newspapers would be sacked for printing them, since their typical readers would assume they had lost their critical faculties. This is strange, since journalists are generally searching for what actually happened. On a side issue, western secular radio stations won’t play Christian songs regardless of their quality or popularity. This isn’t the case in South Africa, where Christian songs are often played on all sorts of stations. In Canada, new laws are being enacted intended to curb the freedom of pastors freely to preach the Gospel, or anyone in public life from portraying Christianity as something to be sought after. We ourselves have heard of many convincing miracles and met people who experienced them. In our own missionary journey we have documented ‘kindnesses of God’ that have allowed us to overcome challenges, starting with the receipt of our South African visas within 1 day rather than the regular 2 months. L-A has been completely cured of inflammatory breast cancer after we made a very deliberate decision to trust in the Lord rather than return to Canada immediately as required by the travel insurance company. The money to pay for her treatment arrived spectacularly from more than 100 donors who had been touched by Holy Spirit to do something extraordinary. However, the greatest miracle of all, on which Christianity is dependent for its existence, is the resurrection. Books such as ‘The case for Christ’ and ‘The God Memorandum’ have been written by sceptics intending to prove it a myth, but discovering it to be true. Some have called it one of the best attested facts in ancient history. Once one hoists on board the truth of the resurrection, all challenges to the Gospel fall, like dominoes. If you are of an intellectual persuasion there are many learned studies of the death and resurrection of Christ that explain God’s strategy in planning such an extraordinary event, but the only part of it most people need to know is that they can expect eternal life after death if they repent of sin and acknowledge the Saviour. I for one am fully convinced and ready and eager for the next phase of existence.
John Lennon was strong on truth, even writing a song called ‘Gimme some truth.’ In his day truth was being downplayed as a virtue. Today, being truthful has become naivety, and lying acceptable. It is easy to see this in politics, but more devastating when we discover the lies of someone we know. Some of the best liars I have met are the teenage girls we mentor in South Africa, and they learned it from their parents, so desperate for handouts that they will lie, cheat and steal from friends and family. Jesus called himself ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ The Bible is truth you can depend on, so much so that its credibility extends beyond things that seem reasonable into counter-intuitive phenomena, including the sermon on the mount which turns natural beliefs upside down, like loving enemies. How revolutionary it must have been to the early church, though other world religions pre-dating Christianity also promoted loving your enemy, which from a practical viewpoint is the only way for disputes to dissipate rather than escalate. A holy book so ethical can only come from a belief system based on truth, and it adds to my comfort in believing.
The final reason I believe is learned from Rolland Baker. He has a way of clarifying significant aspects of our faith, and where there was confusion and a lack of clarity, replacing it by what to my my mind is how God would have planned it, and always it is totally clear from the Bible, but I and many others had forsaken what the Bible said for some watered down explanation currently in vogue.
We live in troubled times, faced with Coronavirus, climate change, ISIS and international terrorism, mass shootings, gender-based violence, people living in desperate economic circumstances, rulers whose only rule is to better themselves at the expense of those they rule, the devaluation of truth, and extreme inequality (particularly in South Africa). How can we understand what is going on and how to navigate through it? There is a school of misguided thought that teaches that belief in Christianity can somehow deal with these issues, and life on earth will change for the better. Do not give credence to anyone who tells you this. Jesus said exactly the opposite. His teaching was never how to change the ways of the world. He actually told us that the king of this world is Satan, wreaker of havoc. What he taught was more about the next world. He showed how we should prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of Heaven in Heaven, by being part of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It is that part that yields answered prayers and other blessings. This life is so short, but our potential lives are forever, if we learn, while here, how to make it so. The focus of Jesus on the afterlife is unmistakable, yet generations of Christians have chosen to interpret his teaching as it applies to our temporal lives in the present. For some, they have dispensed entirely with what happens when we die, replacing the emphasis with the prosperity Gospel, or prayer for our messed up world. I don’t believe this is what he asks us to concentrate on, which is much simpler and on the face of it, more achievable. He said that the most important thing in life was loving God, and the second most important was loving one another. Notice the priority here. We need to learn and try and understand everything that can be known about him, as we build our relationship with him. He needs to be front and centre, the number one focus of our lives, and this can only be possible if we have fallen in love with him. When that happens, we stop worrying about all our temporal concerns, and he is everything. This way of looking at the world and the spiritual world is so elegant, so right, and such an explanation for the way things are that it adds significantly to my reasons to believe.
The Bible says there are four stages for most people in the process of entering into God’s kingdom: Believe; Repent; Baptise; Receive Christ – become reborn. We have discussed the first of these. If you have enough evidence to believe, then pursue the other three. Remember, you cannot prove your belief; you still need to take a step of faith – that’s the way God intended it.
God bless you.
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
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