Delete your history!

August 5, 2020

For me the computer is a tool to be used, and a valuable one at that. But I don’t pretend that I really know about or understand how it works. In the same way, I love my car but the science behind the internal combustion engine remains a mystery to me. The fact is I can use both without having a detailed knowledge of how they work or the ability to repair them.

Search engines are something else I use a lot yet know little about. However recently a computer savvy friend made me aware that when I use a search engine to find a company selling something I need, or go to a site for information, a small file called a ’cookie’ is installed on my computer. This enables my use of the computer to be tracked so, for example, if I buy a book on climate change, I may subsequently be shown adverts for other books on the same or similar subjects.

My friend was adamant that I should delete my browsing history regularly to purge the cookies. His advice was that I should do so on a daily basis, as he does, but in reality I only manage once or twice a week.

This started a thought process which appealed to me. If I can delete my history on my computer, wouldn’t it be nice sometimes to be able to delete the history of my life. When we are young we don’t think much about what we do, we are too busy living life. But when we get older and look back, we remember times when we did things that embarrass us now. Situations where we did not listen, or through ignorance hurt and upset people, or focused on what we wanted even if that put someone else at a disadvantage.

Perhaps we’ve grown or changed or learned to get along with people better, so we look back with regret at some of the things we’ve done. How nice would it be if we could have our history wiped out and start again with a clean sheet?

But of course we can’t change a minute of yesterday, even though we can change every minute of today and tomorrow. The past hurts and the pain we have caused lives with us.

It’s a part of being human that we make mistakes and all of us do.  Suppose we use that old fashioned word ‘sin’ to describe the way we have treated people negatively in the past. In hurting people by our actions with our families, among friends who may not be friends today, in work situations or in any relationship with another person, you could say we have sinned against them. Even if we did not mean to, even if we did so in ignorance we carry a burden of guilt for those sins we committed.

What would it be worth to delete that bad history in our lives? Well I believe there is a way because it is written in that ancient book of wisdom, the Bible  that He (God) “has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west”.

Now that may seem a strange statement to you but as you look back on your life and you see the things you have done that you are uncomfortable with now, ask yourself what it would mean to have the guilt from the wrong actions of your past simply wiped away?

Making all your mistakes history – is it just that simple? The answer is both Yes and No, but we are here to help you understand why that is so. Please feel free to contact us for more information and understanding, using the email address below.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

1Psalm 103, verse 12

Non-stop shielding

August 3, 2020

Shielding has just ended for over two-million people in the UK. If you’re one of them, you may be relieved at the prospect of normality returning. Or you might be feeling vulnerable.

Shielding during this pandemic has been about protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. There’s even something reassuring about the word itself. A shield keeps us safe from danger. Metaphorically, we all need a shield.

Last week’s Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha (meaning “Festival of Sacrifice”) reminded me of another kind of shield. The festival is a celebration of a peculiar, if not painful, event in the life of the spiritual father of the three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All three look to the patriarch Abraham as a great man of faith. But even he had to be shielded.

One of the most well-known encounters Abraham is said to have had with God is in a vision where God tells him “I am your shield”.[1] Interesting shield! But what would it be like if God was our shield?

Maybe we grew up in one of the above religions but drifted from the faith in direct proportion to how many times God didn’t come to our rescue when we really needed him. If God was a shield, then why did faith feel like no shield from the worst of times. I’ve felt that, too. And ironically, so did Abraham.

The Festival of Sacrifice[2] is a celebration of a story about Abraham’s most heart-wrenching moment. Abraham had two sons – Ishmael and Isaac. He loved both of them dearly but Isaac was the one son born by his, until then, barren wife – they had waited 25 years for this. So Abraham saw Isaac’s birth as a miracle. But then God requested something unreasonably drastic. God asked Abraham to take Isaac’s life! For any modern reader, this story sounds barbaric. So when I think about the story, I ask myself, how was God being a shield in all this?

I guess I’ve come to see divine shielding a little differently now in my 4th decade on this earth. I once thought if you believed in God, he would protect you from anything going wrong. How the Abraham story ends has taught me to see divine shielding in a more grown-up way.

When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God told him to stop. Phew, that could have been messy! But jokes aside, God gave Abraham a way out from the test. God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. And for me that’s the point of the story. It’s not a story that tells us God shielding stops bad things happening. It’s a story that tells us that God’s shielding will help provide a way out, a way to cope. That’s why Abraham names the very location, “The-Lord-Will-Provide.[3]

God’s shield protects us in pain, not from pain. Shielding that is never taken away.

[1] The Bible, Genesis 15:1
[2] The Islamic version of the story has Ishmael as the son who God asked to be sacrificed, whereas the Judeo-Christian version, Isaac is the son to be sacrificed.
[3] The Bible, Genesis 15:14

When will we escape?

July 31, 2020

Some of us might think we will never get away. It reminds me of an old gospel song made famous by a man called Jim Reeves – “One fine morning…I’ll fly away”.

He didn’t mean fly away to Majorca, or to the Azores, or to a summer cabin in Sweden, but to a life beyond this one. When this life is over, when the first wave, all the subsequent waves and peaks are ended, maybe we shall be able to travel wherever we please.

Not that the afterlife should be likened to one endless holiday. After all, we would get bored sooner or later. God, whoever he is, didn’t design us for nothingness.

What he did make us for is something beyond the mess we are in.

Now that sounds good to me. As the song went on, “When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away…”

You can come too.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

The Mask

July 29, 2020

In times gone by when I heard the term ‘The Mask,’ my mind immediately thought of Jim Carry’s film of the same name. Carry plays a hapless bank clerk who finds a magical green mask that transforms him into a mischievous troublemaker with superpowers. More recently, ‘the mask’ has taken on an entirely different meaning as should I venture out on public transport or into my local supermarket my first thought is ‘have I got the mask with me?’

My green mask doesn’t transform me into a comic hero, nor does it give me extraordinary powers, rather it is intended to offer some form of protection against transmitting or picking up the Coronavirus.

I must admit that wearing this mask makes me feel like someone I’m not. After all, I’ve always associated wearing a mask with a bank robber, or someone holding up an off licence, or a mugger in a dark alleyway. As I walk into Tesco’s with only my eyes visible my instinctive reaction is ‘this makes me feel like a criminal.’ I haven’t been transformed into a criminal by simply wearing a mask, but it feels like this is the persona I’m presenting to the world.

Interestingly, throughout antiquity, so far as we know, all the actors in Greek tragedies, comedies and satyr plays wore masks all the time they were on stage. The mask signalled the act of impersonation as they were transformed into the character they were playing. An actor often played multiple roles within the same play by disguising himself with a series of masks. He might come in from one side of the stage wearing the mask of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, and hence a sad mask as he delivered solemn and sorrowful lines. Then later he would appear from the other side of the stage wearing the mask of Thalia, the muse of comedy, and hence a smiling mask as he delivered lines designed to make people laugh.

The English word ‘hypocrite’ originates from this theatrical context. It came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or ‘a stage player.’ This Greek word is made up of two Greek words that literally translate as ‘an interpreter from underneath.’ In other words, the Greek actors interpreted the story from underneath their masks. Over the years hypokrites and thus hypocrite has come to refer to any person who is wearing a figurative mask, pretending to be someone or something they are not. They are just acting. They are just being two-faced.

The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, had some strong words for the hypocrites of his day: ‘Woe to you…hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’[1] Jesus was calling out those who didn’t practise what they preached, who said one thing but did another.

If I am absolutely honest, I have to own up to varying degrees of hypocrisy, where I’ve put the mask on to hide what’s happening inside and to transform me into a different persona on the outside. Usually, it’s done to present me in the best possible light so that I look good to other people. However, if I am going to be a follower of Jesus, and an authentic one, then I need to take off the mask of hypocrisy and live by the beliefs I profess.

The next time I go on public transport or into Tesco’s and I diligently put my green mask on, I’ll be thinking about the persona I’m presenting to the world. It won’t turn me into a superhero, but it will help me to think about my authenticity as a Christian.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] The Bible, Matthew chapter 23, verses 27-28, (NIV)

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

Life-changing summer

July 27, 2020

When was your life-changing summer?

We can all remember that holiday, music festival or summer camp that did something to us that meant our life, or our perspective on life, was changed enough to mean we would not be the same person. It might have been that friend we met, that moment when we did something we never thought we could, or being smitten by that raw awe-inspiring beauty of water and landscape merging with a sunset backdrop.

For me, I was fortunate to have many of those summer experiences. My parents needing a break from me and my siblings sent us off to summer camp each year. And it changed my life over and over again. And still does in my adult life as I volunteer on the camp’s staff.

Your life-changing summer may have been that summer camp experience too? For me summer camps have been the best American export – a week or two of adventure, awkward hellos, adrenaline-fuelled challenges, and life-long friends. These were the magic ingredients that made my summers a jab of motivation and self-discovery.

So have you thought about passing this gift of challenge and change onto your son or daughter, or that young person you know?

Of course, this summer is a washout for most of us. For me, it would have been this weekend that started another one of those character-stretching summer camps. But Covid had other ideas! So that chance to do something different will have to wait until next year. But I wanted to share with you the kind of experiences I’ve had over the years, and maybe if you like the look of them, you too might think about giving yourself a break from the kids next summer and give them that life-changing summer.

Here is the Instagram, Facebook page (with tons of fun pics and videos) and website of the summer camp that has changed my life for the better in so many ways.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Unmasked

July 24, 2020

Am I the only one to get confused when wearing a mask? Recently I had my face mask on when I went for a cup of coffee. I tried to pay by using my phone, but it would not process. What was the problem? My phone’s security works by facial recognition and the mask obscured my face! I felt flustered and peered intently at the phone, thinking it would click in. People in the socially distanced line behind me were sniggering as they watched, and I too began to laugh.

Masks have a fascinating history and were worn for all sorts of reasons, and they still are. I remember watching a movie which featured a masquerade, a party where people wore elaborate masks to conceal who they were. The idea goes back to the theatres of ancient Greece and elsewhere, where actors would don a mask to get into character. Typically, they’d use a mask that featured a recognisable attribute of the role they were playing.

A friend of mine, who knew I was a Christian, asked me about God. What is he like? Would he please come out from behind his mask and identify himself? My friend was being sarcastic, but I had an answer. Jesus came, I said to him, to show us who God is, to reveal how God is love.

It’s something worth noting. If we want to know what God is like, how he thinks and how he cares for us, we look to the life of Jesus.

Jesus is God unmasked.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

Open for worship

July 22, 2020

What new places will you visit?

You, like me, may have experienced a sense of adventure and curiosity as the country continues to open up after its forced hibernation – what places shall we go and visit? Being cooped up for so long we’re ready to explore.

I will be hitting the back roads of Wales this summer (with most of the country sounding like they’re off to Cornwall). Let us know what places you plan to visit.

Talking of Wales, this weekend the devolved government decided it would open its places of worship again for up to 30 people. The late Welsh revivalist, Robert Evans, would be happy! Who knows, maybe I will pop into a church or two.

Some would say that’s not a bad idea. Not just because faith in something beyond the physical has helped numerous people up and down this country get through lockdown (see our blog on this here) but because of its other benefits.

Other benefits?

I’m always a little sceptical on postulations that religious belief or regular worship have some almost magical benefit. The cynic makes me question who’s really benefitting? So I decided to check out what these benefits were and whether they are legitimate.

My discoveries increased the probability of that trip to the pews of some local Welsh church. Turns out that I might be happier for it. The well-known Pew Research Centre continues to find that people who are active in congregations (religious meetings) are happier for it. And it’s not just religious people who are doing the research.

With no bias, “recently, scholars have applied more scientific rigour to their research on religion, and many of the studies that have been published in the past 30 years have found that religious people tend to live longer, get sick less often and are better able to cope with stress.”[1]

So maybe as we exercise this new-found curiosity to visit places we’ve never been before, maybe it’s worth checking out that local church we always walk by. Or go with that friend who has given us that awkward invitation to their faith community.

Who knows, in the long run we might be happier for it.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/278730/

What do you fear?

July 20, 2020

In a book called Search for Significance, by Robert McGee, he claims there are four key fears that we all suffer from and have to face up to. They are the fear of failure, rejection, punishment and shame. It is true that most of our fears relate to those four areas, but I suggest there is one more which needs to be added to the list: fear of death.

Fear is a paralysing emotion. It can affect our relationships and even hold us back, preventing us from realising our full potential. It can make us risk-averse, so we don’t take opportunities that come our way which we then regret later in life.

The question that we then have to ask ourselves is, why do we have these fears? Many of us will answer, they come from our childhood, from our culture, from past criticism, or risks taken that went wrong.

But I want to suggest a different reason we fear. We suffer from these fears when our focus is on ourselves. When our thought process is, what will people think of me if I fail? will they reject me? punish me or shame me? It is this inward focus and worry about what people think of us that is so often at the root of our fears.

We don’t have to go far in life to remember examples where we experienced this paralysis from fear. Just think of that time when you had to get up in front of people and speak! Public speaking is certainly one of the top fears that people have (some say even before death). The experience of all those eyes looking at us floods us with self-conscious thoughts. What impression will I make? What will these people think of me? When really the thought should be, how can I help people by what I am going to say? This focus on others, not on self, can make a real difference to the message and our fear levels.

But dealing with fear is not that easy, especially if life has been cruel to you. Maybe your parents and teachers overly criticised you, instead of encouraging you. Maybe you had an unpleasant boss who was never satisfied with your work. Maybe your relationships did not work out. Or maybe you failed tests and ran away from challenges. In short, you feel useless and worthless, often compensating by desperately seeking approval from the people in your life. So what can we do if we find ourselves in this position?

Like most problems, there has to be a first step of recognition, admitting to yourself that you have an issue. It’s after this acceptance you can then decide you want to do something about it. And there is somewhere you can turn for the kind of encouragement you need to soothe your fears. Because whether you know it or not, there is someone who believes in you, someone who loves you, someone who can help you with all your concerns. Someone bigger than your lack of confidence, your insecurities, your doubts and fears. What is more, this someone stands ready to help you, all you have to do is ask.

Because this someone promises to take your fear if you give it to him: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”[1] What this means is you can unload all your cares, worries, fears and doubts on him. Why? Because he cares about you!

This someone is the God of creation. And for those who are willing to give him a try, he gives us an awesome invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[2] When fear rules our life we feel weary and burdened, but what would it feel like to have that weight lifted?

And better still, when you start a relationship with God, he can even lift that final fear, the fear of death!

Life will become better over time when you let God carry the burdens of your life, when you share your life with him. All you need is the courage to take that first step and ask for God’s help. In God’s eyes, you were born to be a champion!

If you would like to reach out to us and find out how you can take that first step, we would love to hear from you.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

[1] The Bible, 1 Peter 5.7
[2] The Bible, Matthew 11:28
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This is the air we breathe

July 17, 2020

Sometimes

All I need is the air

That I breathe

And to love you

Do you recognise the song? It was popularized by the Hollies in the 1970s, and it was a hit for Simply Red some 20 years later.

The air that we breathe is in the headlines again this week, and, surprisingly, it’s good news. Apparently, air quality has got better during lockdown. Some have speculated as to whether high air pollution has been a contributing factor in the spread of coronavirus. But, with fewer cars on the road and with many factories closed, air quality in major cities like London and also in rural areas has improved hugely.

It’s late news in one way, for many of us have noticed the difference when walking, running or cycling. It’s great to breathe in the purer air, and I for one don’t relish returning to how things were before the outbreak.

Another song I like is “This is the air I breathe” by Michael Smith. It’s a Christian song which suggests that the more we breathe in the freedom of Jesus, the more we want to do so. It’s like our newly restored air quality: the more I breathe it in, the more I want to go for a walk and indulge in a long, slow intake of clean, fresh, unmasked air.

Sometimes it’s all we need.

And to love, of course.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

Moved with compassion

July 15, 2020

Every now and then, just when I’m not expecting it, I find myself watching a powerful and moving scene on TV. For example, I recently watched a 35-year-old Muslim stumble across some children living in poverty in São Paulo, Brazil. Disturbed by their living conditions, he decided to give them what he could – but he was in a race, where every penny counted. So, he gave away his “luxuries”, including a pack of cards and his water bottle. Emom, with his nephew Jamiul, were taking part in the BBC TV programme Race Across the World; they were racing on a fixed budget and funds were low. Faced with such poverty, he didn’t wait to find out why this had happened or seek to discover what faith they had. He was moved to act out of compassion.

The expression “moved with compassion” reminds me of a story that I’ve known for most of my life. Two thousand years ago, a man called Jesus was concerned about the plight of a large crowd on a hillside far from the nearest town.[1] Jesus was moved to act: the miraculous result was an event now called “the feeding of the 4000.” Now Emom didn’t have such resources to hand. I’m sure he would have treated those children to a banquet, if it had been possible. But he did what he could at the time.

Sometime later, after winning the competition, both Emom and Jamiul ‘put their money where their mouth is.’ They donated half of their winnings, £10,000, to charities helping children in poverty. Given how much they had struggled in order to win the competition, such generosity blows me away.  Their compassion makes me wonder: have I seen so many images of distressed children that I’ve become jaded by them? I know that I can’t solve all of the world’s problems. But am I helping with at least some of them?

Apparently, Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[2] I’ve heard lots of times that giving is actually good for me. It makes me a ‘better’ person, which no doubt is true. Giving allows empathy to take hold in our hearts. So thank you, Emom, for reminding me of that truth. God bless you in all your endeavours.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

[1] The Bible, Matthew chapter 15 verse 32.
[2] The Bible, The Acts of the Apostles chapter 20 verse 35.
Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

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