A lesson from the wealthiest men on Earth

January 11, 2021

Being a teacher of teenagers is amusing as it is unpredictable. But one predictability is their answer to the question, ‘what do you want to be when you are older?’, the answer I’ve heard more than any other is…

“I want to be rich”.

Maybe we do too. But deep down we know there is something missing from this answer. And what’s missing is revealed by the two richest men on Earth.

Last week, eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk became the richest man on earth. Overtaking Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who held the top spot from 2017. This reminded me of a Bezos interview just after he acquired the richest man title. Asked for his reactions, he said, “I would much rather they said, ‘inventor Jeff Bezos’, or ‘entrepreneur Jeff Bezos,’ or ‘father Jeff Bozos’, those kind of things are much more meaningful to me”. Interesting answers. So what about Musk? He simply tweeted dismissively, “How strange…Well, back to work…”. And Musk is not going to be hoarding that wealth either, “About half my money is intended to help problems on Earth, and half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life”[1]. So what do these answers tell us?

They tell us something important about living a fulfilling life. That meaning is not easily persuaded into your life through wealth. Indeed, meaning and fulfilment comes in the opposite direction of money. What do I mean? I’ll answer that with another question, what is the connection between Bezos and Musk’s answers and activities?

Wealth is not what gives them meaning, rather it comes from what they put into the world, not what you take out of the world.

The “I want to be rich” answer fails to understand that we are driven by deeper motivations than just material acquisition. What these men are doing with their riches uncovers a human and universal truth. It is much more meaningful – much more fulfilling – to put something into the world, than to take something out. Maybe it is how we are wired, or maybe it’s because meaning demands that we aim for something bigger than our being. Whatever the reason for this truth, it confirms a principle Jesus taught himself, saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”[2].

I suppose if we live a life trying to ‘get money’ as our primary focus it will inevitably reap a harvest of life deficient of meaning. That’s a soul-sickness, an internal lostness, I would prefer to avoid. Instead, a life meaningfully lived is a life that gives more than it gets.

So this week, what are we going to give? What are we going to put into the world?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] Elon Musk becomes world’s richest person as wealth tops $185bn – BBC News
[2] The Bible, Acts 20:35 (NIVUK)

You’ll never walk alone

January 8, 2021

I’m a fan of 1960s’ pop music so it was sad this week to hear of the death of Gerry Marsden, the lead singer of the Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers. They had many hits including ‘Ferry ’cross the Mersey’ and ‘I like it’, but perhaps their most famous song was ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Originally it was a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel which Gerry took to the top of the charts in 1963 with it becoming an anthem for Liverpool football club, and more recently the song reached the number one spot again with Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball, and the NHS Voices of Care choir.

This song, as well as a football anthem and a recognition of the work of the NHS, is one that Christians can also embrace. The Bible tells us that Jesus will be with us to the end of the age and that God will never leave or forsake us.[1] With whatever we face over this next year, including the tighter lockdown imposed this week, this knowledge gives us the strength to walk through the storm with hope in our hearts because we are not walking alone.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

 

[1] Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5.

Others first at Xmas

December 24, 2020

WWJD?

Do you know the term? It’s a bit like the text shorthand “Cul8r”, meaning “See you later!”. In Christian circles it stands for “What Would Jesus Do”?

WWJD this Xmas?

It’s so frustrating to be in lockdown when we’d rather be merry-making and enjoying the festive season to the full with family and friends. Many Christians, of course, miss coming together in collective worship on the traditional birthday of Jesus.

But what would Jesus do? Perhaps I could share a controversial view. It is that Jesus would put us before him. It is that he cares more about us and our health than he does about himself. His whole life demonstrated that. When he died on a Roman cross, it was about saving us and valuing his own life less than ours.

Jesus shows all of us a way forward this season.

Save lives by putting others first.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

Guiding star

December 23, 2020

At the end of November, I went for an evening stroll around my local town, catching sight of images placed in windows as part of a ‘light up the night’ event. Given the time of year, many of the pictures were quite festive. Some of the images that caught my eye were of three people, on camels, looking toward a bright star in the sky. This allusion to the three magi seeking the newly born Jesus seemed quite appropriate. In these times of Covid-19, we need ‘guiding stars’ that keep us plodding forward. Something to keep the cold dark nights of winter and the coronavirus restrictions from overwhelming us. Indeed, this festival of light was acting like a ‘guiding star’ itself; reminding us of humanity’s resolve and creativity in difficult times. It was something good, intended to bolster our resolve to keep going.

That story of the magi does make me wonder. What crossed their minds when they finally found their quarry? Was the baby Jesus in a fine palace, attended to by many servants? No, he wasn’t. Debate rages as to the actual setting of Jesus’ birthplace, but it appears that his first bed was a manger. Clearly not ideal for a new-born child, but a testament to one family’s resolve and creativity in their time of need. It seems that God doesn’t do palaces, cut off from the reality of life. When he acts in the world, he gets involved in the messy, nitty-gritty of life.

Does God care about a world struggling with the effects of Covid-19? I think this story of Mary laying Jesus in a manager says yes, he does care. It reveals a God who knows about the struggles of life. The birth of Jesus becomes more than just a kid’s story for nativity plays; it becomes a ‘star of wonder’ all by itself. This ‘star’ reminds me to keep going in tough times. God knows. God cares.

Recent weeks have added a few more ‘stars of wonder’ to keep me plodding on in these dark times. The vaccines are here. Thank God! The possible end of the worst restrictions in sight. Yet, these other stars will only keep me going temporarily. After Covid-19, there will be other tough times for me to face. But I’m reminded of those windows with three people, on camels, looking at a wondrous star: a story which is more than just a nice tale to occupy the children. Tough times come and go, but God is there somewhere, even when all else seems to be descending into disaster. For God does know what’s going on and he most certainly does care.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

 

Catch of the day

December 18, 2020

As the trade negotiations between the EU and the UK come to an end, one of the sticking points is fishing rights. The end results of these negotiations have the potential to change the ‘catch of the day’ across the continent.

Interestingly, it was fishermen Jesus called to be his very first disciples. They willingly gave up their trade and the life they had established, their fishing rights so to speak, to follow Jesus. In Jesus they found one in whom they could trust absolutely, whose quota is always abundant, and who willingly gave even his own life for theirs.

In these times of troubled waters maybe it is time to follow their lead and turn to Jesus.

 

It might just be the catch of your lifetime.

Gavin Henderson info@because.uk.com

Knowing & believing

December 16, 2020

It doesn’t have to be either science or religion.

Can science and the virgin birth sit side by side? Can science and the resurrection sit side by side? Science is, has been, and will be an answer to many of the questions we have about the world we live in. The answers, and questions, range from solving the riddles presented by an immeasurably huge universe to mapping the behaviour of particles so small we can only guess at their existence. Science has libraries full of answers – which are not always in agreement. But can it provide all the answers to all the questions we have?

We can know science – that atoms combine in particular ways to form molecules; that the application of heat has an effect on the way they combine. We can predict the behaviour of a moving object because we can know the different forces at work: gravity, friction, propulsion rotation. We can believe science – that things will always react in a particular way. And if they don’t, we have to shift our paradigm, come up with an alternative theory and then, in the face of evidence, change our knowing and change our believing. But then we add the inconsistencies of humans to all the equations that science has produced. We don’t change the laws, but we change the ways they are applied.

Science has given us the Covid vaccines – but it has also created the chemical weapons that have killed many thousands in Syria. Science has led to the capacity to transfer vast amounts of knowledge, but that same science is used to spread misinformation and lies. The same science that invented tools of agriculture to grow food has also been used to create tools of war to systematically slaughter other human beings.

Using the word ‘believe’, a frequently used word in the arena of religion, softens and modifies the concept of knowing. We tend to claim knowledge in the face of empirical evidence and reserve belief for the things we are either not sure about or for which we have no measurable evidence. Believing is a problem for humans. We can believe something because of the weight of evidence that leads us in that direction, but we also have the capacity to believe something we have no evidence for. Some people believe that the earth is flat. There are individuals who believe that Elvis is still alive; that 5G masts are responsible for spreading Covid – and snippets of mis-reported evidence provide a confirmation bias that serves to strengthen these beliefs.

I once believed in Father Christmas. The evidence was there – gifts left at the end of the bed to be found on Christmas morning. That changed as I grew up, my thinking became more analytical and I challenged my previous acceptance. The evidence had been misinterpreted. I hadn’t factored in the possibility that someone else – narrowed down to someone else who obviously had some affection for me – was leaving the presents. Someone else was reading the list I had written to Santa. And I had also ignored the obvious questions about how he had got into the house in the first place. I changed my paradigm.

What about the virgin birth? A scientist might ask for the evidence – something more than Luke’s gospel account in the New Testament. A Christian would take that same gospel account and cite it as evidence that leads them to believe in the virgin birth of someone identified as the Son of God. They ‘know’ the event took place. The shepherds who were led to the birthplace of Christ, on that night in Bethlehem, were witnesses to some fairly amazing and unforgettable evidence. They probably were confident that they knew a momentous event had taken place. As they told and re-told the story over the following days and months and even years, there would have been some who immediately believed them but there would also have been others who required more first-hand evidence before they would believe. We have that same story told to us in the early chapters of the gospel of Luke and we are challenged to believe without the first-hand, measurable evidence but as a result of the biblical record. Christ outlined this challenge to Thomas, one of his disciples, who had initially doubted the resurrection because of a lack of first-hand evidence: “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[1]

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

[1] New Testament, John 20:29

“Go the extra mile”

December 14, 2020

Is what the UK and EU are going to do to try and agree a post-Brexit trade deal.

But when I heard the statement from the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, I was reminded of where the saying came from. The words were first spoken from the lips of Jesus in one of his greatest and most well-known sermons. In Jesus’ discourse to the eager every-day listeners hungry for principles to live by, he uttered these words: “‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you…if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you”.[i]

It’s a simple principle that means making the extra effort in a given activity. It is a fundamental orientation of give, not get. Of love, not just duty. In practical terms, it might be calling, instead of writing, to that awkward family member; or walking our date to the front door instead of dropping them at the end of the drive; or staying overtime at work to support the newbie with some training; or offering to shop for an elderly person. Often our weeks are peppered with chances to go the extra mile with someone.

But there is something more going on with these words of Jesus. He is suggesting a life lived on a fundamentally different economy. One not based on equivalent exchange, but disproportionate exchange. A life where we are not living out of the obligation to just give what we owe; a life that rejects reciprocal exchange, and instead disrupts such an economy. Jesus is advocating for the way of grace; an approach of giving others more than what they deserve or are owed.

From this extra mile comes blessings to others, with the recipients of such a blessing more likely to do likewise, because grace often produces grace. And if we were to add up all these extra miles people give one another, then collectively we travel a lot further.

For the UK and EU maybe going the extra mile will mean a deal, or maybe not. Whatever the outcome, it is in the extra mile where special things can happen.

This week, let’s go the extra mile.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[i] The Bible, Matthew 5:38-42 (NIVUK)

Life amid death

December 2, 2020

2020 – it’s been the worst of years and it’s been the best of years, to misquote Dickens in his famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities. It will go down in history as the year COVID-19 struck leaving few lives, if any, untouched by this invisible killer. This year my life has been touched by death. Back at the start of the pandemic, a friend I had known for over 40 years died of Coronavirus. As the year moved on, two other friends who I had known for a similar time also died, one from cancer and the other from breathing complications. Two weeks ago, my daughter’s father-in-law passed away, I had known him for a much shorter time. A week later my aunt died after a long and successful life. She was the last remaining member of her generation in my family. Death, like taxes, is inevitable and has made this year the worst of years.

Yet, as I write, my wife and I are celebrating the birth of the newest member of our family, our first grandchild. Amidst all this death a new life has been born that has brought joy and hope for the future, making this the best of years too. I had forgotten how tiny and vulnerable a newborn baby is. He is reliant completely on his parents for his existence; they provide him food and warmth, change his nappy when required, and comfort him when distressed. Without his parent’s loving care, he would soon be another statistic in death’s column.

While my grandson brings our family great joy, an even greater joy is that the Christian Bible shows humanity’s future is secure because of the coming of another baby into the world. It’s incredible for me to think that the God, whom the heavens cannot contain, should become a tiny, vulnerable baby totally dependant on his creation to be fed and changed and kept alive.

Now I love to sing Christmas Carols, but there is one that I have difficulty in singing, and that’s Away in a Manager. The reason for my hesitation in singing it is because of the verse that goes,

The cattle are lowing [mooing]
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

If there is one thing my new grandson has reminded me of it’s that newborn babies cry, they cry a lot. They yell their heads off. It’s a healthy sign that the baby is alive, responding to things, and is a human being. When I think about babies, I often remember the story of Superman. The baby born on the disintegrating planet Krypton is sent by his parents in a space capsule to earth. The boy grows up to be Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, and no one can tell that Kent is not a human being but Superman – until he goes into a phone box. He looks like a human, but don’t be fooled. Christians believe that when Jesus was born God actually became human, he wasn’t just pretending to be human. This was not play-acting. The divine Son of God was no hologram or apparition. He became flesh.[1] He would have cried in the manager, soiled his nappy, and needed his mother’s milk to enable him to grow. If this were not so then Jesus was only pretending to be human, and the claims of Christianity fall flat.

Around 33 years after his birth history records that Jesus was killed on a Roman Cross, having his flesh ripped apart and his blood spilled on the ground. The eye-witness testimony of the early Christians is that this same Jesus didn’t remain dead but came alive again. Out of death came life, and it’s this belief that spawned the Christian church. It’s this belief that gives Christians hope. That even in the worst of years where death has been all around us, there is the hope of life because a baby has been born – not my grandson, but the Son of God. Incredible? – yes. Unbelievable and just a fairy story on a par with Superman? – millions of Christians don’t think so. Why not check out this crying baby for yourself – if you do 2020 might just become the best of years.

Barry Robinson

[1] The Bible, John chapter 1, verse 14, (NIVUK).

No singing

November 30, 2020

My YouTube viewing this week has been peppered with Christmas adverts. We have entered the season – and I’m already feeling nauseous! But this year there will be one noticeable absence.

No congregation carol singing. Even the multi-generational, hodgepodge at your door will have to remain there whilst they “Fa, la, la, la, la, la” and social distancing at the same time.

But churches up and down the country will be silent over this usually vocal time of year. Even the famous King’s College, Cambridge, iconic Christmas Eve Carol Service will not have the help of the public’s throaty excesses, as the pews will be empty.

Who would have thought one of Covid’s victims would be congregational singing! But the show must go on, King’s has decided. The service, minus the congregation, will still be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4. However, the usual injection of chorused voices to the opening song, Once in Royal David’s City, will not be heard.

So what will these singers have missed? Well, some of the more intriguing words about the life of Jesus. Words which speak of a phenomenon peculiar to the Christian faith; that the God of heaven’s entry into the world saw him take up residence in a cattle shed! Not the grand entrance one would expect for such a VIP. I wonder whether God was trying to communicate something? Maybe there’s a clue in the words of this poem turned carol:

“Day by day like us He grew,

He was little, weak, and helpless,

Tears and smiles like us He knew,

And He feeleth for our sadness,

And He shareth in our gladness.”

These words capture something very human about our first encounter with this Jesus. But more than that, they describe how God seemed to be eager to share in our life, condition and pain; to experience things just “like us”. It’s curious to consider why. I wonder if it allows God to be more relatable, more attainable, more approachable.

Certainly, 2020 has left many of us worst off materially, and maybe emotionally. But there is something encouraging to consider when it comes to this lowly story in such economy trying times. For me, I see in this story of the birth of Jesus an example of how God has somehow shared in our discomfort and need. And that his life shows us that things can get better even if you start from a stable.

Maybe that’s worth singing about.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Check the details

November 27, 2020

“The devil is in the details”, one newscaster announced this week. He meant that what may sound like good news might contain a catch or two once we know the whole story.

For example, it sounded good that UK families could meet over Xmas, but now that we’ve heard or read the details, some feel robbed that it did not go far enough. It’s like the human condition – despite the apparent good news of human progress throughout history, the details of our history make bad reading.

The Christian story is that God is in the details of our salvation. It begins with how God planned to send his Son, Jesus, to save us, and continues with the details of how he did send him and of how his Son sacrificed himself for all of us. Some call it the Christmas story, but it’s more than that. It’s a story for every season and for everyone. The child Jesus grew up to become the Saviour of the world.

Those details make good reading.

Jesus is good news.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

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