RealityBites blog

Mafia Conference in Doncaster

 

It was both humbling and encouraging to spend two hours with sixth formers exploring the Mafia, evil, materialism, eastern religions and the Christian faith in Doncaster yesterday. When you tackle 'hot' topics like evil and unseen powers of darkness it is vital to pray and fast and I'd just like to thank anyone who prayed for me yesterday. I really felt the prayer as I spoke - it was fantastic to see seeds being sown in young lives. Yesterday convinced me how important it is to integrate Christian storytelling with seeking God (Isaiah 55:6) in prayer and worship.

There is such a need to bring Christian storytelling into our schools and universities. Please contact me if you have any ideas or suggestions!

Dangerous Faith in Santa Muerte

Story

Many call her Santa Muerte (Saint Death) but she has been condemned by the Roman Catholic church. The grim, skeletal female figure has a huge following in Mexico. Faith in Santa Muerte is popular among criminals, drug lords and ne'er-do-wells who sometimes crawl piously to a Santa Muerte shrine. This is the fastest growing religion in the Americas. There are approximately 10 - 12 million worshippers, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America. Picture it. You want to smuggle cocaine into the USA and you want supernatural help. Do you pray to Jesus or Santa Muerta? It's a no brainer.

Background Notes

Santa Muerte is very popular because she is viewed as an amoral supernatural power that can be invoked for corrupt and seedy purposes. Worshippers feel comfortable going to her with nasty and selfish prayers. She has been present in Mexican culture since Spanish colonial times when Catholic colonizers, hoping to evangelize the native people of Mexico, brought over female grim reaper figures as a depiction of death. In many parts of the world animists make bargains with the spirits and this is the heart of this faith. A follower might promise to bring Santa Muerte cigars and Tequila if she answers the petition. Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose in Mexico, explained that he has prayed with people who have been oppressed by demons after praying to Santa Muerte. Many say that you cannot leave the Santa Muerte faith. She will exact revenge and punish the faithless ones who spurn her.

Four Ways of Looking at the Story

Materialist Faith: "We believe that faith in Santa Muerte is just as foolish as faith in Jesus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Stop praying to illusory gods and put your faith in science and technology.

Relativist faith: "We believe that every religion has truth in it. If Santa Muerte floats your boat, start crawling to her shrine."

Santa Muerta faith: "We believe that Santa Muerte has great power to answer our prayers. She can help us in our darkest hours. Unlike Jesus we can ask her to help us smuggle drugs and have our enemies killed."

Christian faith: "We believe that praying to Santa Muerte is very dangerous. Evil powers love tricking people into serving them through this popular but deadly faith.

Questions

1) Why do people prefer Santa Muerte to Jesus?

2) Is it a harmless faith?

3) How is faith in Santa Muerte different from faith in the money god?

From Maradona to Jesus

 Is Maradona the best footballer of all time?

Worldwide there are 200,000 worshippers of Diego who attend the church of Maradona. The faithful follow their own 'bespoke' ten commandments which urge them to 'love football above everything' and 'name your first son Diego'.

The Church of Maradona insists that you get baptised by slapping a football!

There are three ways of looking at this odd story.

Materialists will dub this 'mere superstition'.

Relativists will nod approvingly: whatever works for you.

Christians will stress that trusting in the Maradona faith cannot wipe away your sins. Those who love and trust in Jesus have their sins forgiven.

 

Ben Jones is a technical genius!

 

It was so uplifting working with Ben Jones this morning at Leeds City College. Ben is a wonderfully imaginative youth worker and I do commend his organisation Missional Generation to you.

The VirtualReality experience was a powerful and breathtaking journey through five very different planets and you felt like a seasoned astronaut gazing at the nooks and crannies of the universe in a comfortable and reliable rocket. The students loved it!

Ben then spoke very eloquently about the Christian faith and linked it to the incredible diversity and intricacy of God's amazing universe. I then pitched in by reading part of Psalm 139. I was struck by how absorbed and attentive the students were.

Anybody who wants to help young people connect with God should pick up a phone and talk to the affable and gifted Ben Jones. I was very impressed by his technical confidence with all the paraphernalia of VirtualReality.

Thanks Stephen Ross and Leeds City College for asking us to come and share in your Interfaithweek. 

For more about Ben Jones and his ministry go to: 

https://www.missionalgen.co.uk/vr/

 

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Talking to an atheist about Eric Harris

Talking to aggressive atheists can be enjoyable and fulfilling if you have an intelligent and creative spiel.

I was talking to an atheist builder who had a pop at me for being a Christian. He declared boldly: "I'm on the side of science and not religion."

I was straight in there. "Does that mean you agree with Eric Harris then?

The builder was puzzled and asked me: "Who is Eric Harris?"

I smiled inwardly and launched into my bespoke evangelism patter.

"Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School, Colorado, USA in 1999. Eric wrote in his diary:

“just because your mommy and daddy tell you blood and violence is bad, you think it’s a f—g law of nature? wrong, only science and math are true, everything else, and I mean every f—g thing else is man made.”

Eric also wrote: "It's all just nature, chemistry and math, deal with it.” 

I paused for breath and asked him again - "Is this how you look at the world? Eric was on the side of science! Is he right or wrong?

The geyser was taken aback at this and said he didn't know what to say. Then he opined:

"But surely religion is responsible for all the wars in the world today. Just look at what's happening in Syria today. It's truly terrible!

I continued my patter thus: "If I agreed with you and Eric Harris I would be truly miserable about all the horrors of war. If snipers, bombers and torturers are 'just machines' then there is no hope at all. What we call 'evil' is simply the laws of physics at work. Do you agree with that?

The builder was surprised that I didn't 'defend religion' but instead attacked his scientism. He was softened and admitted that he had never thought about the dark side of scientism.

In conclusion I delivered this spiel: "If I believed that torturers and bombers were 'just machines', I would top myself right now but I have a hope in the resurrection body and Jesus Christ. One day the middle east will be filled with love and mercy. No more bombers and torturers when Christ returns to bring His kingdom in its fullness.

"Wow" he said. "Never thought about that!"

He certainly didn't agree with me but he left with some glimmers of understanding and perhaps some hope.

 

RealityBites in Crete

Just came back from a great holiday in Crete with Anne. Truth be told, Crete has a lot more sunshine than Leeds and Zeus, the Greek god, was supposedly born on that fair isle! We didn't bump into the husband of Hera or any other Greek deity but we did have a remarkable encounter with a witty and outgoing plasterer, Ron and his delightful wife, Sally. (These names are not the real names.)

Picture it. We are on the plane and Ron, the plasterer, is worried about Sally who is a 'nervous' flyer. We offer to help by switching seats. Ron was very grateful and generously bought Anne a gin and tonic (£7.40). He told me a bit about himself and suddenly informed me that he had a 'gift'. I probed gently and it turned out that he is 'clairvoyant'. Ron knew things about me that surprised me! I then told the charming couple my Vinnie Jones and Duke of Edinburgh yarns. Both were intrigued and they began to ask me lots of questions about faith and God. Stories can unlock conversations about faith in a relaxing and stress free way. This is the heart of RealityBites.

Ron and I then talked for about 3 1/2 hours. Our conversation touched on Leeds United, the kingdom of God, buying and selling cars, the death and resurrection of Jesus, holidays in Cuba, spiritual warfare, gin and tonics, Tarzan, the human trafficker, repentance and conflicting ways of understanding clairvoyance and spiritualism. I probed Ron about his work and family and he told me a lot about his painful estrangement from his mum. This was very moving and I listened attentively. I also told Ron about my conversion from secular faith to Christian faith and the story of the clairvoyant slave girl who was exorcised by the Apostle Paul in Acts 16. Ron didn't become a Christian on the flight but he did tell me that this had been 'the best plane ride of his life'. He also told Anne that talking to me had been 'amazing'. I offered to pray for him about his 'gift' and he told me he would think about it. I hope to see him again.

So often Christians dread these moments. I found the entire conversation exhilarating and exciting. It is easy to talk about Jesus when you follow the master and tell great stories! Vital also to listen empathetically and create genuine dialogue.

  

      

Jehoshaphat, Jihadists and Evil

Last night I delivered my presentation on Mafia and the Problem of Evil to about thirty members of the evening fellowship at St Peter's in Harrogate.

At TFN we are committed to giving Christians an opportunity to think through challenging and difficult topics. Almost every day we hear about atrocities perpetrated by IS jihadists etc. How do we make sense of these terrifying stories? In my presentation I try to help sixth formers (RB in schools) to understand five ways of looking at evil and atrocity.

1) Evil is caused by bad karma (Hinduism)

2) Evil is an illusion because nothing exists (Buddhism)

3) Evil doesn't exist because everything is just physical (Materialism)

4) Evil has to exist because it comes from God (Neo-Platonism)

5) Evil is caused by human and angelic rebellion against God (C S Lewis)

In my talk I hope to get people thinking about conflicting perspectives on evil before I outline a Christian perspective. In my experience both Christian and non-Christian people have not thought about the nature of evil.

Often they are shocked by the materialist mindset that evil doesn't exist because murderers and terrorists are just machines and have no free will. Many are startled to discover that Hindus often espouse a karmic understanding of atrocity. Rape victims deserve it because they behaved badly in a previous life. Some are surprised when I outline the pantheist view that God is responsible for evil because everything comes from God, both terrorists and Tearfund!

During the discussion I was asked if all 'bad' people are evil. An excellent question. I pointed out that the book of Kings is very helpful in answering this question. Rulers in Scripture are not just good or bad. There are degrees of both virtue and depravity. Some kings are very good (e.g. Hezekiah, Josiah) and some kings are wicked (e.g. Ahab, Manasseh). There are other kings whose faithfulness to God is a 'mixed bag'. Jehoshaphat comes into this category. In many ways he was a good king but he had a weakness for forming alliances with 'evil' kings like Ahab, Ahaziah and Jehoram.

This theme is communicated clearly in 2 Chronicles 19:1-3. Jehu, the prophet, recognises that Jehoshaphat is far from perfect but "there is, however, some good in you for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God."

I find it comforting that Scripture recognises this complexity! Many of us share Jehoshaphat's status - bumbling, stumbling sinners who have set their hearts on serving God.

 

 

The gospel, the fakir and the bed of nails

An Indian fakir had been living on a bed of spikes for 18 months. Why was he doing this?

The desperate man said this: "I worship God in this way but I confess that the pricks of these spikes are not so bad as the pain I get from my sins and evil desires. My object is to crush the desires of self that I may gain salvation."

There are four ways of looking at this self-torturing fakir.

Some say: "Get off the bed of spikes and lie down on this Bonaparte French bed worth £2,700."

Others contend: "I so respect your authentic faith but I choose a different path without the spikes."

Some say: "You are right to lie on this cruel bed and thereby atone for your sins but you will need to stay there much longer!"

Paul, the apostle would say: "No need to lie on a bed of spikes. Come to Jesus. He died for you! He is the Holy One of God." (Mark 1:24)

 

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How Evangelism can be Fun

Very encouraged that my article 'How Evangelism can be Fun' is featured on the front of the Baptist Times. To date 15 people have made comments about my article.

So delighted that an old friend, Jeffrey Dudiak, Professor of Philosophy, The King’s University, Edmonton, Canada wrote this:

Behind the engaging silliness of Mark Roques' carefully targeted stories opens up a vista upon profound and crucial questions, an invitation to think through cultural assumptions that we often don't think about at all. His is not an evangelism with a hammer, but with a welcoming smile. Mark's stories set the stage upon which God's Word can be heard in non-threatening but still utterly challenging ways. His is an inspired, and inspiring, ministry. Thanks, mate!

Teenagers are intrigued by Mafiosi and the gospel!

       

Thanks to everyone who prayed for me yesterday. I really need this prayer support. RB is a ministry that is committed to reaching out to British teenagers and during this conference there was some serious bespoke evangelism going on. Please look at previous postings if you don't understand this way of talking about mission.

I spoke to forty young people at a school in Thorne. I have not been to this school before and I had agreed to do the Human Trafficking conference in 90 minutes and then the Mafia and Evil conference in 100 minutes. It was exciting but intense! Holding the attention of teenagers for 2 ½ hours is never easy - even with a 30 minute break. The group work went very well with great comments and questions from the young people.

Here are some of the highlights of the morning. I was able to present the gospel by contrasting the consumerist worldview with the Christian faith. I told the stories of mafia hit-men, the 'beast' and the 'weasel' etc and contrasted the materialist belief that murderers and rapists are just machines with biblical teaching. I explained how CS Lewis understood evil and satan and how this contrasts with materialist, Hindu and Buddhist teachings. The students were alert, attentive and responsive, although one student did tell me off slightly for mentioning rape. She did add that she had really enjoyed the presentations.

I was then grilled by the students!

During the discussion I was asked by a very articulate student if it was fair that evil people could go straight to heaven just by repenting at the last moment. He believed that this was unjust. I reframed the question in terms of the biblical hope of the resurrection (Acts 23:6). I pointed out that those who love the Lord Jesus will be raised from the dead and live in a new heaven and a new earth. This good news could even surprise a mafia hitman if he repented at the last moment. The student was disarmed by my answer but seeds were being sown in young lives.

I was also asked to comment on my belief in the devil and I explained that when I examined all the alternative perspectives on evil - Materialism, Neoplatonism, Hinduism and Buddhism I found biblical teaching compelling, realistic and convincing. Some agreed with me. Some didn't!

The teacher who had invited me into the school told me: "It had been amazing."

It was a very encouraging morning's work. The words of Jesus in Matthew 28 kept running through my mind as I drove back to Leeds. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

 Please continue to pray for RealityBites and Thinking Faith Network.

         

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