RealityBites blog

Inspiring Norwegian Bloke

Our Cumbrian friend Henry Vyner-Brooks unearthed this great story from Norway. We love Cumbria and the Vyner-Brooks family!

Norwegian Christians draw inspiration from early pioneer Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824), a poor farmer from the Oslo region who was used by God to ignite a revival, both spiritually and economically, and paved the way to Norway's independence. Hauge spearheaded a movement that profoundly influenced the development of a people that for centuries had been steeped in poverty, collective hopelessness, and suppression by its neighbors.

In 1796 he had a decisive encounter with the Holy Spirit. God ignited such a fire within him that in the next 7 years he walked 15,000 kilometers across Norway to reach all cities and counties. He started house churches and helped people develop businesses. Whilst walking to the villages he knitted, and on arrival gave villagers hats and scarves and then, rather than immediately preaching, rolled his sleeves up and began working with the farmers out in the fields. Hauge helped the farmers develop more advanced planting techniques that he had learnt in Denmark.

A movement of common people started that was deeply spiritual. People turned to Christ and had life-changing conversion experiences. The meetings were held in homes, and challenged the control of the government-run state church. It turned out to be unstoppable. Norway’s population at that time was approximately 900.000, and possibly half the population turned to Christ. (Today, Norway has almost 5 million people.) Hauge wrote 33 books, selling 200,000-300,000 copies, so that by the time of his death, most homes throughout the land had a Bible and one of his books. Hauge paid a high personal price though. As lay preaching was forbidden, he spent much of 1804-1811 in prison.

What distinguished this movement, was also that it was deeply reformational.Everywhere Hans Nielsen Hauge went, he helped the people to start factories, mills, schools and banks. Historians agree that Norway's independence in 1814 would never have happened without this movement. Several members of the Constitutional Assembly in 1814 were directly or indirectly influenced by the Hauge revival. Christian values became strongly rooted in the constitution. Norway gradually developed from being 'the poor house' of Europe to one of the wealthiest nations on earth, and one of the top three missionary sending nations in the world.

Inspiring Barber blesses the homeless

Every Wednesday in Hartford, Conn. USA homeless people can get a free haircut. However 82-year-old retired barber Anthony Cymerys does ask for a hug in return.

Inspired 25 years ago by a church sermon about the homeless, Anthony decided he wanted to do something for those who have no home. His clients line up on park benches and wait their turn for a haircut and a hug.

"I love these guys," Cymerys said about them. He paused and turned to his client in the chair, "You know I love you, right?"

Hugs and a haircut

HITEC University and the Money god

HITEC university is situated about 20 miles north-west of Islamabad in Pakistan. It got started in 2007 and now has more than 1400 students.

This is how it 'sells' itself on its website:

HITEC University offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Engineering, Management Sciences, Mathematics, Computer and Islamic Shariah. The up-to-date and well-conformed [sic] syllabi have been tailored to the market needs and are designed to equip the students with the latest developments in their fields of specialization.

This sounds like a university that indoctrinates young people into a materialism where the Market has become an all-consuming god. Thomas Hobbes would be cheering!

HITEC university is only making explicit what is implicit in the vast majority of western universities.

Notice that the curriculum at the HITEC University is focused upon faithful service to the Market. Notice also that this university does not offer such subjects as Classics, History and Philosophy etc. Many western universities are now dispensing with subjects that do not please the money god.

Be alert to the power of the materialist gospel as it domesticates both Christianity and Islam.

RealityBites in Melbourne, Bradford and Leeds

Over the last two weeks RealityBites has delivered nine separate lectures, workshops and seminars to more than 700 people in both Australia and the UK. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster but very rewarding and encouraging.

People do love our stories. And if these dramatic, cheeky and intriguing stories can help them spill the perfume of God's kingdom, it's even better!

RealityBites specialises in telling the stories of inspiring Christians who are serving God in all areas of life. These narratives include cobblers, soldiers, electricians, bankers, orphan lovers, artists, writers, business people and followers of Jesus who work in Asda. We also tell stories to help people understand consumerism, secularism and our contemporary world. RB stories can also be used in mission and everyday conversation.

Here is an example of the kind of response we are currently enjoying:

Hello there Mark, can I just say how fantastic your talk/stories were yesterday. I was enthralled. Really well done.

Please do continue to pray for this work. If you are loaded please give generously so that we can do more.

RealityBites off to Melbourne, Bradford and Leeds

It's a very busy month for RealityBites. I will be speaking to 650 Christian teachers at a conference organised by Christian Education National in Melbourne which is downunder. I will also be delivering a range of workshops to smaller numbers at the same conference. I will then be speaking at several schools in the Victoria state.

My focus will be spelling out the unique RealityBites pedagogical methodology. You'll have to get on a plane and join me in Melbourne if you want to know more.

When I return to Blighty I will tune into Match of the Day and marinade in the wisdom of Gary Lineker and Alan Hanson. Great lads but they do lack biblical insight and worldview awareness. They might know about Wayne Rooney but have they read Nietzsche? I doubt it.

Suitcases unpacked, a hug from my wife and son and then I'm off to Bradford to speak at a seminar at the Bradford Diocesan Day. My theme will be 'Secularism is neither neutral nor harmless'. Finally I will be doing a workshop on 'Inspiring Disciples' at Bridge Street Church in Leeds.

Do lob up some prayers for me this month!

Nick the Greek: Story about gambling and religion

In the UK, it is estimated that around 350,000 people are suffering from a gambling addiction. It is now easier than ever before to gamble, with a huge number of online betting shops enabling people to gamble 24 hours a day. Every year over 7 billion pounds is spent on gambling.

If a gambling problem is left to fester, debts can spiral out of control and people can become withdrawn, depressed and even suicidal!

Here is a story that can help us discuss this important social issue with young people.

Nicholas Dandalos (1883 – 1966) aka Nick the Greek was one of the greatest gamblers of all time. He was born in Crete in 1883. He was a cultured lad. He studied poetry and philosophy at the Greek Evangelical College of Smyrna in Turkey.

Later he moved to Chicago in the USA. He would play poker, a game he called 'the art of civilised bushwhacking', for three or four days without sleeping.

So what story was he living in?

His words and deeds tell all. "The next best thing to gambling and winning," he liked to say, "is gambling and losing".

There were times he refused to leave the gambling tables even when desperately sick. Sometimes he was treated by the doctor while still laying bets! He once confessed his faith in the following way:

"Luck is a lady, and she is the love of my life."

Nick went from rags to riches over 73 times and he won and lost over $500 million in his lifetime. Near the end of his life he was almost broke and was playing $5 limit poker games. Another player asked him how he could once play for millions and now play for such tiny sums, he replied:

"Hey. It’s action. Isn't it?"

He died on Christmas day in 1966 and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

Biblical Reflections

Although brought up as a Christian Nick switched faiths! Instead of following Jesus he started to follow Fortuna, the goddess of fortune and the personification of luck. She is capricious and is often depicted as a blind, veiled woman. Follow her and you will become like her! (Psalm 115:4-8) Julius Caesar was also a follower of this god.

Young people need to spot the false gods that enslave so many people's lives. The story of Nick the Greek needs to be told and pondered.

Why did Jesus teach in parables?

Why did Jesus teach in parables? Some thoughts on this.

Parables are cryptic and provocative riddles. They are hard to understand. Think 'whodunit' rather than 'documentary'. They puzzle, disturb and sometimes baffle people. They are not meant to be easy listening like Andy Williams or Mantovani.

So why did Jesus tell parables? On one level Jesus told his stories because he wanted to nudge his listeners to walk in the ways of the kingdom. The parables provoke people and nurture receptivity to the kingdom message but there is another reason that is often neglected. On another level Jesus' rationale for storytelling is disconcerting, abrasive and shocking.

The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:

'Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'

Matthew 13:10 -13

How can we make sense of this strange answer? Jesus' parables reveal important truths about God’s kingdom but they also bring judgment at the same time. You can't sit on the fence, says Conrad Gempf. You have to choose. Are you for Jesus and his kingdom or are you against him?

Parables shed light on the most important issues in life and death. They also hide these truths from the hard of heart. Those who have 'ears to hear' will marinade in the parables, nibbling on them thoughtfully, imaginatively and prayerfully. Eventually they will get hold of the good news of God's kingdom.

Such people begin to see Jesus Christ in a new light. No longer, just a prophet, although he is that. No longer just a great teacher, although he is that as well. Jesus is revealed as the Son of the Living God. The One in whom all things are created and redeemed (Colossians 1:15-23).

Think for a moment about the parable of the pearl in Matthew 13:45.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Some will rejoice on hearing this. Others will dismissively shrug their shoulders. 'I can't be bothered to puzzle this one out', they murmur listlessly, chomping on a pasty. The parable has gone in one ear and out the other.

You can't beat a good Cornish pasty. Obviously you wouldn't catch James Bond eating one but I love 'em; particularly with a good dollop of mayonnaise. But sometimes you have to put the pasty down and ponder the incredible revelation that comes with a Jesus parable. Chew on it – good and proper. Allow its deep, strange truth to penetrate your soul, your body, your mind, your loins, your teeth and your hard, stony heart!

So Jesus told parables and asked questions. This was his double-barreled shotgun; crafted not to kill enemy agents but to bring life in all its fullness. Manufactured to bring the good news of God's kingdom.

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Inspiring Woman fights Mafia

I'm exploring role models in my blog. Here is an Italian woman who has become a bit of a celebrity for her Christian response to the Mafia.

In May 1992 Mafia thug Giovanni Brusca set off a huge bomb in the small Sicilian village of Capaci that killed antimafia investigating magistrate Giovanni Falcone, several police officers and his wife.

At the state funeral of Falcone and the other murdered government officials, Rosario Schifani, the widow of one of the dead police officers said the following:

To the men of the mafia – who are here in this church too – I want to say something. Become Christians again. I ask you, for Palermo, a city you've turned into a city of blood. Men of the mafia, I will forgive you, but you will have to get down on your knees.

Apparently Mafiosi began crying and some even gave up their criminal activities as a direct consequence of Rosario's passionate sermon which sounds like something out of the prophet Jeremiah. What a role model for our children!

Italy has also won the World Cup four times as opposed to our solitary and rather dubious win in 1966.

Desperately Needed – Role models for our children

Here are four I've found but I need more! Can you help me?

The story of Damiano Tommasi is a fantastic example of how Christians can challenge greed and selfishness. This international Italian player became a hero in Italy for asking his team to pay him only the minimum wage! When he was playing for Roma in 2005, this devout Catholic man instructed his club to pay him a salary of just over £1,000 a month. This is nothing short of staggering. After being injured and unable to play for the team, Damiano said he simply wanted to return to playing football at the highest level and economic considerations were low on his list of priorities. A modest salary was enough for his needs, he said, and he was still earning more than many ordinary Italians. This really is good news. Damiano does not want the privileges of a celebrity god. He is happy with enough. Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Cristiano Ronaldo could learn a great deal about the kingdom of God from this inspiring man.

Tresor Lomana LuaLua is a top Christian professional whose life merits investigation. Lomana has played for Colchester United, Newcastle United and Portsmouth. He is particularly famous for his spectacular goal celebration of several backflips and a backward somersault. (Don't try this at home). Lomana comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and there are some inspiring stories of this acrobatic footballer visiting old people and paying their medical bills. He has also set up a day centre for some of his country's poorest people.

Consider the life of Kaka. He is a devout evangelical Christian and at the end of Milan's 2007 Champion's League triumph he removed his jersey to reveal an "I belong to Jesus" T-shirt. He has the words "God is faithful" stitched onto the tongues of his boots and he often engages in public acts of prayer without any timidity or bashfulness. His goal celebration consists of him pointing to the sky as a gesture of thanks to God and he is proud that he was a virgin when he married. By all accounts he is humble, gracious and has time for everyone. He isn't perfect but his life embodies a worldview that challenges the empty, jaded hedonism that pervades the beautiful game

Former Gunners Ace Gilberto da Silva is not only a great player but a great person. He has very strong Christian beliefs. For example as a young, highly promising pro, he gave up football for 5 months in order to be with his mum when she was very ill. He wanted to support his family both emotionally and economically. All his friends thought he was totally crazy! But Gilberto lacked their tunnel vision. Thankfully his mother did not die but recovered. Gilbherto said,

I believe in God. I know a lot of people who don't. I am a Catholic and I think when you make a sacrifice in your life you are repaid in the future – and that's what happened with me."

He is now very grateful to God for his present happy life. He is very glad he can help his family, friends and their children. He helped support a 17-day tour of Brazil last summer by a group of homeless players from the UK. Organized by Street League, a scheme for homeless refugees and asylum-seekers, it gave the group a chance to see that life in Brazil can be even tougher than here. A delighted Gilberto revealed that, since returning, one player had joined a club, another was coaching and a third had landed a decent job.

Schoolswork in Cumbria

Over the moon with this recent RealityBites subversive activity in Cumbria. Henry Brooks is a gifted writer and friend and is now conducting his own RealityBites events! He writes as follows:

I was asked 2 weeks ago by a local secondary school to do three one-hour RE lessons when presenting year 7s with their Gideon New Testaments. 'Remember', said the Head of RE, 'some of these children won't know who Jesus is, so keep it simple!' What could I do to keep them interested for a whole hour?

Obvious: use RealityBites – Hollywood and Nazi worldview stories!

I bracketed Mark's slides with others of my own and we talked about what Jesus said about these things.

The Head of RE, upon hearing the presentation and being genuinely astounded by how well the children listened, asked if I would do a further one hour presentation to her year 11 class. 'Yes Ma'am, just line them up!' says I. And so once again I was able to exploit the God-given opportunity with the RealityBites material. The 15 year olds went on to ask questions about life, death, the afterlife, love, sex, marriage and the meaning of life without any prompting.

I also adapted the same presentation to speak at two different congregations last weekend for Holocaust Remembrance Sunday on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, 'The mystery (secret plan) of Lawlessness is already at work' etc. One pastor was amazed, 'my adult son usually goes home after the worship, but he stayed and said how much he was engaged and challenged by what you said.'

There were similar comments from many members of both congregations which are still trickling in by Facebook, so basically I just wanted to thank RealityBites again for Mark and the gift he has been to our church and West Cumbria.

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