home > Pastor’s Desk > 2022 > September 23rdr > WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR ATHEIST & MAGICIAN PENN JILLETTE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?

Penn Jillette is one half of the famous comedy-magician team, Penn and Teller. He was originally a juggler who made juggling look like a magic trick. But as I’ve heard him say many times, his juggling wasn’t magic — it was just a lot of hard-work and practice! Penn and Teller host a weekly TV show where they invite the best magicians in the world to come on and try to fool them with their magic. This rarely happens though, as Teller literally seems to know every trick in the book. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, is the result of my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. It might surprise you to know that there are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers which is another source of learning for me). From magicians, I endeavour to learn how to: keep an audience’s attention; how to tell a story; and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to be authentic. A magician will lie, distract, and trick his audience. A preacher will speak the truth, seek people’s full attention, and be utterly transparent. Nevertheless, I have great respect for the craftsmanship and work ethic of magicians like Penn Jillette. He is literally not a man easily fooled. But provokes me as a pastor. He is a self-confessed hardened atheist who boldly claims “I know there is no God!” He has even written a book to support his claim. Consequently, I’ve been praying for Penn for some time now. I began when I first heard him publicly ridicule the Bible and Christianity. I have great confidence that God will eventually do something in Penn. My confidence is bolstered by a video he uploaded to Youtube expressing his respect for Christians who truly believe Bible.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.
For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Matthew 5:30

The late Christopher Hitchens, a New York Times best-selling author, was another embolden atheist who also wrote a book promoting his reasons for atheism, GOD Is NOT GOODHow Religion Poisons Everything. To promote his book he would publicly debate Christians about whether there was any proof for the existence of God. Hitchens would mock the miracles of the Bible, malign the morality of the Bible (especially its sexual prohibitions against sex outside of marriage exclusively between a man and woman), and berate the Bible itself as merely the fanciful literature of men. These debates which were held around the USA fizzled as Hitchens’ debate opponents were increasingly ‘liberal’ Christians who also denied the miracles of the Bible and rejected the sexual ethics of the Bible and also rejected the Bible claiming that it was not divinely inspired. These liberal Christians frustrated Hitchens. He knew they did not represent classic Christianity and so he stopped debating them.

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation,
ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality
and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jude 4

Then Christopher Hitchens encountered two very genuine Christians with whom he was prepared to debate: Larry Taunton and Pastor Doug Wilson. Hitchens was a very well read man, but he more than met his match in Doug Wilson who majored in, and taught, classic English literature before becoming a pastor. He intellectually challenged Hitchens’ atheism resulting in both men co-writing a book together on their series of exchanges. In the documentary, Collision, the bond of fellowship that grew between the two men was obvious. And then his exchanges and debates with Larry Taunton also led to a deep friendship especially through the period where Hitchens was battling terminal cancer. Before Christopher died he wrote about his changing views on atheism as a result of his friendship with Wilson and Taunton – and then Larry Taunton wrote a very revealing account about his friendship with Hitchens as they spent hours together studying the Bible in Hitchens final weeks before he died. The publisher’s blurb about Taunton’s book describes how Hitchens maintained his public persona as an atheist, but in private, as Taunton reveals, he was slowly turning to Christ- 

“At the time of his death, Christopher Hitchens was the most notorious atheist in the world. And yet, all was not as it seemed. “Nobody is not a divided self, of course,” he once told an interviewer, “but I think it’s rather strong in my case.” Hitchens was a man of many contradictions: a Marxist in youth who longed for acceptance among the social elites; a peacenik who revered the military; a champion of the Left who was nonetheless pro-life, pro-war-on-terror, and after 9/11 something of a neocon; and while he railed against God on stage, he maintained meaningful—though largely hidden from public view—friendships with evangelical Christians like Francis Collins, Douglas Wilson, and the author Larry Alex Taunton.”

This little known account of how Christopher Hitchens’ life ended adds to my encouragement that one day my prayers, for Penn Jillette to come to know Christ, will be answered. But perhaps my greatest encouragement to hope that Penn will one day open his heart to Christ comes from his 2010 video where he expressed his deep respect for Christians who are genuine and evangelistic (which he calls proselytising). 

Have a look at his video below, and I hope that it will encourage you to continue to pray for and share the gospel with loved ones, friends, family-members, work-colleagues, as it does for me. Penn is not easily fooled. The man he referred to in this video was a sincere, authentic, and genuine believer who demonstrated his faith in Christ and the words of Holy Scripture by sharing the gospel with Penn after one of his magic shows. I pray pastorally that we too will have the same boldness and confidence to do likewise.

Your Pastor,

Andrew

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AMAZING ACCESS

Anyone who has attended a large event such as the recent Will Graham Outreach event that was held at the Launceston Silverdome would be familiar with the varying levels of access that are provided to staff and volunteers associated with this type of event. The security system used included identification in the form of different coloured shirts, prayer volunteer cards, and all access cards that permitted access to the entire venue with no questions asked by security personnel. This is like the access level that God has to our lives. Being omnipresent, He has unhindered access to every aspect of our lives. He knows our innermost thoughts, sees all that we do, hears all that we say. God has the ultimate ‘all access’ card.

WHY FINDING TRUTH MATTERS

How can we determine whether a claim is true or false? Some people think there are different kinds of truth — my truth, their truth, and your truth. But how do they know that their assessment of truth is true? After all, their assessment – that there is my/their/your truth might just be based on their truth rather than the truth. Truth has certain qualities that distinguishes it from what is false-
 Truth corresponds to reality.
 Truth is verifiable (that is, if it is true, it can be evidentially shown to be so).
 Truth is falsifiable (that is, if it is false, it can be evidentially shown to be so).
 Truth is sometimes testable (that is, claims that are experiential can be tested by experience – including scientific claims, historic claims, and existential claims).
We have good reasons for the believing that the Bible is true because it is the divinely inspired, reliable and authoritative Word of God which has been superintendedly preserved by the Holy Spirit (read more about this).

THE 5 MOST IMPORTANT YEARS OF ANYONE’S LIFE

Parents, Kids Church leaders, and Christian school teachers should be intentional about shaping children to be fully devoted followers of Christ who have reasons for believing Christianity is true – which shapes them into virtuous contributors to society and to find their role in God’s Kingdom. This will be one of the necessary and indispensable means for the Church to fulfil the Great Commission of Christ.

TIME- YOU CAN’T CONTROL IT – BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT

We live in a fast paced world. We expect things to happen quickly. None of us like to be kept waiting. Even when we order something online we expect it delivered straight away. Some of us having to work two or even three jobs just to be able to pay the bills. We describe ourselves as time-poor. Yet, we all get twenty-four-hours in a day. Sixty-minutes in an hour. And sixty-seconds in a minute. Most of us need to adjust how we see, understand, and treat our time. This will involve, what will be for some, adopting a foreign and largely unaccustomed view of time that involves worship, sabbath, and deepening relationships. From this biblical perspective we will come to see time as a gift from God, not a curse, or source of frustration. Within this gift of time God teaches us how to worship in those times when it is difficult to do so. Rather than thinking this divine gift of time is ours to do with what ever we want, God uses this gift to teach us that we should gift it back to Him beginning with (but not limited to) treating Sunday as a sabbath to come together to recommit our hearts, voices, minds, and presence with God’s people, back to God. God gives us passing time to learn to deepen relationships – especially with our kin, and our friends. Time is meant for relationship building. 

I AM WHO I AM BUT I AM NOT WHO I USED TO BE BUT I AM NOT YET WHO I WILL BE

One of the greatest lies that the would-be enemy of all our souls attempts to perpetuate is that we are what we are and we can never change. This lie is whispered into the ears of many people’s invisible ears so imperceptibly that they actually think it originated with them. “You were born this way – and you can never change”, “This is who you really are – and you can never change”, “There’s no hope of anything ever changing for better – so you might as well just kill yourself” and so on. But these sly alien voices inside the heads of the vulnerable are lies. People can change. People do change. Some circumstances were always going to be temporary and were always going to change. I know this is true because I am living proof. I am who I am but I am not who I used to be and I am not yet who I will be.

WHO DOES THIS EPHESIANS FELLA THINK HE IS?!

It may well still be the best-selling book of all time – and continues year-by-year to be so – but certainly is not the best-read of our current times! If there was ever any doubt about this, the events this week in Hobart, at St. Mary’s (Catholic) College Girl’s School, should remove all doubt! A furore erupted over the news that the prescribed Scripture reading for the year-end graduation celebration, which incorporated a Mass, was “Wives submit to your husbands” taken from Ephesians. Callers into ABC radio’s breakfast program decried this assault against women – especially young, vulnerable girls. One caller, responding to the news that the text being used was a citation from Ephesians, denounced Ephesians and apparently demanded, “Just who does this Ephesians bloke think he is?!” Another caller stated, “Why are they quoting ancient Roman philosophers in the twenty-first century?!” And yet another caller somehow linked all religious wars to passages like this one in the Bible! He remarked, “I’m an atheist. All wars are started by those who are religious! No war was ever started by atheists!” (Perhaps he had never heard of Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Vladimir Putin, who were collectively responsible for the deaths of over 20,000,000?) This furore led to the Archbishop conceding that the Ephesians passage did not have to be used at the graduation ceremony. But this furore has highlighted just how unaware many Tasmanians are about what the Bible is, what is actually says, and why it says it. And I am now about to correct this deficiency.  

THE LORD IS MY ROCK

Of the many tributes paid to her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was the often noted reflection that during her reign the world underwent a series of rapid changes that were dramatic and unprecedented in human history. There were technological inventions that revolutionised the way people could access international travel options enabling them to be virtually anywhere in the world within a matter of hours. New forms of communication emerged with the development of a global satellite communications network enabling people to watch Neil Armstrong take his one giant leap Live on their black-and-white TV screens (as I did in the corridors of Corio Primary School in 1969). Space exploration, the stuff previously just in the realm of science fiction writers, became a reality with manned and unmanned voyages to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But the past one hundred years have also been a time of great upheaval with empires crumbling, governments toppled, wars waged, genocides committed, pandemics raging, nations birthed, rulers assassinated, and massive refugee movements from oppressive Islamic and Communist regimes. Added to this has been the demise of professional journalism and the rise of internet-citizen-journalism where it is now common for TV News reports to feature footage taken from someone’s cell-phone which was posted on social media rather than the more expensive option of sending their own film crew there. And while we’re mentioning the internet, let’s not forget to mention – the internet. This alone has possibly been the most monumental change in the way people communicate, work, learn, and shop. But while it was noted that the Queen had witnessed all of these many changes, it was also noted that the Queen herself was an unchanging constant during all these upheavals who brought about a sense of stability, peace and reassurance. To millions of people around the world, she was their rock in a world of turmoil and change. Yet this was only possible because she herself had an immovable, dependable rock upon which she had built her life.

WHO BUILDS A CITY ON A HILL?

home > Pastor's Desk > 2022 > October 7th > Who Builds A City On A HillFor those who don’t know, I was born in Geelong, and have always been fan of the Geelong Football Club. But I’m not just a fan, I’m a paid-up member of the Club. In fact, I’m a student...

5 INDISPENSABLE GUIDELINES FOR NEW PARENTS

This is not for everyone. If you are already a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my other more abstract Pastor’s Desk articles. If you are not a parent and have no intention of ever being a parent, this is not for you. Instead of reading this I suggest you read one of my more weighty articles on FindingTruthMatters.org. If you are not yet a parent and one day hope to become a parent, this is for you. Find a quiet place, take the next six minutes thirteen seconds and use the reading of this article as an investment into your future parenting strategies. I did not invent these guidelines. Like many parents who have also discovered the value of these guidelines, once discovered, they seem obvious. These successful parents probably grew up with own parents who inculcated these guidelines almost intuitively. However, my suspicion is that this is becoming increasingly rarer. As with all true guidelines they are adaptable, flexible, and are not a guarantee of parental success — but if ignored they become the point in the mathematical problem solving where you can see you made an error in your working out. In other words, while these guidelines may not guarantee success, if ignored their neglect almost certainly leads to frustration and disappointment. Here are five indispensable guidelines for every prospective new parent.

THINK ABOUT THIS

In Australia, it’s football finals time and the U.S. the last Grand Slam event for the year has just concluded. I find a lot of life lessons from observing elite athletes — including and especially those who play football and those who play tennis. Most people might consider football to be a team sport and tennis to be individual sport. But the distinction is not so clear these days. Often times footballers are individually coached by “position coaches” and a tennis player is often just who the public sees of a team of people responsible for the performance of that player. At the time of writing, there are remaining four Australian Rules Football (AFL) teams about to play off in the Preliminary Finals (including my beloved Geelong Cats). Last weekend, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Casper Ruud of Norway. Both players have intriguing stories which I will mention shortly. In the AFL, after a disastrous last season, the Collingwood Magpies appointed a new coach for this season, Craig McRae. Even though they got off to a slow start this season, under McRae’s oversight ended up having an 11-straight winning streak toward the end of the season and now look like genuine  Premiership contenders. What do Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Craig McRae, and the Collingwood football team, all have in common? All the players at the elite level of their sport make an enormous commitment to train, practice, sleep, hydrate, and eat a regulated diet. Yet at the very highest levels in their respective sporting codes the difference between the elite and the extra-elite is no longer skill or fitness. In fact, the difference between them is so applicable to everyday life that it may be the most relevant and do-able thing you hear for a long time. So, think about this.