The Atheist who Accidentally Tweeted The Gospel

If you’ve been around on the internet for a while, either on social media or on discussion forums, you may have seen this quote floating around:

CHRISTIANITY, the belief that a God created a universe 13.79 billion yrs old, 93 billion light years in diameter, consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing an average of 200 billion stars, only to have a personal relationship with you

This is usually posted by edgy internet atheists (as opposed to the good, thoughtful kind, of whom there are many) who haven’t done their research on what the Bible says, or really thought about it that much. It’s meant to be derisive, and is aimed at promoting skepticism. The problem with it is…that it’s true.

It’s one of the most amazing things about the Christian faith. In fact, I remember when this went viral on Twitter last year, as a huge number of Christians jumped on it and started retweeting it. It went viral, but for all of the wrong reasons – at least compared to how the original poster wanted!

Funnily enough the Tweet is still pinned on the guy’s page, so I don’t think he quite got how it turned on him.

For the record, I hate when people debate religion online, especially on Twitter, so I’m not into ripping people. I just thought this was a funny example of uninformed arrogance gone wrong.

You see, the guy is totally right. The truth of Christianity is so good, so mind-bendingly amazing that it literally seems unbelievable.

I mean, take a look at this photo:

What you’re seeing is a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. According to the Hubble website, there are around 5,500 Galaxies in the picture on the left. The amazing thing is, that’s a tiny, tiny fragment of the night sky we see. See the picture of the moon on the right? The photo on the left was taken from that tiny box labled “XDF”. That’s barely a centimetre of the night sky we can see when standing on the ground.

If that doesn’t make you feel small, look at this.

This is a representation of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. Think of all of the stars you can see in the night sky. If you live somewhere like the South of Scotland, that might mean you mostly just see clouds. In that case, here’s what the night sky sometimes looks like in other parts of the world:

Amazing, right?

Most of the stars you see in the above picture – or the stars any human can see at any point – are contained in the tiny, yellow circle in the image above*. There are around 100 to 400 billion stars in our Galaxy, but we can only see a tiny fraction of them.

*(Please note: the yellow circle picture isn’t totally accurate; the shape of our Galaxy means we don’t exactly see in a perfect circle like that, and we can actually see some of the brighter stars that are further away. We can even see the Andromeda Galaxy from Earth! The point is; what we see at night is a tiny representation of our Galaxy.)

Here’s the amazing thing, though. Our galaxy is tiny in the grand scheme of things. There are many, many Galaxies in the Universe, and ours is just one of them.

In recent years, scientists have been able to take some amazing photos of outer space. To help get a sense of how big and awesome space is, here are a few of my favourites. Please note, most of these are artistic representations of the pictures taken!

The Pillars of Creation

These are what’s known as the Pillars of Creation. They look pretty, but they’re basically giant clouds of space dust. They’re pretty big: If we were to travel at the speed of light (670,616,629mph, which is currently impossible for us) it would take us 4-5 years to travel from the top to the bottom. Not that it matters – it would take us 7,000 years to get to them!

NGC 602

This is a small star cluster known as NGC 602. It’s one of our closest Galactic Neighbours – one of the closest Galaxies to our Milky Way. Well, when I say “closest” that’s relative – it would take us 200,000 years to get there travelling at the speed of light (remember, 670,616,629mph). Considering how vast it is, it’s actually pretty small – it would only take us 200 years to travel the length of it at light speed. Tiny!

The Veil Nebula

This image comes from the Veil Nebula. If you’d like to visit it, you’d better not hold your breath. It’s so far away that if the disciples had light speed travel when Jesus walked the earth, they’d still be another 100 years away from getting there. What you can see in this photo is a supernova, which basically is what we call an exploded star. Pretty, isn’t it?

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest major galaxy to our Milky Way. I say nearest – again, it would take us 2.5 million years to travel there at light speed. Think about that. 2.5 million years travelling at 670,616,629 miles an hour. Mental. The Andromeda Galaxy can be seen from Earth, and it contains roughly 1 trillion stars – that’s double the number of stars in our Milky Way (and remember – we can only see a tiny portion of the stars in our galaxy at night!)

Space is amazing, and huge. The sun is big, but it’s just one star. There are around 400 billion stars in our galaxy. There are 1 Trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy. That might seem like a lot, but those are just two galaxies. Scientists believe there are around 100 Billion Galaxies in the observable Universe (yes, “observable” – the universe is so big we don’t even know how big it is yet).

Quite simply, the Universe is just too big for most of us to comprehend.

If you’re starting to feel very small, good. You should. We are a tiny, tiny spec of dust in the grand vastness of space. The Universe is so uncomprehendingly massive that you can start to see why our atheist friend found it so bewildering that the God who made it would know and love us personally. It truly is amazing; almost unbelievable.

The funny thing is that the Bible seems to think so too.

Yesterday I was reading from Psalm 8, and came across one of my favourite passages in the whole of Scripture:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalm 8:3-4 (ESV)

The Bible doesn’t deny that this almost sounds too good to be true! The Psalmist above didn’t know all that we know today, but he knew enough about the stars and the heavens to know that they were vast. In Psalm 8, the Psalmist marvels that the God of the Universe knows us and cares for us.

In Psalm 8, the Psalmist reflects that the same God…

…who threw billions upon billions of stars into space…

…who knows the name of every planet, star, solar system, galaxy, galaxy cluster, supercluster…

…who creates supernovae and cosmic wonders too vast for us to comprehend and too far for us to see – simply for his own enjoyment…

…who smashes the plates of the earth together to create mountains, volcanoes and seas…

…who commands the winds, the rain, and who knows every wave as it passes above the surface of the ocean…

…who causes roars of lightning and flashes of thunder to terrify and amaze us, who paints the most beautiful sunsets filled with the most vibrant colours in the night sky and who gives us the ability to enjoy and appreciate them…

…who gives life to billions upon billions of people, who gave us the ability to feel joy, happiness, love and wonder, who made us creative like he is, who created sex, pleasure, friendship and human companionship…

…who willingly came to Earth to be born as a helpless child nursing at his mother’s breast, who grew up to be spat on, mocked, beaten and executed by the very men he created…

…who died so that we might live, who forgives us our wrongs a thousand, million times over…

This God invites us to talk with him in prayer, to hear him in his Word, to cry out to him in our troubles, to praise him in our joy and to trust in him for all of our needs.

He invites us to know him, to love him, to lean on him, surrender to him and trust in him.

There is no problem too big or small for him to handle, no human too far gone to experience his love, and no evil that can escape his justice.

The message of Christianity may seem too good to be true, but that’s entierly because it is just so good.

In the grand scheme of things, we are tiny. But the God of the Universe is huge, and he is mindful of and cares for little old us.

So let the world laugh all they want. The God of the Universe is big enough to handle it.

-J

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to comment and share on social media/with your friends!

Also, if you’re an astronomer and noticed any glaring mistakes in my deliberate simplification, please let me know!

5 Spiritual Lessons I learned from…building my garden

My wife and I were one of the few 20-something couples in the UK fortunate enough to get on the property ladder during the last decade. Our budget was tight, so we bought what was essentially an old smoking den with the intention of spending the next several years building it up to something nice and homely. Within a year we had the inside of the house refubished to the point where my kids could sleep in their bedrooms without waking up with a lung infection, and it’s been steady progress since then.

The last thing on our list of things to fix up was the garden. This property has a MASSIVE back garden space. It was actually one of the reasons we first bought the house. We knew when we bought it that it would need a tonne of work, but the thought of our kids having a space half the size of a football pitch to run around in made us giddy with excitement. So we began the slow journey of working away at it over time, and I am pleased to say that by God’s grace and provision we finally got it turfed last week. We now have a beautiful green lawn that requires my attention every day so that it doesn’t die.

For reference, here’s what the garden looked like when we first bought it:

And here’s what it looks like today:

It’s an amazing transformation, and one that we’re extremely thankful for. Over time I’ve began to realise more and more that the gradual transformation of our garden has been a metaphor of God’s work in my own life. Below are 5 of the Spiritual Lessons I’ve learned…From Building my Garden:

#1: Christ Purchased Us When We Were At Our Worst


As you can see, when we got the garden it was a complete mess. The grass and weeds stood taller than us, there were hidden dips and mounds that played havok with our ankles, there was no fence, and at the back of it there was a sheer drop down onto an old scrapyard. As we’d later find out, beneath all of it was a dump truck’s worth of rubble – bricks, stones, boulders, pottery, glass and junk. Getting it into a usable state turned out to be a lot more trouble than we realised.

Saying that, we bought it knowing that it would take a lot of work. We bought it knowing that while it wasn’t perfect, we would be committed to making it into what it could be. There is a similar truth found in the Bible about us.

There’s a well known verse in book of Romans, written by the Apostle Paul. This is what it says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 (ESV), [Emphasis mine]

As I said in my last post, humanity is tainted by sin. Sin is evil. It’s ugly. It brings death and corruption to everything it touches. Every human being born today is born into sin, and no matter how much we try to scrub it away or get rid of it ourselves, we can’t. Our sin is offensive to God. By all rights, he would have been perfectly justified to leave us in it and let us die. But he didn’t.

While we were still in our sin – still offensive, still wicked, still enemies of God – Jesus Christ died for us.

He didn’t wait until you had met a certain standard. He didn’t wait until you were ready. He didn’t wait until you showed signs of improving.

God saw all of your sin, all of your ugliness, all of the things you do and will do that go against his good wishes – and he still loved you. He didn’t die for the person you could be – he died for the person you are and were, at your worst. As one of my favourite preachers Matt Chandler puts it:

God is not in love with a cleaner, more put together, future version of you. His love for you right now is steadfast…

Matt Chandler

We bought my garden when it was a mess because we were able to see beyond its ugliness. We loved that space for what it was, and we commited ourselves to working on it.

In the same way, if you are in Christ, he died for you when you were dead in your sin.

God doesn’t love the version of you 10 years from now. He doesn’t love the version of you when you get tidy yourself up a little bit. He loves the version of you right now, with all of your kinks, faults and sin.

God doesn’t love the version of you 10 years from now. He doesn’t love the version of you when you get tidy yourself up a little bit. He loves the version of you right now, with all of your kinks, faults and sin.

The Bible states that as soon as you put your faith in Christ, you are given his righteousness. (Romans chapters 3,4,5, 1 Cor 1:30, etc…) Theologians call this imputed righteousness. In Christ, believers are made Holy. That doesn’t mean we always act Holy, but as far as God is concerned we become as guiltless as his son, and he is commited to making us look like that more and more. This is known as “sanctification“. Read this quote from Romans 8 below:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:28-29 (ESV) [Emphasis mine]

Romans 8 is one of the centrepiece chapters of the Bible. While verse 28 is well known, verse 29 is a little less so. The word “predestined” in that verse sometimes scares people. I’m not going to get into the topic of predestination just yet, as I can’t be bothered with the calvinism vs arminianism debates that will erupt in my comments section. Maybe later.

In this context, all the word “predestination” means is this: it is the believer’s destiny to become like Jesus. God is committed to shaping us, moulding us and conforming us into the image of his Son. It means the uprooting and removing of sinful patterns, habits and desires in our lives. This is what sanctification is; it’s God’s work in making us more like his Son.

While this is good news, it can be painful, as unfortunately…

2. Sanctification Takes Time


It’s been 4 years since we moved into this house, and progress wasn’t always quick. The weeds were stubborn and took a lot of work to get rid of. Not only that, but they didn’t stay gone for long. We’d clear a part of the garden, take a short break when the weather turned, then go back within a week and find that everything had already grown back and it seemed like we were back at square one. Sanctification is a bit like this.

When I first put my faith in Jesus, some of my sinful habits and desires literally disappeared over night. Things I thought would be a struggle suddenly weren’t a struggle any more. I wish I could say that was the case for everything, but it hasn’t been. My walk with Jesus has gone through ups and downs, and my battle against my indwelling sin has seen highs and lows too. There have been times over the past 9 years when I thought I’ve been over a struggle, only for it to rear its ugly head again a couple of years down the line.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve cried out to God asking for help and grace for things that I keep stumbling over. There are times I’ve wondered if I’ll ever “get there”. And the truth is, I won’t. Not on this side of glory, at least. I will be a work in progress until the day I die, and that’s okay. In fact, the sooner we come to terms with that, the more we’ll be able to find freedom in the gospel.

Once we finally come to the place where we can rest in the finished work of Jesus and say with confidence that we have been made righteous and clean by him we’ll be encouraged to push into God when we sin, not run away from him.

Once we finally come to the place where we rest in the finished work of Jesus and say with confidence that we have been made righteous and clean by him we’ll be encouraged to push into God when we sin, not run away from him.

For most of us the journey of sanctification is much slower than we’d like. We want to be better now. We want to overcome now. But God’s timing rarely matches our timing. We are a work in progress, and our Lord and Master is comitted to making us like him, no matter how long it may take. Just like my garden there will be setbacks – there will be seasons where it seems like we’ve taken 3 steps forward and 4 steps back – but in the end, we’ll get there. We just have to trust that God knows what he’s doing. Afterall, his patience and love far outweighs our sin and stubborness.

3. Growing In Spiritual Maturity Requires the Help of Others


The transforming of our garden has been a monumental team effort. Jodie and I received a lot of help, both practical and financial, from our parents. Through a chance conversation at the school gates, one of our neighbours built a fence around the entire garden for free. Last year when our extended family were allowed to finally visit again they spent a whole day helping us get it painted. Friends and family members have loaned us tools to help get it done quicker, and the bulk of the work done in the past month was done by a professional landscaper.

Through the generosity and support of others, God has provided and given us everything we’ve needed to get the garden to what we envisioned it to be.

The same is true of our walk with God. Personal experience has shown me that those who try to follow Jesus without the help and support of other believers around them often end up crashing, or falling back into their sin. It is extremely difficult to grow as a disciple of Jesus without the input of others.

For my own journey of faith, I had a headstart in that a huge number of folks in my church made it their personal responsibility to disciple me from the beginning. Within a week of praying with someone I was introduced to some of our student small group leaders, who invited me and Jodie to join a student small group, which became our extended family for the next year. On top of that, two mature believers met with me every week to go through a course that went through the basics of the Christian faith. I was often the only one to turn up, which I’m sure was discouraging for them, but they pressed on: week after week for months they’d meet me, answer my questions and help me explore my new found faith. A year into my faith, our student pastor took a personal interest in me and began to meet with me one on one to pray and study scripture together.

The Christian life is not easy. Temptations and trials hide around every corner. The book of Proverbs famously says that iron sharpens iron, and we need people in our lives who God can use to sharpen us, to help see our blind spots and to keep us acountable.

There are fellow pastors and leaders in my church who I know I can turn to if I’m struggling – be that emotionally, or spiritually. Those same people aren’t afraid to ask me difficult questions about my life, faith, and marriage, which I’m sure my wife has appreciated! Sometimes I don’t realise I’m being a crappy husband until a question asked by a close friend helps me see it.

On top of that, there are a few people in my life who I know I can go to to confess or unpack anything without fear of judgement. I’m allowed to be known, and that is so freeing.

It is God who saves, and God who does the act of sanctification. But it is often through his people that he does these things.

You can be a Christian without a local church; but you can’t live the Christian life without the local church. This phrase maybe a clichè, but it’s ultimately true.

Our garden is ours – it belongs to my wife and I. But others have taken it upon themselves to input into it and to help us with it, to make sure that it grows and becomes what it was meant to be. The same is true of our souls. Lord have mercy on the Christian who tries to go at it alone! They make themselves an easy target for the enemy. Speaking of mercy…

4. It Is The Mercy of God to Reveal Our Hidden Sin


Our house is next to an old mine. And where our garden is now once stood various cottages and garages, no doubt used by mining families when the mines were active. These houses had been knocked down at the back end of the last century, and the rubble/foundations of the old buildings were left where they lay. As the years went on the weeds grew over everything, hiding the mess from plain sight. When the ground was finally churned up we found that our garden was suddenly swimming in bricks, boulders, glass, stones, pottery, tools, household items and a whole host of other rubbish. With the ground in that state it was going to be impossible to sow seeds or lay turf. We’d finally conquered one problem, but all it did was raise another one, hidden deep under the surface.

During the last lockdown I spent a lot of my spare time digging up the rubble in the garden. It was tiring work. Some of the bricks were stuck together just below the surface, and for those a good hit from a pickaxe or a sledgehammer was enough to get them loose. Some of the brickwork was set several feet underground, however, and for those ones I had to dig deep and wide in order to get them out. It was when I was digging out these foundations that I often stumbled across another group that wasn’t even visible before. I remember digging out the foundations of one of the cottages, and by the time I’d finished I’d discovered 3 more that had been hidden away! Every time I seemed to make progress something else came up.

As I was digging up these foundations, we had just gone into our first nationwide lockdown in the UK. After a few weeks of being stuck indoors with only my wife and kids for company, God began to reveal things in me that I had never noticed. For example, I discovered that I was much more selfish than I realised – I loved time to myself too much, and the fact that I could no longer get it was leading to tension in our house. I was also less patient than I thought. My fuse was much shorter than I realised. Given the opportunity to be stuck in doors and not go out, laziness came easily to me. It was uncomfortable learning these things about myself, but it was in God’s mercy that he revealed them to me. If he hadn’t, they would have sat under the surface, undealt with, just waiting for the right opportunity to spring out of the ground and bring chaos and destruction to my life.

Had we planted seeds or lay turf in the garden without digging up all of the rubble first, we would have found that the grass would struggle to grow, and all the money spent would have been wasted. Since these things had been revealed we were able to deal with them then and there, meaning there was room for future growth and new life.

So it is with sanctification. God is wholly committed to us. He wants all of us – not just parts of us. When we notice the Lord do a work in us, sometimes we can say “great, thanks God. You’ve helped me overcome. I’m good now.” But the Lord’s work is just beginning. He doesn’t just want that part of us – he wants all of us. Every part of us, even the bits hidden deep down, he wants them conformed to his image, obliterated and rebuilt in his love. We often overcome one problem, and God immediately begins to work on something else. It’s frustrating, but it’s much better than the alternative.

It might be difficult when the Lord reveals your sin. Sometimes he’ll even do it publicly. It will be uncomofortable, humbling, and maybe even shocking. But sin always leads to death, and it’s in God’s mercy that he reveals it for us – because he loves us. He does this for our good and for our joy. For those of us in Christ, we can take comfort in the fact that God is ferociously commited to us. Rather than fight back, we can ask him to reveal the hidden sin in our heart, to give us freedom, joy and life in him.

5. God Will Finish The Work He Started In Us


Our garden still isn’t finished. The grass is down, but it currently needs constant attention in order to make sure that it takes root. Our patio is still a mess, and is in need of an (un)healthy dose of weed killer and a good blast from a powerwasher. In the future we’d like to get decking, a raised flowerbed, and maybe even plant a tree or two.

I’m not sure what the garden will look like when we’re done with it, but I know that, Lord willing, we’ll get there eventually.

The same can be said of God’s work in us.

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Paul’s words here are just as true of us as they were for the Philippians. God is commited to us. He chose us before the foundation of the world, called us and saved us. He didn’t save us just to leave us to our own devices; he saved us for a reason.

No one will be perfect in this current life. We are all, and always will be until the day we die, a work in progress. God can handle that.

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t an excuse for us to live in sin and conciously make mistakes – the same Bible that promises his grace and forgiveness also commands us to be Holy, because God is Holy. But we can live with confidence knowing that despite all of our faults, our failings – our indwelling sin – God is with us and for us. He is making us like Jesus. It’s happening, even if it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, I bet if you took a moment to stop and look back over your life now compared to five years ago you’d begin to notice little signs of his work being done in you.

Jesus Christ purchased us with his blood, and let me tell you; he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse. God knew what he was buying when he bought you. He didn’t buy some future, perfect version of you. He bought the broken, ugly, sinful version of you.

Jesus Christ purchased us with his blood, and let me tell you; he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse.

God excels in bringing beauty from ashes; bringing light into darkness; bringing death to life, and turning sinners into saints.

That work often takes longer than we like. It requires the help of others. It will take a lot of digging and soul searching, and sometimes the uncomfortable revealing of the hidden depths of our heart, but it’s not for nothing. He will finish the work. There will come a day when your sin will be nothing but a distant memory, and the struggles you face today will seem like a whisper in the wind.

In a couple of weeks my kids will be allowed to play on our grass for the first time. As joyful as that day will be for us, it will be nothing compared to joy the Father will have the day Jesus Christ presents us before him faultless, perfect and holy.

Take heart, believer: God is overwhelmingly for you.

-J

Agree? Disagree? How have you noticed the work of God take place in your own life? Let me know below in the comments! Also, if this post helped you please feel free to share it on social media and with your friends.