Blogroll: The Good Book Company

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Friday Quiz: Esther

Fri, 24/02/2017 - 11:56

How did you get on? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

If God is in control, why do I have a headache?

Thu, 23/02/2017 - 11:05

The question “Why?” is the one we long to answer. If God is in control, why do I have a headache? Why do I have cancer? Why are my teenagers causing so much trouble? Why am I still single? Why hasn’t he given us a child?

After all, if we put all the Bible’s teaching together, we find that God controls each and every event, from the tiniest to the greatest, from the most predictable to the apparently random, visible and invisible, in every place, at all times, from the least complex to the most intricate, right up to human beings with all our wonderful capacity to think, to reason and to make decisions. This is the scope of God’s control.

But then we look at our present circumstances and are left asking… WHY?

Sometimes we can’t fully answer it. But we can say some things. Here are some of the main answers the Bible gives.

1. If you are a Christian, it is NOT God’s punishment for your sin. This is very important. The great mistake of Job’s so-called “comforters” was to assume that Job’s sufferings must be a punishment for his sin. But if you are trusting in Jesus (as Job was, in anticipation), the punishment for all your sin has been paid by Jesus. So don’t beat yourself up and blame yourself. You and I have plenty of sins, for which we deserve far worse than we get; but our sufferings are not the punishment for these sins. Jesus paid it all.

2. It is not punishment, but it may be God’s fatherly discipline, given in order to fashion and shape you to become like Jesus. As Hebrews chapter 12 puts it, “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12 v 10, see v 4-13). It is good to search your conscience afresh and ask yourself if there is any matter of which you ought to repent. Perhaps this suffering is God’s way of prompting you to a fresh repentance from some sin. Maybe, maybe not; only you can say. Read this chapter of Hebrews and take comfort from the assurance that you have a heavenly Father who is determined to make you like Jesus. We wish it didn’t hurt so much; but it will be worth it in the end.

Take comfort from the assurance that you have a heavenly Father who is determined to make you like Jesus.

3. It may also be a trial that is necessary in order to demonstrate your genuineness as a follower of Jesus. When you go on trusting God even when it’s really hard, glory will come to God (1 Peter 1 v 7). This may be hard to accept, but it is actually a wonderful truth, that God will be glorified precisely through your struggles in a way in which he might not be glorified if we had things easier.

4. Finally, many of our difficulties are simply because we are living life “under the sun”, as the book of Ecclesiastes puts it. And life “under the sun” in this age is life under God’s righteous judgment on a sinful world. While we are not punished for our individual sins—Jesus paid for those—we are still sinners in a world under judgement. We must expect things to be messy and difficult.

Probably most, if not all, of our problems can be described as in numbers 2, 3, and 4, all at the same time. Beyond this, we cannot say and it is not profitable to speculate or to pretend that we know.

This article is adapted from Christopher Ash’s book Where was God when that happened? And other questions about God’s goodness, power and the way he works in the world, which is available to buy now.

Categories: Christian Resources

When parenting is a battleground: The best advice I’ve ever received

Wed, 22/02/2017 - 11:35

I have a daughter whom I love and cherish, but whom I would not readily choose to be mine to raise. She has all the qualities I have previously admired from a distance, but have never had to live with, or had the responsibility to influence.

She embodies feistiness, determination, hot-headedness, energy, and confidence in abundance. And her need for people, attention, and company is insatiable. She never keeps still and her desire for constant and varied occupation remains the same now as it did when she was 18 months old.

I love the bones of her buoyant, outgoing nature, but her 7-year old self accepts nothing as given:  E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is open for debate. And when foiled her eyes dart furiously, her mind ticking, looking, searching for the way through what she has been presented with to find the way back to what she wants. Alternatively she reverts to the oldest trick in the book... good old fashioned nagging (or throwing a strop!).

There is not a request or instruction that is accepted without question, and there is nothing I can confidently expect in response to either routine or instruction.

And it's exhausting.

Because while she pushes against me, the need to hold the line is constant, as is the need to lovingly reaffirm the boundaries, to repeat the instruction, and to deliver the consequence if disobeyed. And while the aftermath leaves my girl seemingly unchanged, it oftentimes leaves me feeling overwhelmed and plain old discouraged.

Our relationship at times feels like a battleground, a clash of heads, and a toxic repetition of hopeful expectation and disobeyed instruction.

Parenting is hard. And never more so than when you are constantly pushed against, challenged and defied.

Parenting is hard. And never more so than when you are constantly pushed against, challenged and defied.

What I've wanted most on the days where I've had the least to give has been someone to step in and take over, or to tell me that it'll be alright in the end. And more times than I've cared to remember, I've wanted to cave. I've wanted to give in to her defiance and resistance.

Why?

... Because it's easier.

... Because I don't have anything left.

... Because I'm fighting a losing battle.

... And frankly, because what difference is it making anyway...?

Right?

The gentle wisdom of a friend has helped me to discover otherwise.

One of the things that has held me in the battle on days where I've felt most alone, that has steadied my nerve, and given me the strength for another round, has been the wise words of a friend who reminded me on one particularly battle-besieged day that "Without a battle there can be no victory."

I'll say it again... "Without a battle there can be no victory"

"Without a battle there can be no victory"

W-O-W. Just WOW.

As I've rolled these words around my mind the truth and the power of them have struck me again and again. They’re so simple in their truth, but so weighty in their implication. Everything that I am experiencing in raising my preciously fierce little girl is meaningful to a bigger picture. Without the battle there will be no ground taken, no change, no progress, and ultimately no victory. My persistence in challenging choices and behaviour and reactions means that—one day—there will be progress, and in God's good timing—victory.

The battleground is fertile ground and in it I hope and pray that one day it will bring forth strong and godly character traits that reflect the nature of our King.

But this isn't just true of my relationship with my little girl. This knowledge gives strength in almost every area of life.

If I don't fight that ongoing sin, I will never ultimately know any kind of victory over it. If I don't persistently pray, then I will never know the joy of prayers answered. If I don't engage those who don't know Jesus with the truth of the gospel, then I will never have the joy of seeing God work through me. If I don't climb that mountain, I will never see the view.

And so in the battle, whatever it might be, I am reminded to persevere—to “press on and to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me” (Philippians 3 v 12).

Why?

Because it's a battle worth fighting. And because ultimately the victory—in Christ Jesus—has already been won.

The writer of this post has chosen to remain anonymous for the sake of her much-loved daughter.

What's the best parenting advice you've received?. Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Three ways to get involved with a very special book launch

Tue, 21/02/2017 - 14:09

"We wrote this book for you—for the person who's hurting. Maybe it's the diagnosis, or the accident. We wrote this for you in the midst of the pain, because God's Word has been a balm to our souls in the pain. We want you to know that same comfort—drawing life and hope from the only giver of hope."

That’s from the authors of Hope When It Hurts. Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton have walked through, and are walking in, difficult times. Both have lived for years with illnesses that give them constant pain, and leave them weak and breathless. Add to that a special needs situation with one of Sarah’s children, and significant financial difficulties too. Kristen and Sarah unfold their stories of wrestling with God in the pages of Hope When it Hurts. The book delivers empathy, wisdom, and most powerfully, a focus on the power of the gospel to transform and bring joy in the midst of suffering—whether physical, emotional or psychological, and whether for a season or for longer. Each day’s reading, penned by either Sarah or Kristen, draws from portions of 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and is followed by a set of reflection questions, a suggested prayer and space for journaling.

A recent survey found that 43% of British adults—around 28 million people—suffer from chronic pain (pain that lasts for more than three months). So it’s not surprising that there’s a real buzz building around this book—and we wanted you, our loyal blog readers, to be in on the excitement.

It’s launching on the 4th April—but here are three ways you can get involved before then:

1. Read a sample chapter

At TGBC we love giving you a freebie—so here’s a free preview chapter for you to download, read and enjoy. Just head to this webpage, put your email address in the box, and you can download it right away.

2. Watch the film and join the thunderclap

Stories are powerful—they connect deeply with us. That’s why we’ve created a beautiful short film which shares Kristen and Sarah’s stories of hope in hard times. And now our hope is that this video will encourage other people who are suffering to run to Jesus and dig deep into his Word. It's not up on social media yet, but you can exclusively preview it here.

And now we need your help to share this message of hope with the world. Will you join our thunderclap and sign up to share this film on Tuesday 14th March?

"What is a thunderclap?" we hear you ask. A thunderclap allows us to make a bigger impact with the video by having hundreds of people share it at one time. When you sign up, you give permission for them to automatically post the message you see from your social media account at 1pm EST on the 14th March. (Don't worry, it’s totally secure and they won’t post anything else.) But please don't share the video until then.

3. Share your story

But it’s not just Kristen and Sarah’s stories that we want to highlight. We want you to tell your stories too. We’ve been running a series of short testimonies over on the Hope When It Hurts Facebook page. Could you share your story of how God has given you hope in a difficult time? Email your story to hopewhenithurts@thegoodbook.com.

Here’s Caitlin’s story to inspire you:

"I have been abandoned twice. The first was when my father left us after sixteen years of abuse and neglect. The second came suddenly when the man I was going to marry simply changed his mind.

I’ve grieved these losses because they have all the finality, confusion, and sadness of death, with the added pain of knowing that both of these men left by choice. It’s the pain of being discarded, rejected, unwanted, and it carries a lot of shame.

As time passes, it gets harder. I see friends getting married and starting families with men who love them deeply – who choose to stay – and underneath my joy for them, it hurts. But because of Christ, I have hope.

Jesus Christ, who is fully God but also fully a man, gave his life to make me his so that I would be loved and blameless (Ephesians 1 v 4). He promises to never leave me (Hebrews 13 v 5), and he is incapable of changing his mind. If that was not enough, he’s given me a loving family, beautiful friendships, and a job serving his people where I get glimpses of his forever, enduring love every day.

So when it hurts, Christ is my hope.

That swing in the photo hangs in my mom’s backyard. When my ex and I were dating, he would talk about wanting to sit outside with me and nap on it. I actually took that picture to send to him.

When our relationship ended, I could hardly look at the swing. I was so heartbroken and angry. I wanted to know why God seemed determined to leave my mom, and now me, alone. But now that some time has passed, the swing is okay. The Lord may yet have marriage for me. But if he doesn’t, I know he is still good."

Categories: Christian Resources

Christopher Ash on Where was God when that happened?

Mon, 20/02/2017 - 10:04

"What matters in the end is not how strongly we hold onto God, but how unbreakable is his loving grip on us." (Christopher Ash, Where was God when that happened?)

Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Ezra and Nehemiah

Fri, 17/02/2017 - 12:49

How did you get on? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Six ways to answer the question: Is God really in control?

Thu, 16/02/2017 - 11:23

Photo credit: Freedom House

Daniel stares at his divorce papers. How did it come to this? All those hopes and dreams…and now, just a solicitor’s post-it note: “Sign here”. And it’s over. Where was God when that happened—if there is a God?

Lakshmi looks at her country, once beautiful, now torn by civil war, village after village the scene of unspeakable atrocities. Where was God when that happened—if there is a God?

Keith and Julia weep on the anniversary of their lovely young daughter’s death from a childhood cancer. Memories flood in of sweet beauty spoiled by agony, and now silence. Where was God when that happened—if there is a God?

Angie is exhausted after years of seemingly fruitless relief work for an agency working in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake. Where was God when that happened—if there is a God?

I was once visiting a Christmas party in a nursing home. I was chatting to an older man, and we were surrounded by frail elderly people, many with dementia. We got to talking about Christian faith. “No,” he said to me, “I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to believe in a higher power.” Our conversation was interrupted by the Father Christmas entertainer leading us, as Tom Jones wannabes, in singing “Delilah” (the connection with Christmas was not obvious). But I would like to have been able to follow it up.

Any thoughtful person asks these questions. Is there a God? If so, what is God like? Is God really in control? In history, there have been perhaps six main ways of “answering” these questions.

1. Blind Fate

Che sera sera; what will be will be. There is no personal higher power. There is just blind fate. “That’s just how it had to be.” Stuff happens. Get used to it! Don’t bother yourself with silly questions about God.

And yet—somehow we wonder if that’s all there is.

2. Nature is all there is

We can detect causes and consequences. And that’s all. Don’t imagine some hidden world. Get on with science and technology; try to understand, try to control what we can understand.

And yet—the impulse to wonder if there is more to life than what we can detect goes pretty deep.

3. God within nature

Perhaps there is something beyond—a world spirit inside the universe in some way, a spirit moving along within time.

Well, perhaps—but we long to understand more about him, her, or it. And how do we know?

4. God the Referee

God is like a referee or umpire. The game is a bit chaotic at times. But every now and then God blows the whistle, intervenes with a prophecy or a miracle. We just need more interventions.

Well, maybe, but that’s a pretty feeble god; and if God can intervene, why doesn’t he blow the whistle a bit more often? And who knows if there is such a god at all?

5. Two gods, or even lots of gods

Perhaps it’s easiest to suppose that there are invisible supernatural powers above the world, but to reject the idea that there is one sovereign one. No, there are many such powers, call them spirits, demons, gods and goddesses if you will. Perhaps trees, mountains, and rivers have spirits associated with them. Maybe the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars each has a god or goddess, such as Mars the god of war, Venus the goddess of love. No one god or goddess is Almighty. What we get on earth are the overflow of the soap opera of the divinities on Mount Olympus, or wherever they live.

Well, again, maybe; but what a chaotic world!

6. God the puppet-master

The simplest and, at the same time, perhaps the most problematical solution is to suppose that there is just one real and sovereign God, who rules the whole universe directly by his almighty power. He pulls all the strings.

Well, if that’s so, what a strange God! And what implications does that have for our human decisions? Because it really seems that we do make genuine choices.

What do you think? One of these, or some variation, or something different altogether? When we’re confronted with tragedy, we need to come up with some explanation, if we are not to despair. Yet none of these options seem to satisfy.

A final alternative: The God of the Bible

Perhaps, then, it’s worth listening to what the Bible says, which is none of these six!

Instead it tells us that Jesus of Nazareth—a real, historical person who lived and walked in the Middle East 2000 years ago—is God’s Son. Jesus makes known the God who is sovereign Maker of everything, who is good, who is all-powerful, and who is Father, who governs all things and weaves together even evil dark things into his good purposes. God deliberately chose that Jesus should be falsely-accused, mocked, stripped, and executed, by wicked people with evil motives, in order to achieve the biggest and best good thing human history has ever seen.

Perhaps you recognise these words of Jesus from the Lord’s prayer: “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6 v 1). That shows us that God’s will is done on earth in one way now, with all the puzzles that brings; one day it will be done in a different way, a wonderfully perfect way.

There are no easy answers to the question of , “If God is real, where was God when that happened?” No simple ones either. But perhaps there is more to the Bible’s teaching than you thought. And surely that’s worth investigating.

Find out more about the Bible’s answer in Where was God when that happened? And other questions about God’s goodness, power and the way he works in the world.

What do you think? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

The Bishops’ Report: Homophobic, unloving and dangerous?

Wed, 15/02/2017 - 15:56

The Church of England’s General Synod is debating the issue of same-sex marriage today; and emotions are running high. According to reports, those campaigning for the Church of England to embrace same-sex relationships have been underlining two commonly used arguments: that denying their legitimacy is homophobic, and that it is dangerous—leading to teen suicide among other things. In this extract from his book Is God Anti-Gay?, General Synod member Sam Allberry considers these arguments...

One of the most common and significant charges levelled against the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage is that it is deeply damaging to individuals.

Denying someone’s sexuality is seen as denying who that person really is. It is telling them to repress something central to their identity, and consequently, to their ability to flourish. This is harmful to anyone, but especially to teenagers who are coming to terms with their sexuality while still at a formative stage of their lives. Christians, it is claimed, are to blame for gay teenagers growing up stunted and guilt-ridden, or killing themselves.

This charge has perhaps been made most forcefully by Dan Savage:

“The dehumanising bigotry set forth from the lips of faithful Christians give your straight children a license to verbally abuse, humiliate, and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. They fill your gay children with suicidal despair. And you have the nerve to ask me to be more careful with my words.”  (Quoted in Justin Lee, Torn: Rescuing The Gospel From The Gays-vs.-Christians Debate Jericho Books, 2013, p.5)

It goes without saying that this is an incredibly serious charge. It is troubling enough that many Christians are beginning to think the traditional understanding must be wrong if it is having this sort of effect on people. Surely anything that results in this kind of self-loathing and despair cannot be the fruit of God’s truth.

Recognising the damage

The first thing to say in response to this is that there have certainly been instances of young people feeling driven to despair and even suicide in recent years, and attributing their distress to real or perceived pressure from Christian disapproval of homosexuality. This is a real situation. Young people both inside and outside the church are hurting profoundly on this issue.

And who can deny how unspeakably tragic it is that anyone should feel such despair over their own sexuality? Of all people, we Christians should feel most grief at this, knowing as we do the supreme value that God places on all human life. We should care more than anyone when we hear of young people in such torment—especially those growing up in Christian households and part of a local church.

And we must also recognise that some believers have undoubtedly been abusive in their behaviour and language toward gay people, and thought that by being like this they were somehow advancing the cause of Christ. But we must also recognise that such behaviour is not itself Christian in any way. It comes not by adhering to the message and example of Jesus, but by contradicting it.

The Spirit breaks us only to put us back together as God intended.

But it is not true to say that such personal torment is the inevitable result of traditional biblical teaching on this issue. It is true that the convicting work of the Spirit can be very painful indeed. There is even a kind of self-loathing that can result when God makes us aware of the extent of our own sin (see Ezekiel 36 v 31). But though the genuine work of God might take us to such a place, it never leaves us there. If we are convicted, it is so that we can be restored. The Spirit breaks us only to put us back together as God intended. Jesus promises that we will find rest and comfort in him and that “a bruised reed he will not break” (Matthew 11 v 28-29; 12 v 20).

Embracing true freedom

It is not the teaching of Jesus that tells you that life is not worth living if you can’t be fulfilled sexually—that a life without sex is no life at all. It is not biblical Christianity that insists someone’s sexual disposition is so foundational to who they are, and that to fail to affirm their particular leaning is to attack who that person is at their core. All this comes not from biblical Christianity but from western culture’s highly distorted view of what it means to be a human. When an idol fails you, the real culprit turns out to be the person who has urged you worship it—not the person who has tried to take it away.

The gospel shows us that there is forgiveness for all who have sinned sexually.

The teaching of Jesus does two things: it restricts sex and it relativises its importance. Jesus shows us that in its God-given context the value of sex is far greater than we might have realised—and yet even there it is not ultimate. Sex is a powerful urge, but it is not fundamental to wholeness and human flourishing. Jesus showed that both in his teaching and in his lifestyle. After all, Jesus—the most fully human of all people—remained celibate himself.

The gospel shows us that there is forgiveness for all who have sinned sexually. And the gospel also liberates us from the mindset that sex is intrinsic to human fulfilment. The gospel call that no one need cast all their happiness on their sexual fortunes is not bad news but good news. It is not the path to harm but to wholeness.

Sam Allberry is on staff at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, author of Is God Anti-Gay?, a trustee of Living Out and a member of the General Synod of the Church of England.

What do you think? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

If God is in control, how can he hold me responsible for my sin?

Tue, 14/02/2017 - 12:43

Christopher Ash, author of Where was God when that happened?, answers in this short video.

What do you think? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Five ways you can love and encourage your single friends

Mon, 13/02/2017 - 12:40

Credit: エルエルLL on Flickr

Singleness is a good gift from a God who only gives us what is the very best for us—but all of us need reminding of that sometimes. And not just on Valentine’s Day: married friends, as part of the family of God, can be an enormous encouragement to single people all year round. You probably also know how to put your foot in it.

So here are ten do’s and don’ts for helping your single friends from Andrea Trevenna, author of The Heart of Singleness. It’s not an exhaustive list (in fact, you should really ask your friends what would help, and definitely not help, them personally. Everyone is different!).

Things likely to be unhelpful to single friends:

1. Trying to set them up with someone. This gives the impression that you think their singleness is a problem that needs to be fixed, and that until they meet someone they are just passing time until life can really begin.

2. Asking them if they’ve met anyone yet. If this is often the topic of conversation, it can encourage your single friend to focus on this above all else, and to feel incomplete until she meets someone.

3. Asking them why they are still single. It amazes me how many people, especially married men, seem to think that this is a good question to ask! They usually say something like: “So why is a lovely girl like you still single?” Although I’m sure it’s not meant to, it comes across as patronising and is embarrassing… and how are you meant to answer?!

4. Saying things like: “I’m sure the Lord has someone for you”. I know this is usually said to be kind to someone who is struggling with singleness and is desperately hoping that a husband will come along. But you can’t be sure—God may, in his good and loving plans, not have someone lined up for me, and that needs to be OK. Encourage your friend to keep finding fulfilment in their relationship with Jesus, and trusting him in the situation they are in now.

5. Only doing things with other married couples/families. I know of married couples who are nervous of inviting single people to come round along with married couples, because they think the single people will find it too hard. But do at least invite them and see! I so appreciate being included in plans made by married friends, and really value the friendship and gentle teasing (not about being single!) of some of my friends’ husbands, who are like brothers to me, who look out for me and support and encourage me.

Ways to be helpful for your single friends:

1. Be honest with them about the challenges as well as the joys of marriage. It is obvious to most single women what the joys of marriage are, so it is really helpful for you to let your single friends see the reality of some of the day-to-day challenges up close, which should happen naturally if you share your lives with them. This doesn’t mean being critical of or disloyal towards your husband, or moaning about your blessings (like children). It does mean not presenting your marriage as a place of perfect happiness. Single women do need to be reminded that real marriage is not like it sometimes looks from the outside!

2. Make and value your single friends as part of your family / your children’s lives. It is a great joy and a privilege to be an “auntie” who can just pop round to friends for tea sometimes, help with bath/bed time, babysit or just hang out with the family. Single friends who don’t have children of their own can be a real blessing to you… as well as you being a blessing to them.

3. Challenge them (graciously and lovingly) if they are wallowing in self-pity about being single. It is not helpful to let your single friends constantly feel sorry for themselves and complain to you that life is not fair. It may be difficult to challenge them from the position of “happily married”, but if you are a close friend, this is a way of really loving them and helping them to grow.

4. Pray for them. And pray primarily that they will grow to love and live for the Lord Jesus more and more. Rather than just praying that the Lord will give your friend a husband, pray for them to be growing more like Christ, and for you both to be making the most of every opportunity to bring glory to the Lord in the unique situations he has given you. And you could tell them that this is what you are praying for them.

5. Think about what photos you put in your living room or kitchen. I love it when I go round to married friends’ homes and see not only (or even) their wedding photos, pictures of their children and whole-family holiday snaps, but also photos of other families and friends (sometimes including me!). This reminds me that “family” doesn’t just mean the nuclear family, that I am not on my own, and that as a Christian I am part of a wonderful wider family. It means I’m not being reminded of what I don’t have, but of what I do have.

What are the helpful, and unhelpful, things married people say to you? Tell us in the comments below. Want more help with loving and encouraging single friends? Check out The Heart of Singleness by Andrea Trevenna.

Categories: Christian Resources

Christian women and erotica: the silent struggle you cannot see

Fri, 10/02/2017 - 14:49

Fifty Shades Darker hits cinemas this weekend—and many Christian women find such films very appealing.

I imagine I’ve just divided the readership of this blog. Statements like that usually do.

Some will be shocked. How can you even begin to say that many Christians like this stuff? That’s ridiculous! After all, we’ve been warned that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5 v 3). In a similar vein, the Bible encourages us with the words, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4 v 8). The Fifty Shades phenomenon—and other erotic films—are unlikely to help us think that way!

But others reading this will be quietly nodding their heads—conscious that they (or their children, or their friends) are entranced by what the story of Mr. Grey and Ana has to offer.

The struggle is real

I have the privilege of mentoring and counselling many Christians who struggle in this area. Many believers (many women believers included) who know the daily tension that exists between their desire to honour Christ with their minds and bodies—and the relentless temptations to fantasise about sex outside marriage with an individual who can weave together pleasure and pain. It’s not something that gets discussed over coffee after the average church service but the thoughts are there… and it’s those thoughts that lead many Christians to buy the books, watch the films, relive the images quietly at home in ways that arouse and then carry burdens of guilt that drag them down day after day.

The reasons behind the tension can be complex.

Our past experiences may plan a part. If we’ve known the horrors of childhood sexual abuse, we may know the way in which fear, pain and arousal can so easily intertwine. If we’ve been rejected, we may know the desire to control others so history can’t repeat itself.

Our present experiences can influence too. Singleness can be great—it’s a gift from the God who adores us and knows it’s just what we need at this moment in time to help us become more like Christ—but it can be sexually frustrating. Lack of spouse doesn’t automatically mean lack of physical drive and if, as believers, we choose not to express those urges with another human being, it’s easy to “find release” through participating in a film. Marriage can be great too—but not all marriages are happy ones. Sometimes they are abusive—sometimes they are loveless—sometimes they are sexless … how easy it is to fantasise about what things could be like if only we were with someone else…

When we want something more than God, the temptation to sacrifice our call to live as children of God draws close.

Our hearts are the biggest factor though. As the Reformer John Calvin reminded us, they are an idol-making factory. The place where we time and again decide that we want a certain experience, a certain kind of relationship, a certain kind of security, a certain kind of pleasure—and want those things more than we want God. It’s when we give in to those idols that we see films like Fifty Shades Darker as alluring rather than unappealing. Whenever we want something more than we want God, the temptation to sacrifice our call to live as children of God draws close.

Hope for those battling temptation…

So, if we find ourselves intrigued, tantalised, excited by the thought of watching Ana’s exploits on screen, it will be worth asking ourselves what idols are at play in our lives. What are we wanting so much we’re willing to push God’s word away in order to get it? Of course, it’s worth asking ourselves what unresolved pain is helping that temptation along the way too – words of comfort are often needed as much as words of rebuke.

It’s worth going on to reflect more on the wonder of grace. Isn’t Ephesians 2 great? “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (v 4-5).

And worth reflecting on the reality of change too: God is working in us by his Spirit. God is going to complete his work (Philippians 1 v 6).

… and a challenge for those who aren’t

But it’s not just those of us who struggle with temptation that can use the arrival of this film to reflect some more. Those of us who tend to look down on those who struggle in this area can helpfully pause too. Do we really think that we have grounds for complacency? Is our sin really any less heinous to God? Is it possible that our pride in this area is preventing people who are struggling from coming to us for help? Is our unhelpfully-articulated disgust at films like this creating a culture of secrecy in our churches?

God is working in us by his Spirit. God is going to complete his work (Philippians 1 v 6).

Maybe there’s pain in our past or present fuelling that pride? Maybe there’s an idol of self-righteousness lurking within? Maybe we too need to go back to Ephesians 2 for a reminder of just how much grace is our only hope.

So, this week, as conversations about Fifty Shades Darker abound, take time to reflect. Ask what your reaction to the release of this film says about your heart… and take the answer, whatever that might be, to foot of the cross.

Helen Thorne is the Director of Training and Mentoring at London City Mission and author of Purity is Possible. Read the previous post in this series: Why Fifty Shades Darker should make us cry.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: 2 Chronicles

Fri, 10/02/2017 - 09:57

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Categories: Christian Resources

Why Fifty Shades Darker should make us cry

Thu, 09/02/2017 - 11:05

Credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr.

The books sold beyond the author’s wildest imagination. The plotline fuelled many a lunchtime chat. The first film caused a flurry of delight among both young and old. And discussion boards are trembling with anticipation as the 2nd in the erotic trilogy prepares to hit the big screens tomorrow. There’s no doubt about it, the Fifty Shades phenomenon has made quite an impact on our society.

How should Christians respond?

Perhaps you feel appalled, or disgusted.

Perhaps you feel tempted (Christians are by no means automatically immune to the allure of this genre—but that’s a subject for tomorrow’s blog post).

Instead, I want to suggest that Fifty Shades Darker gives us reasons to cry.

Reasons to cry? Is this about to become a scathing attack on trite dialogue or poorly executed lines? Well, no. It’s far deeper than that. Fifty Shades Darker throws into sharp relief the tragic effects of sin on this broken world. We can:

1. Cry over sin’s impact on relationships

At its core, Fifty Shades Darker is a tale of pain. Amid its 1 hour and 55 minutes of narrative (and frequent explicit scenes) we meet people struggling with an array of broken relationships. There are those who long to control; those who are scared; those who harass; those who are blackmailed; those who long to break free. It’s a graphic reminder that, as humans, we do not relate to each other in the ways that God has designed. Our call to love sacrificially has been replaced by our desire to rule over each other—it’s a Genesis 3 thing, a direct outworking of the fall.

Our call to love sacrificially has been replaced by our desire to rule over each other—it’s a Genesis 3 thing.

And whilst, on one level, it’s good to put our energies into encouraging people not to engage with such fictional ungodliness on screen, there is a sense in which we also need to remember that this kind of pain is the reality of many we know. Women and men in our churches, down our streets, are struggling with these issues right now. People around the globe know what it is to be threatened, coerced, controlled—to be caught in that desolate chasm that lies between loving someone and fearing them too.

This is a tragedy. This is the kind of reality over which Christians should weep.

2. Cry over sin’s impact on sex

It is in the bedroom that the brokenness of relationships is often seen most clearly.

Sex is designed to be beautiful, precious, an intimate act that seals the bond between two people until death tears them apart. It’s meant to bring joy, bring people closer together. It’s meant to be fun—an act that is wonderfully safe—but that’s not what we see in Fifty Shades Darker. Here bleak webs are spun to elicit sexual favours from those who are scared. Here we see a woman and man writing a contract to help them avoid inflicting real pain—to help them pull back from the beatings that only one of them ever found truly pleasurable. Though there are glimpses of love in the film (and even a proposal of marriage) we meet people treated as objects, used for personal gratification, and then unceremoniously tossed aside.

It is in the bedroom that the brokenness of relationships is often seen most clearly.

It’s not just a story. How many people know just how that feels? “I met this girl and I’m totally going to Fifty Shades her tonight” came the comment from the man in front of me in the petrol station queue, casually chatting on his phone. “No … my girlfriend won’t do it, so I thought I’d cash in with someone else”.

How many Christians and non-Christians carry the scars of an unwanted touch in the workplace? An alcohol-fuelled one night stand? A partner being unfaithful or pressurising in the bedroom in ways that have left hearts (and sometimes bodies) horribly broken.

It’s worth crying over that too.

3. Cry over sin’s impact on children

But one of the least discussed aspects of Fifty Shades is the fact that the chief protagonist is a profoundly broken man. Born to a drug-addicted prostitute whose clients abused him—left an orphan at the age of four—abused by an older woman who introduced him to bondage and sadomasochistic sex when he was just 15, Christian Grey allows us to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be someone who has suffered much as a child. Of course, not all those who have been abused in their early years will make the choices he made later in life—far from it. But there is something deeply heart-breaking about Christian Grey’s revelation that his anger towards his mother runs so deep, he gets pleasure from hurting women who look just like her…

This is no mere fiction. Children are abused. Abused children don’t always get the help they need to process the pain. Abuse can leave a legacy that persists for years. Shouldn’t that make us weep?

So this week, as Fifty Shades Darker begins to hit our screens—as we begin to think through how to debate the issues or how to avoid the invitation to go along and watch it—let’s not forget to shed a tear. The fiction that is about to tantalise many eyes is the reality that, right now, is breaking many hearts.

Helen Thorne is the Director of Training and Mentoring at London City Mission and author of Purity is Possible.

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Categories: Christian Resources

FREE resources for Easter outreach

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:42

Easter brings with it some unique opportunities for outreach. OK, so there isn’t the pull of Christmas—candlelight, carols and crib—but there are still plenty of people with some residual sense of Christian tradition that think it’s a good thing to show for a Good Friday meditation, or an Easter Day celebration.

And, of course, the events of the first Easter are the very heart of the gospel message we proclaim: the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So we’ve created some terrific FREE resources to help you make the most of your Easter outreach, and add a bit of zing to your Resurrection Day services.

Capturing God

They are all based around our new Easter Outreach book for this year Capturing God by Rico Tice. It poses the intriguing question: “What is the single image that captures the essence of who or what God is?” It’s a short read with a powerful punch that’s designed and priced for giving away in bulk to your Easter visitors. You can download a FREE copy of the e-book to read and assess through our Facebook promotion.

Videos to promote your meetings

We’ve created two unbranded "teaser trailers” with slightly different tones. Both could be adapted and shared via social media to promote your Easter outreach services. Check them out here:

Download HD version

Download HD version

We’ve also created a short film on which explores various answers from well-known figures to the question, “How do you picture God?”:

Download HD version

There are a number of ways you can use these:

  • Get congregation members to share the videos on their own social media feeds—putting something like this in the message box: Come to our Easter Day Celebration at [your church] and discover the surprising answer to this important question.
  • Download the videos, and adapt them for your church. You’ll need someone with technical skills to do this, but you could design and add a start and end screen with your church’s service details to one or all of these videos. Then post them on your church’s social media channels, and pay a little bit of money to boost them to your local catchment area. Check out our blog from before Christmas for some pointers on how to do this.
  • Use them in your Easter services. Of course, the main Bible-teaching message will be the centre point of your Easter proclamation. But you can use any of the three videos above as conversation starters, sermon illustrations, or discussion points — opening up the question: "How do you picture God?"

The drive for all these videos, and the “big reveal” in the book is that we only truly see who God is in the person of Jesus Christ. The clearest view we have of God is seen in Christ crucified—where we see the love of God for mankind, and the justice of God in reconciling us to him displayed in perfect, heartbreaking clarity.

Do download, adapt, and use these resources in a way that works for you and your congregation.

And if something works really well—do let us know, so we can share your story with others.

What are your plans for Easter outreach this year? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Getting into deep water: the little-known storyline of baptism in the Bible

Tue, 07/02/2017 - 11:40

Credit: Steve Garner on Flickr. Image cropped.

Start talking about baptism and you’ll soon be in deep water—figuratively, at least.

It’s a controversial topic. Some Christians believe we should baptise the babies of believing parents, while others think we should only baptise people who profess faith for themselves. Some Christians don’t think the “delivery mechanism” (sprinkling, pouring or immersion) is very important, while others think only a baptism by immersion is a proper baptism. So perhaps it’s best to avoid the topic and talk about something else.

I want to suggest that would be a tragedy. For baptism gets us into deep water in another sense of the phrase. It’s a profound and powerful depiction of the Bible’s story of salvation—a story that involves a lot of water, and is now my story.

Noah’s baptism

During the time of Noah God judged humanity through a great flood. In effect God “un-created” his world. Back at creation God had separated the waters to create dry land. At the flood the waters re-combined to cover the land and chaos returned—a chaos which drowned humanity in watery judgment. But God was gracious and in his grace he created a new future for humanity. He saved Noah and his family in the “ark”. Noah came through the waters of judgment.

Moses’ baptism

Later, when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, the people found themselves caught between the pursuing Egyptian army and the Red Sea. This time God separated the waters to create dry land. God’s people escaped from death through water. But when the Egyptian army followed them, God again un-created in judgment as the waters un-separated and the Egyptians were drowned. God judged Egypt with water and at the same time saved his people through water.

Jesus’ baptisms

Fast forward to Jesus. John the Baptist had been baptising people. We’re told he was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1 v 4). Then Jesus stepped forward from the crowd—perfect, sinless, spotless, righteous. And he stepped into the water—the water that symbolised our sin and our judgment. Jesus stepped into our mess, our wickedness, our judgment. It’s a dramatic expression of intent: Jesus was symbolically engulfed by the waters of judgment.

Jesus stepped into our mess, our wickedness, our judgment.

There’s a second reference to baptism in Mark’s Gospel. Two of the disciples asked to sit on the left and right side of Jesus when Jesus reigns as King. Jesus replied: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” (Mark 10 v 38). He was talking about the cross. At the cross Jesus would drain the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf. He would be baptised with God’s judgment on our behalf.

In the River Jordan Jesus Jesus was symbolically baptised into our sins. On the cross he was actually and really baptised into our sins. He was immersed in our sin. Completely covered. He died and was buried. He bore our judgment.

And on the third day he rose again. He passed through judgment to give us new life.

Your baptism

Thirty-five years ago I, too, stood on the edge of water and then stepped in. I was baptised. Like Noah, like Moses, like Jesus I passed through water.

The story of Noah was re-enacted in my baptism (1 Peter 3 v 20-21). And so was the story of Moses (1 Corinthians 10 v 2). Like Noah and Moses, in baptism I was saved through water. I passed through the water that symbolises judgment and I emerged to a new life.

So my baptism points me away from myself and towards the baptism with which Jesus was baptised. I’m saved by the baptism of Jesus, his baptism into suffering and death on my behalf. My baptism points me to the baptism of the cross. It is a sign and seal of what the baptism of Jesus brings to me. You are baptised “in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2 v 38).

Baptism creates a very powerful promise. And that’s something worth talking about, remembering and celebrating.

Your baptism preaches the gospel to you, and in a very important way. It is an external act and a physical reality. It’s not dependant on how you feel at any given moment. It’s a fact in your life that points to a fact in history. When the Reformer Martin Luther was tempted by the devil he cried out, “I am baptised man”. He pointed to what God had done for him in Christ—a reality embodied in objective act of baptism.

Baptism creates a very powerful promise. And that’s something worth talking about, remembering and celebrating.

Tim Chester is author of a new three-part baptism course entitled Preparing for Baptism which is now available.

What do you think? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Rico Tice on Capturing God

Mon, 06/02/2017 - 10:14

"God is the God of second chances, of last chances, of only chances." (Rico Tice, Capturing God)

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Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: The theology of the Reformation

Fri, 03/02/2017 - 10:33

How did you get on? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

The Five Solas: A FREE infographic

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 10:00

The Five Solas are the rallying cry of the Reformation.

The Reformers of the 16th Century put their livelihoods, homes, fortunes, and lives on the line to restore the essential teachings of the gospel to the church. These teachings were summed up in five Latin slogans: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Translated into English, they assert that salvation is according to Scripture alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone.

Each of these Solas proves to be essential to the gospel—and so they’re essential to us today.

That’s why we’re excited to offer you this free visual guide to the Five Solas:

Download it here, or get a free A3 poster when you order either of our new resources celebrating the Reformation: These Truths Alone, a Bible-study guide to the Five Solas by Jason Helopoulos, or 90 Days in Genesis, Exodus, Psalms and Galatians (daily Bible readings edited from the writings of the Reformers). Simply add either book to your basket, and then add the free poster when prompted at the checkout.

Celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

When scatology informs theology: The bowels of the Reformation

Tue, 31/01/2017 - 12:22

Scatology. It sounds like it might be the science behind having a messy desk, with books and papers scattered all over it. But actually, scatology is the study of or preoccupation with excrement or obscenity.

Now, I'm more used to talking about things theological, but sometimes a bit of inter-disciplinary study can be enlightening. So let's get scatological with the Reformation. Because when it comes to understanding the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther in particular, there's a lot of material for us to explore!

1. Luther's irritable bowel

During his great confrontations with the powers that be, Luther suffered from terrible stomach cramps. He developed severe constipation at the Diet of Worms (but not, just to be clear, because of a diet of worms). Being confined to the Wartburg castle for his own safety in 1521-1522 did not help either, and in one of his letters from that time he complains of a very sore bottom. His misery was only partially relieved when a friend managed to send him some laxatives. He spent a lot of time in the lavatory.

Luther never thought he had the constitution to be a teacher, never mind such a prominent one. With a huge workload, bad food, and little opportunity for exercise he was frequently ill with stomach complaints, gout, kidney stones, headaches, and an abscess on his neck. Unsurprisingly, it made him often irritable and impatient.

Luther is one of a select group of people over the centuries who have changed the whole course of the world. But for him, the wind of history blew painfully.

2. Crouching tiger

Many people keep books or magazines in the smallest room of the house. They help the user to relax perhaps, or to redeem the time that must be spent there each day. It can be quite revealing to see which volumes people choose to shelve next to their porcelain chamber pots. Some people I know have whole bookshelves installed in their water closets (clergy friends — you know who you are!).

"It can be quite revealing to see which volumes people choose to shelve next to their porcelain chamber pots."

Luther also kept books next to the loo. Especially the books written against him by his fiercest opponents. This was not a tactic to help him unwind by reading — it would hardly have been soothing for an intense and feisty man like him to read inflammatory material at such a crucial moment. But it did have one advantage. They were soft, strong, and thoroughly absorbent: he used these books as toilet paper.

3. Potty mouth

I was initially quite reluctant to write about Luther's toilet humour, aspiring to be a man of culture, spirituality, and intellect. But there's such a wealth of material, it is difficult to restrain the urge. It's better out than in.

"Almost every night when I wake up the devil is there and wants to dispute with me,” wrote Luther. He tried Bible bashing but it didn’t always work against such an adversary. So, he said, “I have come to this conclusion: When the argument that the Christian is without the law and above the law doesn’t help, I instantly chase him away with a fart.”

He didn’t restrict himself to speaking of Satan in this way. Some of the Pope's teachings were "farts out of his stinking belly,” Luther asserted. He could describe certain Roman Catholic institutions and practices with which he heartily disagreed as "an illusion and an evil odour, stinking worse than the devil’s excrement.” Charming. Hardly ecumenical or diplomatic.

In contrast to his sophisticated opponents, Luther often tried to pass himself off as “an uncultivated fellow who has always moved in uncultivated circles.” Trying to claim some working class “street” credentials is not easy if one is a university-trained lawyer-theologian with a PhD and a professorship (and one is writing in Latin). But he had a good crack at some trash talk. He told Erasmus, for example, that his book struck him as “so cheap and paltry that I felt profoundly sorry for you, defiling as you were your very elegant and ingenious style with such trash, and quite disgusted at the utterly unworthy matter that was being conveyed in such rich ornaments of eloquence, like refuse or excrement being carried in gold and silver vases.”

In other words, you write nicely Erasmus, but what you write is… well, better off in a toilet than in a book.

4. Graciously defending grace?

To be fair, his enemies would also describe Luther’s teaching in such terms, calling it "the devil's excrement." But does that really excuse Luther's language, or sanction it?

I don’t think so. Nor should we seek to emulate him this regard. Though many do so on social media, such cack-handed tactics are usually less than persuasive. 2 Timothy 2 v 25 seems to be against it: “Opponents must be gently instructed.” But sympathising with Luther’s medical condition might help us understand why some of Dr Martin's rhetoric was as it was.

"Scatology informs theology."

Is there a potentially healthy earthiness about some of this? Luther was a real flesh and blood person, who didn't just do his theology in an ivory tower. He also did it in the bathroom. Perhaps he should have washed his mouth out too while he was there. But at least we can't fault him for being overly refined and speaking over people's heads. He never sought to hide the muck and filth of life. A gritty realism about who we are underlay all his teaching.

And here’s one more point worth noting. There's a common piece of folk wisdom that says if you're intimidated or awestruck by someone — a great celebrity, a bully, or a boss perhaps — then picturing them on the loo is an imaginative way of reminding yourself that they are just as human as you are. Many are too intimidated to read Luther today; but doing that with him gives us some empathy for a fragile man with very real physical struggles, who yet accomplished so much. It also helps us understand some of his less edifying outbursts.

Scatology informs theology.

Lee Gatiss is editor of a new book of daily Bible readings adapted from the (more edifying) writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger and Thomas Cranmer: 90 Days in Genesis, Exodus, Psalms and Galatians (available now). A great way to read the work of these great Reformers for yourself. And for a limited time only, get a FREE poster with your order.

What do you think? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Categories: Christian Resources

Rico Tice on Capturing God

Mon, 30/01/2017 - 11:40

"God does not say, you must earn it. He says, I will give it." (Rico Tice, Capturing God)

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Categories: Christian Resources

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