Blogroll: The Good Book Company

I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 19 posts from the blog 'The Good Book Company.'

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Peculiar Passages: The Case of Ruth, Boaz and the Contractual Sandal

Thu, 15/08/2019 - 09:55

One of my favourite phrases in the Old Testament is “kinsman-redeemer”*. It comes up several times in the book of Ruth, along with some weird things about sandals and uncovering feet. If we unpack those verses, we not only find out what’s going on in Ruth, but also learn something wonderful about the Lord Jesus.

Potted History (Ruth 1-3): Naomi was an Israelite woman who moved to Moab with her husband and sons. The sons married Moabite women, called Orpah and Ruth, but later, after all three men had sadly died, Naomi decided to move back to Israel. Orpah stayed in Moab, but Ruth went with Naomi. In order to find food for them both, Ruth went to a local barley field to collect any leftover grain that had been missed by the harvesters. 

The field belonged to Boaz. He was Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer. He was kind to Ruth and even gave her extra grain. Ruth continued to work in Boaz’s field until the end of the barley harvest. Naomi wanted to find a safe home for Ruth so she devised an odd scheme where Ruth went to where Boaz was sleeping at night, uncovered his feet and lay down. Apparently, this gesture was a customary means of requesting marriage. So, when Boaz saw her there, he knew that Ruth was asking him to marry her. But he had to check with someone else first as there was another possible kinsman-redeemer…

Leviticus law

In Leviticus 25 v 25 we learn that if an Israelite becomes poor and has to sell their land, it’s the responsibility of their nearest relative (their kin) to buy (redeem) it. This man is their kinsman-redeemer. Naomi has some land to sell, but Boaz isn’t her closest relative. There’s one man who is closer.

Sandal time

Boaz goes to the town gate (where legal transactions were made). He asks ten elders of the town to be witnesses as he discusses Naomi and Ruth with the man who was an even closer relative. To start with, that man is keen to buy Naomi’s land. But then he discovers that he would also need to marry Ruth as part of the bargain. He doesn’t want to do that, so passes over his rights as kinsman-redeemer to Boaz. 

To show that this decision was legal and final, he took off his sandal and gave it to Boaz. We may think this is odd—but so did the people who first read the book of Ruth. So the author very kindly added an explanation for them and us:

“Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalising transactions in Israel.” (Ruth 4 v 7)

It’s possible that the taking off of a sandal was associated with walking the land as a symbol of ownership (Joshua 1 v 3). Whether or not this was the reason, the sandal swap meant the transaction was now legal.

And then—to make this transaction even more unusual—the town elders (and anyone else hanging around the town gate) had a prayer meeting! They asked the Lord to bless Boaz and Ruth with a child, and prayed that the family would be “famous in Bethlehem”.

The greatest Kinsman-Redeemer

The end of the book of Ruth tells us how the Lord answered their prayer. Ruth and Boaz had a son—called Obed. Ruth 4 v 17 tells us that “he was the father of Jesse, the father of David”. The family of King David would certainly be “famous in Bethlehem”.

And wonderfully, David was an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1 v 1, 17) who came as a Redeemer too.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law … He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus…” (Galatians 3 v 13-14)

A true redeemer is someone who is willing to pay a price for the sake of others. Boaz was ready and willing to redeem Ruth. The Lord Jesus willingly paid a much greater price to redeem us. He is the greatest-ever Kinsman-Redeemer!

*Note: The 2011 NIV changed this phrase from “kinsman-redeemer” to “guardian-redeemer”. I still really like the original, so that’s what I’ve used throughout this post.

Categories: Christian Resources

Peculiar Passages: The Case of Paul and the Unexpected Handkerchief

Tue, 13/08/2019 - 09:32

What do you do when you’re ill? Take two aspirin and lie down until you feel better? Go to see your doctor? Ask someone to pray for you? Maybe even all of those. But my guess is that you don’t wait for someone to bring you a special apron…

But that’s what happened at one time in the apostle Paul’s ministry:

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19 v 11-12).

Hmm… What’s going on here??

It seems unlikely that Paul had multiple aprons, even if he had several handkerchiefs, so they probably belonged to the people who were ill. You can imagine a worried friend or family member might take an apron from a sick woman, bring it to Paul to touch, and then return it to the lady who was ill. Or borrow a child’s handkerchief (preferably one that hadn’t been blown in too much!), and again bring it to the apostle.

But why should this strange approach work? It doesn’t seem to have been a normal approach to healing - hence calling them “extraordinary miracles” in verse 11 - so why now?

To answer that we need to look a few verses earlier in Acts:

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19 v 8-10)

In verse 9 we see that those in the synagogue, who Paul first told the gospel to, “became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way”. So Paul instead began to teach “the Way” (Christian belief) to the Gentiles instead. During the next two years, “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord”. That’s a LOT of people.

How did so many people come to hear gospel truth? They wouldn’t all fit into the lecture hall. But the “extraordinary miracles” Paul was doing would certainly get lots of attention. 

One of the results of all this attention was that other people tried to do the same thing, but with far different, and painful, results (v 13-16). Therefore “the name of Jesus was held in high honour” (v 17) and “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (v 20).

In the New Testament, miracles point to the truth about Jesus and his gospel (see John 20 v 30-31, Acts 3 v 16; 5 v 12-16). We now have that truth recorded faithfully for us in Scripture, which is why we can’t expect to be healed by any old apron today. But the great-apron-and-handkerchief-experience was greatly used by the Lord at the time to grow his church.

Categories: Christian Resources

Peculiar Passages: The Case of the Failed Miracle

Fri, 09/08/2019 - 09:31

I love Mark’s Gospel. I’ve been to performances where it is recited dramatically;  I love to read it in a single sitting (takes about an hour and a half); and it’s the book I often turn to when introducing people to the life of Jesus and the gospel message.

It’s sometimes called the “Go Gospel” because of it’s pace and frequent use of the word “immediately”. Mark underlines how Jesus' miracles are not elaborate conjuring tricks, packaged into events. The Lord says something: it happens—immediately. No hanging around. No messing about. He speaks; it’s done. 

So around half way through—just before Peter makes his famous “you are the Christ” declaration on the road to Caesarea Philippi—something very odd happens. 

"And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”' Mark 8:22-25

Epic fail?

What is going on here? Why, when every other time Jesus heals immediately, does he need to, effectively do it twice? Was Jesus having an off day? Was he tired from the travelling, or did he “do it wrong” somehow? Perplexing… 

But of course, it’s none of these things. And again, what seems strange when you are looking at the detail, suddenly makes sense when you look at the bigger picture. When we focus on the trees walking, we miss the shape of the forest.

The healings we read about in the gospels are significant because Jesus is using them to reveal something significant about himself, God, and the gospel message. It’s why John picks seven significant miracles and describes them as “signs”. Signs are designed to point us to something. Mostly, they point us to the identity of Jesus—who he is. But here, it is a kind of enacted parable pointing to what is about to happen with Peter.

Confused disciples

Just before this incident is a long conversation with the disciples about miracles and the demand for signs by the Pharisees. They talk about the feeding of the 5,000 and the subsequent feeding of the 4,000. But it is clear that the disciples still do not yet understand what’s going on. He says to them, with what I imagine to be frustration in his voice: 

"Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? … do you not yet understand?" Mark 8: 17-18, 20

And the astonishing thing is that they don’t get it! All the mighty miracles performed in their presence have not given them the understanding they need to know who Jesus is.

And then immediately afterwards Peter suddenly gets it: “You are the Christ” (v 29).

But then Jesus begins to teach them that…

“…the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Mark 8: 31-33

Although Peter sees that Jesus is the Christ—he does not yet understand the kind of Messiah that the Lord Jesus came to be: a suffering servant who would die to bring forgiveness to the world, and usher in his kingdom and rule. Just like the man who is touched once by Jesus, and partially sees, Peter needs a “second touch” to fully comprehend who Jesus is, and what he has come to do. 

Far from losing his touch, the healing of the blind man in Mark is is a kind of enacted parable of what the disciples were about to go through. They were spiritually blind, God grants to them partial understanding, but there will come a time when they will fully “see” who Jesus truly is. This parable is a powerful reminder to them of how their understanding needs to grow. They spend the rest of Mark’s gospel seeing Jesus like the man sees people like trees walking around. Only as the full gospel story unfolds, with Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Pentecost will they finally understand more fully.

What do we take from this?

1. Always look at the context. Bible passages, perhaps especially in gospels, can feel like disconnected stories. They are not. The gospels are carefully constructed narratives where the stories link together and throw light on each other. Always read forwards and back, and from the beginning to the end. 

2. Understanding comes from God. Even when it seems blindly obvious to us, the truth of the matter evades both the Pharisees and Jesus closest friends, until we are “touched” by Jesus, who alone gives sight—understanding. So any of our preaching, teaching, explaining of the gospel to others must be soaked through with prayer that God would grant sight to those who listen—only he can do it.

3. Expect the same in our evangelism. I would not want to push this too hard, but it is our experience that people come slowly to an understanding of the gospel. People often have a number of significant moments in their journey towards Christ. Quite where along this road they are “converted” is sometimes hard to tell by us and them. So it encourages us to continue persevering in our prayers and in our gospel explanations as the light slowly dawns on our friends, as God opens their eyes.

Categories: Christian Resources

Peculiar Passages: The Case of the Bloody Bridegroom

Tue, 06/08/2019 - 16:06

As a young Christian, I read through the Exodus story with a wonderful little commentary by Bernard Ramm, called His Way Out. Seeing the gospel in the book of Exodus was foundational for my own Christian understanding, but this little book was a window to a larger theological landscape, and was part of my pathway to eventually studying theology and the job I now enjoy. In particular, Bernard Ramm modelled great Bible handling as he encouraged me not to jump to immediate conclusions, and to think carefully about the context of any Bible passage as I tried to discern its meaning both then and now.

The rather bizarre incident, at least to our modern way of thinking, in Exodus 4 is a good example. Moses—born of a Hebrew woman and raised in a palace—had discovered his true identity, murdered an Egyptian,  fled to a distant land and married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro. 

So far, so Hollywood. 

But in Midian, he has a profound encounter with God at the burning bush, where God commissions him to lead and rescue his people from slavery in Egypt. As he returns to carry out this commission, a curious thing happens on the pathway to the pyramids that they didn’t put in The Prince of Egypt:

"At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision."

Confusing detail

This strange incident has been pored over by both Hebrew, Muslim and Christian scholars for centuries. Why would God want to kill Moses? Why is he saved by having his son’s blood on his feet? How did Zipporah know what to do? What did she mean by the curious phrase "Bridegroom of Blood”?

Although the story seems clear as we read it in the ESV above, there is a real problem with the original Hebrew, which has many pronouns, but lacks actual names. So, although it is natural to suppose that verse 24 is about the Lord putting Moses to death, it does not name him — it could be the child. And although verse 25 here says she touched the severed foreskin to Moses feet, the original just has “his feet” — it could be God’s feet. Perhaps the act of God killing him is in the form of a physical angel of the Lord, as some Jewish and Muslim commentators have suggested. 

Zooming out

But if focussing close only brings less clarity about what is going on here, zooming out helps enormously. In Genesis, God had given the rite of circumcision to Abraham as a sign of belonging to the covenant. But there were also warnings attached about the seriousness of disobedience.

"Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:14 NIV).

Moses had clearly not been obedient to this command for his son. Was he hanging back from his responsibilities as a follower of the Lord? His reticence to be obedient is evident in chapter 3, where he is looking for any excuse not to be obedient to God’s command to return to Egypt. Fortunately, Zipporah understands, and completes the obedience for him.

And just before these verses we read the words of Moses’ commissioning by God:

“And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

Moses was about to speak God’s command to Pharaoh to “let my people go", for which there would be a punishment for disobedience. Pulling back from the details we can see that this story can be read in a way which has all the same elements…

  • There is a failure to obey a command from God (circumcise your children).

  • There is the threat of a punishment (they shall be cut off, if we read this as being the uncircumcised first-born child who is in danger of death).

  • They are saved through an act of obedience and blood

As the story plays out in Exodus, Moses moves from doubt, reticence and disobedience to God, to obedience, trust and commitment to the Lord. And the firstborn children of Israel are saved by the blood of a substitute lamb smeared on the doorposts of their houses, as the angel of the Lord passes over them. Although the details of this story are blurred, the principles are clear and mirrored in the story that follows. And perhaps this is the incident that turns Moses from being a halting follower to a committed leader—ably helped by his wife who urges her bloody husband to man up and get on with it.

Some things for us to learn about biblical interpretation

1. The ancient world is another country: There are cultural practices and assumptions in parts of the Bible that will feel alien to us — because they are. The Ancient Near East was not like London without cellphones. Ancient Egypt was not New York with camels. We would and should expect parts of the Bible to feel alien to us, and for us to be scratching our heads about what was really going on. Sometimes historians can give us some context and help with this from sources external to scripture. Sometimes not.

2. Sometimes translations do a bit too much of the heavy lifting. Having the Bible in our own language is a wonderful gift, but sometimes, translations make sense of things by deciding on one understanding of a verse, rather than presenting us with something that is ambiguous. It is always worth comparing and contrasting Bible translations, and consulting someone who knows their Greek or Hebrew. We trust in scripture as delivered, not in the NIV or ESV translation committees—as wonderful and helpful as they are.

3. Usually, we can discern the meaning intended from the wider context. As in this case, the precise details of this particular incident may be unclear to us, but within the framework of Exodus as a whole, we can see how it refers to, and reinforces the overall message, and, in a weird way points us to the Lord Jesus who is the bridegroom of the church through his blood.

Categories: Christian Resources

5 ways the gospel shapes our approach to sexual abuse

Tue, 30/07/2019 - 13:52

A Pennsylvania Catholic priest raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. Bishop James Timlin wrote a letter of sympathy after this traumatic situation, saying,

“This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.”

But the bishop’s letter was not directed to the traumatized girl. It was actually sent to the priest.

This and many other horrific stories have recently emerged in the wake of a wide-ranging 884-page grand jury report that documents hundreds of cases of sexual assault and abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania since the 1940s. Not only that, but the latest news stories seem to be filled with example after example of prominent leaders, actors, or politicians who have been accused of sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Unfortunately, this issue has also escalated amongst Southern Baptists, as has been seen in the recent Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The #MeToo moment has drawn significant attention to an issue that has flown under the radar too often for many churches. That’s why I am thankful that Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear announced 10 calls to action for Southern Baptists on sexual abuse.

The national statistics on sexual abuse are overwhelming.

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • One in three women and one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.[1]

The most common places sexual predators search for victims is in youth activities such as school, sports, and church. This is not just a problem “out there” in the culture. It has impacted people in our pews and people we are trying to reach with the gospel.

The need to address sexual abuse in the church

In 2018, J.D. Greear announced the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Group. The purpose of the study group, according to Greear, is “to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.” As I have led this effort for the ERLC, we have discovered eye-opening insights from survivors, advocates, pastors, and churches. What is clear from this study group is that churches desire to get this issue right but often don’t because they lack confidence or competence.

Furthermore, churches lack confidence to address sexual abuse because they don’t feel equipped to address it. While 58 percent of pastors say the #MeToo movement has made their congregation more aware of how common domestic and sexual violence is, only about 55 percent of pastors say they are familiar or very familiar with domestic violence resources in their community. And half say they don’t have sufficient training to address sexual or domestic abuse.[2]

If a predator came to your church in hopes of grooming a child to sexually abuse, how confident are you that your church’s policies, procedures, and personnel would successfully deter him? If an incident of sexual abuse or assault occurred in your congregation, how positive are you that your church would be able to respond and minister well in the aftermath?

If a woman from your community came forward to a staff member or lay leader in your church and confided that she still faces trauma from the rape she experienced in college, how sure are you that he or she would be ready to minister well to her?

How can the #MeToo moment that the culture is facing be turned into a movement that results in lasting change in the church? It is important for churches to review policies, improve procedures, train personnel, and minister to people. But the need is more foundational: Churches need to understand why this issue matters in light of the gospel and how this issue should be addressed in light of the gospel. Specifically, we need to embrace a clear understanding of how the gospel shapes our approach to sexual abuse in five significant ways.

First, churches must care for survivors. Sexuality was created by God for our good. When it is practiced within the boundaries of marriage, it leads to true human flourishing. Understanding the beauty of what God designed should lead us to understand the devastating effects of sexual abuse on victims. For example, one victim abused as a child by a priest “was so violently raped when he was [seven] years old that he suffered injuries to his spine. [He] became addicted to pain medication, and eventually overdosed and died.”[3]

The lingering effects of sexual abuse cannot be overlooked or minimized. The trauma experienced by a survivor of sexual abuse should drive us to compassionate ministry. Many survivors have never told anyone before, so when they do, they need to be met with support and care that assures them they are not alone. Because it is often hard to share, we must be sensitive to vague, delayed, or partial disclosures.

When a victim does share, we should listen to a victim’s story and respond calmly, while avoiding questions that might shame the victim. There is no quick fix to trauma, so we will need to walk patiently with him or her, allowing time for grief. Failing to appropriately respond can bring greater pain to a traumatized individual. Unless we approach issues of assault and abuse by prioritizing the care of victims in our churches, we will not be able to effectively address the issue.

Second, churches must confront sin. We must call sexual abuse sin. Since we understand God’s design for sexuality, it would be sad if the world were more willing than the church to name and address the atrocity and brokenness of sexual abuse. Because of the Fall, we should not be naïve or shocked by sexual abuse. Moreover, the original intent in creation and the hope of redemption should keep us from ignoring or covering sexual abuse. Instead, both should allow us to confront it.

Our testimony is at stake: properly dealing with sin reflects our theology of God and the gospel. Sexual abuse is not just an issue related to sexuality; it is fundamentally rooted in the misuse of power. Authority for selfish gain is never appropriate in the eyes of God, especially when it comes to sex. When leaders or celebrities offer remorseful, half-hearted, non-apologies for their actions, it provides a backdrop for churches to discuss what genuine repentance and sincere apologies should look like.

Confronting sin also means being honest when something goes wrong in the church. A church must evaluate what went wrong when abuse occurs in order to make appropriate changes, report the abuse, own their errors, and apologize appropriately. Even if the incident occurred years before, it is never too late to do the right thing.

Third, churches must seek justice. Abuse is not just sin. It is also a crime. Consider these startling statistics I heard at a Ministry Safe Summit:

  • A child on average has to tell seven adults before one actually makes a report to authorities.
  • Only two to five percent of allegations are false.
  • Only three percent of abusers are ever prosecuted.

The comprehensive report on child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania demonstrates the injustice of a systematic cover up by church leaders of the extensive abuses. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.”[4] The main concern was with avoiding scandal. The problem included a broken system that empowered and protected predators. And children suffered grievously as a result.

Churches need to be more concerned about dealing with sexual abuse in a way that demonstrates justice and care for victims than with lawsuits or the damage that scandal might produce. We should not wait to investigate allegations as a condition of reporting. When in doubt, report. Reflecting the God of justice, the church must seek justice for victims of sexual abuse. We must take sin seriously and recognize sexual abuse is a sin issue and a crime that needs to be dealt with in the legal system.

Fourth, churches must protect the vulnerable. As we embark on our efforts to address this issue, we must have an unwavering commitment to protect the vulnerable and never tolerate any form of abuse. Many churches now require criminal background checks and have a child-check-in system. These are great first steps in addressing the problem, but more needs to be done.

Churches can protect the vulnerable by requiring sexual abuse awareness training, thoroughly screening church staff and volunteers, considering the specific context of the church, continuing to monitor and give oversight to their programs in this regard, and by improving strategies and ministry for future incidents. These steps may make it harder to give volunteers a name tag, but even if it deters some volunteers from serving, protecting the vulnerable is worth a small inconvenience. The call for church leaders to shepherd the church certainly entails protecting the children from the potential of sexual predators.

Fifth, churches must equip the saints. The previous four steps take sexual abuse seriously and also demonstrates to a congregation that the church is a safe place—both in preventing abuse and in getting help for those abused. In addition to this, the church should teach members how to respond when a friend from small group or a child in AWANA shares they were abused. An individual traumatized by sexual abuse will likely tell someone close to them who is trusted. That may be a counselor or a pastor, but it will often be a friend.

As a result, we need to train the people in the pews who will likely have the first conversation with a victim. They need to know how to care well for each survivor. Help first responders know how to model empathy and action. Their first instinct should be to take the stories of victims seriously. We have a God who cares for the most vulnerable and hears their cries; his people should be characterized by this as well. The church should be the place where victims of sexual assault find help and hope in their time of desperation. Training on how to identify sexual abuse and respond to survivors will help church members navigate a difficult topic in a Christ-centered and compassionate way.

Churches need to actively address sexual abuse by caring for survivors, confronting the sin of sexual abuse, seeking justice, protecting the vulnerable, and equipping the saints. One church recently made a bold move in addressing sexual abuse in their congregation. Although there were no known instances of abuse in their church, they hired an independent investigator to see if there were abuses they were unaware of. They knew that the church had to respond to this #MeToo moment in a way that brings about lasting change.

The pastor of the church stated in an interview, “The Church in America has been so afraid of ‘being attacked’ by our culture that we cover up anything that doesn’t make us look good.”[5] He continued, saying, “We want to be a safe place for people, both a place for those who have experienced abuse, but also a system that prevents it in our context.” This pastor understands that the church doesn’t need to cover up sexual abuse to maintain God’s reputation. In fact, addressing sexual abuse gives us the opportunity to proclaim we are great sinners in need of a great Savior and demonstrates the character of our God to a watching world that is taking the brokenness of sexual abuse seriously.

Join the ERLC at Caring Well, our 2019 National Conference, as we seek to make our churches places that are safe for survivors and safe from abuse.

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.

Notes

  1. ^ https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics
  2. ^ https://lifewayresearch.com/2018/09/18/pastors-more-likely-to-address-domestic-violence-still-lack-training/
  3. ^ https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6060525/Pennsylvania-report-details-300-priests-sexually-molested-1-000-children-70-years.html?ito=social-twitter_dailymailus
  4. ^ https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/taking-action/press-releases/attorney-general-shapiro-details-findings-of-2-year-grand-jury-investigation-into-child-sex-abuse-by-catholic-priests-in-six-pennsylvania-dioceses/
  5. ^ https://relevantmagazine.com/issues/issue-96/itstime/
Categories: Christian Resources

Your church is where it’s at… (no, really!)

Tue, 30/07/2019 - 09:37

How do you feel about your local church? (Answer honestly!) It may be the place you feel happiest—a place of respite from the rest of life—where you love to worship and serve alongside a group of like-minded people. Or it may be a place where you feel the pressure of relentless rotas, teaching and leading, serving and sacrificing. Perhaps your feelings lie somewhere in between... 

However you may feel about the place and the people you call church, it’s fair to say that sometimes our weekly routines of setting up chairs, plugging in the sound-desk, making coffee, teaching the children, running the crèche and listening to God’s Word together can feel quite, well... ordinary. It can be easy to lose sight of our calling amidst the commonplace. And to miss the significance of our weekly gatherings when we become preoccupied by the familiar—and seemingly unexceptional—routines that we follow.

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The importance of what we do...

It’s exciting to be reminded by Christopher Ash in Remaking a Broken World, therefore, that the whole sweep of the Bible story points to the local church as a place in which God’s vision for remaking our broken and fractured world is focused. Incredibly, we are the means by which God is gathering together that which is fractured; but more than that, “the glory of God is inseparably tied up with what happens in the local church.” (Christopher Ash)

That means that you, and I, and all of the apparently ordinary things that we do on a Sunday morning (and during the week) are central to God’s plan to remake our hurting, fractured communities. Furthermore, this means that, “belonging in a committed and relational way to an ordinary church may be the most significant thing you can do with your life.” Now that changes everything!

So how do we catch this vision for the local church? 

In this readable and compelling Bible overview, Christopher Ash takes us on a journey through the whole Bible to show how the gathering of God’s people has always been central to God’s plan for the world.

Below is a short extract outlining the nine places where the book stops to highlight the themes of scattering and gathering.

The Bible story in nine places

Our Bible tour is going to start in Eden, and then pause at Babel, Sinai, Jerusalem, Babylon, Golgotha, Pentecost, and Church, before concluding in the New Creation.

We are going to begin in the garden in Eden, with harmony, the nucleus of a gathered humanity close to God. We shall see that harmony tragically broken, and pause at the iconic story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 to see the fractured world vividly pictured for us. The movement from Eden to Babel speaks of a world that is scattered and fractured because it is alienated from the creator God who is One.

From Babel we will fast-forward through the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the great rescue of God’s people from Egypt (the Exodus), to Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses were given. At Sinai the people of God assemble by the mountain under God’s spoken word of law: we shall see in this rabble gathered at the mountain the foreshadowing of a remade world. From Sinai we move to Jerusalem, to see how the foreshadowed remaking of the world develops with the promises of God’s king given to David. Jerusalem becomes a powerful symbol of a regathered world. 

Belonging in a committed and relational way to an ordinary church may be the most significant thing you can do with your life.

From Jerusalem, however, we must move to Babylon, a word which came to symbolise the scattering of God’s people in exile. The historical Babylon became much more than a place; it became a reprise of all the scattering that the ancient Tower of Babel symbolised. By the time we have travelled from Eden through Babel, Sinai, and Jerusalem and then out to Babylon, we really do not seem to have made any progress. What kind of a story is it that spends so long getting us from Babel to Babylon? It becomes clear that Sinai and Jerusalem together are not the remaking of a broken world, but rather the foreshadowing and anticipation of the actual remaking, which is yet to come. 

The story continues after Babylon until we come to the central event of human history, at Golgotha, the place of the Skull (the place where Jesus was crucified) (Matthew 27 v 33). This terrible unfair death, itself the epitome of what goes wrong in a broken world, turns out paradoxically to be the event around which a remade world will focus and the magnet which will draw all sorts of people together. From Golgotha we move to the first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem, where the miraculous understanding of different human languages signifies the reversal of the babble of tongues that was Babel. Golgotha and Pentecost show us how the promises of gathering in the Old Testament will finally be made real in the church. 

So from Pentecost we move to the local church, which is at the same time scattered all over the world and yet contains within itself the seeds of a worldwide gathering—local churches are scattered gatherings! We shall spend some time exploring how a local church is shaped around themes from Sinai and Jerusalem, while still suffering from being placed in a world east of Eden and in the long shadow of the Tower of Babel. We shall look at how the local church is made possible by the Cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Finally, from the scattered gathering that is the local church we follow the trajectory of grace to end our story with the New Jerusalem, a picture of the renewed Creation, a broken world remade at last to the glory of the God who is One. It is a great story.

Discover God's plan for mending our broken world with the latest edition of Remaking a Broken World by Christopher Ash. Buy it here

Categories: Christian Resources

Sometimes Jesus lets people walk away

Tue, 23/07/2019 - 14:08

Many of our problems in living for Jesus stem from the root problem that we think we can do it. We assume we have the power. So we set about trying to push the camel through the eye of a needle.

But understanding the impossibility is the first step to obedience.

This is the true freedom of what it means to be a Christian: honestly facing up to the impossibility of my own obedience, which leads me not to despair but to the God who is able to do all things.

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A man who thinks he can

Mark doesn’t tell us much about the man in Mark 10 v 17.  He simply introduces us to “a man”.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

The man gets a couple of things very right.

He wants to know what he needs to do to be part of God’s great kingdom. It’s good that he’s bothered about God’s kingdom—he can see that it really matters. God is bringing all things in this world together under his appointed King, Jesus. That is God’s plan for the world, and this anonymous man wants to know how to get in on it.

And it is good that he comes to Jesus. Clearly he has understood that there is something about Jesus that is significant.

The man cares about the right thing. He comes to the right place.

But this man has got one thing very wrong. He wants to know what he has to do. He has a high view of his own ability. He has a lot of confidence in his power to obey.

So that is where Jesus starts.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’” (Mark 10 v 18-19)

Jesus points the man to God as the ultimate standard of good and begins to list the commandments. The man is completely unperturbed by all this.

Teacher … all these I have kept since I was a boy. (Mark 10 v 20)

He is oozing self-righteousness. What a staggering claim to make. He has worked hard; he has kept the rules; he has tried his best. It all looks good.

But Jesus sees things differently.

Love

The next sentence is key. Here it is: Jesus looked at him and loved him.

This is the only man in the whole of Mark’s Gospel that we are explicitly told that Jesus loved. That’s striking because of what the love of Jesus looks like in this story. 

Jesus loves this man too much to allow him to continue in his self-deluded little world of sweat, hard work and determination. He is not willing to stroke the man’s ego and tell him how wonderful he is. Instead, Jesus issues a command.

It isn’t hard to understand what Jesus is saying. He isn’t being vague and unspecific. But this one command undermines the whole foundation that the man has built his life on. Here’s the command:

“One thing you lack,” [Jesus] said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v 21)

There is no room for negotiation or confusion. Here is what Jesus requires of this man. He must sell everything.

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (v 22)

The man slowly turns around and starts to walk away. Only at this point in the story does Mark tell us the critical piece of information about this man—he had great wealth.

It’s a very poignant moment. Jesus loves the man— and he lets him walk away. Does that surprise you? Jesus doesn’t chase after the man and lower the bar. He doesn’t negotiate and settle on a figure that the man will be willing to give.

Jesus demands it all. That is the command, and there is no budging.

It’s not just a hard command. It’s impossible, and it was supposed to be.

Many of our problems in living for Jesus stem from the root problem that we think we can do it. We assume we have the power.

The bar is too high

Why would Jesus set the bar so impossibly high? Why would Jesus demand something that cannot be done? Not because he is cruel and harsh, but precisely because he loves this man.

The man had reduced God’s commands to something he could achieve. He had a view of God’s word that meant its commands were within his power. Yes, I can do that.

The right response to the command would be to fall on his knees and, with a quivering voice, speak the words, “I can’t do it”. Only then, with his self-confidence in tatters and his heart exposed, would he be ready to receive the kingdom of God like a little child (Mark 10 v 15).

I can’t do it

They are such hard words for us to say. But they are essential words for the Christian to learn.

Jesus loves us far too much to stroke our egos and tell us how fabulous we are. Instead, he issues commands that are far beyond our ability to obey in order to drive us to him.

We aren’t supposed to take the commands of God and work out a strategy for how we can make them doable.

Think back to what Jesus said to that rich young man. 

When he says, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor,” we can very quickly find our reaction becoming, Of course he doesn’t mean I should do that. That would be ridiculous and impractical. He was just talking to that man. He just means I should be more generous. Yes, I think I can manage to be a bit more generous. I will try and give a bit more money this week. Great—well done me.

No, that is precisely the problem. We think we can do it. We find a solution to the problem of obeying the commands—but we aren’t obeying him at all.

Instead, stop and feel the weight of the commands Jesus gives. Feel the way money holds a power over your heart. Let the very commands of Jesus expose you. Every command found in the pages of the Bible will have that effect on us if we stop and listen. Don’t run from that. It doesn’t feel comfortable; it doesn’t give us a warm, fuzzy feeling about how great we are—but it is there, in that place of weakness, that we will truly learn to whisper these two words: I can’t.

And that honours God more than you will ever know. It is the first step on the road to joyful, deep and satisfying obedience.

This is an extract from Jonty Alcock’s new book Impossible Commands.

Categories: Christian Resources

3 reflections after my first year as a Christian

Tue, 16/07/2019 - 11:37

Last year I had the joy of seeing one of my closest friends become a Christian. It was a very exciting time — weeks of praying, chatting, attending events and reading the Bible together culminated in her giving her life to Christ. Often, it’s easy to think that our witness ends there… But really it’s just beginning.

I once heard someone compare the way we treat new Christians with the process of having a baby. You wouldn’t carry a baby for nine months, endure labour, take your bundle of joy home and then leave them to fend for themselves with the throwaway advice, “food’s in the fridge, TV’s through there, nappies in the bathroom…”. Similarly, we shouldn’t just tell new Christians that following Jesus is about reading God’s word, speaking to him in prayer and enjoying fellowship with his people and expect them to thrive. And yet, that’s often precisely what we do.

I recently asked my friend “what are some things you’ve learnt and stuff that’s helped you in your first year as a Christian?” This is what she said…

Reading reinvented

“Reading! When I was exploring faith and became a Christian, I read any and every Christian book I could get my hands on. The gospels helped me to understand the basics—don’t assume that your non-Christian friends won’t want to read the Bible—and The Reason For God by Timothy Keller answered lots of questions I had.

“After becoming a Christian I carried on reading the Bible, but the way I read it changed. Before, it felt like reading a story, but once I became a Christian, I realised I was reading words breathed out by the God who I believed and trusted in—words that were meant to comfort and guide me. Bible study notes such as Explore and She Reads Truth have taught me how to read the Bible and apply it. Christian blogs have been great too (More Precious, The Gospel Coalition, A New Name, Desiring God to name a few!), they were a format that I was used to so didn’t feel daunting.”

New Christians are often hungry to learn about their new faith and reading is a great way to do that. Help them to get to grips with the Bible in accessible ways and don’t assume that they will want to read the Bible in the same way that you do. Paul tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12 v 2)—this is a slow process that happens as we soak ourselves in God’s truth. So be proactive in helping your friend access God’s word and Christian thinking and engagement in productive ways.

Prayer is powerful

“Prayer felt strange at the start. My Christian friends would pray aloud with me and it felt like they had a whole different language to speak to God. Praying aloud can still sometimes feel scary but personal prayer became natural quite quickly—once I realised what it meant to talk to God, it became a lot easier to go to him. Knowing people are praying for me has been one of the most incredible things about this past year. It shows a love and care from others that you just don’t experience in other relationships.”

Don't stop praying for your friend once they've become a Christian. We should give God great praise that he has started working in them and pray that he would continue to do so (Philippians 1 v 6).  Let’s also try to strip back our prayers and use language that doesn’t isolate new Christians.

Church is weird and wonderful

“When I first became a Christian at University, I went to church with my friends. After we graduated few of them stayed in our university city. The thought of going to church on my own was daunting — there are often expectations and assumptions ingrained in church life that can make being a new member difficult. For example, one church didn’t hand out Bibles—everyone brought their own. I was the only one sat there without a Bible, which made it very obvious that I was new. Another didn’t have anyone welcoming so I didn’t really know where to go or what to do.

“After I settled at a church, I joined a homegroup. Homegroup has been a great space to learn from Christians of all ages and stages and get to know people in a very real way. One of my favourite things about homegroup is seeing other people’s reaction to the passage we’re reading. Studying the Bible with others is a great way to get to know God through his word. I now really look forward to both church and homegroup!”

God gives us one another to help and encourage us. But church can be a scary prospect for the new believer—it’s an unfamiliar format among people who’ve done it for years and know each other really well. Older Christians can seem overwhelmingly confident in their faith and knowledgeable about things. It will really help new Christians if we can make church less intimidating by explaining churchy words, having a friendly welcoming team and looking out for new people. It will also help if we talk honestly about our own experiences of struggle, so that new believers don’t feel isolated in their experiences.
 

The new Discipleship Explored doesn’t dispute the fact that reading the Bible, praying and church are important for all Christians; it's message is that we first need to turn up the music of the gospel. Find out more

 

 

Categories: Christian Resources

How to enjoy your inheritance today

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 10:25

One day, you and I are going to be very, very rich.

That’s because we have an inheritance ahead of us. In Ephesians 1 v 14, Paul says the Holy Spirit dwelling in God’s people is “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” Our inheritance is already ours, but we have not taken ownership of it all. There is more that yet awaits us, and we’ll enjoy it when we enter into glory. To benefit from an inheritance, a death is required. Usually, it’s someone else’s death. Here, it’s yours. 

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And so Paul prays that you and I will know what we will one day own and experience: that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to “know … what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (v 18).

Peter encourages his readers along the same lines:

"[God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1 v 3-5)

Your inheritance is unfading and it is guaranteed, Peter says. It’s never going to dissipate or disappoint. It will be there exactly as God has planned, ready to be entered into on the day when God, who is shielding you on your journey, gets you to that destination. 

We get God

What is so good about this inheritance? Why is it so wonderful that it can bring us joy on the journey towards it, though “you have been grieved by various trials” (v 6)?

The answer is that the inheritance is so glorious, the riches are so glittering, because the inheritance is God: God himself. The riches we stand to inherit are what Paul calls in Ephesians 3 v 16 “the riches of his glory.” 

What is the glory of God? The glory of God is the summation of his being. The glory of God is the sum and substance of all that he has revealed to us of himself, which our limited minds are able to glimpse and that our perfected minds will one day grasp. 

So, for example, God’s glory is his might, his self-existence, his majesty, his justice, his truth, his righteousness, his holiness, his purity… we could go on. It is the perfection that we see manifested in the human character of Jesus—the Word, who, John says, became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might say, “We have seen his glory” (John 1 v 14).

And one day, you are going to see that glory face to face, and you are going to enjoy it as you praise him for eternity. 

I don’t know if there’s ever been someone for you with whom you just wanted to spend all your time. You couldn’t conceive of growing bored of their company, and when they weren’t with you, everything was a little less colorful because of their absence. Well, God is infinitely perfect. There is always more of him and more about him to appreciate and to enjoy, and so his company is unimaginably perfect. 

The greatest gift of God to his people is God. The greatest joy of heaven is God. Your greatest joy today is God.

As C.H. Spurgeon put it: 

Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. (The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1, Sermon No. 1)

This is where we must start. You can have as many how-to books as you want. You can try as many practical solutions as you can find. But to start there is to start from the wrong end. We need to pray for ourselves and our friends what Paul prayed for his: that we would be animated and excited each day by the prospect of our glorious inheritance—God himself.

So many of us struggle with prayer. Many books have been written on the subject and there’s a reason for that. Prayer comes hard to most of us, in most seasons. Pray Big by renowned Bible teacher Alistair Begg combines warmth, clarity, humor, and practicality as he examines Paul’s prayers for his friends in the church in Ephesus. It's available to buy here

Categories: Christian Resources

The sickly sweet fly-trap of sentimentality

Tue, 09/07/2019 - 15:37

In the first letter to his church, the Apostle John signs off with a warning, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”. As I note in my new book Plugged In, idols are counterfeit god-substitutes that talk a good game but in reality only offer a warped view of reality with devastating consequences for our relationships. As Christians we’re rightly concerned about the increasing sexualisation of our culture, but what about the sentimentalisation of our culture? 

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This idolatry is subtle, but like a venus fly-trap we’re lured in and then stuck in its sickly sweet stickiness. 

Sentimentality trivialises or evades evil. It only deals in cheap and not costly action. Most of all it’s emotionally self-indulgent, so that what we feel becomes most important. It directs our emotions to our own emotions, so we are always the main character of our story. Although it pretends to care for the “other”, it really only cares for the self—the “other” merely becomes a means to an end (feeling something). Sentimentality allows us to experience shared public emotional expression, without the commitment of reallife relationships. 

As such, sentimentality is simplistic and childish. It leaves little room for nuance, complexity and fortitude. The sentimental world consists of clear-cuts: of goodies and baddies, victims and perpetrators. Every situation demands an immediate answer. Sentimentality is faked feelings. 

The corrosive effect of pervasive sentimentality 

When you think about it, sentimentality is everywhere. Ostentatious public expressions of emotion, media interview after interview about how such-and-such an event made the interviewee ‘feel’, more frequent and increasingly lengthier ‘minutes of silence’ at major events, simplistic analyses (‘terrorism has no religion’), and banal platitudes (pick any one of a thousand versions of ‘We just need to love one another’) are slowly suffocating us. Moreover what about the myriad of reality TV shows and kids’ “comedies” on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon? We might think these types of shows are pretty innocent for us and our kids because they aren’t full of sex, swearing and violence. But they have a rotting effect, because they present a fantastical fake world which encourages us to feel in clichés. When these shows are on in our house I shout out the word ‘nonsense’ at offending moments. 

Like a bucket of cold water, the Bible is able to wake us up from our sentimental slumbers. We need to confess that our personal lives, corporate worship and theology have been impacted by sentimentality. Let’s be honest, come in repentance and follow Christ in the better way he shows to us. 

In 2 Corinthians 6:3–13, we witness the apostle Paul’s ‘real’ outburst of emotion as he demonstrates that authentic ministry is not selfish but really does care for the other—not in a quick-fix way, but in a hard slog:

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;  in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;  through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors;  known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.

Here, sin is taken seriously, there is no emotional self-indulgence, only costly action. Out of love confrontation is not avoided but tackled head on. Paul’s words are ones we learn from—learn how to lead in a way that truly loves our churches and Christian communities—it enables them to be refuges from sentimentality and oases of the real. Our gathering together in our songs, prayers, liturgies and around the preached Word are patterns of worship that should lead us to increasingly sanctified shared emotional responses which we then take into all of life. 

We’re rightly concerned about the increasing sexualisation of our culture, but what about the sentimentalisation of our culture?

We learn from Paul as Paul learns from Christ, our gloriously unsentimental Saviour and Lord, who ‘has put on our flesh, and also its feelings,’ and did so perfectly. We aren’t simply left as passive respondents to emotions we can’t control. By the Spirit Christians are being formed into the likeness of Christ whose emotional life is the example we follow after. As Warfield says, ‘We are not to be content to gaze upon him or to admire him: we must become imitators of him, until we are metamorphosed into the same image.’

Whether it's TV boxsets, Instagram stories or historical novels, we all consume culture. In Plugged In, Dan Strange encourages Christians to engage with everything they watch, read and play in a positive and discerning way. He also teaches Christians how to think and speak about culture in a way that plugs in to a bigger and better reality—the story of King Jesus, and his cosmic plan for the world.

Categories: Christian Resources

Scrolling and squabbling: can you really do evangelism online?

Mon, 08/07/2019 - 10:12

What does your social media activity look like?

Do you flick through Facebook in bored moments, stopping to scrutinise friends’ baby pictures or judge their meal choices, but never commenting or posting anything yourself?

Or are you prolific on Twitter and Instagram, sharing every tiny detail of your life with anyone who cares to listen?

Have you given much thought to how you are representing your faith in Jesus online?

Unlike our workplaces, family time and sports clubs, social media is something we share with pretty much everyone we know all—as well as many we don’t. But in other regards, it’s no different to any other part of life: providing chances to get things done, to play and rest, and to build connections.

As Christians, then, social media has to be a place to share our faith. If we go online, we should seek to share the gospel online. But how do we do that wisely?

What we post

Thankfully there is a wide range of Christian content online which people can use to find out about Jesus, just as they would use the internet to find out about other things. And it works: I recently met someone who became a Christian partly through watching videos on YouTube.

But social media is more interactive than that. Whether it’s on dating websites or gaming chatrooms, through LinkedIn or Facebook, we are always forming new relationships and reinforcing old ones online. People don’t just read content: they comment on it.

Thinking evangelistically may just mean clicking the like button on a friend’s Instagram Bible quote; but Christians also sometimes develop long and involved conversations about faith online. We don’t want to just scroll past things without giving a gospel perspective on them, and that can lead to arguments.

There are plenty of thoughtful blogs outlining Biblical principles for arguing online. The Bible might not use the words “social media” but it certainly tells us a lot about how to relate to people in general. Try this post or this one for discussions of the ins and outs of social media evangelism.

For now, though, I want to take a step back and consider the thing that lies behind it all: the way we see ourselves.

Making a mark

Why do people comment on blog posts or like Facebook updates? It’s often said that social media is a way to chase approval, but I think that, on a simpler level, it is also a way just to feel that someone has heard you. You can sit all alone in your bedroom, but still make your mark on the world. Posting online is a way of saying, “I’m here.” It’s a way of asserting your own identity.

Maybe that’s one reason discussions online can become so heated so quickly. There is a lot at stake. There is a greater feeling of insecurity than in a real-life conversation where you know the other person isn’t just going to walk away.

Deny yourself

But Jesus said that following him means denying yourself, not asserting your identity. We see what that looks like in the life of the apostle Paul, who applied Jesus’ command to every dimension of his life: to food (1 Corinthians 8 v 1-13), to work (1 Corinthians 9 v 7-18), to what he said (Acts 20 v 24-27) and where he went (Acts 21 v 10-15). He sought to “become all things to all people”, adapting his lifestyle to theirs in the hope that it would help his message to get through.

Paul wasn’t interested in asserting his own identity, but in gaining Christ’s (Colossians 3 v 9-11). He wasn’t insecure about being heard, because he knew God always heard him (Romans 8 v 26-27). Paul did share and speak about his life (e.g. Acts 26), but his aim was always to say not “Here I am,” but “Here he is.”

If that applies so comprehensively to Paul’s life, then it applies to all the dimensions of our lives, too. On social media as elsewhere, we should be denying ourselves.

That will look different for different people. Some may post less often, as they rest in the security of being known by God. Some may use social media more, seeking to make connections that they couldn’t make elsewhere. Some may think twice about how to phrase a comment on a post they disagree with, as they prioritise what this person needs to hear right now, instead of the impression they want to give of themselves.

God is sovereign

But the main thing to remember is that social media is just another dimension of life, like all the others. If God is sovereign over every relationship, every place, and every meal, then he’s sovereign over the internet, too. 

Jesus’ call to self-denial does not go away when we get past the lock screen on our phones. Nor does his immense power to transform and use whatever we say and do. So let’s live for Jesus and share our faith online. It may not save all, but it could save some.

Categories: Christian Resources

Help! My home group leader is wrong…

Fri, 05/07/2019 - 09:01

It’s home group as usual — the coffee is poured, Janice has made a cake that is going down a treat, and there is an excited buzz around the room as we share how our week is going.

Ben calls the group to order, we pray, we read the passage, so far, so normal. And then the bombshell drops.

“As I have been thinking about this passage,” says Ben, “it’s become more and more clear to me that the way the church has thought about this subject over the centuries is just plain wrong.”

We shift uneasily in our seats. Ben has been known to play Devil’s advocate before to stir us to healthy debate and discussion, but this time it feels a little different. As he talks over the next 10 minutes, it becomes clear that what he is suggesting is a major departure from “the faith, once delivered to the saints”.

Looking around the room, I notice that Emily and Graham are both locked onto his words and giving him affirming looks; nodding enthusiastically at times, as he outlines his bold and radical vision. Janice the cakemaker, however, has a furrowed brow, and is glancing nervously at her Bible and then at the other faces around the group.

“So”, says Ben, coming to the end of his monologue, “what do people think?”

I draw breath, and open my mouth to speak and say… what?

A wolf in our midst

It’s easy to decry and deal with false teachers and teaching that goes on in “that church down he road”. But when it is up close and personal, it’s another matter entirely—especially when they have started to attract a following. The implications of challenging or rebuking someone can be serious: relationships broken; churches split. So how do you deal with wrong thoughts and false teaching when it involves people you are closely connected with. Here are some pointers:

1. Is it fundamental?

Before accusing and challenging someone, we need to be clear what is being said. In the scenario above, my first question would probably be one of clarification, rather than challenge. There are many areas of Christian life and doctrine where it is permissible to hold to different views. A particular church may have one particular view, say on alcohol, infant baptism, church membership or tithing, but it is legitimate for Christians to hold other views. If someone in what might be called “second tier” leadership — like a home group leader — holds a view divergent from the church as a whole, then that may be problematic within the context of your church, but it is certainly not heresy or false teaching. More often the problem with these disputable matters — the technical term is adiaphora (See Romans 14:1) is when someone insists that their view on these things is the only correct one, and demonises those who think otherwise.

But if the idea expressed is of a more fundamental nature—the trinity, the divinity of Christ, the gospel of grace—then there is something more serious going on…

2. Are they convinced?

It’s important to have an open mind, to think radically, and sometimes to think “outside the box” as we dwell on God’s words in scripture. The church has traditions of thought and practice which need to be subjected to God’s word. Sometimes it is good to ponder and think out loud, in order to test ideas we may have with others. But, arguably, a responsible home-group leader whose job is to help others towards the truth should be responsible enough to do that kind of thinking in other arenas than a mixed group of ordinary Christians.

But still — they may just be thinking out loud, and so, in any ensuing discussion, would be prepared to withdraw or retract. But if it is clear that they are convinced, and campaigning to win others to their viewpoint, then this is a category shift. For the sake of the other members the group—who may be less acute or able theologically—this needs to be challenged clearly and carefully.

3. Addressing the ideas

One helpful way of exposing false teaching is to ask questions about the implications of a viewpoint. All truth is one, and so if someone is tinkering with one part of the gospel, it will have inevitable results in other areas. The late Mike Ovey had a wonderful way of doing this. You would propose a line of thinking, and Mike would carefully and logically trace the implications all the way back to the cross. A seemingly innocuous idea always seemed to end up with Mike pointing out that, if we believe that is true, then there was no need for Jesus to die on the cross. Game over.

The other lines of approach you might take would be to ask for examples from the teaching of Jesus or the rest of scripture where the idea is supported, and by asking how their view squares with other passages of the Bible where the idea appears to be refuted. It will often be hard, however, to address the issue at first. It may require some research and thought. It may just be that something “smells funny”—the Holy Spirit can give us these intuitions when something is being said wrong. For the sake of the rest of the group it needs to be addressed with them present.

4. The bigger picture

By its very nature, false teaching is cruel and enslaving. It is only the perfect gospel which brings freedom and joy. So the stakes are much higher than a mere difference of opinion. Your home group leader has a position of responsibility in the church, and so it must be referred up the chain to be dealt with before it starts to run out of control. To delay here can cause untold harm to those who are less mature. That will take courage, and you may easily be misunderstood for it. But if you love your church, and if you love the gospel, it is vital it is done in a spirit of love, concern and compassion.

Truth is apprehended only by the Holy Spirit, and any departure from the truth ultimately comes from another place. The world leading to a compromise on core Christian belief; the flesh leading to a desire for gain; or the devil, seeking to enslave people to forms of religion that lead to death, not life. So, fundamentally, dealing with false teaching is a spiritual battle, not an intellectual one. However you approach this problem, it needs to be soaked through with fervent prayer that God would protect his people, and that those who hold to or promote false teaching would be led by his Spirit to repentance  and a knowledge of the truth that sets us free.

Good Book Guides are perfect for small group studies. Each session not only seeks to uncover the meaning of the passage, and see how it fits into the big picture of the Bible, but also leads people to apply what they have learned to their lives. Find out more here.

Categories: Christian Resources

Every child needs a hero

Thu, 04/07/2019 - 14:00

It’s true. Well, it certainly was for me. From the days when I first learnt to read I found mine in the pages of books. On a wet afternoon or during a boring visit to an unknown auntie a small boy who reads would be complimented, given a biscuit and left alone while his imagination took him to places far away from his mundane surroundings.

Ladybird books first set me off on journeys of discovery, igniting my imagination with the conquering exploits of Alexander the Great, of Julius Caesar landing his Roman legions on the shores of Britain, or of Alfred fighting back against the invading Danes from his marshy stronghold in Somerset. 

Without computer games and with children’s TV limited to just one hour a day, I spent long afternoons daydreaming about great sea-faring heroes: Drake circumnavigating the world, defeating the Spanish Armada and singeing the king of Spain’s beard; Raleigh and Cook exploring and discovering the world afresh; and, of course, Nelson, tragically killed at the moment of his triumph at Trafalgar. 

From these true stories it was easy for me to transition towards the tales of fictional heroes. I remember Biggles the flying ace and C. S. Forester’s magnificent Hornblower, the honourable, troubled, talented outsider who climbed his way from midshipman to Admiral fighting the French and Spanish on the high seas. I read every one of those series.

Seeds of greatness

But the greatest of heroes? I was to find him in the pages of Tolkien’s monumental Lord of the Rings, a book that has shaped the imagination of generations. 

Tolkien presented heroes in many forms but the hero I found was not a great person of destiny, nor some mighty lord or lady, nor a scheming wizard or a warrior charging into battle. The hero I found was a humble hobbit and gardener. 

The self-effacing Sam Gamgee left his home out of love and loyalty for his friend Frodo, refusing to abandon him even when he was rejected. At the darkest hour, when all the others were gone, and (as he thought) his friend was dead through the sting of the giant spider Shelob and enemies were approaching, he picked up the burden of the ring of power and determined to march alone into the heart of darkness to destroy it and fulfil the quest on which he and his companions had set out. 

And what of the hero’s great reward? What did Sam receive when all was over? He went back home with a packet of soil and a handful of seeds to marry his sweetheart and renew the land that he loved from the ravages of evil, by making gardens and planting trees. A fitting reward for an everyday hero.

We all need a hero

A hero is a magnifying glass on life, making large and easy to read the qualities we need to live our lives, and Sam Gamgee is a hero for everyone, big or small. He taught me that to be loving, and loyal, and courageous when needed, is what is required of us. As Gandalf the wizard put it:

“I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Small acts of love and kindness.”

Or maybe as Jesus put it: “Love your neighbour.”

This article is part of our Spark Wonder campaign. For many of us, a love of God’s word was sparked in childhood as the Bible and Christian books were read to us. We can ignite the spark of wonder in a child’s heart that will set them up for a lifetime of curiosity into all the things of God and His Word. Find out more at www.thegoodbook.co.uk/spark-wonder

Categories: Christian Resources

iWorld: understanding the transgender philosophy

Wed, 03/07/2019 - 16:42

The following is an extract from Transgender by Vaughan Roberts. How Christians can think biblically, act wisely, and relate lovingly over transgender issues. Throughout this month we're giving away the ebook version for free. Click here to read it today

A significant part of Steve Jobs’ success was his genius at marketing. He wasn’t just able to produce great products; he also had an acute understanding of the spirit of the age, which enabled him to create a brand that appealed to our culture's deepest longings. The names of his Apple products—the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad—are striking. Jobs knew that we live in the iWorld, in which everything revolves around the individual. 

The roots of the profound individualism that marks our culture go back to the period of the Enlightenment 300 years ago, when intellectuals began to assert the primacy of human reason over divine revelation. Most people have never read the works of philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau, but their influence has gradually trickled down into our whole society so that it affects us all.

The Enlightenment began with great confidence that reason could lead us to the truth, but that optimism gradually disappeared. Even the greatest human thinkers can’t agree on fundamental issues. And so, having rejected revelation and lacking confidence in reason, our culture has now largely rejected the concept of objective truth, at least when it comes to big issues, such as meaning and morality.

Where does this leave us?

With ourselves as individuals. If we think that truth is subjective, then we certainly won’t let any external authority tell us what to think or how to behave—whether it’s the government, a religion or our family. It’s up to us to draw our own conclusions and live our own lives. As the boys from Boyzone put it in one of their songs:

No matter what they tell you;
no matter what they say;
no matter what they teach you;
what you believe is true.

All this explains why autonomy is so highly valued today. The iWorld teaches me to resent any challenge to my individualism. As the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, the founding father of modern Western liberalism, wrote:

Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. 

I’m free! Free to think what I want and live as I like. Free to be me.

The next highly prized value today: authenticity.

Above all else, we must be true to ourselves. Jonathan Grant has expressed it well:

Modern authenticity encourages us to create our own beliefs and morality, the only rule being that they must resonate with who we feel we really are. The worst thing we can do is to conform to some moral code that is imposed on us from outside—by society, our parents, the church, or whoever else. It is deemed to be self-evident that any such imposition would undermine our unique identity … The authentic self believes that personal meaning must be found within ourselves or must resonate with our one-of-a-kind personality.

Grant has commented that “this culture of expressive individualism has become the moral wallpaper of the modern world.” Over the last few decades the primacy of self-expression has become an unquestioned assumption of many. No one has the right to question or challenge how each individual chooses to define themselves.

It should be obvious by now how these changes in our cultural values have impacted the way that many view gender. If we are free to define our own identity without being bound by the old conventions, then that will include the outdated, constricting, binary, male-or-female understanding of gender.

Here is how American feminist writer Camille Paglia puts it:

I consider myself neither gay nor straight, neither male nor female, neither human being nor animal.

Judith Lorber, a radical feminist, writes that she longs for the day when gender distinctives have effectively disappeared:

When we no longer ask “boy or girl?’” in order to start gendering an infant, when the information is as irrelevant as the colour of a child’s eyes … only then will men and women be socially interchangeable and really equal. And when that happens there will no longer be any need for gender at all.

Change is already happening quickly. Facebook recently started allowing users to customise their gender: “male”, “female” or “other”. The “other” category listed 71 options, including bi-gender, transgender, androgynous and trans-sexual. An employee of Facebook at the time said, “We want to help users to be their true, authentic selves”. But things have moved on so quickly that Facebook’s “other” category has now been changed to “custom”, with a blank field allowing users to opt for any gender label of their choosing.

How can we respond?

How do we explain the extreme reaction against those who dare to raise their heads above the parapet and question any aspect of the new transgender consensus? The answer is surely that this debate goes far deeper than scientific and medical arguments. It involves a clash of worldviews. We may have rejected the concept of objective truth as a culture, but we still expect everyone to hold to certain fundamental convictions—and one of them is the absolute right of each individual to define themselves as they wish. Any perceived challenge to that right is regarded as heresy and is strongly resisted, no matter what it’s based on.

Behind the different points of view are not only different worldviews but different gospels: different understandings of what leads to freedom and fulfilment. The “gospel” story which the world tells us goes something like this:

For years our spirits have been suffocated by restrictive traditions and morality. But now we must have the courage to follow our own light. We must resist anyone or anything that stands in our way. We must discover the hero inside ourselves and enter into the freedom that comes when we become who we really are.

What does Christianity have to say in response to this? Sadly, so often all we’ve been heard to say is the repetition of a set of laws—“Do this!” “Don’t do that!”— which sound like the very opposite of good news. But the Bible tells a different story of oppression, liberation and freedom—a true story. But in the Bible’s story, we are not the hero; God is. But, wonderfully, as we find our place within his story, we can discover our real identity, as well as true freedom and lasting fulfilment.

Categories: Christian Resources

iWorld: understanding the transgender philosophy

Wed, 03/07/2019 - 16:42

The following is an extract from Transgender by Vaughan Roberts. How Christians can think biblically, act wisely, and relate lovingly over transgender issues. Throughout this month we're giving away the ebook version for free. Click here to read it today

A significant part of Steve Jobs’ success was his genius at marketing. He wasn’t just able to produce great products; he also had an acute understanding of the spirit of the age, which enabled him to create a brand that appealed to our culture's deepest longings. The names of his Apple products—the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad—are striking. Jobs knew that we live in the iWorld, in which everything revolves around the individual. 

The roots of the profound individualism that marks our culture go back to the period of the Enlightenment 300 years ago, when intellectuals began to assert the primacy of human reason over divine revelation. Most people have never read the works of philosophers like Voltaire and Rousseau, but their influence has gradually trickled down into our whole society so that it affects us all.

The Enlightenment began with great confidence that reason could lead us to the truth, but that optimism gradually disappeared. Even the greatest human thinkers can’t agree on fundamental issues. And so, having rejected revelation and lacking confidence in reason, our culture has now largely rejected the concept of objective truth, at least when it comes to big issues, such as meaning and morality.

Where does this leave us?

With ourselves as individuals. If we think that truth is subjective, then we certainly won’t let any external authority tell us what to think or how to behave—whether it’s the government, a religion or our family. It’s up to us to draw our own conclusions and live our own lives. As the boys from Boyzone put it in one of their songs:

No matter what they tell you;
no matter what they say;
no matter what they teach you;
what you believe is true.

All this explains why autonomy is so highly valued today. The iWorld teaches me to resent any challenge to my individualism. As the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, the founding father of modern Western liberalism, wrote:

Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. 

I’m free! Free to think what I want and live as I like. Free to be me.

The next highly prized value today: authenticity.

Above all else, we must be true to ourselves. Jonathan Grant has expressed it well:

Modern authenticity encourages us to create our own beliefs and morality, the only rule being that they must resonate with who we feel we really are. The worst thing we can do is to conform to some moral code that is imposed on us from outside—by society, our parents, the church, or whoever else. It is deemed to be self-evident that any such imposition would undermine our unique identity … The authentic self believes that personal meaning must be found within ourselves or must resonate with our one-of-a-kind personality.

Grant has commented that “this culture of expressive individualism has become the moral wallpaper of the modern world.” Over the last few decades the primacy of self-expression has become an unquestioned assumption of many. No one has the right to question or challenge how each individual chooses to define themselves.

It should be obvious by now how these changes in our cultural values have impacted the way that many view gender. If we are free to define our own identity without being bound by the old conventions, then that will include the outdated, constricting, binary, male-or-female understanding of gender.

Here is how American feminist writer Camille Paglia puts it:

I consider myself neither gay nor straight, neither male nor female, neither human being nor animal.

Judith Lorber, a radical feminist, writes that she longs for the day when gender distinctives have effectively disappeared:

When we no longer ask “boy or girl?’” in order to start gendering an infant, when the information is as irrelevant as the colour of a child’s eyes … only then will men and women be socially interchangeable and really equal. And when that happens there will no longer be any need for gender at all.

Change is already happening quickly. Facebook recently started allowing users to customise their gender: “male”, “female” or “other”. The “other” category listed 71 options, including bi-gender, transgender, androgynous and trans-sexual. An employee of Facebook at the time said, “We want to help users to be their true, authentic selves”. But things have moved on so quickly that Facebook’s “other” category has now been changed to “custom”, with a blank field allowing users to opt for any gender label of their choosing.

How can we respond?

How do we explain the extreme reaction against those who dare to raise their heads above the parapet and question any aspect of the new transgender consensus? The answer is surely that this debate goes far deeper than scientific and medical arguments. It involves a clash of worldviews. We may have rejected the concept of objective truth as a culture, but we still expect everyone to hold to certain fundamental convictions—and one of them is the absolute right of each individual to define themselves as they wish. Any perceived challenge to that right is regarded as heresy and is strongly resisted, no matter what it’s based on.

Behind the different points of view are not only different worldviews but different gospels: different understandings of what leads to freedom and fulfilment. The “gospel” story which the world tells us goes something like this:

For years our spirits have been suffocated by restrictive traditions and morality. But now we must have the courage to follow our own light. We must resist anyone or anything that stands in our way. We must discover the hero inside ourselves and enter into the freedom that comes when we become who we really are.

What does Christianity have to say in response to this? Sadly, so often all we’ve been heard to say is the repetition of a set of laws—“Do this!” “Don’t do that!”— which sound like the very opposite of good news. But the Bible tells a different story of oppression, liberation and freedom—a true story. But in the Bible’s story, we are not the hero; God is. But, wonderfully, as we find our place within his story, we can discover our real identity, as well as true freedom and lasting fulfilment.

Categories: Christian Resources

How our church recruited 20 new families workers for £300 per year

Tue, 02/07/2019 - 13:51

Every church I know wishes that it had more people and more money to be involved in children’s work. We all wish we had the resources to have more groups in Sunday School, more work in schools, more clubs during the week, so that more children could know and love Jesus. How can we recruit workers for this young harvest field?

Two years ago, St Columba’s, a small church I help lead in East Hull, was thinking about how we could reach more families. Our strategy included many of the standard ideas: we recruited more Sunday school leaders; we set up “Thursday Night Thing” where families can come each week, hear Bible stories, pray, sing, discuss and eat a meal together; we fundraised for and employed an amazing full-time families worker.

But God also gave us another simple idea: we decided that on the Sunday before any child has their birthday, we would give them a Christian book as a present. 

So for the last two years, that is what we have done. For each of the 30 or so children who come regularly to our church, we have chosen a book, wrapped it up, and given it to them up front in church, with a prayer that this year they would know more and more of how much God loves them (Ephesians 3:17-19).

A gift for the parents

The great effect of this has been that it has helped parents to start to fulfill their God-given role of bringing up their children to trust and follow the Lord Jesus (Deuteronomy 6 v 4-9, Ephesians 6 v 4). After all, they have far more time with their children than any paid church worker ever will!

There are so many beautifully written and produced materials for children available right now – but realistically most parents in our church won’t buy them. Now, with this new idea in place, once a year each of their children comes home excited about a present they got in church, and eager to read it with them. As their pastor, I get a chance to encourage them to read a bit each day and pray with their children when they come to say thank you. 

Then, when we’ve visited the families, our families worker and I have been really excited by how many parents tell us that their children love the books they have been given and ask to read them at bedtime. We’ve recruited about 20 parents to be the families workers God calls them to be, for less than £300 per year!

To get you started

So if your church wishes it had more people involved in children’s work, maybe this idea might work for you too? If so, here are my suggestions for books that make great birthday presents:

For under 4s, we love giving out books in the Tales That Tell the Truth series, that look as good as any Julia Donaldson book. We also give out The Beginner’s Bible and suggest they read one chapter a night at dinnertime or bedtime.

For 4-7s, we love giving the Jesus Storybook Bible and Big Picture Story Bible so that children (and parents!) can see how the whole Bible is one big story that points to Jesus. We sometimes give them Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing to help the good news to sink into their hearts, or a CD of Christian songs to sing along to in the car.

Once children are able to read well enough, we give them a grown-up NIV Bible and a set of XTB notes so they can start to read God’s Word for themselves. Others receive the Action Bible or a Word for Word Bible comic if that would suit them better. Books like Tricky and The Radical Book for Kids help them to think through what it means to follow Jesus for themselves.

I’ve just taken advantage of The Good Book Company’s Spark Wonder discounts to order all the presents to give away over the next year. Would you like to join me?

Categories: Christian Resources

Running on empty

Thu, 27/06/2019 - 15:00

When we take God’s commands seriously, then sooner or later—sooner, in fact—we face the question: How do I do what is impossible for me to do?

And the answer is so simple that it will likely make you want to stop reading this blog (but please give it just one more sentence after you read it):

We need to pray.

And yet, if you’re like me, that’s often exactly what you don’t do. We all know that Christians are supposed to pray. But we also find it really hard. There are all sorts of reasons why we might not pray—but this is one that perhaps lies deeper than most. We don’t pray because, in truth, we don’t really think we need to pray. 

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How full is your tank? 

Imagine you are driving down the motorway with a full tank of petrol and you see a service station. What is your reaction? You perhaps think to yourself, “Is there anything I want? Some snacks? A neck pillow? Shall I stop? Yes, I think I will and pick up a coffee and a burger.” 

Now imagine the same scenario but this time your petrol tank is empty. Your reaction is so different. You see the sign and your heart leaps for joy. You aren’t thinking of burgers and blankets. You know that you need fuel. 

Some of us are in danger of approaching prayer with a full tank approach. “Shall I take some time to pray today? Yes, perhaps that would be nice. There are a few things I could do with. I’ll pull in for a few minutes with God.”

But when Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6 v 9-13, he had something very different in mind. This prayer comes as part of a much bigger sermon and the first sentence of that sermon is essential for us to understand. Jesus starts with these words: 

Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5 v 3).

Here is the heart attitude that all true prayer springs from. To be poor in spirit means to know that your tanks are empty. It means to be aware of your desperate need. And it means, from that place, to cry out to a Heavenly Father who has the resources we need. 

We find it so hard to say the words “I can’t”, but until we learn to embrace our emptiness we will only ever treat prayer as a luxury, never as a necessity. When we humble ourselves and admit our need, we are on the first steps to prayer—and to doing the impossible. 

Until we learn to embrace our emptiness we will only ever treat prayer as a luxury, never as a necessity

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat 

There are loads of situations we face that we can’t manage. There are sins we are commanded to avoid, but that we can’t defeat. There are problems we are commanded not to be anxious about, but that we can’t solve. There are things we are commanded to do, but that we can’t handle. 

That is when we need to learn to pray with an empty tank. 

There is a great story in the Bible that shows this “empty-tank” praying. When King Jehoshaphat was facing an enemy that was far too vast for him to defeat, he said these words: 

We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. (2 Chronicles 20 v 12)

Jehoshaphat won. Or rather, God did. When Jehoshaphat led his army out for battle, trusting that God would be with them, he found that the enemy were all dead (v 24-26).

This is how you face what is impossible: by saying “We have no power… but you do”. 

Why not take that prayer into the impossible situations you face this week? Perhaps you meet with a friend who is going through a terrible time. Rather than trying to fix it and find a solution, why not use this prayer with them? 

Perhaps your latest strategy to defeat sin has failed and you find yourself back in the cycle of failure again. Rather than pick yourself up and have another go—fall to your knees with an empty tank and pray these words. 

We might be empty, but God is full. He is full of love, full of forgiveness, full of patience and full of power. When you face the impossible—pray to him.  

In Impossible Commands Jonty Allcock shows us that embracing the impossibility of our own obedience leads not to despair, but to true freedom as we look to the God who can do all things. Available to buy here.

Categories: Christian Resources

Illustrating deep truths to little minds: how is it done?

Wed, 26/06/2019 - 13:39

Think back to a book that you treasured as a child. Chances are that you can instantly bring up some of the key illustrations in your mind’s eye. They probably make you feel a small surge of nostalgia. 

The pictures in children’s books influence us in more ways than we realise. Not only do they help us visualise the story in front of us, but they add texture to the way in which we experience the world around us. 

So the illustrations matter hugely—and there's more to illustrating a children’s storybook than you think. A surprising amount of work and time goes into producing pictures that will thrill and fill a child with hope and wonder for years to come. And as our kid's books are either retellings of Bible stories or lean heavily on Scriptural narratives, the pictures are almost as important as the words they contain.

So how exactly does an illustration get developed? I asked Andre Parker, The Good Book Company’s Head of Design, to show us how the artwork is developed. And you’ll also get a sneak peek inside Jesus and The Lion’s Den, the next release in our Tales That Tell The Truth Series, which comes out in September. 

Click on the image below to enlarge it

This article is part of our Spark Wonder campaign. For many of us, a love of God’s word was sparked in childhood as the Bible and Christian books were read to us. We can ignite the spark of wonder in a child’s heart that will set them up for a lifetime of curiosity into all the things of God and His Word. Find out more at www.thegoodbook.co.uk/spark-wonder

Categories: Christian Resources

Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it's committed and faithful?

Mon, 24/06/2019 - 11:58

The following piece is an extract from Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry.

One of the arguments commonly made today in favour of same-sex partnerships is that what must surely count above all else is faithfulness and commitment. Shouldn’t faithfulness within a relationship be what determines its moral goodness rather than the gender of those involved in it? A promiscuous gay lifestyle with multiple partners and one-night stands might be wrong, but two people who love each other and are faithful to whatever promises they have made—surely that’s OK?

It can seem a compelling argument, and it is increasingly common to find Christians allowing for this kind of expression of homosexual practice. But a number of important things need to be said in response.

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What does the Bible say?

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for its acceptance of an illicit relationship. A man is in a relationship with his father’s wife, most likely his stepmother, an arrangement expressly forbidden in Leviticus 18. Paul is dismayed. Even the pagans in Corinthian society would not allow such a thing (1 Corinthians 5 v 1), and yet here it is going on in plain sight among God’s people.

Paul’s response to this situation is instructive, as much for what he doesn’t say as for what he does say. There is no question about whether the couple in question love each other. Paul does not ask about their level of commitment or whether they are being faithful. That is not the issue. Whether or not they are in a long-term committed relationship is beside the point; the fact remains that it is wrong and should not be happening.

Paul does not distinguish between faithful illicit relationships and profligate illicit relationships, as if the latter are out of bounds but the former might just squeak in by virtue of their faithfulness. Consistency and faithfulness while sinning in no way diminish the sin. Paul calls for the church member in question to be expelled from the fellowship, and for the whole church to express remorse at what has happened (1 Corinthians 5 v 2). Faithfulness demonstrated in an otherwise prohibited relationship does not make it less sinful.

In many areas of life it is possible to demonstrate good qualities while doing something wrong. A thief in a gang may demonstrate impeccable loyalty to his fellow criminals during the act of stealing: looking out for them, protecting them from danger, being sure to give them a generous proportion of the takings. None of this in any way lessens the immorality of the act; it just means he is being a “good” thief rather than a “bad” thief. As we have seen, Scripture is clear in its prohibition of any homosexual activity. Activity that is faithful and committed is no more permissible than activity that’s promiscuous and unfaithful.

Is God Anti-Gay is a practical and sensitive exploration of the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. It's available to buy here

Categories: Christian Resources
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