Blogroll: The Good Book Company

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The one word that will help you focus your mercy ministries

Tue, 28/03/2017 - 14:14

It’s an issue that has been much discussed among Reformed churches: what is the place of welfare ministries in the life of our churches? Some churches probably wouldn’t encourage their members to get involved in social initiatives at all, in case they’ll be distracted from evangelism—even if they aren’t actually doing much of either. Other churches approve of these ministries for individuals but not for churches. Still others would encourage their members to get involved in social-welfare ministry of every kind and, whether or not there is any gospel conversation, call it mission. But we’d do well to remember these words from John Piper:

“In all the attempts to alleviate suffering, we must not forget to alleviate eternal suffering by the proclamation of Christ.”

This rightly prioritizes evangelism. But does that mean that church members shouldn’t get involved in social justice at all? How can churches maintain Jesus’ priority of Word ministry, while obeying Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbor?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions in the two decades since we set up the Co-Mission church planting initiative in London. I’ve noticed that, while each church plant has been focused upon evangelistic outreach, as they’ve grown, they’ve attracted new church members with the skills to be active in a range of social ministries, such as our crisis pregnancy ministry, prison visiting, debt counseling, and outreach to the homeless.

Social justice and evangelism are both ways of loving our neighbors. The first has great but temporary benefits for this world, while the second has glorious benefits both now and in the world to come. So, in understanding how they relate, we’ve found three enormously helpful principles that are illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The key for focusing our priorities lies in this one word: “Especially.”

1. Especially the needy (Luke 10:30)

Jesus pictures a man being mugged on the notoriously dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. We might have said, “They bashed him over the head with a baseball bat, stabbed him in the back with a beer bottle and kicked him to the ground, took his phone, wallet and sneakers, and left him unconscious in a pool of blood.”

Jesus describes something that could happen to any of us. We could be mugged by thieves or by redundancy, by a cancerous lump or the death of a child, by a creeping addiction to gambling or pornography. Many of us already have been. We could self-righteously enquire what this man was doing traveling alone. But Jesus doesn’t bother with blame. We all make bad decisions and do stupid things. It’s ugly when the well and wealthy criticize the poor and sick because of contributory foolishness; and it’s particularly ugly in Christians, for Christ saved us despite the stupidity of our own sin. Jesus is plainly telling us to be concerned for those in need. We need to gradually reach all the communities of our cities, and not just attempt to reach the elites in the name of strategically accessing leadership potential.

2. Especially our neighbours (Luke 10:31–32)

God commands us to love our neighbors as generously as we love ourselves. Jesus was not limiting those we help to those who are closest to us; rather, Jesus was expanding our definition of neighbours to include anyone we come across in need, whatever their race, religion, class or kind of problem! But Jesus wasn’t suggesting that the priest and Levite who passed by should have abandon their ministries to search the roads of Palestine for battered travelers (and the Samaritan went on with his life after caring for the injured man). And Jesus wasn’t telling us to help everyone, for we all feel bewildered by the scale of need even in our own neighborhood, let alone the world. He’s telling us to help the one person we can all help—the needy person we come across in daily life.

"Jesus tells us to help the one person we can all help-the needy person we come across in daily life."

Jesus doesn’t for a minute suggest anyone should abandon gospel work for social justice. But none of us are doing gospel work all the time. Jesus wasn’t telling churches to divert resources from gospel preaching into poverty relief. He was telling individual disciples to put ourselves out for someone in need. We can each help one elderly lady in our block of flats, one distressed colleague at work, or one migrant family in our area trying to find work. For we were all lying in the spiritual gutter when Jesus found us.

3. Especially with the gospel (Luke 10:33-35)

Rather than abandon the man as soon as possible, or just call an ambulance, the Samaritan drove him to the hospital and covered the costs. This was practical love—involving costly self-denial. Samaritans were generally hated by the Jews. But this Samaritan didn’t allow his own experience of prejudice to become an excuse to neglect a foreigner in need. He didn’t offer help in order to earn favor with God, nor in the hope that the wounded man would be grateful and join his church! He just did it for the man’s sake, out of compassion; he “took pity on him”.

When we get involved in compassionate care, we shouldn’t do so just to gain evangelistic opportunities. This can easily become manipulative subterfuge. We should offer our works of compassion as simply the justice and righteousness in which God delights. But opportunities often do arise when people wonder why we help them, and the gospel is the most precious gift we can offer—for evangelism is compassionate care to relieve eternal suffering.

But let’s also welcome opportunities to help a needy neighbor—because Jesus says bluntly in verse 37, “Go and do likewise”! In all of life, we are to live compassionately like the good Samaritan… especially towards the needy, especially towards our neighbors, and especially with the gospel… pointing people to the Greatest Samaritan of all, who came to us in our desperate spiritual need and rescued us from dying in the gutter of sin—to Jesus.

This article is adapted from Richard Coekin's new book, Gospel DNA: 21 Ministry Values for Growing Churches, which is available to pre-order now.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Ecclesiastes

Fri, 24/03/2017 - 10:11

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Categories: Christian Resources

How does Jesus offer hope in the face of terror?

Thu, 23/03/2017 - 11:48

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Categories: Christian Resources

Why a risk-ready mindset is essential for growing churches

Wed, 22/03/2017 - 11:00

“Risk is right!”

I can still remember the moment when John Piper thundered these words in characteristically dramatic fashion during his address to the Evangelical Ministries Assembly in London. Then for added effect he shouted again, even more loudly, “Risk is right!”

It was 2006. Just one year earlier we had formed Co-Mission—an exciting church-planting movement in London, UK, named after Christ’s “Great Commission” to make disciples of all nations. From one small congregation in a school hall, God has since grown us and enabled us to pioneer and establish about thirty new churches and ministries. The growth we’ve witnessed is modest compared with some parts of God’s global mission, but dramatic for a secular city like London.

In our church-planting over the last decade, we’ve sometimes accepted unavoidable risks, not because we’re impetuous, but because we’re convinced that God is looking after us. We try to minimise the risks as much as possible, but we still can’t be certain how it will turn out.

Sometimes a more cautious observer will suggest that the planting group seems too small or the financial support is too uncertain. We know they’re right and we may well fail. It’s just that, since we’re trying to obey Jesus in making disciples by planting churches, and since our loving Father is sovereign, we trust that he can employ our weakness for his glory and pick us up if we fall flat on our faces. Since he’s completely in control, we don’t have to be. Let me explain.

We believe that God predestines

“For [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” – Ephesians 1:4-5

Some worry that believing in God’s election (choosing some but not all sinners for salvation) and predestination (deciding our future) will make us neglect evangelism. But election and predestination make us evangelise more because we know that God saves his elect and predestined people through evangelism (indeed, if God didn’t choose to save some, there’d be no point in us even trying). So we can accept unavoidable risks in gospel ministry precisely because God uses his people to find his predestined people scattered across the world. Our plans and churches don’t have to be perfect, because God can use our weakness to magnify his power in saving his elect (2 Corinthians 4:7). We can accept unavoidable risks because God is sovereign in saving his chosen people.

We can accept unavoidable risks because God is sovereign in saving his chosen people.

We believe that God provides

God is also sovereign in his loving provision of our daily needs. Our heavenly Father delights to give us good gifts. Jesus said:

“Do not worry ... why do you worry ... do not worry ... your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry...” – Matthew 6:25-34

I don’t think Jesus was excusing sloppy planning. And I don’t believe that living by faith means we don’t have to try hard to raise the resources of leaders, people and funding that we will need (compare Acts 20:34). But faith in our Father’s loving providence does encourage us to work tirelessly and then trust that he’ll provide what we really need to do his work his way.

We believe that God preserves

And God’s sovereignty includes his loving preservation of his children all the way to heaven. Jesus promised that he’ll lose no one who comes to him. How could anyone chosen before creation by God the Father, redeemed at the cross by God the Son, and sealed with the indwelling guarantee of God the Holy Spirit, ever be lost by God?

God preserves us by keeping us persevering.

God preserves us by keeping us persevering. We don’t know that our plants will all grow, but we do know that God will keep us persevering. Trusting his loving preservation encourages us to take unavoidable risks and keep trying! Nothing unexpected or undesired by God for our good can ever happen—for God is preserving us.

Real disciples don’t live safely

So God’s sovereignty allows us to be opportunistic and entrepreneurial. In his parable of the talents, or bags of gold (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus likens himself to a master who entrusts resources to his servants while he’s away. When he returns, he commends two servants with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”, because they made the most of what they’d been given. The third servant is condemned because he just protected what he had. He didn’t take any risk in trying to do something creative with the master’s resources.

Jesus was warning that many will be horrified to discover that attempting nothing for Jesus reveals that they were never his true disciples—because genuine disciples care so much for their Master’s gospel business that they will accept unavoidable risks to advance it. Real disciples don’t live too safely, because they love their Master enough to have a go.

Real disciples don’t live too safely, because they love their Master enough to have a go.

“Let’s see what happens if…”

Across Co-Mission we’re trying to have a go, though we don’t know what will happen. I recall one godly wife of a staff member asking me some years ago what our ten-year plan was. I felt rather inadequate as I admitted, “Well, I don’t really have a ten-year plan. I thought we’d preach the gospel and try very hard and see what happens.” That was enough for a while. Now that our movement has grown and gathered momentum, we do have a ten-year plan for planting sixty churches; we have a leadership team and some strategies and resources; but beyond this, we still have no idea what will happen. We are still having to accept many considerable and unavoidable risks and we may well fail. But we are going to have a go and not die wondering! “Risk is right”… because God is sovereign!

This is adapted from Richard Coekin's new book, Gospel DNA: 21 Ministry Values for Growing Churches, which is available to pre-order now.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Proverbs

Fri, 17/03/2017 - 10:07

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Categories: Christian Resources

Comfort without the clichés: Eight ways to help hurting friends

Thu, 16/03/2017 - 11:53

“It will be all right,”
“I believe God will bring healing,”
“You’re a strong person, I know you will get through this,”
“I’ll pray you get better and that this will all come to an end”.

In my long battle with chronic pain, I’ve heard all these and more. These statements are well meaning and do contain partial truths, but they always fall short of offering any real, lasting comfort.

What we really believe shapes what we actually say, both to ourselves and to others. If we believe the wrong thing, we will say the wrong thing, and end up resorting to quasi-Christian clichés (which offer false hope) or to never having anything to say at all to those who are hurting (which offers no hope).

Paul teaches us that no matter what circumstances or company we may find ourselves in, our message of hope should confidently remain the same:

“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4 v 13-14)

Trace Paul’s logic in these verses. He believes that Christ has risen to eternal life, and so one day he will raise Paul to eternal life. So this is what he speaks of, for the sake of his listeners coming to understand and appreciate grace, and the sake of his God coming to receive the thanksgiving he so richly and infinitely deserves.

If we believe in resurrection hope, we will speak that hope into the lives of others.

If we believe in resurrection hope, we will speak that hope into the lives of others. One of the most crucial times for us to share this truth is when we are walking alongside a brother or sister who is suffering and struggling to see this hope for themselves.

Christ's Comfort is Better Than Commiseration

As I have endured years of physical pain, heartache, and loss, I have come to learn that nothing can replace what’s been lost, or repair what’s been broken, apart from Christ. But instead of the Lord comforting me by removing the pain and reversing the loss of my worldly hopes, he has comforted me with his presence and secure future hope. In his grace, he has not only comforted me through his word and promises but through brothers and sisters in Christ who walk this journey with me. It is out of these comforts that I can turn to someone else and offer that same comfort (2 Corinthians 1 v 3-5).

Comforting another person in their pain is not simply commiserating with them, and it may not always mean agreeing with them. It is speaking the truths of the gospel that we ourselves have found of greater value than any earthly comfort. We need to point to God’s promises while being real about the present. Instead of telling them it will be alright and life will get easier (you don’t know that), we can comfort them with the truth that not a second of their pain will be wasted, and that when Christ returns, there will not be one more second of pain or heartache (you can know that!).

We need to point to God’s promises while being real about the present.

Although we may not be able to make sense of what someone else is going through, Christ promises that as they choose to trust him (even if their faith is hanging by a thread), he will faithfully use those trials to accomplish his good and loving purposes in their life and the lives of those around them. We may not be able to offer answers or temporary solutions that ease their pain, but we can bring the comfort of Christ and the eternal value of suffering with him.

Christ's Comfort is Better Than Your Experience

Not everyone grieves or responds to suffering in the same way or time frame that we do. In fact, no one responds in exactly the same way as you do. So if we seek to comfort only through our own experiences, we are bound to say the wrong thing, offer nothing more than temporal comfort, and possibly even obscure or undo the gospel comfort others are seeking to share with them.

This is why, I think, we are often speechless and feel we have nothing to say when someone we love is hurting. But we do have something to say! Not out of our own reserves of wisdom or experience alone, but out of the treasures of the gospel.

So how does this look practically?

  • We need to be slow to judge whether they are suffering “well,” and quick to grieve and mourn alongside of them.
  • We need to be slow to speak the “truths” we think they need to hear, and quick to discern and pray about encouraging them with Scripture and God’s promises.
  • We need to be slow to impatience, and quick to learn how to be long-suffering.
  • We need to be slow to run away from the discomfort of entering another’s pain, and quick to allow God to use their suffering to grow our own faith.
  • We need to be slow to speak our opinions and solutions, and quick to listen and hear their heart.
  • We need to be slow to do the minimum and quick to serve in ways God calls us to, even if it takes sacrifice. (This does not mean we must say yes to all needs!)
  • We need to be slow to view the other’s suffering as their problem, and quick to see the other’s suffering as a privilege in which we can love, serve, and be mutually blessed by the body of Christ.
  • We need to be slow to believe that we are aren’t equipped to help and quick to comfort with the unique gifts and personality that God has given us. (If you are good at crafts, make an encouraging gift. If you are hands-on, offer to help with work around the house. If you like writing, send a note of how you see Christ working in their life.)

You Are Not the Savior

You cannot fix it. Loving the hurting opens us up to the temptation to see ourselves as the sufferer’s personal savior. But they do not need you—they need Christ. Comfort is about redirecting someone to seek what they need in Christ first and not in you. Comfort is not about always being there for someone; it is about reminding someone that Christ is always there for them.

Comfort is about redirecting someone to seek what they need in Christ first and not in you.

This frees us from a burden we weren’t meant to carry. It frees us to speak truth and show love but not to feel guilty about what we cannot manage or cannot solve. You are not their Savior. God is not expecting you to be—he already sent Another to do that job.

This is adapted from Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton. This beautiful cloth-bound hardback book is a great gift to help hurting friends fix their eyes on Christ.

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

Categories: Christian Resources

Comfort without the clichés: Eight pointers for helping hurting friends

Thu, 16/03/2017 - 11:53

“It will be all right,”
“I believe God will bring healing,”
“You’re a strong person, I know you will get through this,”
“I’ll pray you get better and that this will all come to an end”.

In my long battle with chronic pain, I’ve heard all these and more. These statements are well meaning and do contain partial truths, but they always fall short of offering any real, lasting comfort.

What we really believe shapes what we actually say, both to ourselves and to others. If we believe the wrong thing, we will say the wrong thing, and end up resorting to quasi-Christian clichés (which offer false hope) or to never having anything to say at all to those who are hurting (which offers no hope).

Paul teaches us that no matter what circumstances or company we may find ourselves in, our message of hope should confidently remain the same:

“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4 v 13-14)

Trace Paul’s logic in these verses. He believes that Christ has risen to eternal life, and so one day he will raise Paul to eternal life. So this is what he speaks of, for the sake of his listeners coming to understand and appreciate grace, and the sake of his God coming to receive the thanksgiving he so richly and infinitely deserves.

If we believe in resurrection hope, we will speak that hope into the lives of others.

If we believe in resurrection hope, we will speak that hope into the lives of others. One of the most crucial times for us to share this truth is when we are walking alongside a brother or sister who is suffering and struggling to see this hope for themselves.

Christ's Comfort is Better Than Commiseration

As I have endured years of physical pain, heartache, and loss, I have come to learn that nothing can replace what’s been lost, or repair what’s been broken, apart from Christ. But instead of the Lord comforting me by removing the pain and reversing the loss of my worldly hopes, he has comforted me with his presence and secure future hope. In his grace, he has not only comforted me through his word and promises but through brothers and sisters in Christ who walk this journey with me. It is out of these comforts that I can turn to someone else and offer that same comfort (2 Corinthians 1 v 3-5).

Comforting another person in their pain is not simply commiserating with them, and it may not always mean agreeing with them. It is speaking the truths of the gospel that we ourselves have found of greater value than any earthly comfort. We need to point to God’s promises while being real about the present. Instead of telling them it will be alright and life will get easier (you don’t know that), we can comfort them with the truth that not a second of their pain will be wasted, and that when Christ returns, there will not be one more second of pain or heartache (you can know that!).

We need to point to God’s promises while being real about the present.

Although we may not be able to make sense of what someone else is going through, Christ promises that as they choose to trust him (even if their faith is hanging by a thread), he will faithfully use those trials to accomplish his good and loving purposes in their life and the lives of those around them. We may not be able to offer answers or temporary solutions that ease their pain, but we can bring the comfort of Christ and the eternal value of suffering with him.

Christ's Comfort is Better Than Your Experience

Not everyone grieves or responds to suffering in the same way or time frame that we do. In fact, no one responds in exactly the same way as you do. So if we seek to comfort only through our own experiences, we are bound to say the wrong thing, offer nothing more than temporal comfort, and possibly even obscure or undo the gospel comfort others are seeking to share with them.

This is why, I think, we are often speechless and feel we have nothing to say when someone we love is hurting. But we do have something to say! Not out of our own reserves of wisdom or experience alone, but out of the treasures of the gospel.

So how does this look practically?

  • We need to be slow to judge whether they are suffering “well,” and quick to grieve and mourn alongside of them.
  • We need to be slow to speak the “truths” we think they need to hear, and quick to discern and pray about encouraging them with Scripture and God’s promises.
  • We need to be slow to impatience, and quick to learn how to be long-suffering.
  • We need to be slow to run away from the discomfort of entering another’s pain, and quick to allow God to use their suffering to grow our own faith.
  • We need to be slow to speak our opinions and solutions, and quick to listen and hear their heart.
  • We need to be slow to do the minimum and quick to serve in ways God calls us to, even if it takes sacrifice. (This does not mean we must say yes to all needs!)
  • We need to be slow to view the other’s suffering as their problem, and quick to see the other’s suffering as a privilege in which we can love, serve, and be mutually blessed by the body of Christ.
  • We need to be slow to believe that we are aren’t equipped to help and quick to comfort with the unique gifts and personality that God has given us. (If you are good at crafts, make an encouraging gift. If you are hands-on, offer to help with work around the house. If you like writing, send a note of how you see Christ working in their life.)

You Are Not the Savior

You cannot fix it. Loving the hurting opens us up to the temptation to see ourselves as the sufferer’s personal savior. But they do not need you—they need Christ. Comfort is about redirecting someone to seek what they need in Christ first and not in you. Comfort is not about always being there for someone; it is about reminding someone that Christ is always there for them.

Comfort is about redirecting someone to seek what they need in Christ first and not in you.

This frees us from a burden we weren’t meant to carry. It frees us to speak truth and show love but not to feel guilty about what we cannot manage or cannot solve. You are not their Savior. God is not expecting you to be—he already sent Another to do that job.

This is adapted from Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton. This beautiful cloth-bound hardback book is a great gift to help hurting friends fix their eyes on Christ.

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

Categories: Christian Resources

If God is in control, why should we pray?

Wed, 15/03/2017 - 10:09

It’s a question we’ve all asked from time to time. If God controls each and every event, from the tiniest to the greatest, and has already decided what will happen, then why pray? After all, if it’s going to happen anyway, what possible difference can your prayers or mine make?

The answer is that it’s not going to happen “anyway”; it is going to happen in one particular way. The Bible does not tell us that we can strong-arm God by praying whatever we want to pray, as if our wills were constraining God’s will. No, it tells us “that if we ask anything according to [God’s] will, he hears us” (1 John 5 v 14).

God has chosen to do what he wills to do in answer to the prayers of Christ’s people, when we ask for what he wants. Why should he do that? Why could he not just do what he wants anyway, and leave us out of it? I guess he could. But—wonderfully—he has chosen to govern the world in fellowship with Christ’s people. He does it as follows.

First he chose to work in answer to Jesus’ prayers. At the grave of Lazarus, Jesus says this: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me…” (John 11 v 41-42). God the Father chose to raise Lazarus in answer to the prayer that Jesus had prayed, and in no other way! Had Jesus not prayed for Lazarus to be raised, the Father would not have raised him. God, by his Holy Spirit, moved in the heart of Jesus his Son, so that Jesus would pray this prayer; and then God answered it, because God the Father and Jesus the Son walk in perfect fellowship.

Next, he puts the Spirit of Jesus into the hearts of followers of Jesus, so that we too begin to pray according to God’s will. When the Bible says we are to pray “in Jesus’ name”, it means that we pray on the basis of Jesus’ death for us, and in line with the desires Jesus has placed in us by his Spirit. We therefore need our prayers to be shaped by the revealed will of God in Scripture. When we call on God to do what God has revealed he wills to do, we may be confident we are praying according to his will.

Wonderfully, God has chosen to govern the world in fellowship with Christ’s people.

Of course there are times when we ask for other things, and then we cannot be sure how he will answer; for our prayers may not be according to his will. Our prayers do not change God’s will or challenge his control; but they draw us into loving fellowship with him in his wonderful government of the world.

God has chosen to work in answer to his people’s prayers. He has chosen that we will be moved to pray and he will answer the prayers he has moved us to pray. Our prayers don’t mean that we cleverly get outside the sovereignty of God and pull some levers from a region beyond God’s control, and then God has to respond. They mean something much more wonderful than this. They mean that God, by his Spirit in your heart and mine, is moving us to pray. He instructs us from the Bible about what pleases him; he puts into our hearts a longing for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven; and then we pray, as he has moved us to pray. And then he does what he wants to do, and has chosen to do; but—most wonderfully—he has chosen to do it only when we pray for it. In this extraordinary way, God draws us in to his government of the world, so that our God-shaped desires and yearnings actually shape what happens! There is no higher privilege.

Taken from Where Was God When That Happened? And Other Questions About God's Goodness, Power and the Way He Works in the World by Christopher Ash.

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

Categories: Christian Resources

Kristen and Sarah’s Story of Hope When It Hurts

Tue, 14/03/2017 - 17:00

Suffering is real. But so is hope. Watch Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton's inspiring story of #HopeWhenItHurts:

Hope When It Hurts is available to pre-order now. Launching April 1st.

Video credit: Daniel Hochstatter.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Psalms

Fri, 10/03/2017 - 10:00

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

Categories: Christian Resources

What we can learn from the success of the sexual revolution

Wed, 08/03/2017 - 10:00

"Mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others …"

With this radio announcement 60 years ago, the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, called off her plans to marry a divorcee—Group Captain Peter Townsend. She was heartbroken.

I was 6 years old at the time and have only the vaguest recollection of that event. But the Townsend affair illustrates something of the cultural scaffolding of shame and disapproval erected around immorality and divorce at that time. The whole culture of the 1950’s—when divorce was spoken about in hushed tones, “fallen women” were shamed for their “illegitimate” children, and homosexuals were sent to prison—remains deeply embedded in my psyche. It shaped my early childhood as profoundly as the sexual revolution impacted my teens a few years later.

Today, though, that cultural landscape has changed beyond recognition. From the 1960’s the annual number of divorces rocketed six-fold. The number of people getting married started to fall dramatically too, and the institution of marriage entered a deep and prolonged recession, especially among the poor. Today cohabitation is the norm. Nearly half of children are born out of wedlock and, by the age of 16, only 50% of children will be found living with both biological parents in the home. Couples of the same sex can get married and anyway we are no longer sure what being a particular “sex”—male or female—means anymore.

In the space of just a few decades, centuries old convictions rooted in the old biblical moral codes effectively collapsed. Most people today would think good-riddance. And those who do remain “mindful of the Church’s teaching” are held to be slightly odd at best and knuckle-dragging bigots at worst.

You can’t respond to a great story like this simply with facts—you have to tell a better story.

Church-going people are shifting in their convictions too, including those who call themselves evangelicals. We shouldn’t be surprised because many Christian leaders appear like rabbits caught in the headlights over this issue. They seem to be hoping that if they keep their heads down the whole wretched business will somehow go away. But it doesn’t. We sit here like King Canute, but the water keeps on rising.

So here’s the question I try to address in my book A Better Story. Given the success of this great social and cultural revolution, what is the secret of its cultural power? What gives it such traction? Why have ancient beliefs and convictions been so rapidly overwhelmed and effectively abandoned?

This question is important because efforts to mount an effective apologetic by Christians who still hold to biblical teaching will continue to fail unless we understand the secret of the revolution's success.

So what is it?

The political theorist Joseph Nye talks about hard power and soft power. Hard power is getting what you want by coercion. Soft power, on the other hand, is the ability to get what you want through attraction. And the secret of the sexual revolution, I believe, is soft power.

Of course the sexual revolutionaries know how to use hard power. Dare to offer an alternative view to theirs—for example on same-sex marriage—and you will soon experience the wrath of the Twitter mob shouting “hate filled!” The hard power deployed by the revolution's activists is a chilling reality.

But the revolution’s secret weapon (I know, you shouldn’t really attribute agency to a cultural phenomenon) isn’t hard power, but soft power. The revolutionaries cast a vision and an ideology that the human spirit finds deeply attractive. People see what is on offer and they want it to be true. And until we understand that and think it through, our apologetics will remain enfeebled and our public posture confined to the defensive.

Of course the cultural forces that drove the sexual revolution can be understood at many different levels of analysis—the economic and social changes that led to the emancipation of women from traditional roles in the home played a crucial part, as did the introduction of the contraceptive Pill.

But these shifts in society developed hand in hand with radical new ideas about morality and human identity. New thinking about equality and freedom. The revolutionaries cast an inspiring vision drawn from an underlying narrative of authenticity, freedom and fairness. In sitcoms and romcoms the story was told over and over: compelling narratives about the little people—oppressed and marginalised—who found their voice and claimed their freedom. The freedom to be truly, authentically, themselves.

You can’t respond to a great story like this simply with facts—you have to tell a better story. A different story that connects with the issues the revolution places at the centre of our cultural narrative—its vision of authenticity, freedom and fairness. Our culture isn’t interested right now in what Christians are against. People want to know what we are for—especially in relation to today's big questions of what it means to be an authentic person, to be free to express yourself and to be treated fairly.

That is why I have written this book. In A Better Story I explore the soft power of the revolution. And then ask how those of us who remain wedded to the truth we find revealed in the Bible can begin to discover a better story of our own. A story lived out in real lives that not only talk about human flourishing, but put it on display.

Glynn Harrison’s new book, A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing is available to buy now. This article originally appeared on www.glynnharrison.com. Used with permission.

Categories: Christian Resources

Steven Lawson on Philippians For You

Mon, 06/03/2017 - 09:00

"One believer on fire for God can embolden thousands with new courage." (Steven Lawson, Philippians For You)

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Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Job

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 10:00

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Categories: Christian Resources

The most misapplied verse in the Bible?

Tue, 28/02/2017 - 09:38

Bible Gateway recently found this to be one of the most-read verses in the Bible:

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

But could it also win the title of being the most misapplied and misunderstood? It’s a wonderful truth, but it needs some qualification.

Seven things it doesn’t mean

  1. First, this does not mean God will empower me to sin. God is not the author of sin. That comes from the flesh. “All things” would never include that which God hates or that which is opposed to his very nature.
  2. Second, this does not mean I can do supernatural physical feats, such as jump across the Atlantic Ocean or flap my arms and fly to the moon. It does not mean I can perform miracles. “All things” are the simple things of life that all believers are called to do.
  3. Third, this means I can do all things within the will of God. I can do all things that God calls me to do. We must understand “all things” as everything that is defined by the word of God.
  4. Fourth, this does not relieve me of my responsibility to commit myself to the means of grace—God’s word, God’s meal at the Lord’s Supper, and so on. In other words, if I just sit back passively, I am not going to know this strength. It requires my active pursuit of the means of grace for me to experience this supernatural power in my life.
  5. Fifth, this does not remove my responsibility to confess our sin and to repent. If there is unconfessed, unrepentant sin in your life, it will pull the plug on your joy. Sin and joy cannot coexist in the same heart. Of course, we will never be perfect, and there will always be sin in our lives, but if there are patterns of sin going on in my life, no matter how good my circumstances happen to be, there is no joy.
  6. Sixth, this does mean that as I can live my Christian life knowing that the power of God is far greater than whatever the difficulty is that I am facing. There is no trial too difficult. There is no obstacle too high. There is no temptation too strong. There is no opposition too powerful. There is no persecution too threatening. If we put our faith and trust in God and follow him in obedience, this joy will be our joy, and this contentment will be our contentment, and this confidence will be our confidence.
  7. Seventh, God does this work in the Christian at the deepest level of their innermost being. This is not a superficial work that God does on the façade of your life. Down in the very depths of your being, this is where God enables you by the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ to do what God would have you do, and it is a comprehensive work that he does. It involves your mind, your affections, and your will.

What it does mean

Context is key. Philippians 4:13 is Paul’s secret of contentment, as the preceding two verses clarify: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

God had only one Son without sin, but he has no sons without sorrow.

Imagine being able to write what Paul can write and that it is close to the truth in your own life. Imagine being able to say, I am content no matter what my circumstances are. I can get along with little, and I know how to live with much. I am content whether I am full or hungry, wealthy or in great need. I can do all things through my Lord, who strengthens me. Imagine being able to live like this. We can. We have all we need in Christ. Motyer sums it up this way:

“No circumstance could ever arise which would be too much for Paul’s God, and therefore no circumstance could ever beat Paul.” (The Message of Philippians, page 219)

Paul’s God is our God. So when we lack the contentment that Paul enjoyed and exemplified, it is not because we do not have what we need to enjoy it; it is because our eyes are on the wrong place. They are upon our circumstances instead of upon our Savior.

Do you need to be living above your circumstances or are you pulled down in a whirlpool of emotional collapse? Do you need to experience joy in the midst of your situation right now? Do you need to know what it is to say, “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me”? If so, then remember that all joy for your soul and all power for your life is found in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you need to get as close to Christ as you can.

If you will look to him, trust him, live for him, worship him, adore him, serve him, follow him and obey him, then this joy will increase by filling and flooding your soul. I need this; you need this; we all need this. You are either in a very difficult set of circumstances right now, or you are about to head into one, or you have just stepped out of one momentarily to head back into one again. God had only one Son without sin, but he has no sons without sorrow. You will know what it is to be hungry. You may know what it is to be full. But this is the secret which Paul has let us know: you have all you can ever need in Christ, and you can do all things through Christ, who strengthens you.

Adapted from Philippians For You by Steven J. Lawson, a new expository guide to the book of Philippians, with accompanying Good Book Guide for small groups. Available tomorrow.

Categories: Christian Resources

Steven Lawson on Philippians For You

Mon, 27/02/2017 - 10:20

"Your spiritual life is strongest when your desire for Scripture is greatest." (Steven Lawson, Philippians For You)

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Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Esther

Fri, 24/02/2017 - 11:56

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Categories: Christian Resources

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

Thu, 23/02/2017 - 11:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Christian Resources

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

Wed, 22/02/2017 - 11:35

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

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

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

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

And it's exhausting.

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

... Because it's easier.

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

"Without a battle there can be no victory"

W-O-W. Just WOW.

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

Categories: Christian Resources

Three ways to get involved with a very special book launch

Tue, 21/02/2017 - 14:09

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

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

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

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

1. Read a sample chapter

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

2. Watch the film and join the thunderclap

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

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

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

3. Share your story

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

Here’s Caitlin’s story to inspire you:

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

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

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

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

So when it hurts, Christ is my hope.

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

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

Categories: Christian Resources

Christopher Ash on Where was God when that happened?

Mon, 20/02/2017 - 10:04

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

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

Categories: Christian Resources

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