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 28 posts from the blog 'The Good Book Company.'
Disclaimer: Reproducing an article here need not necessarily imply agreement or endorsement!
As a Christian, it's tempting to observe the various strands of moral decline around us and conclude that increased secularisation in the West must inevitably bring with it a devastating loss of values.
This way of thinking is present in so many apologetical conversations. They so often hurtle towards the morality riddle, that without God as our source for a moral framework and nothing to replace it we’re left with nihilistic anarchy. So if the church were to completely lose its grip on public life then society would crumble. If God is dead, as Nietzsche argues, then anything is surely permitted.
But perhaps parts of the evangelical community are waking up to a different way of seeing this. Tim Keller, influential thought leader and author of Making Sense of God, recently gave an address at the UK Parliament's national prayer breakfast (which, in itself, is remarkable that it wasn't a member of the institutional church) that focused on the church’s mandate to remain salty (Matthew 15 v13) and “different” to the world.
He opened by presenting the following thought experiment. Imagine encountering an old lady on a street at night. She is visibly carrying a purse, laden with valuable items. If you really wanted you could take her purse and she would be too frail to resist, and it would be too dark to identify you. What's more, for the purposes of this thought experiment, for some reason the governing laws do not prohibit your behaviour. No social or criminal ramifications. Would you take the purse? If your answer is no, then depending on what culture you're from it is either because it would A) reflect poorly on you or because B) it would be a cruel act towards the old lady. It would either be because of a high regard for yourself or for the potential victim. A show of strong character or an outward act of love.
If your reason is self-regard (A) then you come from an 'honour/shame' culture, or what social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls in his New York Times bestseller The Righteous Mind the 'sanctity/purity' framework. An instinctive abhorrence for disgusting things, foods or actions. If your reason for sparing the old lady is purely for her well being (B) then you probably emanate from an 'other-regarding' ethic which is ultimately grounded in love.
Keller goes on to argue that the other-regarding ethic of early Christendom (B) in what was the British isles eventually won-out against the Anglo-Saxon honour/shame culture (A) and that is why westerners are instinctively tuned to offer an altruistic reason for leaving the poor lady alone.
Cue Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at Toronto University, a growing champion of a Judeo-Christian moral framework, though he himself is not a professing Christian. Peterson is of the position that most atheists who claim to be actually aren't, primarily because they find themselves operating in a culture steeped in Christian tradition, which they live out subconsciously.
He argues that almost everyone that grew up in a western civilisation is conditioned in the way they think, feel, behave and interpret the world because of their Judeo-Christian heritage. So to return to Keller’s thought experiment, whenever anyone in our context does something self-sacrificially for the preservation of someone else, they are in some way acting out our shared religious heritage whether we believe in God or not. I’m not a sociologist, but something about it that feels right.A third way?
My point is this: could it be that there is a better way to approach our unbelieving friends and family on the moral-ethic question? That instead of constructing an abstract fight-off between an existing moral framework (Judeo-Christian) against a hypothetical one (secular), which we actually have very little reference for in the West, is it better to point people towards ways in which a Christian cultural heritage has benefited them and the society they inhabit?
Should we steer the conversation to all the schools and hospitals that were built by people with Christian convictions, or the breakthroughs in science and astronomy by men and women of faith? Should we help them see that the very law system governing their individual human rights traces its values of human dignity back to the biblical idea of the imago dei—that we’re all created in God’s image and therefore all contain inherent value.
Our cultural heritage is inescapably shaped like Christ, is it time we remind people that?
Ever wondered how the words get from a writer's head onto the pages of a book and into your hands?
A surpsiring amount of work and time goes into producing a finished book for mass consumption. From the time a commission gets approved, it can typically take about 18 months before it is eventually released for retail. Sometimes we spend months agonising over the perfect title. And it can be a confusing business, even for those of us who work in publishing, so we thought we'd record it in a helpful diagram for you.
Click on the infographic below to enlarge it.
“You should really just take a break.”
I remember when he said those words. Then, I remember the overwhelming urge to punch him... in the face.
“You have no idea how much pressure I’m under,” I thought. “If you carried the weight I carry, you’d never say such a thing.” The call to rest felt like just one more thing to do. Eventually, self-pity and self-aggrandisement partnered together to create a flurry of excuses.
But a few months later, my friend was right. I did crash. Stuck in the pit of a depression, I learned the hard way what my friend was hoping to show me in an easier way. Because I didn’t know how to stop in the middle of the work of life, I crashed.
Work is a wonderful gift, but it’s a terrible god.
I’m not alone, though. According to the CDC (American Center for Disease Control), we Americans work more than anyone else in the Western World. Presumably, this is to pursue the American Dream. But for many of us, busyness overtakes the dream, and, in a strange twist, becomes the way we determine who is important. For the people of the world, this is terrible. For the people of God, it’s unthinkable.
So here are three ways to overcome the temptation to resist the urge to ignore rest:Realise You Need to Stop
Of course you’re busy. Let’s just agree to agree on that. But the Scriptures don’t demand our ceaseless work. In fact, that’s one of the main differentiating features of the God of the Bible.
He’s not like the pagan gods of the Ancient world, He doesn’t demand work from us. And He isn’t Pharoah either, so He doesn’t need us to toil for him so he can luxuriate. The exodus story tells us of a God who rescued his people from that kind of slavery. We need to stop to remember that we’ve be delivered from such bondage. Knowing this will change how you work, even in the busiest of times.Resist The Worship of Work
Work is a wonderful gift, but it’s a terrible god. In the West, we’ve turned restlessness into a status symbol. But as the people of God we have our statuses secure, and we have our own symbol that points to it—the cross. It reminds us that God has done all the ultimately-justifying work for us. That frees us to be both diligent and done, to work hard and then stop. You can’t truly take up the yoke of Christ if you’re still peddling to find your purpose in work. Even in busyness, you really can put your labor down.
You can’t truly take up the yoke of Christ if you’re still peddling to find your purpose in workRework Your Schedule
Everyone goes through seasons of busyness—moving, having a baby, starting a new job... But the thing about seasons is that they’re seasons, not lifestyles. I’d challenge you to take your newfound realisation that you need to rest and place it in your calendar, regularly. You made room for the Yoga class, the extra meeting, and the soccer run. I’ll bet you can make room for rest.
My friend was right. I needed to stop. But I only learned to pause in the midst of pressure only after first being crushed by it. Maybe you’re stronger than me. Maybe you’re better at getting things done. But, I doubt it. The crash is coming, so consider this bit of advice from a friend, “You really should just take a break.”
In his new book, The Art of Rest, Adam Mabry shows us the amazing benefits of regular God-glorifying rest. As a self-confessed rest failure, he knows how hard it is to rest in the midst of busyness and wants to come alongside you to help you cultivate a rhythm of joyful, life-bringing rest in your life. Buy it here.
The anthem was belted out. My heart beat fast. The adrenalin flowed in torrents. Ah, it’s the hope, the rising hope, the no man’s land of touching distance. And then it’s the ebbing, the dashing, the dying of the hope. And the sadness settles in. And then the “If only we’d…”, and then the strange sense of emptiness.
I really could care less about the football. And I think I really should care less about the football. (And the rugby, and the cricket, and the tennis.)
I’m a sports nut. I will happily read about sport, talk about sport, watch sport and shout at sport all day. There was a time when I hoped very much that my job would be to write about sport all day.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
Until there is.One thing that changed me
I remember years ago—back in 2013 at an Acts29 Europe conference—listening to the pastor Matt Chandler give a seminar. Honestly, I don’t remember the topic—I think it might’ve been something to do with longevity in ministry. Frankly, I don’t remember most of what he said.
But I do remember him saying one thing that changed me. And it was about sport. Matt was talking about how he had made a conscious decision not to actively support any sports team. Why? Because when he started to care about a team, he would always care too much. Their success would stir his affections more than anything else. Their failure would make him irritable like nothing else.
And that’s just not Christian, he said. Jesus Christ is the One whose cause should capture us. His victory is what should most excite us. The advance of his kingdom is what should most stir us.
Honestly, would I get more excited if someone were converted this summer, or if we won whatever major tournament is on?
His point was that anything that replaces Christ as the thing that most attracts our excitement, our devotion, our hopes and our dreams is an idol that needs to be rejected. Not cuddled. Not toyed with. Not excused because, you know, all the other guys at church do it…
And as he spoke, I realised he was speaking of me. That when we’re searching for an equaliser, it’s like my life and happiness depend on it. That I shout helpful and innovative advice like “Shoot!” from thousands of miles away as though this, right here, is life. That defeat makes me feel like the world is a worse place, and I have the right to be grumpy with those around me and one-eyed about the referee. That I excuse all this by making a joke of it.
And I thought: Honestly, would I get more excited if someone were converted this summer, or if we won whatever major tournament is on?
The answer wasn’t the one I think God would be pleased with, or that I should be pleased with. I was more gripped by the prospect of a gold trophy than a trophy of grace.This matters more
Since then, I’ve tried to spot when I am enjoying sport as a good thing, given by the God who wants us to enjoy the world he’s made us to live in; and when I am straying towards idolising sport as a god thing, replacing my God in my affections, capturing my excitement, leaving me feeling empty if we lose. I’ve asked the Spirit to prod me when I am beginning to define myself more in terms of my country-tribe or team-tribe than in terms of Jesus’ tribe (he calls it the church).
Because that’s the moment when I’m loving the football (or rugby, or cricket, or tennis) too much. And I say to myself, ‘Carl, you are literally getting over-excited about whether a man can kick a small sphere between two posts and under a bar.’ And then I try to think about what else is happening today: that round the world, the good news about a man who won the greatest of victories in the most unlikely of venues is being shouted, spoken, whispered, read about, believed. Victory after victory is being won as His Spirit brings everlasting hope to those who were facing the defeat of death. And I am being invited to show in my life (including in how I watch sport) and say with my mouth that, yes, His triumph means more than my team’s.
Last night, we won. Because Jesus has won. And seriously—that matters more.
And sooner or later, my heart will race. The adrenalin will flow. The shouts will come. The hopes will rise, and never die. There will be no more sadness, no more disappointments, no more “If only we’d…”. And all I’ll know is soaring fullness and all-encompassing adoration as I join the crowds and belt out the anthem:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!’ (Revelation 5 v 11-12)
I really can’t care too much about the Lord.
Image source: Skysports.com
I've never prayed for the football team I support, or any team for that matter. Not even the ones I’ve played in. It just feels...trivial. But I think I might be changing my mind.
I've been watching football all my life. I can recall the scores and obscure details of totally inconsequential games from decades ago. So I'm clearly emotionally invested in this particular culture, but why does it feel so petty to pray for the outcome of an individual game?
I'm tempted to frame it as a purely philosophical issue. I wonder if God really cares. He creates galaxies and orchestrates the affairs of global empires, so I say to myself that no serious celestial ruler would be interested in our tiny exhibitions. But the competitors themselves - especially the South Americans - certainly seem to think He does, going by the amount the players and fans gesture towards the heavens.
Perhaps it’s just a practical issue then. If God does care about football matches, how does he distribute his favour? To the teams who pray the most, or could it be the holiest teams? Or does he have a chosen nation? Does he care more about the ‘big’ games? Is it morally permissible to pray that one team might prevail over the other? Should I pray for both teams equally?
But maybe it’s me. Maybe I'm a bit snooty. Getting sentimental about a football match is what other people do. Not me. I like to watch these games as a detached spectator, so I'm not going to debase myself by escalating the result to my holy list of regular prayer points. I pray about the real issues, like poverty or missions or global politics. Those are important things to petition God about.
Overcoming the secular-sacred mindsets
The bible is littered with examples of people who were so sure about God’s priorities and and were eventually corrected for their lack of faith.
Like Judas who observed Mary's extravagant anointing of Jesus in John 12 and scoffed and lobbied him to care more about the hypothetical poor. A haughty concern for a vague social issue over the affairs of a real person right in front of him displaying real emotions.
Or Jonah who quarrelled with God when he saw that His priorities were vastly different to his. God rebuked him too: "Should I not have great concern for the city of Ninevah?" Jonah 4 v 11.
Or the older brother in Jesus's parable of the prodigal, who huffed when he saw his father behave in a way that was seemingly indifferent towards the lofty concerns of stewardship, loyalty and commitment.
Or even Peter, swiping at the high priest servant because his framework for God's plan of salvation just didn't include a suffering servant.
God's primary concerns aren’t always mine. His ways are not mine.
The bigger picture
I often find myself a few (or 100) steps behind what God is doing.
You may have noticed that the England team is doing surprisingly well in this year's World Cup, and when I see the hysteria of england fans on tv and social media it feels at times like they are genuinely playing for more than a football competition.
At a time when our domestic politics is forcing a bitter wedge down the middle of the country, our national team offers us some much needed relief. This group of (relatively) unassuming players have surpassed all our expectations and a generation of perennial losers are playing with stature, tactical maturity and a passion that has united a divided nation.
I’ve never seen so much euphoria in my fellow countrymen. A man I’d never even spoken to before grabbed me in the pub and kissed my head when Eric Dier incredulously slotted the winning penalty home against Colombia. Others were smiling at me (yes, real smiles) and shaking their heads in disbelief. People were dancing down the high street.
Someone even painted my local mini roundabout with the national flag (I’m not sure how or when) and I saw a grown man cut out a picture of Gareth Southgate and stick it in his lounge window. This stuff matters to people, the people we call our neighbours.
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city
I'm reminded of the instructions Paul gave in his letter to Timothy, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2 v1-4
Paul is adamant that we ought to be invested in the well being of our nation, whether that’s politics, economics or 11 men chasing an inflated piece of leather around a field.
So should I pray for Harry Kane to score a hatrick tonight? Maybe I should, and it might sound something like this...
“Heavenly father, I thank you for football, for the way it brings people together, for the joy it brings into people’s lives. We pray for the good of the nation, that you would use it for the peace and prosperity of our people. Please help us to love our neighbours well, to invest in their lives, to know about their concerns and dreams. And, if it would be good for our nation, for England to win. Amen.”
Image source: Skysports.com
I have been facilitating a monthly women’s book group, which we call Sensible Shoes (more on that later), for our church for almost two years now and even though I love reading and am an author of several books I am pleasantly surprised by how much we get out of it. Here are some of the benefits of a book club that I perhaps wasn’t expecting.A book club takes you deeper and wider
Right from the offset, the books* we felt drawn to work through have been ones that have necessitated a lot of soul searching and vulnerability within the group. And the wonderful result is that it has forged honest relationships across ages and demographics within the church (we have young mums through to grandmothers). It has allowed people to speak openly and freely and offer support, prayer, friendship and, where appropriate, advice and help.
Most importantly, the group gives us that space that we may not have on a Sunday morning (or even in our small group) to really wrestle with ideas and questions without always expecting answers. Somewhere where we can cry or laugh together without always needing to explain why.
We now have a Whatsapp group that is often used for prayer requests, which enables us to stay in touch easily in between our meetings.You get new and shared experiences
We have covered so many subjects: busyness (why we have a tendency to ‘do’ rather than rest); our perceived need to perform; the effect our childhood and difficulties in adulthood have had on our sense of self (and spiritual walk); as well as trying out spiritual practises.
Too often we can be consumers and/or individualistic in our spiritual lives, and our book group has helped to bring a wider perspective. Following a character or listening to an external perspective is a unique way to foster a better environment for understanding the roads that other people tread and in turn encourages greater honesty between the group. Hence the name ‘Sensible Shoes’ because it reflects the beauty found in walking alongside others in our spiritual journey.It teaches us relationships over activity
Church book groups are not just for those who have a passion for reading – they are for those who want to develop spiritually, but also come alongside others for that journey too. And of course we rarely stick to the subject of the chapter we are going through – if someone opens up and wants to talk and pray then we go with the flow.
Our regular meetups have become so important to us that we’ve booked a retreat for later in the year. It will be the first time we will have gone away together, but we felt we wanted to finish our book off in style, and have some focused time to reflect, share and pray while away from home and responsibilities, no doubt incorporating some of the spiritual practises learned from the book.It’s so worth it
As a pastor’s wife, mum, author and freelance writer/editor, it often feels like I have precious little time for anything other than the main stuff, but the book group is something I have felt stirred to continue. It ensures that I am reading for spiritual formation regularly, and helps me to continue to be connected with people in my church. I can honestly say that each time we meet, I come away encouraged and excited about what God has done, and is doing, in us and through us as a group.What others say
“Church life can be really busy. We can have snatched conversations on a Sunday morning but we often crave that deeper dialogue and relationship and that takes time and investment. Having a book as a structure to discuss our spiritual journey and faith means it is easier to open up and to engage in deep conversations. It provides a framework and allows discussions to take place which might not otherwise.” Louise
“Being honest, a book club really is the least likely activity I thought I’d ever join in with at church. That said, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed journeying through a book with others. Having the opportunity to read and reflect on a chapter before discussing with others has given me much more confidence to share what God has been speaking to me about myself, and Himself.” Vanessa
“I am one of these people who finds the thought of regularly meeting up with a large group of women terrifying. Despite this I find myself regularly attending a book study – with a large group of women. Through my fears, and preconceptions, I have found it to be a safe place, a place of friendship and encouragement, a chance to build friendships with ladies I wouldn’t normally see, a place where Jesus is able to meet me and minister to my broken places and a place where I am able to come alongside others. Of course, all this is in addition to having a valid reason to make a hot drink, curl up on the sofa and lose myself in a book…” Naomi
*(In case you were wondering which books we chose to go through, we began with a non-fiction book: Having a Martha Heart in a Mary World by Joanna Weaver but then moved on to a work of fiction: Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown. Both come with suggested readings and questions for personal reflection – and then we look at group questions together when we meet.
We chose these books because they were a good match for our church, so do choose what will speak most meaningfully into your group and It would be a good idea to run them past your pastor first too.)
We launched #RenewYourMind to encourage everyone to pick up a Christian book this summer. We’ve created a short film, we’re discounting some brilliant titles and we’re sharing stories of our favourite Christian books to get you excited about reading! Take a look
It’s good to be patriotic. To be loyal to the country of your birth, or the country of your adoption. To work for its prosperity; to pray for its peace and flourishing.
At various times, these feelings leap to the foreground. Most particularly when we feel under threat, or when we are at war in one way or another. In Britain, the Blitz spirit and the sonorous tones of Winston Churchill kept a country going when it was on the very brink of defeat. In the USA, the warming fireside broadcasts of FDR steeled a nation for war. In their wake, our nations have been warmed, energised and spurred on by those who have had a dream, who have never had it so good, who have pricked our consciences about what we can do for our country, have determined to put a man on the moon, and who have declared that the Lady’s not for turning.*
But it begs an important question for any thinking Christian. What is the difference between intelligent patriotism and unthinking Jingoism? What if our nation does something that is shameful, sinful, unjust, unrighteous. What if the clarion call to work together to be greater than we are is based, not on raising ourselves up, but on doing down others? And what is true greatness really all about?
There’s a quantitative answer to that question. When God calls Abraham in Genesis 12, he promises to make of him a great nation, by which he means numerous—as numerous as the stars in the sky, or the sand on the sea shore he later clarifies (Genesis 26 v 4). By this measure, China is currently the greatest nation on earth (measured by population), swiftly followed by India with the US coming in third (a long way back). Great Britain is nowhere in sight (22nd).
At a stretch, we could make this quantitative answer about money and economics. By this measure, the US is top dog, and the UK has recently slipped out of the top 5. But China will very soon take the top slot (estimated to happen in 2032), and India will overtake the UK in the very near future.
One of the chief signs that godliness is growing within us is gratitude
But there’s another answer to that question—one that is much more difficult to quantify. A qualitative answer:
"Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people." Proverbs 14 v 34
There are no economic or foreign policies that can install godliness in the hearts of its people. Godliness comes from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as we receive the Gospel of his son, Jesus, and as we grow in him under the nurturing of his word.
And one of the chief signs that godliness is growing within us is gratitude. Time and again, the scriptures indicate that the mark of those who have truly understood the grace of god and received it is thankfulness, mercy towards others and generosity with the resources that God has given to us.**
In her new book, Growing in Gratitude, Mary K. Mohler describes gratitude as "a deep sense of awe ingrained in our minds. An awareness, in every waking moment, of the glorious truth that the God of the universe is infinite in all of his perfections. And he loves us." This sort of quiet, powerful gratitude is surely a path to greatness.
For countries like Britain, who once ruled the waves, and had an empire upon which the sun never set, there is nostalgia for greatness. Perhaps it is part of what has driven the feeling towards Brexit. For the US, which has been top nation for much of the 20th century, the sense that its position is under threat has given rise to a desire to “make America great again”.
Perhaps for both countries, a different slogan is a better place to start. Let’s hear the gospel, receive the grace of God in Christ, and make our countries grateful again.
* that is Martin Luther King, Harold McMillan, John F. Kennedy (twice) and Margaret Thatcher
** Jeremiah 30 v 19; Isaiah 60 v 20-21; Hebrews 12 v 28
Asking a publisher to choose between their books is like asking someone to choose their favourite child.
All kids are different. All came into the world with varying degrees of speed and pain. All have their moments. All parents want to feel proud of their kids. All parents want to have kids they love to have around. All parents (you’d hope) love their children equally. And so it is with books.
But that kind of stuff is not why you started reading this blog. So here goes.Better than famous or successful
When it comes to publishing, I guess you have different types of children. There’s the “famous” kids/books—and getting to work with people such as Tim Keller, Christopher Ash, Kathleen Nielson, Rico Tice, Becky Pippert, Matt Chandler and so on is an awesome privilege. I regularly expect someone to come and wake me up and find this job really was just a dream.
Then there’s the “successful” kids/books. At TGBC we have a ministry heart and a business head. We need to get enough money to pay the staff’s mortgages and keep the company running so that we can keep publishing. Since we don’t receive funding from anything other than booksales, having enough high-selling titles matters. So I’m pleased we’ve published bestselling books and resources like A Very Different Christmas; The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross; Christianity Explored and Life Explored; Explore, and so on.
But honestly, I think my favourite kids/books are those where the author is not well-known, but the idea is brilliant, and the finished product is something that makes me smile every time I think of it, because I’m professionally thrilled with the quality of the book, and personally thrilled by the impact it has on ordinary Christians seeking to love and serve Christ. The books that were a slight (or large) risk to take on, which we took on anyway because we thought they’d serve the church, and which by God’s grace paid off.
Four of these spring most readily to mind (I’m sure there are more if I think harder – but I’m already over half of my word limit for this blog anyway). So here's my four favourites...1. Is God Anti-gay? (Sam Allberry, published 2013)
When this came out, there was simply nothing else like it—biblical, empathetic, concise, practical, careful. It is the ultimate ‘Right book, right author, right time’ title—well-written and brilliantly edited (I can say that because I wasn’t the editor); an author, who himself experiences same-sex-attraction and is warm, kind, and godly; a time when the church was waking up to the fact that it had for far too long assumed people experiencing same-sex attraction were ‘out there’ or were just a political issue. This book has changed countless lives.2. God’s Very Good Idea (Trillia Newbell, 2017)
OK, so Trillia Newbell was already a successful, much-respected author. But this was her first kids’ book. When we took the book on, we knew a book celebrating the unity-in-diversity of the church was an important thing to teach to kids. We didn’t know Charlottesville would happen a month before release. We didn’t know how many families would be so moved to see a kids’ book that represents them—their colors, shapes, disabilities, differences—in its pages, and which celebrates the forgiveness that all need, and all can receive in Christ.3. Serving Without Sinking (John Hindley, 2012)
Serving as the pastor of a tiny church plant in rural Norfolk is not exactly what publishers call a ‘big platform.’ But the day platform becomes a deal-breaker is the day I retire (or, given my pension pot, find a different job). John is a godly man, a great writer, and he had a great insight – that our service of Christ is too often wrongly motivated, which leads us to a dangerously dry relationship with our Lord. It was—and is—a book that every Christian I’ve ever met really does need to read.4. Hope When It Hurts (Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton, 2017)
Take two amazingly godly best friends who no one knows of and who are walking through seasons of deep, unending trials and who have a passion to serve women who are going through ongoing suffering by pointing them to Christ. Add writing that’s personal, eloquent, full of Jesus, and often deeply moving. Mix in a gorgeous design. Take a risk and print the cover cloth-bound (it’s not cheap!) so that it comforts in its feel as well as in its content. Pour over all that a huge promotional effort… and you have a book that the Spirit has used to help tens of thousands of women to cling to Christ amidst deep pain, and even to know joy in Christ through that pain. So often, we hear of a woman whose life was changed by this book. They often tell us through tears. But they’re looking to Christ through those tears.
I’ll stop there (I’ve far exceeded my word count). I love all our kids (sorry, books)—but these four perhaps represent the greatest privilege of Christian publishing—to take a dream, turn it into a book, and see it greatly used by the Spirit, and then thank God that you got to be a small part of how he works for his people.
And for the record—Benjamin and Abigail, I love you both equally as my children, and neither of you is my favourite.
Last week, Carl shared the 4 things he looks for in a good book, read it here. We launched #RenewYourMind to encourage everyone to pick up a Christian book this summer. We’ve created a short film, we’re discounting some brilliant titles and we’re sharing stories of our favourite Christian books to get you excited about reading! Take a look
Confession time: I’m struggling to make time for reading at the moment. I’m an English graduate who works in publishing—I love books! But since getting a full-time job and switching a train commute for one in the car, I’m reading less than ever.
I know I should be reading, but I’m not.
I wonder how many of you resonate with that. We love reading, we know it’s good for us, but for some reason, it just doesn’t happen. Whether you feel like you just don’t have the time or you find it easier to reach for your phone over a book, read on…
This week I’m planning to make an effort to read more. I’m going to practise what I preach and attempt to read a bit more. Why don’t you try it too and we’ll see how we get on!
Read before bed. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier, read a chapter of your book. This one requires discipline if you’re a bedtime routine faffer like myself.
Snatch moments during the day. Can you read on your commute? Do it. Reading on your lunch break is a great way to properly switch off during an hour away from your desk. I bet it’ll make your afternoon more productive than if you didn’t take a break as well.
Don’t leave the house without a book. What items do you never leave the house without? Keys, phone, wallet? You never know when you might find an opportunity to read. So add a book to that list! Or even more challenging, take a book instead of your phone...
Join a book club. Book clubs will motivate you to actually read something and help you to meet people in your local area. I just did a quick google of book clubs near me and found one that meets monthly in a pub nearby. I’m planning to go along next month.
Switch your reading. It’s actually not true to say that I can’t find time for reading at the moment. In all honesty, I’m reading all the time. I read Instagram captions, news headlines, product reviews, blogs, restaurant menus, emails, to do lists. I still read, but I don’t read books. And those things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But when they replace our enjoyment of a good book, that’s cause for concern. Next time I reach to scroll Instagram or news headlines, I’m going to try and read my book instead.
What are your top tips for making time for reading? Yesterday, our Editorial Director shared the 4 things he looks for in a good book, read it here.
We launched #RenewYourMind to encourage everyone to pick up a Christian book this summer. We’ve created a short film, we’re discounting some brilliant titles and we’re sharing stories of our favourite Christian books to get you excited about reading! Take a look
What is a good book? Or to put it another way: is this book worth reading? Here are four questions to ask of a book you're about to read.Will it deliver for you?
Books make promises, in their titles, straplines, back cover descriptions, and endorsements. A good book is one that will deliver on what it promises. ‘A concise, clear, hilarious guide to…’ ought to be short, easily intelligible, and make me laugh out loud. ‘The book that will transform a generation’ ought to be totally original and a real paradigm-shifter. A book about the Second World War should be about… you get the point.Will it compel you?
A good book is one that you look forward to reading, that you put things off to continue reading, and makes you feel disappointed when you finish reading. A good book is one you don’t put down unless not doing so will be detrimental to your marriage/career/reputation, or unless you have to pause because reading it has made your heartbeat grow too rapid, your desire to pray too acute, your determination to work out who done it too overwhelming, or your need to think through how you will apply its maxims too pressing.Will it change you?
Good books do not leave their readers where they were when they started. Good books bring us blinking into a new reality, into a world that is slightly different to the one we inhabited when we turned to page one. A reality where more loving, perhaps. Or more suspicious. Or more determined. Or eloquent. Or knowledgeable. Or excited. Or empathetic. But always, more something. The best books are the ones where, five years later, you can still remember how that book changed you.Will it do it in as many pages as necessary, and as few pages as possible?
We don’t have infinite time. (Not in this life, anyway.) So beware the book that just goes on and on, just repeating its ideas, saying the same thing again and again and again, or saying nothing much at all, blandly, as though it just didn’t know when to cease; or when to stop. But equally, there’s nothing more frustrating than a book that takes leaps of logic rather than building its case; raises a cry for change without showing how you can join the revolution; or races through the plot without setting the scene.
I once thought Ian McEwan should have cut down Atonement by a third, by cutting the first 80 pages or so and just saying, ‘It was a very, very hot day.’ I was wrong. My wife (who reads fiction more, and better, than I) pointed out that the oppression of the heat and the tension of the temperature need to be built, to be felt, to be layered thickly, page on page. Those 80 pages are necessary.
At the same time, some books (and many Christian books, I think) could be about 20% shorter without losing anything at all. I remember reading one book whose first chapter changed my whole view of the Christian life entirely. But once it got to chapter 5, it had run out of new ideas or fresh angles. It was 31 chapters long… I gave up after about 9. That was possibly the best first chapter I’ve ever read. But not the best book.Here’s the problem…
Books don’t talk, so they can’t answer your questions. (And even if they could, would they tell you the truth?!) And the problem is that there are far too many books that sound great, but don’t deliver, don’t compel, don’t change—and you can’t tell till you read them.
But you can, I think, tell before you’ve finished them. A good book will have a good beginning, in general. So here’s my general rule of thumb:
- For a novel, give it ten pages or so. Then pause to consider whether it’s feeling compelling, starting to deliver and at least hinting that it can change you. If it's not doing those things, maybe put it down. Read something else.
- For a non-fiction title, give it two chapters. Non-fiction sometimes takes a bit longer to get under your skin, or to build its case, or to reveal its hand. So it’s worth a bit longer before casting your judgment.
Don’t read books that aren’t good. Don’t stick with a book that someone else told you was good (after all, one person’s compelling is another person’s boredom. My mother loves Thomas Hardy. Me, not so much…)
Don’t persevere too long with a bad book. Or even an average one.
After all, you could be spending that time reading a good book.
To share our love of good books, we've launched #RenewYourMind, a campaign to get people reading more Christian books. Find out more here. We're offering great books for just £2 and a free coffee with every order!
We love reading. So why are we reading less? Actually, that’s not quite true. We read all the time. Social media feeds. News headlines. Trip Advisor. Product reviews. But are we reading books?
There is something special about a book. Books have the power to make us think and dream and change in a way that nothing else can.
“A book is not paper, and colours and ink,
It is dreams and ideas that lead you to think.”
Romans 12 v 2 urges Christians,
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Our minds are affected by what we read. Just like our bodies, what we put in to them matters. And our conviction is that a Christian book can help to renew our minds. It can edify and challenge us. It can encourage and inspire us. It can point us to the ultimate ‘Good Book’—God’s own, inspired word—which can transform our lives.
So we’re starting a campaign to inspire and encourage everyone to read more Christian books and we’d love you to be a part of it. Here are three ways you can join in:
2. Read stories about books that have changed people’s lives
3. Get back into the habit of reading Christian books. This summer, we’ve made a special selection available for just £2 to get you kick-started. That’s less than a cup of coffee. And thanks to our friends at Indigo Valley, we’ll throw in the coffee too! Throughout summer you get a free sachet of coffee with every order that includes one or more of our selected titles. Visit thegoodbook.co.uk/renew to find out more.
“So do something different, reach up to your shelf,
And find a good place with a friend, or yourself,
And discover the magic, by this be defined,
Pick up a good book, be renewed in your mind.”
What should we pray for ourselves?
Perhaps we could take a lead from William Wilberforce. His early life was, by his own account, wasted away. On a whim, he stood for Parliament at the age of 21. He was elected partly because, as his friend William Pitt said, he had: “the greatest natural eloquence of all the men I ever knew.”
But his early years in Westminster were wasted. He later said of them: "The first years in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object."
But then he became a convinced and a convicted Christian, through the witness of an old schoolmaster Isaac Milner; and everything changed.
"Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation" — William Wilberforce
He found a new attitude to his wealth, his behaviour, and most importantly, his mission in life. We all know the role he played in the abolition of the slavery, but he had another, less well known mission. He later summed it up like this:
"God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”
By “manners” he meant character and behaviour. We know that Wilberforce spent much time praying that his efforts at the abolition of the slave trade. But his journals show that his private prayers were also focused on growing in personal holiness as a Christian. He said:
"Selfishness is one of the principal fruits of the corruption of human nature; and it is obvious that selfishness disposes us to over-rate our good qualities, and to overlook … our defects.”
And he knew from his reading of Galatians 5 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (KJV). So as part of his daily reflection and prayers, he wrote down the letters L J P L G G F M T, and scored himself against each of them for the previous day. His habit was then to thank God that he had been given grace in the areas he had done well in. But also to confess and to ask God to help him in the areas he was struggling with.
Day after day, he weighed his thoughts, words and actions against this list and asked God to help him grow more like Christ. And by repeatedly focusing on this he made sure that his prayer life was not something that was merely personal, but practical as well. As he said:
"Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation.”
What an example to follow…
Find help to pray through many of life’s joys and trials in Rachel Jones’ new book: Five Things to Pray for Your Heart: Prayers that Change You to be More Like Jesus. Available now.
A struggle with gratitude can arise from the rejection of the gospel by those we love. We can find that our joyful anticipation of heaven is tempered because those who reject Christ will enjoy no such paradise and will be sent to a real place called hell for all eternity (Matthew 10:28, 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). That is true not just for unrepentant criminals but also for well-meaning neighbors, friends, and family members who do not embrace the gospel. We pray for them earnestly. We look for ways to live out the gospel before their eyes. We seize opportunities to sincerely express the reason for the joy that is within us.
We are burdened by the fact that our words and actions so often seem to fall on deaf ears. As a result, there is a danger that our own gratitude toward the Lord who saved us is diminished due to our frustration with knowing that our loved ones are not saved.How are we to respond?
This sorrow is the same as that which we see Paul experiencing in Romans 9 as he thinks about his Jewish kinsmen:
"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Romans 9 v 2-3
This anguish is right and biblical when we long for non-believers to come to know Christ, but not when we allow it to stop us from showing real gratitude to God. When that happens, we need to turn to Scripture and be reminded of what we cannot see:
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13 v 12
We see dimly and do not have a deep understanding of what is happening, but even so, we desire to hurry up the results. We want lost people to come to Christ. We struggle to accept that God is at work on his own timetable. The Lord is teaching us yet again that we are simply not in control—and that he alone sees the big picture.
“In every situation, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know” — John PiperWhen God Saved a Family Through a Funeral
I recently heard an amazing and encouraging true story. Two parents had seven children. The father was the only Christian in the family until one of the sons became a believer as well. By the time this father died, still just that one child was a Christian. Everyone else in this large and extended family was lost.
That son was so burdened for his family that he shared the gospel message every way he knew how, but time and time again the message was openly rejected. For some reason, he decided to make an audio recording just in case he died unexpectedly, so that he might have one last chance to make a plea. He told a Christian friend where the recording was located—just in case.
Fast forward a few years: that man died in a plane crash, and the recording was played at his funeral. Five of those siblings and their families, as well as his own wife and children, and even his own mother, were transformed almost immediately after hearing it. Each one made a profession of faith in Christ. Their lives were forever changed and they happily serve the Lord today. Only one brother and his family still reject the gospel. The family continues to pray earnestly for them.
Can you imagine what an ecstatically glad reunion there will be in Glory when that earthly family is reunited?
The first brother sowed seeds and did not live to see them sprout. But in God’s perfect timing, they burst forth and continue to bear much fruit! That fruit is above and beyond what he ever dared to ask.
Not only are we not in control but we sometimes vastly underestimate what the Lord has in store in his divine plan. One of my favorite quotes from John Piper is this:
“In every situation, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.”Precious Prodigals
Many parents of prodigals—beloved children who have turned away from the Lord—would likely admit that the massive weight of care they feel for their own lost children hinders their thankfulness to God for who he is. Whether they became Christians after their children were raised, or they prayed for salvation from the time their children were in utero, the pain of watching one’s own child reject the gospel is difficult to adequately put into words.
So here’s the plan: we pray without ceasing. We act like the one Jesus describes in Matthew 7, who is constantly asking, seeking, and knocking. Every time you think of those who are lost, pray for them by name instead of worrying about them.
So here’s the plan: we pray without ceasing.
Allow yourself to dream about what the Lord may be doing in their lives unseen to all at this very moment. Pray for people to be dropped right in their path. Read books about former prodigals whose testimonies are being used to reach those who are unlikely to listen to someone who has never known a stage of life away from the Lord.
But at the end of the day, this is a trust issue. Do we trust God, or not? Do we really believe that he created and loves every human being, and that he delights in saving souls through the shed blood of his Son?
We must take immense encouragement as we trust the Lord with our lost ones. Their stories are still unfolding in ways we cannot see. In our finite understanding, we have no way to see what God is preparing. So, we keep on sharing the good news, keep on praying, and keep on trusting the Lord for the results.
To celebrate the launch Terry Virgo’s new evangelistic resource, Life Tastes Better, we’re sharing a series of surprising evangelistic encounters in everyday situations.
The best evangelistic conversation I had last year wasn’t when I’d worked myself up to bravely mentioning the gospel. It was part of a normal chat while walking a friend back to her bus stop. She happened to ask me how long I’d been at my church (only a few years) which led to asking why I’d chosen that one when I moved (where I live, there are plenty to choose from). So I told her it was because of the prayer meeting…
I discovered years ago that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they pray, and it turns out that’s true about a church as well. So while trying to make a wise choice about a church to join, I visited the monthly prayer meeting. My church grew from a student ministry and the average age is still very young (30 years younger than me). So when I visited, many of the church family were quite new Christians. Did it show at the prayer meeting. Oh Yes!
The room was bursting at the seams with so many eager to be there. And they were practically falling over themselves to jump in as soon as someone else finished praying. No long awkward pauses here. But the thing that struck me the most was that these lovely young Christians, eager about their faith and their Lord, fully expected their prayers to be answered. There were very few ifs and buts—just loads of eager requests, and an expectation that the Lord would do great things.
I described this honestly to my friend, not particularly trying to be evangelistic—but afterwards I realised what a gospel heart there had been in what I said. I had described people who has been transformed by Christ—and who were so eager about being Christians that they couldn’t wait to bring their prayers to the Lord. They believed that he is a great God—and they expected him to do great things.
Without even thinking about it I was talking about another kind of evidence for the Christian faith—changed lives
I quite often find myself discussing evidence when speaking to non-Christians—evidence for Jesus being a real person in history for example. But without even thinking about it I was talking about another kind of evidence here—changed lives. Our secular world likes to encourage change—often as a result of some kind of self-help approach—but it also seems to expect that most of us will fail to change as we want. Here instead, without even thinking about it, I was describing real change—and change that lasts. On our walk to the bus stop, it was “accidental” that I talked about the prayer meeting (planned by the Lord no doubt, but not by me). But it won’t be the last time I take this approach to sharing evidence for the truth of Christianity - and maybe it’s an approach you’ll find helpful too.
Life Tastes Better is a great book to give away to questioning friends in the pub! It reveals the surprising truth that life with Jesus really does taste better than anything the world can offer us. Read it as a Christian to prepare yourself for evangelistic conversations and have a copy of it ready to give away. Available to buy now.