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 22 posts from the blog 'The Good Book Company.'

Disclaimer: Reproducing an article here need not necessarily imply agreement or endorsement!

Subscribe to The Good Book Company feed
The Good Book Blog
Updated: 1 hour 50 min ago

Childlessness at Christmas

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 12:17

For many people, the Christmas season brings the pain of childlessness into sharper focus. In this extract from his Advent devotional, Repeat the Sounding Joy, Christopher Ash shows how the Christmas story speaks to those who are feeling the loss of, or longing for, children to share this season with: 

They are four of the saddest words in Luke’s Christmas story: “But they were childless.” 

Luke writes them, of course, of Zechariah and Elizabeth: 

“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.” Luke 1 v 5-7

It’s worth quietly pausing at these sad words. For some, to do so will cause terrible personal pain. And all of us, perhaps, will feel keenly the sorrow of those whom we love and who are childless: those who have never married, but who would love to have married; others who are married, but for whom the birth of a child has never been given by God. Childless.

[inline_product:repeat]

It is, as one childless couple has said, “that strange grief which has no focus for its tears and no object for its love.'' There is no anniversary of childlessness on which friends might send a card of condolence, no grave to visit and remember, no photograph or name or memory of the child who never came. It is just an emptiness, a not-ness, a joy that didn’t come, a hope for ever dashed. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were married. They hoped and prayed for a child, for they valued highly such a wonderful gift of God. But the child never came. The months went by, but there was no conception. Gradually the biological clock ticked on to the years when it seemed unlikely to happen, and finally into that stage of life when it was most definitely not going to happen. Many tears, much quiet grieving. And no hope. Childless. 

Yet however painful it might be to consider these words, it is important to do so. For it will deepen our grasp of the nature and the wonder of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. And that depth of wonder will more than compensate for the tears we may shed.

From “dis-grace” to grace

Childlessness is a poignant motif in the story of the Bible. Abraham and Sarah are childless—until Isaac is given; Isaac and Rebecca are childless—until Esau and Jacob are born; Jacob and Rachel are childless—until Joseph is given; and there were others. And now Zechariah and Elizabeth, this godly priest and his pious wife, are added to the list.

It is clear that for none of these couples was their childlessness a punishment from God for their sin. And yet, after her son, John, is conceived, Elizabeth describes her former childlessness as a “disgrace” among her people: “‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people’” (1 v 25).

Some would have considered Elizabeth’s childlessness to be a disgrace because they thought it was a punishment from God for her sin. (The friends who come to “comfort” the Old Testament character Job in his misery think like this.) Such people would have been wrong. Luke describes Zechariah and Elizabeth in glowing terms as profoundly righteous people who keep the law of God because they believe all the promises of God.

And yet there is a sense in which their childlessness is a “dis-grace”; for it is a peculiarly vivid example of the misery of living in a world under sin and the righteous judgment of God. Every sickness, every sadness, every disability is—in this sense—visible evidence that we live in a world under the righteous judgement of God. Whether you have children or not, no doubt there are marks in your life at the moment that show you too are living in a world under judgment; we are all marked in some way with what Elizabeth calls “disgrace”.

Use today quietly to pin your hopes not upon a change in your circumstances but upon the great hope for the future

And therefore—and this is the wonderful significance of what happens—the removal of this “disgrace” is a sign of the kindness and mercy of God, as “dis-grace” is swept away by grace. Again and again in the Bible story this is what the birth of an unexpected child means—from Isaac onwards. It is a sign of the gospel. A world with no new children would be a sad and forever ageing world, a world without hope. Every child is a sign of hope for the future, a bundle of unknown possibilities, a sign of what we call God’s “common grace”—his kindness to all humankind. And this unexpected child, John the Baptist, is a sign not just of God’s common grace to all, but specifically of God’s particular kindness in what he is about to do in the gospel of Jesus.

The conception and birth of John the Baptist does not mean that every yearning of a childless couple will issue in a happy birth. Far from it. There have always been, and will be to the end of time, godly, prayerful couples who long for children and are not given them.

None of us can know, when we get married, whether or not God will grant us this precious gift.

But we can all know that the conception and birth of John the Baptist points forward to a much greater gift. The particularly painful “dis-grace” experienced by Elizabeth and Zechariah is vividly replaced by a gift of grace. That boy will be the herald of a deeper and more wonderful grace. So whether your present experience is of sadness or joy, use today quietly to pin your hopes not upon a change in your circumstances but upon the great hope for the future to which this baby, John the Baptist, points so clearly. Think about your marks of “disgrace”; thank God that in Christ they are not a punishment for your personal sins; and rejoice that when Jesus returns, every one of those painful marks will be taken away.

In Repeat the Sounding Joy, Christopher Ash brings the familiar passages of Luke 1 & 2 to life with fresh insight, colour and depth.To get your own copy of Repeat the Sounding Joy, click here

Categories: Christian Resources

Helping children understand the difference between fantasy and reality

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 11:28

What’s the difference between Spongebob and St Peter? Good question. Come to think of it, here’s a few more...

  • What’s the difference between two well-known builders: Bob and Noah?

  • Or between Judas and Dick Dastardly?

  • And what’s the difference between the famous miracle workers: Jesus and the boy with the lightning stripe on his forehead who can speak “snake"?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is that one is real and the other is imaginary. But children, particularly young children, really don’t know the difference. They are simply people in stories that make them think, laugh, cry or be inspired.  

For smaller children, there is simply no difference between fantasy and reality. Night-time fear of monsters is real. But between the ages of 4-5 they start to learn the difference. Many children still have difficulty discerning the difference between fantasy and reality as old as 8 or 9, or even to 11 or 12. The issue can be complicated by the way some parents deliberately maintain fantasies as a playful game, or as a means of manipulation. Santa Claus may come in the first category; the Bogey Man who will get you if you leave your bedroom at night is in the second. 

[inline_product:storyjonah]

The Magic Words (are not expelliarmus)

It’s a familiar problem for Sunday School teachers and parents alike. How do we put water between the brilliantly told, often hilarious, and gripping stories that they love to read night after night, and the stories we read in the Bible? Christians know that it is vitally important to develop the foundations for this crucial difference from the start. And the best way to do this is head on with a “magic" phrase that I learned early on and have not stopped using since. Are you ready? here it is:

"Today’s true story from the Bible."

It’s as simple as that. Before reading, or retelling any story from the Bible, I always preface it with the word “True”. Sometimes, we can emphasise the difference as we segue from one story to the next:

"I love the Gruffalo story, but you know that the Gruffalo is a made up creature don’t you (and Mice don’t talk); But now let’s read a true story from the Bible…" 

Get Physical (and geographical)

Children are very concrete thinkers, so it’s also really helpful to surround the “trueness” of Bible stories by getting tactile with things. Show them where Israel is on a map or a globe...

“We live here … and here is where Jesus lived and walked and where this true story from the Bible happened a long time ago…” 

And if you are able to make conscious links with other objects — sand, coins, terracotta lamps, pearls, seeds, etc — that you can actually hold in your hands, it really helps to emphasise the reality of the stories. Older children may be learning about the Romans (a perennial subject theme at school), so it’s a good marker point for history...

“Jesus died just a few years before the emperor Claudius invaded Britain, and the Romans took over”.

It’s why we named our series of large format children’s books Tales That Tell The Truth, and why you’ll find that magic phrase on the first page of each one of our latest range of Very Best Bible Story books.

"A True Story from the Bible" 

Let’s keep it real folks. 

Tim is the author of four new stories in the Very Best Bible Stories series—which combine, fun, interactive story-telling with a robust faithfulness to the biblical text. Noah, Jonah, Daniel and David and Goliath get the treatment, with beautiful illustrations by Jennifer Davidson. Shop here

Categories: Christian Resources

Free Sample of our 2019 Advent Devotional

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 15:29

This year's Advent devotional is called Repeat the Sounding Joy and we want to give you a sneak peek of the first day! In this Advent journey through Luke 1 – 2, Christopher Ash brings these familiar passages to life with fresh insight, colour and depth. Keep reading to find out more...

[inline_product:repeat]

A Reassuring Certainty

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1 v 1-4

“Certainty” is a great word. Yet certainty is certainly hard to find. 

In recent days I have come across reports of two general elections, in Sweden and Brazil, through different newsfeeds, newspapers or TV channels. It is astonishing what very different stories these sources tell, depending on the particular angle with which each wants to spin their account. Maybe you share my frustration. You want to know what actually happened, with fair reporting and balanced assessment, but somehow everyone has their own spin on things, and you flounder in a world of fake news and post-truth (as it has been called by the Oxford English Dictionary). If only, you say, I could find something really and certainly true.

But then, at other times we enjoy living in a fantasy world. There’s long been an appeal to losing ourselves in a good fictional story. Now technology means we can even play a part in such a story, and walk around as an avatar in a virtual world, choosing what type of creature we are, what we wear, what powers we want to have, how we behave, what we say—and all without any real-world consequences. No wonder it’s attractive.

And, to be honest, the Christmas season can feel a bit like that: a happy, cosy make-believe world of santas and elves and reindeer and The Snowman and The Polar Express—all enjoyed without even having to feel cold. Plenty of people think Christmas is a sugary fiction to make us feel better in the middle of winter—a form of extended escapism and “retail therapy”.

But it’s not. At least, the Bible’s Christmas isn’t. Before telling us the story, Luke carefully shows us that what he is about to say is TRUE. Really true—True with a capital “T”. Lots of people have written accounts of it all. Luke calls these “the things that have been fulfilled among us” because everything he’s going to say is a fulfilment—a filling full—of what we call the Old Testament. These things didn’t happen out of nowhere. The Old Testament has shadows and outlines of what would happen, and especially of who would come. The story Luke tells shows how Jesus fills those outlines full. Here we will find certainty. 

God's message is certain, solid, reliable, true. You can rest your life on it.

The stories have come to Luke from “those who from the first were eyewitnesses” (v 2). They were there; they saw, they heard, they touched these things. And they were “servants of the word”; that means they didn’t make it up to suit themselves; the word was the master, and they were its servants—or perhaps we should say his servants. The apostle John writes about “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” (1 John 1 v 1). Here we will find certainty. 

Luke has very “carefully investigated everything” right from “the beginning” (Luke 1 v 3). And now he has written an “orderly account” for a man called Theophilus (which means something like “friend of God”). The reason Luke has written is so that Theophilus—and now we too—can “know the certainty” about these things (v 4). Rock-solid reliable, True, certain. Escapism is alright, so long as we know that’s what it is. Two of my favourite Christmas movies are Miracle on 34th Street and The Preacher’s Wife. They’re wonderful. But they’re not remotely true.

Jesus Christ is not like Santa Claus. One day each one of us will come face to face with truth, face to face with Jesus. When we die, or when Jesus returns, it will be no good trying to escape into a fictional world; it won’t pass to say, “But I like to think…” this or that about God and about Jesus. That will be a great day, but perhaps also a frightening one. Luke tells us the truth now so that we can be ready to meet with truth then. 

So ask yourself: What areas of my life are so painful that I take refuge in fantasy? What doubts cloud my contentment in the truth of Jesus? Meditate today on the sureness of the truth as it is in Christ. Thank God that his message is certain, solid, reliable, true. You can rest your life on it. How wonderful to find certainty!

Sing

Tell me the old, old story

Of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and his glory,

Of Jesus and his love:

Tell me the story simply,

As to a little child,

For I am weak and weary,

And helpless and defiled.

(Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911)

Pray

Blessed Lord, who has caused all the Bible to be written for our learning, we thank you that the story we hear from Luke is true and safe and secure, and we can rest our lives and our eternal destinies upon the message we hear in it. Grant that, as we meditate quietly on this old, old story, our hearts may be comforted by the solid certainty that these things are true. May we know in some fresh way this Advent the comfort of your holy word, and embrace and hold it fast in our hearts and minds. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

To get your own copy of Repeat the Sounding Joy, click here

Categories: Christian Resources

The Very Early Christmas Podcast

Wed, 06/11/2019 - 11:07

Christmas is coming! We're very excited at The Good Book Company because books are a such a great companion for the entire Christmas season. 

We talk about Advent, our favourite Christmas traditions, and there's even a quiz (which some would say was completely rigged from the start and it was a stupid quiz anyway). 

*Disclaimer: at one point Joe references a film and get's the title wrong. It is in fact called Rare Exports. 

 

Categories: Christian Resources

How to help your kids read the Bible

Tue, 05/11/2019 - 09:45

Why I hate running

My friend Justin is a runner.

Not a professional runner. No one’s paying him to do it.

He just likes running.

One of his favourite things to do on a Saturday is get up at some obscene hour of the morning, go outside into the cold, and just run five kilometres.

For fun.

Which makes no sense whatsoever to me, because I’ve tried running, and here’s what I’ve discovered:

It’s painful.

It’s boring.

When I try it, I feel worse than I did before I started.

And so, whenever Justin invites me to go running with him, I politely remind him that he’s a crazy person and get on with living my easy-breathing, non-sweaty life.

Here’s the thing though...

Deep down, I know Justin’s right.

Because when I say, “I’ve tried running,” what I actually mean is that once every six months, I unearth my running shoes and burst out the door with some half-baked idea of getting into shape, only to wonder why my side hurts so much by the time I get fifty metres up the road.

The problem isn’t running.

The problem is my approach.

If I actually committed to running, it wouldn’t be long before I felt the benefits.

I might even start to enjoy it.

I mention all this because I see plenty of children facing a similar challenge when it comes to personal Bible reading.

So how can we help a child who sees reading the Bible the same way I see running?

[inline_product:bestnews]

Acknowledge the challenge

If I go running today, chances are it won’t be a particularly exhilarating experience.

It’ll probably feel pretty uncomfortable and unnatural.

But if I push through that initial frustration – if I run again tomorrow, and the next day, and next week – slowly but surely, things will begin to change.

Similarly, your child might open their Bible for the first time, read a few paragraphs, and have a miraculous, life-upending encounter with God. That’s absolutely possible.

But more likely, they’ll get up from the couch feeling a bit underwhelmed. Not because they’ve failed, or because the Bible has failed them – but because the deep benefits of Bible reading rarely come to us all at once. We grow into them, a day at a time.

So if your child’s first attempts at Bible reading aren’t all that inspiring, it’s important to acknowledge and empathise with their frustration – but also to encourage them to come back tomorrow and give it another shot.

Sooner or later, they’ll look back and be amazed at how far they’ve come.

Consistent routines

Reading the Bible every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, will be far more transformative than reading for an hour every so often. To give your child their best shot at this, help them set aside a consistent time and place to read. 

Most kids are at their best early in the morning, before they’ve exhausted their brains at school. But if getting up fifteen minutes earlier is a bridge too far for your child, a regular afternoon or evening time slot can work well too.

You might even like to get them a wall calendar to track their progress. Putting a big X through each day they read their Bible will build up a visual reminder of success they’ve had so far, and help motivate them to keep going.

Support & guidance

Running, as it turns out, is not as simple as just running. There’s all kinds of wisdom and advice that I’m only going to discover if someone comes alongside me and shows me how it’s done.

Likewise, reading the Bible involves more than just reading. A solid devotional can go a long way towards framing your child’s time in the Bible, and helping them decode what they find there.

And whatever section of scripture your child decides to read, it’s a great idea to incorporate that part of the Bible into your own daily reading. As well as modelling regular Bible reading to your child, you’ll create opportunities to share what you’ve been learning, and to investigate questions that come up as you read together.

Focus on why

If you want me to go running with you, don’t try to tell me running is fun – because that is manifestly not true for me (at least, not yet.)

Instead, show me why running is worth it even when it’s not fun, and then I might actually push through to the point where it is.

In the same way, if your child sees Bible reading as hard work, they’re going to need a compelling reason to bother with it. And the good news is, we’ve got one.

The point of reading the Bible isn’t to fill our minds with information, or to cross off an item on a spiritual to-do list. 

It’s to encounter Jesus.

That’s an invitation well worth getting up fifteen minutes early for – and because the Holy Spirit delights to make Jesus known, we can be confident that, as our children open up the Bible each day, that’s exactly what will happen.

Ultimately, there’s no magic formula to any of this – because ultimately it’s not our efforts that are going to transform the lives of our kids. But as long as we keep prayerfully pointing our children back to Jesus, we can be sure we’re pointing them in the right direction.

Best News Ever is a devotional that takes tweens aged 9-12 on a 100-day journey through Mark's fast-paced, action-packed story—helping them to understand the confusing bits, showing them how it connects with their life, and bringing them face to face with Jesus: the one who changes everything. Buy it here.

Categories: Christian Resources

Meet the best supporting actor and actress in the Bible story

Thu, 31/10/2019 - 10:08

If there were Oscars for Bible characters I would like to nominate Anna for Best Supporting Actress and Simeon for Best Supporting Actor. These two old people only feature in Luke 2:22-38 but they are favorites of mine. All we know about Simeon is that he was probably old, that he was “righteous and devout” (a real believer in the promises of God), that he “was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (that is, for God to keep his gospel promises) and that “the Holy Spirit was on him” (Luke 2:25). We know that Anna was “very old,” a long-time widow, that she “never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying,” and that she was part of a group who used to meet in the temple and who “were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (that is, for God to keep his gospel promises) (Luke 2:36-38).

[inline_product:repeat]

So there they are, day after day, meeting in the temple for prayer. They really believed that God would keep all the gospel promises he had made in the scriptures. There was not much evidence that he would. All around them was ungodliness, false religion, hypocrisy – the very opposite of gospel. But they believed; they met; they prayed; they waited; they hoped. How wonderful to keep on believing, to keep on hoping, to keep on praying, day after day after weary day! It is not easy to wait with hope, to live by faith rather than by sight; and yet God gave them grace to do so. 

Faith means to believe that God means what he has promised and will do what he has said

And so they waited. And then, on what perhaps began as just another morning of waiting, the Holy Spirit moved Simeon to go again into the temple courts and guided him to a couple – perhaps an older man, Joseph, the husband, and his young wife, Mary. They had come to the temple courts to offer the poor man’s sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for the birth of their little boy. Maybe they were surprised when this aged man asked to take their little boy in his arms (Luke 2:27,28). But when Simeon takes baby Jesus in his arms, it is a moment that should make your spine tingle; it is as though God says to Simeon, “You have waited and hoped and prayed, day after day. Your wait is not in vain.” And Simeon knows that this little boy is the Savior, the Messiah, the One sent by God to save his people. And so does Anna. What rejoicing in that little group of praying believers that day!

Waiting well

It is not easy to wait in hope. And yet this is what faith is all about. Faith means to believe that God means what he has promised and will do what he has said. Even as Simeon takes the baby in his arms, there is not much to show for his comfort – just another baby! But Simeon knows and will die in peace, confident that God will do through Jesus all that he has promised.

Simeon and Anna show us how to wait. For we too wait in hope; we too pray, long and cry for this same Jesus to return in glory. We too live by faith and not by sight. The Advent period is double-edged. We meditate on what happened when the Son of God became incarnate as a baby; we rejoice in the wonder of that astonishing gift. And yet, as we look back, we are encouraged and cheered to look forward with hope to the return of that same Jesus in power and glory.

How wonderful if our church prayer meetings and the times we meet with our fellow-believers for prayer share some of the character of those meetings in the temple precincts of which Simeon and Anna were a part! If we, like them, feel the sorrow of the people of God and long for the promised consolation of all who trust in Jesus. If we, following their example, go on trusting day after day! Don’t worry about the Oscars, but follow their example of faith.

Repeat the Sounding Joy is this year's Advent devotional by Christopher Ash. In this Advent journey through Luke 1 – 2, Christopher Ash brings these familiar passages to life with fresh insight, colour and depth. Get your copy here.

Categories: Christian Resources

Why We Don't Do Halloween (And What We Do Do Instead)

Wed, 30/10/2019 - 14:04

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5 v 15-16)

Most of this post is going to be about why we, as family, don’t “do Halloween”—and what we do instead. Cue almost as much disagreement as a blog post about why someone doesn’t “do Santa” with their kids…

So let me say straight away: I don’t really want to persuade you to my way of thinking—I simply want to prompt us to be thinking. 

Christian responses to Halloween are going to vary, because (assuming you are not going to use the 31st October to teach your kids that the devil is fake, or a joke; or as a chance to intimidate neighbours) it’s a wisdom issue, not an obedience one. But since it is a wisdom issue, it is important to think hard about it, to question our assumptions over it, and to be willing to change our minds about it. Those words from Paul in Ephesians 5 are a useful reminder that: 

  1. We are called to be careful in how we live—what comes naturally to us may well not be right
  2. The days are evil—what our culture says to us or does around us may well not be right
  3. We are to make the most of every opportunity—in the context, to take every chance to show in a world of darkness that there is a Lord of light, and therefore a better way to live
Why we don't do Halloween

Just before those verses in Ephesians, we’re called to “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5 v 11). While Halloween started off as a church (though arguably not a Christian) festival, today it’s a mixture of commercialised candy-gathering, and a trivialisation of things that aren’t funny or to be treated lightly: the reality of evil and the activity of spiritual forces who want to take us to hell with them. 

Of course, it’s perfectly possible to wisely seek to redeem the event by dressing up in non-Halloween-related costumes and giving out some tracts. But for my family, I’d rather we had nothing to do with it—because I’m not sure that sort-of-joining-in with what everyone else is doing “exposes” the darkness of it. 

Here’s another way of thinking about it: imagine a world without Halloween. In such a world, would we as Christians come up with it? This is where it is unlike Christmas and Easter (which have also been co-opted as secular commercially-lucrative festivals). As Christians we’d want to mark the birth, death and resurrection of our Saviour anyway (probably—our Puritan spiritual ancestors were not too sure about Christmas). Were we to invent “Christmas” and “Easter”, I imagine some of the ways we’d celebrate them would be by feasting and giving and receiving gifts. 

But I don’t think we would also invent a day where we dressed our kids up in costumes that at worst celebrate and at best trivialise the reality and the power of evil.

So as a family, we don’t “do Halloween”. But we don’t just not do something—we try to do something better…

The Alternative Festival

Providentially, Halloween is also Reformation Day. The 31st October marks the anniversary of Martin Luther protesting at various teachings of the church of his day by nailing some theses (arguments) to his local church door in 1517. By doing so, he sparked the Protestant Reformation. The truth of the Bible was recovered. The glorious reality that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone was rediscovered. The glorious reality that every Christian has access to God as their Father through Christ was reproclaimed. The light shone and the darkness was exposed.

That is worth celebrating. If we’re going to celebrate another festival alongside Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, Reformation Day seems a pretty good choice. 

So this year, on 31st October we’ll remind our primary-school-aged kids over breakfast what Luther did, and what it triggered. We’ll read Romans 1 v 16-17 (Luther’s breakthrough verses), and enjoy rehearsing the truths of the gospel. We’ll watch this fantastic little Playmobil video about Luther, narrated by Mike Reeves. In the evening, we’ll go out for a meal and then home for a treasure hunt (not sure why that has become a family tradition, but it has), and at bedtime prayers we’ll thank God for his providence in all that he did in the sixteenth century, and all that he’s doing in the twenty-first. (When the kids are old enough, I guess we’ll watch the film Luther, starring Ralph Fiennes—though I bet they’ll still want to watch the Playmobil video too). We’ll open the door and give generously to any children who knock on it. And the next morning we’ll encourage our kids to talk with their friends about what they did, which may have more impact than handing a flyer with some sweets to those friends the night before. 

That’s what we did last year (the kids have already checked we’ll be watching that video). It’s what we’ll do next year, too. It’s an alternative celebration. We don’t want simply to say “no” to Halloween without saying a bigger “yes” to something else—something that is centred on the gospel, that exalts Jesus, and that teaches our kids that there’s more joy to be had in celebrating Him than there is in joining in with Halloween. 

This is what we do. I’m not saying it’s the best way, and it’s certainly not the only right way. It’s not a better way than those who prayerfully, carefully decide to engage with Halloween, explaining to their kids what they view as harmless and what they want to say no to, and seeking to share the gospel with others as they do. But it is, I think, one way to be very careful how we live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below. Last week we had alternative view from another Christian parent on the blog

Categories: Christian Resources

Tell your kids the WHOLE story

Tue, 29/10/2019 - 14:00

What stories from your childhood stuck with you?

Rising out of the regular media mush, two things left a deep impression on me from early childhood. Noggin the Nog and The Singing Ringing Tree. OK—I’ve just given away my age, because, depending on which side of 60 you are, you are either saying Huh? or shuddering with terror. 

Both were children’s TV series shown in black and white (yes! before colour!) on the BBC, and both were adaptations of old mythic stories from other cultures, the first a Norse Saga, the second, an East German version of a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.

[inline_product:storynoah]

Otherness

What struck me most was the “otherness” of these stories. My six-year old mind immediately twigged that these were different from Stingray and Fireball XL5—sci-fi puppet shows created by Gerry Anderson. Exciting as these futuristic shows were to me, it was the weirdness of these other stories that had a greater, albeit unsettling, impact upon me. Why? Not just because the culture was different. But because they were prepared to go to places that are often whitewashed out of our own culture’s storytelling. Evil people were truly nasty, and were not redeemed at the end with the whole cast celebrating in a sing-along love-in. Peril was real. People died. The endings were not neatly rounded off. And the heroes had serious character flaws that went beyond the loveable and funny. 

We have a story-telling industry that pumps out tales that keep things sweet for children—where everything is cutesy and kind, and the jeopardy that is an essential part of plot-making, is always resolved at the end. The kittens are rescued. And as heart warming, moral, entertaining and inspirational as these stories can be, even young children can discern the profound "added extra” when they see or read these darker, more “mythic” tales. Later generations felt it with The Dark Crystal, Lord of the Rings, The never-ending story (the horse dies! The Horse!), Watership Down (lovely bunnies—that get dismembered), and the infamous tunnel scene in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They discern a depth and quality of truth in them that goes beyond the mundane everyday.

There is a significant role for stories that are uplifting, inspiring and positive. But the stories we tell to and share with children are also a way of introducing them to the realities of life outside the warm cocoon of the family. They prepare us for the realities of life where black and white are not the only moral colours; where choices are difficult; where evil sometimes appear to win; where people get sick and do not heal; where people die. 

The Disneyfication of Scripture

The “sugaring” of stories for children can happen with the way we re-tell Bible stories. There are a number of “standard” stories that publishers—both Christian and secular—churn out year after year. The ones involving animals mainly. But it's hard to find versions of these books that carry with them profound, and often quite dark, truths that the stories carry in scripture.  

So we have Noah without a hint of the judgement that God visits upon the wicked earth. We have Daniel surviving the lions, but no mention of the fact that the plotters were then thrown into the den and eaten by the lions (and their wives and children). We have Jonah without a sniff of chapter 4—which is really the punchline to the whole story. And we have little David, and that animal Goliath—where the grim reality of this battle to the death in no-mans land are smoothed over. 

But the Bible has, and should have, that sense of reality and otherness about it. It is set in another culture and at another time. It deals with the bitter realities of life. There is a gloriously happy ending for those who trust in Christ, but there is another ending that we need to take account of. Goliath dies. The world is justly erased in God’s flood-judgement. The plotters and their families are ripped apart by the lions that refused to maul Daniel. And grace abounds to the evil Ninevites, while the “hero” grumbles and complains that God is not as prejudiced and lacking in mercy as he is.

Of course, there are places we need to tread very carefully as we tell and read Bible stories to little ones. But let’s not hold back from giving the full story—even when we find it difficult and dark. Faithfully told, and creatively re-told, these God-inspired and true stories will have their Spirit-inspired effect on children, who will discern the otherness of a God who is both just, but also filled with grace and love towards his people.

The Very Best Bible Stories series combine, fun, interactive story-telling with a robust faithfulness to the biblical text. Noah, Jonah, Daniel and David and Goliath get the treatment, with beautiful illustrations by Jennifer Davison. Browse them here.

Categories: Christian Resources

On the Podcast: How The Village Church taught Matt Chandler to Find Joy In His Own Sorrow

Fri, 25/10/2019 - 15:48

In this episode we catch-up with Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor at The Village Church and author of Joy in the Sorrow: How a Thriving Church (and its Pastor) Learned to Suffer Well.

Matt and James talk about the intense suffering of so many at The Village Church and how that prepared Matt for his own battle with a malignant brain tumor.

He shares the fear he had of his brain and character being affected dramatically by surgery, why he chose to suffer so publicly and how we can help people who are suffering.

Find out more about the book at www.thegoodbook.co.uk/joy-in-the-sorrow

 

Categories: Christian Resources

One Approach to Halloween: Lightening Things Up

Thu, 24/10/2019 - 11:27

It’s that time of year again when the seasonal aisle in the supermarket is filled with fake cobwebs and pumpkin buckets, and Christian parents everywhere wonder whether buying the spooky cat-shaped gingerbread biscuits is allowed. 

Let me share three experiences that have shaped my view on halloween, and one Bible verse that I hope will help.

Experience one—as a child. I hated Halloween. It was forbidden in our house, and I was frightened by it, but also fascinated by what happened at the parties my friends went to in witch costumes to bob for apples and get lots of sweets. My family would pretend we weren’t in and I would hide behind the sofa if trick or treaters came to the door.

Experience two—as an adult without kids. When my husband and I  first moved to our new house on a cul-de-sac, I remember chatting to the neighbours' kids playing on their bikes in the street and asking them what I needed to know about living there. The kids pointed to the houses around and said, “They are alright … They are nice … But them ones in there are dead grumpy, they always pretend they aren’t in on Halloween when we know they are, but they knock on our door with the Christian Aid envelopes.” Now, as then, our only interaction with many of the families on the street is on Halloween. My neighbours will be watching me go to church and do what I do all year, but this is the one night that they will knock on my door! I don’t have to be grumpy. I want them to know that the good news I have to share is what makes me generous. Giving sweets does not mean I think Halloween is wonderful, but I want them to get a better impression of what it means to love Jesus.

Experience three—as a mother with my own children. I want my kids to know that they have nothing to fear. We can dress up as whatever we want, but because we really love Jesus we don’t want to pretend to be people who don’t, even for one night. And because the Bible tells us the truth about what happens when we die, we don’t need to be confused or afraid. So, because we have more to give our neighbours than we have to take, we’ll get a bucket full of sweets, we’ll put our superhero outfits on, we’ll carve a “Jesus - Light of the world” pumpkin, we’ll leap round the living room at our very own pumpkin party and open the door to whoever knocks with a smile, because Jesus lights us up!

Ephesians 5 v 8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”

This verse calls you to remember who you were. You were in darkness—you were once far from God, and dead to him. So don’t feel superior to your neighbours. We only know better because God has opened our eyes. Those with eyes closed to the things of God need our love and compassion—not our grudging exasperation. 

And remember who you are—you are light in the Lord. You have been made alive, and you have his spirit at work in you to help you live as a light in a dark world. You don’t do that well from behind a sofa—you don’t bring glory to Jesus by hiding. 

Your neighbours are knocking, so don’t be afraid. Remember who is with you to help you and lighten up—literally! Be the light so that others' eyes may be opened to the wonder of loving Jesus.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below. We’ll have an alternative view from another Christian parent next week on the blog. Listen to Amy talking about her approach to Halloween on the Faith in Kids Podcast here. Find out about Halloween resources here.

Categories: Christian Resources

A 5 minute theology of hair

Tue, 22/10/2019 - 13:38

“Hair is everything. We wish it wasn’t so we could actually think about something else occasionally. But it is.”

So said Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag in a scene which met with huge approval from the show’s audience. Finally, the struggle was understood and articulated. We all know we shouldn’t care so much about hair, but we do.

Hair can change the way people perceive us (or at least the way we think they perceive us). A bad hair day can set everything else back. And a drastic cut or a sudden bristle of facial hair often accompanies a big life change.

Hair really isn’t everything. But it isn’t nothing, either. And the Bible backs this up.

Hair tells a story

There are some great hair moments in the Old Testament.

There’s the bride’s hair described as “like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead” (Song of Solomon 4 v 1). What a compliment!

There’s Absalom, David’s son, whose handsomeness and vigour is proved by the fact that his yearly haircut results in more than two kilograms of hair lying on the floor around his barber’s chair. (Yes, he weighs it. See 2 Samuel 14 v 26.)

And there’s the Ammonite king who humiliates David’s envoys by cutting off half of each of their beards (2 Samuel 10 v 4-5).

Given that “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16 v 7), it might be surprising how significant hair sometimes is in the Bible. Hair is an expression of what is going on inside. It tells a story about who you are and what has happened to you. 

So, those envoys are told by David to lie low until their beards have grown back: he doesn’t want them around when their defeat is so evident. Similarly, healed lepers shaved their hair to display their new beginning (Leviticus 14 v 9). Cutting or tearing hair could also be a sign of grief (e.g. Jeremiah 7 v 29; Ezra 9 v 3).

In the New Testament, Paul takes his hair seriously enough to use it as a symbol of a promise he has made to God (Acts 18 v 18)—keeping it long and then cutting it off when he has fulfilled his vow, as the Nazirites did (more on them below). It’s true that Peter and Paul both advise women that the best kind of beauty doesn’t lie in elaborate hairstyles (1 Peter 3 v 3; 1 Timothy 2 v 9-10); but that doesn’t mean that hair can’t be meaningful. In Bible times as much as today, hair was a significant part of everyday life. It isn’t everything, but it does mean something.

A sign of something important

The most famous head of hair in the Bible might be that of Samson, whose story is told in Judges 13 – 16. From birth, Samson is dedicated to God as a Nazirite. Among other things, this means he will never cut his hair (Numbers 6 v 1-8). It’s a sign of holiness and devotion. This time, hair doesn’t just tell a story: it tells a story about God.

Samson’s vow also means that God gives him miraculous strength. When Samson shares this secret with his treacherous lover Delilah and his hair gets cut off, this strength—and God’s Spirit—leaves him (Judges 16 v 19-20).

Why does God care so much about Samson’s hair? He doesn’t just dislike the new style. Telling Delilah about his hair suggests that Samson has begun to take God for granted: he no longer guards his vow of dedication. When his hair is cut off, it symbolises the end of his vow. Samson is turning his back on God. That’s why he loses his strength.

Yet God does not abandon Samson altogether. Verse 22 notes that his hair begins to grow back, and this seems to be a sign of returning favour. When Samson prays for one last moment of strength in verse 28, it is granted: in his dying moments he pulls a building down to defeat God’s enemies. God values and uses Samson even after Samson has failed him.

Every hair on your head

This brings us to the most enduring meaning of hair in the Bible. Hair shows that God values and protects his people.

There are a lot of hairs on the human head. Bible writers recognized this, and the expression “hairs on the head” came to mean “an uncountable number” (e.g. Psalm 40 v 12)—just like “grains of sand” or “stars in the sky”. Yet in Luke 12 v 7 Jesus tells us that God knows that number: he has counted every hair on your head. God knows each one of us that intimately. 

Jesus’ application of this point is: “Don’t be afraid”. This is because hairs on the head express not just a big number but also how much God values the lives of those who love him. 

The hairs on the head also signify total protection. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into a furnace, yet emerge unharmed. We are not to imagine them coming out of the fire coughing and burnt, just clinging to life. No: “the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed” (v 27). These men are so valuable to God that not one hair is left unprotected by him.

Astonishingly, God promises the same experience to us. In Luke 21 Jesus predicts the suffering Christians will have to endure: war, famine, illness, persecution, and more. “Everyone will hate you because of me,” he acknowledges (v 17). Then he says: “But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”

Of course, the hairs on our heads will perish. They will fall out or go grey. That’s okay, because hair isn’t everything. But once again, hair does mean something. Jesus is picking up on the symbolism of hair in the furnace story and elsewhere (see 1 Samuel 14 v 45; 2 Samuel 14 v 11; Acts 27 v 34) to emphasise the complete protection he guarantees for his followers. He is telling us how greatly he values us, and how totally we can trust him. 

If we trust in Jesus, then the hairs on our heads can remind us of our absolute security in him. We may, like Samson, fail to keep our vows. We may lose all our hair. But God is still faithful, and he promises life everlasting.

Categories: Christian Resources

The Wonder and Meaning Behind the Virgin Birth of Jesus

Thu, 17/10/2019 - 09:46

The Bible is very clear that Mary conceived the boy Jesus before she had slept with any man. She was engaged to Joseph but had not slept with him (v 27); she would not sleep with him until after they were married and Jesus was born (Matthew 1 v 25). She was a godly young woman; Joseph was a righteous man. They lived in a culture that valued virginity before marriage, in a way that is foreign to our society but right and beautiful. They knew as well as we do that babies are not conceived except by the natural process of human procreation.

So, when Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive a baby, she is very surprised. Very, very surprised. “How will this be … since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1 v 34).

The virgin conception of the Lord Jesus is both wonderful and meaningful; it points us to at least three facets of the incarnation. 

[inline_product:repeat]

1. God is sovereign

This miracle makes it clear that the sending of Jesus was entirely the sovereign work of God himself. The astonishing births of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and then others in the Old Testament all the way down to John the Baptist, at least involved both a father and mother who wanted a child and—as we put it—were “trying for a baby”. But this most astonishing conception of them all involves no human desire or intention or involvement; God simply does this miracle by his own sovereign decision in the womb of the very surprised Mary (and to the surprise of the uninvolved Joseph).

The apostle John writes that Christians are given “the right to become children of God—children born [spiritually] not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will”; instead we are “born of God” (John 1 v 12-13). What becomes true of us spiritually by new birth (entirely the decision and initiative of God) echoes what was true of the Lord Jesus’ supernatural conception: no human desire or husband’s will was involved.

No human beings did anything to help God send Jesus; God decided to do it, and he did it. There is no room for spiritual smugness on our part.

2. God did not adopt Jesus

The virgin conception of Jesus proves to us that God did not adopt Jesus as his Son. Sometimes people suggest that Jesus was a remarkable man, and so God decided to adopt him as his Son, perhaps at his baptism or at his birth. But the virgin conception means that from the very first moment of his human existence, Jesus was (and had always been) the eternal Son of God. Indeed, in that instant the One who had been God the Son from all eternity took upon himself a human nature: “the Word became flesh” (John 1 v 14). 

This moment—this hidden, unwitnessed instant in the womb of the virgin Mary—was the most astonishing miracle in all of human history. 

3. God became man

The virgin conception of Jesus points to the mystery that this boy was at the same time both fully human—inheriting a fully human nature from Mary—and also fully divine. In some astonishing way that we can never completely describe or analyse, Jesus Christ was, and is, fully man and fully God. He is fully human, and yet without the taint and defilement of the sinful, spoiled nature that each of us inherits from our father and mother.

This matters. It means that, standing in heaven now at the right hand of the Father, there is a perfect high priest who is able “to feel sympathy for our weaknesses”, who “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4 v 15). Jesus understands that loss of temper with your housemate, that selfish decision for your own comfort over serving others, that lustful or covetous thought. He knows. And yet he was without sin; and so he can save you out of it all.

No wonder Christians down the ages have stood in awe and wonder as they—and now we—have contemplated the miracle of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh.

This is an extract from Christopher Ash’s new Advent devotional Repeat The Sounding Joy. This devotional will help you to celebrate afresh the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah in history, and learn what it means to wait for him with joyful expectation today. Get your copy here.

Categories: Christian Resources

A 5 minute theology of breakfast

Tue, 15/10/2019 - 13:06

What does breakfast have to do with the Bible? Judging by Instagram, the two go together rather a lot. I love seeing my friend’s Saturday morning photos of pancakes, pencil and her Bible’s open pages. Reading God’s word prepares us spiritually for the day, just as breakfast prepares us physically.

But that’s not all. There are ways in which the most important meal of the day can itself point us to God. Time to munch on some Bible breakfasts.

Breakfast #1: Frosted Flakes

In Exodus 16, we find the Israelites wandering hungry in the desert. They complain that they are going to starve to death. So God provides them with breakfast. Each morning a mysterious layer of edible flakes appears like frost on the ground. Everyone gathers exactly the amount they need for the day. By the following morning the leftovers are mouldy—but fresh manna has appeared. The same thing happens the next day, and the next, and every day the Israelites spend in the desert.

Deuteronomy 8 v 3 offers a commentary on this wilderness breakfast.

[God] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Manna is a reminder that the people depend on God. They were hungry until he provided, and they need new provision every day—provision not only of food, but of God himself.

It’s the same for us. We are totally dependent on God. He sustains us so that we wake in the morning, and makes the sun rise to greet us. He makes the crops grow and provides us with the money to buy food. So, breakfast comes from God. Both waking up hungry and satisfying our hunger can remind us that we need him, and that he gives us what we need—not just food but, as anyone who reads their Bible in the morning knows, the very words of life.

Miraculous gifts of food continue to be a sign of God’s goodness as the Bible storyline goes on. But eventually disaster strikes. God’s people are taken into exile. Punishment for their serial disobedience has come.

Throughout the first chapter of Joel, famine is the metaphor that describes the devastation. All God’s good provision seems to have come to an end. 

And yet Joel promises that this period of hunger will not last for ever. 

Breakfast #2: First Feast

As a child I was indignant to discover that a wedding breakfast tends to happen halfway through the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning. Not really breakfast, is it? But it has this name because it is the very first meal you share as a married couple—just as a regular breakfast is the first meal you eat in the morning. A wedding breakfast signals a new beginning.

That’s the kind of breakfast God promises in Joel 2 v 23-24.

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

Promises like this one also appear in Isaiah 25 and 55. One day, God will provide eternally, abundantly, for his people, and they will never be hungry again. This feast is also a sign of a new beginning, when God will pour out his Spirit on all people (Joel 2 v 28), make a new covenant with them (Isaiah 55 v 3), and put an end to death and disgrace (Isaiah 25 v 7-8). This feast is going to be the first meal of a new world.

The feast described in these chapters is not just a metaphor. Jesus was the one who would fulfil these big promises, and one way he showed it was through food. He made wine out of water and fed thousands with a few loaves. He ate with outcasts and sinners. He said that he was the bridegroom and that his friends were feasting in celebration. If you’d read the prophets, all this might have seemed rather familiar.

Then Jesus died on a cross. So what had become of the promises?

Breakfast #3: Fish with Friends

John 21 answers that question with a breakfast.

Early in the morning, the disciples are out fishing, without—so far—any success. A figure on the shore shouts to them to throw the nets out on the other side of the boat, and when they do so they make a huge catch.

“It is the Lord!” one of the disciples says (v 7). And he’s right. Jesus is back from the dead and, once again, he is providing food. They come into shore and find that he’s already grilling fish on a fire. “Come and have breakfast,” he says (v 12).

The risen Christ brings abundant food and then eats with his disciples. It’s the foretaste of the feast God promised. It’s a sign that Jesus really was who he said he was. He had defeated death, he had brought about a new covenant, and he would soon send his Holy Spirit. Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that all his followers will one day feast with him in paradise—just as Joel promised.

In the meantime, Jesus sat by the lake and enjoyed some fish with his friends. He didn’t just provide food: he provided himself. God was with them, not only in his words but in his very person. 

Breakfast #4: Breaking Bread

After breakfast, Jesus told Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Now it was Peter who was to be the provider. With the Spirit’s help, he would start the task of bringing God’s life-giving word to all those who would listen. Sure enough, in Peter’s first sermon, he quoted from the prophet Joel to explain that the Saviour had come. People came to faith and made a new beginning. It’s no surprise that “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2 v 46).

So, here’s my recipe for the perfect breakfast. Feel hungry and remember how much you need God. Enjoy your food and thank God for his astonishing generosity. Open your Bible, feast on God’s words, and pray for help in sharing them. And, finally, look forward to the day when you’ll eat, together with all believers, at the wedding breakfast of our wonderful Saviour.

Categories: Christian Resources

Evangelism should be like a 4D Cinema not a Wikipedia page

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 12:07

It’s long been said that the mind is not a debating chamber, it’s a picture gallery. 

Let’s update that analogy. The mind is not a Wikipedia page, it’s a 4-D IMAX cinema, and it works best in ultra-high definition with the surround sound turned up to 11.  

The apostle Paul knew this. In the powerful language of the old King James version, he described his evangelistic mission like this:

(The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, KJV)

Mission is spiritual warfare. It’s not the casting down of city walls with earthly weapons, it’s the casting down of “imaginations” by the preaching of the gospel. The fortress in which people live is their “imagination”, that is, their framing of the world—the story they tell themselves about life. This imagination needs demolishing.

[inline_product:thegift]

Ever since Genesis 6, the Bible has spoken of the power of the imagination. By nature “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5, KJV). 

Notice how thoughts spring from the heart, and imaginations spring from those thoughts. We love certain things and by nature we love the wrong things or we love the right things in the wrong proportions. From these faulty loves flow faulty ways of thinking.  

When you add up all these ways of thinking you have a whole thought-world—an imagination. This is where we live. We consider it to be an IMAX cinema. We enjoy the show. But Paul says we’re trapped in this fortress and we’re keeping the truth out. The barriers need to come down. How?

Think of King David, post-adultery, post-murder. He wasn’t immediately racked with guilt. He didn’t immediately pen Psalm 51. He was in his own little world of self-justification and pride. That is until Nathan came to him wielding a mighty spiritual weapon: a story. In 2 Samuel 12 he tells David of a callous rich man stealing his neighbour’s sheep. He evokes the correct emotional response, then—plot twist!—he says to David, “You are the man!” That’s how to cast down an imagination. Fight fire with fire—story with story.

4D outreach

Capturing imaginations is not just the business of Hollywood screenwriters. It’s the work of Christian mission. Every preacher has noticed that the simplest story told in their sermon (even as an afterthought!) will be remembered long after their four perfectly-crafted, tortuously-alliterative points have been forgotten. The mind is not a Wikipedia page. 

What does this mean for outreach? Well, it has huge implications for preaching. We are to confront the gripping false narratives of the world and replace them with something even more powerful: the gospel. We are to address the “inclinations of the thoughts of the human heart” and cast down such imaginations, raising up Christ in their place. It’s as if we “placard Christ”—speaking in such a way that people see Jesus and see him as more captivating than the idols of their hearts.

But beyond preaching, we go to the places where imaginations are already being fired. We confront the narratives that are captivating people and we fight stories with stories. We can take hold of new media in order to tell people that the real Christmas is about a free gift. But we don’t just state the truth, we attempt to capture the imagination—we compare Jesus to Santa and make it rhyme. Or we tell people Jesus descends to share in our humanity, but we do it by filming a nativity cast with people with Down Syndrome, including the baby Jesus. Or we tell people that Christ is given to the empty-handed, but we do it by showing an empty-handed loser receiving the Christ child

If the mind is an IMAX cinema these will be weapons in our arsenal. And as foot soldiers in the war, all of us can play a part in spreading the true knowledge of God. In fact, it’s never been easier to be part of this movement. On social media we can share gospel truth with the click of a button! It might seem trivial, but telling and re-telling God’s story is serious business. It’s life and death. It’s war. But through God’s Spirit it’s powerful to captivate—seizing people from the lies that imprison them and releasing them into the truth of Christ.

The Gift is a new evangelistic give away book for Chrismtas. Glen Scrivener looks at John 3:16 to unwrap the Christmas gift that can give us what we've always wanted, and what we really need. Priced to give away. Find out more here

Categories: Christian Resources

4 Things God Wants Us to Know About Sex

Wed, 09/10/2019 - 10:08

It was a drizzly autumn morning. I was marching my seven year old daughter through the rain trying to get her to school on time. As I tried to hurry her along, she gazed curiously at billboards along the street. 

"Dad," she said, "is that poster supposed to be selling shower gel?" 

"Yes”, I answered.

"Then why is the bottle of the shower gel so small compared with the naked woman in the shower!" 

Quite innocently, she had observed, what familiarity can blind the rest of us to. Using our desire for sex is generally deemed a better sales tactic than desire for the actual product. There are few things in our culture that are more discussed,deliberated, sung about or the basis for stand-up comedy than sex. As my daughter spotted, it's used to sell everything from toothbrushes to TVs. But among all that talk, there are many competing viewpoints. What has God got to say about sex and our sexuality? 

[inline_product:swipe]

1. Sex doesn't make us human

Of course, unless you are a test-tube baby, you wouldn’t be a human at all without your parents having had sex. But there is a strongly promoted and equally strongly-felt view around. Our culture seems to suggest that to not have sex is to somehow be less than human.  

Recently a group of Christians approached me and a friend in the street and asked if we would like to be prayed for. We must have looked particularly in need of it that day. In any case, we were happy to accept their offer. Half way through their prayer, they began to pray for my wife. About a minute later they asked if I actually had one. When they discovered that the friend who was with me didn't, their prayers focussed on asking God to provide the right wife for him and preparing him for that day. Of course they meant well, but the whole assumption behind their prayer was that life would not be complete until he was “partnered-up”.

The thing is, if a sexual relationship makes us complete people, then Jesus was subhuman. And Paul was temporarily insane to say to the unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7 "It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do." But Christians believe that Jesus was in fact, the most perfect human that ever lived. If he, Paul and other key figures in the Bible didn't need to have sex, it can't be central to what it means to be fully human. To put it another way, you can be a complete bona fide human being—without sex. 

2. It's a gift from God

The casual observer might think of Christianity as the religion that says “NO” to sex. In fact, the opposite is true. The Bible teaches that God is not ashamed of sex. He invented it (Genesis 2:24)! In fact 1 Timothy 4 v 4 tells us that "everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." Enjoying what God invented, his way and giving thanks for it, is how to do religion right. In fact, forbidding people from enjoying sex in that context is not described as holy, but demonic. 

It's worth saying that it’s an explosive gift. Like fireworks. I live near a big London park and get to enjoy huge firework displays synced up to Stormzy, George Ezra and the Jackson 5. They are precious and powerful. But we treat them with respect so that we don't get hurt. It's the same with God's gift of sex. The fun is best enjoyed within the right framework.  

3. It's not the only way to experience intimacy

Intimacy is about being known deeply by another person. It can happen in family relationships, friendships and sexual relationships. A few years ago Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins were interviewed by Vanity Fair about the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Both of them have been stunned by its success. Even Nelson Mandela wanted to talk about it when they met. One of them said that perhaps most surprising, is the fact that “it’s about the friendship of two men without a car chase in it … two men who really loved each other”. Closeness, affection, even love, without sex. In other words, intimacy is not the sole privilege of those in a sexual relationship. 

Despite the fact that intimacy can be found in different kinds of relationships, as a culture we seem to increasingly neglect non-sexual forms of intimacy. We have fewer friends than ever—so much so that some have spoken of a "friendemic." The technological power to connect with more people seems to have left us more alone. Perhaps it's time to nurture friendship a little more than we have. 

4. It points to something better

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Psalm 84:10. It says "better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere"’ To be near to the living God blows any other relationship clean out of the water. It is a mind-blowing privilege to know the warmth, love and care of God from now into eternity. I may never travel to all the places on my bucket list. My relationships may not have lived up to my hopes and expectations. And yet there is a blue sky kingdom waiting for God's people that shines like the sun from the brilliance of its king. A touch from his powerful hand, a word from his marvellous mouth will make any sacrifice worth it.

A relationship with Jesus doesn't require some special meditation or holy space. It's not dependent on my social-media profile being on point. We just need to ask. His promise is that as we come near to him by faith, he comes near to us (James 4:6-8), and the keys to his everlasting mansion, a seat at his incredible banquet, a place to listen at the feet of the Lord of glory, are all ours.

Discover God's positive vision for sex and relationships in Swipe Up by Jason Roach. Available to buy here

Categories: Christian Resources

Waiting well in a world of right now

Fri, 04/10/2019 - 09:56

It seems that all the creativity of man and all the energy we possess is focused on one thing in our day and age: to eradicate from the face of the earth any need to be patient. We are bent on making sure we don’t have to wait for anything… ever. 

And yet the faster things get, the more perpetually impatient we actually are—precisely because we have lost the ability to wait well. I bet that in the last month there has been at least one moment when you were downloading a document, a picture, or something else, and then gave up or grew annoyed because it wasn’t moving fast enough: “This isn’t fast enough. This isn’t happening quickly enough. This is frustrating me.” We’re perpetually impatient these days.

Everything is built for speed, as our technological brilliance focuses in so many ways on us not having to wait. And that hasn’t been good for our souls—because the Christian life calls for patience. Not just the kind of patience that means that we don’t yell at our screen or scream at our spouse or snap at our children. God cares about those things, and he speaks into those things, but God is serious about patience because persevering faith and gladness in God requires it. We Christians are by definition a waiting people, and that requires patience—especially when life brings trials, hardships, or pain.

[inline_product:jits]

You Can Wait: Your Father is Coming 

Jesus’ brother James wrote to suffering Christians in the first century, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7). For two millennia, the church has been waiting for Christ to return and make all things new. For the Christian, history is linear. We are moving toward something—to the day Christ returns and consummates all he accomplished in his cross and his resurrection. Our Father is coming to get us.

I remember playing in the backyard with my youngest two, Reid and Norah, several years ago and throwing the football with Reid. Honestly, I was throwing it at him. It just bounced off. He couldn’t catch well quite yet. We’re tossing the ball in the back, and Norah had snuck off. I lost sight of her. Judge me if you want. It happens. She’s alive. 

So I heard this whimper and a cry of “Daaaaad…” I came around the side of the house, and she had climbed up our fence. After she got up there she had apparently enjoyed it for five or six minutes, and then thought, “I don’t know how to get down.”

Stuck on the fence, she began to cry out for me, and she was there until I got to grab her, kiss her, and put her down on the ground. She’d had to wait, but she’d known I would come. This is the Christian hope: “My Dad is coming. My Dad is coming, and I’m getting closer to him getting here.” 

You are closer to seeing Jesus than you were when you started reading this blog. This is a reality, not a vague hope. And that helps you wait patiently, as well as eagerly (Romans 8:23,25). That helps you wait with hope, even when life doesn’t go the route you’d planned or expected.

So be patient. Hold tight. The plan is not off-track. God didn’t take his eye off the ball. Just because he’s not here yet doesn’t mean he’s not coming. Every bit of difficulty, suffering, crawling, weariness, depression, anxiety, sin will be over one day, on that day. God will lift us off the fence. Hang in there. The Lord is coming. But you are going to need to wait.

Every bit of difficulty, suffering, crawling, weariness, depression, anxiety, sin will be over one day, on that day

You Can Wait: Your Father is Working

Not only that, be patient in suffering because God is accomplishing something in you. If you are a child of God, he is at work to make you like the Son of God. He is now sanctifying us, making us more and more like Jesus. And God uses both joys and sorrows to do that. 

If you’re a Christian, difficulty is not punitive. You’re not being punished for not having a long enough quiet time or for messing up again. That’s not how this works. If you trust Christ, you are a fully loved, fully accepted son or daughter of God. 

But that doesn’t mean the Lord doesn’t have work to do in you. He’s our Father.

I love my son. He’s a 13-year-old boy. There’s nothing he could do to make me not love him, but we have some work to do. Part of that work is rewarding what is good and right, and part of that is disciplining what is wrong. And that’s how God treats us: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives … God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:6-7). Our difficulties as we walk home to see Jesus is not God punishing his children, but God shaping and molding his children. 

God is producing in you “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (v 11). Be patient; the Lord is at work in your struggle. He is at work in your joy. He is at work in your losses. He is at work in your fight. He is at work as he tears some things in you down in order to build you back up. Don’t lose hope. Be patient. God is accomplishing things. 

Waiting in Your Struggles

You may be in a season of struggle right now. If you’re not, then you can know that, at some point between now and the day you see Jesus, you will be. And our world is telling you that when that suffering comes, you need to get it fixed right now. You should demand a solution—from God if you can’t find it in yourself—right now. But God doesn’t work like that. God’s got a longer gameplan than that. The Bible’s full of people who learned that God’s road is longer, and it has bumps in it, but it’s always better. Joseph, Ruth, David, Job, and supremely Jesus… all of them had struggles, and waited patiently through them, knowing that their Father was coming and their Father was working. 

So we need to learn to be patient. We need to learn to do the one thing our world won’t do: to wait. That’s how we can suffer well, with hope, with joy, with faith. Be patient; the Lord is at work in your struggles. Be patient; the Lord is coming and he will put an end to your struggles. Be patient; his return is closer now than it was when you got up this morning. 

Joy in the Sorrow is the moving story of Matt Chandler’s battle with a potentially fatal brain tumor. But it's also the stories of members of The Village Church, whose lives were marked by suffering of various kinds. How they taught Matt, and continue to teach him, how to walk with joy in sorrow.

Categories: Christian Resources

How The Village Church taught me to find joy in sorrow

Thu, 03/10/2019 - 09:40

My phone rang around 8:30 a.m. I answered and heard a frantic voice on the line saying something I couldn’t quite make out, except for the words “accident,” “fishing,” and “dead.” A young couple from the church had gone to the Pacific Northwest to see some extended family and old friends and, most importantly, to introduce them to their newborn son. The husband and new daddy was a true outdoorsman. He had hiked multiple mountains in the United States and was an avid camper, hunter, and fisherman.

[inline_product:jits]

Early that morning in Oregon, he woke up and kissed his bride’s forehead before quietly standing over his newborn son sleeping in the pack-and-play. Maybe he just stared at him, like new fathers tend to do. Having a son myself, I wonder if he was imagining the days when his boy would be getting up with him to hit the lake and see what good fortune might be waiting for them there. All we know about the accident is that the boat he and a couple of his friends were in capsized, and he drowned. A young man who hiked mountains, lived an active life, and was a great swimmer died that day. I still think about him. I even have a photo of him on the top of some mountain summit looking down on the valleys below. He loved Jesus, his wife, and his son. He was full of life, courage, and grit—a hard worker who would do anything for anyone in need. Why him? There are plenty of lazy, abusive, narcissistic men who neglect or hurt their families. Why not take them?

Not long after that young husband’s funeral, I decided that I was going to do a deep dive on suffering, so that I might better equip the men and women God had entrusted me to lead in how to think about suffering, and God’s character and purposes in it—and, most of all, in how to face suffering when it came flooding into their lives. 

Suffering on almost every page

As I started to study, I realized that I had read a lot of my Bible without really paying attention to what I was reading. Suffering in all forms was woven throughout the Scriptures—and not just in the book of Job. On almost every page there was disappointment, depression, doubt, sickness, and death. How had I missed it? I had been reading my Bible for over a decade and hadn’t noticed that God’s word had more to say about suffering in this life than I could ever have imagined.

What I found to be unique about the biblical perspective is not only that suffering is a reality but that joy in that suffering can be a reality too. James 1 not only assumes that we will face trials and tribulations as Christians but the author argues that these sufferings are a pathway to maturity, showing us that we lack nothing that we truly need. It’s the idea that for us to bear fruit in our lives, we will probably need the plow. We need something to wake us up, to stir us up, to make us rely more on the Lord and look more like Jesus. And so when we walk into a trial, we can know “joy” there. There can be smiles in the tears.

He is always with us

In dark and difficult seasons—when we face pain and suffering, when we get that one phone call that changes everything—we may not know or understand everything, but we can trust that the Lord is leading us into maturity and showing us that we need him. And we can also trust that, by his Spirit and through his church, he is not going to abandon us; he is with us. He is encouraging us and he is giving us what we need to walk through that suffering faithfully.

One of the things that I think drew people to The Village Church is a phrase that we said years ago that took on a life of its own: “It’s okay to not be okay; it’s just not okay to stay there.” We wanted to be honest not just about suffering, but even about failure. We wanted to cultivate an environment where we could be human on earth, in a broken and fallen world. We didn’t want to teach or operate in a way that denies the reality of sin and suffering, that suggests that somehow our pain and failures take away from the glory of God.

In dark and difficult seasons we may not know or understand everything, but we can trust that the Lord is leading us into maturity and showing us that we need him.

Then it was my turn

And one of the greatest ironies and joys of my life is that while I was preparing to help our people suffer, God was preparing me to suffer.

There I was, teaching everybody to be prepared to suffer well, and I had no idea that I was being prepared. I didn’t know that the Lord was saying, Matt, you’re going to need to study a little more. Hey, pay attention to this; you’re going to need this. I was thinking, The people here need this. The Lord knew, Yeah, but you’re not separate from them, Matt. You need this.

Thanksgiving Day 2009

On Thanksgiving Day 2009, I woke up to the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. My wife, Lauren, had graciously let me sleep in and had already run to the store to pick up those small items that you tend to forget. The house was full of the joyful noises that accompany a day of feasting and playing. The kids were laughing at something in the living room, and I could hear the squeak, squeak, squeak of the springs on my youngest’s “Johnny Jump Up.” I hugged Lauren as I walked into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. She asked if I could give Norah her bottle while she finished putting together some dishes for lunch later that day. 

I walked into the living room and put my coffee down and fed Norah her bottle. She was six months old at the time and would stare at me with an occasional smile as she drank.

I burped her. 

I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up.

I turned to head back to my chair.

And that’s my last memory before waking up in the hospital.

This is an adapted extract from Joy in the Sorrow, the moving story of Matt Chandler’s battle with a potentially fatal brain tumor. But it's also the stories of members of The Village Church, whose lives were marked by suffering of various kinds. How they taught Matt, and continue to teach him, how to walk with joy in sorrow. Find out more here.

Categories: Christian Resources

Free extras for your Christmas services

Tue, 01/10/2019 - 09:38

Christmas isn’t quite upon us, but if you’re a church leader, chances are you’re already thinking (panicking) about your Christmas services. 

Church, now is your time to shine. You’ve got this. You know the gospel, you preach it well, week in, week out. There’s nothing to panic about. It’s going to be church, just as we know it, but more… tingly.

While many commercial, secular Christmas celebrations may be able to outdo us in budget and size, they cannot get near the authentic intimacy and community of a local church’s carol service. Only we can do this, and it's our responsibility to get it right.

It’s hard to pull together a new Christmas outreach campaign every year. But we’re here to help…

The Gift Christmas Resources

The Book

You need to give your guests something to take away and read over the Christmas holidays. This is essential. The Gift by Glen Scrivener is a lively and thought-provoking introduction to the God who gives at Christmas. 

[inline_product:thegift]

Powerpoint slides

These 3 slides will not only save you heaps of time but are professionally designed to create consistency throughout your promotion and during the service itself.

Promotional graphics

We’ve also designed various promotional graphics to help you invite friends and family to the services. There’s graphics that can be posted on social media, one you could use on your website and another that could be used in an email. Use these to promote the services to both your congregation and potential guests.

Customised Cards/Invites

Customised cards make stylish and eye-catching invitations to Christmas services. We can overprint details of your services alongside a festive greeting from your church to the local neighbourhood. We can also include your church logo or other chosen image alongside your personal greeting. Find out more here.

Download the whole suite of resources here. 

Categories: Christian Resources

My girlfriend was a pole dancer

Mon, 30/09/2019 - 10:45

The following piece is an adapted extract from Swipe Up: A better way to do love, sex and relationships by Jason Roach

Saturday afternoon along Bromley High Street was a kind of catwalk for teenagers. It was where you went to hang out, even though the only real place of interest to a sixteen-year-old with not a lot of money to their name was McDonalds. And so the focus as we lined up—apart from French fries—was one another.

On this particular Saturday I was strutting… Why? Because I was walking along with my girlfriend. She was tall, dark and lovely. As we walked along, the spotlight was on me, and for once I didn’t care. Holding her hand made my skin tingle, my chest pout and my own personal central-heating system kick in on full power. Bring on the catwalk. Life felt good.

I was “in love”, and I wasn’t afraid to tell people about it—even her mother. I remember her face to this day when I declared my adoration for her daughter in front of her.

A restrained disbelief that melted into laughter. Looking back I can understand her reaction. But whether love was the right name for it or not, the sense of intoxicating connection with this astonishing creature was utterly real. 

And then it broke.

[inline_product:swipe]

The bubble bursts

We were at a house party together—the throbbing beat from the basement dance floor satisfyingly shaking the whole house. I’d come up to street level to welcome a mate who had just arrived. As we bantered, I felt a tug at my hoodie. There was a touch of aggression that made me spin round. Another friend whispered in my ear and beckoned me back downstairs.

I arrived at the makeshift dance floor to see my girlfriend in the middle, shamelessly playing tonsil tennis with another guy.

As I stared at her and half the room stared back at me, the euphoric bubble I’d happily been floating in for the past few weeks exploded in a shower of conflicting feelings. It felt like when the landlord turns all the lights on in the pub at the end of the evening. You are hit by stark reality. Our relationship had seemed stable, sweet and serene, but now all I could see was two sweaty bodies and my own stupidity. She wasn’t perfect after all. And apparently, neither was I.

Aftermath

Things dragged along for a little while after that. By now, we’d been together for years and surely it wasn’t worth throwing everything away over that one incident. Plus, she’d said “sorry” with a doe-eyed look of remorse that was hard to resist.

A few weeks later our relationship took a completely unexpected turn. We were walking  down the road where she lived towards the high street, as we often did on a Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining, car stereos were booming, and we skipped along to the beats. It was then that she broke the news, out of the blue, in a matter-of-fact kind of way. She wanted to become a pole dancer.

Her reasons were simple. She had worked out that she could earn better money pole dancing right now than many university graduates did. Plus she would cut out the hassle of student debt and study too. And she got to spend the rest of the day shopping. To be clear, she didn’t have to do this because she was hard up or in dire straits. It was just a life choice. She hadn’t broken stride for a moment during this revelation. In her mind there was nothing remotely unusual about her conclusions.

Now she slowed and looked over at me, looking for some kind of affirmation. My mind was momentarily paralysed. And in retrospect I was glad. I’m not sure I would have said anything constructive. Her new path of freedom left me confused and hurt. Why were these incidents so bruising to me and yet almost insignificant to her?

Grown-up girlfriend

A few years later I met someone at work. It had been easy to get to know her in the run of office life. We’d sneak out for coffee and lose track of time. Conversation was easy. Chemistry was powerful. But as our relationship was starting to blossom, I was also learning what it meant to be in a relationship with Jesus.

A group of friends had invited me along to some church events, and I’d begun to read the Bible. As I read and listened, I was blown away by the words and ways of the risen Jesus and got involved with a church. Two relationships were growing side by side.

I hadn’t grown up belonging to a local church, and everything felt a little strange, but the community was kind and welcomed me in. One evening, a small group of us were meeting to hang out and have a look at the Bible together. I was waxing lyrical about my newfound love, and one of the other Christians there began to lovingly probe. Was she a believer? Had we had sex? Did I have marriage in mind? It became clear in an inescapable way that I wasn’t going about things the Christian way. 

I went home and wept.

And then I broke up with her.

I knew in my head that this was what God wanted me to do. But my heart was in a different place. It felt like my body was saying Yes! to this relationship, but that Jesus was giving a resounding No! I felt frustrated with myself for feeling drawn to disobey God and frustrated with God for saying no to what felt so natural and good.

I know my story is not unique. So many Christians today feel this way: hungry for relationships and yet torn between how we feel and what our faith seems to demand.

And often our solution as individuals and as churches is to try and bury our heads in the sand. We want to just forget about it and hope that the problem will go away, but it won’t. And to those who are struggling and to an incredulous watching world, the silence is deafening.

I want to suggest that hoping that our feelings will go away is the wrong thing to do. What changed things for me was realising that I hadn’t grasped the fullness of the Christian story. God has taken me on a journey of discovery in this area of relationships. I’ve discovered that it’s not a choice between passion-free faith and sensual fun. That is not the Christian story. What’s more, God has not left us in the dark about what that story is. Instead he’s mapped it out in his big story told in the scriptures. It has grown my love for Jesus and so enriched my faith.

And bottom line: I think his story not only makes sense but is better than the story the world is telling us.

Discover God's positive vision for sex and relationships in Swipe Up by Jason Roach. Available to buy here

Categories: Christian Resources

Outgrowing Facts: Inaccuracies in Richard Dawkins' new book

Thu, 26/09/2019 - 10:34

Richard Dawkins was asked by journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy in an interview recently, “If you could change the world, how would you change it?” His answer was that he would rid us of “anything that’s not evidence based, where factual knowledge is concerned”. 

Unfortunately for Dawkins, that may mean he needs to start ripping pages from his new book.

I’m an Assyriologist, which means I study the languages, history, and cultures of ancient Mesopotamia (including Assyria and Babylonia, both in modern day Iraq). I was reading Dawkins’ book “Outgrowing God”, wrinkling my nose at various dubious claims and assertions he had been making about topics I didn’t quite know quite enough about to pinpoint what smelt fishy, when I got to a paragraph that was actually about my own academic field – and that doesn’t happen very often as an Assyriologist! My nose suddenly stopped wrinkling and my jaw dropped. It was riddled with factual errors that anyone who had done more than a couple of minutes of research would not have made.

He had just been claiming that most of the Old Testament was written during the period of the Babylonian captivity (in the 6th century BC) and then he writes:

“What, then, can we say about the myths from the beginning of Genesis? Adam and Eve? Or Noah’s Ark? The Noah story comes directly from a Babylonian myth, the legend of Utnapishtim – which isn’t surprising, since Genesis was written during the Babylonian captivity. The Utnapishtim story in turn comes from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Arguably the world’s oldest work of literature, it was written two thousand years earlier than the Noah story. The Sumerians were polytheists. Their flood legend says the gods couldn’t get to sleep because humans made so much noise. Fed up with the racket, the gods decided to drown everybody in a great flood. But one of the gods, the water god Enki, took pity on a man called Utnapishtim (Ziusudra in an older version) and warned him to build a huge boat, to be called ‘The Preserver of Life’. The rest of the story is pretty much the same as the Noah version: animals of every kind taken on board, a dove, a swallow and a raven released from the ark to see if there was any land coming up, and so on, including the spectacular rainbow finish. It was another god, Ishtar, who put up the rainbow as a sign that there would be no more catastrophic floods.” (pg 53-54)

Oh dear. Where to begin? 

A language problem

Let’s start with the claim that “The Utnapishtim story … comes from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.” You might need some background knowledge, so here we go. 

Sumerian is an ancient Mesopotamian language, one of the first written languages in the world that we know of. Sometimes the word ‘Sumerian’ is also used to describe the people whose language it was. The language stopped being spoken on the streets of southern Iraq at some point around 2000 BC, although it continued to be used by priests and scholars for two millennia afterwards (a bit like how Latin was used in medieval Europe) right up to the first century AD. When Sumerian died out as a spoken language around 2000 BC, it was the Akkadian language with its two dialects (Babylonian in the south, Assyrian in the north) that took over as the main language of Mesopotamia. 

The version of the Epic of Gilgamesh that Dawkins is talking about – the version that contains the story of a man called Utnapishtim who built a boat and was saved from a great flood – is not written in Sumerian as he seems to think, nor was it written at a time at which you could describe the people of the region as “Sumerian”. It was in fact written in the Babylonian dialect of the Akkadian language. Ok, it might seem very pedantic of me to point out such a minor error, but it’s the first clue we get that he has not done his research into the supposed relationship between the story of Noah and Mesopotamian flood stories.

A dating problem

As well as the language, it seems as though Dawkins has confused the plot of the flood story found in the Epic of Gilgamesh with the plot of another Babylonian flood story, about a man called Atrahasis. Some parts of these two stories are word-for-word the same, but not all. It’s in the story of Atrahasis, which is quite a few centuries older than that found in Gilgamesh, that the Babylonian gods send the flood because humanity is making too much noise. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, this reason is not given. 

Whichever of these flood stories Dawkins was thinking of, neither of them are “Arguably the world’s oldest work of literature” as Dawkins suggests. They also weren’t “written two thousand years earlier than the Noah story”, that is, unless the Noah story was written long after the time of Jesus! 

Again, maybe I’m being pedantic, but so far he’s got the language of the story he’s talking about wrong, he’s got the date of the story he’s talking about wrong, and he’s mixed two stories together and treated them as the same. He’s also stated, as if it is an undebatable fact, that Genesis “was written during the Babylonian captivity”. So far this doesn’t really affect the “argument” of the paragraph, but for an Oxford professor who has described himself as an “evangelist for the truth”, we might have expected more.

The next set of mistakes is far more concerning. 

A reading problem

Dawkins starts giving his confused account of this Atrahasis-Gilgamesh-hybrid story, before writing: “The rest of the story is pretty much the same as the Noah version: animals of every kind taken on board, a dove, a swallow and a raven released from the ark to see if there was any land coming up, and so on, including the spectacular rainbow finish.” Wow, that’s quite a list of similarities, isn’t it?! Quite a troubling list. Maybe Dawkins has a point? 

Don’t panic! What this list seems to show is that not only has he not read the Babylonian flood stories, but he’s not even read the biblical flood story! The dove, swallow, and raven are part of the Gilgamesh flood story, but have a read of Genesis 8:6-12. There’s no swallow in the biblical version: a raven gets sent out, then a dove, then a dove for a second time. Now, if you have access to a translation, have a read of Atrahasis and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Any mention of a rainbow? If you didn’t head off and read it, let me save you some time. There is no rainbow mentioned anywhere in either of them. 

It gets worse. Contrary to what Dawkins writes in the final sentence of his paragraph, the goddess Ishtar is nowhere to be found in the aftermath of the flood in the Babylonian stories. No god puts a rainbow anywhere, and there’s no mention of anything being done so that there would be “no more catastrophic floods”. So where on earth did he get such a fictitious idea from? Well, a quick google search suggests that it may have been a rather old, rather cute website called historwiz.com. Maybe it was another dodgy website, but it certainly wasn’t any reputable source, and certainly not a scholarly translation of any of the relevant texts.

The suggestion that the flood story of Genesis is based on the flood story found in the Epic of Gilgamesh is far older than Dawkins, and pointing out the inaccuracies in this paragraph doesn’t defeat the general argument. But, to use a phrase Dawkins seems to be very fond of in this book, “no serious scholar” should make factual errors as blatant as these.

Dawkins' problem with evidence

The first six chapters of “Outgrowing God” (there are twelve in total) are devoted to theological, philosophical, and historical arguments as to why we should, as the title suggests, outgrow belief in God. His lack of understanding of such subjects probably won’t come as a surprise to many. Dawkins has said himself that he doesn’t bother to read theological scholarship, even tweeting in 2013, “I’m told theology is outside my field of expertise. But is theology a “field” at all? Is there anything in “theology” to be expert ABOUT?”. When asked why he doesn’t engage with this theological literature by atheist YouTuber CosmicSkeptic in an interview about the new book, Dawkins replied, “I’ve got better things to do. I do Science.” Later in the same interview he also admits, “I’m not well read in the history of philosophy.” 

I’ve only gone through one paragraph here, but his treatment of ancient history in general would seem to be similarly poorly researched. Sadly my Assyriological concerns won't stop the popularity of this book, but at least they can arm you to challenge any readers you meet about the accuracy of its evidence.

The Oxford Apologetics Series grapples with major modern objections to the Christian faith. In the latest addition to the series, Is Jesus History? Dr John Dickson unpacks how the field of history works, giving readers the tools to evaluate for themselves what we can confidently say about figures like the Emperor Tiberius, Alexander the Great, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Jesus of Nazareth. Find out more here

IMAGE: "Richard Dawkins no Fronteiras do Pensamento Porto Alegre"by fronteirasweb is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Categories: Christian Resources

Pages

Additional Terms