Blogroll: The Good Book Company
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 28 posts from the blog 'The Good Book Company.'
Disclaimer: Reproducing an article here need not necessarily imply agreement or endorsement!
I have to admit, when I think about Easter, evangelism doesn’t spring to mind. We’re pretty comfortable with Christmas evangelism; inviting neighbours along to carol services, perhaps engaging with friends on what Christmas means for them and how they celebrate. But Easter? Most of my non-Christian friends don’t really care about Easter. They’re glad for a long weekend and a few months of creme eggs, but that’s about it.
But in some ways, that makes Easter an even better opportunity for evangelism. After all, almost everyone in our culture makes a big deal out of Christmas… but it’s really only Christians who make a big deal out of Easter. Embracing and celebrating this season as something precious makes Christians distinctive. It’s an opportunity to say to our friends, “This is something amazing that I’m absolutely passionate about, and I want to share it with you.” Who can argue with that?
So I’ve been challenged to grasp opportunities to share the gospel this Easter. Why not surprise a friend or guests at church with the gift of a book or tract that explains the Easter message? Bundling it up with some chocolate makes a lovely little Easter gift, and says, “This stuff matters”!For a friend or church visitors
This evangelistic booklet by William Taylor sums Easter up in three words, showing how the events of the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday are true, wonderful, and life-changing.
For something more general, try Capturing God by Rico Tice. This short 64 page book grips readers with the surprising truth that God reveals his essence through his own execution.
Life Tastes Better by Terry Virgo is an easy-to-read, short, clear, introduction to the God who makes life so much better when we let him take charge.
Easter provides an excellent opportunity to engage with non-Christian families. A children’s book about Easter is a very accessible explanation of the Christian message for many young families.
A Very Happy Easter is a fresh retelling of the Easter Story for young children, with opportunities to join in with facial expressions! It’s the perfect price (under £4!) for buying a few copies and distributing amongst your parent friends or if you lead a kids’ group at Church, could you consider a bulk order to give away in the last toddler group before Easter?
The Friend Who Forgives would be the perfect special gift for a godchild, niece/nephew or grandchild. It’s a double award-winning beautifully illustrated hardback storybook about how Peter failed and Jesus forgave. Easter through the lens of Peter’s story is brilliantly refreshing for those who are familiar with the Easter story but not familiar with the God at the centre of it—parents and children will benefit from this wonderful storybook.
The Garden, The Curtain and the Cross is one of our enduring bestselling children's storybooks. It takes little people through the Bible’s big story from the garden of Eden to God’s perfect new creation. But just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean it’s not theologically rich and biblically faithful—even down to the smallest detail in the illustrations.
Here are a few hidden details you can spot as you read The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross—and perhaps take time to talk to your children about as you read.Quagga
What’s that playing in the Garden of Eden? A herd of quagga, of course—a subspecies of zebra once found in South Africa, but hunted to extinction in the 19th century.Onyx and resin stones
Precious stones beneath the Garden of Eden reflect the words of Genesis 2 v 12: “The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.”A theory with legs
The serpent tempts the man and woman to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice that the serpent has legs—one theory is that God’s curse in Genesis 3 v 14 suggests that the snake had prior to that: “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”The fall begins
Eve is banished from the Garden—notice in the background the discarded fruit and the carcass of the animal God killed to make Adam and Eve’s garments (Genesis 3 v 21).Significant trees
The trees in the garden of Eden are echoed in the decoration of the temple (1 Kings 6 v 29).A lamb without blemish
After the fall, “people STILL kept sinning because they didn’t want God to be in charge”. But later, the illustrations show Jesus living a perfect life—he was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4 v 15).From one to another
A lamb and the Lamb lock eyes as Jesus visits the temple at Passover time.We shall see him as he is
A joyful depiction of what it might look like to meet Jesus face to face and hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25 v 21).Faithful and true
Jesus leads his people into the New Creation: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19 v 11).”
This morning we woke to the news of the deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s history. 49 people have been killed and at least 20 wounded at 2 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. It can be very difficult to know what or how to pray in the wake of such horrific attacks. Feel free to use this prayer as a guide.
Loving God and Father, we cry to you for our broken world, and for those who seek their own way through violence and threat.
We pray to you for the ones who have been wounded by this wicked act of violence. Heal their bodies and hearts; console them with your presence and, at the same time, take away any hatred and a desire for revenge.
We pray that you would draw near and comfort the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. Enable them, in your mercy, to seek refuge in you as they grieve.
We pray for the police and intelligence services—that you would enable them to prosecute those responsible, and work to prevent future attacks.
We pray for those in government around the world—that you would inspire them to govern with wisdom and determination.
We pray that you would touch the hearts of terrorists so that they may recognise the evil of their actions and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for the life and dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth or poverty.
And we pray that you would bring great glory to yourself through these troubled times, as you incline the hearts of people to seek you, and find forgiveness, new life and eternal peace through Christ our Lord. Amen.
When I was ready to finish at school, I was given some exams to sit. Ditto, university. With hundreds of others along the way.
Want to drive? Pass a test.
Can you play the piano? Prove it, by passing an exam.
Show that you can help an old lady across the road – take the test, and get a badge.
And on it goes – I not only had to pass exams to get out of school, I had to pass a test to get into it in the first place. I had to pass exams to get ordained.
Now, I don’t regret or resist that. I’ve been on the other side of the assessment equation, and I do believe that many subjects are well tested by a good exam. That’s not the point.
This is the point.
A system of tests leads you to the place where you think that if you’re asked a question, then you ought to know the answer. And not knowing the answer is a mark of failure. Ignorance is shameful, and to be hidden away. Wouldn’t it be awful to be found out? Because we can all remember what it’s like when we didn’t know the answer. Humiliating, probably.
Those of us who are preachers are boxed firmly into this: people ask us questions, and we’re expected to know the answer. It’s our version of the imposter syndrome – if someone asks us about an obscure verse in Haggai, we feel a fraud if we don’t know.
"It’s our version of the imposter syndrome – if someone asks us about an obscure verse in Haggai, we feel a fraud if we don’t know."
But here’s the treasure – try saying ‘I don’t know’, and think what that unlocks.
- ‘I don’t know – what do you think?’
- ‘I don’t know – how exciting, because we can learn something!’
- ‘I don’t know – what’s God going to do to solve this for us?’
- ‘I don’t know – what do other churches do?’
- ‘I don’t know – tell me.’
"So here’s the trap – if you think that saying ‘I don’t know’ means you’re a failure (because you’re paid to know, you ought to know) then you will never learn anything."
Think about that.
If you always know the answer to the questions, you’ll never grow beyond the limits of your current knowledge.
That ought to scare us deeply.
So, at the risk of a bit of personal pride, try saying those three little words.
‘I don’t know.’
And feel the weight of being the perfect pastor slip from your shoulders.
Doesn’t that feel better?
Chris Green is the author of From Now On, a short booklet for new Christians to help them understand what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
Parents have a built in feedback loop for emotions in their children. We cuddle them when they cry; we tell them to “stop being silly” when they get hysterical with giggles and can’t stop. And we instinctively protect them from experiencing the “excessive” emotions of sadness, grief, disappointment.
We tend to assume our kids are less sophisticated and incapable of processing or understanding the emotional complexities of their world. But the reality is that they absorb a tremendous amount. As soon as they’re verbal, children can be taught to identify and communicate their feelings. In a trusted environment where emotions are talked about openly, most kids will speak freely about their feelings and are quick to have empathy for others in their family, or their friends.
With their brains growing rapidly, children are constantly noticing, reacting, adapting and developing ideas based on their emotional experiences. We teach them numbers and colours, brushing and flushing, yet we can neglect to equip them with an emotional education that can dramatically improve the quality of their lives. Research shows that when you teach children emotional intelligence, they do better in life on a wide set of measures. The Emotional Quotient (EQ) of a child is a stronger indicator of “success” in later life than their intelligence quotient (IQ).
Schools are are being encouraged to implement programmes that address the following skills:
Self-awareness. Knowing our own emotions.
Self-regulation. Being able to regulate and control how we react to our emotions.
Internal motivation. Having a sense of what’s important in life.
Empathy. Understanding the emotions of others.
Social skills. Being able to build social connections.
Christians will immediately note that all these things play into building character and compassion, and are valuable life skills for a disciple of Jesus. Just run through the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 v 19-23, and you’ll see how powerful powerful emotions run through it—for better and for worse.
It’s why I was keen to explore emotions in A Very Happy Easter. For small children, learning to recognise and correctly label emotions from the expressions on faces is an important developmental skill. And seeing the motivations and emotions of people in the passion narrative can help children start to empathise with others—as well as showing that this is real history, about real people. It forms a vivid personal connection between us and them. It is no longer a story on the page. They are living, breathing, feeling people, with hopes and dreams and disappointments—just like us.
Whatever your personal temperament, or the temperament of your child—calm and measured or up and down—A Very Happy Easter is a great jumping off point for talking about emotions with your children, and most importantly about how we respond with all our hearts to what happened on the very first Good Friday and Resurrection morning.
So as you read through this book with your children, and get to think about the Easter message, here are some supplemental questions you might ask to develop the emotional intelligence of your children.
What face is she making? How do you think that feels inside?
Why is that man happy/sad/angry? Have you ever felt like that?
What kind of things do people do when they are happy?
How do you show you are happy inside?
When someone is angry inside, what kind of things do they do?
What do you do when you are angry?
How can we help other people who are feeling sad?
Have you ever visited someone's home and taken the time to interrogate their bookshelves? It can be a surprising experience; you think you know someone and then you discover that they've been reading that book. *shudders* Or maybe you didn't know them very well, and you spot one or two books that spark a conversation that turns into a life-long friendship.
Our bookshelves say a lot about who we are - what ideas have lived with us, challenged us and formed us.
To celebrate World Book Day, I asked the staff members at The Good Book Company to share a photo of their bookshelves and tell us a bit about them.Carl Laferton
We don’t use our fireplace for fires, so we use it as a ‘bookshelf.’ The ones that have had most impact on me, I think, are ‘Talking Heads’ by Alan Bennett - I read it (and watched it) as an older teen, and learned to appreciate subtlety and how much you can say by not saying something; and ‘Berlin: The Downfall 1945’ by Anthony Beevor - Beevor is a superb historian, and it was very moving to read (and re-read, and re-read) because my own grandparents were Germans who lived on the eastern front (though much further south than Berlin). Oh, and though it’s not exactly a literary tour de force I have always enjoyed ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’ - great for sermon illustrations and for making you feel better about yourself!
My bookshelves are chaotic — and I love mixing things up. It’s just the way my mind works. It features some important books and resources over the years — C.S.Lewis’s less well read Science fiction books, Patrick O’ Brien’s Master and Commander (a friend once described this series as "crack cocaine for intellectuals” — I am an addict) The Eagle of the Ninth still has power to thrill since I read it at 14. Some Editing and writing tools (Read everything you can by Mark Forsyth) and the haunting, raw power of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Bonhoeffer dominates, but is as yet unread. It’s nestled by my anniversary gift to Kathy last year (27 years demands a sculpture), and a photo from a glorious New Year’s holiday in France with friends from Australia.
As an editor, I need to keep on top of best-selling non fiction so that we can be creating and commissioning books that speak into the current culture. Sapiens is powerful, mind blowing, but ultimately flawed. The Psychopath Test is a not very good investigation of the mental health industry. Democracy is a graphic novel about the birth of democracy in Athens. I have several copies of Can Science Explain Everything? so that I can give away to friends. At the end are some older much used, much loved Bibles — it just feels wrong to throw them away, doesn’t it. Below, a stormtrooper (with sounds!) keeps guard over Mary, Jamie and Delia.
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The top 2 shelves feature some of my fiction books—I love how much colour they bring to our otherwise very neutral living room. The bottom shelf is home to cookery/lifestyle books. The rest is all candles, vases, wedding photos and plants. We like plants a lot in our house! This little hanging guy is called Percy.
The little girl in the frame is my god-daughter, and the pile of pipe cleaners and paper plates are left over from some kids' club craft at church, and are awaiting redeployment. The last book I finished outside of work was the novel "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson, which is on the top shelf, and before that Michelle Obama's autobiography "Becoming", which I borrowed from a friend. They were two very different books but I liked them for the same reason: they transported me to a different time and place. Right now I've just started reading "The Cactus" by Sarah Haywood. It's narrated by an interesting but currently not-particlarly-likeable female protagonist, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
One paragraph in particular from Knowing God by Jim Packer made a huge difference to my life. I was going through a 'dark night experience' a few months after being baptised in the Holy Spirit (this was 1982 / 83) and it was bewildering. Jim Packer described what I was going through and said that unless you had experienced it yourself you probably wouldn't understand it. I read the paragraph and glanced up at a scripture bookmark I had stuck to my wall, 'Every day I will praise you' (Ps. 145:2). I said to the Lord, 'Even if you don't speak to me for the rest of my life, every day I will praise you.' It was the turning point to lift me out from the dark night/ arid desert I was in.
On the bottom shelf is a Holy Bible that was given to me by my great-great grandfather to his daughter, my great-grandmother.
The most recent books I've read are on the top of the pile - The Art of Rest by Adam Mabry, When Darkness Seems my Closest Friend by Mark Meynell and The Good God by Mike Reeves. You can also see old photos of my parents, both of whom died in the last couple of years - and a model of the Starship Enterprise because I'm a Trekkie!
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The most precious book belonging to my husband is The Strong Brown God, a book about the Niger river. It was given to him by his father shortly before he passed away over 20 years ago. He recently went to the Niger river and it meant a lot that he could immediately reference the book that means so much to him.
The Worst Journey in the World is a book written by one of the scientific officers on Captain Scott's ill fated race to the South Pole. Reading about the endeavours of these fantastically brave and courageous men, the ups and (inevitable) downs of their experience makes me both jealous (the Antarctic is high on my bucket list) and incredibly proud. The copy in the picture is my second because I read and re-read my first copy so much it fell apart! And now all I want to do is pick it up and start it again
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Three items I love: A wedding picture, an old Bible and an old typewriter. I learned proper typewriting skills on a very similar model back in Mexico. The old Bible was an anniversary gift to my husband.
Books we love: The Bible Speaks Today series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and our Jamie Oliver’s recipe book
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We have been doing My One Word as a church for few years and it did have a great impact on me through these last couple of years. The word given to me was "Gate" from John 10:9 "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture." Focusing on just one word helped me enormously to rely more on God's strength and reminded to take rest in his presence regularly which was very much needed as I was going into a new ministry.
What about you? What do you have on your bookshelf? Take a picture and tag @thegoodbookuk
The following is an adapted extract from the foreword to 5 Things to Pray For Your Kids. It was written by the author's teenage daughter, Emma.
My mom once said prayer was like learning another language. If you grew up with parents who prayed regularly in the home, it would feel natural—like a native language. But if you waited, it became harder to learn. It wasn’t that you couldn’t learn to pray, but it would take more time for it to feel natural. It might feel foreign or odd and somewhat uncomfortable at first.
I can testify that prayer will feel natural when children are exposed to it, because I grew up with prayerful parents. From a young age, I was taught what prayer is and how to do it. I prayed with others at church, school, meals, and family devotions. It was always just a part of who I was and felt like a normal part of life.
Looking back on the past 18 years of learning and growing in prayer, I realize what an effect my parents praying for and with me had. Through their prayerful guidance, I’ve been shown not only the how and why of prayer, but also the amazing Christian community that arises from it.
[inline_product:praykids]Learning by Example
My parents didn’t give me a class to teach me how to pray. There was no instruction manual, video, or lecture. I simply learned by watching them pray each and every day. Through their examples, I was able to further understand the importance of communal and personal prayer.
Every evening, sitting by my bed, my dad would read a Bible story and pray with my siblings and me. Every morning I would come downstairs for school and see my mom finishing up her quiet time as she wrote out her prayers to the Lord. Because my parents prayed with me, it never seemed odd or unfamiliar. I never felt uncomfortable about prayer, because they made it such a normal part of my life.
Similarly, I never felt unclear on how to talk to God. Through seeing my mom every morning alone with the Lord, I began to prioritize this same sort of time, and I began to understand the importance of it. I began to write out my prayers like my mom did, and as I grew in this time, I understood God more, and therefore understood prayer more. God is my Father, my King, my Friend. I saw him as caring and loving in my sorrows, but also as ruler and King over my life. Together, these truths brought me comfort and peace and a growing love for my Creator.Praying Community
My parents example taught me what to look for in Christian community, especially as I prepare to head off to college.
Prayer is an essential part of their friendships. Both my parents have been involved in prayer triads at our church (a group of three people who pray together on a regular basis), and I’ve sought out this same type of community with my high-school friends.
Also, by seeing my parents pray for those who are suffering, I began to understand the importance of Christian community, especially in the intense trials of life. Now, as I prepare for college, I’m looking for this same community of prayer and care for one another that my parents have shown me. I want a church that values prayer as a part of its service. I want a campus ministry that seeks to encourage us to pray. Most of all, I want friends who care about prayer and want to walk in a life of prayer together.
Prayer is a vital part of walking with God. I’ve seen the community it creates and the ways it strengthens faith. My parents have faithfully encouraged me in it. I’ll forever be thankful for the ways in which they’ve taught me and supported me in prayer, showing me what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
For parents with kids of any age, remember this: Your children see you. They watch you and look up to you. They want to be like you. How amazing would it be if the next generation saw parents of prayer, and that’s what they wanted to be like when they grow up? Pray for and with your children. Show them how you pray, give them a journal, pray with them at night. Your example will teach, your prayers will be heard, and your children will be encouraged.
Family life is predictably unpredictable. It is chaotic and confused.
Do you have a toddler who starts their game of hide and seek just as you’re trying to get them dressed? Or an eight year old who covertly begins a craft with the paint tipped into each of your mugs, the face paints daubed over the younger sibling and the glue covering most flat surfaces? Teenagers may be closer to adulthood but their capacity to place a spanner in the works only grows with them. Why would you walk into the bathroom at the exact time we’re meant to be walking out the front door?
But let me ask you what is there in your family’s life that is predictable? What does usually happen?
Teeth get brushed each day. Stories get read before sleep. Shoes get put on before going outside (usually).
If I think a bit harder… My daughter still climbs into our bed when she can’t sleep. We light fires whenever we can. We swim in whatever sea, river or lake we come across. We cook pancakes on Saturdays if we’re not busy. Grandad drives them around his garden on his sit-on mower. We go to a particular beach with their cousins.
[inline_product:wonder]Traditions create purpose and memories
Those are some of our family traditions. Those are some of our distinctives. They give us our memories. They make us different to others. Mostly they just happen. Perhaps because it’s our idea of a good time. Or because one child loves it when that happens. But sometimes we deliberately choose to do it that way. We want a memory to be created. We want a habit to be remembered. For example, at Grandad’s house I leave the children to go downstairs a little earlier and I wait a bit longer until I go down because I know Grandad will be there. I want them to get to know Grandad better. On Christmas day we wait a little longer before we open presents, because I think there will be a little more calm, a little more gratitude and a little less of a wrapping paper storm of entitlement.
Habits, routine, eccentricities and memories create a sense of identity. We know who we are. We know who we are not. We begin to wonder if some things will stay constant. We know that we belong.Traditions provide a sense of belonging
Being a Christian can make us and our children feel a bit odd. Our children realise that being a Christian means that they are not like others. At those times when they want to fit in, being a Christian can feel like they will never belong. There are good reasons to deliberately create Christian routines in our families. Routines create security out of difference. Traditions create belonging, normality and comfort when it is tempting for our children to believe that they will only ever feel excluded.
Going to church is the first routine for Christian families. Many read a Bible story and pray before bed with younger children. Car journeys are never the same again after the discovery of Christian kids’ music.
A jewel of a habit is for a family to read the Bible together with a short time to ask questions, to talk and to pray. I have one friend who says she cannot remember a day under her father’s roof when he didn’t take the time to open the Bible with his family. I am in awe of such discipline. What a message that sent out to his family. What a priority! For the rest of us, we can do our best to talk about a few verses with our children on those days that it feels possible. And if that isn’t yet a family habit, then Lent is a great time to start, to make Easter a highlight of the year.It all starts with pancakes!
Lent is embedded into church tradition to allow Christians to prepare for Easter. Originally Lent was 40 days of fasting remembering that Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days without food at the start of his public ministry. The tradition that has remained is eating pancakes the night before the start of Lent, before the fasting begins. Scoffing pancakes is now the preparation for 40 days of waiting for chocolate! The title of my book started as “Lent family devotions” until I established that no one seemed to use the words ‘Lent’ or ‘devotions’. Everyone seemed happy with the word ‘family’!
I wanted to put a book into the hands of families that would give even the most nervous and inexperienced parent a chance to learn how to open the Bible together, at the most important time of the year.
Get your family ready for Easter this year. It could become a new exciting tradition. Your family will never enjoy Easter more than when you have seen the true Wonder of Easter in the pages of Luke’s Gospel.
The Wonder of Easter is a flexible, easy-to-use Lent devotional which allows both adults and children to celebrate the limitless wonder of Easter. Walk through Luke’s Gospel and the Old Testament to discover why the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is the most amazing story ever told. Buy it here.
Calvinism is exciting. As a way of gaining new insights into the Bible, as a God-centered way of seeing all of reality, Calvinism is exciting. The God of Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Spurgeon, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, Schaeffer and many others, the God of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the 1689 Baptist Confession—the glorious God envisioned by these thinkers and displayed through these documents is compelling to more and more Christians today. “Reformed” theology has made a big comeback. It’s a good time to be a Calvinist.
The sad part is, we corrupt everything we touch. That too is a teaching of Calvinism, and we sure are proving it. Let’s all admit the complication we too often introduce. It works like this. The very fact that Calvinism is intellectually satisfying, and even thrilling, can make us feel superior to other Christians who don’t “get it” yet. Then we Calvinists become oblivious to how annoying we are in attempting to spread our beliefs to others who are unconvinced. Glorious theology, conveyed through an immature personality, ends up seeming inglorious and even distasteful.Losing sight of Jesus
A humble Arminian can be a good Christian. But a proud Calvinist cannot be a good Christian or a good Calvinist. One of the clearest messages from one end of the Bible to the other is summed up like this: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4 v 6). Any theology that is technically accurate but personally self-exalting does harm not only to people but also to that very theology. Above all, in relishing the fine points of theological debate we can lose sight of Jesus himself, without our even realizing it. Then we Calvinists leave behind us a trail of destruction in our churches and families and friendships.
In this respect, we Calvinists might be the ones who don’t “get it” yet.
But the fault is not in Reformed theology itself. That theology, so true to the Bible and honoring to the Lord, is in fact a wonderfully humbling power. It puts us down on our faces before the Lord, where we are happy, winsome, and fruitful. And that is how Humble Calvinism by Pastor Jeff Medders can help us all.
This book needed to be written, to guide us into the very humility that Calvinism should create. If God is big and we are small, if God’s power jump-starts us without our help, if the only contribution we make to our salvation is the evil that makes salvation relevant to begin with, if it is God’s eternal purpose alone that will sustain us all the way, if our Christianity is all according to Scripture and not our brainstorms, all of grace and not our merits, all by faith and not by demands, all thanks to Christ and no thanks to us, all for the glory of God alone—where does our self-exaltation fit into that picture? On the other hand, a heart at rest in our gracious Lord of glory, a heart at peace with other Christians who disagree with us—that is the heart of a true Calvinist.Of all people, we are bound to humility
John Newton, the eighteenth-century Calvinist composer of “Amazing Grace,” wisely wrote to a younger pastor, “Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.” Jeff understands and embodies that. He himself has taken the journey that many of us are on—a journey from the child’s play of theological arrogance to the sweetly humbled faith that true Calvinism calls for. Jeff has been led by grace into the green pastures and beside the still waters of true Calvinism, and this book can help us all to get there and stay there, in that place where the Lord himself is wonderfully present.
Now may the Lord add, as the crowning beauty upon us all, humility, gentleness, kindness, and restraint, with a relaxed, cheerful enjoyment of one another. The modern rediscovery of Reformed theology, rather than leaving people cold, could then grow into historic revival, for the glory of God alone.
In this challenging (and surprisingly witty) book, J. A Medders reveals how a true understanding of "the five points" fuels a love of Christ and his people that builds others up, rather than tearing them down. Pick up a copy of Humble Calvinism today.
Lent is struggling a little. It’s not really coping with our changing times. It’s slipped out of our cultural consciousness. Conversely, Lent’s little brother Advent seems to be doing jolly well.
It’s not straightforward for our children to get their heads around Lent. Traditionally it is the 40 days before Easter (not including Sundays—because it’s not complicated enough?), remembering the 40 days Jesus spent in wilderness at the start of his ministry, not just before his death. But its purpose is clear—to prepare for Easter. And for that it is worth getting our children involved.
[inline_product:wonder]Show your kids the bigger picture at Easter
If Easter is only chocolate eggs, poorly-decorated straw hats and daffodils then we are short changing our children. Easter makes it possible for them to be made right with their creator. Easter brings them into their king’s family, giving them the greatest big brother and the best father they could ever imagine. Easter gives certain hope of forever joy beyond the dark shadow of death. Easter is so good that 40 days of preparation barely feels enough. So this year, how can we shake up Lent a little to make Easter into the Big Event that it deserves to be?
Here are ten ways to shake up your Lent with your family. I was going to make 2 suggestions, but this list feels plenty long enough to get your started in creating the best Easter memories ever.
Show a child a photo or a short video clip. Can they describe it exactly to someone else? That is what Luke did when he tells us what happened that first Easter (Luke 1:1-4)
Go to Google Earth to look at Jerusalem as it is today. Search for the Garden of Gethsemane (the one in Jerusalem not Arizona) and the garden tomb.
Carry a water container on your head in honour of the bloke who took the disciples to the upper room for the Last Supper (Luke 22: 10)
Make pitta bread with your children (Search ‘Pitta bread recipe kids’) to taste the unleavened bread Jesus broke during the Last Supper (Luke 22:19)
Eat a meal just as Jesus ate his Last Supper by lying on your side on cushions on the floor at a low table (Luke 22:14)
Sit and pray together as a family thanking Jesus for facing the cross for us.
Visit a Roman museum or do some research to find out what Roman soldiers looked like. How did they treat prisoners?
Write a list of some of the common ways that each of you sin against God. Nail this list to a piece of wood and read Colossians 2:14 together.
Have any of you got any scars on your bodies? Do you remember how you got them? Can others see them and touch them? This is one of the ways Jesus proved it really was him (Luke 24:39)
How high can you launch an object into the sky? You could use a catapult, a toy rocket or just a strong arm. The disciples watched as Jesus rose up into Heaven. They celebrated and sang because they knew that he was going to Heaven to rule over them forever. (Luke 24: 50-53)
Easter is so good that 40 days of preparation barely feels enough
There are others ways of making the most of Lent. Come Pancake Day what will you do? One of my favourites is how the women of Olney in Buckinghamshire go about it. They have been holding an annual race with their frying pans and pancakes since 1445. It gets even better. Since 1950, they have competed against the women of Liberal, Kansas USA for the fastest over the distance. Liberal is currently winning 36-26. Do you think the women of Liberal run as fast as Peter did to the empty tomb?
Of course, nothing compares to opening the Bible together as a family and walking through the first Easter together, day by day to see the most important moments in all human history through the eyes of Dr Luke’s eye witnesses. If you agree, then pick up ‘The Wonder of Easter’ to be your guide, in 10 minute chunks. Shake up Lent this year in the best way possible.
The Wonder of Easter is a flexible, easy-to-use Lent devotional which allows both adults and children to celebrate the limitless wonder of Easter. Walk through Luke’s Gospel and the Old Testament to discover why the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is the most amazing story ever told. It's available to buy here.
It’s the reason you click on those Buzzfeed articles like “13 Breakfast Cereals that Every 90s Kid Will Remember” or “17 Stationery Items We Need to Bring Back”.
It’s the cause of the hype behind the trailer for Disney’s new remake of The Lion King.
It’s the reason the last book I finished reading was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
That’s right: I’m talking about nostalgia.
It’s a strange emotion, nostalgia. On the one hand, there’s a warmth and fondness as we remember good times and happy seasons. But at the same time, there’s a sadness that comes from knowing that those moments we long for now exist only in our memory, and we’ll never get them back again.
While every generation gets nostalgic eventually, it seems that millennials have embraced the feeling sooner than any before us. Part of it is technology. Social media likes to remind us of what we were doing on this day three, five or ten years ago—as we look down at our phones on the way to our adult jobs, we smile wistfully as we see a younger, more carefree version of ourselves grinning back at us. We can share pop-culture memes from our childhood at the press of a button. Streaming means that we’re able to re-watch the old sitcoms we used to turn on when we got home from school.
Now, there are some ways in which this culture of collective nostalgia is harmless fun. But has it ever struck you as a bit, well… odd? Sometimes our obsession with the past masks an uneasy relationship with our present and a fear about our future. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it:
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions.
So how should Christians think about the pull of nostalgia? Should we put on our vinyl records and snuggle up with our TY beanie babies? Or is there a better way?Eyes on today
Sometimes it’s helpful to look back—it’s just that we need to make sure we’re looking back in the right way on the right things. The book of Deuteronomy contains 16 calls for God’s people to “Remember… remember… remember” what he did for them in rescuing them from Egypt.
We too can reflect and rejoice over the way that God brought us to faith… the people he’s used to grow us… the surprising way he’s weaved together events… the changes he’s made to our character… the things he’s used us to do. Don’t take a trip down memory lane without stopping to admire these flowers of God’s grace along the way. They will certainly be there, even if there are painful nettles in the undergrowth too.
I get most nostalgic when I think back to my time at college. They were years of real spiritual growth for me. Yet our remembering is not primarily meant to leave us with a warm fuzzy glow; it’s meant to help us to be thankful and to press on in the present. Sometimes, we so want to recapture our past that we make stupid decisions in an attempt to claw it back. But in those moments we must remember that God has put us where he wants us, and there are specific “good works” which he has “prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2 v 10). Some of them will be hard—but all of them are worth doing, and in all of them we are empowered by God’s Spirit.What lies ahead
The deep fear behind nostalgia is that our best days are behind us. If only I could go back and relive it, we think. Or maybe there’s something that’s not working in your life right now—something which makes you want to go back to a happier, easier era.
But whatever’s in your past or your present, if you’re a Christian then a gloriously bright future lies ahead of you. It’s a future where you will enjoy being sheltered by God’s presence, completely safe and free from fear. A future without any material or physical need. A future that is free from any relational or spiritual sense of longing. A future where the painful memories and fraught “if onlys” all fade as God himself wipes away your tears of regret (Revelation 7:15-17). This is a time worth longing for. And it lies ahead of you, not behind.
Are you suffering from an unhealthy nostalgia? One way to tell is if you’re longing more for your past than you are for this future.
Because one thing is certain: your best days are yet to come.
Rachel Jones is 20-something, trying to keep it together, and ready to say what we’re all thinking. Whether you’re just feeling a bit lost or having a full “quarter life crisis”, her new book Is This It? is sure to encourage you (and make you laugh) as you navigate the challenges of adulting. Buy it here.
For a writer, it sounded like a dream assignment: sit down with eleven strangers, interview them about how they became a Christian, and write up their stories into an evangelistic book of testimonies for our partner organisation, Christianity Explored Ministries.
It turned out to be as fun, and as fascinating, and as stretching a project as I anticipated. Over three or four months last spring, I had the privilege of meeting some fantastic people and hearing their wonderful stories of God’s grace. In the process I drank a lot of coffee—in cafes and churches and at kitchen tables. I chatted to their kids and nosed around at the artwork in their homes. On one occasion I also ate some incredible fried chicken.
And like all the best projects I work on here at TGBC, the experience made a mark on me. Nine months later, here are my reflections on what writing Finding More taught me.
Apologetics are important, but secondary: Was Jesus a real person? Are the Gospels reliable historical records? These are questions that several interviewees said they looked into as they were exploring Christianity. But while robust apologetic arguments were often important in removing a roadblock, it was never the main thing in their story. The main thing was always encountering Jesus through the Scriptures; his words rang true, his character was compelling, and eventually, his claim of that person’s life was inescapable.
Take home: when it comes to evangelism, there really is no substitute for opening the Bible with someone and showing them Jesus in the pages of Scripture. This is how the Spirit works, so we must not lose confidence in it.
God redeems personality: Before David became a Christian, his overworking contributed to the breakdown of his marriage; now that hard-working streak is being used in God’s service in his role at a church community centre. Jason said he learned how to pastor people on the rave field in the 80s—that sense of loyalty and looking out for your friends is what he now tries to cultivate in his church family. Neither of their personalities changed when they became Christians; instead, those natural tendencies have been redirected from destructive behaviour to fruitful labours.
Take home: God is gracious, and truly can weave stories where all things are redeemed.
Your 20s are formative: Research has shown how effective childhood exposure to the gospel is (hence why many churches plough so much volunteer time into outward-facing youth and children’s groups). But young adulthood is also an extremely formative window. In the US, the National Association of Evangelicals found that 63% of Christians accepted Jesus as their saviour while aged 4-14 years old and 34% did so aged 15-29. Just 2% of Christians came to faith while over the age of 30. Our experience of finding interviewees for Finding More showed something similar. We were only looking for people who came to faith as an adult, but it was striking how many of those who came forward were young adults when they became Christians—students at university or 20-somethings in their first job. This makes sense sociologically. Your early 20s are a time when you’re still figuring out who you are and what you want from life. And perhaps it makes sense theologically. But for the grace of God, each passing year hardens the heart.
Take home: Are we making the most of this formative decade in the way that we do church? How could churches better partner with work going on in universities and colleges? What sort of resources are needed among this age group?
People are fascinating… but you have to be intentional: I’m not a particularly perceptive or reflective person—but for this project, I had to be both. For each interview, I had just an hour or two to get a meaningful sense of the participant’s personality and capture it for the page. What was it that made them tick? What events in their past had shaped their character? How would I describe their appearance and mannerisms? This exercise in looking and listening intentionally proved to be absolutely fascinating. I took notice of things about these strangers that I wouldn’t even be able to tell you about some of my friends, simply because I was looking for it. It struck me that if I applied the same level of interest and intentionality with every person I meet, my relationships would prove a lot more fruitful.
Take home: People are complex and fascinating. But it’s only if we’re intentional that we’ll have eyes to see their deeper motives and longings, and be able to speak the gospel into them.
Life is hard and death is scary: Broken family relationships; depression and anxiety; the death of a parent. One of these three issues came up in almost every interview I conducted. These were both the sorrows that drove people to first look for answers in the gospel, and the struggles that have marked their Christian walk since. You don’t need to sit down and interview eleven people to know that life in a fallen world is hard—but doing so brought home to me just how hard it is.
Take home: Every person we speak to is carrying a (usually unseen) burden of sorrow. When we remember that, we’ll look at people as Jesus did—with compassion—and speak of the Shepherd they need (Matthew 9 v 36).
National tragedies can create gospel opportunities: Two people I interviewed talked about the impact that the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center had on them. They couldn’t be more different. Deb was sitting on a couch in Cape Town, recovering from a drug-fuelled birthday party the night before; she saw in the news footage a terrifying picture of where her heroin addiction was going to land her—in total destruction. Nicky was a teacher and saw the footage on a TV at school; she was angry that her sisters could believe in a God who would let that happen, and took up the invitation to a Christianity Explored course just to prove them wrong. For both women, the scale of the tragedy provoked deep spiritual questions and a re-evaluation of where their life was at.
Take home: When tragedy hits the headlines, are we ready to engage with peoples’ vulnerabilities and questions? How could we do this better as churches and as individuals?
Why do you keep books on your shelf?
It’s a question that has been brought into sharp focus by the decluttering craze that is sweeping the world, led by the diminutive Japanese style guru Marie Kondo.
Marie has been misquoted as saying that everyone should only have 30 books at any one time. But that is her practice only, but I suspect influenced by our ability to reference or read most things electronically, and a cultural disposition to minimalism. Other cultures find more virtue in crowded chaos and glorious muddle. As one commentator to the Kondo phenomenon said: “We’re not after sparks of joy, we want to swim in wonder”.
Marie’s message and method is one that is simple to grasp: if something does not spark joy within you—why do you hang onto it? If you’re reading this blog on the website from a Christian publisher, it’s a good bet that you love books. So it’s a better bet that the inside of your home shares these features with mine: Bookshelves crammed with books lining the walls in more than one room and a stack of books by your bedside waiting patiently for you to turn your attention to them.
So why do we hang onto them when there is little chance that we will ever re-read them? The answer, it turns out is quite complicated.
- They are very occasionally useful: cookbooks, reference books, books on art. They may remain unopened for years, but when I am looking for inspiration for cooking, or have an idle moment, or want to settle an argument or illustrate my erudition to someone, out they come and the crusted pages are teased gently apart to reveal their store of treasures.
- I might re-read them: some books had such a profound impact on me that I keep them there on the off-chance. I have a line of Master and Commander books by Patrick O’Brien that absorbed my imagination for a couple of years as I worked through the 21-volume series. A friend once described these books as “crack-cocaine for intellectuals”. I am a recovering addict.
- Virtue (or vice) signalling: One of the first things I do when I enter another’s house is take in their bookshelves. It’s a good starting point, and a way of getting into what someone is like—their tastes, their interests, their passions. And they become sparks for discussing not just literature, but life, loves and who we are.
- I might lend them: I try to be generous with my books — when I read a book that teaches me something profound—I want to share it. Recent examples for me have been Hans Roslings Factfulness and Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. There will also be a couple of Christian books in this category—A Fresh Start by John Chapman was my evangelistic book of giving for many years; I’m still searching for a worthy replacement.
- They represent a memory for me: I have a row of Biggles books on one shelf, that transport me to a time when I was an eager 12-year old enraptured by the thought of flying and space travel. They are dated and simplistic now and awkwardly non-PC), but I only need to catch sight of one to get a smile on my face.
- I might (one day) read them to a younger generation: Books are not just personal cultural objects, they are things to pass on, both physically by giving, but also experientially and relationally by reading and talking about with others. And if you are reading this my beautiful daughters Jenny, Maggie and Lizzie — no pressure.
A clear-out will come at some point, but I suspect that I will find joy, or anticipate future joy, in far more than 30 books.
What other reason do you keep books on your shelves?
There was a debate (that you can still watch) between Prof Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist Biologist and Prof John Lennox, the Christian Mathematician. Richard Dawkins started by summarising his greatest problem with Christianity (with a tone of total disdain), “[Lennox] believes that the Creator of the Universe, the God who devised the laws of physics, the laws of mathematics… billions of light years of space, billions of years of time… couldn’t think of a better way to rid the world of sin than to come to this little speck of cosmic dust to have himself tortured and executed... That’s the God that John Lennox believes in.”
John Lennox starts his answer by thanking him for accurately summarising at least part of what he believes.
That is incredible!
What Richard Dawkins thinks is the most ridiculous flaw in Christianity is what John Lennox holds as its greatest jewel. It will always be so. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the absolute heart of Christianity. What is hideously ugly to one is beautiful to another.The Easter story is the apex of the Christian’s story
Christianity claims that the first Easter weekend is the centre of human history. The events of those three days from the first Good Friday up until Easter Day can transform the eternity of every human. There is a claim!
So this is the page of our Bibles to open at with our children. It is these events that we want our children to watch unfold before them.
We want our children to discover why the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is the most amazing story ever told.
We want them to join in the shouting as Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem as the returning King.
We want them to listen as an innocent man is sentenced to the ultimate punishment.
We want their hearts to break as the King of the universe dies.
We want them to share the relief of knowing that Christ’s pain brings us into his family.
We want our children to stand at the mouth of the open tomb at dawn as the King rises again.Create wonder in your children’s hearts
A friend told me that she remembers the moment when she first told her sons that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were two and three years old. They both looked as if they were about to walk out of the front door and look for Jesus. She could see their thoughts in their eyes, “He’s alive? So where is he now?”
That’s why we must not stop there. We want them to imagine standing on the hill outside Jerusalem as the disciples watch their best friend rise to rule in heaven. We know where he is. And we know where we’re going.
"Parenting is often the story of loving our children enough to muddle through when we don’t really know what we’re doing."
And if you are convinced that the Easter story is the perfect place to make a start, please don’t continue to have the nagging doubt that you won’t know what to do when you open the Bible with your children. When some of our friends were trialling the first draft of my new Lent family devotional, The Wonder of Easter we asked them for feedback. One told us, “We don't want to lose this precious routine that for so long we have yearned for. We didn't know how to go about doing it. We didn't have an impetus to do it. We didn't think we could do it. Now I think we can keep going but the children will certainly be missing all of your visual treats like fire, happyland figures, drawings, play dough and Lego. Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to do this.”
Parenting is often the story of loving our children enough to muddle through when we don’t really know what we’re doing. We keep going, trying to work it out as we go along, because we love them. That is enough. You love your children. You love Jesus. So open the Bible with them, show them Jesus and see what happens. We’ve written this book to make those first steps a little easier. At least, that’s our prayer. You can let us know if we’ve managed it.
The Wonder of Easter is a flexible, easy-to-use Lent devotional that allows both adults and children to celebrate the limitless wonder of Easter. Walk through Luke’s Gospel and the Old Testament to discover why the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is the most amazing story ever told.
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? When you read Isaiah’s great song about the servant of the LORD the answer seems pretty straight-forward:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering …
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. Our pain, our suffering, our wounds are all healed through the cross.
But there's an obvious problem with this: our diseases are not all healed.
Colin is claiming this promise for his cancer. ‘By his wounds we are healed,’ he says, ‘and therefore God will heal my cancer – I just need to believe.’ I admire his confidence. Or it is desperation? I’m not sure. I do know I’ve been a pastor too long to share his confidence. I’ve seen too many people who were convinced God had promised to heal them only for it to end in bitter disappointment. Struggling with cancer is hard enough without compounding the challenge by mixing in a crisis of faith.
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? No. Christians and unbelievers alike continue to be beset by illness.
So what are we to make of the promise that ‘by his wounds we are healed’?Sickness and sin
One option is to spiritualise it. We shouldn’t take ‘wounds’ literally, some people say. Instead illness is a picture of the real problem which is sin. Just before Isaiah says that ‘by his wounds we are healed,’ he says: ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.’ (Isaiah 53:5) This is the real issue. We are all transgressors, people who have broken God’s holy law. We therefore all deserve the righteous judgment of God. What the cross is really about is not the cancer that eats away at our bodies, but the cancer of sin that infects our souls.
There’s something in this argument. Sin is the big issue. Or rather the holiness of God is the big issue. Isaiah’s ministry was shaped by an encounter with the holy God. When Isaiah was confronted with the holy God before whom the seraphim hide their faces and about whom they sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ Isaiah declares, ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’ Six times in Isaiah 5 Isaiah has declared ‘Woe’ against sinful people. But he is forced to declare the seventh ‘Woe’ against himself. And the phrase ‘I am ruined’ is literally ‘I’m destroyed’ or even ‘I’m disintegrating’. It’s as if the very molecules of Isaiah’s body are dissolving and about to crumble to the ground. The godly prophet of God who has proclaimed the very words of God now confesses, ‘I am a man of unclean lips.’ Even his best acts are unclean when compared to the overwhelming holiness of God.
The marvel of the cross is that Jesus cleanses unholy people so they can come into the presence of the holy God. It is Jesus who is destroyed in our place so we can be forgiven. Sickness is designed to point us to sin and healing is a picture of salvation.
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. One day every child of God will be healed of every sickness. But not necessarily yet.
But sickness is not simply a picture of sin. It’s also a result of sin. Human sickness was not an inherent part of the good world that God created. It only made its entrance as a result of our rebellion against God. So we have good reason to expect the removal of sin to lead to the end of the sickness. Jesus has healed our wounds by dealing with the root problem: human sin.
The healing miracles Jesus performed while on earth where therefore a sign of his salvation. So Jesus says to a haemorrhaging woman, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you’ (Luke 8:48). It’s literally ‘your faith has saved you’. Then in verse 50 Jesus literally says to Jairus, whose daughter has just died of sickness, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be saved’. Luke was a doctor so presumably he had a rich vocabulary of medical terms for sickness. But he deliberately speaks of these healings as acts of salvation. He wants us to see them as a promise of the salvation Jesus offers. When Jesus returns he will make all things new and ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. One day every child of God will be healed of every sickness. But not necessarily yet.
In the meantime we don’t put our hope in our ability to claim a miracle. We don’t know what God’s purposes will be for our sickness and through our sickness. But we do know that, if we trust in Jesus, our sins are already forgiven and our sickness will one day be cured when we receive a glorious, new resurrection body.
Tim Chester is the author of The Beauty of The Cross. Some of the richest prophecies about the cross of Christ can be found in Isaiah chapters 52 and 53 (the last of the 'Servant Songs'). Take time to go through these familiar yet extraordinary chapters in the run up to Easter with this Lent devotional.
If recent reports into smartphone and social media usage are to be believed, then the answer is probably a yes. And, shockingly, if you’re a female then the link between the amount of time you spend on social media and the likelihood of you experiencing anxiety and depression are even higher.
And, arguably, it’s not too difficult to work out why. Because if you use your smartphone for social media, then the chances are you're keeping half an eye (if not your full and regular attention) on what your peers are doing.... what cars they're driving, what holidays they've been on, and what shape they're in. And the question that always lingers in your mind as you scroll through endlessly filtered photos, exaggerated status updates, and news of events that you’ve not been invited to is, "How am I doing in comparison?"
Some days you might measure up pretty well (and you might even feel a little bit smug), but on other days, when your clothes don’t quite fit as you want them to, or when your bank balance has just taken a battering from another unexpected outgoing, the unfavourable comparison can leave you feeling miserable.
Comparison is not a modern phenomenon. (The phrase, “all comparisons are odious” was recorded as early as the 15th century. And you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to see the destructive outworkings of envy.) But, arguably, this age-old struggle has been intensified in the 21st century by the rise of personal technology and social media.Why do we do it?
So, why do we do it? And how do we stop it? Sophie De Witt’s book, Compared to Her brilliantly answers some of these questions in a way that sensitively and practically challenges a struggle that we’re all prone to...
"Pause for a moment before reading on, and just ask yourself: When I compare myself with someone else, why do I do it? What am I hoping to get out of it? Maybe you had one of these answers, or something like it:
I don’t know; I just do it (it’s an unthinking compulsion).
Because I want to know how I’m doing in life. Am I doing as well as I could be, or is there more I need to get or do?
I want to make sure that I’m “normal”.
I need to make sure that I’m not missing out on something that others are enjoying.
It makes me feel better when I realise I’m doing something better than someone else.
Because my parents told me throughout my childhood to be a little bit more like my sister/other people’s children.
Underneath each of those answers to the question “Why compare?” is one of three motivations:
I want to know I’m worthwhile (I want to know I’m significant).
I want to know that my life is as good as it could be (I want to be satisfied).
I want to know that I’ve got what I need in life (I want to feel secure).
Of course, sometimes it’s a mixture of all three. Essentially, what I’m after is to make sure I’ve got as much, or more, of something than others, so that I can feel significant about who I am, satisfied about what I’m doing and secure about where I’m heading. This behaviour, or Compulsive Comparison Syndrome (CCS) as I like to call it, is a compulsive measuring of myself against the standards of others, desiring a higher position.Who do we do it with?
Who was the last person you looked at and thought: “I wish I had her…”? How about: “I’m so glad I’m not like her when it comes to…”?
I’ll compare myself with anyone. Strangers in a shopping centre, airbrushed models in a magazine. The owners of the houses on home improvement shows.
But most often, since they’re most similar to me and I see their lives in detail most often, it’s my friends, my family, the people I see most days. After all, when I compare my face to Angelina Jolie’s, I’ve got several ready-made excuses: her skincare budget is probably more than our annual income; and, of course, she’s probably been airbrushed. In my mind, she’s in a different world to me. When I compare my children’s behaviour to the kids of my friend who lives down the street, however, I don’t have the same excuses. She’s part of my world, and so that comparison has more of an effect on me.
But we can also compare ourselves with people who don’t exist. Ever caught yourself comparing who you are now with who you were twenty years ago, or comparing yourself with who you dreamed you’d become, or with other people’s expectations of you?
It seems to me that most of us are comparing ourselves with others all the time, in all kinds of ways. That’s the problem with a compulsion; it happens unconsciously, without us even really noticing it’s happening.The remedy: contentment in Christ
CCS is not easy to be rid of. But it is wonderful to live without. This side of death, we’ll all be recovering sufferers. But as we live the gospel, letting God be God, treating Jesus as our Creator and Saviour, we can know real blessing. We can experience the significance of being made and loved by Him; and the satisfaction of living for Him; the the security of knowing He will give us fullness of life without end. What a wonderful life He has given us! How can you and I not say…
“Praise be to the Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1 v 3)
That’s really the sign of a woman who enjoys a heart which has replaced CCS with contentment: she praises her God, and is looking forward to doing so for ever."
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
(Isaiah 53 v 3)
A young woman poked her head in. “Can I come in?” She smiled, all bright and breezy. She was a counsellor, she explained, and had come to talk to us about therapeutic support available to families in our situation. Rebecca took against her on sight.
In Thinking Out Loud, the England football player Rio Ferdinand describes the loss of his wife, Rebecca, to cancer. Rebecca grew close to the nursing staff who cared for her. The one exception was the counsellor.
“Tell me this,” Rebecca asked her coldly. “Have you ever lost someone close to you?” “Well, no, I can’t say I have,” the young woman replied. “But I have trained.” Without another word, Rebecca shifted onto her side to face the wall, and after a few awkward minutes the counsellor backed sheepishly out of the room. “Don’t let her anywhere near my kids,” Rebecca told me flatly, once she had gone. “What the hell does she know? She’s never had to live through anything like this. What a pointless waste of time.”
Not only was Jesus fully human; he was also a suffering human being. He was, as the King James Version famously puts it, a “man of sorrows”. He shared our humanity and he shared our pain. It was familiar to him. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said on the night before he died (Matthew 26 v 38). “Grief was his intimate, inseparable companion,” says John Newton.
This is Christ’s love for us. All this he willingly accepted because his love made him determined to save us. And this is the beginning of our love for him. We love because he first loved us. Meditate on the Saviour’s love for you, see his sufferings as the measure of that love, and your love for him will grow.
Remember Rebecca Ferdinand’s words: “What the hell does she know? She’s never had to live through anything like this. What a pointless waste of time.” The counsellor had been “trained”. But it’s only by experiencing suffering ourselves that we are truly equipped to empathise with others. And Jesus has been equipped through suffering to sympathise with you in your suffering. “It was fitting that God,” says Hebrews 2 v 10, “should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered”. Jesus does know; he has lived through suffering; he is never a pointless waste of time.
It also means our suffering need not be a pointless waste of time. It may be that God is equipping us to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1 v 4). Don’t use your suffering to exclude the world. Use it to connect to others so you can receive comfort from God through others and offer comfort from God to others.
This is an extract from Tim Chester's new Lent devotional, The Beauty of the Cross. Delight in the beauty of Christ afresh this Easter; buy it here.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the church today? There are a number of ways we could answer that question. But I suspect near the top of most people’s lists would be increasing hostility from the world around us. A generation ago Christianity was part of mainstream culture. Our ethics were considered the norm, even if people didn’t live up to them. But think about how our society now considers our views on sexuality, homosexuality, marriage, gender identity and gender roles, not to mention our views on the uniqueness of Christ, the nature of sin and the reality of judgment. Ideas that were once mainstream are now not only marginal, but considered deviant. Christians have become the immoral people of our age. Social media amplifies this hostility until the ‘noise’ is deafening.
It’s not just our sexual morals which are questioned. We also live in an age of rampant consumerism in which who you are is defined by what you own or how you look. International trade brings benefits, but also leaves much injustice in its wake and the impact on the environment is reaching crisis levels. An economics shaped by love feels like a romantic fantasy.
We live in an idolatrous and unjust age. And so for contemporary Christians the challenge of remaining faithful to Christ is immense. Elsewhere in the world Christians face violent opposition, imprisonment and martyrdom.
[inline_product:fyrev]A familiar context
This is precisely the situation for which the book of Revelation was written. The book is not an ambiguous description of events in some far off future. It’s a description of our world – with all its challenges and traumas – seen from the perspective of heaven. ‘After this I looked,’ says John, ‘and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.’ (Rev. 4:1) This is the ‘stand-point’ or ‘view-point’ of the book. Revelation is a book for our generation; a vital resource if we are to remain true.
John was writing to small Christian communities under the Roman Empire. Everywhere they looked they saw the propaganda of Rome. The coins in their hands, the standards carried by soldiers, the inscriptions on public buildings – all proclaimed the might of Rome. The elites of the cities in which John’s readers lived did well out of Roman rule and in return they were keen to impose conformity on those under their influence. To get on in life you needed to be part of a trade guild, but that involved sacrificial offerings to the imperial cult. Roman trade extended across the known world, but it had a dark side as John acknowledges when his inventory of traded goods ends with ‘human beings sold as slaves’ (Rev. 18:13).
So the book of Revelation is like any of the other letters of the New Testament. Just like 1 Corinthians, it addresses the specific challenges faced by its readers. But, like 1 Corinthians, it does so in a way that provides rich resource for us today.Make sense of our turbulent times
What John does again and again in the book of Revelation is take on the critique of idolatry and injustice made by the prophets of the Old Testament, and reapply it to the idolatry and injustice of his day. In doing so, he provides a model of us to do the same in our day. So Revelation is a powerful tool to help us make sense of the chaos of our globalised world, to see it from the perspective of heaven.
So in some key ways Revelation is like any other New Testament letter. Except, of course, it doesn’t read like other New Testament letters! What are we to make of all the imagery and visions? How do we make sense of the beasts, angels, sevens, horsemen, dragons, angels and so on?Fire up your imagination
Let me suggest Revelation is not as weird as we might first assume. We are actually adept at making sense of imagery. Imagine the opening scenes of a movie. Lightning streaks across a darkened sky as a streams of bats fly from the silhouetted shape of a castle tower. You know immediately you’re watching a Gothic horror movie. Or imagine instead a beautiful young woman, looking fraught, her arms full of files, collides with a young man, sending papers everywhere. With upbeat music in the background, they both bend down to pick up the papers and clash heads. We know we’re in Rom-Com territory and that after a few ups and downs this couple are going to end up getting married.
We just need to bring those skills to the book of Revelation. Don’t think of a John as an engineer designing a workflow for the future. Think of him as a composer evoking a mood and addressing the heart. The book of Revelation is a sustained appeal to the imagination.
If John’s readers were to survive they needed a bigger vision to sustain them. They needed an alternative to the propaganda of Roman power. That’s what the book of the Revelation provided. It is the same today. If we are to remain faithful we don’t just need information about Christ, vital as that is. We also need our imaginations to be fired. We need the perspective of heaven. We don’t just need a textbook; we need a drama, a sound and light show, a movie. We need something to capture our imaginations. That’s why the book of Revelation is a book for our generation.
To celebrate the launch of Finding More, a new collection of testimonies, we spoke to Rico Tice about why sharing your own story can be so powerful in evangelism and how to go about doing it.
[inline_product:more]Back to basics: it's a Christian buzzword, but what does 'testimony' actually mean and what does the Bible have to say about it?
Christians use the word testimony to describe telling a story as a witness to what Christ has done in their lives. So a testimony is simply the story of the work of Christ in your life.
If you think about it, a testimony is actually three stories coming together—God’s story, my story, and the story of the person you are sharing it with. The big story of what God is doing in the world, my story of how God has changed my life personally and also a reaching out, asking 'how would this affect your story?'
Experience in the Bible is very important. Time and again we see people like the apostle Paul tell their own story. He tells the story of his conversion on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-22) - so that sense of how the person of Christ has affected an individual life is huge in the Bible.Why do you think sharing your personal story is such a powerful tool in evangelism?
At the heart of evangelism is a miracle that God has done - as we speak about Jesus, God opens blind eyes. The reason a testimony is so powerful is that wherever you stand philosophically, you can’t deny a change, or indeed a miracle, in someone’s life.
So the man born blind in John chapter 9 says 'I was blind, now I can see, and it’s because of Jesus!' And they want to throw him out of the synagogue. The reason it’s so powerful is that there’s no question of the change - you can see that in Finding More too.
A testimony is a chance to say to someone - 'wherever you stand, what do you make of this change?'When is a good opportunity to share your story with someone?
Whether telling your own story or sharing the gospel there is a pain line to be crossed. We don’t move naturally into this because it is a cosmic battle. So it might never be seamless—there’ll always be a change of gear. But because it’s your own story and we are in a culture that values story so highly I think to ask ‘Could I tell my story?’ is something people are open to.
But don’t think that it’s easy—we need to pray and have courage, which is why in the Acts of the Apostles the biggest prayer is for boldness.How would you structure your story?
What was I like before? Tell the story about how you were living in God’s world without reference to him and share examples of that.
What happened? Well my eyes were opened to the fact I needed rescue, there would be a judgment, Christ died to forgive me, he rose and is Lord. This is the key to it all!
What difference has it made? Jesus says in John 10:10 that he gives life to the full. So how have I been flourishing since I’ve been following Jesus? It’ll be costly too of course, but how is it wonderful?
What about you? The great thing to do at the end of a testimony is to leave it open and say ‘now what do you make of that?’ or a pain line question like ‘what do you think of the resurrection of Jesus? Can you see how I get hope from that?’
The best spontaneity is rehearsed. My advice would be to write out your testimony and to memorise it. This means that as I speak to you I can give myself to you in chatting rather than worrying about what I’m going to say. And that takes practice.
So I write it out, practice it and ask God for opportunities to share it.How can we make our stories more about God than about us in a way that is still personal and relatable?
I don’t think it’s a worry to talk about yourself, as long as you’re not the hero. As you speak make sure that Jesus and what he’s done is the hero. He had to die for my sin, he rose again because I’m going to die and I can’t do anything about it.
So there could be quite a lot about your own life in it—that’s fine. I love hearing people’s stories. It’s making sure God gets the credit and not you.How do you deal with uncomfortable and unpopular doctrines in your testimony?
People won’t like the bits of your story that tell them Jesus is unique, that sin is real and that there will be judgment. But put that in your words and experience ‘I realised there would be a day of judgement because the resurrection happened’ or 'I was not living as I should in God's world' or ‘I realised that I desperately needed forgiveness’.
And float the difficult doctrines on outcomes everyone can applaud—such as becoming a kinder and more forgiving person. Even if they don’t like the gospel, people are quite pleased that the Christian has those characteristics.How would you use Finding More in your evangelism?
Story and people’s stories are the currency in the culture. Someone said ‘he who has the best story wins’ and I do think that Christians have the best stories. The stories of how Jesus has changed lives are the best stories.
Say to people 'will you read this story?' and have confidence that people like to read other people's stories. And you can ask people afterwards ‘what did you make of what happened to Caroline or Nicky or Drew in the book?’ They are remarkable stories and they’re for good - say to them 'these people are in better shape, what do you make of it?'
The people in the stories also looked at Mark’s Gospel. So they had a careful look at the story of Jesus in the gospel of Mark - have confidence that will do it’s work. It has transformed the life of millions.
The story of Lazarus provides us with numerous pictures of Christ's victory over death, not just for Lazarus, but also with what he will go on to achieve on the cross and ressurection and the spoils of which we graciously enjoy today. The big and wonderful message of this book is that one day, after we die, Jesus and his friends will say goodbye to goodbyes — forever. And that's why it was such a joyous story to illustrate as it gave us so many opportunities to draw out these rich truths into all the detail of the drawings. Here are 8 illustrations from Goodbye to Goodbyes that you might have missed...1. Mary and Martha hear about Jesus making the blind see - it is the blind man from 'God’s Very Good Idea'.
2. Mary and Martha hear how Jesus healed a boy. It is the boy from 'The One O’Clock Miracle'
[inline_product:t5bye]3. We have imagined Lazarus, Mary and Martha having a family pottery business. When the disciples are remembering their friend Lazarus who has died, they remember him teaching them to make pots, and the gifts he has given them.
4. Lazarus has a pot of flowers above his bed. Later, after he has died, the flowers have wilted…
5. When Jesus is waiting to go to raise Lazarus, he is feeding the five-thousand.
6. When Lazarus is raised from death, there is a Pharisee in the crowd who is not happy about it…
7. Did you spot all the characters enjoying the banquet with king Jesus in Heaven? They are:
- The father from ‘The One O'Clock Miracle',
- Adam and Eve from 'The Garden, The Curtain and the Cross’,
- Two children from 'Gods Very Good Idea',
- Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
- One of Jesus' disciples,
- Martin Luther King Jr,
- C. H. Spurgeon,
- Jonathan Edwards,
- Caterina Luther (Martin Luther’s wife).
8. There is an angel worship band in Heaven, complete with angel drummer!
In this vivid, moving and exciting retelling of the story of Lazarus, Lauren Chandler helps children understand how Jesus makes all the difference to death. Children will see that because Jesus rose from death, he has power over it and all who believe in him will also rise, just as Lazarus did. Pick up a copy of Goodbye to Goodbyes today.