Blogroll: The Good Book Company

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5 things to pray when you’re doubting

5 hours 4 min ago

“It seems to me that doubt is worse than trial. I had sooner suffer any affliction than be left to question the gospel or my own interest in it.” – Charles Spurgeon

Perhaps you’d be inclined to agree with Spurgeon on that one. Few things are as miserable as going through the motions while quietly wondering whether any of it means anything. It’s one of those things that we don’t tend to talk about much as Christians. Yet Jude tells us to “be merciful to those who doubt” (v 22)—clearly there’s an expectation of gentle engagement with those who are suffering from this particular spiritual ailment.

At the same time, doubts are not morally neutral. That means that they shouldn’t be cuddled or accommodated, or left in the corner in the hope that they’ll go away—they need to be contended against. And one of our most powerful weapons in the fight for faith is prayer.

On one level, this seems counter-intuitive. But a spiritual sickness needs a spiritual weapon—it cannot be defeated by logic alone.

But how do you pray when it’s the last thing in the world that you want to do? What do you say to the God that you’re not sure is there? To give you a hand, are five things to pray when doubt sets in, all based on 1 John 5 v 9-15 and taken from Five Things to Pray for Your Heart. Bookmark them or print them out, and use them to pray for yourself, or for someone else, next time doubt sets in.

1. Trust your testimony

“We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son” (v 9).

Thank God that he has given us the testimony of his word in the Bible and his Spirit in our hearts. Say sorry to God for doubting it, and ask him to help you to trust his testimony above all “human testimony”.

2. Keep it simple

“Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony … And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (v 10-11).

We might have lots of unanswered questions, but the only thing that ultimately matters is what we think of Jesus: that we believe that eternal life is found in him, the Son of God. Talk to God honestly about what you think of Jesus—tell him now what you believe.

3. Rejoice in eternal life

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (v 12).

Maybe you sometimes daydream about what life would look like if you gave up on Christianity. But that life would be no life at all. Ask God to give you a real, deep sense of joy in the eternal life he has given you.

4. Listen to you

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (v 13).

Thank God that he wants us to be certain, and he caused the Bible to be written so that we can be. Ask for discipline to keep reading it on your own and meeting with others to hear it taught, however you’re feeling. Pray that as you hear God’s word, he would grow your assurance that in Christ you have eternal life.

5. Speak to you

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (v 14).

Sometimes praying is the last thing we want to do—but take heart; God hears you. Ask God to keep you making the effort to speak to him in prayer—and pray that as you do so, he would increase your confidence that he hears you.

Find help to pray through many of life’s joys and trials in Rachel Jones’ new book: Five Things to Pray for Your Heart: Prayers that Change You to be More Like Jesus. Available now.

Categories: Christian Resources

Does Jesus really want me to enjoy my life?

Tue, 22/05/2018 - 09:57

In first-century Israel, wedding parties would last seven days. They knew how to have a party. So the village would gather for this great celebration, a great highlight in the calendar.

It is an obvious thing to say, but notice this: Jesus was invited to the party, and was happy to be there. I wonder if that fits with your concept of Jesus. Sometimes as we think of Jesus, we construct a kind of very “religious” Jesus who would never be seen at a party. Many of us dismiss him altogether, because he seems to have nothing much to do with our reality. Others of us go to church for a bit of Jesus, and then we go off and get on with real life. But Jesus came to be in, and to enjoy, real life. He was happy to be at the party.

I’ve never been to a Jewish party but I’ve seen films of Jewish parties, and I’ve seen how the guys very often lock their arms around one another and dance away—and I can’t imagine Jesus was in the corner looking down on the other guests. I’m pretty sure he would have been linking arms and joining them. It’s really striking that in the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life he seems to have spent more time at parties and feasts than in religious buildings. He once said to those around him, I've come that you might have life, and have life abundantly (John 10 v 10). He didn’t say, I’ve come so that you might have meetings and have them abundantly. He didn’t say, I’ve come to shrivel up your life but, I’ve come to fill up your life.

Jesus came to be in, and to enjoy, real life. He was happy to be at the party.

Where does the idea that Jesus should be a dull, religious figure, doing religious things in religious buildings, come from? Well, not long before Jesus attended this wedding, he’d spent time in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil, Satan—and Satan had a different idea about what he should be like (you can read about it in Luke 3 v 9-13).

Why don't you do a sign, Satan said to him, so that everyone believes in you?

Where?

Throw yourself down from the temple. Let the angels save you. Let that be a sign.

That’s very religious. But Jesus said no. He wouldn’t do that kind of sign in that kind of place. That wasn’t his agenda. Instead, he showed up at a party and did the first of his signs there. Indeed, the first time John tells us of him visiting the temple—the very next episode after this wedding party in Cana—we find Jesus driving out the people who were using their religion to get rich (John 2 v 13-22). Far from fitting in with the religious ways of his nation, Jesus started a one-man riot in the most religious place in that nation!

Isn’t that great? Jesus came into real life, and he wants to come into our real lives to be involved in the whole of our lives. He was happy to be at somebody else’s party, and to do his first sign there, to serve them. It’s amazing that Jesus did that.

The surprising truth

Many people have a negative view of the Christian faith. They think that following Jesus will cramp their style, ruin their fun and generally make life worse, not better. Perhaps you know someone who thinks like that. Perhaps you sometimes think like that yourself. Well if that’s true, I would love you to take another look. Because Jesus wasn’t a dull, boring, religious figure.

I want to show you the perhaps surprising truth that life tastes better - and we can enjoy life more - when we let Jesus deal with our deepest needs. When you invite Jesus to your party, he doesn't just rescue it, he transforms it, and makes it the best party ever.

This is an adapted excerpt from Terry Virgo’s evangelistic resource Life Tastes Better. Bulk orders can be purchased at 67p each.

Categories: Christian Resources

Are we more merciful than God?

Mon, 21/05/2018 - 13:49

Netflix have released a film about about Carlton Pearson, the famous pentecostal evangelist from the 90s. Come Sunday stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the influential preacher from Tulsa, Oklahoma whose life takes a dramatic turn when he begins to question the existence of hell.

Pearson was a successful minister of the gospel and at the peak of his influence he received what he believed to be a direct revelation from God—a revelation about "the gospel of inclusion."

As he observed the news coverage of the evil and senseless suffering of the genocide in Rwanda, along with with the death of some of his close family members, Pearson began to rethink the orthodox theology of hell he had been preaching his whole life.

The film portrays the uncomfortable unravelling of Pearson's ministry as he rapidly lost his congregants, ministry peers, the support of high-ranking clergy in The Church of God in Christ, and eventually his closest friends.

Reflecting on the depressing episode, Pearson himself said during an interview, "I went from hero to zero, and lost it all."

Deconstructing orthodoxy

The filmmakers do a fair job of depicting a man who hasn't just crumbled under the usual pressure of secular conformity. Instead, we see a man who deliberately goes back to the scriptures to question the foundations of his new revelation and ends up doubling-down on his new universalist belief.

In the days between church services we see him face increasing pressure to recant his heresy. He doesn't. He comes back harder the next Sunday. The scriptures, he says, confirm that, through Jesus, God has forgiven every single person and proceeds to preach a message of total inclusivity. To quote him in the film, "I'm not rewriting anything, I'm just re-reading it."

Perhaps the most powerful and emotive argument he articulates is this: if we, in our limited capacity to love, can accept our unsaved friends and family then why can’t God, who possesses an unquestionably greater resource of love than we do? He poses the question that the whole film gradually leads us towards: are we more merciful than God?

It’s a provocative question. Why is there such a grinding mismatch between our affection and love for unbelievers, and God’s vast mercy?

A common objection

You may not have heard the question articulated exactly in this way, but you’ve probably heard someone object to the notion that a God worthy of our full trust could really send someone to hell, forever.

I've encountered this objection myself in my interactions with Christian universalists and I'm grateful for Erik Raymond’s careful response in his book Is Hell For Real?  He says that hell is the essential response of God’s character to sin. And when we struggle with the idea of hell, it is because we have misunderstood either God or Sin. He goes on to give a telling illustration.

Why sin is so bad?

"Imagine walking down the street and you notice someone sitting on a bench focused on what’s in his hands. Unable to see, you peer in closer and observe that he is pulling the legs off a grasshopper. How would you respond?

“Other than thinking him to be a bit strange you more than likely wouldn’t confront him about what he is doing. It’s cruel, sure, but we swat insects every day without much of a second thought. But what if it wasn’t a grasshopper but a frog? You would likely be a bit more disturbed, but perhaps also reluctant to stop and confront the stranger.

“And what if it was a bird? Would you say something then? Would you call the police? How about if it was a puppy? Sensing the instability and malevolence of the man, you might refrain from confrontation but you would definitely call the authorities.

“Finally, what if it was a human baby? Would you stop him? Would you intervene? No question. At risk to yourself you would intervene and physically fight him to protect the child.

"What is the difference in each of these scenes? Why would most people keep walking if they saw a grasshopper, but stop if they saw a child being assaulted? What prompts a different reaction? In each case the act is the same—pulling off legs. What’s the difference? It’s the one who is sinned against.

“Your response would be different in the face of the same action depending upon the value of the one who is being sinned against. The more valuable the creature, the more serious and reprehensible it is to assault them. If God were a grasshopper, then eternal, conscious punishment would be an overreaction. But God is not a grasshopper.

“The God of the Bible is perfect in holiness, righteousness and love. There is no one who compares with him in terms of his beauty. In fact, his beauty is an infinite beauty. His glory is of infinite worth. He deserves perfection. He is worthy of this. Anything less than this perfection is not a misdemeanor but a capital offense. Eternal hell corresponds with the nature of God and the nature of sin. Since God is the highest good, then sin against him is the highest form of evil. The punishment of an eternal hell corresponds with the worth of an infinitely glorious God.

“Misconceptions about hell will always err on these two points: the worth of God and the sinfulness of sin. God’s worth corresponds with sin’s punishment. Nobody gets upset over the loss of something of little value, but if those things are of high value, then everyone can see their importance. If we don’t see sin as an attack on God’s infinite worth, then we will not see hell as a just response to it. The punishment does indeed fit the crime.”

Is Hell for Real is a thoughtful and accessible guide to the Bible's teaching on God's judgment and hell. You can read chapter 1 for free here. If you have Netflix I encourage you to invest the time in giving Come Sunday a viewing. Chances are, people you know are asking the very same question.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Weddings in the Bible

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 10:37
Categories: Christian Resources

The 2 reasons why you don’t pray for yourself (and why that needs to change)

Thu, 17/05/2018 - 08:52

“How’s your walk with the Lord?”

That was the catchphrase of an old Bible study leader of mine.

I can still imagine the scene. There would be half a dozen of us crowded into tiny living room on a Thursday night. The words above were usually spoken after the study was finished, when we were sharing prayer requests.  

A particular member of the group was one of those extraordinarily compassionate people who attracts hurting people like a magnet—they seemed to sense that they were safe with her. And she’d bring their struggles to us for prayer: friends who were battling mental health issues, relatives who were ill, flatmates who were under work pressure. The needs weighed heavy on her, too, because she loved the people underneath them.

Our Bible study leader would listen carefully and nod along with genuine sympathy. But nobody was ever let off the hook. Without fail, she’d follow up with this question: “But what about you? How’s your walk with the Lord?”  

It's often easier to look at the needs of others than to turn inwards and consider the needs of my own heart.

This was a wise lady. The point was this: we neglect to pray for our hearts at our peril.  

Years later and it seems that many of us (myself included) are slow to ask for prayer for ourselves. By this I don’t mean prayer for our circumstances (that’s easy enough), but for what’s really going on inside: for our hearts.

This isn’t just phenomenon in our “public” prayers either; I reckon that most of us struggle to pray for ourselves in private too.

We might spend time praying for others as part of our “quiet time”—working down a list, going through a prayer diary, swiping on an app. These are all great things to do.

But in the words of my old Bible study leader, what about you? When did you last spend time—significant, deliberate time—praying about your own character?

Most of us find this aspect of prayer hard. Why? Here are just two suggestions—there are probably many more.

1. Praying for yourself seems… selfish

Perhaps some of us are like my old friend from the Bible study—we feel genuinely burdened by the needs of others. With so many people with so many problems, is it selfish to spend time praying for ourselves? Is praying for yourself just self-absorbed?

Not necessarily. To be sure, it’s good to pray for others—the apostle Paul’s letters are filled with heartfelt prayers for other Christians. But there’s a sense in which if we want to be of any help to others, we need God to help us first. Maybe a lack of prayer for ourselves reveals a misplaced self-reliance.

John Piper describes his habit of praying in “concentric circles” like this:

“The most needy person I know is John Piper. So I pray for John Piper’s soul because if I lose the faith, I can’t pray for anybody. Then I widen my circle to my family. Then I widen the circle to staff and elders at church.”

When I ask my current Bible study leader what I can pray for him (usually because he’s shown the initiative to ask me first…) he usually gives this response: “godliness”. His point is that if he’s growing in godliness, and responding to life’s circumstances and the people around him with increasing godliness, everything else will fall into place.

And he’s right. In fact, Paul sums up what God wants for us in this simple statement: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4 v 3). The more sanctified we are, the more use we will be to others.

And as with all things, if we want God to do something, we should ask him to do it. Sometimes praying for yourself is the least selfish thing you can do.

2. Praying for yourself feels… hard

If I’m honest, it’s easier to look at the needs of others than to turn inwards and consider the needs of my own heart. Self-examination is uncomfortable, because the self that I’m examining is sinful. Or at least, I know that it is, but I’m not always sure exactly how. I know that I need to grow, but I’m not always sure exactly where.

That means that it often feels easier to pray for other people’s material needs than for my own spiritual needs. The former is concrete; the latter is vague.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. One thing that I appreciated about having the opportunity to write Five Things to Pray for Your Heart is that it gave me a chance to think hard about what a healthy heart looks like. The first part of the book has prayers working though the fruit of the Spirit. Writing it meant that I had to seriously consider what the elements of this fruit look like, both in Scripture and in lives today—in practical, concrete ways. As I did so, I found myself really longing to grow in it. It’s my hope that you’ll experience something similar as you use the book.

Prayers for yourself don’t have to be vague or selfish. Instead they can be a tool for your sanctification. And that’s something which glorifies God, and blesses everyone around you.   

Five Things to Pray for Your Heart  by Rachel Jones is available to buy now

Categories: Christian Resources

When depression makes church so hard

Tue, 15/05/2018 - 09:53

She probably thought I was very rude. G sat next to me on Easter Sunday morning, smiled and asked how I was. But I just nodded my head and looked away. She didn’t try again.

What G didn’t know was how hard I’d battled to get to church. Now I was just barely managing to stay in my seat and not burst into tears. Every muscle was straining, desperate to flee.

And yet part of me wanted to be there. I was glad to be in my own church for Easter, and to join with my church family in singing the Lord’s praises.

This is what depression can do to a Christian. Having struggled with severe depressive illness for over twelve years, I can tell you that I never (never!) want to go to church on a Sunday morning. It is an exhausting battle every single time, and I don’t always make it.

My church was like a colourful ocean liner sailing full-steam ahead, but I had fallen overboard and was drowning in a monochrome sea 

Getting through the door is an achievement, but the battle isn’t yet over. Where can I sit? Is there anyone “safe” to sit with? Do I have an exit strategy so that I can leave if needed without climbing over people or causing a distraction? Will I be able to sing, or would the words tumble out as sobs instead? Am I able to lift my head high enough to see the words on the screen, or will my depressed hunch mean my head stays resolutely down? And what if the pastor says something like, “Do talk to the person next to you while the children are going out”? At that point a shaft of dread strikes my heart.

Even the end of the service is hard. How quickly can I leave without looking rude? Will the noise of so many people talking at once trigger a panic attack? Can I even lift my head high enough to smile at someone as I scuttle out? And if not, will they think (again) how rude and abrupt I am?

I once described my own experience like this: my church was like a colourful ocean liner sailing full-steam ahead, but I had fallen overboard and was drowning in a monochrome sea as they sailed away without me.

Thankfully, not every depressive finds church as hard as this. It’s not even true for me every Sunday – sometimes I manage a brief chat at the end, or to pray with someone before I go. When the depression is less severe, I can lift my head and sing with enthusiasm. I guess that’s part of what makes it hard for my church family – they don’t know which Alison is going to turn up.

How can you help?

If you have a depressive at your church (and you almost certainly do, even if you don’t know about it), then please have a think about how you can help them to be part of the family. You could be their “safe place” to sit – welcoming them with a smile but being content to sit quietly if they are not up to talking that day.

If someone from the front encourages everyone to talk to their neighbour, don’t add extra pressure. A simple solution is just to ask, “Do you feel up to talking today?” If they shake their head, say “That’s fine” – and then sit quietly while praying for them. At the end of the service, when again they may not be able to chat, you could say, “It’s lovely to see you here today. Thanks for coming.” That little bit of encouragement may be the most loving thing they hear all day.

My pastor said to me, “When I see you slip out early, I don’t see a failure – I think how great it is that you’ve been able to be with us for a little while.”

And please don’t force someone to move along rather than sitting on the end. Knowing that they can slip out easily may be the one thing that enables them to stay.

If your church has the option of a printed song sheet, offering that may give someone a way to join in, when they simply can’t lift their head high enough to look at a screen. And they can be reading the words even if they aren’t able to sing them.

And if someone does have to leave before the end – which I have done many, many times – they probably feel a failure for doing so. One of the most helpful things my pastor once said to me was, “When I see you slip out early, I don’t see a failure – I think how great it is that you’ve been able to be with us for a little while.” That was years ago, but those words still encourage my soul.

If you know that someone struggles to get to church, please pray for them that morning. I had a friend who did that for me every week – and would then come up to me in delight at the service to tell me I was an answer to his prayer! He’s gone to be with the Lord now, but remembering how he prayed for me still gives me another tool in my battle to join my church family. And I am grateful.

Do you have depressives in your church? Almost certainly. Hopefully these simple ideas will help you to love them well.

Alison edited Down Not Out by Chris Cipollone. Whether you have experienced mental illness yourself or want to understand depression and anxiety to care for somebody you love, this book provides a personal and theologically thoughtful reflection on the challenges facing Christians in this area. You can buy it now

Categories: Christian Resources

4 ways we can make the church a safe space for people with mental illness

Mon, 14/05/2018 - 12:28

Many of us are aware that mental illness can be a silent struggle. But for those who have had no exposure to depression or anxiety this can be very easy to miss, or misunderstand.

God willing, our churches are flourishing communities that are filled with people of all kinds. But for those of us struggling with depression and anxiety, this can be far from easy. What if I panic in front of others? What if I cry? What if nobody talks to me? What if too many people talk to me?

While it’s not fair to expect those who have never lived with mental illness to completely ‘get it’, here are four ways that churches can begin to make space for those who live with mental health issues:

1. Listen

Churches need to be slow to speak and quick to listen. The book of Proverbs reminds us of such wisdom. When we see a brother or sister’s behaviour, attendance or willingness to serve change over time, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and pass judgment. The simple act of asking ‘how is everything going?’ can go a long way. Granted, they may not want to tell you, but that’s their choice. In asking and listening, you’ve got nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

2. Love

I can’t stress this enough. Love is what defines the church. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians that when a gift is exercised in love, the body functions well.

In my own journey, I’ve received the blessing of professional help. Psychologists and psychiatrists have played an important part in my recovery. However, something I have learned is that ultimately these professionals are there to treat you. They can’t be expected to love you as friend, brother or sister.

Enter God’s Church.

To make churches a safe space we need to remember two things. Firstly, that we aren’t there to treat people as professionals. But secondly, we can bring something truly distinctive to the table—loving people well. What does that look like? 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place to start.

For those of us who live with depression and anxiety, life can feel like it's on shaky ground. The reminder of the unchanging character of God gives a security that can’t be found anywhere else.

3. Speak

Yes, I did just say that we need to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak at all.

We have God’s Word, which means we don’t have to fumble about with self-constructed wisdom when sharing community with somebody living with mental illness.

The gospel reminds us that God is powerfully for us and not against us. He didn’t even spare his own Son in pursuit of us. For those of us struggling to love ourselves, this is a significant truth to grasp hold of.

Don’t be hasty in offering quick one liners such as ‘God works the good of those who love him’ without first asking what Paul means by ‘good’. But we would be wise to still remember that God does act, and he loves, and he cares.

For those of us who live with depression and anxiety, life can feel like it's on shaky ground. But a reminder of the unchanging character of God gives a security that can’t be found anywhere else.

4. Patience

Finally, be patient. We have made great strides in mental health awareness. We know it’s out there and we’ve seen the statistics. Now it’s time to ask the question, ‘what do we do about it in our churches?’

We need to know that mental illness is a long term game. If you want to come into someone’s life, be prepared to be there in thick and thin. It’s a long and bumpy road.

When you offer your support be prepared to follow-up with them again. And again. Don’t give a person already feeling fragile and insecure another opportunity to reinforce what they’ve concluded about themselves - that they’re a nuisance, or unwanted. In contrast, somebody who can reflect God’s love in all seasons brings a powerful message of acceptance and grace that we so deeply need. Have boundaries, yes. But at the same time, be ready to commit for the long term.

Down Not Out: Depression, Anxiety and the Difference Jesus Makes is a new book by Chris Cipollone. He speaks openly about his own struggles with mental health and offers theologically thoughtful reflection on the challenges for Christians in this area, whether you struggle with mental illness or not. Buy it here

Categories: Christian Resources

The 2 reasons why you don’t pray for yourself (and why that needs to change)

Mon, 14/05/2018 - 12:11

“How’s your walk with the Lord?”

That was the catchphrase of an old Bible study leader of mine.

I can still imagine the scene. There would be half a dozen of us crowded into tiny living room on a Thursday night. The words above were usually spoken after the study was finished, when we were sharing prayer requests.  

A particular member of the group was one of those extraordinarily compassionate people who attracts hurting people like a magnet—they seemed to sense that they were safe with her. And she’d bring their struggles to us for prayer: friends who were battling mental health issues, relatives who were ill, flatmates who were under work pressure. The needs weighed heavy on her, too, because she loved the people underneath them.

Our Bible study leader would listen carefully and nod along with genuine sympathy. But nobody was ever let off the hook. Without fail, she’d follow up with this question: “But what about you? How’s your walk with the Lord?”  

It's often easier to look at the needs of others than to turn inwards and consider the needs of my own heart.

This was a wise lady. The point was this: we neglect to pray for our hearts at our peril.  

Years later and it seems that many of us (myself included) are slow to ask for prayer for ourselves. By this I don’t mean prayer for our circumstances (that’s easy enough), but for what’s really going on inside: for our hearts.

This isn’t just phenomenon in our “public” prayers either; I reckon that most of us struggle to pray for ourselves in private too.

We might spend time praying for others as part of our “quiet time”—working down a list, going through a prayer diary, swiping on an app. These are all great things to do.

But in the words of my old Bible study leader, what about you? When did you last spend time—significant, deliberate time—praying about your own character?

Most of us find this aspect of prayer hard. Why? Here are just two suggestions—there are probably many more.

1. Praying for yourself seems… selfish

Perhaps some of us are like my old friend from the Bible study—we feel genuinely burdened by the needs of others. With so many people with so many problems, is it selfish to spend time praying for ourselves? Is praying for yourself just self-absorbed?

Not necessarily. To be sure, it’s good to pray for others—the apostle Paul’s letters are filled with heartfelt prayers for other Christians. But there’s a sense in which if we want to be of any help to others, we need God to help us first. Maybe a lack of prayer for ourselves reveals a misplaced self-reliance.

John Piper describes his habit of praying in “concentric circles” like this:

“The most needy person I know is John Piper. So I pray for John Piper’s soul because if I lose the faith, I can’t pray for anybody. Then I widen my circle to my family. Then I widen the circle to staff and elders at church.”

When I ask my current Bible study leader what I can pray for him (usually because he’s shown the initiative to ask me first…) he usually gives this response: “godliness”. His point is that if he’s growing in godliness, and responding to life’s circumstances and the people around him with increasing godliness, everything else will fall into place.

And he’s right. In fact, Paul sums up what God wants for us in this simple statement: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4 v 3). The more sanctified we are, the more use we will be to others.

And as with all things, if we want God to do something, we should ask him to do it. Sometimes praying for yourself is the least selfish thing you can do.

2. Praying for yourself feels… hard

If I’m honest, it’s easier to look at the needs of others than to turn inwards and consider the needs of my own heart. Self-examination is uncomfortable, because the self that I’m examining is sinful. Or at least, I know that it is, but I’m not always sure exactly how. I know that I need to grow, but I’m not always sure exactly where.

That means that it often feels easier to pray for other people’s material needs than for my own spiritual needs. The former is concrete; the latter is vague.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. One thing that I appreciated about having the opportunity to write Five Things to Pray for Your Heart is that it gave me a chance to think hard about what a healthy heart looks like. The first part of the book has prayers working though the fruit of the Spirit. Writing it meant that I had to seriously consider what the elements of this fruit look like, both in Scripture and in lives today—in practical, concrete ways. As I did so, I found myself really longing to grow in it. It’s my hope that you’ll experience something similar as you use the book.

Prayers for yourself don’t have to be vague or selfish. Instead they can be a tool for your sanctification. And that’s something which glorifies God, and blesses everyone around you.   

Five Things to Pray for Your Heart  by Rachel Jones is available to buy now

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: U, V, W, X, Y & Z

Fri, 11/05/2018 - 13:54
Categories: Christian Resources

Encounters: A Sikh in a Sauna

Thu, 10/05/2018 - 14:37

To celebrate the launch Terry Virgo’s new evangelistic resource, Life Tastes Better, we’re sharing a series of surprising evangelistic encounters in everyday situations. This is the first; it’s about our Creative Director, Tim, having a run in with a Sikh in a sauna…

 

“Where is God?” he said. He spoke to everyone, but to no-one in particular.

“You are a Christian—yes?” He was speaking to a woman sat next to me.

“Yes”, she replied in a thick Eastern European accent. “I am Catholic”.

“Then tell me where does God live?”

There was an awkward silence from the seven or so people sat broiling in the hot box.

...

Of all the places you least expect to be plunged into an evangelistic conversation, it’s in a Sauna.

At the gym I use, it’s normally pretty quiet. It’s enough to sweat in silence, the only question running through your mind: “how much longer can I stand the heat?”. It’s also pretty multicultural. Hungarians rub muscular shoulders with Polish, Romanians and Koreans. As a white British male, I’m in the minority. But I love that. It’s a friendly place, but the repeated and insistent questioning from the bearded older man had us all stunned with surprise.

I sat thinking what to answer, knowing that this was a “moment” that I could say something about the hope I have in Christ. Perhaps it was the heat, but I just got confused. Because it is actually a very complex question for a Trinitarian Christian believer to answer. Where actually is God? We know that he is omnipresent—he is everywhere. But when you break it down into the three persons, the answers are a little less clear.

We know Jesus is in heaven, pleading our cause before the Father and praying for us. I can only say that Jesus is in me, because he is in me in the person of his Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is at work everywhere in the world. We see the reality of that as people understand the word of God, respond to it, love one another, and serve Christ. These are the waving trees that show us the wind is blowing.

But where is the Father—in heaven with the Son, or everywhere in the world. I needed a waterproof/heatproof copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology at that moment, but didn’t have one to hand.

“He’s in my heart” chirped the woman beside me.

“God is everywhere and in heaven” responded the man, who I presumed to be a Sikh.

He then stood up and marched out. Leaving us all sat in stunned silence.

We had a short embarrassed conversation about how weird that was. I stumbled over a few words about the difficulty of the question, but was not sure that they were ready to understand the finer points of the trinitarian theology.

I was left with two profound thoughts that I will share with you:

  1. Be prepared. Any time, any place, any where. A door will open. Sometimes it will be weird. It won’t be on the subject you want to talk about. It may be scary or confusing. But be prepared to own up to being a believer, and share something — even if it’s your own ignorance of the answer. That’s better than saying nothing.

  2. It’s not just Christians who do embarrassing evangelism. I don’t know what he was thinking, or why he said what he did. I assume he felt the burden to talk about faith in God and blurted out his question in the wrong place, in the wrong way, with the wrong crowd. I don’t want to do evangelism like that — but I’ve got to work at ways to raise the subject in natural, friendly and relational ways.

How would you answer that question?

Life Tastes Better is a great book to give away to non-believing friends (or fellow gym goers). It reveals the surprising truth that life with Jesus really does taste better than anything the world can offer us. Read it as a Christian to prepare yourself for evangelistic conversations and have a copy of it ready to give away. Available to buy now

Categories: Christian Resources

The 3 Enemies of Rest

Tue, 08/05/2018 - 14:17

Would it surprise you to learn that rest is under attack?

If l were Satan, my goal would be to make sure Christians were as useless as could they be. I would set about trying to convince them of all sorts of great-sounding reasons to rarely (and hopefully never) get around to resting. Here are three ways he keeps us from entering the rest God offers and commands.

1. “I Am What I Do.” (The False Virtue of Busyness.)

One of the biggest lies the modern world has swallowed hook, line, and sinker is the belief that busier is better. In fact, we are addicted to busyness. When we say, “oh, I’m so busy this week,” what we really mean is “look how important I am.” We believe that if we weren’t doing all these things, the world would end.

The truth is, of course we’re busy, but busyness is not a virtue. In fact, it could very well become a vice in my life that Satan uses to keep us from God.

2. “God’s Given Me Too Much to Do!” (The Religious Achiever Reflex.)

For some of us, the idea of finding time to rest feels impossible, even if it’s for God. How can God command you to take a day off when you’re already trying so hard to do all the other things He’s given to you? It’s like Pharoah forcing the Israelites to make the same amount of bricks, but with no straw (Exodus 5 v 1-21).

The truth is, that mindset comes from a place of emotionally unhealthy spirituality. You might be using God’s instructions about productivity to hide from your direct relationship with God Himself. Even “good” activities, when they come at the expense of God’s invitation to rest with Him, derail us spiritually.

3. “If I Stop, Life Just Won’t Work Out.” (The Irreligious False Heaven.)

So many books, seminars, and techniques are designed to help you get the things in this world that seem they’ll bring you the restful paradise you’re longing for. Of course, none of those heavens exist.

Work, money, kids, health, sex, food, and drink—are good things. God made each of them. But pursued too much, for the wrong reasons, they don’t bring us rest. They burn us out.

Fighting False Rest

The refusal to stop and rest is a refusal to accept the way God created us. It is a subtle rejection of God’s ability to rule His world, rescue His people, and rejuvenate them along the way. Rest--a time holy to the Lord—declares who rules, who rescues, and who refreshes.

True Sabbath rest is about learning a new rhythm to life where we celebrate the sovereignty of God, enjoy the liberation of the Gospel, and truly trust the Salvation Jesus gives.
 

This is adapted from The Art of Rest by Adam Mabry. Discover the secret to real, realistic, non-rules-based spiritual refreshment with this helpful book as your guide.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Timothy

Fri, 04/05/2018 - 13:29
Categories: Christian Resources

God's Very Good Idea Colouring Book

Thu, 03/05/2018 - 10:05

The Colouring & Activity Book that accompanies God's Very Good Idea landed this week and we couldn't wait to get our hands on it... Take a look at what we got up to. 

Just like the story book, the colouring and activity book celebrates diversity and helps children to see how people from all ethnic and social backgrounds are valuable to God. It's aimed at kids aged 3-7 and is perfect for upcoming holidays or for using in Sunday School. You can find out more here. 

Categories: Christian Resources

Here’s what it's like being a church leader and depressed

Tue, 01/05/2018 - 12:12

Blameless.

A leader and lover in the home.

Self-controlled.

Disciplined.

Honest.

Hospitable.

One who holds firmly to the truth.

These are just some of the qualifications that the Bible holds out for leaders in the Church (Titus 2, 1 Timothy 3).

As a church leader, these qualifications can seem daunting. They set the bar high and I am grateful for the grace of God when I fall short of them.

After all, I too, am human.

Like every believer, I live with a tension of who I want to be and who I actually am. I press on in living more like Christ every day, but the core of the gospel reminds me that I can’t be perfected outside of his grace.

Scripture asks me to speak truth to the church. And if I’m being honest, I don’t have it all together.

I am a pastor who lives with depression.

And nowhere in scripture am I disqualified for it.

Quite the opposite.

As I weigh up my own church leadership experiences in the context of living with depression, I think it has actually been a net gain. Let me tell you why.

In living with personal frailty, I can leave room for healthy leadership frailty, because it is God’s strength that is greater.

Dependence

Whether we recognise it or not, we’re dependent every single day on the grace of God. It’s God who gives us breath in our lungs. It’s God who keeps the Earth spinning on its axis. And it’s God who grows his Church.

As a pastor, I have had to preach the sovereignty of God to myself more than perhaps any other theological truth. His hand over creation is genuinely what helps me sleep at night. There are so many people in my parish with so many needs. There’s always more that could be done. There’s always the desire to see more come to Christ. And I need to recognise my limitations, knowing that I’m a steward but not a saviour.

This kind of dependence can be a difficult thing to learn. But living with depression actually makes it a little easier. There have been times in my life where I haven’t known how or when I would be able to work, how to provide for my family. Even in the darkest times, how I was going to go on in life. And yet, looking back, I can see God’s provision in all of it. I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And I’m not just surviving—against the all the odds I’m actually thriving. And it’s only because of his grace that I can say that.

I believe this has made it easier to preach grace to myself, and to others as I lead under God. In living with personal frailty, I can leave room for healthy leadership frailty, because it is God’s strength that is greater. He’s the Saviour, the great changer of hearts. Not me.

  Empathy

There is also little doubt that my own struggles with depression have made me more empathetic. In Hebrews 4 we’re told that because Jesus became human, he is able to empathise with us in our time of need. When we feel pain, he doesn’t just intellectually comprehend the concept of pain. No, he knows exactly what it’s like.

When we live something, we understand like never before.

In pastoral ministry, you often occupy a privileged but delicate position of being with somebody at a crisis point. I certainly don’t get this right every time but I can say, without a doubt, that experiencing crisis myself has better equipped me to sit and to listen, to mourn and to feel. The chapters of each of our stories are different, but the shared experience of pain and heartache has enabled me to care in a deeper way than if I hadn’t first gone through hardship myself.

 

The ‘Go-To’ Guy

It isn’t all roses, though. Being a leader in the church and living with depression absolutely has its challenges.

You quickly find yourself being the ‘go to’ for people when they are in need or seeking guidance.

This is a great honour, but I can easily get sucked into a false identity that I am ‘that guy’—the one who people come to for help. Being needed can feed a weird addiction of power. And the problem (amongst others) is that it doesn’t leave room for your own times of need.

I’ll finish by telling you that today I write this article from my bedroom. For the first time in months, I have had to take a ‘mental health’ day. I’m not physically unwell, I just simply couldn’t face other people’s needs today. My two year old twins haven’t slept through the night for months. And I’m tired. I should have taken a day off before today, but I didn’t, because that would have acknowledged that I couldn’t be there for others in the way I wanted to be. And that was a threat to my false identity of ‘the needed one’. It’s a mental health day as much as it is a spiritual reminder that the world is not turning on my axis.

I am a pastor who lives with depression. And nowhere in scripture am I disqualified for it.

Like Life Itself

Being a pastor with depression is much like the rest of life in a fallen world. God has a way of bringing about great purposes as a result of it. But it’s a far from perfect life.

Pros and cons.

So there’s no need to treat me differently. My depression is just another reminder of our common experience. Life is a journey of different experiences and emotions, whether you live with depression or not.  So I take it one day at a time, and live in faith that God is never absent in his hand over creation.

 

Down Not Out is a new book by Chris Cipollone which looks at the difference Jesus makes for those who suffer with depression and anxiety. It is available to buy now

Categories: Christian Resources

Win 50 copies of Terry Virgo's new book for your church

Tue, 01/05/2018 - 06:00

Win a stack of Terry Virgo's new evangelistic resource for your church by entering your email address below. 

"Terry Virgo makes a familiar story about a wedding come alive – and adds a challenge that will transform your life!" Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, Arizona, USA.

Q&A with Terry Virgo

Q: Is life really better with Jesus?

A: Life is undoubtedly better with Jesus because he’s answered the big ques- tions about life and death. Life’s full of mysteries—full of heartbreaks and difficulties— and they don’t go away when you become a Christian. But you know God and you know about issues of eternal im- portance. It’s wonderful to know Jesus and to know that he has delivered me from the selfish desires I used to have. This puts everything else into perspective. 

Q: How do we witness to people who seem to have no need?

A: You can’t win people easily who are hostile, and you’ll find that Jesus had people who were hostile to him—people that went away, who were offended. That’s the very nature of the gospel. Likewise, when the apostle Paul spoke in Athens some believed, some mocked, and some said “We’ll hear more about this later”. That’s always going to be the case.

Timing is very important. I became a Christian in a home where my parents were not Christians and I was trying to witness to my father and urg- ing him to receive the gospel. I was speaking to him once and someone came to the front door and he said, “Oh, saved by the bell,” and fled the room! But after he was seriously ill in hospital, I was moved by compassion and I said, “Dad, you were near to death—do you think you were ready? Do you think God was speaking to you?” And to my amazement and delight he said, “Yeah I do, I think God was speaking to me.” I’d never heard him speak like that be- fore. And suddenly his heart was open and I crossed the room, we knelt together and he came to Christ. And so, I think, be sensitive to the mo- ment, asking the question, “Is God involved in this?” As it says in the Bible, there’s a moment to speak and there’s a moment to keep silent. So we need to learn to be sensitive to people’s needs; to choose our moments well.

Q: What would you say to someone who feels like they’re paralysed when it comes to evangelism; that whatever they say or do is go- ing to get pounced upon?

A: Inevitably we look at the outside of people; we look at what appears to be their situation. But we don’t know what is happen- ing in their heart. We may not know that there’s a huge crisis in their marriage or that they’re terribly worried about their teenage children or an elderly parent. All kinds of things creep up on people that suddenly make them feel out of control. It’s as we begin sharing the gospel that we’ll know whether God is at work on their heart. People may begin to think, “I’m in trou- ble here—is there an answer in God?” And God’s got his ways of coming into people’s lives. So we mustn’t just look on the outside where we can easily be misled.

Find out more about the book at www.thegoodbook.co.uk/life-tastes-better

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Samson

Fri, 27/04/2018 - 11:15
Categories: Christian Resources

What's Coming Up in May

Thu, 26/04/2018 - 15:10

We’ve got an exciting month of releases coming up…

The Art of Rest by Adam Mabry

Lead Pastor of Aletheia Church, Boston Adam Mabry is a self-professed rest failure but with God’s grace he’s begun to learn the art of rest and wants to share it with you. We live at a time when busyness is celebrated and rest is seen as a waste of time or missed opportunity. If we’re not out doing something, we’re living it vicariously through social media and probably experiencing FOMO. Rest in 2018 looks like Netflix, enjoying a bath, practising mindfulness and having a nap: these aren’t bad in and of themselves (I for one am a champion of the humble nap), however they aren’t what the Bible describes as rest. Jesus said  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11 v 28-30). When you get home from church on a Sunday evening, do you feel rested and barely burdened or exhausted and anxious? Adam claims that biblical rest is less rule and more rhythm as he lays out a pattern of rest for our entire lives, not just for Sundays. Find out more about the book here

 

Life Tastes Better by Terry Virgo  

As founder of the Newfrontiers church network, Terry has drawn from decades of experience in sharing the gospel to produce a short, evangelistic book about what life with Jesus is really like. It’s true that many people think following Jesus will make life worse not better. But what we see in the gospels is that Jesus wasn’t a dull, boring, religious figure. He went to parties, had time for all sorts of people and ate breakfast on the beach with his mates. He said “ I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10 v 10)— as Christians we could do well to remember this. It might just be one of the most powerful witnesses to the presence of Christ in our lives. Find out more here.

Down, Not Out by Chris Cipollone

Mental health is becoming less stigmatised, more talked about and increasingly better understood by sufferers and non-sufferers alike. Praise God! However, we still have a way to go, particularly in processing what living with mental health looks like for Christians. That’s why Chris Cipollone wrote this book. In his own words “depression is something that I’ve lived with for almost 10 years—I ended up in a psychiatric clinic towards the end of my theological studies and I began preaching what I’d learnt to myself: what would I say to someone in my situation?” Down, Not Out has been created with thought and intention: the chapters are short and the design is clean and uncluttered. Dr Andrew Nicholls called Down, Not Out, “a book the church needs” and Adam Ford said that it’s “an encouraging book for those of us suffering from anxiety and depression and a helpful guide for those who do not”. Chris sums it up well when he says: “What is distinctive about this book is that I’ve shown a lot of myself—my hope is that it will be relatable for people”. Click here to find out more about the book. 

5 Things to Pray for Your Heart by Rachel Jones

This is fourth in the award winning ‘5 Things to Pray’ series by Rachel Jones. Praying can be hard: often our prayers feel like shopping-list style requests or last-minute pleas to get through the day. But God wants us to pray bigger, better, bolder prayers for ourselves. And that’s where this book comes in. It has 5 simple suggestions for each area of our Christian life, drawn from the Bible; because when we pray in line with God’s will, exciting things start happening! Pre-order your copy here

Categories: Christian Resources

Where to look when your anxiety is crippling

Tue, 24/04/2018 - 12:05

A New Word For An Old Foe

“Does anyone know what rumination is?”

That was the question a facilitator asked during my stay in a psychiatric hospital a number of years ago.

She continued...

“Rumination is when you think you’re strategising your way out of a problem, only to find yourself spiralling into anxiety.”

That was it. That was me. I’d been ruminating. For a very long time. And I didn’t know it had a name.

Taking The Past Into The Future

One of my favourite moments in scripture is when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. It’s an epic culmination to a life-long story. The highs of a father’s love and political power. The lows of enslavement, imprisonment and false accusation.

There must have been excruciating times when Joseph would have asked ‘God, what are you doing?’ So many problems to face, and so many opportunities to be crippled by mysterious circumstances.

Eventually Joseph is blessed with the same hindsight as we receive as the reader, where he tells his brothers:

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50 v 19-21)

Joseph finds peace in realising what God has been doing all along. Joseph has not been in control of his life. God has. And that brings him peace, because he knows that God is good.

When I’m filled with anxiety, it’s based on future uncertainties. When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I instinctively strategise. Or at least I think I do.

I would be wise to adopt Joseph’s perspective.

What is it that God has been doing in my life? How, with the benefit of hindsight, have I seen his hand at work? And how will I carry that into the future?

When I fear the unknown in my life, I would be wise to remember the cross.

Bringing The Cross Into The Present

Throughout my years in ministry, I have come across many theological reflections on the cross of Jesus Christ. Justification. Atonement. Propitiation.

These can all be helpful truths to explore, but I don’t believe we need to have a full grasp on them to get to the heart of what the cross means.

At its core, the cross reminds us that God is for us and not against us. Not just with words, but with actions. This is love most powerful. A love that would lead to death and a power that would end with resurrection.

When I fear the unknown in my life, I would be wise to remember the cross. And so when I ask myself the question ‘God, what on earth are you doing?’, I may not know the specific answer, but I can be sure of his heart.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4 v 6-7)

God doesn’t guarantee me understanding of everything that will happen in my life. And that can be a source of great anxiety. I stress about what I can’t control and lose sleep over what I can’t change.

But as Paul so helpfully reminds us, with prayer and thanksgiving, we can find peace. Deep peace in the uncertainties. How? Because the same God we cry out to is the same God who did not even spare Jesus.

I have not mastered the art of an anxiety-free life. But very slowly, I am becoming more at peace with not being in control, because he has made his heart for me abundantly clear.

 

Down Not Out: Depression, Anxiety and the Difference Jesus Makes is a new book by Chris Cipollone. He speaks openly about his own struggles with mental health and offers theologically thoughtful reflection on the challenges for Christians in this area. You can pre-order it here

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Women Beginning with R

Fri, 20/04/2018 - 13:42
Categories: Christian Resources

How to pray for Syria

Thu, 19/04/2018 - 11:38

“Ongoing conflict in Syria” is a phrase that many of us have become hardened to. But the chemical attack that took place in Douma last week confronted us with new levels of cruelty and suffering. We’ve seen images of children wailing as suspected chlorine gas is rinsed from their bodies. And we’ve heard stories of gas infiltrating basements in which civilians sheltered from bombing. It is truly horrific. More than 40 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more injured — the full impact is yet to be confirmed.

Our hearts break at the cruelty, and we are right to be angry at the injustice and corruption that leads to these events. It is easy to feel completely helpless—but we are not. When we pray, we are crying out to the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and we can be confident that he will hear us.

Here are five ways to pray in light of the recent events in Syria:

1. Pray for those affected
  • Pray for physical and emotional healing of those who were directly harmed by the attack.

  • Pray that as God heals their wounds, he would bring them to know “the God of all comfort” and his “perfect love [that] drives out fear” (2 Corinthians 1 v 3; 1 John 4 v 18).

2. Pray for Christians
  • Pray that Syrian Christians would be strengthened through this trial.

  • Pray that Christians would find comfort in God.

  • Pray that your brothers and sisters wouldn’t lose sight of the victory won for them at the cross, and that their eyes would be fixed on their eternal hope in Christ.   

3. Pray for governments
  • Pray that God would change the hearts of those in power, that they would no longer mistreat their own citizens.

  • Pray for wisdom for other world leaders who are involved—pray that they would make good decisions that benefit Syrians and resolve problems.

  • Pray for peace and an end to fighting in Syria. It sounds impossible, but “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19 v 26).

4. Pray for the lost
  • Pray for those who don’t know Jesus. Pray that in the depths of their suffering, they would hear about the Servant King who knows the pain that they are experiencing and wants a relationship with them.

  • Pray that in heaven, we will meet many Syrians who came to Christ during conflict and trial.

5. Pray for re-settlement
  • Pray that those who have been forced to leave their homes would find safe housing for the short and long term.

  • Pray that they would be warmly welcomed into new communities—especially by the churches there—and that they would be able to live without fear.

 

For more fresh ideas on how to pray for events around the world, get a copy of 5 Things to Pray for Your World by Rachel Jones

Categories: Christian Resources

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