Blogroll: The Good Book Company

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The Friday Quiz: Isaiah

Fri, 23/02/2018 - 13:52
Categories: Christian Resources

Judy's Story

Fri, 23/02/2018 - 09:29

The new Discipleship Explored features brand-new documentary-style films and inspiring real-life stories from around the world. With less than a month to go until its launch, we thought we'd introduce you to some of the people in front of the cameras.

This is Judy's story.

"I grew up in Southern California in a very unsettled blended family environment. I moved every year of my life while I was growing up so there was no sense of stability. My father was an alcoholic and sometimes abusive. Our household was full of conflict.

My father was a Catholic and as a child I would attend catechism classes. I used to hate them but one day, when I was about six years old, one of the nuns told a story that stuck with me, and was instrumental in my conversion decades later.

She told me the story of King Solomon (1 Kings 3:16-28). If you don’t know the story, it’s about two women and their two babies. One woman accidentally kills her child in the night, and decides to swap the dead child with the living one. The living child’s real mother realises what has happened and takes the case to the King.

The King listens to the case and because both women claim the living child is theirs, judges that the baby should be cut in two, so they can each have part of him. One of the women agrees to this plan immediately, but the other cries that the baby’s life must be spared at all costs, even if it means the child can’t stay with her. This proves to the wise King that she is the real mother and the case is resolved.

This story blew my mind. It showed a woman who was willing to give up what she loved to save what she loved. It’s a picture of the Gospel and one that I’ve kept coming back to nearly every day of my life. It’s the story that made the Gospel make sense to me when I heard it years later.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has remained my central focus over the years

At the time, this story of sacrificial love, wonderful though it was, felt more like a myth than reality. I hadn’t ever seen or experienced this kind of love, and I didn’t believe it really existed.

Throughout the rest of my childhood and teens, as we moved from place to place, I’d often go to church, either with my mother or my siblings, but it was hard to settle into a church community as we moved so often.

I remember when we lived in New Mexico I found out about a local Baptist church, and I called them to ask whether they picked people up in a bus to take them to church. They did, and they would pick me up with my brother and take us along on Sundays.

However, I wasn’t sold on Christianity and in my teens I explored other faiths too, even becoming a Messianic Jew for a time.

Then when my parents divorced, I became angry with God.

Knowing the pain of destructive conflict makes me passionate about peacemaking.

I married young and my son was born in my early twenties. He was very ill with a heart condition. Throughout this time I had a sense of God’s presence with us. Before one of his operations, the paediatric surgeon asked if he could pray for us. We prayed together in his office and I thought it was amazing that this skilled doctor believed in talking to God and was willing to do this in front of us.

God really prepared my heart during my son’s illness to receive the Gospel.

When I was 27, I was working in a digital equipment company and one of my co-workers invited my husband and I to a Bible study. Little did we know at the time, but he and his wife had set up this Bible study just for us!

We went through the book of John, and as I encountered Jesus in the Gospel I was reminded again of the truth I had learnt as a six-year-old: I had found someone who really was willing to give up what he loved to save what he loved.

My husband and I stayed in the church for a few years until they sent us off to seminary — we had so many questions!

From there, I trained as a counsellor and then became a certified Christian Conciliator. Being reconciled with God through the saving work of Jesus Christ and knowing the pain of destructive conflict make me passionate about peacemaking.

I have logged more than 25,000 hours of reconciliation ministry in coaching, mediation, consulting, and education. I have enjoyed the privilege of educating future pastors and counselors and training over ten thousand individuals in the US and abroad on how to apply biblical principles in the midst of painful and complicated conflict.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has remained my central focus over the years."

Judy lives in St Louis with her husband and is founder of Creative Conciliation

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More of Judy’s story features in the new Discipleship Explored, which launches on 1 March 2018 and is available to pre-order now

Categories: Christian Resources

Three evangelists reflect on the late Billy Graham

Wed, 21/02/2018 - 14:53

It seems like everyone knows someone who was converted through the ministry of Billy Graham. The trickle down effect is awe-inspiring. Just think of the untold numbers of generations upon generations who have been impacted by the preaching of this dairy farmer from North Carolina.

And perhaps none more so than the evangelists ploughing the same fields today. Here, three of them reflect on Billy Graham who has just died aged 99. 

 

Peter Woodcock: Evangelist and pastor, London

When I was first converted and started to preach, I listened repeatedly to a couple of Billy Graham's full sermons from the 1960s; they were powerful and direct. I loved the fire and the passion in the early days. I remember thinking: he spoke like a prophet — he was calling people to turn from sin and trust Jesus. But he was also a dignified man who clearly wasn’t in it for money or fame. There was a deep humility about him. I thought Billy was magnificently simple. He taught me to just preach the cross. I had a friend who did a tour of Russia with him who said to me: “Whether he had 30 seconds or 3 hours with someone, he would always share the gospel with them."

 

Rico Tice: Evangelist at Christianity Explored, London

Three things that have always impressed me about “Big Billy”.

1. His "Modesto Manifesto" which was the requirement for personal purity he demanded in both himself and his team—for example, always keeping the door open if there was a meeting with a woman. There was a real insistence on godly behaviour.

2. "The stone of witness” which was a turning point in his own ministry. He laid his Bible on a stone and said to God: “I am trusting this book to be your word, I know I have questions about it, but I am going to preach it as your word." That transparent and obvious belief that the Bible is God’s word was what gave him such incredible power in his preaching. 

3. Having done missions myself I was so impressed by his endurance. It is exhausting to preach evangelistically. And yet Billy did it night after night after night.

 

Glen Scrivener: Evangelist, Eastbourne, UK

I was working as a ministry associate at All Souls Langham Place, and was working my way through the tape library. I listened to a number of Billy’s sermons on repeat on my walkman when I was hoovering the church. And then when no-one else was around, I walked into the pulpit that he had preached from, and delivered some of his lines myself: A sermon on 1 Corinthians 1 has stayed with me: “Why is the cross an offence to man; because it stands to condemn him in his sin.” It was the authority of his preaching that stood out for me: declaring the truth by someone who meant what they were saying, it just connects with people. He spoke the truth as though heaven and hell depend on it. Today, sadly, comedians like Russell Brand and psychologists like Jordan Peterson seem to be filling the gap left by preachers. 

 

Billy Graham (1918-2018).

Categories: Christian Resources

A 5 minute theology of periods

Tue, 20/02/2018 - 11:28

We need to talk about periods.

After all, it seems like everyone else is—whether it’s the recent debate in the UK over tax on sanitary products or the trend for “free bleeding” (google it… or actually, don’t). There’s a growing movement on social media to ditch the shame and secrecy around “that time of the month”, and get everyone—women and men—to get comfortable and open about it.

But whereas you can find Christian blogs and even whole books on most other bodily experiences—eating, sleeping, sickness, sex—not so much on menstruation.

Maybe that’s because many of the people writing the blogs and the books (and editing them, and commissioning them...) are men. Maybe it’s because our culture teaches us from a young age to be discreet about “Aunt Flo”. Periods have always been a source of excruciating embarrassment for teenage girls, some grown women and the majority of men.

Yet the Bible does talk about periods, but often in confusing ways. For example:

“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean.” (Leviticus 15 v 19-20)

Any woman who reads a passage like that will be left with questions. Mainly: “Really God?! What’s with that?!”

But more than that, periods are very much part of the way women experience the world as embodied creatures. God has made us with minds and souls and bodies… and for 50% of the population, for around 2280 days of her life, that body is bleeding.

That’s why I was thrilled that Kathleen Nielson talks about periods in her new book, Women and God: Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth. It’s part of one of my favourite chapters, chapter 7. Here’s a brief summary of her theology of women’s bodies—but it’s well worth getting the book to read the whole chapter.

Our bodies preach creation

Our reproductive systems seem messy and inconvenient—but they are also fundamentally good:

“The original goodness of God’s creation calls every woman to view her body, including its childbearing capacity, as good and as glorifying to our Creator. There’s more to be said than this, of course—but we need to start with God’s goodness, which shines through all he has made, broken and fallen as we are. God has embedded in women’s bodies the ability to conceive and nurture new life; this is an amazing window for us, if we choose to look through it, on the God who made and sustains all life and who made us in his image.”

Our bodies preach the fall

“Women’s bodies preach truth about God our Creator—and about God our Judge. [Remember] God’s declaration of the consequences of disobeying his word: to the woman would come first of all severe pains in childbearing: “painful labor” in giving birth to children, matched by the man’s “painful toil” in working the earth (Genesis 3 v 16-17). … Ever since, the whole childbearing-related process, with its various systems and stages, has been full of all kinds of pain.”

This pain includes not just the pain of labour, but the pain of wanting children and not having them, and of having children and losing them. And yes—the pain of periods too. All of it, from the heart-breaking grief to the mildly inconvenient, preaches us a message:

“[The Bible] actually affirms our sighs and our cries, telling us that things are truly not as they were originally created. Listening to the Scriptures, we understand that the discomfort and pain that come from being a woman preach the fallenness of our world.” 

In the western world today, many of us can avoid a lot of the pain by taking medication, or using the pill to regulate our cycles—but will we continue to listen to the profound message contained within these experiences? 

God has embedded in women’s bodies the ability to conceive and nurture new life; this is an amazing window for us on the God who made and sustains all life 

Our bodies preach hope

The Old Testament is full of stories of unlikely births—which all point forward to the birth of the Lord Jesus. Kathleen makes this point:

“That Jesus Christ should enter [the world] affirms the goodness of this creation. Entering through the body of a woman, in the process of childbirth, he also participated in the painful judgment of this fallen creation: Jesus entered through blood and pain. All the judgment of sin Jesus embraced, took on himself, finally, at the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5 v 21). And so was fulfilled the promise of Genesis 3 v 15: that by the offspring of woman the serpent would be finally crushed. …

“Women’s bodies preach this story—from creation, to the fall, to the redemption that stretches out into eternity. Listening to this preaching, you can look at your body—all that you have been given and all that you have not been given—and offer your body in service to your Creator and Redeemer, knowing that his good hand is shaping every molecule and moment of your existence. You too can say, as Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant … May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1 v 38).” 

But wait… what about that bit in Leviticus?

Kathleen offers a helpful answer to that question in a chapter on women in the Old Testament entitled “The Darkest Places”.

“Why would God call a woman “unclean” when she has her monthly period?

“Two things help us here: first, if we read all of Leviticus 15, we find equal attention given to men’s reproductive discharges, with equal contamination and equal requirements for purification. God’s not out to get women; he’s seeking to communicate something about cleanness and uncleanness among all people. And that something doesn’t just have to do with protection of his people from diseases easily communicated through blood and semen, though that was one good effect of these laws.

“The second, larger, point is this: through these ceremonial laws God was communicating his holiness and his mercy. We have to read through Leviticus to grasp the detailed requirements for purification and blood sacrifice, all of which point to the way our sin disqualifies us from approaching a holy God. For us to come before such a God in worship, sin must be dealt with—and God mercifully provided a way. 

“Discharges of blood and semen in themselves are not evil. These discharges were symbols of uncleanness. Blood in itself represents life: “The life of every creature is its blood” (Leviticus 17 v 14). So the loss of blood, as in a woman’s bleeding, was directly associated with death—death that came on the human race as God’s judgment for sin. These Old Testament purification rituals point backward to the fall and point forward to the Lord Jesus, who shed his blood to cleanse us from our sin and give us eternal life. In [Luke 8 v 43-48 we see] Jesus welcoming a desperate woman with a chronic discharge of blood who had, in faith, touched him and been healed by him. These Old Testament laws help us grasp the beauty of that scene.” 

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Kathleen Nielson’s book Women and God peels back the layers of what scripture says about women and reveals the beautiful truth of God’s goodness to them. You can buy it here.

Categories: Christian Resources

Weak Churches, and the God Who Loves Them

Mon, 19/02/2018 - 12:16

As someone whose first pastorate was of a small church, I know what it’s like to feel irrelevant— even a failure—in comparison to larger churches with ample resources and big-name pastors.

The reminders of our church’s lack of “success” are ever before us: the young family that leaves for a larger, programmatic church; the pastors’ conference that fills its plenaries with “famed” pastors; the denomination or network that rewards the “successful” churches at its annual gathering; or the Christian publisher who will only ever consider publishing books by celebrity pastors or authors with platforms.

It’s so easy to equate apparent “success” in ministry with God’s blessing—which means that we “normal” pastors and “regular” Christians can become dejected by the seeming lack of success of our church. We interpret our apparent failure in ministry to mean God’s hand is not upon us. We easily grow bitter and start grumbling. We find ourselves seeing other churches as rivals, not as gospel partners. If we’re a church member, we might begin to wish we had a different pastor or move to a different church with more to offer. If we’re a church leader, we may even become so discouraged that we’re tempted to leave the ministry, abandon our church, or worse yet, doubt our own standing before God. That’s the danger of self-doubt. And that’s the same danger that faced the church in Philadelphia, addressed by Jesus himself in Revelation 3 v 7-13. The church in Philadelphia had “but little power.” They were small, weak, and powerless. They had little influence in their world.

If you’ve trusted in Christ, he has opened the door of the kingdom to you; no one can shut you out.

So, where are we to turn when we’re despondent and filled with self-doubt—about our church, our ministry, or even our standing before God? There’s only one place worth looking: to the risen Christ.

This is so important to remember when we’re tempted to doubt our standing before God or question the purpose of our ministry. If you have embraced Jesus as the One who saves his people, he has opened the door of the kingdom to you. No one may shut it.

Don’t Let Them Shut the Door

The first-century Philadelphian Christians were coming under pressure from Jews in the local synagogue who said that it was they, not the Christians, who were the true people of God. Sadly, too many professing Christians today try to shut the door of the kingdom to other followers of Christ in a similar way.

Perhaps you’re a new Christian, and someone tells you that you cannot be a true Christian unless you experience a “second blessing” or “baptism in the Spirit.” Maybe you’re a young church and a group of believers joins you and they start saying that you cannot be a true Christian unless you homeschool your children. These “superior” Christians may offer any number of things that you must do or believe to be a “real” Christian: a specific view of the age of the earth, the spiritual gifts, the five points of Calvinism, the five points of Arminianism, or particular convictions on alcohol or tattoos or smoking or entertainment or the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day… Essentially, what they are doing is “shutting” the door of the kingdom to those who differ from them in their beliefs. Don’t listen to them! Jesus plus anything equals heresy. We can’t add anything to the work that Jesus has done on our behalf. If you’ve trusted in Christ, he has opened the door of the kingdom to you; no one can shut you out.

We need to hear the message to the church in Philadelphia because it reminds us that our status as Christians is firm with Jesus, and that he is pleased with faithfulness, not outward “success.” Jesus is the one who can open and shut the door, so he’s the one who is responsible for the church’s growth. We are called to be faithful—only Jesus can make us fruitful. In some seasons he does and in some seasons he doesn’t; but both seasons call for humble confidence in Christ.

Unanswered Questions

“How long until we start to see some growth?” “How long before God raises up the leaders we need?” “Will this ever get any easier?” “Am I just not cut out for this?” If you’re asking these kinds of questions, you’re in good company. What you need to hear is the same thing the church in Philadelphia needed to hear.

The church in Philadelphia looks weak in the world’s eyes. They aren’t going to win any awards any time soon. But Jesus says that they already have a prize that is immeasurably better: a crown (v 11). This image would remind the Philadelphians of the award victorious athletes would receive. It’s an award that we don’t need to strive to win for ourselves, because Jesus has won it for us. When God looks at us, he is pleased with us. He doesn’t see our sin or our weaknesses or our failures—he sees Christ’s victory on our behalf.

All we have to do is to cling on to Jesus. He reminds us to “hold fast what you have”—that is Christ and the gospel— “so that no one may seize your crown” (v 11). Jesus reminds us that what pleases him is faithfulness: holding fast—not the size of our church, not the reputation of our church, and most definitely not the fame of our pastor. So while the world is busy giving away awards and recognition, remember that Jesus is coming soon and is bringing a better prize—a crown of victory that no one can take away from us.

 

This article is taken from chapter 6 of Seven Dangers Facing Your Church by Juan Sanchez which is available now.

Categories: Christian Resources

How to be an offensive preacher

Mon, 19/02/2018 - 10:56

Stephen and Paul were recorded using some strong choice words for their audiences. Should we follow their example and use more severe language to reach our hearers?

This will always be a tension, especially for gospel-minded Christians. We understand, as Paul made so clear in 1 Corinthians 1, that there is an essential offense to the gospel. We certainly see that offense responded to in the book of Acts: think of Paul preaching the gospel at Ephesus—what happens? A riot breaks out. Paul knew persecution, he knew beatings.

The cross is offensive. We are not.

But Paul never sought to be offensive. Even Stephen in his martyrdom did not seek to be offensive, he meant to be clear— I would suggest that a moment in which one is about to suffer death for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ is probably the greatest moment of theological clarification any disciple of Christ will ever know.

In both of these examples we do not see any intention on the part of those early Christian to be offensive, but the full willingness to bear the offense of the cross.

Every Christian needs to pray this way: “Lord, never let me run from the offense of the cross but preserve me and prevent me from being an offense to the cross.”   

When should Christians resist the authorities?

In the book of Acts we have a singular example of the Apostle Paul at times running right into controversy and at other times being lowered out of the city in a basket from a wall. You look at that and wonder how this one man gave us both of these examples?

Well, here’s the issue: Paul never fled from preaching the gospel. Paul never picked a fight with the authorities—that would be a misreading of the book of Acts. But Paul also never let any authority shut down the preaching of the gospel. As he will write later in one of his letters, “You can put me in jail, I’m going to preach the gospel. You can set me free, I’m going to preach the gospel.”

Lord, never let me run from the offense of the cross but preserve me and prevent me from being an offense to the cross

We should never antagonise the authorities

So what we learn from the early church, but specifically from Paul, is that we are never to antagonise the authorities. In fact, the New Testament teaches that we are to be at peace with all men (as far as it is within our power). Romans 12 v 18.

We also know that Paul was not afraid to face the full opposition of the Roman Empire. And let’s understand what we’re talking about here. This was an opposition that Paul knew would very likely lead to his death. By the end of the book of Acts we see that Paul is in prison — but even there he’s preaching the gospel unhindered, until that moment when we know he actually was martyred for the Christian faith.

We can stand firm, but we’re not to be antagonistic and we’re not to let antagonistic authorities ever shut down the preaching of the word of God, the testimony to the gospel of Christ.  

 

Albert Mohler is the author of Acts 1-12 For You, an expository guide which takes in the ascension of Jesus, the coming of the Spirit, the birth of the church, the start of persecution, the conversion of Saul, and the divine call to world-wide evangelism. There is no more thrilling part of the Bible than the book of Acts, and no better guide to it than Albert Mohler.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Hannah

Fri, 16/02/2018 - 11:52
Categories: Christian Resources

Discipleship Explored Stories: Meet Simo

Fri, 16/02/2018 - 09:40

The new Discipleship Explored features brand-new documentary-style films and inspiring real-life stories from around the world. With less than a month to go until its launch, we thought we'd introduce you to some of the people in front of the cameras.

This is Simo's story.

Simo Ralevic was born on the border of Montenegro and Kosovo, in a remote area in the mountains above Pec which is also not far from the Albanian border. His family were poor, and he was one of 11 children.

To Italy and back again

As he grew up, he became increasingly dissatisfied with his life. He felt there was something missing. So he decided to try and escape through the Iron Curtain to the West.

He reached the Yugoslav-Italian border but was dismayed to find that it was both heavily guarded and strongly fortified. He was about to give up when there was a tremendous rainstorm and all the guards went to seek shelter. Simo noticed a small gap under the fence and managed to crawl under the wire to reach Italy.

Simo was interred in a refugee camp in southern Italy, where he studied Italian and English but became increasingly disillusioned and decided it had been a mistake to leave his home and family. He broke out of the camp and went to Rome where he found the Yugoslavian embassy who sent him back home.

But on his return he was treated with great suspicion, because the manner of his leaving in the first place was a crime. He was sent to prison where he was severely beaten.

He was in a dark, damp and cold cell, just large enough for one person, with nothing to eat, wearing only a thin shirt and trousers.

One night he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus who spoke to him and said "Simo! Tear down your house and build a new one."

This was repeated twice and greatly puzzled Simo. He could not understand what it meant. Should he go home and demolish his family's farm house?

Building a new house

As time went by he thought more and more about the vision. Eventually he was released from prison and sent off to do his military service.

Simo prayed "Oh God, some people say you exist, others say you don't. If you do exist please send me someone to tell me what the vision means".

Shortly after praying this Simo found himself in a military barracks. One of the young soldiers in his room struck Simo as a very different to the other soldiers, a man of kindness and sincerity. Could he be the one that Simo should confide in about his vision?

He asked the man what he did and discovered that he was a theological student. So Simo described his vision to the man, who then asked him if he believed in God.

"Yes, I think so" said Simo.

"Well, how do you express it?" asked  the man.

"I light candles" replied Simo.

"That's not enough", came the reply.

The man said that the meaning of Simo's vision could be explained by reading John 3 in the Bible, which says that you must become a new person, you must be born again.

And he was!

Sharing the Gospel in Pec and beyond

Simo felt the Lord was calling him to return to Pec and tell the people there the good news of the Gospel.

He began to preach and people asked him for copies of his sermons! So Simo began publishing Christian literature, using a machine given to him by English Christians.

He both translated books and began to write his own (the fruits of his preaching helped by his wide reading). Some of his books were aimed at building up Christians, while others were evangelistic.

Simo and his wife used to cycle round the region, leaving evangelistic tracts at cross roads and even in the mouths of caves used by smugglers to evade the Albanian-Yugoslav border guards.

Facing opposition

As the good news about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins was spread throughout the area of Pec and the surrounding region, it was not long before opposition arose.

The communist authorities started to persecute Simo, firstly through threats and eventually by putting him in jail on several occasions.

Whilst he was there, his wife was very ill: she had struggled with her health for many years. One of Simo's fellow prisoners asked the prison governor to let him out for a few hours to see his wife. This request was refused, but when the prisoner told the governor that if he wouldn't do this, the man would kill him on his release from prison, the request was abruptly granted!

Simo ran at night through the back streets of Pec to his church, which as now was part of his house, just as the brothers and sisters were praying for his release. They were amazed to see him!

When imprisonment didn't work, the Communist authorities eventually decided to convene a conference to agree a strategy to shut him up. Now, strangely one of the people invited was one of Simo's brothers, Drago. He was a Communist party member and wasn't a Christian, though would often listen in to Bible studies held at the house.

Simo's brother not surprisingly found the conference's goal not in line with his family loyalty and said so. The leader of the meeting said "What!  You are not one of these Christians as well are you?" At which Drago stood up, threw his Communist party card on the table and left saying that he had decided to become a Christian.

Opposition also came from other sources.

At a family funeral many people came, some of them determined to assault Simo, armed with shovels and pick axes.

By the time they arrived, Simo was preaching at the side of the open grave. Around him were his family, and nearby some empty open graves ready for the next burials. But Simo's brother Milko was very strong. He stood in the narrow path between the graves and as the three or four angry men rushed forward he firmly shoved them back, they fell on top of each other like a set of dominoes, some slipping into the freshly dug graves. So Simo was preserved unscathed.

Fleeing the war

In 1999 the war in Kosovo spread to Pec and Simo and his family had to flee because they were not Albanian.

Fortunately, his friendly Albanian neighbours, though they were Moslem or atheists, highly respected him and protected his property. Today the house and church are used by Albanian evangelicals.

It is amazing that in both Albania and Kosovo there are now many evangelical churches — 40 in Kosovo alone where there were only one or two before.

Keeping the Post Office in business

Simo now lives in central Serbia. Sadly his wife went to be with the Lord several years ago.

Over the last 50 years many thousands of books written or translated by Simo have been printed and distributed to many people all over the world, from the former Yugoslavia to as far away as Australia.

Even to this day there is a massive warehouse under Simo's house, piled high with thousands of books and evangelistic literature. These books are sent out daily and Simo is one of the biggest customers of the local Post Office!

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More of Simo’s story features in the new Discipleship Explored, a journey through the book of Philippians, which launches on 1 March 2018 and is available to pre-order now.

This content first appeared on Jeremy Marshall's blog

Categories: Christian Resources

Things women wish you wouldn't say in church

Wed, 14/02/2018 - 11:09

To coincide with the release of Kathleen Nielson’s new book, Women and God, we conducted a survey. It invited Christian women to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings on the place and experience of women in church and family life—the responses were very insightful!

Yesterday we looked at real examples of when women feel valued and honored in their church. Today we’re sharing moments or things that are said in church life that have made women cringe.

Encouragingly, many women were glad to tell us that they could not think of an example of “something that is done in church life that makes you cringe.” However, lots of other women shared the things that they sometimes find frustrating. Our hope is that church leaders get a small insight into the minds of some of the women sitting in the pews in front of them and are encouraged to open up discussion about it.

It makes me cringe when responsibilities are stereotyped...

“When women are expected to be the ones making the coffee!”

“When women are asked to provide baked goods and serve in the kitchen, whilst the men are asked to serve by moving chairs.”

“When all women's events are based around afternoon tea and crafts—it’s a bit twee.”

“When women make up the majority of the creche/sunday school rota.”

It frustrates me when discussion of sin is gendered…

“When pastors address application about lust to men and eating disorders, gossip and shopping to women.”

“When speakers assume that pornography is just a struggle for men.”

It’s irritating when women are patronised...

“When men take a patronising tone about women!”

“When older male preachers make old-fashioned jokes about a woman's place.”

“When preachers make occasional sexist remarks which come from cultural baggage rather than theological conviction.”

I find it hard when generalisations are made about being a woman...

“When womanhood is only talked about in the context of marriage and motherhood... What does femininity mean for single women?”

“When homeschooling, stay-at-home mums are idolised as the pinnacle of womanhood that we should all aspire to and it’s assumed that women who work outside the home aren’t fulfilled as a mother.”

It’s not helpful when complementarianism becomes a women’s issue...

“When men expect complementarity to be a women-only issue. If they lead well, we will find it easier (and more joyful) to follow!”

“When someone preaches a sermon all about a wife's submission and little on a husband's sacrificial love or how it is really a picture of Christ and the church.”

“When the emphasis is too much on what roles women can’t perform as opposed to the high calling on men or the wonderful things God has in store for women.”

 

None of us gets it right every time. But being aware of what the women in your congregation are thinking and feeling is so important! Why not read Kathleen’s Nielson’s new book, Women and God to see what scripture says about women. You could also read our blog on 4 ways to celebrate women and chat to the women in your church about it.

 

Categories: Christian Resources

Pastors: 4 ways to celebrate women in your church

Tue, 13/02/2018 - 09:38

We recently conducted a survey which invited Christian women to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings on the place and experience of women in church and family life, in conjunction with the release of Kathleen Nielson’s new book, Women and God.

As part of the survey we asked the question, “give an example of something that is said or done at church that makes you feel valued or honoured as a woman”. The insights were very revealing—and in this article, we share a few of them with you.

If you’re a church leader and are already doing these things, take this as an encouragement. Your efforts are noticed and appreciated! And we hope there is something here to help every leader to learn to shepherd the women in their flock a little better.

1. Teach the Bible

“My church has done a bible handling course for women which has shown me that I too can be well equipped to teach the Bible and disciple young women.”

“[I’m part of] a church that encourages women and provides opportunities for them to grow in Bible literacy.”

There is a hunger among women for knowledge of Scripture that goes beyond Ruth, Esther and Proverbs 31. Encourage the women in your church to be handling the Bible for themselves and meeting with their God in its pages. But first you might need to train them in how to do this—in fact, that’s exactly what Paul tells Titus to do for the older women in his church, so that they can instruct the younger women (Titus 2 v 3). This might mean providing groups in which they can read and interrogate scripture collectively and for themselves.

2. Listen

“Pastors who look women in the eye, listen to them, and learn from them.”

“When a minister speaks to me as an individual not just as my husband's wife.”

“My pastor is not afraid of me. He looks me in the eye when he talks to me, he asks me how I am and treats me like a fellow human being.”

“My pastor frequently meets with me and other women to ask our opinion and wisdom on various things. He occasionally sends me his sermon a few days before Sunday to read through and asks for feedback on it.”

The sad implication of the first three responses is that this isn’t always common practice. Women are humans, not a different species—you can have a normal conversation with them!

The simplest way to make women feel valued is to get to know them: ask what’s going on in their lives; their struggles and joys; what they read, watch and listen to. Actively seek out their ideas and wisdom on areas of church life—they will have plenty of it!

3. Have women in visible positions of responsibility

“Having an equal share of men and women taking roles such as leading sung worship and reading the Bible.”

“Helping in an area of the church that is not gender specific or stereotypical. I am 60, a woman and I serve on the tech team.”

The visible presence of women serving alongside men is so important for the next generation of both women and men.

Every eldership has to come to its own position on how the Bible’s teaching plays out in church life today, and which particular “up front” roles are to be reserved for qualified men. But what’s important is that these are communicated as thoughtful and prayerful decisions, and not just assumptions (“Women never do that because women have never done that”).

Be intentional about getting women to use their gifts in all the areas that are appropriate, and avoid making assumption about what women will or will not want to do. Encourage women as they use their gifts—tell them and others that you appreciate and value their service.

4. Recognise injustice

“A church that is not afraid to name injustices against women.”

“My church teaches men to not abuse their power. It protects women in oppressive marriages.”

The sad reality is that every church leader needs to be ready to deal with abuse—sooner or later, it will rear its ugly head. So familiarise yourself with the warning signs, and train yourself up on the appropriate way to respond (this new book from Helen Thorne is a great place to start). Be prepared to listen to victims when they find the courage to speak out. Do whatever is in your power to get them the help they need.

Tomorrow we will share with you some of the things said and done in Church life that women might find unhelpful and frustrating.

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View all the infographic survey results here. Kathleen Nielson’s book Women and God peels back the layers of what scripture says about women and reveals the beautiful truth of God’s goodness to them.

Categories: Christian Resources

Women & God: Your Thoughts and Views

Mon, 12/02/2018 - 15:19

The results are in

To coincide with the release of Women & God: Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth by Kathleen Nielson, we surveyed 1,500 women anonymously on how they feel about their role in church and family life, and their reaction to some of the Bible's teaching on equality, diversity, leadership and gender roles.

Go to www.thegoodbook.com/women-survey to see the results.

Categories: Christian Resources

3 theologically correct Valentine's Day Cards

Mon, 12/02/2018 - 10:24

For all you Bible-loving men and women out there, this may be a moment for some serious reflection on what sentiments you should be expressing on February 14th. So as an alternative to one of those sentimental shop-bought cards, here are three alternatives with some properly thought-through theology behind them.

1. Recognise what marriage is

Paul lays out the mysterious truth about marriage by telling us that the human bonding of a man and a woman is meant to point us to a greater reality: the love of Christ for his people, and the devotion of believers to their Lord (Ephesians 5 v 21-33). So, the encouragement to men is to model the sacrificial love of Jesus for his people. But for wives and sweethearts, you need to remember that your man is just an imperfect model of the love of Christ for you. You are meant to gaze lovingly at him, but then shift your focus beyond him to the Lord who loves you…

Perhaps this card sums it up better than most:

2. Recognise how long marriage lasts

One significant feature of the gloopy sentiment that abounds at this time of year is how it so frequently uses “eternity" as the time frame for the love two people share with each other. Biblical Christians will instantly be on guard. Marriage is, of course, “until death do us part”;  and Jesus taught that there will be no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22 v 30); but rather we will all be completed and satisfied by the joy of our union with Christ at the great wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19 v 6-9).

So why not send this card to your loved one to make this clear: 

3. Recognise what love is

You will not be able to escape hearts on Valentine’s day. But even here, there is a biblical conflict.

I grew up thinking that when you love something or someone, it's the pounding thing in your chest that is the centre and source of that thing we call love. Makes sense. After all, didn't it start to thump alarmingly when I first set eyes on on my dearly beloved? Didn't it race when I turned and saw that vision of loveliness walking up the aisle to say "Yes" to be being with me for the rest of our earthly lives? But it seems it wasn't always that way. For Hebrews and Greeks, the seat of the emotion was slightly further south than that. Whereas we might say: "I love you with all my heart", the proper rendering of Paul's declaration of love for the Philippian believers (1 v 8) is literally:

"For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ." (AV)

So rather than loving someone with all their hearts, they loved them with their icky plumbing. And that makes equal sense too. People who have fallen profoundly in love often describe it as being like a kick in the guts, or having a deep, visceral feeling of yearning to be with someone.

So here’s a final card to send your biblical love to show how deeply you love them; but I guess you’d have to be pretty gutsy to send this.

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The Good Book Company: Helping people to be more biblical: whatever the cost!

Share the reaction with us on Facebook if you give one of these on February 14th. We’d love a story, a video, a quote to see how it goes.

Categories: Christian Resources

Discipleship Explored Stories: Meet Lenny

Fri, 09/02/2018 - 10:54

The new Discipleship Explored features brand-new documentary-style films and inspiring real-life stories from around the world. With less than a month to go until its launch, we thought we'd introduce you to some of the people in front of the cameras.

This is Lenny's story.

"I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.

My father and mother are pastors here in the city and I have three older sisters.

We were always in church growing up and I can remember not wanting anything to do with church once I hit my teenage years.

I believed in God and even ‘loved’ God, but I didn’t want to ‘work’ for God. So, in essence I was running from the assignment that was placed on my life.

I was drifting more and more away from the things of God and found myself deep in a bunch of mess—alcohol, drugs, sex, and criminal lifestyle.

I ended up in a courtroom in Clayton, Missouri, three times, in front of the same judge. That third time in his courtroom, it was just me standing before him (no one in my corner, no lawyer representation, etc). He told me to look him in his eyes and to listen to him very closely. He said, “If I see you in my courtroom one more time, I’m going to lock you up for a long time. And I’m not talking juvenile detention!”

I’d rather walk through fire with the Lord by my side, than feasting on the pleasures of this world without Him.

I can remember being so angry with God about where my life was heading. I felt like God was only the God of my parents.

The day that everything changed was the day I was in my room screaming at God saying, “If you’re real, I need you to prove it and show me right now!” I threw my Bible up against the wall and it bounced open onto my bed. When I picked it up, it was open on the scripture Jeremiah 1.5: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you and I set you apart.” That’s the Scripture that opened my eyes and got me on the track that I’ve continued to this day. It’s even tattooed on my left arm!

This journey has been filled with unbelievable lessons as well as heartbreaking setbacks.

But through it all, I’ll never go back. I’ll never walk away from my Lord! I’d rather walk through fire with the Lord by my side, than feasting on the pleasures of this world without Him.

My wife and I have been recently hired on as Student Pastor and Children’s Pastor at Grace Church STL. After ten years of praying that we’d be in full-time ministry together, it has finally been fulfilled!

God has been a comforter, a guide, a provider, and He’s been truly FAITHFUL! He’s absolutely blown my mind in the past couple of months and I’m so grateful. I’m beyond excited for what this next season holds for my family!"

Lenny lives in Missouri with his wife and four children and is student pastor at Grace Church, St. Louis

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More of Lenny’s story features in the new Discipleship Explored, which launches on 1 March 2018 and is available to pre-order now . This post first appeared on Christianity Explored Ministries blog. 

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Gideon

Fri, 09/02/2018 - 10:31
Categories: Christian Resources

5 reasons Christians shouldn't be cynical

Mon, 05/02/2018 - 09:57

Good things don’t last. Bad guys win. Corruption is everywhere. We live in a fallen world, full of fallen people with fallen hearts. So, why shouldn’t we be cynical?

Worldly wisdom may promote a ‘healthy’ distrust of people and their motives, but is this an approach consistent with biblical wisdom? I don’t think the gospel allows us to, and here’s five reasons why. 

1. We know how this story ends

To expect the worst is to completely ignore the entire storyline of Scripture. There’s a progression there, a hopefulness there, a steadfastness there, that makes our cynicism look rather short sighted.

Yes, things have gone terribly wrong. And yes, we will face a ton of suffering in this life, some far more than others. But the Bible leads us to believe that God is working all of these things together for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

2. We are God’s image bearers

To be entirely cynical of others would require that we ignore what it means to be human, what it means to be created in the image of God. Yes, every part of us is affected by sin. But that doesn’t mean we are as bad as we could be. We bare the image of a creative and loving God and even those who deny his existence will end up letting his image show through in all kinds of ways they don’t realise.

3. Eternal joy starts now

There is joy to be had in this fallen world. Yes, God has placed eternity in our hearts. But that doesn’t mean there are no divine breadcrumbs in this temporal habitat. God made this big beautiful world. It declares his glory. Being cynical of everything would mean we’d have to rip sections like Psalm 19 and Psalm 8 out of the Old Testament since they talk about how creation is filled with grandeur.

There is joy to be had in this fallen world

4. We should expect good things

If we are to be cynical of everyone and everything we are going to have to completely ignore the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind. He blows wherever he wishes, bringing life with him to all that he touches. Don’t expect the worst. Expect the Spirit to do something supernatural in, around, and through you. That’s far from a cynical outlook, isn’t it?

5. Jesus wasn’t cynical

How can we be cynical when Jesus has called us to trust him and walk in his steps? Jesus knew what was in the heart of man. Yet still he loved, and cared, and ministered, and trusted God, and attended parties, and ate, and rested, and wept, and laughed.

We can’t be cynical because Genesis 3 is not the last chapter of the story. The Bible ends with a new garden, a feast, and sons and daughters gathered around the risen Lamb. As Christians we live in light of the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was, and is, and is to come.

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In his new book, Life In The Wild, Dan DeWitt walks us through Genesis 3 showing us how we can look at this world realistically but without despairing, as we wait for God to keep his promise to bring us out of the wild and into his new creation. It’s the contrast between Eden, where everything reflects God’s perfection, and exile, where everything is spoiled by sin. The book helps us survive living in exile - Life in the Wild - until “the glorious day when God will welcome us home, out of the wild”.

Categories: Christian Resources

Friday Quiz: Esther

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 15:48
Categories: Christian Resources

Parenting in a broken world

Thu, 01/02/2018 - 10:08

In the third chapter of Genesis we read that an effect of the fall is that Eve’s pain in childbirth would be multiplied. I’m not sure what it would have been like for Eve to have a child before she and Adam rebelled against God. Would it have been pain-free? We cannot know, as she didn’t have children until they were out of the garden.

The pain mentioned here initially applies to the act of giving birth. This is a topic on which I have no firsthand knowledge. My wife and I are the proud parents of four children: three stinky boys and one delightful and perfect little girl. We have three ogres and one princess.

One Man’s Irrelevant Thoughts on Child Birth

All our children have been delivered through C-section. Being an eyewitness to these surgeries, I can say it looks terribly painful. I’m thankful I’m a guy. I’m the fourth ogre in our house, I suppose. We are Smelly, Stink, Stank, and Stunk living with Queen April and Princess Addilynn.

I’m a wimp when it comes to blood. If I see even a little, I get a salty taste in my mouth and the world begins to sway off kilter. Our anesthesiologist didn’t appreciate my weak stomach. As they pulled Isaiah, our firstborn twin, from the incision in my wife’s stomach, the anesthesiologist grabbed my hospital gown at the shoulder and fought to pull me up so I wouldn’t miss this marvel of human achievement. I resisted. He persisted.

Finally my wife, who should have been focused on more important things, spoke up. “Please don’t make him watch. He might pass out,” she said. So I remained hidden behind the curtain that separated my wife and I from the surgery.

And then, from behind the curtain, a well-intentioned nurse jumped out, like a circus clown with a bit of a triumphant bounce, and held up a small humanlike figure covered in who knows what. I fell out of my chair onto the hospital floor. I’m told my last words before blacking out were, “Put it back!”

Just kidding. I survived. My wife was okay too. Thanks for asking. But I will admit I was a little frightened at the first sight of our children.

In the movies they come out clean, wrapped in swaddling cloths, cooing and smiling, covered in an angelic glow. Not our kids. They initially looked like blood-drenched aliens, something from a low-budget horror film. But they’ve improved greatly, I’m happy to say.

A Parent’s Pain

In addition to the physical pain of childbirth, Eve faced the psychological pain of knowing her children would encounter a very different world than Eden. Bringing children into a scary world carries its own source of pain.

Adam and Eve’s family story is sad and dark. Just read Genesis 4. I’m pretty sure Eve’s pain in childbirth paled in comparison to what she and Adam experienced from their grown children, Cain and Abel.

We’re not given a lot of details but what we see is horrifying. We are told that Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to God. Cain grew up to be a farmer; Abel, a shepherd. Cain brought crops for an offering and Abel brought an animal. God was pleased with Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. So Cain killed his brother in cold blood.

Bringing children into a scary world carries its own source of pain.

Don’t forget: we’re only a handful of verses away from Eden. So soon, we read of domestic violence and homicide in the headlines of human news. Too soon, we feel the full weight of our rebellion: our innocence left behind, hanging on a branch in the Garden of Eden.

Four chapters into the greatest book ever written, we find the first human brothers separated by anger, envy, and finally murder. The third person to breathe air on our planet killed the fourth. This shows that outside of Eden there is no “golden age.” There is a whole lot of pain surrounding a promise that one day God will make all things good again.

This battle, this human struggle, is a part of a cosmic conflict with God’s design. Part of our resistance is because no one wants to be crammed into what they fear is a cookie cutter mold. All of us want a little leeway to figure out who we are and who we want to be. And even if we accept that God’s design is best, it still can sometimes feel like an intrusion on our personal liberty.

Towards a Perfect Family

Our children are no exception to this human tendency. In the wild parenting is painful. I’ve heard it said that a parent is never happier than their saddest child. There is a lot of truth in that.

The Bible is the illustrated account of a dysfunctional family going all the way back to the first couple. We’re all a part of this messed up family tree. But the hope of the gospel, spoken of as early as the third chapter of Genesis, is that one day a serpent crushing child will come to undo our generational spiral of destruction.

Unlike Adam, this would be a perfect child. Unlike Adam, he wouldn’t be deceived by the serpent. Unlike Adam, he would actually defeat the serpent and defend the garden. That’s because he came to establish a perfect family. And through him, through Jesus, we can again call the Creator “Our Father.”

So, the bad news is we come from a broken family. But the good news is in Christ we are adopted into a new family. And that can make all the difference in the world, in a fallen world, for individuals and families.

We are pressing on towards a perfect family, through the one who perfectly obeyed his Father, the one who is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. And one day, in the new creation, we will join together in one big, crazy, loud, eclectic, redeemed, loved, and accepted, family reunion.

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This is an edited excerpt from Dan DeWitt's new book out today, Life in the Wild: Fighting for Faith in a Fallen World

Categories: Christian Resources

6 Things That Complementarianism Is Not

Wed, 31/01/2018 - 09:36

A few years ago, at my request, the leadership at the church gave over an entire Sunday service to explore the idea of gender roles and clarify the church's position. I had been struggling to understand the Bible’s teaching, and the various claims of those who championed Complementarianism—men and women are equal, but have different complementary roles—and those who advocated Egalitarianism—that we are equal in both status and role.

It was all going perfectly well until towards the end of his talk one of the most senior leaders in the church made an offhand joke about women being useful in church life because they can fetch a good cup of tea for us men. My head was in my hands. All that he had done in laying out clearly and carefully the biblical position on male headship was underdone in a moment by a juvenile joke.

Like many, I have struggled to discover a good, healthy outworking of what God's good design for men and women should look like. So, for those who likewise struggle, here is what complementarianism is not.

1. It's not complimentary

It's not about praise or approval. The word complementarianism* is derived from complementary, which the dictionary defines as 'combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another.' The same way that complementary colours (yellow and purple, orange and blue) create a contrast which make each other more vibrant than they were on their own. Although, rightly expressed, I think complementarianism should lead to an increase in compliments, as men and women appreciate how others are humbly serving.

2. It's not cultural cliche

Despite what you may have heard, complementarianism is not the promotion of the usual parade of stereotypes we see in cultural masculinity and femininity. So there's absolutely no requirement for men to love physical sports and women can fix cars if they want to. Not every church event for men needs to involve eating curry, and not every event for women needs to involve doing crafts!

It's primarily about responsibility. And in particular Men taking responsibility. Even though it was Eve who was deceived in Genesis 3, Adam was present—he just didn't act. So it was absolutely right that God came looking for Adam to confront him over what happened. So God expects the man in his family relationships to assume responsibility for spiritual welfare. And because church is God's wider family, God expects qualified men to take responsibility for the men and women under their care.

3. It's not tradition

In some generations  it was still a societal norm for the married men to go to work and for the women to stay at home and raise the children. But this is just incidental. Before the proliferation of birth control in the 1960s it was significantly harder for women to pursue a career and a family, so the sensible economic decision was that the husband went out to work and the wife stayed at home and reared children.

Even though this might have the appearance of a complementarian arrangement, unless it's rooted in a biblical understanding of God's design and purpose for marriage it is just a pragmatic solution, albeit one that has existed for thousands of years.

Complementarianism, on the other hand, is the intentional structuring of family life to bring about the prosperity of both husband and wife in the way that God has ordained through his word. And in the Bible you will find a much greater variety and freedom of roles than this stereotypical marrriage pattern of yesteryear.

4. It's not chauvinism

It is not an invitation for men to assert a superiority over women through means of aggressive behaviour or language. By contrast, God instructs husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5 v 25). Jesus serves the church by laying down his life for her and husbands are likewise exhorted to serve their wives through loving and costly sacrifice. Jesus wins the church's co-operation not through dominance and power but through "loving kindness" (Romans 2 v 4). Likewise, church leaders are to be under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd, who are "eager to serve" (1 Peter 5 v 2-4). Although our culture values, respects and exalts leaders; Christian leadership is something different entirely.

5. It's not capitulation

As Paul explains in Ephesians 5, wives ought to submit to their own husbands "as to the Lord". In the same way that she gladly accedes to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, she is meant to willingly accommodate her husband's authority. And women can and should be encouraged to develop strong character under these arrangements. In chapter 5 of Kathleen Nielson’s book Women & God: Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth she gives a resounding ‘Yes!’ to strong godly women as a gift from God. She reminds us that “Deborah offers a hugely encouraging example of a strong woman who serves the Lord, who respects and exhorts the male leaders around her and who wholeheartedly embraces the work God puts before her.”

In the church arena it’s not about varying levels of gifting. It's not that women don't have teaching gifts or aren't good at making decisions. Men and women are gifted equally, and should both be using those gifts for the sake of the church. Complementarianism is about how those gifts are best used for the glory of God.

6. It's not unequal

Complementarianism does not seek to establish a hierarchy of dignity between the sexes. Scripture insists that God created men and women equally (Genesis 1 v 27). Complementarians assert, however, that there are significant differences in men and women which, when allowed to flourish in their natural constraints, prosper both sexes to equal measure. Both men and women are equally able to display God's image back to him in humble reverence to the ordering of genders that He has helpfully laid out for us.

What is at stake?

This is more than just about healthy relationships—this is ultimately about evangelism. When we get these things wrong it leads to the marginalisation of women in the church, which is wrong. But the greater tragedy occurs when we misapply these principles and actually end up skewing the gospel.  

Marriage, Paul says in Ephesians 5, has a cosmic and potentially eternal purpose, and it wasn't until Jesus appeared that this mystery was fully revealed. When a husband leads his wife with loving sacrifice he presents a compelling illustration of our Lord's commitment to the church. When a wife responds with joyful submission she demonstrates the kind of reverence the church has for its Saviour. It's not just a design for good relationships and flourishing, as good as that is, it is a glorious invitation to live out the gospel to our family, friends and neighbours.

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Women & God: Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth, by Kathleen Nielson, is warm, conversational and sympathetic book which  looks at what the Bible really says about women and what it reveals about God’s attitude towards them. She asks the hard questions about the Old Testament Law, the role of women in marriage and the role of women in the church, consistently pointing us to God’s word and his perfectly created order.

*The phrase became popular in 1988 when The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, along with some other leaders from the evangelical church in North America, released the Danvers statement which aimed to articulate the complementarian position. ​

Categories: Christian Resources

How liturgy got trendy… and why

Tue, 30/01/2018 - 09:43

It seems that young Christians are turning back to traditional worship and liturgy—even, or perhaps especially, among evangelicals.

Churches like Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhatten are overflowing with professional millennials, but their worship is deeply liturgical in style. Here in the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Community of Saint Anselm invites 20-35 year olds to spend “Year in God’s Time”, dedicated to prayer, evangelism and reconciliation—and is going from strength to strength. There seems to be a growing interest in Orthodox Christianity, and, according to The Prayer Book Society, a resurgence in use of The Book of Common Prayer.

I find it an interesting trend, because it’s one that mirrors my own journey. As a kid I grew up in Anglican churches. First, with an actual prayer book—which I can remember finding fiendishly hard to navigate. Then, with a service book—which I can remember finding mostly dull. My mind would wander as we sang the Gloria. My eyes would glaze as we mumbled the creed. My shoulders would slump as we stood through the Eucharistic prayer. The upside was that by the time I was 10 I could take a smug satisfaction in saying all the prayers with my eyes shut. Pride aside, when I left home to go to university I was glad to be able to go to a church that was a little less formal.

Our social-media-shortened attention spans and resistance to sitting-and-listening have sparked a desire instead to stand, kneel, take, eat, speak, sing

But after four years at an independent evangelical church, this 20-something definitely finds herself pining for a bit more liturgy. 

Of course, on the one hand every church has a “liturgy”, inasmuch that every church has a pattern to which worship is conducted—a culture with its own style, vocabulary and customs that are used Sunday by Sunday. But most of us think of “proper” liturgy as that which is written down (rather than extemporary), historic (rather than modern), and involves the active participation of the congregation (rather than limiting participation to listening or singing).

So what’s behind the appeal of traditional worship and liturgy for younger evangelicals? Could it be our social-media-shortened attention spans—our adversity to sitting-and-listening, and a desire instead to stand, kneel, take, eat, speak, sing? Maybe it’s a kick back against a tendency to overemphasise head-knowledge in forensic-style Bible studies? Perhaps it’s a disillusion with the fluffier sort of contemporary Christian music?

Speaking recently about his new book of devotions for Lent, The Glory of the Cross, Tim Chester highlighted a wider cultural trend towards all things vintage, and how it is perhaps this that is reflected in the church. “There’s a renewed interest in the liturgy and traditions of the past—of the forms of worship that connect us with our history”. 

But this interest in liturgical patterns leaves Tim with mixed feelings: “There’s a slight concern in me that this is just ‘trendy’—that the interest is in style rather than substance. On the other hand, I’m all for anything that engages us with the history and heritage of the church. We’ve got so much to learn from the patterns, the worship, the liturgy of the past—and particularly, the thinkers and theologians of history.” 

So what’s Tim’s advice for young evangelicals drawn to liturgical traditions? “If you want to use the styles of the past, that’s fine, as long as you’re also engaging with the content—with the theology of those Christians who went before us, so that we’re ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’”

Whatever your church’s style, Lent (which this year begins on Wednesday 14th February) provides you with an opportunity to do just that on a personal level. For hundreds of years Christians have used the 40 days leading up to Easter to reflect on their sin and their need for forgiveness—and so enjoy the glory of Good Friday and the triumph of Easter Sunday all the more.

“If you want to engage with the rhythm, the pattern, the style of Lent that’s fine,” says Tim, “As long as you also engage with the content of the cross and the resurrection—because that’s what really matters. It is the cross and resurrection which shape who we are and what we hope for.”

There are any number of ways you could do this, but one easy place to start would be with The Glory of the Cross: Reflections for Lent from the Gospel of John. They’re written by Tim Chester, whose fantastic Advent books have helped thousands of Christians slow down and treasure Christ in the run-up to Christmas. This new book works in a similar way, with rich theology made simple by Tim’s trademark writing style, as well as daily prayers and meditations drawn from writers and theologians from across history.

We’re praying that—whatever your liturgical leanings!—you’ll be blessed as you look to Christ. Because any tradition that points faithfully to him is sure to be helpful.

Categories: Christian Resources

Why I'm giving up giving up

Mon, 29/01/2018 - 13:58

I won’t go into details but I’ve been learning a bit about addiction in the last year or two. And it’s not what I thought it was.

People think that addiction is a sign of weakness, and in one sense it is. But in another sense it is not. You have to be strong, so strong, to be an addict. 

Maintaining an addiction is hard work that requires focus, effort, and often careful planning. It requires you to push back against strong and meaningful relationships when an objection is raised to your lifestyle choice. It requires you to work at finding the space to indulge your craving, and to manage the lies you tell so that you remain undiscovered. Whether that’s an addiction to drugs, porn, gambling, shopping, sex or computer games. Drop any kind of junkie in the middle of nowhere with no money or mobile phone, and you will quickly discover how resourceful and focused they can be finding their next fix.

Before we can even conceive of giving things up, we need to be captured by a vision of something better.

So when we arrive at the season of Lent, and everyone is talking about “giving something up” as a test of their willpower, my nose is more finely tuned to the smell of fakery—and I smell a rat.

We’re all addicts

There are many ways we can think about the nature of sin: as idolatry, as self-love; as rebellion. One helpful additional perspective is to think about ourselves as addicts. We develop obsessional love and attachment to things that are not worthy of that role. We worship the created—money, spouses, children, pleasure—not the creator.

And it’s why, when scripture talks about how we grow in our sanctification, it never does it solely in terms of a raw act of will power to stop doing something—it is more about moving on the shutting down. Take this, for example:

"Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." Colossians 3 v 9-10

In the imagery here, the process of change is much more complex than simply giving things up. We are changing clothes, and being renewed in our minds. The call to stop lying to one another is not a demand to steel ourselves to stop doing something we want to do. It is a natural consequence of something far deeper, more profound and fundamental. A root and branch transformation of our mindset, our identity, who we see our selves as. 

As many addicts discover, they can only move on from their addictions when their whole way of thinking changes, and they find someone, something to direct their energies towards that are more health-giving and life-affirming than the destructive addictions they have been used to: whether thats education, family, God or work. Before they can even conceive of giving things up, they ache to be captured by a vision of something better.

So the headline is clickbait — and if you’ve read this far, it has worked. I’ve not stopped giving things up. I’ve just recognised that before my addictive soul stands a chance of giving something up, I need to be change in my mind, and to see more clearly the glory of Christ and all that he gives compared to the poverty of all that I am.

Prepare your heart for Easter with Tim Chester's new Lent devotional, The Glory of the Cross.

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