Blogroll Category: Christian Resources

I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 24 posts from the category 'Christian Resources.'

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On the Podcast with Carolyn Lacey: Making Hospitality Simple (and Easy!)

The Good Book Company - Fri, 16/04/2021 - 06:00

Somewhere along the way many of us have become burdened by unrealistic expectations of what hospitality is and who can do it. It's not just the reserve of great cooks with big houses. Anyone can and should do it. 

Carolyn Lacey joins us on the podcast to help us rethink what hospitality actually is - which is to reflect God’s welcoming heart no matter what our circumstances look like. 

Categories: Christian Resources

Hospitality Wasn’t Meant to be Comfortable

The Good Book Company - Thu, 15/04/2021 - 06:00

I don’t know where to start!

Perhaps that’s how you feel about hospitality. So many people are lonely and in need of encouragement and care. Then there are friends, neighbours, members of your small group, newcomers to church, work colleagues and extended family members. Maybe you find yourself wondering, Who should I prioritise spending time with? Who is it I am called to show hospitality to?

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more naturally drawn towards people who are easy to spend time with, who don’t demand too much, and whose circumstances you can relate to. I call this comfortable hospitality. But that’s not the kind of hospitality God calls us to.

The wrong question

In Luke 10, an expert in Jewish law asks Jesus how he can gain eternal life. It sounds like a good question, but the lawyer is testing Jesus. He knows he should love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and love his neighbour as himself—the problem is he doesn’t. So, to justify his lack of love, he asks, Who is my neighbour? Who is it I’m called to love as myself?

It’s the wrong question. The lawyer wants Jesus to tell him who he must love, and he wants an excuse for not loving others in the same way. He may as well have asked, Who do I not have to love? Who is excluded from this commandment? The Romans? The tax collectors?

“Jesus doesn’t divide the world into neighbours and non-neighbours like this. He says we should treat everyone as a neighbour—especially those who are most in need.”

Jesus responds with the story of the good Samaritan. You probably know the story: A man travels on a dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and is attacked by robbers who strip him, beat him and leave him half-dead. A priest happens to be travelling the same road but, instead of stopping to help, he passes by on the other side. Later, a Levite does the same. Both men are among the religious elite of their day but their religion does not extend to helping those in need.

We want to judge the priest and the Levite but, if we’re honest, we know how easy it is to ignore need—to pretend we haven’t noticed the neighbour struggling to start their car, or the person who always sits alone at church. We understand the temptation to walk on the other side of the street and hope someone else will stop to help.

Jesus introduces one more character to the story: a Samaritan. Samaritans were long-standing enemies of the Jews—in Jewish eyes, they were unclean outsiders. But when this Samaritan sees the dying man, he feels compassion for him. He bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn to care for him. He pays generously for the man’s ongoing care and promises to return and cover any additional expense.

The better question

Jesus follows up the story by asking, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer is obvious—the man’s enemy proved to be his neighbour. The priest and the Levite know what the law says, but the Samaritan puts it into practice. So Jesus tells the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” In other words, You go and love your enemies too. Yes, even the Romans and the tax collectors. To us he might have said, Even the difficult neighbour, the depressed colleague, the older acquaintance with unsavoury political views.

Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People) Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People) £7.99 £6.79

How to offer Christian hospitality without becoming exhausted and overburdened.

The lawyer assumes that there are some people who are his neighbours and others who are not. This enables him to put boundaries around his compassion and his welcome—he will love his neighbours but not his non-neighbours. We can be like this too. We ask, Who must I welcome? Who must I invite into my home? Who do I have to make space for? We may as well ask, Who do I not need to welcome? Who am I free to overlook or ignore? Who can someone else welcome?

But Jesus doesn’t divide the world into neighbours and non-neighbours like this. He says we should treat everyone as a neighbour—especially those who are most in need. He teaches us to ask the better questions: Who needs my welcome? Who do I have the opportunity to show generous hospitality to? Who has God placed in my path so that I may reflect his welcome?

These are the questions we should ask as we look around our church, our workplace and our neighbourhood. They will help us think about who God wants us to show hospitality to. They will keep us from comfortable hospitality that prioritises ease and convenience over another’s need. They will equip us to show love and compassion in the ordinary moments of everyday life.

This is an extract from Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People), a practical and realistic book from writer, speaker and pastor’s wife, Carolyn Lacey. She explores seven ways in which we can reflect God’s character in the way we welcome others into our homes and into our lives, and so point people ultimately to Christ.

Categories: Christian Resources

Hospitality doesn’t need to break the bank—or your back!

The Good Book Company - Tue, 13/04/2021 - 06:00

I love a good period drama. It’s fun to escape for a while into the world of fine houses, frilly dresses and fancy tea parties. But I sometimes find myself envying the mistress of the house as she hosts her impressive feasts without so much as breaking a sweat. How does she do it, I ask? The answer is obvious: she has loads of money and plenty of people to do all the hard work for her. I tell myself, I’d be great at hospitality, too, in her shoes!

The Bible calls all followers of Jesus to “practise hospitality”—and to do it “without grumbling” (Romans 12 v 13; 1 Peter 4 v 9). But it doesn’t link hospitality with expense, exhaustion—or even an extroverted personality. Rather, it reveals a God who overflows with generous, compassionate welcome to undeserving people. It invites us to accept his welcome—and then share it with others.

Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People) Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People) £7.99 £6.79

How to offer Christian hospitality without becoming exhausted and overburdened.

One of my favourite pictures of God’s welcome is found in Isaiah 55:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,

    come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

    come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

    without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

    and your labour on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

    and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55 v 1-2)

"The purpose of our hospitality is not to show off our homes or our cooking skills but our Saviour. We want to call our friends and neighbours to the only feast that is truly satisfying and life-giving."

God isn’t a reluctant host—he isn’t motivated by duty or obligation. No, he is joyful and enthusiastic in his welcome. And, unlike so many hosts, he expects nothing in return. He offers a free invitation to all—no one is excluded, because there is enough for everyone. The thirsty will drink; the hungry will eat. He will provide for those who cannot provide for themselves—no strings attached. This will be a lavish feast, satisfying all who will come. God delights to share all he has. He is the ultimate cheerful giver!

How can our hospitality look more like his and less like the superficial pictures of hospitality we see on our screens? And how can we begin to reflect his welcome in ways that don’t leave us feeling exhausted and over-burdened? Here are three suggestions:

How can we begin to reflect Christ’s welcome in ways that don’t leave us feeling exhausted and over-burdened? Here are three suggestions.

Remember the purpose

The purpose of our hospitality is not to show off our homes or our cooking skills but our Saviour. We want to call our friends and neighbours to the only feast that is truly satisfying and life-giving. We don’t want to offer superficial hospitality that looks good but does nothing to satisfy the deepest longing of the human heart—to know and enjoy our Creator. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share meals, but we want to offer more than just food and drink. We want to point to the generous, satisfying welcome of our God.

When you invite someone to share a meal—or go for a coffee or a walk—with you, try to spend less time worrying about what you will eat (or not eat), and more time praying about how you can point them to Jesus.

Refuse to show favouritism

God welcomed us when we were his enemies. He showed favour to the underserving and unlovable—and he wants us to do the same. Throughout the Bible, he teaches his people to care for the poor, vulnerable and needy.

It’s tempting to work hard to impress those who already have a lot while making less of an effort for those who don’t expect much. But the gospel reshapes our hospitality. It calls us to be most generous to those who are most in need—those who cannot offer anything in return.

Who in your church family is least likely to receive a phone call, text or dinner invitation this week? Who in your street seems especially lonely or in need of care? Which of your work colleagues is excluded from office banter or staff socials? These are the people who most need your welcome.

Rely on grace

Hospitality can be daunting, and it can be exhausting. When we feel overwhelmed or inadequate we can persevere, trusting in God’s grace to equip and sustain us. We may not have all the resources we need, but he does.

We can open our homes and our hearts to those we live, work and worship alongside, with joyful confidence that the one who has shown such generous welcome to us will equip us to share his welcome with others.

This is an extract from Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People), a practical and realistic book from writer, speaker and pastor’s wife, Carolyn Lacey. She explores seven ways in which we can reflect God’s character in the way we welcome others into our homes and into our lives, and so point people ultimately to Christ.

Categories: Christian Resources

How Weakness Qualifies You to Share The Gospel

The Good Book Company - Thu, 08/04/2021 - 06:00

Why did God send his Son, who had been accustomed to all the majesty of heaven, into the world in the weakest, humblest way imaginable—as a helpless, utterly dependent baby who was even laid in an animal trough?

First, because God is turning the demonic lie on its head! To be human—to be dependent—is wonderful in God’s eyes! That is why we must never despise our smallness, since the Son of God became “small” when he became human. His birth is a tremendous validation of how good it is to be human. Christ becoming flesh “hallows all flesh,” as the poet Charles Williams said.

"The fact that Christ came in the utter weakness and vulnerability of a baby has immense significance when it comes to evangelism."

Second, the humble circumstances of his birth are a sign that Jesus didn’t come to save only the privileged and the powerful; he came to save all of humanity.

The fact that Christ came in the utter weakness and vulnerability of a baby has immense significance when it comes to evangelism. 

The Relationship between Human Weakness and God’s Power

Here’s why: Jesus’ birth reveals that God is pleased to dwell in and reveal his glory through human weakness. That is a theme throughout all of Scripture. All through the Bible we see that there is a profound relationship between human weakness and God’s power.

Consider the apostle Paul, one the greatest evangelists in history.

How did Paul feel as he went on his missionary journey to the important city of Corinth, the “Sin City” of the ancient world? Was he brimming with self-confidence? In 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 we read Paul’s own view—and it gives us an invaluable insight into why recognizing our smallness is actually a gift:

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Paul’s statement is staggering. Paul says he glories in his weakness and inadequacy so that Christ’s power may be revealed. This is the very antithesis of Genesis 3! Satan wants us to detest the fact that being human means we must depend upon God. But Paul says the exact opposite! He says that he has learned to love and celebrate his weakness because through his inadequacy God’s power and grace are revealed.

But how do we learn to live like this? Paul shows us that the answer lies in first accepting our smallness. This is about much more than acknowledging our limitations. It means experiencing a power much greater than our own and surrendering to it.

Learning to accept our humanness is what leads us to depend upon God’s strength. It puts us in a position where we are able to joyfully accept that God has all the strength and power we could ever need, and we don’t—and so we’re going to need his help!

"When we learn to celebrate our smallness and to depend upon the power of God, it affects every aspect of our lives. And that includes our sharing of the gospel."

A Story of Power in Weakness

Someone who has taught me and countless others how to view human weakness through God’s eyes is the renowned author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni had a diving accident when she was a teenager that resulted in her becoming disabled with quadriplegia. God has used Joni to be his witness in extraordinary ways ever since.

I have known Joni for a long time, so when she came to speak at our church, I asked her if we could have lunch together, and said I would bring a packed lunch.

As we sat alone together in one of the rooms, it suddenly occurred to me that I would need to help her. So I picked up the sandwich and began to feed her. I put the straw to her mouth so she could drink. I wiped her mouth with the napkin. It’s hard to describe the intimacy of that lunch. The only time I had ever fed anyone was when my children were babies or when I visited my grandmother in her nursing home. In other words, I had only done this for those who were at the opposite ends of the human lifespan.

This time, though, I wasn’t feeding my babies or my grandmother—I was feeding the remarkable, heroic Joni Tada. The act of feeding her felt almost sacred. Somehow her physical weakness caused me to feel at ease with my own human weakness. Before long I began telling her about the challenges I was facing and where I was waiting on the Lord for answers. And she did the same.

Stay Salt Stay Salt £8.99 £7.64

Helps Christians to share their faith in today's world confidently and effectively.

I reflected on that experience for a long time afterwards. Why did feeding Joni lunch have such a profound effect on me? Eventually I concluded that it was because I was in the presence of a woman who had made peace with her weakness. The blessing of her physical disability, I have heard her say, is the constant reminder that we are God-dependent and not self-sufficient people.

When we learn to celebrate our smallness and to depend upon the power of God, it affects every aspect of our lives. And that includes our sharing of the gospel.

God-Dependent People Spread The Gospel

When we learn to celebrate our smallness and to depend upon the power of God, it affects every aspect of our lives. And that includes our sharing of the gospel—because it diminishes our fears when we realize that it is ok to be inadequate, that being able to answer every question skeptics ask is not required, and, most of all, that our human weakness is no hindrance to God using us for his kingdom to spread the glorious good news.

As Paul said (and it’s what I need to recall every time I share my faith), “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

So, the next time you consider witnessing to a neighbor or a family member or a work colleague, and you think, “I can’t, because...” don’t let that defeat you. But equally, don’t try to find the confidence or ability within you.

Yes, you’re inadequate. And when you accept that you’re a dependent creature, with a mighty Creator, then you’re in the place where he can use you. We are weak, yet he is strong.

This is an extract from Stay Salt, by renowned evangelist Becky Pippert. The book draws on decades of conversations about Christianity around the world to call and equip ordinary Christians to share Jesus through their ordinary day-to-day conversations.

Categories: Christian Resources

Stress: Taking Every Thought Captive

The Good Book Company - Tue, 06/04/2021 - 06:00

I can’t do this anymore …

No-one cares …

It’s all so out of control …

There is no hope …

If you’re anything like me, such thoughts have crossed your mind in recent months. Whether you’ve been working relentlessly on the front line or on furlough and bored; whether you’ve been juggling the multi-faceted pressures of a home with many people or enduring the relentless silence, where it’s just you alone; whether you’ve been protected from the worst losses of recent times or have known the horrors of personal grief, unemployment, homelessness and more - the pandemic has left most of us reeling, anxious in many ways. Since the start of 2020, the Christian walk has felt increasingly like a limp. 

Many of our circumstances hurt and cause us significant stress. It’s right that we lament. It’s good and proper that we take our burdens and our pain to the Lord and, like David in Psalm 86, tell him how weak we are feeling and how much we need his help. The Christian is not called to stoicism. We don’t need to pretend we’re OK. 

"....There’s a choice to be made in every believer’s heart: feed the lies or fight the lies. The path we take will have a profound impact on our stress and spiritual lives."

But let’s not be unaware, such circumstances also encourage us to doubt. They nudge us to believe things about God and his world that simply aren’t true and that takes us into dangerous ground. At the end of a day alone, the lie “no-one loves me” can easily take hold. In the middle of family chaos, the suspicion that “I’m unequipped” begins to loom large. As yet another dearly hoped-for event bites the dust, we can almost hear the words “the world is spiralling out of control” being whispered in our ear. 

Such doubts should not surprise, the pandemic has brought a tsunami of pain that is bound to impact our gaze. We can treat each other with compassion as we struggle with our anxious thoughts – seeing straight when brought low is so very hard to do. But the thoughts of being unsafe, unequipped and unloved aren’t true. They aren’t helpful. And, if we let them hold sway, they’ll only ever propel us towards disappointment, rebellion or despair. 

So, what are we to do? In the face of those thoughts, there’s a choice to be made in every believer’s heart: feed the lies or fight the lies. The path we take will have a profound impact on our stress and spiritual lives.

What Feeding the Lies Looks Like

Option A is the easiest by far. A difficult thing happens and we feel a fleeting sense of despair. Another tough thing appears and we allow it to bolster our suspicion that life is bleak. With every subsequent moment of suffering our opinion that there is no hope gets stronger. Until, one day, we wake up and discover hope is completely out of view. We practise interpreting hard things as hopeless things. And, in the end, we become what we have been training to be: someone who can see nothing good in the months ahead. Our taught theology may survive – we might still be able to articulate something of God’s goodness that we once read in a book – but we don’t live it, we don’t love it, because we’ve spent too long practising staring into the dark.

What Fighting the Lies Looks Like

Option B is a far harder call. It involves noticing the lies as they begin to form. It means living out Paul’s call to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). To grab hold of our, often instinctual, anxious interpretations and to measure them by the plumbline of Scripture and to see where they are leading us astray. This is no mere positive thinking – the Bible never calls us to positive affirmations each day – but rather to see where our thoughts have departed from God’s sure and certain word and to dive deep into the abundant evidence God provides that, as his children, we are safe, loved, equipped and more. 

Battles are never easy. There can be complicating factors along the way. But, in the Christian life, we are never called to fight alone. The Spirit of God has promised to be at work in our hearts and to keep changing us until we are perfectly like Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when our only access to them is phone, video call or a quick walk, are there to spur us on (Hebrews 10:24).

We can listen to each other’s words and when we hear one another articulating things that are leading us to fear, despair, bitterness, insecurity or sin we can (gently) nudge each other to come back to the One who brings life and light. We can dig deep into passages like Ephesians 1 that articulate God’s identity and ours with such clarity. We can look at the narratives of Genesis, Exodus and Ruth and see God’s unending provision and care. And, when exhausted, we can keep doing so in bite-sized yet beautiful ways – drip-feeding droplets of truth into each other’s parched lives. 

And, as we take thoughts captive, little by little we will find wonderful growth begins to appear. Confidence, trust, perseverance, obedience, hope – even joy. That’s real help when stress and anxiety overwhelm. And, as this pandemic progresses, isn’t that the sort of spiritual fruit we’d like to bear?

Categories: Christian Resources

Good Zook Guides: NEW Bible studies especially for Zoom

The Good Book Company - Thu, 01/04/2021 - 06:00

The Good Book Company exists to resource the church with timely books and resources that meet the needs of the moment with God’s timeless word.

That’s why, with many small groups continuing to meet on Zoom for the foreseeable future due to Covid restrictions—and with others planning to embrace the platform long-term—we’re pleased to announce the launch of a selection of revised editions of our popular Good Book Guides, with special extra features to make them perfect for zoom.

We’re calling them Good Zook Guides (GZG). We’re so excited to share them with you!

Features include:

Pre-emptive “You’re on mute”

We all know the frustration: it seems it’s impossible to give an answer at a meeting or Bible study without first needing to be told, “You’re on mute!”. In the GZGs we’ve pre-empted this moment by adding the phrase directly after each question: “You’re on mute” (see preview below). It’s a simple way to save your group the need to cut in as you begin to bless your own living room (but nobody else’s) with your profound thought on the passage.

Immersive virtual backgrounds and filters

Zoom’s stock space background is so 2020—it’s time for a refresh! Each GZG comes with a link to download five virtual backgrounds for free, with the selection tailored to the book being studied. Whether it’s the splendour of Solomon’s temple, a tranquil shot of Lake Galilee, or Paul’s prison cell, these backgrounds will help you and your group feel like you’re right there in Bible times (as long as you sit close enough to the camera).

Plus, for an even more immersive experience, you can upgrade to access TGBC’s bespoke Zoom filters app. Remember the lawyer at the virtual court case who accidentally appeared on screen as a cat? Well, imagine discussing the story of Jonah while using a big fish filter. Or reading the story of Balaam’s donkey, as a donkey. This is one sure fire way to bring the Bible to life!  

Same Bible books, new covid angle

To help us to apply the Bible to the unique challenges presented by this season, we’ve given our GZG titles a special Covid twist. The first to launch will be:

  • Exodus: God’s Roadmap Out of Lockdown
  • Leviticus: Hand Sanitiser for the Soul
  • Deuteronomy: God’s Government Guidelines
  • Luke: A Doctor’s Perspective
  • Philippians: Paul’s W.F.H(ouse arrest)
We want to hear from you!

Which Bible books do you want to be given the GZG treatment? What new features would you like to see added? We welcome your suggestions in the comments below or on social media.

Happy April Fools! Ok, so we won’t be launching the GZGs any time soon. But our Good Book Guides are a great way for small groups to study the Bible together, either on Zoom or in person. No distracting extra features or stupid puns—just great questions that help you to hear God speak as you dig into the text and apply it to your life (and a leader’s guide at the back too!).

Categories: Christian Resources

Should We Look up to Christian "Heroes"?

The Good Book Company - Tue, 30/03/2021 - 06:00

“Jesus is my hero,” the meme said. Just a slight scroll past that, I saw a post about the “heroes of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11.

When you compare Old Testament figures like Sampson or David to Jesus, it’s hard to justify using the same terminology. No human being in the Bible compares to Christ. No Christian who has lived since does either. 

So is it right to look up to “heroes” discussed in the Bible? Is it helpful? And what about believers who lived long after the canon of Scripture was complete? Or those who live today? Is it right to have Christian heroes at all?

Should We Look Up to The People Listed in Hebrews 11?

God’s word is full of real, honest examples of men and women of faith. These examples don’t set anyone up as perfect pictures of faithfulness, but as evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people.

Richard Coekin helpfully explains the perspective of the writer of Hebrews 11:

“He’s selecting some big moments when God enabled faith in the lives of very ordinary believers down the centuries. Not to make heroes of them, but to remind his readers of how God has enabled his people, including screw-ups like most of us, to persevere through all sorts of difficulty by faith. This chapter is not about superhuman faith. It’s about the kind of faith God has always given his people from the very beginning.” (Faith for Life, p 17)

When we look to the "ordinary heroes” of the Bible, we’re directed to look up to Jesus.

Should We Look Up to Great Christians of the Past?

“Two thousand years on,” author Tim Chester says in an article on encouragement from saints of old, “the cloud of witnesses is larger than ever.” That’s probably why there is a plethora of Christian biographies available in our bookstores—like those suggested in this helpful “Top 10” rundown by Asheritah Ciuciu. 

Just like people whose stories are recorded in the Bible, great Christians of the past have their flaws. So, it’s right to guard against idolizing them. However, they can uniquely and memorably evidence how God can enable anyone to persevere in their faith and do incredible things to his glory. For example, the stories of Christians like Corrie ten Boom and Betsey Stockton can strengthen our faith in Christ, whether we’re two or eighty-one. 

Should We Look Up to Other Christians Today?

A humbling, exciting truth is that Christians today are among the great cloud of witnesses too. That means me, you, your pastor, my mentor… and the seven-year olds talking to their classmates about Jesus. 

The idea of looking up to other Christians today is a little complicated. We aren’t reading about our current co-workers in Christ the way we read about those who lived long ago. Instead, we’re encouraged by them as we follow them on social media, buy their books, or sit next to them in Bible studies. Sometimes, their flaws and sins are uncovered when we read news headlines or recoil from the comment they just made. The consequences of those things are fresh and sometimes very serious, and they linger.

Yet, as a result of their being in real-time with us, we have uniquely blessed opportunities to look up to Christ alongside them:

1. We Can Pray for Them

Our current co-Christians haven’t been made complete in Christ yet. There’s plenty to pray for them, whether they witness most in the government, the church, the workplace, the home, or anywhere else. 

2. We Can Encourage Them

We all struggle in this life, and we’re all susceptible to sin—especially when it seems secret or harmless. Encouraging each other to be faithful, to ground our character in Christ, matters. In fact, as Rico Tice points out in Faithful Leaders and the Things That Matter Most, faithfulness is what success looks like for Christians. That’s the kind of heroism we should desire.

Because Jesus makes us one in him, we can relate to other believers in a way that’s much more meaningful than putting anyone on a pedestal. We can look at each other and be reminded to look up to him who is worthy of all our praise and admiration.

Categories: Christian Resources

On the Podcast with Rico Tice: Addressing the Character of a Leader

The Good Book Company - Fri, 26/03/2021 - 06:00

"Failure is being successful in the things that don't matter."

In this episode of the podcast we talk to Rico Tice about his new book Faithful Leaders and the Things That Matter Most and why successful ministry means living a consistent Christian life. We also find out about how an influential Maths teacher led him to Christ and how he received his calling to become a full-time evangelist.

*This episode was recorded on 12 January 2021

Categories: Christian Resources

Reflections on the Christlike leadership of John Stott

The Good Book Company - Thu, 25/03/2021 - 06:00

What is John Stott’s legacy in this, the hundredth year since he was born? We could think of his preaching, his writing, his evangelism or his impact on student ministry. But more than any of those, I think his greatest legacy may be his personal godliness.

I joined the staff at All Souls, Langham Place in 1994, and so had the privilege of getting to know “Uncle John” as both a colleague and friend. And it was his godliness that most struck me over the next 17 years. In fact the closer I got to him, the more apparent it became. His secretary Frances Whitehead put it well at his Memorial Service in St. Paul's Cathedral: “I worked alongside him for 55 years and I want you to know that he was authentic. He lived what he preached.”

“He lived what he preached”—that is perhaps what we most need to remember and learn from as we confront the heartbreaking truth that a number of Christian leaders have failed in this area.

I was at the Keswick Convention for his last public sermon in July 2007. Its central point was this: Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. I have never forgotten these lines:

"There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him, ‘If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow’. I think India would be at our feet today if we Christians lived like Christ.”

Faithful Leaders Faithful Leaders £7.99 £6.79

Explore the things that really matter for a successful ministry.

As I look back on his impact on me, who he was was more important than all he achieved, character more important than competence. It seemed to me that the heart of his godliness lay in his humility, expressed in a desire to serve others. He had come from an immensely privileged family. The chauffeur would drive him up to his boarding school at Rugby, where he was Head Boy. His father, Sir Arnold Stott, had rooms on Harley Street in London. But having come to Christ as a 16-year-old, John’s longing was to lay aside this privilege and serve others as Christ had served him.

That longing never left him. As an old man, when he preached at All Souls there would be long queues of people waiting to meet him after the service. Quite often these individuals were very demanding. One of his study assistants, John Yates (who became Rector of The Falls Church in northern Virginia), told me that he trained himself to say under his breath, “John, Christ died for them—they are, therefore, infinitely valuable to God. Now you must listen to them.” That reflected his key motto: the other person is more important than you are. There was a constant reference to Philippians 2 v 3-5: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but teach of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

I learned from Uncle John’s humility both in private and in public from my earliest days at All Souls. I remember going for tea at Uncle John’s at the beginning of 1995. He'd watched me for those opening months of my time at All Souls and asked me as I came into his study, “Have you read The Christian Priest Today by Archbishop Michael Ramsey?” It had been part of my ordination reading, and so with a little pride I enjoyed saying, “Yes, I have”.

“Do you remember Chapter 8?” he asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Let me read it to you,” he said.

The title of the chapter was “On Divine Humility” and four of its main points are still seared into my brain:

1. Confession and thanksgiving are soil in which pride does not easily grow.

2. Rejoice in your humiliations—they are good for you.

3. Cultivate friends who laugh at you.

4. Laugh at yourself.

I remember walking away from tea that day and thinking, “Well we didn’t go through those points for Uncle John’s benefit”!

Then there was the most powerful sermon I’ve ever heard. I was so wrought upon that halfway through I stopped taking notes and found myself face to face with my Creator. I don’t need to turn to my notes to recall what was said. The date was 11th February 1996, the passage was Mark 10 v 35-45, the title was “The Servant of Many”, and as in my mind I can still hear Uncle John declaring:

“We have to choose between two value systems and two lifestyles. There is one way of living and it’s the way of James and John, Mark 10 v 35: ‘We want you to do for us whatever we ask’. The other way of living is in verse 45: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’.”

“He lived what he preached”—that is perhaps what we most need to remember and learn from as we confront the heartbreaking truth that a number of Christian leaders have failed in this area.

Uncle John called us to choose between the way of James and John and the way of Jesus. It’s a choice between:

1. self-seeking and self-sacrifice

2. power and service

3. security and suffering

He declared there is no middle ground, for there is no harmonisation between the two. Then he called us to underline four words in red in our Bibles from Mark 10 v 43: “Not so with you.”

The points from that sermon form the structure for one of the chapters in my book Faithful Leaders, because they have been so fundamental to the approach I’ve tried to take to ministry within my own family as well as in the church. Servant leadership is right at the heart of authentic Christian leadership.

And Uncle John lived what he preached, right to the end. His last lesson to me about service came for me on the day in 2011 that he died. There was a rota amongst the church staff to go down to his residential home and it happened to be my day to go on 27th July. That morning I got there at about 10am. The doctors were clear that he was dying. I sat with him, and at one point read through John 14. He barely acknowledged me. But when one of the Filipino cleaners at the home came in to say goodbye, with a monumental effort John took his hand and rose up out of his bed to kiss it, before slumping backwards. As I was leaving, Uncle John’s closest friends and family began to arrive, but I noted that none of them were given anywhere near the greeting that he had given that young man.

As I shut my eyes, I can see him giving everything he had to serve the person who had the lowest status. He was a Christian servant to his last breath and—perhaps now more than ever—I’m so deeply grateful to God for his godly example.

Categories: Christian Resources

Get your thinking right at the start of each day

The Good Book Company - Tue, 23/03/2021 - 06:00

If I am to offer myself as a living sacrifice each day, holy and pleasing to God, then I will need to “be transformed by the renewing of [my] mind (Romans 12 v 1-2). After all, it’s the “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1 v 1). So I’m very intentional first thing in the morning about getting my thinking in place. I read my Bible before I look at my technology.

In my quiet time, I work through my own mini-catechism:

Q: Rico, when did God choose you? 

A: Before the creation of the world. He chose you in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. And he predestined you for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1 v 4-5).

Q: Rico, how does God feel about you? 

A: He is delighted with you because he is delighted with Jesus his Son, and you are united to Jesus by faith. A righteousness from God has been revealed, and it has been given to you (Romans 3 v 21-22). You are a sinner, and you are justified. Rico, say today what Gresham Machen said on his deathbed: “I thank God for the obedience of Jesus”. Your identity is in Christ, and whether others accept you or reject you today does not make you any more or less valuable or accepted or loved.

"My feelings will follow my thoughts as I reflect on the wonder of the gospel."

Q: Rico, why is today a great day?

A: Because today is the day that God has planned for you, and if God says it’s good, then it’s good. Whatever God brings into your day—the things you’d choose and the things you definitely wouldn’t—he will work in them for your good. And your good is to become more like Jesus (Romans 8 v 28-29). So today, one way or another, whether you see it or not, you’re going to grow to be more like your Saviour. That’s a great day.

Q: Rico, why is today a better day than yesterday?

A: Because you’re a day’s march closer to home—24 hours closer to seeing Jesus face to face. You never need to lose heart because though today may be hard, your troubles are the path to the eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4 v 17). What you can see is not all there is, and it will not last; what you cannot see is eternal, and you’re getting closer to the day that faith becomes sight (v 18). “No human mind has conceived [of] the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2 v 9).

These things are true. They need to be at the forefront of my thoughts. This is who I am, and this is the day I’m entering. And with those in place, I’m ready to serve. And my feelings will follow my thoughts as I reflect on the wonder of the gospel.

This is an extract from Faithful Leaders and the things that matter most, by Rico Tice. In this short, punchy, challenging, and at times surprising book, Rico Tice draws on decades of experience in church leadership to call fellow pastors and others with oversight of areas of church ministry to define success biblically, fight their sin, lead themselves, and serve their churches.

Categories: Christian Resources

One Year Later: 16 Short Stories of God Working Things for Good Since The Pandemic Began

The Good Book Company - Thu, 18/03/2021 - 06:00

None of us would say that the pandemic is a good thing, but every Christian can say that God is working it for our good and his glory, according to his purposes (Romans 8:28.)

Some of us say this by faith, struggling to see evidence yet of God’s handiwork in the suffering around us. Others praise God for tangible pictures of his involvement over the past 360ish days. 

Here are 16 mini-stories of those pieces of evidence. May we build one another up in Christ, who is not limited by anything - even this!

Has God worked things for good since the pandemic began? Here are 16 encouraging mini-stories. 

God at Work in Families
  1. “God has worked good out of this situation by removing many distractions that filled every day. As a family, we've had time to reflect on things that matter most, we've had meaningful conversations with our teenagers and strengthened our relationship. We've had the opportunity to show practical love and care to friends around us that have been affected by the pandemic.” - Nelly Ortiz

  2. “With my husband working from home since the very beginning of lockdown part one, it means he has spent more time with our family than he has ever been able to. In particular, he was able to spend time in Scotland with his identical twin brother, who passed away at the beginning of March 2021 after a year long battle with cancer. Being in 'lockdown'  enabled him to help to take care of his brother, being with him until the very end, and feel like he made a difference where it is so easy to feel helpless. God has blessed them with the time in lockdown that they would not have otherwise had, and we are all truly grateful and thankful for that.” - Lynn Dudley-Taylor

“God has blessed them with the time in lockdown that they would not have otherwise had, and we are all truly grateful and thankful for that.” Praise God for working things for good, even in the pandemic!

God at Work In Small Groups
  1. “During the pandemic, I have been able to transition my Women's Bible Study to Zoom and keep going! Since transitioning to Zoom, we have a woman in The Netherlands who joins us and a couple of women from other local churches!” - Katie Thompson

  2. “Attendance at our life group used to be lower pre-COVID because the parents had to take turns to stay with the kids. Now all of us can attend online each week and the studies have been deeper and more encouraging. We also have WhatsApp video calls with the women and men separately after the Bible study. We have got to know each other better through this and it’s been a real support through challenging times.” - Caroline Napper

  3. “Using zoom means prayer groups are always random, and it was nerve-wracking to begin with to be put into breakout rooms to pray with people I didn’t know. But in the end it has been an enormous encouragement—I’ve prayed with and for people from all across the church, and it feels so much more like a family to me as a result.” - Katy Morgan

God at Work Through His Church
  1. “Covid lockdowns came at a crucial point for us, as we were on the brink of going weekly with a new church plant in the suburb where I live. The major upside is that our launch leadership team has spent the last year meeting weekly. We will emerge from lockdown ready to renew our planting plans but with a much more solid understanding of our convictions and confident in our partnership as we move forward—things that might have proven difficult to do in the everyday life of running a church.” - Tim Thornborough

  2. “The connection with small home groups, albeit over a screen, has been a real blessing and encouragement to my husband and me. The fact we are home, given multiple lockdowns, has meant no excuse not to attend. Our church preached on 1 Samuel last year,  and it was incredible to listen each week, then follow up in more depth in our home groups using 1 Samuel For You by Tim Chester. The result - spiritual growth.” - Sam Ball

God at Work Reaching Those Who Don’t Know Him Yet
  1. “Before the Covid-19 outbreak, my wife and I had been trying to invite neighbours of ours, who are a gay couple, to an evangelistic course. They had both been interested but had to say no due to work commitments. Then last year when we invited them again, lock-down meant that they said that they could maybe come along to one or 2 sessions. In the end they ended up coming every week. I have since had 3 sessions one-to-one with Simon via Zoom going through an overview of the Bible as he was keen to learn more after the course. We have been so encouraged to see God at work in this way and the way that God has been pleased to use us in his service.” - Ben Woodcraft

  2. “Without any effort at evangelism God just gave friends an interest to look into Jesus. We’ve had a record number of non-Christians attending in person and show a real interest in the gospel. This resulted in a physical (as opposed to Zoom) Christianity Explored course with 5 non-Christians, but this is the largest ever for our tiny church and a wonderful thing! Lots of open doors for conversation about the gospel generally, folk amazed at the prophetic insight of Revelation. Folk who couldn’t easily attend even before lockdown, can now see & hear our church meeting, which is a bonus. A weekly Zoom women’s bible study has taken off too.” - Tom Seidler

  3. “When we couldn’t pass books out as a church we bought copies of Where is God in a Coronavirus World, made a short promotional video and placed it on our Facebook page letting people know they could pick up a free copy from some of the shops in the village who kindly agreed to let us place them in their premises. There was great interest in the books and in fact we had to order more.” - Robin Fairbairn

“Lockdown meant our busy unbelieving neighbours said that they could maybe come along to one or 2 sessions of an evangelistic course. In the end they ended up coming every week.” Praise God for working things for good, even in the pandemic!

God at Work Globally
  1. “In the first UK lockdown, a few active types in our church furloughed from work were increasingly bored and frustrated. At the same time, through our monthly focus on persecuted churches worldwide, we were starting to realise that we had been given the opportunity to share in a small way the daily isolation of many believers in cultures hostile to Christian belief. Our activists organised a Lockdown Challenge to raise funds for Open Doors. The church responded brilliantly, resulting not only in raising £20,000 but also in a greater, more prayerful appreciation of the cost of and commitment to faith in Jesus Christ borne by so many brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.” - Anne Woodcock

  2. “Last weekend was the international conference for my church network. A poll was taken among the leaders of the level of engagement with online church as compared to traditional in-person church. Of the roughly 100 churches from 6 countries attending 76% reported more people watching their digital offering than would normally attend on a Sunday morning, 17% reported their digital congregation was double or more a typical pre-covid in-person meeting. Keynote speakers noted that, just as Paul’s imprisonment had widened his ministry by forcing him to write letters rather than minister in person, so the closure of our meetings and move to online gatherings had widely expanded the reach of our message and ministry.” - Richard Roper

  3. “I have been encouraged to see people in the local community have got closer by working together through food distribution to those who've lost jobs or been put on furlough, even in times of social distancing. Churches have also adjusted to find new creative ways to reach out to the community locally & globally and many Non-Christian friends seem to find it's easier to visit church activities online (e.g. Sunday service) rather than going into an unfamiliar church building.” - Sayuri Kato

God at Work in Our Hearts, Hospital Beds, and More
  1. “I think the pandemic has deepened my faith as I have had to learn to trust my heavenly Father each moment of every day. In the past I have often been tempted to believe that I can set long-term plans, but the Lord has taught me to live one day at a time, one decision at a time while trusting in His sovereign care. I don't know the future, but my Father in Heaven does!” - Geoff Dennis

  2. “In January I ended up in hospital with a nasty bout of Covid, desperately sucking in oxygen through a mask and feeling more ill than ever in my life. That may not sound very encouraging! But as the worldwide church mobilised, there were over 50 people in a WhatsApp prayer group, along with many others as well. This gave me opportunities to tell several nurses that there were, quite literally, people praying for me all around the world, and explain something of what that says about God's family, the church.” - Alison Mitchell

  3. “Throughout the winter lockdown, I have been able to meet with one other person on my daily dog walk. Whilst walking I have had great conversations with people and really understood a lot more about them. This has meant that I have been able to pray for them more meaningfully as well as offer encouragement. The walks have really helped me too and I am resolved to keep meeting people one to one once the restrictions are lifted.” - Alexa Burstow

“I ended up in hospital with Covid. This gave me opportunities to tell several nurses that there were people praying for me all around the world, and explain something of what that says about God's family, the church."

God at Work...at Work!

It was sunny outside The Good Book Company office in Charlotte, North Carolina the day I compiled these mini-stories. In Colorado, Michigan and West Virginia, most of my other American co-workers had snow. When I gathered via Zoom with my co-workers in London, North England and Ireland, it was raining....again. All throughout the pandemic, our experiences have varied as widely as the weather. But we've seen God's consistency, and we're blessed to see him at work in our work here. It's our privilege to serve alongside you.

Do you have a story of God working things for good in the past year? We'd love to hear it! Share in the comments below or send us your story at publicity@thegoodbook.co.uk.

Categories: Christian Resources

Choosing a Children's Bible

The Good Book Company - Tue, 16/03/2021 - 06:00

Search “Christian children’s books”  and you’ll see a dazzling array of beautiful covers. Story books. Picture books. Bible jigsaws. Crossword collections. Activity books. There’s plenty to choose from. Nestled among them will be an ever-growing collection of children’s Bibles—most of which look great, with shiny covers and fantastic pictures. But when it comes to Bibles for children, to quote Shakespeare, “all that glisters is not gold”!

Whether you are a parent, godparent or Sunday School teacher, you will want the children in your care to come to know the Lord for themselves—through His Word. So any children’s Bible you choose for them needs to support that aim, not hinder it. So here are some principles to guide you, so that you can browse the bookshelves with confidence.

Starting Out

Imagine a family with three children, aged 3, 8 and 13. There’s a wide range of books on their bookshelf, from picture books for the three-year-old up to teen novels and magazines for the teenager. No one would expect these three children to read the same things. However, we can tend to think that one children’s Bible will serve a child right through childhood until they’re ready to graduate to the NIV!

In reality, we need to look at different Bible versions for each age group. As a general rule of thumb, infant Bibles (under 7s) are actually books of Bible stories, juniors (7-11s) need a full Bible in a child-accessible version, and teenagers will use an adult Bible in a good modern translation.

Which Bible to choose:

There is no such thing as a “perfect” translation. Even the ESV, now seen by many as the most accurate of modern translations for adults, has places where scholars question its choice of words. When it comes to a Bible for children, there will always be a balance between accuracy of translation and accessibility of language. The more that a writer uses concrete ideas and words that children easily understand, the more you may find they have obscured the original meaning in the process. It’s up to you to decide how that will shape your choice of Bible version—but here are a few pointers to look for:

Infant Bibles (under 7s)

These are collections of Bible stories, so start with the contents page. How many stories are included? Are there enough to introduce your child to a good range of Old and New Testament events? Look to see which stories have been included, and which left out. Has the writer linked events together to show the “big picture” of the whole Bible, or are they written as separate, stand-alone stories?

Check how the writer covers key Bible events. Start at the front to see how they handle the garden of Eden. How do they describe sin, and God’s response to it? Look at the beginning of the New Testament, and note how the Christmas story is presented. Is there any link with the bigger picture of God’s promise to send Jesus as the new King? Then find the Easter story to see how they handle Jesus’ death on the cross.

Read a few stories through, and check how they are written. Are they a paraphrase of the Bible account, rewritten in simple language—or has the writer added extra material? And if they’ve added things, what has been added? Some writers will insert questions, or extra description, to help a young child engage with the story. Others add comments about what’s happening in the story and why. Some will put words in Jesus’ mouth, imagining what He might have said in a particular situation. Be particularly cautious about writers who add things to a story. As an adult, you will know what’s really part of the Bible story, and what is extra. But a child will not!

For example, one infant Bible tells the story of Jacob cheating Esau out of his birthright, and then fleeing to his uncle. On the way, Jacob has a dream of a ladder stretching from heaven to earth. So far, so good. But according to this particular version, Jacob has a difficult journey which includes a scary encounter with a wolf! There’s even a fantastic picture of the wolf for the child to focus on and remember. Sadly, when you check for yourself in Genesis 28, the wolf is nowhere to be found. But a child may remember it for ever...

Junior Bibles (7-11s)

With older children, you’ll be looking for a full Bible. But be aware that most children’s Bibles are in fact adult translations, with a new cover and some pictures. That needn’t be a bad thing, but it’s worth bearing in mind that most children’s Bibles weren’t translated with independent reading by children in mind.

With a junior Bible, start by reading the introduction. This will tell you what the main aims of the translation team were and will give a feel for the kind of translation decisions they made. Then look at some key stories or verses to see how they have been phrased. You may find it helpful to have a good adult translation with you so that you can compare passages.

Look at any additions to the Bible, in the form of maps, charts, pictures etc. These can often be helpful, but your top priority must be the Bible text itself, rather than any add-ons. Some junior Bibles come in the form of study or “Adventure” Bibles. These are worth a look, but be cautious. Sometimes the extra information distracts from the main point of the text.

Youth Bibles (12+)

This article looks at children’s Bibles, but most of the principles apply to youth Bibles as well. Most are actually an adult version with a new cover and some fact boxes. You will find that the fancy cover can add £5 to the price! Be especially wary of youth Bibles with fact boxes, since your teenager may be tempted to look there for the answers instead of in God’s Word. For most teenagers, a good modern translation, such as the NIV, will give a high level of accuracy while using language that is accessible for the age group.

Some Bible versions to consider:

Please apply the above principles for yourself, bearing in mind the reading age of your child. However, here are a few versions that are particularly worth considering.

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The Beginner’s Bible for under 7s

This was one of the first infant Bibles, and, in my opinion, it is still the best. There are 95 Bible stories—so plenty to choose from. It’s basically a paraphrase of the Bible. That means it doesn’t add to a Bible story, but it does simplify it. The Beginner’s Bible links stories together, so that children get something of the “big picture” of Bible history. It mostly stays faithful to the original text, although it’s sometimes weak on sin and judgment (as are most infant Bibles). The pictures are excellent—very appropriate for the age group, while avoiding inaccuracy (which can be a common problem with infant Bibles). Out of the infant Bibles, this is still the best of the bunch. For this reason Beginning with God, our Bible-reading-notes for preschoolers, are based on The Beginner’s Bible.

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International Children’s Bible for 7-11s

Unlike most children’s Bibles, the International Children’s Bible (ICB) was translated specifically for children. It is the children’s edition of the New Century Version (NCV)—but is a new translation. The text is not the same as the NCV. This Bible is well written for 7-11s, with excellent use of language and a high level of accuracy. It also has well designed pages, with helpful pictures, maps, dictionary etc.

Categories: Christian Resources

On the Podcast with Michael Kruger: The Gospel is an Anchor for the Soul

The Good Book Company - Fri, 12/03/2021 - 06:00

It's not easy being a Christian. We're all tempted to drift away from Jesus. In this episode of the podcast Michael J. Kruger, President and Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, shows us how in the book of Hebrews God gives us an anchor: a detailed understanding of how and why Jesus is better than anything else.

 

Categories: Christian Resources

Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie?

The Good Book Company - Thu, 11/03/2021 - 06:00

If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, you will know that Susan is one of the main characters in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—one of the four children who end up as kings and queens of Narnia. But in the very last book of the series, The Last Battle, in a scene which effectively represents heaven, you realize that Susan is not there. It is a glaring, jarring omission. Even within the story, other characters ask why Susan is not there in glory with the rest.

Here is the answer:

“‘My sister Susan,’ answered Peter shortly and gravely, ‘is no longer a friend of Narnia.’

‘Yes,’ said Eustace, ‘and whenever you try to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, “What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”’” (p 154)

“If you are not growing in your Christian life, then that should be a wake-up call.”

A sobering issue

This scene raises a very important issue. When we get to heaven, there will be people whom we expected to see there but whom we won’t see—people we thought were believers who turn out not to be. Lewis is describing someone who seemed to be a follower of Aslan— who seemed, in other words, to be a Christian—but who ends up turning away. Eustace’s words explain why: Susan dismisses all their childhood memories as mere games, as if they didn’t really happen.

Susan is trying to be a grown-up now and no longer a child. She is on to other things.

In the Christian life, this is called apostasy. An apostate is someone who once seemed to be a believer, but who later totally rejects Christ, turns away from sound teaching, and leaves the church. Apostasy is a real, sobering, scary, weighty issue. And it is the one that God puts right before us in Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12.

A wake-up call

The writer starts off by saying, I’m worried about you (5:11-14). His audience is not maturing as quickly as expected. And he is concerned about their spiritual health. In 6:1-3, he encourages them to move on and grow up in their faith. Then in 6:4-8 he dives into the very difficult theme of apostasy. He explains that those who seemed to be believers, yet have fallen away, will be subject to God’s severe judgment.

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It is important to clarify that true believers cannot lose their salvation. If someone is truly saved, truly regenerate, and truly trusting in Christ, they will always be held fast by him (John 10:28). However, God uses warnings of apostasy to encourage his people to stay the course of faith. 

If you are not growing in your Christian life, then that should be a wake-up call. If your growth has stalled, then you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position spiritually. So as we read this passage, we should carefully ponder it, absorb it, and learn from it as we reflect upon our own spiritual maturity. This is what the writer to the Hebrews helps his readers to do in  6:9-12. He cites the good signs of spiritual growth that he sees in them and encourages them to persevere in the faith.

This passage may seem like a detour from the main thread of the book, but really it is not. The whole theme of Hebrews is to say that Christ is better: superior to the old covenant revelation and superior to anything else you might worship, love, or adore. So, the whole book functions as a warning against apostasy. It is about calling people to Christ and saying, Don’t drift away. Don’t give up. Don’t go chasing other things.

After all, Jesus is better. 

This is an extract from Hebrews For You by Michael J. Kruger. In this new addition to our God’s Word For You series, Michael unpacks the rich book of Hebrews verse by verse. He explains the Old Testament background, gives plenty of application for our lives today, and shows us how Jesus is the fulfilment of all God's work on earth. He encourages us to live by faith in Jesus—the only anchor for our souls.

Categories: Christian Resources

How Do You Define Faith?

The Good Book Company - Tue, 09/03/2021 - 06:00

While our modern world might distance itself from many Christian concepts, faith is not one of them. Our world loves to talk about faith (think Oprah Winfrey), and even sing about faith (think George Michael). As far as our culture is concerned, faith is a feeling—a positive outlook on life. Faith is great. 

But what is that rosy view of faith based on? Often it means having faith in yourself. It is about becoming who you’re really meant to be. 

That idea does not stand up to scrutiny. Faith becomes just something that you conjure up in yourself. It is something to add to the list of things that we need to do in order to be successful. And it doesn’t work with the reality of what people are like. After all, if true faith is all about looking inward and seeing how great I am, that is not such good news. I’m a mess! 

The biblical definition of faith is radically different. It is not about being a positive thinker. Instead we are called to take our trust and place it in something outside ourselves.

"Faith is rock-solid trust that when God makes a promise, it is true and right. It is absolute assurance and confidence that God’s word can be relied upon."

Hebrews 11 is sometimes called the Hall of Faith. It takes us through many Old Testament saints and reminds us of what God can accomplish through his people when they trust him. But the key lesson is not “Go out and do great things.” It is not about you or me and what we can achieve if we just have faith. Yes, it is a call to have faith; but it is really about the object of our faith: the person we are trusting in. The main theme of Hebrews 11 is trust in God

This leads straight into Hebrews 11:1, which gives us a definition of faith.

The Certainty of Faith

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) 

Faith is not just a feeling. It is not just saying, “I hope it’s true.” It means being certain about something. Notice the two key words in this first verse: “assurance” and “conviction.” Faith is rock-solid trust that when God makes a promise, it is true and right. It is absolute assurance and confidence that God’s word can be relied upon. 

In our day, if you claim to be certain that your religious convictions are true, you are likely to be condemned as arrogant. You can see why: if I claim that a religious truth is really true, then that means that I think someone else’s version of religion is not true. And that is not fashionable in our world today. The biblical definition of faith swims right against the tide of our culture. 

Of course, a Christian is not always certain about everything. Doubt is a very normal part of the Christian life. But Christians should respond to doubt differently than non-Christians. People in our world today sometimes embrace doubt and uncertainty as things worth striving for in themselves; Christians, by contrast, believe that there are certainties, even though we may find it difficult to hold on to them. So, when we have those struggles with doubt, we fight them. We look for reassurance from God. 

The Object of Faith

So, if faith is “assurance” about something, what is it exactly that we have this assurance about? Verse 1 highlights the two types of things that we know by faith. “Things hoped for” are things in the future that have not yet happened. “Things not seen” are things in the past—events that we were not there to see. Or, put simply, our faith is in what God has done and in what God will do

Belief in what God has done in the past is illustrated in verse 3. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” 

You were not there to see God make the world. Nobody was. So how do you know he did it? You have to believe it by faith.

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There are many other things in the past that we take on faith because we weren’t there to see them. Were you there to watch Noah build the ark? Were you there to see Moses lead the way through the Red Sea? Were you there to see Jesus die on the cross? These are all events that we embrace as true—by faith.

Is that faith groundless? Absolutely not. We have tremendous historical evidence that confirms what we know by faith. The stories we read about in the Bible are historical, and we can trust the books of the Bible as reliable. When we say we have faith in something we cannot see, we don’t mean that there are no good reasons to believe in it. It just means that we were not there to see it with our eyes. 

Yet faith is not just about what God has already done but also about what God will do in the future: “things hoped for.” You cannot know about the future just by empirical evidence. You cannot see it. You have to trust God about what it will be like. 

In the context of the book of Hebrews—particularly the later sections of chapter 11—there is no doubt that what our author is alluding to is the second coming of Christ. We look back to creation with faith in what we have not seen; but we also look forward with hope to a new creation, when Jesus will return to set all things right. 

We have to trust God with what is coming. We have to believe that Jesus is real and that he is coming back. We also have to trust him with our lives and our own futures. There are probably a lot of things in your life that you are worried about, and it’s easy to wish you could see the future. But that is exactly where faith kicks in. You hope for what you do not see (Romans 8:24-25). Part of faith is trusting that God will provide for you, walk before you, and keep his promises to you as you go. 

Faith either looks back at what God has done or looks to the future at what God will do. Either way—and this is key—faith is about trusting God. It is not faith in ourselves. It’s about trusting something outside of ourselves.

This is an extract from Hebrews For You by Michael J. Kruger, a part of our God’s Word For You series.

Categories: Christian Resources

Get your thinking right at the start of each day

The Good Book Company - Tue, 09/03/2021 - 06:00

If I am to offer myself as a living sacrifice each day, holy and pleasing to God, then I will need to “be transformed by the renewing of [my] mind (Romans 12 v 1-2). After all, it’s the “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1 v 1). So I’m very intentional first thing in the morning about getting my thinking in place. I read my Bible before I look at my technology.

In my quiet time, I work through my own mini-catechism:

Q: Rico, when did God choose you? 

A: Before the creation of the world. He chose you in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. And he predestined you for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1 v 4-5).

Q: Rico, how does God feel about you? 

A: He is delighted with you because he is delighted with Jesus his Son, and you are united to Jesus by faith. A righteousness from God has been revealed, and it has been given to you (Romans 3 v 21-22). You are a sinner, and you are justified. Rico, say today what Gresham Machen said on his deathbed: “I thank God for the obedience of Jesus”. Your identity is in Christ, and whether others accept you or reject you today does not make you any more or less valuable or accepted or loved.

"My feelings will follow my thoughts as I reflect on the wonder of the gospel."

Q: Rico, why is today a great day?

A: Because today is the day that God has planned for you, and if God says it’s good, then it’s good. Whatever God brings into your day—the things you’d choose and the things you definitely wouldn’t—he will work in them for your good. And your good is to become more like Jesus (Romans 8 v 28-29). So today, one way or another, whether you see it or not, you’re going to grow to be more like your Saviour. That’s a great day.

Q: Rico, why is today a better day than yesterday?

A: Because you’re a day’s march closer to home—24 hours closer to seeing Jesus face to face. You never need to lose heart because though today may be hard, your troubles are the path to the eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4 v 17). What you can see is not all there is, and it will not last; what you cannot see is eternal, and you’re getting closer to the day that faith becomes sight (v 18). “No human mind has conceived [of] the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2 v 9).

These things are true. They need to be at the forefront of my thoughts. This is who I am, and this is the day I’m entering. And with those in place, I’m ready to serve. And my feelings will follow my thoughts as I reflect on the wonder of the gospel.

This is an extract from Faithful Leaders and the things that matter most, by Rico Tice. In this short, punchy, challenging, and at times surprising book, Rico Tice draws on decades of experience in church leadership to call fellow pastors and others with oversight of areas of church ministry to define success biblically, fight their sin, lead themselves, and serve their churches.

Categories: Christian Resources

On the Podcast with Liz Wann: Depending on Christ when Motherhood Pushes You to Your Limits.

The Good Book Company - Fri, 05/03/2021 - 06:00

When Liz Wann became a mother she was unprepared for how hard it would be. In this episode of the podcast we talk to her about her new book The End of Me and how God uses those deeply challenging aspects of motherhood to make us more like his Son.

Categories: Christian Resources

When Nurturing Life Feels Like Dying

The Good Book Company - Thu, 04/03/2021 - 06:00

Sometimes, parenting can just be too much. There are many times when I reach my breaking point. It’s not just the physical needs of my children that are demanding, but their emotional, mental, and spiritual needs as well. I’m playing the peacemaker between my two sons, I’m counseling, I’m discussing heart issues. Just a day of working through behavioral issues can be enough to drain me.

So it’s not an overstatement to say that often, parenting feels like death. It’s a constant laying down of our lives.

We tend to think that life precedes death, but in the kingdom of God the reverse is true: death precedes life. Jesus taught that we must die to self in order to experience any true life in our hearts. 

And what beautiful new life it is. The hard things of parenthood are like sandpaper, rubbing back our rough edges and making us smooth. The Holy Spirit is using parenthood to refine us.

 "God uses the curse of death to bring new life. And it’s the only way to the joy of true life."

Parenting Involves Dying to Self

So when does parenthood feel like death to you? 

It may be the disappointment of unexpected circumstances. It’s a type of loss. For me, that looked like a ruined birth plan, a traumatic labor and delivery, a newborn in the NICU, baby blues, and sleepless nights. I didn’t expect to feel sadness and loneliness when I brought my baby home.

There is also a feeling of dying to self when we live out the mundanity of daily parenting. The ordinary small things of family life can be like the annoyance of a dripping faucet. 

Or maybe for you, it’s suffering in parenthood that can feel like death, whether that’s through living with chronic illness, dealing with postpartum depression, or walking through crises of parenting. But when we embrace the daily deaths we face as mothers and fathers, we can humbly offer our struggles to God. He will meet us in our depression, anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation, anger, frustration, and lack of patience. This is exactly where he wants us. This humble embracing of death is fertile ground for new and deeper life.

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Know His Resurrection

Amidst all the pain of parenthood, we can hold on to a promise: when we become like Jesus in his death, we come to know the power of his resurrection through the Holy Spirit. This was true for martyrs being burned at the stake and, in a far smaller way, is true for new mothers facing sleepless nights. It is true at the end of our lives and throughout our days on earth. We must bury ourselves like a grain of wheat, so that our death will bear fruit (John 12:24).

But through the dying, beauty is birthed. God uses the curse of death to bring new life. And it’s the only way to the joy of true life. As Paul says: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:21–22).

Adam brought death, but Jesus went through death to bring us resurrection (a spiritual resurrection in our souls and a bodily resurrection to come). Because of Jesus, we now have this daily cycle of resurrection in our souls, because “our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Growing In His Likeness

Christ came to bring abundant life for us (John 10:10), but he purchased that life by tasting death. He calls every one of his children to walk this same road (Mark 8:34). He gives us tastes of the abundant life of resurrection when we choose to follow this road.

Changing how we look at our lives as parents helps us to see glimpses of God working in our lives. When I see my daily acts of self-denial as those of a mother following in the footsteps of Christ, I feel flickers of “resurrection” hope. Dying the daily deaths of motherhood has also been the means by which the Spirit imparts the peaceful fruits of “resurrection” in my heart.

A humble heart is ripe for the fruit of the Holy Spirit to flourish there. The fruit of Jesus’ death has covered the globe and continues to grow wherever the gospel is spread. If we, like the grain of wheat, let ourselves be buried and die, God will grow through us an abundance of fruit for ourselves and others.

Be Humbled by The Challenges of Parenthood

I’ve seen this in my own experience of parenthood, in so many ways. 

I didn’t expect “death” when I first became a mother. I was surprised by the dark struggle. Motherhood has humbled me. It has shown me how weak and needy I really am. This is a good death to die, and I die it daily. I die deaths through sleepless nights, nonstop service, countless interruptions, and sacrifice of my time and energy (let alone sacrifice of my body and mental capacity).

"When we admit that we’re weak parents, we have a fuller realization of how strong a God we serve."

The way we respond to these daily deaths is crucial for their purpose in our lives. Bitterness and apathy will only make them worse, but humble acceptance and desperate cries to the Holy Spirit for help will turn these deaths into “resurrections”. If we view these deaths as opportunities to draw close to our Father, they are worth it, just for that.

Every day I’m reminded of my weakness and my great need for Christ to work in me and my children. But my “resurrection” moment in motherhood came when I saw what God was killing in me: my self-sufficiency.

Motherhood has shown me that I’m not strong enough and I’m not good enough. There is nothing in me, in and of myself, that can make me be enough. When we admit that we’re weak parents, we have a fuller realization of how strong a God we serve.

This is the place of death, where God swoops down and displays his resurrection power to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead. In him we are strong enough for all the daily deaths of parenthood, and we can look to him to bring the fruit of new life in our souls.

This post is adapted from an excerpt of the book The End of Me by Liz Wann. This short, easy-to-read book encourages mothers to depend on Christ when they reach their limits.

Categories: Christian Resources

3 Ways Motherhood Makes you More Like Christ

The Good Book Company - Tue, 02/03/2021 - 06:00

My husband and I have had a tough year as parents—as I’m sure many other parents have too. Our two year old started to show more of her personality, which kept us all on our toes. Our middle son began displaying a new level of misbehavior that stopped my husband and I in our tracks and, at points, left us broken down in tears. The dynamic between all three of our children took a new turn we weren’t prepared for. And on top of that, COVID and the related restrictions brought an extra layer of stress. All of this has created new areas of tension in our marriage that we’re still trying to sort through.

I share this to underline that although I wrote a book on motherhood, I’m still very much living out the challenges and joys described within its pages. This is real life, and it’s the perfect place for our Saviour to meet us and help us. The struggles of motherhood are fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ. Here are just three ways he is so often at work in the hearts of mums.

"God works best in weakness, because his strength is exactly for those who are weak and needy, not those who feel strong and independent."

1. Motherhood Humbles Us 

Before becoming a mum I thought I was a pretty good person. But then motherhood squeezed me like a sponge, and God showed me all the sin and weakness that poured out of me. I wasn’t as strong and resilient as I thought, nor as patient as I thought. I could also get angrier than I imagined possible. It was humbling for me to realize that I needed help (from God and from others), and to have to ask for it.

Motherhood is humbling because it shows us who we really are and then points us to who God is.

In light of our sin and weakness God is an ever present help in time of need—a buttress, fortress, and refuge. God works best in weakness, because his strength is exactly for those who are weak and needy, not those who feel strong and independent. When Jesus walked this earth, he was the champion and supporter of the weak and the sinner. Those are the ones he came to save. So, when God uses motherhood to humble us he is wielding it as a sharp tool to cut away the rough edges and make us smooth—to make us like his Son.

2. Motherhood Teaches Us Rest

Mum guilt. It’s a thing. For me, this is one of the biggest reasons I don’t take care of myself. I’ve always struggled with feeling bad for needing a break from my kids. 

But we don’t need to feel guilty for needing to rest. Before sin entered the world we were created by God to be needy and dependent. It was when Adam and Eve felt like they didn’t need God that they ate the forbidden fruit. It was the pride of self-sufficiency and independence that led to the curse of sin. The pride of “I’ve got this.” The pride of “I don’t need anyone.” 

As motherhood teaches us humility, it leads us back to the rest we had in the Garden of Eden. Our place of perfect happiness and peace is admitting and accepting our original design—that we are created, dependent beings. There is only one creator, and he is the only one who has no need of rest. He is all sufficient in himself. 

When Jesus took on flesh he showed us what it means to return to the true design of humanity. He accepted the limitations of having a human body. And often, that’s what we need to learn to do too. Think how often we mums act like we can be in multiple places at once—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Jesus modeled for us spiritual rest and physical rest— even, and especially, when life was busy and overwhelming. Jesus’ ability to rest was his humility at work. Motherhood makes us more like Christ when we accept rest as a regular rhythm of our lives.

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3. Motherhood Teaches us to Persevere in Service

Though Jesus modeled rest for mothers, he also modeled a life poured out in service for others. This is the true essence of motherhood: a life poured out in service. 

Serving our children is following in Christ’s footsteps. We can serve them in a variety of ways, just like Jesus served in a variety of ways. There is the demanding physical labor of caring for little ones, but we also serve our children mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. This will carry on into the teen and young adult years. All these types of service can be draining and exhausting, so we need perseverance and to rely on the help of the Spirit. 

But our service is not in vain. Jesus’ life, ministry and death show us that a life poured out for others is never a wasted life. In the moments when I feel like I am squandering my prime years on motherhood, I come back again to this helpful truth to instruct my emotions. And then, like Christ, I set my face like flint and trek on. Motherhood makes us like Christ when we submit to persevere in a life of faithful service to our children.

In these ways and so many more, motherhood is a tool God uses in our lives to bring us to the feet of our Saviour and impart more of himself to us. May the Holy Spirit help us to turn to him. 

Categories: Christian Resources

Blessings That Won't Be Restricted: Fellow Believers

The Good Book Company - Mon, 01/03/2021 - 06:00

In the past few months we’ve been reminded that so many of the blessings we take for granted are not guaranteed. They are blessings that can be given, and can be taken away. 

But, as Christians, we receive some blessings that are untouchable. Ephesians 1 v 3 calls these “spiritual blessings.” They can’t be restricted, regulated or removed. Join me each week for an encouraging reflection on these everlasting spiritual blessings.

Blessing 6: Fellow Believers

We started this series thinking about how Paul, stuck in a prison cell and far more isolated and socially distanced than any of us have experienced even during this pandemic, remained positive and thankful to God in spite of his circumstances. We’ve seen how he focused on the spiritual blessings of election, adoption, redemption, revelation and preservation—wonderful, mind-blowing doctrines which remain true whatever is going on in our lives.

But in the last section of Ephesians 1, there is something else that encourages Paul and prompts him to thank God: people. Other believers in Christ. Here’s Ephesians 1 v 15-19a:

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

You can almost feel the passion and excitement flowing out of Paul as he thinks about the believers he is writing to. And that’s not just the case in this letter. It's the same in Philippians, and Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians, and all the rest.

Paul thinks about people a lot. And the thought of them encourages him, keeps him going, brings him joy and prompts him to thank and praise God.

We should be honest about the flip side. It is certainly true that people can be a discouragement, too. We are reeling at the moment with news of the unfaithfulness of Ravi Zacharias, Jonathan Fletcher and others. And many of us will know at a personal level what it feels like to be let down and hurt by other Christians. But Paul knew that experience too. He was let down in very serious ways, and he suffered greatly because of it. Yet on balance he still found other Christians to be a source of joy, encouragement and thanksgiving.

In this particular paragraph in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul mentions two specific things that he's thankful for and two things that he is praying for them.

"It is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts, but in God's kindness, he uses our small and meagre efforts to draw people to himself."

1. Paul is Thankful for The Faith of Other Believers

Paul is thankful for the believers’ faith in the Lord Jesus. This is fundamental, isn't it? Paul was an evangelist—he spent his life sharing the gospel with friends and strangers alike in the hope that they might repent and believe. And when they did, what an encouragement it was for him! 

Jesus says in Luke 15 that there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents—and Paul was joining in with that party. Maybe you know what that feels like too. Maybe you've been blessed with playing some small part in someone putting their faith in Jesus. It's amazing. It is a huge blessing and a huge encouragement to keep going, to soldier on through the toil and struggle for that moment when somebody says "I believe". 

We are just a link in the chain. So is everyone else. It is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts, but in God's kindness, he uses our small and meagre efforts to draw people to himself. We are all in gospel ministry, not just at home and in our churches but at work and in friendships too, and there is no greater encouragement for us in that than to think about people putting their faith in the Lord Jesus.

2. Paul is Thankful for Love Between Believers

Paul is also thankful for the love that the Ephesians have for God's people. They are not just fulfilling the first of the two great commandments Jesus gave us—to love God—but they are also fulfilling the second—to love their neighbour. That was as unusual then as it is now!

It was evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, making them more like Jesus, so that they no longer gratified the cravings of their flesh, or drew divisions between Jew and Gentile, or were arrogant and selfish and impatient. Of course they weren't perfect—that was one of the reasons that Paul was writing to them—but Paul could see progress in them as they were sanctified by the Spirit, and he drew great encouragement from that and thanked God. It can be the same for us.

In a recent TGBC prayer meeting, one of my colleagues, Robin Fairbairn, prayed, “We are not yet what we will be, but by God's grace we are not what we were.” God is changing us and making us more like Jesus, day by day, little by little. What a wonderful encouragement it is when we see that change in people that we love.

"If you know God as your Heavenly Father and you remember the glorious inheritance that he has promised all who believe, then you can face any trial—lockdown, imprisonment, even death itself."

Two Things to Pray for Other Believers

In this passage, there are two things which Paul prays for the fellow believers he is thankful for.

First, he prays that they will know God better. The amazing spiritual blessings that we've looked at over the past 5 weeks all illustrate the love and kindness and compassion and grace and power and patience and sheer generosity of our Heavenly Father and of his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows that the more they focus on God, the stronger their faith will be and the greater their joy at being his chosen, adopted, redeemed children.

Second, Paul prays that the eyes of their heart will be enlightened so that they may know the hope to which they have been called: the glorious inheritance that is guaranteed for all of God's people and his incomparably great power for all who believe. If they can remember that, they can face anything. Paul knows that, because it has worked for him already.

These are great prayers for us to pray for the people we love. My instinct is always to pray for a resolution to the problem. For a return to normality. For the trial to go away and the trouble-free times to resume. Of course, there's nothing wrong with bringing specific issues and problems before the Lord and asking for relief. But that's not all we should pray. It might not even be the main thing we should pray. The truth is, even as one problem is solved, another appears—that's how life often goes. But if you know God as your Heavenly Father and you remember the glorious inheritance that he has promised all who believe, then you can face any trial—lockdown, imprisonment, even death itself.

It is no surprise that many of us are finding it so hard at the moment to encourage each other and spur one another one on. But Paul shows us that we can still be thankful for the faith and love of other believers, and we can still pray for them to know God better and to remember the hope to which they are called—even as they pray the same thing for us.

One final hymn verse to finish: it’s another song from Keith and Kristyn Getty, called Come People of the Risen King:

Over all the world, his people sing

Shore to shore we hear them call

The truth that cries through every age:

“Our God is all in all.”

Rejoice! Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!

One heart, one voice, O Church of Christ, rejoice!

Amen.

Categories: Christian Resources

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