Good Reads in 2018

While we’re still in 2018, I thought I’d do a book-related post. I had to revise my challenge on Goodreads when I realised I wouldn’t achieve 30 books this year, but I did get to 26.

So, here are my top 5, in no particular order:

“The Girl’s Still Got It: Take a Walk with Ruth and the God who Rocked her World” by Liz Curtis Higgs. This woman’s like me; she really loves her Bible. You could tell she put her heart and soul into this; it’s so well-researched. I was surprised at the amount of material just on these 4 chapters in the Bible, and Liz brings it together for us in her unique style. If you enjoy this book, her Word by Word podcast is also worth a listen.

“Mark: The Gospel of Passion” by Michael Card. These books on the gospels are expensive at their normal price, but you can sometimes find them on offer. Chapters are broken down into sections of roughly 20 verses each. The Bible-verses are written out first (so you don’t need a Bible with you in order to read it), and each part is studied in-depth. Having previously read his book on Luke, I preferred this one, and it made me look forward to the others in the series.

“Madeleine: Our Daughter’s Disappearance and the Continuing Search for Her” by Kate McCann. I chose to read this because I remembered the case being on the news when Madeleine went missing. I think it’s stayed with me because I felt for her parents, and it’s a reminder to keep praying for them. Just this year, there was talk that Madeleine may still be alive. My only criticism of the book would be that perhaps it needed a better editor. When the author’s so emotionally involved, I imagine it’s easy to include a little too much detail.

“Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground” by Jess Connolly. I’ll never understand why these books have such long titles! “Dance, Stand, Run” would have been fine. It’s a book about knowing God is pleased with us, living for Him, and showing that life to the world around us. Chapter 4 was particularly good. As I said in my Goodreads review, I wish this book had been around when I was first figuring out what it meant to live for God.

“The Christmas Sisters” by Sarah Morgan. Only a matter of days since I read this, but I really enjoyed it. Firstly, my sister and I remind me very much of two of the characters – Hannah and Posy. It’s also a great story. Usually with these Christmas books or films, the ending’s no surprise, but I couldn’t have predicted one of the twists in this one.

Those are my top 5, but what about you? Have you read anything good this year?

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The Engagement Ring

In a letter to the early church, Paul says God “set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:22). I loved hearing at church about the ancient Greek word for ‘Deposit’. Apparently it doesn’t mean anything in modern Greek, except they do have one word like it – their word for ‘Engagement ring’.

As I said in my previous post, betrothal (what we think of as engagement nowadays) was a binding agreement. It wasn’t like a couple hoping to get married one day, but more like two people who’d already committed themselves. In that context, can you think of the Holy Spirit as an engagement ring? Once we’re in that covenant/agreement with Jesus, we’re His bride. The engagement ring guarantees our place at the wedding banquet in heaven, where we’ll be to our Bridegroom “one bringing contentment” (Song of Solomon 8:10). What a great guarantee to have in our lives. Isn’t that something to thank God for?

Wake Up, Have Faith – The Story of Joseph

C. S. Lewis once said: “Is there any pleasure greater than a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” I think Joseph would have been that sort of person – a wise counsellor you always wanted to be around, because he had such a heart for God.

When we meet him, he already has a faith that stands out. Having learnt that Mary (his betrothed) is pregnant, in his kindness, he doesn’t want her getting the punishment that fits the crime. A betrothal is a binding agreement; she’s virtually already his wife, and the Law says adulterers should be stoned to death. Since Joseph doesn’t want her publicly disgraced, he wonders about divorcing her instead.

It’s when he’s considering this possibility that God’s angel meets him in a dream and he learns how Jesus was conceived – by the Holy Spirit. There was no other man in the equation after all, and Joseph’s told not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife.

When he wakes up, he has some decisions to make.

Read the rest at my friend’s new website, Worship Unlimited Ministries, home of the Worship Unlimited radio-show. Lots of good stuff there, and your song or prayer-requests are always welcome.

Still Single at 38: Thoughts on Faith and Singleness

In church this morning, the preacher talked about loving the past, but loving the future more. This wasn’t the main point of his talk; just an aside really, but he said: “I want to see my daughters married – soon. I want to see grandchildren – not that soon, but I do want it to come.” For a single person, this could bring up a whole range of emotions.

I’ll be 38 this week, and I’m not (and never have been) married, so there is some sadness. Sometimes things are out of your control, particularly when other people are involved, but Isaiah 41:9 gives me great comfort. “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are My servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” I’m still single; it doesn’t change that, but it does tell me I’m good enough for God.

I read a book once, “God is a Matchmaker” (written by a Godly man called Derek Prince). It gave some very good advice, E.G. to look at whether your prospective spouse relates Biblically to their parents and others, but the author also said this. “In the area of psychological problems, there are those who are mentally challenged or mentally handicapped. … There are also those who would be categorized medically as schizophrenic or even psychotic. Out of the depths of their struggles, they manifest insight and devotion at times that are worthy of saints. Yet for these and others like them, celebacy often seems to be the Lord’s plan.” This part has stuck in my memory because as a single person, I can sometimes think that of myself – that maybe there’s something wrong with me; that although God welcomes me as a Christian, maybe I’m not quite worthy to be married, but the Bible doesn’t say that. In fact, it calls both marriage and singleness gifts from God. Paul (one of my favourite Bible-characters) was single, and he wrote: “I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9). Singleness is good. You can have a purposeful life as a single person, just as you can as a married person.

In another book I’ve read, “The Chase” (an autobiographical account of two newlyweds), it mentions the bride’s parents – how they prayed for their children and future spouses before the children were even born, which might sound admirable, but I’m really glad my parents didn’t do this. They’ve never put me under huge pressure, or had any expectations for my life that I know of. Maybe I would have achieved more if they had, or maybe I wouldn’t, and always would have felt like I didn’t measure up. Honestly, this morning has made me want to come home and just thank them for loving me as I am.

I know this has been a personal blog, but perhaps someone else in my situation might be helped by something I’ve said.

Your Faith, Your Voice: Thoughts on “A Star is Born”

Have you heard about the film “A Star is Born”? It’s getting good reviews and I saw it at the cinema this week. I really got into the story and its main characters: A famous country artist goes into a bar to find this unheard-of singer performing a song. He hears the voice and sees her potential, but while he’s trying to draw her out of her insecurities, he has his own issues to deal with. It’s about the music industry; addiction; mental health … and it just highlighted a couple of things for me.

He sang a very melancholy song: ‘No one knows what awaits for the dead’. If you don’t believe in eternity – some rising to everlasting life and others to eternal condemnation (John 5:28-29), then not only do you not have an ultimate end to work towards (Philippians 3:10-14), you also don’t have God to help you navigate this earthly life. No wonder it’s a struggle.

My favourite moment of the film was a song one of them had written. “In all the good times I find myself longing for change, and in the bad times I fear myself.” If ever there was a line in a song that really went with a film, it would be that one. But if we believe in Jesus and are following Him, we don’t have to fear ourselves. We’re assured that our eternity with Him is secure. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

One last point (and I hope I don’t give too much away here): There were several voices speaking into Jack’s life – words of hope, and words of derision. It’s the same for us, and I know when I’m vulnerable and low in confidence, derisive voices shout the loudest. How can we use our voice to make others’ lives better? Would you like your negative words to be the last ones somebody hears?

On Galatians and Joy

I’m currently reading a book about Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. It explains how the Galatians were being tricked. False teachers wanted them to adopt Jewish customs and find security in their own efforts, rather than enjoying the freedom they had when they first put their faith in Jesus.

To the author, that’s real joy. He says: “I don’t mean being happy all the time – sometimes life is painful. But even in those moments we will find comfort in God.”

That quote was such a help to me. I think Peter pre-empted it when he said: “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Believing in Jesus (whom I can’t physically see) gives me a deep-down assurance that all will end well. It doesn’t lessen life’s challenges or the grief that accompanies them, but Jesus is God-with-us and now that He’s in heaven, His Spirit comes alongside Christians to comfort us in those difficulties. That kind of joy is far better to me than being happy all the time.

For anyone interested, the book I quoted from is Tim Chester’s “Rediscovering Joy: The Dynamic Power of the Reformation in Galatians”.

Lavished

I’m not long back from a week away with the lovely Marilyn Baker and Tracy Williamson. Tracy’s deaf and partially-sighted, and because I’m blind and have recently been fitted with hearing-aids, it’s as if she’s the same as me, but the other way round. More than that, she makes me feel encouraged and I really like being around her. She’s just written a new book, “The Father’s Kiss”, which I’m reading at the moment. In the book, we’re asked to think about the word ‘Lavished’.

In my previous post, I talked about my friends’ daughter. I wrote a song when she was born about God’s great love that kept her safe and brought her into the world. The verse that inspired it (1 John 3:1) says: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”, so ‘Lavished’ always reminds me of her as a new-born, and the love she was surrounded with. I remember her dad saying: “I keep thinking I’ll go home from work, and she’s gonna be there.” I can also remember how she made me feel. If I was despondent, and my friend came to sit next to me with this baby girl on her lap, just hearing her breathe would make me smile and think how God had blessed me.

If only we, myself included, would live our lives with that same passion. “I’ll go and do this today, and God’s gonna be there!” One interaction with our Lord – all it takes to make us smile.

God’s lavished love on us. Isn’t it good for us to lavish love on Him?

A Birthday Connection

Today is my friends’ daughter’s birthday. They lived in my hometown, which they left before she was a year old. These were friends who’d really helped me grow as a Christian and get to know God more. It was very sad to see them go: The first of my close friends to have a girl and I wouldn’t get to see her grow up, so I prayed. “Father, please let me hear her say something, even one word, before she goes.” That prayer wasn’t going to change the world. It wasn’t for anyone’s benefit except mine, but you know, it happened. One day we were in the car and her dad was talking, and she said “Daddy”; not dada, but the proper word “Daddy”, as clear as if you or I had said it. I didn’t hear her talk again until the family came back to visit, much later.

I wrote this just to encourage you to pray. It might be the smallest, stupidest, most selfish prayer you can think of, but what does that matter? If we really have a God who loves and cares for us, He’s going to want to spend time with us – to hear what’s in our hearts; what makes us happy or sad.

I believe in a God who wanted a connection with us so much that He came to this earth as one of us. At Christmas, we’ll celebrate Jesus being born into the human race. At Easter, we’ll remember that He came for one reason: To live a blameless life and to die spotless, so He could represent us before God the Father. When we come to God through Jesus, God’s able to hear our prayers and connect with us, and that’s really special.

Thanks for Sharing

I’d like to write about the night I became a Christian. Let me start with these verses from the Bible: “Surely you know that the people who do wrong will not inherit God’s kingdom. Do not be fooled. Those who sin sexually, worship idols, take part in adultery, those who are male prostitutes, or men who have sexual relations with other men, those who steal, are greedy, get drunk, lie about others, or rob – these people will not inherit God’s kingdom. In the past, some of you were like that, but you were washed clean. You were made holy, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). I love the thought that whatever you’ve done wrong, when you come to Jesus, He can clean you up and make you new – make you fit to follow Him.

That’s what the preacher talked about on 2 October, 1999. He listed various wrongs and one of them was envy. He told us: “Envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). I wonder what would’ve happened if the preacher had thought: “There are sure to be people here tonight who struggle with envy. Maybe I shouldn’t share that verse. I don’t want to upset anyone.”

As it was, he did share it, and it was a shock because I knew I was envious. My sister was having driving lessons and as a blind person, I was extremely envious of her. I remember thinking if what he said was true, my bones must be well and truly rotting away. For the first time, I knew that hell was real and if nothing changed, I was on my way there. But that uncomfortable feeling? That’s what made me reach out to God in prayer.

At the end of the preach, as everyone else sang a final song, I sat in my seat and told God I didn’t want to come to Him just out of fear of going to hell. That seemed to me a weak thing to do. I had never known God in a personal way or heard His voice in my heart before, but when I said I didn’t want to come to Him out of fear, I felt Him reply: “Come because I love you.” It was totally unexpected and completely life-changing, as that’s when I started following God.

Jesus prayed to God: “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). The Word of God is true and absolutely authoritative. I want to thank not just preachers, but anyone who shares God’s Word in any way: In songs, school assemblies, hospital or prison ministry … Please, never stop sharing the truth. God loves the people He’s created. His love is available to everyone, and the world needs to hear that.

Having my Say – “Home and Away”

You might have heard the Aussie soap “Home and Away” is supposed to have made history recently by introducing its first gay character. I was a big fan of H&A in the early days and have been watching it again in the last year or so. This homosexual teenager is only a guest on the show for a few weeks, thankfully, because I haven’t liked their approach. All his fellow-characters (even the older ones, who’ve made a stand in the past on moral issues) have made it very clear that homosexuality is part of who he is, and he has no choice in the matter. I think it’s very sad. They seem so afraid to offend homosexuals that they’re not prepared to let anyone have a different opinion.

As someone who believes the Bible, I know that in Genesis chapter 2, it talks about a man being united with his wife and the two becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). That’s how we were created to be: A man and his wife, not a man and his husband. The Bible goes into greater detail in the less quoted and less talked-about book of Romans. It tells us God’s revealed Himself to mankind through His creation; He’s plain to see, so people have no excuse for their wrongdoing (Romans 1:20). But because they ignored the greatness of God, because they didn’t honour Him or thank Him, He let them go their own way. They became immoral; women stopped having sex with men and had it with other women, and vice versa (Romans 1:21-27). When people dismiss the importance of knowing God, He takes a step away and gives them over to that lifestyle. It is a choice, and there is an alternative. People can honour God with their lives; show Him gratitude by living the way He wants them to live.

Personally, I think it would have made “Home and Away” much more interesting if Marilyn had struggled to accept Ty’s homosexuality. The fostering agency could have pressured her and John to accept it, but she could have genuinely felt (as she did with Irene’s surrogacy twenty years ago) that it was wrong to mess with nature. Wouldn’t that have made the storyline more balanced and given people something to think about?