Books 2019

This year has been amazing book-wise, with the most books I’ve ever read, so I’ll start with my three favourites. All of these left me wanting to read more by their authors.

“Participant” by Carmen Kemp: I was initially drawn to this because the heroine’s called Alexis. Coming out of a long-term relationship, she decides to confront who she is and who she’d like to be. The characters are so real and brilliantly described.

“Bonnie and Stan” by Anna Stuart: Personally, I was sorry to see a homosexual couple in this book. I think the characters in question would have worked equally well as a male and female. However I loved the main characters and, flitting between 1960s and present-day, the story was extremely well-crafted. It’s also set in Liverpool – one of my favourite places.

“The Little Vintage Carousel by the Sea” by Jaimie Admans: This was written by a Welshwoman and I love Wales. Perhaps that’s why I liked her style of writing, which sometimes made me laugh out-loud. As soon as I finished the first chapter, I wanted to see how this ended, and there’s more to it than the expected romance.

PS: With the Goodreads app on my phone, I can challenge myself to read so much in a year, so I don’t abandon books very often. There were only two I didn’t finish: “Surviving the Fatherland” and “When I was Yours”, which makes me think World War II novels aren’t my thing.

Nonfiction: I was happy to end the year by finishing “Ezekiel for You and Me”. It gave me a much better understanding of Ezekiel, which is a book in the Bible I’ve always struggled with. I still find all the measurements of the temple a bit baffling, so if there’s another helpful book on Ezekiel you can recommend, please tell me in the comments.

I read a very good autobiography by David Jason called simply “My Life”. He actually has two books. The second is supposed to be about the most famous characters he’s played on television, but it’s probably ninety per cent Del Boy and ten per cent all the others.

“Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us” is worth a look. One Sunday, we were told beforehand that our meeting at church would have a theme: Trees, and I read this in preparation. The author’s also written “24/6” (all about Sabbath), so I’m excited to read that now as well.

What about you? Any good books you’ve read in 2019?

Keep the Faith

This morning, I had the first instalment of Bible Gateway’s new thanksgiving devotional. (You can sign up here to get the Email twice a week.) I wish we had thanksgiving here in the UK. It never does any harm to remind ourselves to be grateful.

Anyway, today’s passage was Exodus 15:1-19 (the song of praise sung to God after He miraculously parted the Red Sea for the Israelites). Verse 17 jumped out at me; I hadn’t noticed it before. They sing about how the nations will hear of God’s power. “All who live in Canaan melt away; terror and dread fall upon them.” Then in verse 17: “You will bring them in and plant them on Your own mountain” – amazing. They’re proclaiming with absolute certainty that God will bring them into their promised land.

It immediately made me think of later on, when they were in the opposite frame of mind. They wander through the desert, camping when God tells them to camp and moving when He tells them to move. They get to the border of the promised land, and Moses sends twelve spies in to explore. They come back with an evaluation. “It is indeed a bountiful country – a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there” (Numbers 13:27-28).

Only Joshua and Caleb were optimistic. Most of the spies were terrified and told the people: “The land we travelled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there” (Numbers 13:32), and it was their fear that rubbed off on the rest of the community. Joshua and Caleb tried to motivate everyone, but the people talked about stoning them (Numbers 14:6-10). This resulted in their having to remain in the wilderness for forty years. From that generation, only Joshua and Caleb lived to enter the promised land.

If only the Israelite community had remembered what God did for them – how unstoppable they felt after He led them across the Red Sea. It encourages me to stay strong in my faith – not just when things are going well, but also when times are hard and things seem to be against me. God’s truth is still true, and He’s still worthy of my love and all I can give Him.

24-7 Joyful?

This morning, I read a tweet that said the following. “What is God’s will for my life? Surprising answer: 1. 24-7 joy. 2. 24-7 prayer. 3. 24-7 gratitude.”

I can see where this comes from. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we’re told: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”, but what about Jesus? What about when He said: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38), or when we read that while Jesus lived on earth, He prayed tearfully and was heard because of His reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7)? Was the Son of God a rebel because He wasn’t 24-7 joyful?

I have a deep love for Jesus. I believe He was faultless and not rebellious at all, so maybe 24-7 joy is more about attitude than a show of emotion. While Jesus was in Gethsemane – his soul so overwhelmed with sorrow, being all-knowing, I imagine He was grateful when He thought of the people His sleeping friends would later become. We’re told Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that awaited Him (Hebrews 12:1-2); that is, the joy of completing His saving work for us – of being with the Father, and seeing countless people come into a relationship with God because He died in our place.

Jesus endured the cross by focusing on what awaited Him. In other words, He was centred on joy even when His soul was sorrowful.

When you read about 24-7 joy and 24-7 gratitude, don’t take it as an indictment because you feel sadness. Take it as a reminder that even in your grief, you can find the joy in life and things to be grateful for.

There in a Crisis

The other week, I was having lunch with friends. We were talking about Brexit, which is pretty big on the news these days. Will Boris Johnson get us out of the EU on October 31st, or will his opponents thwart him so they can keep extending the deadline? Whichever outcome you favour, you’d have to say there’s a lot of uncertainty here at the moment. To some it feels like a bit of a crisis.

Well, our friend told us over lunch that a Christian leader had said: “What crisis? There isn’t one, because God’s in control.” I get where the man’s coming from, but it sounds quite dispassionate. Is that something Jesus would say?

Read the rest at my friend Alex’s website, Worship Unlimited Ministries, and please keep Alex and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Sanctuary

I’ve come across a lovely verse in Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest – a man who descended from Abraham’s great grandson, Levi. Ezekiel started hearing from God when His people had been exiled from their land because of their disobedience. A few of the poorest people remained in Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:14).

The people left in Jerusalem make an assumption. They claim the exiles are far away from God; therefore God has given the land to them, but they’ve misread the situation, and God wants to reassure the exiles.

Read the rest at Worship Unlimited Ministries.

A Great Example

Reading 2 Samuel 5, I’m impressed by how humble David is as opposed to his enemies. He becomes king over Israel. Samuel said he would be years before, pouring oil on his head to prepare him, but while Saul was alive, David couldn’t succeed him. Finally, the moment comes.

Read the rest over at Worship Unlimited Ministries. Alex does a great job of maintaining the website. She puts a devotional, book-review and recipe up there every week, so it’s well worth a look.

Remember the Difference

Reading the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians today, I noticed this verse: “You suffered much, but still you accepted the teaching with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). I suppose it jumped out at me because for a while lately, I’ve realised I haven’t felt as close to God. It’s not that I’ve stopped believing in Him or been particularly venomously angry with Him. It’s been more a sadness really. When you see friends or family going through trials, sometimes you feel disillusioned and you can think so much about the problems, but not enough about the difference God makes.

This post I wrote for Alex is one example of the difference God’s made in my life, just this year. When I went up Table Mountain in Cape Town, I prayed the night before about which guide I’d have on the day. It’s really important to pray in faith about the little things, as well as the big things. I really believe God will help you if you involve Him in your life and your plans, but conversely, if you don’t involve Him so much, it can have a negative effect. When I’m not as zealous in my heart about the difference God can make, I don’t cope as well with situations. Like Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing”.

I went out last night to hear some Christian songwriters share their stories and perform some of their music. One thing somebody said was: “We can change, but God never changes” – so true. We might feel great; and six months later we might not feel so good, but God stays the same. We were encouraged to remember what we’d already come through, and that’s what I want to do.

I want to be like those Thessalonians. When suffering comes my way, or my friends’ or family’s way, I still want the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. I want to remember the difference God’s made to me and keep close to Him. That’s my prayer. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

My Response to ‘Prosperity Preacher’ Interview

A friend on Facebook pointed me to this video. I had too much to say to just write a comment, so thought I’d blog about it instead. It’s an interview with 82-year-old Kenneth Copeland. I knew of him because he got involved with a project I used to support. He’s what Christians call a ‘Prosperity preacher’. I’ve come across so much criticism of the prosperity gospel and because I’m far from a millionaire myself, I also couldn’t see how it fitted in with Christianity.

One of the journalist’s main points seemed to be the question of why Kenneth Copeland’s ministry had private jets and he wouldn’t fly commercially. He spoke about the atmosphere on commercial flights and about alcohol. Was that the best place to be, he said, when you were about to preach to thousands? I certainly don’t believe the majority of people on a plane are drunk, but I do agree that alcohol can have a stronghold in people’s lives which is demonic. I’ve seen how it’s negatively affected people I know, and I’m sure they would live happier lives without it. If you want peace and quiet on a flight, you could put a pair of earplugs in and close your eyes; but if you can afford a private plane, and it leaves you feeling more comfortable and refreshed when you get to your destination, what’s wrong with that? He said in the interview that other ministries use the planes, not just his own, and that’s what God asks of people who are rich in this world – to be generous and willing to share. As far as I can see, he isn’t doing anything unbiblical. In fact, when he quoted the Bible, I thought he got his points across fairly well. I had never thought of Galatians 3:29 as a verse that connected Abraham’s wealth with us as Christians.

I don’t like the way he treated the journalist though. I found it annoying and quite sleazy. ‘Sweetheart’? ‘Babe’? ‘I love your eyes’? Straight onto first-name terms, and launching into prayer without asking whether she was comfortable with that? She came over as by far the most respectful of the two of them, which is very sad. I hope his wife’s had words with him about it, but are any of us flawless? Perhaps the interview helped her, as it helped me, come to a better understanding of the Biblical basis for the prosperity gospel. As I said, I’m far from a millionaire; but then, as far as I know, I haven’t been instrumental in one hundred million people coming to faith in Jesus. Maybe this is his reward for devoting his life to the cause of Christ. Jesus does talk about rewards now and in the age to come.

I may not be in a hurry to donate to Kenneth Copeland’s ministry, but shouldn’t respect and tolerance be within the church, as well as for those who aren’t church-members?

May Memories: “Spirit and the Bride”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Maybe you’re an Overcomer who’s seen it on Facebook, or maybe you’ve never heard of Overcomers and are now wishing you’d been one of us! Hopefully this has given you a taste of what it was like, and I’ve saved my favourite song for last.

When Jesus met with His followers after He had risen from the dead, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Now we can be filled with His Spirit until He comes again or we go to be with Him in heaven:
We long for the day
When we will see Your face;
We long to be with You – come quickly,
And breathe on us until You come
.

If we ever had any kind of Overcomers reunion (which I would love, by the way), you can be sure I’d be singing this song with all my heart.