During this lockdown, I’m still enjoying the online Sunday meetings from Revive Church. This week, the preacher talked about the kingdom of God, and John 10:9 came into my mind: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture”. Can you picture Jesus as the door into everything that God has for His people? When He died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), signifying the access we now have to God.

Have you got a difficult week ahead? You don’t have to struggle on your own. Through faith in Jesus, you can enjoy God’s presence. Whenever you need to, you can take a few minutes to ‘Go in and out and find pasture’. When livestock are put out to pasture, they feed on the grass to get their nourishment. Similarly, you can go through that door and get what you need from God to cope with your difficulties.

We’re strengthened in God’s presence, but I also think that’s what church is about. We all go into the world during the week and interact with people. Church is where we can come together (online, if not in person), focus on God and be built up for the week ahead. That’s why Paul tells us to encourage and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and talks about gifts given to equip God’s people for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-12).

As you read this, I hope you’ve got God in your life to build you up, so that you can face the future with greater confidence. If not, all you have to do is invite Him in. I’m sure He’ll be glad you did.

All You’ve Got to do is Show Up?

As someone who’s in the house quite a lot, I like to engage my brain, and sometimes I watch quizzes. Today, I was watching an old episode of “The Weakest Link”. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, contestants answer questions (banking money for their correct answers) and at the end of each round, they vote the weakest player off. The host (Anne Robinson) talks to the team between rounds about their work, hobbies etc. She puts them on the spot and throws in a lot of caustic comments. She’s pretty mean. The episode I watched featured a youth-worker from a Christian centre, so Anne asked about his church. Tambourines? No … no tambourines. Tongues? “Yes, some people speak in tongues,” he said, “but we’ve got television screens … electric guitars” …

She carried on. “If I wanted to join your church, what doctrine would I follow?”

“Oh, there’s no doctrine, Anne. All you’ve got to do is show up.” That was the point at which I turned off, because I felt sad and quite indignant. Is there anywhere in the world you can go where all you’ve got to do is show up? If you join a football club, you have to play football. If you join a book club, you have to buy the book and perhaps pay a subscription. If you join a church, it’s not unreasonable to expect you to agree with their beliefs and contribute in some way.

So, if someone asked me about doctrine, how would I have responded? I think my answer might have been: “Read the Bible and do what it says”. It’s in the Bible that we find all the important doctrine – all the teachings by which we’re supposed to live our lives. And if they asked me to be more specific? Then I might narrow it down to what Jesus classed as the two greatest commandments: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). That’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s difficult to love when you don’t feel valued as a person. It’s difficult to be self-controlled when you’re angry. It’s difficult to be joyful at a time when the world around us seems to have its shoulders slumped, but if “The joy of the LORD is your strength”, it must be available to us. That’s why we need God.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We need God’s Holy Spirit, to help us grow in these things we couldn’t do effectively without Him.

If you truly want to join a church, to be part of the people of God, there’s more to it than just showing up. We have a responsibility to pray, to live our lives the way God would want us to, and to ask His forgiveness when we fall short of that. I don’t just want to be a show-upper; I want to be an enter-inner, and I hope you do too.


When I was at school, I heard one of my classmates say he had eighteen albums by the rock group Queen. From then on, my goal was to collect nineteen or more. Have you thought where it comes from – this desire to outdo somebody else? It’s not just about the number of CDs we happen to own; it can be anything. We see someone with a gift of hospitality, and suddenly we want to plunge into home-baking.

“When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). The wise way to live is not to compete, but to appreciate one another’s giftings. Paul writes to the church at Ephesus about this very thing: That Christ is the Head, and we as His body depend on Him (Ephesians 4:15-16). As each part does its share, the body becomes stronger, so when we see someone living the life they’ve been called to, let’s encourage and build each other up. That’s how it’s meant to be in God’s kingdom.


If you want the positive spin on marriage, “Your Marriage Masterpiece” would be a good place to turn. Bethany House sent me a free review copy. Having read books on the subject previously, I wasn’t sure whether this would be anything new to me, but it certainly was.

Al does an amazing job of taking personal anecdotes and stories from the Bible, even some you wouldn’t expect to find in a book like this, and looking at them in the context of God’s marriage to His people. I have seen Christian titles with separate study guides, but this has one included at the end (great value for money). I also loved the bibliography. It made me wonder if I should start an Amazon list just for books on marriage!

I would recommend this excellent read to anyone who appreciates writing and storytelling, whether married or single.

April Alerts

I’m linking with Emily Freeman, as she and others share what they’ve learnt in April.

Book: A double whammy this time because Annie Downs’ “Looking for Lovely” came out on 5 April, but on her podcast (the best episode yet, by the way), she said it was part 2 of her story. Some great marketing there because I then had to pick up its predecessor, “Let’s all be Brave” (which I’d been meaning to read for a couple of years). I’m so glad I did. Its timing in my life was just right and I absolutely loved it. The new one took longer to get into and I gave it a lower rating on Goodreads, but only because it digs deeper and the beginning felt a bit heavy. I still enjoyed it overall, particularly the chapter about the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Watch: On Easter Sunday, I stumbled across the first in a series on the Salvation Army, and I’m really enjoying it. Who knew that comedian Paul O’Grady used to be a care-worker? He really is great with people. Christians don’t always get a good press on the BBC, but “The Sally Army and Me” is respectful, combining the outworking of their faith with Paul’s quirky sense of humour. Light-hearted and easy to watch, the last episode airs on Sunday.

Song: I went to a Stuart Townend concert this month with some of my favourite people, and the chorus of this song seems to have stuck.

Bible-Verse: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15) – the idea that instead of striving, we can put quiet confidence in God for our deliverance. I like that.

Blog-Post: Are you someone who’s convinced a church should be a certain size? Perhaps you’ll appreciate my friend Becky’s post, “Big Church Versus Small Church”. A pastor’s wife from New York, she makes her points well.

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If you’re new here, I hope you’ll stay. I’m reviewing a book by Matt and Beth Redman at the moment, and I’ll look forward to sharing that with you next month. Thanks for reading.

Big Disappointment: “Becoming a Disciple-Making Church” Book-Review

I was pleased to receive a free copy of this from Bethany House because the title makes you think it’ll be an encouraging look into helping people grow as Christians. The reason I chose it was because some people I know have done Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ course and enjoyed it.

The book deals with overcoming various aspects of life that could be barriers between you and God: Anxiety disorders, depression, addictions, etc, but the author comes across as lacking in compassion. He writes that we must give the gospel with compassion, yet some of his other statements contradict this. For example, he says: “Spirit-filled Christians have found their sanctuary in Christ”, implying that anyone who struggles with fear isn’t filled with the Spirit. The truth is, we all struggle with sin, otherwise John wouldn’t have needed to write: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Neil also says confession is the first step to repentance, but doing this alone will not bring resolution – again, a contradiction of John’s words in the Bible: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John says confession is our part in repentance; then it’s God who does the purifying.

Neil would have us believe the key to overcoming depression is commitment, but when a person’s deep into depression, they lack energy and the thought of committing to anything long-term is overwhelming. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two here from the friends who lowered a paralysed man through a hole in the roof to see Jesus. The man himself was in no position to act, but their faith and action got results. If you’re a friend of someone who’s struggling and overwhelmed, perhaps you could be the one to commit to helping them.

It really comes down to what you believe about depression – whether you regard it as a sin, or an illness. I personally believe certain sinful behaviours may cause depression (unforgiveness, anger etc), but when a person reaches the depression stage, then I believe they’re ill and need help to recover. There is certainly hope for recovery, and I’m all for including God in that. Paul writes about us being transformed by the renewing of our minds, but Neil’s pronouncements that: “A victim is only a victim by choice” or “We need to be health-oriented, not illness-oriented” seem very critical. If someone broke their arm, their brain would focus on the pain of that broken arm. That wouldn’t be the fault of the person whose arm was broken. If physical problems are accepted in this way, why should someone with a mental illness be condemned? There are, of course, strategies we can use to overcome depression and Neil highlights some of these. We do have to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, E.G. rather than focus on feelings of inadequacy, we can dwell on who God is and the strengths He’s given us. We should stay connected to the important people in our lives, and I’ve always liked what Jarrod Cooper says: “God’s Word will fix you.” Psalm 107:20 talks about God sending His Word and healing.

I realise Neil Anderson has ministered for a number of years, and this is the culmination of his life’s work, but even some of the testimonies in the book don’t sit right. He talks about an unmarried woman in a sexual relationship. At the start of his time with her, he asked: “What would you do if I said you shouldn’t see the man again?” She answered, then he heard her story and they prayed together. Afterwards she said: “I’m never going to see that man again”. Neil says that conviction came from God, but did it? Don’t get me wrong; it may well have done, but it could also be that having been confronted previously, she made the statement because she felt it was expected of her. For the sake of all those who’ve been ministered to by Neil, I hope my opinion of him is wrong.

“Becoming a Disciple-Making Church” has the potential to put people off Christianity. I’ve found books like “Give Yourself a Break”, “You’re Already Amazing”, and even the secular book I’m reading at the moment on overcoming anxiety, to be far more beneficial.

Restoration is ACE

I said I’d write about my word for 2016, and this week, Bonnie started her OneWordCoffee series. Similar to OneWordAdvent, it’s an opportunity to focus on a one-word prompt each week, and how that word might be speaking to us. She asked on Wednesday: “What’s your one word for 2016?” so:


There’s room for improvement in some areas of my life, but rather than having one big lofty goal that’s maybe a bit vague, it’s helpful to break it down into more manageable chunks. So, restoration is ACE.

Activity: A lot of the voluntary work I now do is done from home – typing, book-reviewing etc. As a blind person, it is much easier in familiar surroundings, but I would like to do more outside the house, so I’m trying to organise something different at least once a month.

Community: I have some lovely community around me – the Open the Book team I go into schools with, my friend Chris’s fortnightly Bible-study group, and the family and friends who live nearby. I’m very aware that God tells us not to give up meeting together. Some use this verse to put the case for weekly church-attendance. It actually ends with a plea for Christians to encourage one another more and more as we see the second-coming of Christ approaching. That could be every week or every day, face-to-face or online. Having said that, I’ve attended meetings where we’ve had some very special worship-times and God’s presence was tangible, so I wouldn’t discount church. Depending on the condition of people’s hearts, it can be a place that really equips you to go deeper in your walk with the Lord. I find it difficult in my current church. With such a large congregation, there are so many I don’t know well and don’t feel connected with. We’re in the process of getting a new building (they’ve knocked down the previous one and are expanding). I haven’t been much while we’ve been off-site, but perhaps in the new building with more space to move around, it’ll be easier. I’m looking forward to getting back there regularly. I know it takes about a month to formulate a habit, so perhaps after a month in the new building, I’ll take stock and see if it’s working for me.

Exercise: If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might remember I wrote a few years ago about adjusting to a change in my finances. The UK-government brought in a law that if you were single and between 25 and 34, you were only entitled to the shared rate of Housing Benefit, even if it was a one-bedroom flat you lived in. I saved money by stopping my twice-weekly trips to the gym, but I definitely don’t feel as good as I did when I used to go. Well, now I’m 35! So I’ve come through that season, and I think it’s time to join a gym again. I want to get this sorted by the end of January.

“Turn your ear to My words … for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body” (Proverbs 4:20, 22). To me, physical health is important, but without God’s strength, I wouldn’t have any health at all. I aim to keep up my physical and my spiritual health in 2016. I’ve started reading the Bible in a year again, this time with the help of Victory Church. You can sign up to get an Email in your inbox with the day’s Bible-reading and a short devotional on one aspect of it, to make you think. I’m enjoying them so far.

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I don’t often pray on the blog, but I liked how Bonnie ended her post with a one-word prayer. Pray this with me if you want God to do a work of restoration in your life:

Father God, thank You that You’re the One who can restore our souls. Please restore all that You need to in 2016, so I can be a good steward of the body and mind You’ve given me. Please carry out Your plan for my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Inclusivity

Some have the idea that blind people will always be the recipients, rather than the givers. One thing I appreciate about where I live is how inclusive people are. Using my church as an example, when someone goes into church, the bulletin for that week is on a piece of paper on their chair. However, it’s also offered by Email. The Email is sent a couple of days prior so that when I go into the service, I’m as informed as everyone else. There is a little bit of room for improvement here because if a blind person went in who wasn’t a member, and they didn’t have their Email address, they couldn’t then access the bulletin. Perhaps one of the people on the door could sit with them before the meeting and read it to them.

When the meeting starts, there’s a time of singing, which is fine if you know the songs, but if an unfamiliar song is up on a screen and you can’t see it, you’re stuck. Worship for All helps churches provide material in large print or Braille, but if you’re in a church where it’s very spontaneous, the worship-leader might not know what the next song is themselves until it comes into their head and they start playing it. As a blind person myself, I wouldn’t want to take away from the flow of a service, I.E. “We must have this song next because it’s the one Sarah’s got in Braille.” I’d hate that, so how to get around this problem? I have had people offer to read the words. While I appreciate this, I’ve always felt it takes away from their worship-experience. If you’re reading a line out-loud, then trying to sing it, what time have you got left to focus on God and how He might be speaking to your heart? What I found really helped when I first started going to a church was, they gave me the songs on a computer-disc (we still had floppy discs back then), but churches could also do this by Email. I could learn the songs at my own pace and, as I got to know them, participate in worship the same as everyone else. Having been on the worship-team at church, when we’ve had new songs to learn, my pastor has Emailed us the lyrics beforehand with a YouTube link to the song. Fantastic idea! And if there’s a blind person in your congregation who’s not on the worship-team, you might want to include them in those Emails too.

Sometimes, people will show a DVD/YouTube video during a sermon. Very often, these videos will be music with pictures on the screen to illustrate a point. I appreciate it more than words can say when someone plonks themselves in the chair next to mine and whispers to me what’s going on. It can be hard to hear them sometimes over the music, but it makes me feel like part of a church-family. If a blind person is new to the church, it might be helpful for the preacher to approach them beforehand, say they’re showing a video, and give them some idea what it’s going to be about. If you’ve got a TV in your house, some programmes will be audio-described. Why not put the audio-description on for a programme or two, to get a flavour of the sorts of things blind people might miss out on?

It’s definitely possible, both at church on Sundays and during the week, for me to give as well as receive. Thanks to the speech software on my computer, I can type. With Voiceover and the Kindle app on my phone, I can review books. Thanks to my Braille Bible, I participate at Bible-studies. Thanks to RNIB’s transcription service, I can go into school assemblies with a Braille copy of the story we’re acting out. I think this needs applauding.

31 Jesus-Benefits: Christmas!

Today I want to focus on something I’ve had a new appreciation of since being a Christian, and it’ll soon be here again:


The carol encourages us (whilst taking in the snow outside) to see in our mind’s eye Jesus, born for us here on earth. “Lo, within a manger lies ~ He who built the starry skies”! The meaning of Christmas, its very centre, is Jesus coming into the world as a tiny, helpless baby.

I remember 2001, going to church on Christmas Day. I loved it! My pastor asked us what time we got up, and someone (an adult, not a child) got up at five fifteen! Me and him were going through the same thing – our first Christmas with a church-family. Being around other believers on such an important day still holds a specialness for me.

“While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have the baby, and she gave birth to her first son. Because there were no rooms left in the inn, she wrapped the baby with pieces of cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough” (Luke 2:6-7).

31 Jesus-Benefits: Truthful Pastors

“So each of us will have to answer to God” (Romans 14:12).

Day 9 of Write31Days, and I’m glad I can choose to attend a church where there’s:

A pastor who says what I need to hear.

I was told years ago that if we weren’t challenged, we wouldn’t grow. I’ve always remembered that, and it’s helped me to stick with the church. Because when your pastor preaches and it touches a raw nerve, it’s tempting to do the spiritual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears! Well, that temptation’s been around for thousands of years. God even addressed it through His spokesman Isaiah:

“These people are like children who lie and refuse to obey; they refuse to listen to the LORD’s teachings. They tell the seers, ‘Don’t see any more visions!’ They say to the prophets, ‘Don’t tell us the truth! Say things that will make us feel good; see only good things for us. Stop blocking our path. Get out of our way. Stop telling us about God, the Holy One of Israel’.

“So this is what the Holy One of Israel says: ‘You people have refused to accept this message and have depended on cruelty and lies to help you. You are guilty of these things. So you will be like a high wall with cracks in it that falls suddenly and breaks into small pieces. You will be like a clay jar that breaks, smashed into many pieces. Those pieces will be too small to take coals from the fire or to get water from a well.’ This is what the LORD GOD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘If you come back to Me and trust Me, you will be saved’” (Isaiah 30:9-15).

Sobering, isn’t it? Do you really want to hear only what makes you feel good? Wouldn’t you rather have the odd sleepless night now than get to the end of your life and realise there were things you should have paid attention to? Let’s appreciate those pastors who preach truth, even when it doesn’t sit easily. God can use their words to make us more like Jesus.