A few helpful resources

Here are a few resources I’ve found incredibly helpful in listening to God and getting to know what living for Him looks like. I’ve given a brief description plus a link to their websites (apart from one link to Amazon for the ‘Jewish Study Bible’) – enjoy!

5 Great Books!

5 Great Books!

1. ESV Study Bible

I love this Bible.  It has a brilliant balance of good scholarly thinking and accessibility.  Excellent introductions to each book of the Bible, good notes throughout, and some really useful and interesting essays on everything from how the canon was formed to Christian views on bioethics.  Every morning I use this for my daily Bible reading.  I like to use a Bible without any notes alongside and then have this close by to refer to.

2. The Message

Another great and probably familiar resource.  The Message is an interpretation of the Bible in contemporary language.  It isn’t a direct translation so you definitely want to read a more accurate version of the Bible alongside, but I find this incredibly helpful for getting a fresh view on some very familiar passages.  It was written by Eugene Peterson and came from trying to write particular scriptures in a way that people could readily understand for a group of people at his church.  I would recommend this for both new Christians just getting to grips with the Bible and for those who have been around for a while who want some fresh inspiration.

3. The Jewish Study Bible

Something I came across whilst at vicar school.  This is a study Bible with introductions to each book and comments by passages, but from a Jewish perspective written by Jewish scholars. For obvious reasons it does not include the New Testament!  I find it a useful resource for getting a sense of how the Old Testament texts were and are understood by Jewish thinkers rather than just from a Christian perspective.

4. Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

I used this every morning for quite a while and loved it.  This is a collection of contemporary liturgy from missional communities.  The main feature is morning prayer for every calendar day.  These have prayers, a song, readings from scripture, and (my personal favourite) a reflection on a hero of the faith.  These range from ancient saints to contemporary Christians and from the well known to the obscure.  There is often a short bio plus some thoughts or an extract from their writings or prayers.  Also, every month there is a particular theme and some suggested reading that ties into the daily prayer for that month.  Using liturgy in daily time with God is great for finding words you might never find on your own, being part of a community by sharing in common prayers, and establishing a pattern of prayer.  This really is a great resource either for daily use or simply to dip into for inspiration as I do now.

5. God’s Generals

There are a range of volumes of ‘God’s Generals’ books by Roberts Liardon – the one pictured was a Christmas present.  Essentially they are short biographies of Christian heroes, often from more recent years and people you may know little about.  When we read the Bible we see how God has moved incredibly in a whole number of people’s lives, but He hasn’t finished yet.  Not long ago I became aware how little I actually knew about people who have been used by God in recent years to do amazing things.  I’m talking about a host of people from John Wesley to C.J. Parham and Billy Graham.  These books give short and accesible biographies that I personally find challenging and inspiring.

So there you go, 5 books that have hugely blessed me over the years and I hope might be an encouragement for you too.  If you’ve already used any of these then I’d love to know what you thought about them.  More than that, I’d love to know if there are any resources that you’d add to the list – books (or other media!) that have helped you learn more about God and draw closer to Him.

So why not add to the list or offer your thoughts by leaving a comment?

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Love Requires Leftovers

http://www.artbible.info/art/large/594.htmlThe parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables.  A man travels a dangerous road and is attacked by robbers and left for dead.  A Priest and a Levite, two religious and respected people, walk by on the other side of the road.  A Samaritan, ostricised and hated by Jesus’ listeners, walks over to the man, patches him up, takes him to an inn and pays for his care promising to return.  The moral of the story?  Everyone is our neighbour and love looks like something.  Essentially Jesus is challenging the lawyer’s question.  Rather than asking ‘who is my neighbour?’, he should have been querying ‘how can I be a better neighbour?’

Simple.  And challenging.  I’m preaching on this text on Sunday night so am running a certain risk in posting these thoughts now, but they’re buzzing round my brain.

Here’s the thing.  It is often simple and evident what God wants us to do, but very challenging.  I’m challenged by this parable because, although I’d hope I would have the desire to help the hurting man, it just seems to take so much time and effort.  Don’t get me wrong, in an emergency I would like to think I’d drop everything and help.  But what about in normal life?  The thought of taking time to practically love every person I encounter seems difficult.  I have many things to do during the day, not a whole lot of money to spare, and I get tired.  I can relate to the lawyer in wanting to respond to the simple command of God to love everyone with the question: ‘who do you mean by everyone?’  I want to know who qualifies for my love, my time, my money, my effort, mainly because there simply doesn’t seem to be enough to go around.

That’s where I’ve been struck by the context of this parable in Luke’s gospel.  It comes just after Jesus has prayed about his disciples, thanking God the Father that he has revealed the secret of the kingdom to children but hidden it from the wise.  What does this mean?  It takes children to understand how to live in the kingdom of God.  This doesn’t just mean it is a ‘simple’ thing, it means that only those who know that the God of the universe is their Father will be able to respond to the clear yet challenging commands of God without qualifying them away.  It’s not surprising that straight after this parable Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “Our Father…” and explains that, as human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, so Father God is even more faithful.

We're so wanting to live like this we've painted it on our living room wall

We’re so wanting to live like this we’ve painted it on our living room wall!

You might remember a post some time back about Pete Grieg’s idea of ‘living beautifully’.  It strikes me that the love God calls us to in this parable requires a beautiful life.  It requires more than pre-meditated actions, but a lifestyle where there is enough time, money, and effort left over for us to respond to those who are unexpectedly in need.  Grieg talked about ‘leaving gleanings’ in life; not scheduling all our time or allocating all our money, but having ‘left overs’ with no particular specified purpose.  He was saying that these are the places of creativity and imagination.  I suggest they are also the places of love.

Love happens in the leftovers.  It is difficult to have left overs if we live from the assumption that we don’t have enough, that our resources are limited.  We cannot make time we can only use it, few of us would think we have money to spare, and it can be hard to shift our focus from our own needs and plans.  Yet those who know God – the maker of the universe, the one who holds the world in his hands, the one who promises to give good gifts to his children – as their Father, are not those who assume they don’t have enough.  They are those who can live with leftovers.

Love requires leftovers.

This is a really interesting post from a new friend I made over the weekend. The value of listening is something I’ve come to recognise increasingly in a church context, and it is really encouraging to see the same values playing out positively in a completely different sphere of society.

Silent Marketing

Introduction

You can change the world by thinking of others before you think of yourself.

I’m sure you’re familiar with traditional sales and marketing.  They’re based on the premise of the ‘gift of the gab,’ coercion, interruption, shouting, and broadcasting.  There’s lack of trust.  This is, in my opinion, passé.  Silent marketing (listening) is the wave of the future.

How did we get to the mistrust?

In the business world, sales and marketing is justifiably perceived by many as sleazy.  As a result, by the time a prospect gets to your website or starts to interact with you they’re already very weary and sceptical.  Well, can you blame them?  It’s no wonder that prospects believe no one.  They’ve experienced being conned, yelled at, interrupted, bullied, tricked, deceived, manipulated, and sold many times.  And they’re tired.

What is (and why) Silent Marketing?

Silence is golden.  Saying nothing is preferable when you’re…

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A Humble NHS?

NHSLast post I reflected on humility as defined by James Ryle:

God given self-assurance that eliminates the need to prove to others the worth of who you are and the rightness of what you do.

Ryle suggests, from 1 Peter 5:5-7, that central to humbling ourselves is throwing our cares on to God.  Every concern, care and fear being hurled on to God who is faithful and powerful enough to handle them.  When we know that we are loved by Him no matter what and that He is in control no matter what, then we remove the need to prove ourselves or protect ourselves.  We become humble – secure enough to allow God to be in control and to serve others.  Once our eyes are lifted from ourselves we are able to see others to love and serve them.

Just before writing the last post I was reading an article about the report by Robert Francis QC on the appalling treatment of patients at Stafford Hospital.  One of the recurring comments made by many different people is that the pressure of targets and incentives increasingly displaces focus on compassion and patient care.  When doctors, nurses and managers alike are bombarded with ever increasing and regularly changes hoops to jump through and targets to meet, no wonder their attention and efforts are dragged from patient care.

I’ve seen something of the effects of this in a family member who for many years worked as a Health Visitor.  In their decades of service they saw an ever increasing and ever changing string of targets and goals alongside cost cutting moves that stripped resources and personnel.  Their desire to be compassionate and offer the best care possible became more and more stressful until it finally proved too much.  She recently changed jobs.

Now I’m not trying to attack the NHS and I am well aware that so many people receive great care.  But this is not a new concern that is being bandied around with fresh vigour in the light of Stafford Hospital. What struck me is that it demonstrates on an institutional level what also seems true at a personal level. Namely, that when we are forced to operate from a place of insecurity we begin to miss the most important things.  NHS services have to meet targets to receive funding to simply keep operating – there will be no patient care if there is no hospital.  Oftentimes, especially as a leader, we can live with a sense that, unless we meet expectations or make people like us or recognise our worth, then we’ll have no influence to do any of the things we know we are called to do.

The secret of personal humility is to recognise that we are already loved by our Father before we even move our finger; to recognise that He is control and we can throw every care on Him.  A person who can live from that place of security finds, free from the need to prove themselves or their actions, can begin to simply do what they are made and called to do.  They are no longer pulled in different directions by a multiplicity of cares.  What about an institution?

It strikes me that a similar solution is needed for the NHS.  Is there a way to give security for doctors, nurses and caring professionals so that they are able to do what they are called to do without constantly watching their back?  Obviously there is a need for accountability for the safety of patients and to ensure a good standard of care, but the constant need to prove worth and achievement cannot be helpful for those who are called to compassionate care.

I’m not a healthcare professional.  I don’t know exactly what this would look like.  But I recognise in the diagnosis of struggles in the NHS, God’s diagnosis of struggles in many people’s lives.  The way He designed us to live with Him is often a good basis to begin to imagine a new way for every level of society to function.

So, my question is this: what would a humble NHS look like?  To whom could a National Health Service throw it’s concerns and cares?

Throwing our cares away – the secret of humility

No FishingIn my line of work I lead a lot of public events.  A few days ago I was trying to lead an event I was not meant to be leading, although I saw myself at the time as offering helpful suggestions to the leader.  Thankfully this was a friend of mine and a couple of lovingly frank conversations have taken our friendship deeper.  They have also helped me recognise something that I doubt is unique to me: some of the most stressful times I have are when I want to be in control but am not.  That desire for control itself often stems from insecurity.

Now, as you may have noticed from previous posts, I have been reading through some old journals.  In the midst of thinking about my reactions the other night, I read some notes I made 6 years ago about humility.  They’re from a talk by James Ryle, who I’ve mentioned before, reflecting on 1 Peter 5:5-7 in the Bible:

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him.

Ryle’s main points:

  1. God calls us to be humble.  The dictionary defines humble as ‘pitiable, subdued, disgraced, shamed’.  Yet the Bible defines humility by pointing to Jesus.  Just read Philipians 2:5-11 or John 13:1-11.  So what is humility?
  2. Humility is: “God given self-assurance that eliminates the need to prove to others the worth of who you are and the rightness of what you do.”
  3. Do read Philipians 2 and John 13.  Jesus demonstrates humility in coming to earth as a man and in washing the disciples’ feet.  What lay behind his humility?  Not being ‘shamed’ but rather the opposite – he knew beyond doubt his value and worth.  “Being in very nature God” and knowing that “the Father had put all things under his feet” he simply did what he was called to do, no need to prove himself or gain approval.
  4. Humility, then, comes when we are secure in the Father’s love – when we know we are loved and valued so have no need to prove it by what we do.

Amazing as this truth is, you may well have heard it before, but Ryle went on to say something that hit me afresh:

How do we humble ourselves?  1 Peter 5:7 gives the answer – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you”.  The word we translate ‘cast’ is not a gentle word like a free flowing fishing line, rather it has a sense of violence and urgency – ‘hurl’ your anxieties away – just get rid of them!  Throw them away and don’t fish them back up. Get rid of every ‘care’ – every concern that pulls us in different directions, taking our eyes off the constant, faithful Father who walks into each situation with us.

Back to the event I mentioned trying to lead.  I got stressed.  I tried to take control.  I did so because I was worried.  I had a number of different concerns on my mind: timings for the new way we were doing things, people’s opinions about how it all went, a number of particular concerns brought to my attention before the evening began.  I can strongly relate to that sense of being pulled in different directions and then, when the leader didn’t seem to do exactly what I would have, I tried to step in.  Behind all this essentially lay a fear about what people would think if it all went wrong, but I don’t think I ever really considered what ‘going wrong’ meant.

How different would it have been if my eyes stayed on God?  Recognising His presence and His character – that He is in control.  If I had ‘hurled’ each concern to God as soon as it came to me?  I’m not talking about irresponsibility or not caring about things that come up.  I’m talking about pausing, reminding myself that God is in control, and asking what He wants me to do.

It’s not a new thought that this might be a less stressful way to live, but I have never made the link to humility before.  Anxiety, cares, fear are so often behind our pride and control.  Humility, the conviction of God’s love and confidence in His faithfulness that removes any need to prove ourselves, comes from throwing every concern to Him.

So here’s what I’m trying out: giving up control for Lent.  Not ignoring cares or concerns, but bringing everything to God before I try to run off and sort it myself.  Guess what – this is something you can try too!