Books for Life

I remember the day I bought my first Bible. I had become a Christian through a friend explaining his faith to me among the Bunsen burners in our school chemistry lab. I saved up my earnings from my Saturday job and looked up my local Christian bookshop. The elderly owner was a bibliophile and I was a brand-new Christian hungry for anything that would help me grow in my faith, so my visits became a weekly event. I’d finish my shift, collect my paycheck, and go and spend it all on Christian literature. The shop owner introduced me to AW Tozer, John Stott, Matthew Henry, Bilquis Sheihk, Marin Luther, Derek Kidner, John Calvin, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Bruce Milne and many more mentors and heroes. I am grateful for a wise old Christian’s passion for books and I wonder where I would be in my faith without his guidance and encouragement. But as a church we are losing the habit of spiritual reading, leaders are struggling to recommend books to their congregations, and Christians simply aren’t being encouraged to read.

To help play a part in changing this, I’ve launched a new initiative called “Books for Life”. Each month we will release a feature-length video interview with a significant Christian leader. I’ll be asking them to name three Christian books that have changed their lives and why. Then I’ll take a look at the latest crop of books to hit the shelves and make three recommendations that are well worth a read.

It has been a privilege to meet with leaders across the UK and to be inspired by the way that spiritual reading has helped them grow and develop in their faith. I have come across some old treasures that I had missed in my reading as well as being exposed to some of the cutting-edge new books that will equip us for the fresh challenges of today.

My first interview is with Canon J.John, one of the busiest people I know. J.John is an irrepressible evangelist and has been constantly travelling and preaching for the past 34 years, yet he talks about being more passionate about Jesus than when he first began. He told me how reading is a vital part of his spiritual life and giving time to reading is as unmissable a discipline in his life as brushing his teeth.

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What Tesla can teach the Church about evangelism

I couldn’t say no, though I did try at least four times. But our host was insistent I was going to get behind the wheel of his $90,000 Tesla Model S car, and hit the streets of Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. As I slipped into the leather seats and powered up the system, its vast touch screen display showed me maps with traffic updates, a rear view camera and more information about the torque, weight distribution and a whole host of updates I didn’t know even existed.

Pressing the ignition button, and pulling away in silence was a disconcerting experience, as was the fact the acceleration was perfectly smooth and seemingly unending. I ran out of road before I ran out of the opportunity to accelerate. Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by a group of engineers who wanted to prove that electric cars could be better than gasoline-powered cars.They are huge in California and what they produced in people was something powerful I wished I could bottle. At the very least I can pass on here what I learned in what I would like to call the Tesla Test, with four quick questions for the Church.

1. Is there a refusal to accept the status quo?

You can’t help but admire Tesla’s vision. In a nation dominated by gas guzzlers (two of the cars I travelled in during my brief visit to California had 5.4 litre engines), Tesla decided to launch the world’s first electric sports car: the Tesla Roadster. In an electric vehicle market dominated by affordable commuter models, Tesla aimed at the high end luxury car market. Elon Musk, the company’s bold CEO, explained that he was competing with “150 years and trillions of dollars spent on gasoline cars.” For most of us, that level of challenge to the status quo and that number of hurdles to cross would have quickly sunk us and our enthusiasm. But for Musk the challenge seemed to energise him.

I would love to see this never-say-die spirit in our churches. A go-get-it attitude that does not settle for accepted norms, but aims to change the culture. We have been given a picture of the future of humanity in the Bible, the coming Kingdom of God, which should propel us forwards with even greater confidence than Musk could ever muster. It is not too late for a disruptive innovation in the way that the Church relates to our culture, or the way the gospel is communicated. It’s time for some kingdom dreamers to start making dreams a reality.

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My Prayer for David Cameron

While he was leader of the opposition, I wrote to David Cameron and asked him what he would want to say to Christians who were uncertain about getting involved in politics. This was his reply:
“Churches have a proud history of involvement in schools, hospices and other community organizations. And today, as I travel around the country, I am constantly amazed by the breadth of the church’s engagement in society. In communities where the government has failed to make much impact it is local groups, often churches, who daily see lives transformed. It is often church groups who lead the way in fostering a culture of mutuality and responsibility – helping each other through difficult times; restoring bonds of trust and respect; effecting change because, although the problems are severe, they know that they are part of the solution. The wonder of democracy is that we all get to play a part. It is: not just about voting, because a responsible society may begin at the ballot box but it continues throughout the years and across the country. It’s about offering a helping hand where no one else noticed; motivating communities to love one another; never walking by, but taking time to cross to the other side…Together we can change things.
I have only had the opportunity to meet David Cameron on one occasion. I was invited along with my 10 year old son to a meeting about reforming adoption. We were told that a senior government minister was going to address the group of 20 people that were waiting in a north London primary school. When the PM breezed in and he instantly owned the room. He was very assured and yet very personable. He spoke; without notes, and showed an impressive knowledge of the adoption scene. I had the opportunity to ask a question saying that I believed that the church was an untapped resource for finding families for the children that were waiting the longest for adoptive homes. He smiled and agreed that there needed to be “sea-change” in the way that the government worked with faith communities. There in that room I realised that Home for Good could be more than a campaign, but it could help redefine the relationship between govenernment and the church with regards to the welfare of vulernable children. The Prime Minister did an excellent job of making a great first impression. He was not too busy to pose for a hug with my son – a picture that is still on display in his room. After a government that had said that they didn’t do God I was encouraged to hear a party leader who was willing to recognise the way that churches were transforming communities. David Cameron once described his own faith in terms of an intermittent radio signal –

“Like Magic FM in the Chilterns, it comes and goes.”

To be honest many Christians can identify with the experience of losing touch with God from time to time.
I can’t say I have agreed with all of Cameron’s policies. But I did have the privilege of spending time with many of his staff who showed great passion for helping build a more just society. I can pay honour to the many admirable things Cameron accomplished in office – he invested unprecedented amounts of money into adoption care and support. He changed his mind about accepting refugees into the UK eventually agreeing to receive 26000 refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children. He honoured the 0.7% of GDP development budget. He was unashamed in his appreciation of the role of faith in society once declaring that he was “evangelical about his faith” and how he recognised the “countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”.
Many however will remember him only for the gamble he made on the EU referendum that has lead not only to his own political demise but brought about untold consequences for our nation. But as David Cameron takes his new role as a backbencher committed to “willing on” our new Prime Minister Theresa May and his colleagues I want to offer up a prayer for him. We are told to prayer for our rulers, and I think this applies to when they leave office having worked hard on our behalf.
My prayer is that Mr Cameron would use his considerable talents to work for a more just society. I give thanks for the good things he has already accomplished. But I pray that he would have the time now that the searing glare of the public spotlight moves away from him that to take the opportunity to move the dial of his faith so that he might enjoy the clearer reception of a living relationship with God. The good news for Mr Cameron is that Christianity offers a lot more excitement than the muzak on Magic FM it offers a compelling vision for life, for pursuing justice in our world with the God who is a champion of the vulnerable.
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Meet the Christian woman who adopted EIGHT children from a Russian orphanage

“The day before his 10th birthday, our son Jonny was run over and killed before our very eyes while we were on a family bike ride with him and our other two children.”

This tragedy turned Susan Hillis’ family upside down. The following day, she says, was the “valley of the shadow of death”.

But Susan’s grief inspired a passion to care for children who had lost their parents. A few months later, she adopted a brother and sister – Alex and Anya – from an orphanage in Russia. Anya soon began to pray for her best friend Katya from the orphanage to find a family like they had, and it became clear to Susan that they were the answer to that prayer, too. When they went to the orphanage to begin the adoption process, it turned out that Katya had two brothers. So Susan adopted them all.

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5 questions every Christian has to face about Creation

He didn’t even blink. But in a small coffee shop half way around the world, the missionary bluntly told me that those who believed in the six literal days of Creation tended to be more godly than those who didn’t. Unusually for me, I was lost for words. I have many friends with differing views on how much water to use in baptism, whether wives should work or stay at home, and even on the existence of hell. But despite the debates and disagreements, nobody had ever before suggested that we had anything but an equal standing in front of our heavenly Father. This particular missionary evidently felt passionate about this one doctrine. Perhaps he was inspired by Ken Ham, who argues: “If we allow our children to doubt the days of creation, when the language speaks so plainly, they are likely to then doubt Christ’s Virgin Birth, and that He really rose from the dead.” It’s a slippery slope argument – if we don’t draw a line here at the origins of our faith, then we have no hope in helping people to believe the rest of the Bible.

So to what extent was the missionary correct? Should we believe in the literal six-day account? Does it really affect our godliness? And does our whole theology rest or fall on the side we choose to take?

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Who Needs a Tough Father?

It’s a tough time to be a father right now. Taking your child to the zoo or for a walk in the woods could land you on the front page of the newspaper. Whether you are a single dad, a step dad or just a standard dad, fathers everywhere are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. And even if you can ignore the media, the headlines and the plethora of self-appointed experts, you can hardly ignore that other know-it-all voice of criticism – the expert in fathering that is your own child.

I know what it is like to feel a failure as a father. I put the clothes on backwards, and forget which cup they always use. I lose count of the number of children I take to the park and come back with one too few – or one too many. I once did a favour for a sick neighbour and took their dog for a walk. The extending leash caught around my son’s neck and scarred him for life as I tried to juggle one dog and one boy. But being told off by the doctor or the mother, by supernanny or by supermarket trolleypushers, is nothing compared to being told off by your own child.

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The art of choosing: 5 keys to making better decisions

Leadership has been defined as the art of making great decisions. Indeed it could be argued that the measure of a well-lived life is the quality of the decisions we make. We are not talking about the outcomes of our decisions, over which we actually have little control. Character is demonstrated more clearly by how we make our decisions, rather than by their results. With this in mind let me offer you five ways to start making better decisions.

1. Get more options on the table

Dr Therese Huston is a psychologist who specialises in decision-making. She argues that often when we try and make a decision we think we have two options in front of us when in fact we only have one. She gives the example of a company trying to tackle a parking problem at the office:

DECISION: Shall we build a car park OR shall we not build a car park?

Huston argues that trying to get a minimum of three real options on the table means that higher quality decisions are made. So in the example above a better starting point for the decision could be:

DECISION: Shall we build a carpark OR shall we give employees a free bus pass OR shall we encourage people to work more from home? 

The Bible offers similar advice: Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” I notice that sometimes when we seek counsel from others we limit the outcome by asking: “Shall I do this or not?” A better way of deploying the wisdom of our friends and mentors could be to ask them to help us generate more options to consider. When seeking wisdom from our friends we could ask “How would you solve this problem…?” For example:

DECISION: Should I allow my 15 year old to play 18 rated Xbox games OR not?

It may be better to phrase the question:

DECISION: How can I encourage my teenager to make good decisions about gaming?

Seeking the counsel of a number of people we consider wise but from different contexts may help to give a wider range of solutions. Our problem when trying to make a decision is that we are unaware of how narrow our view of the problem is. Huston gives the example of trying to get more creative about what you eat for breakfast. If you are standing in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, you might try out a new cereal, perhaps mixing cornflakes with rice crispies. But if you are in a farmers market, you might get inspired to try eggs with avocados, or bacon with maple syrup, or a vegetable smoothie. So getting a wider perspective can be helpful and another person can help us to achieve that. Another parent at church may well give you a yes/no recommendation to the first question. But ask around at work and church and among your child’s peers and you may be surprised that a whole range of surprising options open up: “If your child is into gaming, then I could really use his help at my youth group on a Friday night”; ” Did you know there are parental controls that limit certain downloads?” “I get my son to turn the volume off so he doesn’t hear the swearing.”

See the rest of the article here.