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Christian Fiction—does it help or hinder great faith?

Three thoughts converged in a mellow mood…

Strand one found me talking with someone who runs a Christian bookshop. She commented that so many Christians aren’t familiar with the great missionary biographies that Christians of a previous generation were—the stories of Corrie ten Boom, Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, James Fraser, Amy Carmichael, John Paton, etc. Of course every generation needs its new heroes in a sense, but as she saw it, there was a general lack of reading biography.

Strand two came via email alerts of discounted Christian ebooks. Sometimes there are bargains on great books—but I’ve been surprised at the vast amount of Christian fiction out there. The genre isn’t new to me, but seeing wave after wave of titles is.

Strand three came while I was working on a sermon on Nehemiah 2 about daring faith, and was pondering why we see so little by way of daring faith—people engaged in what missionary David Sitton calls ‘Reckless Abandon‘, and what David Platt calls ‘radical Christian living’.

For me, one of the great catalysts to faith-filled living is the reading of the faith-filled lives of God’s people in the past—i.e. Christian biography. And so three strands converged…

Now I’m not going to hang the […]

Outsourcing memory and wired for distraction

If you are scanning this article—stop—you need to read it. Not because I am important, but because your mind matters!

Over the last few years I have had a minor, but growing, niggle about my ability to remember and make connections with clarity and sharpness. Was it simply growing older, or the impact of several general anaesthetics in a short space of time, or was it something else?

I began to suspect my use of the internet/computer/email/facebook was contributing to a disconnectedness and fragmentedness in my own thinking. I would be working at something at my desk, and after a few minutes reading, I’d look up and check my email, follow a link, and then return to reading.

I read a little (Tim Challies’ book, The Next Story) and found that we were indeed rewiring our minds for distraction—consider how often you check your phone—there has been no alert, but we check nonetheless—mid sentence or in the middle of another task.

But there is more to it than simply distraction. I found I was less able to remember what I had read, but was able to remember where to find it—eg. “I read about that recently in such and such a book. It was […]

Jesus’ Tears – No. 1

There is something deeply moving about tears. We see someone weeping and it can have quite an effect on us. The stronger the person who weeps the more powerful the effect is upon us. We are more affected by seeing a man weeping than a child. When the man is a strong emotionally stable man, with tears running down his face, it speaks volumes to us.

On three occasions we are told of Christ weeping. This is not just at a great man weeping, that would be touching enough, but this is the Son of God weeping.

Tears are a window on the soul; they allow us to see what really matters to a person. And it is no different with Jesus.

In John 11:35 we come to the first instance of Jesus’ tears. His close friend Lazarus has just died and Jesus has gone to see Lazarus’ sisters.

‘When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”’
(John 11:33-36)

The question we need answered is: “Why is Jesus […]

The Gospel in a handshake

I’ve just finished “Mission at Nuremburg” by Tim Townsend. It is the fascinating story of Henry Gerecke, chaplain at the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal. A one word quote from a newspaper review on the front simply says “Gripping”, and it was.

Among Gerecke’s ‘parishioners’ were:

Hermann Goering—Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, and a man who had given some of the most genocidal orders of the war.
Rudolf Hess—known as the third most powerful man in Germany, behind Hitler and Goering
Fritz Sauckel—Head of Labour and Supply in Nazi Germany. He was described as “the greatest and cruellest slave driver since Pharaoh”. He worked millions of slave labourers to death without mercy.
Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel—Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed forces. His unquestioning obedience to Hitler led to his being responsible for more deaths than anyone could count.
Wilhelm Frick—Minister of the Interior. An innocuous sounding title, but that meant he was responsible for all that happened within the borders of Germany, including the rounding up of the Jewish people for extermination. His title covered up a reign of terror.
Joachim von Ribbentrop—Hitler’s Foreign Minister.

How would you do in ministering to such men?

As chaplain Gerecke knew it was his duty to share the hope of forgiveness […]

More than a Memory (Means of Grace #5)

As I write, a friend of mine is taking part in The Race ( It’s a 250 km endurance event in Ireland that starts with a half marathon, followed by kayaking 15km in the sea, cycling 96km in the hills, running up and down a mountain, cycling a further 70km, and a finishing with a final marathon on roads and trails. All inside 24 hours. And it’s cold, wet and windy.

Stamina and mental fortitude are key, but absolutely vital are the feeding stations along the way. Not even the best athlete could go without sustenance.

God has provided his people with refuelling points along our journey where his spiritual power, change, help, fortitude and blessings flow into our lives. These are called his means of grace. The Lord’s Supper is one of these fountains of grace provided for our nourishment.

In the Lord’s Supper we remember and relate. In this moment the risen living Lord draws near to his people to bless them. Because of that, the Lord’s Supper is more than a memory.

The risen Christ meets with and blesses those who have put their trust in him. But it doesn’t come automatically. This refuelling is done by active faith—not simply saving […]

More than A Sentiment (Means of Grace #4)

Imagine a castle, armed with two large and dangerous canons, under attack. One is fired regularly; the other sits idle. You ask about it; “Oh we fired it once—it works, but we keep it for ceremonial purposes.”

How bizarre!

Yet often one of the canons for the defence of Man’s Soul lies idle. Or to change the metaphor, one of the fountains of grace has been badly blocked. Martin Luther saw it as one of his key weapons in his fight against temptation, chalking “Baptizatus Sum” (I have been Baptised) on the table.

Each baptism we see has potential to be an energy giving fountain of grace—the memory of it has potential even to scatter the tempting forces of Satan—yet we have sentimentalised it, turned it into a moment for thinking about how well the baby did.

Much ink has been spilled defining and defending whom we baptise, but how much thought have you given to how to benefit from your baptism? It is a warzone, but the war is with Satan, sin and death.

So how can you drink from this fountain of grace?

(NB—this is about how believers continue to benefit from their baptism (whether it happened as a child or an adult). How […]

More than a Conclusion (The Means of Grace #3)

What is the high point of worship? The preaching of the word? The singing? What if there is an even higher pinnacle—a moment where God speaks, not so much to tell us something, but actually to do something? To speak with the same creative force with which he said “Let there be light.”

What if we missed it because we weren’t listening, we weren’t hearing by faith, and so missed the power of what happened?

The sermon finishes—final psalm—Who will I speak to, what’s for lunch, need to see so and so about… “…and the fellowship of Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

The Benediction—It’s not a prayer. It’s not a wish. It’s not even the minister speaking. God is.

We didn’t finish dealing with the worship service in our last article—there is yet more flowing from the fountain of grace—more to be drunk by faith.

Listen to the first great congregation benediction in Numbers 6:22.

‘The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

“So they will […]

More than a Sermon (The Means of Grace #2)

Have you thought any of these coming to church?

I can’t wait to hear what the sermon is on today
I’m really enjoying this series on …………
I hope the minister is on form today
I hope he’s not too long
Great, it’s so and so preaching today
I hope the tunes are decent, hope the singing is good
I wonder if so and so will be out

When the Westminster Confession speaks of the Word of God being a means of grace it has in mind the public ministry of the Word—I take that to mean the whole of the worship service where the word is central, being sung and read, as well as preached.

It’s easy to see ‘worship’ as the prelude to the main event—the sermon—but it is way more important than that. And it’s easy to see the sermon as a source of information, challenge, encouragement etc. and to miss that the whole service is one of God’s appointed channels for his generous grace to flow into our lives.

We need to be convinced of the priority of public worship—that God loves to meet with his people gathered together, and to bless them there. It is a means of grace in a way that our own […]

Grasping Grace at the Means of Grace

I think one of the great problems in the church is that we fail to get grace—oh we understand it for salvation, but I’m less convinced that we get it for living the Christian life. We believe we are saved by grace, but live like we are saved by works. The outcome? Legalism, lack of assurance, and above all, miserable Christians—saved by grace but living under a burden of failure, not grasping God’s delight in them.

There are many ways to counter this—things we can do for ourselves, eg. preaching the gospel to ourselves, relishing the love the Triune God has for us. But there are regular God-appointed events for the refreshing and refuelling of Christians. Theologians call them the ‘Means of Grace’—Preaching, Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Prayer.

Christ has placed these pipelines of his supernatural, Spirit-imparting, soul-refreshing, sin-defeating, doubt-scattering grace running into the church. We know what they are—like the pipes running into our house, they have been there as long as we can remember—but I’m not sure we know best how to drink from these fountains of grace.

A couple of friends of mine drill wells in east Africa. They go into villages with their drilling rig, and down they drill. Then […]