How Great is Our God?

There are many worship songs that contain the line ‘How Great is Our God?’ or something similar. Even by itself the line communicates something of God’s majesty and wonder because it is in the form of a rhetorical question. That is, it is a figure of speech in the form of a question asked in order to make a point rather than to elicit an answer. Yet it is a very poignant question that we would do well to answer.

How great is your God?

How you answer that question will dramatically affect your life. It will affect the way you think, the way you speak and the way you act. It will also affect the way that you pray! The greater your view of God, the greater your expectations in prayer. The bigger your God, the bigger your prayers can become.

This was brought home to me again recently when I picked up a book called ‘Praying for Your Elephant’ by Adam Stadtmiller. The book is subtitled ‘Boldly Approaching Jesus with Radical and Audacious Prayer.’ Running through the book is a thread about a time when, as a young youth pastor, Adam and a colleague prayed for God to send their youth group a real, live, full grown elephant. (You will have to read the book to understand why he prayed such a prayer, and how the prayer was wonderfully answered!)

From then on ‘praying for an elephant’ becomes a metaphor for praying for something large and specific. He writes: ‘The boundaries of our personal prayer lives often have less to do with biblical restrictions and more to do with the limitations we place on them.’ In other words – our view of God is too small. The book is an invitation to expand our view of God and our expectations of prayer.

Jesus himself taught us an antidote for a too small God in the prayer he taught us. It begins ‘Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your name’. Take a few minutes to mediate on each of those 8 words and allow the Holy Spirit to expand your view of God as you fill out the answer to the question, How great is your God?, in your heart.

This blog post featured in the September 2015 edition of Lifelines

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What makes us human? – by Mark Meynell

Human  Who you think you are shapes the how you think about many issues and determines how you behave. In the west, people view humans as thinkers, as animals, as biological machines, and as economic resources. But is that all that can be said about who we are?

Mark Meynell argues that you and I are much, much more than the sum of these views of humanness. He demonstrates how the uniqueness of mankind as revealed in the bible helps us go beyond the limitations of these other views of humans. Mark considers what it means to be made by God and what it means to be saved by God and how this changes our outlook on the rest of our lives.

 

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Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible– by Andy Croft & Mike Pilavachi

Storylines Most of us have a few favourite parts of the Bible and yet almost completely ignore vast sections. In part this can be because we have never really understood how the different books of the Bible fit together.

The Bible is a collection of writings by different authors, in different styles, in different languages and written at different times. At first it can seem daunting and muddled. However in reality there are a number of storylines that run through the bible, like letters running through Brighton rock! This excellent short book unpacks these storylines in an easy to read manner and will help any reader of the bible have a better grasp of how it all fits together.

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The Apostle: The Life of Paul– by John Pollock 

The Apostle  The Apostle Paul is one of the most significant characters in the New Testament. When he bursts into the narrative, he is approving the stoning of Stephen who was a wonderful, spirit filled man of God. Saul, as he was known in Jewish circles, was a self-righteous religious man who was consumed with hatred for the followers of the way, as the early believers were known.

Most of us are familiar with Paul’s Damascus road conversion, but how much else do you know about him? What was his upbringing? What made him tick? What was the context of his prolific letter writing?

In this excellent volume John Pollock gathers data together from dozens of first century sources, including the New Testament writings, and has produced a highly readable and well-paced 21st century style biography. This format brings Paul to life and immerses the reader in the events that shaped the early church.

 

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The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness – by Tim Chester 

The BusyChristiansGuideToBusyness Have you noticed that when people greet each other saying ‘How are you?’ a frequent response is ‘I’m busy!’ In this book Tim Chester addresses the busyness that afflicts 21st century Christians, particularly those who live in the post industrialised world. In the opening chapter he identifies the symptoms of the disease, demonstrating with alarming accuracy the many attitudes and behaviours that are associated with being over-busy. I was particularly challenged by the thought that intentional or not stating ‘I am busy’ pushes people away, the decoded message being that ‘I am too important to spend time with you’. Ouch!

He goes on to show how the disease of busyness its roots in the systemic changes in the patterns of work and rest that have evolved from the pre industrial era, through the industrial age into the present post-industrialised world that exists in countries like the UK.

No book on busyness would quite be complete without some practical hints on time management, and this is no exception. Indeed many readers will recognise the tips given from other specialist guides on the subject. Where Tim Chester’s book differs, and in my view wins, is that he regards these tools as addressing the symptoms rather than treating the disease.

The second half of the book comprises 6 chapters, each addressing the attitudes of our hearts that incline us to embrace the tyranny of busyness. The crux of the argument is that busyness is not something imposed upon us by forces outside our control. Rather we are driven by desires within our own spirit that we subconsciously believe are satisfied by busyness. As a result we have a love hate relationship with being busy. We loath the stress and burn out that it causes yet crave the significance that it seductively seems to offer. The solution is to accept the rest that Jesus offers those who are weary and burdened. To allow him to satisfy those desires and cravings in our hearts in a way that busyness never will. The antidote to busyness is not doing less, or being more efficient, it is to place our trust completely in Christ.

This is one of those books that the people who most need to read it will claim that they can’t afford the time!

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Is God anti-gay? – by Sam Allberry

IsGodAntiGay There are many issues that face the modern church that cause much division between sincere followers of Jesus as they try to work out a biblical position. Few can cause as much pain and confusion as the issue of homosexuality. The recent legislative change in the UK (and many other western democracies) approving of same sex marriages only adds to the challenge.

Sam Allberry is uniquely positioned to help us in this matter, combining his role as a church pastor with his own journey as a man who experiences ‘same sex attraction’. Sam candidly describes how he came to terms with experiencing homosexual feelings as a teenager and now as an ordained minister. He writes: ‘When someone says they’re gay, or for that matter, lesbian or bisexual, they normally mean that, as well as being attracted to someone of the same gender, their sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves. And it’s for this reason that I tend to avoid using the term. It sounds clunky to describe myself as “someone who experiences same-sex attraction”. But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognise that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.’

Sam reminds us that Jesus Christ said that everyone who follows him is called to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He explains that understood properly this truth means the challenge of following Jesus demands our absolute obedience regardless of our sexuality: ‘Ever since I have been open about my own experiences of homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: “the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me”, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.’

Sam commences his exposition in chapter 1 by examining the biblical foundations of marriage as God’s baseline plan for sexuality. He argues that marriage is meant to reflect something of God’s nature, so that the unity between a married man and a woman is a reflection of the unity of the three persons of the Trinity. He then argues that a key purpose of marriage is to provide a secure environment for procreation of children. Thirdly he argues that biblical marriage reflects the grace of Christ in uniting Him with his people. It is this union of Christ and the church which leads us to understand that a marriage is intended to be the union of dissimilar people – a man and a woman, rather than two men or two women.

In chapter 2 Sam explores what the bible has to say about homosexuality. He emphasises that there are only a handful of passages that directly mention homosexuality, so it is not the main priority of biblical revelation and therefore needs to be understood in the light of bigger themes of scripture. However, he demonstrates that the teaching of Old and New Testament is unequivocally that homosexual acts of any kind, in common with many other sins, are an abomination to God. In chapter 3 Sam shows us how, like every other sin, homosexual acts can be forgiven. He also shows how those who have truly repented will have the desire to stop sinning. Sam acknowledges that while some people who repent and follow Jesus are no longer attracted to people of the same sex that is not true for everyone. Indeed his own testimony is that he still experiences this temptation, yet his desire not to sin is stronger, so he is able to choose not to give in to it.

In chapters 4 and 5 Sam provides helpful pastoral guidance on how we should respond to people with same-sex attraction within the church and within the wider community. In both cases we may need to acknowledge that our own personal history has been judgemental and even homophobic. However, having repented of such attitudes, he shows us how we can offer genuine compassion and support to people who face this particular temptation just as we would for people facing any other temptation and help them find complete fulfilment in Christ. In his conclusion he writes: This is, ultimately, the promise of the gospel. …. It is Jesus who satisfies our deepest emotional and spiritual needs. He is the prize – for all of us, irrespective of our issues and complexities. Anyone who comes to him will find fullness of life.

To conclude, this book provides a succinct, challenging, yet accurate interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this subject. It is written with compassion and provides hope for those who, in Jesus words, ‘have ears to hear.’ His conclusions run counter to the PC agenda of western society and so will no doubt offend many. Nevertheless I believe the honesty and personal vulnerability which he has demonstrated in this short, readable book serves the church well and provides a clarion call to those who seek to faithfully follow Jesus.

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Living the Dream – by Dave Smith

LivingTheDream Many people are familiar with the life of Joseph. Whether it is because it is a Sunday school favourite, or as a result of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, the story is always popular. The tale of a young man who has dreams, who is set upon by his older brothers, who conquers adversity and rises to be second only to Pharaoh is one that fires imaginations. Add in the sub plot of family fragmentation and then ultimately unexpected reconciliation and it is hardly surprising that ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ became a worldwide hit.

The biblical account of Joseph’s life however is far more than entertainment. It sets the scene for the big picture. It marks the transition from a family descended from Abraham to a nation in slavery. The account in itself provides a cameo of salvation, foreshadowing the salvation won for us in Christ. Yet on a more practical level, each of the episodes of Joseph’s life can also teach us important lessons on how to live the Christian life – examples to follow and mistakes to avoid.

Drawing on his experience as pastor of KingsGate Community Church in Peterborough, which has seen remarkable growth, Dave Smith uses the life of Joseph as an illustration of how to live the dream; how to seize our destiny and fulfil our potential in Christ. In this book he shows how God has a wonderful plan for our lives and he wants us to live it! The story of Joseph is particularly helpful because it shows us the progression of Gods dealings in a person’s life and therefore has the power to speak to us through all the seasons of our life.

This book will be a great accompaniment to the preaching series we will be following through July and August looking at the life of Joseph.

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To Catch a Thief – by Richard Taylor

ToCatchAThief Richard Taylor was born in Llanelli, Wales; the eldest of four boys he was largely raised by his mother on her own, his father having left them when he was still quite a small boy. Richard grew up on a tough estate and quickly became established as a petty thief in order to fund his drug addiction. During his early teenage years he introduced numerous friends to drugs and crime but escaped prison due to his age. However as he grew older he eventually ended up doing time in prison.

His life finally reached a crisis when he turned 18. Senses dulled by drugs he and a mate burgled a house that wasn’t empty and he was recognised and caught and placed on remand for 6 months. During the remand period he was befriended by a prison chaplain and began to experience something of God’s peace in his life. This led to his referral to Victory Outreach and a woman called Dinah Sansome. She saw that God had his hand upon Richard and intervened on his behalf so that, instead of receiving a custodial sentence, he was bailed to Victory Outreach. Within a few days of starting to live at this centre he had an extraordinary encounter with God that led to him becoming a follower of Jesus and also instantly and miraculously being set free from drug and alcohol addiction.

Written in a pacy style this book details Richard’s criminal past and recounts his encounter with Christ. Not covered in the book he is now the Director of Victory Outreach and is founding Pastor of multiple site Victory Church. Victory Church in Cwmbran has recently become well known as the focus of a move of God’s Spirit known as Welsh Outpouring. Richard has also been a presenter on the 2002 TV series ‘To catch a thief’

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The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – by Timothy Keller 

TheFreedomOfSelfForgetfulness What are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God? If we trust in Christ, what should our hearts be like? It is not simply a matter of morally virtuous behaviour. It is quite possible to do all sorts of morally virtuous things when our hearts are filled with fear, with pride or with a desire for power. We are talking about hearts that have been changed, at root by the grace of God – and what that looks like in real life. So opens this brief 45 page book written by Tim Keller.

Expounding Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, Keller addresses the modern preoccupation with self-esteem. He analyses the way that both low self-esteem and high self-esteem have their roots in seeking the approval of man. Keller argues that true self identity is found from understanding that the only opinion that matters is Christ’s. The crucial difference being that in Christ the verdict is given before the performance! Paul is saying that in Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict.

Living in the security of this truth, Keller states, is the key to true humility:A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. The toes just work;the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.
Perfect freedom is found only when our sole concern is what Jesus thinks of us and that is grounded in the truth that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’

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Red Moon Rising – by Pete Grieg & Dave Roberts 

RedMoonRising A movement began in 1999 that has affected more than 50 nations of the world. Starting with a group of young people in the ancient West Sussex city of Chichester, a chain of 24-7 prayer has spread from North to South and East to West. Not just in the UK or even Europe, but from Communist China to Washington DC. Prayer rooms have been established across the globe gathering people from different expressions of Christianity to pray round the clock. Meeting in places as diverse as caravans and nightclubs the prayer rooms, known as ‘Boiler Rooms’, have experienced the power of God in remarkable ways.

As is so often the case with a move of God, this movement started by accident and has been led by self-effacing people who are as surprised as anyone at what they have seen happen. This book recounts the story and shows how God has connected people together from different corners of the earth with a common passion to seek God in prayer. People who have attended these Boiler Rooms have sometimes come intending to spend only a few minutes in prayer and ended up staying for several hours. Others have walked in off the street to seek sanctuary, whilst yet others have come declaring a desire to become followers of Jesus. The common thread has been a willingness to persevere as this quote highlights:

 PUSH (Pray Until Something Happens) Perseverance has been a key theme for 24-7. In many ways continual prayer is exactly that – a refusal to quit! With all the encouragements and even miracles of the first few years of this crazy movement it would be easy to make it sound as if everything is easy or automatic, when he reality is that we all live with far more frustrations in prayer than breakthroughs. We are called to persevere as we seek to love God, love one another and love the lost. (p239)

The authors identify three characteristics of prayer that is central to the ethos of the Boiler Rooms:

Intimacy: 24-7 prayer is not simply about functionality – adding effectiveness to the things we do. First and foremost a Boiler Room is about friendship with God and, as in any relationship, intimacy grows from time spent with the one we love.

Infection: And the thing about hanging out in God’s presence is that it is contagious. When an individual develops intimacy with God they inevitably become infected with his life and love. Just as infections spread when one person breathes on another, so God’s breath conveys the same life-giving power today that it did on the day he created Adam from the dust. It is through intimacy with God that we become infectious carriers of his life-breath. And a contagious Christian is an effective one.

Effectiveness: A Boiler Room is a centre for transformation, but before we see the changes reported in the newspapers, we will experience them in our lives. You don’t need 24-7 or a Boiler Room to discover intimacy with God, but maybe it can help! (p274)

Interwoven amongst the details of this present move of God are snippets from the history of earlier prayer movements, most notably Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians whose 24 hour prayer meeting lasted 100 years. As you read this book, allow yourself to be provoked and encouraged. I expected to find the story of persevering prayer to leave me feeling guilty and inadequate. Instead I find myself stirred inside; praying ‘God, could it happen here? God, let it happen here!’

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