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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Top 10 Christian Books Read in 2017

It’s time for my Christian book recommendations for 2017. My Goodreads 2017 Challenge lists 150 books. I anticipate slightly surpassing this target by the 31st.

For those that missed it, you can also see my 2016 selections.

In compiling my list, I have again tried to cover a range of genres and sub-genres which is quite tricky as I read a lot more biographies, (especially by or about missionaries,) than anything else. I prefer books with a clear Gospel message and Christian purpose in writing.

The majority of the books I recommend here are clean—no bad language or sexual content and limited graphic violence. Where there is slight deviation I have commented in my review so you should know what to expect. You can read my Goodreads reviews by clicking on the title link. The books appear in the order I read them in 2017.

1. God Planted Five Seeds- A lesser known missionary biography by the wife of one of five men martyred whilst trying to reach a remote tribe in Bolivia. They were serving with New Tribes Mission. This took place thirteen years before Jim Elliot and co were also killed trying to reach the infamous Auca tribe in Ecuador.

2. Bound by Guilt- This gets my vote for Christian fiction by a lesser known author. I was gripped by the story and stayed up late to finish it! This book is the second of four books in the Thicker Than Blood series. I also read the first book, Thicker Than Blood, and plan to read books three and four in due course.

3. The Atonement Child- Controversy seems to follow popular Christian fiction writer Francine Rivers. I have been horrified by the content in several of her books, Redeeming Love and Bridge to Haven. However, I loved this realistic and sad story about a young girl who falls victim to a rapist. The story is sensitively relayed and shocking graphic details avoided.

4. Mission Possible- This missionary biography about two women serving with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea is one of my favourite books of all time. The tragic and unnecessary death of a young boy within a short time of their arrival due to cultural practice will challenge anyone thinking about mission work.

On the missions front, I also enjoyed, When the Bamboo Sings and The Savage My Kinsman this year.

5. Agents of Babylon- A fictional narrative describing a possible end times scenario using the book of Daniel in the Bible. Each chapter gives a brief story followed by the theological explanation for the interpretation. This book helped me to understand the prophecies relating to the end times and really brought them to life. I recommend it regardless of your personal view as it will make you think. I also read, Agents of the Apocalypse, by the same author which focuses on Revelation.

6. I Am N- A contemporary account of persecution of Christians around the world, including by ISIS, from Voice of the Martyrs. I liked the combination of stories with the background, follow-up and aftermath. I have been frustrated by other popular accounts that either sensationalise with too much graphic detail, or embellish in order to sell books. The Insanity of God is one example that springs to mind.

7. Ark Fever- Most of you probably haven’t heard of this fascinating account of one man’s attempts to find Noah’s ark! It is told in a matter-of-fact, easy to read style that makes gripping reading. The conclusion is compelling; have people been searching in the wrong place?

8. There is Still Much to Do!- From the secretary of the Open Air Mission in England. This book is full of examples and conversations from the street. It is right up to date and a must read for anyone wanting to know how to get involved in evangelism. The author has also written, Why All the Suffering?, a useful resource.

9. The Parables of Jesus- MacArthur takes a fresh look at the parables explaining their relevance in the context of the Bible as a whole and seeking to apply them to our lives today. A great reminder to keep our focus on heavenly things and not to get caught up in the world.

10. Streets Paved with Gold- The history of the London City Mission. Although this book has been around for a while collecting dust, I absolutely loved it. In places, it reads like a Dickens novel as we walk with the missionaries through plagues, fires and war into the very heart of London’s poorest communities, to reach them with the love of Christ. Ending with a letter from a passer-by that should remind us that we never know who is watching!

I hope you will find some new recommendations to add to your shelves. I’ve been looking forward to reviewing my year of Christian books. Let me know your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Can We Unhijack Christmas?

It’s that time of year again.

People are fighting over giant screen TVs at Tesco, or is it Asda? Charities are making the most of the festive spirit to grab some much needed funds. Carols are being sung by all and sundry as the non-religious pile into church for their token yearly appearance. Adults are looking forward to the extra time off work as they plan menus…and ensure there is enough alcohol in the house. Children are getting excited about the impending visit of Santa Claus!

Meanwhile, Christians bemoan the fact that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost, but set about trying to make the most of the opportunity to reach their friends and neighbours with the Gospel, regardless.

I confess that I’ve been one of those serial complainers over the years as Christmas in the Western world seems to have been hijacked by the “any reason for a party” and the “spend, spend, spend” brigade.

So, what’s different about this year? you might be wondering.

Perhaps it’s just me, but there seems to be more religious apathy in the air this Christmas than usual. Granted, I have only spent one of the last six in this country, but the hard-heartedness and eye rolling is definitely more prominent than last year!

The reason Christians make a special effort to reach people at Christmas is because the opportunity is already there. There isn’t that awkwardness as you try to find a way to bring God or church into a conversation. People are already thinking about peace on earth and goodwill to all men and might well be interested in delving deeper into the matter.  

At least, this has been the case over the years as even those who can’t face any type of evangelism seem to find a way to gather the courage to invite people to their carol service.

This year, however, I witnessed contempt and mockery towards those of us who “still believe in God.” People annoyed by street preaching disrupting their shopping experience or even by carol singing reminding them of the birth of Jesus….and their sin. Others refusing the opportunity to listen to the Christmas Message or getting irritated by a Gospel leaflet offering them hope.

Mostly, though, it’s indifference rather than outright hostility: a lack of interest in anything religious and a failure to see the relevance for their lives here and now.

People are milling about, frantically making preparations for the biggest celebration of our annual calendar. Yet, so many now don’t believe the Bible story of Christmas or in the God who wrote it. 

What exactly are people celebrating? you might ask….

Why is our entire year geared towards preparing for this big event if no one remembers, or wants to know what it’s all about? Aren’t we then just akin to mindless lemmings going along with a senseless celebration because it cheers us up or gives us something to look forward to?

My brother had it right when he wrote this poem in his journal at some point before he tragically died in a car accident at the age of 18, in 2002:

“We spend our entire lives searching for happiness and never find it.
Somehow we believe in a forlorn hope that things can only get better.
As we grow old we still cannot grasp the reality of life.
We console ourselves by saying, ‘we had a good life.’
And the blindness that enshrouds us makes us believe this until we die.
What is the reality of life?
That life is meaningless without God.”

 James Vellacott (1984-2002)

We have been designed to worship the God who created us. If we reject Him, our sinful nature will just find something, or someone else to worship; food, possessions, money, alcohol and sex will all be distractions and idols for many this Christmas.

Is it even possible for the true meaning of Christmas to be presented to needy souls this year? Of course it is, anything is possible with God.

The real question is, will you be listening? and what will be your response?

"For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

John 3 vs 16

Annie the Agnostic (Chapter 1)

This is the first chapter of a new book I'm working on. Your comments, thoughts, suggestions and criticism are welcome!

 Annie realises that she is lying face down on the ground. As she takes a quick glance around, without lifting her head, all she can see is a dazzlingly bright light. There is something dreadful and brilliant about the light that makes Annie afraid to look at it.
Where is she? The last thing she can remember is that she had been lying in a hospital bed. That’s right, it was a routine operation to remove a cyst. Her family had come to visit her before she had been put to sleep.
Am I still being operated on? Is this what it’s meant to be like? Annie isn’t sure and she feels uneasy.
A loud voice sounds, “Rise up Annie Yale. We have business to do.”
Annie puts her hands over her ears. She can’t stand the awesomeness of the voice. It’s almost painful.
Just a strange dream probably caused by the hospital drugs, Annie thinks. Nothing to worry about. I wish it would end, though. It’s pretty realistic.
“It’s not a dream Annie, something went wrong during the operation. We are going to examine your life and you will need to give an account of it,the voice again, pure, perfect and awesome.
“How can that be? I’m still young and have a lot of time left. It was a routine operation. That’s what they said.” Annie starts to panic as she realises what the voice is telling her.
I’m dead?!
Annie plucks up the courage to lift her head and look at the figure standing in front of her. All she can see is the light and the outline of a man.
“You know Who I am , don’t you Annie?” the man speaks to her. His voice is firm but there is a hint of sadness.
“You are Jesus.” The clarity hits Annie. She knows Who this man is.
“You’re wondering how you recognise Me,” the man says. The sadness is unmistakable this time. “I’ve always been there but you never trusted Me.”
Annie recalls how she fell to the ground on arriving in this place and seeing the bright light. “Where is that light coming from? It’s almost blinding.”
Jesus shakes His head sadly, “Oh Annie. You have far greater problems than that and they will be with you for eternity.”
“What? What do you mean?” Annie is shaken by His words. They have the ring of Truth. Annie is afraid. “Is this heaven?”
“What do you think?” Jesus asks as He gazes at her sorrowfully.
“It doesn’t seem like it as I didn’t think I would feel afraid in heaven.” Annie hadn’t realised that she had even believed in a place called heaven until now.
“It’s not heaven. It’s Judgement Day. You are standing before the throne of God and we are about to look at your life in detail,” Jesus explains.
“What will happen at the end?” Annie whispers. She’s almost afraid to ask the question.
“Everything depends on whether the things you did wrong on earth have been dealt with,” Jesus is patient.
Annie thinks of the good things she has done in comparison with the bad.
“No, not like that,” Jesus clarifies.
“How do you know what I’m thinking?” Annie feels exposed. She doesn’t like it.
“Everything is about to be revealed,” Jesus says. “Right, let’s begin.”

Annie is now sitting on a small chair. Two brightly coloured beings are either side of her. Annie guesses they must be angels. Glancing to her side, Annie can see the big throne with the brilliant light and the man called Jesus, that she’d immediately recognised.
A big screen is in front of them.
A movie? Annie is still thinking about the Words of Jesus but she doesn’t really understand.
The screen flashes and to Annie’s horror the title appears: “The life of Annie Yale (1971-2017)”. We aren’t seriously going to watch a movie of my whole life? I wonder how much detail there will be.
Annie doesn’t have to wonder about this for long as the first scene begins with clips of her as a baby. She is gurgling and laughing and throwing food around. Annie smiles, well at least this part is good. The thought has only just left her mind when the images change. Annie appears as a toddler screaming and shouting at her parents. Then, deliberately tearing a book to pieces and thumping her younger brother David. Annie turns her head away in shame and embarrassment. Then, she thinks better of it, I was just a small child. We all do things wrong at that age, she reassures herself.
Jesus and the angels are silent as the movie continues. Annie feels uncomfortable and has the sudden urge to speak, “Where did you get this footage from?” Even as she says it, she realises the foolish nature of her question.
“I am everywhere and see everything,” Jesus answers.
One of the angels pauses the movie.
Are we really going to sit here and watch the whole of my life? Annie wonders.
“Yes, Annie. It’s the only way for Me to examine it completely and for you to account for it,” Jesus is still patient. Annie realises this is His nature.
“Can’t we just skip to the end so that I know what happens?” Annie feels desperate. She has a horrible feeling about this.
“You already know what will happen, Annie,” Jesus says sadly. “You’ve never trusted Me with your life or had your sin forgiven. You can’t enter heaven.”
“So what are we doing this for? Isn’t it pointless?” Annie asks although she has a feeling that nothing that is done in this place is ever pointless.
“This is so you know that your punishment is just, fair and right,” Jesus tells her.
“Punishment? What punishment? How long will it last?” Annie doesn’t understand.
“Oh Annie, it’s forever. You rejected the only way for your sins to be forgiven on earth.” A tear appears in Jesus’ eye as he explains.
“Forever? But surely there’s something I can do?” Annie starts to cry softly at first. She wants to believe that this man is lying but deep down she knows that He cannot lie. Perhaps I can reason with Him. “I didn’t reject God on earth, well not completely,” Annie points out.
“Let’s look at the evidence, shall we?” Jesus answers her in a way that causes Annie to fall silent once more. They both turn back to the movie.
Annie in now about four and is trotting into a Sunday school class. She sits and listens as the elderly lady tells the story of Jonah and the big fish to a group of about ten children.
“See, look, I did learn about God. I didn’t reject Him.” Annie stops crying and feels vindicated by the discovery. She’d forgotten that she went to Sunday school all those years ago. Phew, that was close. Now I know why my mum forced me to go. Thanks mum!
There is no response from those watching the movie with her. They don’t seem impressed by her Sunday school attendance. As they continue watching, a bubble appears above Annie’s head on the screen. In it is written, “I wonder which dolly mummy will buy me. I like the pink Barbie one best. Oh, this is really boring. I hope it will finish soon.”
Annie flushes red. She wants to run to the screen and flick off the monitor. Surely, they can’t be planning to watch all of my thoughts as well as my actions? I don’t remember even playing with Barbies. Maybe it’s just a guess based on what other children were doing at the time. It can’t be my real thoughts, can it?
“It’s much more accurate than that Annie. I told you, I see everything,” Jesus tells her whilst keeping focused on the movie.
Annie hangs her head in shame and dreads what’s coming next.

Annie sees images of herself at about seven. She is dashing around with other children at a park. Her mum is standing nearby with adults she vaguely recognises as being some of the parents of her school friends.
“So, Annie got tired of Sunday school in the end?” one of the ladies asks her mother.
“Yes, I don’t think she was really into it anyway. I only sent her as it seemed like the right thing to do, and it gave me a chance to get some house stuff done,” Annie’s mum replies.
“It’s a nice story for kids, but then they reach a certain age,” another lady has joined the conversation.
“At least you tried it. Got to be open minded and let them look into all the religions,” a fourth voice is heard.
The angels look dismayed. “Shall we move this forward?” they are addressing Jesus.
“Yes, but first. I just want Annie to see a little of her friend Jessica,” Jesus says. “You remember Jessica, don’t you Annie?”
“Sort of, she was one of the other kids from church and we also went to school together. I don’t remember seeing her much after the first few years at school, though,” Annie remembers. She is curious.
“No, she took a very different path to you,” one of the angels speaks to Annie for the first time.
Jesus looks at the angel. “Let her see for herself. That’s the best way.”
A small girl with dark hair and plaits appears on the screen. She is kneeling by her bed and it looks like she is praying. “Dear God, please forgive my sin. I know you will because Jesus died for me and made me clean. Help me to do what’s right. Also, please get Annie to come back to Sunday school and to be my friend again. Amen.” The little girl gets up and into bed where she picks up a book and starts reading.
Annie is astounded. “She prayed for me. Why? I don’t even really remember her.”
“She prayed for you a lot for a few years. You moved away from her as you found new friends. Jessica’s name is in here.” The angel speaking pats a huge book on a table that Annie hadn’t even noticed until now.
She looks at the cover, The Book of Life. “What is that?”
“It’s where the names of all those who have trusted Me for forgiveness of their sin are recorded.” Jesus has been listening to the conversation and now He speaks.
“So, what happens to people whose names aren’t there?” Annie asks. She knows her name won’t be there but she keeps hoping there is a way out of the mess she is in.
“We spoke about this before Annie. They will be punished forever. Let’s watch some more of the film,” Jesus instructs.
Jessica wanted to be a good friend and cared about me. I wish I’d paid more attention. Things could’ve been so different. Annie realises that even at a young age she had been given a friend who could have helped her onto the right path.