Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When People are Big and God is Small

When People are Big and God is Small, Ed Welch
  • Do you care more about what people think of you than how God views your sin?
  • Are your actions motivated by what others will think?
  • Does fear of shame or embarrassment guide what you say and do?
  • Do you desire the good opinion of others?
  • Do you avoid telling people the gospel because of what they will think of you?
Well perhaps you (like me!) tend to fear man more than you fear God. In this excellent book, Ed Welch shows that our self-esteem issues, competition, peer-pressure and dependence on others are all the same thing – a fear of man, where other people are the driving force behind our thoughts and actions.

Welch explores three themes in this book:
  1. We must determine how and why we fear others – it is a fear of shame or rejection or because we feel threatened. All of these are real drivers which explain our fear of man, but until we realise which factors guide us, we cannot respond to them properly.
  2. We must realise that God is bigger than people. The person who truly fears God will fear nothing else. We must grow in our knowledge and love of God.
  3. We must love people more, but need people less. Therefore people’s opinions and reactions to me will no longer guide me, for I live in the fear of the Lord. Yet in truly loving God I am free to and serve people more.
Through this process, Welch interacts with current counselling methods and critiques them. He particularly focuses on the risk of talking to people about their felt needs, such as their need to be loved and their need for healthy self-esteem. In the end it is all driven by a fear of man – to be loved, to be liked, to feel my needs met. Instead he says:
“The most basic question of human existence becomes “How can I bring glory to God?” – not “How will God meet my psychological longings?” These create very different tugs on our hearts: one constantly pulls us outward toward God, the others pulls us inward toward ourselves.” (p158)
When I reviewed Compared to Her earlier this year, I noted how helpful it was in identifying the issues of comparison among people (mainly women), yet in the comments I did agree that I wanted more detail on how to live in a more godly way with the temptations that comparison brings. I feel this book has given me more tools to do that, it is longer and more comprehensive.

I personally found this book quite challenging. I read it with certain issues of my own fear of man in mind and so when I purposely did some of the exercises at the end of the chapters, I found them helpful in making me work through things in detail where I fail in this area and how I could move forward.

As I can’t imagine anyone out there not struggling with these issues in some way, it is recommended reading for everyone!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nearing Home

Nearing Home, Billy Graham

Many years ago, I greatly enjoyed reading Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am. Written in 1997, he makes the statement “I know that my life will soon be over. I thank God for it, and for all he has given me in this life” (p729).

So, it has come as somewhat of a surprise to Graham, who was convinced he would die sooner worn out from service of God, that he still lives. Aged 93 (when published in 2011), he says:
I never thought I would live to be this old.

All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how to live in the years before I die. I wish they had because I am an old man now, and believe me, it’s not easy. (vii)
Thankfully for the rest of us, he has not sat around pondering such thoughts on his own, but gathered them all together in this excellent book dealing with growing older and how to tackle our ‘senior years’.

Solidly based in the gospel, Graham takes every opportunity throughout this book to clearly explain what Christ has done and how we trust in his grace through faith.

As he walks us through thinking about retirement, planning for the future practically (wills, etc), how to proactively be involved with grandchildren, how to make sure our foundation is Christ is secure and how we look forward to heaven, he gives practical advice and biblical encouragement along the way.

Here are some of his thoughts along the way:
Just because we are retired does not mean our work is done. Retirement provides us the opportunity to spend more time doing God’s work, serving others in the name of the Lord. (p41)

See your retirement as a gift from God. Retirement isn’t something that just happens if you live long enough, and it isn’t even a reward for your years of hard work; it is a gift from God. Once you understand this, you will approach your retirement differently.’ (p44)

The things we value during the prime of life will follow us into the twilight years. If we wisely value faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it will strengthen us as we age. (p53)

God’s will is for you to become spiritually mature, growing stronger in your relationship to Christ and your service for Him. But this takes both time and effort. Conversion is the work of an instant; spiritual maturity is the work of a lifetime. (p149)

The final chapter reminds us what we look forward to as we near home: heaven. Heaven is glorious, perfect, joyous, active and certain: “you have reason to look forward to the glories of Heaven, for you will be perfected, you will be joyful, you will once again be active, and right now you can be certain that you are nearing home. (p180)

A great book for those approaching retirement or facing old age, and for any of us who want to understand it better.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Raising Girls

Raising Girls, Steve Biddulph

Having read Raising Boys many years ago as well as other Biddulph books (The Secret of Happy Children, etc), I was pleased to see he has a book for girls out now.

For those of us trying to navigate raising girls, it’s a good resource. He identifies that girls today have lost 4 years of childhood peace and development that we once had, so our 18 is their 14 and our 14 is their 10.  Which means that for parents, we need to be addressing issues with our growing girls much earlier than we ourselves ever needed such information.  I know many parents find this a challenge. Of course, it is the same for boys; I am constantly surprised at the conversations I already having with my 10 year old son!

Biddulph divided this book into 3 sections. Part 1 is the stages of girlhood. I was pleased to discover we have already passed 2 of those stages so I only skim-read them, and concentrated on the 5-10 years and 10-14 years chapters.

There was one main thing I came away with from each:
  1. 5-10 year old girls need to be taught how to be a friend and what makes a good friend. It’s a very helpful thing to be pro-active about and something they need to learn to help them for the rest of their lives.
  2. 10-14 year olds – help them find what excites them, their ‘spark’. I found this a helpful idea to be aware of and earlier than I probably would have thought of it.
Part 2 deals with the five main risk areas for girls, which you could probably guess:
  • Our sexualised culture
  • Mean girls
  • Body image, weight and food
  • Alcohol and other drugs
  • The online world
None of these issues are new to any of us, they just present different parenting challenges for each age group. This whole section was helpful at identifying the issues.

The final part looks at girls and their parents, which has a chapter for both mums and dads. Both of these are helpful reminders of things we can do that are helpful and things to try avoid.

Overall, it’s a helpful book, it gives to some good ideas and walks parents through the challenges we and our girls face.

However, it has reminded me again of why secular parenting books are so limited. There is no overarching philosophy, no mind-set that drives it. It is just a collation of good, sensible ideas. It is not until we look to the gospel and find that we and our daughters must find our identity in Christ alone and that our value comes from how God sees us that we can be free from the messages of the world. That we are called to live in a way that honours him and so we raise our children to do the same. Without this perspective we have no grace, no hope and no true identity.

So by all means read this book and get some good tips and ideas. But remember the bigger picture of the truths you are raising your daughter to know. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Surprised by Oxford

Surprised By Oxford, Carolyn Weber

I loved this open, honest and sometimes raw autobiographical account of one woman’s gradual coming to faith over her first year of doctoral studies at Oxford.

Written by a literature scholar, it is full of poetry and abounds with literary references, so will delight those who love the written word. Yet, because the subject matter is so important and life-changing, it raises the writing to a whole new level.

Structured around the calendar year of study, Weber openly walks us through her questions, doubts, uncertainties and challenges as she considered who God is, what he has done and how faith and reason can co-exist and complement one another.

I found there was something here for new converts, searchers, old converts, and those who grew up in the faith. It is of particular help for both those who are highly educated and yet wonder if there is more to this life; and also for those who walk alongside them to understand that faith can come gradually, with the asking of many questions and voicing of many doubts.

It is clear that God placed her in Oxford to learn of Him that year. She had intelligent, educated friends and lecturers who were Christians. A fellow student clearly presented the gospel to her and helped her think more deeply about her ingrained beliefs and challenged those that did not stand up under scrutiny.

Here are some of her words along the journey:
“The morning after I heard the gospel, however, I woke up with what felt like a hangover. Little would I know it was of the spiritual kind that accompanies the inevitable dawn that life is not, perhaps, what we previously thought it was. And we cannot go back to pretending. What a headache to be caught in that liminal space! Literally.” (p100)

[About the bible] I devoured it, just as a best–selling book (which, coincidentally, it has always been). Even the long monotonous lists. Even the really weird stuff, most of so unbelievable as to only be true. I have to say I found it the most compelling piece of creative non-fiction I had ever read. If I sat around for thousands of years, I could never come up with what it proposes, let along how it intricately Genesis unfolds towards Revelation… No wonder this stuff causes war, I though as I read, between nations and within each of us.” (p103)

“Life is messy. Life is beautiful and terrible and messy. So why would we expect a faith in this life that is easy to understand? Why expect a gift wrapped up neatly within the tissues of our brains and tied with a nice bow of material clarity?“ (p178)

“To be one person one moment: lost. Then to be another person the next moment: found. It is the difference, as the saying really does go, between night and day. Outwardly I seemed the same, but inwardly everything had changed. I went to the window and watched the birth of the dawn. Everything, every thing appeared in this better light, this brighter light. (p270-1)

This book was a very special read, I highly recommend it.