Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Morning

Wishing all my readers a blessed and happy Christmas.

Rejoice! The Saviour is born.

Listen to the Christmas Story on Audio here:

Friday, December 21, 2012

They won't be expecting that.

A brilliant retelling of the story by Simone over at http://www.greatfun4kidsblog.com/

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Family Prayers and Slow Advent

It was this comment by Tim Chesterton that got me thinking:

“…it's more to do with how you see your family - are they competition for your prayer life, or are they your praying community? So do you take your 20 minutes and sneak off to the least noisy room in the house - or do you start with the assumption 'This is my praying community - I need to find a way of praying that works for us as a family'?
Far too many … spend their time struggling to pray with the non-existent community they wish they were praying with, rather than the actual community God has given them.
It seems to me that celibate/monastic spirituality is based on the assumption that a person will have ready access to solitude and silence at any time. Family life is not that sort of atmosphere, so we need to find a way of discipleship/spirituality that grows naturally out of that environment.

I’m a working Mum.  Finding quiet time to pray without interruption is very challenging.  But Tim’s comment shifted that – rather than finding ways to pray away from my family, to try finding ways to pray with my family.

2012-12-005It was timely that I read this just at the beginning of advent.  A new start for a new season.  I raided the emergency candle stash, found a tin foil plate and some tinsel and quickly created a basic Advent wreath.  Okay, the candles aren’t traditional colours, and the blu-tac is a little bit wobbly, but it works.

After dinner that night, at the beginning of December, I sat the family down and lit the first candle.  We read from the Bible through the Seasons resource, and we prayed together.  The children loved the idea.  It’s now the third week of Advent and we now have three candles lit each evening. 2012-12-18 18.32.01

It’s part of slowing down instead of always being busy. I’ve been reading lots of your blogs out there with all the wonderful crafts and activities you’re doing with your families, and its great.  But this year I’m choosing to do less, and spend more time praying and reflecting.

Can I encourage you to join me in a Slow Advent for this last week before Christmas? “As Slow Food is to Fast Food - so Slow Advent is to most people's "Season of Advent".”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Practical Prayer

“I’m sorry, I’m not really into prayer.”  This response to my suggestion we become prayer partners honestly surprised me.  I know my friend to have a deep, sincere faith, a thorough knowledge of the Bible, and the kind of insight, wisdom and spiritual discernment I had just assumed came from an active prayer life.
I can’t remember now where on the Internet I read the book review about Kneeling with Giants by Gary Neal Hansen. (I think it might have been here).  But something about the review piqued my interest.  It might have been the way it referred back to the “giants” of Church history, like Benedict, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and others. It might have been because it seemed to offer very practical advice on how to pray not just the why it’s important.
My local library has a service where you can request a book for them to purchase if they don’t already have it in their catalogue, and it gets reserved for you once it/when they buy it.  So I put in my request.
If only this book had been available in 2011!  The most significant symptom of my post-earthquake trauma was that at the time I most wanted to and needed to pray, I found I couldn’t.  There was no lack of faith, God was still there, but I just couldn’t pray.  The turning point in my recovery has been learning to pray again.  The first half of this year I worked really hard on practicing regular daily prayer.  I managed to keep it up until the end of the Easter season, but once winter started to bite, and I slid into my hibernation mode, my daily prayer routine fell back out again. 
It was a couple of months later that I finally got the email that it was ready for me to borrow. By the time I finished reading the introduction I realised I’d need longer than the 4 weeks the library would lend it to me for, so promptly ordered my own copy through www.bookdepository.co.uk. (I love the free worldwide shipping!)
Gary Neal Hansen describes ten different ways of praying, from the teachings of ten of history’s best teachers.  He draws on the writings and teachings as diverse as Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican all the way through to Evangelical and Charismatic.  Then he gives practical guidance on how to actually practice praying in each of these traditions, and discusses objectively the pros and cons of each one.
As the author says in his introduction: “It is a pity that so many Christians do not have ways to pray that they find life giving.  …countless faithful people learn one way to pray – from a book, their pastor or their own imagination – and if it does not seem joyful when they try it, they figure they are just not good at prayer.”
Originally written for a Theological Seminary course, it is also written in a style that as a lay-person I found it approachable and easy to read.  I’ll be honest though – when it comes to putting in the practice, I’m still working on the first three chapters! 
I’d love to be able to work through this with a small group or a prayer partner.  Although the friend at the beginning of this post with was willing, we are both busy Mums with young children, and we just haven’t found a time yet that works for us to meet regularly.  However, I saw a rumour on Facebook that our Church Administrator had ordered a copy, and I have hinted about the small group study material in the appendix.
P.S. Neither Gary Neal Hansen nor Book Depository have sponsored this post.  All opinions are my own.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My top 20 Christian books + wish-list


I read this post about the top 25 must-read Christian books.  I’ve only read two from that list, although I’ve heard of most of them and read extracts from a few others.

I thought I’d compile my own personal list of the top Christian books that I have actually read, and that have helped inform and shape my faith over the years.

1.  The Bible.  The original list assumed the Bible was an “of course”, but sometimes I find myself in conversation with other believers that leaves me wondering how much of the Bible they’ve actually read through, not just re-reading ones favourite chapters over and again.  Children’s Bible Story books only count if you have a children’s reading level.  There are so many Bible reading plans out there, most take you though the Bible from Genesis to Revelation over 12 months, other work through chronologically.

2012-12-02 15.58.21
When I was a teenager and new to the faith I spent a summer reading my NIV Study Bible for hours at a time.  I still have the same Bible 20-something years later, although I’ve made a couple of different covers for it at different times.  This is it’s current appearance.

2. Mere Christianity by C S Lewis.  My copy is an older edition, but the words are ageless.

3. The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis

4. ‘Till We Have Faces
by C S Lewis
– it wasn’t easy finding a copy of this when I first tried to read it.  I eventually got an old copy through the inter-library loan system.  I have later bought a Selected Works by C S Lewis that included this.

5. The Great Divorce by C S Lewis -  Another one in my Selected Works.  Not what I expected it would be, but I keep coming back to it.  I find it a challenging look at how preciously we hold onto what is eternally superficial – even “Good” stuff and “Religious” stuff can become stumbling blocks.

. Surprised by Joy by C S Lewis – Lewis’ autobiography, but with some profound messages throughout about the meaning of Joy and some of the reasoning for his faith. 

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  I tried starting a blog series on this a while back but didn’t get very far with it.  I’ve read the book through but I’m still working on putting it into practice.  The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is because of so many C S Lewis books get in the way.

8. Kneeling with Giants
by Gary Neal Hansen
– This would be the newest book on my list but it’s on the way to becoming a much loved classic already.  Published in June 2012.  A journey through praying alongside Church history’s greatest – from Saint Augustine through to the Pentecostal styles.  This is deserving of a more thorough book review so a separate post on this will follow.

9. The Pilgrim’s Progress
by John Bunyan

10-12. The Case for the Creator, The Case for Christ, the Case for Faith etc.. by Lee Strobel.  Lee Strobel was an atheist, and a journalist, and in 1979 began two years of investigating the claims of Christianity with an intention to disprove them. He became a Christian in 1981, and write about the evidence he found that convinced him of the truth of Christianity.

13-14. In His Steps and Jesus is Here by Charles Sheldon.  The first of these was republished a few years ago with the title “What Would Jesus Do” and go a lot of hype and merchandising along with it, then everyone got tired of it and it went away again.  I’d read the book before it was popular, and still believe it to be a classic to return to and be reminded of.

15. Church History In Plain Language Bruce L. Shelley.  I read a borrowed copy of this several years ago, and it’s on my wish-list to own my own copy so I can re-read it.  I believe it’s important to know why we believe what we do and how Christianity has developed over the generations. 

16. Know the Truth by Bruce Milne - Another part of knowing what we believe as Christians and why we believe what we do.  This book is a good lay-persons summary of basic Christian theology, without getting too bogged down in the serious textbooks that are written for theological students.

17. A Prisoner and Yet by Corrie ten Boom
- Not the first book that comes up on a Google search for this author, but the one I happen to own a copy of. (My copy is a plain hardback with no dustcover, but anyway…)  It’s not just a story of how Corrie ten Boom survived Nazi prison camps, but also with important lessons about how faith sustains you in the face of that kind of suffering.

18. Honest to God by Bill Hybels  Being a real and authentic believer is important to me and I think this is the book that probably taught that to me.  Echoes back to “Till We Have Faces” above – the challenge is to remove the masks we wear and be honest before God and each other.

19. Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend
I read this one when I was first married, and while I haven't reread it, I do think the principles covered in this book are still important to me.

20. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  Actually I’m not convinced about this been in the top 20, but I’m trying to make up to an even number of what I have read without resorting to more works by C.S. Lewis or novels.

Now for the “Want to read” wish-list:

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I recently read a modern biography on Bonhoeffer which has inspired me to put this on my wish-list, as well as any other works I can find that have been translated to English.  A man who not just wrote about the cost of discipleship, but paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.

2-3. The Everlasting Man
and Orthodoxy  by G. K. Chesterton – an author who influenced C. S. Lewis whom you may have gathered has been a strong influence to me.

The Practice of the Presence of God  by Brother Lawrence I’ve come across references to this book in a number of others I’ve read, and would like to read it for myself instead of just reading about it.

5. Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill – This one joined my wish-list from Lent Madness earlier this year, when Evelyn Underhill was one of the “saints” facing off. I was actually quite disappointed when she lost to Mary Magdalene in round two.

6. Phantastes By George MacDonald.  C. S. Lewis described George MacDonald as an author who “baptized his imagination.”

7-8. Confessions and The City of God By Saint Augustine. A bit like Bonhoeffer, I was inspired to put these on my wish-list after reading a biography I stumbled across at the local library.

I think I’ll be spending a bit more money at www.BookDepository.co.uk in the near future.  If my husband will let me.

What are the top books you’ve read? What’s on your wish-list?