Friday, 4 September 2015

The Life You Never Expected

Just received this thoughtful and valuable review from a couple who also parent special needs children:

The buckets of sound counsel in this book have been drawn from deep waters: ‘I am come into deep waters where the floods overflow me’ (Psalm 69:2).  Perhaps it is only those floundering in the ‘deep waters that cross life’s pathway’ that will fully appreciate the spiritual and practical wisdom that saturates these pages.

In ‘The life you never expected’ Andrew and Rachel Wilson write candidly about the shock, disappointment and frustration of adapting to a life that not only wasn’t expected, but wasn’t wanted.  As the shock subsides and a ‘new ordinary’ replaces former dreams, so the authors explore the ‘Jobesque’ conundrum of faith in suffering.

The sub-title ‘Thriving while parenting special needs children’ is somewhat misleading and unfortunate.  At best it suggests that this is some kind of lifestyle manual with a spiritual twist; at worst some sort of prosperity gospel tackling life’s most complex questions in a flippant and superficial manner.  The introduction soon allayed these fears as the authors acknowledge that they are ‘feeling for God’s purposes in the dark’, ‘the need to find God and lean on him in the storm’, concluding that ‘for us, nothing short of a Saviour is enough’. Amen, to that!

The real value of this book is the way that the short, punchy chapters shift the focus away from the self-pity, self-indulgence and bitterness that are the natural domain of those feeling the isolation and pain of coping with life with disability. Our thoughts and coping strategies are recalibrated - lifted above the temporal drudgery to the uplifting, eternal realities revealed in God’s word. Perhaps, at times, the book is not telling us anything we don’t already know or have not already considered – but it does crystallise our disjointed musings with its clarity of style and biblical insight.

A few highlights:

  • Thankfulness in a world of entitlement: ‘if what you have is greater than what you deserve, then that’s where thankfulness comes from. If what you think you deserve is greater than what you think you have, then that’s where bitterness comes from.’ And, of course, we deserve nothing – apart from death by sin. ‘Grace, by revealing both how much I have and how little I deserve, helps bring me to a place of humility and thankfulness’.
  • Individualitis and the dung gate: this chapter demolishes the notion that ‘the world is mainly about me’. Malchijah is put forward as a role model – ‘he sits marooned in the midst of an incredibly long and dull list of names in Nehemiah 3....All we know is that he spent a short period of his life doing something very mundane, very smelly and very unnoticeable: he fixed a Dung Gate. Yet in his mediocre, ordinary way, Malchijah, along with all the others, helped establish the kingdom of God on earth....I was always inclined to think that God’s purposes came about through great leaders...travelling preachers, justice campaigners....Mostly, however, they don’t. They come about through millions of unnamed people doing unheard of things, in unnoticeable ways, to the glory of God. Repairing a wall. Teaching a classroom of seven-year olds. Sweeping a street. Running a business. Raising autistic children. Fixing a dung gate.’ 
  • The true battle: ‘the fake battles are a whirlwind of phone calls, government services, websites, more phone calls, forms, applications, more phone calls. And each of these can distract me from the true battle, which more often than not, is not fought that way. Frequently , the weapons of the true battle include silence, prayer, thought, clinging onto a Scripture passage with my fingernails, singing through gritted teeth...reaching for Jesus through the mist of confusion or unanswered prayer....I love my kids most by not loving them the most, but by first loving Him’.

As might be expected from authors of a charismatic persuasion there is a chapter on healing, but, on the whole, this topic is handled in a fairly orthodox manner. Our bodies constantly heal themselves as part of what might be termed common grace; God can and occasionally does still heal miraculously if he chooses; the healing through means such as modern medicine is a gracious gift from a loving God; the healing in the last day when our bodies are raised incorruptible, spiritual, glorious – without affliction, pain or disability – ‘Autism and Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s are swallowed up in victory’.  

We recommend this wise and thought-provoking book to all who ‘sink in deep mire, where there is no standing’ who are ‘come into deep waters where the floods overflow’ (Psalm 69 v 14). It may be part of God’s sovereign purpose that the deep waters last a lifetime – but, as this books underlines, full provision has been made in the gospel for the life we didn’t expect. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

By Far Euphrates - Deborah Alcock

By Far Euphrates, a tale of Armenia in the 19th Century is particularly pertinent in 2015 as we remember the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  The history of Armenia is a complex one to untangle geographically and politically. This story is set near the Euphrates close to what is now the Turkey/Syria border and relates the details of the Hamidian Massacres in 1894-1896 which preceded the more well known Genocide in 1915. Interestingly it seems that a friend requested this particular book from Deborah Alcock.  This friend had lived through and suffered in the persecution and was desperate for the wider world to hear the truth of the depths that this area of the world had descended to.  Miss Alcock worked to a tight schedule and wrote the book in only 5 weeks.  It was said that the atrocities her friend spoke of had such an emotional impact on her that she was never quite the same again.
Alcock writes with her usual depth and detail but perhaps her direct emotional involvement is what makes this book particularly powerful and gripping. The persecution of Armenian Christians in the late 1800s was truly awful; indiscriminate killing of men and boys, women and children saved alive to be subjected to worse horrors. In a helpful appendix Alcock explains which characters were real and which were fictional.  She also makes it clear that the atrocities described in the book left much detail out - she felt it impossible to depict the worst features of the horrible crimes committed.
Tragically some of the events described seem sadly and horribly familiar in these current times.  Christians are being persecuted in 139 nations around the world.  The news that feeds through to our western society is often biased and secular neither recognising nor understanding the religious elements often involved in the incidents reported.  I recently read this article 'Why don't we hear more about persecuted Christians' which gives food for thought on this subject. It is a subject which at the very least, should be kept often in our prayers.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

View from the Youth

We were amazed and fascinated recently to discover what a bunch of youngsters can do with an iPad and the iMovie app.  We hadn't before considered ourselves entirely technologically inept, but we were forced to admit some deficiencies when it comes to movies!  So we decided to challenge a group of youngsters to take on a summer project of making a promotional video for the shop.  This is the fab result...


Without naming them all, our huge thanks go to all the youngsters involved, from age 4 to 13 - you know who you are!  Please don't all head off to Hollywood.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


This little booklet was published by Gospel Tidings Publication in 1978, sold out long ago, and has now been reissued in response to demand. 
The preface assures us that this is indeed a true story, which has been questioned by those who doubt the reality or power of the Holy Spirit. It was translated from German in the mid-1800s and gives the account of the remarkable conversion of Thirza, a young Jewish woman and her parents, traced back, as far as the means goes, to the words of Matthew 11:28 and 1 John 1:7. These were brought back to memory from her very early schooldays spent at a Christian school. What a salutary reminder this is that we should never be discouraged in the endeavour of spreading the word of God! Thirza's father, though a devout Jew, had allowed her to go to a Christian school thinking that she was too young to receive any serious impression from it. But these gracious words were planted like a seed not only in her heart, but that of her mother also, and sprang to life at the appointed time. Thirza was immediately disinherited by her father on hearing of her conversion, but even this could not prevent God's working in his soul and he eventually was glad of her help when brought under conviction of sin.
The subtitle of this story is 'The Power of the Cross' and how evident that is here! But there is also much profitable reflection within the account provided by the translator, Elizabeth Maria Lloyd, on true spiritual experience. This has application beyond the pages of this booklet, and is certainly not unique to this family, thanks to the grace of God.
The many scriptural quotations are from the Authorised Version. Recommended.
Thirza by Elizabeth Maria Lloyd, published by Gospel Tidings Publications, £1.95, booklet.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Girolamo Savonarola

It is good to see something in print on this lesser known pre-Reformation figure. Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) was rooted in the Medieval monkish traditions, but he thundered out his denunciations of a corrupt Church and Pope from his pulpit in Florence. He blazed a trail which men like Martin Luther in the next generation would follow and develop. Indeed Luther pays tribute to him:
'Although some theological mud still adhered to the feet of that holy man, [he] nevertheless maintained justification by faith alone without works, and he was burned by the Pope.'
Sadly this was indeed his end, the result of criticising moral corruption too strongly and publicly. He presented a scriptural challenge to the Renaissance humanists and their proud culture in a city where artists of legendary fame were legion. He also grieved over the Church of Rome, evacuated of the gospel of Christ, consumed by worldliness and guilty of tyranny over the consciences of the people. Savonarola spoke boldly, not in Latin, but in the Italian that they could understand. Moreover he extended his reach by a farsighted adoption of the emerging technique of the printing press. Remarkably, he was the most widely published author of the fifteenth century, with editions of his sermons in French and German.
In those days a biblical message of judgment, repentance and grace as the sinner's only refuge could lead to no other conclusion but elimination. Thus Savonarola suffered a martyr's death. Yes, we can see many faults in him, but he has much about faithfulness to teach us, and we delight in his gospel witness in such dark days of church history.
Anything written by Douglas Bond is worth reading, but this book was slightly disappointing. Maybe it is the consequence of a co-authored book, because the material seemed awkwardly arranged in places. Nevertheless it is clear and straightforward as befits a title in this generally excellent Bitesize Biography series.

Girolamo Savonarola by Douglas Bond and Douglas McComas, published by EP Books, p/b,£6.99.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Post-Event Post

Last night we had one of our ladies events, and today I am bleary eyed! When you don't close the shop doors until after 11pm you have to take this as a good result! So, what do we do at these events? Laugh, drink tea, eat cake, read and discuss books.  If you couldn't join us, here's what we discussed...

We kicked off with a quote from Sinful Speech by John Flavel (one of the pocket puritan series):
How long does an idle word, or foolish jest, stick in men's minds, and become an occasion of much sin to them?  The froth and vanity of your spirit, which your tongue so freely vents among your vain companions, may be working in their minds when you are in the dust, and so be transmitted from one to another.
Hard hitting and to the point - but that's the Puritans for you. 'I need that' was the immediate cry from one of the ladies, and it was quickly snapped up.

Next book up was First Wives' Club by Clare Heath-Whyte.  The history buff present was very enthusiastic about this book - well written by another history buff, it draws lessons from the lives of 6 sixteenth century women.  With points for Bible Study at the end of each chapter, it could prove useful for ladies meetings?

We talked about the new book by Courtney Reissig called The Accidental Feminist. This takes a look at how feminism has become so prevalent in our culture that many of us have imbibed the feminist principles without question and need to re-examine the Biblical roles for womanhood.  One of the ladies was concerned that it was being counter-cultural for the sake of it.  Only having read half of it I couldn't really answer that one, but someone bought it so we're hoping for a full review next time!

A provocative quote from A Woman's Wisdom started off some more discussion...
The wild fluctuation of hormones at certain times may challenge our tolerance of others or depress our outlook, but nowhere does the Bible gives us a hormonal pass on the call to kindness, patience, contentment, joy and love.
A collective intake of breath while everyone counted to ten... and then admitted that perhaps they had at times failed on that one. The author of this book, Lydia Brownback has also written a series of smaller books On the Go Devotionals, which many of the ladies had read, so interest grew for A Woman's Wisdom, which is a more in depth look at Proverbs. Perhaps Miss Brownback had a point!

Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine was another popular choice - with many Spurgeon lovers present and a very enthusiastic reviewer of this book who highly recommends it to all who suffer depression and their carers ('and anyone else in fact').  Spurgeon suffered severe bouts of depression throughout his life but always viewed it as a precursor to greater blessing.  To encourage he says...
Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace; the very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life... we do not want rain all the days of the week, and all the weeks of the year; but if the rain comes sometimes, it makes the fields fertile, and fills the waterbrooks.
Awaiting a Saviour by Aaron Armstong, was another that sparked off some discussion.  Poverty and sin - what is the relationship between them?  Aaron very firmly asserts that poverty is in the world because of sin, not the sin of the poor people, but original sin. The discussion ranged over a few topics, but eventually the lady who didn't like the sound of the book, bought the book to give Aaron a fair hearing - I look forward to finding out if he persuaded her to change her mind!

Now, I am not one for verbal diarrhoea, but I have been accused many-a-time of written diarrhoea so let me wrap this up!  Just quickly, some of the other books that we were discussing were...
Far Above Rubies - Lynette Clark
A Little Bird Told Me - Timothy Cross
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full - Gloria Furman
To Honour God - The Spirituality of Oliver Cromwell - Michael Haykin
When World's Collide - R C Sproul

Whet anyone's appetite?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

First Wives' Club

Twenty-first century lessons from the lives of sixteenth century women.
This book belongs to an exclusive club in itself - at least as engineered by the publisher - it is designed and jacketed in such a feminine manner as to cause any man to feel rather intrusive in daring to peep between its covers. But in defiance of this I determined to brave all to see what kind of lessons were being given and what standard of historical analysis was being relied upon for deriving them. I had a pleasant surprise. The author is a robust historian - the blurb declares her as a prize winner at Cambridge University - and she serves it up effortlessly. Among the six women she studies from Reformation Europe she has boldly chosen three who are relative unknowns. Who has heard of Katharina Zell or Argula von Grumbach for instance? Perhaps the scanty historical information in these cases is pressed too far and hence the lessons contrived, but it is good to be introduced to them. Of course the danger with historical lessons is that we judge people by today's standards and assume that our values are superior. However this book is birthed in the belief that we live in a post-Christian society and determines to be counter-cultural. The women of 500 years ago are looked to as role models because of the biblical mindedness which was fundamental to the Reformation. That shapes the view that a woman's role is not one of ecclesiastical leadership but complementary to the man's role. And this is not necessarily the traditional one despised of feminists. We witness variation in the sixteenth century due to circumstances in family, health, persecution, the nature and place of a husband's ministry, etc. In all these cases the women faithfully studied to understand and apply the teaching of scripture. This is the message being communicated to the women of today. It deserves a hearing and I believe men need to listen in too. We all should be inspired to build our lives on the Word of God.
'First Wives' Club' by Clare Heath-Whyte, p/b, 10Publishing, £7.99.
In addition to the two ladies already mentioned, Katie Luther, Anna Zwingli, Wibrandis Rosenblatt and Idelette Calvin make up the club.