So a Comedian Walks Into a Church

If you were to hear the words: “So a Comedian Walks Into a Church” it’s likely you would think that this is the first line of a joke. However, on this occasion that is not the case. Instead, it’s a title of a book written by Paul Kerensa, who is a stand-up comedian and also a Christian. The book is the story of his travels around the country in his job as a comedian and the churches he visits each Sunday whilst away from home.

In his writings the author shows us the reality of the comedy circuit. This regularly involves long trips to venues to perform in front of audiences which can be very small in number. Indeed there are times when the comedy event is cancelled and no-one remembers to tell the performer that! We see the frustration of these wasted journeys and how it creates the worry of whether he will be paid for the wasted trip. This is not the stardom of selling out the O2 for a week or appearing on Live at the Apollo. However, it is the reality of life for many comedians.

After performing on a Saturday night Paul Kerensa endeavours to find a local church to attend the next day. He describes his experiences of attending many different denominations with varying styles of worship including: Church of Scotland, United Reform Church, a Church in Wales (where the service was conducted in Welsh), Salvation Army, Baptist, Charismatic, Cafe Church, Pentecostal, Methodist and Quakers. That’s quite a variety!

The book concludes with a chapter examining the wondrous cross selection of UK Christianity that the author has encountered on his travels. Although the book was written in 2013 it’s probably fair to say that most of his findings are still reasonable valid today.

This is an enjoyable book which is quite funny in places. It helps us to see the reality of life for a comedian and the fact that it is not an easy life. I also suspect that there are few Christians who have attended such varying styles of worship as the author and therefore it’s interesting to read his observations of them.

C.H. Spurgeon The People’s Preacher

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was one of the most famous preachers in history and there are plenty of books and websites devoted to him. Therefore, it’s quite a challenge to write a biography that offers a fresh perspective on him. Peter Morden though in his biography entitled “C.H. Spurgeon: The People’s Preacher” manages to do just that.

It’s very easy when reading a biography to just read about the facts of an individual and learn information about him or her. However, the author wants the reader to think about Spurgeon with a view to learning more about him and ultimately to grow more like Christ. To this end each chapter concludes with two sections: “Digging Deeper” and “Engage”. The aim of these two sections is to review the chapter just read and prayerfully apply it to our own life. He also encourages the reader to make notes of what God is saying to them through the life and ministries of Spurgeon whist reading this book.

Although there is much information available on the public life of Spurgeon, as with all good biographies, the reader really wants to know what he was like in private not just in public. The author looks at Spurgeon’s attitude to prayer, the bible, sin and holiness in two chapters called “The Inner Man” and “A Passion for Holiness.”

I believe when writing a biography it’s important not to only include the successful times but also the difficult ones too. Peter Morden tells his readers about the struggles Spurgeon had with depression and his on-going health issues, along with how he dealt with disaster too.

Whilst many associate Spurgeon with his preaching the author also looks at the pastors’ college and Stockwell Orphanage that he established. Both of these works were close to his heart.

This biography is not a long book, it contains 173 pages, but there is a lot packed into it which makes it an edifying read. I would recommend it as a very good book.

The Importance of Reading the Whole Bible

Towards the end of his life the apostle Paul wrote the following words to Timothy “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ( 2 Timothy 3: 16-17).

I expect if we are being honest many of us probably have whole sections of the Bible which we rarely read. Yet here Paul is saying that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful. Yes that does include the second half of Exodus and the book of Leviticus!

To enable us to get the most out of God’s word it is important that we read it all. If we only read the New Testament then we are missing out on seeing all God did in the Old Testament with his people Israel.

There are so many great and inspiring stories in the Old Testament: Ruth loyalty to her mother-in law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17); Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s determination not to compromise their faith (Daniel 3) and David humbling himself before God after his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51) to name but three.

Although reading the whole Bible can seem a daunting challenge, it is relatively easy to read it all the way through in a year. Did you know that if you spent 20 minutes a day reading the Scriptures you will read the whole of the Bible in a year. Most of us can find 20 minutes to spare to do this and if that seems too much, how about 10 minutes in the morning and another 10 minutes in the evening? When you think about how long we spend watching television or on the internet surely that is not too difficult to do!

There are many different readings plan available to use that take you through the Bible in a year. If you are not sure where to start, just go into your favourite search engine and type in “Bible Reading Plans”. However, it does not really matter if you use a reading plan or decide not to use one. The important thing is to get started and discover the benefits of reading the whole Bible!

The Nation’s Favourite Hymn

Last Sunday the BBC religious programme Songs of Praise announced the results of its poll to find the nation’s favourite hymn of 2019. The top ten songs chosen by the viewers were:

1. Jerusalem

2. How Great Thou Art

3. In Christ Alone

4. Dear Lord and Father Of Mankind

5. Abide With Me

6. I Vow to Thee My Country

7. Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer

8. Amazing Grace

9. Be Still For The Presence Of The Lord

10. I The Lord Of Sea and Sky

One of the most interesting aspects of this poll is the lack of modern songs. The most recent one is found in third position: In Christ Alone, written in 2001 by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. I was fully expecting 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman to feature strongly, but it was not to be. Also I was surprised to see none of Graham Kendrick’s songs in the top ten.

The results of the poll though obviously reflect the demographics of those who watch Songs of Praise. Although I occasionally watch it, I did not personally vote in the poll. The reason being that I did not know of its existence!

Thinking about the poll begs the question: what makes a good hymn? For some a good tune is the most important aspect. Whilst others would give preference to the words. I personally think that the words are the most important ingredient of the hymn, although I would also want a good tune too. There are two main reasons why I would favour the words over the tune:

1. Well written hymns can help teach us theological truths. I have heard it said that Charles Wesley used to write his hymns to help teach theology to people. This was a great way of helping others to remember scriptural truths as not everyone could read the scriptures for themselves during the 18th century. One of the things I like about the songs of Stuart Townend is that they are very rich theologically.

2. Well written hymns can enhance our worship of God. There are times when we might struggle to put into words the greatness of God and our love for Him. This is why the hymn How Great Thou Art is a favourite of mine. The words declare the wonder and greatness of God. Our response to the marvellous truths written in the verses is to worship God with all our soul in the rousing chorus.

Whatever your favourite hymn might be, let the lyrics remind you of the deep truths of God and use them to worship Him in a deep and meaningful way.

Forgiveness

One of the most astonishing and liberating truths we can embrace is that God totally forgives our sins. However do we actually believe this truth? I guess many Christians would say that intellectually they agree with this. Do we though really truly believe this in our hearts?

I don’t know about you but sometimes I have wrestled with doubts of whether or not God’s forgiveness applied to me. Strangely, I don’t doubt that God can forgive others! I enjoy reading and hearing testimonies of how in the depths of sin people have met with God and received his forgiveness. Yet for some reason it’s my own forgiveness that I have struggled with.

Nevertheless, despite doubts and struggles the truth is God has forgiven my sins in Christ Jesus. There is nothing that I can do to earn forgiveness. God has offered me this most wonderful, liberating and life changing gift. It is freely given to me if I will accept it. Who would not want this gift: the forgiveness of sins and the promise of new life in Christ.

It does not matter if you think you are not good enough. None of us are! If salvation was based on our own goodness then there is no hope for anyone. God’s forgiveness is available. Are you going to ask Him for it?

J C Ryle by Eric Russell

If you have ever read any book or article written by J.C. Ryle then I expect you were challenged by his writing. Eric Russell in his biography of John Charles Ryle introduces the reader to the man described as “that man of granite with the heart of a child”.

Interestingly, Ryle did not originally plan to go into the ministry but ended up following that path due to financial problems that his father encountered. An unusual start for the man who would make a huge impact on our nation through his ministry.

John Charles Ryle was the first Bishop of Liverpool after having served as a church leader for several years before that mainly in the North of England. He held the position of Bishop for twenty years.

Ryle was very committed to holiness and Christians living out their faith. He wrote a very well known and challenging book called “Holiness” which is still in print today.

Throughout his ministry Ryle was a strong man of the scriptures and was not prepared to compromise his views on the bible being God’s Word, despite the rising popularity of more liberal views of the interpretation of the scriptures.

He married three times and experienced personal tragedy with all of his wives dying whilst married to him. We sometimes may think that our church leaders do not experience the same challenges that we do but Ryle certainly did. Leaders are certainly not exempt from suffering.

One of the most surprising aspects of the book is the effect that Ryle went to understand those who came from a different background to him. Whilst a staunch evangelical, he sought to build bridges with those other Anglicans who were not evangelical. He determined as a bishop to work with all those who were faithful members of the church and not just evangelicals. This is an example that we could all learn from and seek to live out

The book has 16 chapters and is very readable. I’ve read this book a number of times and would certainly recommend it as both an encouraging and challenging read.

Tom Wright for Everyone by Stephen Kuhrt

The full title of this book is actually “Tom Wright for Everyone: Putting the theology of N.T. Wright into practice in the local church”.

The first part of the book looks at Tom Wright and summaries his theology whilst the remainder, as you may guess from the long title, looks at the outworking of his theology in the church of which Stephen Kuhrt is the vicar: Christ Church in New Malden, Surrey.

It’s very easy for theologians to discuss theology but one of the potential dangers is that it can turn into academic theory which confuses the average Christian. The author though is very keen to illustrate how Tom Wright’s theology has been lived out in the church he leads. Stephen Kuhrt addresses Tom Wright’s theology in a pastoral context, a mission context and in church life. I think this is a good practical way of looking at the theological ideas in this book as we need to see that theology works in everyday life.

The author of the book believes that many people have failed to engage properly with some of the issues that Tom Wright raises such as the nature of Christian hope and the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. His hope is that this book will help us to engage with Tom Wright’s teaching and theology rather than just ignore it.

Although the book is only approximately 140 pages long I would recommend reading each chapter separately and not rushing through it. In fact it’s the sort of book that should probably be read a second time to allow the reader to think through the ideas raised here.