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.

A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation

Just over 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed his ninety five theses to a church door in Wittenberg and so began the reformation. However, according to Nick Page in his book “A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation” it may not have been quite as simple as that. He therefore sets out to explore what actually happened, looking at this important period of history and the events and people that feature in it.

It’s fair to say that sometimes history books can be a tad dry or boring. We can find ourselves reading accounts of dates and events that do not engage our attention and two minutes later have forgotten what we have read. Therefore we avoid reading historical books. Thankfully this book is not like that! In fact on the front cover under the title it says “Commemorating 500 years of Popes’, Protestants, Reformers, Radicals and Other Assorted Irritants.” This gives us an idea of how the book is written.

Nick Page is a very engaging writer. In addition to thoroughly researching the subject he likes to introduce his own unique sense of humour into his writings. The book is very humorous in places and this is the first time I have ever laughed out loud whilst reading a historical book! In some ways it reminds me of reading an Adrian Plass book, So if you are worried that you might find reading about the history of the reformation boring don’t worry. You will not!

The book is divided into eleven parts and contains thirty six chapters. There is also a comprehensive index and a chronological listing of the events of the reformation at the back of the book. In total it consists of just under 450 pages.

The reformation was obviously an important event and I would recommend this book if you want to understand what actually happened during these momentous and turbulent times. However, one word of warning. Be careful if you read this book in a public place, You may receive strange looks from others as you laugh out loud at the humour within it!

Ordinary People

Most of us are normal ordinary people. We come from ordinary families and spend our time with similar people. There will be no statues made of us or books written about us. The majority of people in the world will not know of us. That does not though lessen us as people or make us inferior to those who are famous.

These days though, for some reason, it’s not unusual for people to want to be famous. We can observe this from some who may achieve fame through a reality TV programme. Sometimes sadly some base their self-worth on their fame. There are others who might gauge their importance on the number of social media followers they have. They are not content to be ordinary people.

I have recently been reading a biography of Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century preacher. One of the lessons from Spurgeon’s life is the important role three ordinary people played in his conversion and early part of his Christian experience.

Spurgeon became a Christian in January 1850. Due to the bad weather on that day he was unable to reach the church he had intended to attend but instead went to a small chapel. No-one knows who the preacher was that Sunday. Spurgeon himself in later years, when recalling that day, was not very complimentary about the preacher’s style of speaking. However God used this unknown person to make Himself known to Spurgeon. An ordinary person had faithfully preached God’s word and the young Spurgeon was changed forever.

William Cantlow, an unknown baptist pastor baptised Spurgeon later the same year. The only reason anyone has ever heard of this man is because he baptised Spurgeon. Once again an ordinary person who was faithfully serving God.

The third ordinary person who played an important part in Spurgeon’s life was a cook called Mary King, who he spent time with whilst at Newmarket school. She spent several hours with him sharing the truths of the Christian faith and helped him grow in his theological understanding. Mary was just an ordinary person. She never preached or was a church leader. However, she played an important role in the development of Spurgeon’s faith.

All three of these individuals were just ordinary people who served God faithfully. Yet they played an important part in the development of a man who became a famous preacher known and loved all over the world. It’s impossible to know the number of people over the years who have been effected by the preaching of Spurgeon. However, without the three people mentioned above, the numerous people who have been blessed by Spurgeon may not have been reached.

The important lesson we can learn here is that God uses ordinary people, like you and me, who are faithful to Him.

 

The Importance of Housegroups

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in Chapter 10 verse 25 says,

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

One of the ways in which we can do this is to belong to a housegroup. So what is a housegroup? Generally speaking a housegroup is a small group of Christians who meet together during the week in someone’s home to study the Bible, pray, encourage one another and to build up relationships in the body of Christ. Although the sizes of groups will vary they often would have between 6 to 12 members. Once a group grows beyond this number then it might be wise to split the group and to form two separate groups.

Bible study is very often a key feature of the group. One of the advantages of a housegroup is that the group can study the Bible together and members can discuss how the passage they are studying is relevant to their everyday life. There is also the opportunity for people to ask questions about anything they do not understand in the passage. Generally speaking when we are listening to the sermon on Sunday it’s not normal practice to interrupt the preacher and ask them questions if we don’t understand the talk! However, in the privacy of an individual’s home there is the chance to ask questions. And often we find that other people may have the same questions as us too. Discussing a passage together in this manner can be very helpful because we get onto real issues that concern people and we can discuss them to a depth that is not possible on a Sunday.

What’s the best Bible study for our group to do you may ask? Well there are literally hundreds of very good Bible study booklets available. Some people like to discuss subjects for example: Women of the Bible; whilst others may like to study a particular book of the Bible. Some churches will do a study based on the current theme of the sermons that are being preached at their Sunday services. If you are not sure what to study in your group a visit your local Christian bookshop to see what they have in stock or chat to your Church leaders.

Another advantage of the housegroup is that you can share prayer needs within the group and pray for one another. Whilst your Church leaders would probably be happy to pray for you on Sunday the opportunity for this may not arise. If you belong to a larger Church then there might be too many prayer needs for everyone to be prayed for on Sunday. However, in a small group you can share your needs and ask for prayer. One of the groups I used to be a member of would have a “sharing and pray” evening from time to time. We would go around the group saying how life was treating us and mention any prayer needs we might have. The other members of the group would then pray about the issues raised and then we would go onto the next person. (In that Church the housegroups were known as “Support Groups” which was an appropriate title). These were important meetings as we could be honest with the group and share disappointments or struggles we were having as well as praising God for the good things in our life.

Sometimes group members may have personal prayer requests which whilst they are happy to share with the group they would not want the rest of the Church to know about. Housegroups is the ideal place to do this.

Many people do find praying in public scary. They worry about getting the words wrong or drying up. However, praying in a housegroup can be a good place to practice and build up our confidence. It’s often a good idea to write down the items you prayer about so that when you meet together again you can see if the prayer has been answered yet. It can be very encouraging for the housegroup to see God answering the prayers they pray.

Another benefit from attending a housegroup is getting to know your fellow Christians better. It can be daunting for anyone who is quiet or shy to get to know people in a big Church. However, a housegroup offers a good opportunity to get to know people in the comfort of someone’s home. In some housegroups I have attended at Churches I have been fortunate to build up some great friendships as a result of cultivating them through the housegroup.

If you do not currently belong to a group I would strongly encourage you to consider seriously joining one. Not only will it benefit you but you too can also be a blessing to the group and the Body of Christ.

 

Reading a Biography

This year I am endeavouring to vary the genre of the books that I read. I think one of the most interesting genres can be reading a biography.

At the time of writing this posting, about 25% of the books that I have read in 2019 would be classified as a biography. The subject matters come from a different number of fields e.g. sport, Christian leaders, spies, writers, political leaders. No matter what field the person is in there are a number of recurring themes that interest me.

How did the person become well known?
Although it may not be true of every single person for the majority of them there was a time when they were not very well known. You could even call them a nobody. Then they became famous and well known. How did they make this transition from a nobody to a somebody? Was it years of hard work that eventually paid off or did they suddenly appear from absolutely nowhere? Maybe they were in the right place at the right time and things just worked out for them?

What were they like before they became famous?
It can be interesting and enlightening to read comments from their contemporaries before they became famous. That might be from their school teachers, school friends, people they grew up with, their coach at the local sports club etc. Did they display obvious talent at an early age or were others better then them?

What are they really like as a person?
Most of us have only seen the public face of the person in the biography we are reading. However what are they like in real life? We may be reading about a famous Christian leader but what is he / she like away from the pulpit? Are they a good family person? Do they always make time for their children? Are they known for their humilty or do they have a high opinion of themselves? What do the neighbours say about them?

What did it take for them to be successful in their field?
It’s likely that the majority of us do not appreciate the hard work and commitment it takes to be successful in a field. Whilst we need to have a talent in that field, hard work is also needed to make the most of that gifting. I may be the most naturally talented tennis player in the world but without a lot of training I will not reach my full potential. This will no doubt involve sacrifices which may include me not seeing my children for weeks on end because I am at an overseas training camp. Am I willingly to to make that commitment? Do I want success at any price? The person we are reading about has had to make these difficult decisions.

What about their failures?
Unless the person writing the book is very selective in the biography then at some stage in their life the subject matter will have encountered failures and setbacks. We all encounter these but the important question is how did they respond to them? Did they just give up or did they persevere? How did they cope with their failure? Did they learn from it or was it repeated constantly? This part of the biography has the potential to be a great source of encouragement to us. We often put people on a pedestal and don’t expect that they will fail. However, when you read that someone that is well known has made mistakes and come out of the other end you realise that you can too!

If you have never read a biography why not visit your local library and have a look at what they have available to borrow. You can always start with a short one to get you in the habit of reading a biography. Alternatively your local Christian bookshop should have some biographies, if you wish to discover more about well known church leaders. Whatever one you select they are an interesting genre to read,

 

Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas

With echoes of the Last Supper this book is based around John 21 with the risen Jesus eating with his disciples. The book examines the reality of faith and what it means to truly believe and trust in that which we cannot see, even when the going gets tough. Be encouraged as Jeff talks honestly about his struggles with doubt and depression.

We are invited to share in the author’s anguish as he admits how he sometimes struggles with the day to day walk of faith and wrestles with doubts about prayers which appear not only to be unanswered but at times even unheard. Jeff also talks about the guilt and shame that so often seem to afflict Christians who find themselves unable to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm that they experienced when first coming to faith.

Whilst this book won’t make you feel instantly better, it will likely make you feel less alone and more able to cope with the feelings of doubt and despair that we often find so hard to admit to, and which can in turn make us feel guilty and rob us of the joy of our salvation.

Jeff Lucas is a writer who is always very honest and real about life and this book is definitely worth reading.