Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review: Zeal Without Burnout

Having witnessed from afar and having benefited from his teaching and writing ministry, it seems to be a good rule of thumb that if Christopher Ash has written it, then it will be well worth reading. None more so than his little gem, Zeal Without Burnout. In many respects, this book came at a good time for me - reading it when it was needed, giving comfort, restoration, and encouragement to keep going.

Tackling the real and present danger of burnout, particularly (but not exclusively) among those involved in pastoral ministry, Ash writes frankly and openly from his own experiences, but also those of other Christians (and pastors) he has known. He recounts how on two separate occasions, he was almost entirely burnt out. The symptoms are frighteningly common. The stories of others also seem to resonate with many ministers, from conversations at clergy gatherings. But what to do about it?

Importantly, Ash makes the distinction between sacrifice and burnout. The picture he uses is biblical common-sense: 'We are to be living sacrifices until God takes us home to be with Jesus, we are to offer ourselves as those who have a life to offer, rather than a burned-out wreck.' (emphasis his). Sustainable sacrifice is what we're called to, which is developed in the next chapter, in which Ash reminds us that we are creatures of dust - and God is God and we are not.

As promised in the subtitle, the rest of the book sets out 'seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice.' Those seven keys are:
1. We need sleep and God does not.
2. We need Sabbath rests and God does not.
3. We need friends and God does not.
4. We need inward renewal and God does not.
5. A warning - beware celebrity!
6. An encouragement - it's worth it!
7. A delight - rejoice in grace, not gifts

Along the way, Ash shares some more stories from other people, showing how these principles work out in peoples' lives and ministries. These were helpful in grounding the teaching points. With a pastor's heart for other pastors, Ash gives us what we need to hear - warning, encouragement, and help to keep going in sustainable sacrifice for the glory of Jesus.

If I needed to read and heed this book, it may well be that you do too. Why not get a copy, do some self-diagnosis, and resolve to avoid burnout before it comes.

Zeal Without Burnout is available from The Good Book Company.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: Christ and his People

Books can be like a springboard. Something that seems so small and insignificant can propel you higher and further than you would have thought possible. And, despite its slight appearance, Mark Ashton's 'Christ and his People' provides a launchpad for deeper consideration of what church is all about. The subtitle proclaims that the book contains 'Eight convictions about the local church' and each one prompts further thought and reflection.

Mark Ashton had been vicar of Cambridge's The Round Church at St Andrew the Great, and this material was written in the final months of his life before his death from cancer. As such, he provides a rare clarity as he summarises the previous fifty years of ministry at the Round Church - thirty-two years with Mark Ruston and twenty with himself as Pastor - focusing on the priorities of that church.

The eight convictions about the local church addressed in turn are:
1. Bible: the word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God in the people of God.
2. Local Church: the local church is the primary place where the Kingdom of Heaven impacts the kingdoms of this world.
3. Expository Preaching: consecutive expository preaching by the pastor-teacher is the best normal diet of the local church.
4. Meetings: the meetings of the local church are for both edification and evangelism (with no sharp distinction between these).
5. Ministers: the ministers of the local church are all its members.
6. Focus: the local church should focus on doing a few things really well.
7. Sacrifice: the local church exists for the sake of others.
8. Prayer: prayer lies at the heart of the local church.

Under each heading, Ashton explains and expands, using the Round Church as his worked example. It's interesting to see what ministry and mission looks like in another church, and to be challenged as to the priorities of our churches. How would they look in comparison?

Christ and his People has been released as a small book in its own right, but it also forms the first chapter of a larger volume on the Round Church, 'Persistently Preaching Christ'. As such, there's just one little dead-end in this book which escaped the editing and proof-reading phase, with reference to a discussion in 'Chapter 10' - presumably of the larger 'Persistently' book, since this one only has the eight chapters!

This would be a good book for a church leadership team to read, reflect and discuss together - perhaps over the course of a year and considering one priority at each of its elder/vestry/PCC meetings. Such a small and simple book, yet with the potential to alter a church's course through reconsidering its priorities.

Christ and his People is available from 10ofthose and The Good Book Company.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Review: To Fly To Serve

Books come in all different sizes - from multi-volume works down to short and snappy treatises. At the shorter and snappier end comes this little volume, with the subtitle 'Practical help for giving a Bible talk.' Coming from the pen of the Director of Ministry of the Proclamation Trust, there is much good and sound advice here for the person starting out in all sorts of ministries.

The title, you might have recognised, comes from the British Airways motto - 'To Fly. To Serve.' Adrian Reynolds takes up the motto and uses the image of flying a plane as a metaphor for giving a Bible talk / preaching a sermon. The talk is structured around the themes of destination, take-off, level flight, landing and arrivals, and the picture really helps to introduce the various aspects of giving a Bible talk - whether in church, youth group, or any other context.

Adrian gives plenty of helpful advice, peppered with humour and warmth, to launch the prospective preacher in their mission. It would be a great little book to read and think through as part of a small group for those taking their first steps in ministry, of whatever kind. And there are many good reminders for those who have been preaching for a while and have slipped into bad habits.

To Fly To Serve is available from 10ofthose with free postage - buy them for your ministry team and start a conversation about preaching!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Review: Why Vote Leave

They say it's better late than never, and it's definitely so in this instance. I probably should have read 'Why Vote Leave' by Daniel Hannan MEP before the EU referendum, but better late than never. After the referendum, and with Hannan facing criticism over his apparent about-face on immigration, his persuasive book was reduced to 99p on Kindle. So I took up the offer, read it, and enjoyed it. Well, enjoy is probably not the word, but it is a well constructed, well argued book, showing why the UK's vote to leave the European Union was a principled decision.

In the introduction, Hannan appeals for his sacking from the European Parliament. He desperately wants to be made redundant, with a British withdrawal from the EU, and as he begins his short book, the reasons are immediately obvious. Recounting his first day in Brussels, the over-inflated expenses raise the question of how much the European project costs. And that's before you get to the other concerns he raises - the EU's creeping control of all sorts of national interests consumed by European regulations; its subversion of British sovereignty expressed in Parliament; the decline of the European economy in comparison with every other continent; and the Euro bailouts.

Over ten chapters, Hannan builds his case. He begins with a thought exercise - asking if Britain would seek to join the EU if it wasn't already a member? He considers the examples of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, none of whom are members, and argues that they are more prosperous for their non-membership. Retelling the history of Britain's involvement with the EU in its various guises over the years, he identifies the reasons Britain opted to join - a decline in its economy, an apparent success story on the continent, and Europhile civil servants. This leads him to consider today's economy, as well as the political union we were being asked to vote on.

He maintains that the EU is not opting for the status quo: 'Choosing to stay in its not the same as choosing to stay put; rather, it is choosing to remain on a conveyor-belt.' This Brussels financed conveyor-belt seeks ever closer union, using the well resourced NGOs it supports to sing its praises. Further, the EU isn't democratic, as Hannan paints a picture of a new legal order, superior to national legislation, always advancing the agenda of 'more Europe.' This agenda brings the EU ever closer to statehood, with the trappings of currency, criminal justice system, president, foreign minister, treaty-making powers, citizenship, passport, flag and anthem. The eurozone bailout is demonstrably illegal, as Hannan argues based on the explicit prohibition of bailouts in the EU Treaty. More examples are found in the refusal or re-running of referendums, until the 'right' result is given, such as in Ireland with the Nice Treaty.

Hannan also considers the euro-corporatism which exists, where big businesses lobby for their own interests, which are protected by the EU decision makers. This is manifested in all sorts of ways, with plenty of examples for the reader to examine. The problems are exacerbated by Britain's lack of influence within the EU, despite its size and importance - in many votes, Britain has ended up in the losing minority, more so than any other member nation. There are several reasons for this, but it's primarily because Britain has different priorities and statecraft compared to the others.

As the book closes, Hannan reviews David Cameron's attempts to renegotiate the European Union prior to the referendum - achieving 'fried air' (nothing at all). This leads in to Hannan's positive vision of Britain, independent and free from the ever closer political union, and free to trade with the world and the EU. Contrary to all the doom and gloom warnings, Hannan makes the point that the EU gains more from trading with the UK, and so they will want to continue to trade with us when we leave. He also examines the possibilities that exist for partnership with Europe - the Swiss, Icelandic and Norwegian models. Yet none of these are precisely how things will turn out, as each country is different, and brings different priorities to the negotiating table.

All in all, the positive case for Leave was made clearly and concisely by Daniel Hannan. The people have now voted for leaving - if the government will carry it through remains to be seen. With such a positive and persuasive political talent, Daniel Hannan should be closely involved in the next steps to fulfill his vision.

Why Vote Leave is available from Amazon and for the Kindle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Panoramic Sunset

The Golden Hour

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. - Psalm 19:1

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Review: Prayer

It was the question the disciples asked the Lord Jesus: 'Teach us to pray.' Ever since, disciples of the Lord have been seeking to grow in their prayer life, seeking some way of learning how to pray. Already on my bookshelves, there are prayer books and books on prayer. This one, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller, is a worthy addition.

In the introduction, Keller asks and answers the question 'why write a book on prayer?' His aim is to write one that is theological, experiential and methodological; above all, one that is accessible to readers. He goes on to observe that books on prayer are either "communion-centred" (that is, experiential) or "kingdom centred" (that is, intercessory). This is a false dichotomy, as Keller argues, we see both in Psalms, 'the inspired prayer book of the Bible.' Thus, his book 'will show that prayer is both conversation and encounter with God... Prayer, then, is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.'

The book is divided into five parts, of which there are fifteen chapters. The first part looks at 'Desiring Prayer' and begins with a rather forthright challenge from Tim and Kathy Keller's own experience. Confessing that they found prayer difficult (and who doesn't?), they resolved to pray together every night - because they would most certainly take a life-saving drug every night without fail. Under this challenge, Tim resolved to search to understand and 'get' prayer. Yet it didn't come easily: 'There is a sense of the necessity of prayer - we have to pray. But how?' Having read and considered more, Keller shares that he made four changes to his private devotions - praying through the Psalms regularly; putting in meditation between Bible reading and prayer; praying morning and evening, not just in the morning; and praying with greater expectation.

This part continues with a consideration of the greatness of prayer. Keller points to Ephesians 1 to see how Paul prayed for people he loved - to know God better. 'It is remarkable that in all of his writings, Paul's prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances... Paul sees this fuller knowledge of God as a more critical thing to receive.' This chapter goes on to express how God's greatness is made known in our lives as we pray, both individually and in community.

Part Two helps in Understanding Prayer. While acknowledging that nearly everyone prays at some point in their life, Keller argues that not all prayers are the same. Rather, 'prayer is a response to the knowledge of God.' It is always response, producing a conversation with the God who speaks and reveals himself through Word and Spirit. This conversation idea is developed, with the illustration of babies learning to speak by listening to adults speaking to them. Likewise, our praying comes through immersion in the Scripture - both in knowing who we are praying to, and also how to pray. Further, Encountering God is encouraged, grounded in the God of the Bible, so that 'Prayer turns theology into experience.'

Part Three turns to Learning Prayer. It's from this point Keller assures the reader 'From here on in, we will try to answer the practical questions.' Over two chapters, Keller looks at the writings of spiritual giants on prayer - Augustine and Luther first, and then a separate chapter on Calvin's Institutes. Keller takes the wisdom of these forefathers to help us learn how to pray. Augustine's main learning point seems to be that we need to be changed for our prayer life to be changed - because our disordered love leads us to focus on the wrong things. To cry out for something in danger is only 'worrying in God's direction' without this change in heart and desire. Luther's contribution is to counsel the cultivation of prayer as a habit through regular discipline, meditating on the Bible text as (i) instruction, (ii) thanksgiving, (iii) confession, and (iv) prayer. He also recommends paraphrasing the Lord's Prayer with our own concerns.

Calvin, in his Institutes, gives some recommendations for prayer, including 1. the principle of reverence, 2. spiritual humility, 3. submissive trust, 4. confidence and hope, and 5. the rule of grace - it's not based on our performance, but God's grace. Keller makes the point that praying in Jesus' name isn't a magic formula: 'To pray in Jesus' name means to come to God in prayer consciously trusting in Christ for our salvation and acceptance.'

Having heard from some fathers in the faith, the next chapter focuses on learning from the Master, with a consideration of the Lord's Prayer - albeit with some contributions from Augustine, Luther and Calvin. This leads on to the 'touchstones' of prayer - a summary of all the ground he has covered thus far, and a table of prayer which is worth considering in greater detail (p. 141).

Part Four is concerned with Deepening Prayer - as conversation in meditation; and as encounter seeking his face. Keller recognises the difficulties of meditation for our 'cultural attention deficit disorder' and the 'hyperactivity of today's contemporary society... 'which makes slow reflection and meditation a lost art.' These were helpful chapters, focusing on sound biblical interpretation which leads to good meditation, and on experiencing what we really have as Christians.

Part Five concludes the book by encouraging the reader in Doing Prayer. These chapters focus on the themes of awe, intimacy, struggle and practice, rightly putting awe first (as does the Lord's Prayer). Following CS Lewis, Keller reminds us that praise doesn't just express, but completes the enjoyment - and all the more so with God. To help cultivate habits of awe and praise, Keller urges the reader to make every pleasure adoration; look to God before petition (as in the structure of the Anglican Collects in the Book of Common Prayer); and using Matthew Henry's categories of adoring God. The rest of the book gives more insights into Keller's practice, and contains some helpful suggestions and outlines for prayer and devotion.

As you would expect with Tim Keller, his book on prayer is thorough, at times heavy, but ultimately worth while reading. His pastor's heart shines through, always encouraging the reader to go deeper, to pray better, but above all, to encounter the God of prayer, the God who takes the inititative to rescue and redeem.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God is available from Amazon and for Kindle.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sermon: Praying for the King

They say that a week is a long time in politics, and if that’s true, then this past month might have felt like years. From the never-ending campaigning, through to the EU referendum itself. We thought it would finish everything, but it’s only just begun - the Prime Minister has announced his resignation, Nigel Farage has stepped down as leader of UKIP, there’s a leadership battle in the Labour Party, and it goes on and on and on.

The Conservatives are in the process of choosing their new leader - and therefore, our new Prime Minister. Boris and Michael Gove are out, and now the party have to decide between two ladies - Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. Both potential leaders will be setting out their vision for the future - what they’ll be like as Prime Minister; what the UK will be like under their leadership; their hopes and dreams.

In Psalm 72, we find the vision of a leader for his people. But this isn’t an election manifesto - this isn’t him saying ‘vote for me’. Rather, it’s a prayer, as the new king asks God for his help, his blessing, as he takes on this new role.

I wonder how you would respond if God asked you what he should give you? I find it hard enough to decide what I want for my birthday or Christmas, without deciding what I would like God to give me. But that was the question God asked Solomon, the writer of this Psalm (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon has become king, he has succeeded his father David, and he realises that he’s out of his depth. He feels like a child, and doesn’t know how to be king, so he asks God for ‘an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil.’ (1 Kings 3:9).

Psalm 72 flows out of that request. We’re told in the superscript (the tiny capital letters just above v1) this is ‘Of Solomon.’ We’re listening in to Solomon praying for Solomon - not in a selfish ‘make me great’ kind of way, but out of a desire to serve God in the place God has called him to serve - as king.

Look at verse 1. ‘Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son.’ He’s saying that he can’t do it by himself, he needs God’s help. He asks for God to give him justice - a sense of right and wrong, of good judgement, wisdom. And also God’s righteousness - the sense of living out of being in right relationship with God. And that theme of righteousness fills the first section of the Psalm - v1-4. Judging the people with righteousness; the mountains and hills prospering in righteousness. Acting out that righteousness in defending the cause of the poor, delivering the children of the needy, and crushing the oppressor.

If this is what it looks like to have a righteous king, then it sounds like the place we all desire. No miscarriages of justice; no fear or threat of terrorism; no historical abuse enquiries lasting for two and a half years; dignity for the poor and needy. Perhaps this is the prayer we need to be praying for our government as well.

What a wise king this Solomon was! He knew what he should pray for, and he prayed for it. The just and righteous king will lead to a just and righteous land. But you don’t have to go very far in the Psalm to realise that while Solomon is praying for himself as king, he himself could never fulfil his picture of the just and righteous king.

You see, the time-span of his reign in verses 5-7 just doesn’t fit Solomon. While the sun endures? As long as the moon? Even though we sing in the National Anthem ‘long may she reign’, and even though Queen Elizabeth is the longest reigning and longest living monarch in British history, there will come a day (unless the Lord returns), when she will die, and Prince Charles will assume the throne. Solomon wasn’t around for as long as Queen Elizabeth, despite his prayer for long life.

Or consider the expanse of his prayed-for reign in verses 8-11. Dominion from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth. He may have ruled over a large territory, but his rule didn’t extend to the whole world.

So what do we make of this? Was his initial prayer too ambitious? Did he think too highly of himself? Was it all just wishful thinking? It certainly seems that way when you think of the kings of Israel and Judah. If you’ve been following the ‘through the Bible’ reading plan, you’ll have seen that the kings are like the rollercoaster at Barry’s - up and down and all over the place.

Even Solomon himself is up and down. At the start, his justice and righteousness is plain for all to see. His borders enlarge. His wealth increases. He receives gifts from kings. Even the Queen of Sheba (of the south - that is, Africa) comes to visit. This is the picture of the rule of the wise king Solomon prayed that he would be. But the book that Dale Ralph Davis wrote on 1 Kings summarises it well: ‘The Wisdom and the Folly.’ It’s as if Solomon is on the big rollercoaster, edging slowly higher and higher, and then comes... the drop, the fall.

If we’re holding out for a hero, if we’re joining with Solomon to pray for a king like this, then it definitely isn’t Solomon. But the prayer is answered. The vision is fulfilled. Solomon’s prayer comes to fruition with great David’s greater son - the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the ‘he’ of all the ‘may hes’ in the Psalm. And do you know what? He perfectly fulfils them all. Even though earthly leaders promise much, they inevitably disappoint. Whether May or Leadsom end up being Prime Minister, they’ll not do all they want to themselves, let alone what the nation expects. But Jesus isn’t like that. So let’s look at Jesus the king, and what his kingdom is like.

He is the righteous king (v1-4). He always does what is right, judging justly without favouritism, not swayed by wealth or bought with money.

He is the forever reigning king (v5-7). His kingdom will not come to an end - throughout all generations, till the moon be no more. And, to spell it a different way, he is the raining king, giving refreshment, like rain on the mown grass. We can depend on his eternal kingdom, because his kingdom never ends.

He is the universal king (v 8-11). Jesus reigns over all, even further than Solomon could have imagined. You see, he names the furthest away places he knew about - the River (Euphrates) in the east, Tarshish in the west, Sheba and Seba in the south. Jesus is king of the whole world, and governments serve under his gracious rule.

He is the rescuing king (v12-14). Each of these three verses has a rescuing word - delivers, saves, redeems. This is what Jesus has done for us - delivered the needy; saved the needy; redeems from oppression and violence. We had no other to help us. He had pity for us. If this is how our king is, then how we need to live like him, to work for those who need our help, who have no one else.

In the last section, we see that Jesus is the blessed and blessing king (v15-17). We see some signs of material prosperity - gold being given to him, an abundance of corn, even on the tops of the mountains, the place it wouldn’t normally grow; and people blossoming like grass. Now this isn’t a promise that if you follow Jesus, then everything will be rosy, you’ll have an increasing bank balance, and nothing bad will ever happen. But this is a picture of something even more precious that we have when Jesus is our king, when we’re part of his people. Look at the second half of verse 17. ‘May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed.’

Later on, the Wimbledon tennis final will be played. Normally, the points are played fairly quickly, maybe an ace of a serve, or a decisive return. But sometimes you get a rally, where the ball goes back and forth, and the spectators need their heads on a swivel to keep watching the ball go left and right... Take that idea of the rally, and watch how the blessing flows.

People are blessed in Jesus. The blessings flow to them, all the spiritual blessings we receive in Christ - life, forgiveness, hope, resurrection, grace, gifts, and so many more. But then watch as the blessing flows back again - all nations call him blessed. Jesus is the blessed and blessing king. We receive from him, and we respond in praise.

When we realise that all we have comes from his hand, we bless him in praise. That’s why heaven is filled with never-ending praise, because in being blessed, we bless and praise.

Jesus is the righteous, forever reigning, universal, rescuing blessed and blessing king. Solomon in all his glory couldn’t compete with a flower of the field, let alone this wonderful king. What a privilege to know the king, to be a part of his kingdom, to receive these blessings. Far better than having British citizenship, or applying for an Irish passport after the Brexit referendum, to be a citizen of heaven, a child of the king. How could we not praise? How could we not long for the whole earth to be filled with his glory? Amen, and amen!

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 10th July 2016.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Finishing 2 Peter - sermons and reflections

On Sunday we finished our series in 2 Peter, looking at God's precious and very great promises. I really enjoyed getting to grips with the letter again, having previously organised a preaching series in Dundonald.

But it's not enough to think, ok, I can put a big tick beside 2 Peter now, we all know it. We must continue to reflect on the truth God has taught us through this particular portion of his word. For me, one of the things that stood out, was about how the whole letter is about God's word - his precious and very great promises. Peter links the 'other' scriptures of the Old Testament with the scriptures Paul has written in his letters, and urges us to pay attention to them, and all the more because of the false teachers who will come. Will we have the confidence to hold onto God's word when all around us try to persuade us away?

On finishing a series, it's also a good idea to reflect on it, to think of how you would do it differently. The more I've considered it, the more I reckon I would have needed an extra sermon - but not to divide chapter 2 into two portions, I think it works as one sermon. The difference would come in the very first sermon - to separate the two truths of what we have received, and what we need to do. It seemed to be a bit rushed, a bit cramped, and there is a lot more detail that I didn't get to really dig into in the opening 11 verses. The opening sermons would then be 1:1-4 (the privileges of what we've been given) and 1:5-11 (the increasing qualities of godliness). Perhaps the next time we revisit this letter I'll get it right!

Here are all the sermons that were preached in the series - click on the links to listen or download the sermons.

2 Peter 1: 1-11 Growing in godliness

2 Peter 1: 12-21 Total recall

2 Peter 2: 1-22 This messenger will self-destruct

2 Peter 3: 1-10 The promise of his coming

2 Peter 3: 11-18 What sort of people?

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Book Review: James For You

The Good Book Company have launched their own distinctive range of devotional-style commentaries under the title of 'God's Word For You.' The covers proclaim that 'This is for you to read... to feed... to lead...' So far, I've only read Sam Allberry's 'James For You', but if the rest of the series is anything like this one, then they'll be precious additions to any Christian's library.

With a title like 'James For You' it's easy to guess the subject matter of Sam Allberry's book. The Letter of James is examined in ten sections, each broken down into two parts. After each part, there are a few questions to help you reflect on what you're read, and to go deeper. Sam's writing is clear, and easily accessible, with plenty of illustrations to explain the Bible text. There is also a helpful glossary of words and terms at the back, to aid in understanding.

I had always previously imagined that James' letter was a kind of scattergun of wise words, almost like Proverbs in its randomness. Sam works hard to try to discern the structure of the letter. On many occasions, he helps the reader to see why James says what he says, and how it fits into the particular context. I found this really helpful, and a challenge to work harder at the text of the letter as a whole. The structure seems to make a lot more sense, having read the book.

Sam also works hard to counter the famous accusation that James contradicts Paul on the matter of faith and works. The opening illustrations of the politician praising a local school but sending his own children elsewhere; the McDonald's executive feeding his family at Burger King; and the husband who says he cherishes his wife but maintains an adulterous affair - all point to inconsistency between words and deeds. This was a good way in to the discussion about faith and works, and how both Paul and James address the topic differently, but consistently:
Real faith is not merely sentimental... and it is not merely credal... Such things may be something, but they are not Christianity. And they do not save.

And further:
How can you tell if someone is justified? How do you know if they're considered righteous by God? The answer is not by mere profession of faith. Anyone can claim to be trusting in Christ. You could train a parrot to say it. No, "faith alone" (in the sense James is using it in these verses) is insufficient. The real evidence is how that faith moves someone to obey what God has said to them - what Paul called "the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5). As Christians have often summarised it, Paul shows us we are saved by faith alone; James shows us that saving faith never remains alone. It is seen in godly deeds. Just look at Abraham.

The other portion that particularly stood out was the chapter on schedules and bank balances (4:13 - 5:6). Avoiding the ungodly and arrogant attitude of being in control, Sam highlights that we need 'to get two things right. First, our view of the future' - because we don't know what tomorrow will bring; and 'Second... our view of ourselves' - just mist, that vanishes. As Sam summarises: 'James is not against planning; he is warning us against planning that does not acknowledge the Lord's sovereign overruling of our lives.'

One thing that is missing from the book, and which would be helpful, is the Bible portion itself. It would be so handy to have the portion being discussed at the head of the chapter - although I'm sure there are good reasons for it not being included. These might include copyright restrictions from the Bible publisher, or perhaps a refusal to be tied down to one particular translation.

The aim of the 'God's Word For You' series is for us to read, feed, and lead - with a broad appeal for all types of reader. This broad approach is plain to be seen - anyone could read it straight through as a basic introduction to James. Taking it up a level, and the short portions could be taken for a devotional series over twenty days - a month's work of commuting devotions. I can also see it being useful for the Bible study leader, especially with the questions for reflection. And I'm looking forward to being inspired by it someday in my preaching through James - with ideas for illustrations, explanations, and applications. Pastors will want to buy up this series as an aid to their preaching and preparation.

James For You is definitely for YOU, whoever you may be. Take it up, read, feed, and maybe even lead, for the glory of God.

James For You is available from The Good Book Company and as an e-book. Disclaimer: I was provided with a free review copy for the blog.