Earlybird week 1

February 5, 2010

For the first week I’ve set myself the target time of 7am. Now, you may think that I should be disqualified from a club that has 5am in the title, but the idea is just to go for a time that is early for you, and 7am is early for me! I tried 6:45am today and managed it….baby steps!

I’ve gotten into the habit of rolling out of bed with just enough time to shower, dress, grab my belongings and fall out the door. I work at an office 5 minutes walk from my front door so it’s easy for me to sleep in until 8:15am and still make it to work with a little time to spare.

Since Monday I’ve been setting my alarm for 7am. I pray the night before that God would give me the strength to throw off the covers, and I read a chapter of Acts before going to sleep so that my last thoughts are ones of how the early church served God with all they had.

When 7am arrives, my alarm goes off loud and clear. I open my eyes and turn on my bedside lamp, then I snooze my alarm. Don’t panic, it’s part of the plan! I’ve set it to snooze for just one minute and to only snooze once, and that minute gives me time to get used to the light and to being awake. When that minute is over, my alarm sounds again and I get out of bed.

My first act is to wash my face, before heading downstairs to my early morning friend, the kettle. Whilst the kettle is boiling I try to perform some small household duty like putting away dried dishes or hanging out laundry, instead of standing there listening to the kettle bubbling like a zombie. I make a cup of tea, then head back upstairs to my bedroom where I settle myself for some quality Father-Daughter time with the LORD.

I begin with a short prayer that I’ll stay awake, before turning to a Psalm to focus my mind. I’ve been reading a book by Joni Eareckson Tada called ‘31 days towards Passionate Faith’; the chapters are short and to the point, giving one helpful thought for the day. I try to carry that thought through into my prayer time as I write my list of things to bring before God. I know that if I just prayed without a structure to follow my mind would soon wander off and start planning to clean the fridge or to take swing dance lessons!  I keep a prayer journal, and split my prayer into four categories; Sorry, Thanks, Others, Please. I also try to jot down the point from Joni’s book and a verse from my Psalm each morning to help me remember. I bring it all before my Heavenly Father and when I’m done, my normal morning routine begins.

This first week has not been without it’s problems; a few late nights and fitful sleeps resulted in a somewhat sleepier Lowri arriving at work each day. On Tuesday I opened my Bible at Nahum and had to spend several minutes trying to engage my brain before working out which way to turn the pages to find Psalms!  On Wednesday I spent the whole day trying to stop my left eyelid twitching, and Thursday morning was a battle with the bed-sheets, but other than that it’s been a completely joy.

I’m enjoying it even more now that I have someone to share it with! My friend and colleague Rhian has taken up the challenge too, so hopefully we can check on each other and help one another to stick with it with some encouraging early morning texting.  

I hope and pray that the LORD will continue to get me out of my bed each morning so I can spend time with him, it certainly isn’t my doing!

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He is risen!

February 3, 2010

 

Just before Christmas, I was on a long train journey. To pass the time, I picked up a copy of the Metro and came across a review of the decade. As I scanned the double page spread, I expected to see events like the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, Hurricane Katrina from 2005 and the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 taking centre stage. But the stories given the most column inches were the deaths of celebrities. The reviewer recalled Heath Ledger’s accidental overdose, Brittany Murphy’s sudden heart attack, and, not surprisingly, Michael Jackson’s death amongst the events that rocked the world over the last ten years.

We all saw the news reports showing distraught fans crying on each other shoulders, the thousands of bouquets laid in memory, the candlelit vigil held at Jacko’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame. It’s easy to see why those events stick in people’s minds.

It’s often the case with those who live their lives in the limelight that when the light goes out their glittering achievements are eclipsed by a morbid fascination with the way their lives ended. I recently saw a programme marking 75 years since Elvis was born; much of the programme focused on the circumstances surrounding his death. The death of Diana Princess of Wales sparked a similar reaction, with scores of television programmes, newspaper articles, books and websites dedicated to the details of the car accident that took her life.

We can all be suitably appalled at this distasteful fixation with death, but I wonder if we are sometimes guilty of the same thing?

Easter is a time when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We remember how he suffered on the cross for us. It’s a message we hear all year round, and it’s crucial to preaching the gospel. Then on Easter Sunday we hear how, after three days in the tomb, Jesus rose from the dead never again to die. How many times a year do we think about that I wonder?

Without the resurrection, the cross is senseless. And so is Jesus’ life, all his claims, all his miracles, all his teaching; if he didn’t rise from the dead why should we put our trust in any of it?

Paul knew the importance of teaching the Resurrection. In Acts 17 it was Paul’s teaching on Jesus and the Resurrection that got the attention of the idolatrous Athenians:

 ‘…Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”’  Acts 17v18-20

Paul’s epistles are full of teaching on the resurrection. It’s clear that to Paul it was essential that the early church knew they were followers of a living God. So why is it so vital?

The Resurrection gives us proof – “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”, so they say. And that is what the resurrection is – the proof. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus was the Son of God, and therefore the only one who could take away the sin of the world. It is ludicrous to believe Jesus really was God, but that he didn’t really rise from the dead. If he didn’t, then he was a liar, conning people into following him, but if he did he is to be worshipped as LORD over all.

The Resurrection gives us hope – Because Jesus lives we can know that death really has been defeated and our sin really has been dealt with. Death exists because of sin (there was no death in the Garden), and for Christ to die meant that he carried the consequence of our sin. But his resurrection is the proof that death was no longer a punishment for those he came to save, but that death was now merely a doorway to Glory! Had Jesus not risen from the dead, we would never know for sure that we would, as Paul explains “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15v20). Because of the resurrection we can be comforted when a Christian loved one dies, or we can rejoice when we read of martyrs who died for the faith, for we know that we will one day worship God together.  

 The resurrection gives us something no other religion has – We spend so much time telling non-Christians how they can be saved through the death of Christ. But every other major religious leader is dead too. His resurrection on the other hand is a stark contrast to everything else the world is offering. No other religion claims to follow a man who was God, who died and rose again. Why? Because to make such a claim if it’s false is very foolish and can easily be proved wrong. No other religion can claim such a thing because no such thing is true of any other religious leader. But for Christians, God is not a remote being disconnected from our lives, but a living and loving Saviour who knows our struggles and feels our pain.  

We often talk about living our lives at the foot of the cross, but what about living at the door of the empty tomb? Christ is risen! Hallelujah!


The Earlybird

February 3, 2010

I have a confession to make: I am lousy at quiet times. Always have been.

It’s not through lack of good intention; I’ve made several attempts to get into a routine and spend time with the LORD in the morning or in the evening, but it just never seems to stick, I always end up back in the same old rut.

This week I have joined the 5 o’clock club on the girltalk blog here http://www.girltalkhome.com/resources#clubs/5oclock.

The idea is you sign up and join with your sisters in Christ by setting yourself a target time to get up each morning and spend time with the LORD, through his Word and through prayer. You can share testimonies, tips and struggles you might be facing with other women all over the world who are trying to do the same thing.

It’s only week 1, but this has been great for me; for the first time I’ve realised why I always seem to fall at the first hurdle – it’s because of guilt.

Usually my spurts of morning quiet time attempts follow the reading of a book or the hearing of a quote that chastises me for not spending more time on my knees. I feel guilty for neglecting my time with the LORD, so I set myself a goal of getting up super early and spending lots of time in prayer before I start my day. Obviously I fail because come the next morning when my alarm goes off my duvet says “don’t leave me, stay here in the warmth”, and my bed says “just a few more minutes”, and my body says “Uuuuuurrrrggh!”, and before I know it my hand is reaching for the snooze button, and I am on my way back to the land of Nod. Occasionally I manage it for a day of two, but eventually it always ends with me feeling like a complete failure, thus adding to the guilt that made me decide to have a quiet time in the first place.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way.

But , thanks to an intervention from the girltalkers, I’m hoping to do better this time. With some handy hints on how to actually get out of bed, they’ve helped me see that quiet times with the LORD needn’t be a chore we guiltily perform to appease God’s wrath, but that they are like little glimpses of heaven before starting your day.

I’m taking the 28 day challenge to see if I can keep up my quiet times for the month of February, and I’ll be posting some updates on my progress as I go along. To get us started, here are the handy tips I’ve been trying to follow.

  1. Place your alarm clock in a strategic location, preferably on the other side of the room from your bed.
  2. Set your alarm for the same time every day.
  3. Never, never, never hit the snooze button or lie back down to catch a few more winks. The second your alarm goes off is the most critical moment in getting up early.
  4. Proceed directly to the coffee pot or caffeinated drink of choice.
  5. Be prepared to feel absolutely miserable for about ten to fifteen minutes. But the misery soon turns into pure gladness as you experience the delight of meeting with God and reap the benefits the rest of the day. Fifteen minutes of misery is certainly worth fifteen-plus hours of peace and productivity.
  6. Keep in mind that our bodies eventually respond to a standard wake-up time. In other words, it gets easier.
  7. Remember: our hope is not in a strategy but in our Savior.

Stay tuned to see how I’m doing, so long as you don’t comment on the bags under my eyes!


Christmas Announced!

January 22, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I think the countdown to Christmas starts far too early. It seems like my summer tan has only just begun to fade when suddenly every shop window is adorned in red and green glitter and the Wizards are wishing it could be Christmas everyday in my supermarket. By the middle of October children everywhere have studied the Argos Catalogue in detail and written the 3rd draft of their wish-list. I wonder how people can sustain that level of excitement for three months! On the other hand, maybe it’s not just Hallmark and Debenhams that like to get a head start on announcing the forthcoming festive season.

I wonder if you know where we find the first mention of the first Christmas in the Bible? You might think of the angel coming to Mary, or the prophesy in Isaiah about the coming Messiah. But it’s neither of those. The first Christmas was foretold far earlier than that. In fact, the first people to hear about the first Christmas were the first man and first woman, Adam and Eve. We find it in Genesis 3 verse 15,

 And I will put enmity
       between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring and hers;
       he will crush your head,
       and you will strike his heel.”

Don’t be alarmed, you did read that right. Genesis 3:15 is the first mention of Christmas. But there’s no big bearded man in a red suit, no reindeer, and no stockings. There’s not even a baby in a manger and the cattle aren’t lowing. How can this verse possibly be talking about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem?

It’s easy for us to forget the true meaning of the Christmas story amidst all the festivity. And that is why Genesis 3 is so important to remember; because it talks about the reason Jesus was born.

God had made a perfect world. He lovingly created it, speaking everything into existence. His perfect servants, Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. They walked through the Garden of Eden together, sharing everything, with no shame or fear or doubt. They tended the Garden and cared for God’s creation.

But not everyone was happy with this arrangement. Satan, God’s enemy, plotted to destroy the perfect world God had created. He hated God’s relationship with Adam and Eve. He took the form of a snake in the Garden and convinced Eve to disobey the only rule God had given. She fell for Satan’s plot, and Adam followed her into sin. Suddenly that perfect relationship man had with God was ruined by their disobedience.

Sin had entered the world. Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, the whole of creation was tainted. Adam and Eve could no longer enjoy the close relationship they had with God, and all their descendents after them would suffer the consequences of their actions and follow their rebellious example. We see the effects of sin all around us today, not least in our own hearts.

It seems like Satan has won doesn’t it? It seems he has succeeded in his mission the destroy God’s perfect world. But that is why verse 15 is so important. This verse points to the only hope for humanity, it’s God’s promise of rescue. These are God’s words to the snake in the Garden. Though Satan has succeeded in drawing Adam and Eve into sin, God is far more powerful than he is. God curses the snake and sets his rescue plan for creation into motion. And this is where the Christmas story comes in. God promises that one day, a man (Eve’s offspring) will end Satan’s power over humanity. Through his own suffering (“you will strike his heel”) he will win the victory over Satan (“he will crush your head”).

Jesus Christ is the “he” in this verse. At Christmas time we celebrate the birth of no ordinary baby, but God’s Promised Saviour to the world. God sent his own Son into the world with one purpose. He was sent on a rescue mission. He lived a perfect life, according to God’s perfect plan, and took the punishment for our sins. Through his death on the Cross he freed us from Satan’s enslaving power, he took God’s just punishment for our disobedience, restoring the broken relationship between God and Man.

Genesis is only the first of many prophesies in the Old Testament about Jesus. The whole of history up to his birth had been looking forward to, and yearning for, his coming, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). We find it hard to wait three months for Christmas Day, just imagine what it was like to wait centuries for God’s rescuer to come! At God’s chosen time, he came, and took on Satan and death and hell, and won the victory God had promised in the garden.

 “…God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”  2 Corinthians 5:19       

 Adam and Eve waited their whole lives to see Satan defeated, but we needn’t wait. Christ HAS come, He Has Triumphed!


The Unquenchable Flame

September 10, 2009

unquenchableThe Unquenchable Flame

Michael Reeves

IVP

192pp

ISBN : 978-1-84474-385-8

 

Thank you Evangelical Times! If you hadn’t sent me this book to review, I may never have picked it up, and that would have been a great shame.

 The Unquenchable Flame is a clear, easy read; lively and humorous in places, it’s ideal for kindling an interest in the Reformation and the events that have shaped Christianity in Europe. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this book lacks depth, it’s crammed full of important details and useful insights. Reeves has written a book that is both light in style and deep in content.

The book charts a time when the World awoke to the sound of God’s Word. Beginning with the pre-Reformation state of Europe, before there was even a hint of discontentment with the Roman Catholic Church, the author shows how the LORD worked in the hearts of men like Erasmus, Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, convicting them of the Supremacy of God’s Word over the Pope’s. These men, and many others, fought to release Christians from the false teachings of Roman Catholic Church, and introduce them to a salvation that could not be bought or earned but was graciously given by a personal God who spoke directly to them through his Word.

Michael Reeves succeeds in bringing the Reformation to life and making its significance unmissable. One of the book’s strengths is that it glorifies God rather than the men he chose to use. The Reformers should certainly be admired and their example followed, but the example they set was one of devotion to following Christ.

What makes this book different is its very human portrayal of the Reformers. Much of the humour in the book comes from stories of their home lives. Mrs Luther, for instance, was one of a group of Nuns convinced of Salvation by faith alone. Luther helped these nuns escape the convent, and found them all husbands. He married Katie because she was so feisty no-one else would have her!

This book has an interesting feature; the main text is interspersed with added informative asides. Every few pages there is a grey box of text giving some additional detail about a person or event that may not link directly with the chapter, but is interesting nonetheless. Although I enjoyed the additional reading I found myself wondering if I should stick with the main text of the chapter or read the text box!

I enjoyed this book very much, and it’s certainly encouraged me to find out more about the Reformation. Anticipating this response, IVP have set up a website with some additional resources and suggested further reading.


Christmas Evans

June 12, 2009

Christmas Evans – no ordinary preacher

Tim ShentonChristmas Evans

Day One

£8, 154 pages

ISBN: 978-1846251306

 

One thing is certain, this book is a real conversation started. Whenever I left my copy on the coffee table, visitors would pick it up and ask in bemused tones “What sort of a name is Christmas Evans?”.

I knew a little about Christmas Evans before reading this book, but as I read I realised there’s far more to this one-eyed Welshman, dubbed ‘the John Bunyan of Wales’. I learnt of the far reaching effect of his ministry all over Wales and that we have Christmas Evans to thank for the Gospel witness in Anglesey today; it might be fairer to call him the ‘remarkable itinerant evangelist of Wales’.

This book is the story of how God can transform a poor, uneducated, illiterate man with a difficult childhood and a fiery temper into a faithful husband, caring minister and mighty man of God. It inspires and challenges. Even after God had reformed Christmas’ character, he faced many struggles during his life, both in his ministry and in his home life; by not glossing over these incidents, Tim Shenton allows the reader to see the real man. The way God remained faithful to Evans through adversity and doubt is something we can all relate to.

I enjoyed reading this book. It gave me a fuller understanding of my Christian heritage and I was encouraged to read of the way the LORD worked in Wales during the time Christmas Evans was ministering His Word.

I don’t possess a particular interest in history, so this wouldn’t have been a natural choice for me. Though I enjoyed and benefited from reading it, this book would be of most interest to those who are keen Historians. Some knowledge of Welsh geography might also be useful, you may need to practice pronouncing your double l’s before reading it aloud!


Young, Restless, Reformed

June 12, 2009

Young, Restless, ReformedYRR

 Colin Hanssen                   

Crossway

156 pages, £9.99

ISBN number  978-1-58134-940-5

 

Young, Restless, Reformed has just started making waves in the UK. I heard about it from a friend who had been told “You must read this book – it’s about you!”, and true enough it is about him, and many other twenty-somethings I know. In fact, as interviewees were introduced, I found myself wondering if some of my friends were leading double lives.

Colin Hanssen, a journalist for Christianity Today, set out to study what has been labelled as a “resurgence of Reformed Theology amongst the youth of America”. He spent two years visiting conferences and churches across America and interviewing the movers and shakers putting Calvinism back on the map.

I was intrigued by this book, and curious to see how the author would go about his research – would he remain impartial? Would he confine his interviews to big names only – Piper, Mahaney, Driscoll? Would it all descend into hero worship and Arminian-bashing?

All my questions were answered ‘No’.  Hanssen did interview some of the most influencial men in Young Evangelical circles, but those interviews were balances out by conversations with regular young people who attended the churches and conferences he visited, folk in their twenties who are passionate about reformed theology. The temptation to be dazzled by those big names is dispersed by Hanssen’s down to earth descriptions of John Piper’s home life or C.J. Mahaney’s in his youth. All of the well known men interviewed in this book testify to the influence of their own heroes – C.H. Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd Jones. And no-one lashes out at those who hold a different view point, although their views on Arminianism are clearly expressed. Hanssen even interviews a few men who are well known for their objection to the teachings on John Calvin and gives clear descriptions of the differences between the two doctrines. Having said that, Hanssen is certainly not impartial. It’s very clear that he stands firmly in the TULIP camp.

I found this book very stimulating – the title sums up the readership perfectly. The only real downside was that some of the references would be lost on a British audience, and a few of the chapters refer to ministries that are not well known in the UK like Campus Outreach or the PCA. This is after all a book about the youth of America, and won’t necessarily resonate with their British counterparts, but I do think that the stories in this book will ring true with many young Evangelicals in the UK, as we are already seeing a similar return to reformed theology and a hunger for Calvinistic teaching here.

If there’s more Piper than Pop music on your iPod, if you’d rather read a Puritan Paperback than a self-help guide, and if you loved the mix of reformed teaching and contemporary worship at New Word Alive – this book is for you.