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“Doubt is a sign that we are taking faith seriously”

Jeff Lucas

Jeff Lucas

As a preacher, writer and teacher Jeff Lucas has been an inspiration to many Christian for decades. Now, writing what he describes as his most vulnerable book, he explores the difficult and challenging issues around faith, doubt, suffering and depression. Not content with easy answers and simplistic platitudes, he uses his own honesty to encourage others in the midst of the darkest times.

Buy ‘Faith in the Fog’ for just £8.49 (RRP £9.99)

What was your motivation in writing this book?

I wanted to get real about issues that are often spoken of in hushed tones in the Christian world – like depression, anxiety, disappointment and burn out.

Buy 'Faith in the Fog' for just £8.49 (RRP (£9.99)

Buy ‘Faith in the Fog’ for just £8.49 (RRP (£9.99)

 

There seems to be a lot of your own vulnerability in Faith in the Fog – was this a difficult book to write?

It was. But I have come to the conclusion that it’s worth it, because truth, all truth, sets us free. Also, as a Christian leader, I’ve realised that there’s a difference between being an example and projecting an image. The bible paints pictures of it’s heroes in vulnerable tones, showing their weaknesses as well as their strengths. It still surprises me that honesty and vulnerability should be so surprising to some.

Is there a particular weakness in evangelical and charismatic forms of Christianity that makes embracing doubts difficult?

Yes. Perhaps we’re afraid of letting the side down if we are public about the fact that we don’t have 20/20 vision right now, and that we struggle with doubt. But doubt is a sign that we are taking faith seriously. if we don’t acknowledge the reality of doubt, new followers of Jesus are going to be devastated when they have to tackle it themselves.

You talk about not ‘feigning clarity’ – is it hard for a preacher to be honest about areas of faith and doctrine that he isn’t absolutely clear about?

Yes, but again, I’m committed to it. And although I hate to admit it, there is a ‘pending’ file of subjects that I am still thinking through, that I am not going to pretend to be firm about.

How does the church help those struggling with difficult circumstances, a shaky faith and problems such as depression?

Sometimes not very well, because in some churches, people are made to feel bad if they feel bad, or are encouraged to avoid prescription medication or professional help if they are struggling, which is mad and abusive. We help when we huddle together, not when we assault each other with slogans or exhortations.

Is there a danger of seeking a ‘quick fix’ in the face of suffering?

Yes, and it happens all the time, whenever anyone gets sick. The prayer team wonderfully goes into overdrive, but in some churches, that’s when the prophets announce that healing is assured, or suggest that it has not come because (a) the sufferer’s faith is weak, (b) the sufferer is sinful or (c) the sufferers great great great granddad was a satanist. How dare we slap people with slogans when they are already bewildered by their circumstances and pain.

What do you hope people will take away from this book?

Hope. Encouragement. A vocabulary that might help them express their struggle. And a dose of reality that might clear some of the fog that is actually created by enthusiastic but thoughtless religion.

Buy ‘Faith in the Fog’ for just £8.49 (RRP £9.99)

 

Ruth & Billy Graham: The legacy of a couple

In the many books written about the life and ministry of Billy Graham, few have examined the importance of the relationship between the world-famous evangelist and his wife. Swiss author Hanspeter Nüesch talks about his new book, ‘Ruth & Billy Graham: The legacy of a couple‘, which does just that.

Buy ‘Ruth & Billy Graham’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Hanspeter Nüesch

Hanspeter Nüesch

What was your aim writing the book?

I found out that there are literally dozens of books and publications on the ministry and life of Billy Graham but not one on the couple. I wanted the enormous contribution of  Ruth Graham in the life and ministry of Billy to become known to a wider public and serve as a lesson for couples especially couples who want to serve the Lord together. Researching about Ruth’s key role was also a discovery for me and proves to be a discovery for everyone who reads the book.

Billy again and again mentioned the key role of Ruth,  even in his word of endorsement for the book, but this fact was never reflected properly by a publication in some extensive way.

A second goal was to help current and emerging leaders learn important lessons about Spirit-empowered evangelism and leadership that is marked by integrity empowering others. I wanted to find an answer to the question why  Billy Graham and his platform team could stay and minister together for 60 years in the power of the Holy Spirit?

Buy 'Ruth & Billy Graham' for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99).

Buy ‘Ruth & Billy Graham’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99).

You seem to have had incredible access to photos and stories – how did that come about?

By God’s gracious leading my wife and I became close friends with Gigi Graham, the oldest daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham. For several years we visited each other regularly in our homes in the U.S.A. and Switzerland when she shared personal stories about her parents not known so far. She also provided me with not less than 40 excellent photos from her private collection that allow a look behind the scenes of her parents into their private lives. Many if not most of the stories and photos have not yet been published or are not known to a wider public. Gigi also made it possible that, after the death of her mother, my wife and I could visit her father three times in his private home in Montreat, North Carolina, asking questions, sharing and praying with him and thus getting to know him in a very personal way.

I have to add that there were many years of research involved looking through basically every publication we could get hold of and listening to many hours of taped interviews. Finally we had to chose from more than 5000 stories and quotes from publications not known to a wider public.

I also did myself many interviews with people who knew the Grahams personally or had some special relationship with the Grahams at some time or were just blessed by the ministry of them.

How would you describe the relationship between Billy and Ruth?

The relationship between Billy and Ruth was characterised by mutual appreciation of each other’s gifts. Billy knew that he needed Ruth’s help in several areas. He would take her advice very seriously. And Ruth realised that Billy needed a stable home and a wife who would  support  him but sometimes also serve as a necessary correction. It takes a book to describe the complex relationship between Billy and Ruth, which was not always easy but truly powerful, because they lived and served as a team complementing each other with their different gifts.

Do you think the way marriage and ministry is handled in the modern world offers different challenges to 40 or 50 years ago? Which parallels can be drawn? To what extent do you think the story of Bill and Ruth is a uniquely American experience, and what is universal?

Billy Graham

Billy Graham

Of course living marriage as a lived-out partnership in practical ways shows itself different now than at the time of the Grahams. Now the wives and mothers often have to work outside the home just because of economic necessities. Even the Grahams were aware of this and would not be against it. But at the same time they also warned that the strive after more money and luxury could take important time away from the family.

The challenges of an egoistic life-style remain the same, whether we live in America or Europe, whether we live now or  40 or 50 years ago when Billy and Ruth started their team effort. Nowadays we need to learn more than ever that self-realisation often leads to losing our God-given call as a team member, be it as part of the marriage team or the ministry team. Ruth and Billy Graham show us a way where the partners live a fulfilled life because they gladly empower one another and are obedient to God’s call on their life. This could sometimes mean a personal sacrifice.  Billy often missed his home tremendously and Ruth missed her Bill. But they did it for a higher call.

Ruth could also have a tremendous ministry of evangelism and teaching herself. She was very intelligent, full of wit and wisdom. Well-read as she was,  she used her wide knowledge and gift of understanding complex realities  to support Billy’s worldwide ministry. She saw herself involved in world evangelism as much as Billy, but she did fulfil her part by  staying with her family at home. She read books for him,  provided him with  illustrations for his messages, and discussed his ministry with him so that the content of his messages and articles would stick to the Bible, lift up Christ and honour the Lord.

Especially in early years of their marriage she was a scholar of the Bible more than Billy was. When Billy was on a ministry trip they usually would phone each other at 5pm. Billy also regularly wrote letters and cards to his five children trying to maintain a heart contact with them as well as possible. If you have the privilege to read some of his letters as I had you realise how much he loved his children and in later years also their spouses.

What lessons do you hope readers take away from the book?

There are many lessons to learn from the Grahams.

The foundation of their life and ministry was their deep love of the Lord Jesus with whom thy tried to stay in contact during the whole day in some way.

When I asked Billy at my first visit in his home what Jesus meant to him, he answered “Everything”.  During my last visit several years afterwards  I asked him the same question again hoping that he would  expand the answer a little  for the readers of the book. He thought about it and then answered: “I am really sorry. I cannot say more than that Jesus just means everything to me.”

When I asked daughter Ruth, in the family called Bunny,  which attribute would characterise her mother best, she answered: “She is just in love with Jesus.” Both Ruth and Billy just wanted to please their Lord and friend. And they wanted doing this by sticking closely to His Word, the Bible, being an ambassador for the Lord and not for themselves.

The Lausanne Movement is definitely an important legacy of the Grahams, as it defended the key role of evangelism and the core of the Christian faith against all kind of liberal tendencies who pleaded for a moratorium of missions. I say the Grahams, because without Ruth’s encouragement the Congress on World Evangelisation Lausanne ’74 would have been cancelled because of lack of money.

Their deep authentic relationship with the Lord helped Billy and Ruth Graham to stay humble always giving him the glory. Humility might be the most outstanding character trait of Billy whereas Ruth would be more characterised by her faith in God, His promises in the Bible, and His utter trustworthiness. Often she encouraged Bill, as she called him, to go forward with a project and to trust in God’s faithfulness. Has He ever let them down when they put their trust in Him?

Billy on the other hand never concealed his weaknesses as you will easily see reading the book. And both were very authentic and often also funny, especially Ruth. When collecting the different stories for the book I often cried,  because  the simplicity of this couple who trusted the Lord in every situation  touched my heart. But there were more times when I just broke out in laughter. I have not come so far across  a person who is funnier than Ruth Graham and who combines sensitivity and love with feisty humour and a spirit of wit. Beware: You too might  be in for some tears but also from time to time for a good laughter while reading the book! Be richly blessed!

Buy ‘Ruth & Billy Graham’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

“We still stand for a raw, organic expression of faith”

Rend_CollectiveSince the release of their first studio album, Organic Family Hymnal, in 2010 the Rend Collective Experiment have managed to carve a unique place in the often sonically homogenous world of worship music. With their third studio recording (and fourth release) they continue to create their own creative and spiritual place in the Christian world.

What was your aim with the new album ‘The Art of Celebration’?

The Art of Celebration is a concept album based around the theme of joy. Like an art form, joy is playful, yes, but also it is a discipline and a craft that we must make a serious business of developing if the pains of this life are not to steal our joy.

The aim of the album is to study the discipline of joy, and the pursuit of celebration in all seasons.

Buy 'The Art of Celebration' for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Buy ‘The Art of Celebration’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

How has life changed for RCE since the first album release, ‘Organic Family Hymnal’?

In some ways it is drastically different – we spend a lot of time in the United States now (accruing pounds at the myriad fast food outlets!), I am now married and our husband and wife percussion team added a wonderful baby boy to our group.

In terms of vision, musically and in terms of ministry, very little has changed. We still stand for a raw, organic expression of faith and for an eclectic, unpolished approach to music.

How do you find the tension between the commercial reality of working full-time as a musician and artistic and ministerial freedom?

For us as a band who believe that people come before art or music, we have always had the self-imposed restriction that our music must primarily exist to serve people. Service by definition is a laying down of personal or artistic freedom for the sake of others and we often find ourselves frustrated when we discover an awesome melody but realise that it can’t be sung by a congregation and have to go back to the drawing board.

But it’s always worth it when you see a group of people able to sing and own your song and not just hear it.

We don’t think much in terms of commerce, but when people feel like they have ownership of your songs, and that you as a band are serving them, the commercial aspect looks after itself.

To what extent are you a ‘collective’ and to what extent a band with an established lineup?

We are a collective with an established onstage touring band. The Collective extends beyond onstage personnel and describes the artists and visionaries who bring not just the music but the video work, set-design, ministry direction, prayer, album art and so much more. So much of what we do is done in-house by our friends. This is the collective.

The instrumentation is very much tapping into a current vogue for acoustic/folk styles. How deliberate is this?

It’s a pleasing coincidence! We are Irish so it would seem contrived if our music avoided our folk and traditional roots. Our first record came out before the new-folk revival in 2010 and we had no idea how people would respond, but it was our heart music. It worked out well for us!

Do you write your songs primarily for performance or congregational singing?

We write for the church, and we write songs to be sung with the church – not at the church!

We have made a huge effort to let musical technicality take a backseat when it has to for the sake of ‘singability’, whilst making sure not to be too “vanilla”. It’s a hard balance to strike but we feel The Art of Celebration has done it.

You have been working a lot in the United States – has that changed your perspective at all compared to life in Northern Ireland?

Undoubtedly. We knew little of the global church before we began touring extensively and have learned so much about what God is doing through each denomination. It’s exciting and it has really stirred our passion and confirmed our calling to champion diversity and yet unity in the church.

We love the USA but we’re still Irish to the core. We miss the ocean and the grass-fed beef or, as we call it, “beef”!!

Buy ‘The Art of Celebration’ for just £12.99 (RRP £10.99)

Also available: ‘Organic Family Hymnal’ – £10.99 (RRP £12.99) and ‘Homemade Worship by Handmade People’ – £10.99 (RRP £12.99) 

Pope Francis and ‘The Church of Mercy’

In his first major book, Pope Francis sets out his vision for a ‘Church of Mercy’. In the preface, Giuliano Vigini Professor of the Sociology of Contemporary Publishing at the Catholic University of Milan, explains the importance of this call for a merciful church.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

It is only a year since Pope Francis began his pontificate, but his pastoral plans for the Church seem already very well defined. From the start his words, gestures and decisions have clearly shown the style and direction he intends his teaching magisterium to have. As time has gone by his vision has extended and consolidated, opening up new horizons for the Church’s life. In the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium the Pope set out the main goals of his plan, thus writing the Church’s ‘magna charta’ for the coming years. In its broad vision and rich contents the exhortation resembles an encyclical letter. His words are all about the missionary face of the Church and, most of all, the new way of ‘being Church’ the Pope would like it to adopt through a more authentic proclamation and witness to the Gospel by Christians.

Buy 'The Church of Mercy for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Buy ‘The Church of Mercy for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Obviously, Francis is well aware that the Church’s poor fishermen have fragile boats and much-mended nets and that, despite their efforts, they are often not able to catch anything. Since God’s will underlies everything, Francis also knows well that the strength of the Church doesn’t depend on its members and their capabilities, because they are both weak and inadequate. Rather its strength ‘is hidden in the deep water of God, where it is summoned to cast its nets’.

How these nets should be cast is the focus of Francis’s apostolic preaching and mission. Francis’s Church wants to be recognised first of all as the house of mercy, which, between human weakness and God’s patience, welcomes and helps to find the ‘good news’ of the great Christian hope. Whoever reaches this house and surrenders to God’s mercy will not only cease to feel lonely and abandoned, but will also discover a fuller existence, lit up by faith and the love of the living God – Christ who died, rose again and now is alive in his Church. Whoever meets him and stays with him learns the grammar of a Christian life and, first of all, the need of forgiveness and reconciliation, of brotherly and sisterly love, which Christians must spread in the world as joyful witnesses to God’s mercy. Not only do they need to show understanding and sympathy, and remain close to those who endure moral or physical sufferings, but they also need to become people who truly and deeply bear others’ pains and difficulties with the greatest tenderness, magnanimity and solidarity, and to be people who offer solace, hope and encouragement to keep on walking on the path of the Lord of life.

The good news of Christianity is Christ himself. His words give salvation and life because he is shelter and life. In the Church people believe in this truth of faith and all who adopt it as the fullness of the sacramental life find their direction and support to live as Christians, whose goal is holiness. The steps towards this finishing line are listening, proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel. According to Pope Francis’s theology, full-time Christians don’t sit down to admire their faith in the reflection of a mirror nor talk about it over dinner, but they come out of themselves, embrace their cross with courage and walk the streets to share with everyone the joy of the Gospel. Pope Francis never gets tired of telling us that evangelising is conversion, it is coming out and walking. The first to be summoned are the priests, ‘anointed to anoint’, whose duty is to welcome and to serve. They are asked not to be afraid to go to the furthest boundaries and outskirts of human existence to meet the poor, the marginalised and the least.

Those who are materially, spiritually and humanly poor are not the focus of special attention because of being an economic, social or pastoral problem, but because the loving God, poor among the poor, reserved for them a privileged place in Christ’s life and ministry. The ‘poor Church for the poor’ of Pope Francis is a principle that defines in an evangelistic sense the choice of poverty and service to the poor, thus continuing the wonderful story of a loving Church that throughout the centuries has been a way to liberation, inclusion and promotion for the poor, following Christ’s idea of liberty and love. Christ indeed offers not only generous, practical and constant solidarity but he also actively affirms human dignity, pursues justice and builds a civilisation which is effectively ‘human’.

In this context of pastoral vision for the Church, Pope Francis’s idea of human beings in relation to society is embedded. His distinctive emphasis runs parallel and interacts with the rest. His strong and direct speech shakes consciences to strike the ‘hardened’ heart of a society whose culture is not open to the idea of coming together for the common good. These are the premises for a neighbourly and peaceful existence. It is not possible to move forward towards a better world until such idols as power, money, corruption, careerism, selfishness, indifference or, to sum up, ‘the spirit of the world’ are demolished.

In short, the life of the Church needs to be cleansed, renewed and revitalised. This requires an ecclesial and pastoral discernment that enables it to rediscover the essence of its missionary mandate, in the light of the Holy Spirit and with the intercession of Mary, mother of the task of proclaiming the Gospel.

Buy ‘The Church of Mercy’ by Pope Francis for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Buy ‘The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium’ by Pope Francis for just £4.45 (RRP £4.99)