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Walking Backwards to Christmas

Bishop Stephen Cottrell

Bishop Stephen Cottrell

The Christmas story is familiar to almost every person in the UK, with the Nativity retold in schools and churches, and on TV and radio every year. Using the innovative device of telling the story backwards, starting with the prophetess Anna and finishing with the promise of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament, Bishop Stephen Cottrell offers a new way to encounter the familiar passages of scripture.

Buy ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

This is an unusual way to tell the Christmas story – what gave you the idea to do this?

The idea for telling the story backwards came in a flash when I first saw the painting by Albert Herbert that is on the cover of the book. Firstly, it combines the story of Moses and the burning bush with the story of the nativity, and secondly there seems to be a movement across the picture from left to right starting with Joseph or a shepherd (or is it Moses himself?) and then moving to Jesus moving to the Christ Child, Mary and the burning bush. Because it is such a well-known story, I thought telling it backwards might help people approach it differently and allow themselves to be surprised by what is so easily familiar.

Buy 'Walking Backwards to Christmas' for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Buy ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

For someone familiar with the Nativity, what might they learn from approaching the story the way you do in this book?

I hope that someone who knows the story well will enjoy reading it backwards, since this approach allows you to peel back the layers of the story and makes the purposes of God from the beginning the end point for this particular version. So it places Mary’s decision to say “yes” to God at a much more climactic point, though the book delves deeper taking us back to Moses and the burning bush and the revelation of God’s name.

Do you think it is still possible for the casual church attender, already overly familiar with the gospel passages read at this time of year, to find a deepening of faith through the rituals of the Christmas season?

I think a casual church attender who is already perhaps over familiar with the Christmas story will find this book particularly helpful and will enable them to enter more deeply into the rituals and customs of the Christmas season.

Do you think in these post-modern times people are more willing to be moved by ancient stories, regardless of how they treat them historically?

One of the problems for the teaching and proclamation of the Christian faith today is that although people do not know the Bible story very well at all, they hang on to the vague idea that they do know what it is all about. This is particularly true of the Christmas story when – as I say – the story itself remains familiar. I think people can still be moved and impacted by the story. But we do need to find ways of telling it afresh. I hope my backwards telling of the Christmas story will capture the imagination of churchgoer and non-churchgoer alike.

How does a Bishop find the time to write as much as you do?

People often ask me how I find the time to write. The honest answer is, I am not quite sure. However, the evidence is overwhelming that I do. I seem to churn out at least one book a year. I am not one of those highly disciplined people who get up at six o’clock each morning and spend an hour writing. I think the only helpful answer I can give is that all of us find time in life for the things that really give us joy. So if you find great joy playing golf or growing petunias or doing a crossword you will find time for it no matter how busy your life has become. For me, writing is a joy. It has always been something I have done. I think I wrote just as much before I got published as I have done since. For me, the real joy of my writing is not seeing the finished product of the book (though this is always a fulfilling thing) but the actual act of writing.

How do you hope people might use this book?

This is a book that I hope people will simply sit down and read like they might read a novel. It tells a story. It is not intended to be a study guide. It doesn’t come with any particular set questions. But since I am aware that book clubs and book groups are very popular nowadays. I do include in the introduction the suggestion that having read it a few people might sit down together and share their reflections. I also know that a similar book I wrote on the cross called, The Nail, was used by many churches in their services. The chapters in Walking Backwards to Christmas are slightly longer and so the whole thing does not lend itself to becoming a service quite so well, but I do suppose that the chapters could be used in worship and could be read out as meditations or as part of a sermon. But chiefly, and as with all the books I write, I simply hope people will read them.

Buy ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Rob Parsons: wisdom to live by

With his insightful books on many of the important aspects of everyday modern life – from parenting to finances – Rob Parson has blended his skilful storytelling with practical advice. Much of this, and many of the lessons he has learned in life, is distilled in his new book, ‘The Wisdom House‘.

Buy ‘The Wisdom House’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Rob Parsons

Rob Parsons

How much of this advice do you wish you had when a young man?

The honest truth is that I wish I’d had all of it. I passionately believe that these lessons are vital whatever age we are, but if we are fortunate enough to have somebody share them with us when we are young, at least we have a chance of putting them into practice. And, of course, perhaps we can be saved some of the pain that comes with learning ‘the hard way’. 

Do you think you could have written this book earlier in your life?

No – I am sure that I couldn’t have. I didn’t hear – let alone learn – some of these things until I was way into my mid-life. And although we have given the book the subtitle ‘Because you don’t always have to learn the hard way’, that’s exactly how I learnt many of these myself. In the chapter on debt I talk about how I cried one day because of the mess I’d got my family into. And some things that I heard about when I was young I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. My mother shared a principle with me when I was a small boy: ‘It’s always right to do what’s right.’ I remember her saying that as though it were yesterday, but it wasn’t until much later that I witnessed the sheer carnage that takes place when we neglect that truth. In fact, the essence of The Wisdom House is that those who are older share a little of the wisdom they have gleaned over many years.

Buy 'The Wisdom House' for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Buy ‘The Wisdom House’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

How much of this wisdom is particularly ‘Christian’ and how much is just common sense?

I believe that God is the author of all that is good – including wisdom. The Bible talks so much about pursuing wisdom, and it is because, when we do, we find something of God himself. It’s true that there are lessons in this book that seem particularly ‘Christian’ – for example, ‘The Long Walk Home’ or ‘Other Worlds to Sing In’ – but I have written them in a way that makes them very accessible to all kinds of people, whatever they believe or don’t believe. And as for those chapters that may not seem specifically Christian? Well, I’m not at all sure that it is possible to tap into truth of any kind – even what people call common sense – without drawing on the wisdom which has come to us through the goodness and kindness of God. But I wrote this book for everybody. I believe it is a gift that you could give to a friend or family member whether they are Christians, have a different faith, or none.

The real battle seems to be remembering these principles when life gets tough. How does one do that?

Perhaps one approach is to practice the principles in small ways all through our lives. For example, I talk about coping with the fact that ‘life’s not fair’. Maybe we will have to face that fact in our first job, in an early relationship, or when we see our youthful dreams shattered, but the truth that life’s not fair is something we will have to grapple with at all stages of our lives and in various circumstances. Once we grasp an understanding of the principles involved, we are better able to face all kinds of situations –including the very tough ones.

A lot of the lessons in the book seem to be about character. Is that a lost ideal in the modern world?

When we consider someone who has applied for a job with us, we often think of the three Cs – competence, chemistry and character. The first considers whether they have the skill for the job, the second whether they will fit in with the team, and the last the kind of person they are. Now I am sure it is not always true – I would rather be operated on by an excellent surgeon who is a scoundrel than an incompetent one who is a saint – but, generally, nothing beats character. And that is so because over the long haul there will always be situations where the first two are simply not enough, and we have to draw on deep reserves. It is at those times that people of character are vital – those who have values that matter to them, and who are able to weather storms that others perish in. I’m not sure if character is a lost ideal in the modern world. Perhaps, at heart, it is something we all know and appreciate when we see it.

How do you hope this book is used?

Well, firstly, I hope that people will enjoy reading it! I have written it in bite-sized chunks – and actually, with a few exceptions, you could read the chapters in any order, dipping in and out of the book as you want. But we are also working on at least two other ways the book can be used. We will be producing discussion group material – perhaps taking a lesson or two a week. This would be perfect for a house-group or reading group. And we also want to produce a course that can be used in sixth forms and colleges.

Buy ‘The Wisdom House’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

 

When you’re wounded by God’s people

Anne Graham Lotz

Anne Graham Lotz

Anne Graham Lotz was described by her father, Billy Graham, as “the best preacher in the family.” Over the years she has produced numerous books blending biblical insight with devotional inspiration. Her latest book, ‘Wounded: by God’s People‘, deals with the painful and difficult problems experienced by those who have been hurt by the Church.

Buy Wounded: By God’s People for just £8.99 (RRP £9.99)

This seems a really personal book – what led you to write it?

As I wrote The Magnificent Obsession, which is a devotional biography of Abraham challenging the reader to embrace the God-filled life, the story of Hagar stood out to me. When I finished writing about Abraham, I went back and did a personal study of Hagar. God impressed on my heart that she was wounded by God’s people —Abraham and Sarah — and her story gave me insights into my own woundedness. It was a very personal book, that describes a very personal journey. I have been severely wounded in many different ways by people who call themselves by God’s name. But I have had personal victory over the bitterness and unforgiveness wounds can cause. Immersing myself in Hagar’s story over a four year period helped me begin and maintain the healing of my own heart.

Buy 'Wounded: By God's People' for just £11.99 (RRP £12.99)

Buy ‘Wounded: By God’s People’ for just £11.99 (RRP £12.99)

What would you say to the person unable to bring himself or herself to go to church because of past hurts?

Give it time. Don’t force yourself to go back into a situation where you have been deeply wounded. Some things take time for us to process. We cannot quickly get over deep wounds. But on the other hand, don’t stay outside of church when God leads you to go back in. Sometimes our wounds can lead us to be stubborn. We stay outside because we are angry and bitter and feel we deserve to be isolated. We refuse to go back to church -any church – and so stay on the periphery of God’s people longer than is good for us.

Can a person have a relationship with God outside of the Church?

Of course. Our relationship with God is intensely personal. It should not depend on anyone or anything or any place other than our own knowledge of Him through prayer, Bible reading, and obedience.

But God established church for a very good reason. It should be a place where we are renewed and strengthened in our faith so that we not only grow into mature followers of Jesus, but we become effective in presenting Him to the world around us. The Christian fellowship and the spiritual food that we receive at church should equip us to be disciples who impact our generation for Jesus Christ. To stay outside of that environment can be weakening and damaging to our faith.

Is there a danger of blaming the hurt person for ‘not forgiving’ rather than dealing with those that caused the pain?

Yes. A case in point is the story of a female choir director in a town near where I live, who discovered her husband was having an affair with another woman. The choir director put her husband out of her home. The husband wanted to come back, but the director was not ready to receive him since he had not truly repented nor even conveyed his deep grief for what he had done. The pastor then fired the choir director for not “forgiving” her husband. The pastor’s action split the church. We can choose to forgive. But reconciliation requires both the wounder and the wounded to resolve whatever the issue is. The pastor was trying to force reconciliation before the wound was resolved. He was wrong to do so.

One thing I have had to learn the hard way is that I’m not responsible for the other person, or for what people think. I am responsible for me. I must ask God to search my heart. If I truly am not forgiving because I’m so hurt I say I can’t forgive, then I have a problem. Forgiveness is a choice we make not because the other person deserves it—the person usually does not—but because God commands it. God has forgiven us when to this day, our understanding of our own sin against Him is so superficial that we do not really comprehend the hurt we have inflicted on His heart. So we forgive others when they don’t fully understand what they have done to us, simply because we ourselves have been forgiven by God. Forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve it is our act of worship of God, who forgives us when we don’t deserve it either.

How does the hurt person find hope?

Two things bring hope. One is when we are wounded, we not only choose to forgive, but then we act out our forgiveness by doing something to bless the one who hurt us. In some way, that simple act—whether it’s writing a note, making a phone call, sending a gift, whatever God brings to your mind—helps to set us free from bitterness.

The second thing that brings hope is to know that at the end of all things, God will make the situation right. He will hold the wounder accountable. He says that “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay.” So we can trust Him to deal with the other person, which frees us to forgive and love them.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

Jesus understands what it feels like to be wounded by God’s people. They rejected Him, humiliated Him, and in the end, crucified Him. He was wounded, too. Yet He forgave the wounders, even as He was being nailed to the cross.

I pray that the readers will bring their own hurts to the Cross of Jesus Christ, choose to lay them down as they forgive their wounders, then begin their own healing journeys as they experience the freedom of forgiveness.

Buy Wounded: By God’s People for just £8.99 (RRP £9.99)

Transformed by Hope

The Rt Rev John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, appears regularly in homes across the country with his regular media appearances. His approachable manner and down-to-earth view of faith connects with people who would normally steer clear of Anglican clerics. Last year he published the successful ‘Faith Stories‘ with accounts of how a life of faith sustained people through difficult times. He has now followed this up with ‘Hope Stories’ – 20 people with ordinary lives who have found a hope to keep them going through the most difficult of circumstances. After the interview you can view a video of one of the stories at the bottom of this page.

Buy 'Hope Stories' for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘Hope Stories’ for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99)

What was your intention in compiling these stories?

Following my successful prostate cancer operation in May 2013, I was full of thanksgiving to God, to my consultant surgeon and his team, and to the many people who prayed for me and wrote to me with cards.  In my recovery I sang the Taize chant: ‘ Bonum est confidere in Domino’ – It is good to trust and hope in the Lord.   ‘Hope Stories’ is about 20 ordinary people who have gone through difficult times and they show us how their faith has given them hope and strength to turn things around.

How do you define ‘hope’ in a Christian sense?

For a Christian, hope is much more than a vague longing about how the future might be.  Hope is the certainty that comes out of an encounter with Jesus Christ and the daily infilling by the Holy Spirit. When the Apostle Paul prays for the Church in Rome saying, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’, he is praying for more than just a sense of reassurance. He is praying that the followers of Jesus in Rome will be able to face the future with joy and peace, knowing that they are secure in God.  As Jim Wallis of the Sojourners says, ‘Hope means believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change’.

In what ways do you hope this book is used?

I pray that anyone who reads ‘Hope Stories’ will be enveloped by the friendship and the presence of God.  With God, our future is filled with all sorts of new possibilities rather than with problems. In Jesus Christ there is forgiveness for past wrongs, new life for the present and hope for the future.  As Proverbs 16:9 says, ‘The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps’.

How does someone deal with the gap between the need for a solution in a difficult situation and the realisation of hope?

It has been said that a person can live thirty days without food, five days without water, five minutes without air, but not one second without hope. ‘Hope Stories’ looks at individuals who have gone through life-changing injuries, bereavement, terminal illness, suicide attempts, debt, rejection by families and recovery from addictions. The chances and circumstances of life are different for everyone but we should remember that God loves us for who we are, as well as who we might become or have been.  We learn from them that knowing that God loves us and cares for us no matter what makes the impossible possible!  Jesus invites us to walk with Him, and he promises that He will walk with us.  I was inspired in reading Luke’s story about living with love at the heart of everything.  May we walk with Christ every day. Live him every day. Know him every day.

What message can people take from ‘Hope Stories’?

Nothing is beyond God’s power to change, to transform our despair into real living hope.  There are no dark places that His light cannot reach.  With God’s grace and light, we know that there is always a fresh start and hope for the future.

Buy ‘Hope Stories’ for just £7.99 (RRP (£8.99)