Captured By a Better Vision – Extract

My latest book is published in the UK today. Captured By a Better Vision: Living Pom-Free purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US aims to offer hope for people struggling with pom and guidance for those trying to help them. It is published today in the UK by IVP and will be published in the US InterVaristy Press. In the meantime it is available in the US from Amazon.com.

Here’s the introduction to Captured By A Better Vision.

Here’s an extract from chapter 2, ‘Freed By the Beauty of God’.

And here’s a chance to see me introducing the book …

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You Can Change in the USA

I received an advance copy of the US version of my book You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions today. It looks great – thank you Crossway! It’s published on 31 March. You can pre-order copies here from Amazon.com. I know of a number of churches in the States who are already using the UK version as part of their pastoral or discipleship program.

Here are some commendations …

A book about Christian growth that is neither quietistic nor moralistic is rare. A book that is truly practical is even rarer. Tim Chester’s new volume falls into both categories and therefore fills a gap.
Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

There are few books that are shockingly honest, carefully theological, and gloriously hopeful all at the same time. Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change, is all of these and more. He skilfully uses the deepest insights of the theology of the Word as a lens to help you understand yourself and the way of change, and, in so doing, helps you to experience practically what you thought you already knew. The carefully crafted personal ‘reflection’ and ‘change project’ sections are worth the price of the book by themselves. It is wonderful to be reminded that you and I are not stuck, and it’s comforting to be guided by someone who knows well the road from where we are to where we need to be.
Paul Tripp, President of Paul Tripp Ministries

A wonderful book for those who are serious about personal change. For so many Christians the gulf between our aspirations and the reality of our daily Christian walk is very large. Here is very helpful material to help us bridge this gap and become the whole people God intended us to be.
Stephen Gaukroger, Senior Minister at Gold Hill Baptist Church

We are called to be salt and light. Yet often the church fails to live differently. In our busy culture, we rarely spend time dealing with sinful areas of our lives; instead we try to sweep them under the carpet. Tim’s book is a biblical and practical challenge to the very root causes of ungodly patterns of behaviour. Read it and allow God to change you!
Andy Frost, Director, Share Jesus International

The book is structured around a series of question to help people work on issues in their lives:

1.   What would you like to change?
2.   Why would you like to change?
3.   How are you going to change?
4.   When do you struggle?
5.   What truths do you need to turn to?
6.   What desires do you need to turn from?
7.   What stops you changing?
8.   What strategies will reinforce your faith and repentance?
9.   How can we support one another in change?
10. Are you ready for a lifetime of daily change?

Here’s a sample chapter (from the UK edition): You Can Change – Chapter Five: What Truths Do You Need To Turn To?

And finally here’s a video introduction …

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4Gs in F – a New Song

Here’s a new song that I wrote ages ago, but I’ve just realised I’ve never posted it on the blog. It’s an attempt to express in song something of the pastoral significance of the 4Gs that I’ve talked on the blog before.

Weary of striving to make it alone,
fearful of failure or trying to atone,
I hear ‘It is finished’, Christ sits on the throne:
Jesus, I rest in you.

2. Weary of fearing what others may say,
needing approval to feel I’m okay,
when Jesus alone is the Lord I obey:
Jesus, I rest in you.

3. Weary of chasing the lies of this world,
finding its treasures an empty reward:
my beautiful Saviour, most glorious Lord,
Jesus, I rest in you.

4. Weary of needing to be in control,
brooding on worries, disturbing my soul:
the Stiller of storms who alone can console,
Jesus, I rest in you.

5. Weary of memories recalled with dismay,
burdened with guilt that I can’t sweep away,
when Jesus has cancelled what I could not pay:
Jesus, I rest in you.

Here’s the music: Weary of Striving (Jesus I Rest in You). You can also sing it to the tune of ‘Just As I Am’.

The astute among you will notice there are five verses. One of the Gs gets two verses. I’ll leave you to work out which. But here’s a clue. Both my daughters are named after this ‘G’. It’s the second name of one and the other’s first name is the Hebrew word for it.

Tim Chester © 2007 c/o http://www.thecrowdedhouse.org. May be copied and used freely for non-profit personal and congregational use.

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The 4Gs – truths to set you free

In my book You Can Change I identified four liberating truths about God. I suggested that underlying  all our sinful behaviour and negative emotions is a failure to believe one of these truths at a functional level. Embracing, believing, trusting, delighting in the appropriate liberating truth therefore has the power to set us free from sin – though we need to recognize that this typically involves a daily struggle – the fight of faith. These four liberating truths offer a great diagnostic tool for addressing sin in our lives and in the lives of others. The four truths are:

1. God is great – so we don’t have to be in control

2. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others

3. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere

4. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves

Last year I visited Soma Communities with whom The Crowded House have a strong partnership. Readers of this blog will know Soma have been a strong influence on us.

Soma Communities have been using the four liberating truths a lot. They have coined the term ‘the 4 Gs’ as a short description for them. Caesar Kalinowski emailed me today saying, ‘We continue to be absolutely rocked by the 4 Gs … We now do them each time at Soma School due to the overwhelming response to the material.’ They have four free audio messages on each of the 4 Gs based on talks they gave in Estonia.

You Can Change purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US is available in the UK from IVP and is being published by Crossway in the US in March 2010. I notice Crossway already have You Can Change on their website with a cover design (below). In the meantime you can buy the UK edition from Amazon.com.

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Using a hunger for food to cultivate a hunger for God

More on fasting following on my previous post on ‘Should Christians Fast?

Let me also take this opportunity to recommend John Piper’s book, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (Amazon UK and Amazon US)

Food as refuge

We often use food in ways that mask our desire for God. We turn to food for comfort in moments of pressure or frustration or inadequacy or despondency. Food becomes our refuge.

Because we turn to food for refuge, fasting often reveals the desires that control us. If you snack as a means of escape or to find comfort or to relieve boredom then fasting will ask of you: ‘Where will you go instead for refuge or joy?’ John Piper says: ‘We easily deceive ourselves that we love God unless our love is frequently put to the test, and we must show our preferences not merely with words but with sacrifice.’[1]

Food as distraction

It is not only the worries of life that can weaken our relationship with God, but also its riches and pleasures. ‘The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.’ (Luke 8:14) We can become gluttons whose desire for the immediate pleasure of food is unrestrained. Martin Luther says: ‘Of fasting I say this: it is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body. For when the stomach is full, the body does not serve for preaching, for praying, for studying, or for doing anything else that is good. Under such circumstances God’s Word cannot remain. But one should not fast with a view to meriting something by it as a by a good work.’[2]

‘”Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.’ (1 Corinthians 6:12) Here Paul quotes slogans of people in Corinth. Everything is permissible for me.’ ‘It does not matter what I eat,’ they were saying (13). ‘All food is good.’ Yes, says, Paul, but we must not be controlled by anyone or anything other that Jesus.

So sometimes we do well to resist the hunger (or desire) for food to allow our hunger (or desire) for God to grow strong. We can use the hunger pains to turn attention to God. They become a prompt to turn to God. They can be a reminder that true satisfaction is found in God. ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4)

Rediscovering the goodness of food

One danger with fasting is that it causes us to think of food as bad. But it in practice fasting can enable us to rediscover the goodness of God’s gift of food. Our culture craves excitement. We want action movies, video games and rich food. But this constant diet of intense stimulation – mental and edible – numbs us to pleasure. Insatiable consumption means we do not appreciate the wonder of God’s created world. Rather than denying the goodness of food, fasting may well help us to appreciate the simple pleasure of buttered toast once again.

Using a hunger for food to combat sexual temptation

Seeking satisfaction in God might also involve seeking satisfaction in God instead of something else. In other words, we might fast to combat sinful desires.

Fasting perhaps has a particular role in helping us combat sexual temptation. Hunger and sexual desire are both bodily appetites. Fasting teaches us to say, ‘I’m in the habit of turning to food for refuge when the pressure is on. My body reinforces this with physical sensations. But, Father, I am going to turn to you for refuge. I am going to find satisfaction in you.’ This is transferable lesson! Fasting can therefore teach us to say: ‘I’m in the habit of turning to sexual fantasies or pornography for refuge when the pressure is on. My body reinforces this with physical sensations. But, Father, I am going to turn to you for refuge. I am going to find satisfaction in you.’ Fasting helps us form the habit of turning to God for refuge.

Think about your sporting heroes. Top athletes get up before dawn to train and strictly control their diet. Paul urges us to adopt a spiritual training regime akin to that of athletes. The difference being that there is more than one winner of the prize and the prize does not fade. We discipline our bodies so that we control our bodily appetites rather than being controlled by our bodily appetites.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)


[1] John Piper, A Hunger for God, IVP, 18-19.

[2] Martin Luther; cited in John Piper, A Hunger for God, IVP, 185-186.

The lead-tipped whip

I was reading from John’s Gospel this morning and this verse stood out to me: “Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip.” (John 19:1 NLT)

I can’t imagine how terrible it must be to be flogged with a lead-tipped whip. I don’t really want to think about it.

Why did Jesus have to be flogged with a lead-tipped whip?

I take it that it was part of the suffering he had to undergo to pay the penalty of my sin and yours. The full weight of that penalty would be borne when he hung on the cross and experienced the abandonment of his Father. But the lead biting into his back was part of it. And perhaps it is there to graphically present to you and I the depth of our sin and the horror of judgment that Jesus would endure on the cross.

There are no small lapses or minor sins or little white lies or mere indiscretions. There are only sins that caused Jesus to endure the lead-tipped whip.

Every sin we commit has a consequence. For those outside Christ those consequences add up to  eternal hell. But there are consequences, too, for the sin of those in Christ. For us Christ endures the lead-tipped whip. Cause and effect. My actions; his suffering.

He was pierced for our rebellion,
     crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
     He was whipped so we could be healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

So let’s make 2009 a year of self-control and holiness, secure in the freedom and forgiveness of God’s grace.

Is depression a sin?

I’ve been sent a couple of questions on depression. One was in response to my book, You Can Change, asking if I think depression is a sin. The other is from David Wayne, a pastor in Maryland, in response to my series on communities of grace. Here’s what David wrote:

Here in the US, the therapeutic culture defines and narrates the story of depression.  The psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists are the great high priests on these issues, high priests to whose wisdom we ill-informed pastors must bow. I do know and understand that, by and large, the church and many of us pastors are given to flippant and pious platitudes in response to depression.  On the other hand, since the therapeutic culture gets to narrate the story of depression, when we pastors seek to frame a biblical story of depression we are usually ruled out of line and hurtful.  For the most part, depressed people in my congregation, or others who are under the influence of any kind of counsellor simply will not listen to me.  They will tell me what their counsellor says about how I am to help them and it is my job to receive instruction from them and to never contradict the authority of the counsellor.

Here’s my response to these two questions.

Continue reading

Pastoring one another in community

Here’s a summary of part of my talk at the North American Total Church conference on ‘making disciples in missional church’.

Pastoral care in community

Churches often have a very professional approach to pastoral care – it’s something done by a pastor or a counsellor. But Paul tells the whole Christian community in Ephesus to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15). The context is the gospel community (Ephesians 4:1-16) and the content is the gospel word (Ephesians 4:17-25).

God has given us the Christian community with all its differences and giftings as the context for change and growth. Paul says Christ ‘makes the whole body fit together perfectly’ (v. 16, NLT).
– you need to help others change
– you need to let others help you change

Pastoral care through the gospel

We help one another change and overcome pastoral problems:
– by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (v. 15)
– by speaking ‘the truth that is in Jesus’ (v. 21)
– as we ‘put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body’ (v. 25)
– as we ‘do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ (v. 29)

We pastor one another through speaking the truth because our underlying issue is the ‘deceitful desires’ of our hearts (v. 22; see also Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:18-25).  Sin promises satisfaction, meaning, identity. but it deceives. In reality it enslaves and destroys. So we need to speak the truth to one another, calling on one another to repent of our idolatrous desires and turn in faith to the truth that is in Jesus.

Ordinary life with gospel intentionality

So missional communities need to create a culture in which we encourage one another to challenge, comfort, console, exhort and rebuke one another with the gospel in the context of ordinary life.

If I’m moaning, I need someone to challenge me to find joy in Christ. If I’m anxious, I need someone to exhort me to trust in my heavenly Father’s care. If I’m ashamed, I need someone to comfort me with the grace of God. It might be another leader; it might be a new Christian. It might be in a scheduled meeting; it might be as we tend someone’s garden together.

This is not just about what happens in a weekly meeting. This is about gospel intentionality through the week in the context of shared lives. We need daily exhortation (see Hebrews 3:12-13). And we need it from people who see us in the daily grind of life, not just when we are on our best behaviour. Anger, frustration, bitterness, sulking, jealousy and malice are all signs that are idolatrous desires are being threatened or thwarted. We need people who see us when we are angry, frustrated and so on so they can challenge those idolatrous desires.

We need to create church cultures in which it is normal to comfort and rebuke one another. One of our dangers is that we only do this in times of crisis. As a result, speaking the truth in love actually creates a crisis. We need to think of church discipline not simply as a final act of excommunication – that kind of discipline rarely works. We need to think of it as a lifestyle of discipleship.

As with mission, this speaking the gospel to one another does not happen automatically. Hanging out with people is not enough in itself. If I go to the cinema or do some chores with you, that is not going to change you on its own. Again, we need ‘gospel intentionality’. We need to engage in every relationship thinking, How can I bless this person? What’s the next step for them? What truth do they need to here? It’s about ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

This material is developed more in chapter 9 of my book, You Can Change.

Tim Keller on You Can Change

The cover of Tim Chester, You Can Change (June, 2008)

The cover of Tim Chester, You Can Change (June, 2008)

You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behaviour and Negative Emotions, my book on sanctification, Christian growth and pastoral issues is now out from IVP-UK. It was actually out a month a go, but I forgot to post about it.

Tim Keller

Here’s what Tim Keller says about it: “A book about Christian growth that is neither quietistic nor moralistic is rare. A book that is truly practical is even rarer. Tim Chester’s new volume falls into both categories and therefore fills a gap.” Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

Paul Tripp

And here’s what Paul Tripp says about it: “There are few books that are shockingly honest, carefully theological, and gloriously hopeful all at the same time. Tim Chester’s book, You Can Change, is all of these and more. He skilfully uses the deepest insights of the theology of the Word as a lens to help you understand yourself and the way of change, and, in so doing, helps you to experience practically what you thought you already knew. The carefully crafted personal ‘reflection’ and ‘change project’ sections are worth the price of the book by themselves. It is wonderful to be reminded that you and I are not stuck, and it’s comforting to be guided by someone who knows well the road from where we are to where we need to be.” Paul Tripp, President of Paul Tripp Ministries

Sample Chapter

Here’s a sample chapter: Chapter Five: What Truths Do You Need To Turn To?

Movie

And here’s a movie of me introducing the book:

I’m an idiot

We were looking at the story of Samson on church on Sunday. His time with Delilah is beautifully told in Judges 16 with both humour and pathos. It’s use of repetition creates a powerful effect:

So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes you so strong and what it would take to tie you up securely.” Samson replied, “If I were …” So Delilah took … She had hidden some men in one of the inner rooms of her house, and she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” … Afterward Delilah said to him, “You’ve been making fun of me and telling me lies! Now please tell me how you can be tied up securely.” Samson replied, “If I were … So Delilah took … The men were hiding in the inner room as before, and again Delilah cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” …

And the effect of this repetition is to make you think, ‘What an idiot!’ This process cycles through four times. Surely the second or third time Samson woke up with Philistine men hiding in his room he should have realised what was going on. But, no, the story highlights what an idiot he is.

Except that it then dawns on you that this is what you do. I go back to my sin time and again. I fall for its lies time and again. I’m just like Samson. I can’t resist the smooth-talking Delilah even though I know temptation leads to disaster. I know in my head that God is bigger and better than anything sin offers, but still I fall for the lies of sin.

So in the end the story makes me realise what an idiot I am. It makes realise that sin itself is idiocy. And maybe, hopefully, I’ll remember that next time sin comes knocking.