Book Review: “In the Grip of Grace” by Max Lucado

Book:

Lucado M, 1996, “In the Grip of Grace” (Word Publishing: Dallas)

Genre:

Christian living, theology

Summary:

By exploring the book of Romans, Lucado uses his own ‘Parable of the River’,[1] to help the reader understand the meaning of the grace of God. In this parable there are four brothers, each trying to get to God in their own way. One a hedonist, one a judgmentalist, one a legalist and the other a ‘Grace-Driven Christian’.[2] Lucado considers how God has extended his grace to us through the sacrifice of Jesus and consequently what it means for us, as Christians, to live under the grace of God.

Review:

Lucado explores the meaning of the grace of God in a very systematic way. He starts by explaining that God is a holy God, who hates sin and that he is every right to be angry at anything that ruins his creation because ‘God loves his children, and… hates what destroys them.’[3] He explains that due to our dismissal of God we have ended up losing our standard, our purpose and our worship and have ‘traded the glory of God who lives forever for the worship of idols…’[4] This is the attitude of the hedonist.

He then addresses the judgmentalist and explains from Romans 2 that we are in no position to judge others because firstly, we are not good enough and secondly, we don’t know enough about the people we judge.[5]

Lucado’s third character is the legalist. In the ‘Parable of the River’ this brother ‘represents the godless religionist who stacks his good deeds against the current, thinking they will make a path upstream.’[6] He draws a comparison with the legalistic attitude of the Jews in Romans 2 who ‘trust in the law of Moses and brag that [they] are close to God.’[7] However despite any human being’s best efforts we cannot save ourselves because, as Lucado explains, ‘Salvation is God’s business’.[8]

Lucado has a very easy writing style and therefore makes difficult concepts easy to understand. He does this by story-telling and using everyday analogies to help explain his point. For example, in order to help us understand what God has done to bring us back to himself, Lucado uses a very helpful illustration of a car insurance company who dismisses him for being too much of a liability. Lucado explains, however, that in terms of our standing before God, due to the death of Jesus our ‘eternal souls [are] under heavenly coverage, and Jesus isn’t known for dismissing clients. He is known… for paying premiums… for life.’[9] God’s grace does not mean that he ignores our sin, but ‘rather than dismiss our sin he assumes our sin and… sentences himself. God’s holiness is honored. Our sin is punished… we are redeemed.’[10] This is the life of the ‘Grace-Driven Christian’.

From Romans 5: 1 – 3 Lucado goes on to expand upon the blessings we enter into because of the grace of God. He explains that we have peace with God, we have a place with God and we share in God’s glory.[11] He uses the story of David and Mephibosheth to explain the privileges that we enter into as children of God.[12]

Lucado also addresses some of the doubts we may have about God’s grace. Is this not too risky too be true? What Lucado means here is if we are saved by grace, then will there not be the attraction for us to live as we like (Romans 6:1)? He explains, however, that God’s grace ‘fosters an eagerness for good… [not] a desire to sin.’[13] When God extends his grace to us we do not intentionally want to break his trust. Lucado also addresses the question of whether this really is too good to be true? However, by using the example of Abraham believing the promise of God in Romans 4, Lucado explains that, ‘the same God who gave a child to Abraham has promised grace to us.’[14]

In the final chapters, Lucado concludes by discussing ‘what a grace-driven Christian look[s] like…’[15] This is a challenging read and what I like about Lucado is that he is not afraid to address the hard issues that we face as Christians,  or often issues that we tend to shy away from because they make us uncomfortable. He considers the issue of how we still sin despite the fact we are saved by grace. Lucado describes this as the ‘civil war of the soul’.[16] Lucado considers our responsibility before God. He stresses that God does not demand perfection from us, but rather wants our honesty and when we slip-up he wants us to confess to him because an honest heart will lead to honest worship. Consequently this enables us to grow as Christians, as the ‘Father and Son walk the field together, preparing and digging, preparing the heart for fruit.’[17] Due to God’s grace we can be honest with God.

Lucado not only addresses how grace affects us as individuals, but how the grace shown to us should impact how we treat others. He addresses the issue of hatred and the need for us to love our neighbor and forgive those who have wronged us. He bases this on the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18) and challenges the reader to remember that ‘the key to forgiving others is to quit focusing on what they did to you and start focusing on what God did for you.’[18] He warns how anger can turn into bitterness. He states, ‘Let me be very clear. Hatred will sour your outlook and break your back… the wisest choice… is for you to drop the anger. You will never be called upon to give anyone more grace than God has already given you.’[19] He concludes with a reminder that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. God’s grace, demonstrated in the cross of Christ means that ‘If God is for us who can be against us?’[20] Lucado concludes with a thrilling reminder that God protects us and provides for us. Indeed his grace is all we need and often when the answer is ‘no’ to our prayers, Lucado reminds us to hold on the words of Paul that ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.’[21]

Due to his simple, but very effective writing style I would recommend this book in particular to a new Christian. It is so good to be reminded of the truth of God’s grace and the reality of the fact that nothing can separate us from the love of God [22] and with the help of the holy spirit we are enabled to live the life of a ‘Grace-Driven Christian’.[23]

 

[1] Lucado M, 1996 “In the Grip of Grace” (Word Publishing: Dallas), chapter 1.

[2] Ibid. 9

[3] Ibid.23

[4] Romans 1:23

[5] Ibid. chapter 4

[6] Ibid. 52

[7] Romans 2:17

[8] Ibid. 52

[9] Ibid. 76

[10] Ibid. 75

[11] Ibid. chapter 9

[12] Ibid. 103 – 106

[13] Ibid. 82

[14] Ibid. 88

[15] Ibid. 111

[16] Ibid. chapter 14

[17] Ibid. 122

[18] Ibid. 156

[19] Ibid. 156, 157

[20] Romans 8:31

[21] Ibid. chapter 13

[22] Romans 8: 31 – 39

[23] Lucado M, “In the Grip of Grace”, p.9.

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Book Review: P Yancey, “Where is God when it hurts?”

Book title:

Yancey P, 1990, Where is God when it hurts? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Subject: Christian living

Summary:

Philip Yancey discusses the question many of us ask when we suffer or when we see others suffer, namely, “Where is God when it hurts?” In parts one and two of the book he examines the biological nature of pain and considers, largely through the example of Job, the biblical approach to suffering, stressing the importance of our response. In parts three, four and five he uses uses real-life examples to demonstrate how different individuals have dealt with suffering  and gives practical advice how we can support those who suffer. He ends by emphasising the hope that our Christian faith gives us, that indeed, “human suffering remains meaningless and barren unless we have some assurance that God is sympathetic to our pain, and can somehow heal that pain. In Jesus, we have that assurance.”[1]

Review:

Yancey begins by discussing the merits of being able to feel pain in that “pain demands the attention that is crucial to… recovery.”[2] He uses the example of leprosy patients, who do not feel pain and therefore cause serious injury to themselves, to show that pain can be a good thing and demands a response from us.  Our response to pain and suffering is a recurring theme throughout the book.

He discusses the question of why there is suffering in this world, namely because of human freedom. Yancey argues that by giving us this freedom; God has given us the ability “to choose to love him freely, even when that choice involves pain, because we care committed to him, not to our own feelings and rewards.”[3] He frequently refers to Job as an example of someone who did not get the answer to his questions, but rather God responds in such a way that displays his greatness and shows that he is a God who can be trusted. God wants from us what he wanted from Job and that is “simply an admission of trust.”[4] Yancey emphasises that the important issue for Christians who face suffering is not one of causation, but rather of response. He states that “in the bible the problem of pain is less a philosophical riddle than a test of human response and faithfulness.”[5]

Yancey discusses the different human responses we can have to pain; either we “turn against God for allowing such misery… [or]… pain can… drive [us] to God.”[6] Yancey discusses how suffering in our lives reminds us that we are not self-sufficient, but utterly dependent on God in every circumstance. He also considers how pain in our lives can be transformed and that “periods of sharpest suffering [have] been the very occasions of spiritual growth”.[7] Indeed, he considers the connection between pleasure and pain and uses the example of Christian service, where “happiness will come upon [us] unexpectedly as a by-product, a surprising bonus for something I have invested myself in. And, most likely, that investment will include pain.”[8]

Yancey uses real-life examples of people who have experienced suffering. This is something that I appreciated about his approach to this subject in that he does not present us with a magic formula in answer to this question, but rather acknowledges that suffering is real, that Christians ask these questions of God and that God is big enough to deal with them. He describes how he met Joni Eareckson Tada, who explained that after her diving accident gradually her focus changed “from demanding an explanation from God to humbly depending on him…  I will never reach a place of self-sufficiency that crowds God out.”[9]

The part that really struck me in Yancey’s discussion was that even when it may feel to us that God is silent in the midst of pain, we still see God when we see his people acting with care and compassion as they “bear one another’s burdens” and act as the “body of Christ” towards each other.[10] Yancey discusses how people who are suffering need our love. He explains that they will struggle in four main areas, namely that of fear, helplessness, meaning and hope. Yancey discusses the importance of simply being available for people and the power of prayer, which “cuts through the sensory overload and allows me to direct myself to God.”[11]  We also need to be brave enough to talk about the eternal hope that we have, despite the fact that often the explanation that hope of “eternal life, ultimate healing, and resurrection [can sound] hollow [and] frail…”[12] to those who are suffering.

One of the most poignant themes for me throughout this book is that time and time again Yancey encourages us to look to Jesus. He states that “the best clue we have into how God feels about human pain is to look at Jesus’ response.”[13] He emphasises that often our response to suffering is that we want to know the answer to the ‘why?’ question – why is this person suffering? Rather what we should concentrate on and what Jesus directs our attention to is, “to what end?” because “in every case, suffering offers an opportunity… to display God’s work.”[14] Yancey uses Jesus’ reaction in John 9, to the disciples question of “… who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”[15] to demonstrate this.

At the close of the book Yancey questions how the Christian faith can help us come to terms with the question of “Where is God when it hurts?” He states that all of our questions must be “filtered through what we know about Jesus.”[16] We know that he cared when people hurt and had compassion on them. We know he reacted in a similar vein to us when faced with pain, for example in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know that he did not try to avoid the pain of this world, he did not “give us… theories on the problem of pain [rather] he gave us himself.”[17] And now because of his death and resurrection “we can confidently assume that no trial… extends beyond the range of his transforming power.”[18] Yancey emphasises that because of the cross God understands any pain we go through and encourages us with the words of Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet… without sin.” If I were to recommend any chapter to read, as a stand-alone chapter, it would be chapter 18. It will do your heart good to be reminded that “because of Jesus, God understands, truly understands our pain. Our tears become his tears. We are not abandoned.”[19]

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Yancey P, 1990, Where is God when it hurts? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan), 173.

[2] Ibid. 38

[3] Ibid. 98

[4] Ibid. 114

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. 78

[7] Ibid. 81

[8] Ibid. 63

[9] Ibid. 150

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 192

[12] Ibid. 236

[13] Ibid. 89

[14] Ibid. 93

[15] John 9:2 (ESV)

[16] Yancey P, Where is God when it hurts? 173

[17] Ibid. 246

[18] Ibid. 252

[19] Ibid. 255

Looking to Jesus in 2018

2017 ended on a bit of a high for me because… wait for it… I was part of a flashmob. Yes, yes, this is indeed true, you can put any autograph/selfie requests to me in writing.

To put you all out of your misery and to explain the context (or rather, more importantly, to stop the fan mail #tongueincheek #noreally) this formed part of our church nativity entitled “A Good Looking Christmas”… complete with pop-up choir, pop-up Gabriel, pop-up Angels (yes, we had glow sticks), a pop-up Herod who received an appropriate and very impressive “boo” and a rather disgruntled Shepherd who had lost his sheep! (Fear not, they have been reunited and no sheep were harmed in the making of the production.) I can take none of the credit for this creativity, but it was fab!

The different characters with whom we are familiar with within the Christmas story all draw our attention to look to and consider the Lord Jesus, for he is at the centre of the story. Indeed without him we would have no Christmas. Certainly in today’s society we can get caught up with many other things other than the Lord Jesus at this time of year. Indeed as we sang “Look to the skies there’s celebration” a couple of weeks ago, this got me thinking about what we as Christians focus on, particularly when life is difficult or doesn’t go the way we perhaps expect. Undoubtedly these times can impact all of us, to a greater or lesser extent.

A number of weeks ago I was reading in Matthew 14 where Peter walks on water. This was a huge step of faith for Peter, he was doing something he probably thought would never happen – it must have been pretty exciting, he was one of the disciples after all! And perhaps that’s a situation you find yourself in… you’ve taken a step of faith, life has changed and it’s actually quite exciting. But then Peter sees the wind and the waves and he starts to sink. And perhaps that can happen to us as well… suddenly things happen in life and all we can see are the overwhelming circumstances, we take our eyes of Jesus and then we start to sink. I don’t think these always have to be “big” things – we are all God’s children and he cares about what is going on in each of our hearts. Indeed as Tim Challies puts it, “God does not insist our trouble rise to a certain degree or extent before he becomes [our] refuge and strength.”

However Peter doesn’t try and deal with the situation by himself, he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Then we read great words in verse 31, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him…” Jesus took Peter’s hand and there was no way he was letting go. Perhaps if it had been the other way round Peter might not have had the strength to hold on, but as I was reminded a couple of weeks ago in student devotions, we are held by the hand of the one who calls us and keeps us – Isaiah 46:2 says, “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you…”

David was someone who often goes through what can only be described as an emotional roller coaster in many of the Psalms (which I believe should be a comfort to us all!) Recently I was reminded from Psalm 37:23 – 24 that the Lord guides our lives and “though [I] stumble , [I] will never fall, for the LORD holds me by the hand.” So often we forget the one who holds our hand, the one who has called us, the one who leads us, the one who fights for us and the one who carries us (Deuteronomy 1: 29 – 31) and our focus turns inwardly to our own circumstances and we let that overwhelm us. We need to learn a lesson from the Angels, shepherds and the wise men who all looked to the Lord Jesus. We need to cry out like Peter and let Jesus take our hand and for the independent, self-sufficient types amongst us, that does not always come easily.

As I close this final blog for 2017, I’ve just been reminded that Helen Roseveare, who was a missionary in Congo for many years, prayed each year that the Lord would give her a verse as her “verse of the year”. In light of what has gone before let’s keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2) in 2018.

Book Review: “Give me this mountain” by Helen Roseveare

Book title

Roseveare H, 2006, Give me this Mountain, (Christian Focus Publications: Scotland)

Subject

Missionary biography

Summary

This book, written by Dr Helen Roseveare, describes her conversion and her subsequent call to the mission field where she set up a training school for nurses in the Congo in 1954. She gives a very honest assessment of how she struggled with missionary life and how the Lord taught her many lessons about her character, showed her more of himself and describes how life has been a journey for her “towards one definite goal, “that I may know him…”, our God, revealed to us in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[1]

Review

The book takes us through Helen Roseveare’s life as a child and begins with how she initially became aware of her need for God whilst at boarding school. There she describes how she “became conscious of God… God who was bigger than everything around [her], and [she] needed him.”[2] Consequently she was confirmed in the Anglican Church. She saw this as the beginning of her search for God; however this search intensified when she went to University in Cambridge, where she met Christian friends who were heavily involved in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. She attended bible studies with them and was particularly challenged by their love for the Bible. As a result of this she attended a Christian Union house party and it was there, after a bible study on the book of Romans that she became a Christian. She describes it as the start of “a thrilling journey of the Christian pilgrimage through this earthly life towards the heavenly eternity.”[3] During that weekend one of the bible teachers wrote in her bible the words of Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death,”[4] which was to become a key passage for her as she carried out her ministry.

She felt called to the mission field during her time at University. She attended WEC training college and there she was called by God to serve in the Congo through Isaiah 58:12, “Thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach,”[5] after hearing of the tremendous needs in the country. Throughout her time in Congo she set up a training school for Congolese nurses – she had a real burden for training national workers. After her first furlough she went back to the Congo at a very dangerous time following the country’s declaration of independence. However she felt that the Lord had her there “for such a time as this” Esther 4:14.[6] The hospital at Nebobongo was under rebel soldier occupation for five years and during this time she suffered staff rebellion, personal illness, ill-treatment by soldiers, many missionaries left and she was taken captive. Yet amazingly, she comes to the realisation that through all of the trials and difficulties that this suffering is to be counted as a privilege. This suffering enables her to know her Lord better and that is all that mattered to her. Indeed she states that “participation in His suffering is necessary to each one if we are to fulfil His will in this world.”[7] She describes her life and work in the Congo as entering “into the great privilege of bearing about the One who had paid the supreme cost.”[8]

What struck me about this book was Helen Roseveare’s honesty about her own struggles on the mission field. Often there is a perception that missionaries are a “special” sort of Christian, however she warns against this view because “the whole idea becomes wrapped in a veil of romantic splendour, so that even the candidate may fail to observe the unreality of it.”[9] Indeed, Helen Roseveare’s honest assessment of her own character flaws and how the Lord moulded her through each experience really challenged me.

She addresses a number of issues, such as pride in her own ability and questions if she truly understood that she are doing the work for the glory of God and not for herself. She gives a challenging illustration of how nails are used to hold up a piece of furniture, yet they are unseen and questions if she was “willing to be nails in the hands of the Master Carpenter? Would [she] grumble at the painful blows of the hammer, or… remember that the hammer was held by the nail-pierced hands? ”[10]

She addresses the attitude of missionaries when they have to hand over their work and how this brings into focus whose work it really is – the Lord’s.  She also struggled with a sense of entitlement after her first missionary furlough. She was in a relationship, but had to give this up as she realised that it was getting in the way of what the Lord had for her do to do in the Congo. She addresses practical issues, such as the busyness of missionary life and how there is often a link between physical tiredness and spiritual ill-health. Constantly throughout the book she comes back to the point that these difficulties were at their most acute when her personal devotional time with the Lord was not what it should have been. She discusses the need for personal holiness and considers that perhaps we do not see conversion because our lives do match up to what the Bible teaches. She states, “It didn’t really matter what people thought. It didn’t matter what it cost. One just had to be all out for Him… and… with it all came this tremendous challenge to holiness. We must be holy.”[11] She came to understand that along with a closer relationship with the Lord “came an increased sensitiveness towards sin.”[12] Indeed she gives a very moving account of an incident where a time of pray and fasting made her very much aware of her own sin and how her own attitude of pride and unwillingness to work with others was causing problems at the hospital.

This account of missionary life has challenged me to see that when one is called to be a missionary “one is called upon to reveal Christ, to live a Christ-like life”[13] in whatever sphere that may be. Helen Roseveare discovered that in all things we have a God who “is personally interested in us as individuals”.[14] This means that when we allow him to have his way in our lives, he will bring us into circumstances, good and bad, where his glory will be displayed and where we will ultimately become more like him and know[15] him more.

 

[1] Roseveare H, 2006, Give me this Mountain, (Christian Focus Publications: Scotland), p.7.

[2] Ibid.16

[3] Ibid. 33

[4] Ibid. 32 & 33

[5] Ibid. 68

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. 158

[8] Ibid. 159

[9] Ibid. 85

[10] Ibid. 82

[11] Ibid. 55

[12] Ibid. 65

[13] Ibid. 86

[14] Ibid. 156

[15] Philippians 3:10

“Be strong and courageous!”

I wrote this for my the magazine of my former school and upon reflection, perhaps it might be helpful to someone out there who is wrestling with future plans or perhaps when life doesn’t always follow the “ten-year plan”! (Undoubtedly THEE WORST job interview question ever… always made me develop a speech impediment!)

“Be strong and courageous and DO IT!” 1 Chronicles 28:20

It’s hard to believe that I left Cookstown High School twelve years ago and much has happened in those intervening years. Indeed, my year group have all been turning the big 3-0 this year – how did this happen?! We used to go to each other’s eighteen birthday parties and talk about when we could take down our “R” plates! Anyway, before I let my mid-life crisis issues takeover, let me tell you a little about what has happened since I left Coolnafranky in June 2005. I’m currently studying at Tilsley College, which is a Bible College based in Motherwell in Scotland. So how did I get from 8H2 to here you may ask? After finishing my A-levels I went to University in Dundee where I studied Law with German (a big shout-out to Mrs Allen for being my german inspiration!) I have to admit that the CHS modern languages corridor is probably my favourite corridor… however I digress!  After finishing my studies in Dundee I came back home and did my two-year solicitor training contract in Ballymena. I then got a job with an organisation called The Christian Institute in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where I worked for four years, up until August 2016. I am a Christian and this job really showed me that every part of life is impacted by my faith. How God wants me to live, according to His standard in the Bible is the best way for us to live our lives – not based on a set of rules, but on the death of the Lord Jesus. He gave His life for me, so now I live my life for Him. And so it was in January 2016, after having read an article in a church mission magazine about mission teams in Europe with an organisation called GLO (Global Literature Outreach) Europe, based in Motherwell, that a journey started where God has been showing me the importance of living my life for Him. I know, this all sounds a little strange, but keep reading!

As a result of that article I ended up going on a mission team to a couple who are missionaries with a church in a suburb of Paris, called Rambouillet. Mrs Purvis would be proud as my GCSE and A-level French came out in full force. I think I may have even asked someone what they did in their spare time and where the train station was located. #classicoralquestions

It was during this trip that I was really impacted by the passion that the French Christians had for their faith. They did not have the same Christian support network that I had (we live in a very privileged country in Northern Ireland) however they were fearless when talking about their faith. This had a lasting impact on me and when I returned home I couldn’t get this experience out of my mind. At this point I was very happy in my life, church and job in Newcastle, but there was a restlessness inside me that felt that God had something else for me. So I prayed that God would show me what he wanted me to do. It was then through a series of circumstances along with passages from the Bible that led me to come to Bible College in September 2016. How you may ask? Well as strange as it may seem, God still works in the lives of Christians now – it wasn’t just something that happened in Bible times. God is very much the God of the individual and through a Bible passage in 1 Chronicles 28:20, where it says, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD even my God, is with you…” I knew that I was to take this step and apply to Tilsley College – there is much more to the story, but space does not permit the details!

So I started a course at Tilsley College in Motherwell in September 2016 and what a year it has been! I have been doing biblical studies, alongside a range of practical placements with different churches, which has included children’s work, youth work and a social placement. As well as that I have been on a mission awareness trip to Italy. I have learned many lessons this year, including many things about myself and my character, as I have had to go back to living as a student again and living with lots of other people in community certainly rubs the sharp corners off you!

It has also been reinforced to me this year that God cares about all of the details of our lives. During the course we had a four week mission placement. I did mine in the office of GLO, which is the mission organisation connected with Tilsley College. I worked on the organisation of their short term summer mission teams. GLO have teams of missionaries all over Europe and each summer they send out a team of young people to help the church in that area reach out into their communities. As a result of that placement I was amazed at how God does not waste any of our experiences, talents, previous jobs etc. I saw so many skills that I had acquired through my training and working in an office come into play as I did my placement and I knew that I was in the place God wanted me to be. Again, the Bible was very real to me and spoke directly to my circumstances from 2 Samuel  7:3 where Nathan the prophet says to King David, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”  I am very thankful for the passion God has put in my heart for mission and for showing me that my relationship with Him must be the priority in my life – there is no other place I would rather be than where He wants me to be.

Since I started at Tilsley College I have started a blog, which goes under the name of “Judith McKeown” – inventive, I know! Feel free to follow me at: https://judithmckeown.wordpress.com For now I know that God wants me to be in Motherwell, using the skills He has given me to do the work He has for me. I intend to be here for another year at least, as I do the second year of the course. As I sign off one thing I have to thank CHS for is a great group of friends who often encouraged me in my faith and a great group of teachers who led Christian Fellowship on a Friday, all of which I believe God used to nurture in me a love for Him, His Word and His mission – to tell the world the good news of Jesus.

“All the people said AMEN!”

Some of you may know this song by Matt Maher, “All the people said AMEN!”

To be honest I have been experiencing a bit of writer’s block over the past couple of months (perhaps I shouldn’t flatter myself, you probably haven’t actually noticed I haven’t blogged for a while). However I digress… I had a great week this summer and one which I feel deserves a loud “AMEN”. In fact, I have been wanting to write about it for weeks, but just could not think of what to say, what the central theme should be, what was the main idea I was going to hang this blog on?! (You can tell I have a type A personality by the amount of questions that appear to have been floating through my mind). Anyhow, I can highly recommend a prayer walk because I had the novel idea of asking the Lord to help me with this (!) and as I was out for a walk tonight (it got darker much earlier than I expected and I felt that murder was imminent, so this brought my prayer life to the forefront), the title of this song came into my mind.

“YES!” I thought, that is what I am going to write about. The week I am referring to was a GLO (Global Literature Outreach) mission week in my church at the end of July. It was based around a holiday club for children, called “The Acts Factor”, based on stories from the book of Acts. We also had a pop-up (I know, it was pretty cool) coffee shop running alongside this called “The Green Room” (I can take none of the credit for this, other than to say it was a genius name!) I will give a special prize to anyone who can tell me why it was called “The Green Room” (when I say special, keep your expectations low, I’ll maybe find something for you from the re-gifting cupboard).

Before the week I asked the church to pray for three different things, all of which began with “P” (you can’t have three prayer points unless there is alliteration involved… obviously). I asked the church to pray for the people who would come on the team, for the people we would meet that week and for the plans.

AMEN number 1: WHAT. A. TEAM. They were fab. They were French. They were Northern Irish (Amen 1B). They showed initiative. They used their gifts for the glory of God and they were united with the church and both worked so well together. Amen, amen, amen. I am truly grateful to God for giving me such great people to organise this week with. In fact, AMEN for teams in general, whatever sort of mission team. The impact of teams on the spiritual life of team members was evident from their testimonies and great to see first-hand some team members who had just returned from mission. How thankful we should be for men and women who encourage us in our walk with the Lord and encourage us to be part of the Great Commission.

AMEN number 2: The kids who came to the holiday club were great and it was so good to see their parents join us in the coffee shop, which can I say was run by two pros (M and M). I need to keep their identity secret because I don’t want another church getting their hands on two ladies who did such a fab job in matching the bunting to the napkins and had the ingenious idea of putting aprons on the wall, hence making “The Green Room” look like a real vintage tea shop. Had I been in charge, the poor people would have been getting their tea in a mug that I had no doubt obtained free with an Easter egg. (And by the way, yes, one of them is called Margaret, but then so is half the female population of every church in Scotland). Also, with the smell of freshly baked scones every morning (unbelievably baked by someone called Margaret), it’s no wonder we saw regular faces every day. However, when people take time to talk to individuals over a cup of tea or coffee, over a scone, a meringue or cake (or if you’re from Northern Ireland, a bun), this means a lot. These are individuals who have been created by a relational God, he cares for them, he loves them and calls us to show the love of Christ to them… a loud AMEN for “The Green Room.”

We saw some of these people come to our international evening, where we had a varied programme of cultural highlights from the various countries represented on the team (I use the term “cultural” very loosely… with the Northern Irish Tayto crisps springing to mind at this point… not exactly the high point of culture). And so this is where AMEN number 3 comes in:

Amen for the plans! You see, I am one of those people who gets a bit stressed if things don’t go according to the plan. However I did learn that flexibility within the plan is good and that the work we are doing is God’s work, so I must be open to him changing my plans. (Despite the fact that at times this does give me palpitations). However God really blessed the plans that we made and we saw him answer prayers in ways I didn’t ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I have to admit that I was a little worried (understatement of the year) about the international evening, but God stretched our faith and to see the main church building full of people was such a joy!

On the team day off we went to the David Livingstone Centre. I have to admit that I knew very little of the story of David Livingstone, however I was struck by a quote on the wall, from David Livingstone, as we went around the museum that day. It said, “The love of Christ compels me”, presumably based on 2 Corinthians 4:14 – 15. David Livingstone was compelled by the love of Christ to go to Africa. What compelled that week at the end of July? I pray that it was the love of Christ. I pray that the children saw the love of Christ. I pray that it was displayed over coffee in “The Green Room”. I pray that it was displayed in “capture the flag” on the parents’ night. I pray that it was seen in our team testimonies, because I can make all of the plans that I want, but if the love of Christ does not compel me, what do my plans matter?

So one final AMEN for the love of Christ and for the cross. Matt Maher writes that “We’re all broken but we’re all in this together, God knows we stumble and fall, And He so loved the world He sent His son to save us all.”

How thankful I am that God uses broken people in his service, to be part of a week like I had this summer. AMEN.

“God of the big picture; God of the details!”

I think we all know “big picture” people and “details” people – the people with the vision and the people who make it happen! Personally I am more of a details person – anyone who has the passion for writing lists that I have probably doesn’t have a huge grasp of the big picture!

A couple of months ago I was reading in 1 Kings 17 – 19 about Elijah. I was struck by the fact that God is a God of the big picture, but also a God of the details! He sent a drought to judge Israel (1 Kings 17:1), but in the midst of that He works in the lives of several individuals, to bring about His purposes and to show them WHO He is. The widow of Zarephath was able to say, after her son was raised from the dead, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:24) The prophets of Baal acknowledged that, “The LORD He is God!” (1 Kings 18:39) As I read this I was reminded of Moses in Exodus 3 where God tells him to tell the Egyptians that “I AM” has sent him. As I read this my mind went to a Christology class at Tilsley where we were discussing the different titles of God. I remember being struck by the fact that the title of “The LORD” or “Yahweh” or “I AM” means that within this title of “I AM” is the idea of the LORD as “the becoming one” – He who will be to me everything that I need Him to be!

And how true this has been over the past few months for me – God has indeed been to me what I needed Him to be (or perhaps more accurately, what He knew I needed Him to be, whether I realised or not!) You’re probably familiar with that famous quote from Tom Hanks in Forest Gump, where he says, “My Mum always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get…” Undoubtedly there is an element of truth in that (except if you are one of those people who reads the menu on the box…) However when I came to Scotland, life didn’t seem so much like a box of chocolates, but more like a jigsaw, with all of the bits, but none of them seemed to fit together – I could see details, but no big picture! Indeed this was reflected in my first blog, which was entitled “This doesn’t make sense…” Ten months ago I was sure that God was leading me to come to Tilsley College, but was unsure as to the purpose. Yet as the weeks and months went past gradually I have seen the jigsaw come together and I’ve seen the great “I AM” at work in the midst of it.

Jigsaw piece number 1:

We went to Italy on our mission awareness trip and I saw the importance of all aspects of mission, not simply those who are on the “frontline”, but the importance of those who facilitate mission.

Jigsaw piece number 2:

I did my field placement working on the organisation of GLO’s short term mission teams and I learned how God does not waste any of our skills, gifts, previous experiences etc to prepare us for the work He has for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) As crazy as this may sound, there are people out there who enjoy working in an office!

Jigsaw piece number 3:

I have the opportunity to be involved in a GLO team in my church this summer and I am excited for this! When I read an article in a mission magazine about GLO’s short term mission teams in January 2015, little did I realise that this was a detail God was using in the big picture of my life!

Jigsaw piece number 4:

And amongst all of this I have lived with people, studied with people, went to church with people and drank coffee with people who I know the Lord has used to show me the importance of becoming more Christ-like. Surely that is the most important part of the “big picture” – that I am “conformed to the image of his Son”? (Romans 8:29)

Yes, there are still a few pieces of the jigsaw of my life that are missing or don’t quite seem to fit. However I was reminded of the poem ‘The Weaver’ which Corrie Ten Boom used to quote to illustrate the point that God is working in the details of our lives and when we can’t see the full picture, He can!

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.*

So, we can trust God with the details! This week I was struck by Peter’s response in John 6, as some of the disciples decide to no longer follow the Lord, Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68) Over the past ten months I have seen how God has used many details to enable me to “come to know” Him and I pray that He continues to do so, even though perhaps I won’t see the complete “big picture” until that day when He presents us “blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 25)

*http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/741391-life-is-but-a-weaving-the-tapestry-poem-my-life