Grey hair, Green Tea and Garden Centres*

*DISCLAIMER – blog is distinctly lower in spiritual content this month and somewhat self-centred*

Some of you may know that I turned 30 this week… (I will still accept cards from those of you who didn’t send one… I jest!) So on a somewhat frivolous note I have listed 30 observations on turning, what Emily Bartlett (a big shout-out to you!) describes as ‘the BIG 3 – 0’.

30 musings on turning 30… #bearwith:

  1. Main musing… HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! (repeat every 5 minutes).
  2. Text messages from M&S telling you to put in your food order before 15th December- you gotta love the Sparks Card. (Is it just me, or is it the most pointless loyalty card out there?!)
  3. Speaking of M&S – it is now the shop of choice. However I would like to stress that I am not quite at the stage of the foot glove range… yet.
  4. Green tea and porridge is the breakfast of a King. (The metabolism can no longer deal with Pop Tarts).
  5. I’m expecting my knowledge of bird life and plant life to dramatically increase.
  6. Pop socks are now acceptable to wear (I know, the shame).
  7. I find myself using the phrase ‘youth of today’… I mean, WHAT is the point of snapchat anyway?!
  8. Said youth, in an attempt to make you feel better, will say things like, ‘Oh, but you don’t look 30’ or ‘It’s not THAT old’. #nothelpful
  9. I find myself saying phrases like, ‘Well, I haven’t seen the news all week!’ This is perhaps a genetic trait as it is an oft repeated phrase amongst the McKeown parentals.
  10. I sympathise with Miranda Hart when she says that her idea of a wild night in is watching an omnibus of Countryfile with a family size bar of Toberlone.
  11. Grey hair. And let me tell you, I have several (for which you may read ‘hundreds’). They seem to have a life of their own and poke out at random angles from your head. #notcool
  12. Increased stress levels when one’s routine is interrupted (to be fair, this has stressed me out since I was about 15).
  13. Living life by, what I call, a ‘life list’ (again, I’ve been making lists since I was 15).
  14. Increased malfunctioning of the filter between the brain and the month – apologies to anyone I have offended… it means I like you!
  15. Increased levels of social awkwardness (again, pretty sure this is not related to age).
  16. You find yourself saying, ‘Oh having a lie in is such a waste of a morning’ and immediately you want to put your mother’s words back in her mouth.
  17. You get excited when you have enough Nectar points for the Tu collection. #amengokwan
  18. It is increasingly important that your bath towels and your hand towels match (in fact, things matching in general is important).
  19. You find yourself buying birthday cards months in advance (no, just me?!) In fact, you find yourself buying cards… just in general (I make no apology for liking to send cards!)
  20. You think you are the same generation of those 10 years younger than you… and then they don’t know what Blue Peter is… and you are painfully reminded that you are in fact… THIRTY.
  21. You find that you own a slow cooker, a spiraliser, a juicer and a heated ice-cream scoop – none of which you have ever used, nor do you have any intention of using.
  22. You listen to Radio 2… and enjoy it (again, this is not related to being thirty at all).
  23. Coffee shop visitation takes on a dramatic increase. #besthobbyever
  24. Garden Centres, coffee shops AND farm shops… now that is indeed a marriage made in heaven.
  25. The thought of watching a film after 9pm makes you feel physically ill (I mean, it’ll not finish until at least 11pm!)
  26. You want to punch (metaphorically speaking) people who say that they feel ‘so old’ as they turn 21.
  27. You find yourself discussing with your friends, who are new home owners, the benefits of having a downstairs toilet and giving colour scheme advice.
  28. From time to time you will ask yourself, ‘What would Mary Berry do?’ in this situation.
  29. The level of satisfaction you feel at remembering to bring in one of the forty-five bags for life you have in the car, into the supermarket, cannot be surpassed!
  30. The Queen’s speech is the highlight of your Christmas day.

Yikes… how DID this happen?!

In fact that was the very phrase that entered my head this week as we had the privilege of doing some work with puppets as part of children’s ministry. At this juncture I would like to add that it is no coincidence that ‘puppet’ rhymes with ‘muppet’… because that is exactly how I felt. However all work for the Kingdom!

As I attempted to coordinate myself with the puppet, who, incidentally I named ‘Brad’ (it’s important that you bond, apparently) I couldn’t help but think back to what I had been doing this time last year and I may have asked the Lord, ‘How did this happen?!’

Nevertheless, despite my cynicism, from which I have now repented, I have been really challenged recently from my various placements and from Psalm 78 about the need to bring the gospel ‘to the coming generation’ and to tell them of ‘the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done’. I am thankful for people whom the Lord has gifted in puppet ministry to do this! Indeed, despite my cynical thoughts on how I found myself with a puppet, I know exactly how this happened!

It happened because I trust in the Lord, who, Isaiah says, ‘leads you in the way you should go’ and I can see that clearly over the past year.

I trust in the Lord who searches my heart and knows every plan and thought (Psalm 139, 1 Chronicles 28).

I trust in the Lord who waits for me to come him, who ‘responds to the sound of [my] cries’ and who speaks to me saying, ‘this is the way you should go, whether to the right or to the left’ (Isaiah 30 v 18 – 22).

Indeed, I trust in the Lord who says that ‘even to your old age I am he, and to grey hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save’ (Isaiah 46:4).

I was reading about Joseph this week. As he was sold to the Midianites and ended up in prison in Egypt I am sure he must have asked himself many times, ‘How did this happen?’ However, how amazing it is to read that ‘the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love…’  (Genesis 39:21) because Joseph made himself available for the Lord, to fulfill the Lord’s purposes.

So I’ve decided I don’t need to worry about grey hairs and I can embrace my love of green tea and garden centres because I have a Lord who has a plan- a plan where He can use me, if I make myself ready to be at His disposal, to reach this generation for Him.

And so I leave you with the words of Dr Helen Roseveare,[1] who passed away this week. At times she questioned what was happening to her on the mission field, but she came to this conclusion:

“It would seem that God had merely asked me to give Him my mind, my training, the ability that He has given me; to serve Him unquestioningly; and to leave with Him the consequences… How wonderful God is, and how foolish we are to argue with Him and not to trust Him wholly in every situation as we seek to serve Him!” 

[1] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2016/12/07/a-woman-of-whom-the-world-was-not-worthy-helen-roseveare-1925-2016/

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He has made me glad!

So often as a Christian I feel like I lead a defeated life. I know that I am saved, but I hold on to the guilt. I still feel I have to make myself good enough before God.I think to myself – I could pray more, witness more, spend less money etc. [1]

However, recently I was reminded of the beautiful picture in Leviticus 16 of the two goats on the day of atonement – the goat of the sin offering, but also the live goat, which was lead into the wilderness to ‘bear all… iniquities on itself…’ (Leviticus 16:22). The goat of the sin offering took the penalty and the live goat dealt with the guilt. Not only has the Lord bore the penalty for my sin, but he has taken away my guilt! So don’t let the devil let you live a defeated life.

Now I know that this does not negate our responsibility to ‘walk in the spirit’ (Galatians 5:16) and ‘work out our salvation’ (Philippians 2:12), but we need to remember that there was nothing in us to start off with that made us worthy of salvation.I was reminded by one of my memory verses this week that it’s ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…’ (Titus 3:5).

Not only has he saved us, not only has our guilt been atoned for, but now He wants to use us for His work. David reminds us in Psalm 103 v 14 that the Lord ‘remembers that we are dust”, yet He wants to use us… ME… YOU… for His work. What a privilege!

Over the past twelve days, while we’ve been on our mission awareness trip to Italy, we have seen the Lord use us in ways, ‘beyond…we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ (Ephesians 3:20).

Many of you will no doubt be familiar with the song, ‘I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart’, which I think you could say became our theme song while we were away – it goes like this:

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart;
I will enter His courts with praise.
I will say this is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice for He has made me glad!

I have returned home from this trip with a very glad heart!

‘Glad heart’ reason number 1:

Before we went we prepared a bible study, a drama and some songs. We prayed that the Lord would prepare the hearts of those we would meet and He exceeded our expectations!

We stayed in a youth hostel in Naples with refugees from many African countries – each with their own story to tell and each needing to hear the story of the Gospel. We had the privilege of sharing with them about the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. We didn’t have this privilege just once, or twice, but three times! When you give the Lord what you have He will use it for His glory! How amazing that one day people ‘from every tribe and language and… nation’ (Revelation 5:9) will bow before the Lord.

‘Glad heart’ reason number 2:

We met such warm-hearted Christians in churches in Naples and Rome. Now, despite having prepared some songs to sing, admittedly we are not the world’s most talented singing group. Amusingly after singing a marvellous (I use this term very loosely) rendition of ‘This little light of mine’ (a true classic) we discovered that the entire church appeared to be descended from Pavarotti; such was their level of tunefulness. I need say no more.

We experienced true Italian culture in this church – everyone spoke at the same time, there was much excitement and in the words of Emily, “Being Italian is really tiring!” This was one occasion where I really longed to stand in a queue (in the rain), with a cup of Earl Grey, whilst talking about the weather in order to reaffirm my ‘Britishness’.

However at the end of that evening we were wished ‘Happy Pizza!’ and I was very thankful for their hospitality and their love for each other and the Lord. They were a small church, but exciting things were happening. There was a couple there whose son had become a Christian and they simply wanted to know more about what had brought about this change in their son’s life.We couldn’t speak the language, but we most definitely spoke the language of the heart. There is an instant connection with brothers and sisters in Christ no matter where you are in the world.

‘Glad heart’ reason number 3:

We saw a nun with a selfie stick. #truestory

‘Glad heart’ reason number 4:

We got mosquito bites and survived them. We experienced an earthquake… and survived it. (Artistic licence is permitted with the exaggeration… it makes for better reading.)

‘Glad heart’ reason number 5:

We ate pizza with potato as a topping. Yes… potato. Let me tell you, this is an Irish person’s dream.

We experienced amazing hospitality. I hadn’t realised that olive oil and balsamic vinegar can transform lettuce into the most delicious dish on this planet (apart from potato on pizza… obviously). However when your hostess tells you that she did it all for the Lord… well that makes your day, not to mention that it brings a tear to your eye.

In order to work off the bread, pizza, pasta and gelato… we walked… a lot. I’m pretty sure that had I been wearing a Fitbit it wouldn’t have been able to cope.

We missed tea. (This time I am using the royal ‘we’, as I may have been one of the few who missed tea.) Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee, but I have discovered that the Italians do indeed treat the Americano with some scorn.

‘Glad heart’ reason number 6:

We were humbled by the Lord on numerous occasions and reminded by Him that we were working within His plan – it was not just a matter of us asking Him to rubber stamp our itinerary.

On the first day the weather meant that we couldn’t give out literature as planned. However Luca (who organised our week in Naples) didn’t try and push his own agenda, but just took the opportunity as it arose to speak to some of the men in the hostel and it was amazing that we were able to share about our faith. Time and time again we saw the Lord take our plans and use them for His purpose.

In the words of Morgane, “I just love how God interrupts us!” and interrupt us He did… reminding us that we were doing His work!

‘Glad heart’ reason number 7:

We saw many facets to mission.  On one occasion, when giving out some christian literature, I gave leaflets to two people who wanted to speak to me about it, but due to the language barrier I wasn’t able to have a conversation with them. That morning my bible reading had been in 1 Peter, where Peter exhorts us to always be ‘prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’(1 Peter 3 v 15) and I was little frustrated that I couldn’t communicate. (I refer you to blog number two – learning the words for ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, did not come in useful!)

Nevertheless I was able to direct them to an Italian speaker in our group who was able to speak with them. After I got over my frustrations, it struck me that this was a picture of how the Lord can use many people in order to facilitate mission – mission is not just about those at the ‘coal face’ of church planting. It’s a privilege to support others.

‘Glad heart’ reason number 8:

We met many missionaries who have a real passion for the city of Naples. I am often guilty of glamourising the work of missionaries; however each one made it clear what the realities of mission were for them.

I think I could sum up their message as this: Know the Gospel. Know the culture. Know and love the people… and this will help them come to know the Lord. Should this not make our hearts glad?

‘Glad heart’ reason number 9:

We ended up in Rome and we walked on the Appian way. We walked in the footsteps of the apostle Paul who, even when writing from a Roman prison, could say, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4). This was a man who at the end of his life had a glad heart. Paul knew he was a guilty sinner, but he didn’t let the guilt keep him from being used by his Lord. Instead, he could say in victory, ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus’. (Philippians 3:14).

The guilt is gone and He has made me glad!

[1] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/10/18/should-christians-feel-guilty-all-the-time/

Be all there!

As life begins to get a little bit busier here and the weeks go faster, I am delighted as I am getting into a routine and I LOVE routine. Apparently I am 29 going on 79 – spontaneity is overrated! There is nothing like organised, planned fun. However I digress.

Amongst all of the challenges I have encountered and opportunities I have been given since I’ve arrived, these words of Jim Elliot have constantly been on my mind:

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Now, I am about to get somewhat personal and for those of you who know me please rest assured I am not feeling unwell, but sometimes needs must.

I admit it. I have been missing my life in Newcastle. I miss my friends, I miss my church and I miss my work. (I also REALLY miss the coffee shops, but that is a topic for a whole other blog… ‘coffee shop crawls’ being one of my hobbies.)

Last weekend, at a bible study day, I was reminded by a lady that God puts us in a place for a reason. I have a choice – either I can complain and ask God why I am here or I can ask God what he wants me to do for Him here and now. Living the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ means that I sacrifice ALL – even plans that are good – good plans that I have for Him. Yet, that’s exactly the problem – they are my plans and God wants to use me in His plan.

Do things make any more sense five weeks in? No, not really. However this is where I belong for now and where God is moulding me into that tool for His service – what right have I to question Him? (Isaiah 45:9)

So let me tell you about some of the moulding process so far…

  1. Last week I walked into class and there was a flannel graph in the room. I mean, need I say more?! Who needs an interactive white board when you can have a flannel graph?! I never thought I would say this, but I am really LOVING the Children’s Ministries module.
  2. I played ‘Toilet Tig’ at my children’s placement AND it was best fun. What a privilege to tell ‘the coming generation… the wonders He has done’. (Psalm 78:4)
  3. I’ve seen such amazing commitment and dedication within my church family – they are truly being all for God wherever they are!
  4. I’ve started a module called ‘Old Testament Survey’, otherwise known as ‘I can’t believe I have been a Christian for 15 years and don’t know half (any) of this’.
  5. I’ve discussed the Shekinah Glory in the bathroom and compared the packing of the tabernacle to a Duke of Edinburgh expedition.
  6. I’ve been introduced to Marmite. Important life lesson – DO NOT spread it like Nutella. Otherwise you will most definitely fall into the ‘hate it’ camp. The ‘love it’ camp will not be open to you… EVER.
  7. I’ve learned some Italian phrases for our mission awareness trip in a couple of weeks. Duolingo (other apps are available) has ‘usefully’ taught me the words for ‘man’,’woman’, ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, but not for ‘hello’. So I’m confident in my ability to distinguish between male and female, but surely starting a conversation with ‘hello’ would be more socially acceptable (and let’s face it… a little less weird)?
  8. I also started my social placement this week. Having just been studying the book of Luke and seeing that one of the main themes is that the Lord Jesus spent time with those on the fringes of society, this placement has really challenged me. The Lord came ‘to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10) and I am called to love them as He did.

As week six begins I know the moulding process of this year has only just begun – I can feel my comfort zone being stretched already! However I will leave you with the words of Oswald Chambers, which I believe sum up what my attitude must be over the coming weeks and months:

“Wherever the providence of God may dump us down, in a slum, in a shop, in the desert, we have to labour along the line of His direction. Never allow this thought – “I am no use where I am,” because you certainly can be of no use where you are not! Wherever He has engineered your circumstances, pray.”

 

 

 

This doesn’t make sense…

 

I’ve been challenged by the life of Abraham recently. He went when God called him. He believed when God said He would show him the land – what faith! Yet it must have made no sense to him at all.

For me, coming to Bible College has felt a bit like that… obeying when it doesn’t seem to make sense. I hasten to add that I am in no way comparing myself to Abraham. My ‘Jonah moments’, up until this point, have far outweighed my ‘Abraham moments’. However here I am… sitting at a desk as a student again with the thought, ‘what on earth am I doing?!’ flying through my mind every so often!

So what am I doing?

  1. I’ve been ‘Learning to Learn’ again. Having finished university six years ago, it has been very helpful to be reminded of the purpose of a footnote, a bibliography and mind maps (personally I prefer a list; some of you will not be surprised to read). The inner geek in me is very much looking forward to my studies.
  2. Bible verse memorisation is on the cards as well… little cards that you can keep in your bible, under your pillow or in your pocket and whip out at the dinner table to test your fellow students (or make them feel spiritually inferior, depending on how Christian you are feeling that day).
  3. I’ve learned the value of having a great church family and how this really helps you feel at home in a new place, even though I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks. The only downside is that most of them seem to be called either Jim or Margaret, which could be somewhat problematic.
  4. I’ve been reminded by my church family that my strength is in the Lord – Psalm 121.
  5. I’ve learned that the Northern Irish accent even causes our Celtic cousins some difficulties. The other day I asked a gentleman on the street if he could point me in the direction of ASDA. A fairly simple question you may think. Alas, no. He thought I was looking for ‘Alistair’. Thankfully one of my fellow classmates, being a native, was able to translate for me. Life is difficult… so it is. I did find ASDA, but the illusive Alistair remains at large.
  6. I’ve had the privilege of learning how God has worked in the lives of each of my classmates, as we share our testimonies with each other during morning devotions.
  7. I’ve been given a ‘big picture’ overview of the Bible (it’s a pretty great book) and learned that Acts was written before Luke… who knew?!
  8. I’ve met those who have a heart for seeing teenagers come to know the Lord – their sacrificial attitude has really challenged me.

I think eight learning points is more than enough for now. I wouldn’t want my old housemates to think their teaching profession had influenced me in any way – a big shout out to you both!

As week three begins, many things still don’t make sense, but I have a God who has told me to, ‘Be strong and courageous and DO IT…’ (1 Chronicles 28 v 20). So I guess I’d better obey.