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.


In All Things Give Thanks!

Which would you be more thankful for… a sofa or a fish?

Keep reading, keep reading… there is a point to this new version of the “Would you rather?” game!

Thankfulness has been something that has been on my mind a lot recently and something that is a recurrent theme throughout Paul’s writings. When we pray he urges us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:17), “with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6) and of the Christians in Ephesus he said, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16).

As I considered these verses I realised that I have much to be thankful for! In fact, what precipitated this thought process was my experience of “flat-sitting” over the past two weeks. Some of you may know that I have been on my mission field placement and one reason (amongst many!) I was so thankful for this placement was because it made me feel like an adult again (perhaps student life is a little overrated?!) I have never been so thankful for the sense of responsibility that “flat-sitting” gave me! This also involved the weighty responsibility of feeding a gold-fish and watering an Amaryllis (the former remains alive, the latter does not). Each time I sat on the sofa (I was probably marginally more thankful for the sofa than the fish – see question above) in a REAL living room… drinking a cup of tea made with water boiled in a REAL kettle… in a REAL kitchen I gave “thanks to the Lord, for he is good!” (Psalm 107:1). I hasten to add that there are real kettles and rooms in student accommodation, however when a sense of independence is taken away for a while it gives you a new appreciation for many of the things we often take for granted in life – things that are all good gifts from our Heavenly Father!

Yet so I often I forget this and become discontent. I was reading this week about the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 and was struck by the words of the Lord Jesus when He said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). I have been greatly challenged by this and indeed this was reinforced by a little saying that I read recently that said, “The Best things in Life aren’t things”. So what is the best thing in life? David reminds us that it is the “steadfast love” of the Lord that “endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). He reminds us that we should “thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Psalm 107).

So how do we see this “steadfast love” in our daily lives? I believe we see it in our friends, in our families, in our churches, when someone offers to meet you for coffee, when you get a ridiculous message to your family Whatsapp group, when someone prays with you, when you read the bible and it speaks right to your circumstances there and then! I could go on – God is good! He wants us to reflect that goodness and steadfast love to the world around us – to become more like His Son who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

In one of Paul Tripp’s latest blogs “What you were made to live for” he states:

*”We Were Made To Live For Community (Genesis 2:18)
We were made to need one another, and this community is meant to exist in a variety of forms: sibling, parent, spouse, neighbor, friend, teammate, co-worker, etc. This web of ongoing relationships requires us to live for more than just ourselves.”

Indeed I have seen an example of that sense of community lived out before my eyes over the past two weeks – showing love, spending time with people, getting to know your neighbours is something not to be underestimated. As John says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 1:18) How else are people to know that we are followers of Jesus? (John 13:34-35). How else are people to know that I am a REAL Christian? Do they see where the desires of my heart truly lie?

There is nothing wrong with wanting certain things in life, indeed the Lord Jesus tells us to be persistent in our asking, but there is a condition and that condition is that we seek His Kingdom first (Luke 11 and 12), which can I say is much easier to blog about in theory, than carry out in practice! However I love the words of David when he says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). When we seek His Kingdom first, our desires and His desires become as one.

I have just finished reading Isabel Kuhn’s book, “By Searching”. In this she speaks of investing time and energy in people. She says, “By searching for [the Lord], He makes us conscious of the need of others, and helps us cut channels by which He may be poured into their lives. In no time we find ourselves His fellow workers, and life is rich.” Life is rich! Yes, because we see the Lord at work, perhaps not always in the way we expect or want and perhaps in ways we will never understand, but life is rich because there is treasure in heaven! (Matthew 6)

Before I sign off I should say that I address these thoughts as much to my own heart as to anyone else. Indeed, as I write this, the words of “My Heart is filled with thankfulness” have been going over in my head and undoubtedly what better note to end on than thankfulness “To Him who bore my pain; Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace, And gave me life again!”**



The Next Generation

“Nice to see you, to see you nice!”

At this point you will either stop reading or you are so intrigued by this Bruce Forsyth quote you will want to read on – if the former I’ll never know, so let’s face it doesn’t really matter and if the latter… you need to get out more. I jest!

Over lunch a few weeks ago some of us were talking about the good old days of Saturday night TV and the “Generation Game” came up. What was not to love about several generations of the one family all desperately trying to remember the 20 items items on the conveyor belt and becoming the proud owner of the infamous “cuddly toy”?! (If we’re all honest, to be the winner of Jim Davidson’s ‘quivering bloke’ was not something to be proud of.)

“Generation” has been something I have been thinking a lot about recently. In January we were studying “Life in the modern world”, “Apologetics”, “Church evangelism in the community” and “History of Christian mission”. I was challenged by the need to be able to defend my faith, to understand what I believe and why and the importance of reaching the people in my community with the Gospel. I was inspired by missionaries such a Jim Elliot, Helen Roseveare, David Brainerd and Gladys Aylward – all who had a passion for spreading the Gospel to ‘the next generation’ (Psalm 78:4). Equally I have been inspired by the work of Bert and Wendy Grey who started the work of Postal Bible School in 1958[1], which has been influential in the Christian walk (including my own) of so many children and young people. As one of my friends told me recently, “PBS Camp has been one of the biggest impacts on my Christian life.” (She did add however that the granny smith apples, given to children at PBS prize-givings, has had a detrimental impact on her fruit consumption…) *in-joke alert*

As I read recently about God calling Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, the words of God to Moses, namely, ‘I AM WHO I AM… This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations…” (Exodus 3:14) struck a chord with me. And what I have been challenged, no, perhaps burdened by is, is the question: is the Lord’s name going to be remembered by all generations in the UK? I have been reminded of the amazing Christian heritage that we have, but am I failing to communicate the Gospel to people of this generation in a way that is culturally relevant? We have a generation of people today who do not have a biblical world view. They have not been brought in church, they don’t know what it is to pray, they don’t any concept of what sin is and to them the Bible is simply irrelevant. They are known as “Generation Z” and how do we reach them? [2]

Are we becoming an “unreached people group” in the West? We have the Bible in our own language, in multiple translations and it contains the Gospel which is “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:12) and “equips us for every good work” (2 Timothy 3 v 16), but do I read it? Do I believe that is it REAL? Do I understand the times I am in? (1 Chronicles 12:32)

I was inspired by the passion of one of our lecturers recently who said, “When I look at the life of Jesus it inspires me in my ministry!” What was so inspirational about Jesus’ ministry? As you read through the Gospels you see that it was His love for the Father and His love for the people. The Lord Jesus spent time with people in his community – he touched them, he healed them and he listened to them! (Mark 7 and 8). Do I?

Sir Bruce is also known for his catch phrase, “Didn’t he/she do well?” How much more should I desire the accolade of, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23) from the great “I AM?” Paul’s desire was to “know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and through that he had a desire that others would know Christ. Let it not be said of my generation that there was no one to “stand in the breach before me for the land” (Ezekiel 22:30), but rather lets “raise up the foundations of many generations” and be “repairers of [that] breach” (Isaiah 58:12).

[1] http://www.besweb.com/history/

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-review-meet-generation-z

This is REAL!

Mary, Joseph, a donkey and Prince Philip… I spent Sunday evening with them and what an evening it was.

Now, before some of you come to the conclusion that my obsession with the royal family has reached a worryingly new level and that I’ve joined the royal household as a stablehand, I should explain that it was my church nativity this weekend. It was entitled, ‘By Royal Appointment’, brilliantly contrasting (I can say so because I had absolutely nothing to do with the script!) the birth of the Lord Jesus with the birth of a royal baby. We even had our own news reporter – Huw Edwards, Nicolas Witchell and Jenny Bond all pale in comparison to the Royal correspondent, that is Sid Smith.

The kids were great (Mary and Joseph seemed to like each other, which is always a plus), the songs were awesome (I’m still humming a ‘marvellous plan in Bethlehem’), the costumes rivalled Strictly’s wardrobe, the narration was… well, a bit Northern Irish in some parts, but the audience was very forgiving (thankfully there was no need to say ‘power shower’ at any point- they wouldn’t have had such facilities in the stable anyway) and their Royal Highnesses graced us with their presence amidst party poppers and great fanfare!

At the end of the evening we were reminded that the birth of the Lord Jesus, unlike the make-believe royal birth, was a real event – a real event that has great significance for all of us because Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23) came to live among us and ultimately to die for us! What an amazing reality for us as Christians, but do I believe that it is REAL? Did the parents and grandparents who were there see the reality of the gospel in me?

In fact as listened to this I was reminded of my bible reading earlier in the week in the final chapters of Matthew. As I read those dramatic chapters, which include love, betrayal and denial and the individuals whose lives the Lord had an impact on in the period leading up to His death, I couldn’t help but think, ‘this gospel is REAL!’ Of course I know it is real, but it was like I was reading the words of the Roman centurion with fresh eyes, ‘Truly this is the Son of God!’ (Matthew 27:45). I love how the Lord can take your thoughts and then they pop up again… in the middle of the nativity, with donkeys, cows and sheep singing ‘hay, hay, hay!’

Indeed I have truly seen the reality of this gospel over the past few Tuesday evenings when I’ve been on my social placement. As a Christian, and especially as someone brought up in a Christian family it can be easy to sometimes find yourself questioning the reality of it all. However, when you see lives changed by the power of the Lord Jesus you know it is REAL!

You know it’s real when a drug addict’s life is changed so much that they just want to talk to you about the bible when they see you!

You know it’s real when you see hope on the face and in the eyes of a teenager who thinks his life is going nowhere, but has just had the reality of the gospel explained to him for the first time!

You know it’s real when you hear someone who is struggling with life say that they know they just need to leave their problems at the foot of the Cross… if only I would remember to do this!

You know it’s real when you hear an ex drug addict pray for one of their friends, reminding them that that they are fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm 139)

This is REAL!

It was REAL in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, it was REAL when the Lord Jesus said, ‘It is finished!’, and it was REAL when the angel said, ‘He is not here, for he has has risen!’ (Matthew 28:6). Paul reminds us that, ‘the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the the dead dwells in you’ (Romans 8:11), so let’s live out the reality of that power within us! Indeed at the end of Matthew, the Lord Jesus commissioned us to do just that when he told us to, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matthew 28:19) Let’s live out the reality of the gospel in our churches, to our friends, our neighbours, the person we meet at the gym, the lady we sit next to on the plane…

And if we do? I believe the Lord will show Himself to be real to us in 2017 and I am excited for that!

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/

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.”