“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.

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“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.

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!”**

*https://www.paultripp.com/wednesdays-word/posts/what-were-you-made-to-live-for

**http://www.gettymusic.com/my-heart-is-filled-with-thankfulness/

Book Review: “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”

I was given this book as a present just before I came to Tilsley College and have found it one of the most helpful and insightful books with regard to a growing relationship with Jesus. If you can forgive the ‘americanisms’ (sorry to any Americans reading this!), it’s well worth a read… twice in fact. (I have a bad memory… I’m now 30, remember).

Book title: Weaver J, 2002, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World” (Waterbrook Press: Colorado Springs)

Subject: Devotional/Christian life

Summary: This book considers the struggle we often face in our Christian life of addressing the balance between work and worship. Weaver neatly sums up the issue when she states that “we want to worship like Mary, but the Martha inside keeps bossing us around.”[1]

The book centres on the passage in Luke 10:38 – 42 and most specifically around the Lord’s words to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”[2] The book follows the spiritual transformation of the two sisters, as they learn to balance work and worship and ends in John 11 and 12, with the death and resurrection of Lazarus and Mary anointing the Lord in Bethany.

Review: Weaver introduces us to the dilemma that many of us often find ourselves in – that often our service for the Lord means that we miss out on really getting to know Him. Weaver emphasises that when we have the correct balance, worship will lead to service – “kitchen service will be the natural result of Living Room Intimacy with God.”[3] She explains that “the better part” is open to all of us i.e. that close relationship with the Lord, but that each of us have to make an active choice to cultivate that relationship.

Weaver considers Martha’s plea to the Lord where she says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” Weaver addresses what she describes as the “Three Deadly Ds of Destruction”[4] which Satan uses to take our eyes off the Lord and to look inwardly toward ourselves. She states that these are “Distraction, Discouragement and Doubt”.[5] She addresses the issue of how my feelings can clash with what we know of the character of God. Weaver shows us that the Lord wants us to be honest with Him about how we are feeling, just as Martha was, but the key to a transformed heart and growing in the knowledge of the Lord is that we listen to Him. Weaver states, “I love the compassion Jesus has in this story. He saw Martha’s situation. He understood her complaint. But he loved her too much to give her what she wanted. Instead, Jesus gave her what she needed – an invitation to draw close to him.”[6]

Weaver considers what is at the heart of Martha’s problem – “…the curse of anxiety. The on-going burden of worry and fear”[7] and this is something I think we can all relate to. She examines how our worry stems from the fact that we do not believe God to be in control. I liked how Weaver constantly goes to bible passages and links these passages with practical application to help the reader address the problem. In relation to the issue of Martha’s anxiety, Weaver uses Philippians 4, within the context of worry, to emphasise the importance of the role of prayer. She writes of the importance of guarding our hearts and mind from Satan and of the active role we must play, through prayer and bible reading/meditation for “the peace of God” to be ours.

She considers that often our service for the Lord becomes laden with “human agendas and expectations”[8] and that “so often we give God the gift we think he needs rather than take time to find out what he desires.”[9] Weaver uses Matthew 11:28 – 29 to demonstrate that the Lord does not want to give us a heavy load, but that we put these expectations on ourselves, rather the one thing He wants is fellowship with us and from that our service will flow. She accurately sums up how we often feel as Christians about having to earn God’s love through our service: “… somewhere along the way, I had twisted God’s love into something I had to earn… But of course I stumbled again and again. Each time it took me weeks to work up enough spiritual brownie points to feel like I was back on God’s side.”[10]

I found the chapter, on what Weaver describes as “kitchen service”, to be challenging as she uses Jesus as our ultimate example to follow, as well as challenging our willingness to allow the Lord to use us in his plans, rather than asking Him to rubberstamp the service we think we should do for Him. She challenges us to serve wherever we are and reminds the reader that “when we surrender ourselves to be used by God, we don’t always get to pick the time, the method… in fact, sometimes, we may find ourselves doing nothing at all – except praying and waiting for God’s leading.”[11]

LORD AT THE CENTRE

At the centre of the book comes Weaver’s main focus – she explains what it is to have the “better part” and that is to have the Lord at the centre of our lives. Weaver succinctly explains how we can achieve the balance between work and worship – she states, “The secret to balancing worship and work, devotion and service, love of God and love of people is maintaining our connection to Jesus Christ. Our relationship with him is the fulcrum, the anchor, the steadying point… and the deeper that relationship goes, the more stable the balance will be.”[12]

Time and time again Weaver emphasises the recurrent themes of prayer, bible reading, journaling and persevering at those things as an act of my will, as the key to “Jesus Christ becom[ing] the steady balance in our life of constant motion.”[13] Weaver states that “the story of Mary and Martha was never meant to be a psychological profile… in which we choose the character with whom we most identify. This is the story of two different responses to one singular occasion. In it, we should find not our personality type, but the kind of heart Christ longs for us to have.”[14] And how do we keep the Lord at the centre of our lives? I loved how Weaver did not in any way give the reader any impression that there was any shortcut to what she describes as “living room intimacy” with the Lord. She states that “the formula for intimacy with God remains the same todays as it has always been:

PRAYER + the WORD + TIME = INTIMACY WITH GOD”[15]

Weaver also stresses that we need to keep short accounts with God in order to maintain our relationship with Him – “conscious repentance leads to unconscious holiness”.[16] I was struck by the simplicity of this once again – these are things that I know, but often find so hard to apply.

Weaver emphasises the importance of having this close relationship with the Lord by using the death of Lazarus to explore how in life things don’t always happen the way we expect them. However this is where “living room intimacy” comes in, because in order to trust God in these times, we must know the character of God.

Weaver demonstrates this by using Martha as an example of someone who has a “teachable heart” and whose knowledge of the character of God has increased since her last encounter with Jesus. Her response of, “Yes, Lord… I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was come into the world” (John 11:27) after the death of Lazarus and Jesus tells her that He is the resurrection and the life demonstrates how she has changed. Weaver explains that in order to have a “transformed heart”, we need to have a “teachable heart” – to be willing to listen, to be obedient to what we hear and respond to discipline. If we are not obedient then Jesus will not reveal Himself to us.

We learn that to have a “Mary heart in a Martha world” is not something that happens overnight, but rather “if we want to be like Jesus, we won’t be able to escape the refining process.”[17] We can see this demonstrated in both the lives of Mary and Martha. Martha had to learn to listen to the Lord and Mary anointed the Lord as an act of “extravagant love”[18] – giving her all for Him in an act of service.

Weaver constantly reiterates the same point that the only way we can partake of “the better part” is to spend time with the Lord – there is no magic formula for this, but prayer and bible study. This book would be good to do as a “one-to-one” study as part of a mentoring programme, or as a small group study, as it has great practical tips on maintaining our relationship with the Lord.

This book has helped me see that while, as Paul says in Philippians, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion”, I still have a responsibility to play an active role in “work[ing] out my salvation” (Philippians 2:12) and to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) – that comes through spending time with the Lord in prayer and bible reading and letting Him shape my heart to His will, which may be painful at times. However from that “living room intimacy” my service for Him will then flow as an act of worship and not as an obligation.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Weaver J, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”, (Waterbrook Press: Colorado Springs), 2.

[2] Luke 10:42

[3] Ibid. 10

[4] Ibid. 17

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. 28

[7] Ibid. 31

[8] Ibid. 53

[9] Ibid. 56

[10] Ibid. 45

[11] Ibid. 93

[12] Ibid. 190

[13] Ibid. 116

[14] Ibid. 101

[15] Ibid. 77

[16] Ibid. 80 (Oswald Chambers)

[17] Ibid.195

[18] Ibid. 157

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!