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!

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/

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.