Lessons from the Jungle

I mentioned in my last post, Why Bother with Biographies?, that I’ve recently read Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. I once heard Rachel Jankovic say that this is a book that “every human should read,” and I tend to agree, so please don’t read this post in lieu of reading the book. Instead, I hope (for your own sake) that this wee post inspires you to read the book – which, incidentally, is not too long either.

I don’t want to give away the best bits so I’ll try to be brief. I’ve got four encouragements from Darlene’s memoir:

Angels are Busy Doing Stuff

I feel like there are a lot of Christians (myself included) who are a bit shy about angels. We’ve got a children’s book which says, “Angels are everywhere. There might be some here with us right now.” A friend of mine read it once, glanced at me nervously and said, “Do we believe that?”

Perhaps we’re put off by all the dodgy Christmas cards depicting angels as babies with wings. Perhaps we’re put off by the false teachers we’re warned about in Colossians 2 who “delight in false humility and the worship of angels.” Maybe we’re just embarrassed. Whatever the reason, I for one have acted as though angels don’t exist anymore. And yet, they continue to do the Lord’s bidding:

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12)

Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will. (Psalm 103:20-21)

When we pray for God’s help and protection, it might be that he’s sending angels to care for us. I find this an encouraging thought. The spiritual realm is real, and our team has already won.

Children’s Songs Matter

Things got bad for Darlene; then they got worse. When she was most afraid, the songs she’d learned as a child came back to her – songs she thought she’d long forgotten:

My face and hands were wet with cold perspiration; never had I known such terror. Suddenly I found I was singing a song that I had learned as a little girl… So tenderly my Lord wrapped his strong arms of quietness and calm about me. I knew they could lock me in, but they couldn’t lock my wonderful Lord out. Jesus was there in the cell with me.

p. 114

This should encourage us if we are parents of young children (or have any dealings with young children at church). The songs they’re learning now will stick with them. A friend who’s now a missionary once told me that it’s important that we sing sound doctrine with our children because the songs he learnt as a child are the songs he knows best.

Wishy-washy fun schmaltz isn’t going to help a person much if they’re in the firing line. On the other hand, the truths they sing now, even those songs that you’re a bit sick of hearing, might be a lifeline for them one day. (I wrote about this previously.)

Scripture is Worth Memorising

Similarly to the songs, Darlene was sustained by the Word of God that she’d memorised. When her Bible was taken away, she still had the Word written on her heart:

The Lord fed me with the Living Bread that had been stored against the day when fresh supply was cut off by the loss of my Bible. He brought daily comfort and encouragement – yes, and joy – to my heart through the knowledge of the Word.

p. 129

Like the tins of fruit I was grateful for when we couldn’t get to the supermarket last year, there may be times in our lives, or our children’s lives, when stored-up Scripture is the only Scripture available. I don’t want empty cupboards if and when that day comes.

And even now, if I’m struggling to sleep or I’m anxious about something, it’s the Scripture I’ve memorised that helps me the most. So it doesn’t need to be at times of extreme suffering that you need the Word hidden in your heart. (For more on this, I recommend “Deeper Still,” which I wrote about here.)

He’s With me When I Don’t Feel it

Many times in Darlene’s account she cries out to God and hears Him answer her through his Word. This is a huge encouragement and a reminder that in times of desperation, the Lord does not abandon us.

But it might lead us to wonder about the times when we’ve prayed and not really heard or felt the Lord answer us clearly. It might make me wonder if I would know the Lord’s presence in the same way if I were in a terrifying situation like that.

In answer to this niggling question, there is a truly glorious moment in the book. There is a time when Darlene does not feel the Lord’s presence with her. Her emotions are telling her that He isn’t there. And then she remembers that our faith isn’t being certain of what we can see or feel:

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Saviour, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning… More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord.

p.141

At her lowest point, it wasn’t the feeling of the Lord’s presence that helped her but her trust in His promises. There are times when we are ecstatic with joy in the Lord, and this is a wonderful blessing. But if our relationship with God is based on those times, we will not endure. His unchanging Word will sustain us when our feelings ebb and flow. We trust in what He will do for us, because of who He is and what He has already done in the past:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11, verse 1

Quotations are from Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose, Authentic Media reprint 2020. We got ours at 10ofthose.com

Why Bother with Biographies?

In the Summer of 2014, the so-called Islamic State raged through Syria and Iraq, terrorising and murdering thousands, especially those who refused to convert to Islam. I think I was on holiday in an idyllic Welsh holiday village when I first heard about it. In the months that followed, as the situation in the Middle East grew worse, I found it difficult to hear the stories and still trust my good, sovereign God. I wrote about this at the time if you’d like to read about it.

Around this time I asked a lady I know to have a coffee with me. I asked her how we could still trust God, when our brothers and sisters were suffering so badly. I asked her because she’s wise, and because she too has suffered at the hands of wicked men. While living as missionaries in Nigeria, she and her husband were brutally attacked in their home by an armed gang. If she could still trust that our God is good and faithful, then I wanted her to show me how. I remember her telling me (amongst many other things) that what happened to them was what she had feared would happen and had prayed would not happen. Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is not, “I won’t let that happen” but is to say, “Even then, I will be with you.”

It was this friend who recommended I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. (She actually suggested another book, Killing Fields, Living Fields, but I said there was no way my nerves could take it.) She described The Hiding Place as “lovely.” If you want to read about how God is faithful even when the unthinkable happens, then The Hiding Place is a gentle introduction. It’s Entry Level. I have written about it here.

If you haven’t read Christian biographies before, I’d love to recommend it to you. I’m fairly late to the party and have mainly been introduced to missionaries and faithful men and women of the past through children’s books. Here are some reasons why I think it’s worth ‘bothering with missionaries’ (not just missionaries – Corrie Ten Boom for example was just a hider of Jewish people):

  1. We see that the Lord gives strength to his people, even when the worst things happen. This helps us not to fear, and helps us to have a bigger view of our very, very big God.
  2. If we live relatively comfortable lives, our children can see that Christianity is not a safe, sensible, squeaky-clean option. Following Jesus can be dangerous and we need to prepare our children for that. As Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” For some children this will actually make them more interested in Jesus. For some it might just prepare them for what’s ahead.
  3. The stories are absolutely gripping and exciting. Kids (and adults) love adventure stories. What could be better than an adventure in which our God is the hero?
  4. They challenge us to live courageously for Christ. If Darlene (see below) can share the gospel with a brutal, violent POW camp commander, then shouldn’t I be brave and ask my kind, sweet colleague what they think of Jesus?
  5. Old books are often better than new books. No offence to present-day authors, but older books that people are still reading have stood the test of time. So if a Christian book is old and still in print, it’s probably worth reading. Just as the old songs that are still played on the radio are better than most of the current songs. It’s why Wizard and Slade are better than Kelly Clarkson. Time burns off the dross and leaves the pure gold for us to enjoy. I think I’ve mixed some metaphors there, sorry.

If you don’t know where to start with introducing missionaries to your homes, then here are some ideas:

Preschoolers: The Good Book Company have just released a series of missionary biographies for very young children. We’ve read the one about Corrie Ten Boom and one about Betsey Stockton. These are a fantastic way to introduce these stories in an age-appropriate way. I was curious as to how Corrie’s story could be told in a way that wouldn’t give a child nightmares, but they managed it. The Betsey Stockton one is also refreshing because she had been an enslaved person. I wouldn’t want my children thinking that only white people can be missionaries! It also shows how God’s grace can enable someone who’s been treated horribly to be full of grace for others. You can get these books, and others, here.

Ages 5-11ish: My son likes reading books with loads of examples of historical figures, such as Everyone a Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte and the Church History ABCs by Stephen J Nichols and Ned Bustard. I personally don’t find these as appealing because I think I’d just forget them all, but children do have incredible memories and they enjoy the little snapshots of men and women of the faith who’ve persevered and often done great things for those who’ve come after them (e.g. us). I’ve written a bit about this before in a post called Naughty. (Every year as a family we look at Church History in the Autumn. I’ve written about this here.)

The Light Keepers series of books each tells ten stories about Christians of the past, aimed at children aged 7-11. We like the Ten Girls/Boys Who Changed the World books. (Warning: the Ten Girls/Boys Who Didn’t Give In were all martyrs. This was too traumatic for our daughter when we tried to read them to her a few years ago!) We find these books are great to read on holiday. There’s something about being away from home and trying something different that helps you to remember. I still remember sitting at the table in Cornwall, silently weeping as my husband read to the children about Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom and their fleas.

Teens/Adults: I don’t have any teenagers so I haven’t delved into any aimed at teens yet I’m afraid. I’m also a complete rookie at reading missionary biographies, despite going on about how good it is to read them. I have, however, just finished reading Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. It’s absolutely gripping. I’ll follow up shortly with a blog post about this book. If you’re going to start it (the book, not my post!), beware that you will struggle with any interruptions. When you’re on the edge of your seat wondering when the Japanese soldiers are coming back, what’s happened to Russell or whether Darlene will get a banana, you will struggle to be patient with the unassuming child who comes in and asks for a plaster.

One thing I’ve really been hugely encouraged by in the days I’ve spent with Darlene and Corrie, is that our God really and truly does answer prayer. He is a God of miracles. He absolutely can do the impossible. I know this, because he even saved me. But I’m a forgetful creature. And sometimes I’ve prayed about something a lot, and it doesn’t seem like God is answering. If you can relate to this, I’d love to recommend to you that, if you haven’t already, you get a clearer view of our big, big God by reading about God’s faithfulness in extreme circumstances. The God who heard the prayers of Miss Ten Boom and Mrs Deibler is the same God who I pray to now.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident. Psalm 27:1-3

What should I read next? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

(I do not get paid by anyone for recommending these books. I just wanted to tell you about them.)

Two Sisters

“…and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

This is a story about two sisters. One of them is me; the other is Ta.*

We were born twelve days apart in 1982 on opposite sides of the globe: she in Laos; I in Stockton-on-Tees. We each had an older brother, born in ’79.

Other than our genders, birthdays and our family head-counts, we had pretty much nothing in common. We would probably never meet.

My parents were English working-class, which for them meant they were hard-working and didn’t waste anything. Ta’s parents were also working-class, which meant they would buy and sell anything they could get their hands on. 

In 1988, aged 5, I moved from an industrial town to a village, 13 miles away. In 1989, Ta’s family fled the civil war in Laos and arrived at a refugee camp in Thailand. I don’t know what that was like. How could I? My greatest concern in 1989 was what colour my new bike would be. 

Later that year, when I was going into Top Infants, Ta and her brother and mum moved to England. While Ta was getting used to the cold weather and the sea of white faces with big noses, I was rollerskating round my village without a care in the world. 

This is hard to write, but tragedy struck Ta’s family when her dear brother lost his life to Leukaemia. This is a weight of grief and loss that I am yet to experience. 

But God was with Ta. 

This is where our roles, in some ways, flip. Ta was able to attend a highly prestigious public school** in Oxfordshire. Here she worked extremely hard, became an excellent violinist and got a place at a top university to study medicine. 

Meanwhile, I was at my local comp, an average violinist, but also working hard and getting a place at a coveted university – to study English. 

Aged 18, I heard about Jesus from my brother.  I’d heard of Jesus before, naturally, but I didn’t know the gospel. During ‘upper sixth’ (Year 13), the Lord, against all odds, saved me. Full of mercy, he opened my eyes to the truth that I desperately needed a saviour, the Lord Jesus. 

The following year, Ta started university and made friends with some Christians. She also became a very strong rower. Over the course of that year, she too was saved by God’s amazing grace. 

Now, although we’d never met, we had become members of one body. We had become sisters in Christ. 

It was at our different universities, where I felt very northern and Ta felt very foreign, that we met the Civil Engineers, born in the same hospital in Kent, who were soon to become our husbands.  Both men were brought up in sheltered Christian homes, both musically talented, both the kind of men who throw children up in the air just-that-little-bit-too-high but who always catch them. These men had never met each other, but they could easily become friends. 

In 2008 when Ta and I met, she was engaged to be married and I’d been married for two years. One of us was a white, northern teacher who was educated in politics by Randy Newman and history by Billy Joel. The other was a middle-class girl who sounds English but looks East Asian and who’s never heard of Genesis (the band, not the book). She was sporty, musical and was about to gain a PhD. We met at a new church plant on a council estate, where neither of us was in our comfort zones but both of us just wanted to help out. 

This is where Jesus began to grow us together as dear, dear friends. Slowly but surely, we came to form a friendship which goes beyond birthplace, background or education. Together we grew up, becoming more like Jesus amidst the mess of this fallen world and our own repentance and faith. We’ve shared disappointments, successes and major life events.

In 2012, on the day my brother telephoned to tell me that his brain scan had shown a benign brain tumour, it was Ta that I went to visit. She listened to me, shocked and anxious and incoherent as I was. Ta has shown me, through this and other crises, that sometimes it’s OK not to know what to say. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to try to cheer a person up. She’s taught me how to share in sorrows, as well as joys. 

We’ve seen friends come and go, as is the nature of city life.
We’ve seen friends walk away from the faith and others be saved. 
We’ve prayed for friends together when neither of us new what to say or do. 

Together we’ve been raising seven children to love and follow the Lord Jesus. We’ve struggled through sleepless nights, toddler bibles and discipline. We’ve sat together at baptisms, Colin Buchanan concerts and parenting seminars. We’ve been on holiday together, we’ve been to my parents’ together and lately we’ve just about survived Zoom church together. 

Ta has taught me how to listen. She’s tried to teach me how to make sourdough. She’s taught me how to welcome people. She’s taught me how to persevere. She’s been gracious. She’s made me laugh.

And today, as I write this, Ta and her family are moving house. They’re moving to look after her parents, since her culture and her faith have taught her to respect and care for them. Next week her family will say goodbye to our church family. 

For over 12 years, we’ve been family. This is longer than I spent in compulsory education. And I could argue that I’ve grown up more in the past 12 years than I did with my beloved school friends. 

As we say goodbye, I hope that we’ll always be friends, just as we’ll always be sisters. But I’ll miss seeing her week-in, week-out and being able to pop round for kids’ tea. And our husbands, who did indeed become close friends, will miss each other, too.

Because of Christ and his powerful Spirit, it’s very hard for me to say goodbye to this girl from Laos. It would have seemed impossible to 5 year-old-me, or even 15-year-old me, that a Public School girl from Oxfordshire could mean so much to me. But Jesus does the impossible. 

And I will try to trust that Christ, the best of friends, who has brought me safe thus far, still has good things in store for me. 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10.

*Ta is pronounced “Da” and rhymes with car. I’ve seen Ta have to explain this over and over again at parties, poor woman.

**In England, a public school is an old, very prestigious fee-paying school. A ‘comp’ is a comprehensive state school. ‘Comprehensive’ means non-selective – i.e. anyone is welcome!

One Line a Day

I don’t know about you, but this year (during lockdown and then amid all the other bitty restrictions) I’ve found the lack of structure one of the hardest things to cope with. It’s like I’ve got nothing to peg anything onto. I look back over a month and have no idea what I’ve done or how long it’s been since I… anything.

In December the magazines, newspapers and bloggers will be looking back over 2020 and, well, there’ll be quite a lot to say. And in some ways, not much at all. Everything was cancelled but, then again, Historical Things took place. No Events and yet extremely eventful. It’s been a year of emptiness and a year of chaos.

So how can I reflect on all of this and try to process it?

July last year I was recovering from an operation – hence sleeping through church!

This is my diary. Each day I write a few lines about what’s happened that day. The following year I do the same again, which means I can easily see what we were doing this time last year. These diaries are not expensive, but worth their weight in gold.

Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from keeping this diary this year.

  1. The mundane, done for God, is glorious. God’s word is full of people living mundane lives. Shepherds, farmers, builders, mothers. Sometimes something exciting happened to them, but most of the time they were doing ordinary things. I’m prone to forget that God doesn’t need me to do exciting or even interesting things. He wants me to be faithful to him. Writing this diary helps me to process the day and go to sleep. However, much of the time I feel like I have nothing to write. I feel I haven’t really done anything. However, when months later I look back on these days, even I can see that I have been doing stuff! And while not exciting, this stuff is important for keeping certain people alive. I shall try to illustrate:
    April 26, 2019: Popped to Catherine’s with travel cot. Bible study on Luke 1. Lunch. Cleaning. Beth and William for tea. Nice to chat to their mum. Deutschland ’86 in the evening.
    At the time I probably felt like all I’d done was shoddy housework (which is important!) and crowd control. But looking back I see that I’d helped a friend, been encouraged by my sisters at church, shown hospitality and spent time with my husband. Objectively I know that these things are pleasing to God, when done with a cheerful heart. And anyway, why am I so proud that I think my life should be action-packed? So if it feels like you haven’t really made any progress with anything this year, try not to be discouraged. If you’re serving him, repenting of your sin and still trusting Him this year, that is glorious. In fact, it’s quite miraculous!
  2. For everything there is a season. Once you’re in the second year of writing this, you can look back to what you were doing this time last year. What I often find is that there’s a connection between last year and this year. There’s something reassuring about this! It reminds me that life has a rhythm, which is the way God created this world to function. It also shows me that I shouldn’t be surprised by things as much as I am. I recently felt very run-down and unwell during my half-term break and wondered what on earth was wrong with me. Then I read last year’s half-term entry and, sure enough, I had written ‘felt ill, bed at 7pm.’ So maybe next October I’ll prepare myself by not making any plans and by (less likely) trying to get more rest beforehand! This all reminds me that I’m a human being, dependent on God, and not a machine or a Kryptonian.
  3. God is sovereign. As I look at the lines I’ve written in and the blank sections below, I’m reminded that to God this book is already filled in. He’s completed it. He knows what will happen on every single day of my life and he knows what I will write down about these days. My future may feel uncertain and unclear to me but it is secure in him. He not only knows it but has planned it all for my ultimate good.
    All the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    Psalm 139:16
    So as 2020 has not been the year we expected and we don’t know what Christmas will look like, I’m encouraged when I consider that God knew all of this would happen and he can work it all for the good of those who love him.
  4. Yep, I said three but as I was writing this I realised I’d missed perhaps the most important one. There is so much to thank God for. I’m likely to forget all of the wonderful ways the Lord has provided for me and blessed me in abundance. But when I read over this diary I’m reminded to give him thanks, for sustaining me through difficult times and blessing me in a myriad of ways which I really, really don’t deserve.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

I’ll be posting some Christmas present ideas next week – watch this space!

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

No, Really

The day McDonalds reopened

One of the most memorable Bible talks I’ve ever heard was actually from the London Men’s Convention. Don’t worry, I didn’t sneak in (she shudders at the thought) – no, much better. My brother had the talks on cassette (ah, the good old days!) and I listened in the comfort of my university digs. The talk was about 2 Peter 3:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

To be a Christian is to be waiting for Jesus to come back in his glory and take us home. Naturally the people around us find this ridiculous and perhaps even dangerously deluded. Everything is carrying on as normal, day in and day out, so how could we possibly believe that Jesus will come, in the twinkling of an eye, and put a stop to it all? To be honest, I’ve had those thoughts myself. It’s been hard to imagine everything suddenly coming to a grinding halt.

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

I wonder if Noah and his family would’ve found it hard to imagine Jesus coming back – if they’d known about it. I’m guessing not! They’d lived through the flood, a time when “people were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage” right up until the day they clambered into the ark and the rain began to fall. As Jesus said, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” (Please see Luke 17, 26&27)

The things I’ve seen happen this year have helped me to believe that Jesus really will come like a thief in the night and change everything in a flash. 2019 me would have found it hard to imagine the Olympics being cancelled. 2019 me would have raised a quizzical eyebrow at the suggestion that no aeroplanes would fly over her flat for three months. McDonald’s closed? You must be joking. To quote a character from a WW2 film we watched, and with much gratitude that I’ve learnt this lesson from Covid and not a war, “I’ve seen things I thought could never happen, happen.”

Now that I’ve seen cancellations and closures on an unimaginable scale, I can more easily believe that Jesus really will come back and wrap up this old world.

I share this with you because perhaps it can be an encouragement when you consider all of the things you’ve had to cancel or may still have to cancel. These things do remind us that we can make all the plans we want and we can think we humans really are very clever but it can all be stopped very quickly if the Lord wills it. If a virus can stop us, I’m certain the risen Lord Jesus, seated in glory can stop us too.

And if you’ve had the sort of year that makes you wonder why Jesus doesn’t just come back right now, may these words be a comfort to you:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Why hasn’t he come back yet? He’s patiently waiting for more people to be saved. Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

For more thoughts about waiting for Jesus’ return, read this retro post.

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

Weak as I am

IMG_8869
Accidental photo on a train. Covid essentials!

 

How’s it going?

Some of us are starting to think, “What just happened?” (i.e. where did the last 6 months go and why didn’t I learn any new languages? And incidentally why have I suddenly gone grey?)

Some of us are thinking that the worst is yet to come.

Some of us are still wondering how to cope with Today.

I’m sure there’s a whole mix of feelings about “the current situation” even amongst the readers of this here blog.

If we’re thinking of it as a marathon, I think I set off a bit too fast. Not exactly sprinting (I did have (suspected) Covid-19, after all) but also at a pace I couldn’t sustain. Then, at about Mile 20 I was informed that the marathon wouldn’t stop at Mile 26. I still don’t know where the Finish line is. I’m walking now, by the way, and gradually getting my breath back.

I don’t know if you’re feeling disappointed in the way you’ve handled certain things. Or maybe even disappointed in how things are in your country or the world over. I think most of us are feeling pretty weak now.

The other day I was listening to my pastor talk about the fact that humans are weak. They’re made from the dust:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

Is God surprised at how badly I handled such-and-such a situation?
Nope. He knows I am dust.

Is God frowning down at me in the way a personal trainer or an army General would if I tried to do 10 push-ups?
No, he has compassion on me.

Let’s remember that God is sovereign and he is in control even now. And he’s good.

But why would he bring us to a place of such weakness?

In Scripture we see time and again the Lord bringing people to a place of weakness and dependency on him.

Take Babel, for example. There we see humanity trying to be strong; trying to be independent. What does the sovereign Lord do? He confuses their language so that they’ll fail.

In the desert, when the people of Israel are hungry, does God give them the tools to make their own food and be independent? No, he gives them daily manna so they’ll have to keep trusting him.

When Jonah thinks he can run away from God and be his own man, what does God do? He sends a storm to bring him, eventually, to repentance and dependence: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord.” (He was a bit slow, wasn’t he?)

Jesus’ disciples were accomplished sailors and fishermen. But what did Jesus do? He sent them into storms so that they would need to cry out to him for help (See Matthew 8 and Matthew 14.) Peter was pretty confident in himself, but Jesus taught him to have confidence in Jesus instead:
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

The Lord allowed a woman to suffer bleeding for 12 years so that she would reach out to Jesus for healing, cleansing and reconciliation.

The Lord brings his people time and again to places of weakness in order to teach us to depend on Him. This is his kindness to us.

And yet so often, when I’m feeling weak, I feel that the Lord is far from me. I feel he disapproves. ‘He’s as disappointed in me as I am.’ But that’s a lie. Unlike me, He knows I’m weak. Not only that, but Christ sympathises with me:

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who is every respect has been tempted as we are – yet was without sin.’ Hebrews 4:15

Dane Ortlund puts it this way:

‘Our tendency is to feel intuitively that the more difficult life gets, the more alone we are. As we sink further into pain, we sink further into felt isolation. The Bible corrects us. Our pain never outstrips what [Christ] himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.’ (Gentle & Lowly, p.48)

So what should we do? Hebrews 4:16 answers that for us. Jesus is moving towards you even as you’re having to distance yourself from others. You can approach him confidently and know that he’ll help you:

‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ 

Sing!

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Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skilfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:1-5

When did you last belt out a song to the Lord?

In God’s word the people of God are commanded over and over again to sing praises to our God.  Why? Does he need it? Of course not. We need it.

But since your church stopped gathering, have you still been singing?

It’s easy for me to say. I grew up with a Dad who was forever singing. Singing was just the usual background noise. I only really realised this when I got to university and met Andy, who was to become a brother to me in those years. Someone said to me once, “Have you noticed that Andy’s always singing?” I said, “No, like when?” She said, “Well he’s singing right now.” No, I hadn’t noticed, because I was used to it.

Then I married Mike, who comes from a household of singers (i.e. people who sing) and who was to become a worship leader. So we are a family who will put on worship music and sing along any day of the week. On a Sunday morning in Lockdown we will stand in our living room together and sing our hearts out. The Oompa Loompas who live next door watch us through the window as though we’re mad.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
    extol him who rides on the clouds[b];
    rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. Psalm 68:4

But even with all this habitual singing, I’ve also been commanding myself to sing.  Because even though we’ll sing for no good reason, actually as Christians we always have good reasons to sing. Every day we have a God who is worthy of praise. Every day our hearts are tempted to grow cold to this God. Every day the world, the flesh and Satan are trying to get us to worship something else.

So when you’re fed up, I mean really fed up of the same parks, the same bike rides, the same four walls, the same arguments about school work and the same uncertainty about when you will ever see your relatives again, sing. I will say it again, sing!

Sing the gospel. Sing of your God. Sing of all his mighty works. Sing of all he’s done for you. Sing to yourself. Sing to your children. Sing to your God. Sing with the angels in heaven. If Paul and Silas could sing in prison, then I can sing in Lockdown.

And it’s never been easier to get hold of worship music to sing along to. Remember when we had to buy CD’s? We can thank God for providing Youtube, Spotify and all those other ones young people use.

If you’re lacking strength for today, sing. If you’re lacking hope for tomorrow, sing. It’s so good for you. Even the world is now realising how good it is to sing. Schools who no longer sing hymns are having singing assemblies where they sing rousing secular hymns from Hollywood blockbusters. (I mentioned this here, too.) But praise the Lord! He’s put a better song in our mouths.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:3-5

 

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff

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Last term my son learnt the following story in RE at school, and had to perform it in an assembly:

24 “So then, everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man. He builds his house on the rock. 25 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. But it does not fall. It is built on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. He builds his house on sand. 27 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. And it falls with a loud crash.”

My son’s line was something like, “So everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing is a wise builder.” I love my children’s school – I almost couldn’t love it more. But do you see what they did there? They took Jesus’ very clear statement, “everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice” and changed it to the ambiguous and vague, “everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing.” This is less offensive to a mixed audience.

When a storm comes – or a virus that empties the streets and fills up all the hospitals – we find out if we’ve been a wise of a foolish builder. I’m a bit like one of the three little pigs, and the wolf is here – but which pig am I? Did I use straw, sticks or bricks? Will my house fall down?

Going back to Jesus’ parable, I wonder if you feel that your foundations have been shaken. What are you building your life upon? Whose words are you putting into practice? Where does your security lie?

There all kinds of things we can put out trust in. Things we think will keep us safe and secure and happy:

I can trust in the security and freedom that money can offer.

I can trust in my relationships with family or friends to keep me safe and happy.

I can trust in my children’s education to give them everything they could hope for.

I can trust in scientific advances and modern medicine to give me a long and happy life.

I can trust in my good planning – my next holiday, my next house-move, my new kitchen, to give me hope and a future. These things can give me satisfaction as I daydream about them and count down the days.

But every once in a while, a storm comes. This might be the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. It might be a rejection letter or an ash cloud or an image, a growing blemish on a scan. And these things can make us wonder whether we’ve been building our house on sand. When the unexpected storm comes, does my house come crashing down?

These storms, though terrifying, can be an incredible mercy from God if they show us that all this time we’ve been building on sand. Because there’s still time to rebuild.

We’re living in the kind of storm that comes along less than once in a generation. It’s affecting everyone. The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses.

Our investments have crashed and we might lose our jobs or take pay cuts. I can’t see my friends and family in ‘real life’ for weeks, probably months. The schools have closed and the exams are cancelled. And even the best medicine can’t save everyone from this virus. These things we were depending upon have turned out to be not so certain after all.

I don’t know if you believe in God, and if so whether you feel angry with him about all of this. But while I know this is devastating for many of us, can I suggest to you that God might be trying to show you something? Perhaps it’s time to build your house on something – or someone – that can withstand any storm.

Jesus can take us through the worst storm imaginable, because he went through worse for you and for me, and came out safely on the other side. He can take us through death and bring us out of it with a new body, in paradise.

When we all come out of hiding, will we be changed? This Easter is surely a good time to hear Jesus out. Let’s find out what his words are and see if we think it’s time to put them into practice.

If you don’t have a church or your church isn’t streaming services, can I recommend my brother’s Easter Sunday service to you? He knows this is hard, he’s been through storms himself, and he’d love to tell you about the hope that Jesus offers this Easter. You can find it here at 11am on Sunday, or catch up afterwards if you’ve got plans then(!) If you click on the link now there’s a friendly little message from him waiting for you.

The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses. But there is hope this Easter.

Freedom

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15.

We’ve been using the Lent Prayer Tree prayer guide from Hope and Ginger. The other day it suggested we prayed for “people you find challenging.” Of course we all prayed for each other! Who sees the worst side of me? Who gets the least patient version of me? My poor, dear family. And now we’ve been sentenced to at least 12 weeks of family confinement. I mentioned I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow – that’s about a man who’s living under house arrest. Little did I know when I began reading it how apt it would be. But he’s in a massive hotel and he has more than 5 people to talk to! Who knew I’d end up envying him, just a little bit? (I’m kidding… of course…)

I’m not complaining about my family. But I give them plenty of reasons to complain about me. The truth is, though, that it is challenging spending so much time with other sinners. This morning I read the children the passage above from Galatians. We talked about how we can spend the day (metaphorically?) biting chunks off each other, but if in the end we’ll all be “consumed.” There’ll be nothing left of us! Or we can choose to obey God and love each other as we love ourselves. So we prayed that the Lord would change our hearts and help us to do that instead.

I think when we read commands about loving and serving other people and showing generosity and grace, it’s easy to think about people “out there.” Especially now, when many people out there are genuinely in need of help. And helping people is the right thing to do, of course, but I think I often neglect to see that there are people right under my nose who need love, generosity and grace. And if they’re the only people I’m going to see today (other than on a screen), then this seems the perfect opportunity to start praying for supernatural love for them.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

I just wanted to add as a bit of a disclaimer: when I tell you about how things are going here I do spare you many messy details. The reason for this is that it wouldn’t be fair on my children to broadcast their struggles. I’m usually happy to share my own failings, but that’s my choice. It’s also not very encouraging to hear about someone else’s ugliness. But I just want you to know that when I share with you a craft or an activity that’s worked well, it may not have been all happiness and harmony along the way. We, like you, are works very much in progress. Some days go beautifully; some evenings require a brisk and fervent prayer walk. Most days are a bit of both.

Here are some things we’ve tried:

We’ve now got a “Shake Up 2” playlist which is: “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” Colin Buchanan, “Tell it to Jesus” (very apt) by Randall Goodgame and “Dr Jesus” by Awesome Cutlery. All available on YouTube with lyrics.

 

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I’ve started reading Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo with the older three and we’re going to do crafts and things along the way. If you’ve got a good children’s book that you enjoy, this is a great way to inspire activities because you can use the text as a springboard for all sorts of crafts/drama/writing. So far this has included making paper boats and painting some Japanese numbers – we did that thing with wax crayons and watercolours, which turned out nicely! I feel like I did that a lot in primary school. And you probably know this but twinkl.co.uk is a great place for resources and ideas.

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I just want to give a little shout-out to Post-It notes. Give a child a Post-It note to write something on, and he’s pretty chuffed. Plus it’s a way of sticking things to the wall which (I hope) doesn’t do any damage. I’ve started using them to plan out the day – so we all have some idea of what’s going on – and today I used some to remind me to help my daughter learn these sounds:

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Childsplay

imageAt that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-4.

My first week at home has predictably not gone to plan. Sometimes I’ve felt that we’ve got nothing at all to do and other times we’ve felt strangely time-pressured and stressed. I can see that I’m very gradually going to learn what’s realistic and useful; meanwhile there’ll be a lot of trial and error.

As I reflect on how things have gone from the children’s point of view, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words that I need to become like a little child. They’ve certainly enjoyed themselves more than I have. So what can we learn from our children about how to live in Coronatimes?

Take things one day at a time
Younger children are especially good at this.  My 10-year-old is likely to have some worries about the days ahead, but my 3 year old has very little concept of the days ahead. She’s counting the sleeps till her birthday but I can see that this abstract concept is mere head knowledge to her. She doesn’t truly understand what “9 days’ time” means.
When I try to imagine how we’ll be after four, six or twelve weeks of this, I’m tempted to feel a dangerous cocktail of dread, panic and frustration. But I don’t need to imagine that, nor should I try to do so. Instead, I should ask God for my daily bread and not borrow trouble from tomorrow. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Isn’t that the truth! I don’t need strength for tomorrow – only for today.  And I can trust, like my children, that my Father will provide for me tomorrow, just as he has done for me today.
Incidentally, this is one big reason why we shouldn’t be panic buying. We can be generous and we don’t need to hoard because our Father provides for us.

Trust
This is linked to the one above. My children trust my words. They’re learning that plans don’t always work out, but they still believe and trust what people in authority tell them. This makes them vulnerable but it also means they don’t worry.
We all believe in things, so let’s choose to believe and trust in the promises of God, rather than filling our heads with speculations and tabloid hyperbole. Children take things at face value rather than trying to find loopholes or negatives.  Let’s take God at his word. Here’s one promise to hold onto:
“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.

Try to enjoy yourself
I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and yesterday I read this line:
“Just remember that unlike adults, children want to be happy. So they still have the ability to take the greatest pleasure in the simplest of things.”
I don’t know how much you agree with what the character is saying here. I think that most adults want to be happy too, but so often our minds are drawn to heavier thoughts or deep anxieties. When was the last time you allowed yourself to become absorbed in a simple, enjoyable task?
I know we’re busy. But maybe I’d be more of a blessing if I took my day one hour at a time, giving thanks in all circumstances and taking pleasure in simple gifts, rather than always having my mind on what’s happening next and how we’re all going to blooming-well cope.
So let’s all be like kids this week. If you’ll excuse me, I’m expected at Nerf practice.

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Tips

In case you need ideas, here are three things which have worked well for us:
1. We’ve started looking at Bible stories that involve mountains. I hope to do eight altogether. First we did Noah and a few days later we did Abraham and Isaac. The older three highlighted key parts of the story and then created storyboards. They enjoyed this – who doesn’t love a highlighter? My younger child stuck popcorn onto a picture of a ram. By the way, I hope you know that any Bible times you do with your children are improving their literacy skills. Comprehension, identifying key points and drawing connections with other stories (such as Jesus), are all vital English skills. Bonus!
2. We get a subscription to a science magazine called Whizz, Pop, Bang. My 8 year old son loves reading it and each issue includes experiments which require “equipment” which you should already have in your home. They also email you the equipment list about a week in advance so you’re pre-warned!
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3. We’ve done a lot of baking already. Baking helps young children with maths and you can talk to them about the science of it as well. Following instructions in the correct order is an important skill. Plus baking is a comforting activity for little ones because it’s “normal” and you hopefully get to eat something yummy at the end.