Walk before you run

The other day as I was meant to be starting an essay, I started thinking about my own upcoming communions. I went forward three years ago and I have been a Christian for around six years. I know that in the bigger picture that I’m only still just a child in the faith. But in these six years God has taught me many things, mostly through me getting things completely wrong, but also through his Word and  his people.

Whilst I was staring at my blank screen, waiting for 2500 words worth of reasonably coherent essay’n to appear, I started thinking what advice I would give to a 13 year old me as I began my life as a servant of the Lord:

 

1.
You do not know it all.
As a new Christian, you are like a new born child. And as a new born child you need to be fed on milk and be looked after by others. In his first letter Peter words it like this:

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1Peter2:2)

By spiritual milk he means the basics of the Christian faith,  you have to know the basics of what you believe, and know why you believe it. Only then will your spiritual bones grow strong and you will be ready to have some solid food. Don’t run before you can walk, in this case don’t even walk until you can crawl properly! But how do you get this spiritual milk and food, how do you grow?

2.
Read your Bible.
One of the ways you will grow up into an older and more mature Christian is by reading the Bible. And no, don’t just flick through and see where you land. And really don’t just read Jeremiah 29:11 or John 3:16. The Bible contains a theme, a narrative that runs right from Genesis through to Revelation. That theme is God working through people and situations and eventually sending Jesus down, all so that you would be saved from eternal death and Hell.  If you jump around random chapters, you won’t see the way that God worked throughout the Old and New Testament, you wont see how all his promise to Adam and to Abraham came true, you won’t understand correctly  all the things and people that pointed towards the coming Saviour, you won’t see to the full extent the love and care and example of Jesus in his all that he did , you won’t learn well from the carefully laid out instructions in all the letters of the early Church and finally you won’t see properly  how it all culminates in an eternity with your saviour. Use a reading plan, the Murray Mc’Cheyne one is especially good, makes notes of verses that stand out to you and ones that you don’t understand. Don’t just ignore the hard bits, ask another Christian about them and ask your minister, that’s what he’s there for! And don’t forget to pray, before you even touch the Bible ask God to reveal himself and his will  to you as you read.

 

3.
Pray, pray and pray again!
Another way you will grow up into a stronger Christian is by praying. As a Christian you now have a mediator between you and God, that mediator is of course Jesus, as it says in first Timothy:

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

In other words because you are now a brother/ sister with Jesus, you can now offer up your prayers to God. Jesus is called the eternal high priest, in the Old Testament days the priest would sacrifice and pray for the people. But because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us we can pray any time we want, and we can know that with Jesus taking all our prayers to the Father, God will hear all the prayers of his children. Our ability to pray to the creator of the universe is incredible, and it’s a privilege that we should make the most of.  I guess the next thing is  how should you pray?

In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus taught the disciples the famous Lord’s Prayer. Jesus says to use this prayer, I was taught by an old lady in the congregation to use the prayer as a template:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Start off by praising God for what he done for you and for who he is. When times are tough it is hard to do this, but that is when we need to give God the most praise.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Pray that God’s will would be accomplished, that he would prepare you to be used for his purposes and that people both near and far would also come to love him as their Saviour.
Give us this day our daily bread,
Give thanks for all that God has provided and ask that he would provide physically and spiritually for those around you  and yourself. Remember those who are not as fortunate as you, and especially the persecuted brothers and sisters across the world.
 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Admit our own sins to God, remember that through Christ we can always offer our prayers to God. Ask for help in forgiving everyone who does us wrong.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
Ask God to help us in our daily life and help us with the war against sin.

Of course this is just an idea of a template, but it is a good starting point. It is also a good practice to pray (and read the Bible)  first thing when you get up in the morning , as John Bunyan said:
” He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day”
In reality we must spend our day in prayer to God, Paul tells us to “pray ceaselessly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), of course we couldn’t function if we spent all day with our hands folded and eyes closed! But John Piper provides three ways of understanding this command:
1. In all things we should depend on and trust God.
2. Pray repeatedly and often.
3. We should never give up on prayer.
The Christian must pray, without prayer we live a life on our own strength, and if we try and live on in  our own power then we will faint and fail, as Murray Mc’ Cheyne put it:
“A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more.”

4.
Times will be hard.
At the beginning of your Christian life you are entering into a whole new world, and it is incredible, it is beautiful and it is a whole new beginning for you. But the truth is that this initial wonder will wear off, and you will be faced with sin, both in your own life and in the world around you. But God has not left the Christian unprepared, in Ephesians 6: 10-18 we find out about the armour and the weaponry that God has provided to the Christian.
As a Christian you will be tempted, remember to be tempted is not sin, but to give way at all to temptation is to sin. Even at the slightest inkling  of temptation you must remember again the last phrase that is found in the Lord’s prayer, without God’s help and guidance we stand no chance against sin.  We must us our shield of faith, we must believe that God is more than capable of protecting his children.
You will go through tough times, sad times and times of great trial. But always remember that Christ suffered all things, and is able to help  us through all things, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5: 6-7)

This post will be added to, and the list will grow. All the  things in the list are facts which apply to me as much as the new Christian, they are things which will apply to all of the family, no matter how far along in the walk they are.

Here are some pearls of wisdom from some brothers who are older  more experienced in their walk:

” Two essentials of discipleship – from the outset, adopt a disciplined personal bible reading plan for everyday in life and, secondly – pray. Spend time in prayer every morning in particular. Commit each day to God”
– Calum Iain Macleod, Back Free Church

“If you are a new Christian welcome to the family! My advice as someone who has been in it for a number of years? – get to know your brothers and sisters, make sure you eat the food of Gods word (be a doer as well as hearer), and talk often to your Father. With Jesus as your elder brother and the Holy Spirit as your counsellor, even though you face many enemies, you cannot lose. “
– David Andrew Robertson, St Peters Free Church Dundee, Solas centre.

“Submit your life entirely over to God; Make him Lord of ALL. Read the word, pray the word, study the word and LIVE the word then you will do great things for the Lord and his kingdom.”
– Malcolm Macleod, Steadfast Global

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints”

This short blog post was meant to have gone up just after my granny passed into eternity, since then there has sadly been four deaths connected to this small community, two of those who have passed were publicly following and serving their Lord.

Death is not natural, although it is now the way of all things, Scripture tells us in Romans 6:23 that death is the final working out of the curse of sin:
“For the wages of sin is death…”
If this was all the verse had to say to us, then there would really be no point to anything; we live, we sin and then therefore we die and face God guilty of our sin and fully deserving of it’s punishment.
But if we read on in the verse we come to the second segment:
“… but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is what has given, and still provides, hope and joy for the people who love and serve Jesus. Christ took our place, he received the punishment for our sin, we need do is believe and follow him.
Yes, the Christian will still die, and why is that?
Well although the Christian is completely forgiven by God, the punishment for their sin has been paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus; the presence and the effect of sin has not yet been removed from the world, and death must still take place.

That then takes us to the question, what happens to the Christian once they die ?
Well we must first note that on the instant of death, the soul and the body separate. The body has served it’s purpose for now , and for a while will simply decay away back to dust, but our souls are eternal, as we have it in Ecclesiastes 12: 7:
“…and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
The Christian’s soul then goes to be with Christ and God the Father in heaven, one of the many times from which we can learn this is from Christ’s own words to the thief that was crucified beside him, Luke 23:43 :
“”Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” 
The instant that the Christian’s soul enters heaven they will be made perfect, there can be no sin in heaven, no more pain, no more tears, only joy and only eternal contentment (Revelation 21: 1-7). The Confession of Faith words it well:
“… the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”

Like we see in the quote from the Confession of Faith, it does not just end with the soul forever in the presence of God, although that in itself is a truly wonderful thought.
There is more, at the moment that Christ comes back to earth, the Christians (both those who have passed and those on the earth at that time) will be again back in their own bodies, but our bodies will now be made perfect, eternal and made like Christ (Phillipians 3: 21). As John Piper states:
“”The old body will become a new body. But it will still be your body. There will be continuity. God is able to do what we cannot imagine. The resurrection is not described in terms of a totally new creation but in terms of a change of the old creation” 
So we will still be ‘ourselves’, but we will be fully perfect, fully Holy and like Christ.

We read in Ephesians 3: 20 that God can do:
“…far more abundantly than all that we ask or think …”
This is no different when it comes to the death of the Christian, at death the soul goes to be with Christ looking forward to the future resurrection. At this resurrection the Christian is reunited to their body, which will be perfect and eternal. The Christian will then spend eternity with God, enjoying the new Heavens and the new Earth that will be created.

What a future! What a promise for those who are saved!
Further Reading:
2 Corinthians 5
Revelation 21
Philippians 3

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-happens-at-death

http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/

Sing Scripture !

sing s
The Free Church of Scotland has released a second and updated version of Sing Scripture.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of Sing Scripture, it is pretty much as it says on the tin. It consists of a collection of worship songs, each one is a paraphrase of a passage from Scripture.
This second edition offers 52 paraphrases created by the special praise committee, from the foreword:

“These songs differ from most other Scripture paraphrases and from Scripture-based hymns in that they attempt to represent the meaning of the Scripture passages as fully and accurately as possible without undue expansion or omission. 
“The length of the songs has been determined largely by the natural structure and length of the Scripture passages rendered.
“Following the pattern of the Psalms, the passages selected contain not only words of direct prayer to and praise of God, but also teaching about God’s character, his dealings with us in providence and grace and our response to him.
“In singing these songs we show forth and extol the wonders of God’s sovereign salvation in Christ by the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to him and instruction, comfort and assurance to his people.”

Each of the paraphrases are metrical, and can be sung to all the favourite and common Psalm tunes that are already used to sing traditional Psalms and the newer Sing Psalm tunes.

Personally I cannot recommend these paraphrases enough, by singing the words that we are accustomed to reading – it brings a fresh awareness to their meaning. After having used them in fellowships/Bible-Studies, it really benefits singing the words you are about to study.

Unlike many of the other hymns, because the words come directly from Scripture, you can have the confidence of their theological integrity. And because they are arranged metrically they can be easily sung by anyone who knows even a few of the psalm tunes.
Sing Scripture provides and excellent alternative to conventional hymns/worship music. Sing Scripture adds  a new dimension to personal or public praise, with the confidence that the words are honouring and true. Have a look for yourself:

This is the Sing Scripture version of  Revelation 7: 9-17   (8787D)

1. See! Around the throne in heaven
gathered all before the Lamb
Stands a multitude unnumbered,
drawn from every tribe and clan,
Every nation, every language,
dressed in robes of shining white,
Waving palms with shouts of triumph
to salvation’s God of might.

2. Loud before the throne their voices
praise the God of saving grace,
Praise the Lamb while all the elders
join the creatures in their praise;
All around them are the angels
worshipping towards the throne,
Falling down upon their faces,
as they shout “Amen” as one.

3. “Praise and glory, thanks and wisdom,
honour, strength and sovereign might
Be to God, our God, for ever,
his by everlasting right.”
Then is heard the elder’s question:
“Who are these all clothed in white?
From what regions have they journeyed
to this place before God’s sight?”

4.“Great was once their tribulation,
through it they’ve been brought by God,
White their robes, for they have washed them
in the Lamb’s life-cleansing blood.
So before the throne of heaven
in God’s presence they are found,
And they serve him in his temple,
day and night their praises sound.

5. “God upon the throne of heaven
over them will spread his tent.
Never will they thirst or hunger,
nor will scorching sun torment.
For the Lamb enthroned will lead them,
as their Shepherd bring them near
To the springs of living water;
from their eyes God wipes each tear.”

A Traveller’s Guide to Heaven

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The following is not mine, it’s from a great wee tract made by “Way of Life”, please feel free to share it or copy it :
‘Way of Life, 148 Blackisland Road, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland BT71 6NL’

A Traveller’s Guide to Heaven

Accommodation
Arrangements for first-class accommodation have been made in advance.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you” – John 14:2

Passports
Persons seeking entry will not be permitted past the gates without having proper credentials and having their names registered with the ruling authority.
“There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth…but they which are written in the Lamb’s Book of life”
– Revelation 21: 27

Departure Times
The exact time and date of departure has not been announced. Travellers are advised to be prepared to leave at short notice.
“It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” – Acts 1:7

Tickets
Your ticket is a written pledge that guarantees your journey. It should be claimed and its promises kept firmly in hand.
“He that heareth MY  Word, and beleiveth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” – John 5:24

Customs
Only one declaration is required while going through customs.
“I declare unto you the gospel…that Christ died for our sins…and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:1,3,4

Immigration
All passengers are clarified as immigrants, since thy are taking up permanent residence in a new country. The quota is unlimited.
“They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly…for He hath prepared for them a city” – Hebrews 11: 16

Luggage
No luggage whatsoever can be taken.
“We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” – 1 Timothy 6:7

Vaccination and Inoculation
Injections are not needed, as diseases are unknown at the destination.
“God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” – Revelation 21:4

Currency
Supplies of currency may be forwarded ahead to await the passengers arrival. Deposits should be as large as possible.
“Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” – Matthew 6:20

Clothing
A complete and appropriate new wardrobe is provided foe each traveller.
“He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation. He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” – Isaiah 61:10

Reservations
Booking is now open. Apply at once.
“Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” – 2 Corinthians 6:2

The Coronation Ceremony 
At the end if the journey you will be treated to the welcoming reception and coronation which awaits each new arrival.
“There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” – 2 Timothy 4:8

Why wait a second longer ?!
“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”
– John 3:17

“The lights are on, but the Spirit’s not home…”: The Church of Sardis

Ruins at  Sardis

Revelation 3 verses 1 to 6

There are plenty of reasons for us to worry about the state of the Churches in our country, most of the news looks bad, and the prospects might not seem much better. But in these verses we see a Church that Jesus himself called dead, but he did not leave them without hope. We can look at what it means to be a healthy Church, and look at the hope that Christ offered to the dead Church in this town of Sardis.

The city of Sardis was a very wealthy one, in its time it had been famous for making woollen fabrics, colourful dyes, jewellery and other various types of and for being city of military power. But it also was a centre of pagan worship, there were two big temples dedicated to the gods Artemis and Cybele. It was believed that Cybele had the power to bring people back to life. They believed her to be the God who formed the world, if she was still worshipped she would be a Mother Earth type figure.

Before we go on to look at the church we must address the phrase we have in verse 1, and look briefly at the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
In chapter one and verse 4 we have a similar phrase:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne “
So who or what are these seven Spirits of God?, very often when we see numbers used in Scripture it is not too beneficial for us to delve to deep into their meaning, but in this verse it is made plain to us that we need not delve into studying all the biblical numerology, the seven spirits refers to the Holy Spirit and his operations/ his moving in the seven churches we have in these chapters, it is talking about what the Holy Spirit has to say to each of the seven churches. This is shown to us by what we see at the end of all the letters to the churches :
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

And what about the seven stars ? Well they are of course the seven ministers/pastors that were over these seven churches, elsewhere in these letters we see them called the seven candle stands, they were set over the churches to give light and guidance to the congregation. This follows directly on from the phrase about the Spirit’s involvement in the churches. Showing us that the lights of thee stars or these candles only exist because of the Holy Spirit and his guidance and leading.
So this phrase talks about the Holy Spirit’s individual involvement in the seven Churches and the seven stars refer to the pastors/ministers that were over these Churches As we can see from verse one this Church is accused by Christ, accused of being dead, what a horrifying condemnation to hear from the one who truly sees our heats and our intentions !

This Church which was known for its vitality and for its works. They might have had a large congregation, much money and we can see they were well known, we don’t read of any unhappiness or divisions amongst them, so why then were they called dead ?

Well much like the city they were living in, the Church was living on it’s past glories, they were relying on their great history to take them through each day. As G. Campbell Morgan put it:
They had reputation but no reality”
As well as a message for the Church, this applies to individual Christians also, we cannot live each day relying on how strong our faith was – or by looking back all the time. If we base our life on the past then how can we expect to move forward and grow in our faith ? Yes, look back and marvel at how God carried us through. But we can’t linger on the past and not want to grow in our faith.
The Church is Sardis had become stagnant, and slowly entered into state of temporal spiritual death. This of course did not mean that they had all lost their salvation, as we will see later.
But it did mean that they ,as a Church, were no longer performing the real functions that the church was established to do.
So then what are the marks of a living church ?

A.
A living church seeks God’s glory above all other things:
“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your loving kindness, because of Your truth.” – Psalm 115 verse 1
They seek God’s glory because they recognise that they were created for that very reason, as we have it in our first catechism:
“What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”
If a church begins to glorify In it own reputation, or in numbers or in the money it brings in, as soon as it starts to move it’s eyes away from praising Christ then it instantly starts to fall away and to slip into a deep sleep. This is something which we very sadly do see happening in the Church around us, emphasis is put on everything else apart from the very God who formed the Church in the first place. Much like Peter when he was on the water with Christ and he began to sink the moment he moved his eyes away from Jesus.

B.
Secondly a living Church is a loving church, a congregation that treats one another like brother and sister, that treats each individual as an essential part of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4 verse 16 (talking about Christ):
“From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
A dying church shows partiality, it does not care for each and every one of its members. Valuing some of the congregation above others.
But we are strictly commanded in the word of God not to be partial in the love of our brethren:
“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
-James 2 verse 9

We must care for one an other, build each other up, offer guidance and give discipline so that we may all grow together. Doing this results in a Church that knows and loves its members and accordingly minister to them as personally needed.

C.
Thirdly a living Church Teaches the true and un-altered word of God, it does not change it’s teachings or its messge depending on the situation or on what the common thought of the day is. Again this is something we see happening very often, the message is watered down and in the worst cases its utterly altered.
But we know that God’s revealed word is never to be changed:
-Deuteronomy 4 verse 2:
“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you ”
Proverbs 30 and verse 6:
Do not add to his words,lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar
-Revelation 22 verses 18-19:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. ”
In any way to purposefully alter the revealed Word of God is severely condemned.
But a living Church preaches and teaches the word as it is, with no alteration. Because a living Church recognises that only God’s unchanged word and law can reach the very heart of its listeners, not just tickle their ears and make them feel warm and fuzzy for a while:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; ” -Psalm 19 verse 7
A watered down message will impress for a while but it will not settle in the heats of its listeners, only the true Words of God, taught faithfully can impact on the heart.


D.
A living Church cares for the community around itself. It is not a closed community that only caters for the saved, no it is to seeks to reach out to the lost, to point a hurting and sinful world to Christ. None of us have any excuse not to be witnesses, we all know plenty of people who do not know Christ, they are our mission field.
We all know the Words of Christ in Matthew 28 verses 18-20:
“And Jesus came and said to them,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptising them in he name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In the words of the Theologian, John Murray:
“Preach abroad. It is the cooping yourselves up in rooms that has dampened the work of God, which never was and never will be carried out to any purpose without going into the highways and hedges and compelling men and women to come in.”

These are just few of the marks of a living Church.
But we can see from verses two and three, that even though Christ gave a warning to this Church, he did not fully condemn them.
Although they had stopped acting like a living Church, they had not fully abandoned faith, we can see that from the verse , Christ tells them to strengthen what remains. Some faith still remained in this Church.
They were not beyond the summons of Christ, if only the would listen to his instructions to remember, obey and repent.
Christ tells them to wake up. Twice in it’s history Sardis was over-run by its enemies, both of these time was due to the watchmen not staying at their posts and placing their confidence in the cities defences, rather than doing their jobs and watching out for the enemies.
It is Christ that keeps the Church, even though they may wander far from what they were called to be, only with his words he can restore them back to life.
This is why we should not totally despair for the Church when we see things the way they are today, we are Christ’s bride, it is him alone that takes care of the Church even through the toughest times:
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”
-Jeremiah 2 verse 2

Even though the Church may be going through a difficult time, through ground that does indeed seem dry and into are as not yet sown with the Gospel seed, we must still keep our trust in Christ. Trust in him because it is Christ that is the same yesterday, today and forever, He was with the Church through its toughest times in the past and he will be same with the Church in our day, and will continue with the Church until he comes again.

“No you can’t peel off the squares…”

image

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
-Proverbs 3 verse 5

As you may well guess I have just recently purchased for myself the king of all procrastination,  an object that will undoubtedly distract me far more than alphabetically ordering my bookcase ever has (yes that has happened on more than one occasion).
And as always I just launched into it, thinking I could be done by teatime.
After several hours of going it alone and starting to developing some cube-cuts on my fingers, it finally hit to me to try and find the solution on-line. Which only added to the confusion, as you end up  with pictures like this beauty here. And when you’re  finished turning F to B, turning D anticlockwise 3 times followed by throwing it against the wall, you are possibly left with one line filled in, maybe if your lucky even a whole side !
In reality the chances of just guessing your way to a completed cube are around 1 in 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 !

So why all this talk about my Rubik’s cube ?

Well the fact is that some people treat life like a Rubik’s cube trying their very hardest to fit everything in the perfect order. Occasionally they might get a line right, or even a whole face. But then they make one wrong turn and they end up back where they started.
The truth is that we think we know what is best, and most of the time we despise being told what to do. If we are Christians or not we all suffer from this problem, whether this is in small every day things or in big life decisions. And as long as we try to fit our own life together we will keep getting it wrong, time and time again. See God made us, and because he made us he knows us.
He knows every twist and turn we need in our life, and only by trusting in him can our lives every make any true sense or have any true purpose:
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3 verse 6

Without him we are trying to do it our own way, but unless we let him lead us we will always end up in a mess, with no real idea about what to do or where to go.

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
C.S Lewis

“From Rát with Goulash”

“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.” -Psalm 139: 7-10

I recently had the privilege of being part of a team helping out at an Eastern Europe for Christ camp in Rát, Ukraine, right here. Hopefully this blog will convey the great time we had, the challenges we faced and the ways in which God carried us all through. And hopefully you might consider joining one of the teams for next year’s camps.

This blog isn’t a chronological order of the camp , instead it’s a collection of all the different aspects that the trip included.

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Almost all the British team (no Christina)

 

Team
Suppose I better start by introducing you to the two teams of leaders, the Brave Brits and the …UmmUmm…Unflinching Ukrainians!

Our fearless team leaders were Martin and Kathleen, experienced leaders and our unofficial parents for the week. They led us through all the countries and border crossings, not to mention Edinburgh Airport; that place is no laughing matter! They were our spiritual parents too as each morning and evening we had a time of Bible reading, praying and sharing. They met a few of us in Stornoway before we left and put our minds to ease.

Then there was Christina. Edinburgh dwelling, Bethany Trust working, theology reading, banter wagon. After buying myself and Jennet cheese toasties on the plane, we knew she was going to be epic. She had such a heart for, and interest in the campers.
Sticking to the girls, we then have Joanne. It was thanks to her talk at our Youth Fellowship that I ever even considered going on the trip. She has as much a talent for languages as she does for getting on with people. In the most loving way, she was the Swiss army knife of the group, with more than enough language and people skills to help us no matter where we ended up!
And lastly for the girls we have Jennet, who when asked the rather obscure question, “Would you like to come to Ukraine with me?”, didn’t back away slowly but instead wholeheartedly agreed to come along. A great linguist and teacher – it wasn’t just the kids who learned from her grammar classes!
She also kept me safe and alive (on special instruction from my mother).

For the boys we firstly had Hamish, a man who knows most things about most things and has the ability to make them interesting. He turned the leg of a broken chair, a Sooty puppet, and a call from Allan Sugar into possibly one of the best talks I’ve heard.
Followed by Scott – oh wise up! – Drennan. Scott and myself spent the first night in Edinburgh together in a flat which was very kindly offered to us by Martin’s brother and parents. I had prepared myself for gale force 10 awkwardness with this guy I had never met before, but within half an hour we were deep in conversation about calling, providence and Psalm singing. It should also be noted that Scott had no previous connection to anyone in the group, he was also the only non Free Church group member; think he deserved  x2 bravery points for that!
And lastly there is myself. After seeing the free space advertised on Facebook, I put my name down not really expecting an answer back, but there I was in rural Ukraine, the guy who thinks going to Inverness is an adventure, and also the guy who barely has a mastery over English and ended up teaching it to campers. So whoever you are reading this, really you have no excuse not to come along next year as it really does take all sorts!

Before we move on to travel I have to mention the Ukrainian team. It might be fair to assume that the communication and relations would have been somewhat difficult and cold between ourselves and our Ukrainian counterparts. In reality it was quite the opposite! From our first meeting with Tibor (more about him later) to saying our last goodbyes to the team, we had bonded not just as a team but also as genuine friends. The kind of friendships which are only possible because of our shared love of our Lord and Saviour!
They helped by translating our daily lessons and Bible studies and they also stood alongside us and translated our evening talks to the campers. I still remember the fear on Tibor’s face when he realised he had to translate mine!
I have to give a special mention to Ferenc who helped out Jennet and I in our daily teaching and study classes. It can’t be said enough how gracious and patient he was with us, and also just the fact he is a genuinely fun guy who cared for the campers and looked after us clueless teachers.

Almost all the Ukrainian team. (no Tibor, with Jennet in the middle)

Almost all the Ukrainian team and Jennet (no Tibor)


Travel
They say that the travelling is almost as important as the destination. Well that proved itself to be true as seven pasty skinned Scots and an intrepid Irishman made our way to this small village right on the border of the European Union.

Myself and Jennet dragged ourselves onto the 6 am ferry bound for Ullapool, bussed it to Inverness and then caught the train to Edinburgh. 1005629_543764142338418_24590362_nWe had a quick stop in Inverness for the essentials, namely Primark and sweets. Some of us buying a few more sweets than others, I won’t say which stash belonged to whom…
After a lovely train journey and being treated to some of our country’s beautiful scenery, we arrived at Edinburgh Waverly station where we first laid eyes upon our Irish friend, Scott. The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful, turbulence free plane journey arriving early at Budapest Airport.

Budapest indoor market

Budapest indoor market

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View of Budapest

It has to be said that crossing the street in Budapest is more a leap of faith than anything else, you just step out and trust that the drivers see your contrasting pasty white/shining red face, before they get the chance to see a closeup of it!
It’s much the same with the cyclists on the pavement with the advice being, “Oh it’s fine you keep walking, they’ll just swerve around you.”.
After a few days spent on foot touring around Budapest’s markets and shops, we boarded the train which was bound for Csop, Ukraine. This is where we hit our first problem. We had bought our train tickets in Budapest the day before, but seemingly when you purchase tickets for the journey, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re entitled to seats on the train! So before our departure, Martin and Hamish alighted from the train in order to try and book us seats on said train, whilst our poor misunderstood ticket inspector (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr MacSween, an old maths teacher) looked upon us, mystified at how we had managed to get this far. The clock was ticking and our fellow team members hadn’t even made it to the front of the queue, and might I add, the train would have quite happily left without them! After about thirty minutes or so, we rang them to tell them to return to the train without the seat reservations.
In the meantime, we had befriended a lovely Hungarian man with an unpronounceable name (so we just called him George) who had impeccable English. After explaining our situation to the slightly frustrated ticket inspector, George told us where to find him if we needed any more help. It transpired we could by the tickets from the inspector himself, which I assume was what the poor man was trying to tell us all along!
The journey itself was great, about 6 hours long, but in great comfort and with four hours of free WiFi. It was bright for around three quarters of the journey so we were treated to the changing landscape of urban sprawl, to gentle green hills, to fields and fields of sunflowers, all before turning back into a semi-urbanised area.

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Joanne on the train heading back toward Zahony

About two miles from the border and at one o’ clock in the morning, we had to change trains at Zahony station. Unfortunately, which train we had to change to, we were not so sure. All we knew was that the train we were on was headed to Moscow, an unwanted adventure by all.

After asking around, the team and a few of our newly made train pals, alighted from the Moscow-bound train, carefully hobbled across the train tracks with our luggage to the other platform and managed to board the correct train, bound for Csop, where we were to be collected by Tibor.
This next train (see right-hand photo) was nothing like the previous one. It was definitely old and looked as though it was straight out of an old black and white James Bond film. It was on this train that we crossed over the border from Hungary to Ukraine, but also the border of the E.U.
Imagine if you will: guard towers, electric fencing, dogs, balaclavas, and guns. No, not the border to South-Lochs, but indeed the Hungry/Ukraine border crossing. Now I’ll be honest, it was not that bad; they looked at the Passports – looked at us – looked again at the passports and sent us on our way; a breeze compared to Stornoway airport.

Tantalising Tastes

As with most experiences, ‘you had to be there’. The food that we had in Hungary and Ukraine, well, you had to be there! In our few days in Budapest we ate at a pub named, ‘For Sale’. It’s a pub with a gazillion meals on the menu and massive portions, but in short, it was brilliant!

For Sale Pub

For Sale Pub

We had our first real taste of  local Ukranian produce when we arrived at the camp at two in the morning. Tibor brought us bread, meat and beautiful vegetables from his own Garden. A tomato and ham sandwich has never been so good! Our second meal in Ukraine was also thanks to Tibor and his accommodating family. After attending his Church service we were very kindly invited back to their home for our Sunday lunch. A sausage dish made with local meat and vegetables from his own garden, with the ever present and ever tasty bread always supplied.

Our breakfast, with the juice stuff in the background

Our breakfast, with the juice stuff in the background

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Some lunchtime soup

However, as we all know, camp food is always slightly different from home cooking!
Before every meal they had two prayers, one English grace sung to a Scottish Psalter Psalm tune and one incredibly catchy Hungarian tune. Each meal was finished with a shout to the cooks apologising for not finishing all the food.
With every meal we received a drink, which I’m still not 100% sure what it actually was, but if you imagine lukewarm orange diluting juice you’re half way there. Almost every morning we were given bread with salad and a hammy-spammy-moussey-slicey thing. After our initial tasting – and realisation that it wasn’t ham – we almost got quite used to it! Unlike other places I’ve been to, where I flat out didn’t like the food, the Ukrainian food wasn’t actually that bad, it just wasn’t what we are used to. For them lunchtime is the main meal of the day. We usually had a soup dish followed by a main course with meat and then some days we were treated to a pudding of some sort. Of course the pudding days were the best days!

Now, we cannot discuss Ukranian food and drink and not mention Kvass! ‘What is Kvass?’, I hear you cry. It is a drink that comes from fermented brown bread mixed with some honey and some spices, often with some raisins thrown in for a laugh. It was supposedly non-alcoholic, but that could be argued with! We (the junior members) had waited all week to try this famed drink. So, after we said our emotional goodbyes to all the campers we took a wee walk to the local restaurant – a beautiful place with friendly owners – to tickle our tastebuds with Kvass. Tibor graciously bought us all a big glass of the stuff. It’s hard to describe the taste, maybe brown sugar mixed with treacle comes closest. Whatever was in it, it provided the perfect refreshing end to a busy and blessed week.

Kvass

Kvass


Tibor
Tibor is the leader of Camp Ràt. He is the pastor of three of the local Hungarian Reformed churches in the area. (I must mention that although the town we were situated in is in Ukraine, the people there speak Hungarian and go by Hungarian time.) He is also the a husband and father of two (now three!) beautiful children. Although his home was two minutes down the road from camp, he insisted on sleeping at the camp to in case of an emergency. His commitment to the children, to the other leaders, and to God is truly inspiring. He was the first one up every morning and the last one to go to bed at night. He also enjoyed scaring us wee junior leaders and playing the odd practical joke. One of my favourite examples of this is when he collected us from the train station in Csop. Picture this scene: it’s one in the morning in a country far from home, myself, Jennet and Scott are travelling with a man we barely know and his opening line is this:
“So, have you heard of the black market?”
*Uneasy shiftings from us in the back car*
“Your organs would sell well…”
*Nervous laughter!*
The sense of humour of Ukraine is rather dark in comparison to ours. It didn’t so much break the ice but blew up the iceberg.
When Tibor came to see us off at the border control, it wasn’t just waving farewell to the pastor, but farewell to a true brother in Christ.

Tibor leading the Bible Study

Tibor leading the Bible Study

The Troops
What is a camp without any campers? Well I don’t know because our camp was full of them and they were awful!
I’M JOKING OF COURSE!
I know some of them will be reading this so I’ll be completely honest; you guys were fantastic! We couldn’t have asked for better campers. They were all so willing to learn and they all had pretty good English already!
They were constantly funny, and enjoyed nothing more than watching us leaders get confused or watch us try some new food.
Believe it or not, they even went to bed when we asked them to! (Most nights anyway…)
The campers came from the surrounding villages and towns and a variety of backgrounds and social situations. I cannot express just how welcoming they were towards us, it was almost as if we had known them all their lives. They had a great respect for the leaders but knew when to have fun too, they were kind and caring for one another and listened intently to all the talks, lessons and studies. They were more than happy to talk to us and to listen to us, they were honest in their Bible Study and always had a great deal of questions to ask.
It’s hard to describe just how hard it was to say goodbye to them all. Brave faces were kept by all the leaders but we all felt the same. The fact that we still talk about the campers testifies to the impression they left on us. I won’t go into detail with all their stories but some had gone through difficult times, others were dealing with tough situations, but they were all full of joy and had a genuine desire to learn both the English language and God’s Word.
We miss them very much but we keep them in our prayers and we hope to see them again at camp next summer!

The Troops

The Troops

Teaching and Praise

There were two aspects to the daily teaching; two hours of English lessons, an hour of Bible study, and an evening fellowship including a talk and praise. The campers were put into classes based on their level of English. There was a beginners class, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, and an advanced class. Myself and Jennet taught the Intermediate 2 class, and – not to be biased – they were the best!

Jennet in full swing !

Jennet in full swing!

We had prepared worksheets before leaving Scotland but we were horrified/delighted to find out that our class far exceeded the lessons we had planned. Many people worry that they would not be able to teach a class or lead a Bible study but you would be surprised at how we were enabled to do so. It was just one of the many times that God carried us through!
The campers were great listeners and provided us with some excellent work! They wrote stories and poems, studied grammar and sentence structure.

Bible Study

Bible Study

The Bible studies were based on a Hungarian version of the Christianity Explored study book, although our campers had a good number of questions which led us to discuss many interesting topics. With the help of Ferenc and Tibor, we managed to answer almost all their questions. The rest, only God knows the answers to.
For the evening talks, the British leaders took turns to deliver a different message every night. There were  topics covering sin, why Christ came, crucifixion, Christian living, etc. We were joined by a translator which was strange at first but you soon get used to it. The campers enjoyed singing very much and a particular favourite of theirs was ‘10,000 Reasons’ by Matt Redman.
We ended the week with a camp concert where each class put on a performance for the rest of the campers. These performances included plays, sketches, and songs, and of course us leaders joined in too.

So much more happened that there just isn’t time to include, but here are a few things:
Scott getting stopped at the Ukranian border just after Joanne had put some of her spare clothes in his bag.
The huge fruit, notably the utterly mahoosive watermelons.
The sheer joy you get in learning even a smidge of Hungarian.
The moment when you see the campers face light up when they get an answer right or their question answered.

It’s hard to write about this kind of experience, you can’t fully understand the heat or the sights, sounds and tastes unless you go and see for yourself.

So why should you go?

1) It’s something you have never done before. You are stepping out of your comfort zone, out of your country and out of your daily way of life – which is healthy as you gain perspective.

2) You can see the work of God in another part of his Church, and see him working in the lives of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ across Europe!

3) You will receive great fellowship both from the British team, but also from the Ukrainian team.

4) You will learn to rely more on God, as you lead the campers through the lessons and the teaching and also as you travel in a foreign country and face obstacles you wouldn’t normally face. The words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139: 7-10 really does describe our collective sentiments throughout the trip!

5) You will be challenged and you will grow in your own understanding of both the Christian life and the Word of God.

If you think you might be interested in taking part in this great chance for mission and for fellowship please check out this link to the E.E.F.C website.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment below.

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Photo credits go to Jennet and Tibor, who graciously allowed me to use their massive collections. Special thanks to Jennet who also proof read and added extra relevant information.