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Women Looking on From a Distance

Mark 15:40 describes this heartbreaking scene in one short sentence.

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.

“Looking on from a distance.” How do you explain it? These women had followed Christ from Galilee. Mark 41 says they ministered to Him. But in this dark and horrible hour, they were not at the foot of the cross to offer comfort, but watching from a distance.

We can only speculate about the reason. Perhaps they feared to make His suffering worse as He watched theirs. Perhaps they could not bear to witness His face in such pain, and could not bear to leave while He still suffered. In this tension, perhaps they chose to watch from a distance. Or maybe they had a flicker of hope that He would come down off the cross to take up the reigns of the earthly kingdom, and they wanted to be there to see it.  Matthew 27:55 and Luke 23:49 tell us that they stood with many other women followers and acquaintances of Jesus, but the Bible singles out these three for our observation.

I think I know these women.

Mary Magdalene was delivered from great darkness – the Bible says that she had seven demons.  As in the passage above, her name is nearly always listed first among the women. This may mean she either was a leader among women or greatly esteemed among all the followers, or both. Mary Magdalene was likely unmarried and childless, free to travel with and grateful to serve Jesus unfettered. She had left everything for He who delivered her.  I’ve met a woman like her at Faith.

Mary the mother of James and Joses came with her sons to follow Jesus. We know little about her background. Her older son, known as James the less, was one of the twelve. Like her son, she was unobtrusive in her service.  She may have been one of those people to whom Pastor Tim referred to in his recent sermon, the one working behind the scenes for the common good; the one whom God will honor. I’ve met a woman like her at Faith.

Salome was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, whom Jesus called “The sons of thunder.” I think they might have inherited that trait from their mom. She certainly wasn’t shy about asking Jesus for places of honor in the kingdom for her two sons. Some scholars think that Salome might have been the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If this is true, it might explain her boldness a little.  I imagine Salome as that woman with a plan, the one who constantly has to remind herself that she isn’t in charge and that she shouldn’t try to manipulate others. She loves greatly and sometimes expresses it poorly. She acts the part of everyone’s mom, and was probably equally endearing and annoying. I’ve met a woman like her at Faith.

These women-who-are-like-us watched from a distance. Tell me, sister, are you also watching someone from a distance? Are you straining to see or hear from an estranged child? Are you watching someone you love heading down a destructive path as they reject your advice and comfort? Are you watching helplessly and praying constantly for a parent or sibling tortured by addiction or depression?

Jesus sees.

These very women are the first ones to receive the good news of the resurrection. Jesus personally comforted Mary Magdalene outside the tomb.  He sent angels to the others. The great news that angels longed to look into came first to the women who watched, who followed His body to the tomb, and who returned to minister to Him even in death. Those heartbroken women who had served Jesus did not escape His gaze. They watched in agony from a distance. He came to them personally.

Praying today for the heartbroken men and women at Faith, that Jesus may comfort you personally, up close, through His Word and Spirit.

 

Susan Verstraete is the church secretary at Faith Community Church. She and her husband have two grown sons, Patrick and Christopher.

Posted in: Bible study, Women's Ministry

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Book Review: These Are the Generations

By Susan Verstraete

Grandmother Bae burned all three Bibles that her family owned. All night long she sat by the fire, tearing two or three pages at a time out of the book she loved and feeding it to the flames.  A North Korean State Security Officer could knock at any time, which made keeping the books just too dangerous.

Can you imagine what was going through her mind as she burned the sacred pages? Did tears stream down her face? Did she wish she had memorized more? And what was Grandfather Bae thinking as he guarded the door until it was finished? How could he lead his family without the Word? How could God save their family or the rest of North Korea when Scripture was outlawed?

These are the Generations tells the exciting and heart-wrenching story of the next three generations of the Bae family, Chinese Christians who escaped to North Korea to flee persecution by the Japanese after World War 2.

I’ve read a great number of Christian biographies, but this one struck me as unique in its honesty about the extremely difficult choices faced by believers under persecution. For example, some Christian families actually hid their beliefs from their own children for fear that the children might slip up in public and bring the Security
Office to the family doorstep. Others, like the Bae family, felt they had to burn God’s Word. A Christian mother asked her son to steal to keep the family from starving, and her believing son did what she asked.  The Pastor hid in fear when the Japanese army came to burn down his church, and no one spoke openly about Christ.

I kept asking myself, “What would I have done? Where’s the line between protecting my family and betraying my faith?”

The only criticism I have of the book is that the gospel is not clearly explained in this narrative. At times it sounds as if being a Christian is equivalent to obeying the Ten Commandments, for example, and Mr. Bae never mentions Christ. But Mrs. Bae does mention Him later in the book, and I think that this oversight may be attributed to the lack of systematic teaching in their lives rather than to a completely faulty understanding of redemption. Still, while I heartily recommend reading These are the Generations as a family, I wouldn’t  let a preteen read it alone without making sure to explain that we all often believe more than we articulate.

Susan Verstraete is the Church Secretary at FCC.

 

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Two Book Reviews: Biographies of Paul and Margaret Brand

The Gift of Pain: Why We Hurt and What We Can Do About It

Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, Zondervan, 1997

Paul Brand was a medical missionary in India, and the son of missionaries. He specialized in treating people who suffered from leprosy and is credited with being the first to discover that leprosy did not cause rotting of the flesh, as previous generations has supposed. Brand observed instead that the disease deadened the nerves that brought messages of pain to the brain. Without these messages, his patients repeatedly injured themselves. These injuries became infected and caused the loss if fingers and toes, and often the loss of ability to earn a wage. Brand fought this progression with surgical and practical means—surgically rerouting healthy tendons to replace deadened ones, for example, and sending each patient home with a cat, so rats didn’t chew off numbed digits while the patients slept. He set up a school to teach those with leprous hands how to safely use them to earn a living as a carpenter or plumber, and set up a cobbler’s shop, where customized shoes were made to protect the deformed feet of his patients. Brand spent decades treating patients who could not feel physical pain, and though it sounds odd to our sensibilities, he said, “If I could give any one gift to my patients, it would be the gift of pain.” The Gift of Pain is available through Amazon.com and CBD.com.

If you prefer to watch the Brand’s story on video, here’s a link to a three-part series by Day of Discovery http://www.dod.org/Products/DOD1982.aspx . (It does graphically show the effects of leprosy on the hands and eyes, and may not be suitable for tender-hearted children.)

Vision for God: The Story of Dr. Margaret Brand

by Dr. Margaret Brand and Dr. James Jost, Discovery House, 2006

“We always believed that the Lord who took us in would take us through, adventure by adventure.”-Dr. Margaret Brand

Her baby was just two weeks old when the note came, asking Dr. Margaret Brand to go to work part time, without salary, in the mission hospital where her husband was on staff. The note arrived by messenger and said, “We must have help in the eye department.” It couldn’t have been a worse fit. Margaret had actually missed the ophthalmology rotation in her medical school training and had no experience in the field. She wrote back, “I know nothing about eyes. You’ll have to look for someone else. Sorry.” One hour later there was another knock on the door. The messenger once again handed Margaret a note. “You’ll learn,” it said. “Please start on Monday.”

To say that she learned is an understatement. That first day, the small eye clinic saw nearly 400 patients. Within a few weeks, she had learned to remove cataracts, a major cause of blindness in sun-drenched India. In eye camps held in remote villages, the team might perform 100 surgeries in a day, literally saving the lives of those who could no longer work to support themselves because of their blindness. Over the years, Margaret would also learn much about how the disease of leprosy affects the eye, and became the world’s foremost expert in the field. She pioneered surgical techniques to restore the ability to blink to her patients’ paralyzed eyelids and, still without becoming board certified in ophthalmology, became the Chief of Ophthalmology at the National Hansen’s Disease Center in Carville, LA.

But this biography is much more than a medical journal. Margaret tells us what it was like to raise six energetic youngsters in a foreign and sometimes dangerous country. Someone always seemed to be having an adventure—like the time the pet leopard punctured their daughter’s jugular, the time Margaret locked herself and some friends in a padded cell in an abandoned mental hospital, the time the gibbon grabbed her daughter’s hair and Margaret played tug-of-war with her screaming child, the time marmalade exploded inside all their trunks on a sea voyage, the day they were presented to the Queen and Margaret twisted her ankle when she curtsied, and the many times one or another of the family succumbed to a tropical disease. All this happened as Margaret and her husband Paul homeschooled six children, became world-class authorities on the treatment of leprosy and, most importantly, shined the light of the gospel into the spiritual darkness of India.  Vision for God is available through Amazon.com and CBD.com.

 

Posted in: Biography, Book Review

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Book Review: A Heart for Freedom

Review: A Heart for Freedom: The remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and her Quest to Free China’s Daughters, by Chai Ling. Tyndale House, 2011

I wish Chai Ling had waited a few more years to tell her story.

In A Heart for Freedom, she recounts the events that led to her involvement in the leadership of the Tiananmen Square student protest in China in 1989. We have a front-row seat as the students and the Chinese government come to a stand-off over personal freedoms, and we vicariously experience the horror of the massacre. Ling evokes our sympathy as she tells us what like to leave her country as a political refugee to start over, a young girl alone and misunderstood.

The final third of the book was the most compelling, as Ling details coming to terms with her helplessness to change the political system in China, her conversion to Christianity and the process of grief and repentance over her four abortions.  We see her understanding progress— first Ling realizes that her abortions ended the lives of real children—that something wrong happened. She grieves over her loss and begins to talk about it. At first she blames China’s one child policy and her ex-husband, but eventually she comes to realize her own role and to understand grace and forgiveness.

On the positive side, it is possible for someone to read this book (and especially the description of grace  on page 320) and learn enough about God to be converted.  Ling’s honest testimony of struggle, of learning about God and the truth about her own sin and helplessness over the period of several months is no simple reciting of a sinner’s prayer – there was real change involved in her life and I have no doubt that she knows God.

But on the negative side, I found that Ling came across as judgmental toward nearly everyone she mentions in the book. Everyone from her father, boyfriends, friends, potential employers to her current husband (whom she seems to love very much) seems not to have “done it right” in their relationship to her. For example, when Ling finally confesses her abortions to a spiritual mentor, she is asked, “Did you confess to God? He will forgive you.” Sound advice, right? Not according to Ling. She left judged by her friend. Over and over she says in her book, “For the Chinese women who will someday come out of their trauma, what they need to hear first is not, ‘Come to God and He will forgive you.’ but, ‘Come to God and He will love you, heal you, and free you.’”  It’s as if Ling cannot stand even the implied criticism by her friend that she needs forgiveness. This is only one of dozens of examples where Ling explains to us her “rightness” sometimes at the cost of condemning the actions and attitudes of others. This is where a little Christian maturity might have tempered some of her judgments and made the book a more edifying read. Her theology is not always perfectly on target, and the book is probably not suitable for young people because of the general (not detailed) descriptions of her sexually immoral teen years.

That being said, I do believe that because of her unique role in China’s history, Chai Ling has a story to tell about grace that no one else could tell.

Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.

Posted in: Biography, Book Review

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Book Review: A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter

Book by Miriam Huffman Rockness

Lilias Trotter was a gifted artist. So gifted, in fact, that one of the premier art critics of 19th century Europe, John Ruskin, said that if she would devote herself to art, “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal.”

Lilias was born in England in 1853 to a wealthy Christian family. Both her parents had an acute love of beauty, and they shared their passion with their children. The family enjoyed outings in the country where they gathered ferns and berries. They took an extended trip every year, and delighted in viewing the scenery from the windows of the stage coach. Lilias wept with joy over the beauty of the Swiss Alps the first time she saw them. She captured everything in her sketchbook.

Lilias’ father died when she was twelve years old. Though she had been a believer before this tragedy, the loss of her father softened and spiritually deepened Lilias. She learned to run to her Heavenly Father in times of difficulty, and developed a close walk with God.

In her twenties, Lilias divided her time between her two great loves, working with the poor in the London slums and honing her skills as an artist. But Ruskin, who had taken Lilias under his wing as a student, forced her to choose. He felt that in order to be truly great, her whole energy needed to be focused on her art. Lilias had a decision to make.

Lilias prayed and asked for counsel from her friends. Finally she decided that she agreed with Ruskin. That is, she agreed that she needed to be fully focused on one passion. Later in life she would write:

Satan knows well the power of concentration; if a soul is likely to get under the sway of the inspiration, “this one thing I do,” he will turn all his energies to bring in side-interests that will shatter the gathering intensity.

And they lie all around, these interests. Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once—art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

And for her, the decision was clear. Lilias felt she could not give herself to painting in the way Ruskin asked and still seek first the Kingdom of God. With great pain and great joy, she chose to focus her life on evangelism. Even though it was what she really wanted, letting go one dream to pursue another still felt like a loss.

Lilias recovered quickly and set off to serve God with a newly focused passion. She applied to the North Africa Mission to serve in Algeria, but was denied because of her poor health. Lilias and a friend went to Algeria anyway, as self-supported workers. They would found the Algiers Mission Band, which would later become Arab World Ministries. Lilias wrote tracts in Arabic and illustrated them, drawing much of her inspiration from nature and the beauty of that desert region.

Lilias and her friend Blanche lived among the people in a crowded city. Over the years, they tried many different programs to gain a foothold to teach about Christ. They taught classes on sewing and on the Bible. They traveled far across the desert to reach small villages with the good news and they opened their home to people in need. It was very hard to disciple converts in a land saturated in Islam, and they routinely worked themselves into exhaustion.

After her death in 1928, people were asked what they remembered about Lilias Trotter. For most, it was her great love for individuals she encountered and her investment in their souls. Scores of people have come to know Christ either directly or indirectly because of Lilias’ willingness to focus on the best, even at the loss of something good. Like Mary listening at the feet of Jesus, she chose the better part.

Lilias’ story is told in detail in this book, but glaring lack in it is the absence of examples of her art and devotional writing. To get a more complete picture of this brave missionary, you might also purchase the book, A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, a beautiful coffee-table book with full-color reproductions of her art and excerpts from her journals. Some of her illustrated tracts are available to view online for free through Lilias Trotter Digitization Foundation and Project Gutenberg.

Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.

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I Believe in the Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has been called the central teaching of the Christian faith, the heart of the Gospel, the cornerstone of our theology, and the basis of our hope as believers. Perhaps that explains why the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ has been under attack since the very day the tomb was discovered to be empty (Matthew 28:11-15).

Over the years, many have followed in the path of those first chief priests and elders who tried to explain away the resurrected Christ. The ancient Gnostics taught that Jesus switched places with a bystander before the crucifixion and later came out of hiding to appear to His followers. Docetists proposed the idea that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body. Enlightenment thinkers imagined that Jesus swooned at the cross and later woke up in the tomb, pushed the stone away and appeared to His disciples. In our own day, Jesus Seminar scholars marginalize the resurrection, teaching that it was only a metaphor and not an actual event. But the Apostle Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17 ESV). We need to have a clear understanding—just why do we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ?

* Both Jesus and the Old Testament prophets predicted the resurrection. When the Jews asked for a sign of Jesus’ authority, He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19-22). Other instances include Matthew 20:19, Mark 14:28, and Luke 9:22. Old Testament prophecies include Job 19:25-27 and Psalm 16:10 (cf. Acts 2:31).

* The detailed accounts of the resurrection found in Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-18 are eyewitness records of the event. Though each author chose to include slightly different details, the four narratives stand as legitimate historical documentation. Few events in history have as precise detail from multiple witnesses as do the accounts of the resurrection found in the Gospels.

* The Roman guard that stood watch at the tomb (Matthew 27:64-66) knew that falling asleep on their watch meant certain execution. It is preposterous to believe that the same timid disciples who fled the crucifixion would so soon be willing to face the danger of the guard, move the heavy stone from in front of the tomb, steal the body, and were able to accomplish all without waking the soldiers, who were conveniently asleep on duty.

* The empty tomb and the uninhabited grave clothes were enough to convince John of the resurrection (John 20:8), along with the women’s account of angelic testimony (Matthew 28:5-7).

* Many of the details in the Gospel accounts are unlikely from the perspective of the authors and must have been bewildering to them. For example, the fact that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene instead of a man like John or Peter would have been confusing in the male-dominated culture of the day. The disciples had seen Lazarus and others raised from the dead, but never resurrection to a glorified body like Jesus experienced—thus His ability to vanish (Luke 24:31) and to appear suddenly in a locked room (John 20:19). Including these unheard of events in the narrative shows that the authors were recording history as it occurred, not inventing fiction.

* The wounds in Jesus’ hands and side are evidence that it was indeed He who suffered on the cross, not a stand-in as the Gnostics taught. The scars verified by Thomas (John 20:27-28) and the meal shared with the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:41-43) prove that the resurrection was physical, not a spiritual or solely metaphoric event. You can’t touch a spirit; you can’t have a meal with a metaphor.

* Jesus appeared to many people after His resurrection, including those who knew Him well, like Mary Magdalene (John 20:15-17) and the disciples. He also appeared to over 500 people at one time (I Corinthians 15:6). Nearly all would have been present when Peter preached about the resurrected Jesus in Acts 2:32. We have no record of any of Christ’s contemporaries objecting to Peter’s mention of the resurrection in this sermon, preached before the very people who had crucified Jesus. Many of these same witnesses would have been alive to confirm the testimony of the Gospels when they were written.

* Since the beginning, Jesus’ followers have suffered. The first-century church was brutally persecuted. Thousands of followers, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, withstood poverty, imprisonment, beatings, torture, and death for their belief. Tradition tells us that all but one of the Apostles died a martyr’s death. If they were not completely convinced of Christ’s deity and resurrection, they would not have suffered and died for those beliefs.

* Finally, the entire New Testament confirms the centrality of the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection is a requirement for salvation (Romans 10:9). Resurrection is pictured in baptism (Romans 6:4, Col. 2:12). It is the basis of hope for our own resurrection (Romans 8:11) and the resurrection of other believers who have died (I Thessalonians 4:14). It is the demonstration of God’s great power (Eph 1:19). It is why we are able to hope in God (1 Peter 1:21) and the means by which we are born again (1 Peter 3:23).

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
I Corinthians 15:20

Susan Verstraete is the church secretary at Faith Community Church.

Posted in: Apologetics

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To End All Wars

Book by Ernest Gordon, Zondervan 1963

Agnostic Ernest Gordon wanted no part of the religion he witnessed during his first months in a Japanese prison camp in Southeast Asia. Most of the men, he wrote, “believed that if they cajoled God properly He could be persuaded to save them from the unpleasantness of their present existence. They prayed for food, freedom or to be spared from death.” Gordon goes on to explain:

The men who turned to religion in this and other ways were only putting into practice what they had learned in their impressionable years from their parents and Sunday School teachers . . . . As children they had doubtless been told, ‘If you go to church and are being a good boy, God will reward your goodness by giving you what you want.’ . . . The motive . . . was not love or faith, but fear: fear of the unknown, fear of suffering, fear of the terror that walks by night, fear of death itself.

Despite their best efforts to manipulate God, the situation for all the prisoners kept getting worse. They were transferred in steaming boxcars deep into the jungle, where they spent days hacking away at the overgrowth. Their camp was a clearing – just a clearing – with no shelter or facilities. Any buildings that would be added would have to be built by the men after their long day’s work. The only food they were given was a meager 12 ounces of rice per day, per man. Diseases like malaria, worms and diphtheria ran rampant through the camp. The men were unimaginably miserable. On average, twenty died every day. They stole from each other, ignored the cries of the sick and wounded and hardened their hearts against the constant suffering around them. In response to inhumane treatment, they became almost inhuman.

But, in the same way that a jeweler’s black velvet backdrops causes a diamond to show up brilliantly, this backdrop of evil was the perfect showcase for real Christianity.

Stories began to emerge about a soldier who starved himself to give a sick friend his ration of food. Another officer took a beating in order to protect his men, who were falsely accused of stealing a shovel. Others cared for the sick night and day. As these brave men taught about Christ, they had the attention of all the camp.

To End All Wars is the story of how God transformed a WWII prison camp, not by changing the inhuman conditions, but by changing the hearts of the men. It is a story of the triumph of the Gospel.

This book has been published under two other titles, Through the Valley of the Kwai and Miracle on the River Kwai. Two movies have been based on the book: Bridge Over the River Kwai, and To End All Wars. The first movie is not accurate biographically (as fiction, it’s a good movie) and the second, while a powerful movie that sticks more closely to actual events, is peppered with language and graphic violence which makes it unsuitable for children. The book, To End All Wars is available from Amazon for about $10.

Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.

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Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Book by Eric Metaxas, Harper Collins 2007

William was anxious as he walked around the square one more time, trying to summon the courage to face his scheduled meeting with John Newton, a friend and pastor from his boyhood. He thought back with regret over the years since they had last met in his Uncle’s home, and wondered just what the outspoken former slave-ship captain would have to say about the situation in which William now found himself.

William Wilberforce bought his way into politics. He was only 20 years old when he began campaigning to represent Hull, one of the top 20 districts in all of England. He spent the summer of 1780 hosting expensive dinners and charming the electors in his district, culminating with a huge ox-roast at his estate in August. He invited everyone in the district to a lavish celebration and provided food, drink and music to celebrate his 21st birthday, which coincidentally fell just two weeks before the election. All in all, Wilberforce spent about £9,000 (over a half-million dollars in today’s money) wooing his constituents and won the election by a landslide.

This great expense might cause someone to think that Wilberforce had a serious political agenda he hoped to implement, but nothing could be farther from the truth. He was wealthy and spoiled, given to excess and had what he called a “butterfly mind,” prone to flitting lightly from topic to topic. He was charming, but had little depth. Still, he gradually began to earn notoriety in Parliament for his rapier wit and ruthless eloquence in debate.

Of course, all that was before what Wilberforce called “the great change.” During the winters of 1784 and 1785, Wilberforce asked an old school friend, Isaac Milner, to accompany him to the French Riviera and the Italian Riviera for vacations. At first he did not realize that Milner was “an Enthusiast”—an evangelical Christian. Through studying the Bible with this friend, Wilberforce began to see himself as a sinner. He hated the flippant attitudes and extravagant lifestyle he formerly loved, and understood that for those to whom much privilege is granted, much is required. He trusted Christ, and began to wonder if he needed to leave Parliament altogether, since up until this time his chief motivation in pursuing a political career was the gratification of his ego and acceptance in high society.

And so, on December 7, 1785, he came to knock on John Newton’s door, ready to give up the only career he had known for the Savior whom he had just met. Newton, however, did not advise Wilberforce to abandon his position or to isolate himself from his friends. He restated his thoughts later in a letter. He wrote, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.” Wilberforce returned to Parliament with a new zeal and diligently began to study the Bible, making up for the lost time he regretted so deeply.

Though not a mystic, Wilberforce firmly believed “God Almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [morals].” In 1787, he introduced the first motion for the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Commons. He would be involved in this fight for the next 46 years.

Metaxas’ excellent biography introduces us to the man behind the battle. Along the way, we will meet other characters who shaped this page in church history, including John Newton, playwright and educator Hannah More, former slave Equiano, philanthropist Lady Huntingdon, lobbyist Thomas Clarkson and more.

The book is available at Amazon.com for about $15 new. You may also be interested in the movie version of the book, Amazing Grace, (2006) which is available through Amazon or Netflix.

Review by Susan Verstraete, church secretary at FCC.

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Hungering for Righteousness

Adventurer Aleksander Gamme had traveled 86 days in the bitter cold. He had been hungry for weeks, walking for 10 hours every day over the frozen landscape, and had lost about 55 pounds.

As he traveled toward the South Pole weeks earlier, he buried fuel and a little gear every 200 kilometers to lighten his load, marking each spot with a flag. Then, as he retraced his steps on the return trip, he dug up each cache to see what he might find.

There’s a video of his discovery of the last cache, and I have watched it over and over. At first, he is calm, finding useful items buried like zinc ointment and power cables.

Suddenly he screams with joy! He cannot stop shouting in delight – he has stumbled on sheer bliss in the form of a bag of cheese doodles. As he screams and laughs, he suddenly freezes – everything is silent for a moment as he stares into the distance. He says, in wonderment, “Can this be real?” His delight is unfathomable – more than he can take in. Then he goes back to unpacking his bag, screaming and laughing with pleasure, even rolling in the snow as he pulls out some candy and a second bag of cheese doodles. As the scene fades to black, he is lying in the snow, clutching his treasures to his chest and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

When was the last time you were that happy?

In an interview about the incident, he explained that the joy he experienced was directly related to his hunger. The deprivation before finding the final cache created the perfect storm – all the elements had aligned for this moment of joy. If he had not been starving and exhausted, he would never have experienced this moment of perfect exuberant happiness. A glorious, astounding, delightful bag of cheese doodles would have just been a bag of cheese doodles. I think it is interesting to point out that he was not eating the cheese doodles when he screamed in delight. It was the sure promise that his hunger would be satiated that made him so happy.

In the same way, I believe that some of our deepest experiences of joy in the Christian life may actually occur during suffering as we hunger for a glimpse of God and to see His hand of mercy. When the Bible says, “Happy (literally ‘to be envied’) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6) think about Aleksander Gamme. Our powerlessness, our exhaustion, and our total lack of innate righteousness prepare us for moments of unfathomable joy as Christ – who is our righteousness – is revealed. He is the sure promise of future satisfaction.

Susan Verstraete is the church secretary at FCC.

Posted in: Bible study, Women's Ministry

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SELINA, THE LESS-THAN-PERFECT SERVANT

By Susan Verstraete

Selina was discouraged. The evangelist John Wesley, her friend, had assured her that it was possible for Christians to attain a state of sinless perfection in this life. Try as she might, the strong-willed and devoted Selina could not accomplish this lofty goal. She felt her failure deeply, and wondered if she could ever be useful in the kingdom of God.

By <span class="fn value"><span lang="en">Unknown</span><a href="https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q4233718" title="wikidata:Q4233718"></a></span> - BBC your pictures <a rel="nofollow" class="external autonumber" href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/selina-hastings-countess-of-huntingdon">[1]</a>, Public Domain, <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25144537">Link</a>

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, was converted early in the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. From the beginning, she was determined to use every asset she had in the service of God. She soon found ways to use her position in society to persuade many of the English nobility to listen to the gospel, especially as preached by the evangelist George Whitefield and the brothers John and Charles Wesley, leaders in the early Methodist societies in England.

This was no easy task, as the nobility frowned on the Methodist movement. For example, the Duchess of Buckingham described the movement as “repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect toward their superiors.” While thousands of the common people of England flocked to hear the Wesleys and Whitefield preach in the open air, the Church of England tried to break up their meetings and made it increasingly difficult for Methodist preachers to be ordained. Selina used her influence with the king and others on behalf of the evangelists, going so far as to hire Whitefield as her personal chaplain to insure his ability to continue preaching in England.

Even though many of the nobility disapproved of Selina’s “excesses” in religious matters, others happily enjoyed her company. Selina filled her drawing rooms with musicians, poets, lords and ladies, statesmen, and philosophers for exciting discussions of religion. Often she asked Whitefield or another visiting evangelist to address the group. At the same time she was entertaining nobility in the drawing rooms, her kitchens might be filled with the poor and needy, to whom she dispensed both spiritual advice and material assistance. Selina took every opportunity to talk with her family, friends, and servants about God. Lady Huntingdon was also devoted to her husband and six children. But still, the perfection that John Wesley taught could be hers eluded Selina.

About this time, an older woman who lived on Huntingdon estate began to wonder what might happen to her own soul, should she die suddenly. Selina’s biographer recounts the story:

Speaking gently but firmly, the Countess pointed out the total inadequacy of any good works to save the soul. But that was not the woman’s problem. “It will not do,” she retorted, “I am too bad to be saved.” “Well, now that you are quite lost, you will find Him who came to seek and to save just such as you are,” was Selina’s reply. 1

Without knowing it, Selina had answered both the question of the elderly lady (who was later joyfully converted) and the problem of her own soul. She’d stumbled on the solution—dependence on divine grace. Even though our flesh (the part of our nature that is at enmity with God) was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), as Martin Luther said, “the old man dies hard.” Remnants of the flesh remain to be battled as long as we live in our present bodies. Someone able to live in a state of sinless perfection might no longer feel his or her need for a Savior. Instead we are compelled to realize our moment-by-moment dependence on the grace of God to save us, to keep us from sin, and to forgive us when we do sin.

Over time, with prayer, and after counsel from Whitefield, Selina did give up the doctrine of Christian perfection, but never stopped using her every asset for the kingdom. Some of her many and varied accomplishments include founding a theological seminary, funding the building of 64 chapels, financing missionaries, and personally paying the debts of dozens of men so that they might be released from debtors prison. The Countess founded a group of churches later called “Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion,” some of which still exist today.

Did she do all these things without sinning? No. Selina was described as an autocratic ruler of the churches she founded and failed to set up Biblical church government in them, for one example. Still, at the end of her life, everyone who knew her believed she was a woman of tremendous faith. Thomas Wills, a man harshly treated by Selina, described her this way:

. . . one of the brightest luminaries that had ever shown in the Gospel hemisphere, though like other stars shining with a borrowed or reflected light. . . . Thousands, I say tens of thousands, in various parts of the kingdom have heard the gospel through her instrumentality that in all probability would never have heard it at all; and I believe through eternity will have cause to bless God that she ever existed. She was truly and emphatically a Mother in Israel, and though she was far from perfect in character, yet I hesitate not to say that among the illustrious and noble of the country she has not left her equal. 2

___________________________
1Cook, Faith, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon: Her Pivotal Role in the 18th Century Evangelical Awakening, Banner of Truth Trust 2001, p. 79-80.

2Ibid, p. 422.

 

Susan is the church secretary at FCC.

Posted in: Biography

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