POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE
Finding God In Hard Places
By Ian Coffey
IVP. 135 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 1 783 592 050
The words we write ‘from the edge’ can often be the most insightful and profound, encapsulating what really matters when our journey is dark and challenging.
The rubbish is cleared away and the values that are lasting come to the fore. With warm transparency, a strong degree of emotional intelligence and a big pastoral heart, Ian Coffey explores the depths that many of us can experience when circumstances are desperate and we need to discover the God who walks with us during our most difficult times.
Characters in crisis
Each chapter deals with a biblical character facing crisis, but begins and ends with a contemporary story, or a personal illustration from the author himself. This adds to the book’s authenticity, making the applications real and giving a tone of relevance and integrity. The tough issues are addressed, the doubts and fears are explored and there is a refreshing absence of simplistic clichés and trite platitudes. The content is both substantial and accessible, an effective and helpful combination.
Postcards from the Edge could very easily be used as a study guide in a group context… (to read more click here)
Following the Commons’ decision on 2 December for RAF airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria after the terrorist atrocity in Paris, there is a new recognition that the UK is at war. Our security forces are thwarting many planned attacks, but there may be reprisals meted out on us. The question is: how can Christians be praying in a biblically sensible way?
Of course we need to be balanced towards Islam. Many Muslims are civilised people of peace and we need to honour them. But with Hilary Benn’s speech to Parliament the penny seems to have dropped that those supporting Islamic state are as much fascists, seeing themselves as superior beings willing to liquidate all ‘inferiors’, as the Nazis. The West is now engaged in a Third World War. So, how should we pray?
Facing extremism is nothing new for God’s people. For example, Nahum’s prophecy is addressed to wicked Nineveh, capital of Assyria, infamous for cruelty. You can still see stone reliefs in the British Museum of the Assyrian army impaling victims on poles and suchlike after the battle of Lachish. Nahum pronounces God’s vengeance (Nahum 1.2) on these extremists, which came to pass as Babylon and the Medes formed a coalition against them.
Nahum suggests three lines of prayer at the present time which will keep us balanced.…(to read more click here)
Half a lifetime ago, a good friend, David Porter, a gifted writer and editor, now with the Lord, spoke at our church on the subject of rock music and the Christian. It was a fascinating evening, illustrated by a number of rare recordings. What stuck in my mind was the similarity between the Stones’s 1965 hit The Last Time and an ancient tape of a US black church choir. The choruses seemed very alike, but the choir’s theme was the return of Christ. No one knows the day or the hour. This could be the last time we meet as a church. And similarly we could say this could be the last time we meet for prayer, or for a Christmas carol service. He comes at an unexpected hour (Matthew 24.44). ‘This could be the last time – I don’t know.’ Quite a thought! …(to read more click here)
Paul Mallard tells us how to avoid making our ministry into an idol
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the glorious honour of preaching Christ.
Indeed, preachers should worry if they don’t enjoy it. However, they must never allow it to take the place of Christ.
A few decades ago my wife became seriously ill with a neurological condition, which could have resulted in the end of public ministry for both of us.1 I remember having to face this as a very real possibility. Amidst the tempest of painful and confusing thoughts that roared through my mind at the time, one of the greatest challenges was the realisation that I might never preach again.
It felt like a bereavement.
The Lord challenged me about my love for him. What was first in my affection? What did I love more: the proclamation of Christ or the Christ I proclaimed? I knew the right answer. I also knew my own heart. After a fierce battle, I remember sitting on a bench and then getting down onto my knees and praying something like this: ‘OK, Lord, I surrender. I want to love you more than my ministry. If you are going to take it from me, then I accept your will. Help me to delight in Jesus.
My ministry did not end. In fact, my wife and I discovered that we were able to minister out of the pain that we felt. And that’s another story. But the battle to keep Christ central has never gone away. It is a daily battle. Something in my heart always wants to replace the love of Jesus with the love of the things that I do for him.
What is the secret of victory?
It is to be utterly
This article is an edited extract from Staying Fresh: Serving with Joy by Paul Mallard, recently published by IVP and is used with permission.
Lyn Coles tells her story and how she now helps others
The ripple effect of one abortion can affect as many as 45 to 50 people.
Those people will include the mother, the father, the grandparents, the existing and future siblings, health professionals, abortionists, clergy, friends, co-workers, extended family members, future spouses – and so the ripples continue.
As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, are we equipped to come alongside those affected by abortion in our churches and in the communities in which God has placed us? Abortion is a mission field – but the workers are few.
Suffering in secret
Many women hide the secret of abortion deep in their hearts and they are suffering the consequences. They carry an incredible burden while wearing smiles on their faces. Both Christian and non-Christian women ‘choose’ abortion.
The rhetoric of ‘choice’ though, hides the reality of coercion. Women will not choose abortion if they have another choice. In a crisis pregnancy, coercion towards abortion comes in many forms – losing your relationship, income, home, or education; bringing shame on the family / church / yourself; misinformation on what abortion actually entails presented as fact – with no mention of the long-term, detrimental consequences on your life.
Christian women often choose abortion to hide sexual sin outside of marriage. Whatever the reason for choosing abortion, the disenfranchised grief is the same in each woman. The circumstances may differ, but the humanity and personhood of the pre-born child remains the same.
My abortion and PAT
I aborted my son Stephen on September 21, 1980 when I was 18 years old. I wasn’t a Christian and I was completely ignorant and naïve as to what abortion involved. I was told by those I trusted that it was a simple procedure, that my son was just a ‘blob of cells’ at 10 weeks gestation and that I had my whole life ahead of me to have children. I could have the abortion and my problems would be solved.
Little did I know that abortion, rather than solving my problems, would just give me new ones. I struggled with ‘post abortion trauma’ (PAT) for the following ten years and suffered in silence. Some symptoms of PAT are depression, anxiety, guilt, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders and self-harming, to name but a few. Often anniversaries, like Christmas, birthdays, the anniversary of the abortion itself or the due date of the birth of the aborted child, trigger and exacerbate these symptoms.
Forgiveness and grief
I gave my life to Christ when I was 32 and I instantly knew that I was forgiven for all my past sin, including my abortion. So why was I still struggling with it? Through the grace and mercy of God, I was led to another Christian woman who talked me through aspects of PAT and I went through healing for my abortion. For the first time, I was allowed to grieve the loss of my son Stephen and recognise that he was a child, created in the image of God, and that abortion is never the answer to an unplanned or unexpected pregnancy. Ever.
That was 20 years ago and since then I have been involved in abortion recovery ministry on a voluntary basis. The elders of our church commissioned me and my husband Andy into this ministry back in 2006.
Setting women free
Surrendering the Secret (STS) is an abortion recovery Bible study rooted in the gospel. I am a ‘Certified Leader’ of the study, having trained under its author, Pat Layton, in the USA. I have been running this programme in Belfast for the past four years. It is amazing and such a privilege to be part of God’s plan in setting women free from the pain, shame and guilt of a past abortion. Jesus doesn’t want us to live a guilt-ridden life, whatever your secret sin, but instead he wants us to live a guilt-free life and live it to the full. If he sets us free, we are free indeed!
Over the years, post abortive women learn to live in silence and secrecy, stockpiling hurts they have buried deep inside. We struggle for years with repressed memories of guilt, shame and depression. Most women feel they are not allowed to talk about their abortion experiences because it was their ‘choice’. They carry a great burden of shame and failure, afraid to reveal their hidden pain.
Secrecy and shame are a destructive combination, as women are forced to endure long-lasting destructive effects in isolation. As with any traumatic event, many post abortive women experience physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms related to PAT. Often the medical community overlooks abortion as a risk factor in a woman’s physical and emotional health. One study in Finland showed that, in comparison to women in the same study who carried children to term, women who aborted were six times more likely to take their own lives through suicide.
Inspired to speak
In a recent American Family Association Journal article, David Platt (senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama) confesses to have been ‘shamefully passive’ about the topic of abortion until some of the women in his church began to journey through the STS Bible study. Platt’s heart was stirred to take action by the women in his own church who came forward with their ‘deep scars, emotionally and relationally to experience the healing that the gospel provides when it comes to past abortions’. He was inspired to speak about abortion, combining biblical truth balanced with spiritual care for the soul. The women in his church have responded and are being set free from the heartbreak of past abortions, and future generations are being protected.
A generation yet to be born
‘They will come and tell a people yet to be born about his righteousness – what he has done’ (Psalm 22.31).
Healing occurs best in the context of a redemptive community. The gospel is all about redemption. Surrendering the Secret is an eight week course and includes a participant’s workbook and weekly DVD sessions and it is rooted in the gospel. Ideally the primary facil-itator of the group should be a woman who has had an abortion and been through recovery, but it is not imperative. If you can facilitate a Bible study and have a heart for hurting women, you can lead this course.
The demand is there, but women are not aware that abortion recovery help is available to them. In 2014 we hope to provide national training opportunities in the UK and Ireland for STS. Please pray and ask the Lord what he would like you, your pastoral team or your church to do about bringing hope and healing to your community.
Trouble and wounds are inevitable in this life, but we have the power to choose how we deal with them. Abortion attacks us at our very core – our identity as women. We believe the lies the enemy of our souls whispers to us and the secrecy enslaves us. God wants to set his daughters free from the choice of abortion. Our identity is in Christ alone. He gently walks women through the past pain towards repentance, healing, redemption and hope which is to be found in him alone.
Lynn Coles is a certified leader with Surrendering the Secret www.surrenderingthesecret.com
If you are interested in finding out more about how you or your church can facilitate an STS study, please contact Lynn on +44 7788 151339 or email@example.com Please note that abortion does affect men, whatever our culture and society says, and help is available for men also.
The author is the Director of the Sevenoaks Counselling Service, as well as being involved in a pastoral care role in her local Anglican church.
Her listening and pastoral experience shines through in this helpful book. Wendy tries to get behind the usual ‘I’m fine’ response on a Sunday in church when we all ask each other how we are. She tackles issues such as low self-esteem, depression, loneliness, marriage, financial pressures, parenting pain, loss addictions, domestic abuse and fear of change. In such a short volume (176 pages) no subject is tackled exhaustively, but just enough to give the ‘lay person’ helpful insights to enable them to draw alongside someone else in pain. However, the way the subjects are explored means that this book could be safely given to someone in trouble themselves. In fact each chapter contains advice about how people can help themselves , how the Bible and God can help and how the church can help, as well as a short prayer. The author tackles each subject with pastoral as well as biblical insights, and avoids the trap of using the scriptures as aspirins – a pill for every ill. Case studies keep the book grounded in the realities of people’s lives. The author is very insightful, particularly on how problems can affect people’s spiritual lives. A handy book, especially for the pastoral worker .
This is undoubtedly one of the most helpful books I have read on the subject of pain and suffering.
I say that as a pastor who would recommend this book to other pastors, but also, when I was about a third of the way through we suffered a bereavement in our immediate family. That brought a certain added intensity to how I read the book.
It is written in three parts. Keller acknowledges that the first part, ‘Understanding the Furnace’, is not for those in the midst of suffering. It is a more philosophical look at the subject. In many ways this is the best part. Keller displays an impressive breadth of reading as he gives a very good overview of how different societies have responded to suffering. It is the very best of Keller: he explains secular views and those of other faiths, he concedes when they make a good point, yet he persuasively argues that the Christian worldview is more coherent and appealing. It is not just good apologetics, it is helpful for believers to understand the cultural assumption that God should arrange everything for our comfort: that underlying philosophy is in part why we in the West find suffering so hard.
In part two, ‘Facing the Furnace’, Keller brings major doctrines of sin, judgment, new creation and sovereignty to bear on the topic of suffering. There are some gems in here and I would recommend the chapter called ‘The Varieties of Suffering’ to everyone – it is brilliant on what is, and what is not, helpful to say to someone going through a tough time. My one complaint here is that I felt that Keller is a little sloppy on his use of the phrase, ‘God suffered’. He is very happy to say numerous times ‘God suffered for us and with us’ without any nuance to that statement. At one point he defines the doctrine of impassibility as God being incapable of emotions and then dismisses that as unbiblical. Well, so would I. However, impassibility is not a denial that God has emotions, but rather a claim that God alone is responsible for them. There is great comfort in knowing that God is not remote. Yet in suffering, the Bible tells us also that God is strong to save, not weakened by our infirmities.
Part three, ‘Walking with God in the Furnace’, is a series of chapters that are expository thoughts on Daniel 3, Psalm 88, Joseph, Job and Philippians 4. There is real gold in here for the sufferer, even if it is not truly pulled from the texts themselves.
Overall, anyone would benefit from reading this. You could give it to a thinking agnostic friend, and there is much to gain yourself. It did me and our grieving family no end of good.
Matt Fuller, Senior Pastor, Christ Church Mayfair
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057
This book is about God and his love, every day, ‘common or garden’, right where it is needed. It is also very ‘harrowing’.
A harrow is a heavy frame with metal teeth or disks for breaking up ground after ploughing. The people in this book were harrowed. And God made the ground fit for his glory, and their joy.
Love and grief
There is a man and a woman loving their God, and then came their hardship. They had a child, who brought a new kind of blissful love into their lives. Too soon however, it also brought with it heart-rending grief and sorrow, not only to them, but also their fantastic families. The child is so ill, terminally. Then the joy of another child, the bliss of a healthy one. Again, some time later, another little bundle of joy, also so very ill. All through this are the very great struggles of the mother, fighting to hang on to God, who surely is loving and mighty and everything we are told about in his Word. And also the great love for each child. And, the great husband, who insists on knowing God first and that is where his strength comes from, this is where his love comes from. Everywhere, there is our loving God, in and through it all.
Lots of detail
I recommend it to all parents and grandparents, potential ones as well. People who want to serve in churches, men and women. For some it may go into too much detail, but I would say that in the detail comes the understanding.
This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057
It began to wear him down and he speaks to God in his discouragement. Verses 10-14 set the stage for Jeremiah’s complaint. The prophet is feeling so low he wishes he had never been born, v.10. Then v.11 begins with ‘Yahweh said’ and so we have the Lord’s words all the way through to v.14.
There follows a re-emphasis of Jeremiah’s message in v.12: ‘Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?’ The message of judgment cannot be changed. It is like iron. In vv.13,14, Yahweh seems to be speaking to Judah’s people: ‘Your wealth…I will give as plunder; I will make you serve your enemies in a land you do not know’. Judah is going into captivity in Babylon. That is the preface.
I want to take you through Jeremiah’s experience recorded in vv.15-21. We are not prophets like Jeremiah, but there are aspects of his experience that overlap with that of any Christian disciple facing opposition.
Balancing on a paradox, vv.15-17
‘You know, Yahweh. Remember me and care for me and take vengeance for me on my pursuers and do not — due to your longsuffering — take me away. It’s for your sake I have borne abuse. Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me the joy and delight of my heart, for your name is called over me, O Yahweh, God of Hosts.’
You have two elements here. In v.16 you have Jeremiah’s joy. As he assimilates God’s word Jeremiah finds his highest pleasure. But then notice how this is wrapped around by v.15 and v.17 in the costliness of Yahweh’s call.
He is facing, v.15, both danger from pursuers and ridicule. In 11.18-23 the Lord tells Jeremiah that there is danger from the men of his home town who are plotting against his life. The ridicule is reflected in 20.7-8. Jeremiah had to proclaim destruction, but people ridiculed him because it had not yet happened. ‘Maybe you’re a false prophet, Jeremiah.’ Pashhur placed Jeremiah in the stocks overnight; and when he was freed Jeremiah said: ‘Your name is not Pashhur but Magor-missabib (terror on every side)’. But later, 20.10, the people threw this back at Jeremiah. Whenever the prophet appeared they sneered: ‘Look there. There’s terror on every side!’
In v.17 we note that the costliness also involves isolation. Jeremiah says: ‘I have not sat in the circle of those who party; nor did I celebrate. Because of your hand I sat alone, for you have filled me with indignation’. This isolation is fleshed out in chapter 16. Jeremiah is not to have a wife or children, 16.1-4. In addition the Lord says: ‘No going to funerals, you might be tempted to comfort somebody… and there is no comfort for this people’. Then he says: ‘Do not go to weddings either’. Utter isolation, terrible loneliness. He’s not even allowed to pray for this people, 15.1. It’s too late for prayer.
So you have the joy of Yahweh’s word and the costliness of Yahweh’s call. You are balancing on a paradox.
The composer Haydn was a musical genius with a naturally buoyant spirit. Yet he was married to a woman with whom he was utterly incompatible. She had so little regard for his music that she cut up his manuscripts to use as hair-curler papers! How do you pull that together? That is what you have with Jeremiah and in the normal Christian life. What does knowing Jesus mean? It means to know the power of his resurrection and at the same time the fellowship of his sufferings Philippians 3.10. This is normal Christianity.
Stepping over a line, v.18
Basically I think v.18 goes like this: v.18a is permissible but v.18b is not.
Scripture encourages us to ask questions. You can anguish over God’s timing. For example: ‘How much longer, Yahweh, will you forget me — for ever?’, Psalm 13 (cf. Psalm 10, Psalm 88.9). But you can go too far, as Jeremiah did at the end of v.18. I do not think the text reads as a question here, but rather as a statement: ‘You really are like a deceitful brook to me’. In Israel some brooks might be full of water in the rainy season, but in summer as dry as a bone. You may be there at a transitional time hoping for water but finding none. You are a deceitful brook. Jeremiah is assaulting God’s character. He has stepped over a line.
I think we need to understand that this is possible. In our psycho-slanted age, with its ‘let it all hang out’ attitude, you can step over the line in your complaining to God. In a previous age we may have been overly cautioned about this; in our day we may not be cautioned enough. So bemoan his mysteries. You have that freedom. But do not assault his character. Do not step over the line.
Coming under an ultimatum, v.19
Jeremiah records Yahweh’s response: ‘Therefore, if you return I will restore you. You can stand before me and if you bring forth what is precious rather than what is worthless, you can be as my mouth. They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them’.
The reply hinges on a verb ‘to return’ or ‘to turn’ used four times here. The Lord is saying that Jeremiah can come back. ‘If you return, if you repent, I will restore you. You can go on prophesying again. But it all depends on your response.’
But notice the use of the verb in v.19. ‘They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’ They can accept your message if they will, but you must not turn to them. You must not cave in and preach a positive message that I have not given you. You may want to. But you must not do it. The Lord is putting Jeremiah under an ultimatum.
Jeremiah pours out his despair and Yahweh says ‘Repent’. Sometimes the Lord deals directly like that. A.W. Tozer tells of a time in his pastorate in Toronto when an attractive young woman made an appointment to see him. She was troubled about a homosexual relationship with her room mate. She was looking for some kind of reassurance. Instead Tozer faced her squarely and said: ‘Young woman, you are guilty of sodomy and God is not going to give you any approval or comfort until you turn from your known sin and seek his forgiveness’. What was her response? ‘I guess I needed to hear that’, she admitted. Sometimes we need an ultimatum.
Resting in fresh assurance, vv.20-21
But Yahweh does not merely rebuke. He encourages. ‘And I shall make you to this people a fortified bronze wall, and they shall fight against you but they will not get the best of you, for I am with you to save you…’ There is that assurance.
If you go back to Jeremiah’s call in 1.18,19, you get the same bronze wall imagery. That’s important. Yahweh is not telling Jeremiah anything new. He does not have a new secret for the Christian life. This fresh assurance is the old assurance stated once more in a new situation. That is important because that is the way Scripture operates in our lives as well.
Exhausted physically and somewhat depressed, Martyn Lloyd-Jones had the summer of 1949 in Wales hoping to recover. He returned to London in September, but had made little progress. He was to preach the next day at Westminster Chapel, but it was as if the fountain had dried up, there was nothing there and all his concerns were coming back. Lloyd-Jones said he was in his study that Saturday afternoon in near despair, and ‘there came into my mind from Titus 1.2 that phrase God who cannot lie. You remember: “Eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised us long ages ago”’. And he said he was utterly overwhelmed, he was in tears, and the sermon was given to him there and then. But you see it was not some new truth. It was the old truth and the same God, freshly revealed.
Now stand back from Jeremiah 15 and get perspective. Think about what a marvellous miracle it is that folks like Jeremiah, and other servants of Christ, can get the stuffing knocked out of them and yet they can be set to rights and say ‘I will still serve him’.
This article is an edited extract from True Word for Tough Times © 2013, by Dale Ralph Davis, recently published jointly by Bryntirion Press and EP Books (ISBN 978 0 852 349 342, £6.99), and is used with permission. To purchase the book email bridgend firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01656 665912 or visit http://www.epbooks.org
This article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057