More from James Stuart Bell: “Life-Changing Miracles” Book-Review

I’m grateful to Bethany House for giving me a review copy of this book – another offering from James Stuart Bell. His compilations of stories are always encouraging. I particularly liked this one because it isn’t a constant stream of health-problems and God coming in at the eleventh hour to heal people. Instead there are a great variety of modern-day miracles, from God directing a lifeguard to Him supernaturally stopping the rain.

“Life-Changing Miracles” is a book full of different people and their experiences with God. On the whole, I’d recommend it.

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A Story of Two Cultures: “All Saints” Book-Review

When people have asked me: “What’s the book about?” I’ve said: “It’s about a struggling church who helped refugees from Burma”, except now that I’ve read it, I realise I got it completely upside-down. Imagine your church is on the point of closing, you’ve prayed for pews to be full and that you might have an impact in the community, and suddenly a group of refugees double the size of your congregation come looking for a church to call home. This is a story of two cultures coming together. There are some of the issues you might expect, and some adjustments that surprised me. So many times, God’s hand in the situation is obvious – His keen interest in everything, down to the smallest detail.

I think you’ll appreciate “All Saints” if you care about social justice and communities working together. You don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy it. In fact, a man who’d made no commitment to Christ read a news-article about them and was so impressed, he turned their story into a film while this book was being written. I wish it was in cinemas here in the UK. It sounds like it would be very inspiring.

Best Read in Small Doses: “Gifts from Heaven” Book-Review

I might have called this “God’s Answers to Prayer”, rather than “Gifts from Heaven”. I chose it because last year, I reviewed “Jesus Talked to me Today” (also by James Stuart Bell) and really enjoyed it. This is the same format, with numerous short stories of how God intervenes in people’s lives. I found the second half more inspiring than the first; “A Precise Prayer for Healing” and “Race to the Bottom” really stood out, but a good proportion of these stories were health-related and It can be demoralising to read so many accounts of health-problems.

I looked forward to my complementary copy from Bethany House, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading this from cover to cover. Probably his previous offering had more appeal because it was about children.

King

I’d like to focus on an encounter Jesus had just before He died. My loyal blog-readers might know that one of my favourite books in the Bible is the gospel of John. I love the detail John goes into and how he takes the time to find the good in people.

* * *

Jesus is brought before Pilate – the Roman governor. After some protest, he takes Jesus into his palace and asks: “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus. “If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders.” Just these couple of verses highlight how much it cost for Jesus to sit on that heavenly throne. In order for God to lift Him up, He needed to lower Himself and die a barbaric death on a cross. He needed to do that to bring people into His kingdom. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32).

“You are a king, then!” I imagine Pilate sneering.

“You say that I am a king,” Jesus responds. “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” Not only did Jesus pay a high price for His kingship, He was born with that price on His head.

I could leave you there hanging, but I’d rather share Pilate’s change of heart. Having had Jesus beaten, Pilate returns to the Jewish leaders and washes his hands of the case. “I find no basis for a charge against Him.”

But the leaders insist: “He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God.” Now any sneer is well and truly wiped off Pilate’s face, and it’s back inside with Jesus for more questions.

“Where do You come from? … Do You refuse to speak to me? … Don’t You realise I have power either to free You or to crucify You?”

“You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” I believe that was the moment when Pilate was transformed – when he realised Jesus was more than just an exceptional human being.

John confirms it was at that point that Pilate tried to have Him released, but the Jews are firm. “Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” Pilate may have had run-ins with his employer in the past. Perhaps knowing his job was on the line was enough to tip him over the edge. Whatever the reason, he allows Jesus to be crucified, but has a sign fastened above the cross which reads (in several languages): Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.

The priests aren’t in favour of this and try to contest it, but finally, Pilate stands by his principles. “What I have written, I have written.”

* * *

The full dialogue is in John 18:28-19:22. Perhaps it can encourage you that even if fear or pride have got in the way, God’s forgiveness is on offer. It’s not too late to turn around, and stand up for what you believe in.

Angels

There were angels throughout Jesus’ life. Gabriel visited Mary before He was conceived; a heavenly host bedazzled the shepherds at His birth; He was cared-for in the wilderness; strengthened at Gethsemane; an angel told of His resurrection, and maybe angels are with us in our lives more than we appreciate.

Several months before she died, my friend’s grandmother had a beautiful encounter. It was the middle of the night and there was no one else in the house, but she heard music. She got out of bed and stood in the hallway, thinking my friend had left a radio on that would disturb their neighbour. She was about to go upstairs when she realised it wasn’t earthly music at all; it was angels singing. She recognised the hymn, but couldn’t remember it later. All she knew was that angels had come to her.

I was honoured to be asked to sing at her funeral, and as I said in the song:
My hope is that one day in heaven we’ll meet,
And my hope is, forever we’ll be
With the angels, singing Your praise
.

As you can probably tell, Dilys (or ‘Nanna Dil’, as I called her) is very much-loved and will never be forgotten.

A Time to Give and a Time to Keep

In a Jewish wedding ceremony, a groom would suddenly come for his bride during the night; no one knew when to expect him. With this in mind, Jesus paints a picture: Ten young females, five wise and five foolish, waiting to attend the wedding. They carry lamps to light their way when they go to meet the bridegroom. Some of them think to bring extra oil.

They all wake up to the news he’s on his way! The dopey ones (whose oil has run low) say: “Let us have some of your oil!” but the others realise there may not be enough to go around, so they’re refused. Off they go to buy some more oil and while they’re gone, the bridegroom arrives and the feast starts without them. They’re too late!

Maybe you never do this, but I’m a writer. I like to imagine different scenarios. What if one of the girls, out of love for her friend, pipes up: “Yes, here. You take my lamp; I’ll go and buy some more oil” … What would happen? She would miss out on the wedding.

* * *

This story shows me there are some things we have to do for ourselves. Let’s take that oil as a symbol of faith in Jesus. We can’t rely on somebody else’s faith to give us right standing with God. It’s no good saying: “I’m a member of this church group,” or: “I come from a Christian home.” When you stand before God, it’s your light He’s going to be looking at.

Maybe you think it’s impossible to give too much, but be careful not to do so much for others that you disqualify yourself. I’ve heard of people going into something on-fire for God, but then they’ve suffered because their dedication to the task has overtaken their desire for Him. A. W. Tozer cautions against becoming so engrossed in the work of the Lord and forgetting the Lord of the work. It’s important to acknowledge God, to remember that He gave us the ability, and to let Him refresh us and give us a heart of wisdom so we can serve Him more effectively.

Selfishness

One of the highlights of my week is helping out with Open the Book – an organisation that partners with Bible Society to bring Bible-stories to children in primary schools. We have various volunteers throughout the town and we’re in most of the schools now.

This week, we’re telling the children the story of Peter and John at the temple gate, healing a lame man in the name of Jesus. Its point is that Jesus cared about everyone, even those who were ignored by others.

I thought I’d give us the same message we’re giving the children – to think what we can do, today or tomorrow, to help somebody. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Isn’t that a good way to combat the selfishness in the world?

“Jesus Talked to me Today” Book-Review

“Jesus Talked to me Today” is a collection of over 40 short accounts of God moving powerfully in children’s lives. I was very glad to review this for Bethany House; there are some lovely stories in here. My favourites are the ones about the giant angels and the pink vanity set, but if I read it again, I would probably change my mind!

You’ll like this if you’re the sort of person who’s uplifted by other people’s stories of what God’s done for them. As you read, you could feel one of two things: Thankful and encouraged to ask God for similar displays of His power in your own life, or sad and discouraged about your situation. This book leaves the impression that even at your most broken, God is willing to come in at the eleventh hour and turn things around.

Louis

A curious boy – his name is Louis,
Born 1809, just east of Paris;
His father a tanner, Simon-René,
Whose workshop becomes a place to play:
Off Louis toddles as soon as he’s walking,
To the place where his father makes tack for the horses.

Quick as a flash in his three-year-old fervour,
He picks up the awl to puncture the leather;
Drives it down hard – his gaze intent,
And yelps with a sudden stab of pain:
The tool he’d played with so many times
Had struck him a blow; he was blind in one eye.

A child leaving home – his name is Louis,
His parents have far outdone their duty;
His father the tanner made canes for a change,
Walked round the village and taught him the way:
But to further expand his ten-year-old mind,
A school in Paris – the first of its kind.

Every pupil with aspirations –
All of them blind, they craved education;
The school’s founder, who saw the need,
Had a system in place to teach them to read:
He gave it his name and called it Haüy;
It talked to the fingers in the language of the eye.

Raised print on wet paper, pressed against wire –
Though helped by the books, you’d quickly tire;
What they contained was scant at best,
And how could a blind person write for themselves?
Surely a better system was plausible,
And Louis determined to make it workable.

A youth with a purpose – his name is Louis;
From his own words, we can tell he’s displeased:
“We don’t want to be patronised by condescending sighted people,
We don’t want to be reminded we’re vulnerable”;
He yearned for the blind to be treated equally
And in his mind, communication was the key.

Through the news or in person we can’t be sure,
But Louis learned of an officer
Whose ranks of soldiers, there on the ground,
Could talk to each other without light or sound:
Just dots and dashes indented on paper,
That’s all it took to share information.

From that time on, the idea was sparked;
Now he had something to make a start:
Twelve dots became six, and he worked on the shapes –
Ten different ones, from A to J;
Add an extra dot for the following set,
And another to end the alphabet.

A Catholic by profession – his name is Louis;
I see the Bible there in his story:
All works for good to those who love their God;
The same tool that blinded him was used to make those dots:
In 1824, at just fifteen,
His very first prototype came on the scene.

A Frenchman with a legacy – his name was Louis …
Louis Braille.

The Love That Makes You Happy: “Gift of Friendship” Book-Review

Apparently Charlotte Bronte once said: “There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures”, and I can’t help thinking she’s right.

Edited by Dawn Camp, “The Gift of Friendship” includes quotes like the one above and stories from Holley Gerth, Kristen Strong, Lesli Richards (my personal favourite) and many more. It’s released today, so go to this page to see more about the book. As with Dawn’s previous offering “The Beauty of Grace”, this is one to dip in and out of – to read and be encouraged, whether you’ve been blessed with gazillions of friends or a select few.

I wonder if there’s a book on friendship you’ve enjoyed.