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Sunday, 26 July 2009

Generosity, and grace

I mentioned, in a previous post, that we had temporary access to the internet on Sunday 19th July, because of the generosity of a young man at the camp-site at which we had just arrived, in the town of Albias – north of Toulouse. We noticed him, carrying a laptop, as we arrived and, as we were erecting the awning on the caravan, he walked by. I excused myself and, explaining that we had noticed his laptop, asked if a wi-fi network was available on the site. He informed me that, unfortunately, there was not, and I indicated that that was okay.

“However”, he continued (in French, of course!!) “I have a solution.” That solution was very simple. He would let me use his own internet ‘dongle’ – a device (for the uninitiated!) that allows internet access directly from a satellite, at a cost. I thanked him, and enquired as to what I would have to pay. “Rien”, was the instant response – “Nothing”.

He arrived, shortly afterwards, complete with dongle, and even sat and ensured that it was correctly installed (all of the on-screen instructions were in French). As we chatted, I discovered that he came from the town of Besançon, and that he was in his second year of a degree course in mechanical science (if my memory serves me well!). I continued to practice my French with him, while he practised his English language skills with me. It was good, then, to have some time online just to clear out a load of spam, and check some more important e-mails – as well as some newspaper headlines from the UK!

The one thing that I haven’t mentioned is that the young man was an obviously devout Muslim. Joyce brought him a glass of Pepsi and, although he expressed his gratitude – it was a very warm day – he checked with me, before drinking, that it did not contain alcohol. His name (sadly forgotten) was an obviously Arabic one, and his skin tone indicated a Middle Eastern, rather than a European, background.

A few days later, we surprised some friends (whom I will not name to avoid embarrassment) who were staying at a camp-site that was costing more than twice as much as we were paying where we were camped. We could barely believe our ears when they suggested that we move to their site – and they would pay half of our costs! This would have cost them something in the region of £100.00 – just for the pleasure of our company for a few nights. This is a family who would term themselves secular.

So why share all of this? I suppose it’s because what I was witnessing was undeserved, unnecessary, and totally unexpected. And that’s one way (or ought I to say ‘three ways’?!) by which to describe the grace of God. We had done nothing that could have given us the right to demand such generosity – and not one of us has ever done anything that would entitle us to God’s grace. Neither our young Muslim friend, nor our friends of longer standing, were under any obligation to treat us in the generous ways that they did – and the Almighty Creator of all that is certainly isn’t under any obligation to sinful mortals like us. We were wonderfully surprised by the generosity that these dear people showed to us – and we are constantly amazed at the ways in which God shows His grace towards us.

We also wondered just how many of our Christian friends would treat us in such ways – and, more pertinently, how ready we would be to treat others in such a way!! “… whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” (Gal.6:10). Not for the first time, we may learn from our unconverted friends!!

One final thought in this post. We accepted the offer from our young Muslim friend; the other (even more generous) offer, we declined. This was not intended as a slight to our friends, whose generosity was, is, and always will be, appreciated more than we can say – and we truly hope that we have not offended them in any way. There were other, personal, reasons, for our not accepting it. But the simple fact remains that we didn’t and they, of course, were unable to force us to do so.

The grace of God is offered to one and all. But if we don’t respond, positively, to that offer – the generosity of which is beyond measure – then He will not force it upon us. The ultimate choice is always ours. However, although declining our friends’ offer meant that we lost out on a few pleasant evenings together, enjoying each other’s company and ‘bonhommie’; declining the offer of full salvation through the grace of God, means eternity banished from His glorious Presence. How sad that so many deliberately decide to do so. May I urge you to accept that offer? It’s a decision that you will never regret.

[With thanks to the generosity of a certain 'fast-food' outlet that kindly (graciously!!) provides internet access - and all we bought were a couple of cold drinks!!]

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A quick "Hello"!

The weather had changed for the worse (well, the 'less-than-good'!) so we made a sudden decision to move from La Colombiere (where we had enjoyed unexpected internet access). Unfortunately, we have not had such access since, and this very temporary connection has been provided by a young man on the site at which we have just arrived - more about that later!!

Anyway, we are grateful that we are enjoying our continuing break, and we trust that, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, you also are being blessed.

I'll post, properly, again when I have a more permanent connection.

Á bientôt

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Known by name.

It was, as is so often the case, an afterthought. The helpful French lady and her daughter had driven off when it occurred to me that I didn’t even know their names. I wished that I had taken a photograph, and obtained some details. I did think to give them a visiting card – but one that didn’t have my e-mail address!

My little mind started working. One of the (many!) wonderful things about being a follower of the Lord Jesus – God the Son – is the assurance that He knows me by name. From Moses (Ex.33:7), through even the pagan king, Cyrus, (Is.45:4); to the overcomer, whose name will be confessed by the Lord Jesus, before God the Father (Rev.3:5); this close personal relationship is made clear - and is both the joy, and the privilege, of the true follower of the Christ.

It would be nice to think that the lady from Fontenay-le-Comte and/or her daughter would think to make contact with us through a comment on this blog. It would be good to even be able to develop a friendship. But my lack of forethought may have ensured that no relationship is ever established. How good to know that, from before the foundation of the world (Eph.1:4) He knew me, and loved me, and determined to suffer in my place that I might then know Him, and the power of His resurrection (Phil.3:10), and have the assurance that I will spend eternity – whatever its form may be – in His presence.


Monday, 6 July 2009

Suivez nous

There we were, in a town we didn’t know, looking for a particular supermarket. Having driven around – and got absolutely nowhere – I drove into the car-park of a Garden Centre in order to enquire of the staff. However, as I got out of the car, I noticed a lady loading some plants into her own vehicle. “Pardon, Madame”, I commenced – and went on, in my very best French, to explain that I was on holiday from Scotland where people generally speak the English language, and that I spoke only a little French. I then asked if she knew if the store for which we were looking, was close by.

She obviously knew the whereabouts of the shop in question but, even when joined by her grown-up daughter, they were experiencing some difficulty in working out the proper directions! My problem was in keeping up with the speed of their French!! Eventually, the daughter spoke just two words: “Suivez nous” – “Follow us”. I asked if they were going that way and was informed that they were not, but that it was okay. Grateful for their assistance, I got back into my car, and we followed them all the way to the car-park of the supermarket that we wanted.

How much easier it was to simply follow someone who knew the way, than to try to follow what were very complicated directions. It reminded me, instantly, that as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, that’s all I have to do day by day. He doesn’t give me a list of intricate instructions. Rather, He says “I am the Way. Follow me”. (Jn.14:6; Jn.1:43)

The French lady, and her daughter, led us all the way to a supermarket car-park – and then they left without us even finding out their names! But we will not easily forget them – or the many others who, over the years, have gone out of their way to be of assistance to us.

However, when it comes to Jesus, He shows us the way to eternal life – life lived in His Presence. And He never leaves us. It cost that French lady a few minutes of her time, and a half-litre of fuel. It cost the Lord Jesus the pain and suffering of the passion and the crucifixion. The French lady and her daughter helped out a couple of total strangers. Jesus died for those who deserved to die.

I trust that if any of my readers are ever as stuck as we were today, some kind person will say “Follow me” – in whatever the local language might be. But be sure that you are following the One Who alone has “… the words that give eternal life.” (Jn.6:68)

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Holiday theology!

Well, here we are, in the Vendée region of France where we are enjoying good weather and temperatures up to 30C+. The site is superb – good swimming pool; large pitches; high-ampage electricity; convenient water supply; and staff who (being Dutch) speak about eight languages between them!

The first week of our holiday has seen us travel some 1400 miles, and we have visited two GLO families – the Olliviers in Quimper, and the Irwins in Nantes. We were made more than welcome in both homes, and it is good to now be praying for real people, instead of just names in a Prayer Bulletin.

I have also finished reading a book entitled “The Shack” (William P. Young; Hodder & Stoughton; 2008). It’s a work of fiction but, unlike another well-publicised (although already mostly forgotten) fiction – The da Vinci Code – it’s one that draws the reader closer to God, rather than try to destroy the reader's faith. Indeed, although written as a novel, it is really something of a book on theology – especially on the doctrine of the Trinity; on where God is in the suffering that is part of our fallen world; and even on the dual nature of the Christ. As I read it, I had a lot of my own perceptions challenged – and some, perhaps, changed! I don’t want to give anything away, but it is a book that I will read again, and one that I would recommend to others.

It’s also a book that is full of little nuggets of wisdom. Of course, it is one man’s thinking, but I found myself agreeing with much that he says through the book’s characters – even ’though there were also parts that have left me questioning! As a taster, here are some quotations from the book, that I found to be particularly helpful:

Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colours.”

The God Who is – the I am Who I am – cannot act apart from love.”

“… evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of Light, or death to describe the absence of Life.”

So, a book recommendation for anyone who needs some worthwhile summer (or winter for my Antipodean friends!!) reading. I trust that you will get as much out of it as I have!

Keep checking – I might manage another post before we leave Le Colombier!!