• Where the heart lies

    Deep within our core lies our heart, central to life itself. With every beat, our hearts have a need to be filled – filled with oxygen necessary for survival. Anytime the tension is raised, be that through exercise, excitement or anxiety our hearts crie out for more and more oxygen- just to keep our body alive.

    But when we talks of hearts, we mean more than just a vital organ. Our ‘hearts’ also lie at the centre of our souls, and just like our physical hearts, they are desperate to be filled with something. They cannot remain empty. But how do we seek to fill our hearts? Often the things we choose are where our hearts lie.

    There’s that craving for acceptance, satisfaction and purpose. We want to do more than just go through the motions of life. The emptiness of the mundane seems a lifeless void we can’t survive. So we search, and search. We seek out popularity and perfection, talents and possessions – anything that will make us feel alive for a moment. But we know these are just a temporary fill. They are just a life support machine; they can only keep us going for a limited amount of time.

    Just as carbon dioxide needs to be pumped out of our bodies, similarly a multitude of lies needs to be pumped out from my heart.

    Yet, as the stresses in our lives place pressure upon us, we will hang on to anything – anything that gives us some lease of life. But, in doing that we’re intoxicating ourselves with the lie. The lie that tells us we have to earn acceptance, we have to earn our love and security, and most importantly we have to earn our life. Is it any wonder we struggle to breathe?

    Last week, I joined with hundreds of others to Blackout. I deliberately choose to not inhale life from social media, my phone or i-pod. In blacking out, I felt cut off from the outside world. Yet, in praying for God to breathe new life into the persecuted church, he also breathed new life and healing into my bruised heart. Just as carbon dioxide needs to be pumped out of our bodies, similarly a multitude of lies needs to be pumped out from my heart.

    Emptiness seemed to dominate the start of my Blackout; the sound of silence was strange. I’m a massive perfectionist. Often I have this need to be busy – perfecting my life, because for some crazy reason I think ‘perfection’ is where satisfaction will come from.

    Yet it’s actually a lie that clots up the arteries leading to my heart. The arteries that need to be clear, that need to be satisfied in the silence, the silence of just me and God. The place I know that I’m chosen and loved, despite of all the defects of my heart.

    With all the noisy barriers in our lives-where else can God heal our battered hearts, except in the silence? Depending on God, breathing on his grace alone is the only thing that can resurrect our crushed hearts. In the midst of the CPR, suddenly that’s where we learn the art of thankfulness. Thankful, that we no longer need to be hooked up to a life that rots our hearts, which tells us we have to earn everything in life.

    At last we are free to breathe!

    Many who are persecuted for following Jesus have that thankfulness reigning in their soul, it’s what fills their heart with courage to stay rooted in the truth. Even when they’re physically beaten they have this amazing passion for God, that keeps them persevering. In every way they are pressing on, every heart beat one step close to seeing his face. Their hearts are lying in his grace.

    That’s where are hearts need to be too, lying in his grace – because what else will resurrect us when our physical hearts die?

    Other reads you might like…

    Silence (video from Gav Calver)…
    Silent worship…
    The art of thankfulness…

  • You are beautiful

    There’s this moment in films that nearly kills me every time. It’s when the girl takes off her glasses, and the guy drops instantly at her feet realising for the first time that she is actually beautiful.  These scenes shred my self confidence into a million shards. I ask ‘Am I ugly because I have to wear glasses? Will I be a lonely spinster all of my life’? It’s a fear that cuts deep beneath my skin, and affects every part of who I am.  Before I know it, I have defined myself by something I have no control over.

    Maybe it’s not glasses for you, but perhaps there’s something that controls how much value you place upon yourself – a weight issue, a disability, a fear, or something completely different. A lie. A lie about yourself that manipulates you like a master puppeteer and tangles you further as you try to take back control.

    I’m a self confessed control freak; I think a lot of us are. Whenever I feel like I’m losing control of a situation, automatically, I want to take drastic measures to become in charge again. I want to cover up the mess. It can be the reason why so many of us have addictions, suffer from eating disorders, or struggle with self harm. Someone might have called us fat, so one response might be to take back control of the situation by starving ourselves. Maybe our life has been filled with pain, so we cut into our skin to be in charge of the hurt we feel.

    The problem is, the relief provided by binging, cutting, starving is only temporary. And it’s also destructive.  Before we know it, we have built a million walls around ourselves because we don’t want people to know the mess we’re in. No one will know the real me.  Yet at the same time, we’re blocking out the voice of truth that can speak hope into our lives.

    The voice that tells us: ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you, I have called you by name; you are mine’ (Isaiah 43: 1) because ‘I love you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). You are loved, chosen. It’s a love that is so much more than any hurt you’ve experience or destructive behaviour you’ve inflicted on yourself.

     I’ve realised one thing: it is those who are persecuted for their faith, those who have to give up control that can inspire us.

    Whilst we’re trying to stay in control, we can’t believe this, because we’re still leaning back on the world for acceptance.  It’s when we give up pursuing the world’s affirmation, that we understand fully this love -this unfailing love from God – because we have nothing of ourselves, or the world to fall back on. We need to give up control- to find freedom, love and acceptance.

    I’m not going to lie, and say I’m good at this. In fact, to be honest I’m rubbish at it. I’m writing as much to myself in this post as I am to you reading it.  However, over time I’ve realised one thing: it is those who are persecuted for their faith, those who have to give up control that can inspire us. Releasing the control, they can see themselves through God’s eyes – and that’s something many of us need to learn.

    They have nothing of the world to fall back on; they get abused, oppressed, mistreated, and ultimately rejected by the world. If they believed that they were what the world told them, they’d believe they were worthless.  Yet, they chose to live with the risk of persecution, when they could so easily seek acceptance from the world by blending in. Why do they do it? Because they know God’s love is greater than anything that is thrown at them.

    If only we could believe this too. If only we could know that we are so much more than the lies that the world tells us!

    No matter what – we are beautiful.

  • Are we like King Herod?

    King Herod- he’s the character who we all ‘boo’ in children’s nativity plays: the baddie, the meanie and the villain who just wants to kill Jesus- boo, hiss! After all, he’s the person who orders that all babies under the age of two must be killed (Matthew 2:16) – and that’s just pure evil isn’t it?

    Yet, at the same time I can’t help thinking there’s more to King Herod than being a paranoid psychopath. I don’t think he’s pure evil. To be honest, I actually believe his crazy command to ‘kill babies under the age of two’, stems from an emotion we’re all familiar with: insecurity. To me, King Herod seems to act more out of defence, than direct attack.

    It’s not like I’m trying to make excuses for him, and say what he did was okay. I’m just trying to understand his actions. It may seem a little bit crazy, but since praying for the persecuted church not only has my passion for them increased, but also for the persecutors – yes, the persecutors!

    Jesus teaches us to “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecuted you” (Luke 6:28) so whilst I might not love what persecutors, like King Herod, do – I’m trying to love them more.

    “Whilst I might not love what persecutors, like King Herod, do – I’m trying to love them more”.

    Insecurity, self-doubt, and fear- we’d do anything to get rid of the dull numbness it inflicts on us, that haunting feeling of inadequacy that just won’t go away. Unfortunately, for many people that includes doing anything to get power, even if it includes terrorising other people. It’s a pattern we see reoccurring over and over again throughout history: from King Herod to Hitler, from Nero to Stalin.

    In reality, I think we have more in common with King Herod than we’d like to admit. We may not be psychopathic, but every time our insecurity stops us from speaking up for the persecuted – are we not saying that we’re basically fine with persecution?

    In the words of Desmond Tutu “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

    God’s best for us isn’t insecurity, that’s why he sent his son down to Earth at Christmas, so that he might grow to be a man that would die to rescue us from our mistakes and failures. God sent us his son so we become secure in his unfailing love, so that we don’t have to be slaves to insecurity.

    One of my favourite bible verses is John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Maybe this Christmas we need to lean into the truth of God’s unconditional love a bit more. Allow God’s security to win over our insecurity – so that we will be unable to remain neutral in situation of injustice and persecution.

    Send a meaningful gift this Christmas!

    Send a relief pack on behalf of a friend with a week’s worth of supplies to someone in Syria that has fled home due to war, terror and instability… That’s a gift worth giving!

  • Standing on the edge

    We’ve all experienced that horrible feeling of being left out- those times when we’ve felt on the edge of a clique: an outsider, unwanted and unknown. Loneliness bites hard, it’s a bitter taste which opens up self doubts that become like poison to our self-esteem. Whether it’s regularly, or just occasionally, we all know what it feels like to be on the fringes of something. Loneliness may even occur when we look like we’re in the ‘popular crowd’- a large circle of friends but who really knows me?

    Whatever our experiences in life, at some point we’ve all felt on the edge… we’ve all felt lonely.

    A few months ago, I was sitting in a church sermon when the speaker quoted Mother Teresa saying:

    “The most terrible poverty is loneliness”.

    There’s so much truth in that statement, since being loved, accepted and wanted is something we all crave for- isn’t it? Just last night, I was reflecting on how at points in my life loneliness has eaten into the riches of my joy, peace and love. Suddenly I began to think – how much worse must it be for those who are persecuted?

    I was sitting in a Youth Group session, reading a true story of a persecuted Christian, when my heart started to bleed for the persecuted church…

    There was a long time between me first hearing about Open Doors, and the first time I began to feel passionate about the persecuted church. I was thirteen when I first knew the facts, but it wasn’t until I was sixteen that a flame was lit deep inside my soul. I was sitting in a Youth Group session, reading a true story of a persecuted Christian, when my heart started to bleed for the persecuted church…

    ‘It’s her, the person I wrote to- Damaris!’

    A few weeks earlier we had been writing letters to victims of persecution. Damaris was the lady I wrote to – her husband had been burnt alive just eight days after they had got married because he was a Christian. The immense pain, loneliness and grief had broken Damaris’s heart, she cried out: “I need to know that I’m not alone’. At that moment I felt full of empathy and inspired as I wrote at letter of encouragement to her… but almost immediately afterwards, in the busyness of life, I forgot about it.

    damaris_2 But- God didn’t let me forget about it!

    That article we were reading in the Youth Group session, a few weeks later, was all about how Damaris had been deeply impacted by the letters of encouragement she had received from all around the world. “I have seen the hand of the Lord.” It was only then that I was hit in the core. I was hit in the core about how suffering is real even though I can’t see it. I was hit in the core about how encouragement can cure loneliness. But- most importantly I was hit in the core about how I need to do something.

    The edge is a dangerous place- and if we don’t do something then somebody’s going to fall down. Are you alright with that?

    Want to write a letter to someone facing loneliness because of persecution?

    1.Quote from Damaris in Open Doors Magazine May 2013

  • Standing for the silenced

    We’ve just had the first of our weekend training events with a select group of 10 young people passionate about serving the persecuted Church. As well as studying and/or working, these ‘Advocates’ are spending the next ten months joining with us at Open Doors Youth to help get out the fact that over 100 million Christians today are at risk because of their beliefs.

    Here Becky writes a bit about what happened and how spending a weekend hearing stories from those who know the cost of following Jesus has impacted her…

    It was 10:15pm, pitch black and cold as small groups of Open Doors Youth Advocates were quietly making their way through the darkness to a secret church gathering. Every part of me was on edge, I kept thinking trees were people, and any sound was the footsteps of the secret police. Even though I knew the whole situation was set up, and later that night we’d be returning to the comfort of the Open Doors offices, my heart was thumping.

    But for many Christians this dangerous journey isn’t set up, it isn’t one off, it is a normal part of their faith. They regularly risk everything, not knowing if this might be their last chance to meet in secret with their fellow believers. Every one of the people involved in the weekend with me filled out the application form to become an Advocate because they couldn’t let their brothers and sisters suffer like this. They get that supporting the persecuted church can never be an optional extra to Christianity.

    Doing Secret Church was just one of the many things that got packed into our first weekend together. On Friday evening the weekend kicked off with a session about using whatever we have to build God’s kingdom. On every grave stone, between the birth and death dates, there is a dash. That dash is our life – what are we going to do with it?

    On every grave stone, between the birth and death dates, there is a dash. That dash is our life – what are we going to do with it?

    That question was ringing in my mind as we went on to do secret church together that same night. As a musician I love meeting with God through sung worship, therefore I thought it would be an incredible challenge to worship God in silence. Yet there was something so profound about it, maybe it was because with all the music stripped away I realised what a crazy privilege it is to worship God out loud.

    In so many countries the church is being silenced; in North Korea it is illegal to even be a Christian. Whether it was hearing about the horrific persecution that occurs there, or eating a bowlful of tea flavoured rice (which for the record is disgusting) the session ‘Live like a North Korean’ was another that shook us to the core. Yet it was amazing to hear how in such a shut down place God is building his kingdom, right now.

    Throughout the rest of the weekend we also had a session on how we can use our written talents to raise awareness about our persecuted brothers and sisters. We also heard more about how we can advocate politically for the persecuted church, and even began writing to our local MPs. As well as that we filmed a promotional video for Open Doors over lunchtime, needless to say the weekend was full on.

    Spending a weekend away with people passionate about the persecuted church has given this ten month discipleship course an awesome start. Saying ‘yes’ to advocacy won’t necessarily be without cost, but what is that cost compared to what our persecuted brothers and sisters face daily? Just like all Christians, persecuted or not, we can also hold onto the fact God has already won the battle for us. His light will always conquer the darkness, but the darkness will never put out his light.

    Let’s stand together for the silenced church.

    Related stuff

    Do a Secret Church…
    Support the church in Sudan…
    More about being an Advocate…

  • We support people who are beaten, tortured,
    imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.