• Eternity perspective

    When I was little I thought heaven was somewhere where unicorns jumped over candy-floss clouds. I got a bit older and Heaven sounded pretty boring as someone described it as a really long church service. I liked church, but I didn’t want to be there for eternity! Thankfully, I’ve grown up since then (not a lot) and have a new perspective. Or, I’m trying to. I’m trying to get more of an eternity perspective.

    It’s hard to be excited about Heaven when the descriptions in the Bible are vague and often bizarre. Yet, there’s confirmation of unknown greatness in 1 Corinthians 2.9 ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’. We need to trust in God and believe Him when he says that Heaven is paradise. I think we don’t know what heaven will be like because God doesn’t want to spoil the great surprise!

    Our whole lives are full of people encouraging us to live for the moment, but we weren’t created for a brief life on earth, we were created for an eternal life with God. God doesn’t say that you can’t live for the moment, but we’ve got to be careful that the moment isn’t everything that we live for – we are promised something far greater.

    The persecuted church presents us with a challenge to how we view God’s promise of heaven. Persecuted Christians keep their faith, despite pressure to renounce God. They fight for what they believe, even though no one is fighting for them, and they love their churches, even if they know they may be destroyed.

    The resilience of many persecuted Christians in the face of opposition reminds us that this life isn’t everything. The promise of something better gives strength and endurance; the absolute promise of Heaven helps us through today and gives every day a purpose. If you believe in heaven, you aren’t living in vain.

    I often think that persecuted Christians have a stronger faith than I do, or maybe they believe in Heaven more than me, as I think I would crumble in the face of persecution. Maybe it’s not about who has the stronger faith, but maybe it’s about who has an eternity perspective?

    If you know your destination then you are less likely to stray when trying to get there.

    Turning our eyes Heavenward makes you realise there’s more to life than what is around you right now. It means that you can be secure in the knowledge that Heaven is real and you are headed there. An eternity perspective is a source of comfort and strength when everything seems rubbish around you; it is God’s way of saying I’ve got this, I’ve got you and you will one day be with me living in paradise.

    A firm faith that Heaven is real means you know where you are headed in life. If you know your destination then you are less likely to stray when trying to get there. Our destination is Heaven, that’s our goal, destiny and God’s promise to us. Focus on Heaven and you’ll find it easier to stick with God as you try to get there.

    I’m not going to pretend to understand the crazy verses of Revelation that describe the end times. But I do want to encourage you to pray for an eternity perspective, because we all need to get excited about the afterlife if we want to make the most of the current life. When heaven is your focus, life becomes more real.

  • Stop stereotyping!

    Being approached by a stranger can be really awkward. You don’t know whether to avoid eye-contact, pretend that you haven’t noticed them, or maybe just run away. I always try and cross the road if a stranger walks towards me with a clipboard wearing a brightly coloured raincoat looking like they want something from me.

    I wonder what the Samaritan woman, in John chapter 4, thought when Jesus started talking to her at the well? Was she confused as to why this stranger wanted to talk to her? Was she scared? Did she try and ignore him, maybe she tried to cross to the other side of the street to find a different well.

    My guess is that she was pretty surprised. Jesus wasn’t just a stranger, he was a Jew. Jew’s and Samaritans never mixed, let alone held casual conversations in the middle of the day when most normal people would be resting indoors avoiding the midday heat. However, I think the unexpectedness of the situation is one of the reasons that she stuck around to hear him out – I’m also sure that Jesus was pretty good at interesting conversation too.

    Whatever her reaction was to Jesus, this unexpected encounter teaches us a few key things a evangelism.

    1. Stop stereotyping.

    If Jesus had looked at the woman and thought, ‘she’ll never speak to me, she’s a Samaritan’, then their conversation would never have happened. Have you ever thought of a friend and decided that their lifestyle doesn’t suit being a Christian. We need to break away from stereotypes to see people as individuals. The Samaritan woman had a pretty bad reputation, having had multiple husbands but Jesus saw past that, he didn’t care about her reputation he just cared about her heart.

    Have you ever thought of a friend and decided that their lifestyle doesn’t suit being a Christian. We need to break away from stereotypes to see people as individuals.

    2. Stop planning.

    What I love about this story is that Jesus was super tired. He stopped for a rest and ended up seizing an opportunity. I’ve made plans to take friends to church when I know that the ‘good’ worship band is playing and that the talk will be exciting, but that isn’t how it works. Jesus met the woman in the heat when he was probably not looking his best after walking across the desert. But he still just went for it.

    There’s no such thing as being ‘evangelistically prepared’ or finding the ‘ideal location’ to introduce someone to God. We need to be ready to share our faith with others at all times, even if that’s when we’re hot, sweaty and tired after trekking through a desert…

    3. Stop worrying.

    When I read this story I think, it’s easy for Jesus to evangelise – look who he is!! He already knows everything about this woman so of course he’s going to know what to say. We need to remember that if we believe in Jesus, then we too have God’s power in us. We don’t need to be scared about sharing Jesus with others. If God provides us with the opportunity to tell someone else about Him, He will help us through it.

    In approaching the Samaritan woman, Jesus shows us that we don’t need to be afraid of sharing Him with those who believe something different to us. By reaching out to the unexpected we show that Jesus’ love is for everyone.

  • Don’t give up

    Have you ever tried to learn a new language? You’ve mastered hello and goodbye, but then it gets complicated with sentences, verbs and tenses. Annoyingly someone always makes the cliché comment ‘don’t give up’, which never works, because we do give up – or I do anyway – I am embarrassed at how little Spanish I’ve managed to learn.

    Yet, the Bible is full of people who didn’t give up and did more impressive things than learning another language (still very impressive.) Three such people are: Noah, Moses and Mary Magdalene, their stories show persistence, courage and loyalty.

    Noah: Walking with God

    Noah’s story is a great example of persistence. It’s easy to say, ‘well, of course he didn’t give up, God gave him a specific job. If God told me to build a boat I would!’ But, the size of Noah’s task was huge, the ark took over 100 years to build. Imagine 100 years of people laughing at you because you were building a ridiculous boat nowhere near the sea.

    How did Noah keep going? The answer is hidden amongst all the animals marching 2-by-2, where it says that, ‘he walked with God’ (Gen 6.9) Noah listened so closely to God that it was as if they walked together as friends. Noah didn’t give up because he was close to God.

    Moses: Equipped for the job

    Moses’ story is a bit different. God told Moses to return to Egypt – the very place he had run away from – to face up to Pharaoh. Moses didn’t think he was up for the challenge, he wanted to give up straightaway asking, ‘who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…?’ (Ex 3.11) God knew Moses was capable because He would equip him for the job, but Moses was not convinced, “But what if they don’t believe me?” (Ex.4.1).

    Moses tries to tell God that he doesn’t have any skills and God replies, “I will be with you” (Ex.3.12). It is courage and determination from God that makes Moses head back to Egypt. Moses didn’t give up, because God equips him for the job.

    I want to be persistent like Noah, bold like Moses and loyal like Mary, and thankfully we can be!

    Mary: Secure in God’s love

    Mary Magdalene’s story shows dedicated loyalty. Jesus saves her, forgives her and tells her how much she is loved. From then on she never gives up on an opportunity to serve Jesus. Mary is shunned in society for her past and ridiculed for extravagant acts of worship such as pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, but she doesn’t care. Mary didn’t give up serving because she was secure in God’s love for her.

    I want to be persistent like Noah, bold like Moses and loyal like Mary, and thankfully we can be! Noah, Moses and Mary’s motivation doesn’t come from themselves, it’s their relationship with God that stops them from giving up.

    God shared His plan with Noah, making him determined and focused; Moses’ courage is a result of faith in God’s strength and power and the source of Mary’s unwaveringly loyalty is Jesus’ redeeming love. If we spend time building our relationships with God, I reckon we too won’t give up.

  • Look up and ask

    Have you ever had one of those days when you want someone to notice what a bad mood you are in and ask ‘how are you?’ But no one does, so you walk around head down feeling sorry for yourself. I think the best advice you could ever hear on one of these days is: look up and ask.

    This simple phrase comes from the beginning of Psalm 121, where the psalmist writes, ‘I look up to the hills, where does my help come from?’ and the answer to their question… “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” It is when we stop and realise that the help we should be seeking isn’t from ourselves or other people, it is from God, that our situations can change. So, I’ve chosen some verses that can help us when we’re struggling and just need to look up and call out to God for help.

    For when life feels like it’s going nowhere…

    You are trying to follow God’s plan but not getting very far. A great verse (and amazing promise) is Philippians 1:6 ‘being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…’. We are promised that God won’t give up on what He has started. Keep trusting and do not give up because God has promised that He will never give up on you.

    For when you are feeling useless and things seem impossible…

    Remember Ephesians 3:20 ‘now to him who is able to do imeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us.’ This verse is such an encouragement, not only does it highlght the power that God has – it literally cannot be measured – it also reminds us that through knowing Jesus that immense power is in us. God wants to do great things through you, things that we cannot even imagine. Don’t underestimate yourself, God’s power is in you.

    We don’t need to compare our lives or testimonies to other peoples, God has a plan for you that is different to everyone elses.

    For when you feel weak or need courage…

    Look to 2 Timothy 1:7, where it says that God did not intend for you to be scared, he made you to be brave, ‘For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.’ This verses also highlights that all power and strength come from God. What a relief, we don’t have to be powerful ourselves, it all comes from God.

    And what about when we feel like there’s nothing to look forward to or we don’t know where we are headed…

    Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those verses that is quoted a lot, but for good reason. It is proof that God has our back, he’s watching out for us. ‘”I know the plans I have for you,” declares The Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”‘ He has mapped out a journey specifically for you that he wants to take you on. We don’t need to compare our lives or testimonies to other peoples, God has a plan for you that is different to everyone elses.

    The thing is, if we don’t look up from what’s right infront of us we wont realise where our help comes from. Look up and ask, because God is waiting to show you the answers.

  • Don’t just give up!

    Blackout is a digital fast, a term that I had never heard of before. If a friend had asked me to do a digital fast for the persecuted church, I would probably have said ‘yes’, but not admitted that I did not really understand what they meant.

    Which makes me think: how many times have you signed your name on a petition that you do not really understand then forgotten about the cause a week later?

    I hold my hands up high (not too high as I am a bit embarrassed about it) and say, ‘yup, too many times’. We shouldn’t just be saying yes to causes, campaigns and petitions, we should be asking WHY?

    To support a cause you need to know why you should get involved.

    The problem with fasting is that it sounds negative. The idea of removing yourself from something enjoyable and going hungry is not appealing. I always thought that if I fasted I would be so distracted by hunger that focusing on anything else would be impossible.

    However, fasting isn’t just giving something up; it’s choosing to do something else. It’s an opportunity to completely focus on one thing. The decision to stop one thing and the motivation to start something else is a strong combination such as the powerful duo of fasting and prayer.

    Blackout isn’t just about giving something up; it is about doing something different.

    Blackout isn’t just about giving something up; it is about doing something different. Don’t fast from screens to just sit at home and think about how you want to text your friends or about the filter you would use on Instagram; use the time you would normally spend online to focus on God. Just because you can’t Facebook a friend, doesn’t mean you can’t spend time together, you do not have to fast alone.

    As Christians we are part of the family of God. Yet it is hard to feel connected to our wider family when we lead completely different lives to those who are persecuted, suffering forced silence and torture. But, we are one body in Christ.

    ‘God has put the body together […] if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’
    1 Corinthians 12. 24-27

    Our part of the body of Christ is the mouthpiece. We have the freedom to speak, to pray openly, and to make a loud noise. When we switch off our phones, computers and televisions for Blackout we don’t have to fall into silence, we need to play our part and speak out for those who cannot.

    But this time, don’t let Blackout be another campaign that we simply forget about a week later. After Blackout has ended and we are once again posting, tweeting and hash-tagging let’s remember the campaign we joined and keep our promises of prayer for those persecuted into silence.

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