Archive

  • Use your voice

    I came into the office the other day to discover a megaphone sitting on my desk. To this day, I have no idea how it got there, or why someone thought it necessary to provide me with such an item, but it got me thinking. If I knew my voice was going to be heard, what would I choose to say?

    I’m not going to lie to you, the first thought that came to my mind was to use it to announce when I required a cup of tea and/or some form of edible snack. Once the sensible half of my brain dismissed that as a foolish idea, I thought about using it to begin important and controversial discussions in the office: Coke or Pepsi? Tea or coffee? Jaffa Cake: Cake or biscuit?

    Then I realised – actually, this is a serious question. If we knew our voice was going to be heard, what would we choose to say?

    Whether we like it or not, we have a voice. We have an audience. We may not have a megaphone, but we have social media, Twitter and Facebook followers, and, ultimately, the freedom of speech.

    But do we always use it wisely? I know I don’t – over the last few days most of my tweets involved complaining about the amount of Latin in my brother’s graduation service or extolling the virtues of woolly socks and homemade chocolate brownies. No matter how amusing such things may be, they are not of massive significance.

    But there a things going on in the world that are of massive significance. My brother’s graduation service may have had an extortionate amount of Latin in it, but while I was sitting, pretending to be interested, another family member of mine was being tortured in North Korea. And another was forced to leave their home in Iraq. And another was held in a shipping container in the boiling heat in Eritrea for refusing to recant their faith. And I chose to moan about the Latin. Suddenly the way in which I chose to use my voice seems foolish and insignificant.

    The body of Christ is being persecuted across the world. Tortured, imprisoned and killed for following the same God as us. For loving Jesus and proclaiming Him to be Lord and Saviour, just as we do.

    If you knew your voice was going to be heard, what would you choose to say?

    Our brothers and sisters around the globe face daily beatings and interrogations, overwhelming fear and secret meetings, hushed prayers and silent worship. Here, in contrast, we have hundreds, maybe thousands of twitter followers and Facebook friends, blogs on which we can freely post our thoughts without fear of retribution (apart from the occasional random internet troll), and the ability to write and petition our government to change things.

    In contrast to the millions of persecuted Christians across the world, we have a voice. So why aren’t we using it?

    ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’ – Proverbs 31:8-9

    Stop, and think for a moment. Think of the answer to this simple question: If you knew your voice was going to be heard, what would you choose to say?

    And now, answer me this: what’s stopping you from saying it?

    Go. Speak up and speak out. Be the voice to the voiceless. Learn about the plight of our brothers and sisters across the world, and tell those around you about it as if it were your own flesh and blood suffering. Don’t be afraid of using the freedom God has given you, but use it to strengthen His church and further His Kingdom. Because, in the end, that is the best use of your voice you could ever find.

  • It’s a deal – or is it?

    Have you ever done a deal with God? I spent a worryingly large amount of my childhood making deals with God. You know the sort… ‘Hey, God, if you do this, I promise I’ll be good for ever and ever’, or ‘God, I’d really appreciate it if you would sort out this little mess I’ve got myself into – if you do that I promise I won’t get myself into such a pickle ever again’.

    I wish I could tell you that I grew out of this habit at the same time that I grew out of my children’s illustrated bible. Sadly, this is not the case. Even now, aged 20, I still occasionally find myself slipping back into that old habit of bartering with God. Though now, my promises are now slightly more realistic: ‘God, I’ve messed up. It’d be great if you could help me fix this one – and if you do, I’ll try to work on my bible reading habits’ or ‘God, I know I didn’t start this essay until a few hours before the deadline, but if you help me finish it on time then I promise that the next time I pray I won’t be asking you for anything… really.’

    I know this isn’t the best way of going about things, and not really the most respectful way of dealing with God, and yet to my mind it often makes the most sense.

    But then what happens when God doesn’t answer my prayer? What do I do then? What about when He doesn’t do what I expected Him to do, and I’m left feeling as if I’m floundering, lost and alone? Is it because my offer wasn’t good enough, or because God just didn’t bother listening in the first place? What should my response be?

    Slowly I’m beginning to realise it’s not about my offer not being good enough. It’s not about God not being bothered to respond. It’s about the fact that I even tried to make a deal in the first place.

    The thing is, God doesn’t work in human based deals or lawyer-approved contracts. God doesn’t work in terms of tit for tat, equal exchange, or bargaining. The exchange in which Jesus took part was completely and utterly unfair. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow’ (Isaiah 1:18). ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13).

    It’s not about God not being bothered to respond. It’s about the fact that I even tried to make a deal in the first place.

    And then there’s more. God has not only given us true, eternal life through Christ’s atoning death on the cross, but He promises to provide for all that we need. It seems baffling, when we look to the persecuted church, to our brothers and sisters suffering acutely for their faith, that they could be content in what God has given them. They suffer daily threats, beatings and even torture just for following Jesus and proclaiming Him as Lord. And yet they are content because, ultimately, they are seeking first his Kingdom and his righteousness: ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33)

    It seems, ultimately, that I don’t need to make deals with God. He’s already given me everything I could possibly need – Himself. ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).

    And so next time I find myself in ‘a bit of a pickle’, I’m not going to look to my own strength, or to what I have to offer God, to get me through. I’m going to look to the cross, and I’m going to trust that the God who supplies all my needs, and who has provided for the greatest need of all – redemption and forgiveness in Christ Jesus – will get me through all that I find myself in. For my life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) and, when push comes to shove, that’s all I really need.

  • If one part suffers

    I currently have a wisdom tooth coming through. And blimey, who would have thought that such a small body part could cause so much pain. It really is quite something. Practically inhaling ibuprofen and paracetamol, and smothering what feels like my entire mouth in bonjela, I try and muddle on through the day. But the teething gives me a headache, and it’s too painful to eat. Then my stomach hurts because I’m hungry, and I get shaky because I haven’t eaten enough. And suddenly, it feels like my tooth is waging a full-blown war on the rest of my body.

    ‘If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it’ (1 Cor 12:26). It seems a bit daft to say that something as simple as a toothache showed me that this is true, but it really did. If one part of your body in pain, pretty quickly the rest of it ends up feeling rubbish as well. If one part of it hurts, it all hurts.

    In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul describes the church as being like a body – one whole with many parts. He uses this analogy to speak not only of the importance of unity: ‘there should be no division in the body, but that its parts have equal concern for one another’ (1 Cor 12:25), but also of what it means to suffer with one another.

    Suffering with one another seems like a strange idea. I mean, if I had a choice for just my tooth to hurt and nothing else, or for my whole body to hurt along with my tooth, I would definitely go for the former. I’d rather one part hurt and the rest of my body could just ignore it and get on with life.

    Except. Except it doesn’t work like that. My body is not made like that. It’s all interlinked, all connected up, whether I like it or not. And Paul says that this is a reflection of the body of Christ – of the church. As much as I might want to ignore all that’s happening to Christians across the world, all the persecution and all the pain, this is just not possible. Those Christians being beaten, tortured and killed for their faith are my family. They are my body. They are part of the very essence of who I am. And therefore apathy is not an option.

    Indifference is not even the remotest possibility. Part of me is hurting – and so I must do everything in my power to help, protect and strengthen it.

    This is how it works with the church. This is how it works with our fellow believers. This is how it should work in our lives. Being a body means being connected, it means knowing about what is happening across our entirety.

    Part of me is hurting – and so I must do everything in my power to help, protect and strengthen it.

    It means educating ourselves and educating those around us. And when we are educated, we can pray intelligently for their needs. We can send support to help, protect, and strengthen.

    As a body, we are connected – in the pain, in the triumph, and in prayer. So when the reality is that one part of the body is having a full-blown war waged against it – we need only to look to places such North Korea, Iran, Syria, and many others to see the reality of that today – we are called, as a body, to stand with those who are living in the reality of persecution, and to ‘strengthen what remains and is about to die’ (Rev 3:2).

    Questions

    Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

    1. What in this passage and commentary do you particularly like?
    2. What in this particularly challenges you?
    3. In what ways can you see the church acting like a body? How does that affect how you see your church family?
    4. Can you think of a time when someone has come alongside you in your suffering, and encouraged and strengthened you through that?
    5. What do you think it looks like to suffer with other members of our body? What practical steps could you be taking to ensure that you are acting as part of a body of believers e.g. prayer?
  • Contentment

    I have a good friend who is a cellist. As a trumpet player, I find the idea of someone who actually likes string instruments baffling, and he often moans at me for being too loud and drowning him out all the time. But the point of real contention in our friendship came a few years back when I told him how much I enjoyed Pachelbel’s Canon as a piece of music (hear it here) He vehemently disagreed, informing me that it was one of the dullest pieces in the world. Then he showed me this video and I began to understand.

    For a cellist, you see, all you play in Pachelbel’s Canon is eight repeating notes. Over and over for six and a half minutes, it never stops. Over the top is the beautiful melody played by the violins, with varying notes and extravagant embellishments. Nobody really pays attention to the hard slog of the cellos, down on the bass line. But without them, the whole piece would fall apart.

    I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

    I guess sometimes life is a little bit like that. Our emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, excitement, anticipation and so many variations of these are the exciting embellishments that you pay the most attention to on a day to day basis. And yet there’s always a bass line. There has to be an underpinning to the melody of our lives, something that just keeps going, no matter the pitch, speed or intensity of what goes on around us. Bass lines can take many forms, but as Christians, we’re asked to have one particular bass line – contentment.

    Contentment is a strange bass line to have, because it’s so often confused with happiness. But happiness is transient; happiness is the changeable melody dependent on circumstances. But contentment, we learn in Philippians, is unchangeable in every circumstance: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13).

    It’s really difficult to master the bass line of contentment, and it’s something that – realistically – can only be done with the help of God. But when it is learnt, it is beautiful. And contentment is something that you can see in the lives of many persecuted Christians across the world.

    Take Helen Berhane, for example. She was locked inside a shipping container in Eritrea for two and a half years for refusing to recant her faith in Jesus Christ. Boiling hot by day and freezing cold by night, the conditions were unimaginable. But still she praised God, singing: ‘thank you for the cold nights, thank you for the hot days, thank you for the hunger, for the sickness, for the bugs that bite my body. Thank you Lord. Thank you.’

    What an incredible testimony! Think how dark and dreary the container in which she dwelt with 18 other people must have been – how the overarching melody of her life must have felt hopeless, lost and drab. And yet the bass line, the underpinning note of her life was that of contentment. Not resentment, not bitterness, but contentment; pure and simple peace in the love and provision of God, no matter what.

    And so, stop, think for a minute, and listen to the bass line of your life. Strain your ears past the melody of your day to day emotions, and listen to what underpins all that you do. If the melody were to change, or to stop completely, would the bass line still be music to your ears? Would you still want to listen to the song of your life, even if the embellishments quieted and the excitement stopped? If your bass line springs from the One who brings peace and fulfilment to all who know Him, then it will continue even when any other music fades. And that is true contentment.

  • But if not…

    Picture the scene. You’re in a foreign land, but God has blessed you with a position of power – indeed, you are chief minister of the province in which you are an alien. The law and ruler of this land don’t agree with your religion, but since you arrived, you have been allowed to worship your God in private. But now things have changed, and the King has decreed that you must worship an idol which he has built out of gold. You know that it is forbidden by God to worship idols (Exodus 20:3-6), but the King has said that if you do not bow down and worship this created thing, you will be killed.

    What would you do?

    Read Daniel 3
    I don’t know about you, but this story overwhelms me every time I read it. These men are told in no uncertain terms that if they disobey the King, they will die. No room for bargaining or mercy, they will just be killed. And all they have to do to save their lives is bow down to a gold figurine, an idol. But still they refuse to bow down and worship that which man has created, proclaiming instead that their God is the only one worthy of worship and honour, and He will remain so even if He does not rescue them.

    That’s the bit that challenges me. ‘but if not’, they say. But if not. Even if God doesn’t do what we want Him to do, still we will proclaim no other God but Him. Still will He be King over our lives, and Lord of our hearts. Even if we lose our lives for refusing to worship a man-made idol, it will be to the glory of God, and therefore it will be worth it.

    This is such a challenge to us. How often do we spend our time worshipping God when things go right? Or say that we’ll give God the glory if something works out? This passage presents us with a life changing definition of worship, as something that could lead us even into death. Is this how you see worship in the light of your everyday reality? I know that’s not always the case for me.

    This passage presents us with a life changing definition of worship, as something that could lead us even into death.

    For some of our brothers and sisters across the world, however, such choices – deny or die – are an everyday reality. In Mosul, Iraq, Christians were recently told to leave, convert to Islam, or be killed. In North Korea, the entire population are required to worship pictures of the ‘dear leader’ every single day, and those who refuse are executed or sent to labour camps to be worked to death. In Islamic-majority countries, those who convert to Christianity are considered apostates, and viewed as deserving of death unless they immediately recant their beliefs and return to Islam. But in all these situations, there are many hundreds of thousands who choose to declare God as good and Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour no matter what.

    In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are ultimately saved from death by God’s miraculous intervention. And what a cause for celebration when that happens today! What joy and praise is there among the body of Christ when Christians are delivered from the hands of the enemy and their lives are spared. Often, however, Christians pay the ultimate price for their faith, and die at the hands of those who oppose them. And although we will mourn and grieve for the loss of a member of our family, we must not forget that, in the end, even if we and those we love pay the ultimate price, God is still good, and He has delivered us from the greatest evil of all – that of death, and has given us the greatest gift of all – eternal life in Him.

  • What a failure!

    I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday; lying on my best friend’s sitting room floor at 6:00am, taking deep breaths and trying really hard not to throw up. 4 hours to go until I could open that little brown envelope, the contents of which felt as if they would determine my future happiness.

    GCSE results day. Looking back, it seems so insignificant. In the light of AS levels, A levels and even first year university results, GCSEs seem so irrelevant. But I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that feeling of crushing disappointment in the pit of my stomach when I opened my envelope, unfolded the piece of paper and found … not what I’d hoped for.

    They were good marks, I couldn’t dispute that. And yet, they weren’t good enough. Nothing below top marks was good enough.

    Two years later, it happened again. Different city, different school, same feeling. Good results. But not good enough. Never good enough. You would have thought I’d be used to it by then – the feelings of failure, of having let myself down. I always set myself targets almost impossible to achieve. But this time, I’d really thought I could make it. But I hadn’t managed it. With the grades I’d got, I wasn’t going to be able to get into the university I really wanted to go to. The one everyone in my family had gone to, and the one I’d grown up expecting to get into. I was crushed. What. A. Failure. Lost cause. Hopeless case. Now that I’d failed to achieve the best academically, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

    Who was I if I wasn’t the girl who was always top of the class? Who was I if not all my results were As and A*s? Who was I if I wasn’t who I thought I was always going to be?

    Who was I if I wasn’t the girl who was always top of the class? Who was I if not all my results were As and A*s? Who was I if I wasn’t who I thought I was always going to be?

    It’s at this time of year that exam results, and how well you do academically, seem like the most important things in the world. Who you are seems to be all tangled up with how well you do. And it’s so easy to fall into the trap of deception, into the tangled web of lies that tell you that you are nothing if you achieve less than the best.

    But pause, just for a minute, and rewind. Back five years, back ten years, back before you were even born. And look, look at what God says to you: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart’ (Jeremiah 1:5) Stop, and listen to how God sees you: ‘The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17). Understand the truth of who you are, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14), ‘God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance’ (Ephesians 2:10).

    Now, come back. Come back to now, with the thoughts, the feelings, the pressures. The voices telling you you’re not good enough, infiltrating your thoughts, whispering condemnation and failure into your very being. Recognise them for what they are – lies. This is not the truth of who you are. The letters on the page in front of you do not reflect your worth. You are a child of the King. Created, loved and redeemed. Covered by grace and clothed with Christ. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:39)Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even exam results.

    I wish that on that day 5 years ago, opening that brown envelope, I had asked for God’s strength and truth to reign over the anxiety and the feelings of failure. I wish I had been equipped with the truth to conquer the lies. I wish I had listened to the still, small voice amidst the raging sea of my emotions.

    I wasn’t equipped then, but I am now. And so are you. No longer is your identity based upon you and your achievements. Instead it is where it truly belongs – hidden with Christ in God. Your identity is what yours creator says it is, and, praise the Lord, nothing you do – or fail to do – changes that.

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