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  • Hope in darkness

    About 3 years ago now, I remember being sat at the top of my stairs passively pressing play on video about the Open Doors’ Save Syria campaign. As the music started to play, the pictures of Syria and the stories of Christians laying down their lives for the sake of spreading the hope of Jesus stirred me to my core. With tears in my eyes and goose-bumps all over, I was captivated.

    Naturally, our reaction to videos such as this is to pray and perhaps shed a few tears but inevitably, life moves on. We find ourselves indulging again in our freedom of speech, expression and religion, giving little thought to the possibility of life without such privileges. But let’s consider that for a second – imagine waking up one morning to your house emblazoned with graffiti exposing your faith to all who pass by. Embarrassed? Worried what your neighbours might say? Imagine that, but this time in a country where you are sure to face rejection, abuse or even death purely for this label – this the story of many Christians in Iraq and Syria today following the growing influence of IS.

    “If the terrorists come to kill us, there will be blood, but we will open our eyes in heaven – but we must tell them first that Jesus loves them!”

    Syria is a country rooted in Christian heritage as home to many of our Bible stories from the Sermon on the Mount to Jesus feeding the five thousand, the Transfiguration to the place where Saul, ultimate hater of all things Christian, encountered the voice of God on the road to Damascus. This is a place where Jesus walked, where he taught, and sadly, where Christians have faced persecution for thousands of years. Today, as the video explains, the church in Syria is on its knees. But, despite the darkness falling, Christians are choosing to stay and be the light Syria so desperately needs.

    I want to tell you more about the Pastor Youseff the video introduces us to. Along with his wife Hannah, they came to speak at an Open Doors event and shared what life is like for them. They begin every day in prayer and part by asking the Lord to let them meet again at the end of the day – believing that they are where they are meant to be. Hannah told us that in all of this, the thing burdening her most was the fear her girls would come to harm; she describes God asking whether she was prepared to give herself, and here was her response, telling her girls, “if the terrorists come to kill us, there will be blood, but we will open our eyes in heaven – but we must tell them first that Jesus loves them!”

    Hannah and Youseff are a couple living out Psalm 84:10, declaring every day: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. They are living in the shadow of their fears but guarded by the promise of a God who is good and has an eternal home destined for them regardless of what their day holds. They live grounded in the truth that God is for His people, and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

    What would life look like for you if you started your day on your knees declaring this, then got up and lived like you actually believed this was true?

    Sadly, the story told 3 years ago is much the same today. By 2015, 63 churches had been destroyed, Christians continue to be seen as enemies by rebel groups and around half the Christians living in Syria prior to the Civil War have now fled. Casualties continue to rise, the number of children affected by the war ever increases and the trauma left in the dust of each attack haunts any sense of hope for the Syrian people. But, as the video says, Jesus, who was no stranger to devastation and paid the ultimate price at the hands of persecutors, calls us to be the light in darkness:

    “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

    Stories like these should shake us. They should change the way we hold our faith, the way we pray, the way we approach evangelism. It should encourage us to support the persecuted church, to pray, to give, to petition. But it should also challenge us to step out ourselves with greater confidence and appreciation of the freedom we are so blessed to have. It’s not easy to talk about Jesus, it never is, but the truth for every Christian living on the earth is that He calls us live Him out, but never leaves us to do it alone (Matthew 28:16-20).

    He is FOR US. And if He is for us, then what on earth can be against us?

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  • Disappointment: Five passages to get you through

    I’d say I spend 68% of my life as a determined optimist and the other bits a full-blown hopeless and moaning bundle of mess. Ironically, this figure may be optimistic in itself, but one thing I know is that when I’m down, it’s hard to be a happy worshipper. And the thing I’d say causing this the most? Disappointment.

    Disappointment is the feeling of crushed expectations when you see the grade on that paper or you fail to make the cut for that sports team; it’s when you miss out on your first choice Uni, you don’t get that job or your friend starts dating someone you like. It’s when your ideas don’t match up with reality and you realise that somewhere along the line things have gone wrong, and we’re left asking where are you God?

    Our disappointments may be different but we all share their crushing weight; the question is, what do we do next? I’m going to try and tackle this by breaking it down into 5 steps and 5 Bible passages:

    1. Reality check

    Psalm 139 and Psalm 18:29
    Okay – the likelihood is you have overcome bigger mountains in life and there is a way forwards. We can say this with confidence when grounded in scriptures such as Psalm 139 where the Psalmist pours out just how much we mean to God and how in control He is: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me” (v5). Arm yourself against disappointments with this passage: He knows our situations (v1-6), He has control (v7-12) and we were created and purposed far beyond our present understanding (v13-16). One of my favourite verses is from Psalm 18:29 – “with my God, I can scale a wall”. We can scale walls, climb mountains and even dance over death in Jesus – there are no limits to God’s power!

    2. Believe in God’s plan for your life

    Jeremiah 29:11-13
    Jesus made the journey to the Cross so that people like us would never have to look at ourselves and be resigned to defeat. As followers of Jesus, we have the same power that conquered death on the Cross inside us; the Bible says we are more than conquerors and can shout this over any situation (check out all of Romans 8 for some epic fighting power). Look at what Jesus did on the Cross. With that much power soaked in that much grace, surely He can help us now? Cling to the promise that His plans are “to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

    3. Trust

    Isaiah 40
    Sometimes, no matter how many often we hear this verse, we’re discouraged as it appears His plans aren’t working out. We’re tempted to think we’ve been forgotten, but Isaiah 40 has an answer for this: “Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God… His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:28-30). This passage calls us to lift up our eyes, seek Him and be refuelled with hope and strength. Quit trying to understand why something happened and start trusting Him and His way. Stretch out; He will come and pull you on (Jeremiah 29:12-13).

    4. You are not the product of your mistakes

    Ephesians 3
    You were created with purpose and power, with your ways “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17). Walking with Him promises a life where He will do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” through His power within us as followers of Jesus (Ephesians 3:20). The disappointments you carry do not define you – Jesus calls us to come to Him and lay down our baggage (see Matthew 11:28). Take Him at His word and let Him in.

    5. Dig out that hope and try again

    Isaiah 40
    I love the idea of our lives as a working tapestry where God is the weaver – we see the back of the tapestry with all its tangled knots, whereas God sees the front – its potential, progress and ultimate perfection. These knock backs are just a part of your story; He uses our broken pieces and weaves them into the beautiful tapestry we will only fully understand on the other side. Read through Isaiah 40 and let Him comfort you. Yes, we are weak. Yes, we stumble and fall. But if we lift up our eyes as the passage says, we follow a God who will renew our strength: “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (v31).

    Keep going, weary warrior. Hope in the freedom of the image in Isaiah 40:27-31, let your heart soar and dreams multiply – but let them all drift up to Him; rest waiting for Him to unfold what comes next. C. S. Lewis writes “Remember, He is the artist, you are the picture. Quietly submit to being painted”. What is He calling you to give to Him?

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