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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Sacrifice: A Dirty Word?

What does the word ‘sacrifice’ mean to you? One of the Oxford dictionary definitions is ‘an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.’ I think that the concept of sacrifice is one that we struggle with in our contemporary culture- seen as outdated, irrelevant, negative. We want to have and do it all. We don’t want to give up anything, let alone something we (or society as a whole) view as valuable. But the Bible says it is a fundamental part of Christian living, and so maybe we need to think again.

This year I have started using the Bible in One Year (BiOY) app, a great free resource that takes you through the whole Bible in a year (obviously!), and using that have been reading through Matthew’s gospel. Jesus’ teachings on how to live in community with God and with each other were counter-cultural then, and are definitely counter-cultural now. I think that sometimes, the temptation can be to view our faith as an ‘extra’ on top of the life we are already living; something that adds value to it, completes it. But that is not what Jesus taught. He is looking for total commitment that invades every moment of our waking lives- every decision, at home, or work, or school; every relationship; everything we say and do. Unless we are prepared to live all out for Jesus, we will not be able to step into all the amazing plans he has for our lives- the unique work that each of us were put on this earth to do. In the words of Jesus:

If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.

Matthew 10:38-39, The Message

There will inevitably be a cost involved to living this way. Something has to give. Some things will have to be surrendered, given up. If we are walking in step with Jesus, life can never be the same as it was before. Sometimes we think it’s enough to sacrifice things that we were never very attached to, anyway. But according to the definition above, true sacrifice is giving up something we value. Maybe that’s popularity- being prepared to identify ourselves as followers of Jesus even when it’s not going to make us any friends. It may be financial security- listening to God’s voice and following his call even if that takes us away from a 9 to 5 job with a pension and job stability. Perhaps it’s career progression- turning down a promotion if we know it’ll mean we’ll be having to spend so much time at the office that there will be no time left for anything or anyone else. Maybe it’s how we spend our time, or our money- giving God the first-fruits, the very best, not just what’s left over once we’ve done everything else we want to do. The hardest thing to surrender is our sovereignty over our own lives- acknowledging that God is in control; that he knows better than we do what’s best for us.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33, NLT

Or, as The Message puts it:

Steep your life in God-reality, God- initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

We mustn’t just dwell on the first part of the definition, but read to the end of the sentence and remember that anything we may give up is for the sake of something of even greater value. Not only can we be freed to live the lives we were made to live here on earth, but we have a promise of eternity in heaven from a God who always keeps his promises. Following Jesus is always costly. But it is so, so worth it.

If you have questions about Christianity, why not try Alpha? There’s a course starting at Christ Church, Park Wood, Maidstone on January 28th in the evening. 

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The Heart of the King: People Matter

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As Jesus was saying this, the leader of a synagogue came and knelt before him. “My daughter has just died,” he said, “but you can bring her back to life again if you just lay your hand on her.”
So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”
Jesus turned around,  and when he saw her he said,  “Daughter,  be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
When Jesus arrived at the official’s home, he saw the noisy crowd and heard the funeral music. “Get out!” he told them. “The girl isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed at him. After the crowd was put outside, however, Jesus went in and took the girl by the hand, and she stood up! The report of this miracle swept through the entire countryside.

Matthew 9:18-26

Jesus’ compassion blows me away in this passage. He interrupts what he is doing, drops everything and responds to a call for help- because to him, nothing was more important. People mattered to Jesus. Their hopes, fears, anxieties, problems, joys, and sorrows. They mattered to him then, and they matter to him now. He, the Son of God, doesn’t make the distraught father wait until he’s finished an in-depth conversation about the kingdom of God (Matthew 9:14-17). He doesn’t think that he is too important for such ‘trivial’ missions and send someone in his place. All he sees is a grieving parent asking for the help that is within his power to give, and he responds without hesitation. No sooner has he set off then he is interrupted again, and once more gives patiently and graciously of himself.

It is interesting to see who it is that Jesus reaches out to in this passage- a dead girl and a woman with a chronic gynaecological condition. Both would have been considered ‘unclean’, and if you add being female into the mix, were pretty much bottom of the pecking order in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. (Those misogynistic attitudes still prevalent in many parts of the church today do not, it would seem, find their spiritual roots in Jesus!) Only Jesus would drop everything to go and minister to two people as poorly regarded as this.

And Jesus sent the crowds away before raising the girl. It wasn’t about flashy public ministry, gaining popularity and followers, or proving who he was (although it did do exactly that!), just about reaching out in love to those in need around him, without counting the personal cost and inconvenience.

My prayer is that I may not let busyness and a sense of self-importance stand in the way of the little acts of kindness and compassion that God wants me to be doing, every day. Jesus isn’t here on earth in person today- we are his hands, we are his feet. He may not choose to heal or raise the dead through me, but whatever he wants to do, with God’s help I pray I would be a willing channel of his love and power and not an obstacle to it. People mattered to Jesus. I pray that they would matter- really matter- to me, too.

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A Dream Delayed: building character along the way

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Do you have a dream for the future? If life right now is not all you had hoped it would be, do you get frustrated? Do you ever wonder when your dreams will be fulfilled, and question whether they will be at all? I think if we’re honest, we all do sometimes. I read a verse in the Bible this week that really spoke to me about this:

Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.

Psalm 105:19

If God has given us a dream, it will be fulfilled. If he has made us a promise, he will keep it. But in the meantime, we mustn’t expect just to sit around marking time, counting down the days. We have work to do. God has work to do in us. If we embark on a new career, we expect to do at least some training or preparation- go on a course, do some reading, maybe undertake some work experience.  And if God has given us a new dream, a new vision, there will be preparation to do there too. And not just in the revising, sitting-in-a-seminar-dozing-off kind of a way, but preparing our very selves. And that kind of preparation is a lot harder. It involves God showing us where change is needed, challenging bad attitudes, sanding down our rough edges and sharp corners. And it seems as though God often uses difficult circumstances and situations to bring about those kind of changes.

Take Joseph’s life as an example (you can read the whole story in Genesis 37 and 39-47). He had received dreams and visions from God from an early age, and he knew he was destined for greatness. But he could have been forgiven for thinking that God may have changed the plan for his life along the way. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country by his own jealous brothers, and then falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He must have wondered what had gone wrong.  Joseph entered that time of testing and hardship as an arrogant young man, and emerged as a wise leader and a faithful servant of God. As Pharoah himself remarked

Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?

Genesis 41:38

He ended up in charge of the entire land of Egypt, second in rank only to Pharoah himself. I wonder how things might have looked if his dreams had been fulfilled immediately. If a brash teenager had been made ruler, one who hadn’t had years of learning dependency on God in the isolation of a prison cell; one who hadn’t been taught wisdom, humility and compassion. Given Pharoah’s penchant for impaling those who offended him (see Genesis 40:1-3,22) I don’t think things would have worked out all that well.

I am often impatient. If I know where I want my destination to be, where I think I am headed, I want to get there straight away, without any deviations or detours. But for God, and for our characters, the journey is at least as important as the destination. The journey is often less glamorous, and less public. It might be that no-one can see us trudging along other than God himself. But when we’re walking that path,  God will be building integrity in us; transforming us into the people we were made to be, and we long to be. In the words of Christine Caine

What we do in anonymity will build our inner world.

Becoming people of character and integrity cannot be rushed. We will be a work in progress until the day we go to be with Jesus. So take heart. God always keeps his promises. The bigger the plans he has for you, the more groundwork will need to be done first. So I will try not just to look ahead to the future, but to embrace the present. To serve God where he has put me, right now, even it’s not where I want to be forever.

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Tell Your Story

Stories are important. We love to hear them. We love to listen to people who are good at telling them. A great story can teach us without us realising we’re learning; make us think more deeply about an issue we thought we had got sorted; make us laugh; make us cry. Hearing the same stories over and over again can be a favourite part of our family heritage and tradition, especially if they tell us more about the people and situations around us and help us to understand them better.

Jesus was a master storyteller. He taught profound truths about the Kingdom of God using stories set in situations very familiar to his audience, featuring characters everyone could recognise, from dishonest tax collectors and rich businessmen, to shepherds, housewives and widows. Carry on reading…

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Prayer is Pivotal (Part 1): Lessons from #LC13

I’m not usually one to spend hours on end staring at a computer screen, but this week I made an exception. Holy Trinity Brompton, the large central London church which is (amongst other things) home of the Alpha Course, held their annual Leadership Conference. Last year my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend in person; that not being possible this year I opted for the next best thing- watching the event from home as it was streamed live over the internet. I joined thousands of others from across the world who watched the event online, adding to the audience of 5,500 people from 86 nations and representing numerous Christian denominations who were actually there in the Royal Albert Hall. Carry on reading…

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You Can’t Kid the Kids

“Mummy, why did you lie about liking Mrs Davies?”

Whoa, hang on, what?!

“Er… what do you mean? I do like Mrs Davies!”

“Then why were you talking about her with Sarah’s mummy behind her back? It didn’t sound as if you liked her.”

Oh dear. Rumbled by a 7-year-old with big ears and a highly developed sense of justice.

One thing I’ve learned since becoming a parent is that children’s noses are phenomenally good at sniffing out inconsistencies in our behaviour. They may not remember us asking them to make the bed or put their school uniform away but they will definitely remember something that you’ve said that you wish you hadn’t. They will also run this regrettable utterance through their database of our previous sayings or actions to see if they match up. And if they don’t, they will notice. We underestimate the attention they pay us- what we say, what we do- at our peril. Carry on reading…

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Fishing Expedition

 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

John 21: 4-7, NIV

I love this story about the risen Jesus and his rather confused and overwhelmed disciples. What an emotional rollercoaster they had been on over the past few days, especially Peter. They had witnessed one of their close friends, Judas, betray Jesus to the authorities. They had seen their beloved Master die a gruesome death. Despite previously claiming that he was ready to die for Jesus, when it came to the crunch Peter had denied three times even knowing him. Carry on reading…

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It’s Good to Think: being a Godly Geek

I have a confession to make- I’ve always been quite lazy when it comes to using my brain. I’m lucky in that I’ve always found it easy to learn, and when I was at school, if you were good at memorising facts and regurgitating them, you could do pretty well. (When I arrived at Cambridge University and they expected me to actually think for myself I very nearly came unstuck, but that’s a whole different blog post!)

One thing that God has been teaching me lately is that he wants to engage with all of me, brain included. I have always been quite embarrassed about being academically able (or a geek, swot, teacher’s pet, and a whole load of other less polite terms that I could mention but won’t- I’ve heard them all). For some reason intellectual prowess is definitely not as socially acceptable as excelling at sport, or music, or drama, or anything else. Recently, though, it seems as if God is releasing me from that embarrassment, and has been reassuring me that he made me this way. I can (and should) be using the gifts he has given me, unapologetically. Carry on reading…

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Throwing off the chains

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptised. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.

Acts 16:25-34, New Living Translation

Reading this amazing story this morning really challenged me. Paul and Silas had been arrested, stripped, publicly humiliated, severely beaten, and thrown into prison. Unlike many of us would react, however, they were not wallowing in self-pity but praising God! Their focus was not on themselves. They were not saying “Why me?” They were not giving in to fear, misery or despair, understandable as that would have been. They are focussing on God who they know is always the same no matter what is happening on earth. Carry on reading…

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Culture Clash

For the last couple of days I’ve been reading about the Council at Jerusalem, in Acts 15:1-21. Paul and Barnabas had fallen out with other factions in the church who were arguing that the new Gentile converts still had to adhere to traditional Jewish practices, for example circumcision, in order to be saved. Paul believed passionately that this was contrary to the gospel of grace. In his letter to the Galatian believers he writes:

“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favour with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

(Galatians 5:2-6, NLT.)

This led me to ponder what we are tempted to add to the gospel. We too can get bogged down in our church culture. What additional demands do we make of people, that make it difficult for them to worship with us, and to become part of our church families? Carry on reading…

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