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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 I think that the concept of sacrifice is one that we struggle with in our contemporary culture- seen as outdated, irrelevant, negative.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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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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On Eagles’ Wings

Last week, I gave a presentation. I was talking about The Princess Project, a subject dear to my heart. My talk was well received, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Nothing very remarkable there, you might think. But bear with me.

Let me take you back in time a few years. Let me introduce you to a young woman recently graduated from Cambridge University Vet School.  She has recently got married, moved to London, landed her dream job. And her confidence is at rock bottom. Carry on reading…

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Beneath your Beautiful

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This week is Holy Week. Along with Christians around the world I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross, beginning with the celebrations and expectation of Palm Sunday, through quiet reflection as we remember the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, leading to sombre recollection and marking of the crucifixion today on Good Friday.

The year since last Easter has been an eventful one for me, and one that has deepened my relationship with my saviour Jesus. I have spent more time with him, listened to him, learnt more about him. I’ve been privileged to see him at work in many situations, including my own life. Gently, gently he’s been stripping away layers from me that have taken years to build up, like layers of wallpaper in an ancient house. Layers of self-sufficiency. Layers of putting my trust in things other than him. Layers of identifying myself according to my profession or role, not as the precious daughter of my daddy in heaven. Carry on reading…

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