I like that Jesus did it but I don’t want to

He stands looking right into my eyes with a gun pointed at my head. I am frozen still with fear unable to move. He shouts at me; “If you want to live deny that Jesus is Lord!” I can barely breathe, I am shaking like a leaf but as I open my mouth to speak everything I’ve known of my Lord comes to mind, my heart is filled with peace and I reply; “Jesus Christ is Lord!” 

The rest is a blur.

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I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought through this scenario. In my mind it’s the ultimate sacrifice I could make for my Lord, my Jesus. The One who gave His all for me. To die for His name’s sake – what a sacrifice!

Now, at the moment in Canada I do not live in fear of that type of persecution for being a Christian. That’s not the type of sacrifice I can make for Jesus and I’m going to hazard a guess at saying that’s not the type of sacrifice you can offer Jesus either.

“Phew!” says us. That would be a pretty big price to pay and if we’re being truly honest we don’t want to give that big a sacrifice.

Over the past year or so I’ve noticed there seems to be a hierarchy in christian circles as to who Jesus calls to sacrifice for His name’s sake. Here’s  few:

  • Missionaries in far off countries… usually we use Africa as an example – Let’s face it…they’re super Christians. They go into lands where no one has heard about Jesus and risk their lives for the sake of the Gospel. They sacrifice a lot – they move countries, leave their family, learn a new language, give up a decent lifestyle, have little medical care and always have to carry around a little orphan child.
  • Pastors – God only calls those who have it all together and are as close to perfect as humanly possible to be Pastors so of course these guys are willing to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake. It’s only right that they sacrifice their family time, rest and sometimes health for the church they serve, they’re getting paid for it.
  • Bible College Students – They are the ‘extra-holy’ onesThey went to college to learn how to pray, read their Bibles and serve; not to mention meet and marry a like minded ‘extra-holy’ one. You see they should live their lives different to other pew people because they’ve got extra letters at the end of their name not to mention a fancy degree!

I hope you giggled reading that list. I legitimately have heard each of those excuses used by ‘normal’ Christians in response to being questioned about how they are living their lives for Christ.

The more I look at the lives of every disciple ever called by God (or ‘to those who became Christians’) in the Bible I see one common thing; 100% sacrifice.

Read Luke 5:1-11 when Jesus called the first disciples to follow him; “…they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

Luke 5:27-31 Jesus calls Levi and “Levi got up, left everything and followed him.”

I love the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9:1-19 Jesus calls him, he has to stop what he’s doing and listen to what Jesus asks him to do. Never once after meeting with Jesus does he go back to his old life – he left his power, status and lifestyle behind in pursuit of Jesus.

Recently God’s been speaking to me about sacrifice. Not the idea of being a Martyr for Christ, however if that day comes I pray I’ll stand firm- but more of a daily sacrifice. He began speaking to me about sacrifice during my Christmas vacation. I went home to Northern Ireland for a couple of weeks after being away for nearly 9 months – for those who don’t know me I’m a real people person. I love being with people, sharing in their lives and being there for them as much as I can. As you can imagine living half way across the world from my family and friends kind of makes that a little bit difficult so catching up with everyone was bliss. But then came the dreaded goodbyes. I hate being ‘that’ girl in the security line but you can’t hold tears in… (funny story: my gate was closing and I was told to use the fast track lane but I hasn’t paid for that privilege so I chanced it and I’m pretty certain the tears stopped the guy asking questions and I got right through! lol)… in that moment when I’d said goodbye to those I love I was convinced that was the greatest sacrifice God had called me to make. How wrong was I.

You see the life of a believer is to be one of constant sacrifice. The art of saying no to self and yes to Jesus.

What did Jesus have to say about this? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

What does that look like us for today in 2015?

  • Are we willing to sacrifice those extra minutes in bed in order to spend time seeking God at the start of the day?
  • Are we willing to sacrifice our popularity (even among Christian friends) by taking a stand against something that goes against God’s word?
  • Are we willing to sacrifice that job, relationship or circumstance in order to go where God has called us to or to serve in a ministry he’s called us to?
  • Are we willing to sacrifice that TV show, social media or activity that eats our time away so that we can spend time reading our bibles and praying ?
  • Are we willing to sacrifice that money we would spend of coffee or clothes to give to something God wants us to give to?
  • Are we willing to sacrifice anything hinders our walk with Jesus no matter what the cost?

At the end of our lives we’re going to have to stand before Jesus, the one who died so that we might live – we will have to give an account for our lives; the places we went, words we said or didn’t say, time we wasted, things we watched, listened to or were involved in. I don’t say this to scare you – I say it to encourage you (and me) that we have one life to live for the sake of Jesus.

We are given one life to make a difference for the Kingdom of God – Jesus gave His whole life for us… what are we willing to give Him?!

 

A Christmas Gift Like No Other

[This is a short devotional I shared at our ladies ministry Christmas night last week.]

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.For no word from God will ever fail.”

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

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Would you willingly receive a gift that brought with it shame, people talking about you behind your back, it had the possibility of shattering all your dreams, your life plans oh, and, legally this gift could have you killed?

I’ve received some pretty horrible Christmas presents but it’s safe to say that’s not the type of Christmas gift any of us would like to receive.

Through human eyes God was offering Mary a gift like this. Mary wasn’t married therefore she should not have been pregnant, if she accepted this gift she was putting everything on the line. She would face people talking about her behind her back, she would bring shame upon Joseph and although the law doesn’t state what should happen if the woman you’re pledge to marry conceives of the Holy Spirit and is pregnant with the Son of God, it does however state that any woman who is found not to be a virgin whilst pledged to marry or after marrying should be stoned to death (Deut 22:20). Looking at the cold hard facts it would seem that if Mary said Yes to this gift she would be giving up everything – her reputation, her relationship, her life.

Yet God’s plan cannot be seen through human eyes. It has to be seen through the eyes of faith. To everyone in that culture Mary would seem unusable, it would appear that God could not use her for any great task. Why? because she was young, poor and the worst of it all she was…female.  But God knew Mary’s heart, he knew she was the girl for the task. He knew she’d be obedient.

I just love Mary’s response to this incredible gift God was giving her; “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

Mary was a ‘Yes’ girl.

She was willing to do whatever God asked of her no matter the cost.

She carried that gift of hers for 9 months. Her pregnant tummy was a public symbol of her obedience to God. Some people may have looked at her and thought Joseph was crazy to believe what she told him about the angel etc. Some people may have watched from afar really pondering what Mary had claimed about this baby and others may have believed with all their heart that Mary was carrying the promised Messiah. But the most important thing was that Mary knew she had heard from God and that she was obeying him – no matter what others thought.

What about you? Are you a yes girl? Are you obedient to the tasks God gives you no matter what the cost?

When Jesus was born something incredible happened; the gift that had been given to Mary, the one that she had carried all by herself suddenly became a universal gift. Jesus had been given to us all. Emmanuel means “God with us” not “God is just with Mary”. Unfortunately people think God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mom because she was without sin, she was perfect, she was God-like but the Bible says otherwise; “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of the Lord” – Romans 3:23 . God chose to use her despite her imperfection.

John 1:14 really captures the moment Jesus was born. The moment Mary’s personal gift became universal; “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen the glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Message version puts it like this; The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

Jesus came as a gift to the world with one purpose- to save us! Jesus didn’t stay a little baby, he grew and became a man. You see he had a gift he had to give the world but like all gifts it had to be paid for. Money couldn’t buy this gift, fancy words wouldn’t flatter to avoid payment and this is one gift you couldn’t persuade your other half or family to pay for. It’s only a gift that God can give so it’s only a gift God can pay for. Most gifts are given out of love but this gift is given by love Himself.

Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross and rose from the dead 3 days later showing us that we can have the free gift of salvation. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ – 2 Cor 5:21

That’s the gift Jesus offers you this Christmas – forgiven sin, new life on earth and eternal life in Heaven.

Mary was obedient to God and said ‘Yes’ to carrying the gift he asked her to.

Jesus now offers you a free gift. The question is… will you say ‘yes’ to receiving it?

The Bible even tells us how to receive it: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

The gift of salvation is not to be kept hidden away and never shown to anyone. In fact, it’s the gift that keeps on giving – you have to share it with others. It’s almost impossible not to.

Mark 16:15 says: “Go into all the world and preach the good news.”  In other words – share your gift! Tell people about the Lord Jesus.

This Christmas God has given you a special gift to carry and share with everyone you meet. Your task may not be as dramatic as Mary’s…in fact I know it won’t be BUT God is still desiring for you to be a ‘Yes’ girl. What is God asking you to do this Christmas? Who is he calling you to speak to? Give your time to? Help? Pray for? Share the love of Jesus with?

Jesus name is Emmanuel “God with us” … Are you ready to share the gift you have been given?

May we all be able to answer like Mary did; “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Why I love the Church!

“…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Jesus (Matt 16:18b)

I’ve been in the Christian circle long enough to know that as soon as you mention the idea of Church or what it should look like you get hit up the face with EVERYTHING. The good things, the bad things, the awkward things, the confusing things, the traditional things. If I’m being honest I hear more people complaining about the Church than celebrating her. I have been guilty of falling into that trap too… trust me the Lord’s convicted me a lot about my attitude and thoughts on the Church.

The Church was and is God’s idea. She is Christ’s bride. We the people of God are Christ’s bride. We are the Church. We are the one’s sent to bring the Good News.

JESUS LOVES, LOVES, LOVES THE CHURCH!

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This blog post has been birthed out of the amazing experience I’ve had of Church over the past fews months. God created us to live in community; remember in Eden the ONLY thing God said was not good was for man to be alone. We are built to live in community with others. We have two options when we live in community or BE the Church (people not buildings) – we can try to fake it or we can be real and vulnerable. Faking sounds a lot more easier, right? But only by being real and vulnerable can we truly experience Church as God intended.

I’m proclaiming that Church is good and I love her.

Why?

We’re all in this together: We are all cheering each other on in the faith. I have been blown away by people’s repsonse to texts, calls and conversations where I’ve shared about God doing something in and through my life. Recently I’ve been so overwhelmed by the feeling that people are rooting for me to do what God’s called me to, every step I get closer is not just a significant moment for me but for them also. I treasure the texts that read “Ahhhh I’m so excited for you!” and “This is great news…God is so good!” Because in those moments I realise I’m not alone on this journey of faith. God has given the Church to journey with.
I know this to be even more true when people tell me about God doing something in and through their life and I begin to feel the same excitement and praise that they do. It’s the conversations that start “I need to tell you what God’s just done…you’re gonna love it!!!!” that cause me to literally jump up and down for joy, cry with amazement and cause faith to rise up within me.

It’s okay to take the mask off: Church allows us to be real, to stop pretending, to stop staring at the ground in disgrace but look into the eyes of someone else who gets it. We need to be honest and open. We need to be willing to admit our faults, failure and fears. We need to cry the tears we’ve been hiding, reveal the scars we’ve kept covered up and speak the words we’re too afraid to say outloud. When we are with a community of believers we come with the mutual knowledge that although we are saints we are not perfect so we need to keep coming to foot of the cross. No judgement. We love unconditionally, seek forgiveness were needed and point each other to Jesus. Sharing, Praying and Studying with the Church is what helps you begin to experience true community.

Jesus is our bridegroom: As the Church we have the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Great High Priest, The Good Shepherd, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty One, The Everlasting God as our head. We come together as one family to worship the One, True living God. We have the priviledge of loving Him, worshipping Him and Serving Him together. Jesus has left us on earth to be His representatives, to proclaim His Gospel and see people’s lives transformed. In the same way we enter into sharing life together as Church, Jesus enters into sharing life with us also. Unlike other organisations and religions whose leaders and founders set it up and then move on; Our leader, Jesus Christ stays with us, helps, enables, supports and encourages us because faith is incredibly personal yet undeniably communal.

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I appreciate that this may not be everyone’s experience of Church but can I just leave you with a quote from Jeff Bethke speaking about what happens when you bring broken people together and they try to be Church:

In the same way a mosaic is made up of broken, ragged and dirty pieces of glass, so the church is made up of broken, ragged, and dirty people. But when you zoom out and see the whole picture you see something beautiful. Broken people living life together is a beautiful picture.

Maybe like me, you need to reflect on the beauty of Christ’s Church and realise that although she’s not perfect…one day she will be! Please don’t give up!