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.

gift

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.”

“Mum, Is Santa Real?”

This post is inspired by my youngest niece and for kids like her who have just learned the ‘truth’ about Christmas.

I remember that awful day. I was walking home from school trying to muster up the courage to ask my mum the question. I really didn’t want to know the answer but knew I needed to find out once and for all. So I came in, sat on the sofa with her and said; “Mum, tell me the truth is Santa real?”  As much as she wanted to carry on the pretense she knew it was game over, she’d been cornered by a 10 year old who wanted the truth. As she told me about who Santa really was, the flying reindeer…or lack of and why my stocking was always filled with very things I needed I realized Christmas would never be the same for me again. It had lost it’s magic. Everything I loved about Christmas was gone. The twinkly lights didn’t hold the same excitement, I no longer had a need to stick a sign in the front garden to remind Santa to stop by my house and I stopped getting those Christmas Eve butterflies. This lasted for years until suddenly Christmas got real.

I thought it’d be fun to write a letter to my 10 year old self to offer some comfort in light of the heartbreaking news I’d just received. 

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Dear Laura,

Today’s been a rough day. It feels like a cruel day were you have had to grown-up too soon. I mean, couldn’t they have prolonged it a few more years? Couldn’t they have suggested you heard the kids wrong in the playground? Why did they have to explain everything you thought was magical and special? Don’t blame your parents, they are as saddened as you are that this day has come. The day were all your sense of wonder, excitement and awe ended for Christmas.

You’re now left wondering what Christmas is really all about. You loved writing your letter to Santa weeks in advance. You loved reading ‘It was the night before Christmas’ with your dad on Christmas Eve and then listening for reindeer on the roof. You loved waking up on December 25th to be showered with presents and spend the day playing with every single one. But now. Well, now, none of that excites you because it isn’t real.

I have to write you to tell you about the realness of Christmas. You don’t realize this now but in 5 years time your life is going to change forever! It’s going to so dramatically change that you will not be the same person you are in this moment. You are going to experience what Christmas is really about and trust me, it’s way better than any of the junk that’s breaking your heart right now. You know the way you love to sing Christmas Carols in school and how you get really emotional when you hear the line ‘Oh come let us adore Him’ in one of the songs and you don’t know why?

Laura, you soon meet the One they’re singing about. You meet Jesus Christ, love Himself. You realize His great love for you, the price he paid on the cross for your sin so that you can have a brand new life on earth and a home in heaven. You give your life to Him and in an instant you understand the true meaning behind Christmas. You realize that Christmas is not about buying gifts, eating food or believing in fairy tales. You realize that Christmas is about the greatest invasion of love the world has ever seen. You stop pining after the ‘good old days’ when you believed in Santa and sought out all the things you could get given.

The sense of excitement, awe and wonder that you feel you’ve lost today is restored in all it’s fullness. You now know that no amount of twinkly lights could ever give the peace and comfort that comes from spending time with the God of the universe each day in prayer. You recognize that even if you were to read ‘The night before Christmas’ 2000 times it would never create the same excitement, hope and challenge that God’s Word brings to you every time you read it. And amazingly you realize that you could be surrounded by all the possessions in the world but not one of them would be able to satisfy your soul like being loved by Jesus and belonging to the family of God does.

When you take down your decorations (even at 23 you need to learn there’s a thin line between epic and tacky), stop singing Christmas carols (which you still love to do by the way – you also have a new favorite ‘Oh Holy Night’. It gives you goosebumps every time) and whenever you say your goodbyes to family and friends (surprise! You will live in Canada!) Your faith in Jesus Christ won’t just be a warm feeling that stays for December and leaves after the holidays, He will be a constant, steadfast and real presence in your everyday life 365 days a year. Trust me you will question on a regular basis how you lived your life without Him.

You will make it your life ambition to share the Gospel with anyone who will listen to you. Things will change. You will change. There will be good times and bad times but there is only one thing I need you to know right now. God is so faithful. He will never leave you or disappoint you.

I know you are tempted to cry yourself to sleep tonight because you feel Christmas has lost it’s sparkle. But listen up little one, you are loved. Your journey is just about to begin. Who needs a sparkle when you can have the light of the world living inside of you.

Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Lots of love,

You in 13 years

p.s. Keep reading those joke books. That knowledge will come in very handy.

oh holy

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:23

This Christmas may we take time to look beyond the tinsel and see the true heart behind Christmas, may we turn off our holiday playlist long enough to hear the voice of God whispering hope and love to a lost and broken world and may use this Christmas as a God given opportunity to make Him known.

We were made to be creative.

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth… Genesis 1:1 

We worship a creative God. One who knows how to take nothing and turn it into something beautiful. Don’t believe me? Have a wee look at some of these photos I’ve taken recently…

lake 2 lake leaf

We are made in the image and likeness of God. So if He’s creative…guess what? That means we’re creative.

Psalm 139:13-14 says; ‘For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’

God has made you to be you. Don’t hide your creativity… use it to bring glory and honor to the Lord.

If you sing, sing loudly.

If you can draw, draw your heart felt response to God.

If you can dance, dance to the glory of God.

If you can write, start typing… or handwriting (do people still do that?! :P)

If you can bake, rejoice in the Lord as you create tastiness.

If you can build, build in response to who God is.

If you sow, knit or cross-stitch, do it with a happy heart.

If you make music, use it to point others to Jesus.

If you are sporty, play hard and play fair.

If you take photos, use it as a way to explore God’s creativity.

If you do something I haven’t listed, good for you! Get creative, use it as praise and help show the world who the Creator is.

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This world would be boring if we were all the same. God is not a boring God. His creativity knows no end. Pursue Him through your own creativity.

Another sleepless night

Another night of not being able to sleep. You toss and turn but no matter how fast the motion you can’t turn quick enough to make the thoughts fly out of your mind. They’re still there. Each thought, memory and picture becoming more and more vivid. You don’t want to remember anymore, you don’t want to think about the choices you have made, you can’t handle another night closing your eyes only to be reminded of what you so desperately want to forget or escape. You ask yourself; “Why won’t this pain stop? Haven’t I cried enough tears? Am I still not over this?”

The night seems long and lonely, in fact you’ve grown to fear having to go to sleep because it’s not restful and relaxing, it’s painful and difficult. It feels like you’re the only person awake. There is no one to talk to. No where to turn.

Yet if you stop and pause for a moment you will hear the night owls going about their business, if you look up at the sky you will see the moon shining to give light to the world with his little stars as helpers and if you step outside your front door you will feel a gentle breeze causing the trees to bend and move in all directions. Oh precious one, you are not alone. The same God who causes the owls to cry out praise to Him, and tells the moon when to rise and set, the same God who has the power to speak to the wind and it obeys; He is near. He is near to you. 

You are never unnoticed. You are never overlooked. You are constantly being loved by the God who sent His one and only Son to come and die in your place. Those questions you’re fighting, those thoughts that are consuming you, that situation that is engulfing you is nothing in comparison to the love God has for you.

Jesus is calling you today; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 28:11) Don’t you want that rest?

You haven’t strayed too far from Him to not be welcomed back. He is waiting for you with outstretched arms.

Your sin isn’t so bad that you can never be forgiven. Jesus has paid the price. He wants to forgive you and set you free.

You don’t need to ‘get yourself together’ or ‘fix your brokenness’ before you start speaking to God again. He specializes in transforming broken lives into people who are made in the likeness of the wonderful Lord Jesus.

Friend, won’t you come to Him and find everything you’ve been looking for and more? Won’t you have your sins forgiven and experience true peace and joy? Won’t you trust in a love that will never fail? Won’t you give your life to the One who gave His all for you? 

God is near. He is calling you. This is what you’ve been longing for.

“Great weather for maple syrup!”

The battle is won.

You may have thought it was won on Golgotha. It wasn’t.
You may have thought the sign of victory is the empty tomb. It isn’t.
The final battle was won in Gethsemane. And the sign of conquest is Jesus at peace in the Olive trees. For it was in Gethsemane that he made his decision.

HE’D RATHER GO TO HELL FOR YOU, THAN GO TO HEAVEN WITHOUT YOU.
Those same hands that crafted the universe will wipe your cheek. The same hands that clenched as a Roman spike smashed through them, will wipe your face, and brush away your tears – FOREVER.

– Max Lucado

It’s Good Friday… I am so thankful for my Saviour. I am so thankful that He endured the cross for me despite my sinfulness, brokenness and all my failures. I am so thankful that he rose again to bring me new and eternal life. I am so thankful that I am living a life of fullness just like he promised. I am so thankful that he has given me the privilege of serving Him.

What a whirlwind my life has been since I touched down in Canada! If I’m being honest I’m still processing a lot of things…I still cannot put pen to paper and journal everything that has been happening but I trust in good time the Lord will enable me to do so. However, it is so wonderful to finally be where I know God has called me to be. I have experienced the reality of Philippians 4:7 on a whole new level; ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Never once have I felt alone, overwhelmed or doubted my calling and I give God all the praise for that. I truly am at home here and I’m so excited to start living my Canadian life. 

It’s been fun getting used to a new culture and some of their practices:

  • When you go to someones house the first thing you do is take off your shoes! I actually like this because it means you can decorate your toenails nice and pretty. But if you were to do that in Northern Ireland people would start to panic and think you were staying all day!
  • When you walk into a shop within 10 seconds some super smiley staff member comes up and asks “Hey, how are you today?” – When you grow up in NI this is so counter cultural… shop staff being nice?! What?! and they actually stand there until you tell them how you are. Not gonna lie, it’s a little awkward but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
  • Instead of Northern Irish neighbours passing comments about the weather being ‘great for the ducks’, Canadian neighbours chat about the weather being ‘great for maple syrup!’
  • We got new curtains for the house and I said we’d need to iron them before putting them up; I was met with the response “You’re so Northern Irish, everything has to be prim and proper. Canadians don’t iron!” Needless to say, I ironed the curtains haha.
  • I keep forgetting when I speak that I have an accent, which means the people I am are talking to usually don’t listen to what I’m saying because they are too enthralled by the accent and those in the surrounding area stare, a lot.

However somethings remain the same:

  • I got asked if I was over 15 yesterday!
  • I still find my jokes funnier than anyone else
  • Singing Frozen songs is always acceptable no matter what the situation

napanee

I moved to my new house in Napanee on Saturday, spent the weekend getting settled in and then the work started on Monday. We had a kids club Monday night, youth group on Tuesday night and another kids club on Wednesday night. I love that you can go from one country to another yet the kids and young people are somewhat still the same- they are longing to find the meaning of life, they want acceptance and ultimately they need forgiveness of their sin and to meet the living Saviour, Jesus! The method may be different in certain areas but the message is still the same. God answered so many of our prayers this week. He truly is the big God who rules over all things and people, and at the same time he is a personal God who cares about the little details in our lives.

I appreciate this blog isn’t very detailed but I am sending email prayer updates which will be more detailed so let me know if you wish to receive them. I am so thankful for you all,  for your love and support – I continue to pray for you. I take great comfort in knowing that the God who holds me in the palm of His hand also holds you too!

Oh, I forgot to mention my most exciting news since moving… Yesterday I got myself a wee hamster called Norman! He is my new favourite thing!

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Are you called to be a missionary?

It’s Sunday Morning, the Pastor gets up and introduces a missionary couple who are taking the service today. You’re excited, you love hearing stories about God moving in all different parts of the world!

The couple get up to introduce themselves- you notice they’re in the same style clothes as you, they speak exactly the same and you are convinced you recognise them. They start to explain where they are serving the Lord, you nod your head because you feel like you know the place they are talking about, in fact, you feel like you’ve been to the place they are talking about. They flick on the first slide of their PowerPoint and you look at it bewildered. The missionary couple are here to share about how they are serving the Lord in your hometown, their hometown?!

Has this ever happened in your church before? I’d confidentally say it hasn’t (and if it has I want to meet and thank your Pastor for being awesome!)

When you hear the word missionary what do you think of? For me I think of people off in a distant land who live in extreme poverty and share the Gospel with poor, sick, hungry people. In my head they’re usually carrying a cute little african baby or holding the hand of an elderly person. They are the heroes of the faith. They are the ones we base our kids stories on or whose lives we do a Bible study on. We love hearing their stories but deep down we’re kind of glad God hasn’t called us to such extreme levels of faith, sacrifice and surrender.

Oh, this is a little awkward. We appear to have ripped a few pages out of our Bible if this is our viewpoint. We’ve bought into the lie that missionaries are ‘special’ types of Christians, they are more holier and better equipped to share Jesus than the rest of us. However, the truth is when we become Christians, we become missionaries. All of us. Every single person.

Mark 16:15 Jesus tells believers to: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” It is important we realise this is a command, not a suggestion.

We are all called to Go– Go out your front door, meet the people in your area, in your school, at work, on the bus, shopping at Tescos, walking their dog on the beach…[the list is endless] and we are all called to preach the good news– tell people about what Jesus has done in your life, why he came to die, why you are following him, why they should follow him. You can do this in all kinds of ways- you don’t need to stand at a street corner and preach at people (however, God may ask you to do that!) Can we also note that Jesus doesn’t add a little * at the end of this saying; “As long as you have went to Bible College, never messed up, know every scripture of by heart and are a super Christian.”

I know too many Christians who see themselves as second class citizens in the church because they haven’t went down the stereotypical Christian route in life of attending Bible College, leading a ministry, speaking from the front of church. They don’t see themselves as qualified enough to tell people about Jesus. Emm… were the disciples qualified? Don’t believe the lie that you cannot make an impact for the Kingdom. God has made each of us different and given each of us different giftings and abilities to use for his glory. Every Christian is called to be a missionary.

God may not have called you to Africa but he has called you to your local world – the area you live, the people you know, the places you go, the people you walk by daily; it is not a coincidence you are there. God has placed you there as a missionary. He wants you to live your daily life as a signpost to Jesus.

 busy-city-people

Will this be easy? No. Will it involve faith, sacrifice and surrender? Yes. Remember what Jesus said about anyone wanting to become a disciple? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25 It’s not always popular or accepted to be a follower of Jesus, it can be easy to hide our faith in our daily life and only reveal it when we are amongst other Christians or in a safe environment but Jesus died for more than that!

Our hearts should long to see people coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ and… guess what? God is sending us into the world to share that very message with all people; ‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ -Romans 10:14-15

How do we do this? We become everyday missionaries (people who love Jesus and want to share him with others) and we see everywhere as our mission field:

  • At the supermarkets and shops
  • In the doctors, dentists, hospitals
  • On the sports field
  • At the school gate
  • In the classroom
  • Online
  • In the coffee shop
  • In the entertainment industry, the art world and theatres
  • On the buses, boats, planes and trains
  • In the pubs and clubs
  • On the streets
  • This list could go on forever…

This calling may seem terrifying and out of our comfort zone, but the greatest thing is, we are not called to do this on our own. Jesus promises to be with us; “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:20.

What a beautiful privilege it is to share about the One who has saved us from our sin and transformed our life. All believers have a story, a story that needs to be heard by others.

We are everyday missionaries.

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Where is your mission field? How many people could you reach with the Good News of Jesus if you actively lived out your missionary calling?