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.”

The Art of Availability

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How many times a day do you look at the clock?

How many times a week do you check your schedule?

How many times a month do you have a slight breakdown with having so much to do and so little time to do it?

This is the 2014 we’ve created. This is the lifestyle we find acceptable to live. This is the culture we’ve designed… busyness, scheduling  and constant trying to finish something so we can start something else.

“It’s so liberating and freeing.” – said no one ever.

This week I’ve been pondering the art of availability. The art of being there for people at any time. The art of saying no to self and our plans and being present in the moment.

I’ve been reflecting on the life of Jesus and how he mixed with people, communicated with them and loved them. I struggle to find a passage in scripture were it says: “Jesus arranged to meet the leper at 11.30am to heal him.” Or “Jesus knew the woman needed to hear words of hope and healing but he was rushing to do something else so scheduled in a time to speak to her when it suited him better.”

Jesus was available. He had time for people. People saw him as approachable.

One of my favorite stories is Mark 10:46-52; Blind Bartimaeus. If you read this passage you’ll see that Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd were all leaving the city. I don’t know if Jesus had somewhere to be but the scripture makes it clear he was leaving Jericho. But something or should I say someone stopped him from leaving so quickly. Bartimaeus was someone who everyone else saw as an inconvenience, not important and not deserving of Jesus’ time. So when he tried to get Jesus attention people told him to be quiet! They were probably thinking who does this guy think he is? Jesus won’t stoop so low as to talk to a blind guy, a beggar, an outcast – He’s hanging out with us today! But Bartimaeus didn’t give up – he shouted even louder! Now remember Jesus was leaving the city- he was with his friends, he had a huge following, he was a busy guy, he had a calling on his life, a job he had to do but check out verse 49 ‘Jesus stopped…’ Jesus had a choice. He could have ignored this guy who was causing a whole scene, he could have carried on chatting with his friends and teaching the crowd or he could speak to Bartimaeus and disrupt the plans of the day. Jesus knew what he was to do. He spent time with him. In that moment of availability Jesus changed Bartimaeus’ life forever. Bartimaeus gains his sight and becomes a follower of Jesus.

As I write this post I wonder how many ‘moments of availability’ God has placed before me and I have ignored because I was too controlled by my timetable, my plans and my selfishness. I wonder how many you have missed?

When people looked at Jesus they saw someone who was willing to enter into their pain, difficulties, struggles. They saw someone who was willing to celebrate with them, journey with them and share his life with them.

Friends, what do people see when they see us? Can they rely on our availability? Can they share their heart with us and they know we will give them our full attention? In a moment of crisis do they feel like they can call us and we will be there? If God tells us to speak to someone, do something or go somewhere that is contradictory to our own plans are we willing to be obedient?

There is no such thing as wasted time when God is involved. Being obedient to God will never cause us to think ‘Oh that time could have been much better spent doing such and such…’ Let’s shake up the culture we’re living in by actually living in the moment.

One moment of availability could change someone’s life forever. 

Lord, as we go about our day help us be available to the people you have placed in our lives. May we never ignore a moment you have given us to point someone to you, to build someone up or to be used in any way you desire. Make us question our commitments in light of the call you have placed on our lives. In Jesus name we pray, amen. 

“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?

If Jesus opened a youth centre…

Behave, Believe, Belong

Belong, Believe, Behave

What if we accepted young people where they were at?

What if we were willing to create an atmopshere that welcomed them?

What if our rules weren’t built around our values and our opinions?

This got me thinking. If Jesus opened a youth centre what would it look like?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think Jesus’ Youth Centre would:

  • Be open 24/7
  • Provide FREE meals so young people who can’t afford to eat right will be fed 3 decent meals a day
  • Have leaders that knew every young person’s name and their individual story. No one would go unnoticed.
  • Be warm and cosy inside
  • Have a smoking section outside with leaders willing to stand and chat to young people
  • Have flooring that is muddy from the shoes of the guys who were outside playing football
  • Be a place where young people could be real and not have to choose their words carefully
  • Have onsite teachers willing to help those who are not in education or need extra help
  • Be staffed by leaders who spoke truth into young people’s lives, encouraged them and supported them through everything
  • Be covered in baby toys from the teenage mums bringing their kids in and leaders would look after the wee ones while their mums have a break
  • Be a place where hugs are freely given and you’d never leave without hearing “you are loved”
  • Have an art room and music room so young people can express themselves…untamed!
  • Provide beds for homeless teenagers- FREE of charge
  • Have space to chill out and reflect
  • Be a place where tears, laughter and swearing is accepted
  • Be in the middle of the roughest area yet the windows would have no bars on them.
  • Be young people’s favourite place to go to!

Why would it look like this? Because by being shown acceptance you experience love, and by experiencing love, you meet love Himself.

Jesus welcomes everyone, so should we.

What Works?

I’ve been asked this question many times this week with regards to ministry (I’d like to add this is with regards to long-term ministry). It’s been something that God has been revealing to me ever more clearly this past month or so.
“What works?” in other words; “How do we best share/express the Gospel with people who have no affiliation with Church, Christianity or Jesus?” When asked this question there is only ever one answer I give; “Love, unconditional love.”

I’ve seen people’s reaction when I say that. I’ve experienced the people who will tell me that it is not enough because I need to openly vocalise the Gospel, clearly pointing out people’s sin and their need of a Saviour. I’ve watched as people slump back in their chair with a smug smile on their face because they think this idea of love is simple.  I’ve had people come up to me with tears in their eyes and ask “How do you do that?”

Before I carry on I want to explicitly say that I am a firm believer in sharing the whole Gospel with people, not just through actions but through conversation as well. However, I have found the door of this opportunity opens when people know they are truly loved. People are not projects. When people become projects for you then your love is fake and your message is tainted.

What does unconditional love look like?

  • Unconditional love sees someone at their worst but chooses to view them in light of their best.
  • Unconditional love asks the difficult and honest questions without shuddering at the answers.
  • Unconditional love witnesses the heartbreak and pain in people’s lives and helps pick up the pieces without fear of getting hurt in the process.
  • Unconditional love gets disappointed and rejected, yet it never gives up.
  • Unconditional love cries with people in the moment but knows and believes for the better days that are to come.
  • Unconditional love doesn’t scream “I told you so” but softly reminds that there’s grace to carry on and forgiveness to start over.
  • Unconditional love holds it’s arms out for a hug regardless of what people think.
  • Unconditional love says “I won’t walk away no matter how far you push me.”

I believe with all my heart that when we practice unconditional love we reflect the heart of God the Father. People start asking why we haven’t given up on them, or why we’re still there. What perfect way to share the Gospel explaining that we only love because we know love Himself and He is desiring more people to come and know Him.

You see the truth is, people don’t experience our love. They experience His.
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‘If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.’ – 1 John 4:15-19