“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.

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“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.

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. 

Why I’m moving to Canada

“Laura, why are you moving to Canada?”

“Because God told me to.”

“How?”

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The summer after my first year at university I went to visit my brother who had recently moved to Canada. I’d been before as a kid but could not remember anything about it! (Much to my parent’s delight after spending a fortune to bring us out there!) I spent the 5 weeks there just holidaying, visiting family and seeing around the place. It was beautiful. During my 5 weeks I attended a church in the local area. One Sunday morning an older lady came up to me and we started chatting. I remember her getting really excited and saying “You’re Irish so you must know about the Faith Mission? They’ve a camp around here would you like to go visit it?”

Okay. Disclaimer- yes I did know of the Faith Mission but I didn’t know much about the Faith Mission. So we went up to Campbellville to visit the camp- I’d never been to a camp before so this blew my mind. We drove up the driveway and there were kids running around on the grass outside, swinging off trees, sitting at the picnic tables chatting. It was the classic ‘kids camp’ experience. I got to meet some of the staff, sit in on the chapel time and see the general happenings of camp life. In that moment, I was converted. I knew I wanted to be part of this at some point. Before I left I chatted with the boss and I remember him clearly saying in a jokey way “Sure, who knew you’d be popping up to Campbellville when you came over for a holiday!” and the lady that took me replied “The Lord did.” 

That was the start of my Faith Mission in Canada story. One meeting, one evening, one simple conversation, one stirred heart.

As we drove away I prayed “Lord, I’d really like to serve here one summer.” My heart had fallen in love with Canada.

My brother took me to the airport and as I was at the check-in counter he asked; “You looking forward to going home?” I started to cry and said; “No, I’m dreading going home, I love it here!” This was so out of character for me. I was a home-bird. I loved Northern Ireland. I wasn’t a fan of travelling. I knew then that God was starting a work in my heart.

I got home to not-so-sunny Northern Ireland, went straight back into my second year of university, youth work and life. But I kept daydreaming about Canada. I just knew I was supposed to go and serve at camp so I booked my flights for the following summer and served for 4 weeks there. This was the game-changer for me. God really started revealing the possibility of me moving to Canada at some point in my life. But when? God knew I had another year of university, he knew I was thinking about marriage and the future, he knew I really wanted to be a youth worker, he knew how much I loved all my family and friends.

Before I flew home that summer I prayer “Lord, I would really love to come and serve here again next summer. If it’s Your will please work it all out.” 

And so began my final year at university- you know that year. Where you’ve to start looking towards the future, applying for jobs, figuring out where you’re going to be or what you’re going to do because let’s face it, you can’t be a student the rest of your life! I had some pretty tough decisions to make. Each year I would go to a national youth worker conference in Eastbourne in November but the run up to leaving that year had just been crazy- I was so confused about God’s plan for my life, there were almost too many options. So before I set of for that conference I said “God I’m giving you this whole weekend to speak to me. I won’t be distracted or rushing around. I am willing to obey whatever you ask me to do.” (You ever prayed those prayers? They are scary- you have just made a promise to God, like…He won’t forget!!!) I got to the conference and on the Saturday afternoon I went to the prayer room and sat before the Lord. He lead me to

Isaiah 6:8: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

I knew God was calling me to share the Gospel with people but I just didn’t know where, when or how. So I asked him.

Then I heard him ask me in my heart;Laura, do you trust me?” 

“God you know I trust you!”

“Laura, do you trust me?”

“Yes, Lord I trust you.”

“Do you trust me with your life?”

“Of course I do. I gave my life to you and trust you completely!”

“Do you believe that my plans for you are better than your plans for you?”

“Yes, Lord, I know you’re plans are better than my plans.” 

Then came the sledge hammer in my heart

“I want you to be ready to go where I call you to go.” He then proceeded to ask me to give up the most important thing in my life at that time.

It’s easy to say yes to God when it works within our own timescale, our own plans, our own situations. It is so much more harder to say yes to God when it causes us great sacrifice. I don’t write this half-heartedly, I write this from the memory of the tears, of the sleepless nights, of the questioning, of the doubting, of the heartbreak. But I also write this from the deepest place of knowing God’s love, his faithfulness, his care, his provision, his answers. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, he gave up his life so that we may have life in and through him. Who am I to say no to some form of sacrifice?

I pressed on with uni and ministry, I applied for job after job with rejection letter and after rejection letter. I was losing hope, and losing it quickly! “God what are you doing?! You called me to study youth ministry, you know that’s where my heart is at! Why can’t I get a job?” In the midst of all this I received an email from Faith Mission asking me to come and serve with them that summer (2013) Needless to say I jumped up and down when I got that email because God had been answering prayers I wasn’t aware I was praying…but I now realise he was answering the prayers of other people who were praying!

Throughout my whole uni course I met with my Pastor regularly and within the last few months of my placement with my church I couldn’t help but notice the random (well, what I thought at the time were random) statements he would make mid-conversations.

“You know no matter where you go Towerview will always be your home church, right?”

“See if you ever send prayer letters out to people, make sure you include us in the mailing list.”

And then one day after we’d finished praying he said; “I don’t know if this means anything to you but while we were praying the Lord showed me a picture of you as a missionary and then he gave me the verse Mark 16:15 ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel'”

I remember getting quite frustrated and thinking ‘I’ve told you so many times I want to stay in Northern Ireland and do youth ministry… I don’t get why you’re saying things like that!’ (I’ve since repented!)

It was nearing the end of June, I had no job prospects for when I return from Canada in late August and I knew I was doing everyone’s head in because I had no life plan. I finished packing my case, got on my knees and prayed; “Lord, I am giving you this summer. Show me what you want me to do with my life, I will go wherever you want and I will do whatever you ask. Just please make it clear.” 

And oh boy, did the Lord make it clear.

As I stepped through the departure gates in Dublin airport I got the overwhelming feeling that the next time I do this it will be with a one way ticket and it will be to Canada. How on earth do you process that when you’re heading over for what you assume is just the summer?! And as soon as the plane touched down my heart pipes up “aww I’m home!”

I spent a few days at my brothers and then headed to go and do VBS and camps. I had only walked in through the door when one of the girls I’d met the previous year asked; “How’s things? So are you thinking about joining the mission?” I was like “emm… no, the Lord knows that my hearts in youth ministry so I don’t think the mission is for me.” Looking back she must have thought I was awful rude. But she just smiled as if to say “We’ll see”

As the days went on and the more I prayed God began to awaken my heart to the realisation that there was a reason I had to sacrifice things in my life, there was a reason why I didn’t get any of the jobs I applied for, there was a reason I had no idea what I was going to do in September. The reason was, he wanted me to join the Faith Mission in Canada! He showed me that just because he had given me a passion for youth ministry didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy and be passionate about other forms of ministry too.

It was Canada Day weekend and we were hanging out at one the worker’s houses, the room went quiet and she just asked…“Well?” and I knew exactly what she asking about, I replied; “I have too much peace about it for it not to be from God. I have to apply to join the mission.”

When I told my church family about it the common response was; “We all knew you were going to Canada to join The Faith Mission. We were just waiting for you to realise it.”

The Lord keeps asking me on a daily basis; “Laura, do you trust me?” and in light of how far he’s brought me and how good I know he is, my heart rejoices to say; “Yes Lord, I trust you and I will keep on trusting you!”

And that my friends, is how I ended up moving to Canada.

[There were also other stories, scripture and people that God used to lead me but I’d be writing all day if I included those!]

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Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4

To find out about more about Faith Mission (in Canada) head over to www.faithmissioncanada.org

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.

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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?