Christianity

You are in the Potter’s hands

I once read a story about some grandparents who were looking for a gift for their granddaughter.  There are many different versions of the story told on the Internet, but this is one of my favourite versions…

Searching for a gift for their granddaughter, some grandparents walked into a gift shop and spotted on a shelf, a beautiful, artistic vase.  

“Look at this lovely piece of work,” the grandmother said to her husband.
The grandfather picked it up and said, “You’re right! This is one of the most beautiful vases I have ever seen.”

At that point, to their surprise,  the vase started to speak and it said to the couple, “Thank you for the compliment. But I wasn’t always beautiful.”

And the grandfather says, “What do you mean, you weren’t always beautiful?”

“Well,” said the vase, “once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay. But one day a man with dirty, wet hands threw me onto a wheel. Then he started turning me around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man with the wet hands said, ‘Not yet.’

“Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man said, ‘Not yet.’

Each time I thought he was finished, he would crumble and roll me up and begin to poke and punch me again.

“Finally he did stop. But then he did something much worse; he put me into a furnace. It got hotter and hotter until I couldn’t stand it. ‘Stop! Stop! I cried.

But the man said, ‘Not yet.’

“Finally when I thought I was going to burn up, the man took me out of the furnace. Then some lady began to paint me and the fumes got so bad they made me feel sick. ‘

‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried.

‘Not yet,’ said the lady.

Finally she did stop.

“But then she gave me back to the man and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before.

‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. But the man said, ‘Not yet.’

Finally he took me out of the furnace and let me cool.

When I was completely cool, a lady put me on this shelf next to this mirror and when I looked at the mirror I could not believe what I saw.

I was no longer ugly, soggy and dirty.

I was beautiful, firm and clean.

It was then I realised that without all of that pain I would still be the ugly, soggy lump of wet clay.

When I read this story, I was so moved and it reminded me very much of the story of the potter which is found in Jeremiah 18.  In this  chapter, the Lord reminds Jeremiah that the people are in his hands and despite their unfaithfulness, he will not forget them.

There is so much we can learn from the picture of God as a potter, shaping our lives according to his amazing plan.  Recently I shared these thoughts with some of our UCB team leaders and I want to share them with you too.

God has a plan

Firstly, in all circumstances of life, remember that God had the picture of what your life would look like, in his mind before you set off. Before the clay was even pulled out of the ground, God had a design in mind for not only your life but also for the people you will be working with, in his plan and purpose.

God watches over us

No matter what we go through, our Heavenly Father keeps his eye upon us every step of the way and in each stage of the process. There will be times in all of our lives where we do not feel him near and we may even wonder if God has forgotten us, but that is not true. He is always faithful to his plans and promises and that includes his plans for your life.

There is a process

To become who God wants us to be, there is a process that must take place. Just as with the process of making a beautiful vase, first of all, the clay has to be prepared and has to be pressed down, to get the air out even before it gets on the wheel.

Secondly, when the clay is first placed on the wheel, it is an undefined blob. It looks nothing like the vision the potter has, for what it will become. Being ‘on the wheel’ is a painful process as we are spinned through all the busyness and patterns and cycles of life. But each spin is necessary, for shaping us, defining us, moulding us into the shape the potter has in mind.

After the clay is spun, it’s placed in the furnace, not to hurt or crack it, but to make sure it is fit for purpose! I am sure we can all testify to life being like a furnace sometimes – grief, loss, betrayal, rejection – all part of the furnace of life. But it is a key part of the Potter’s purpose.

But when we are finally taken out of the furnace and left on a shelf to cool, we might think that God had finished with us. But this is not the time to get complacent! In fact, this is a crucial time where it’s important to remain focused and not give in to temptations. This is ‘God’s waiting room’ where we wait to see what he will make of us!

When the potter is ready, when we have been tested, found to be secure and fit for purpose, this is when God is able to paint a beautiful design with our lives. But as much as we would love to think that testing and trials are over, this is not the case!

In fact, in the next step, the glazing process, the fire might be even hotter! It does not sound like a very good process, does it? And yet, when our lives are in the Potter’s hands, it is the safest place in the world to be. He stamps us with his seal of ownership, he says ‘you are mine’ and ‘though you walk through the fire, I will be with you’.

As believers, we belong to the Potter.

And whatever we go through, whatever part of the process we are in, we can be assured of one thing, he has a plan for us, our lives, our world.

To me, that is the greatest comfort of all.

 

Christianity

Experiencing the favour of God

At the end of each year, I always take time to think and pray about the year that has just passed and ask God for a word for the year ahead.

In November, in preparation for 2019, I was studying the story of the widow and the jars of oil (found in 2 Kings 4) and I found so much in the story that encouraged me. I would like to share some of these thoughts, but I want to first give you an overview of UCB’s ministry from 2018.

It is fair to say that 2018 was an unprecedented year and although we do not publicise everything that happens,  it followed a very difficult financial year in 2017.  As we moved into 2018, I felt God was saying that if we were willing to make a choice and trust him, God would lead us into unexpected favour.   After a year of great uncertainty, in 2018, we began to see the outpouring of unexpected favour and blessing.  I see ‘unprecedented favour’ as something we could not have achieved by ourselves, but something that must surely have only come from God.  We saw this favour in several areas, but there were 3 specific areas that we want to give thanks and praise for.

In 2018, we unexpectedly  had a phone call from our DAB providers, letting us know it would be possible to increase the reach of UCB 2 up to 4 million more people.  This was something that had never been discussed before and in human terms, certainly did not seem possible, and yet we were being offered the opportunity to reach so many more people.  I saw this very much as a ‘tick from God’.  It was not something we could have done ourselves…it was the favour of God.

Secondly we saw God move in a very complex legal situation we have been involved in, for over 10 years.  Again, although we had sought to deal with the situation with integrity and honesty, fixing it was beyond our control.  And yet, somehow, God moved and the whole situation was resolved.

And then in 2018, we also began to see a change in our finances. 2017 was a very tough financial year but in 2018, our heart was to see this dramatically change.

Here is what happened! In 30 years of UCB’s history, there has only been 1 year where the organisation has been totally debt free and our heart was that this would happen again. We not only had a positive financial year, but we were able to pay off a long-standing debt.

God turned up in a miraculous way to lead us into 2019, in a way we could absolutely never have imagined.

So, as UCB moves ahead into 2019, what does the year ahead look for us?

Well, as I studied the story of the widow and the miracle of the jars in oil, I felt God highlight some specific areas, which I believe are to be UCB’s focus for 2019.  Perhaps you can draw something from this, for your own life too?

2 Kings 4 tells us that a widow went to the prophet Elisha, as she had lost everything and now the creditors were threatening to take her sons away.  She was nearly destitute and so she turned in anguish to the prophet, looking for help.  Elisha first asked her what she had at home.  Was there something she could sell?  But the widow had nothing.  As I read this, I was struck by the widow’s perspective.  She was focused completely on what she had lost and what she was about to lose.  Oh how the enemy wants us to focus on the negative, so that we cannot see or recognise the breakthrough that God wants us to experience.

This for me, is one of the reasons why Christian media is so important.  We live in a world where national media often focuses on the negative, on the depressing news that is around us.  But Christian media, such as ourselves, Premier and the many others who are engaged in this work around the world, exists to provide a powerful and positive influence in people’s lives.

My prayer for us as an organisation (and for you too) is that in 2019,  we will learn to focus fully on what we HAVE and not on what we have not.

Also in this story, is the idea of capacity.  Elisha instructs the widow to ask her neighbours and to gather up as many empty vessels as they could find.  God wants to give us more than what we believe is possible, but all too often our capacity for receiving  is diminished.  We do not have enough empty vessels!  But I believe our capacity will determine the flow and it is important to think big.  No, we don’t want to think unwisely or ask God for blessing so that we can use it selfishly, but we DO want to be ready to have all that he is willing and able to give.

So, let’s think bigger…let’s not be unwise but at the same time, let’s think BIG about what God could do.

You have within you, the fullness of the godhead, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, lives in US. So, as we get 2019 off to a fresh start, let us be expectant, focus on what we have (not on what we don’t) and be ready and expectant for God to do something bigger than we could have ever imagined!

From myself and the UCB team….have a blessed 2019!

 

Christianity

Don’t lose the wonder of Christmas…

My granddaughter is 2 and a half years old and recently she has discovered the wonder of Christmas. We talk to her on Facetime and she shows us the Christmas tree and then on another day, she shows us her Christmas jumper or Christmas presents she has received.

Through her excitement, our family is re-discovering the wonder of Christmas too.

Wonder is literally, ‘the feeling of amazement, of being aware of something remarkable happening around you’.  But perhaps, in all the noise and excitement of the Christmas season, you have lost some of the wonder of what Christmas is really all about? 

At this time of year, there will be two camps of people – those who will be celebrating and who will be excited at all that is to come and those who may be feeling sad, unhappy and not really enjoying the journey.

But the good news is, no matter what our circumstances or feelings, we CAN still enjoy the wonder of this season (just like my granddaughter) if we choose to focus on the really important, wondrous things that God has given us.

The 7 wonders of Christmas

 1. We have been given the wonder of SALVATION.  Can you imagine?  The creator of the universe left all glory, to become flesh, to become one of us.  He chose to be constrained into a physical body, with one goal and purpose – to fulfil God’s plan for mankind.  We hear the story so often, that it can be easy to take it for granted. But let’s focus on the beautiful wonder of salvation this Christmastime

2.    Mary encountered the favour of God and through her obedience, we too now have ultimate access to the wonder of FAVOUR.  No longer is favour a restricted gift for just a few, it is now available to all.  You know, other religions often teach that people have to do something in order to get the favour and blessing of God.  But as believers in Jesus, all we have to do is accept it.  It is a free gift that is available to all who believe.

3.   Let’s also not forget the wonder of God’s blessings. Let’s be grateful for every thing we have and not take our blessings for granted. He blesses us with so many gifts – forgiveness of sins, healing and so much more.  Although your circumstances might look difficult, let’s remember to look at the blessings God has given us and not look at what we don’t have or what we might have lost.

4.  We also have the wonder of God’s leading and direction.  Can you imagine what Joseph went through?  He was told that his fiancée was pregnant and in that time and culture, that was almost unthinkable. Despite the confusion and fear he must have felt, he was also able to recognise the voice of God.  Sometimes in the noise around us, we can lose the ‘wonder of the whisper’.  Joseph heard the whisper of God in a dream, which gave him direction and clarity.  And we too can have the wonder of direction from God, if we pause and choose to listen.

5.    We also have the wonder of Joy.  Oh yes, joy can be tarnished by the circumstances we are in, but if we look at the situation and not at the inward gift of joy, we could miss the wonder of it all.  Perhaps this Christmas, there is an empty chair at your table or you have experienced loss of some kind.  I know how this feels!  Many years ago, our family’s first Christmas after we lost our son Jamie, I was very aware of the empty chair. But yet through it all, by focusing on what we had (and not on what we had lost), we were able to hang on to joy (even though it was tarnished by what we had lost).

6.    We were never promised a life without trouble or tribulation, but as believers, we were promised that we could have the wonder of peace.  We all experience storms in our lives but storms come and storms go.  Let’s recognise the wonder of the Prince of Peace, let’s be thankful for his enduring presence, in the middle of the most difficult of circumstances.  Don’t let the enemy steal from you, the wonder of God’s peace!

7.     Finally, none of these wonders would be even possible, if it wasn’t for the wonder of redemption. Jesus saw each of us as so priceless that he was prepared to be born, in order to die for the entire world. We couldn’t pay the debt we owed ourselves and so God bought us and redeemed us, so that he could show us his perfect plan.  What a wonder – the perfect gift of redemption.

As Christmas approaches, some of you will be feeling sad and sorrowful but can I encourage you today, to focus on the true wonders of Christmas.  These are all the things I have listed above and you could probably list some of your own too!

Whatever you are going through, whatever season you are in, don’t let the enemy steal from you, the true wonders of Christmas.

Christian Media, Christian Radio, Christianity, Devotional, Faith

Don’t be distracted

Some time ago, I felt God give me a very clear warning – to be on my guard against ‘distraction’.   When you are working toward a God-given vision, distractions will come and not every distraction immediately looks ‘wrong’.  Sometimes a distraction can come in the form of a compliment (which massages our ego) or in the form of an interesting invitation.  And sometimes it comes (more obviously) in the form of a fiery dart

In the book of Nehemiah, we are given some very clear principles on how to avoid distraction.  In chapter 6, Nehemiah was busy rebuilding the temple wall.  He had a clear vision and mandate from God but Scripture tells us that Nehemiah’s enemies tried several times to distract him from finishing the wall.  And they used many different tactics. There is much to learn from this story

Invitation

When Nehemiah’s enemies, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem discovered that Nehemiah had nearly finished the wall, they issued him an invitation.  We do not know how the invitation was sent, but we do know they requested to meet with Nehemiah in the plain of Ono.   As leaders, sometimes we are sent flattering invitations and to avoid embarrassment, we can say yes to things which distract us from the calling God has given us.  But Nehemiah was focused on the job he was meant to do and he had a sense that these people were planning to do him harm, so he turned down the offer.

Insinuation

Nehemiah’s enemies were not going to take no for an answer. Scripture tells us they continued to try and distract him and in fact, they sent him an invitation four times.  When this failed, they tried a new strategy – insinuation.  They told Nehemiah they had ‘heard a rumour’ that he was planning to build a new kingdom and make himself the king.   Nehemiah had the strength to simply say, ‘there is no truth in your story’ and once again, he declined their invitation to meet and discuss it.   This obvious distraction only strengthened Nehemiah’s resolve and he became even more determined to finish the project on time.

Intimidation

When insinuation didn’t work, Nehemiah’s enemies tried to intimidate him. Nehemiah was warned that he should lock himself in the temple as his enemies were going to kill him that night, but Nehemiah knew he could not run from danger and he also knew that if he went into the temple (a place reserved for the priests), he would be violating God’s law.   Through it all, Nehemiah remained intentional and focused on his goal, to get the wall built.  Scripture tells us that the wall was completed in just 52 days and his enemies realised the work was done ‘with the help of God’.

If you are a leader, can I encourage you to be aware of distractions?  I believe the enemy is trying to draw leaders into distraction and to divert them far away from the vision God has given them.  The enemy can do this through flattery, as well as by sending people to attack our character or intimidate us.  But staying intentional in all we do, focusing on the plan and the promise, will help us to see it through to its fulfillment.

Can I encourage you today too, to remain focused on the plan and the vision God has given you and like Nehemiah, to not be led astray by distractions.

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#EUReferendum, Christian Media, Christian Radio, Christianity, Evangelism, Faith

Can you be friends, even when you disagree on politics?

Every day, our news channels and Social Media pages are filled with stories which could make us angry.  There are many viewpoints expressed on big political issues and it can leave us wondering if it is possible to have a sensible discussion, when we disagree with someone.

So, is it possible, as Christians to remain friends with people with whom we disagree?

I think the answer is simple: yes!  But it takes wisdom and discernment to find a way through.

In a time of tension, I thought I would share some practical tips.

Be intentional and attentive

My wife says I sometimes have ‘selective listening’ and in any political discussion, it is true that we often only hear what we want to hear.  If we are debating an issue with a friend, we have to make time to be intentional in the questions we ask and also to be attentive.  When we pay attention and really listen, we are able to hear not just the words that are being spoken, but what our friend is actually saying. 

Don’t crusade

This is an old word now but to ‘crusade’ means to be part of a vigorous campaign for political, social, or religious change.  When talking to friends, we can be guilty of this.  We might have strong views on a subject but our chief objective is to try and get them to ‘join our camp’ and change their views, rather than have an honest discussion.  When we stop trying to persuade others to our way of thinking, we open ourselves up to understanding their views.

Relationship over winning

This is an important question to ask ourselves in any discussion;  what is more important to me?  The relationship I have with my friend or ‘winning’?  It’s important to remember that in many senses, our friends’ views are sometimes a reflection of their identity.  So when we try to ‘win’, they might see it as a rejection of themselves as a person.  If we score our friendship highly and want it to remain in place, then we should always choose relationship over winning.

Beware of Social Media

I personally do not share political or controversial posts on Social Media.  There are a few reasons for this but one reason is that I do not want to be defined as a person who cannot have a reasonable discussion.  I would far rather talk about big issues around a dinner table, where people can understand my heart and passion.  On a screen (where many others can see), it is very easy to misunderstand what a person means, so I avoid anything like that.

Agree to disagree

Sometimes, if we feel ourselves getting emotional or angry, we need to have the courage to walk away from the conversation.  It is good to ask yourself the question; where is this conversation going?  Is it leading to a good resolution?  Or is it leading to more anger and upset?   We have to be able to agree to disagree.

So, in answer to the question, is it possible to remain friends with people, we have differences with, then I would go back to where I started and say a firm ‘yes’.  As always, we need to apply wisdom and kindness and above all, let us put our relationship first.

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Christian Media, Christian Radio, Christianity, Devotional, Evangelism, Faith, Healing, Hope

You are not a failure…

Failure is part of life.  I can tell you this from personal experience.  From seeing dreams not fulfilled, to making regretful mistakes, we all have the capacity to fail.  But failure can also be a fundamental process, the ‘missing ingredient’ which helps to push us toward success.

When we fail at something, our natural instinct is often to feel ashamed and disappointed.  We don’t like feeling degraded and humiliated, but this is where we need to shift our thinking.  If we can begin to see failure not as the end, but as part of a valuable process on the way to success, we can learn a great deal.

Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”.  And this is so true!

The way we think about ourselves will determine our beliefs. Our beliefs will determine our expectations, our expectations will determine our attitudes, our attitudes will determine our behaviour, our behaviour will determine our performance. And our performance will determine who we become and which ultimately determines our destiny.

We need to make sure that failure is seen from the right perspective – as the greatest teacher and not as the greatest shame!  The sooner we stop devaluing ourselves because of our failures, the easier it will be to turn them to our advantage.

I remember as a child, on my first day at a new school, a teacher asked the class what we wanted to do when we grew up. When it was my turn, I told her I wanted to be a surgeon and she laughed and said, ‘do you realise David, that is a lot of studying?  I can’t see you doing it. I can see you emptying dust bins’.

For many years, those words affected my thoughts.  I felt like a failure and I thought to myself, ‘what is the point in trying, if I am not capable of achieving much?’

However, when I rededicated my life to the Lord when I was 18, everything changed!  I discovered what God thought about me and that His Words could erase the past and delete all the harmful words that had impacted my life. I remember as if it was yesterday! God gave me a dream, that although I was a porter/cleaner at that point, I could get to the boardroom.  I remember saying these words, “how can this be?” as I had messed up my education and had no qualifications.  And yet I soon learned that God’s Word had everything I needed to educate me for a successful life.  God was able to reveal business principles to help me with my dreams and years later my dream became a reality, when in 1995 I was appointed to lead a discount chain of a major organisation.

Here is what I’ve learned in that journey!

  • Man’s labels must not affect what I think about myself.   The only labels that should shape my thought process, should be the label that God has put on me! He says that I am called, that I am qualified, that with his power and strength at work in me, I can do great exploits for the kingdom
  • Beware of how you think about yourself.  Never forget that when you are speaking, YOU are listening.  Negative self-talk can be very destructive especially after failure or if you’re struggling with the labels that people have put on you.  Ask God to help you resist the thoughts that lead you to label yourself as useless and worthless.  God thinks more highly of you than you will ever imagine.
  • Remember disappointment is inevitable but make sure that it doesn’t take over your life. Pick yourself up after any failure and allow your failures to become your greatest teacher.
  • Your past failures will shape your future if you allow it and too often we allow our past mistakes to define us.  WELL DON’T!! Even failure does not have to be fatal …. failure can be your greatest teacher!  If your past is a total failure, your future does not depend on it. God can turn your past mistakes into miracles, for your future depends not on what you’ve done but on what He’s done for you.

Christianity

You are loved more than you will ever know

It’s Fathers’ Day this weekend and this time of year often makes me reflect on the story of the Prodigal Son.

In Luke 15, it says the son, although living in a wealthy home, decided to break free from the family he had been raised with. He wanted his inheritance early so he could explore the world for himself.

He went to his father and asked for what was owed to him, not realising that by exploring the world on his own, he was removing himself from his foundation, from the source of everything that was good in his life.

Over time, the son ran out of money and found himself eating pig food to survive. However, despite making a terrible mess of his life, he was still the son of a very wealthy man. He had walked away and made very bad choices, but his father still loved him.

The son decided to go home and ask if he could be a servant in his father’s home to repay his debt. However God’s Word tells us that when the father saw his son, he ran to him and embraced him. You see, no matter what the son had done, he was still a son. No matter what he did, he would always be the son of a very influential man.

We can take many thoughts from this story but it makes me think about the nature of fatherhood and how can we rely on our Heavenly Father, no matter what we go through in life.

I am a father and a grandfather, and as a dad, I am part of the foundation of my family. It is my job to bear the burdens and responsibilities of my family, as well as enjoy the many blessings. Some years ago, I wrote an acrostic of the word ‘Father’, which has helped to remind me of what a Father looks like and what our Heavenly Father longs to do for us.

Our Father is…

Faithful: “It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23)

Although grown up with families of their own, my kids expect me to be faithful. I am committed to being faithful to them and our family and in the same way, we can trust God to be faithful to us. Just like the story of the prodigal son, He is faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to Him.

Able

‘Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us’. (Ephesians 3:20)

When my children were younger, I was aware that they hung on to every word I said. It is the same with our Heavenly Father, we can hang on to every word He says, because He is able, to do more than we can ever imagine or think.

Trustworthy

“No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said.” (Psalms 89:34).”

In the same way that my children expected me to be faithful, they knew also that I was trustworthy. Although I did not always get things right, they could always trust me. It is the same with God – we CAN trust Him.

Hope in Hopelessness

‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.’ Isaiah 40:31

Even after the death of our son Jamie, we discovered that God gave us hope in the middle of a hopeless situation. We don’t always get the good outcome that we hope for, but even in a very broken world, there is still hope. This is the hope our Father gives us – He came to die for us, to give us the gift of hope.

Everlasting

“…I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn thee (Jeremiah 31:3).”

God is also everlasting, and His presence is with us wherever we go and whatever we do. As an earthly father, I love my kids with every cell of my being and over the years, I have worked hard to provide for them. As I have grown older, I have realised that the most precious gift I could give them was my presence, not any fancy gadget. God’s love for us is everlasting and He wants us to be and live in His presence.

Reliable/Relevant

“….for He has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you”. (Heb 13:5) – The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; (Psalms 121:5)

As a dad, when my children were younger, I would often get up in the night to check on them. If they were uncovered, I would pull the blankets up and make sure they were sleeping peacefully. The Word says that God watches over us, but (unlike a human father), He never slumbers or sleeps. He is reliable and relevant in every situation.

That is what a picture of our Heavenly Father looks like and it is a great picture to cling to.

But what if you did not have a good father? I am blessed because my father was a wonderful dad and a Godly man, but for those who did not have that experience, this is where you can learn to love your heavenly Father.

He is the Father to the fatherless! Humans and earthly dads can let us down, but the Creator of the universe calls himself ‘Abba’ meaning ‘Daddy’. We can go to Him at any time, He is our sustainer and He can lift our heads high with hope. He knows when we feel alone or unloved and even in death, He remains the resurrection and the life.

Even if your experience of fatherhood has been flawed, there is a great, heavenly Father who will always care for us, no matter what we go through.

He is the perfect example of Fatherhood and He is available to us all.

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