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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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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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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.

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The ultimate sacrifice

Last week, the world watched in shock as a gunman took hostages in a French supermarket.  There was a tense siege and then in a remarkable act of courage, policeman, Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame offered to step in and trade places with one of the hostages. As we now know, sadly Arnaud Beltrame was later shot by the gunman and some time later, died from his injuries.

Arnaud was willing to walk to his death by offering to swap places with a hostage victim, who was being held by a man we now know was a terrorist who had declared his allegiance to Islamic State.  What an extraordinary act of courage!  I would like to express our thoughts and prayers to Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame’s family and all those who have lost a love one in this tragedy.

This very sad story (although amazing in itself) reminds me of another even more extraordinary story that we find in the scriptures. It’s the story of a man called Jesus who was willing to leave all glory behind and come down here to earth to trade his life, for the life of mankind.

In other words, he willingly swopped his life for ours, to give us the opportunity to be freed from the enemy who was holding us hostage to sin.

John 15:13 tells us, ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. We can say that Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame demonstrated an amazing sacrifice by being willing to give his life for hostages that were strangers to him. How amazing is that?  And it is right that he is honoured.

But how much should we honour Jesus Christ?  He not only became our ultimate sacrifice but He actually chose and willingly gave Himself up, yes even to the horrible death of the cross!  Nothing that happened in His life was ever forced on Him or came to Him by surprise or even by accident, but it was all something Jesus consciously and willingly gave Himself over to do.  Jesus says very clearly in John 10: “No one takes My lifefrom me … but I lay it down of myself.”  Isn’t it amazing that he would become our substitute so that you and I would live not just for the now, but for eternity?

Lt Col Arnaud’s incredible act of courage is almost hard for us to believe or understand, and although it can’t compare to the Gospel story, it paints a vivid picture to us and helps us to understand (in human terms) the extraordinary sacrifice Jesus made.

Jesus planned, pursued us and in fact willingly gave Himself in every detail, from His incarnation to His last breath on the cross. Jesus as the Good Shepherd came to give life and that more abundantly, even as He voluntarily gave Himself over to death, so that sinners like me and you could be redeemed.  I believe that is a good reason to trust Him and to live also in humble gratitude, giving endless thanks to God the father who gave us his only son!   Just the thought that God would spare his son, to save someone like me, makes me want to shout “Hallelujah … what a Saviour!”  I trust that you know that feeling too!

And so on Good Friday, as we mark the day that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice, let us never forget the message of Easter; that Jesus not only took our place in dying for us but rose up triumphantly that you and I may not only have life but life to the full.

Happy Easter!

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What will be your legacy?

In the 1980s, I attended some of Billy Graham’s meetings, as part of Mission England.

At the time,  I was struck at how much preparation and particularly prayer, went into the planning and execution of these events.  The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had a structure which was modelled around prayer and the Word of God.  This was a structure that Billy had used with his own family.  His son Franklin recalls that as a child, their days started and ended with family devotions and Franklin credits the longevity of his parents’ marriage to the fact they read the Scriptures together every day.

As news broke recently that Billy had gone home to be with the Lord, news sites across the world told the story.  For younger audiences who did not know who Billy was, his story was re-told.  Even here in the UK, our major news and radio channels covered his passing and for me, it was remarkable to see the amazing legacy that Billy Graham had left behind.

Billy was very much the ‘front man’ of his ministry but it was not something he sought or chased after.  His message was always faithful to the Gospel and he used every opportunity to tell people about Jesus.

He started his ministry on radio and by the end of his life, by preaching in auditoriums, stadiums and travelling globally, millions had been won to Christ, not just through his direct ministry but through the ministry of those who had come to faith because of attending a Billy Graham event.   George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation was one of them. He accepted to follow Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham crusade and years later, his ministry has impacted the lives of many, many more around the world.

In many ways, this was a revival that we never really called a revival.  We tend to see revival as being an experience of the manifest presence of God, which compels people  en masse to turn their hearts to Jesus.   This is what happened throughout Billy’s ministry.

During Mission England, I saw it with my own eyes, as thousands streamed to the front, to accept Jesus into their lives, filling the front and the aisles.   How we long to see this again!

Last week, as we heard the news of Billy’s passing, I thought of Mark 4:8-9, where Jesus tells the parable of the sower;  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’   If anyone’s life produced a ‘hundredfold’ crop, it was Billy’s!

There is much we can draw from the example of one man’s life.  We might never reach millions with the good news of Jesus, but each of us has a circle of influence.  We might never be a Billy Graham in terms of numbers, but we can each reach people we know.  We all have a story to tell and even the way we speak and live our lives can be a powerful testimony to a world looking for answers.

And we can pray!  We can pray for the people we might never meet or reach and a life soaked in prayer, can reap so much.

Can I encourage you today?  You might never speak in an auditorium of thousands or have a public ministry, but you can make a difference to one person, by sharing with them the love of Jesus.

Let our legacy one day say, that we were men and women of God who shared the Gospel with all who ‘had ears to hear’.

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Are you ready to have your best year yet?

When you look ahead to 2018, what sort of year would you like to have? A good year? A better year?  Or the best year?

That sounds like an unusual question, as after all, we ALL want to have the best year we have ever had!  However, over Christmas, I was reflecting on 2017 (which was a very challenging year for UCB) and I was asking God for 2018 to be the best year we have ever had.  I felt God speak to my heart and challenge me on what ‘best’ actually means.  Why should we have the best year?  Do we have any right to ask for such a thing?  How can we plug into God’s best for our lives?

What are you talking about?

As we look back over the year that was, many of us tend to share the good and the bad experiences of the previous 12 months.  I have learned over the years that what we talk about, has the ability to change the atmosphere around us.  If we are sharing good news and giving thanks to God for what he’s done, it fills others with faith and changes the atmosphere to one of expectancy.  But if we are talking about the negative, those words too can change the atmosphere – but not for the better.  I believe that to see God’s best in our lives, we need to focus less on the experiences and instead, focus on our expectations.  What do we want God to do in those situations?  What do we ‘see’?  What do we expect?  Instead of talking about the physical circumstances, let’s instead set our eyes on the vision that God has given us.

We need to be changed

 To see God’s best, we need to be ready and willing to be changed.  That is an uncomfortable place for many people, but God is a God of transformation and he is never finished with us! Last year at UCB, we invested significantly in our team, giving them opportunity to meet with God in fresh ways.  We invited different speakers to address the staff and encouraged the team to seek out their own fresh experience with God.  A visit last year from itinerant minister Fergus Mcintyre was a turning point for many of our team, some experiencing the manifest presence of God in their lives for the first time.  But for God to move, each of us has to be willing to allow him to move in our lives.  2 Timothy 3:17  (KJV) says, ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.’

We need to be equipped for all that God is going to do and that means his process of transformation in our lives is never finished (not while we are on this earth anyway!).

What is your room furnished with?

2 Kings 4 tells the story of a noblewoman who was so impacted by the ministry of the prophet Elisha, that she and her husband built a room on their house, for him to stay in whenever he passed through their town.  They furnished the room with a bed, a table, a stool and a candlestick. In a future blog, I will share what I believe each of these items represents, but I think the simplicity of this furniture was designed to help Elisha find rest, peace and intimacy.  These three areas are so important for us too as believers.  What is our room, or our heart actually furnished with?  Is it cluttered and noisy and distracted?  Or is our heart furnished with peace and rest and stillness with God?

If like me (and UCB), you are looking ahead to 2018 then can I encourage you to speak with expectancy, allow yourself to be changed and transformed and to find that place of rest and intimacy?  Let’s believe together that God indeed will give us the BEST year yet!

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When God’s spirit moves

This week on UCB 1 and UCB 2, it has been our national appeal.  We have been talking on air about 1 Kings 18, and the ‘sound of a mighty rainstorm’. All around us, are small clouds and green shoots of the beginnings of revival and we are expectant and excited to see what God is going to do.

What you won’t have heard on air, is the move of God which has been happening in our own buildings here at UCB.

Last week, we invited Fergus Mcintyre, an itinerant pastor who has a prophetic ministry, to spend time with our staff, praying with each of them and speaking into their lives.

There is nothing like experiencing that refreshing ‘rain’ when the spirit of God touches and refreshes our lives!

As a result of these meetings, I have heard from so many of our team, who have been blessed by what God said to them.  I truly believe this is where revival begins.

There is a famous saying, ‘Lord, send revival and let it start with me’.

When we each develop and grow our intimacy with God, he begins to pour his spirit out. In Joel, it says, ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’

I believe these ‘last days’ are now and can I encourage you, to seek God for your own personal revival? When we have received it, we are then able to pass it on to others.

Here are a few stories from our team, of what has happened to them in the past week.

Amy’s story (UCB digital designer)

In my life, I have struggled and felt a lot of pain, but I can always sense when others need help.  When Fergus prayed for me, he told me I am a good listener and God trusts me. I can walk past someone and squeeze their hand and say, ‘I’m with you’ and they will feel God’s presence. This became really apparent during the appeal when I was able to listen and engage with our supporters on the phone. I was able to help a listener with a severe stammer, through the donation process and I was able to listen and let him know I was there to help. This confirmed many of the things Fergus said to me about listening and being trusted to help others through difficult situations.

Carl’s story (Prayerline Liaison Officer)

Over the past few years, I have been able to pray for many of the staff at UCB and have felt I could often feel other people’s pain.  At first, I thought I was just imagining it but when Fergus spoke to me, he said God wanted me to step up and tell people what I felt and then pray for them.  Fergus told me that I was a ‘Barnabas’ and encouraged me to step out in faith, but at the same time, use discernment and speak wisely.  A man I did not know at all, was used to speak encouragement and blessing into my life.

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Fergus spoke to me about how I’m very particular about all the jobs I do, I dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s as he put it.  Whilst this is true, the thing is however hard I try and whatever I do, I always feel like I’m not good enough – so I decided that I’d stay behind and ask Fergus if he’d pray with me about it.

We chatted and very quickly Fergus uncovered the root of the problem.  You see the thing is, I grew up with a violent and overbearing, perfectionist father, everything had to be ‘just right’ all the time.  Me and my siblings grew up constantly walking on eggshells, afraid to upset him and whatever I achieved, it was never enough.  The effect that growing up in this kind of environment has on you as a person is huge.  And whilst I do feel that I have forgiven my Dad for all this already, somehow I’ve just never been able to break free of the hold that it has over me.  So, Fergus then prayed with me and asked me to speak out all the things, all the un-truths that have ever been spoken over me and that I’ve believed.  Then the presence of God came over me in the most powerful way, the chains that have kept me bound since my childhood were broken and I felt the most amazing sense of peace like I have never felt before.  What I have to do now is to walk in the freedom and peace that God has graciously given me.

Paula’s story 

The last few months have been really difficult for me and I’ve been fighting lots of battles.  I knew that I needed to spend more time with God and rest but I’ll admit, instead, I just made myself really busy. I was exhausted.  I didn’t know what Fergus was going to say, but he started laughing and said I was the ’90-mile-an-hour lady, always on the go…and that God wanted me to slow down.  He also said I’d been dealing with the weight of other people’s expectations and God wanted to set me free from that. I honestly felt like a huge weight was lifted almost instantly, as soon as he prayed and this week has been truly incredible.  There’s a tangible sense of God’s presence in the building, spontaneous prayer groups are breaking out and I’ve been diving out of bed in the morning, excited to read my Bible and see what God has to say today.   It’s amazing to see what God is doing.   It’s not what God has done but what he is doing….this is just the beginning.

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Can I encourage you, to spend time seeking God in your own life.  When his spirit touches our lives, everything changes.  We are able to see with clarity and we are able to pass this incredible presence of God on to others too.  This is where revival starts.  As I said at the beginning, ‘Lord, send revival and let it start with me’. 

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