Christianity

When the disciples were in isolation…

Right across our world, we have not just a physical pandemic of sickness, but we also have a ‘pandemic of fear’.  Right from the start of Genesis, fear has always been used by the enemy of our souls, but praise God, His Word has so much to say about how we can face fear, with faith!  As we are approaching Easter, it is a good time to reflect on the death of Jesus and how, even after his execution, the close disciples became imprisoned in fear and went into hiding and isolation.  And one could even say ‘and rightly so’, because there was a very real threat to their lives.

John 20:19 tells us that on the evening of the first day, they were together, not just hiding in a room, but in self isolation ‘behind locked doors’. It must have been a very distressing time. Their best friend and Saviour had been publicly executed and they must have been very shocked by all they had witnessed. In fact in fear for his life, Peter had denied knowing Jesus and now, they were all hiding behind locked doors, isolated from the whole world.

This picture hidden away in a room, is an illustration to me, of what the enemy tries to do in our lives – he wants us to isolate from each other.    I am not in any way belittling the pandemic we are currently facing, but I believe the enemy knows that fear is his greatest weapon in all of this.   With just one news headline or a phone call from a friend, repeating something they have heard, whole families and communities can become paralysed by fear of ‘what might happen’.    It might be the fear of the coronavirus or any other ill health, of losing your job etc.    It does not matter, it all has the same outcome – it holds us back from all that God wants us to do. It was the same for the disciples in this account in John.     Just a few days before, they had been enjoying a Passover meal with Jesus and now they were in hiding, trying to preserve their lives. They were unable to move forward, they were in total isolation.


The amazing part of this story is that when Jesus appeared to them, He asked them, ‘Why are you frightened?’.

In Luke 24:36,  Jesus asked them, “Why do you doubt that it is really I? Look at my hands! Look at my feet! You can see that it is I, myself! Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost! For ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do!” As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see the marks of the nails and showed them the wounds in his feet.

Luke 24:41 says, ‘Still they stood there undecided, filled with joy and doubt’. Even when Jesus appeared to them in power and wonder, after being so brutally killed, they were still not sure whether they could believe their eyes!

In whatever situation we find ourselves in, even if we are in total isolation, Jesus has promised to be with us in every situation for His Word declares, ‘I will never leave us nor never forsake you (Heb 13:5).

From my own experience I found His manifest presence to be the strongest, when I have been in the middle of the fiercest, raging storms of life.

The journey of faith is not always an easy one and sometimes even when we know and experience Jesus in the middle of the situations we face, we wonder if He really will save us.

This story speaks to us of the heart and mercy of Jesus. He appeared to the isolated disciples in the middle of all their doubt, confusion, and then he ate a meal with them. As they listened to all that he said, the Word of God tells us that they, ‘opened their minds to understand at last the Scriptures’.

I believe that faith is a journey. We do not always feel full of faith, but we can make a decision to trust in all that God has said to us.

Faith is not the absence of fear, it is the mastering of fear.

For me, the story of Easter speaks to us of hope, of life and of Jesus meeting us in the middle of our confusion, and reminding us that we have nothing to fear.

Christianity

A Christian response to Coronavirus

The news about coronavirus is all over the media and is heard in almost every conversation. This is a very unusual situation and we can choose to respond in one of two ways; with fear or with faith.

It is very interesting to see how people around the world are reacting differently. Some people are reacting by panic buying (and emptying the shelves) while others seem to be almost indifferent. For me, the question is, how should we, as believers, respond?

First of all, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this sickness; individuals, families, health services and communities as well as national leaders and governments. How they all need God’s wisdom and guidance as they deal with this situation. And for us as a nation, where do we find healing when every day, the news seems to grow even more serious?

Well, for me personally, my only advice is to stand firmly upon God’s Word, for that is where I find my comfort and strength. God’s Word has been the anchor for my own family in very desperate times and it is the one thing that we can ALWAYS rely on. God’s Word never changes and it contains all we need for hope, comfort, healing, wisdom and guidance.

If you are fearful, grieving or broken today, let the truth of God’s Word sink into your heart.

But you may say, ‘what if we can’t stop this virus?’ What if it becomes widespread in the United Kingdom or wherever I live, as some experts predict?

Well let’s stand firm upon his Word! Psalm 112:6-8 is a great encouraging reminder as to what our response should be. It says, “For the righteous will never be moved, he will be remembered forever, he is not afraid of bad news, his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord, his heart is steady, he will not be afraid”.

We all have to face bad news at some point in our life. If it’s not the virus, it will be something else. Let’s remind ourselves that we live in a fallen and broken world where suffering and even death are inevitable. To deny this truth would be lying to ourselves, but we as Christians do not need to fear bad news. It is important to not be in denial and as a nation, we should take all sensible precautions, but we do not need to be crippled by the fear of what ‘might happen’. The psalmist demonstrates that it is possible to look bad news right in the face and say, “You will NOT rule my heart.” Our emotions may sway, but we will not be blown off course.

You might think that is easy for me to write, but practically, how can we rise above the circumstances when we are surrounded by fear?

Well, here are some practical responses;

Prayer

Pray in FAITH. Remember faith is not denying fear but mastering it. What you fear the most, reveals where you trust God the least. Therefore put your faith in God and watch as He starts to eradicate your fears. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer… believe that you have received it… and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

Prepare

Prepare WISELY. Don’t deny the facts but plan wisely and let’s be aware of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12, KJV: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” And the preceding verse tells us to be well prepared to “Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Proclaim

Proclaim HOPE. In this world of uncertainty, we can have great confidence as we hold on to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. And it enables us to ‘Rejoice in hope…be patient in tribulation… continue steadfastly in prayer’ (Romans 12).

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Christianity

Watch your words…

When I was 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. She said, ‘do you realise David, that is a lot of studying?  I can’t see you doing it, I can see you emptying bins’.

For many years, those words stayed with me and sometimes informed the decisions I made.  Was there any point in trying, if I wasn’t 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 I discovered that His Word could delete the past and delete all the harmful words that had impacted my life.  Although I had no educational qualifications, the Word of God showed me that man’s labels do not matter.  The only labels I should be concerned with are God’s labels!

Over the years I have discovered that while God’s words are the most important, the words we use and what we choose to believe, as a result, can also have an impact on our lives.  Proverbs 23:7 says, ‘as a man thinks in his heart, so is he’ and I believe it’s important to be aware of the reality of our words and our thoughts.

Our thoughts will affect what we say and our words will affect who we are.  Proverbs 18:21 says, ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue’ and so we should never underestimate the power of our thoughts and our words, to shape destinies and our own future.  Words can kill marriages and relationships and destroy churches and ministries.  But words can also bring life, hope, healing and reconciliation.

In a world which seems to be more divided than ever before (especially on social media), we need peacemakers and reconcilers, believers who will use their words to reflect the life and peace that is found through Jesus.  Luke 6:45 says, ‘a good man produces good deeds from a good heart. And an evil man produces evil deeds from his hidden wickedness. Whatever is in the heart overflows into speech.’

I want my heart to be full of God’s Word, full of praise to him, for what is in my heart will flow out into my words and then out into my actions.

Can I challenge you today?  What are you thinking about?  What are you saying? What are you believing?  Are they words of life and hope that reflect what God says about you and the situations you are facing? Or are they words of death and despondency?

As a young man,  another person’s negative words could have shaped my whole life, but I am thankful for the revelation of God’s Word which showed me the truth.

Christianity

What is your purpose?

Sometimes, if I ever drive past a cemetery, I don’t think about the people who are buried there, but about the purpose buried there. How many songs went unsung? How many poems and stories went unwritten? The truth is, many people leave this world not knowing or realising their purpose. And today, many more are also living without knowing or realising their purpose. Many people simply do not know that God breathes purpose into every living thing and he has also breathed purpose into you and into me.

For me personally, I discovered my purpose when I rededicated my life to God. I did not yet know what God’s plans were for my life, but I knew I had a purpose. It took me many years to discover God’s plan, but because I knew he had a purpose for me, I was just as content back then being a janitor, as I am today being a CEO.

So, how do you find your purpose?

Don’t confuse plans with purpose

The definition of purpose is, the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

The definition of plan is, a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. An intention or decision about what one is going to do.

We all have plans for our lives. Someday I will do this or someday I will do that. That is not your purpose, those are your plans. And all our plans are meaningless if we do not understand our purpose. God first puts a sense of purpose into our heart. We might not know what the plan is, but he will use our lives, our natural gifts, our sense of purpose, to help move us into his plan.

If we knew the plan in advance, we might run away.

In the Bible, God gave Joseph a clear purpose. Joseph knew, through dreams that he was to be a leader. He did not know that to get to that point, he would face rape allegations, prison and isolation. If God had revealed the plan up front, he might have run in the opposite direction. But through all of those trials, God was shaping Joseph, making him ready for the plan of leadership

It’s not about you

When God started to reveal his plan for my life, I began to realise his plan was not about me at all. It was about him using me, to reach others. God wanted to take my passion, my gift, my sense of purpose and use them all to bring about his plan in my life and also help to release that in others’ lives. So many Biblical characters were used by God to bring about change for others. Mary was handpicked to deliver a messiah who would save the world. Paul was given the task of leaving everything behind, in order to carry the message of salvation all across the Middle East. They were not ‘special’ people. They simply knew they had a purpose and they allowed God to use them (and their gifts) to bring about his plan.

Can I encourage you today, that you have a purpose. Everything God creates has a purpose and we each have a job to do. If you do not feel you do, ask God to plant His sense of purpose into your life. He might not show you what is ahead, but when you know deep down, that you have a heavenly purpose, everything in your life will change.

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

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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Christianity, Christmas, Devotional, Faith

Life lessons from the Christmas story

I have been thinking this week about the story of Mary.

Mary, the mother of Jesus was given an extraordinary assignment and if you have a dream and a vision for the future, her life story is a great encouragement.

Your past doesn’t matter

God gave Mary a special job, despite the fact that by human standards she was too poor, too young and from the wrong part of town.  God could have gone to the palaces to find a ‘suitable’ mother for the Messiah, but instead he chose an unknown girl from a poor village.  To me this is a reminder that our past, our background or our culture is not a problem for God.  When I arrived in the UK, I was young foreigner but God took hold of me and changed my life in unexpected ways.  We are all born with a God-given purpose and God loves to take insignificant people (in the world’s eyes) and birth significance into their lives.

A vision for the future can make you feel hopeless

This might seem like a strange thing to say, but often when God gives us a dream, we can feel hopeless.  How will God accomplish such a thing? Is it possible?  Have I imagined this?  And yet, just like Mary, when God speaks to us and gives us a vision, His Holy Spirit can empower us, take us further than we could ever imagine and make the impossible, possible in our lives.

His Holy Spirit is bigger than our intellect, our talent and our ability.  His Holy Spirit is bigger than our past, our culture and our logic.   But like Mary, we have to stop arguing with our reason and thinking and instead say, ‘God, if you said it, I will align my will to your will’.

You have to step up

With any vision, talking about it, thinking about it, won’t make it happen. When Gabriel visited Mary, after the initial shock, she got up and went to visit Elisabeth. That was her response.  And likewise with us, we have to make a response and to begin to move forward into what God has called us to do.  We might not immediately see results but it is important to live in a culture which cultivates it.  Surround yourself with people who will speak life into your vision, and like Mary, rub shoulders with people who will make that dream ‘leap’ within your spirit.

Be patient

Mary had to wait 9 months to see the fulfillment of the vision God had given her.  You and I may have to wait much longer.  The process of waiting for the dream to come true can be a time of real preparation.

Here at UCB, we believe God has given us a vision for an unprecedented move of God which will sweep the UK and beyond.  We haven’t yet seen this (although we believe we are seeing small signs) so instead we are preparing ourselves, our infrastructure and our organisation to be ready for when it happens and to be able to support the Church 24/7, 365 days a year.  Mary had to prayerfully get ready for the arrival of Jesus.  She knew what was promised would come true and so she began to prepare for what she knew was to come.

Don’t despise small beginnings

The arrival of Jesus was a low-key affair. There was no room at the inn for the newborn king, there was no fanfare from the palaces, there was no state announcement.  In fact, if it were not for the angels who sang and the light of a star, His birth may have gone unnoticed for a long time.  Jesus himself was placed in a feeding manger, in rags, the most unassuming, ‘small’ beginning for the saviour of the world.  And yet, those small, humble beginnings, led to the plan of salvation for all of mankind.

It’s important to remember that great things (just like oak trees) can have the smallest and most humble of beginnings.

Can I encourage you today, that if you are waiting for God to fulfil your own vision and dream, to be faithful to what you believe God has shown you.  Use the time positively, to prepare spiritually (and physically) and to surround yourself with people who will help to keep you accountable.

If God has said it, it will come to pass.

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

When church is difficult…

There is a well-known saying, ‘Going to church no more makes you a Christian, than sitting in a garage, makes you a car’.  How true that is!  And yet often we are surprised when we are disappointed by people we meet in church or if we feel our leaders have let us down.

The church is God’s idea and we, as His people, are the ‘living stones’ of the church.  And regardless of the circumstances, I believe it is important for each of us to be part of a church and to be part of the ‘assembly’ (as it says in Hebrews 10).  No man is an island and we all need that sense of community and accountability.  However, it is not always easy.  In a perfect world, church should leave us feeling fulfilled and built up.  Church should be a place where we go to meet with other like-minded believers, where we are free to worship and where we can hear from God and be made strong in His word. For me, personally, it is not about the style of the church or the type of worship, it is about the connection we make with God when we are there.  Church should be a place where we become aware of God’s presence, where we can get encouraged and also corrected, if that is what we need.

But for many, church is not like that and many people struggle within their church communities.

So how can we respond when church life is difficult?

The first thing to remember is that every church has a variety of personalities.  We all worship and connect with God in different ways and we also each respond to situations in different ways too.  However, when dealing with difficult situations, here are a few ways we can respond:

Deal with the issue, not the person

Personally, when dealing with difficult people and situations within church, I have always found it helpful to not point out flaws in the person, but to address the real issue, or in some cases, the spirit which is motivating the negative behaviour.  For example in Acts 16, Paul and Silas were being followed by a woman who kept shouting, ‘these are men of God, they will show you the way to salvation’.  That might not sound like a bad thing, but Paul identified there was a spirit at work.  Instead of addressing the woman or the personality, he addressed the spirit of fortune-telling which was motivating this woman and commanded it to leave.   He saw the situation through his spiritual eyes, not his natural eyes.

Commit to prayer

It can be easy to react to negativity, but we should always first of all, commit to prayer. Sometimes, there are no ‘quick fixes’ for awkward situations or conflict, but we should always commit to covering the whole situation (for however long it takes) in prayer.

God’s Word has the answers

I was in situation many years ago and a pastor approached me about a difficult couple in his church. ‘What should we do, David? he asked.  It would have been very easy to give my opinion, but the truth is, it is not my opinion which counts, but the opinion of the Word of God.   What does God’s Word say?  I believe if we ask God for a revelation and an answer, He will always give us a strategy or shine a light on a piece of Scripture which will give us hope for the future.

When all else fails

You might be in a situation where you feel you have tried everything but there is no clear way forward.  If that is the case, perhaps God has a different church community for you to be part of?  If you feel it is time to move on, then it is important to ‘leave well’. Pastoring a church is a difficult job and for many ministers, it can be a lonely experience.

When a person leaves a church, as a pastor, it is difficult to not take it personally.  So, if you are leaving, try to take everyone’s feelings into consideration and don’t slam the door on your way out.  Instead, do all you can to leave with a right attitude and on good terms.   If you are looking for a new spiritual home, the key questions to ask yourself are; ‘Do I fit in here?’ ‘Do I feel at home?’  What is their vision? Is it something I can give my heart, time and talents to?  Are the leaders really called to the mission/vision of the church?  Can I support their vision?  And finally, is it a place where I can grow?

It’s important for all of us, to be part of a church community which enables us to grow spiritually and practically, but also to be encouraged and strengthened in God’s Word.  Ask God to guide you to the right church home.  He won’t let you down.

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