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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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, Faith

Don’t live in bitterness

I have been thinking this week about the subject of bitterness and how much it can impact lives (yes, even the lives of Christians).

In Exodus 15, the Israelites (led by Moses) had seen a tremendous victory and they were celebrating and thanking God for their deliverance. They were singing, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted…the Lord reigns for ever and ever’.

But just three days later, they were in the desert and their water supplies had run out. They came to the waters of Marah but they couldn’t drink from it, as the water was so bitter. The same people who had been praising God just a short time ago were now grumbling and complaining. Moses cried out to God and the Lord showed him a piece of wood, which he was able to throw into the water and verse 23 says, ‘the water became fit to drink’. Later, God led the people to Elim, which had ‘12 springs and 70 palm trees’ and they camped there near the water.

In our lives, many of us face difficulties, which could leave us feeling bitter. When faced with tragedy or hard times, we have a choice to walk through the situation (with God’s help) and get better, or we can stay in that situation and camp out in our bitterness. The story in Exodus paints a clear picture of how I believe God wants us to respond, when faced with life’s hardships.

Don’t camp at Marah

The word ‘Marah’ (the place of the bitter springs) actually means ‘bitter’ and it is interesting that in the Exodus story, although Moses led the people there, God did not command them to camp and stay there. It was just a passing through on their journey.

Later when they arrived at Elim (which means ‘roots’ and also means ‘a place of refreshing’) they were able to stop and set up camp. We all go through times of feeling bitter but I believe it is important to not camp in that place and instead view it as an experience, a place we have to walk through, with God’s help.

We already have the answer

When Moses cried out to God for an answer, the Lord provided him with a tree branch which would make the water drinkable. Trees take decades to grow and long before Moses and the people encountered this problem, God had already provided a way out, a growing tree which would be used to solve the problem.

We see this again later in the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19. Zaccheus was the chief tax collector and was not well-liked. Luke says he was a man of small stature and because of the great crowds (and his height) he was not able to get through the crowds to see Jesus. Zaccheus climbed a nearby sycamore tree in order to see Jesus and later, met with Jesus personally. We do not know how long it took, but it is likely that tree had been growing there for a long time. I like to imagine that maybe God even sent an angel to protect that tree, knowing that one day it would be used as an important tool in allowing a man to hear the life-changing words of Jesus. It reminds us though, whatever we are going through, God has already provided the answer.

Believe the promise

In our world today (maybe you are going through this yourself), many people have become stuck in a place of bitterness. Bitterness can be like a spiritual cancer and if we allow it to, it can overtake our thinking and lives.

If you are experiencing that today and wondering how you can break free, can I encourage you to go back to the promises of God. Whatever you are going through, I believe that God has already provided the answer (even if you cannot see it) and that if you walk diligently, God will eventually lead you to ‘Elim’, to a place of rest and security.

The tree in the stories of Moses and Zacheus are also a symbol of the cross. If you look to the cross and look to the promises of God, he will lead you through.

It may not be easy, but living a life free of bitterness, is living life to the full. And this is how I believe God wants us to live.

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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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Christian Media, Christianity, Devotional, Healing, Hope

Failure is not the end…

On Saturday, I spoke at a We are Men event on the subject of ‘Accountability’. The danger of speaking on a topic like this, is that it can sound like a ‘telling off’, but I wanted to make sure that the men who attended, felt encouraged and understood what the real meaning of accountability is.   Accountability is based in relationship and ensures that as leaders and believers, we do what we say we will do.

We live in an age where the media frequently reports leadership scandals, from extra marital affairs, to embezzlement and abuse.  As Christians, surrounded by temptations and lies from the enemy, we need accountability in our lives.  We need people and processes around us, to help us have integrity.

How can we be accountable?  Is there a way forward for people who get it wrong?

We are servants

Sometimes in churches (or in any organisation), there can be a culture at the top where the person in charge acts as though they are ‘lord and master’.  As leaders, we must always remember that we are primarily servants.  We are there to serve the vision of the organisation we work for.  Our leadership style needs to be based on the life of Jesus as it is written in God’s Word, not on a version we have created for ourselves.

We need relationships

To be truly accountable, it is good to have people in our lives who can be direct and honest with us at any time.    Although I have lived in the UK for many years, I am not a native English speaker and sometimes friends will correct a word I have used in the wrong way. I would always prefer that people gave me the right word, than laugh at my use of the wrong one.   It is the same with accountability, we need people who will gently and lovingly speak correction when it is needed.  If this correction comes from a person who is trusted and who has our best interests at heart, they will never use this to hurt us, they will say these things in order to help and restore us.

Processes are important

In every leadership position, it is important to have processes in place, to prevent abuse of systems.  For example, at UCB, we have procedures in place to help keep us financially accountable.  If we have to buy expensive items (such as new equipment), the forms will need more than just one signature.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t trust our team, but it means that important financial decisions are not in the hands of just one person.   That helps to keep us accountable to each other and to the people who support the ministry.

We can all fail

As the saying goes, no one plans to fail, but some can fail to plan.  To me, this means that we must plan ahead and be aware of our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  We must never assume that we are above temptation or incapable of falling.   By putting true accountability, processes and relationships in our lives, we are reducing our capacity for failing.   We spend a great deal of time mopping up messes, when it would be much better to spend time preventing spills in the first place.

However, what if you (or someone you know) has failed?  Is there a way to be restored?

In the Bible, we have many examples of leaders who have failed but the two examples of David and Saul stand out to me, because of their different responses.  When Saul was confronted by the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 13 about his disobedience before God, Saul’s response was to blame others and make excuses.  He was not able to take responsibility for his actions.

In 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan confronted David over his affair with Bathsheba, David immediately said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’.

If you have messed up, then it is important to find someone you trust, who can help to restore you and help to make you accountable.  This process may mean that you have to confess to others, there may be legal repercussions, you may even need to resign from your position, but in the process of vulnerability and humility, God’s power is still at work.

I have seen friends and key leaders who have fallen, who are later restored in a wonderful way, with their marriages and lives intact.   Your response in the early days is important. Will you deny or seek to blame others?  Or will you be vulnerable and use it as a time to get right with God?

Proverbs 24:16 says, ‘for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes’.

This is true for anyone who stumbles, whether they are a leader or not.  God is so good, He is a God of restitution, of healing and restoration.  God’s heart is for everyone to be restored and in a right relationship with Him.

Even if you have messed up, because of God’s goodness, there is still hope.

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Christian Media, Christian Radio, Christianity

How to be a good leader

As the UK welcomes Theresa May into the top job at Number 10 (and she assembles her new team) I have been thinking this week about what makes a good leader.

We are all leaders of one kind or another. You do not have to run a country or a big organisation to be a leader.  You might lead a group at church, you might be the leader in your home.  Nearly all of us have the capacity to lead and there are some good principles about leadership qualities in Psalm 15. However, I think the way Jesus lived His life, gives us the best model of how to be a good leader.

Jesus wasn’t self-promoting

As leaders we can sometimes fall in to the trap of thinking we are better than others. Sadly some leaders have achieved their position, by self-promotion and by dishonouring others on their way to the top.  But Jesus never promoted Himself.  He did not have to.  His good works were so obvious, that others talked about him and news about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:28).  

Jesus was all about relationships

Jesus knew how to assemble a good team, but unlike selecting a new Cabinet, He did not always pick people with experience and the right skills.  The disciples were a mixed group of individuals from very different backgrounds.  Jesus was more concerned about relationships and about releasing people into their full potential.  True leadership should be relational, not transactional.  In other words, leadership is not about what I can get from other people, but about the relationships and the people I can develop.    I believe a strong leader builds a good team, in order to eventually release them to go into all the world (Mark 16:15)

Jesus knew who He was

Jesus knew who He was. He wasn’t threatened by others or insecure.  We have to get our ultimate security from who we are in Christ, not in our job, in leadership or our position in life.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of confrontation

Jesus wasn’t afraid to deal with issues as they came up.  He confronted the Pharisees and in one very famous scene, overthrew the merchants’ tables in the temple.  As leaders, we should not be afraid to confront issues, but at the same time, we have to be discerning about the issues we do confront.  It is easy to confront the wrong thing, so we need to know when to speak and when to remain silent.

Jesus knew when to stop talking.  

When facing the toughest test of His life, standing before Pilate, Jesus did not speak.  He was being confronted with vile, untrue allegations and was being mocked, but He chose to remain silent.  Sometimes we feel the need to defend ourselves and it is true, that sometimes we do need to speak up and stand for what is right, but we must also learn when to speak, and when to remain silent.  Sometimes saying nothing at all, is the best thing we can do.

Jesus was compassionate

Jesus met many sick and dying and distressed people and His heart was always filled with compassion for them.  I think compassion has to ‘possess’ us.  We need to feel compassion for those around us, dream it, live it and experience compassion in all areas of our lives.  It is easy to become hardened to the things we see around us, but Jesus’ life was all about compassion, about seeing the needs of people and releasing them into freedom.

The UK is in a time of unprecedented change and with a new Prime Minister and Government in charge, we need to keep the leaders of our country in prayer.     My personal prayer for Theresa May is that God would bless her and that He would enlarge her capacity for peace, compassion, care, love and mercy.

I pray that as the Government leads our country into an unknown future, that God would give our leaders wisdom so that together, we can stand united once again.

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