Love Thy Neighbour

LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR copy

London is a beautiful City full of history and innovation that sees rapid growth and change and has the obvious hustle and bustle of a Capital City. It’s bursting at the seams with people and is often a place in which many live but don’t necessarily dwell long term. There are lots of rentals and students and people passing through for a season. We ourselves have been here for only 7 years and have moved 4 times during that period due to rental contracts and differing jobs. Having a community in a busy and large City, with such a migrating population can be tough, and for us, we are lucky to have found one through Church. However, we don’t all live in close proximity to one another, and so some of the places where we’ve lived have provided more of a base rather than a home.

Last year was a busy year full of lots of change for us. We welcomed our first child, transitioned into new roles and found ourselves once again in a different area of London. This time, however, we had the opportunity to purchase a house as we were blessed with some inheritance which we used as a deposit. I think there’s a saying in property that reads along the lines of, “buy the worst house on the best street”, that way you will add value to your home in a sort after area and it’s still affordable to buy. The London housing market is in a league of its own and as we looked for a property it soon became apparent that our money wouldn’t stretch as far as we’d thought. No matter, we were still fortunate enough to own our own home, it just turned out that it was the worst house on not the best street! Regardless, we have a nice little two-bed end of terrace with an amazing 60-foot garden. It wasn’t left in the finest of conditions from its previous owner and so it was what you’d have called a ‘fixer-upper’. Nevertheless, whilst we haven’t viewed this as our forever home, it is a good start on the property ladder and a place to establish our little family together. A home that we can raise our young child in and be hospitable with, a safe haven to come back to and the start of building a legacy for Sienna.

Recently I was challenged at Church as our pastor addressed the issues and growing concern surrounding young people in our City and the increased levels of violence amongst them. As a Church, we want to be part of a long-term solution. This is, after all, our City. In his message, he said something along the lines of, “Don’t pray to God for something if you’re not prepared to be part of the answer.” Inspired by this but not knowing where to start, I consciously made a decision to pray not only for our City and Country but also for my street, my neighbourhood and my community. I felt challenged to be present in this community for as long as we live here and not just see it as a transitional place. I realise that it’s not yet the most sought after area, but the majority of people that live here are normal, hard-working every day decent folks. I prayed my prayer and got on with my day.

Then something happened which made me want to rescind my previous thoughts, challenge my prayer and make plans to leave the neighbourhood as soon as possible. Someone walked into our house in the middle of the day, assuming everyone was out and took the easiest things they could grab in an instant. On realising someone was upstairs they made a quick exit. We only realised we had been burgled when we noticed our visiting family’s car was gone from outside! They’d taken the keys!

As if it wasn’t enough that someone had broken into our private property, the very next day, I noticed something across the street that appeared suspicious. With a heightened sense of awareness, and despite feeling nervous as I got our daughter ready for bed, I called the Police. The short version is they responded quickly and efficiently and so the criminals were caught and arrested. In that moment I had a choice, do I still love my community although it’s hard or do I close the curtains, let the world pass by and hope for the best as I plan my departure? I thought if I really want to pray for my City and see a change it must start with me. As the title of Bob Goff’s book states, “Love does!” Love does even when it’s uncomfortable and love loves even the bits that we don’t like as much. If I don’t care about my street and if I don’t take action how can I expect anyone else too? It’s easy to point fingers or step back but if this is now my community, it’s my responsibility.  Getting involved in things at arm’s length not having to get my hands dirty feels better, but there are needs right on my doorstep.

The enemy would have us stunted from moving forward because we feel intimidated or fearful. However, as my dear friend, Ope always says, “the devil is a liar!” It’s true he comes to kill, steal and destroy but what’s also true is that Jesus is, “..above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1 v 21. He has the final say, He is our provider, protector, redeemer, saviour, strength, peace and victor – AND the list goes on. The devil has nothing on Jesus. It’s an uneven match.

We were blessed to buy this house and therefore blessed to be in this area and so we must not let those who wish to destroy our blessings have the last say. There are so many exhortations in scripture that remind us of the goodness of God and the protection we have as his people. I need to believe that whilst we are here our prayers and our actions can make this a better place for not only ourselves but also our neighbours. My neighbours need to know a loving and very real God who is able to reach down and infiltrate their lives and situations. This starts with me; with me showing them the evidence, showing them His favour and the power of prayer. This means not being afraid to do the right thing. Of course, it’s easier to type than to action but if ministry truly is life, then this is my life and therefore this is my ministry and our neighbourhood is our responsibility.

A few quick things I have learnt or been reminded of this week:

  • Light casts out darkness – ALWAYS! “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1 v 5
  • God is on my side, He’s my protector  – Psalm 91
  • Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as in Heaven,” so He’s invested in the outcome – Matthew 6 v 9 – 13
  • Ministry is life – Romans 12
  • God loves my neighbours and so should I – Mark 12 v 30 – 31
  • Jesus has all authority Matthew 28 v 18 and He gives us authority – “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10 v 19
  • Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to attack – put on your armour – Ephesians 6 v 10 – 18

Praise Junkie

PRAISE JUNKIE

When you’re a performer, the applause and reaction of an audience is something that you measure to gauge the success of your presentation. This is not a narcissistic thing, it’s natural to want to please the people for which you’ve worked hard to entertain or engage. It’s a phenomenon mimicked in many areas of life, the want or need to please others, to be liked or valued and gain recognition for the work we have done. A child looks for praise from their parents, an employee from a boss, a leader from their followers and vice versa.

I’m fascinated by John the Baptist. Seemingly an outcast in society, yet clearly influential with active disciples and a flourishing ministry. A man sent to prepare the way for another, to honour another above himself. A man content when his disciples left him to follow Jesus, in fact, that was what he aimed for. He didn’t seek the praise of others but rather pointed them to the One Who is to be praised. A man so in tune with God that He recognised the Son standing in front of Him when many other supposedly religious leaders didn’t. When confronted with the migration of his disciples to Jesus, he selflessly said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3 v 30). It’s so easy to read the scriptures and forget the weight of what’s being said. I think we’d probably all like to think that we would have the same response as John in this instance. But I wonder what would happen if all of our followers, various platforms, ministries, careers or accolades that we’d worked so hard to build were suddenly redirected elsewhere, would we truly be ok with that? If we faded into the background and never received another word of encouragement, thanks, or acknowledgement for our hard work, would we still be content? If we could never insta story our achievements or show the world our accomplishments would they still be worthwhile?

There are many speeches and social media accounts that tell wonderful tales of how Jesus is first in our lives and everything done or gained is all because of Him. Yet I wonder, when we get to heaven, what He will actually put His name to and what will have “us” written all over it.

In The Message version of John 1 v 6 – 8, it states John the Baptist’s sole purpose for walking this earth,

“There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.”

I’m challenged to ponder if I’m content learning to play “second fiddle” (Romans 12 v 10 The Message). Does the life I lead really point fully to Jesus or the gifts He’s given me? Are they two different things? Surely if I’m winning, He’s winning? If I’m successful, He’s successful. I think maybe there’s a fine line between me looking good and Him looking good. I definitely believe He wants us to prosper and bring glory to His name as we live surrendered to Him and allow His abundant provision of grace and healing, mercy and love to overwhelm our lives. But I wonder how often we ask for His guidance, His direction, His Presence before we work hard. I wonder how often we see His miracles amongst our hard work and sacrifice. I wonder what bears His name and what bears ours in the mix of this chaos called life. At each juncture which signposts lead to Him and which me?

The beauty of saying yes to Jesus is that, despite ourselves, there’s always an opportunity to grow. He didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3 v 17), and so we have chance upon chance to re-align our focus and vision and reposition ourselves correctly in Him. He definitely wants us to be more, to do more and to have more but there’s a greater purpose to all of it. God is a good Father and He delights in lavishing us with His goodness, just because He loves us. However, when we truly experience the beauty of His grace and the wonder of His miracles we naturally become aware of our position in Him, but not in a way that forces us to submit but rather to gladly humble ourselves.

The praises of one another are fleeting, and whilst I believe in encouragement as a Godly gift to one another, everything we do should all be to His glory. If I am competent by my own means through hard work, training and sacrifice, this is a good thing, yet there is still more to do to allow Him to bring heaven to earth, as He taught us to pray.  

Another who gave His life to point to the goodness of God the Father, is Jesus. It’s the great mystery, He Himself is God and yet gave up His rights as God to become a man that He may show us the heart of the Father. How we could live and walk with Him and point others to His goodness. A life given for humanity.

Will my life point to a good Father? Will it show His glory and not my own as I learn to continually walk in His Presence and see His miracles unfold before me to be shown to a world desperately in need of some supernatural intervention? I hope so.

Help me, help us, God, to chase only one thing, You.

“I saw the sun begin to dim

And felt that winter wind

Blow cold

A man learns who is there for him

When the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold

‘Cause from then, rubble

One remains

Can only be what’s true

If all was lost

Is more I gain

‘Cause it led me back

To you

From now on

These eyes will not be blinded by the lights

From now on

What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight

Tonight

Let this promise in me start

Like an anthem in my heart

From now on

From now on

I drank champagne with kings and queens

The politicians praised my name

But those are someone else’s dreams

The pitfalls of the man I became

For years and years

I chased their cheers

The crazy speed of always needing more

But when I stop

And see you here

I remember who all this was for”

Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek For “The Greatest Showman”

From Now On lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Fox Music, Inc

 

 

 

One Shot

one shot

I was watching BBC Breakfast recently and a gentleman in an interview made this statement, “There’s no dress rehearsal for life.” He inferred that we’ve only got one shot at this thing called “life”, so therefore we may as well give it all that we’ve got. For whatever reason, at that moment his words really struck a chord with me, and I started to think about all of the time I’ve wasted throughout my life waiting for some kind of permission to live my best life. Perhaps due to waiting in a false humility for opportunities to present themselves, taking scripture out of context and not wanting to self-elevate. Self- promotion for the sake of selfish gain is never a good thing, but we can so often confuse that with passionately and unapologetically pursuing the fulfilment of all that God has placed within us.

Have you ever apologised for yourself? Apologised for your gifts or passions? Not wanted to seem too keen, or held yourself back because you wanted to be a good servant. Being a good servant and honouring leadership are wonderful things, I’m not talking about being a lone ranger and doing your own thing through selfish ambition. However, we have one short span of time called life to use up the potential, gifts and passions within us to the betterment of humanity for the glory of God, so what are we waiting for? What a sad thing it would be, to be at the door between this world and the next and still be full of potential, like a battery full of energy but never used. I want all of my potential to have run out because it’s been converted into destiny.

For a long time I misunderstood calling and purpose and it sometimes stunted me from moving forward whilst I waited for permission from God or others to be me. From a pure heart of wanting to do the right thing and not miss out on His “calling” for my life, I ended up often more confused and frustrated as I waited for a big flashing sign to guide me in a certain direction. When I realised that I was “called out of darkness into His wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2 v 9) and that my purpose, therefore, was to help others know this same transformation; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19), my whole perspective changed. No longer did I need permission to be me, to be who God created me to be, to love the things that I loved and be good at the things I was good at. I didn’t need confirmation as to whether or not I was “called” to be a dancer or this or that, but rather I shifted my focus to see the bigger picture.So often as Christians we can over-complicate things. This must give the devil much amusement as we trip over ourselves whilst trying earnestly to be our best selves by somehow quenching the very things that we love. It’s simpler than we think. Romans 12 v 1-2 sums it up beautifully,

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (The Message)

Give your life to God, every bit of it, and be you. Be you, your best you, and in doing so, every day give your life to God, your breathing, thinking, planning, dreaming, mundane, exciting, interactions and relationships. Give it all to God and get on with it. If we seek God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6 v 33) and truly worship Him in everything, then we can rest assured that, “..then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.”  (Romans 12 v 2 NIV).

The goal is Christ, to be in His Presence and to be transformed by His Presence. If we gave our every day to Him, we would love more, forgive more and be kinder. We’d be the best boss, the best daughter/son, sister/brother, wife/husband, mother/father, friend. We’d be the best customer at the checkout, the greatest encourager, the most generous giver. We’d notice people and care about others and the world entrusted to us. We’d work hard to pursue our desires because we could rest assured they were His too as we delight in Him (Psalm 37 v 4). Our natural bent, the overflow from our heart would be to bless others and grow His Kingdom on earth. So often we make the goal the gift, “call”, ministry, career, purpose, achievement, success and miss the simplicity of just being, being in Him.

If we aimed to fully know Him and be fully known by Him, we would question less if we’re doing the right or wrong thing because we’d know Him and His character. I’ve been with Rich now for a decade and his wife for 8 years of that. It’s safe to say I know him pretty well, we talk every day, we share the fun times and the hard times, and I’m pretty confident I know how’d he react in most situations. I know how he’d feel about a variety of subjects because I’ve taken the time to build our relationship, and it’s two way. I know his heart.

When I look at the Israelites, they were imperfect and often foolish and grumbling. Yet God chose them to reflect His goodness. He rescued them, saved them, won battles for them and provided for them. The world looked on in awe as His Presence, protection and provision were with them, despite themselves. There’s a whole world out there, in all types of situations, circumstances, jobs, cities, countries and war zones that need to look at us and see God’s Presence. They need to see the blessing of being under His protection and salvation despite our failures and mistakes. They need to see us being our best selves because our identity is placed in Him, our love flows from Him and His grace helps us each day. They need to see what it’s like to be called out of darkness into His wonderful light and in so doing want it too.

It’s time to stop worrying, fretting, deliberating, apologising. Pray, find His Presence, look for His peace and go for it! We have one life! Make the most of it!