What does the label say?

One of my Christmas presents last year was an electronic labelling machine. This was a great present, and anyone who knows me well will not be surprised that I’ve been labelling anything that doesn’t move, and some things that do! It reminded me of the Dymo machine of years past!

But my fresh passion for labelling has got me thinking… We can be very quick to label other people. And we can be very quick to label ourselves. This often isn’t helpful as we can be too quick to judge and too quick to put people into boxes and place limits around what they, or we, can do.

So, if you’re the type of person that tends to label people – be it others or yourself, my encouragement to you is to hold back from this and ask God to give you His perspective on people. Learn to see people’s potential in God. One of my friends was excellent at this recently, where at a prayer meeting he spoke out what he saw God doing in people’s lives and affirmed their gifts. This was so encouraging and very uplifting. Why not this week, look for opportunities to bless, to build up and to encourage.

If you are a Christian, the only label that God puts on you is one that says “son” or “daughter”. Now, that’s a label really worth having!

… and a very Happy New Year!

Anyone who knows me will know that I am probably the worlds worst blogger. What started off as a good idea soon got relegated to the bottom of the to-do list, and more often than not has fallen off altogether! However, a friends post on Facebook yesterday got me thinking, so I thought I would share my thoughts.

He was reflecting on the year that was 2012. He was saying that for him, it had been a mixed year – some highs, some lows. My guess is that this would be true for most of us. Life is rarely all good or bad – it’s most usually a mixture. He went on to quote from Romans 5:

Romans 5:3-5 (ESVUK)
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul talks about hope. This is one word that has such a stronger meaning in the Bible than we have for it in everyday English. We might hope for good weather, or for a favourite sports team to win their next match. Often this hope is no more than wishful thinking. Biblical hope is so much more. Biblical hope looks not to good fortune but looks to Jesus. We are encouraged to put our hope in Him.

The Psalmist puts it like this:

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. (Psalm 71:5)

As 2012 has now ended and we look forward to 2013, my encouragement to all of us, me included, is not just to hope for a better year, but to put our hope in Him who is our hope. Let’s put our hope and trust in Him who promises to walk through this year with us, no matter what it may bring. As you hope in Him, let me wish you a very Happy, Hope-filled New Year.

CS Lewis on giving

On Sunday, I preached at Jubilee about giving. Basing ourselves in Malachi 3, we looked at what the Bible has to say about generous, grace filled giving, as part of a life that’s sold out to God and committed to His purposes. We looked at how giving to God is not primarily a financial issue, it’s actually a heart issue. It flows out of a heart totally devoted to God. Anything we give to God, as part of our worship, should actually reflect the whole. The part given represents the whole, because we want to give everything to the Lord.

One of my quotes came from CS Lewis in Mere Christianity, where he answers the question as to how much we should give. He says this:

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.” 

In typical Lewis style, this is a challenging and provocative statement. So, how are you doing with your giving?

Be who God meant you to be…

The Bishop of LondonLike around 2 billion other people, I spent Friday watching the Royal Wedding, of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. I was particularly struck by the opening line from the address by the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres. The line was this:

“‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today.”

This got me thinking – how do you become who God meant you to be? I am sure there are many answers to this, but the following were top of my list as I thought and prayed about it yesterday:

  1. Love God and follow Him
  2. Serve others
  3. Develop close relationships and accountability
  4. Identify, grow in, and use your gifts
  5. Give generously

Love God and follow Him (Matthew 22:36-38)

This has to be fundemental to everything we are and all that we do. Jesus made it clear that loving God was our top priority.

Serve others (Matthew 22:39)

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes loving your neighbour as yourself number 2 on the list after Loving God, so we should take this seriously and look for ways to love and serve others.

Develop close relationships and accountability (Acts 2:42-47)

The Bishop referred to marriage in this context, but it doesn’t have to be marriage. In the New Testament, people were “saved and added” into the church community. Our culture is very individualistic, but Christian culture is far more community orientated. We make an individual response to Jesus and then we’re expected to follow Him in the context of community.

Identify, grow in, and use your gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7)

God has given every Christian at least one gift, often more. We have a responsibility to discover what this is and use it/them to the Glory of God.

Give generously (Luke 6:38)

Giving generously helps to ensure that we put God first, at the very centre of our lives. Generous giving is also a great antidote to the very materialistic culture we live in.

I am sure there are other things you might add to this list, but this is my initial offering. Live like this and be who God meant you to be. You could set the world on fire!

You can download a sermon based on this theme from the Jubilee Church website here.

What’s your plan?

What’s your hope for 2011? Are you hoping that it will be a year of you growing? One thing is certain – you’ll grow older! But wouldn’t you like it to be a year where you grow in character and grow in God too? For that to happen, you need a plan. So my question is this – what’s your plan?

I remember hearing Bill Hybels a few years ago talking about the need to plan to grow in leadership – to do things like read books, attend conferences, get a mentor and so on. The same is true of growing in the Christian life – you need a plan. So what’s your plan? Things like reading God’s word (see my previous post on reading through the Bible), praying, being part of a small group where you’re accountable to one another are all great helps. Let me encourage you – get before God to pray about it, get a plan and then ask God to help you implement it. Let’s make 2011 a year of growing in God and all He has for us.

Is anything blocking the river?

I preached yesterday from Ezekiel 47 about the River of God. The image of a river or flowing water is often used in scripture as a picture of the Holy Spirit or the Presence of God. The passage in Ezekiel reminds us that God’s presence brings life, that He wants us to experience His presence and that His Kingdom is an ever-increasing Kingdom.

But we also looked at potential blockages to the river of God in our lives. Just like this waterfall which I saw on a recent walk, stuff can get into out lives which blocks what God wants to do. Four things came to mind particularly, but I am sure there are more. These are:

  1. Unbelief
  2. Cynicism
  3. Lack of faith
  4. Sin

Unbelief is OK if it’s your starting point and you don’t stay there! A man who brought his son to Jesus to have Jesus heal him, exclaimed in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” God loves to help us overcome our unbelief.

If unbelief is not dealt with, it can lead to cynicism. Cynicism is dangerous – it says things like, “I’ve seen it all before”, “Yea, yea, I’ve heard it all before…”. Cynicism can quickly become a mindset and rather than it being the blockage to what God wants to do, you become the blockage. If you’re prone to cynicism, repent of it and ask God to give you faith and to help you overcome your unbelieving cynicism.

On one occasion, Jesus rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith (Mark 16:14). We should be people full of faith and those who are growing in faith.

Finally, sin can block what God wants to do in our lives, particularly if it’s persistent and habitual. God loves to forgive and offer a new start, so if you’ve got caught up in sin, turn to God, confess it to Him and repent of it and ask Him to make His river flow in your life once again.

The river that started as a trickle became a deep river that no-one could cross. Let’s be asking God to make that true of His work in our lives.

Reading through the Bible

Man with open BibleSome of you will know that I have decided to read through the Bible this year. I have done it before (it took me a bit longer than a year!) and I felt it would be good to do it again. Now, announcing to the world that one intends to read through the Bible this year may sound slightly pompous and self promoting, but my motivation in doing so is far from that. I am hoping that it will increase the number of people who will hold me accountable to this goal and help me along the way.

To help my reading I am following a plan from www.youversion.com that breaks the Bible up into 365 segments, one for each day. I am also using their iPhone app so that I can easily keep track of my reading and see where I’m up to as well as read on the move.

I want to encourage you – if you’ve never read through the whole Bible, why not do it this year? If you’ve done it before, why not do it again? There are a variety of reading plans available online (I’m using the Canonical Plan) and by using technology you can give yourself the best chance of completing it. In a year that is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible, why not make it a year of reading through the Bible (though I would probably suggest a more modern translation such as the NIV or ESV).