Idols & The God Who Saves

Grace

I’ve been thinking about idols recently. When I say ‘recently’, I mean for the last few years. And when I say ‘thinking about’, I mean that exposing the idols of my heart seems to have been a big theme for God in that time… Evidently it is a major project!

This week I was led to a Bible passage that gave me some fresh insight on the whole topic. Isaiah 44:6-23 starts off with a declaration by Yahweh, the God of Israel:

“This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” (v.6)

“Yep,” we say to ourselves. “I’m totally on board with that. So far, so doctrinally true.” We know that there is one God. We read about Him in the Bible, we pray to Him, we sing worship songs to Him. Why are we even having a conversation about idols?

Calves and Carpenters

Listen, creating idols is as easy as falling off a log. Take the Israelites – 600,000 men (not to mention the women, children and animals) walk through the Red Sea without getting their feet wet, and the Egyptian army pursuing them on their chariots is completely swallowed up. It’s a dramatic and miraculous rescue by their awesome God. The Israelites burst into a song of praise – “Who among the gods is like you, Lord?” (Exodus 15:11) … and three seconds later they are building a golden calf out of their earrings.

We smile to ourselves. Those silly Israelites.

Isaiah 44 goes on to paint an equally ridiculous picture. It describes in derisive detail the process of fashioning an idol out of metal or wood – ‘The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker…’ (v.13). It points out that from the same lump of wood, half is used as fuel for the barbecue, whilst the other half is venerated as a divine being – ‘Half of the wood he burns in the fire… From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” (v.16-17). It is laughable. It is meant to be.

But before we point the finger at those naive Old Testament idolaters, we need to realise that this passage is also speaking to us.

What… me, too?

How many times have we put our trust in something other than God to save us? How many times have we worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator? Or, to put it another way, what do our desires/fears reveal about what our hearts are resting on?

• If only this person liked me, then I would feel secure (their approval will save me)

• If only I looked like that, then I would feel confident (this diet/hairstyle/makeover will save me)

• If only I could get this grade on the exam, then my life will work out (success will save me)

• If only I had the latest iPhone/a bigger house/those shoes, then I would be happy (my possessions will save me)

• If only I had a boyfriend/husband, then I would feel loved (this relationship will save me)

What is it for you? My idols tend to be other people. Up they go on the pedestal of my adoration, and I am consumed with trying to win their affection and approval. I am a slave to their opinion of me. A kind word and I’m elated. A brush-off and I’m having major abandonment issues. Our need is desperate. Our fears all-consuming. And so we work harder and harder to try to get our idols to save us. We pour every ounce of ourselves into trying to be likeable, looking a certain way, studying, shopping, seeking out potential partners, etc. No wonder we feel exhausted – ‘…he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.’ (v.12)

Morning Mist

And so as I read Isaiah 44 this week, it was with recognition and a heavy heart. I know my idolatry and I struggle to rid myself of it. I know the Lord deserves my pure and unadulterated worship, but my wayward and foolish heart gets entangled in the false promises of other gods. Then I got to the last three verses of this section. “Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant…” (v21) – “Oh, here we go,” I thought. “Here comes the rebuke.” I braced myself.

How little I know my Lord.

“Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (v21-22)

Such grace. Such sweet, surprising, undeserved love. Like the first warm day in spring, like beautiful music, like seeing the face of a loved one after being apart, these words flew into my heart and lifted it up in grateful joy. I remembered my Redeemer and suddenly all was made right again.

This is the God who saves. Not a god of my own creation whose powerlessness leaves me aching and exhausted. No – my Creator, whose strong and everlasting arms have stretched themselves out on a cross in order to sweep away all my sins, including idolatry, and are stretched out in loving welcome to embrace me.

Apart from Him, there is no god.

 

If this is a topic that has struck a chord with you, and you want to think further about it, then I recommend reading No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Vicky

Vicky

Vicky became a Christian at 17 after her A Level Biology teacher told the class about Jesus. At university she learnt a lot about the Bible, for which she is very grateful, but in recent years the Lord has really captured her heart. She lives and works in Cambridge as a university admissions officer. She loves making music, watching movies and spending time with friends and family

Crowded Meals: Eating Disorders & Christianity

Taking a break in our regular schedule to post this incredibly brave entry today, as it covers a topic that is increasingly present in the lives of many girls reading. We’re praying that this post might be useful in some way – whether it equips you to be a better friend to somebody, or gives you hope in your own tricky journey. Please read and lift your gaze straight up to your Maker – He loves you very much.

 

I never thought I would be sat here writing this. It has always been my dirty little secret. Sure, there are a few friends who are familiar with this battle, who have held my hand through doctor appointments, outpatients therapy and heavy sobs over spontaneous meals. But that is after all how the disease flourishes, it feeds upon deception and secrets, and unfortunately, the church is far too eager to push it into the shadows. And yet here I am.

I have an eating disorder. 

Already I can see your eyes shift awkwardly to the ground. Tension bubbles to the surface as you survey my body in a way you never have before, “are you really that thin? You don’t look like a walking skeleton to me.” 

One of the many misconceptions that the media has fed about eating disorders. As tempted as I am to write this article merely challenging all of the dangerous stereotypes and lies that are postulated about anorexia, among other disorders, for now I will settle with this: weight-loss is merely an outer symptom of whatever is going on in the mind. If you can see that someone visibly has an eating disorder, then they are already dangerously tangled up at the bottom of the rabbit hole. 

How did I get here? They say it all starts with a point. A trigger fired. A spark that is engulfed with flames. I’ve been trying to find this point for years now, pinpointing the exact time that anorexia placed its hands around my neck, ready to squeeze. But I can’t find it. The longer I search, the more convoluted the progression becomes. The feelings bleed into one another until I’m back to being a young child, wondering if anorexia has simply always been there, merely medically diagnosed at age 16. 

I’m not sure. 

I am sure however that this road has been full of tangents and turn-offs, full of many lanes and reckless drivers. Some anorexia sufferers prefer to begin looking out. Looking at the minefield of heart-ache and misplaced words that got them to this point. Not me. This disease begins and ends with me.

And yet for me, and many other women in the church, there is an added complication. Walking along this road I was never alone, but had Jesus at my side.

Anorexia and Faith – a contradiction in terms?

I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember – lucky to have never walked outside of God’s love and grace. I have known Him, and Him me, for many years now. So when I first sunk into the depths of this disease, and the relapses that have followed since recovery, how did I begin to reconcile this disease and a faith that was at the heart of all I was? 

My first reaction was, and still is, to distance myself from God. It is difficult to find a coherent approach to mental health and eating disorders in the institution that is the church, with a few tempted to say that eating disorders are a result of our failings as a Christian. This is something I just can’t accept having now lived with the disorder for six years. Whilst the eating disorder undoubtedly highlights the flaws in my faith and makes it harder to sustain a good relationship with God, it is not a direct cause of my own sin. If it were, then anyone who struggles with their identity in Christ would find themselves in the battle with an eating disorder. No, like a physical illness, mental illness is unfortunately a consequence of a falling world. 

However, because of the nature of the disorder, I am all too aware that the thoughts that penetrate my mind are not of God. Out of shame and guilt, I tend to find myself climbing up a tree, out of God’s sight and my assumed condemnation.

How quick I am to brush Him with the same judgement that I put on myself.

The great thing is that God does not leave me stuck up my tree of shame. You may have heard of Zaccheus the tax collector who lived in the times of Jesus. Hated by his community and aware of his vicious actions, Zaccheus climbed to the top of a tree during one of Jesus’s ‘walk-abouts’ and there he stayed. Close enough to catch just a sight of God’s glory, but far enough away so as not to taint the Son of God with his unholiness. However, Jesus sought out Zaccheus, and to everyone’s shock and horror, invited himself round for dinner.

In my own life, God also seeks me out in my sin and my shame, calling me to come down from my tree of fear. After that, it’s up to me. There are days when my legs move from underneath themselves, eager to untie myself and climb down into God’s embrace. But there are other days when the leap seems too far, the embrace too fragile, as I grip onto my tree, not trusting God’s love for me at the bottom. 

Where do we go from here?

I so wish I could finish this post by giving a tangible hope of my own recovery for those who suffer out there. Today I can’t do that. I can however give the hope that you are not alone, and at some point the stigma against mental health and eating disorders in society has to stop. Having been enveloped by love in my own church, I have every hope that the Church can be a beacon of education and compassion for those who suffer. Having an eating disorder is a lonely and isolated journey that cordons off your mind from the rest of the world. We as the church have to make sure that eating disorders don’t flourish in the shadows. There are too many of us hurting in silence.

You are loved:

I can also tell you that you are fearlessly and unmistakably loved, no matter what the state of your mind is. No matter how alone you feel in your suffering, you do not walk this battle solo. The God of the Heavens is at your side, and the monsters in your head are no challenge for Him.  There will always be few people who really, truly understand what it is like to be in your head, however God sees it all. He sees all your thoughts and knows you inside out. Talk to Him. I have learned over the years that it is better to take my most sinister, most disjointed thoughts to Him than to block Him out completely. After all, we already know that He loved us at our darkest. Trust Him to love you now. 

Your life has a purpose:

Eating disorders and mental illnesses have a messy and dark past. Our culture is still laced with stereotypes and assumptions that were harmful and dangerous to those who suffer. Among this remains an assumption that you are useless goods, that your struggles have tainted your ability to help build God’s kingdom. That simply could not be further from the truth. One of the things I love most about the Bible is that it is an account of broken people being redeemed for God’s purposes. Furthermore, one of the greatest Bible teachers this world has ever known, Charles Spurgeon, infamously struggled with a dark depression for his entire life. Yet look what a role Spurgeon was given on this Earth. Don’t hold yourself to the earthly standards of defeat and a futile future, look to God for your purpose in this life.

Don’t place your hope in recovery:

I continue to pray for recovery, and I have no doubt that God could eliminate the demon-girl stuck in my head, however it is not in that that I put my trust. Instead, I trust that God has overcome this world, and everything I experience here will be but a breathe when we are in paradise. This is simply my burning furnace, and it is through this that I must pass. I trust that He will restore me, but even if He doesn’t on this earth, I won’t give up on a God that has not yet let me down. 

“I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.  But I always get back again by this–I know that I trust Christ.  I have no reliance but in Him, and if He falls, I shall fall with Him.  But if He does not, I shall not.  Because He lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and get the victory through it.  And so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it.”

~ Charles Spurgeon

Written anonymously

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an eating disorder, there are a number of places to look for help:

NHS Website

BEAT Website (Beating Eating Disorders), including a whole page dedicated to providing resources regarding eating disorders

However, if you are suffering the most important thing is to seek out help as soon as possible from a medical professional.

Bringing Us Ever Closer

Abby writes for us today on how we can be joyful even in the worst of times – and how we can rejoice not just despite sufferings but in them! Abby’s testimony continues to be our all-time most popular post, so it makes us very happy to have her back writing for the blog and more importantly  to see how much Jesus is working in her life! We hope you are challenged and inspired by her post today…

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
(Psalm 34:18)

The times of greatest suffering in a believer’s life tend to also be the times we feel furthest from God. Neglected, ignored, shunned, punished…we come up with all these horrible reasons for the affliction we are under, exacerbating our hurt and blaming God for our misfortune. Yet, it is us who have ignored and shunned our Father. Only in suffering do we cry out to Him to come into our lives. As David pleads over and over through the book of psalms:

“Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.”
(Psalm 22:19)

And the best part of all? He does. He absolutely adores to reveal Himself in our lives (He was always there) and hold us up till we are safely out the other side. Our heavenly Father turns my darkness into light no matter what we’re going through. Corrie ten Boom endured unimaginable pain in her life and still found the faith to say:

“No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”

So rejoice! Rejoice that in our sufferings, God is right there with us and His unfailing love shields us as we endure the darkness. We cling to Him through the trials and we praise Him when we are delivered from them. Just like a family is made stronger through the pains of childbirth, our relationship with God is made stronger through our pains. We have learnt that it is the result of our sufferings that proves God’s presence, rather than our sufferings proving his absence. But more so than this, our sufferings themselves prove his presence! He draws close to us when we are at our weakest.

The love of my life, Spurgeon, oh-so-eloquently phrased: “is it not sweet to think that our tears are understood even when words fail! Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers.” The point I’m trying to make is that God is always there. He rescues us from our sufferings but he also stays by our side while we’re suffering and comforts us in wondrous relationship with Him.

John Bunyan said “were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble for the greater comfort’s sake.” The beauty of this concept is astounding. I’m sure you’ve all heard the Hillsong track Oceans by now – “my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Saviour”… I would like to propose that we all truly take this away with us. Our loving Father is our shield, our comfort, our light and He draws close to us when we need Him most. So why don’t we thank Him for that the next time we feel ‘neglected’? Let us remind ourselves that the times we feel most alone are the times we have the closest comfort imaginable.

_____________________________________________________________________________
Abby

Abby

Abby is from Cambridge and currently studies Psychology at Bath University. Having grown up in a Christian family, she became a Christian last summer and has loved growing more in her faith at uni. Abby most definitely caught the travelling bug in her gap year and would ideally like to travel forever and ever…but for now moving to Sheffield next year will suffice!

Deborah: A Life Well Lived

Today we’re discussing someone pretty inspiring. She was a smart, successful, honest lady living a God-centred life even in the midst of chaos and conflict. If, like me, these are qualities that you are constantly pursuing yet never-quite-managing, read on my friend! Rachel has written a great post for us today, reminding us of God’s sovereignty and grace over our lives, how we can be girls of integrity in light of this… all glory is His.

deborah-image

There’s someone I want to introduce to you. She’s called Deborah. No, it’s not your Auntie Debs. Nor Ms ‘I’m a straight talking business tycoon’ Meaden. And I promise I haven’t roped in that friend of your Mum’s who insists on liking everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook.

Meet Deborah: the prophetess and only female Judge of Israel. She prefers being called Debbie. She likes a good poem, chocolate covered raisins, fairy lights and late night conversations (you know, the ones where afterwards you act as if they never happened but are so glad they did).

We find Deborah in Judges 4 and 5, at a time when ‘there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes and King Jabin of the Canaanites cruelly and violently ruled the people of Israel. She led Israel from under a palm tree where ‘Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided’. She’s known for having to go with Barack, the military leader, into battle against the Canaanites because, although God had told him they would win, he didn’t trust they’d defeat such a large army. He only agreed to go if Deborah went with him and, though disappointed in Barack’s lack of faith, Deborah knew it was God’s will and agreed to go. Due to Deborah’s unfaltering trust in God’s promise, the Israelites won against all the odds.

Deborah’s a woman of uncompromising integrity, justice, sensitive honesty and faithfulness to God’s will. Over the past week I’ve learnt so much from her – I hope you are as inspired by her character as I’ve been.

Sensitive honesty is something I admire in anyone, and Deborah is no different. When Barack refused to go without her she could’ve been, like, ‘It’s cool, I know it can be hard to trust God, I’ll come with you and if we win, I’ll pretend it was down to you’. Instead, she explained that ‘because of the course you are taking, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.’ As a Judge she had to ‘real talk’ with those she was leading, and yet she did it with a sensitivity that would encourage compliance and compromise.

Sometimes we can kid ourselves that being Christian and loving others is all about being nice. ‘If I’m really nice they’ll see Jesus at work in my life’ or ‘If they see how nice I am they might ask me why I’m so nice and then I can tell them about Jesus’. Following Jesus is not about being nice, it’s far more about being real.

Let’s say what we mean. Let’s be what we say. Let’s be women of integrity.

If we are to follow Deborah’s example of leadership we need to see that being nice isn’t always the most loving option. Nice is faking a ‘you look fine’. Honest is ‘Your mascara’s smudged, I’ll wipe it off for you’. Nice is ‘Life following God is easy and perfect, I’m always happy and everything goes the way I want it’. Honest is ‘Life with God is life to the full, it’s real and raw and tough, but being in a relationship with Him is worth it all’.

A friend said to me recently, ‘you are most effective for God’s kingdom when you are doing something you love’.  God has given you skills, abilities and talents for a reason. He wants you to use them to build his kingdom; it would be a waste not to. We can sometimes kid ourselves that certain talents are more important in serving God than others. We get jealous of what others can do. But God wants YOU to use what YOU have been given. No one has the same skill set to use, in the same situation as you. No one can make the same impact you can. It’s like when the apostle Paul says…

‘For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.’
Romans 12: 4-6

Deborah used the gifts she had as directed by God to serve Him completely. She didn’t keep her gifts to herself but used them to glorify God and bring His will to the Israelites. I bet as she sat, writing her poem, she didn’t think it would feature in the Scriptures and go on to inspire millions of women. Who knows how God will use the gifts He’s given you? If you never try them out, you’ll never see how He does.

Yet above all her remarkable gifts, hers was the victory because of a heart and mind that was fixed on God and His will for the Israelites. She was careful to voice God’s will and not her own, resolving disputes not with political and judicial motives but God’s. Barack didn’t want her by his side because of her beautiful poems or her ability to resolve arguments about sheep. He recognised how strong Deborah’s relationship with God was; with her by their side, God’s presence would be with them also.

And after the battle was won, Deborah gave the credit straight back to God – not placing the victory down to her abilities as a leader, but to God’s faithfulness and ability to do the impossible. How often do we pray for God to help us and make things a success and then take the credit when they go well? I, for one, am guilty.

Deborah is one of those people I read about and think: ‘you do life so well’. She has qualities I’d love to see in my own life, and a character that is so firmly built on glorifying God. So how can I develop her character in my own life? How do I hear God’s voice as clearly as she did?

Spend time with Him. Read the Bible. Pray. Listen to others. Listen to Him. Worship. Seek His face. Like most things, the more you practice, the better you become, and the more you spend time with someone the more you get to know them. In your busy life, set aside time to spend with God. Ask Him to help you develop a character of integrity, honesty and strength, and to show you how you can best use the gifts He has blessed you with.

______________________________________________________________________________

rachel 5Rachel’s currently an A-level student and CU leader at Hills Road Sixth Form College. With no set plans for the future she’s open (and a little nervous) to what God brings her way and is excited to be discovering how He might use her baking skills in the next few years. She loves daffodils, cold rice pudding, walks along windy beaches, eating cake for breakfast, the smell of coffee, writing her baking blog http://www.icecreamintherain.com/ and meeting people living wholeheartedly for Jesus.

PS: We’d just like to say that Rachel’s baking blog is probably one of the most beautiful sites we’ve ever seen…dangerous to read if you’re hungry!

Inspiring Change

International Women’s Day 2014

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is ‘Inspiring Change’, calling for positive change in the lives of women across the world. We believe in a God who is in the business of change. Our God is a God who is continually at work in our hearts and our lives, who has saved us by His grace and gives us life to the full.

We also believe that there’s huge value to be found in the women that encourage us in our faith along the way. So, today we’re celebrating all the women who inspire us to change, to grow, to dream big, to love well and to adore Jesus. We hope you will find these little glimpses into their lives inspiring too. Here’s to precious mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers and friends!

_________________________________________________________________________

SG IWB

Rosemary ~ Susie Cox

My granny Rosemary, aged 86, heads up our rather large family since her husband died 12 years ago. She is the most active octogenarian I’ve met, caring for sick neighbours, hosting Alpha suppers and church groups, going on long family walks and cycling to the shops, not to mention Tuesday evening folk dancing. What is most inspirational is her love for Jesus and for other people: her door is always open (not literally, although I think a lot of people know where the spare key lives) and she makes you feel like nothing, in that moment, could be more important than listening to you.

_________________________________________________________________________

Esther ~ Torie Stubbs

I find Esther from the Old Testament incredibly inspiring because God used a woman who, from her circumstances, wouldn’t have appeared to be someone who would change the world. But God saw her as significant, and he had an awesome plan for her life, one that would take her from poverty to the palace of a king. God’s plan was for Esther to be born for ‘such a time as this’; in the entire history of life, God had Esther’s role planned out from the start, and he used her to set a nation free! Esther embraced God’s call on her life, even though it could have meant giving up her life! If we could all know just how significant we are in this time, in this year, then we may too get supernatural boldness and be used by The Lord to do the unimaginable!
_________________________________________________________________________

AA IWD

Angela Ahrendts ~ Emma White

When Lucy asked me to write a short paragraph about a woman who I find inspirational, many lovely ladies went through my mind – the Queen (such a hero), my Mum (just amazing), my friend Julia (always encouraging but also lovingly challenging me) and so many more.  However, I settled on Angela Ahrendts.

Angela Ahrendts is currently CEO of Burberry, and will shortly move to join the executive team at Apple.  In 2013, Angela was listed as Forbe’s 53rd most influential woman in the world and she was also made a Dame. Her time at Burberry was extremely successful and during her tenure, the company’s value rose from £2bn to over £7bn.  Given the turbulent times that many businesses experienced during the 2008  financial crisis, this is amazing! As well as this, Angela is a wife, a Mum to three children and a committed Christian who quoted Jesus in her TED talk.

So why do I find Angela so inspiring? Well, as someone who has the whole of my working life stretching out ahead of me, it is so encouraging to see examples of Christian women who have dreamed big dreams, worked hard and pursued their passions. We should be passionate and excited about our work, and ask God to show us how he would have us work for His glory. This will look different for every one of us. God needs all sorts of girls to do lots of different things, so that we can shine as lights for Him into the many different parts of the world – in businesses, charities, homes, schools, hospitals, everywhere.  We can take heart from Angela Ahrendt’s example that it is important to be excited about work and the opportunities that God gives us to use our skills and energy. Let’s not think too small.
_________________________________________________________________________

BC IWD

Bethany ~ Rebecca Wall

My cousin Bethany is an inspiration to me. She is brave and pioneering, gentle, wise and has a humungous heart. She always wanted to work with street children and not long after graduating she left comforts of family, friends, security and moved to Paraguay. She had only GCSE Spanish and moved their alone in faith. What she has done is amazing. She now runs a school for slum children at a feeding station, she is fluent in the language and has touched the lives of so many children, simply by loving them, something many of them have not experienced before.

Despite their often traumatised pasts and behavioural difficulties, the kids are so eager to learn. These children are society’s outcasts, yet to her they are precious treasures whom she loves dearly (and who adore her). She is a shining example of Jesus’ love, an obedient servant who I think is an incredible example of an amazing response to Jesus saying: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
_________________________________________________________________________

The Woman At The Well ~ Naomi Allen

My inspiration is an outcast, a nameless woman with a history of failure. A woman who had every excuse to avoid Jesus and slip away back into her life of darkness. Instead, she chose to talk, to listen and to try to understand. Despite being in a seemingly hopeless situation, this woman trusted in the man who called himself the Messiah and allowed his promise to change her life. This is Jesus: the ultimate life-changer! Will we choose to listen and follow?
_________________________________________________________________________

S IWD

Suse ~ Nell Goddard

Let me tell you about Suse. She’s my big sister who isn’t really a relative at all, and one of the best things that ever happened to me. She showed me how to paint my nails, curl my hair, and beat my brother at play-fighting. She taught me that it’s okay to be an introvert, and a love of silence is to be embraced, not ignored. She showed me that academic theology isn’t just for old men, but for 20-something women as well. She taught me, by example, to trust God even when it hurts. She showed me the delicate beauty of embracing your emotions, and acknowledging that people have hurt you. She has taught me forgiveness, acceptance, and honesty. She has asked questions I didn’t want to answer, and then loved me to a point where I felt safe enough to share. She has been more than a best friend, more than a big sister. She has been a true gift from God, a blessing, and an inspiration.
_________________________________________________________________________

Emily ~ Katrina Bass

At only 12, she may not quite be a woman yet but I am so often inspired by my best friend’s little sister. Emily has such an unconditional love for people. God has blessed her with a huge heart and the ability to seek out those in need, giving them a glimmer of the enormity of Jesus’ love for them through her words and actions. Her joy and laughter is contagious and one cannot help but notice her security in God as her saviour. (PS: Hannie & Lucy are also among Emily’s biggest fans – we love her very much and are continually energised by her generous, cheerful and selfless approach to life!)
_________________________________________________________________________

CTB IWD

Corrie ten Boom ~ Lucy Beauchamp

Last summer I started reading The Hiding Place, the story of Corrie ten Boom. I was so hooked on her story that I ended up reading all her books within the space of a week! Throughout WWII, Corrie and her family hid Jews in their family home to keep them safe, risking their lives to do what they believed was right. Eventually, the family was found out, and Corrie was the only one to come out of concentration camp alive.

Despite the terrible loss of her family, the hatred shown to her, the terror of the concentration camps and her own poverty, sickness and pain, Corrie remained absolutely fixated on Jesus. I was so captivated by her story not only because of the amazing things she went through and went on to do (she became an incredible international speaker after the war!), but more because she just became more and more like Jesus no matter how difficult her situation was. She models forgiveness in a way that is absolutely radical. There is something inescapably attractive about Corrie’s beautiful outlook on life, one that is saturated with thankfulness and humility. In all her achievements, her courage, boldness and energy, Corrie points right back to her Father in everything she says and does, giving all the glory back to Him. That’s the kind of woman I want to be!

A Perfectionist’s Guide to Grace

Comparison

There are certain conversations that seem to rattle my sinful self right to the forefront of my mind.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by women who praise one another and applaud the good that they see in each other: “That girl… She has such a fire for God, doesn’t she?”… “Does she ever stop serving? I’ve never seen someone spend so much time at church!”… “I can’t get over how kind she is. What a great example of God’s love!”

I nod along, straining to include my voice in the support of my fellow sisters. After all, I do support them. I am daily in awe of many of the Godly women I have around me. If God created us in His image, then His awe-inspiring combination of might and compassion can be found in the hearts of women, that’s for sure.

Except there’s another voice. One that I’m ashamed to speak out, knowing without being told that this feeling is one to kept tucked away:

“What about me?”

Sigh. With the might and compassion found in women comes another characteristic that certainly doesn’t come from God. The urge to compare.

As a fallen humanity, competition and comparison are inevitable, and in a society that is always pointing to the other person, this mindful trap is all too easy to fall into. And this church mouse is struggling to escape.

You can’t earn your grace

The real irony of it, of course, is that whilst I’m looking around eagerly sizing myself up, the issue of comparison could not be more my own. I can’t point fingers at anyone else, blaming them for their over-achievement. Instead, at the heart of my desperation to compare sits the real issue; a perfectionist who still struggles to appreciate grace.

I’ve always been relatively competent at life. I get good grades, have good friendships, make good choices, have a good relationship with my family and other half. I’m organised, punctual, and hard-working when I’m not distracted by Pinterest. Note none of these are exceptional, but distinctly, averagely good.

I enjoy earning things. I enjoy earning praise. So in spite of the Bible telling me again and again that I can’t earn my salvation, I still desperately try to prove my place. I might not be able to earn my salvation, but I better be one of the more ‘together’ lost sheep. It makes me sad that I probably would have fit in quite comfortably with the chastised Pharisees…

In a desperate plea to prove that I somehow ‘deserve’ the grace that I was given, I bind myself to the very thing that Jesus died to set me free from. I become afraid of not measuring up to the Christian standards that only I have created for myself. I’m full of pride, thinking that I could somehow ever measure up to God’s standard, when the truth is I, like the rest of the people on this planet, fall desperately short each and every day.

I can’t earn my salvation. I can’t earn my spot in God’s family. By comparing and competing, this precious gift that I am so undeserving of becomes another scale for which to weigh my worth. What a manipulation of this beautiful grace.

One body, many parts

The saddest part of the comparison trap is that it forces us into competition. Not competition with strangers on the street either, but competition with our sisters, our family. God never intended us to compete with one another, but rather called us to compliment one another. He encourages us to find the gifts that He has so gracious bestowed upon us, and using them to build His Kingdoms. We each bring something unique to the table, and the body of the Church needs us to accept our duties and step up to the work that God has called us to do.

Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 12:18-20: “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The best way to break free from this comparison trap and find our place in the body of the church? Find out who you really are, instead of fighting to be someone that you are not.

My best friend, Peter (no, he doesn’t know we’re best friends yet. I’m waiting until heaven to tell him), also struggled with comparison. In John 21, Jesus asks him to “Take care of my sheep”. Peter thinks about this, peers round to John the disciple, looks back at Jesus and says, “What about him?”

This passage makes me chuckle so much, mostly because it’s like looking in the mirror. Before I accept the job you’ve offered me, Lord, I would first like to hear about what you have offered the woman over there, just in case I want to trade, ya know?

Jesus, knowing Peter’s heart and his wandering gaze, says, bluntly, “What about him? As for you, follow me.”

And us?

So, what about her? What about the girl who works tirelessly in the creche? Or the woman who has a gift with sharing the gospel that only I could have given her? What about them?

Jesus replies: I have a job for you. A job that is meant for you, and you alone. Put your blinkers on and keep your eyes on me. As for you, you follow me.

Written by Hannie

The Idol of ‘Busy’

Little_Miss_Busy

“I just don’t know how she does it!” 

Whenever I hear this in conversation, I react in one of two ways. If the ‘she’ in question is somebody else, I’m immediately jealous. Why is she so in demand? How can she be managing so much, so successfully? Is she doing as much as I am?

If the ‘she’ is me, I react with mixed feelings of panic and pride. Panic that I’m not actually coping very well deep inside, and pride at the thought that I’m still managing to convey a pretty put-together, competent image to everyone else.

For being busy is code for being ‘wanted’. For being talented and competent enough that you are called upon to be involved in lots of different things. Culturally, a busy life represents success. If you’re busy with academic work, you look intelligent. If you’re busy with never ending social engagements, you look popular. If you’re busy with sports or music, you look talented. Right?

So, what are you doing when you’re not busy?

This question rocks me a little. Without the excuse of busyness, my life somehow seems to lack purpose. Being ‘busy’ gives me the perfect excuse for all the things I don’t do, while allowing me to self project an image of competence and success.

God has been teaching me lots of lessons about this over the years. At my school, academic success was the ultimate goal. Perhaps being surrounded by children of academics skewed my judgement a little, but intelligence was fiercely prized and good grades were everything. Success came when all five of my university offers rolled in, placing me right up there with all the other Oxbridge ‘successfuls’.

When results day came, I was devastated to find out that I had missed my grades for my top choice. It shook up all my carefully formed plans and I was angry at God for seemingly giving me one perfect option for my future and taking it away again. What about all my hard work, my commitment, my busyness?

In this full-circle journey of excitement and disappointment, I was taught a few important lessons:

1. God gives and takes away: every good gift is from Him.

2. He is sovereign, His plan is perfect.

3. Busyness must be God-centred, not self-centred.

Forgetting the fundamental truth that I must be part of God’s big plan rather than trying to form my own little plans is the real reason behind the mix of panic and pride that comes from idolising a busy life. Panic because I’m not created to do things in my own strength, because I’m not designed to find my value in my works. Pride because it’s corruptive to live a life that’s inwardly-focused rather than Heavenly-focused. Ephesians 3:20 says:

“Now to Him, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.”

See? It’s all about Him. This is why the ‘busy’ life is a particularly dangerous one if we put ourselves at the centre. It’s good to explore our gifts, to have ambition and to have a passion for your God-given purpose in this life. But it must be in recognition of the God who gave us the gifts, the God who gives us strength for each day.

So…I challenge you to remember where your gifts and talents come from. To give glory to God in the ways you use them, to be continually thankful for the blessings He pours out.

To remember that your identity and purpose must be God-given, God-driven. Jesus gave his life for us so that we may be children of God. Nothing we could ever do will change that in the slightest. Isn’t that an attractive kind of freedom?

I challenge you to rest.

To honour the God that honours rest. Rest is built into the Ten Commandments, it is fundamentally built into the creation of the universe. And how many times do we see Jesus encouraging his disciples to rest, to escape the crowds and the commitments and spend some time with their Father. When you honour rest, you are making a statement that you trust in a God who is bigger than any of the stresses and strains of this world. When you rest you are committing your time up to God, trusting in His plan above your own.

I’m still very bad at this, and I so often forget that I have a God so much bigger than my day-to-day worries and commitments. But it’s such a comfort to me to know that I don’t have to live by my own strength; I can rely on the source of all strength, the giver of all good things, the peace my soul needs.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Broken and Restored

though i will fall

Mistakes. Heart-ache. Regret. Obsessions. The darkest thoughts. There are cracks, cracks deep in all our souls, and I’m willing to guess you have a few of your own. In an age of Pinterest and Instagram, when the pressure to present everything without fault is overbearing, these cracks feel uncomfortable and painful. Daily reminders of our inability to meet the world’s standards. I’m frustrated by the Pinterest and Facebook images of  women, both Christian and not, who seem to have it sussed. How have you gone through life and come out so unscathed? Please, share your secrets.

Spend any amount of time on this earth and you’re sure to come out cracked, bruised and scarred. This world throws it all at us: our sin bottled up in a pent-up exasperation of shame, whilst the circumstances of a fallen world leave us whip-lashed and hurting. Oh, and we can’t even point our finger with blame. These are merely the consequences of lives lived in rejection of God. There is an innocence that simply can’t be recaptured after a life lived on earth… after all how can you un-learn something? There is a threshold that once stepped over can’t be undone.

At least that can be how it feels.

But the truth is, whilst we are on the topic of fairytales and the great epics, there is a battle at large that we can often remain oblivious to.

Whilst Satan calls me by my sin:

“You think God would touch you now?”

God beckons me to the shore with a whisper:

“Hannie, let me hold you. Don’t be afraid, I won’t let you drown”.

Oh, we have failed him. Once dead and oblivious to our sin, we were largely clueless to our inability to measure up to God. But as we begin to walk daily with God, the rose-tinted glasses are removed and we begin to see our sin for what it truly is. Not only that, but we can often find that we struggle even more with our temptations and selfish desires after we give our lives over to God. I think I can vouch for many other women when I say that I’ve got a long way to go before I manifest as the Proverbs 31 woman. Weren’t these feelings supposed to go away? Wasn’t I supposed to be turned into this magnificent, glowing Christian woman when I met Jesus?

Well… yes. Except our God isn’t one to click his fingers and leave us to do the rest. He is a God of doing, not done. Renewing, not renewal. You see, no matter how many times you’ve wandered away from God in your relationship with him, there is something he wants you to know:

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” Isaiah 43:19.

He is doing a new thing. This day and the next. How easy it is to wander away in this world, with all its trappings and sparkling jewels. But when you find yourself in the field with the pigs, it is not too late to come home. Your Father is waiting for you, keeping watch on the horizon for your homecoming. He has begun a work in you, and he isn’t done with you yet. You are not a finished product and God does not regret saving you.

Pick up the pieces of your broken heart and regret off the floor and return to the throne of God. With tear-stained eyes, and a heart overwhelmed by this world, we can offer up the pieces to our Father. Let him take them. Let your God take what little we have to offer and hear him when he says, “I can restore all things.”

So if you feel like your relationship with God has been lacking recently, or if you feel like you’ve screwed up one too many times, please hear this: our God is a God of second chances. As I spend more time with God, yes, I become increasingly aware of how much I fail him daily, of the very depths of my sin and shame. But do you want to know what’s awesome? I’m also more aware of how great God is in my failings, and I’m beginning to understand just how great a sacrifice Jesus made for me. This is where freedom is found. Not in by denying our sinful nature or drowning in our shame, but recognising the great heights that Jesus went to to bring us home.

Oh Father, please don’t stop making preciousness from dust.

When sin and ugliness
Collide with redemption’s kiss
Beauty awakens by romance

Always inside this mess
I have found forgiveness
Mercy as infinite as You

Written by Hannie

A Life Too Comfortable

f3126ba5d5420456e1d8c2dbaa188352

Being comfortable is nice, right? After a long day at college, there’s nothing I like better than snuggling down into my cosy bed and watching a film. As I settled to watch Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe this week I wasn’t quite ready for how God was going to reveal Himself and give me a much needed, uncomfortable shake up.

For those of you who don’t know the story here’s a nutshell summary; 4 siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, find a magical place called Narnia in the back of a wardrobe. As it turns out they are there to fulfil a prophesy and save Narnia from the White Witch, current evil Queen of Narnia. Edmund betrays his siblings in favour of some Turkish Delight and gets kidnapped by the Queen. In Narnia, law states that anyone convicted of betrayal is subject to punishment by death. However, instead of the Queen killing Edmund, Aslan the Lion steps in and offers himself up as a sacrifice.

Throughout the film I had a number of uneasy realisations…

The childishness of our sin
In the face of temptation, Edmund practically gives up his own life, the lives of his family and the lives of a number of woodland creatures in one fell swoop… all for some Turkish Delight? Our own sin can so often be like this, we are childishly tempted by the world’s novelties and our self control is weak. Through this we completely expose our hearts to sin, turning them away from God.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Proverbs 4:23

The humiliation and exploitation of the crucifixion
As I watched the Witch’s army jeer and poke at Aslan, bind him, fiercely shave off his impressive mane and drag him up to the stone table- it hit home. I felt such raw grief and pain for Aslan to the point I was welling up (and I’m not one to cry at films!) The moment forced me to take a look back at myself; if I feel this cocktail of emotion for fictional Aslan, how has it become that this same image of Jesus, brutally sacrificing himself for my sins has become so stale to me?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

We are in a battle for Jesus
With Aslan gone, so begins the preparations for a war. As they stand ready to fight, Peter sees the enemy is far, far bigger than them. But, to quote the film ‘Numbers don’t win battles’. When we stand on the front line, as Christians in a fallen world, we are completely outnumbered.  Peter probably had doubts at this point and yet he jumps head first into battle- he is fighting with everything he has for what Aslan has done for him. Wars aren’t won by number, but they are won in heart. How many people do we see in churches that are just comfortable spectators? And how many who are willing to put their lives on the line and give everything? In Christ we have so much to fight for, and by getting too comfortable are we missing out on the real joys to be found in the battle?

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12

137 minutes later and I’m not feeling so comfortable any more. In fact, being comfortable feels like an almost dangerous place to be. Somewhere that I leave my heart open to sinful abuse, ignoring the fact Jesus gave up His life for me and wimping out on an incredible chance to share Gods humbling grace with others.

My advice? Plead with God to shake you up, to fill you with a passion and a love for Him that can’t be ignored and then brandish Jesus’ cross in the fight of faith.

(And if I wasn’t convincing enough to get you to watch this, then Peter rides a unicorn in the film and who doesn’t want to see that?)
________________________________________________________________________________________

KatrinaHi, I’m Katrina. I’m in my last year at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge and in the process of applying to study sport at uni. I love rowing, autumn and spend a copious amount of time baking. I’ve spent the last year learning on the job at being a CU leader but have loved every minute of it and am so excited by seeing God’s grace in action.

The Most Beautiful Thing

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 10.59.17

I’m a girl that loves beautiful things. I love beautiful homes, beautiful music, beautiful food, beautiful art. From clothes to jewellery, Tuscany to tiramisu, I am a great appreciator of all things I deem to be ‘beautiful’ in some way or another.

As a Christian, this is something I worry about a lot: am I too materialistic? Am I even meant to like these things…are they too worldly, too luxurious, too unnecessary and expensive? The problem gets more difficult in my day to day life, where I am surrounded by people with beautiful homes, lovely clothes, expensive taste; my newsfeed is full of photos of other people’s amazing holidays and extravagant birthday parties. My Instagram feed is a whole other level…a constant stream of all those little treats in life that I can never have quite enough of.

On my more sat-at-home-wishing-I-was-in-Paris days, I return to this passage:

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world pushes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father, it just isolates you from Him.”
1 John 2:15-17

It’s good to remember this, every day. God is good, He is eternal and He will remain long after all these tiny earthly things have faded. In fact, so often these ‘things’ are the source of my worst traits: wanting my own way, wanting more, wanting to project an important image of myself to everyone else. It’s so clear that a life in step with God is so much more incredibly beautiful than anything we can gain by our own wanting!

I know this, and I believe it, but yet I still struggle and get distracted. I’ve realised that I need to consciously start searching for the something better; so I’ve been working to see the Beautiful One in my life a whole lot more. To do this, I’ve realised that I have to replace these loves of my life with a Greater Love. I’ve realised that I don’t necessarily have to try and dislike these things, but actually I should focus on loving God more.

Loving the Lord my God, first and foremost, with all my heart, is a lesson I’ve learnt to rattle off since Sunday School days, but its actual significance is huge…and I still haven’t managed it! To love the Lord with all my heart, He needs to be King over my whole heart, over my whole life. Jesus deserves to be King over my thoughts, my schedule, my purchases, my relationships. He should be reflected in all my decisions; my topics of conversations, my pins on Pinterest, my daydreams…

So, I’ve decided that

So, instead of filling my head with all the countless ‘things’ that I will never quite have, I’m trying to search for God’s beauty that is present in my life. And I’m starting to find joy in new things, in God-given gifts. There is beauty in the rainbow-promise that speaks of our promise-keeping Father, there is beauty in the vulnerability of the widow’s offering.

And you know, there is still God-given beauty in the music that I have always loved, in the art that still draws me in, in the books that never fail to capture my imagination. For I’m a child of the Ultimate Creator, and just as every good thing comes from Him, every truth will point to Him also. So I can find beauty in the creations of this world, more so when I remember who the glory truly belongs to.

Sure, there is a line to draw before being caught up in things that definitely don’t point to God, and it’s dangerous to try and justify a lifestyle that quite clearly doesn’t reflect the humility and love of Jesus. I’m learning that there is a big difference between being materialistic and appreciating the beauty of this life with a God-given humility. And in all of this, it’s good to remember that this world is not our home – we are headed for Heaven, a place more beautiful than any efforts conjured up by Kelvin or Valencia.*

So with my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, on all He intends for me and teaches me through the Bible, I want to start filling my life with His beauty. I want to love like Him, to learn His gentleness, His forgiveness. I want to develop the freedom of self-forgetfulness, to lead a sacrificial life. I want to ‘want more’ of Jesus.

A girl reflecting the joy of knowing and belonging to the most Beautiful One is far more attractive than a girl caught up in the ever-confusing and never-satisfying ways of the world. So be a beautiful girl of the Lord. There is nothing more beautiful than Him!

“For the world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on its way out.
But those who follow the way of the Lord are set for eternity!”

1 John 2:17

*Has anyone ever actually used Kelvin? The Hufflepuff of Instagram filters…

I Want More

I love Made in Chelsea. I love Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and a good bit of country music (sorry, I’m very mainstream!). I’ve grown up with the philosophy that chick flicks are good for the soul, whilst also having a dad who dragged me along to watch the Lord of the Rings films, because that is what happens when your dad has a daughter for an only child.

But is there a line?

Growing up I tended to scoff at my friends whose Christian parents censored their children’s entertainment. There were some who forbid Harry Potter and Twilight in their households, whilst others took film ratings very seriously. I grew up in a house that was more chilled. Sure, some things were banned, but on the whole it was normally for a severe reason and, even so young, I could understand the rationality behind their prohibition. With a good dose of maturity and humility, I now understand why other parents were more strict, although I still refuse to give up my childhood love of Harry Potter!

It has only been as I have gotten older that the Holy Spirit has brought this topic to my attention again. I began to feel saturated by images, music and thoughts that hadn’t previously been part of my walk with God. I found myself being drawn to things that weren’t of God and justifying things that previously I would have rejected wholeheartedly. I realised that these things were becoming an escape for me. I could put on a chick flick and imagine a world where having a man who loves me would fix all of my issues. I could watch Made in Chelsea and begin to justify spending all of my savings on a handbag. I could still feel God’s nudges, still feel his hand beckoning for me to join him, and yet I didn’t want to leave. Not when the world looked so pretty and neat from this side of things.

Yet God was calling me, and you, to walk in his blessings:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
Follow the advice of the wicked,
Or stand around with sinners,
Or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
 (Psalm 1:1-2)

But to meditate on God all day and night? I found myself thinking that a Mulberry handbag sounded much more satisfying and less tiring. But the truth is, a lot of it has to do with what we fill our minds with. If we push more of the dirt in, there is less space for God, and therefore it takes more energy to gaze upon him.

David spoke about this in his psalms, and finally resolved to remove himself from the temptation:

I will not look with approval
On anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
 (Psalm 101: 3)

Let’s be honest. If you watch an advert for Waitrose or Marks and Spencer food, you begin to internally drool, right? Why is it any different for anything else? If you surround yourself with outlets that encourage casual sex outside of marriage, friends-with-benefits becomes a normal concept. If you surround yourself with magazines that are full of weight-loss tips, you could find yourself placing a huge amount of emphasis on the numbers on the scale and the size of shirt you wear.

Don’t settle for less, girls. Every human was made to worship, that means that those who don’t know Jesus will be worshipping something else; be it sex, food, money, success… the list is endless. But we know the truth, about how only God can satisfy the deep hunger in us that begs for more. Oh, how he will give you more if you make room for him.

The point of this is not to lay down rules or condemn anyone for watching anything. It’s just about wisdom. If you find yourself struggling with ungodly desires or thoughts, maybe take a look at how you’re spending your time on the internet or in front of the television. On the whole, you are responsible for what you sit in front of. Don’t fill your mind with things that will one day be dust.

Why would you, when the God of the heavens and earth has a bounty of good things to pour into your hearts and minds instead?

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Written by Hannie

How Can I Make A Real Difference?

Girl of influence

Statistics say that the average person will influence around 10,000 people over the course of a lifetime. That is massive! This is not just 10,000 people that we will come across, or chat to, or share a library with, it is 10,000 people on whom you and I will make an impact, whom we will have the opportunity to influence for good.

Since the start of 2014, this is something that I’ve been mulling over: how can I make a difference in the world for God? I like to dream dreams and want to do exciting things to help people, yet so often my life feels so pedestrian. My average day involves getting up, working, eating, perhaps seeing a couple of friends, and sleeping. It doesn’t exactly sound world-changing, does it? So how can I be a girl of influence, rather than just going through the motions day-in, day-out?

In Matthew 5:13-15, Jesus says:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Jesus is saying that Christians should be like salt and light. We all know the power that salt has when we accidentally drench our food in it – we’ve all done it… sad times! And similarly, we know how difficult it is to do anything when there is a power cut – even finding where you left the matches without stubbing your toe is a story of huge success.

So how can we be salt and light? I found this verse especially helpful:
“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13-15)

The last part of this passage sums it up: “be holy in all you do”. If we want to be girls who are influential, like salt and light, the Bible says that we should pursue holiness, by setting our hope on God’s grace.

Now pursuing holiness can sound a little overwhelming. But really, pursuing holiness is abut pursuing God. God is holy. The more we grasp how holy God is, even one tiny baby step at a time, we see how amazing it is that, by grace, he loves people who are as messy as you and me. The stronger and deeper our relationship is with him, the more we pursue holiness.

Later in 1 Peter, we read: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

We are God’s SPECIAL POSSESSION! Reading these words gives me goosebumps! Nothing I have every done, or will ever do, will make me worthy of being God’s special possession. However, because of His grace, that is what we are: we are special, and we are His! God has given us SO much. The more we understand how amazing this is, the more we see of God’s character. He has given us the gift of a personal relationship with himself, the creator of the universe, who can do immeasurably more than we could even imagine.

Let’s be praying that God would help us pursue Him, to pursue holiness, and that the Holy Spirit would be at work in us to help us see a little bit more of how amazing God’s love for us is each day. When this happens, our lives will be ones that begin to be characterised by God’s priorities, and this is how we truly become girls who make a difference.

So, if the big picture is that we should pursue holiness, how does the detail work itself out? How is this going to change my mundane day-to-day life?

Although this is not something that comes naturally to me, I think it is really important for us to trust God with the details. He created the whole world and everything in it. When I begin to see more of who he is, of how holy He is, and how loving, it is surely easier to trust him with the nitty-gritty details of my life.

It is also worth noticing things that we really love doing, things that God has given us a passion for and things that bring us joy. So for me, at the moment, one of my passions is music. I love to sing, and I really love to sing to my father in heaven. Singing His praise frees me to express my love for him in a special way, and I believe that the Holy Spirit often uses music to help me encounter God. I also love trying to give other people time and space to worship God through singing, and this is something that I am really excited about. So whilst my focus is on pursuing God and pursuing holiness, I think it is helpful to prayerfully consider how God might use my passions – so for me, my love of music – for his glory and to make a difference.

For others of us, our passion might be working with children, it might be politics, speaking foreign languages, or you might be a beauty expert (if so, please contact me – winter has not been at all kind to my skin!), or have passion for helping those less fortunate than we are. It will look different for each of us. God can use all of these things for His glory, and can use you and me to make a difference to those 10,000 people that we will influence over the course of our lives.

I don’t have a clear picture right now for how God will use me as a girl of influence over the course of my life. But I trust that if I keep my eyes fixed on the Father, if I ask him to show me more of who He is and ask him to use my passions for his glory, then I need not worry about the details. Let’s not forget, we are his special possession – we are dearly loved.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Screen shot 2013-11-03 at 10.42.26

Emma

Emma graduated from Cambridge two years ago, having studied law. She now enjoys working in finance, which comes as a surprise to those who know her. Emma lives in Cambridge and loves being a member of Christ Church. She loves music, food, her friends and Jesus and is very excited about her wedding next April.

Bittersweet Friendships

Sweet Friendship

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Proverbs 27:17

One of the many helpful things I’ve learnt from my friend Lara is how she approaches this concept of iron sharpening iron. I used to skim over this verse with a slight feeling of inadequacy, wondering a) If I could ever be good enough to ‘sharpen’ anybody and b) If I would ever be even slightly keen to be ‘sharpened’ myself…as someone guilty of taking myself a bit too seriously, the idea of organised criticism doesn’t sound like my idea of a ‘sweet’ friendship. Is this a type of competitive friendship reserved only for the super-competent super-Christians?

Talking about this idea of ‘sharpening’ friendships with Lara, she pointed out that actually the image of iron sharpening iron is quite an uncomfortable and intrusive one, involving a lot of friction. While it will be a painful process as those ugly, rough patches are chipped away, the end result will be much more beautiful. Perhaps we need to accept that this is more of a bittersweet friendship: the ‘chipping away’ of our ugliness will be painful and uncomfortable, in order that we may begin the process of becoming more like Jesus.

This led me to think about whether my relationships really reflect any of this type of painful ‘sharpening’. We aren’t called to be insulting – the Bible is so clear on how important unity and forgiveness is –  but with close friends I think we are called to be honest and challenging. This is a tricky area, and I think it will apply most helpfully to close friends that you spend a lot of time with and know well. When thinking this through for myself, I found it valuable to remember firstly that we are called to love others.

A book that I read a few years ago asked me this (paraphrased):

Is there was anyone that you love absolutely unconditionally, in whom you see every sin and failure but continue to love and look after? That even if after seeing their worst deceit and most selfish traits, it doesn’t affect your care and love for them? Can you think of a person that you know you will continue to love and put first, regardless of their behaviour and failings?

I had a slightly horrible realisation that the only person I love with that kind of no-grudges-held love is…myself!

The interesting part is that we are actually called to love the people around us just like we love ourselves. This means that actually, if we love people truly, we will see the ‘bitter’: e.g. their faults, failing and sinful ways, but we will more importantly want to bring out the ‘sweet’ – to see them become more like Jesus.

So…if we approach our closest relationships in this way, by loving with a sharpening, encouraging, honest and gritty kind of love, we can be used by Jesus to ‘sharpen’ our friends and make them closer to the person they were designed to be.

We can do this in the way we conduct our conversations, in our efforts to avoid gossip or incessant complaining. We can do this practically, by committing to pray for and with our close friends, by asking them honest and truthful questions about their walk with Jesus.

We can also pick them up on things that we think they could do better. This is the tricky and slightly uncomfortable one! However, having started slowly (and sometimes unsuccessfully) introducing a culture of loving ‘sharpening’ in my own relationships, there have been times where it has stung to be told that I could do x y and z better, but really I have hugely valued the honesty of having friends who love me enough that they want to see me become more like Jesus in every aspect of my life.

It has also showed me how much all of us struggle, and how short we all fall of the perfect standards. Learning more about my own faults and struggles alongside friends has made me more aware than ever of our need for a Saviour. As a result, I’ve started to try and invest more in really loving and knowing my friends well, learning to recognise their faults and failures along with their strengths and talents, and committing to wanting them to be better, more godly, to live a life more precious.

I’ve realised that actually bittersweet friendships will make you vulnerable, that the idea of others catching a glimpse of your selfish and complicated thoughts and heart will make you cringe – but actually the sweetness of being able to surrender these to Jesus and ask Him to exchange these old bitter ways for His new ways is hugely precious, and most importantly teaches us a little more about the magnitude of Jesus’ grace.

So…will you become bitter or better? Will you be the type of girl that sharpens your friends and points them to Jesus? Here’s your challenge: to love people enough that you want to see them change. To lead by example, by conducting your own life with honesty and integrity. To introduce a new level to your relationships by loving others just like you love yourself, reflecting a little bit of that great and unconditional love that our Father has for us.

Written by Lucy

The Christian Life

It’s really wonderful to have this post from the lovely Laura. She speaks so well of her own experience of the Christian life – not a rule-based, restricting religion but a life-giving relationship with her Heavenly Father. Read with her as she explores the meaning of truly living for Christ and the impact it has had on her life…
_____________________________________________

photo

“To live is Christ, and to die is gain”. (Philippians 1:21)

It’s the first Sunday of 2014, I’m at church with my Mum and and this is the phrase we are looking at. “Maybe this should be your memory verse for this year!” my Pastor suggested to all of us. And what a verse it is – so short and simple and yet it shocks you to the core, it goes completely against what society tells us to do. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, and I’ll share it with you.

Paul is saying something radical here. The people of his time would have found this as controversial as we do today. He is saying: “The whole point of my existence is Jesus: He is the King over all I do”. So it’s more than following the example of a role model – it is making Christ our life.

Quite a challenge then! Here is a man who is God, and has the same rights as God on earth, and yet because of his love for others, he cast these rights aside. He “exchanged the joy of heaven” to be a humble servant for his people, even going as far as dying on a cross for them. I find myself thinking sometimes that it would be impossible for me to live like this.

And yet – this is the wonderful news we should shout to the world – he rose again! He was lifted from death and is now King over the entire universe. We can all with overflowing joy in our hearts sing praises and worship to our Lord, and to God the Father, who gave us this love in the first place. How great is our God! And because of this, how much reverence we should show Him in everything in our everyday lives!

Now I know it is so easy to say this, we hear it all the time, but it is so much harder to live out. I hear you cry “Laura, we don’t need telling this again!” As a new-ish Christian myself (coming up to a couple of years now) it is something I really struggle with too.

But if we are to follow the example of Jesus – or as Paul puts it, make Christ the entire reason for our being – we need to watch out for the little things that can catch us out as well as the obvious. It is the everyday things that maybe don’t come up in church sermons, the small things that we think God doesn’t have an opinion on. But please be encouraged – sin no longer has a hold on us, and we can call on our Father to help us, changing our hearts and making our thoughts in line with His. God can help us in our mission to live like Christ. We can start each day knowing we have the help of the Lord behind to help us in this huge task.

So we have established: we should live like Jesus. But what does this look like practically? Well, I think it starts with examining our hearts – have we got the right intentions? Can we sing these lines truthfully along with King David?

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name for ever.
13 For great is your love towards me;
you have delivered me from the depths”

(Psalm 86:11-13 NIV)

And how can we truly know what God wants for us? The way we have been told to – by delving into his Word. Read Psalm 119 if you haven’t already, and marvel at the joy we can attain when listening to what the Lord has to say to us.

It is from His Word that we can know Him personally. I’ve been reading a great book called “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, (I recommend it to everyone) and it says that our purpose in life is to know the God who created us for himself. It’s a beautiful thing – and knowing God is something we can all achieve, however long we have been following Christ.  When we align our hearts with what God wants for his people, and when we share our sorrow with God when we see true injustices, we are naturally drawn closer to God. And suddenly, giving God top priority in our everyday lives is easier, and an attractive thought!

Paul placed a lot of emphasis on this in his epistles to the early churches. In Philippians for example he writes about how we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and since Pentecost we each have the Holy Spirit, a Counsellor who lives inside all of us. Paul, echoing the Lord and the Spirit, tells us to live for Christ by loving each other, working together with one heart, one mind and one purpose.

Our society tells us that we have to look out for number one, make our own happiness the priority in life, basically live for ourselves. But the Christian life goes against this in a way that astonishes us – and it is supposed to. We are called to do what is right, not what is easy. Living for Christ is a life of sacrifice – God asks us to give up our previous life of sin to follow him, which has only been made possible through Jesus giving up his ACTUAL life. In our renewed hearts selfishness and self-centeredness have no place.

The Spirit humbles us and makes us ask ourselves: are we being generous with our time? Our money? Do we sacrifice things ‘until it hurts’ or do we live in our happy little worlds looking after number one, occasionally thanking God for giving us a nice life?

And it’s not just our physical possessions; for example, how do you feel when you have been undervalued for something you’ve done? Or when you’ve been generous and you don’t even get a thank you? Do you feel hard done by, like it wasn’t worth the effort? This is the self satisfaction our society tells us we should want, just disguised in good deeds. And God calls us away from this, back to Him. Of course He remembers all our good works, and loves us perfectly when we get it wrong (which to be honest is inevitable!).

We have to understand that it is only by knowing God and His love for us to understand why we should live for Him. When we understand this, we are lifted up out of our sin and regret, and we can truly revel in his joy – our strength to keep living for Christ for another day.

Before I finish I’ll address the second half of Paul’s phrase: to die is gain”. The point Paul is trying to make here, and my final thought for you today, is that as followers of Christ we have the ultimate win-win situation – in life following Christ, we have grace, spiritual gifts in abundance and most importantly a real intimate relationship with the God who made us. We can do anything in his strength – who can stop us? And we, like Paul, can live not fearing death in the slightest, because when God does call us to Him, we are taken up to be with him, in perfect union for eternity!

It is truly worth giving up our old ways for Christ, don’t you think? And Jesus calls us to share this with everyone who doesn’t know it for themselves yet. Friends, let’s go with the joy of the Lord in our hearts and proclaim this amazing life we have been given, a life not just following the example of a good man but knowing our God intimately and living our lives with Him.

____________________________________________________________________________

Screen shot 2014-01-25 at 01.12.45

Laura

I’m Laura and I study Music at Trevelyan College, Durham University (final year). I play clarinet and saxophone and I love to sing. You will normally find me playing in/conducting the college jazz band or running off to another JCR exec meeting (the degree will get done eventually!) In my free time I like to compose music (particularly choral) and catch up with friends. I became a Christian at university and my life has not been the same since!

Beautiful, In Its Time

Beautiful in its time

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.

He has planted eternity in the human heart,

but even so, people cannot see the whole scope

of God’s work from beginning to end.

(Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Patience is a virtue. At least that’s what I’m told. Except I’ve never been very good at it. Call it my only-child syndrome, a complete lack of any worthy attention span, or a simple mantra of “if you want to get something done, then do it yourself”. In fact, that has long been my daily mantra, even when dealing with things of heaven’s business. I’m not the best at waiting, and even worse when it comes to delegating control. By the way, I am an absolute joy to work with in group projects… Promise ;-) 

If I want something fixed, then I want it fixed now, please. I find God’s timing a little frustrating and, well, slow. If I’m honest, then I tend to spend my time thinking about how I would do a much better job of getting things done if God would just leave it all up to me.

Ouch. The heart looks much messier when turned outwards, doesn’t it?

Last year I made it my mission to read through the Bible in a year. Like all great resolutions, it didn’t quite happen (told you they didn’t work!), however I was fairly pleased to see that in 2013 I had read more of the Bible than ever before. I’ve spoken about this before, but I’ll say it again; there is so much peace, comfort and grace to be found in those pages – food for the soul in all its entirety. I began to relate to one book in particular, Genesis. I’m of the opinion that this book is such a diamond in the rough, often caricatured by the Sunday School stories of our childhoods. However, by reading it cover to cover, I saw that impatience and frustration were common themes among the Fathers of our Faith.

There seems to be a common pattern among the people in Genesis, a theme that burrows its way into my heart also. The pattern goes as such: God makes a promise; for a short amount of time, we trust in this promise; we soon grow weary and impatient and take matters into our own hands, making a mess in the process; and finally, God reclaims the situation and hands us a satisfied, “I told you so”.

Take Abraham for example, he grows troubled when he bares no son on which to lay his blessings (Genesis 15:2-3). God however promises Abraham  a son and that his descendants would be innumerable (Genesis 15: 4-5). But Abraham and Sarah grow impatient and fearful of God’s faithfulness, so what does Abraham do? Go and sleep with his servant, Hagar, so that she can bear him a child instead (Genesis 16: 1-4). Now girls, we all know this was never going to end well now, was it? Unsurprisingly, tensions arise among the dysfunctional family, jealousy spawns, and Abraham’s life begins to crumble around him (Genesis 16). However God continues to echo His promise to Sarah and Abraham (Genesis 18: 1-15), and what happens? God keeps His word, and a miracle happens: Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac.

A promise… Trust… Impatience and fear… A promise kept.

The same thing happens with Jacob. After running away from his family following his deception and rebellion against his family and father, Jacob finds himself wandering in the wilderness. Jacob believes he has been outcast from God’s favour, condemned following his deceit. But as Jacob sleeps, God speaks to him, promising the land to Jacob, as God had once promised to Abraham. God also repeats His promise made to Abraham, that Jacob’s descendants will outnumber the stars. He finishes His promise with this, one that I urge you to tuck away in the quiet spaces of your soul:

“What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

And what does Jacob say in return?

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it”.

God was at work, and I didn’t even see.

How our lives echo those of Abraham and Jacob. God has made us so many beautiful and precious promises; promises to keep us safe, promises to rescue us, promises to stay by our side for all eternity. It is so difficult to keep these promises in our sight when God’s timing contradicts ours. But whether it takes a day, or a lifetime, God will keep His promises. And when He does, it will be beautiful because it will be ordained by God’s timing. Maybe it is only when we stand in the promise that we can appreciate the beauty of the moment, how lovingly God has written our lives up to this point.

And so how do we learn patience? We spend our time growing in our love of the Author, loving the Author’s timing, and falling into His embrace as He weaves away.

Image credit to incourage.me

Written by Hannie

On Finding Peace

Katrina is one of the most multi-talented, bright, active and passionate girls we know, and that’s why it’s so very special to have a post from her today about an issue that almost all of us struggle with in the chaos of life: how can we learn to put aside time to be still and know God?

This is also an extra-special post as it happens to be Katrina’s 18th birthday today!
We’re hoping she has a wonderful day, and that you are encouraged by her example and start making God your first priority too. 

_____________________________________________________________________________

tumblr_mfpi08rcQa1s0g4lgo1_400

I think it’d be fair to say that I am particularly energetic. It appears that I have to be as I continuously juggle college, CU, church, university applications, sport, a social life, a job and getting enough sleep, challenging myself to give 100% in everything I do. I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me ‘How do you fit it all in?’ More than that- I’ve been known to run from room to room in my own house, as if those seconds I save will help me to squeeze every minute from the day.

But God calls us to stop rushing, slow down and just be with Him.

‘Be still and know that I am God’ Psalm 46:10

We must remember that God has not called us to be frantically chasing around something worldly; be it exam results, sporting success or money. He wants us to chase Him.

He wants us to put spending time with Him at the top of our to-do list for once, making him our priority over everything. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means easy. For someone who honestly struggles to just sit down for 10 minutes without wriggling, this appears to be a big ask. But Jesus says:

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ John 14:27

Because of Jesus we can be completely at peace; with Him, with ourselves and with the world. He gives us something more; we just need to go to Him.

With my head constantly filled with tick lists for the rest of the day, I’ve never been inclined to call sitting down to read my bible a ‘quiet time’. In my case it is rarely ever a quiet experience. And yet over the last month or so, with the encouragement of some wonderful friends and an attempt at some self-discipline, I’ve begun to do as God asks; to slow down and just be with Him.

Now, as I get up and read my Bible, I am at peace and so intently listening to what God has to share with me each morning.

I still run from room to room (some things will never change!) But now I start my day with one to one time with God, in which I put aside everything else to fully give myself over to Jesus. Ironically, I have come to realise that through this peaceful time with God each morning I’ve become more efficient with my work, I’ve become more prayerful throughout the day and I am recognising and enjoying the gifts God has given me so much more. But most importantly I have learnt the importance of investing in my relationship with Jesus and that it’s okay to slow down every once in a while.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Screen shot 2014-01-18 at 00.12.43

Hi, I’m Katrina. I’m in my last year at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge and in the process of applying to study sport at uni. I love rowing, autumn and spend a copious amount of time baking. I’ve spent the last year learning on the job at being a CU leader but have loved every minute of it and am so excited by seeing God’s grace in action.

The Love Challenge

Screen shot 2014-01-14 at 01.07.47

So, today’s post had been set and ready to go for a couple of days now; I was about to congratulate myself on being superbly and unusually organised for once – and then I came across this article by Ty Gibson and was so moved by the challenge and weight of the last resolution in which the writer encourages us to:

“Go out of your way to connect with at least one new person this year in a consistent personal way, preferably somebody who seems alone or boring or obnoxious or marginalized or awkward or silent because…

People limp due to the fact that they’re wounded,
and wounded people begin to heal and normalise
and flower into their potential beauty
through gracious human contact.”

This speaks so powerfully to me. In this week of transition time before going back up to university, my heart has been preparing for another busy term and I have been subconsciously setting out my  priorities. I had been thinking a lot about my friendships and how I could invest in them (that was actually the basis of today’s intended post!) but not a whole lot about how I could love people that I found difficult. Actually, I’d managed to completely avoid thinking about any kind of radical, sacrificial kind of love altogether…

This ‘sacrificial’ kind of love forms part of the ‘Love Challenge’ we face in our Christian journey. I remember a conversation with somebody a little older and a lot wiser than me where I was quite insistent that I “didn’t have a problem loving people”. I like to like people and I have fun with my friends. I also appreciate the benefits of a healthy dose of people-watching…I quite confidently qualified myself as a ‘people-person’.

But as this person started to talk to me about Jesus’ way of loving people, I realised that actually, I was a long way from loving people well. For the idea of being a ‘people person’ in the world’s eyes is one of a life filled with happy, easy-to-love people …something that doesn’t bear a huge resemblance to the type of life that Jesus led on this earth. There’s great value to be had in healthy, enriching relationships – God calls us to community – but a cosy collection of nice, safe friendships isn’t quite the right image:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.” 
Luke 6:32

We are called to love the unlovable. To work hard at showing God’s love to the people we struggle with. Perhaps these are people who don’t appreciate or value us, and to try and protect ourselves from any hurt or rejection, we find it easier to distance ourselves from them.

But – who gives us our identity and purpose? We are anchored in Christ, not defined by the opinions of others. With our hope set in our sovereign and unchanging God, we don’t need to fear the rejection of others. And so we are freed to love a little more. To love a little more deeply, a little more sacrificially. There’s something slightly uncomfortable and very countercultural about this kind of love.

I believe that the more we recognise where our identity lies, the more we will learn the love that Jesus really intended for us in our lives and relationships. As a start, I find it helpful to remind myself of how Jesus conducted his relationships on earth: he prayed for people, loved them unconditionally, extended friendship to the most unlikely individuals. Jesus wasn’t swayed by the opinions of others; he was generous with his time, undivided with his attention and genuine in his conversation. This is a self-forgetful, others-centred kind of love. He knew the potential beauty of every individual, and the circumstances and sin that had made them so different to the person they were intended to be. If we had even the tiniest bit of wisdom to seek out the beauty in somebody rather than become distanced as a result of their faults, wouldn’t our lives speak so much more of God’s goodness and love for His people?

Today I’m grateful for this reminder that we are called to love the unlovable, to surrender any dreams of a perfect-looking life and instead invite people into our imperfect hearts, to point them to the One who is in the business of changing us. For our God is a ‘people person’:  He loves us more than anybody ever has or ever could. He adores when we are satisfied in Him. Matthew 25 shows us that when we make our lives about people, we are serving and glorifying our Father.

I know that the challenge to love people will be ongoing. I regularly fall short of the standards, but it’s exciting and humbling to be able to respond to this challenge as a grace-saved child: to love the unlovable along with the easy-to-love, and point the people in our life to the One who will make them beautiful.

Written by Lucy

Permanent Sunshine

This is a post that we really like! It’s interesting and beautiful (just like its author Alex!) and since reading it I have been reminded of God’s permanence and sovereignty with every bit of sunshine I’ve seen (admittedly this sunshine has been rare, but let’s keep hoping..) 

Alex’s post is full of truth that is so very good for our souls on this Saturday morning, so read on and be reminded of all the promises that are made to you as a daughter of the King!
_______________________________________________________________

flowers-sunshine-vintage-Favim.com-261607_original

A while ago, as my dad and I were driving to Sidcup, I noticed the sky. Sometimes, it just blows me away how beautiful the natural world can be. A sunset as it slides under the brow of a hill. The moon, a half opened eye in the midst of the inky blackness of night.  Truly  ‘nature and revelation alike testify of God’s love‘ (E.G.White, Steps to Christ). Anyway, I digress.

I noticed the sky.

Light was streaming through the misty haze of the clouds, forming tangible beams of effulgence. They stretched across the entire skyline, the glowing fingers of the creator fanned out in quivering sunshine. ‘How does this happen?’, I asked my dad, pestering him with questions. ‘Why don’t we usually see light show itself in this way?’ ‘Why is it that it is when it comes through the clouds that it looks so incredible?’

And then my dad said something beautiful.

“There is permanent sunshine above the clouds.”

I confess, it wasn’t really the scientific answer that I was searching for. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure it was even a response to my question at all! But it stayed with me, even more so than the revelatory nature of the sun drenched landscape.

James describes God as the ‘Father of lights’, adding that he ‘does not change like the shifting shadows’ (James 1:17). In lives that are so often full of movement and alterations, it is so encouraging to know that the one thing that does not change is the One that really matters. God himself declares: ‘For I am The Lord, I change not’ (Malachi 3:6).

But why does it matter that God does not change? The answer lies in His character. God is described as being ‘Love’. Not just loving – the verb -  but also Love itself – the noun. Love that was manifest in its infinite fullness in the death of Christ in the cross. John, in describing the revelation of Jesus says, The light (Jesus) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.(John 1:5).  Sin and all its consequences cannot defeat the light that streams from the cross of the crucified Christ. On a personal level, we need not let our circumstances, trials, hardship and sin defeat us, but instead we can bring them to the God of the universe, who constant character of Love ensures us with His intimate care.

Because God does not change, and because He is Love,
we can constantly be assured of Grace.

Because God does not change, and because He is Love,
we can constantly be assured that He will keep all of His promises.

The permanence of God in relation to the dark clouds that often seem to overshadow our lives is a beautiful and life-changing reality. For me, to know He is the permanent sunshine, the light that has overcome the darkness of sin, is a truth that daily fills my heart with hope and my life with meaning.

God is love. (1 John 4:16)

And there is permanent sunshine above the clouds.

_____________________________________________

1552942_10153683355025500_1192467843_n-1

Alex ~Twitter-Bird@alexbrowne05

Alex is a third year Classicist at Durham University. She loves dried mango, early morning sunrises, adventures, herbal tea, Latin, reading poetry aloud, the color yellow, Psalm 121, old hymns, the British Library, and ‘Dad jokes’. Most of all, she loves Jesus, and wants to live daily for Him.

New Year, The Same You?

Grace

The Trap of Bettering Ourselves

I cannot count the amount of times I have heard the phrase, “New Year… New You!” over the last few weeks. My Facebook is littered with motivational snippets encouraging us all to do better in 2014, whilst my Twitter feed contains more one-liners for fixing your life with a silver bullet than one could ever desire. Oh, and isn’t it so tempting to join in? My addiction to social media topples under the weight of resolutions to make this year my year… whatever that means. Maybe if I could just lose the five extra pounds, the shame I feel when indulging in my favourite peanut butter toast would lighten. Maybe if I could simply get myself organised, I wouldn’t be so crippled by the constant anxiety surrounding my degree. If I take more chances, be more adventurous, be more loving, more kind, then I will be satisfied.

Oh soul, isn’t it so much easier when I condemn the sin and not the sinner? Isn’t it so much sweeter to my ears to hear that sin is the problem, as opposed to my rotting heart? A lack of kindness can simply be vanquished by a resolve to say nicer things, as opposed to the lack of self-discipline my mind often betrays. And this can be the problem with “resolutions”, they attack the sin, without addressing the sinner.

Now, I’m not attacking all resolutions – you probably should try to exercise at least a few times a week, and resolving to read your bible more is a solid and worthy decision. But if you are placing the weight of your satisfaction on bettering yourself, then, girls, it will only satisfy for a fleeting moment before you find something else that you want to fix. Resolutions have a way of collapsing under our expectations.

The same goes for people. I love The Notebook as much as the next girl, but finding a love like that between Noah and Allie is never going to leave you feeling whole. It just isn’t. You are burdening a human soul with the job of providing for you in the ways that only your Heavenly Father can. From someone who made this mistake when she was young and inexperienced in a relationship, please hear me when I say that placing these expectations on others will only end in tears.

By making attempts to better ourselves and taking the problems away from God and His mercy, we are, in effect, saying that we can fix ourselves far better than God ever could. This is the way of the world; to follow a self-determined path that bleeds into our identity.

God: Gardener of the Roots

Oh, but God, how He saves us from our blindness.

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus”. Ephesians 2:4

Did you catch that? In Ephesians 2, I don’t see any mention of God idly sitting by as we search desperately for him. Nor do I see any mention of New Years Resolutions leading to our salvation. No, God in His lavish mercy, reached down and plucked us from our wandering and our sin, and gave us life. He began the process of reconciling us to our Father, which in turn begins to uproot the sin in our lives and the fruit they bear.

Oh, and those roots. How deep they go. How deep do the roots of guilt, shame, anxiety, lust, comparison, weave themselves into our identity. These roots all stem from a failure to be connected to our Creator, allowing the destructive behaviour to be fertilised and protected. The behaviour is like a weed born from the root – by plucking it out from the ground, you can be sure that another will rise up elsewhere. No, uprooting depends on being reconciled with our Father.

Do you feel the pain of those sinful roots? The pain that sin causes us, be it our disappointment in our failure or the external consequences of denying God? Of course you do, but take heart because God is pulling up the roots. These roots that so greatly paralyse us can only be destroyed by being pulled all the way out into the light and laid out for all to see. Don’t do what I do and go, “well if I’m such a screw-up of a Christian then maybe I’m not truly saved!” Oh, no. No, dear one. It would be so much easier to prune you, prune away the simple acts of sin. But the old fruit would still grow.

As you enter this year of 2014, maybe you are looking back at 2013 and feeling disappointed with your track record. Maybe you’re feeling a strong resolve for 2014 to be better, even if that means taking matters into your own hands. But trust me when I say this, it won’t fix anything. Run to your Creator, precious girl. Pick the pieces up off the floor and run to Him. Cling to Him and your church family as God begins to do business with those roots of yours. Pray for the quick rip of the plaster, the silver bullet, but lean in as God begins in you a masterpiece all of His own.

For He loves us more than we could ever comprehend when we arrive at His feet empty handed, but too much to leave us with nothing but dirt on our clothes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlrrHoM_tUU

Your presence in me
Jesus light the way
By the power of your word
I am restored
I am redeemed

By your spirit I am free
And I will fall at your feet
I will fall at your feet
And I will worship you here

Written by Hannie

Finding The Joy

Feeling very honoured to be able to share these thoughts from Ellie about how God has been working in her life throughout 2013. I know that Ellie’s approach to finding joy even in the difficult times has been inspiring for so many this year, and I hope as you read her post you will be challenged to find the same Jesus-centred joy in your own life.
_________________________________

photo-003

I love seeing God at work in things you never thought He would be. I love looking back on things that have happened and that awesome feeling you get, when you realise God was there, guiding you through. I love seeing the path He’s brought me on and where He’s got me to. I have a pretty sweet life and a lot to be thankful for. Every day is an absolute blessing.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16.11)

As we begin a new year, I thought it was the perfect time to reflect on what God has been doing specifically in my life over the last year. He has definitely shown me that despite the sadness and stress that we as humans, inevitably experience, joy is always just around the corner. For me 2013 has been about finding the joy.

“There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5)

In September, I grieved the loss of my Great-Grandad, the long-standing head of the legendary Gauge family. In the tears and grief that comes with death, I was able to celebrate the incredible life he had – all 104 years of it! At the funeral I sung the song ‘What A Wonderful World’, and in reflection over the entire year, I feel a real affinity with the song. It is true, life in all its glory, is simply wonderful. We should learn to cherish it, and rejoice in it.

In May, my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had chemotherapy, and then surgery and is now on the final stage of treatment which is six weeks of radiotherapy. The last eight months have seen constant to-ing and fro-ing from various hospital appointments. There’s been a lot of waiting around for her to reach the next ‘cancer milestone’. Her hair fell out, so did her eyelashes and her eyebrows. We were all hit by something truly horrible, something you never imagine would be so close to home.

But, as well as getting cancer, this year, she also beat it. How amazing is that? She has eyebrows and her hair is growing back. She has a very neat surgery scar that is healing beautifully. She has smiled throughout, and beat the utterly disgusting disease with a real joy and courage. She doesn’t even realise it but, she has coped brilliantly and I know everyone is incredibly proud of how well she has pulled through. She is amazing.

“For the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

This year has been hectic, busy, stressful and at times pretty tough. And yet throughout it all I have felt loved, supported and incredibly blessed. I have struggled as we all do with doubt and fear, but I have learned to trust that God has your back. 2013 has been full of incredible opportunities and unforgettable experiences. I performed in two shows and directed three. I finished my first year at uni. I spent seven weeks in Zambia on a Drama Project, where I met and worked with some truly inspirational people. I moved into a house. I signed a contract for a new house. And on top of it all I have been able to share everything with some incredibly beautiful people. For that, I am eternally grateful.

It’s easy, on reflection, to know that God was there. It’s quite clear now that God was faithful. That he provided for my every need. It seems obvious, looking back, that there will be joy eventually. What I find much harder is remembering all that when the trying situation is staring you right in the face. Then, it’s easy to forget God, to blame Him, to leave Him out of the picture, because you can’t see a way He could fit in.

What we have to remember that joy is a promise to us. It’s something incredible granted to us, by the sheer fact that Jesus came. It’s not about what we do. It’s not dependent on our circumstances. It’s not made by us. It’s a promise. It’s a gift. It’s ready for us to open and hold onto. We just have to know that and trust that there is always joy if we choose to find it. That’s what’s hard. But with God, all things are possible – so it’s definitely doable. My hope for 2014 is that I am able to live a joy-filled life, and to keep the joy alive in everything.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him;
and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him
and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8)

_______________________________

IMG_7235-3

Ellie

Ellie is in her second year at St John’s College, Durham University, studying Education & Theology. She spends most of her time in Durham involved in various theatrical productions – whether that be performing or directing. So far she has been part of 7 shows, most recently directing DULOG’s ‘Guys & Dolls’ to be performed in the Gala at the end of January. Since her gap year in Dominica she has caught the travelling bug, and is now heavily involved in the Durham Zambia Drama Project.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers

%d bloggers like this: