Hey baby, what’s your name?

How do you feel when someone calls you by your name?

It depends how they use your name, doesn’t it? And what they call you…

My name is Alison, but I love when people call me Ali. I consider it a name only friends call me. There’s nothing formal or stiff about it… it feels warm and relaxed.

When I used to introduce my school friends to my dad he would always ask their name, then proceed to enquire about – or explain – the origin of their name. It was rather embarrassing at the time, but I think some of my friends kind of liked the interest he showed.

Because our names – in a way – reflect us – our origins and our background. And if someone remembers our name, it shows they care.

I have a frame on the wall with my name across the top in big letters, and underneath, all the things I know to be true about me. Why are they true? Because the Bible tells me they are.

My friend gave me the frame a few years back. She’d used her time and energy to write down a range of statements she knew would encourage me in my walk with God. Here it is:

name

I look at it each time I need reminding that I’m a “saint in Christ”, “a new creation”, “a child of God”, and so on.

It reminds me of my identity… Who Christ proclaims me to be, simply because I’m his.

When Jesus calls us by name, our lives change. We see this in the Bible story about Zacchaeus, who was so eager to get a glimpse of Jesus that he climbed up a tree when he was passing through the crowds. Jesus doesn’t just say “hey – you in the tree!”. He looks up at him and says “Zacchaeus! Come down from there…”, and promptly arranges a meeting at his house. Nothing is the same for this tax collector from now on.

Before time began, my life was in God’s hands. God knows my name, and my every thought. He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call. I have a Father who calls me his own…

These are some words from a beautiful song by Geoff Moore. If you have a couple of minutes, listen to this proclamation that even if no one knows your name, God does. He values you as his child, created for a purpose that is all your own… Allow him to gently name you his child, his son or daughter, his heir, his beloved…

Wings like eagles

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)

eagle

Have you heard the good news? Our God is the everlasting God. The one who lives forever and offers us eternal life with him. His knowledge in unmatched, and his power great. When we have his strength working in us, we are carried above the stresses and trials of this world. If we try and run forward in our own strength we will eventually stumble and fall, no matter how strong we might appear to be. But when we call upon him to lift us up on eagle’s wings, we will soar.

Lord, I proclaim that you are the only one who gives me the strength and power to rise above the troubles of this world. Not that I won’t feel defeated sometimes, but you are always there, ready to take me in your arms and give me a fresh injection of hope and life. Jesus – one day I’ll see you face-to-face – but until then, keep carrying me. Amen.

Stop the Face-boasting!

My niece and I were having a chat recently about why people upload photos to social media. Here are some of the possibilities we came up with:

1) Insecurity. We might not have a very satisfying life, so we create an ideal ‘story’ on Facebook and Instagram to make others envious and give ourselves a boost.
2. Evidence. If our holiday doesn’t make it to our news feed, did it really happen?…
3. Validation. Photos of ourselves doing good things for others, having fun with friends, or going on a date with a gorgeous guy need to be recorded because they make us look impressive – even though we did only one kind deed, had one fun night out, and went on one hot date in all of 2014…

I love social media and am an avid Facebook user, but I do have a problem with ‘Face-boasting’. My particular peeves are photos of flowers from “my fabulous hubby” on Valentine’s Day, announcements that your one-month-old baby has slept through the night – “what a trooper!” – and records of elaborate purchases many people can’t afford. Starts with Thermo. Ends with Mix.

Hmmm… What else does that leave?

At the risk of sounding like a bitter Facebook addict who refuses to post most of her own lies photos but will happily trawl through others’ feeds, let me explain.

facebook

These bite-sized updates keep us from getting a real, gritty, accurate picture of people’s lives.

When a photo is taken, a moment is captured. Literally… Just one moment. And that moment is usually based around the fact that a camera or phone is pointed in our face. As much as I love photography, front-on pictures capture very little of who we are, what we believe, and how we’re feeling.

As do status updates.

The flowers, the sleeping baby, the latest iPad you bought… Good for you. But it doesn’t tell us anything about you. What makes you tick? What do you love (other than kitchen appliances)? In fact, much of it simply leads to Facebook-envy because others are only seeing your highlight reel – not the real thing.

Social media has its purposes, but I’d rather see you in person than a photographed version of you.

Because if we lose the art of real-life, real-time, face-to-face conversation, all we’re left with is a bunch of images, snapshots – versions of the truth. And that feels kind of wrong.

Simply remain

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)

Lord, we cannot remain in you unless your Holy Spirit is in us. Thank you for making us yours in the first place.
God, we bring you glory when fruit is produced in our lives. Help us to flower and flourish – not wither and weaken in our faith.
Help us to rest… to abide… to dwell in Christ… having union with him by faith.
Give us a child-like dependence on you.
We’re so easily distracted. May we be fruitful – not for the sake of ‘doing good’ but building our joy in you and magnifying your name.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen

Stop the fear – trust in the future

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

Jesus shares this message with his disciples after breaking the news that he’ll be leaving them soon. He reminds them that Heaven is their everlasting rest to come, and “the way” there is himself.

wY

Jesus knows how easy it is to become fearful about the future. When he says “do not let your hearts be troubled”, he is telling them – and us – to stop the fear before it escalates. It’s a proactive response to a natural human feeling.
He reminds the disciples of their belief in the Father and the Son, and tells them they can trust him for their eternal destiny. Jesus is going before them to prepare not just a home – but mansions for each of his people. He is furnishing the Father’s house ahead of time, ready for our arrival.

Matthew Henry writes: “Heaven would be an unready place for a Christian if Christ were not there. He went to prepare a table for them, to prepare thrones for them (Luke 22:30).”

Christ will welcome them – and us – into the abundance of his love. We will be eternally joyful, simply because Christ is there. That’s what we have to look forward to.

Dear Father,
I can’t wait to burst through your front door.
I long to spend an eternity worshipping you – the only one who is truly holy, wise, powerful and good – the Governor of the world.
No matter what happens in our lives, we really can trust you for our future happiness beyond this earth.
Heaven will make amends for all we’ve been through.
Thank you that you’ll finish the story you’re authoring. Thank you that we can be part of it in the meantime. Prepare us for heaven – prepare us for you.
Till then.
Amen

Just as a body…

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Here, Paul uses the analogy of the human body to describe how the church should work. Christ is the head, and his body is made up of many different parts – i.e. people – using their unique gifts.
Christians become members of this body by baptism in the Holy Spirit, which happens when we first believe in God.
Each member of Christ’s body is important. Like a body, our churches won’t function if all parts are the same. No matter who we are, we are all important to God’s family.

body

Dear God,
Thank you that I’m a part of your body. Thank you that you baptised me in the Holy Spirit when I became a believer. Your Spirit sustains me, like a fortifying drink.
Thank you that you place each member of your body just where you want us. Help me to be obedient to the call you’ve placed on my life. I pray against the lies of Satan that say I am not useful or valued in your church and your kingdom. You have made me with a purpose unique to me, and called me to serve others in your family. I am needed and important.
Help me to rejoice with, and suffer with, the other members of your body. Help me not to neglect the needs of our family. May there be no division – only love and grace in our community.
May I keep drinking from your Spirit – finding everything I need to live the life you’ve called me to live.
In your service.

This is the first in a series of ‘verses and prayers’ I’ll be posting over the next seven days. Enjoy.

A love that sees in the dark

I was talking with a group of women recently, and one of them shared her story with me.

She’d lost her son to an incurable heart condition when he was only four years old… Not only that, her other son has suffered from severe psychotic episodes throughout his life. He has schizophrenia.

She’s seen unbearable tragedy and heartache as a mother.

Yet every time I see her she has a warm smile on her face. Every time the topic of God comes up, joy and affection for her Heavenly Father radiates from her.

After finishing telling me about her pain and loss, she said something surprising.

She told me:

“I’m thankful for my trials, because I’ve been able to see how much God loves me. The people who’ve helped me along the way have all shown me God’s love in some way. If I hadn’t gone through these things, I wouldn’t know his love so well…”

I responded with a smile and a kind comment. But inside I was wrestling with her words.

I do know the clichés about trials bringing us closer to God and all that. But here was a woman who’d really suffered… who’d experienced more pain and loss than most of us will ever deal with… And she was smiling at me, saying she was thankful…?

I allowed her words to sit with me all afternoon, turning them around in my head…

Was I willing to accept a trial-filled life if it meant seeing God’s love more vividly?

Was I willing to suffer for the sake of showing others His glory?

Was I willing to take the harder path of growth instead of easy, shallow living?

Did I even have a choice?

Our eight-year-old son was diagnosed with autism (Asbergers) last year. Often I wake up thinking: “Buckle up. If you survive this day you’ve done well.”

His tantrums and meltdowns and mood swings are so out of control sometimes that I think I’m going to lose every ounce of joy and hope and faith I ever had as a Christian.

But I don’t. Only by the grace of God do I buckle up again – the next day and the next day and the next. And I realise my Heavenly Father is in the driver’s seat.

And he’s got this. He’s got my life in his hands.

And he has my friend’s.

He helped her navigate her grief and pain and fill her with a hope and joy that I never thought was possible after such heartache.

And she thanks God for it.

Thank you God, for your love.
It is vibrant, rich and penetrating.
It shines in the darkness through the light-giving people you bring us.
It rouses us from broken slumber, enlivening again.
It reminds us we’re never alone and wraps itself around us, warm.
Your love is the sunshine after the rain, our new hope in the morning, and the star that leads us home…

“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26)

light

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