Why are you standing there?

Picture the scene: A group of friends had just been through the worst few months of their lives.

They were tired, ragged, worn down, exhausted and yet also in complete shock and jubilation. Their best friend (who also just happened to be the Messiah) had been horrifically murdered by the State, had then miraculously and inexplicably come back to life and now here they were, some 40ish days later, watching as he once again left them, to ascend into heaven.

There are probably no words to describe the acute emotional rollercoaster of love-loss-love-loss they’d just been on. One minute they’d lost their beloved Jesus, then he was back and now he was going again?

In Acts 1, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were, “go and tell everyone what you have seen, go to the ends of the earth to make this known”. And then in a ‘great cloud’, he disappeared.

Silence.

The disciples stood there. Awestruck, unspeaking, un-moving.

And then (in verse 11), two men, dressed in white, suddenly appeared and said, “Why are you standing there, staring at an empty sky???”

I’m sure at that point, the disciples didn’t know WHAT to do. Jesus had just told them it was time to get moving and yet here they were, standing still, maybe trapped in the sticky mud of inertia, seemingly unable to move from the spot they were in.

Does that feel familiar?

For most of 2020, big chunks of the world have been in lockdown in one form or another. Many of us have been fortunate enough to have the tech and ability to work from home. In the UK, many were furloughed, some lost their jobs and plenty struggled to adapt to a new way of working.

In lots of ways, it’s been an incredibly traumatic experience, as we’ve watched and prayed over rising death tolls and infection rates, worried about the people we love and tried to navigate our way around new rules and regulations.

Now that we are beginning to emerge from the darkest moments, some of us might be thinking, ‘well hang on, what NOW?’

Life as we know it looks really different. Will I ever feel comfortable in a crowded setting again? Will I jump every time someone in my presence coughs? Will my relationships recover from being forced together or from the pain of being forced to separate?

If we’re not careful, the aftermath of a traumatic event can be just as destructive as the event itself. Without knowing why, we can find ourselves cemented in apathy, loneliness, fear and worry. And like the disciples, find ourselves stood there, rooted in one spot, staring at an empty sky wondering what just happened.

I chatted about this with my team at work yesterday and asked them to think (privately) about whether they were ‘stuck’ and if so, what could they do to get unstuck? Were they (like many people) thinking, ‘what now?’

It’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves. Has going to church online led to not wanting to go back into a physical building? Have Skype/Zoom meetings allowed you to become lazy over relationships and communication? Has working from home, in your PJs, opened the door for apathy?

And if so, what can you do to reclaim your excitement and enthusiasm? The truth is, when Jesus ascended to heaven, it looked as though it was the end. The disciples had walked with him through some of the most incredible and traumatic experiences life can offer. And now, as they stood on a hill and watched him leave, it would be easy to think that this was the closing chapter of a very exciting and thrilling story.

But it wasn’t the conclusion, in fact, it was the very beginning of the tale.

With his final words, Jesus was telling them, ‘Now GO…get moving. Let’s get this job done!’

And just to make sure they got the message, two men in white (angels?) appeared to give them a further nudge.

‘WHY are you STANDING THERE?’

And thankfully, they began to move.

The fact that I am a Christian, thousands of years later, is because from that point, the Gospel began to spread, probably at a faster pace than it ever had done. Today, all over the world, millions of people are believers in Jesus because a group of emotionally weary, battle-scarred friends decided to GO.

As the world begins to recover from ‘what just happened’, it might feel like it’s the end, but for us as the church, it’s really just beginning.

Don’t be duped…

In the late 1990s, I was living in the US and will never forget one sunny Sunday afternoon, chatting to a lovely pastor, who was full of grace and Godly wisdom. He also happened to be building a bunker in his backyard and was gradually transferring his life savings into gold coins, so that he and his family could be prepared for the Armageddon which would inevitably follow the year 2000 and the Y2K bug.

I remember listening intently to all that he said and part of it resonated with me. After all, wasn’t the book of Revelation a graphic picture of the end of the world? And didn’t Jesus promise that a difficult time would come, when trouble and trials would cover the Earth?

Growing up in a Christian home, I was all too aware of these likely end-of-the-world scenarios. Anyone remember the rather terrifying apocalyptic movie series, ‘Left Behind’? (The ones from the 70s, not the ones starring Nicholas Cage). They told the story of a group of non-believers who were stranded on earth, following the rapture. Little by little, as they became believers and refused to bow to the newly installed one world government, they were rounded up and executed on a gullotine which was housed in the backyard of a former church. Cheery stuff!

We watched these films in youth group and one day, I distinctly remember coming home from school, finding the house empty and being utterly convinced I’d been ‘left behind’. For what it’s worth, my mum turned out to be outside in the garden!

Fast forward to today, where the world has effectively been put ‘on pause’ due to the spread of an unseen viral enemy. We’ve been in lockdown for weeks; globally, many people have tragically died, church buildings are shut and, running equally virally, is the spread of all kinds of ideas.

Was this virus released on purpose? Is it caused by the introduction of new phone masts? Is this a plot to overthrow democracy as we know it and push us toward a one world government where religion and personal freedoms are rigidly controlled by the self-appointed State?

In short, right now, we are bombarded by messages, not just from official bodies and governments but also from pastors and preachers and self-styled prophets who are broadcasting on Social Media, all with their own unique take on what it really means.

Just like my acquaintance in the US, who was seemingly a wise and credible man of God, many of these online preachers take a key verse of Scripture, expand on it and because we, as believers, trust the Word of God, we also trust what then follows.

But does that make them right? Does it mean their words are truthful? Is there a way to truly sort ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’ in all of this? How can we know, really know when we are being told the truth?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks, after I was sent a link to a very credible-sounding speaker, sharing his view that the world economy was about to collapse and that we needed to invest in alternative crypto currencies. The info he shared was all linked to scripture and I have to admit, as I listened, I could feel this level of fear and anxiety rising.

Before I knew it, I’d mentally cleaned out a cupboard at home and was considering it might be prudent to start stockpiling tinned goods. One simple link from a person I did not even know, had somehow created this strange response in me. How was that even possible? A day or so later, I discovered this speaker also happened to run an extremely successful crypto-currency business. A coincidence?

I was concerned about my reaction though and it eventually led me back to Scripture and the words of Jesus when he warned us to look out for ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ (Matthew 7:15).

This is a verse which has always intrigued me. I think there’s a prevalent belief among some Christians that we’ll be able to spot a ‘wolf’ when one shows up.

But this is why Jesus said the wolf would be in sheep’s clothing. In other words, they’d look like a sheep and talk like a sheep but underneath all of that, their hearts were not truly turned to God, their motivations were not pure and there was a dubious agenda afoot.

The lesson I take from this, is simple. We can ALL be fooled. Let’s not think for a minute that we’re above being taken in by someone who quotes scripture and behaves and acts ‘just like one of us’.

So, when it comes to the many theories out there, how can we know the difference? How can we get the balance right between extracting any nuggets of truth they may be sharing, while avoiding travelling down a twisty, dangerous path, which doesn’t lead to any place good?

1. The Bible is our ‘true North’. Think of yourself (for a minute) as being a compass. Put the Bible next to your life and you have direction and purpose.

But do you know what happens to a compass when you put it next to a magnet?

All of a sudden, the compass which was once pointing securely in the right direction, now goes a bit haywire. It spins round madly and becomes useless at showing us where to go.

It’s for that reason that I believe we have to be incredibly careful about what we allow to ‘sit beside’ our Bible reading. It’s too easy to believe that listening to a YouTube preacher tell you what the Bible says, is the same as reading it for yourself.

It’s not.

And if we’re spending more time listening to what people tell us the Bible says, rather than reading it for ourselves, we’re in murky territory. I also think we have a responsibility to ‘weigh up’ the teaching that we absorb and see if it actually lines up, in context with what the Bible actually says. If we know our Bible, through personal study, we won’t be so easily led astray.

2. What kind of fruit do these theories produce? If, like me, you found yourself starting to feel fearful, to want to selfishly stockpile, to worry or to start feeling incredibly angry, none of that is ‘good fruit’.

A member of my family admitted some time ago that he had got ‘sucked in’ to constantly listening to overseas radio stations from Christian survivalists.

The ‘fruit’? Sleepless nights, anxious thoughts, inexplicable rage, isolation, fear and worry.

The truth is, the Word of God absolutely brings life. Its fruit in our lives is exactly as it’s described in Galatians; peace, love, joy, self-control, kindness and more besides.

If instead, you’re finding yourself hunkering down, suspiciously viewing the world around you, shaking a fist at shadowy elites, isolating yourself from church, declining to listen to anyone who thinks differently (you just KNOW you’re right and everyone else is wrong!) these are worrying symptoms.

This is not what happens when we absorb, the living, life-giving Word of God. The Word of God doesn’t give us a one-size-fits-all answer to the world’s problems, but it does point us toward hope, toward peace, toward understanding the beauty of eternity.

3. Are you a listener or a crusader? A few years back, I attended a great training course on ‘dealing with difficult people’. One of the hallmarks of a ‘difficult person’, according to the trainer, can be their inability to listen and their need to convince everyone else of the rightness of their opinion.

Crusaders make pretty bad church members! They are always right and their role on Earth is to put the pastor right too. They’ve lost the ability to listen, to serve, to be open to the fact that they might be wrong. We’ve probably all met a person just like that?! Maybe, we’re in danger of becoming one (ouch!) ourselves? The need to be right outweighs the need to listen.

The Bible, from Hosea to the Gospels, reminds us in multiple ways to always have a teachable spirit. In times like today, while it’s easy to get entrenched in ‘new ideas’, let’s also be open to the possibility of challenge. What does God’s Word say? What do the wise and Godly people around us say? We might not always agree, but exposing ourselves to different opinions, is hugely important.

There’s no doubt that we’re living in strange and uncomfortable times, but that’s why we need the direction of the Bible and the Holy Spirit guiding us daily. When we’ve got his presence sitting in our lives and hearts and minds, spotting the lies actually becomes easier. When we’re guided by his word, our compass points to true north and our ‘radar’ for false teaching is clear and loud.

Lies make us feel anxious and afraid and angry. The truth points us to peace, to hope, to an incredible eternity.

In difficult times, I know how I would rather be feeling.

When you have an identity crisis.

Last night, as news about the tragic death of another celebrity filtered in, I read the headlines with shock and sadness.

Within hours, online, many were asking, ‘how could this have happened?’ ‘Who was to blame?’ Was it social media? The Press? The courts? Everyone was asking if this could have been prevented?

I know a fair bit about the entertainment world as I used to work in TV and later in celebrity PR. Although both organisations I worked for were honest and concerned about safeguarding, I saw how others in the wider industry, were quick to get their ‘pound of flesh’ from emerging stars and celebrities.

Sometimes these celeb newcomers were young, inexperienced people who’d been pulled out of obscurity and chucked headfirst into the oncoming headlights of fame and glamour, often before the cement of their self-worth or character had even had chance to dry.

I worked in a wider industry, which to a certain extent, made the most of that. There wasn’t any malevolence intended (well, at least not on my part) but ‘celebrities’ were (and still are) seen as ‘currency to be traded’. It’s just how it works.

On one occasion, I organised a celebrity launch in London and invited a TV presenter to be the host.

The date had been in the diary for months but a few weeks before the event, the news broke that this presenter (my intended host) had tried to commit suicide.

My first thought was for her welfare and, assuming she would no longer be able to take part, I started looking around for someone to take her place. But no, her management company was quick to reassure me. They said she would be fine. She was getting help and support and once she’d had chance to rest and recover, she was keen to go ahead.

A few weeks went by and on the day itself, my host turned up early with a friend and seemed bright and upbeat. She was wearing a top where it was possible to still faintly see the red lines on her wrists where she’d tried to take her own life but I assumed it was her way of saying, ‘I’m a survivor…here’s the scars to prove it’.

As we chatted over coffee, taking my professional head off for just a minute, I really, really wanted the conversation to come round to matters of faith. I wanted her to know that despite everything she was facing; fame, headlines, the lot, it was really nothing but an empty, noisy bubble.

I’d seen too many others get chewed up by this vast machine that used people as commodities and which looked surprised when, dumped from their shows, the stars ending up becoming drug addicted or depressed.

I really wanted her to know that there was a God who gave her value, who saw her as a precious pearl, who could restore order and meaning to her chaos. But in a work setting, just before a busy event, it was clearly not the time to have that conversation.

But as it turned out, we had a great day, she did a brilliant job and as she and the other guests were leaving, a group of paparazzi arrived. It wasn’t unexpected (we’d sent out a press release) but as she left the building, one of the photographers shouted, ‘Give us a wave, love’.

Not thinking anything of it, she smiled broadly and gave a big, cheerful wave of her arms to the flashing cameras.

Of course, when we saw the headlines the next day, we realised we’d been duped. It was just a ruse so they could take a photo of her arms covered in small (slowly healing) marks from her suicide attempt. I also suspected the photos had been doctored, to make the marks look much redder and newer than they actually were.

The headlines ignored our event and instead shouted something about how ‘desperate, unhappy and sad’ she clearly was, after ‘failing’ to take her own life, as though a ‘failed’ suicide attempt was a bad thing.

I was furious. I contacted her management to check she was ok, but it seemed it was ‘water off a duck’s back’. If anything they simply accepted it as the ‘price’ to be paid for being in the headlines. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps she really wasn’t bothered by this public airing of all her troubles. Only she could know.

Times have changed hugely in the last decade. In addition to paps and headlines, celebrities also now have to navigate social media and the opinions of a thousand ‘armchair warriors’ who hide behind anonymous handles and computer screens.

And if your worth is built on the foundation of other people’s opinions, it must be a nightmare to always feel like a failure. Imagine being in the position where nothing you say or do is ever good enough? Where every dress choice or private meltdown is available for the social media judge and jury to pore over?

To be fair, most of us do value the opinions of others. We want to be liked, appreciated and valued and if someone says something negative, it’s normal to be temporarily knocked off balance. Only recently, I fell victim to it (again!!) when I started to absorb and believe something that someone with ill-intent had said about me. What could they see that I couldn’t? Was there truth in these hurtful, unpleasant words?

But later, I began realise that if my whole identity is shaped on what other people think of me, then I simply cannot win.

As a Christian, I know that my hope and confidence has to be built on something more secure than this. My identity has to be securely anchored to an unshakeable rock, which can’t be moved. It means that my value has to come from who he is, not from who I am not.

He is righteousness, peace, truth, justice, love, mercy, grace, compassion and faithful.

And he says that I am loved, secure, safe, cherished and worth dying for.

And so because I am his child, I’m able to hang on to this gob-smackingly beautiful inheritance.

Everything else, headlines, paps, anonymous twitter trolls, other people’s views of who they think I am, is just a cacophony of noise, dashing against a rock which can’t be moved.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune to hurt or to ugly comments, but it does mean that I can keep running back to the rock and asking, ‘who do YOU say that am?

When you’re stuck in a rut…

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about the faithfulness of God. It sounds like a heavy thing to be mulling over, but it all started at the beginning of the week when I received a notification on Facebook, suggesting I look back at my ‘Facebook memories’.

As I curiously flicked back 8, 9, 10 years, I started to think about how much my life has changed in that time.

In fact, just three years ago, life looked very, very different. I’ll not go into all the gory details, but I was tired, frustrated and stuck in what can only be described as a toxic personal situation. I was angry, trying REALLY hard to fix things in my own strength and (not surprisingly) banging my head against a brick wall.

A seemingly ‘chance’ encounter led to me being prayed for at a meeting (I wrote about it in another blog post Surprised by God) and that day, although I didn’t know it at the time, something was genuinely unlocked and changed in me.

Immediately after that meeting, I was filled with this strength of conviction that I needed to sever ties with the situation which was sapping my confidence. And the very next day, I did it and I absolutely knew, with ‘God confidence’ that it was the right thing to do.

The relief was like taking the lid off a pressure cooker!

But that was really just the beginning, because one by one, bricks in walls that I thought were never going to fall, began to wobble.

I could see a heavenly strategy emerging, where little by little, God was removing and replacing things in my life, shaping me up for brand new challenges. I can honestly say (cheers for the reminder, Facebook Memories!) that two years ago, I would have laughed heartily, if you’d have told me how things would be today. I genuinely don’t think I would have believed it.

The reality is, there was a plan all along. Through the many disappointments, stresses, seemingly immovable objects, God was chipping away at both the situations, but also at my character, knocking off plenty of the less desirable bits. That is most definitely an ongoing process!!

The point is, his faithfulness and strategy has been on display from the very beginning, although admittedly, I often couldn’t see it.

This morning, I woke up with the words to a song in my head, ‘All my life you have been faithful, all my life, you have been so, so good, with every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God’. (C)

The song is a mirror of famous words in Deuteronomy;

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (Deuteronomy‬ ‭7:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Have I been faithful? Plenty of times, no. I have questioned, argued, fought back, ranted, gossiped, taken things into my own hands, but I think I’ve probably always (at the back of my mind somewhere) had a sneaking suspicion that despite my hiccups, God did have a plan.

And he still does! I can see it in operation now and I also know that in another two years or three years or four years, things could look very different again. And that is ok!

So, here’s a thought to round it up, if you’re stuck in a rut and your situation seems like it’ll never change, don’t rely on your own ability to fix it, but rely on the character of God and what you know about him.

Through all of life’s ups and downs, he has always been faithful to me.

And for that reason, no matter what the future holds, I can hang on, with confidence, that he will continue to be faithful.

(C)

Trusting God with the little things…

I’m not quite sure how I missed it, but recently it dawned on me that since living in my new home, I’d never actually received a water bill.

I was sure I’d registered the house at the beginning, but nothing had ever come through.

Initially I didn’t think much of it, but I took a few photos of the water meter (and the reading) and figured I’d ring the water company at some point during the week to see what was happening.

The week was really busy and it wasn’t until the end of Friday that I remembered.

It was then that I got a bit of a shock!

Speaking to the customer service agent, he asked how many people lived at the property, joking that we must have a swimming pool, based on our water consumption.

What?

Oh yes, he explained.

You’re using a LOT of water.

He then told me how much the bill was – multiples of hundreds of pounds – and I nearly keeled over.

But that’s just not possible, said I. You’ve got it wrong.

He suddenly turned into Mr Doom and Gloom and in a deeply concerned tone, suggested that perhaps I had a leak under the property.

It might need to be investigated. The garden might need to be dug up.

The end of the world was probably pretty close too.

My heart sank.

I did not have time or head space for any more drama and I could feel anxiousness rising up in my chest like a swirling tornado. He promised to set the wheels in motion for an investigation and we ended the call.

I sat there for a minute and thought it through, having visions of gushing geysers surging beneath my property.

I don’t want to see my garden dug up.This could take months to sort out.

Suddenly, I heard that lovely, still, small voice.

Stop worrying.

And all of a sudden I started thinking back to time after time after time, where I’d been in similarly worrying situations and somehow, in different ways, I’d never been let down.

Oh, things hadn’t been easy, hadn’t always worked out the way I wanted them to, but I’d never, ever been forsaken or abandoned.

Ring them back. (came the gentle nudge in my spirit).

I didn’t even know what I was going to say but I guess I was looking for some reassurance.

This time I got through to a different advisor and as she started looking through my account, she let out a long, slow Aaaahhhhhh.

She’d found something!

It seems that the meter number they had on file for me was wrong.

Suddenly it all clicked into place, as she twigged that I was being billed for a huge house nearby (that must have at least 5 bedrooms…and ha, possibly the aforementioned swimming pool).

Within minutes, it was all sorted, switched over and a new much more normal bill was generated on the system.

As I finished the call, I was grateful for good customer service but also for that still, small voice which again reminded me to slow down, breathe and stop worrying.

In the grand scheme of things, in a deeply unstable suffering world, my excessively large water bill is so unimportant.

It’s incredibly small potatoes, when I consider that a big chunk of the world doesn’t even have access to clean water.

But you know what, in that moment, it wasn’t really about water, it was about whether I could trust God in all the minor ups and downs of life, as well as the ‘big stuff’.

We all have these moments; a large bill, an alarming phone call, a worrying symptom.

Some of them turn out to be nothing. Some turn into something, but can we trust God through it all anyway?

When anxiety and fear grabs us in a headlock, can we find the strength to say, God, you’ve never failed me up to this point…I don’t believe you’re about to start’.

I really believe that God is interested in all the little details of our lives. But that simple prayer of trust and of letting go, is one of the hardest prayers we have to pray.

Often, as we pray it, nothing spectacular happens. We don’t feel any different, worry can still be nibbling around the edges. But there is something quite powerful in surrendering the outcome of any situation to a God who knows all and sees all. Can we trust him with the outcome of the big things and the little things?

He wants to help.

He just needs to be asked.

Are you a cheapskate Christian?

Are you a cheapskate Christian?

Bit of a strange question, eh?

But let me explain.

Recently, I’ve been reading through Genesis and Exodus and seeing just how overwhelmingly gracious God is with us.

Time and time again, I am reading about his loving kindness, his patience, his mercy, his forgiveness. Even in the New Testament, this incredible theme sings loudly; a God who loved us so much that he gave up his only child.

I honestly can’t think of a greater type of selfless generosity and yet, some of us, his followers struggle to understand the concept of generosity.

So, a few examples; we hoard our cash and protect what we have, as though money was going out of print.

We heap up our plates at the buffet table, not thinking about the long line behind us.

We’re offered a free book or resource from a ministry, but instead of taking one (as requested), we fill our pockets.

At work, we’re asked to put our mugs in the dishwasher, but we don’t, because, well, we’re kinda busy…

Lack of generosity can also easily spill into deceit too.

We might ‘fudge’ the truth on an application form, in order to get something free.

We might help ourselves to the leftover coins in a vending machine.

We might keep the £20 we found on the floor (finders/keepers, anyone? 😂).

Over the years, I’ve worked for different Christian charities and ministries and I’ve seen this often.

In a previous job, we once offered a free book, as an incentive to encourage people to sign up for a mailing list. One person helped themselves to 10 ‘free’ books, to ‘give to their friends’, not thinking about the cost/burden that put on the organisation.

Even closer to home, we see it in church too. It’s easy to become the type of person who goes purely to ‘take’ and not to ‘give’. We can rely heavily on the church’s support structures, but don’t want to give our time in any other way.

The point is, so much of this can stem from a lack of generosity, a sense that we are ‘owed’ something or that that we have to look after ‘me’ first of all.

And yet, God’s generosity towards us has literally no limits.

He gave us the most important thing in the world and he continues to do so in a million big and little ways.

I’ve experienced God’s generosity so, so many times and so, out of gratitude, I want to be generous toward others.

My parents instilled this in me, from an early age. Even when they had nothing, they would often choose to find a way to bless others. Even today, my dad will say, ‘everything I have isn’t mine anyway. It’s the Lord’s’.

I’m not saying it’s easy…it definitely isn’t.

Sometimes it feels like my inbuilt sin nature just constantly cries, ‘me, me, ME’.

No, I don’t want to go to the meeting, I want to stay at home and watch Netflix.

No, I don’t want to offer that person-in-need a lift, because I’m tired and it’s 5 miles out of my way.

Yes, I DO want the last piece of *quiche at the church buffet. The others behind me…well, they can have quiche some other time.

(*Quiche: the staple food of church buffets! 😂)

But yes, generosity is about way, way more than money.

It’s about smiling at cashiers in shops.

It’s about taking your trolley back to the trolley park (and not leaving it in a random car parking space at the supermarket).

It’s about allowing that person on the slip road to join the motorway, instead of refusing to budge.

It’s about helping ourselves to ONE plate of food at the buffet.

It’s about looking around at others’ needs and asking God if there is a way he could use ME to help, whether it’s with time or money.

And although I don’t believe we should give, in order ‘to get’, when we start modelling generosity, surprising things begin to happen. People notice. They start to open up. Others begin to practice generosity towards you.

But the truth is, God has given us literally everything. He has poured out unthinkable generosity on us.

And to whom much is given, much is required.

Are you a narcissist?

Years ago, I remember being in a meeting and we were waiting for another colleague to arrive. My (then) boss quipped, ‘he planned to be here on time, but unfortunately, he got waylaid by a full length mirror’.

We all laughed, because well, it was funny, but also, I wonder if any of us thought that we were susceptible to this too?

At the time, it reminded me of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, I’d seen which told the story of Narcissus.

It’s based on a tale in Greek mythology about a beautiful looking young man. He was told (apparently) that if he never recognised himself, he’d live a long and happy life.

Somehow or other, the ‘gods’ got angry with him and so poor old Narcissus saw his own reflection in a spring of water, fell completely in love and spent the rest of his days, pining away for his greatest unrequited love – himself.

I’m not sure how, but recently I ended up reading this story again and looking into narcissism and what it really means.

I’d always thought that a narcissist is a person, who, like their namesake, is someone who is arrogantly in love with themselves.

But apparently, the definition is somewhat different.

A narcissist is often a person who has been damaged in some way and so they create a false version of themselves, to cover up the truth. It is usually deeply rooted stuff, but it manifests in lots of different ways.

Conmen and swindlers are often narcissists. They build up this huge fake reality that draws others in. They’re often great communicators, people of fancy words, but if you dig below the surface, there’s very little substance. What they say in public or on a stage, isn’t really reflected in their private, ‘backstage’ life.

I hate to say it, but it exists in church life too.

It can happen because in life, we sometimes like to put our leaders on a pedestal. We create a system of ‘honour’ which can be completely life-destroying for everyone concerned, if it’s not managed properly.

If they were in a psychiatrist’s office today, I bet you’d find plenty of narcissists among Biblical characters too. Men and women who followed God but somehow got distracted (permanently or temporarily) by their own reflection.

Remember David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ who worshipped and praised God all the time but somehow ended up stealing another man’s wife and murdering the husband, in order to cover up his sin?

Then there was Samson, a man of extraordinary strength who fell for the lies of a con-woman and ended up paying a horrific price. Did he forget that his strength came from a supernatural source and wasn’t his own doing?

I could find plenty of other examples too, but closer to home, what about me? Or you?

Are we creating a false reality or identity, because we fear vulnerability?

What about social media? Are we broadcasting this shiny, perfect version of our lives, when inside, we’re really crumbling and rotting away?

It’s a huge challenge! Have we created a picture perfect version of ourselves to display to the world, so they’ll think better of us? Are we sometimes tempted to get stuck, gazing into a spring, at an image of our own reflection?

The truth is, when we meet Jesus, he brings all the fractured parts of our lives together. He makes us whole.

And if we’re walking with him, he gives us a nudge in the spiritual ribs, when we’re temporarily distracted by what we see in the mirror.

He is the great ‘course corrector’, the one who tells us to ‘wind our necks in’ when/if we start to believe and fall for, some of the nonsense the world around us, dishes up.

But we can all get sucked into the trap. It’s so easy to see the results of a project or a piece of work and forget the invisible, creative hand which gave us the idea in the first place. It’s so easy to start gazing at our own reflection, instead of the reflection of the one who made us.

It’s not about thinking less of ourselves, but as a wise man once said, it’s thinking of ourselves less.

Don’t wait ‘till it’s too late…

Many years ago, I knew a really annoying kid.

Ok, strike that, at the time, I thought he was annoying.

There’s a difference,

I remember though, that he didn’t have many friends.

I think he once tried to be my friend, but I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to be ‘contaminated’ among my peers, by hanging out with someone so uncool.

I don’t know if he ever felt the sludge of my rejection, the way I rolled my eyes when he came near, the way I purposefully avoided him.

Looking back now, years later, I’m ashamed of the way I consciously stayed away.

I’ve tried to tell myself, ‘kids are mean…that’s what they do, before they develop proper emotional intelligence’. But in reality, I was raised better than that. It wasn’t till later in life, when I experienced rejection myself, that I learned how painful it can be.

But at that point in my life, loaded down with the impossible teenage burden of trying to be accepted among my oh-so-cool peers, I chose the lower road.

Years later, I learned that the boy-I-didn’t-want-to-be-friends-with had grown to be a man and in his 20s, had committed suicide.

When I first heard the news, all I could think about was the time I ducked behind a wall to avoid him. Did I, little by little, contribute to him having a life where no one liked him, leading him to make such a sad and devastating choice?

I’ll never know.

The reality is, he may well have struggled with mental health issues or been in a situation he thought was out of his control. It is quite possible that even if I had been his friend, I still could not have prevented it.

This story has been on my mind recently, as a few days ago, I discovered that an acquaintance of our family had also taken his own life.

I only met him a few times, when he’d been at my parents’ home. He was going through a really tough situation and would chat to my parents about what he was experiencing.

Later, when both my parents were ill, he sent me a message to ask how they were.

I don’t think I replied. I had so many (wonderful) messages that it didn’t land on my ‘priority list’.

Such a shock then recently, to discover he’d taken his own life.

When I was told, I just kept thinking about the message I didn’t reply to. Was he reaching out? Could I have changed things? Again, I’ll never know.

I started thinking again about the boy in my youth and I also started thinking about how Jesus always had time for the people no one else noticed.

He noticed Zacchaeus up a tree, he noticed the woman with internal bleeding, he went out of his way to free a demonised man, who’d spent his whole adult life, living naked in a graveyard.

Jesus was out-of-this-world popular. Everyone wanted his time, his healing touch and yet he seemed to go out of his way, to reach the people that no one else noticed.

Today, as I think back to these two people who ended their own lives, I wish I’d paid more attention.

Could I have changed things? Maybe.

Maybe not.

But the example of Jesus is unavoidable. And it admonishes me and shows up my failings.

Jesus noticed people. Not just the convenient, easy-to-know people at the front of the crowd. He took time out to go after the untouchables, the ones no one liked. He took time. He listened and he had dinner with the people no one else had time for.

Is there someone you need to listen to, today?

Don’t wait, until it’s too late.

Not everyone will like you (but that’s ok…)

I hate to break it to you, but not everyone will like you. I know, shocking, right?

For some, this will be terrifying news, for others, the sad truth may have already (slowly) dawned.

Whether we like it or not, whatever the future holds for us as we run, walk, (limp?) toward our calling or dream, not everyone will join us on the journey.

Even the people we love and respect most in the world might give up. They might walk away, ditch you, think you’re crazy for pursuing such a bonkers dream.

But if that happens, you’re not alone. Actually, you’re in pretty noble company.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about Gideon in the Bible and this morning, I started reading Judges 5.

At the time, Israel was under attack. The evil Midianites nearby, kept raiding Israel’s homes and Judges 6 says that ‘whatever Israel had sown, the Midianites would attack and reap’.

It was a HUGE mess.

The Israelites were in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode, there was no food and in the middle of it, an Angel appears to a chap called Gideon and basically says, ‘you’re the man. I’m going to use you to defeat this evil invasion’.

After a series of tests (remember the story of Gideon and the fleece?), Gideon finally accepts the assignment God has placed on his life. But he is brutally honest with the Lord when he says, ‘My people are weak…I’m a bit of a nobody…but if you think I can do this, then I will’.

(I think that’s a place loads of us have been to!)

So Gideon was finally ready to go to battle, the strategy was in place and weirdly, I have this mental image of him pacing up and down, nervously preparing for the biggest fight of his life, saying, ‘we’ve got this…we CAN do it’.

But then, all of a sudden, God says to him, ‘Gideon, your army is too big’.

Gideon: Uhm, what?

Creator of the universe: Your army is too big. You need fewer men.

Gideon: Oh Lord, you have GOT to be joking…

But God isn’t joking and little by little, begins to whittle away at Gideon’s mighty army.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that Gideon’s warriors numbered about 32,000 people. That’s quite a lot of humans.

But God wanted less people because on the day of victory, he wanted the Midianites to be dumbfounded at what had been achieved with so few people.

That meant some of the army simply had to go.

And so began a process of ‘voluntary redundancies’.

Instead of automatically ruling people out, God wanted the men to leave of their own free will, to admit this was not for them.

The process of elimination began when Gideon asked the people, ‘who’s afraid?’

One by one, thousands upon thousands of hands went up and to their surprise, Gideon released them from duty….all 22,000 of them, leaving a mere 10,000 left.

There wasn’t any shame in this, no disgrace in admitting they no longer followed the vision, it was just an opportunity for people to declare whether they were ‘in’ or ‘out’

But there was still more work to be done and eventually the Lord reduced an army of 32,000 people to 300.

You did NOT read that wrong. Not 3000. 300.

32,000 to 300.

Like, seriously?

How on earth could God do anything with 300 people, when previously they’d had enough warriors to fill a stadium?

But as incredulous as I’m sure Gideon was, the Lord said to him, ‘with these 300 people, I’m going to deliver you’.

And then God began, little by little to give Gideon the strategy for what was next.

In Judges 7, it says that the Midianites and the Amalekites (who’d joined forces) were lying in wait in the valley, ‘as numerous as locusts’. They had so many camels between them, they were ‘like grains of sand at the sea’.

Can you imagine what that must have been like?

Here’s Gideon, looking down at this sea of humanity, feeling weak and unsure, with his paltry 300 men.

There was NO way this was possible and it was only likely to end in bloody disaster.

And yet God had hand-picked the 300 right men for the job.

Everyone else from the 32,000 had left Gideon. They were afraid or didn’t qualify in some other way.

But Gideon was about to learn, with God on his side, he didn’t need multitudes of people, he just needed a crack team made up of the right people.

And you know what happened?

God used those 300 people by splitting them into 3 separate teams, to surround the evil camp.

They made such a noise by blowing trumpets and running through the camp from every direction, with blazing torches, that the people were confused and, I’m not even joking, began turning their swords on each other.

Victory was won that day.

An impossible victory brought about by 301 men, a few fiery torches and hearts full of faith at what God could do through them.

So, whatever battle you’re facing, the truth is, not everyone will stand with you. You’ll be betrayed, you’ll be used, you’ll get your heart broken.

Sometimes, life completely sucks. People you’ve relied on will probably let you down, others will run off because they’re scared or feeling insecure.

You might end up completely alone, wondering if you even heard God correctly at all.

But you don’t need an army around you, to do what God’s asked you to do.

You just need the right people.

When God is providing the strategy, it only takes a few.

Who put your light out?

If you’ve seen the movie, ‘The Shack’, you’ll probably remember the scene, where standing on a hill with God, Mack, the hero of the film sees line after line of lit up, glowing forms on the horizon.

As Mack looks more intently, one of the figures walks toward him and he discovers he knows this person. But if you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to watch the film.

The reason I mention it, is because this particular scene was on my mind recently. I was away on a work trip and we were at a women’s conference. Although I was in fully-fledged work mode, at the conference, as the band started to sing, I felt myself melting into the lovely worship time.

The songs were gentle and sweet and as I shut my eyes, something strange began to happen.

I could ‘see’ silhouettes of the people in the room and as they worshipped, they started to light up and glow. All over the room there were warm, lovely, glowing silhouettes.

At first I wasn’t sure what this picture meant, but it seemed to me that as people worshipped, their spirits were coming alive, blossoming, lighting up, glowing and basking in the warmth of God’s presence.

But also, in the picture in my mind there were silhouettes which weren’t lit up.

Instead they were dark, un-moving and passive and it felt like God gave me a question to speak out. It was a simple question;

Who put your light out?

Now I was in a church which was not my own, I didn’t really know who was in charge so it didn’t seem appropriate to share it.

But throughout the afternoon, that image kept coming back to me and later, as there was more worship, it felt like I could see it even more clearly and the question became even more urgent;

Who put your light out?

As I prayed about it, I felt the message behind it became clearer.

As we worship and our spirits tune into heaven, we come alive on the inside. I don’t know if our spirits do literally light up, but it strikes me as being possible and very likely.

However, it’s possible to outwardly appear to worship but internally, nothing is happening.

The lights are out.

No one’s at home.

Our light can go out for so many different reasons.

It can be life circumstances, sadness, apathy, so many different things.

But the end result is always the same.

There is no light, no glow. No one might actually know. You might be doing an incredible job of keeping up appearances.

To be honest, if it had been my church, I would have taken a big leap of faith and shared what was happening but an opportunity didn’t present itself.

However, later, mulling it over, a friend suggested that this may not have even been intended for the church we were in, but instead intended for someone reading this blog.

So, I ask the question again;

Who put your light out?

Was it a death in the family? A difficult work situation? A series of small things which chipped away at your confidence, which led you to think that God didn’t care any more?

Here’s the thing (and I felt this SO clearly today), there is no condemnation in this. If your light has gone out, now is not the time to beat yourself up, or to think that you’re unworthy of God’s attention or favour.

It’s actually the total opposite.

Full of compassion and grace, today God wants to turn that light on again.

He sees past the pretence, the fake smiles, all the barriers, dramas and conflicts and he just wants you to take one step toward him.

It’s actually pretty easy.

It just takes s simple, plain-English, heartfelt commitment to turn back to God and ask him to fix your broken signal.

He is full of compassion and kindness, not condemnation. He wants to speak to us, to point us in the right direction, to show us things.

So if this quick message was actually intended for someone reading this today, then I’m praying for you.

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