Archive | March, 2013

God 52 – Week Thirteen (26/3/12)

26 Mar

billy_grahamDo not be afraid. Last week we prayed for opportunities, this week we take them. This is the second part of a two-week challenge, all about sharing faith with our non-Christian friends and family-members. Week thirteen’s challenge is very simple:

13: Look for an opportunity to share your faith with the person you prayed for last week.

Don’t force the opportunity – God is faithful, and will create opportunities for conversation. But be ready, have your eyes open for where God might already be at work in someone, and remember this amazing truth from Rico Tice, which he shared on Premier Radio a few years ago:

‘Remember when you’re talking to your non-Christian friend about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is there behind them saying “this is true, this is true, this is true.”‘

I find those words hugely comforting as I approach this week’s challenge – I trust you will too. Time to step out in faith…

Want to write a guest blog this week about sharing your faith with friends, family members or others? Check out the writing guidelines, then drop me an email!

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If we listen… by Frances Gabriel

25 Mar

One final guest blog on this week’s prayer challenge, as we prepare to share faith with our friends and family in the week ahead. In this post, Frances Gabriel gets honest about praying for opportunities.

FrancesGabrielIt started with a conversation in the kitchen, off the staff room. A throw-away line (from her) about my hair looking ‘religious, nun-like’ because I had it swept back from my face (bad hair day). And just like that, I’m into a conversation about God.

I pray for opportunities like this.  Well, actually, I don’t, because I don’t always think / remember. But I do always hope that if the opportunity arises, I will have the right words and the guts above all, to answer with the right words. As Peter says in his first letter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” And then he continues: “but do this with gentleness and respect.”

We weren’t having a deep and meaningful conversation. Break time, with resources to prepare and people to talk to, as well as the obligatory cup of coffee, isn’t conducive to major conversations.  But I dared to admit that yes, I was someone who had a faith (she was amazed that anyone does) and when she followed up with a question about my background, I had a chance.  Not to give a full exposition.  But just a window onto a world that for her, where she is right now, offers a very different perspective from that of a purely secular worldview. I will pray for opportunities to build on this conversation next week.

I don’t want to make excuses.  I would love to have the confidence to just launch straight into a conversation about God.  But maybe what I did was enough.  Maybe the key thing is to be ready and to be listening.  Maybe that’s not earth-shattering – but it’s true nonetheless. If we listen, really listen, to those around us and hear what they are saying, pick up on the undercurrents – we can offer just the right amount that they are ready for.  And although I worry about how people will see me sometimes, yesterday I worried more about how she would see God through me.  But I know that God is big enough to cope with that Himself – all I have to do is speak and He’ll do the rest.

Still scary, though!

Frances Gabriel is a wife and mother of two, works in a school and attends both of her local churches – helping out with kids and music where she can.  She is far too obsessed with Les Miserables right now, regularly sings along to ELO and drinks too much coffee.

Sowing seeds, by Lynn McCann

25 Mar

We’re in the midst of a deep and profound challenge right now in the God52 community – as we pray for and then share the gospel with a friend or family member. Here Lynn McCann reflects on an important truth that this challenge has helped to remind her about, and on an amazing answer…

LynnMcannPraying for others is about sowing seeds; it’s God who makes them grow. Sometimes we don’t share the gospel out of fear of rejection, sometimes we do and there seems to be no response. Sometimes we do and the person seems enthusiastic at first but then falls away. Sound familiar? The parable of the sower tells us to expect this. Jesus knew that people would respond in different ways, but he also said that some seeds would fall on good soil. Yes! Some people will believe and follow him… that’s why we share the gospel, and who are we to say who will believe and who won’t? Often God surprises us.

Our church is having a mission week this week and when I saw the God52 challenge I was ‘challenged’ as I realised I had been procrastinating about inviting people to the week. I mean, it wasn’t even difficult, all I had to do was invite someone to an event – someone else was going to tell them the gospel. But like so many of us… I was held back by fear.

“What if they say ‘no’?”

I’d forgotten it is God who changes hearts to receive the gospel.

Anyway, a quick prayer ensued and then I took the easy way out and Facebook messaged a few friends asking them if they’d like to come to one of the evenings. One messaged back almost immediately – yes they would come.

This is a friend who two years ago I had invited to a gospel event, at which she had even responded with enthusiasm. But then she stopped coming to church and seemed to fall away because she was angry with God. Her family had suffered a real tragedy and she struggled to understand it in the light of God’s love and grace. So she seemed to have turned away.

I did not stop praying for her though, knowing that God is big enough to make the seed grow. I needed to wait and trust.

As I met her this week her face was full of light. She told me a wonderful story. This is what had happened…

The week before, her dog, which was such a part of the family, became seriously ill. The vet had told them to prepare for the worst.  Unable to console her youngest daughter, she had offered to pray with her.  Devastated they prayed, “Lord, please make our dog well and if you do we will go back to church.”

Well, the next morning she shook with fear as she rang the vet. Feeling certain the news would be bad she made sure her daughters were out of earshot.  The vet spoke to her with tears in his voice… “I can’t quite believe this, but when I came in this morning, your dog was standing up wagging her tail as if nothing was wrong at all!  She’s going to be ok!”

So, here was my lovely friend, back in church, hearing the gospel again. This time with a heart open and grateful to a God who did all the work and never let her go.  Thanks for challenging me, God52.

Lynn McCann is a wife, mum to two teenagers, and an ASD teacher who loves Jesus with all her heart. She blogs at http://includedbygrace.wordpress.com about faith, life, and sharing the gospel with people with learning disabilties and ASD.

Swept under the carpet, by Sarah Sharpe

24 Mar

Another guest blog in response to this week’s prayer challenge – this one is a vital read for anyone who holds on to a hope that a member of their family will find faith.

sarah sharpeRoughly seven years ago the church we were a part of had a new carpet laid in the main worship space. As it couldn’t be laid until the Monday morning, the opportunity was grabbed to write directly onto the concrete floor during the service. We were asked to graffiti the floor with the names of those we’d love to know Jesus.

With a whole family full of atheists where was I going to start? I could have filled the church floor with the names of my parents, my in-laws, my brother, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. I could go on and on. In the end I prayed and wrote two names, that of my brother and his girlfriend. There was an excitement and intentional nature about making a permanent mark in a worship space, a secret knowledge that their names were written there under the new carpet.

Lots has happened in the time since then; we moved to a new area as my job and church changed, my brother’s girlfriend is now his wife and they have two wonderful children… and my prayer got swept under the new carpet. I’m not saying that I’ve stopped praying for them but the urgency and intentional nature of my prayers has shifted. I wonder if putting it under the carpet has meant that I don’t see a need to keep praying?

Over the years my enthusiasm has been affected by the debates we’ve had about faith, and of course the time my brother told my daughter that he didn’t believe in God but the religion of himself! In church as I wrote their names I was full of hope but the reality has left me with a bit of guilt and a lot of nerves as I contemplate trying again. Sometimes I make the excuse that Jesus found it tough in his hometown and this is just the same but really it is just an excuse. Certainly my prayers have dried up or been reduced to a quick prayer as I hug one of my adorable nieces and consider eternity without them.

I wonder what would have happened if Moses had stopped praying or if Nehemiah had too? In the busyness of life I’ve trusted that my prayer has been said and the writing on the floor of my old church still stands and speaks to God on my behalf everyday, removing my involvement. Perhaps now is the time to open my eyes to the idea that maybe I need to get involved again and be active and not passive in my prayer for them.

So, let’s fast forward to this week and the fact that I can see that something is happening. Four days ago my brother, his wife and my nieces moved from 100 miles away to within a mile of the church where their names are written. I couldn’t help but start to get excited about the possibilities that this opens up. Knowing how much my sister-in-law wants to make friends I started to introduce her to my friends from the church. This week she’s going to a toddler group in the hall next to where her name is written and having coffee with one of my friends who absolutely shines with the love of Jesus. I long for the day when they know that their names are written not just on the floor but on God’s heart and engraved in his hand. My passion for praying has definitely waned over the years and I feel guilty as I pick them up again just as I see God at work in their lives. My challenge is to continue even when there’s no change and it seems like they’ll never come to faith.

Sarah Sharpe is a wife, mother and youth minister – in that order. She loves having a house full of friends and making endless cups of tea and toast. Mostly she is passionate about the adventure of following Jesus and enthusiastically sharing that with others.

Praying for my dad to come to faith – by a youth pastor

23 Mar

 

Another guest blog on this week’s challenge – to pray for someone who next week we’re going to share the gospel with. Today an anonymous youth pastor talks about the apparent unfairness of how God answers our prayers for friends and family…

dad homerGrowing up I used to look at the other Christian kids in church standing next to their dads in worship. His hand ruffling their hair, looking down with pride and silently mouthing ‘I love you.’ Then I would look up into the void where my Dad should have been, next to my Mum…

…but he wasn’t there, he was at home, watching telly.

You see, my dad isn’t a Christian. And this upsets me, I know that if he was attacked and killed by a gorilla that had escaped from a travelling circus, he would be in hell.

Its not without trying. My mum is one of the most faithful intercessor pray-ers I know and not a day goes by where she doesn’t pray for my dad’s soul. And I pray too, I pray that my dad becomes the man that God called him to be, to achieve full potential in Christ, to flourish under the undeserved grace we have been given.

But alas, nothing.

As I started university, I met this bloke. We had the same interests enjoyed a healthy banter over rival football teams and he quickly became my best friend. But he wasn’t a Christian and didn’t really get the whole faith thing. I remember uttering a prayer at a prayer meeting, ‘Thank you Lord for Simon, he’s a great friend and a really blessing, shame he’s not a Christian.’ Somehow this half-baked, whispered prayer, sent the Angel SAS into action and:

within 1 year he was serving in the youth group,

within 2 years, attending the soul survivor festival,

within 3 years regularly attending church,

within 4 years leading s small group

and in the 5th year I baptized him

So why is it that the half-baked whispered prayers for my friend should result in God moving, but the cries and pleads for my dad still go apparently unanswered?

I could give up, decide that my God has deemed my Dad to be a pointless cause. Yet Jeremiah 29:11 it says … ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

And that’s why I keep praying, I place my dad in that verse…

‘For I know the plans I have for your dad, declares the LORD, plans to prosper your dadand not to harm your dad, plans to give your dad hope and a future.’

So I wont stop praying, because one day I believe and I know, that the Angels will be having a massive party, the day I baptize my Dad.

The writer is a youth pastor in England. He wishes to remain anonymous.

What if it doesn’t work? by NinjaaMonk

21 Mar

Over the next two weeks, we’re praying for – and then preparing to share the gospel with – a non-Christian. In today’s guest post, blogger NinjaaMonk reflects on how a similar exercise didn’t quite work out as planned…

As a Christian this really is quite a scary prospect, praying for another person to find God. What if God asks you to do something really big like actually talk to this person about God? How on earth do you do that? How can you explain this feeling you have of total and all-encompassing love?

I’ve known people who have been so close to God that they have walked up to complete strangers and told them that God loves them and they need to find Him. My story is a little bit closer to home.

I have a colleague; he’s an ex-catholic, a nice guy, a man who constantly questions me about my faith and is happy to argue about the existence of God all day long.

I have prayed for this guy on and off for the last 18 months, because he has known God and I’d go as far as to say in his quiet moments he probably would accept there is some validity in God. But right now he has no relationship with God.

And God has tested me with this person, God has pushed my faith and knowledge just to reach out to this guy.

My biggest step came recently when I felt compelled to talk about grace to my colleague, hoping and praying it would have an effect. It did have an effect but not what I was expecting. His response was one of horror at the content of what I said, claiming it was angry, apocryphal (I had to look that word up) and deeply concerning.

I felt totally lost. In my belief God had given me this opportunity as a way to reach him – and it didn’t work. I was convinced my actions would lead him to God. However, we must remember in these moments that it isn’t about us or the other person – it’s about God.

I will pray this week for this man; I will ask God to reveal himself to him, to perform miracles in his life and to open his heart and mind. As I’m sure many of you will for your colleagues, friends and family.

My encouragement to you is this, pray and pray and pray again. Do what God asks you to do for those you know are not saved and leave the response and the outcome up to Him.

Because in reality their response isn’t for you to worry about.

Follow NinjaaMonk on Twitter @NinjaaMonk, or read his blog: http://ninjaamonk.wordpress.com

God 52 – Week Twelve (19/3/12)

18 Mar

CandleLast week was a quiet one on God52. Perhaps that was much-needed. Perhaps it’s because you all instinctively knew that something big was coming. Well here it is…

For the first time, we’re going to do a two-part, two-week challenge. The two elements of it are separate  but as you’ll soon work out, very tightly linked. Over the next two weeks, we’re going to identify and pray for someone with whom we feel compelled to share the gospel. Then – you’ve guessed it – we’re going to find an opportunity to do exactly that.

That might sound excruciatingly terrifying, but here’s the first bit of good news: the week 12 challenge is simply about identifying that person and praying for them.

12: Ask God to draw your attention to someone who is not a Christian, and spend time praying that they would come to know him.

Easy, right? Staggeringly so,  unless you live in the Bible Belt. As you read that challenge, you may instantly know who that person is – a good friend who you’ve been plucking up the courage to talk about God with; a family member; someone you met on Twitter. Or it could be that you know lots of non-Christians, or none at all, and you need a bit of guidance. So pray about it – I’m pretty confident God will quickly draw your attention to the right person.

Try not to think or worry about next week. Instead, simply spend as much of this week as you’re able to carve out, praying for that person – that God would reveal himself to them. That, after all is how people find faith – not through our leading, but through God’s own revelation of himself.

That’s this week’s challenge: pray. Next week, we’re going to take some risks! If that isn’t an incentive to pray, I don’t know what is…

Want to write a guest blog this week about praying for friends, family members or others to find faith? Check out the writing guidelines, then drop me an email!

God 52 – Week Eleven (12/3/12)

12 Mar

sky+plus_remote_300It’s week eleven here at God52 HQ and God continues to use this ridiculous side project from two guys who distract each other in an office to share stories of hope, joy and love changing situations across the world. Yes you read that right, the world. In fact, I’ve being doing a little bit of research and I am pleased to inform you that God 52 has become weirdly popular in Macedonia. (Any by weirdly popular, I mean that we had two different visitors from there on Monday.) We’ve had seven visitors from the Philippines in the last week and in the whole time we’ve been doing this, God 52 has been viewed 16 times in Bahrain, that’s more than Brazil, Belgium, Iceland and South Korea combined!

You may be asking yourself why I’m sharing this with you. It’s not a vanity thing, it’s linked in to this week’s task. You see, as I sat down to write this blog, suddenly the entire internet opened up to me: pages and pages of God52 stats, a lengthy piece on Rob Bell from last year, a discussion of what makes former basketball player Shaquille O’Neal funny and a series of emails between two writers, originally due to be published if David Bowie died.  My point – I have little to any self-control. I’m distracted easily, be it by the internet, other people or old episodes of Saved by the bell. Ladies and Gentlemen – I am the the person who doesn’t have enough self-control to write about self control. So, this week’s challenge:

11: Identify a weakness, be aware of it for the week, and be more disciplined.

This could be anything. A distraction, an area of weakness, temptation, the jokes you shouldn’t tell, the things you shouldn’t be doing with you know who, that thing that’s been playing on your mind for a while – this week, commit to keeping it in check. Here’s the great thing. This isn’t about judgement. This isn’t about all of us on our own, struggling to find some meaning in 2013, it’s about a community of us striving to be the people that God has called us to be. So this week, let’s be praying for each other, that in the midst of the next seven days, we allow God to mould, shape and refine us.

If you’d like to write a guest blog on this week’s subject – engaging with ‘other’ voices – please read the guidelines here, then drop Martin an email.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood, by Jenny Flannagan

11 Mar

Our final guest blog for this week’s challenge  comes from Jenny Flannagan who asks what being present in our neighbourhood means.

8000 miles from home and I’m in a conference workshop with twenty South Africans talking about why we live where we do.  It’s not a question many people ask in relation to our discipleship but I think it’s a big one. And it fits with our exploration of presence – the places we dwell, put down roots and raise our kids in, these are the places where we begin to understand why it mattered to God to come and live so close to us, why he ‘moved into the neighbourhood.’

It’s a big question for us.  We have friends who live in the biggest slum in Bangkok with their kids, and have done for more than a decade.  We also have friends who live in beautiful big country houses with enormous gardens.  The culture around us tells us which one to aspire to, and expects us to live in the nicest possible place we can afford.  But that doesn’t seem to be God’s priority.

The first time I deliberately moved onto an inner-city housing estate I felt pretty excited about following Jesus into the less pretty parts of town.  But in two years there I don’t think I got to know a single neighbour.  I slept there, and sometimes ate there, but to say I was present, that I had really moved into the neighbourhood, would be an exaggeration.

So in the past few years we’ve made some changes to help us be more present in the neighbourhood, to give us more chance of seeing what God is up to and working out how to join in.  We’ve given up full-time work in favour of part-time, flexible jobs (a luxury we’re grateful for) and adjusted our budgets accordingly.  We have rhythms in our week, like regular ‘neighbour nights’ when we eat dinner with different households in our ‘block’.  Being around in the daytime means we’re more likely to bump into our neighbours and get to know them. As we get to know them, and their different struggles, we work out how to help them, and how to receive help that we need from them.

Back to South Africa and the seminar, and a woman shares how she and her husband and daughter choose to live in the same chaotic township as she works in, doing community development.  I am remembering that a colleague told me that 70% of women in South African townships have been raped, and I realise the cost of this way of life, and how easy my choices have been in comparison.

I know it’s not a competition, but it put some things in perspective.  It makes me ask how willing I really am to ‘move into the neighbourhood’ and trust Jesus (rather than my middle-class values) with the ‘where’; it makes me ask how I can be more present in my neighbourhood, more willing to be distracted and disrupted by the people I live alongside, more willing to love and help.

Jenny Flannagan blogs at www.jennyfromtheblock.co.uk, is part of www.therubydolls.com and tweets at @jennyflannagan.

Doing is inconvenient, by Joel Woodier

11 Mar

Joel WoodierThis week’s challenge has already provided some amazing stories of people meeting needs and bringing hope. This, from Joel Woodier, is no different and reminds us that all this ‘do-gooding’ comes with a cost…

Arriving home from holiday, I wasn’t surprised to find that a homeless man had taken up residence in our lounge; this had happened before. My flatmate Tim was a compulsive carer, addicted to meeting the needs of the forgotten. I mumbled and grumbled as our ‘neighbour’ ate my bread and drank my milk, while his stay subtly extended from weeks to months. Being a Good Samaritan was harder work than I expected.

Talking is easy: I love championing the cause of the needy, expressing sympathy and suggesting solutions. It makes me feel good to talk about how I could love my neighbour. This is what I excel at.

Doing is inconvenient: people don’t seem to organise their problems into my free time, and helping them costs more than my spare change.  Meeting someone’s needs truly does mean taking their burdens and carrying them on my shoulders.

This is a natural part of friendship and most of us don’t struggle to lend money to friends or take them for a coffee when they’re upset.  Often we are subconsciously optimistic that our friends will return the favour. However, meeting the needs of someone who will never pay you back, can feel like throwing your money away; is this sacrificial giving?

..If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. […] But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back. (Luke 6:33, 35)

Let’s meet the needs of the good, the bad and the ugly, and give until it hurts, because then, we’ll start to lift the burden off their shoulders.

For Tim, every day was a day to help people; feeding the hungry, spending time with the lonely and doing chores for the elderly. I didn’t live with Jesus, but I lived with one of his best disciples. On 6th November 2012, aged 32, Tim died in a tragic accident. Just hours earlier, he left his colleagues with one last statement of the presence of Jesus. All 60 dirty cups, the cause of arguments and office feuds, were left washed, dried and arranged to spell the word ‘LOVE’. A random act of kindness that echoed profoundly through his workplace.

Dressed in my funeral suit, surrounded by thankful strangers, I made a vow. I promised to take up his mantle, meeting the needs of others, imitating Jesus.

Enough talking, time to start doing.

 In loving memory of Timothy W. Cunningham, who delighted in Christ.

Joel Woodier has lived in Otley, Edinburgh and Australia and is now the assistant pastor at Bethany City Church, Sunderland.