God Notices You. Have You Noticed Him?

Human history is marked by individuals who implemented change. People such as Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King dedicated their time to helping vulnerable people of society. Games-changers always gather a crowd; they grab the attention of anyone willing to listen and even from those who show little support.  In our world of digital progress, anyone can gain a following by the simple click of a button.

During His time on earth Jesus had many followers as well as opposition. Some men and women were offended by Jesus; others were astounded and encouraged by His compassion for the sick and poor. In Matthew 4, Jesus begins His ministry ‘proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people’ (V 23). It’s no surprise that Jesus was known throughout Syria and that crowds followed Him. One could say that Jesus was a type of celebrity, who stirred up curiosity and wonder in the hearts of those willing to listen and believe that He is God.

Jesus had disciples who believed in His message of the gospel. They followed His lead and learned from His example of how to spread God’s word, and had first-hand experience in feeding the hungry and healing many. When found and given an invitation to follow Jesus, Philip sought out Nathanael, who posed this question: ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46). Naturally, Nathanael was doubtful. Can you imagine being told that God, some guy from Nazareth, was just around the corner and He could change your life for the better? Philip’s response was ‘come and see’. When in the presence of Jesus, Nathanael was surprised that He already knew him and ‘saw him underneath the fig tree’ (V 48). This exchange seems insignificant at first. But God, in His loving nature, sees into the depths of our being. You might not know God; however, He has always known you.

I’ve often heard in church that God is a perfect gentleman. He patiently waits for you. All you have to do is except His invitation, step out and see what life could look like as you follow Him. Many voices compete for our attention; however, in life’s business, are we willing to pause for a moment to discern which voice belongs to Jesus? Like Nathanael, are we willing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?

When we follow Jesus, we witness ‘great(er) things’ (John 14:12) done in His name, and we enjoy a full life. However, drawing from my small experience and hearing about the circumstances of others, a life lived for Christ isn’t easy, and the cost is sometimes small as well as large. But Jesus promises to be with us, and our life is better with than without Him.

John 16:33: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ 

So, maybe you’ve noticed the beauty of nature or the intricacy of the human body.  I pray that through all this and even in your uncertainties about God, you would be like Nathanael and follow Christ as you meet His real presence. Amen.

By Chermaine Sowah

 

Backsliding

Backsliding: a process by which a Christian reverts to pre-conversion habits and/or lapses or falls into sin. Basically, when a person turns from God to pursue their own desires.

Hold on to your hats guys because I’m about to say something I never thought I would – this summer, I was a backslider. Let me explain.

Backsliding is probably one of the dirtiest words in Christian circles. It’s said in hushed tones, loaded with disapproval, and the person they’re talking about probably slept with their boyfriend or had drunk pictures of themselves all over Facebook. But for me, it wasn’t like that – I didn’t lose my values and I didn’t lose my faith – I lost my proximity to God.

How? Why? It started with me just needing a break. I served a lot in church (I pretty much lived in the building) and when I came home, one Sunday away from church became a month. However, a break from church doesn’t equate to a break from God. But in my head, they were the same thing. I failed to make time for God because I was “busy”, it wasn’t convenient and most importantly, I wasn’t surrounded by my church friends so there was no pressure.

But let me tell you the dangerous thing about backsliding – on the surface, your life feels no different. You know what you should be doing – you should be going to church, you should be reading your bible, you should be praying – yet when you don’t, nothing happens. Thunder doesn’t come from the sky and smite you; you still have your friends and your health. On the surface things are going well, but spiritually, you’re falling apart.

In God’s presence, you are receiving healing and breakthrough, and you become ‘fixed’ and everything is better. But that ‘better’ remains only because of your closeness to God and when you fall away that breakthrough, that healing, those miracles, recede. Suddenly you’re regressing and not progressing. But why? It’s because Jesus is the cement that holds you together and that cement strengthens over time through prayer. When you stop praying and when you stop pressing in, everything falls apart.

And it was only when I forced myself back into a state of worship and repentance before God that I realised the damage two months away from Him had caused. That inner strength I had spent a year forming, the healing I received, the pain that was taken away and all the vision I had been blessed with, had weakened.

Spiritually I wasn’t the same person that I was before. But here’s the amazing thing about God. I wasn’t too far gone that He wouldn’t welcome me home. I went home this summer knowing that I would be tested, and I didn’t think that I was going to fail. But I’m glad I did, because until you know that you will never be the best version of yourself without God, you’re never really going to appreciate Him.

Without the protection of God in my life, I felt attacked at every turn and sin looked more appealing. But I was strong, and I didn’t go back to how I used to live life. However, not everybody does, and that’s why I’m sharing this. I could keep this to myself and play the devout Christian who never once faltered. However, as the Bible says, through testimony we overcome (Rev 12:11).

Take my testimony as a prompt to pick up your Bible more, to pray more and to take God into your life completely. We live in a world focused on excess, but only God can give us abundance.

Lord I thank you for your grace, and that you are a God of mercy and forgiveness. God, shine through my words. Take the focus away from what I’ve just shared and put the spotlight on your heavenly nature, and on the undeniable fact that there is no life without you, and that you are all that we need.

By Rhesa Ojomoh

A Woman and Her Alabaster Jar

I’ve heard stories about acts of kindness where people offer free hugs or leave encouraging notes in public. Stormzy, a British Grime artist, recently donated a generous sum of money to a university student’s crowd fund. Imagine not having to worry about paying tuition fees? This act of kindness is on the large scale, but if we zoom in on various communities there are people who constantly give-up their time to help and show love to others. Whether it’s a word of encouragement to a friend or the use of our resources, time and money, we give a piece of ourselves away every time we engage in selflessness. The Bible is full of generous moments; Jesus’ crucifixion is probably the most incredibly selfless sacrifice, and the God of the Bible is forever generous. Today, I want to look at a woman remembered for extravagant giving.

A gospel singer called Cece Winans released a song titled Alabaster Box. This song is about a woman in the Bible, and the account of her story can be found in Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:7-13 and Luke 7:36-50. This woman is identified as a sinner who, in the eyes of society, had no right to place herself near Jesus and the disciples. However, she goes out of her way to buy the most expensive oil in an alabaster jar for Jesus. The story doesn’t there: she was so overcome with emotion that she wept on Jesus’ feet and proceeded to wipe ‘them with the hair on her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment’ (Luke). I believe this woman didn’t have a large income for two reasons: gender and status. Yet, she stood in the presence of holiness and didn’t consider her status or the opinions of others. I am inspired by her remarkable courage. The heart of this woman and the depth of her generosity is beautiful. All that mattered to her was Jesus, and she was brave enough to step out in faith with complete vulnerability, knowing that the Lord would never turn her away. Her act of generosity was more than simply ‘giving’; it was sincere worship, and it may have cost plenty of money and the risk of embarrassment; however, she lost nothing and gained everything. Forgiveness is lavished on her, she received love and an eternal treasure worth more than the alabaster jar. In the presence of God, this woman experienced total freedom.

When this story is retold, I doubt that people remember this brilliant lady as a sinner. She was an individual who fully understood the identity of Jesus. This woman understood that giving time, money or even emotions to God is an act of worship. The state of her position in society demonstrates that life may be difficult at times, but we can always find an opportunity to give of ourselves to God and others. God doesn’t look at our material status and, in fact, He doesn’t need everything of that sort. She came to God, a weeping, mess and worshiped him. God wants the same from us, an open heart with an attitude of thanksgiving. What matters is the condition of your heart, and when you decide to immerse yourself in the presence of God every day, it’s hard not to kneel in awe at His extravagant generosity and in turn pour it out to others.

God, stir our hearts with generosity. Show us where there is a need. Equip us and help us to step out in faith. I pray that this story encourages us to worship you with thanksgiving and praise. Amen.

An Ordinary Woman

The theme for this month is ‘Women For Christ’, and I want to focus on the story of two women who received extraordinary blessings by doing the ordinary. This article is for women who are disheartened because they feel like they are not doing spectacular things for God, and so won’t receive blessings – God sees all that you do, He sees you and is pleased.

There is no blueprint on how to receive the blessings of God, but I do believe that there are three things that we can do which invite blessings into our lives – we need to love like Jesus, be faithful and be obedient. The journey one takes to do these things are subjective. Some show the love of Jesus by giving up their possessions and dedicating their life to the poor, and some just buy a coffee for the homeless guy around the corner every now and again. But please, hear me when I say that no one’s journey is more important than another’s. The person who buys coffee for the homeless is no less godly than the person who dedicates their life to the poor – they will both be blessed because God called us to love one another in a variety of ways. Let’s not forget, the greatest giver in the Bible was a poor woman who gave her last two copper coins!

The story of Ruth and Naomi shows us that if we love each other the way God loves us, if we are faithful and obedient, God will change our lives for the better and give us countless blessings.

Ruth was an ordinary woman who loved her mother-in-law so much that she left her home to live as a foreigner in a different country, and decided that “your people will be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth had nothing: all the men in her family had died and she lived during a time of famine. But instead of becoming disheartened and going back home to her parents, she stuck with her mother-in-law (Naomi) and followed her back home. Ruth chose to follow Naomi’s people and her God because of how Naomi treated her – Naomi’s behaviour was a guideline to how Ruth expected God to treat her. By loving Ruth the way the Father loved her, Naomi was blessed by God, because through love Ruth gave her life to God.

Even though Naomi only brought one person to faith during her life, she’s still carried out the instructions of God. Luke 14:23 says “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled”. Naomi used love, kindness and affection to fill the Father’s house. What are you going to use?

Ruth’s life speaks so strongly to me because it shows me that if I remain faithful to God and am good and loyal to others, He will provide for my every need. Psalm 23 starts “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” and ends with “Surely goodness and mercy, shall follow me all of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. This is so true of Ruth’s life. Before she knew God she was a starving widow, but once she became part of the shepherd’s flock, God gave her a husband to provide for her, food to fill her belly and a son who became the father of King David, an ancestor of Jesus. But surely, Ruth must have done something pretty amazing to receive such a blessing from God, right? Well, not really – all Ruth did was treat people well. She was loyal to those who had been good to her and worked hard. In fact, it was her hard work that caught the attention of Boaz, her husband, in the first place – and for God this was enough.

God takes delight in the simple things we do. We just need to have the desire to honour Him. Proverbs 31 honours the woman who brings her husband good and not harm, who looks after the poor and needy and who works hard and is industrious. We all can do these things. Doing our best to serve others is not beyond our capabilities, because God wants us to succeed so He can bless us.   

What ties this all together is obedience. God surrounds us with blessings but we must obey Him to access them. Exodus 19:5 says: “Now if you will obey, and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure”. God loves us regardless of whether we’re obedient or not, but showing honour through obedience endears God to us. Naomi showered Ruth with blessings before Ruth even said she would go back with her, and once she did Naomi committed herself to finding Ruth a husband. Naomi was an old woman and she gave Ruth another chance at life – just imagine what the creator of Heaven and Earth can give to you.

Lord, I thank you that you see us as enough. There is no need for competition, because you have abundant love for each one of us. Lord, come and change our perspective and show us what it really means to feel blessed and bless others, regardless of what we do to serve you. Amen.

By Rhesa Ojomoh  

I am Really Less Qualified Because of My Gender?

My friend told me that she started to read the Bible for the first time but put it down after reading a sexist attitude towards women within Genesis. Today, many people struggle to accept some of the values written in the Bible as they seem dated and oppressive. I’d like to address the topic of women in the Bible and challenge these issues connected to sexism.  Whether you are Christian, non- Christian, male or female, many find it hard to read the biblical words ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man’ (1 Timothy 2:11-12). I certainly do, but hear me out! My argument is that Jesus walked this earth over 2000 years ago, and so it is almost impossible for the Bible to make sense in every cultural context covering over 2000 years of human civilisation. Despite this, within his time period and cultural context, Jesus challenged  social expectations towards women.  There are many interpretations of the Bible and so this is one. Bare in mind – Christians in different countries and churches may disagree with me.

Let’s begin with the whole men are in charge thing. In the Bible, it commands that men are the head of the family and should take responsibility. If you consider Jewish society in AD 27-29 women were uneducated and generally unemployed. They were barely allowed to talk to men who were not their husband or a family member. Therefore, at the time I believe that it made sense for men to take responsibility for providing income and putting food on the table, as independent women rarely survived. However, in Ephesians  5:21 it does state that a man and wife should ‘submit to one another’. This suggests mutual respect and submission from both men and women. Today in the UK, for example, women have more opportunities to support their families financially; however, I know the gender pay gap still exists. Nonetheless, as a result of gradual cultural shifts related to household management and economic factors,  I believe that men do not have to solely exert authority and responsibility over the family.

In terms of women teaching at church, part of the Christian faith involves prayer and callings. God guides men and women and leads them on a particular path. I know many Christian women who have been called to ministry and leadership at church. I see it like this – if someone leaves you a note telling you to meet at 1pm but they talk to you more recently and tell you in person to meet at 2pm, you would go with the most recent time. Yep, the 1pm is the Bible and the 2pm is God’s active voice. Sometimes people get this wrong and misjudge God’s intentions. However,  I believe that women today are more than capable at leading in a church and some are blessed and called to do so by God.

Another point I would like to make is that Feminism (the social, political and economic equality of the sexes) confronts gender expectations and was very controversial when it took off after the Second World War. This parallels Jesus’ actions regarding women. Jesus was known to challenge the status quo by befriending the marginalised and rejected members of society. He was actually very controversial for this and was detested by most religious leaders.  For example, Jesus befriended prostitutes and God anointed one to carry out very important work in the Old Testament. He used Rahab, a prostitute, to help Joshua undergo God’s task by hiding two spies from harm (Joshua 2). Jesus further challenges the status quo by talking to the Samaritan woman at the well who previously married a number of men. (John 20:11-18). This overcomes the social division of Jews who refrained from any relations with Samaritans and contrasts judgemental behaviour towards sex and marriage. Lastly, Mary Madalegne was the first key witness to see Jesus after his resurrection, the biggest and most important event of the Bible (Matthew 28). No ordinary man wanting to prove such a miracle would use a woman in that time of history! However, Jesus decides that Mary is worthy of seeing him first and telling the of his resurrection.  

Finally, parts of the Bible seem dated, but this does not mean that it is relevant today. Rather, it can be interpreted and understood more accurately when the context is considered. Overall, Jesus empowered and loved the most marginalised of women. In this way he rebelled against social expectations, which is the very opposite of being old-fashion or oppressive. Today many Christians, including myself, support women in ministry and believe in gender equality.

I pray that God fills you with courage to pursue the dreams that He has put on your heart. God cherishes you and you are strong and brave. As you read this, I pray that God’s presence touches your heart and that you would see yourself as a courageous woman made for great things. Amen.

By Ella Johnson

A Heart Of Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Trust is a special thing. We trust those we love and hold dear. Sometimes the people that we rely on are right next to us or a text message away.  I know that having unshakable trust is difficult in a world where people let us down, terrible circumstances arise or when you have no reason to rely on anyone but yourself. However, in contrast to human nature, Jesus is reliable and unchanging. You can have confidence in Jesus because He will never let you down. You can be at peace knowing that Jesus has always got your back.