Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Digital Christianity

The internet is a wonderful thing, isn't it? We can do our weekly shop online, we can learn online, go to university online, watch videos and movies whenever we want to, listen to whatever music we choose, buy gifts, chat to friends and family, connect with people from all over the world, work from home...we barely have to leave the house anymore!

In our modern world, access to information has never been easier.
If we want to know something, we can "google it" in seconds; in fact, the average person "googles" 3-4 times per day...I can relate to that! I can never seem to remember how to soft boil an egg, so I am constantly googling "how to boil an egg" when I fancy some egg and soilders! Google has also settled many debates in my home...such as "where do butterflies live?", and "how do giraffes clean their ears?".

Google have released their own stats to show that they get over 63,000 searches per second! These searches can lead to any of the 1.94 billion websites. With free WiFi available in so many public places, information is literally at our fingertips!

If you go onto Google, you can search for any bible verse related to absolutely anything! You can type "bible verse on parenting" and up comes loads of results to choose from - I've tried this search myself on many occasions!
As well as finding a bible verse, you can also click on "images" in your google search and find awesome pictures of scripture to print out or share through your social media accounts.

The most searched for bible verse, according to the Bible app YouVersion is Isaiah 41:10, "so do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God." If you aren't one of the 268 million people who have downloaded YouVersion, I highly recommend having a look. Not only can you access 1492 versions of the bible and in 1074 languages, you can download and read over 900 bible reading plans relating to specific topics, bible verses and books. You can even complete reading plans with friends! It is an amazing app! Sorry if I sound like I'm advertising it, I just think it's great!

As well as being able to read the bible for free on thousands of websites and apps, you can also watch sermons and worship sessions on YouTube. One of the top Christian YouTube channels is Elevation Church who have 1.21 million subscribers tuning in to watch their services!

There are podcasts and sermon archives where people can search for sermons on specific topics and listen whenever and wherever they want to. My church has a sermon archive on our website, which is very handy when you have missed a service! (Check it out on click resourses, then sermon archive).

Facebook is a great platform for Christian's to gather together. There are countless bible study groups to join for fellowship, support and discussions. Many churches have their own Facebook pages where they communicate with their local communities. It is a really great way of giving people a window into who we are and what we do. One local church that I know of even broadcasts their evening worship services for anyone to see and comment on. What a brilliant way of letting people experience a church service from the comfort of their own home!

My church is currently running The Prayer Course in our house groups, which is also available for free are many other similar courses. You can find the prayer course by clicking the following link .

Worship music is another aspect of Christianty that benefits from the digital age...through spotify, iTunes, youtube and other music apps, you can find and listen to pretty much any of your favourite pieces. I personally like to search for "rocked-up" versions of my favourite worship songs and youtube does not usually disappoint! Worship leaders can also find tutorials and sheet music to download.

All of these platforms are brilliant for finding quick answers to our questions, for learning more about Christianity and for mission.
Sharing scripture images, worship songs and bible readings on social media is an awesome way of sharing our Faith with people who would otherwise not encounter it.

The Bible Lover blog has had over 1200 views since March, with pretty much all of these views coming from Facebook! There are also countless other blogs that have far more reach than mine. It's amazing to see so much information on Christianity online. I think the best part about this is that people who are curious about Christianity but who don't want to walk into a church just yet, can explore the Faith anonymously and take things at their own pace. Though if you are reading this and have any questions, please feel free to send me a message, I am always happy to have a chat about Jesus!

People spend roughly  6 hours and 42 minutes online each day, and are bombarded with information, so it's great to know that some of this information is God's word! It's a wonderful thought that God's call for us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) has become so easy for us to do.

So with such a big audience online, there is a great amount of responsibility as a Christian. We must be aware that we are representing Jesus when we are posting online.

The internet poses many challenges, especially as we are putting ourselves out there for the world to see and scrutinise. The anonymity that the internet provides makes it a minefield as a Christian. One wrong move and we can be descended upon by atheists, who, from my experience, can be ruthless.
1 Peter 3:15 says "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect". As tempting as it is to defend our Faith in the "comment section" of many a Christian- related news story on social media, we must remember that we are representing Jesus, and losing our cool online can do far more damage than good.

The Church of England recently released some guidelines for how we should conduct ourselves on social media, and they are guidelines that I feel EVERYONE should be adhering to online.

The Church of England's social media guidelines are:

Truth - we should hold ourselves to high ideals of checking that what we post online is fair and factual.

Kindness - we are all different and that makes the world an interesting place – and at times a challenging one. Think the best of people, whether they share our views or are speaking against them and aim to be constructive in the way we engage.

Welcome - in the language we use and the way we interact. It’s easy for Christians to speak in another language using words that those outside the Church might not relate to.

Inspiration - we are called to be witnesses of our faith and to use social media in a way that genuinely engages others.

Togetherness - we are one Church and other members of this Church are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is crucial we treat those around us in this way.

Safeguarding - if you have any concerns about the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults, please contact the relevant diocesan safeguarding adviser.

Agree - to the Church’s and Archbishops’ social media guidelines.

You can find more information on this at .

I challenge you, dear readers, to "google search" your favourite bible verse this week and find a scripture image to share on your social media account.
Pray that at least one of your non-Christian friends will see it, and that God will work in them to bring them to Him. Let us go and make disciples of all the nations!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Listening out for God

"My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Proverbs 2:1-5

When I was a new Christian listening to people talking about God speaking to them, I imagined that they heard a loud booming voice, undeniably from God. Some people do, but generally he speaks through us, through our surroundings, and through others.

While I was waiting to hear that audible voice, I was missing the other ways that God was trying to speak to me. He will do anything to get His message across to us when He wants us to hear Him.

God's voice is familiar to us, it sounds like our own thoughts. It sounds like our friends and our families. He will use a friend to tell us exactly what we need to hear. He will use the lyrics of a song to talk to us. He will inspire a sermon that resonates within us so profoundly that we can't deny that it was meant for us.
It is a familiar voice...but also not quite...which is why we can recognise it if we are really listening.

I prayed a few weeks ago that God will give me an undeniable sign so that I will know that the plans I have for my future are from Him and not from myself. I feel that He had been planting little seeds in my mind about where He wants me to be and what He wants me to do, but when He speaks through our own thoughts it can be difficult to discern whether it is from Him or from ourselves, and I needed confirmation.

He first answered this prayer through a friend who had sent me an encouraging message about where she feels God is leading me. Then He spoke to me through my Chinese fortune cookie said "new and rewarding opportunities will soon develop for you". I did laugh when I saw that message...He will use any means necessary to get His point across! It's always important to listen to fellow Christians, because sometimes they can confirm or debunk what you feel that God is saying.

God speaks primarily through His written word. There is a piece of scripture for literally everything. The bible offers us comfort, advice, instruction, encouragement, I love that one person can read a bible passage and get one message from it, while another person can get a different message from the same passage. God intended the Bible to be like that we have to come together as a community to get the whole picture of what He is saying. The same goes for hearing God speaking to us in external ways; we get pieces of the puzzle from various people and places that come together to show us the whole picture.

God can also speak to us through our dreams, as He did to Joseph in the Old Testament and others throughout the bible. "he said, "Listen to my words: "when there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams."

Our minds use the stillness of our sleep to process the information that we have gained throughout the day, and God can plant little seeds in our day that come together during this process of dreaming. God made us that way and gave Himself that tool to speak to us.

Have you ever had your mind wander off during a sermon or during prayer? You are definitely not the only one! You may have felt guilty for not paying attention and you bring your focus back...but sometimes your mind isn't wandering as aimlessly as it might appear to be, God can guide our thoughts.

However, sometimes it's hard to hear His voice because our lives are so busy that we don't take the time to be still and listen. I'm guilty of sitting down to a bible study hour and then being distracted by a "ding" from my phone. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction nowadays to grab my phone and get sucked into my Facebook new feed, or my emails, or texts from friends. My house is pretty loud too, having 4 children, a husband and a Dog who all need attention. I also have a cat who likes to sit right on my bible! While writing this post I have actually had to grab endless things from the fridge for the kids, answer questions from the Husband, stop to put a load of washing on...I have a daughter opposite me who is watching videos on youtube, and other next to me who is listening to music. Daily distractions are inevitable, so I completely understand Jesus' need to go to a solitary place to pray and spend time with God.

Of course, God could speak to us audibly, clearly and directly (and he can when he needs to!), but he makes it so that we can ignore His words if we want to. He makes it so that we have to show our faith when listening to Him.
If Jesus appeared before you and said "I want you to do this..." you would do it without question; but the fact that He talks in such subtle ways, ways that we can easily push aside and ignore, means that He is giving us a choice. He is giving us free will to decide whether to listen to Him or not. When He speaks through our friends and through our circumstances, His voice gets a little louder, but still we can brush it off if we choose to.

God wants us to choose to listen to Him. He wants us to search for His voice and obey Him.
If we choose not to listen, He won't give up trying to speak to us, but the more time we spend searching for Him and listening for His responses to our prayers, the easier it becomes to recognise when He speaks.

On the flipside, the enemy uses the very same ways to feed us lies and nurture our insecurities.
For instance, he may use one friend to tell you that you aren't good enough, yet God, being stronger, will send 3 more friends to tell you that you are.

Unfortunatley, we will usually dwell on the one friend who feeds us negativity and makes us question ourselves and question God's voice.

The best way to discern the voice of God from the enemy is to remember that God will never contradict scripture. The enemy will make you think "I can't do this!", whereas God's Word says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". The voice of God is calming, reassuring and full of love, whereas the enemy will bring anxiety, worry and doubt. If the message we hear is not helpful or from a place of love and guidance, we can assume that it is not from God.

We must also make sure that we aren't being  that one friend who the enemy is using to discourage and weaken the faith of our friends and those around us. We must build each other up with love, and not knock each other down.

I actually had a friend (or two) when I gave my life to Jesus react really badly. I was called "stupid" and "easily led". I was made to feel like a crazy person, I was called a "bible basher" and it hurt to have so much hate directed at me. My faith got me through those difficult conversations, and I recognised that the enemy was using these people to wear me down and put doubts in my mind. We will unfortunatly encounter people like this over and over again.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing", and also Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." We are called to be a community of people who love, encourage and trust one another, so when we find ourselves as that one who the enemy is using, we should put on the armour of God and remember His word.

When we are getting closer to God, the enemy works harder to pull you away, which is why it is SO important that we can discern what is from God and what is not. If we are not "loving our neighbour" and are holding ourselves above others then that's a pretty good sign that we are being used by the enemy and we could be muffling the voice of God to the person we find ourselves (intentionally or unintentionally) putting down. We also find ourselves becoming further from God by opening up our hearts and minds to hate and selfishness.

We are all called as Christians into a ministry that welcomes people into our family; encouraging, nurturing and leading them to Jesus. Listening to God on this one is easy, because it is written in black and white in the Bible. Any message we seem to get which goes against this is not from God.

In Pastoral Ministry, we are trained in "good listening", which means that we must put our focus entirely on the person speaking. We must be prepared to sit in silence and just "be" with the person who needs us. I feel that we must do the same when listening out for God...we must be patient and attentive, putting our focus on Him and noticing where He is speaking to us externally, as well as internally.

What are the ways that YOU have noticed God speaking to you? Let me know! It's always encouraging to others to hear how God is working in other people's lives, and quite often this can help us to discern God's voice in our own lives!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Prayer - strength in numbers?

I heard a discussion yesterday about the verse "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20.

The question was "so is Jesus not with us when we pray alone?".

I was at our Church's midweek service and the Vicar was talking about this.
He reminded us that Jesus also prayed alone, but there is power in corporate prayer. 
He also said that praying together is especially important when someone is going through a tough time and they can't pray themselves, so we pray for them. I love that.

I had a bit of a revelation while we were praying, and I wanted to share this with you all.

These two verses came to mind. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6, and "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" 1 John 4:8.

So Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, and He is love. 

When we pray with others, there is truth, there is life and there is love.

We pray differently with others. We pray for what THEY need, as well as what WE need, so there is love.

We pray together because that is what Jesus wants us to do, and coming to other Christian's in prayer is His way.

When we pray with others they hear our prayers, and so they hear our problems, our needs and our fears, as well as what we are thankful to God for...and so there is truth.

The fact that we gather in prayer as Christians at all means that we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and then rose again...and so there is life for us all.

Praying alone is just as important, it is vital to have a relationship with Him and to open up your heart to Him through your requests and your praise, putting your trust in Him for all things.

However, God also uses our prayers as a way to show others His love and His Grace when He answers us. He will answer prayers regardless, but "it is right to give thanks and praise" to God. It is important to share what God reveals to you and what He does for you with others, so that they might see how great, how loving and how amazing our God is.

During our service this morning, God put the lyrics to a song in a lady's mind. The song was about God being present. He also put the words to a prayer in another lady's mind...words about being before God. 
Through these two revelations, the whole congregation was encouraged and knew that God was there with us. It just shows that sharing what God says to you is so important in strengthening others.

So when we pray alone, God hears us and answers us, but when we pray with others, we pray with love, truth and life, as is His way.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What does it mean to Worship?

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught" Isaiah 29:13.

The dictionary describes worship as "the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity." Or, in other words,
"Worship is the believer's response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does"(Warren Wiersbe)

Of course, worship in the church is usually performed by singing songs of praise.
Now, If the point of worship is to first recognise who God is and what He does for us, and then to respond to that with all that I am...with my mind, body and soul...HOW am I noticing what others are doing around me? How am I worrying what others may be thinking of me when all of my thoughts should be on God and God alone? Instead, I'm thinking "Am I in tune? Am I too loud? Should I be putting my hands up too?"
Being self-conscious means that I am being self-centred and not christ-centred. I am not truly worshipping.
This isn't the same for everyone, of course, this is just me being honest about my own I was really relieved when I learned that I was worshipping in other ways...ways that I didn't even know were worship!

Jesus said "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:24.
Jesus told us that He is the truth, and here He tells us that God is spirit. So we must be completely focussed on Him as we worship. And being completely focussed on Him is worship.
Human rules and traditions are seen by God as not true worship if we are only going through the motions of what we have been taught by other people. Our words are empty and we worship because we are told to stand up and sing.

Worship is not just about telling God how much he means to us, it's also about showing Him. That could be through singing praise to Him, through prayer, serving in His name, reading His word, using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to glorify Him, living your life according to Jesus' teachings and following where He leads us. We must worship from within and then let that pour out of us in any way that we feel led to.

All things were created for and by Him. We were created to worship God and to do His good works on his behalf, glorifying Him, not ourselves. It doesn't matter if we put on a good show for others around us if it does not have the purpose of glorifying God. The pharisees would do everything right in the temples, but Jesus called them hypocrites, because they did these things for themselves.

So how can we worship in a meaningful way?

You may not have realised that reading the bible is a form of worship in it's own right. We study scripture because we want to know God and hear His word. Reading the bible shows Him that we care about what He has to say to us. Preaching the bible has been described as "an act of responsive love toward God", the need to preach is an overflow of that love and shows Him that you love and care for His people. Have you ever watched a movie that you thought was so amazing that you had to tell all of your friends to go and watch it? Or have you heard a song that you loved so much, you had to share it with all of your friends on Facebook? Sharing scripture is the same thing, you love it so much that you feel that everyone else needs to see it too!

Serving people is also a way of glorifying God. When you serve others you are imitating Jesus and reflecting God's image. Serving is a way of allowing God to work through you to show others his love for them. When you serve others in His name, as a Christian, you are shining His light from you like a beacon for everyone to see. You are pouring love on others from your acts of kindness and it's a powerful form of evangelism.

Singing praise is the most common form of corporate worship, and is important, but new Christians may be mistaken in thinking that this is the only way of worship. God wants us to sing to him, and to enjoy it. Singing releases endorphins to make us feel good, similar to the feelings of love. It also releases oxytocin which relieves anxiety and stress. This is undeniable proof that God comforts us as we sing to Him in worship, just as He planned when He created us.
My favourite time of singing praise is when I am at home, headphones on, noone around, singing some up-beat christian rock anthem as if I were singing straight to Jesus Himself...and that's exactly what we are doing when we sing songs of praise. We are singing the songs in front of Jesus. There's no better feeling than singing with everything you have, singing straight from your soul, from the foundations of your very our God. And that feeling is just one of His responses to our praise.

Giving is a form of worship that allows us to put our trust in God in a practical way. Our modern world is obsessed with money...striving for a great high-paying career, jetting off of luxurious holidays, having a nice big house, having that designer handbag, the flashiest technology. Money is a sign of status. But what kind of status are we trying to gain? We definitely aren't gaining any status with God, he doesn't care about how much money you have, he cares about your spiritual wealth, how much your heart is worth, not how much your car is worth.
He chose to come and live on this Earth as a mere carpenter's son. He chose to be born in a manger, in a stable. He could have been born into royalty, living in comfort and luxury.
Of course, we need money to live. We need houses and means of travel. We deserve holidays...they are a great way to spend much needed quality time with family and friends. God isn't saying that you have to go without, but he did say in Matthew 6:21 "for where your treasure is, your heart will be also".
The bible tells us that we should give 10% of our earnings to the church, and that may seem like a lot of money, but we put our trust in God that He will provide for us.This money goes towards keeping the church buildings open, warm, bright and inviting. It goes towards supporting a Vicar to devote their life to teaching and caring for the congregation and community. It goes towards training of new clergy and the church's mission. It also goes towards helping the people in need who come to the church for financial help. Without regular giving from church members, God can't be as present in our communities as He wants to be.
Giving, as a form of worship, is the only one that comes at cost to ourselves, so it is a real test to whether we can put God first.

Roman's 12:1 sums all of this up perfectly.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is your true and proper worship."

So what is your favourite form of worship? Have I missed out another important way that we can glorify our Lord? Do connect with me and let me know!