Mark Kelly

Stories of faith and life

Good Vibes Only

Until it completely healed itself a few short weeks ago, I had been suffering terribly for months with what turned out to be sciatic pain. This pain started as an odd sensation near my hip, feeling numb and a little uncomfortable and gradually turned into excruciating pain shooting down from the top of my buttocks to my ankle. I couldn’t walk properly and certainly couldn’t run. Sleeping was broken up. Night after night, I would be tossing and turning, trying to find a different position to relieve the pain but to no avail. To say I got a little grumpy would be an understatement!

The good news is eventually, with a combination of drugs, exercise and targeted prayer, the pain eased, and any sensation of numbness has pretty much gone. (If you’re interested you can find more info about sciatic pain HERE.)

There was a period as I was going through the worst of it, where I found myself sitting on my sofa, not wanting even to get up and get a drink of water. The thought occurred to me that I could either become very cross that the pain in my leg was stopping me from doing anything at all or take the opportunity to see if there was anything positive I could bring to the situation.

What positivity could there possibly be? It was when I realised that not being able to do much had given me time to slooooow down. Typically I’m going from one thing to the next, thinking about what needs to happen next at both Church and home. Not being active had forced me not to try and do everything. It’s not that I can’t delegate responsibilities, but if something needs doing, I often think it’s just quicker for me to get it done. Being incapacitated, however, makes you rely on other people. It helps you develop trust that they can do it just as good, if not better than you. They only need the moment to shine.

It’s not nice to be in pain, but pain can be a useful thing, physical pain tells us that something is wrong with our bodies and that it needs attention. Mental trauma is a different kind of pain, and sometimes even our reality will change as our brains try and protect us from a traumatic experience. This reality change is recognised as a psychotic episode. Most often, mental pain, however, is the pain of grief and loss, and the feeling of powerlessness.

I don’t believe that God brings us pain to test us, but I think He can use the pain to show us something, grow character and change us. For example, most of us will willingly enter into new relationships; the human condition makes this a priority. As Christians, the ideal is to copy Jesus in our relationships and try and fulfil His commandment of making disciples. We begin every relationship knowing that one day we might lose them – whether that be bodily, geographically or simply because people change. God still wants us to enter into relationships with others, it’s a Heavenly mandate, even though it has the potential to bring us pain, but, to repeat, I don’t believe He is the source of that pain.

Sometimes, as with grief, we have to walk through the deep pain of loss. We never deny the loss, but one day we realise we have moved on, never forgetting, but we find ourselves on a new independent path. Journeying through grief and pain is a normal process, but choosing to wallow in pain and misery is not a good thing. To wallow is to stay in one place, not willing to walk a path of healing, often feeling sorry for ourselves and hoping that others will join us in our pity party. 

To wallow is to stay in the water, or the mud. Wallowing might keep the flies off – like giant African beasts – and keep us safe from those people or that thing wanting to do us further harm, but if we never venture out, never attempt to step out despite our pain, then we’ll never have the chance to grow. We’ll never have the opportunity to change the world. We live in a fallen creation, but rather than abiding by it’s fallen rules we need to make creation abide by the rules of Heaven. We need to genuinely occupy our role as stewards and caretakers, declaring the goodness of God in all situations, 

As Christians, we believe that Jesus suffered considerable physical pain, and significant mental anguish was brought about by what He faced and what He ultimately conquered. God stepped into our anguish and fallen state and took on the greatest suffering, so we didn’t have to. The Father knows what it’s like to lose a Son, and the Son knows what it is to suffer as we do. However, despite what it may seem, this is a story of absolute assurance in the goodness of God, and regardless of the circumstances, indeed because of the circumstances, we can overcome every obstacle.

33 I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.] JOHN 16:33 (AMPLIFIED BIBLE)

The disciples of Jesus didn’t know victory would come in the shape of their Master dying on the Cross, and near the end, they felt utterly defeated, they didn’t understand what had just occurred. The lesson from this is that we should not stop declaring how good God is despite what we see and despite how we feel. First and foremost in all situations, we should maintain we have a good God and speak out what we see through Heavenly eyes – which is seeing best for us, the best in us, and the best around us – declare what we desire as it lines up with God’s will for us. Even Jesus said as it’s written in Luke 22:42-44:

42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me. But no matter what, your will must be mine.” 43 Jesus called for an angel of glory to strengthen him, and the angel appeared. 44 He prayed even more passionately, like one being sacrificed, until he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground.

Jesus, in this passage of Scripture, asked for the mental anguish, the psychological pain to be taken from Him. However, He immediately responds to His own request that His will be lined up with His Father’s will and through that He prayed even more. Jesus pressed into His Father even more, even though what is to come is not taken from Him. Jesus is still suffering, so much so that His mental state translated into a physical response as He sweated actual blood. But again He prayed, still leaned into His purpose and mission.

We see from this story that despite our declarations for healing and deliverance from pain, we may never see it in this earthly life. However, we will see it come to pass in eternity. 

Despite what I’ve just written, most of us who are believers will be able to testify that healing can come while we live on earth. We may even have experienced it personally. It might have come instantly, or it took several years to come. Here is a quote from a blog post by Jarrod Cooper, a Pastor, I might even say an apostle to the Church, who leads Revive Church in Hull, he wrote:

“Healing is a battle that must be won, not simply a “special moment” in a church service. Equipping people to fight and keep their healing, is as important as the powerful encounter that brings the healing in the first place.”

www.jarrodcooper.net


Part of that equipping is finding the positive in the circumstance and declaring the Goodness of God through it all. Let me remind you of a verse in James 1:17:

17 Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject to change.

I said to one of our children recently, who is struggling to say anything good about school, and as such, this is affecting their mood and their mental attitude: “You put positivity in, you get positivity out.” That sentence might sound a bit pithy and even a little trite to some, but at the heart of this simple phrase is a powerful key in helping us escape the wallowing in our pain or the room of self-pity into which we lock ourselves.

There is a reason why self-help gurus are the superstars in the first few decades of this new millennium, why positivity books are the new Bible for many – because it works. I think it’s incredible that as we smile, as we say good things or think positive thoughts, our bodies and our minds, for most people, are physiologically and chemically changed for the better. I’ve read many, many articles that all say it makes a massive difference to how we live our lives.

A simple example is that if we sit and walk with our backs straight, this will give us greater confidence and inner strength. Not only that, it helps physically with our posture, which reduces back problems! And if we tell ourselves out loud that we can swim that extra length or run that extra mile, we find the inner conviction to do it. As we do, we become healthier, we push ourselves, and we see the rewards of our positive mental attitude.

Now, imagine if in all that, through all that and around all that, is the Word of God! Imagine how much more powerful our positive declarations are when we invoke the power of Heaven. When we declare by His Holy Spirit, words of encouragement and speak His truths into all situations? Proverbs 18:21 tells us that our “words are so powerful that they will kill or give life.” Proverbs 16:24 says, “Nothing is more appealing than speaking beautiful, life-giving words. For they release sweetness to our souls and inner healing to our spirits.”

At the very beginning of time, God spoke creation into existence! Not only that, He said that what He had spoken into existence was good, and made well. Our words matter too. As humans, we are created in God’s image, the One who speaks life into being. We will experience pain, we will go through pain, but remember that the one who spoke creation into existence has also felt our pain and He has overcome. We are overcomers too, using our own words to inspire us and our positive thoughts to guide us, we can be who God desires us to be, in all situations and at all times. Our pain may stay with us, and in grief especially, but we can learn how to turn that process to good as we look to see how it can change us and grow us. We can do this because, despite our pain and our tribulations, we have a God who speaks, a God who acts, a Father who loves us and is with us through His Spirit. Romans 8:38-39 says that nothing can separate us from God’s love. I love The Passion Translation of the Bible, which reads: 

“So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that His love triumphs over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that weakens His love. There is no power above us or beneath us – no power can ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!”

God speaks life over us with His love! What an immeasurable gift! God gives our words power. God speaks life-giving Words over us through His people and His Scriptures. As Christians, we have a calling to speak life-giving words over others and ourselves, despite our circumstances. We can speak life through encouragement, adoration, love, and prayer.

“To be a believer in Jesus Christ means realising that what Jesus said to Thomas is true: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is not the road we leave behind as we travel, but the Way itself. By believing, we enter into that rest of peace, holiness, and eternal life because we are abiding in Him.” – Oswald Chambers

As leaders, called by God, sometimes we might feel that the burden of leading a people has become too great.

I listened to a podcast recently, and a guy on it said that if we’re not facing any opposition or feel any burden then maybe we’re not leading well as we should be.

Challenging stuff!

Sometimes, it can seem to leaders that all the people we’re leading are complaining and whining and whinging about everything, instead of just getting on with the tasks God has laid out, and trying to be the kind of people God desires us to be.

Check out this passage of Scripture from Numbers:

Numbers 11:10-17

10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favour in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

and from verse 24…

24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied…

Just like Moses, those of us who lead in the church, instead of going to God with a heart that wants the best for His people, we can sometimes find ourselves responding to the whinging by having a whinge about them return!

Read again what Moses says:

“Why have you brought trouble on your servant?”
“They keep wailing to me.”
“Please, go ahead and kill me!”

I find myself asking the question: What had the leaders appointed at the suggestion of Jethro in Exodus 18 been doing? Why is Moses still feeling the strain of leadership with seemingly little or no practical support? Or is it a case that it was a good idea that came from Jethro, but where exactly had God been in that discussion? Because God will provide help – if we ask for it.

Not only will God provide us with good people to share the load, but He’ll also anoint them with His power, just as He did the seventy elders of Israel.

Still, we might ask ourselves: “Is it my job to equip people to serve and lead? Am I not merely to be a pastor and teach the people on Sunday?”

This question – which some of us may have thought or heard in so many ways – demonstrates how our culture has blinded us to the Biblical call for leaders to equip other leaders.

We get stuck in a role and get entrenched in that role, and the more you work the trench, the deeper you get, until one day you discover you can’t see over the top. You can see what’s behind you, and where you’ve been, and you can see in front of you, you’ve got purpose and reason for doing stuff you’ve come up with all by yourself – the big problem is there is no-one else is in the trench with you … forget casting vision, burn-out is ahead.

There’s a saying, which you’ve probably heard before, but it’s such a wise saying that it’s worth repeating time and again: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

These verses in Numbers 11 should demonstrate to us that equipping others around us to help lead and serve is God’s good idea. As good leaders we are to identify (find the gold in people), prepare (give of ourselves), and release other leaders to work under the guidance and authority of the Holy Spirit – this releasing though is often the hardest part, because we’ve seen and we’ve invested, but we have to let that leader go.

Let’s look at some of the verses in this section of Scripture a bit more closely and ask of it what do leaders who are in our teams, or those who we see as potential leaders, need? I think God left no doubt about how Moses was to train the seventy leaders he had selected.

God says:

1. They need authority (v. 16, “that they may stand there with you”).

  • They need to know they have solid support behind them and that you aren’t going anywhere.
  • They need to know that you will actually, really, truly trust them to make decisions without your input.
  • Which also means, no micro-managing, no passive-aggressive hints about what they should do instead.
  • Your congregation and / or your wider team need to know who they are and the authority they have been given.

2. They need anointing (v. 17, “I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is upon you and put it on them”).

  • Anointing someone in the power of the Holy Spirit into the role God desires them to have doesn’t mean that every box has to be ticked and that every edge has to smooth before they start!
  • As people are anointed by God, the power and authority they have will increase; this is a supernatural unlocking.
  • And as they are in your leadership team, or you are releasing them into leadership roles elsewhere, some of who you are, some of what God has put in you will be in them – the same Spirit that was in you does not diminish when shared with others. Just like a candle can light other candles, the original candle still stands lit and bright – it doesn’t diminish as every other light sparks to life – it’s just now, together, we can see more of what is in front of us.

3. They need ownership of the vision (v. 17, “the Spirit that is upon you and put it on them”).

  • This same line means then that as we see more together, we see the same thing.
  • It is the same Spirit that puts the vision of what God wants in us, and so the same vision is given to others as the same Spirit in these anointed leaders.

4. They need responsibility (v. 17, “they will share the burden of the people with you”).

  • If we have indeed given our leaders authority, then let them run with that responsibility. Let them truly feel the burden.
  • Responsibility is only really accepted when others around us see us hold that responsibility, so make it public – again how can they share the burden of the people, if the people don’t know about them?
  • God has anointed these leaders, so give them real responsibility and let them sometimes to make mistakes which they will, but great leaders allow them
  • “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.”

5. They need specific ministry roles (v. 24, “and had them stand around the tent”).

  • Everyone has a role to play. If we believe that a person is a potential leader, then we need to position them correctly and not try and push them into a role that isn’t shaped for them – this is destined to fail.

6. They need to express their gifts (v. 25, “when the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied”).

  • The leaders in our teams may share the same vision, the same heart and most importantly, the same Spirit, but that doesn’t mean they will do things in the same way.
  • We need to let the leaders in our teams express themselves, find their own way of doing things and not be overly shaped by us but by the Holy Spirit.
  • Very pragmatically, what are their spiritual gifts? Encourage and draw out confidence to operate in these spheres.

Let me finish this blog post by quoting from a Matthew Henry commentary on these verses which sums things up succinctly:

“Let the testimony of Moses be believed by those who desire to be in power; that government is a burden. It is a burden of care and trouble to those who make conscience of the duty of it; and to those who do not, it will prove a heavier burden on the day of account. Let the example of Moses be followed by those in power; let them not despise the advice and assistance of others, but desire it, and be thankful for it. If all the present number of the Lord’s people were rendered prophets, or ministers, by the Spirit of Christ, though not all agreed in outward matters, there is work enough for all, in calling sinners to repentance, and faith in our Lord Jesus.”

A podcast conversation with Mark Pease

A number of months ago I recorded a conversation about life and leadership with Mark Pease for his new podcast, ‘Honest to God’. Here is a link to that podcast and I hope it encourages you, especially if you are involved in local church leadership.

anchor.fm/mark-pease/episodes/Episode-3—The-one-where-we-cant-stop-apologising-Mark-Kelly-e4j39t/a-aijsfk


“The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.” (George Bernard Shaw)

I’ve come across the suggestion that we should communicate what we want to share until we’re bored of it, only then will others have just started hearing it and understanding it. This is a huge challenge to me personally, but I’m sure to many communicators. We’ve said it once, twice, many times, and still we find our message hasn’t been grasped by some even at the most basic level. But here’s the thing, it’s not generally these people at fault. We can assume and pressume too much. Presume prior knowledge in our listeners, assume the context is understood, assume our definitions are the same.

As communicators we need to make sure our message is engaging to as many as possible and as uncomplicated as possible. Boiling it down to the nub, as Andy Stanley says, if you’ve got one point, you’ve got a message, if you’ve got many, you’ve got a series!

I don’t want to be an illusionist leaving people with no real idea of what they’ve seen and heard. I want to be an effective communicator with a message that is memorable and repeatable.

“Winsome words spoken at just the right time are as appealing as apples gilded in gold and surrounded with silver. – Proverbs 25:11 (TPT)

Trust

I probably have a trust issue.

It takes a long time for me to trust someone truly, but when I have invested that trust in someone, I will stick with them through thick and thin. However, on the flipside of that, if that trust is violated, then I struggle with the desire to maintain a relationship with such a person.

For me, it’s all about a person keeping their word. This ranges from what some might see as insignificant, like being consistently late when you’ve agreed to meet, to not following through on a promise given.

But what do we mean when we talk about trust?

Would we trust our wife or husband to perform minor surgery on us if they’re not qualified? Would we trust our 9-year child to replace the brakes on the car despite how much he might be enthusiastic about trying? Or would we trust our longtime best friend to gear us up for a mountain climb when they have a fear of heights, and you know they’ve got issues even climbing the stairs?

Is trust something that we work with on a case by case basis?

For example, we trust our GP to diagnose a medical problem and advise the correct course of treatment. We trust that the pharmacist will label the right drug and give us the recommended dose. We trust our local garage to sort those brakes out instead of our 9-year old, and we might, if you’re mad enough, trust the people that strap bungee cords to our legs before we take a nose dive straight down!

I wrote at the start of this post that I might have an issue with trust, but as I write more about it, I find that I actually trust a lot of people and the services they provide quite a bit. So do we all as long as it’s the proper person or service for the job. We hand out a lot of trust quite easily really.

Maybe sometimes, however, our trust is misplaced with too many of us trusting what the news is telling us about the world, without investigating deeper for ourselves. The number of people that comment on just the headlines that they read via social media from random ‘news’ sources without actually even bothering to read the article is staggering. I find that many people fall for ‘click-bait’ headlines and get so angry and upset over something that would take two minutes to check against other sources.

We can also be fickle our trust. Take politicians as an example. Trust with these people is like throwing out confetti and trying to catch it again. We want substance from them to help gain our trust, but then we fall out with them if they don’t say what we want to hear.

We give it out trust easily in part, but we’re always ready to reel it back in again.

So is there anything at all that we can fully trust, now and always? Let’s take a look at a section of Proverbs 3:

5 Trust in the Lord completely,
and do not rely on your own opinions.
With all your heart rely on him to guide you,
and he will lead you in every decision you make.
6 Become intimate with him in whatever you do,
and he will lead you wherever you go.
Don’t think for a moment that you know it all,
7 for wisdom comes when you adore him with undivided devotion
and avoid everything that’s wrong.
8 Then you will find the healing refreshment
your body and spirit long for.
9 Glorify God with all your wealth,
honouring him with your very best,
with every increase that comes to you.
10 Then every dimension of your life will overflow with blessings
from an uncontainable source of inner joy!

I guess we’re stuck a little if we don’t even trust the Bible. But let’s go with it anyway and if you’re someone with little or no faith in God or His word, then take this as it is meant to be, as words of wisdom and encouragement.

I think that there is something potent in taking the focus off ourselves for a moment and placing it on something that is, in many ways, beyond our comprehension. The bottom line is that it’s hard trying to maintain a world where everything should revolve around me because everybody else wants it to revolve around them!

In this post, I’d like to let you know, or remind you, that I believe the person we can trust in the most is our Daddy-God, our Father in Heaven and Lord of all of creation.

5 Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions. With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make.

It feels good to be able to put our trust in God. To be told that He can handle it, He’ll take care of us, and we don’t need to worry about a thing. Except sometimes it doesn’t seem to work like that, even amongst those of us who believe in Him. Right here in this book of wisdom, God knows that we’ll doubt, so He adds more to this first sentence, and He inspired someone to write it down: do not rely on your own opinions, or as in older Bible translations, do not rely on your own understanding.

It seems to me there is an encouragement here to fully invest our trust, all of it, in Him. Not to hold anything back just in case He doesn’t quite come through for us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that word completely is there by accident and the last time I checked completely means totally, utterly, entirely, wholly, thoroughly, fully, absolutely, unreservedly, and quite often, unconditionally!

If we truly and fully trust God and we don’t pretend we do, when we give the whole of our hearts to Him, that’s our emotions and our thinking (when this passage of Scripture was written the heart was seen as the absolute centre of who we are which includes our cognitive functions) then we can trust that He will lead us right. And actually, as we trust, our we find that our decisions line up with His decisions. Our Daddy-God doesn’t want mindless automatons following His every whim and commandment, He wants people to trust Him of their own volition and to live our lives through that freedom.

I love what this proverb goes on to say: Don’t think for a moment that you know it all, 7 for wisdom comes when you adore him with undivided devotion and avoid everything that’s wrong.

We don’t know it all, and that is such a relief! Yet, our trust in Him brings us wisdom it says. We can handle anything and have a response for whatever comes our way. And for all that wisdom poured into us, all we have to do is give our Creator our devotion. He deserves it, unreservedly. He created us, gave us this world to enjoy and people to love, He is the cause of it all, and that is worthy of our devotion and thankfulness.

What begins with simple, but complete trust, moves into the realm of our physical bodies and our mental well-being: 8 Then you will find the healing refreshment your body and spirit long for.

When we stop being fickle with our trust and when we stop being short of giving it all to Him, we find that our worries and our issues are diminished. It’s not that worries and issues won’t happen, they will, but what’s important is our response to them. We are not the answer to our problem, God is. When we learn to turn to God in the first instance and not as a last resort, the long-term outlook is one of refreshment in both body and soul.

We don’t need any self-help books or the need to fill the pockets of positivity gurus, we merely need to trust that God will take care of it and will guide our actions and words through it, leading to real rest and good mental health.

So good so far, but then here comes the biggy, the issue we don’t like to talk about much, the thing we want to hold close and dear and quite often place a lot of our trust in: money!

9 Glorify God with all your wealth, honouring him with your very best, with every increase that comes to you.

I can hear the comebacks now: That’s Old Testament stuff and no longer applies to me. I give to many charities and have nothing left to give to the Church. I serve in so many other ways I can’t afford to give financially.

Even if I may be reading a little disingenuous with that last paragraph, I do think there is some validity in some of those arguments. But I attach to that that a caution that a little truth taken out of context can be shaped in whatever way you would like.

With regards money I can really only write from personal experience. I can testify that when I give to God from something I know I need to survive in this culture, something that feeds my family and puts a roof over our heads. I know that I have been blessed many times over.

That’s my experience, and I desire that we all experience this blessing too. Sometimes the blessing might come in ways other what than we expected. The bottom line is again, trust. Do we trust God with the money that I have worked so hard to gain?

The apostle Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament in the Bible wrote this in 2 Corinthians 9: 6 Here’s my point. A stingy sower will reap a meagre harvest, but the one who sows from a generous spirit will reap an abundant harvest. 7 Let giving flow from your heart, not from a sense of religious duty. Let it spring up freely from the joy of giving—all because God loves hilarious generosity!

I love this passage because it tells us that our giving should never be forced, but only encouraged, because it is only through giving that is done freely do we only ever feel the pure joy of such trust in God.

Maybe because God knew that this section of Proverbs can be tricky the writer reminds of this in the verse directly after verse 9: 10 Then every dimension of your life will overflow with blessings from an uncontainable source of inner joy!

Trusting in God brings joy. What adventures might we go, in mind, body and soul, when we trust Him completely?

If all this is true, what it tells us here in Proverbs 3, then isn’t it the case that those of us who believe should look different to the rest of the world? How much easier will our mission to tell the world about Jesus be if all we have to do is tell the stories of our lives and for others to hear how free we actually are and not how we are locked up in some cell of religious legalism?

And for those of us who are finding it hard to take that step of trust, for those of us who might read this message and are still yet to give their lives over to something greater than themselves, I say to you give it a go. Acknowledge that you are not the centre of your world and you were never meant to be. That there is a greater individual, who goes by the name of Jesus who desires to be your Lord, Saviour and friend. And if I could give you a sample of the freedom found in Him, then I say look at the life of a true believer and see how they differently they deal with what is thrown at them.

You have access to it all too, just put your trust in Him today.

Pebble

How often do you find yourself just putting up with stuff? I don’t just mean significant things, I mean all the small things that aren’t much of an issue, but over time they develop into irritants, and then they truly start to get on your nerves. The reality is that it would only take a short amount of time to sort this stuff out, but for some reason, we create little workarounds and just put up with them.

I have a number of these small irritations that I’m planning on sorting out in the first few weeks of this new year. Let me give you a few examples: I’m typing on a Chromebook, and occasionally when I tap something it thinks I want to drag it and so the arrow icon changes and the button I’m tapping is highlighted. I know, a minor thing, right? It’s something I could sort in the computer settings, I probably need to just toggle a button. I believe it has something to do with the accessibility options.

Here’s another: At home, I quite often place the Sky remote on the arm of the sofa, so it’s easy to reach when I want to change to the channel. However, the amount of times that thing has been knocked off the arm and smashed on the floor as one of my little ones rushes past I’m surprised I haven’t needed to pay Sky for another one. The solution? Get into the habit of placing it on the side table which is mere inches away!

There are many, many other examples of these small annoyances and yes, you could class most of them as #FirstWorldProblems. But still, I think these seemingly little things are symptomatic of a larger narrative that some of us – myself definitely included – put up with rather than taking time to sort out. And to completely screw up a well-known phrase, we just need to ‘take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves’. I know this is referring to saving money well, but I also think it’s an excellent way to think about how we could get on top of all the little things we have to deal with in life.

If we get into the habit of taking time to deal with the small things how much better will we feel we can start to manage the big stuff?

I’m reminded of a tale about a man who was asked by God to push a big rock that suddenly appeared one night outside his cabin. Being an obedient and Godly man, he set about fulfilling God’s request. Day after day, and then year after year, every morning and evening he positioned himself up against the enormous and heavy rock and pushed, hoping to move it even an inch.

After many years of trying he admitted defeat and finally cried out to God that he just couldn’t do it. He declared himself a failure and fell to his knees in frustration. God appeared to him and asked why he felt this way, to which the man replied, “I have pushed against this rock, trying to move it from here to there and yet I have failed to move it even one inch.” To which God answered, “I never asked you to move the rock, I simply asked you to be obedient and push it. You are not a failure. Look at you now, you are a man of strength and fortitude. Compared to the man of many years ago, who would have struggled with a rock half this size, you could now move them with ease.”

Now the meaning of this tale is one of obedience and being prepared to face whatever challenges might be put before us, even though it may seem unfair and we cry out this fact to all who will listen. Sometimes it is a situation that is setting us up to deal with other problems, ones that we could not have handled without the more considerable challenge.

Oddly, I think we can also view this in reverse in that if we learn to deal with the small things and deal with them well, we are equipping ourselves to a degree for when the big issues come knocking. If we manage to form healthy habits and a mindset of bringing solutions that help deal with the minor, then we create a platform of action that enables us to deal with the major.

So my challenge to us all at the start of this new year is to deal with the small stuff, get it out of the way and don’t ignore it. Create a way around it, deal with it and see how much satisfaction we will feel when we tick it off the to-do list.

Conversely, we should also learn to look at the small stuff in a more positive light too. Maybe it’s a little thing that we need to be doing more of, like reading the Bible (or just picking up any book and reading it), taking time (however short) to think and pray, giving thanks to God for all the big things we have like healthy relationships, family, local church, and a job.

Soon you’ll no longer be ‘sweating the small stuff.’ You’ll be more ready than ever to face the next thing head-on … even if starts with just moving the remote control a few more inches to the right!

A grandmother was busy making tea in the kitchen and needed a can of tomato soup, her house was old, and she still had a pantry where she kept food and other non-perishables, so she asked her 5-year-old grandson to go into this pantry and get her one. The pantry was just out of the kitchen and under the stairs. But the light in the pantry was out, and he didn’t really want to go. “It’s dark in there, and I’m scared.” he said.
 
She asked again, and her grandson repeated his no, a bit more firmly this time, but with growing fear. Being a good Christian woman she encouraged her grandson, “It’s okay darling, Jesus will be in there with you.”
 
So, the little boy walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. Looking inside, he decided it really was too dark, and so he closed the old, wooden creaking door and started walking away when a thought hit him.
 
He ventured back to the pantry and with a little more confidence and hearing his grandma’s words ringing in his ears, he peeked again inside and called out, “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you get me a can of tomato soup?”
 
Let’s talk a little bit about Halloween!
 
Did you know that Halloween was actually celebrated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ? The Celtic nations observed a festival they called Samhain (pronounced: sow-en) which fell on what eventually became October 31st. But unlike today’s Halloween, the Celts didn’t ‘celebrate’ it as a holiday.
 
You see, the Celtic New Year began at the start of November. The autumn harvest had come to a close and winter was just around the corner. At this time of year the Celts knew that the power of the sun was fading and for the next several months, darkness would prevail. For the Celts, this impending darkness was a scary time. Nature became cold and dark, and in their eyes – in the coldest of the darkest night – lifeless.
 
But there was something even scarier for them than merely wondering whether there was going to be enough food to survive. For the Celts, there was a something like an invisible curtain that separated the living from the dead. And they believed, at this time of the year, that that curtain was at its thinnest. On the evening of October 31st, they believed that evil spirits and souls of the dead would pass through this curtain, this barrier, and enter the world of the living. And when they crossed over, they would torment the living. Crops would be destroyed, babies stolen and farm animals killed.
 
To appease these ‘dead spirits’, various sacrifices, which could include human sacrifices in some cases, were performed by the Celts. A portion of what little food they had was also left out for the spirits, hoping that this “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”
 
When you boil all this down to its most basic component, you find something really quite simple: Halloween came about because people are instinctively afraid of the dark.
 
We don’t like darkness. We’ve spent most of our human existence trying to get rid of it, first fire then eventually electrical lights. Darkness – literal and metaphorical – is a time when life becomes uncertain and even scary.
 
But here’s the immensely encouraging bit – Knowing that darkness has this kind of effect on people, the Christian God, through His Word, has made repeated promises:
 
The book of Isaiah from the Bible tells us that the reason the Messiah (Jesus) was being sent, was to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS.” (Isaiah 42:7)
 
In the Gospel of Matthew (quoting Isaiah) he tells us that: You who spend your days SHROUDED IN DARKNESS can now say, “We have seen a brilliant Light.” And those who live in the dark shadow land of death can now say, “The Dawning Light arises on us.” (Matthew 4:16)
 
Jesus Himself declared: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never WALK IN DARKNESS.” (John 8:12) And “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who trust in me will no longer WANDER IN DARKNESS.” (John 12:46)
 
Some time ago there was an atheist from the U.S. who gained some fame by trying to ‘sell his soul’ on eBay. Some local churches reached out to him after reading about it and asked him to come and share why he was an atheist. I don’t know whether he ultimately found Jesus, but after one such visit, he’s quoted as saying this:
 
“At one church I visited, some people were asked to write down how they felt before and after becoming Christians. They said things like ’dark and light’, ‘lonely and befriended,’ which got me wondering: Is being down, or lonely, or desperate, a prerequisite to finding God? Do these people think that others who have not yet found God are lost, scared or miserable? Do I have to go through some sort of trauma or crisis before finding ultimate meaning?”
 
What our atheist in this story didn’t understand was that many people who become Christians do so because they’ve actually seen how dark and lonely life can get. People become Christians because they’ve recognised sin and darkness in themselves and see the light of Christ as the best, and indeed only, way out.
 
We can’t successfully have a satisfying relationship with God when we live out lives in the darkness of guilt and shame. The dark stain of our past sins will always prevent us from having a close relationship with Jesus.
 
On our own, we’re unable to remove sin from our lives, but amazingly God did this for us. He came down in the form of a man and gave Himself up for every wrong thing we’ve ever done. He died on a cross and rose from the dead to give us life and enable us to live in the light.
 
John 1:4 tells us that: Life came into being because of Him (Jesus), for His life is light for all humanity.
 
In Acts chapter 9 there is a description of a confrontation between Jesus and the Saul (who became the Apostle Paul and wrote a lot of the New Testament). In the telling of this story, we find that God literally lunged Saul into darkness:
 
Just outside the city, a brilliant light flashing from heaven suddenly exploded all around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a booming voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
 
5–7 The men accompanying Saul were stunned and speechless, for they heard a heavenly voice but could see no one.
 
Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?”
 
“I am Jesus, the Victorious, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you are to do.”
 
8 Saul stood to his feet, and even though his eyes were open he could see nothing – he was blind. So the men had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. 9 For three days he didn’t eat or drink and couldn’t see a thing. (Acts 9:4-8)
 
For three days Paul waited in Damascus – blind, fearful, and praying for all he was worth. He knew that he’d sinned against the Messiah that his people had waited for for generations. He was afraid of punishment, he was afraid even for his very salvation. Then a man named Ananias – sent by Jesus – came to him. And when Ananias laid his hands on Paul, it says that ‘something like scales’ fell from his eyes and he could see. Ananias reinforced the commission Jesus had given 3 days earlier, and when he’d told Paul all this, Ananias said firmly: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon His name.” (Acts 22:16)
 
Paul wrote later in his life to the Christians at Philippi: “Live a cheerful life, without complaining or division among yourselves. 15 For then you will be seen as innocent, faultless, and pure children of God, even though you live in the midst of a brutal and perverse culture. For you will appear among them as shining lights in the universe, 16 offering them the words of eternal life. I haven’t laboured among you for nothing, for your lives are the fruit of my ministry and will be my glorious boast at the unveiling of Christ!” (Philippians 2:14-16)
 
Paul was telling the guys in Philippi that is was their job as Christians to “…appear among them as shining lights in the universe, offering them (people of the world) the words of eternal life.”
 
Of course, Jesus had already told us that.
 
He said: “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance, for how can you hide a city that stands on a hilltop? 15 And who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead, it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light. 16 So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
 
So how do we do that? How do we let our light shine? How do we “offer words of eternal life,” to people still in darkness? God has given us a job to do. He’s not going to do the whole thing for us. It’s ours to do. He desires us to help others understand what they’re missing without Jesus.
 
Here’s an interesting thought: Paul was not saved on the road to Damascus. He was saved in Damascus when Ananias did his job and obeyed Jesus – when he went to talk to Paul.
 
Acts 22:16 tells us up to that point, Paul’s sins had not yet been washed away. Ananias said: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon his name.”
 
Paul’s salvation could be said to hinge on Ananias doing what God asked him to do. God had sent Ananias to Paul to lift him out of his blindness. God sends believers out to others to help them out of their blindness – to help guide them out of darkness.
 
When we (Christians) talk to people about Jesus, God doesn’t expect us to do it all by ourselves. Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes to change their hearts. Jesus had already worked on the Apostle Paul’s heart long before Ananias showed up.
 
In the same way, Jesus tells us that one of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to expose sin (John 16:8). God’s Spirit works behind the scenes to soften the hearts of those we talk to. We pray – and prayer should be at the start and at the heart of all that believers do – and as we pray and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are confident that God is (and has been) working behind the scenes to help us do what He’s asked us to do.
 
If, like me, you’re a believer, that we need to tell people why we are Christians. We need to tell them what’s so important about Jesus that we’re willing to build our lives around Him. Why we would sacrifice so much of our time to worship Him and honour Him!
 
This story of Paul’s conversion is recorded three times in Acts. The first time, it’s merely a fact of church history. The other two times – Paul is telling people why his life was changed. He had a life-altering confrontation with Jesus, and he wanted others to know about it.
 
If you’re a Christian, your story might be about why you were baptised into Christ (why you became a Christian to begin with), or it might be about something that has happened since then that has made God even more real to you.
 
We could have a powerful worship service every Sunday at the church where I lead (Freedom Church in Leeds, come and visit us if you’re in the area!). The singing will be inspirational. The prayers touch our hearts. The preaching might even bring us to our knees in repentance. And the fellowship will be outstanding.
 
But we can’t really class anything as successful until we’re indeed convicted of the need to help open the eyes of our neighbours, friends and family and help them in their journey from darkness to light. From the power of Satan to the power of God. By placing their faith in Jesus where they will receive the total forgiveness of sins and be made holy, taking hold of the inheritance that He gives to His children! (Adapted from Acts 26:18)
 
That’s a significant part of what God called us to do. If we fail in this responsibility, a lot of people will spend their lives – their eternal lives – in a very dark and uncertain place.
 
God blinded Apostle Paul for those three days as a lesson. He intended this physical blindness to drive home the spiritual blindness that had symbolised Paul’s life to that point. And that object lesson was so powerful that Paul later wrote: “Yet I was captured by grace, so that Jesus Christ could display through me the outpouring of His Spirit as a pattern to be seen for all those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
 
Because of that blindness, for the rest of his life, Paul understood that he had been brought out of darkness into light, from the power of satan to God, and that he had received forgiveness … and a place in God’s family.
 
On Halloween, don’t shutter your home, don’t ignore the knocks on the door. Buy some sweets and welcome people with a big smile and bright eyes. Take the opportunity to be the light in the darkness. Let your story shine. Take opportunities to share your faith when conversations about Halloween inevitably come up.
 
And one final thing … don’t be scared of the dark!