7 lessons from Mexico – #1

This summer I went to Mexico with WEC (World Evangelisation for Christ) UK on a short-term team missions trip for 3 weeks. It’s taken me a while to organise my thoughts and find the time to post them, but here are a few of the lessons I learnt whilst I was out there. I realised after writing the first lesson that this will take longer than I thought, so I will be continuing it as a series. I hope and pray it encourages you!

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Morning sunrise in Tepoztlan

Lesson #1: the power of testimonies

We had the great privilege of sharing our testimonies with many of the local families and church members. I could see it was encouraging for those who already believed, and intriguing to those that were yet to believe, to hear a group of young people from the other side of the world sharing with them about Jesus and how he entered into our personal lives.

However, as the missions trip was nearing its end, I began wondering if any of the seeds we had sown would bear fruit – whether sharing our testimonies would lead to the salvation of any, let alone many! I know that sometimes we are not granted the privilege of seeing the fruit (and we must be patient and faithful in those times), but I asked God to show me some small sign to encourage me to keep sowing.

Our God is good and He listens to the smallest of our prayers!

On the last day, I was reading John chapter 4 and a verse caught my eye. It was from the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman – a well-known story. Usually I focus on the conversation between Jesus and the woman, but this time I noticed what happened afterwards. The woman ran into her town telling everyone about her encounter with Jesus. Sounds a lot like evangelism, or sharing testimonies. When it comes to telling someone about Jesus or sharing our testimony, I often find myself afraid that nothing will happen, wondering if it’s worth it all. But here’s the encouraging part:

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

The power of testimonies is that it leads people to Jesus! Some of the town people believed in him before they even met him, because of the woman’s testimony. Your testimony could be the key that the Lord uses to open the door of someone’s salvation. How exciting is that! It’s easy to think leading people to Jesus is only the pastor’s role, or for someone more knowledgeable about the Bible. So often we just try to get them inside the church one way or another, hoping that as soon as they step inside, something magical will happen. With this approach however, I think there may sometimes be an underlying belief that the church is a building, or the church is the leadership – no, the Church is all the believers, including you and me!

According to this story, something as simple as sharing how Jesus has changed my life can spark an interest in people’s hearts for more of Jesus and his words. Getting into the word of Jesus actually happened afterwards, leading even more people to believe and strengthening the faith of those who already believed.

How great is our God, that He chooses to work through our testimonies! I hope this encourages both you and me to keep sharing, and to see with the eyes of faith the fruit it might bear.  Let us continue running the race and fighting the good fight – for the glory of God, and for His Kingdom!

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Rejoice in the Lord, always

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” Philippians 4:4

What is joy? And how do we keep it despite circumstances and feelings?

Joy is one of the things that sets a Christian apart from the rest of the world. Paul commands (note imperative, meaning not optional) the Philippians to rejoice always. It’s easy to say, but how do we actually do it? During the ups and downs of my faith journey, I am most filled with joy when I have had an intimate experience of God, a divine revelation of Himself. But all too soon this fades away and I find myself having lost the joy of the Lord to the mundane-ness of my everyday life. Not that I don’t love Him or believe in Him anymore, but just joyless, unexcited.

Over the Christmas holidays, my church had a winter retreat around the theme ‘Rejoice’. How perfectly timed it was, since this was exactly what had been bothering me for the past few months. We studied the book of Philippians, focusing solely on this theme – I would encourage you to try the same, as it was such a great blessing!

Rejoicing is a choice

Joy is not just an emotion. It’s different to happiness, and it’s not dependent on fun either. I guess it’s not dissimilar to love, in the sense that it is a choice we make on a daily basis. It being a choice is very significant. I can choose to rejoice. I don’t have to be affected by circumstances or emotions when it comes to rejoicing. Meaning I have the ability to rejoice all the time. Praise God!

Rejoice in the Lord

The reason we can choose to rejoice in all circumstances, is because our joy does not come from things that change. Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in who He is. Rejoice in His unchanging love. Rejoice in His gift of salvation. Rejoice in the hope we have of eternity, because of all He has done. Rejoice in the Lord who does not change – He is our solid Rock, our Anchor, our Foundation – this is the reason our joy does not change!

Rejoicing is a battle

There are things that help us keep our joy, and things that take away our joy. I strongly recommend you read through Philippians and write a list of what these things might be. Some things that increase our joy include being content (4:11-12), interceding for each other (1:19), and proclaiming Christ (1:18).

Examples of things that make it harder to rejoice include changes in environment (e.g. Paul’s imprisonment), hostile attitudes of other people (e.g. the selfish preachers in 1:17), and ill health or death (e.g. Paul’s potential execution). These things are mostly out of our control, but Paul changes his perspective on these things and chooses to rejoice over them:

  • He rejoiced over his imprisonment because it expanded his ministry to authoritative figures he would not have reached otherwise, and encouraged others to speak the word of God more boldly
  • He rejoiced over the selfish preachers because Christ’s name was still being proclaimed, no matter what their motivation
  • He rejoiced over his potential execution, because his death would bring him to his heavenly home with Christ.

Mind-blowing!

Not all downers are out of our control though – some things we can and would be wise to avoid. Such things include selfish ambition and conceit (2:3), grumbling and dispute (2:14), and setting our minds on earthly things (3:19). This kind of links with things we can do to increase our joy – serving and giving to God (2:17-18 & 4:18) is the opposite of selfish ambition, humility (2:3) does not allow for conceit or dispute, being content protects against grumbling, and proclaiming Christ fixes our eyes on heavenly things instead of earthly things.

There are many others, and they are truly life hacks!

Rely on the Holy Spirit for help

No matter how hard we try, there will be times when the going gets tough. Remember that with all these things, we need God’s help. Rely on the Holy Spirit (2:19) for strength and perseverance in making these small changes to your life, in order to hold on to that joy in Christ.

Meditations on Matthew 23

One word: HYPOCRISY. Jesus hates hypocrisy. It is self-centred protection, trying to please and impress the eyes of people.

What is hypocrisy? It is teaching one thing but not living it out. It is burdening others with the truth, but not burdening yourself – walking the easy road. A lot of pride is entangled in a hypocrite’s heart – the attitude that I am better than those that need to be taught.

How foolish! How revolting! How… me!

Jesus, forgive me for my rotten heart. My proud tongue is keen to teach things that I myself do not strive to live out. My eyes have become haughty. They keep sinning by looking for faults in others, whilst avoiding and refusing to address my own. I have been a Pharisee. I am a hypocrite.

Lord Jesus, I am broken and do not even acknowledge it most of the time. My fear paralyses me. Lord free my spirit from its fears so it can believe. Free my spirit so it can trust you. Heal my messed up heart so it can love you and my neighbours wholly.

I ask you for a sincere heart. Take away this criticising judgemental heart and mind. Renew my thoughts and my heart. Teach me how to love. Open my eyes to the depth of your love for me and for this world. Lord I want to be fully immersed in your love!

If there is anyone out there who relates to this prayer, you are not alone in this struggle! Let us continue fighting against this attitude of pride within ourselves, continue asking the Author of our faith to free us from unhealthy thinking habits and to teach us daily to walk in His way of love.

Letting go of the things we love a bit too much

Lord You ask me to put down the things that I have become overly attached to, and put You first instead, on the throne of my heart, Your rightful place.

When did I become so attached to all these… ‘things’? I remember a time when I didn’t care for any of these, and yet I must have slowly allowed myself to drift my eyes away from the everlasting fountain Jesus and towards mere objects of short and shallow satisfaction. I sat down and began writing to help me figure out what exactly holds me back from simply surrendering myself completely to Jesus. Here are a few of what I jotted down, maybe you’ll relate to some of them. I don’t mean to quit these things altogether – it’s more of a conscious decision I am making to put Jesus first before these things.

  • Facebook, whatsapp, phone – they offer me a false feeling of connectedness. I let go of this in exchange for true intimacy with Christ and real depth and connection in friendships!
  • Movies, Youtube videos, TV programmes – they offer me vicarious satisfaction by watching other people live out their own lives, fulfilling things I want in my own life. I let go of this to live out my own life to the fullest!
  • Greed for food and clothes: consumerism – perhaps in an attempt to quench a thirst in my soul for Jesus, I turn to quick and easy satisfaction of fleshly desires. I let go of this in exchange for actively seeking and drinking from the everlasting well of water that is Christ!
  • Comfort – this can spiral into laziness and passiveness! Not willing to get out of my own comfort makes it more difficult to obey that small whisper from the Holy Spirit into my heart, especially when He asks me to do something different or step out in faith!

None of these ‘things’ in themselves are wrong or evil. They are just that – ‘things’. Depending on how they are used, they can be of benefit or hindrance. It is when we put them before Jesus and their purpose is no longer for His glory that it starts holding us back in our relationship with Him. If we do find ourselves doing this, no need to panic! Simply repent and ask for His help to always put Him first in everything – then go and start acting on it in faith! It probably won’t be fixed in a moment, and most likely will be difficult to let go of at first, but you can start working on it with the strength that God gives you. Isn’t our God good?!

I’ll end with these amazing verses from Hebrews 12:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”