Be Creative

By April Gilbert

'Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.'

Galatians 6;4-5 (MSG)

IMG_8976.JPG

Imagine a blueprint rolled out before you; a blueprint is intrinsic and exclusive to the exact build it is designed for, it's not replicated. Did you know that's how God created you? You have a blueprint all of your own. You were made wonderfully and fearfully (Psalm 139:14), no holding back on the design of you! And included in that design, are gifts and talents that are not just for the world to see, or to be used in a future career, they are talents and gifts to be used for God and His Kingdom.

 

But in a world that is so used to comparison, it's hard to discover your gifts and strengths and feel empowered to use them. We live in a world where some talents are deemed more “desirable or important” than others. Think about going to a concert; mainly the reason why people go is to see the artist or group perform. However, without the sound technicians, stage engineers, security, tour managers etc. that show would probably just be the artist on a blank stage with no sound or lights. It goes to show that everyone has a part to play; in our churches, families, schools and beyond. If you feel your talent is on or off a stage, big or small, they are all worthy in God's eyes and worthy to be used for Him.

 

When you know what your talent or strength is, now what? Well, it's time to start honing it and using it- don't wait! “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15) God has given you these specific things, it's your responsibility to use them and to use them well. Galatians 6:5 says that we can “take pride in ourselves alone, without comparing ourselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”

 

I hope and pray that this blog post encourages you to discover some of the great things, ideas, qualities and talents God has put inside of you, which can change not only your life but lives around you and in this world. Take care of the gifts and talents God has placed inside of you!

 

IMG_0270.JPG

1.    Take some time to ask God what gifts or talents He has given you. You may already know what they are or He might just surprise you with something you never realised about yourself before!

2.    Read the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 to remind yourself of the responsibility God has put on us to use what He has given to us.

3.    Pray and ask God for specific ideas or people He wants you to use your talents and gifts upon. Be creative in your thinking about how to use them!

4.     And in a world full of comparison, from worldly views to social media, it can be hard to be proud of our gifts and talents. Allow God to show you the magnitude of what He has placed inside of you and to let no one steal that from you.

image1.JPG

April Gilbert.

April is a young adult, born and living in Bristol. She enjoys music, food, travelling, being creative & the odd reality TV show! For years she has worked with young people & students in and outside of church, supporting them through the teenage years & encouraging young Christians' walk with God. Her passion is to see young people live the life described in John 10:10- an abundant one! 

Be Focused

By Natalie Seale

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

IMG_8972.JPG

If the apostle Paul’s life was made into a blockbuster movie, it would certainly be an emotional rollercoaster to watch.  His story has it all: an identity crisis, conversion, visions, blindness, miracles, travel, imprisonment, and suffering… and if all that wasn’t enough – there isn’t even a happy ending!  Paul’s story is one of the great and enduring dramas of the Gospel, but the drama that unfolded in his own life never, ever prevented him from his mission of spreading the Good News to strangers. 

 

As we read about his life and work, it becomes clear that this kind of single-minded focus was an integral part of Paul’s personality.  This trait comes out especially forcefully in the second letter he wrote to the Corinthians.  Unlike the other communities Paul wrote epistles to (like the Galatians and the Philippians) the people at Corinth really weren’t convinced by him – they challenged his authority as an apostle.  Rather than embracing him as a follower of Jesus, they criticized him for the ways he spoke and wrote, and forced him to defend both himself and his teachings.  In his letter to them, Paul is essentially replying to the Corinthians’ bad treatment of him by reminding them of the importance of forgiving others, giving generously to others, and living in a compassionate and Christ-like way.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could respond to people who treat us badly like Paul does?

 

Well, yes and no.  Paul himself wasn’t perfect, and he was the first to admit it.  He isn’t telling us to feel bad that we can’t always see passed our own hurt to preach forgiveness to others, but he is reminding us that there is a bigger picture to focus on.

 

Fix your eyes

 

Have you noticed that when you focus on something really closely, it’s easy to lose sight of everything else?  It’s a little like when we visit the optician for an eye test: as we go through the process, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine that there is anything else in the dark room than that small bright box of letters. 

 

When Paul tells us to “fix our eyes” – or, in other translations, to “be focused” – he is telling us to look passed all of the distractions of our daily routines, passed the naysayers who treat us badly, and passed all the potential worries and anxieties we might be carrying.  Though all these things are competing for our attention, there is only one thing we should be focusing our energies – and our eyes – on: our God.  Paul knew better than anyone that focusing on God could be difficult, but he also bore witness to the power and presence of God at first hand.

 

When we fix our eyes on God, we begin to lose sight of the other things that have been demanding our attention: the trivial, the unimportant, and the hurtful.  We realise the potential they have to distract us from the talents and skills we have been given, and that realisation puts us in a better position to follow the life advice Paul gave to the Corinthians: to practice forgiveness, generosity, compassion, and faith.  By focusing on these things, we allow ourselves to fulfill the potential that God, with all His loving Grace, has instilled in us.

 

The Seen and The Unseen

 

There’s a great quote that I absolutely love from C.S. Lewis, one of the great Christian writers of the twentieth century.  It goes like this:

 

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

 

His words illustrate the dichotomy between the seen and the unseen that Paul speaks of in his Epistle especially well.  The Bible is a testimony of the human capacity for faith to falter when we lose sight of God.  For the people of the Old Testament, it was easy to believe when they could see the hand of God at work in their lives.  For the apostles, it was easy to follow Jesus and believe that He was the Son of God when He walked among them and performed miracles.  Yet, that could never be enough.  Like Thomas, who needed to put his hand into the wound where Christ had been pierced on the cross, belief alone was not enough.  Proof was needed.

 

Paul is challenging the Corinthians – and us – to look beyond our human need for proof, evidence and justification, and to focus our eyes on God.  He is asking us to place our faith in a God who is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time) even though we are unable to see Him. 

 

As Christians today, we aren’t so different from the people in Biblical times.  We find this tricky, especially when we’re faced with difficulty, hardship, and sadness.  This is where C.S. Lewis’ words are helpful, though, because although we might not be able to see God, we can see Him working in the world around us.  Just as the sunrise brings light and warmth to everything it touches, His grace and love can be seen in everything that surrounds us, from the beauty of the natural world to the kindness of strangers.

 

The Temporary and The Eternal

 

If the apostle Paul is talking in opposites in this passage, this is nothing unusual.  The Gospel is full of dichotomies, and by using this technique in his writing Paul shows just how much he has learned – not just from Jesus, but from the prophets of the Old Testament, too. 

 

In The Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5-7) we find some of the most important statements made by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and many of them are concerned with opposites. He speaks of two kinds of treasure – the earthly kind and the heavenly kind – only one of which cannot be destroyed or stolen; of healthy and unhealthy eyes; of light and darkness; and of the impossibility of serving two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).  All of these comparisons lead to one, greater dichotomy between God’s way and the way of the world

 

Here, we can see God’s way as the eternity that Paul is speaking of, and the way of world – that is, our way – as temporary.  The apostle is looking to remind the Corinthians (and all of the people that were and have still to come after them) that while the world will one day pass away, the Kingdom of God will remain forever (1 John 2:17).

 

However wonderful this promise is, such a huge truth can make everything else – both the difficulties we encounter, and the joys we celebrate – seem small and insignificant in comparison.  But we can gain some perspective by acknowledging that our God today is the same God who – many, many years ago – comforted His people on their journey to the Promised Land; and who sacrificed His only Son so that we might be reconciled to Him for eternity.    

 

It can be slightly overwhelming – not to mention quite alarming – to think of our lives here on Earth as nothing more than temporary, but that isn’t the whole story.  Paul isn’t telling us to fix our eyes on eternity because our lives are short, or because they don’t matter to God at all – the opposite is true!  He is simply telling us to place our trust in the hands of an unseen God who promised us His love and an eternal life with Him before we were even born (John 10:28). 

 

IMG_4257.JPG

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Corrie Ten Boom

If you now go back to the verse where we started and read it through again, I suspect you’re probably thinking a couple of things:

 

Firstly, that some of that was really heavy – and it was, because it was important.  When we open up to the heavy truth behind some of the scriptures that we might previously have simply read and taken for granted, we sink deeper into our relationship with God.  We get to know Him better, and we realise just how many different facets there are to His love for us.

 

And secondly, how can this verse and my knowledge of it help me to be focused?  Jesus is calling you to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  If we go back to my little optician analogy at the beginning, we see that where our faith is concerned, it really doesn’t matter if we can see the whole room or just the box of letters.  It is the changing lens – our God – that will ultimately determine our prescription, and whether our vision is perfect, we wear glasses, contact lenses, or we can’t see at all – it doesn’t matter to Him.  His grace covers all. 

 

Our Heavenly Father knows how hard it is for us to stay focused on something that we can’t see – after all, He has guided generations of people who have struggled to put their faith in an unseen God. You may encounter Him in the beauty that surrounds you, or feel His absence particularly painfully in a time of difficulty – but look beyond those things.  Really fix your eyes on Him. 

 

Be focused in your pursuit of God, because you don’t need to see Him to know Him – and all the wondrous plans He has for you.

 

unnamed.jpg

Natalie Seale

Natalie is a Yorkshire lass who recently moved all the way to San Antonio, Texas, to live with her husband Quincy. She has a PhD in Renaissance history and until recently taught undergrads and post-grads at the University of Edinburgh. Her passion is for teaching, but in the process of applying for a visa she discovered a new love for writing devotionals and lettering by hand. Good coffee, old books, family time, warm jumpers and Texas sunsets are some of her favourite things. Her heart is to live a life full of the love and joy of God, and in doing so help others to achieve their potential. 

Our 25 year journey with The Message

Last weekend I was privileged to attend The Message Conference & 25th anniversary celebrations, and was excited to have a stand for Be Loved in their exhibition area.  

If you don’t know about The Message then where on earth have you been?! You can find out all about them here.

 

During the two days I was able to share with some of the people I met about my journey with The Message, and it has lead me to want to write it down, as I feel that it is so evident that God was weaving a beautiful story between my husband and I, and The Message, right from when we were young.

 

My story started when I was 14 years old and The World Wide Message Tribe came to our school. Back then the original members were Mark Pennells and Andy Hawthorne, who is still the CEO of The Message today.

Mark, Zarc & Andy

Mark, Zarc & Andy

 

TWWMT would visit high schools and youth groups all over Manchester and sing, rap and dance (in ridiculous costumes) and then share about God’s love for us all.

 

After hearing them a handful of times I soon decided that I wanted to become a Christian too.

 

Unknown to me, at around that same time, my husband Mark had been taken under the wing of Mark Pennells, and would tour around the various Manchester youth clubs with them. They had found that mischievous young people would frequently unplug them mid-song so, at the age of 13 & 14, Mark’s job was to man the plug that connected the sound to the speakers!

 

Who knows if at a young age our paths crossed, but I would like to think they did.

 

After college I decided to take a year out before I went to University, and again, unknown to me so did Mark.

 

After the year out I went to Salford University and applied to do Eden through The Message. For weeks I waited for a response, but soon decided that it probably wasn’t right for me, so made the decision to commute from my home in South Manchester to Salford every day.

 

I studied Fashion Design and our campus was full of creatives from all different streams. In my second year I was conscious of a guy, who I would regularly see, around the building. At 6ft 2 he wasn’t hard to miss, especially as he wore extremely baggy jeans. I often wondered where he bought them from, but never plucked up the courage to ask!

 

During my degree I had done several weeks work experience at a popular teenage magazine in London, and was interested in pursuing something similar once I had graduated.

 

In 2001 I graduated from University and although London was the best place to be with a fashion degree, I felt the right place for me was to stay in Manchester.  I had no idea what to do, so I decided to start up a teenage magazine that had some Christian content.

 

At the age of 22 a friend and I started publishing a magazine – Jam magazine. We somehow made contact with Mark Pennells, who by then was CEO of Innervation Trust, and we were invited along to a band launch.

 

We weren’t there long before I spotted baggy jeans guy from University! After the gig I went over to him and asked him if he’d recently graduated from Salford Uni. He had indeed and we started chatting. He told me his name was Mark (they all called him Sparky) and that he did Media Technology at Uni, and was the sound engineer for The Tribe (formerly known as The World Wide Message Tribe.) He also told me that he had lived on Eden Salford for the past two years!

 

Over the coming months we would frequently see each other at various Christian Events, the main one being Planet Life, run by The Message, at the Apollo theatre in Manchester.

 

Mark was good friends with the The Tribe and the rest of The Message crew, and we would often go out for food after Planet Life. We were soon regularly socialising together and after a couple of months started dating.

 

The Message had just moved to a new location in Sharston and they had a lovely new building. I had been invited along, with Mark, to the opening of the building and during the tour had cheekily asked Andy Hawthorne if there was room for Jam magazine. To my surprise he agreed, and weeks later we had moved into an office with various Message mission people. It was an incredible time for us and we felt so privileged to be there amongst amazing people and invited to join in with the morning Message prayer times. We felt part of the family and saw huge prayers answered along the way.

 

18 months after Mark and I got together The Message held a week of mission around Manchester, which ended with a concert in Heaton Park called Festival Manchester. I had been away on holiday, but had returned home in time for the festival.

 

The morning I was about to leave for Heaton Park I had received a phone call from Andy Hawthorne asking me if I wanted to promote Jam Magazine up on stage. I was excited about the offer and said yes straight away.

There were around 30,000 people there that day and Mark had spent most of his time in the sound desk tent, with the rest of the techie guys. When it was my time to go on stage he had come out of the sound tent and was backstage with me, telling me he was there for moral support.

A bit of a blur, but you get the picture!

A bit of a blur, but you get the picture!

 

It wasn’t long before I had to go up on stage and Andy introduced me to the crowd.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mark coming on to the stage behind me. I was stunned and wondered what on earth he was doing, I was also conscious of Andy saying something about him being a committed member of The Message staff and he didn’t let just anyone do this. The next thing Mark got down on one knee, in front of the massive crowd, and proposed…. I of course said yes!

 

18 months later and we got married. We thought it would be lovely for Andy to preach at our wedding, so had invited him to do so and he happily agreed.

I can’t remember much from the message he preached, apart from advising us to not go to bed on an argument, and that he hoped our mattress squeaked from too much laughing!

In true Andy Hawthorne style he must have shared the gospel, as that day my best friend’s husband became a Christian. We’d been praying for him for many years.

 

Our love and support for The Message didn’t stop there and we have been journeying with them ever since.

 

I am not sharing this to tell you about our love story, or to tell you about our friendship with Andy Hawthorne and The Message, but hopefully to show how God knows our beginning from our end. How he weaves people in and out of our lives, and how things that don’t seem important at the time can be an integral part of someone’s story.

 

I am also sharing this to show how a simple act of investing in a young person’s life can have a huge impact on them. If Mark and Andy hadn’t taken my Mark, at the age of 13, under their wing and invested in him, then this story could have been completely different. If they hadn’t donned their crazy clothes and come into my high school, then my story may have been very different too. Looking back over the 25 years I can see how God has orchestrated our lives so that there were different points where we could have met, yet the time wasn’t right until the day we did.

 

There’s probably hundreds of stories that people can share about their journey with The Message, and this is just one of them. It makes me hopeful for the seeds I’m helping plant through Be Loved, and makes me realise that being willing to invest in young people, however small, can lead to something beautiful growing between them and God.

 

So there we were this weekend, at the 25th anniversary, with our two children, celebrating what God has done in and through The Message over all these years. And I can’t contain my excitement, and anticipation, over seeing my 10 year olds reaction to hearing the gospel explained by Danielle Strickland, in such a beautiful way, and seeing her love for Jesus instantly grow. It gives me so much hope for her future, just like it says in Jeremiah 29:11;

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

Here’s to the next 25 years.

With love,

Gemma 

 

Be Loved

By April Gilbert

This month we are looking at the first session of the mentoring course which is also titled 'Be Loved'.

We think that working through how we feel loved, how others around us feel loved and ultimately how our Father God loves us, is a great place to start. April explains more....

 

FullSizeRender (6).jpg

 

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

(Bill, English teacher in “Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chobsky)

 

Charlie is talking with his English teacher after class. He can't quite understand why his sister is in a relationship with a guy who treats her so bad, after witnessing his violence towards her. Bill delivers one of the most memorable quotes in the book to Charlie, which has always stuck with me.

 

What kind of love do we deserve? If we know our self-worth and value, then that should give us some idea that we deserve love from friends, family, relationships that offers respect, forgiveness, kindness and support.

 

What about when it comes to God? Truly speaking, we don't deserve God's unconditional love. It's hard to come to terms with, I know. But as we are sinners, we couldn't receive God's love. But thank God for Jesus! Thank God for His sacrifice on the cross, where the veil in the temple between the Holy temple and the Holy of the Holiest was torn, and a way was made for us to come to the Father's love. Thank Jesus that he took away our sins, past, present and future so that we could be with God.

 

As we've come from a place of receiving love that we don't deserve, how can we be like God in our everyday interactions and relationships? Are there people in your lives that you feel like shouldn't receive your kindness or love because they've been rude or mean, or tend to push you away? Or people in society who are ignored or treated badly? Could it be that, as we know what it's like to receive love, even when we didn't deserve it, we could do the same for people in our towns, schools, streets& homes?

 

“We love because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:19

 

Our calling is to love others, because we know first what it's like to be loved by a forgiving, unconditional love. And loved when we didn't deserve it, but because of God's son, we can now receive it. Imagine giving that sort of love to someone, to a bully, a person in school who normally is left out, an elderly person on your road who seems grumpy but actually is very lonely. You could change someone' s life!

 

“Freely you have received; freely give”

Matthew 10:8

 

1.   Spend some time praising and thanking Jesus for the love you can now receive from His Father, because of His death on the cross.

2.   Reflect on what does God's love mean to you. What does it feel like to be loved unconditionally and wholeheartedly?

3.   What love do you think you deserve from others? Why do you think that? Do you need to be reminded of what God thinks of you, so you can know your worth and value?

4.   Pray and ask for God to show you several people that you can show unswerving love to, even if it feels like they don't deserve it. What can you do to show them this love?

 

unnamed.jpg

April Gilbert

April is a young adult, born and living in Bristol. She enjoys music, food, travelling, being creative & the odd reality TV show! For years she has worked with young people & students in and outside of church, supporting them through the teenage years & encouraging young Christians' walk with God. Her passion is to see young people live the life described in John 10:10- an abundant one! 

BE YOU!

Each month a newly formed team of brilliant bloggers will be blogging on the themes we cover in the Be Loved course, and this month is all about being YOU.*

IMG_3496.JPG

By Gemma Tuson

You may have started a new school, college, university or work place in the last couple of weeks, which for the majority of us can always be a nerve-wracking experience.... I have massive respect for those of you who happily embrace change!

Sometimes it is tempting in new situations to be less 'us' and become more like other people to try and fit in. But why is it we don't like being true to ourselves?

In a lot of cases we listen to those negative words that we speak over ourselves, or that someone else has spoken over us, and we believe that those words are true.

We start to focus more on those words over any positive words, completely ignoring the truth.

Did you know that it takes 5 positive words to counteract one negative one? So if we're constantly listening to the negatives, no wonder we don't believe, or receive, a positive one.

How many times has someone complimented you on something and instead of accepting it, and replying 'thank you', you've responded with a criticism about yourself? Let's be honest here, I often find myself doing it too.

Positive self talk takes time and a lot of practise, but it's so important that we are kind to ourselves.

Check this out;

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”

Psalm 139:13-16 MSG

Wow, now that's positive self talk for you! And how true too. We are created by God, every last little intricate detail, so when we speak negatively about ourselves, we're speaking negatively about our creator too.

God does not say anything negative about us, only wonderfully positive things. So we really should listen to Him, above anyone else.

IMG_8973.JPG

He says we are accepted...

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

Romans 5:1-2 NIV

“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”

Ephesians 1:3-10 MSG

He says that we are secure....

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:1-2 NIV

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

And He says that we are significant...

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

1 Corinthians 3:16 NIV

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NIV

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

John 15:16 NIV

IMG_3497.JPG

When we focus more on what God says about us than what we, or other people, say about us then it should help us to remember who we are, and why we were created. God calls us his beloved, which simply means 'greatly loved'. Once we grasp how much we are adored by the creator of the world we should hopefully not be afraid to be true to ourselves and be the amazing person we were created to be.

 

Beloved, you are unique and that's something to be celebrated!

 

*The 'Be You' session of the Be Loved course came out as the no. 1 session for the young women taking part, time and time again. This session really helps them hear what God has to say about them, whilst also hearing positive words from their fellow group members, which ultimately helps them accept themselves and boosts their self-esteem.

Gemma Tuson-2013.jpg

Gemma Tuson

Gemma is the creator of the Be Loved resource. She has worked with young people for over 10 years doing various creative workshops all over the UK. For the past 2 years she has also been working in schools as a mentor, allowing young people the space to chat through issues one on one. She loves drinking tea, cooking and all things craft related. Her heart is to see young people reach their full potential and be set free from any issues, or circumstances, that can hold them back. 

Gemma has been married to Mark for 13 years and they have two gorgeous children. 

International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s day, a day to celebrate the wonderful women in our lives, and around the world, who support and inspire us. A day to remember the changes that powerful women have made across history, and appreciate all that has been achieved economically, politically and socially.

In today’s western society women are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. We are standing up for our rights, and for those that have no voice. We are becoming expert jugglers within the home and work environment. We are pioneering new and innovative ideas. We are nurturing and empowering the people around us. We are championing causes and breaking new ground. We are powerful on our own and even more so as a collective. We have passion, boldness, dignity and grace, and are a perfect compliment, as well as being equal to, our male equivalent.

But things have not always been like this for women, and there are still many, many women suffering in parts of the world even today.

For these precious women I believe that it is our duty to stand up and speak out for them. To try our best to make the relevant changes that will give them the rights they desperately deserve, and to help bring them into a place of safety and freedom.

I have recently finished reading a book by the incredible Danielle Strickland called ‘The Liberating Truth.’ 

 

liberating-truth-how-jesus-empowers-women-danielle-strickland-paperback-cover-art.jpg

In the first half of the book Danielle highlights gender-based violence and prejudices that have gone on for centuries, and continue to do so today. She goes on to explain the history behind cultural behavior, and unpicks scripture to shine a light on misinterpreted bible verses. She introduces us to Jesus ‘The Feminist’ and shows us how He brought powerful change that empowered the women He encountered, which in effect impacts our lives today.

So how did God intend women to be viewed?

Back in Genesis, at the beginning of time, God created man, in His image, and He saw that it was not good that the man should be alone. It says that He created woman to become a ‘helper’ for Adam and to solve this problem. Eve was the answer to the problem.

Today, we may interpret ‘helper’ as someone who ‘serves’ or is ‘less than’ but in The Bible this is not so. The Hebrew word for ‘helper’ is ‘ezer’ which is a word that is sometimes even used for God, noting that He is our Helper. We would certainly not view God as inferior to humans, so therefore we can conclude that the word used in Genesis has the same meaning. The correct interpretation of the word ‘helper’ would be ‘ideal partner.’

God intended us to be ‘the ideal partner’ to compliment and be equal to men, but not long after the fall things changed drastically for women. We can see time and time again throughout the whole of The Old Testament that women were treated as second classed citizens and were seen no where near as equal to men. There are many devastating accounts in The Old Testament of oppression, abuse, rape and murder that left a distinct mark on womankind.

Along came Jesus!

When Jesus came along He challenged those mental and cultural, behaviours and patterns and instead treated women with dignity and respect. This was very different to how they had been treated in the past, within their male-dominated society.

We can see in the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10; 38-42) that Martha was busy with the typical role of a woman, ‘Martha was distracted with much serving’ (EVS) and was too involved with what she thought she needed to do to sit and have time with Jesus.

Mary, however, decided to adopt the supposed male role, and sit at Jesus’ feet. ‘She sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching’ (EVS)

Martha asked Jesus if He thought it was fair that Mary had left her to do all the work by herself, and she even asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her.

Jesus gently responded that He could see Martha was upset about the amount of things she needed to do, but that there was only really one thing needed, and Mary had ‘chosen the better thing’. Mary had made that decision for herself and Jesus had applauded her for liberating herself from her expected duties.

We also know that amongst Jesus’ disciples were a number of women, married and unmarried. The Bible names some of them: 

Luke 8: 1-3 – Mary, Joanna and Susanna who helped to provide for them with their own resources.

Mark 15: 40-41 Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome who were followers of Jesus and had cared for his needs in Galilee.

In a culture where women were not allowed to leave their household, and men were thankful for not being born a woman, it is incredible to learn that Jesus welcomed them into His inner circle.

There are many other stories of Jesus’ encounters with women, including The Samaritan woman at the well, where Jesus liberated her from her past, causing her to tell her whole village about Him (what an evangelist!). Not forgetting the courageous woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and was instantly healed from a disorder that caused her tremendous grief and made her an outcast.

Finally, after the crucifixion, Jesus rose again and reveled himself for the first time to Mary Magdalene, before He went to the rest of the disciples (John 20: 1-18). This was not an accident, but an intentional decision to not only talk about the importance of women but to show it too.

Jesus came to liberate women the world over and as a follower of His, I want to carry on His legacy and help set the captives free, are you with me?

One way you could help is by coming along to an event I am involved with at the end of April called Press Red. Through this conference we hope to raise awareness for gender-based violence and highlight the organizations that are working to help put a stop to it. For more information please go to www.pressred.org.uk

 

The Power of Love

 

I used to think that the bible was full of rules that you had to stick to, and if you didn't you would feel the wrath of The Almighty. But after years of reading, and rereading the pages, I've realised that the bible is a manual with lovingly written advice on how to get the best out of life. You have to know the heart behind the words to understand the tone, and sentiment, and how it's intended to be received.

 

I've known the feeling of hurt, guilt, and shame from not heeding those life-giving nuggets of wisdom, and I've also know the freedom from taking them to heart and putting them into practise.

 

You see, God isn't a dictator, He's a loving Father. He wants the very best for you and I, so He's given us some amazing guidelines on how to try and achieve that.

 

God is love. That's His DNA. Every decision He makes is in the name of love, and because we are His beloved children He wants us to feel loved, know his love, and to pass it on to those around us.

 

'To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides' ~ David Viscott

 

So what is love?

 

1 Corinthians 13 v 1-8

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

 

From this passage in Corinthians we can see that love is not just a feeling. Love is a choice. We have to choose to be patient, we have to choose to not keep any records of wrong. We have to choose to always protect, always trust, always hope and always persevere. Sometimes we won't feel the love, and sometimes we won't feel like choosing to do these things, and these are the time when we have to make that decision to do them anyway.

 Love Does.

I've just finished reading a wonderful book by Bob Goff called 'Love Does.'

I had the privilege of hearing Bob talk early last year, and I immediately fell for his charisma and zest for life. Everything Bob does is in the name of love. That's his driving force. It's hard not to be inspired by him, and to be in total awe of him, whilst listening to him share his stories of lavishing love on people. Like the time he instantly forgave the old lady who crashed into his car, and still to this day sends her flowers to help her get over it. Or the time he redirected his town's parade so that his dying neighbour could watch it from her living room window.

Bob's love is not fake, and it's not forced. It makes me wonder if, after choosing love time and time, and time, again, it just becomes part of your DNA. It just becomes who you are.

Bob could be an exception to the rule, but I think he's definitely an example of what can happen when love doesn't just stop at a feeling and is put into action.

 

So, in this month of 'Love', let's not just think about the feelings we get when we think of that special someone, but rather, let's make choices to pursue those things in 1 Corinthians, and lavish love on the people around us.

 

 

Let's spread some love.

 

 

Oh Hello Beau  

Oh Hello Beau

 

 

In these next two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, please join me in posting photos on Instagram of our 'lavishing love' moments, using the caption 'Love is....'

Let's have some fun, thinking outside of the box, and be as creative as possible.

 

On Valentine's Day I will pick my favourite, who will win one of these gorgeous block hearts (pictured above) from our friends at Oh Hello Beau. Remember to tag @be_lovedbeloved in your posts so that I can see them, and I'll even re-share some of my favourites along the way.

 

And as the famous 'Frankie goes to Hollywood' song says....

 

"The power of love

A force from above

Cleaning my soul

 

Make love your goal."

 

As always,

Love and be loved,

 

Gemma x 

My 2016 book list.

 

Every year, a few days before New Year's Eve, I like to take some time out to reflect back on the year I have just had, and set myself some challenging, yet attainable, goals for the year ahead of me. I usually set the goals with a group of close friends, and we keep each other accountable throughout the year. I find that having my friends involved means that I try harder to accomplish what I set out to do.

My goals usually comprise of 4 different areas; Spiritual, Family & Friends, Work, Health & Lifestyle.

Last year, amongst my list of goals, I set myself a target of reading at least 6 books that would either help me, or encourage me, spiritually.

I'm happy to say that I managed to read 12 books last year, which did actually surprise me a little!

The majority of the books were extremely encouraging and definitely had an impact on me in one way or another, and so I have decided to share 10 of them with you, in the hope that you may be encouraged too.

Amazingly 4 out of the 10 books were written by people within my church family, which I think is pretty awesome!

 

These are not in rating order, but in the order I read them;

 

Jesus the one and only - Beth Moore

 

Summary;

An in-depth study of the life and ministry of Jesus. In Jesus the One and Only, Beth Moore introduces readers to an intimate Saviour as they get a close-up and personal portrait of the life of Jesus the Messiah. This is far more than just a work on the life of Christ. As He has done in the past, God uses Beth's words to woo the reader into a romance with the One and Only. The reader comes to know Christ personally, watching and listening as He breaks up a funeral by raising the dead, confronts conniving religious leaders of His day, teaches on a Galilean hillside or walks on the waves and calms the storm.

My thoughts;

This book was a perfect start to 2016 for me, as it helped me understand Jesus in a much deeper way. Beth's angle, and the way she presents Jesus to the reader, helped me with areas where I'd struggled to see compassion. This book helped shape the rest of my year especially with reading the bible.

 

In Security - Ems Hancock

 

Summary;

Insecurity is based on doubt. It asks deep questions like “Do I matter? Am I important? Am I loved?” It also asks shallower questions like, “Do I suit this skirt? Can I get away with this haircut?”

Whoever you are and whatever you do, you will have times when you feel insecure.

This book offers practical, simple ways to apply biblical truth when insecurity strikes.

My thoughts;

In Security highlighted areas in my life that I needed to work on and helped me to work those out with the help of scripture. Ems is a brilliant writer and manages to weave her infectious humour with her knowledge and wisdom. I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone struggling with niggling insecurities.

 

Facing my past, unlocking the future - Christie Spurling

 

Summary;

In Facing My Past; Unlocking the Future Christie recounts how he was given up at birth and placed in a children’s home before being adopted into a loving family.  He shares his journey from being an angry, hurting child to the steps God led him on to becoming the founder and CEO of an award-winning youth charity, N-Gage.

This book is a challenging, honest and true story of healing and restoration; of coming to understand the love of a Heavenly Father and the support of a faithful family.

My thoughts;

I have always known parts of Christie's story, but through reading his book, it helped me to see the full extend of the journey he has been on and how God's hand has been on him right from day one. N-Gage is a charity I freelance for and support wholeheartedly.

 

Life begins when you choose - Joyce Gbeleyi

 

Summary;

These true stories of women in Manchester, each from a very different background, reveal lives transformed as they encountered Jesus through their church communities.

The stories are easy-to-read but many are hard-hitting; they tell of how much we need God in our lives to bring us from hopelessness

My thoughts;

It was an absolute pleasure to share my story in this book, and to read the incredible stories from other women within my church community. I'm sure they have had a huge impact on the people who have read them.

 

Born to create - Theresa Dedmon

 

Summary;

Offering a launching pad for you to burst into the realm of creative expression—that fun, fantasy world where the Creator is waiting to welcome you. There is a connection between creativity, your identity, the Church, and the world—and it is an important connection. Creativity is tied to all believers’ identity, all who are made in the image of the Creator, all who are born to create! Overflowing with many thrilling, modern-day testimonies, Born to Create emphasises the magnitude of both craft—practice and excellence—as well as anointing. Many who have been freed to embrace their creative ideas and passions, whether in the art fields, business, or education, share their amazing stories with you. Their freedom allowed them to powerfully release healing, the prophetic, and the knowledge of God’s love into the marketplace. Live creatively, friends.

My thoughts;

This book opened my eyes to how much God wants us to use creativity everyday and challenged and inspired me to use my creative gifting differently, especially within worship and prophecy.

 

Beloved - Rachel Gardner

 

Summary;

I hope that reading this book will help you to wake up to God's love in fresh, even unexpected, ways. This is your one, wild life. The only way to live it well is to live well in love. The only way to live well in love is to let God love you, and others through you.

This will change everything.

Don't settle for being defined by glamour, social media status or anything else. You are worth so, so, so much more.

My thoughts;

Beloved has exactly the same heartbeat as the Be Loved course. If you want to know what Be Loved is all about before you invest in the course, then read this book!  It blew me away that God whispered such a similar message to both Rachel and I, at similar times, without us knowing each other.

 

The Sisterhood - Bobby Houston

 

Summary;

The Sisterhood explores God's vision for women: what they should believe about God, themselves, and their ability to make the world a better place. Bobbie shows readers how to embrace and implement that vision in every aspect of their lives, helping them to discover their gifts and talents, and includes personal stories from women around the world. The book concludes with a challenge to join the worldwide 'Sisterhood' movement, motivated by the belief that if one woman can change the lives around her, then a united group of women can change the world.

My thoughts;

The Sisterhood is an inspiring journey of how something can grow from a seed to a huge oak tree. Bobby's story tells us how she listened to God's direction, and acted in obedience, which has resulted in her growing an incredible ministry, that impacts the lives of so many women all around the globe.

 

The search for home - Beatrice Smith

 

Summary;

In April 1994, ten-year-old Beatrice came face to face with the Rwandan genocide when machete wielding killers burst into her family’s home, seeking their lives. Forced to flee, Beatrice and her family found themselves moving from one country to another in search of safety and rest. Destitute refugees, they faced innumerable challenges along the way, but also experienced God’s provision and miraculous rescue. Now settled in the UK, Beatrice reflects on the tumultuous journey that brought her here and how God worked healing and restoration. Told through the eyes of a child, The Search for Home is an inspirational story that gives insight into the plight of millions of refugees today.

My thoughts;

Beatrice's story hit me hard when she shared parts of it with me personally over coffee one day. You will not believe what you are reading at times, and how God spared the lives of not just her, but her whole family, during such an awful and devastating time. This story is full of hope, bravery and miracles.

 

Love does - Bob Goff

 

As a college student he spent 16 days in the Pacific Ocean with five guys and a crate of canned meat. As a father he took his kids on a world tour to eat ice cream with heads of state. He made friends in Uganda, and they liked him so much he became the Ugandan consul. He pursued his wife for three years before she agreed to date him. His grades weren't good enough to get into law school, so he sat on a bench outside the Dean's office for seven days until they finally let him enroll.

Bob Goff has become something of a legend, and his friends consider him the world's best-kept secret. Those same friends have long insisted he write a book. What follows are paradigm shifts, musings, and stories from one of the world's most delightfully engaging and winsome people. What fuels his impact? Love. But it's not the kind of love that stops at thoughts and feelings. Bob's love takes action. Bob believes Love Does.

When Love Does, life gets interesting. Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance that makes faith simple and real. Each chapter is a story that forms a book, a life. And this is one life you don't want to miss.

Light and fun, unique and profound, the lessons drawn from Bob's life and attitude just might inspire you to be incredible too.

My thoughts;

I fell in love with Bob's enthusiasm, love for life, and the people he meets, when I first heard him talk early last year. I wanted to get my hands on his book ever since then, but didn't actually get it until this Christmas. When I finally had it in my hands, it only took me two days to read it! Bob shows that love isn't a feeling, it's an action, and when we show people incredible love, incredible things happen.

 

Scars accross humanity - Elaine Storkey

 

Every three seconds, a girl under the age of 18 is married somewhere across the world usually without her consent and sometimes to a much older man. Combining rigorous research and compelling personal testimonies, Elaine Storkey investigates the different forms of violence experienced by women across the globe today. From female infanticide and child brides to domestic abuse, prostitution, rape and honour killings, violence against women occurs at all stages of life, and in all cultures and societies. How and why has this violence become so prevalent? Storkey examines the answers that are commonly offered, including theories based on evolutionary psychology and the rise of patriarchal power structures. She also considers the role that religion can play for good or ill in the struggle against this universal injustice.

My thoughts;

To be completely honest, this has been quite a tough read so I haven't finished it yet, but I felt it was really important to include in this list. I think in the past I've made the decision to turn a blind eye to what goes on in the world, but reading this has made me more determined to stand up for those without a voice, and shout against injustice. If you're up for the challenge then I'd recommend you read this book too.

 

So that's my top 10 for 2016. I'm currently reading 'Reasons to stay alive' by Matt Haig and next on my list is 'Dirty Glory' by Pete Greig. If you have any book suggestions for me for this year then I'd love to hear them.

 

Also, if you read any books from my list please let me know what you thought of them.

 

Wishing a happy and healthy new year to you all!

 

Love and be loved,

 

Gemma x

 

 

Set her up to win.

 

 

Following on from my last post about winning, it got me thinking a lot about races, especially marathons.

 

Life can feel very similar to a race. We're all taking part in it, we're all heading in the same direction, Some of us are more able than others, some clearly more energetic and enthusiastic than others, but ultimately we're all in it together.

During a race, especially a marathon, there are only a handful of runners who know they could possibly win, to actually cross that finishing line first. Everyone else taking part is in it for a personal gain, to cross the finishing line, no matter where they are placed.

Most marathon runners know they won't come first, but that doesn't stop them wanting to race. They are still going to push themselves as hard as they can, even though they know there is no chance they will win. They do this because crossing that finishing line, no matter where they are placed, means that they are a winner. They won their own race. They set themselves a goal, and they did it. They don't care how many people finished before them, the fact they took part in it, and succeeded, is what counts.

Have you ever watched a marathon and seen the determination on people's faces, then the pure joy when they have finished the race?

“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 MSG

Like I said, life is like that race. We all have our personal goals, and even when people seem to be winning ahead of us, we need to keep our eyes fix on the prize and keep on going. We need to remember that we're not running against other people, we're running with people, towards the finishing line.

During a race there are people there who are only there to help you win. There's the event organisers, the marshals, the people handing out refreshments, the first aid people and the supporters. They aren't there to race but they're there to help you race. They're there to help you win.

This year I attended the Cherish conference in Leeds. It was a brilliant conference that had some incredible international speakers, but it was the opening message by the conference organiser, Charlotte Gambill, that has stuck with me ever since. The message was entitled 'Set her up to win', you can listen to the full message here.

The message was a challenge to us all to not be envious or jealous when our friends are achieving greater things than us, but to support them and cheer them on. By praying for them, loving them, supporting them along the way, setting them up to win means you will also win. Their win will be your win too.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG

When I think about my journey with Be Loved, it hasn't just been me running alone in this race, there has been a whole host of people in it with me.

When my family tell me they're proud of me, they are setting me up to win.

When my friend Emma looks me in the eyes and tells me she believes in me, she is setting me up to win.

When my friend Beatrice tells me I'm brilliant and that I can do this, she is setting me up to win.

When my friend Hannah sat for hours and hours with me and helped me make sense of it all, she was setting me up to win.

When my friend Charlotte helps me with business ideas, she is setting me up to win.

When my friend Lucy took photos of me for my profile, she was setting me up to win.

When my other friend Lucy filmed me for a promotional video, she was setting me up to win.

When my friend Katie edited the Be Loved journal, she was setting me up to win. 

When my friends Hannah and Hannah helped me trial the Be Loved course, they were setting me up to win.

When my whatsaap group of brilliant ladies say they will pray for me, they are setting me up to win.

When my friend Avril drops me an encouraging text or email telling me she's praying for me and cheering me on, she's setting me up to win.

When my friends Emma, Carly, Lucy, Jo, Abi and Leoni tell me I can do it, even when I think I can't, they are all setting me up to win.

When you, my followers, like or share a post or make a positive comment, you are all setting me up to win.

I'm thankful for all the people in my life that are doing this race with me, and I hope that my wins are their wins too.

I also hope that in return they can see that I'm trying to set them up to win. When I say I'll help, I try my best to do all I can to help. When I say I'll pray, I keep those things safe in my heart so I remember to pray. I try to cheer my friends on as best I can and speak positivity into their races.

 

Beloved, keep your eyes fixed on the prize and run your race with grace and perseverance. Setting people up to win along the way. These verses in Philippians sum it up perfectly...

 

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

 

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

 

Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

 

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Saviour, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.”

Philippians 3:12-21 MSG

 

Thank you for running this race with me.

 

Love and be loved

 

Gemma x