Sunday, 29 December 2013

Looking Ahead

Dear Friends,

As we are coming to the end of the year, I find my thoughts going to the new year which will soon be upon us.  Over the last week or so I began to think about "What do I want for 2014?" What are my hopes, my dreams, my goals for the coming year? That is, until God showed me that was the wrong question to be asking.  You see, it's not about me and what I want, instead it's all about God and what he wants for me in 2014.  What does God want for me, for you, in 2014?

It's all very well looking ahead considering what goals and aims I may have for 2014, but if I ignore God in my deliberations then my goals and aims will come to nothing.  Proverbs 19:21 tells us "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails." (NIV) and in Proverbs 16:9 "We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps." (NLT) When we allow God to determine the direction we take then we will have success.

So, I've begun to set aside time over the next few weeks when I can be alone with God and focus on him.  I want to reflect on what's happened during the last year, and for this I'm glad I have kept a journal.  My journal reminds me of the things I have learnt, the direction God has taken me thus far and how he has been preparing me for 2014.  In the times I set aside to be alone with God I would like him to reveal to me the things he wants me to continue with and develop and the things he is telling me to let go of, to leave behind in 2013.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14 "Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ."   (Phillips New Testament)

As I look ahead to 2014 I'm enquiring of God what is his purpose for me for this year?  What direction does he want me to go in?  How can I align myself with him, so that his plan for me becomes my plan too.  Is there something new he wants me to do?  Are there things he wants me to continue in, to develop and grow in certain areas?  What are the desires he has already placed in my heart?  What goals does he want me to focus on? While some goals may be achievable short term, others may be more long term before fruition is seen and it's important to know the difference. God has created you and me, and he has created us for a purpose, so if we want to know what that is we need to take the time to ask him.  We need a sense of direction which only God can give us.  When you know what it is God wants you to do then, when an opportunity presents itself, if it is something that takes you nearer to what God wants for you, you can embrace it, if it isn't then it's not something God wants you to do, no matter how good it may seem.

God is Lord of my whole life, not just a part of my life that's reserved for Sunday mornings.  Because he is Lord of my life I want to know what he wants for me in all areas of my life - in my relationship with him, in my roles of wife and mother and in my ministry.

As I mentioned earlier, I keep a journal, I plan to use it to record all that God has shown me, the plans, goals and aims he sets within me and what he wants me to do.  The time I spend with God at the beginning of 2014 will give me a sense of direction and purpose for the rest of the year.  Having these things written down means I can return to it whenever I want to.  It's about keeping my focus on God and his purpose for me.  This is what will help me to keep to the path he has set before me and it will help me to keep pursuing it even when it gets difficult or I doubt myself.  Hebrews 12:1-2 "And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith." (NLT)

One thing that has already come out of the time I have spent with God is that this coming year I want to read through the whole of the bible again.  It's been some years since I read it through and this year I want to read it in a chronological bible.  It will probably be a good idea to choose someone I can be accountable to, who will encourage me and also give me a nudge when I need it to keep going.   Telling you what I plan to do also gives me more incentive to do it (maybe that's why I've mentioned it!)  For those of you who know me, I give you permission to check on me to see how I'm doing!  Perhaps you may sense God telling you to try it too.  We could encourage each other then, and leave comments on my blog or message me on Facebook.  I plan to use the reading plan given by Bible Gateway.  Here's the link if you are interested in doing the same:

To Think About:
 Plan in some time to review 2013.  What have you learnt about God this year?  What direction has he taken you in?  How has God shown you he loves you and is with you?

Make some time early this year to enquire of God what he wants for you in 2014.  Record it in a way you prefer so that you can refer to it over the coming months.


Friday, 20 December 2013

Jesus Christ - The Reason for the Season

Dear Friends,

"Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel which means ‘God is with us’." Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

What a great name 'Immanuel' is - 'God is with us'. Jesus Christ came to live among us and he is the reason why we celebrate Christmas. What an incredible, indescribable gift God gave to us on that first Christmas, over 2000 years ago.  God has given us the gift of Jesus that we might know what it means to have God with us, to know his presence which never leaves us, to know he is with us, he is for us, not against us which means we are blessed not only by his presence but also by his protection over us.

This year as I prepare for Christmas  I've been more deliberate about keeping Jesus Christ as my focus and at the centre of everything I do, rather than focusing on what I think needs to be done. When I'm not deliberate about it then I find I easily become caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas - shopping for gifts, planning the menus,  food shopping, sending cards and letters etc.  And the one who it is all about, the one who's birth-day we celebrate is relegated to the side lines, rather than being at the centre of it all. 

Here's some of the things I've been doing, and maybe you'll find some helpful suggestions for yourself as you read on:

I enjoy music and singing (I may not be any good at it but God has blessed me with an  enjoyment of it!) so in November, out come my Christmas Carols CD, they are set to come on when my alarm goes off in the morning, I sing along to them as I drive my car, I play them and sing along as I do my housework, as I wrap presents and write my Christmas cards.

I found out about a Ladies Christmas Celebration Day early in December and a group of friends and I put aside the day to go together to worship God.  All the things we needed to do were left for another time so that we could focus on God and the birth of his son, Jesus.  We sang carols, listened to a message about Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) and her Christmas Expectations and we enjoyed a festive lunch together.  This day was God's gift to us, and in return, we gave our him our time and worship.

One day last week I went into town to do some Christmas shopping, it wasn't long before I was in need of a break so I decided to go along to my favourite coffee place.  While I was there, I realised to my surprise that a friend was already seated with her own coffee.  I knew God had lead me there at that time so that my friend and I might sit and chat together, and as we did so I was aware of God being right there with us in our discussions. God had given us that time that we might pause and refocus on him and to remind us that he is right there with us in everything we do, directing our steps, and both my friend and I went away from that time feeling very blessed. 

In one of my regular devotional emails I receive the writer made the suggestion of praying during the week for each of the people we give Christmas presents to.  I thought that was such a good idea and I was glad for the suggestion, so simple and obvious when told, but something I had failed to see for myself.

This morning I was so taken up with the list of things that needed to be done today (I'm very much a list person and this time of year I have numerous lists for all kinds of things!)  I knew my feelings of anxiety and worry were getting out of hand, so I just stopped everything and took my concerns to God because I knew I was in danger of getting so swept up in trying to accomplish things that I was loosing my peace and joy and if I wasn't careful God would once again be placed on the side lines rather than at the centre.  As I did, it made such a difference, my to do list didn't disappear but my attitude changed, and God was right where he should be once more.

This Christmas I don't want it to be all about what I think needs to be done, I don't want to be so busy that I ignore God or forget him, I don't want it to be all about rushing from one task to another.  I don't want to miss out on what it's really all about - the wonderful gift of Jesus and celebrating his birth with family and friends.

To Think About:
What are some of the things you can do to ensure that Jesus is at the centre of your Christmas?

Sometimes we get caught up in doing many things which may not actually need to be done, but we do them because we think we ought to, because we think we should do them, and we place pressure on ourselves that God never intended to be on us.  Perhaps you need to take a look again at what you are doing and ask God to show you if there are some things that can be left off your to do list, so that instead you can use that time to be with friends and family and celebrate Jesus' birth and all that means for us.


Friday, 13 December 2013

A King Worthy of Our Worship

Dear Friends,

Over the past few weeks my family and I have been watching "I'm a celebrity...get me out of here!"  We've watched as a group of celebrities who don't know each other are dropped off in the Australian jungle for a few weeks. They take little with them into the camp, they sleep on camp beds and cook basic food on the camp fire.  They take part in various gruesome trials and face elimination from the jungle by public vote until just one person, the winner, is left. The one who is the last to leave is crowned King (or Queen) of the Jungle.  Although they may not all admit to it, they have selfish reasons for participating in this reality tv show, whether it's money, or to further their career or to win public approval.  To some people it would be viewed as quite a feat as the celebrities face and survive the jungle, with one person winning the victory by lasting the longest.

But, I know of one who has done something far more incredible and it's good for us to be reminded of it at this time of year.

Of course, I'm thinking about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who gave up his place in heaven, his position, everything, to come to earth, to be born in a place reserved for animals, with a feeding trough as his first bed.  Philippians 2:6-7 says this "Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being." (NLT)

He did this, not for some selfish reason and not to win people's approval (actually the religious leaders at that time definitely disapproved of him and hated him, even going as far as manipulating the situation to have him killed.)  Jesus came to earth for purely unselfish reasons.  He came to restore our relationship to God, to take the punishment we deserve for our sins and to bring us life, peace, hope, love and joy.  When the angels announced his arrival to shepherds they said   “'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.' 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.'”  Luke 2:10-14 (NLT)
The trials the celebrities faced in the jungle were nothing compared to the trials Jesus endured as he walked this earth for about 33 years.  The greatest trial he faced and overcame was death on a cross.  The passage we read in Philippians continues in verse 8 with "he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross." (NLT)  Jesus Christ went to the cross for my sake, for your sake, because "God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life." John 3:16 (Amplified Bible)

Jesus is victorious, he defeated the devil and his plans, he overcame death, our final enemy: "54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 (NLT)

The last celebrity remaining in the jungle is crowned King (or Queen) of the Jungle.  In reality, this means very little.  However, Jesus, our victor is crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  "For at just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords." 1 Timothy 6:15 (NLT)  As such, he alone is worthy of our worship and adoration.

Let's go back to Philippians 2 and read verses 9-11 "Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (NLT).

As we look forward to Christmas let's remember all that Jesus Christ gave up to come to earth, to live as a man, that we might be reconciled with God and have eternal life.  As we celebrate Jesus' birth, we can also worship him as King and Lord of our life.

To Think About:
Make time during the coming week to worship Jesus our King and Saviour.

God has given us the greatest gift of all, his son, Jesus.  In response to this what will you give to God?



Friday, 6 December 2013

Where Is God When I'm Hurting? Part 2

Dear Friends,

This week follows on from last week so you may find it helpful to read or re-read last week's post. I wrote how we can know, even during our trials, that God loves us, cares about us and is with us in our pain.  You may remember that I shared about Jess' experience at the dentist, that it was painful to endure it, but that it was in her best interests that she did so.

God, our loving heavenly Father, allows us to sometimes go through difficult and painful circumstances because they are ultimately for our good.  He uses these times to grow our faith in him, to deepen our trust, and to take us on in our Christian journey. For example, James says to his readers  "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." James 1:2-4 (NLT).

Be encouraged that whatever difficult and painful time you are going through, whatever trial you are facing right now which shows no sign of ending no matter how much you pray, God will be using it for your good. Now, I know you may not want to hear that right now, but I do believe there will come a time, perhaps when you have come through the other side, that you will be able to see that God was able to bring something good from it.  When you look to God and trust him, none of it will be wasted.  Did you want to skim over the first verse you read?  James tells us that we are to see the trial as an opportunity for great joy.  Really James?  Yes, really!  But let me clarify what he means - James is not saying rejoice in the trial itself, the breakdown of a relationship, financial difficulties, redundancy, miscarriage, chronic illness etc., that would be crazy, but, we can, when we trust and lean on God, have joy in who our God is and all that he has done for us, all that he has given us and all that he is doing in us. It  doesn't mean that we are in denial as we go through the trial, but it does mean that instead of being focused on the trial itself, we focus on God.

The experiences Paul writes about in his letters and that are written about him in the book of Acts have given me much encouragement in the past, and continue to do so today.  He experienced persecution, torture, floggings, shipwrecks and imprisonment.  In his second letter to the Corinthians he wrote about his thorn in the flesh, something that was giving him considerable torment and the cause of much personal suffering.  We don't know exactly what his thorn in the flesh was, but not knowing what it was actually helps us to relate it to whatever we are suffering.  This is what he wrote about it  "Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT)

In the midst of our difficulties, our hurts, God is right there and we have the wonderful promise that his grace is sufficient for us.  It's God's grace that enables us to bear up under the weight of the trial so that we are not overcome by it.  The truth is that God's power works best in our weakness and we can be strong because of God's power in us.  I can testify to the truth of this, there have been numerous times in my life when God has worked despite my weaknesses or perhaps even because of them.  When I acknowledge to him that I am too weak, that I have limitations, that I need to depend and rely on him, then I give him the opportunity and room to work through me.  My illness is a constant reminder that I can do nothing without him and at the same time can do all that he has planned for me to do because he is working in me, giving me the strength I need. I find that incredible and so encouraging.  The truth of those verses never gets old to me, every time I read them or think about them I get a thrill from deep within my very being, and within I shout "Amen!  Hallelujah!" 

I like the way The Message paraphrases these verses (v7-10): "Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, 'My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.'  Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become."

Be encouraged dear friends, that God is with you when you're hurting, that he can and will use these times for good.  Joseph was able to say to his brothers, years after the hurt they had caused him, "19 But Joseph replied, 'Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.'" Genesis 50:19-20a (NLT).

Not only is God with us, we can also know the gift of his grace which enables us to withstand and overcome the trial.

To Think About:
Read Joseph's story in Genesis 37, 39-50 to learn how Joseph was able to say what he did in Genesis 50:19-20a.  What can you learn from his example?

Can you look back over your life and see how God has taken what was a bad experience and has brought good from it?

Have you experienced a time when you have recognised that you are weak and need to rely on his strength to enable you to serve him?  When you have experienced his grace working in you?  What were the results of depending on him?




Friday, 29 November 2013

Where Is God When I'm Hurting?

Dear Friends,

We recently had our bi-annual family outing to the dentist.  I don't mind having a check up at the dentist; to tell you the truth, I'd rather have a dentist appointment than an appointment with the doctor.  Jess, on the other hand, does not like visiting the dentist. 

At this particular appointment the dentist wanted to clean her teeth as there was a build up of plaque.  If she was tense before that comment, she was even more tense now, especially as he told her to just lift her hand if it got too painful.  As I sat watching the proceedings I could tell she was anxious, scared and in pain at times.  Now, the casual observer would not have picked up on it, but, as her mother, and  knowing her so well, I knew exactly how she was feeling.  I found it very hard to sit and watch my little girl suffering (at 12 years old she doesn't like me calling her that, but that's what she is to me!) and my natural instinct as her Mum was to do anything I could to protect her.  But, at the same time, I knew that she needed to sit there and experience the painful situation, it was in her best interests as she would then have healthier teeth and gums.  Knowing that did not make it any easier for me.  So I did the one thing I was able to do for her, I prayed for her.

We too face, at one time or another, difficulties and trials, in fact, you may be in the middle of one right now.  We want God to act, to do something to alleviate the pain, to stop whatever it is that's causing us anxiety and hurt.  But when he doesn't, we think he doesn't care about us or he would do something, that he can't really love us, if he did, surely he would act?  We may think like that, but that's not the truth, God does care and he does love us.  In Nahum 1:7 it says "The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him," (NIV) and Paul says in his letter to the Romans that  "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39 (NLT).  In his letter to the Ephesians he writes "Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God." Ephesians 3:17-19.  These are important truths for us to hang onto when we listen to the Devil's lies and begin to doubt God's love for us. 

God's truth is for each one who puts their trust in him and to really grasp hold of the truth it can be helpful to personalise it by putting yourself into the verse.  God wants you to know that what he is saying is for you, right now, whatever your circumstances.  Let me give you an example: Romans 8:38-39 could be reworded as "And I, Vicki, am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither my fears for today nor my worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate me from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate me from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus my Lord." It really brings it home for me, yes God is saying this to everyone who believes in him, and yes, there's the sense that he's also saying it just for me too! 

I can remember some verses easier than others because I've known and loved them for years, but for those I don't remember I have a habit of writing them onto card or paper and putting them near my bedside table where I can see and read them regularly.  It's a great place for me as I spend quite a bit of time in my bedroom.  We need to know and be reminded of the truth, especially when going through pain and difficulties. 

Another verse that means a great deal to me and proves to me that God cares is this: "You (God) keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book." Psalm 56:8 (NLT).  This verse is precious to me because it shows me that God is close enough to me to hear and see what I'm going through, he cares enough to collect my tears in a bottle and he is right there with me. He's been with me as I've cried because of my depression, when I've cried because of pain and frustration and when I've cried when no-one else has been around to hear.  This brings me such comfort.  

God does love and care for us and he is with us as we face pain and difficulties; whether we do or don't feel his presence with us does not alter the truth that he is there.  Just as I was with Jess all the time she sat in the dentist chair, she may not have been fully aware I was there, because she was wrapped up in what she was going through, but I was there just the same, and I was praying for her.

Next week will be a follow up of this week's.

To Think About:
If you're facing a difficult time right now, ask God to help you know that he is with you in the midst of the trial and that he loves and cares for you.

Consider putting verses that encourage you onto card and placing them where you will see them often throughout the day, eg your kitchen fridge, in your wallet, on the dashboard of your car etc. Pray them when you are struggling to believe God's truth over the devil's lies.

Why not take a verse that is encouraging to you and personalise it yourself, just as I did with Romans 8:38-39.  Does it change the way you think and understand that verse?


Friday, 22 November 2013

Christ's Personal Representative

Dear Friends,

In Ephesians 4:1 (NIV) Paul urges us "to live a life worthy of the calling you have received".  Our calling is to follow Christ and be his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT) or as the Amplified Bible puts it "Christ's personal representatives".

That's quite a privilege and a responsibility isn't it?  I need to remember as I go about my daily business, that I'm Christ's personal representative.  I am to represent him in the things I say and do. 

This week I needed to go to my local pharmacy to collect and pay for some of Jason's and my prescriptions.  Now, I'm no maths genius but I could tell from the figure the chemist gave me that she had totalled it up wrong, she had missed off the cost of one of the prescriptions.  As a follower of Christ and one of his representatives, I knew that I needed to point out that she had undercharged me.  She thanked me for my honesty and seemed surprised I had pointed out her mistake to her.

In any situation we face, you and I, as Christ's ambassadors, have a choice to make regarding our actions and speech.  In my encounter with the chemist I could have chosen not to reveal that a mistake had been made.  It may be tempting to think, I'm not hurting anyone, it's the cashier's fault, no-one will know about it or I'm glad she got it wrong, money's been tight this month.  But even though it was the cashier who had made the mistake, for me to keep quiet about it is dishonest and stealing.  Not such a great representative of Christ, is it?  I can tell myself, nobody is hurt by this, but the truth is that others are hurt by it, and more importantly God is grieved over my actions, I've sinned and I too am hurt by my actions as it damages my relationship with God.  Whilst others may not find out about my dishonest actions, I will always know and God definitely knows, we can't hide anything from him.  When I make the right choices I am representing Christ in such a way that brings glory to God.

God has provided us with the power and the authority to be Christ's representative to the world by giving us his Holy Spirit.  We need to listen to his voice as he prompts us to certain actions, as he prompts us in what to say, and as he guides us against other actions.  The more we listen to him and follow his guidance, the more familiar we will be with his voice and the easier it gets to recognise him.  The opposite is also true, when we resist his leading and direction time after time, choosing our own way, it becomes less easy to hear and recognise his voice.

As Christ's ambassadors we are here to give an accurate representation of who Christ is.  We need to make sure that we are portraying Christ well to those who don't yet know him.  I am his representative at all times, wherever I am and whoever I'm with; whether at home as I take care of my family, at work with my colleagues, at church, socialising with friends, waiting in a queue or chatting with neighbours. They need to see Christ in us so that we can share with them the good news of knowing Christ for themselves.  As Christ's representatives we are to share his message of peace and reconciliation with God.  If we are to accurately represent Christ to the world, then we need to know him well ourselves.  Christ is not to be some passing acquaintance, or a distant relative who we see every now and again.  We're to know him as we know our closest friends, to know him in depth just as we know our husband or wife.  The only way that we will truly know Christ is by spending time with him, quality time with him, not a few minutes grabbed here and there.

To Think About:
Do you know Christ to such a level that you are able to give an accurate representation of him?  If the answer is no, what will you do to change this?

When is it easier to represent him and when is it harder?  Ask God for his help, especially when it is hard.

In what area of your life do you think God may be challenging you to become a better representative?  Will you take up the challenge?


Friday, 15 November 2013

A Spiritual Health Check

Dear Friends,

This week I was given a free NHS Health Check. The check is offered to everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 and is part of a national scheme to help prevent the onset of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and stroke and helps you to "be better prepared for the future and be able to take steps to maintain or improve your health."  I had a blood test to check my cholesterol level, my blood pressure was taken and my height and weight measured.  I was declared healthy in regards to those health problems and encouraged to maintain my health with a healthy diet and exercise.

This physical health check got me thinking and I made the decision this week to have a spiritual health check too.  Just as I needed the help of a professional to take me through my physical, I knew I wasn't qualified to do my spiritual health check on my own - I needed the help of the Holy Spirit to take me through it as he is the one who can help me identify any areas of concern and he is also able to help me deal with them so that I can maintain and improve my spiritual health.

So with the Holy Spirit and God's Word I attended my personal spiritual health check and have outlined the process below:
Prayer: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."  (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT)

1. My Heart: Do I have a servant heart?  Do I love the things God loves?  Is God at the centre of my heart?  Am I harbouring any unhealthy feelings that need to be dealt with, such as anger, fear, worry, bitterness, pride, unforgiveness, jealousy?

Prayer: "Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10 NLT)

2. My Mind: this concerns my thought life.  What occupies my mind?  What kinds of things am I allowing my mind to dwell on - are they healthy or unhealthy things?  Do I have any unhealthy attitudes?

3. My Mouth: What kind of speech comes out of my mouth?  Do I gossip?  Lie?  Boast?  Discourage?  Criticise?  Is my speech judgmental?  Or do I speak words of encouragement?  Words that are loving and compassionate? Uplifting?  Truthful?  Words that give praise to God?  Jesus said "A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart." Luke 6:45 (NLT).  The things that I say give me a good indication as to the spiritual health of my heart. 

Prayer: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." (Psalm 19:14 NLT)

4. My Hands and Feet: this concerns my actions.  What am I doing with my time?  Do I use it wisely?  Am I seeking to do God's will?  Is there an area of my life where I am being disobedient to God?  Is there any unhealthy behaviour in my life?

Prayer:  "Thank you God that you have begun a good work in me, and thank you that you will continue your work in my life until it is completed when Jesus returns." (based on Philippians 1:6)

With the Holy Spirit's guidance I went through each of the four areas I've mentioned, whenever he pointed out sin in my life, I confessed it, repented of it and asked for God's forgiveness.  He showed me areas where I needed to change and promised he would help me.  And he also showed me areas where I was to maintain, with his help, my spiritual health.

At the end of my physical health check I asked the nurse when my next one would be, only to be told that this was a one off free health check.  I'm so glad a spiritual health check isn't a one off.  It is necessary that you and I regularly set aside time with God to examine the state of our spiritual health, so that the Holy Spirit can reveal to us anything unhealthy, and then our health can be restored as we work with him, following his leading and guidance. Our spiritual health is maintained by keeping a close relationship with God and allowing him to speak into our life, by regularly reading the bible (a healthy diet) and by applying it to our lives and putting it into practice (healthy exercise).

To Think About:
Make time in the next week or so to have your own spiritual health check.  You may want to use what I've shared as a starting point or you may feel led by God to do it differently.

The nurse I saw gave me a record of her findings.  If you keep a journal you may find it helpful to keep a record of your spiritual health check so when you repeat it you have something to compare it with.


Friday, 8 November 2013

"Following My Leader"

Dear Friends,

At the school my children attend they are re-introducing the prefect system. (Make sure you read that correctly the prefect system not perfect system!!) Whereas in the past, most Year 11 (final year of secondary school) students were prefects, this time there is a process to go through and if the student is successful then he/she is given the position of prefect.

Josh has decided to apply to be a prefect.  He has submitted his application form, the next stage will involve an interview and then there's a third stage before the final decision is made.  Now, I know that Josh would make an excellent prefect - he is hard working, he has good relationships with staff and his peers, and I can remember him telling me a year or so ago how his friends (boys and girls) would come to him for advice if they'd got any problems.  He would be a great role model for the younger students and be an influence for good.  To be selected for the role of prefect is a privilege and a responsibility.  A privilege because not everyone is suited to it and a responsibility because others will be watching more closely.  If they see a prefect with a bad attitude, or misbehaving or speaking in a wrong manner, students will think if it's ok for him then it's ok for them and the prefect will have a bad influence on them, but if the prefect sets a good example they can influence them for good.

I'm reminded of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11: 1 "Pattern yourselves after me [follow my example], as I imitate and follow Christ (the Messiah)." (Amplified Bible) 

Earlier in his life Paul wrote in another letter "So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia." 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 (NLT).

As a child I used to play the game "Follow my leader".  One child is chosen to be the leader and the rest of us would follow them, copying them wherever they went.  If you couldn't see the leader then you could copy the child in front who you hoped was doing a good job of copying the leader.  It meant watching very closely so you didn't miss what was happening.

As Christians we are to follow, copy, imitate the example of Jesus Christ.  If we are going to do this well then we need to keep in close step with him, spend time with him and study the bible.  It can also help to build up a close relationship with a mature Christian who you trust, watch their behaviour, the way they speak, how they respond in different situations.  And also talk with them and ask them questions to learn more about how to live the Christian life.

As Christians we are to be an example to others, just as the Thessalonians were an example to other believers in Greece.   Imitating Christ is also a good way to point others to him.  We can influence people more by the way we live, rather than by just telling them about Christ.

It can be quite daunting, what happens when I mess up, what kind of example is that to others?  Well, we're not perfect (only Christ lived a perfect life on earth) and the truth is we will at times get things wrong, we will mess up, we will sin, however, we can still be an example to others as they watch how we respond to our mistakes, such as when we've lost our temper or hurt someone by our actions, what do we do to restore our relationship with them?  We need to be open about our need to confess to God when we have sinned and seek his forgiveness.  It helps them to then know that there is something positive to do when they have sinned.  That there is restoration for our relationships both with God and others, and that just because they have messed up it does not mean that they can no longer follow Christ. 

There will always be people in our life who we have an influence over, such as our children, our husband, close friend, work colleague, a younger Christian.  It's not about saying to them, hey, look at me, I'm such a good Christian, but rather, we do things in such a way that we are reflecting Christ and pointing them to God, so that they see him in us. John the Baptist said of Jesus: "He must become greater; I must become less." John 3:30 (NIV)  Let's commit to following, copying, imitating Christ and in doing so let's make sure our influence is for good so that others will want to copy our example and so that God is glorified.

To Think About:
What does it mean to you to imitate Christ?

Who has been the biggest help and influence in your Christian journey so far?  Why is that and how have they done this?

As you practice what you have learned, who is there in your life right now who would benefit from having you as their role model?


Friday, 1 November 2013

A Rainbow Moment

Dear Friends,

I get a thrill every time I see a rainbow, as much now as an adult as I did when I was a child and noticed a rainbow. I just can't help it, it fills me with joy and wonder, and an "Oh wow!" escapes my lips.  There's something so special about a rainbow, with it's colours and perfectly created arc shape in the sky. 

My family and I were travelling home having spent a lovely weekend with my sister and her family.  It was late Monday morning following one of the biggest storms we have experienced for some years.  The worst of the storm was over, but the sky was still overcast, it was cold, windy and at times there was heavy rain.

Then, in the midst of this, the sun came out from behind the clouds and a beautiful rainbow appeared.  We could see it from one end of the bow to the other.  I'm so glad I was awake to see it (often the motion of the car ride sends me off to sleep!)  

It was back in the time of a man called Noah after he and his family survived the flood whilst in the ark, when God first made a rainbow as a sign to Noah that he would never again flood the whole world.  It's a promise that God made and has kept ever since. "Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come.  I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.  When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Genesis 9:12-16 (NLT) It's not just that the rainbow is a thing of beauty created by God which holds an attraction for me, it's also because when I see a rainbow it reminds me that God is faithful, that he is a maker and keeper of promises and for me it's a reminder that he is present in the world today.

At one time or another we will all face the storms of life, these storms vary in length and intensity and can come from a variety of sources, such as facing a serious illness, a financial crisis, a marriage breakdown, the loss of a loved one, unemployment, a rebellious child etc.  But I believe that in these storms God sends us "a rainbow moment" when we get a glimpse of his presence with us in the storm and reminds us that we're not facing the storm alone, that he cares and he's right there with us, when he proves his faithfulness once again to us, when he reminds us that he will keep the promises he's made to us, that we will come through the storm and that we won't be blown over and we won't be consumed by it.  That he will give us the power and strength we need to stand and to stand firm!  God says to each one of us "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour." Isaiah 43:2-3 (NLT)  And Peter gives this word of encouragement to his readers: "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are."  1 Peter 5: 8-9 (NLT)

These "rainbow moments" don't necessarily need to take place in a church building, although they may do as we gather with our church family.  A "rainbow moment" can happen through a worship song you hear on a CD, during a time of quiet alone with God, through a passage of the bible, you may experience it whilst out for a walk along the beach, it can be seen when your husband comes home with a bunch of flowers for you, when you share a precious moment with your child as you settle them down for the night, when a friend invites you out for a coffee, or phones you up because they felt God prompting them to ring you, although they didn't know why.  These are special "rainbow moments" when God via a variety of means, connects with you in your storm to remind you that he knows, and more importantly he cares, that he has not left you alone, that he is with you always and that this storm, like any other, will pass.

But these special "rainbow moments" can easily be missed by us.  Just like I would have missed the rainbow last Monday morning if I had been sleeping.  If we are too focused on the storm itself - the darkness that's trying to consume us, the wind trying to knock us down and keep us down, the rain trying to flood us and make us feel like we're drowning in the onslaught, then we fail to recognise and fail to see God's "rainbow moment" that he's created especially for us.

As we continue to seek God, to believe in his faithfulness and love for us, as we spend time in his presence, praying and reading the bible, we will be more tuned in to him, and more aware so that we can learn to see and recognise these "rainbow moments".

To Think About:
Look back over the storms of your life.  As you do so, can you recognise any "rainbow moments" God has given you?

Are you in a storm right now?  Ask God to help you see his presence with you and ask him for a "rainbow moment".

It may be that God wants you to be that "rainbow moment" in the life of another person.  Listen to the promptings he places in your heart and thoughts and then do something about with it. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Gift of Encouragement

Dear Friends,

My sister and I were blessed to grow up in a home where our parents always encouraged us.  We were encouraged to do our best, encouraged in our efforts, encouraged to be the person God wanted us to be and to live the life God intended for us.  We were encouraged in our hopes and ambitions and to pursue our dreams.  We were encouraged to keep going when we encountered setbacks.  This encouragement helped us to see ourselves as God sees us, as someone worth loving and someone of value.

It helped me to also see how important it is to regularly encourage my own children.  I encourage my daughter Jess when she shows me a piece of homework that she has worked hard on and tried her best. I did this again just recently and in the smile she gave me I could almost see evidence of how it was nourishing and nurturing her very being.  It installed some confidence and belief in herself that she had done well.  Recently too with my son, Josh, I told him how proud I was when he had made a decision that while right, had not been easy to make.  I believe it's important to encourage our children so that they have the courage to make difficult decisions in life.

When I trained as a teacher I again learnt the value of encouraging my pupils.  So many needed encouragement for their efforts and their behaviour and to realise their own self-worth.  The results when you encourage children are wonderful, it makes them believe they can achieve more and that they do have the ability to behave well.  Too many children are told that they are worthless, that they are stupid, that they're no good, and if they're told it enough times then they begin to believe it as truth and act on it.

We need regular encouragement as much as children do, and yet, though I'm determined to encourage children, for some reason I think (and wrongly so) that it's just not necessary to encourage adults.

I'm aware over the last few weeks just how much I've personally been blessed by various people encouraging me.  I really feel as though it's been showered on me and I can't tell you how much it has meant to me, whether it's been face to face, or by email, texts, phone calls.  And, whether they've known it or not, I know that ultimately it's been God encouraging me through them.  So if I know how much encouragement means to me, why am I not doing it more for others?

The bible shows us how important it is that we encourage one another.  For example, Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians writes "and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith," 1 Thessalonians  3:2 (NLT)  and later in that letter he writes  "11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. (ESV)  Our God is a God who encourages and there are examples of this throughout the bible, just one example of this was when God encouraged Joshua to take over from Moses as leader of the Israelites (Joshua 1:1-9).  In Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians he writes  "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV).

When we give others encouragement it helps them to continue in their Christian journey, it strengthens their resolve and commitment to their faith, when we encourage them in how they are seeking to use the gifts and talents God has given them, it affirms for them that they are doing what God has called them to do and it strengthens them in their service.  Encouragement helps people to live courageously, it helps them to persevere during times of difficulty, it encourages them to continue to be obedient to God and it comforts them in times of trouble.

It costs us very little effort to encourage another person when compared with how much it means to the one who receives the encouragement.  Let's determine together to be regular encouragers.

To Think About:
What has it meant to you when someone has taken the time to encourage you?

Who has God used to be an encouragement to you?  Take some time in prayer thanking God for that person in your life.

Ask God this coming week to place on your heart someone who is in need of encouragement, and ask him to show you how best you can encourage them.


Friday, 18 October 2013

"Do You Dare To Change?"

Dear Friends,

I don't usually pay much attention to television adverts, but there's been one recently that has really caught my eye and inspired me.  Not so much what it's advertising but the actual content of it.  It's about the high jump athlete, Dick Fosbury and the voiceover says "When every high jump athlete jumped forward, Dick Fosbury dared to jump backwards."  This was in 1968 when just one man (Fosbury) out of the 27 high jump athletes jumped backwards.  In 1972 the number using Dick Fosbury's technique rose to 28 out of 40, in 1980 it was 23 out of 28 and in 2012, 26 out of 26 now used his technique!

In an interview he said "When you believe in something, that's when you really go for it...even though that was the standard technique (jumping forwards) I really believed there was some other way to jump over the bar."  He continued to say that he came up with the backwards technique that would help not only himself but other athletes too.  He said he had to avoid the critics, work hard at it because he was convinced that this would succeed and by actually jumping backwards he proved there was another way to jump over the bar.  He ends the interview by saying: "Do you dare to change?"

I'm struck by the spiritual principles there are in this and that's what I want to share today because it's encouraging, and like I said earlier, inspiring.

Our culture, our society, our world says there is one way for us to live and we are expected to live by its rules, its standards, which, in many ways, are contrary to God's standards.  We read in Romans 12:2 "Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (NLT) or as the Amplified version puts it: "Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]."

God's standard means that we are to live differently to the world, we are not to copy them, we are to be transformed by God's power in us and transformation begins in our mind, and having our mind renewed by new ideals and new attitudes.  We are to be like Christ in the way we think, act and speak.  Romans 8:28-30 "Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest of a family of many brothers. He chose them long ago; when the time came he called them, he made them righteous in his sight, and then lifted them to the splendour of life as his own sons." (Phillips)

Do you dare to be different?  Do you dare to change?  To show others that there is a better way to live?  Do you dare to show them that having Jesus as Lord of your life enables you to live the life that God intended for you along. Jesus said in John 10:10 "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." (The Message)

Dick Fosbury said 3 things which I want to adapt for us:
1. Don't pay attention to those who criticise you - don't listen or allow the world to dictate how you should live, don't listen when they try to convince you that there's is the only way to live, don't be persuaded by their arguments, don't give up on living differently, living by God's standards because you know they are best and are right.  Remember, we're not here to fit in with the world's standards and we're not here to please them, the only one we seek to please is Jesus and our goal is to bring God glory.

2. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit living within you to enable you to live that changed life - will power alone just won't do it, I know, I've tried.  The Holy Spirit gives us the boldness, the courage and the power we need to live differently and with his help we can dare to change.

3. Prove there's another, better way to live - by living it out.  As Dick Fosbury said "When you believe in something, that's when you really go for it..."  If I really believe God loves me, if I really believe what the bible says, then I will go for it, my faith in God will be shown in my actions.  Dick Fosbury believed that what he was doing would help not only himself but other athletes too.  For us, when we take up the challenge and dare to change, dare to be different for God, then it will bless others as well as ourselves.

I find this very exciting, but I admit, very challenging too!  If I've made you feel a little uncomfortable, don't worry, I'm also feeling uncomfortable!  But, despite the discomfort, let's decide to go for it, and let's encourage one another as we do.  Let's keep in mind that we want others to see Jesus in us, we want them to be drawn to him and discover for themselves that better life, the eternal life that he offers each of us when we come to him.

To Think About:
Ask God to show you if there are any areas of your life where you have been conforming to the world's way of living and ask him to give you the power, the courage, to change, the boldness to live differently.

Could God be asking you to review how you do something at home, work or in your ministry etc. and change the way you do it, not necessarily because it's wrong, but because there's another, more effective way of doing it?

Do others see Jesus in your life as you seek to live for him?