Saturday, 31 August 2013

Living With Purpose

Dear Friends,

This past week we have been on holiday with our friends, the Badawi family.  For a treat, Jason booked for Claudine and me to have cream tea at Aunt Martha's Victorian Tea Rooms.  

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Treasures of Darkness

Dear Friends,

"Treasures of Darkness" may seem like  a contradiction in itself, but this is actually what God promises us.

God gave me some real encouragement one morning during my quiet time with him, just at the time I needed it most, and it's this that I want to share with you today.

In Isaiah 45:3 we read "And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches.  I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name." (NLT)

Many of us will, at one time or another, go through an experience of "darkness"; an intense time both in the length and depth of the suffering or trial.  It may be a time of chronic illness, financial difficulty, unemployment, a relationship breakdown, depression etc.  Whatever it is, it's a time when you feel you are very much on your own, no-one is able to fully understand and all around is that heavy darkness where you can't see any way out or any improvement, and in fact the situation just seems to get worse.  Maybe in the beginning friends and family supported you, you leaned on and received comfort from them, and you drew from their faith in God.  But over time they have drifted away, caught up in the busyness of their own lives and commitments, or they have just unintentionally forgotten that you are still struggling in a trial.

God has treasures that he wants to bless us with in the midst of these particularly dark times.  Just what are these treasures?  They are divine blessings stored up for us in secret places, the secret place of the trial which no-one else enters into apart from the one experiencing the trial, and it is the treasure of really 'knowing' God as Lord.  Our relationship goes from one where we know him to some extent and have experienced him in our life to one of real intimacy and friendship where we can share everything with God and really develop our relationship with him.  Wow!  What an eternal treasure and blessing - to have an intimate relationship with our Lord.

It's also in these dark times that we experience the treasure of learning to really lean on God and trust him completely.  He is the only one who is always there for us, he is always reliable, and he loves us unconditionally.

Consider the example of Job.  He was a godly man who suffered greatly.  But at the end of it he was able to say "I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes." Job 42:5 (NLT).  He too experienced the "treasures of darkness"; going from one level in his relationship with God to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God.

Another treasure is that God calls us by name.  He knows us so intimately that he uses our name when he speaks to us.  In Old Testament times names were so important because they were an indication of a person's character and nature.  God knows me and you as individuals, he knows what I'm like, my character and nature, and yet he still wants an intimate relationship with me and with you.

It makes it easier to bear the trial when you realise that there are "treasures of darkness" that God wants to bless you with.  No-one would choose to put themselves through unnecessary suffering, but knowing the eternal blessings that are available to me from God's hands, that he desires an intimate relationship with me, means that I would rather go through a trial trusting God and his sovereignty than escape it and miss out on the treasures of darkness he has stored for me in secret places.

To Think About:
Have you discovered the "treasures of darkness" that God has stored up for you in the secret place?

What treasures has he given you?

Has God become more real to you in the midst of the darkness?

You may like to read the account of Job in the book of Job.


Friday, 16 August 2013

Valley of Trouble or Door of Hope

Dear Friends,

Have you ever read a passage from the bible, when a verse jumps out at you, God grabs your attention and speaks to you through it?  You’ve read the passage before but had never noticed that verse there, perhaps because on previous readings it wasn’t what you needed that particular day, or perhaps you hadn’t tuned yourself to hear God’s voice, but this time it’s different because today it’s what you really need to hear from God.

I experienced this as I was reading Hosea Chapter 2.  God is speaking about his people, the Israelites, who have been unfaithful to him.  Despite their unfaithfulness, God is faithful in his love for them.  He says to his prophet, Hosea: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.  I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”  Hosea 2:14-15 (NKJV)

The Valley of Achor when translated means Valley of Trouble, it was a deep, difficult place to be in.  Do you notice how God says he will bring his people, who he loves, into this Valley of Trouble, this wilderness, this desert place.

Is this where you find yourself right now, in a deep, difficult, troublesome place, a wilderness?  You may be there as a consequence of your own actions, perhaps you have turned your back on God, been unfaithful to him, chosen to go your own way as the Israelites had done, or perhaps you are in this place because God has brought you there for a reason.  Sometimes he allows us to go through trials in order to teach us and to develop our faith, to trust him in the darkness, in the wilderness, where you feel completely on your own.

Sometimes we are so busy, so concerned with doing all manner of things, that we aren’t able to be quiet and hear God’s voice speaking to us in our busyness, or we surround ourselves with so many things and people that there are too many voices clamouring for our attention.  Then, the only way God can gain our attention is by taking us to the Valley of Trouble.  A place where we feel there is nothing and no-one for us to lean on, we feel deserted and alone and it’s in this place that we are then free from distractions and leaning on others so that we are finally free to hear God speaking to us.  God said in those verses that it is there that he will “speak comfort to her”.  He’s not taking us to this deep, difficult wilderness to punish us, to speak sternly to us, to tear us down, to tell us how wrong we’ve got it, no, he takes us there to speak words of comfort to us, to encourage us and to show us his love.  When God speaks he reaches our hearts, the very depth of our being and he shares incredible truths with us. How amazing is that?  I love it!

We see things so differently to God, he has an eternal perspective, he sees the end from the beginning, we are so limited in our perspective and understanding, and we can tend to focus on the here and now. 

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (NKJV)

This is clear from the verses in Hosea.  We see the place we are in as a Valley of Trouble, but God, how does God describe it?  He describes it as a Door of Hope.  This place of difficulty is, in reality, (God’s reality, not ours) actually a Door of Hope.  Again, love it!  When we connect with God in our trouble, whatever that trouble may be, we learn to see it as God sees it, as a Door of Hope.  Instead of it being a negative place to be in, God turns it into a positive.  God is able to use what we view as troubling, difficult and testing and turn it into something good, something worthwhile and valuable.  Amazing!  A doorway to go through, and God tells Hosea to tell his people,I will give her her vineyards from there,” God will make his people fruitful again and productive and he will bless them.  God does the same for us, as we abide in him, our lives will produce fruit. This Door of Hope brings us purpose, it deepens our faith in God, we come to know and love him as we have never known and loved him before.

To Think About:
When you look back over your life, can you see how what you initially thought was a Valley of Trouble was, in truth, a Door of Hope given to you by God?

Are you experiencing a Valley of Trouble right now?  What do you think God wants to say to you?

Ask God to show you how to see your circumstances as he does, as a Door of Hope and not a Valley of Trouble.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Peace Beyond Our Understanding

Dear Friends,

The theme for our Sunday morning services at church this month is “Peace” and I’ve been thinking a lot about it this week.  Jesus said in John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”  (NLT)

The problem is we do worry, become anxious and concerned and this can rob us of our peace.  I think I was born a worrier, as a child I worried about all manner of things, small and big, I even worried about worrying so much!  Worrying is not productive and it’s not helpful, it can make us physically ill.  I’ve suffered with digestive problems and headaches as a result of worrying.  We can worry about the future and what might happen, but often what we worried would happen does not occur or is nowhere near as bad as we had imagined.  These are all reasons why Jesus commanded us not to worry.  “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life...”  Matthew 6:25 (NIV)

However, the reality is that there are times when we do worry, so what can we do to stop worrying and experiencing the amazing peace that God makes available to us?

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”  Isaiah 26:3 (NLT).  The Amplified Version puts it this way: “You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.”

Therefore, we have God’s promise that he will supply us with perfect and constant peace when we fix our thoughts on him, when we commit ourselves to God, lean on him and trust him.

It’s been said (by whom I can’t remember) that if we know how to worry then we can learn how to meditate (to fix our mind and thoughts on God).  When you think about it, when we worry we chew the problem, the concern, the difficulty over and over in our mind.  It’s a bit like my kids and their love of chewing gum – when they’ve got a piece in their mouths (horrible stuff!) you can see them chewing it over and over, working it constantly.

Meditating on God is a similar process, but instead of focusing on what is worrying us, we bring our mind and thoughts under God’s control, we think about him, his character, his goodness, his love, his power, his strength etc and we think about the truths of his Word, the Bible.  We chew over these things.  So every time we feel ourselves beginning to worry again, we remind ourselves of God and his Word, we turn and fix our thoughts on him.  We commit ourselves to God, we surrender to him and his will for us, make him the centre of our life and then we will experience his perfect and constant peace.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

This means we are not to worry about anything at all – our employment, our finances, our children, our marriage, our parents, our health and the impending diagnosis, etc.  But that doesn’t mean that these things aren’t important, what it does mean is that instead of worrying which is of no benefit to anyone, we are to do something positive, practical and helpful, we are to take everything, all those things that cause us worry and concern, to God in prayer.  If we do this, and there’s nothing to say we can’t do this more than once, then God promises that we will experience his peace, a peace that is beyond our understanding.  With Christ at the centre of our life then his peace will be a guard for our hearts and minds.

As we experience God’s peace in our hearts and minds we will find that it influences the way we live and those close to us will see a difference.  As they notice this difference we can share with them about our relationship with God, the source of our peace and how they can know this same peace for themselves in the midst of their troubles.

To Think About:
What is it that is causing you considerable worry right now?

Would you consider handing this over to God and ask for his peace to guard your heart and mind.

I’ve mentioned just some of the verses about God’s gift of peace to us.  Why not spend some time meditating on one of these.  There’s so much more to learn from them than I have had space to share today.  Or you can go to the Bible Gateway website and search for verses on “peace” and meditate on one of those instead.

Friday, 2 August 2013

A Work In Progress

Dear Friends,

We are in the middle of having a new conservatory built.  The builders took down our old one which was small and not fit for purpose in order to build a bigger one, to give us extra living space and which can be enjoyed all year round due to a particular type of glass they are using which stops the room from being too hot in the summer and keeps it warm in the winter.  I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, but it is taking so much longer than I’d expected.  A lot of time was spent on preparing for it, digging the foundations and other work to make it stable, so to begin with there wasn’t much to show for the hours that had gone into it.  The noise, the mess, the inconvenience will all, I’m sure, be worth it in the end. There’s not much I can do about it as I know nothing about building and so I have to leave it up to the experts and trust they know exactly what they are doing.

This work reminds me of the work that Jesus is doing in my life.  “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”  2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

My old way of living, following my own desires, my own will, living to please myself is gone, just like our old conservatory, and I have a new life, which like the new conservatory, is so much better than my old life. 
God gives us new life, but there’s still a lot of work he needs to do on us to perfect that new life.  It can feel like it’s taking a lot longer than we think it should as he removes things from our lives that shouldn’t be there – selfishness, pride, anger, lust, envy, bitterness etc., and replaces it with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  (Galatians 5:19-23)

A lot of the work God does in our lives is unseen, it goes on within us, he transforms us from within to make us more like his son, Jesus Christ, and as we submit to his working, then it begins to be noticeable to those around us, perhaps the way we speak becomes more loving, we don’t engage in gossip, we respond in a self-controlled way when someone deliberately tries to rile and provoke us.  We are at peace despite our troublesome circumstances.  We live, act and speak differently.

Just as I place my trust in the workmen who are qualified to build the conservatory, we need to place our trust in God who is working in us, he knows exactly what he is doing, he knows which part of us needs work on first, he works in his time, he knows exactly what we can withstand, he doesn’t rush the process.  Neither does he do a cover-up job, working on the surface; he always goes to the heart of the matter.  And always, always, always it is for our good and for his glory.  The hard part for us is to trust him and to say to him, “Ok, God, have your way, I’m placing myself in your care.”  Knowing that it will all be worth it in the end.

God is working on us, making us fit for purpose and it’s a unique work that he is doing in each of our lives, his work is not a one size fits all; he doesn’t use the same mould for us all. Therefore, there is no need to compare ourselves with each other, he has a particular work for you to do that only you can do, and he has a particular work for me that only I can do.

Like I said, this new life that God gives us is so much better than the one we had before, now we know what it is to have a restored relationship with God and all that comes with it, we have a hope, a peace, a joy, we realise that there is meaning to our life, that we have a purpose.

To Think About:
Compare your new life in Christ with that of your old life.  Can you see a difference?  Do those around you notice a difference?

What area of your life is it that God wants to work on right now?  Are you allowing him to have his way even though it may be inconvenient and the progress feels slow?

Is there something from your old life that you’ve been holding onto but you think God may now be telling you to let go of?