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.