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?