Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Greatest Gift Ever!

Dear Friends,

Over the years I've received some lovely presents.  The only thing with gifts is they don't last forever (particularly if they are edible!), some get broken, some wear out after lots of use, over time some need updating and some you grow out of as you leave your childhood behind.

There is however one gift that has eternal value, which is priceless although it cost the giver dearly, which never wears out or needs updating.  This gift is as essential to us now as when it was first given over more than 2,000 years ago.  "the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! '" Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)  It truly is the greatest gift ever - the gift of God's own son, Jesus.   Isaiah prophesied about this event many years before it actually happened when he said  "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity."  Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

In 1 John 4:9-10 "God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." (NLT)  God's gift of Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, he's what Christmas is all about.

As I've pondered on this, I'm reminded of how generous God is to us, and how he gives and keeps on giving to us.  He's given me so much - forgiveness, love, joy, hope, peace, his presence, spiritual gifts that I can use to serve him and encourage others, my family, friends, my home, the food I eat, the clothes I wear and so much more.

It's God's example of being a generous giver which teaches us also how to give.  When I spend time reminding myself of how generous God is to me, my response is to give back to him.  What can I give to God?  I can give him my trust, but that's quite general and I want to be specific, so, in what area of my life can I give him my trust where perhaps before I've withheld it?  In a particular relationship?  At work?  My health?  I can give him my obedience, is there a particular area where he's been asking me to obey him - to follow his leading out of my comfort zone and do something new, to reject an unhealthy habit? I can give him my time - perhaps there is something I can give up for him, etc.?

Giving to God is not to be out of a sense of duty, not to be done with wrong motives, such as trying to earn his love, and not done with conditions such as if I give something to you, you need to do something for me.  Our giving to God is out of our love for him, knowing just how much he loves you and me, recognising just how much he has given to us, we can't help but choose to give to God.

To Think About:
God gave his greatest gift, knowing that some would reject it, some would ridicule it and some would ignore it.  Have you personally accepted his gift to you?  If you haven't, then there's no time like the present.  Even if you've said no to God in the past and wanted nothing to do with him, today he is still holding out this gift to you waiting for you to say yes.

Make some time over the coming days to be alone with God.  Offer him your thanks and praise for the gift of his son, Jesus.  Also think about the many gifts he has given you and express your gratitude to him in prayer and praise.

What gift will you choose to give him this Christmas?  Be specific rather than generalising about what you will give.

Vicki

My prayer for you this Christmas that each of you will know the blessing of God's presence and peace with you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

"May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace."  1 Timothy 1:2 (NLT)


Friday, 19 December 2014

Mary and Elizabeth's Friendship

Dear Friends,

Last week we looked at Mary's response to the news Angel Gabriel brought her that she was going to be with child, and that the child would be Jesus, the Saviour of the world.  

At the same time, the Angel told her that "your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month." Luke 1:36 (NLT) 

I don't know for sure, but I believe that being in the early stages of pregnancy must have been quite a vulnerable time for Mary.  Physical changes within her body, experiencing a variety of emotions and having to cope with people's responses to her news.  It could not have been an easy time for her, and I imagine she must have felt quite alone in it as she had to face the misunderstanding, criticism and judgement from those around her.

But she remembered what the Angel had told her about Elizabeth and "39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Luke 1:39-45 (NLT).

Mary needed to be with someone who could be a good friend to her, someone who understood what she was going through, who had experienced something similar, and Elizabeth was that person for her.  Being further along in the pregnancy, Elizabeth could share from her own experiences.  She was able to be a support for Mary and provide her with somewhere she could be herself, a refuge, a safe place where she was loved and accepted without fear of condemnation.  Elizabeth was able to share with Mary from her own spiritual understanding and she expressed joy and praised God on seeing Mary and, I think, this prompted Mary to also respond in joy and praise towards God.  She must have been such a source of encouragement for Mary.
 
"Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home." Luke 1:56 (NLT)  Elizabeth helped Mary adjust to her new situation and Mary stayed long enough to get through the worst of any morning sickness, tiredness, lack of energy and other early symptoms of pregnancy she may have been facing.  By the end of her stay, Mary was stronger physically, spiritually and emotionally.  She was ready to return home and prepare to marry Joseph and become a new mother.
Although we are concentrating on Mary today, I am sure that she would have been a source of encouragement to Elizabeth and support to Elizabeth, as she, an old woman, prepared for the arrival of her own first baby.
 
God knew how much Mary and Elizabeth needed each other at this particular time, yes Mary had her own family and Elizabeth had her husband, but these two women both needed someone who understood what they were going through and all that it meant for them, someone they could confide in and share with on a far deeper level than that which anyone else was able to provide them with at that particular time.

For myself, I find that the older I get, the more value I place on friendships.

My son, tells me how many 'friends' he has on Facebook, but that's not what I mean by friendship, I'm referring to good, real friends who don't get going when the going gets tough, who are there in both the good and the bad times, who don't 'un-friend' me  for no good reason.

God knows how essential relationships are, and how we all need good friendships whatever our age, gender, culture, background. Friendships which offer acceptance, which allow us to be ourselves, where we celebrate the joys of life together and support, comfort and encourage each other in the midst of tough times. The kind of friendships where we can confide in one another and feel safe doing so, where we are not criticised or judged but shown understanding. Friendships which have God at the centre, and are all the better for having him in it, within which we can share and talk about God and pray with and for each other. 

To Think About
Who comes to mind when you consider this kind of friendship?  Spend some time thanking God for them. Why not show them your appreciation in some way, perhaps with a handwritten note expressing your appreciation, or inviting them round for coffee, or giving them a small gift etc. 

If you can't think of anyone like this in your life at the moment, why do you think this might be?  Is there anything you can do to change this?  

God did not make us to be alone so what can you do to cultivate this kind of friendship with someone you know? 

Vicki 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Unexpected News

Dear Friends,

With the Christmas season upon us I find myself naturally being drawn once again to the Christmas story, the events leading up to it, and the people involved.  I've been thinking about Zechariah and Mary and their responses to the unexpected news they both receive from Angel Gabriel.

Gabriel appears to Zechariah and says to him “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John." Luke 1:13 (NLT)  Zechariah finds this impossible to believe, he and his wife have prayed for years for children, month after month, year after year, their hopes must have risen time after time,only to be dashed time and time again.  Finally, with old age, they despaired of hope.  Yet God had heard their prayers, the prayers of these two who "were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations." Luke 1:6 (NLT) and now was the time for these prayers to be answered.  Zechariah was unable to respond with faith, only questions.   What he's hearing just isn't possible, it could never happen.  He was just not able to recognise truth behind what he was hearing.  If only God had said this to him when he and Elizabeth were a young couple, then he would have had the faith to believe. 

When believing for something that you know is humanly possible, little faith is required, however, it takes a good deal more faith to believe God for something which you know, humanly speaking, is just not possible.  

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Luke 1:19-20 (NLT).

I'm not here to criticise Zechariah, after all, how often have I, have you, responded with doubt and unbelief when God has said something to us?  How often have I dismissed what God is saying to me because it seems impossible, because I can't fully understand it with my limited mind, how often have I questioned over and over again what I'm hearing, how often have I disagreed or haven't liked what I've heard and refused to believe?

I can quickly forget that God is the God of the impossible, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 (NLT). Yet, God is asking each one of us, to have faith to believe in what he has said to us, the promises he's made to us, and that however unlikely it may seem that it could ever happen, however incredible it may be, to trust that he will fulfil what he has spoken.  As it says in Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (NLT)

Let's turn now to Mary's example, which is found in Luke 1:26-38.  I find her response amazing and her example inspiring.  Gabriel explains to her "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus...The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God." Luke 1:31 and 35 (NLT)  Here's a young, village girl, probably in her mid teens, perhaps of little significance as far as those in the village concerned, but God sees her differently and he has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.  Mary knows what this could mean for her, her fiancĂ©, Joseph, could reject her, her family could disown her, which could mean she could end up begging or in prostitution in order to survive. She risked being stoned, facing misunderstanding, people believing her to be insane,  criticising her and judging her harshly.  She knows her reputation could suffer greatly, that those who once thought well of her, may now want nothing more to do with her. She is aware that she could lose everything.  All kinds of thoughts and concerns must have been running through her mind, clamouring for her attention.

Yet, with such faith in God she answers Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38 (NLT).  She does not yet know just what this will mean for her and her future, she may not understand fully what is going to happen, yet she responds with faith, laying aside her own will, her own plans and dreams, willing to give it all up and to be committed to God's will for her and she humbly chooses to obey, identifying herself as God's servant. 

I don't know about you, but I find that hugely challenging!  Would that I always responded to God with such faith.  That even though I may not fully understand what he is asking of me, even though it may mean giving up my own desires and wishes, giving up what I want for my life, that I will respond to God by saying, "Lord, I'm your servant, I choose to be obedient to you and be committed to following your will for me."

To Think About:
In the past have you ever responded like Zechariah to something God was saying to you?  What were the consequences or your response?

Is God saying something to you, that you don't quite understand, that perhaps humanly speaking doesn't make much sense, that involves you having to give up something, that could cost you dearly?  Will you respond with faith like Mary and say yes to God?

Consider again the words of Mary: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”  If you applied these words to yourself, what do you think they would mean for you?

Vicki

Friday, 5 December 2014

What's the Condition of Your Heart?

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago I was preparing for preaching and one of the bible passages I was using was from Luke 9:51-56.  James and his brother John were displaying a judgemental attitude and Jesus' response to them grabbed my attention.  Part of what he said was this: "You don't realise what your hearts are like." (verse 55, NLT).

It was true of them then, but it can also be true of me and you.  We can be going about our daily routine, our various responsibilities at home, work and church, unaware of what may really be in our hearts.  We can be blind to what's in our hearts, blind to an unknown sin which we may be harbouring.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10a we read  "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?  10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives." (NLT) We may be able to deceive others, or deceive ourselves, but we can't deceive God, he is the one who really knows our hearts, (Luke 16:15).

It takes Jesus to reveal to James and John the true state of their hearts.  Today, we too need God to reveal to us the condition of our hearts.  God shows us exactly what is in our hearts, whether it's bitterness, anger, jealousy, lust, greed, unforgiveness, hate or something else. When he reveals to me what my heart looks like it's as though he's holding a mirror in front of me and I'm then able to see what he sees.

I'll be honest with you, I don't always like what I see.  For example, there was a time when he showed me how critical and judgemental I was in my heart towards others.  If anyone had asked me I would have told them that I had a heart that was loving to others, that's what I believed anyway, I had no idea what kind of condition my heart was really in.

It's painful when God opens my eyes to see what he sees in me, it's not who I thought I was, it's not who I want to be, I want to be Christ-like.  But despite it being painful and difficult, it's a good thing when God opens my eyes, because now I have the opportunity to change my heart, to confess that sinful attitude and to seek, with confidence, his forgiveness.  It says in 1 John 1:9 that  "9 if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (NLT)  God can cleanse my heart and with his help my attitude becomes more like his.  The psalmist prayed and we can pray the same thing: "Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 (NLT)

God uses a variety of ways to reveal to us what's really in our hearts.  Sometimes he's used my circumstances, a trial I've been going through, to show me the truth, other times it may be during my quiet time with him as I'm reading his word and praying, or through another person, or it can be by any other means he chooses.

God's purpose in revealing to me the condition of my heart is always for my good.  Whereas the devil would use the opportunity to get me to doubt myself, to try to get me to believe that I'm a terrible example of what being a Christian is all about, to feed into my negative feelings and thoughts about myself, to make me believe I'll never be good enough, that I can't ever measure up, that I'm just not worth loving, God uses the opportunity to reveal my sin in such a gentle and loving way, so that I can receive his forgiveness and to change me more and more into the image of his son, Jesus.  "And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." 2 Corinthians 3:18b (NLT)

This is what God wants for each one of us, that day by day we are being changed so that we more closely resemble the likeness of Jesus.  What starts off as a painful process actually becomes a healing one, and we can entrust ourselves to a loving God who wants only the best for us.

To Think About:
Can you remember a time when God revealed to you what your heart was like?  How did he do this?  What was it he revealed?  How did you respond?

Are you open to God revealing to you today the condition of your heart?  Has he revealed anything to you as you've read this devotional?  What will you choose to do with what he shows you?

Vicki

Friday, 21 November 2014

With God, Preparation Time is Not a Waste of Time

Dear Friends,

Many years ago I knew that God was directing me to train as a junior school teacher, and I was confident of his guiding hand in choosing the right college for me. I knew with certainty that this was what God wanted for me and I had no doubt that at the end of my training God would also lead me to the school he wanted me to teach in.

However, at the end of the training there was no job for me, I worked voluntarily in a school and as a supply teacher but no full-time job as a teacher opened up.  I found this so strange as I had been convinced that this was God's call on my life.  What was the point of all that training if there was no work at the end of it?  Wasn't it just a waste of four years of my life? 

Then when I became ill I never imagined that the illness would continue through most of my 20s and all of my 30s.  They were years when really I should have been in my prime, with plenty of health, strength and energy.  Such a waste!  All of that time when I could have been so productive, yet the reality was I could do very little.

However, God sees things so differently to the way we see things.  I believe that with God, none of our past experiences are wasted.

Yes, I still believe that it was God's will for me to go to teacher training college, but I also now know that his purpose for this time was different to my purpose. His purpose, as I moved away from home, as I experienced four years of further education, was that I would be prepared and equipped for what he wanted me to do in the next season of my life.  As a result I learned much that enabled me to step into my ministry at church and my ministry as a wife and mother.

God never saw my years of illness as wasted time as I did.  He was actually using it as a time of preparation. To prepare me for what he was calling me to do next.  I'm certainly not the same person I was before my illness, because all the time he has been changing me, teaching me, shaping me and equipping me for his service.

In the Bible, individuals often needed to go through a time of preparation before they were ready to be used by God.  For example, for Joseph it was 13 years of working as a slave and also experiencing imprisonment before he was ready to step into what God was calling him to.  In Psalm 105:16-22 we read "16 He (God) called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply. 17 Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them - Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. 19 Until the time came to fulfil his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. 20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free; the ruler of the nation opened his prison door. 21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household; he became ruler over all the king’s possessions. 22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased and teach the king’s advisers." (NLT)  The words in verse 19 show that God's time of testing Joseph was a time to prepare him for the role God had purposed for him.  These years were not wasted ones.

Moses' time of preparation took 40 years in the land of Midian before God called him to lead God's own people, the Israelites, out of Egypt, see Acts 7:20-3830 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush...Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt...  Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and saviour. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.  Acts 7: 30, 34b, 35b-36 (NLT)

David's time of preparation included working as a shepherd boy, his anointing by Samuel the prophet, and then spending years on the run from King Saul. God took him through 15 years or so to ensure that he was prepared and equipped to become King of Judah. Those years of preparation were not wasted years, they were necessary so that when God's time came he was ready to be a good leader of God's people.

Then, of course, we have the example of Jesus, who spent years in preparation so that at around the age of 30 years he was ready to step in to the ministry God had called him to.

Perhaps as you look back over your own life you remember certain times, years which, from your point of view, just seem to be wasted years. However, from God's perspective, they've not been wasted years at all, they've been times which he has used to change you, equip you and prepare you for the next season in your life.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we learn that there is a time for everything, "For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT) and in verse 11 we read "God has made everything beautiful for its own time." (NLT) I just love that last sentence, don't you?  It gives me such an inner thrill, to know that God is working in my life, working in your life, and he knows the season you and I need to be in right now, whether it's a season of preparation or a season of action, whichever it is for you and me, God is the one who is making it beautiful.  It may be hard for us to understand or believe right now, but that doesn't make this statement any less true for each one of us.

To Think About:
Have you grieved over what you believed were your wasted years?  How would your thoughts and feelings change if you saw these years from God's perspective? 
 
When have you experienced times of preparation?  What do you think God was wanting to teach you?  Do you know what he was preparing you for?  If not, ask him to show you.

What season are you in at the moment?  Can you see how God is making everything beautiful for its own time?

Vicki






Friday, 14 November 2014

Pass It On

Dear Friends,

With the help of a friend and also YouTube I have been learning how to crochet.  I have learnt how to crochet a dishcloth, and I'm planning that my next project will be to crochet a scarf. 

I have discovered that I find it easier to learn if someone will teach me by showing me what to do and then give me the opportunity to try do it with them.  I am then ready to try it on my own.  Although there are a variety of ways to learn I believe we learn best in the context of relationships.  We are learning all the time, from the moment we are born we learn by observing our parents and other family members and we also learn by participation, by trying an activity together. 

Once we have learnt something we can then pass it on to others.  I still iron shirts in the way my Mum taught me, and have passed that skill on to my son, Joshua, (having said that it's been some time since he ironed one of his own shirts!)  I can also remember teaching Josh how to tie his shoelaces and discovered the best way for him to grasp this was to sit side by side with a shoe in front of us both and to tie them simultaneously.  Once he had mastered it we both felt a sense of satisfaction over his achievement. 

This same principle of learning something new and then teaching it to someone else is also a part, or should be a part, of our Christian life.  A good way to learn about being a Christian is again in the context of relationships.  We can learn from one another and then when we have understood something new, we can then have the joy of passing it on to another. 

I can learn from a more mature Christian, someone who has had more experience and walked with Jesus for longer than I have.  For example, if I am struggling over a particular issue of temptation, I can go to my mature Christian friend, who can tell me how they overcame, and they can give me encouragement and offer to stand with me to support me, and bring me through it too.  If I'm struggling with my challenging teenage children I can ask her for parental advice, ask her for suggestions of how she parented her own teenagers.  As I observe my friend in her Christian walk, I can learn from her how she responds to people, the way she uses her resources such as time and spiritual gifts etc.  Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, "Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example." Philippians 3:17 (NLT)  As we watch and learn from others we can begin to put it into practice in our own lives.

Anything I have learned as a Christian I can share with a friend who is younger in the faith.  I can model the Christian life to my friend, so for example, I can share with her the value there is in a regular quiet time with God and how I connect with God through his word and through prayer, I can model what a Christian marriage looks like and in group settings, I can teach others about prayer as I model praying aloud within the group. 

In his letter to Titus, Paul gave advice to him about how to encourage more mature believers to pass on the things they have learned to younger believers. "they (older women) should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind." Titus 2:3b-7 (NLT)

You can see from this passage in Titus that teaching and learning should be happening in more aspects of our life than just spiritual matters, it's actually for every area of our life, including our relationships, our work, our ministry, our home life etc.

We can learn from one another and teach each other as we walk together side by side on our Christian journey. We are to "Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity."  1 Timothy 4:12b (NLT)  

We  need to watch for opportunities to teach others, both by the things we say and share with them, and by our actions and responses to others and our circumstances.  We need to do this in a sensitive, encouraging and supportive way so that others feel comfortable about coming to us for advice or help, and will want to learn from us.

We also need to have a heart attitude that is humble and open to learning from others, rather than thinking we know it all and there's nothing left for anyone else to teach us. For as long as we live there will always be something new to learn. 

To Think About:
Who is there in your life you can learn from?  What have you already learned from them? In what ways could you strengthen and further develop this relationship?

Are you teachable?

Is there someone in particular God may want you to be an example to?  How can you develop this kind of relationship with this person?  Keep in mind that we learn best in the context of relationship.

Vicki


Friday, 7 November 2014

It's A Girl!

Dear Friends,

I learned this morning that I have a new baby niece, Abigail, born to my sister-in-law and her husband late last night.  My sister-in-law and her husband have waited, and longed for, and prayed for a baby of their own for a long time and now they have this wonderful miracle from God.  You can imagine how the whole family are celebrating with them at this time.

We are all looking forward to seeing her for the first time, and Josh, who has a busy day at college and then is working in the evening, has only a short window of time to see her today, but we are under strict instructions not to see her without him!

Whenever I think about the birth of a child my thoughts always go to the amazing words written by David in Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT) 13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Why not stop and take a moment just to think on those verses and the truths within them.  Each one of us have been lovingly created by God, and when you stop and think about the human body, we truly are remarkable. What comfort these verses give me, that no matter what others may think, believe or say about us, we are significant and precious in God's eyes. Before anyone truly knew us, before we were born, when all anyone could see with the human eye was our mother's bump growing, God knew us and was watching over us (v15).  Even with today's technology and the medical knowledge available, as much as we have come to understand about a baby in it's mother's womb, it is nothing compared to all that God knows about us. 

Today I'm celebrating, but, when it comes to God and miracles, I will never fully understand him.  My heart goes out to those who have longed for and prayed for a miracle (whatever that miracle might be) and have not received it from God.  How can that be?  Why don't we receive the miracle we hope for?  I don't know that there is any satisfactory answer to that question.  I don't know why God will grant a miracle to one person, yet not to someone else. 

But it's at times like these, when God doesn't act as I might hope for and long for that I remember some things about him.  That, as much as I think I know what is best for me, God really does know what is best for me.  That God is good, he does good and is good all of the time, it's who he is.  Therefore, whether he answers my prayer or not, he is still good.  That God is love, (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. Ephesians 3:18-19a NLT)  his nature is love and he is always loving in all he does, so whether he does or doesn't answer my prayer, he still loves me, the denial of a miracle is not a sign that he has removed his love from me.  Finally, I can know, with full assurance and confidence, that God is with me always, he does not leave me to face my situation on my own. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b (NIV)

To Think About:
What miracles have you known in your own life?  I'll start you off with one - Jesus willingly took all my sins on the cross, he took the punishment I deserved, that I might know God and have a relationship with him.

Have you prayed for something for many years and seen God answer that prayer with what you asked for?

What about when you don't receive the answer you've hoped for?  What has been your response?  Have you learned something new or gained something else instead?  Has it made a difference to your relationship with him?

Vicki


Friday, 31 October 2014

Meditations on Psalm 23


Dear Friends,

In church last Sunday morning Psalm 23 was mentioned, and as I continued to think about it during the rest of the day I decided that I wanted to meditate on it each morning this week to see what truths God had to show me.  Psalm 23 is one of the better known Psalms, and sometimes when I'm reading a more familiar bible passage I can find that without intentionally doing it my mind switches off because I've read it before and I "know" it.  However, the truth is that we can never fully know it all, because God still has more to teach us and if I am not careful I will miss what he has for me today, right now, in the season I am in. That's why I wanted to take another look at this Psalm this week, not just skim over it, but really meditate on it and also read it in other versions instead of just my usual one.

So, I'm sharing with you today some of the things God showed me and reminded me of this week. 

Psalm 23 (NLT)
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.


"The Lord is my shepherd" this speaks to me of my relationship with God, the connection there is between us, he is my shepherd and I am his sheep.  He is the source of all I need, he provides me with nourishment, including my spiritual nourishment, he leads me, guides me, and protects me.

"He lets me rest" we live in a fast-paced world and sometimes we can feel guilty if we want to take a break, but God knows the value and importance of rest.  As I meditated on these words I felt God saying it's ok to have a rest, it's good to do so, and I'm actually giving you permission to incorporate rest into your life, so there's no need to be carrying a false sense of guilt around with you. 

You and I need this rest if we are to live a full, healthy and satisfactory life.  The version I'm more familiar with is the NIV which says "makes" rather than "lets".  I've found that's also been the case in my life, when I refused to live a balanced life which included rest amongst work, there came a time when my body could not take anymore and there was nothing I could do but rest.  God taught me (is still teaching me!) the value and necessity of periods of rest.  Without incorporating specific rest times (by that I mean resting both of the body and the mind) at various points of the day I am not able to function at a level that is right for me.

God is the one who "renews my strength", in my weakness he teaches me to depend on his strength on a daily basis.  He also gives me the inner strength that I need to keep going on the path he has set before me.  Not only does he renew me, he also refreshes and restores me, some very good reasons to set aside times to be alone with my shepherd who tends and cares for me.

God's presence with me, his closeness means I have no need to fear walking "through the darkest valley".  As my shepherd he has with him his rod and staff, and he uses them for my protection, for my comfort and to guide me.  The word "through" in that verse brings me great encouragement.  This means that when I'm in the middle of the darkest time,  I can have the reassurance, the comfort, that it will not last forever, I can keep walking with him, step by step and he will bring me through, I can depend on that!

"You honour me by anointing my head with oil."  Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  God has blessed me with the presence of his Spirit and he anoints me, making me fit for service, equipping me to do that which he's called me to do.  Ephesians 5:18 "Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,"  that verse actually means to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.  On a daily basis I can ask God to fill me with his Spirit so that I can live in his power for that day.

"My cup overflows with blessings".  God has blessed me with so much, I have so much to be grateful for.  He is such a generous God that my life overflows with blessings.

I love that God's "goodness and unfailing love will pursue me".  God's love never fails me, never gives up on me, whatever I go through, whatever I do, God won't ever, ever stop loving me.  How amazing is that?!  Not only that, but because God loves me, he pursues me.  Even if I want nothing to do with him, when I rebel or turn my back on him, he's never going to turn his back on me, in fact he's going to keep moving towards me, he's committed to a relationship with me, he's constantly faithful, for all time.

"I will live in the house of the Lord forever."  Forever I have the blessing and the privilege of being in the presence of God, not just for here and now but for all eternity.

To Think About:
As you read today's devotional blog, which particular phrase or verse did you sense God drawing your attention to?  Why do you think this was?  What does this verse or phrase mean to you?

Over the coming week read and meditate daily on Psalm 23.  Consider using different bible translations.  Journal your thoughts and what God says to you.

If you would like to, leave a comment sharing something that God has said to you as you meditated on Psalm 23.  I would love to hear from you.

Vicki

Friday, 24 October 2014

Removing the Mask and Being Real

Dear Friends,

Have you ever worn a mask?  The kind of mask you wear to hide who you really are, to pretend to be someone you're not, because you're afraid of being real and open with others.  I know there's been times in my life when I've firmly fixed my mask in place as I've left home and before meeting up with people.  With my mask on, I've said to people I'm ok, I'm fine thank you, but inside, the person who I really am, I'm struggling, I'm depressed, my poor health is getting me down.  I've kept the mask on in the past because I'm afraid of being judged, of being misunderstood, I'm afraid of letting myself be vulnerable, of people seeing the real me.

Wearing a mask for any length of time is hard work, it takes a lot of energy, it's exhausting and impossible to maintain.  It's certainly not a healthy way to live my life.

Perhaps you've worn a mask or are wearing a mask now to stop people getting too close to you, you may have been hurt by someone in the past, they may have let you down and you don't want it happening again, so you wear it to protect yourself. Do you wear it to keep up the illusion that your life is perfect, that you have no troubles.  Maybe you don't want to be seen as a failure or weak so you keep a mask in place.  Perhaps you wear it to make people believe you're the person you think they want you to be. Maybe you wear it because you fear being misunderstood or judged or criticised by others.  Or do you wear it so that people will believe that you are a very spiritual person who doesn't struggle with sin and temptation.

Two things have helped me to remove my mask and be real.  Firstly, it's about my relationship with God. He loves me as I am, unconditionally, and because he loves me and accepts me there is no fear of his rejection, his displeasure, or his judgement. It says in 1 John 4:10-18 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins...16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect... 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear." (NLT)    He created me deliberately, he knows and understands the real me.   I can be completely honest with him, I don't need to hide who I am, hide how I'm really feeling, or pretend that I have no problems or struggles, I don't need to pretend that everything is ok when things are far from ok. "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord." Psalm 139:1-4 (NLT) It is very freeing and liberating when I realise that with God there really is no need to pretend to be something I'm not, that I can be who I really am. "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32 (NLT). You and I have the privilege of a relationship with Jesus in which he calls us his friends.  (John 15:15)

Secondly, it's about having real, intimate friendships with others.  Over the years I have learnt the value of these friendships and God has blessed me with some great friends.  The kind of friendship where there is no need for masks, where we can be real and honest with each other.  When we can share about how we're really feeling, the worries and concerns we have, the struggles that we go through, the mistakes we've made.  Friends who listen and show they care, who empathise with what we're going through, who encourage and offer support, who accept us for who we are and love us without judging or criticising.  The kind of friendship in which we can pray for one another, where God is at the centre, whose presence is felt when we meet together, a friendship which also encourages and challenges each other in our relationship with God.  In these friendships we "Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other." Romans 12:10 (NLT) These friendships are to mirror the relationship we have with God.  In John 15:12 Jesus says "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you."  (NLT)


These genuine, intimate friendships take time to develop, they won't happen overnight, time needs to be put into them, and it's also about making these relationships a priority. I know I can sometimes caught up in the things I'm doing, the things I think need to be done, so much so that if I'm not careful I can miss out on valuable friendship time.  We can all fill our time with all kinds of things but it shouldn't at the expense of our time with friends.

I believe life is far more about relationships - our relationship with God and our relationships with others - than it is about our to-do list. We need God and we need one another if we are going to live the life God intended for us. 


To Think About:
Have there been times when you have worn a mask to hide who you really are?  What have been your reasons for doing so?

What's your relationship with God like?  Do you feel free to be your true self with him?

What value do you place on your friendships?  Do you have at least one or two friends who you can be real with?  What can you do to invest in these friendships, to nurture, strengthen and deepen them?  If you feel you are lacking in this area ask God to show you who is already in your life with whom you could develop this kind of friendship .

Vicki

Friday, 17 October 2014

Choosing to Live for God Despite Our Limitations

Dear Friends,

I've been thinking lately about the Apostle Paul.  He strikes me as a man who liked being active, always on the go, always doing something.  As a result of God's call on him he went on 3 missionary journeys, planting churches in the places he visited, teaching, encouraging and supporting new Christians.

Later in his life he is placed under house arrest for approximately 2 years, his freedom is taken from him, he is no longer allowed to travel to do those things God had called him to do.

We read in Acts 28:16 "When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier." (NLT)  Even though he was in his home, he didn't have complete freedom within that setting, he was constantly chained to a soldier who guarded him.

That must have been so hard for Paul to adjust to, being chained and confined to his home, not able to do the things he enjoyed doing, not able to go where he wanted, visit who he wanted.  That's tough for anyone, but I think it must have been particularly so for someone like Paul.  It could have been so frustrating for him, he could have chafed at his imprisonment, he could have struggled with feelings of uselessness, he could have given in to feelings of self-pity, he could have resigned himself to the limitations and restrictions he's placed under, he could have become bitter and angry, or  upset and heart broken that he's no longer able to do that which he knows he's been made for.  He could have spent the time complaining about his circumstances, in despair over the way his life has turned out.

But Paul didn't do any of these things.  Instead, he continued to live his life, as he always had, on purpose.  Instead of focusing on the things he's not able to do any more he focused on what God was calling him to do in his present season of life. He chose to live for God despite the limitations imposed on him. Even while he was physically confined to his home, he was not useless, his physical freedom had been taken from him, but he was still free to make certain choices about his attitude and mind-set.  There was still a contribution he could make within the restrictions imposed on him.  He may not have been able to go travelling as he once had sharing the good news, teaching and encouraging, but while he was imprisoned God brought people to him, including the soldiers who guarded him, and Paul could still share the good news about Jesus with them.  "He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him." Acts 28:30b-31 (NLT)  Paul couldn't travel anymore to the churches he had planted, teaching and encouraging the people there, but the Holy Spirit inspired him to write letters to churches and individuals, such as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These letters have blessed and helped many over the years, not just those who were Paul's contemporaries, but also us today. Paul was also committed to praying for others during his own imprisonment.  Here's just one of his prayers for his fellow believers in Ephesus:  "16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 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 3:16-19 (NLT)

Are you feeling that you are imprisoned and confined in some way?  Perhaps because of advancing age, poor health, unexpected additional responsibilities etc.?   Are there limitations and restrictions that you need to learn to live with at this present season of your life?  Do you feel like you're no longer able to make the contribution that you once made, are you feeling useless, wishing life was back how it used to be, that you were able to do more? 

There have been times when that's how it's been for me as I've struggled to come to terms with my poor health.  Times when I've felt so frustrated with the limitations and restrictions I'm living with.  The problem is I can let my mind dwell on all the things I would like to be doing, I wish for the freedom to say I'm going to do such and such today, to be able to make plans and see them through, to think about various ways I could be serving God.  When I allow my mind to go down that route I can become miserable and feel like I have no real contribution to make.  Over time I am learning to think differently, to see things as God does, to be open to his Holy Spirit showing me how to change my thinking and my attitude.

I can choose to be like Paul.  I have the freedom to choose and determine my own attitude and mind-set.  It does me no good to deny that I am living with certain limitations, to pretend they don't exist.  The reality is that this is how my life is right now and it's healthier to acknowledge that yes, I am restricted in what I can do and to accept the situation that I am in, rather than dwelling on it in a negative way.  But I can also know that with God's enabling I can still, like Paul, live for God on purpose and my limitations can't stop me from doing this.  What can stop me is me - what I mean by this is that by focusing on my circumstances, on the things I am not able to do, I am hindering myself from recognising what it is that God has for me to do, and this then hinders me from stepping into it.

God has shown me how I can still live for God despite my limitations, I can still choose to live purposefully for him within the confines of my present circumstances, for example, by being available for my kids as they grow from teenagers to young adults, supporting my husband, being a part of a life group where we study God's Word, share and pray together, and also continuing to write for God, and in doing so share Jesus with others without leaving my home.  If in this season I can't do as much as I would perhaps like or would hope to be able to do, I can still spend time with God in prayer, praying for my family, my friends, for fellow believers all over the world.

Each one of us, no matter what season of life we are in, can still be a part of God's big plan, we may need to readjust our thinking, to realise that while our contribution is different now, it is no less significant, no less fulfilling than it was in the past. It's about asking God what he wants for us now, he has the answer after all and it's about embracing his plan and being a part of it in the here and now.  Let's not waste any more time or energy on what was or what could have been, instead let's make the most of what we can do now, and with God's enabling, live purposefully for him.

At the end of my life I want to be able to say like Paul "But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God." Acts 20:24 (NLT) and "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful." 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT) 

To Think About:
What may be the limitations or restrictions in your life at this present time?  Ask God to help you to come to terms with them.

Spend some time with God asking him how you can live purposefully for him in this season of your life.

What are some of the things you believe God is telling you to do?

Vicki

Friday, 10 October 2014

Incorruptible Beauty

Dear Friends,

As a teenager I used to find it amusing when my Mum had to hold whatever she was reading further away from her face in order to see the words clearly.  I don't find it so amusing now that I'm needing to do the same!

I've recently found a few grey hairs and the wrinkles on my face are getting more noticeable.  (Although I like to think of them as laughter lines.)  What's also scary is when I sometimes look in the mirror I see my mum's face looking back at me.  When did I begin morphing into my mother?!

Society seems obsessed with body image, with being physically fit, with body size and shape and the way we look.  People can spend enormous amounts of money in order to feel good, look good and appear younger than they are.  Spending hours at the gym, perfecting a fake tan, injecting poisons into themselves and even going to the extreme of going under the knife.  All for the sake of trying to slow down the inevitable - the aging process.  The truth is that come tomorrow, you and I will be a day older than we are today, and nothing we can do can stop that from happening.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16 we are told that "our bodies are dying" (NLT)

I confess there are times when I spend too much time on my appearance, worrying about how my hair looks, if my make-up is just right, the clothes I'm wearing, and whether I've put on a pound or two recently.  When actually there are far more important things to be concerned about.

That's not to say that we shouldn't take care of our bodies, after all, God created us, he gave us the gift of life and we are not to abuse or neglect our bodies.  As it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 "Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body." (NLT)

But God is more interested in what we are like on the inside, not our outward appearance. "The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel  16:7 (NLT)

I like what Peter has to say on the matter, he's talking to wives but I think it's applicable to all women and men too. "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NKJV) 

God is more interested on who we are on the inside because whereas one day our physical bodies will be no more, the good news is that our souls will last forever.  Let's read the rest of the verse from 2 Corinthians 4:16 "Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day." (NLT)  Our bodies are wasting away, there's no denying that, over time our hair goes grey, our skin sags, our eyesight and hearing weaken.  But at the same time this is happening we are progressively being renewed day by day, and that to me is a tremendously encouraging truth.

We became a new creation the moment invited Jesus into our life, when we handed our life over to him and asked him to give us eternal 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)

Although our new life began immediately we said yes to Jesus, renewal is also a process that happens daily, as we become more like him, and it's a process that continues until the day we are with him in heaven.

How does this work?  I believe that the renewing process is the role of the Holy Spirit.  "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT).  I also like how the Amplified Bible puts that verse: "And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendour and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit." 

I also believe that it pleases the Holy Spirit when we choose to partner with him in the process, when we are willing for him to have his way, however hard it may be, whatever the cost and whatever the pain that is involved.  He is the one who will renew our thoughts, our attitudes and behaviour, and he is the one who will work in us to make us look more like Jesus from the inside out, if only we will let him.  Colossians 3:1-17 and Ephesians 4 are great passages to read and study when it comes to the process of being renewed and what this inner beauty looks like.  As we are renewed daily we become more loving, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, thankful, peaceful, truthful and look out for each other rather than being focused on self etc

What is happening within us is so much better than what is happening to us on the outside (to our physical bodies).  This is where I want my focus to be.  I don't want to be wasting my time on being overly concerned about my appearance, after all, I can't take it with me.  I want to use my time wisely, spending it working side by side with the Holy Spirit, becoming more like Jesus, because this is what is lasting, this is what I shall be taking with me to my heavenly home.

To Think About:
Do you spend too much time thinking about and concerning yourself with your outward appearance?  If so, why does what's on the outside matter so much to you?

What does an inner beauty look like to you?

Are you willing to work alongside the Holy Spirit so that he can renew you from the inside?  Do you sense him wanting to renew a particular attitude or particular behaviour and if so will you give him your co-operation?

Vicki