Friday, 31 January 2014

God Doesn't Have A 'B Team'

Dear Friends,

My son, Josh, decided in this, his last year at secondary school, he would try out for the school football team.  He was thrilled when he was told that he had a place on the 'B Team'.  His skills weren't quite up to the standard of the 'A Team', but that didn't matter to us, all that mattered was he'd gone for it and given it his best.  He was happy and we were happy for him.

It started me thinking about how we all have a need for acceptance and that for most things in life we have to meet a standard or a set of criteria in order to be accepted, for example, when applying for a new job, joining a team or club.  Josh is applying for sixth form college and has an interview in February.   Acceptance into college will be dependent on his application form, his interview and his exam grades. 

We learn about acceptance and rejection early in life.  It starts in the home for the child who is accepted with the unconditional love of the parent.  However, some parents give the child the message that they are only accepted if they live up to their parents' expectations or if they look a certain way or have a certain character.  These messages are reinforced at school, as we each long to be accepted and welcomed by our peers, and if we aren't accepted we have to deal with the pain of rejection.  

With our need for acceptance and approval and with our fear of rejection, we can bend ourselves out of shape trying to fit in and be who others want us to be and we can wear ourselves out by trying to reach impossible standards.

We can take this mindset with us into our relationship with God.  We think that he will only accept us if we prove that we are "good Christians" by doing the things we think we should do.  We think that if we mess up then God is going to reject us.  We think there's no way he could love me, I'm not good enough, not clever enough, not sporty enough etc. etc.

The good news is that God does accept you and me unconditionally because he loves us.  Paul writes in Romans 5:7 "Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory."  (NLT) 

In Ephesians 1:4-5 we read "Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love.  For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]— " (Amp)

Paul says in his letter to the Romans "Who will accuse those whom God has chosen? God has approved of them." Romans 8.33 (GWT)

We read in another of Paul's letters, "We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people." 1 Thessalonians 1:4 (NLT)

And in John's first letter he writes, "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. 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." 1 John 4:9-10 (NLT)

These are just some of the verses in the bible that tell us God loves us, that he chose us and has accepted us.  What we need to understand is that God doesn't choose us on the basis of who we are or because of anything we have done.  Each one of us needs to come to the place of realising that there is nothing we can possibly do to earn his acceptance and love.  His acceptance of us is based on who he is.  He chose us because he loves us, God is love, that's his essential nature. 

His love for us is constant, he doesn't say I accepted you yesterday, but today's another matter, I no longer accept you, you've messed up too many times, I've had it with you. Nothing can ever happen to make him remove his love from us.  His love for us is steadfast, there is nothing we can do to make him love us more than he does at this very moment and there is nothing we can do to make him love us less than he does right now.  It's worth repeating that his acceptance is not based on who we are, or try to be, on what we do or don't do.  His acceptance of us is based on who God is, that's why we can have complete confidence and trust in him.  He never rejects or turns away anyone who comes to him.  When we realise that we don't need to earn his acceptance and love, then we are freed from the burden that comes with always trying to earn it and we are free to enjoy his love and acceptance and love him in return.  It says in 1 John 4:19 "We love Him because He first loved us." (NKJV)

One last thing, God doesn't have an 'A Team' and 'B Team' (as Joshua's school has with football).  God accepts each one of us completely, there is no first class and second class Christians, we are all on his 'A Team'.  In Colossians 3:11 we read "In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us." (NLT) God says to you and to me, I've chosen you and love you, and I've got a place for you in my family that can only be filled by you.

To Think About:
Ask God to help you know in your heart, as well as believe in your head, that he has accepted and chosen you because he loves you so very much.

What difference does it make to your outlook and actions when you know that you are accepted by God?

How can you show God's love and acceptance to others in your church family? 


Friday, 24 January 2014

How Do You Define Success?

Dear Friends,

Today's post follows on quite nicely from my previous one.

I have an ever growing list of favourite bible verses and sometimes God likes to grab my attention with a verse I've not really thought about much previously.  He does this by making sure I've noticed, seen and read it 2 or 3 times.  He's done this over the last few weeks of January with the following verse.  It's a verse that I'm going to take for myself for 2014 and keep reminding myself of regularly.

Proverbs 16:3 "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans." (NIV)  The Amplified bible puts it like this: "Roll your works upon the Lord (commit and trust them wholly to him, he will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to his will, and) so shall your plans be established and succeed."

God has created you and me, designed us specifically with personalities, gifts and abilities, strengths and weaknesses so that we can do the things he has planned for us to do.  That's why it says in Ephesians 2:10 "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (NLT)  It's these good things that God has called us to do and that we are to commit to him.  We need to understand that Proverbs 16:3 is not about going to God with our plans, our dreams, our ideas about what we want to do and then expecting him to bless what we've already decided to do.  Rather it's about learning from God what his plan is for us, committing it to God, placing it in his care and asking him to establish it. 

What does it mean to commit these works to God?  I believe it's about us letting go of them, rather than holding tightly onto them, handing over control to God.  It's about trusting in his grace and love, having the confidence to leave them in his care and safe-keeping, entrusting them to him, and being dependent and reliant on him.  One way of doing this is by taking it to him in prayer and leaving it with him.

We are only able to truly commit it to God when we have surrendered ourselves - our desires, our wants, and by submitting to him as Lord of our lives.  Letting go is not easy, so often we want our own way, we want control, we want our say as to what is the best way to go about it, but when we do give it over to God , when we have first surrendered to God, something wonderful is able to happen.  The second part of the verse in Proverbs tells us what that is: "and he [that's God] will establish your plans." (NIV) or put another way: "and so shall your plans be established and succeed." (Amp)  What a wonderful promise!  God is the one to establish our plans (those plans that are in keeping with his will).  The world would have us believe that to be successful we need to have total control over our own lives, focus on what we want to achieve, not worry about hurting others when trying to reach the top, that the ends justifies the means etc.  But we learn from God's word that true success comes when we surrender to God, when we commit our plans, our dreams, our works to him, and say,  Lord, you are in control of this, my faith is in you and your will, I am confident that these things are safe in your care.  The only way to have our plans established and to experience success is to commit our work, our selves, everything to God.

If you were to look up the word "established" in the thesaurus you would see the words achieve, succeed, thrive, prosper.  This is what God wants for each of us as we live and do the things he created us for. This is how one dictionary defines establish "to achieve success, so that people recognise your skill, qualities, or power".  However, when our plans are established by God, others will recognise that our achievement is all because of him, that what we do points to God and brings him glory.  We need to remember that it's not about us, it's all about him.

To Think About:
What do you think God may be telling you to commit to him so that he can establish it for you?  You may like to write out that verse in Proverbs 16 as a reminder and encouragement to you.

What steps do you need to put in place to take you to the place where God can establish your plans?

You may find it helpful to share what you believe God is wanting you to do, with a close friend or mature Christian friend who can give some advice and make suggestions as well as support and encourage you.  They can also help to keep you on track and keep persevering.


Friday, 17 January 2014

God Will Work Out His Plan For Your Life

Dear Friends,

You may have read a previous post ("Looking Ahead") which I wrote at the end of last year.  In it I shared that I want to spend time alone with God, seeking what he wants for me in 2014.  I am still in the process of doing this and have just gone through last year's journal to see how God has been with me, leading and preparing me for what will come this year.

There was a verse I had written down in my journal last summer and God brought it to my attention again.  It's Psalm 138:8 and David says "The Lord will work out his plans for my life - for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.  Don’t abandon me, for you made me." (NLT)  There are some wonderful truths and promises for us in just this one verse.  Let's take a few minutes to look at these:

1. God is a God who plans.  I like to make plans, I plan out a weekly menu so I can plan a shopping list, I make plans to go out with a friend for coffee, I make plans as to how I will spend the weekend, I plan to visit my sister in the coming school break.  Everyone makes plans, plans for a wedding, a holiday, a night out with friends, planning a dinner party etc.  However, when it comes to our plans, there is no guarantee that what we have planned for will actually happen, we can't plan for all eventualities, sometimes circumstances are out of our control and disrupt our plans.  Not so with God, he sees the end from the beginning, he knows the outcome, so when God plans for something it happens just as he planned.  "But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken." Psalm 33:11 (NLT) When Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3 God already had planned that he would send his son, Jesus, as the Saviour of the world (see Genesis 3:15) and 2,000 years later Jesus is born.  "For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10 (NLT)  God has planned that we will one day live with him for eternity, we have that promise in John 14:2-3 "There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." (NLT)

2. God has a plan for your life.  Not only has God planned and promised a life with him for those who love him, he also has plans for your life, my life, and his plans for us are always for our good. "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)  Have you asked God what his will is for your life?  Do you have a dream, a goal, a desire to do something that you just know God has planned for you?

3. God's plans cannot be thwarted.  We have the promise that he will work out his plans for us.  We can have confidence in God because he always does what he says he will do and he has the power to do it.  We can trust him with our life.  This is important because there will be days when the going is hard, when we feel that progress is slow, when circumstances are against us, and days when we question that it will ever work out.  In those times we need to remember and rely on his promises to us.  That's one of the reasons I keep a journal so that, particularly when it's tough, I can look back and remind myself of God's promises and his faithfulness. 

4. God will make it happen.  God will work it out, not me, and not you.  This requires humility on our part as we hand over control of our life and submit to his plan.  It also requires patience as we wait for his timing to work things out.  When God reveals his will and plans for us it doesn't necessarily mean that it will happen immediately.  Often he takes us through a time of preparation, to make us ready.  We need to learn to say, in your time Lord, not in mine, in your way, not my way.  We can hold onto the promise that he will work it out.  As God works it out we are not expected to sit back and take it easy, no, we are to keep trusting him, keep our focus on him and keep in tune to his leading and direction and demonstrate a willing obedience. 

Like David, we can have confidence that God will work out his plan because God is a faithful and loving God.  Nothing and no-one can take that love away from us.  In Romans 8:38-39 it says "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. 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." (NLT)  God is faithful to his word and because he loves us we can trust that his plan, his will for us is right and good.  God created us and he will complete the work that he has started in us, he stays the course, he will see it through to the finish.  Paul writes "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

To Think About:
Have you asked God to show you what his plan, his will is for you?

Do you trust in God and his plan for you?  Do you trust God to work out his plan or are you trying to make it happen in your time and your way?

What difference does knowing God has a plan for you make to the way you live?


Friday, 10 January 2014

How Deeply Rooted Are You?

Dear Friends,

A friend was telling me recently that a big tree with many roots had been blown over, uprooted by the recent strong winds we have been experiencing.  I voiced my surprise that this had happened if it had many roots but my friend explained that it was because the roots had been just under the surface rather than going deep in the soil.  The deep roots are what helps a tree to withstand storms and keep secure. 

Do you know that the bible likens us to trees?  It says in Psalm 1:3 that "Those who meditate on God’s word and delight in it are like trees: They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.  Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do." (NLT)  The Amplified Bible puts it like this: "And he shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity]."

Are you "firmly planted [and tended]?  If we are it means that although we will still experience storms in our life, we are more able to withstand them, and not be uprooted by them because we are securely rooted and have anchorage . 

So what  or who do we need to be rooted in?  Jeremiah 17:7-8a tells us "But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit." (NLT)

This tells me that we need to be rooted in God, he is the source of our faith, our hope, our confidence, he is the one in whom we trust.  We can rely on him to help us withstand any storm.  We are secure in him and he provides us with stability.

Paul writes to the Ephesians about being deeply rooted in love and having love as our firm foundation, grounded in the love God has for us and gives us.  "May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the [Holy] Spirit [Himself indwelling your innermost being and personality].  May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love"  Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT).

When Paul writes to the Colossians he again uses the imagery of a rooted tree to explain that we are to be securely and deeply rooted in Christ. "Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving."  Colossians 2:7 (AMP)

The roots of a tree absorb water and other nutrients from the soil to feed the tree so that it can grow to maturity.  So too for us, being rooted in Christ, connected with him, will help us to grow to spiritual maturity.  The Holy Spirit within us gives us the power and resources we need so that we flourish and grow to become all that God intended us to be.  No-one sees the roots, they are hidden in Christ, but the evidence of them should be seen - as we grow in our faith, as we love others as Christ loves us, as we trust and rely on him, as we live with confidence and hope and as others see how we respond and keep standing despite whatever storm we are experiencing.

To Think About:
What "storms of life" have you experienced?

What has enabled you to keep standing?

How can you, in practical terms, keep yourself rooted in Christ?



Friday, 3 January 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude

Dear Friends,

Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that we are to "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (NLT)

It's easy to be thankful when all is well with us, but it's another story when we are in the middle of difficult circumstances. If you are having a tough time right now, you may be thinking that you don't even want to read about being thankful.  There's a part of me that would agree with you.  Once I had made the decision that this post would be about giving thanks to God and having a gratitude attitude I hit a bump in the road.  I've been battling with depression for years and it regularly rears its ugly head.  When it hits I don't really feel like being thankful and I certainly don't want to write about it!  Besides, how can I write about something that I'm not doing? 

But I felt God was saying to go ahead and write it anyway.  So I write even though I haven't yet achieved what I write about.  And that's ok because being a Christian is about being on a journey, it's about our daily walk with God.  Whatever part of the journey you and I are on,  the truth of God's word does not change and we need to know God's truth.  So, I am writing this for myself as much as I am writing it for you, and believe me, I know how challenging it is!

The bible, especially the Psalms, is full of examples and exhortations to give thanks to God, David says in Psalm 7:17 "I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High." (NIV)  Expressing gratitude to God is an act of the will, it's a choice we can make despite how we feel.  Expressing gratitude may not change our circumstances but it will change our hearts. 

If I focus on my problems and difficulties, the bigger they seem and the worse I feel.  Then it's almost impossible to express any gratitude to God because my feelings have taken over control and I have allowed them to do so.  Instead, I need to make the choice that I will give thanks to God.  There is so much I can give thanks to God for: his constant presence with me, his strength, his love, my life in him, my husband who is fulfilling his vow to love me "in sickness and in health", my children, my home, the food I have to eat and the clothes I wear, friends to laugh with and share with, the close relationship I share with my sister and my parents, my love of reading and writing, a bible to read, and the list goes on...

A wonderful thing begins to happen, as I chose to give thanks, as I choose to express an attitude of gratitude, I actually begin to feel more grateful, and begin to see more clearly just how much I have be grateful for.  God has given me so much and it's easy to forget it or take it for granted.  That's why I need to choose to live my life with an attitude of gratitude, and the more I exercise this attitude, the healthier that attitude, and I, will be. 

Positive thinking and reading self-help books won't give us the power to live a life of gratitude.  The good news is, we have been given the Holy Spirit and he is the one who gives us the power we need to make the choice to express the gratitude attitude. 

To Think About:
Ask God to help you develop an attitude of gratitude despite your difficult circumstances and the way you may be feeling.

Take some time out with God and give him your thanks for all he has given you, be specific, include everything the Holy Spirit brings to your mind.  For example, if you're thankful for a particular relationship, tell him why you're thankful. What happens when you do this?

Read Psalm 103 as an aid to expressing your gratitude to God.