Friday, 28 February 2014

"God Is Taking Everything Away From Me"

Dear Friends,

When I was first diagnosed with M.E (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) in the late 1990s I really struggled to come to terms with it.  I can remember in the early years and when it was at its worst saying that God was taking everything away from me.  This was truly how I felt, and the hurt and the pain from what I was losing was intense.  It's a pain which actually cannot fully be put into words.  Not only had I lost my health and strength, I had to give up work and I wasn't able to do the things I'd been doing at church, such as leading Sunday School and running a youth group with my husband.  Jason and I had married in the Summer of 1995 and the illness meant I wasn't able to do all I wanted to do in the home or to be the kind of wife I wanted to be for Jason and I wasn't able to socialise (for me that meant not going to church and mixing with church friends).  It really felt like God was taking everything away from me and like I said, it was extremely painful.

From books I've read and conversations I've had with others, I know I'm not alone in feeling like this.  Perhaps you have gone through a similar experience which has caused you to feel as though God is taking everything away from you or perhaps you're going through it right now.

Job must have had similar feelings when he lost his wealth, children, health, his standing in the city as an elder and on top of all this he lost his wife's support and the respect of his friends.  (You can read his story in the book of Job in the bible).  And yet, he was still able to say at one point “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.  Praise the name of the Lord!” Job 1:21 (NLT).

Although I felt like God was taking everything away from me, he never removed his presence, I knew him with me all the time and he taught me a valuable lesson through this trial that I'm not sure I would have learnt otherwise.  

It's all too easy to make our life all about the things we have and the things we do.  I can tend to lean on these things and people instead of depending on God.  My relationship with God had suffered too because I was too busy doing things for him and depending on my own ability and strength to serve him in church. 

It was through the loss, the pain, the trials, that God taught me that he is all I need.  One loss after another God taught me that these things are not dependable, I can't depend on my health, on myself, on what I have and what I do, but I can totally depend on God.  When I was able to do almost nothing, I found I was able to meet with God, have quality time with him, learn from him, and get to know him and love him on a much deeper level than I had time for before.  He taught me to trust him, to lean on him and wholly depend on him.  The Psalmist was able to say "This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him." Psalm 91:2 (NLT)  Paul too learnt what it meant to rely on God.  In his letter to the Corinthians he wrote "We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.  In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead." 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NLT) 

It was not until I reached the point, from losing so much, that I felt God was all I had, that I then found that God is all I need.  I believe that's what he wants for all his children.  I'd like to be able to tell you that once I'd learnt that lesson I never needed to learn it again, but that's not the case.  Since then, every so often, I need to re-learn it and God has led me through a few experiences when I've needed to be taught again by him to trust and lean on him alone and to know that he is all I need.

Because of Job's experiences he was able to say at the end to God "I had heard of You [only] by the hearing of the ear, but now my [spiritual] eye sees You." Job 42:5 (AMP)  It's the difference between knowing about God in our heads and really knowing him in our hearts.  It's all about a close, day by day, moment by moment, relationship with him.

While I can't say I'm glad to have M.E and all the problems that go with it.  I am glad that God loves me so much and cares enough about me to use the experience to work in my life and to draw me closer to him.  This time will then not have been wasted.

I know that whatever you may have been through or are going through is so very painful, the depth of which cannot fully be put in words, but I pray that through it you may know that God is with you, that he hasn't abandoned you and that he is saying to you, trust me, lean on me, I won't let you down, I am all that you need.  That when God has brought you through it you, like Job, will be able to say “But he knows where I am going.  And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.  For I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed his ways and not turned aside." Job 23:10-11 (NLT)

To Think About:
Take some time out to read the whole story of Job.

What do you think God has been wanting to say to you through your painful experience?

I would encourage you to journal your experiences, including how you feel about them and to also record what God is saying to you in them.  I find it so helpful to do this and it's good to look back over them when you feel the need to.


Friday, 21 February 2014

Healthy Boundaries

Dear Friends,

As parents, Jason and I are responsible for our children's well-being.  That's why we, like many parents, set boundaries for our children.  One of those boundaries is the time they are to go to bed.  They sometimes moan that everyone else their age goes to bed much later than they do.  My response to that is that I'm not responsible for other children, but I am responsible for them and that means setting an age appropriate bedtime.  I believe that it's important for their health and for them to get a good night's sleep so that they can concentrate in their classes.  They may not agree with me, but I don't do this to be unfair or mean or because I don't care, in fact the opposite is true, I love them and want the best for them. 

I remember Josh saying when he reached the age of 15, that now he was 15 he could watch 15 rated films.  We talked about it and I explained that, while in the eyes of the law he is allowed to watch these films, he is still under Jason's and my responsibility and care, so if we feel that a certain film will be harmful to his soul and mind, then we will decide that he is not to watch it.  Again, he may not see it from that perspective, he may think we are unfair and unreasonable, and are looking to make his life miserable, whereas the truth is that we are looking out for him and that we have good reasons for the boundaries we set.  God has placed our children in our care and we are accountable to him for our parenting.

God, as our heavenly father, parents each one of us in the same way.  He sets boundaries for us, such as the rules and standards that we are to live by.  He has made it clear in his word what his boundaries are in areas such as marriage, parenting, work ethic, finance etc. Like children, we sometimes rebel against these boundaries, we think we know best, we think God's unfair, that he's being deliberately mean, taking the joy out of everything.  These are not the reasons God has set boundaries.  God has set these boundaries because he loves and cares about us, he wants what is good for us and he wants us to enjoy the best possible life within the limits he sets, and these limits are not narrow.

Let's take a moment to look at the beginning of the bible with Adam and Eve.  They are the only people to have known a perfect world, heaven on earth.  God placed them in a wonderful garden and gave them the responsibility to take care of his creation.  They had an incredible relationship with God with no barriers.  There was a wonderful harmony.  God had given them everything they could ever need and the boundaries he set were wide.  "15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, 'You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.'"  Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)  However, they chose to cross the boundary set by God, they became dissatisfied with what they had, they thought they knew better than God, they thought he was being unfair and they chose to do the one thing God had told them not to do. "The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves."  Genesis 3:6-7 (NLT)

Their choice to disobey God and cross the boundary led to serious consequences.  No longer was their world perfect, sin and death had been introduced to their world, their relationship with God was broken, their relationship with each other was damaged and creation was affected.

Let's be honest here - there have been times when we can see ourselves, our attitudes and actions, in Adam and Eve.  Haven't there been times when we felt we knew better than God, we tell ourselves we deserve the best, our life is our own therefore it's up to us to set our own boundaries, we tell ourselves we're not hurting anyone.  If we listen to these kind of thoughts for too long then our choice to disobey is quick to follow.  However, we then have to face the serious consequences: a broken relationship with God, damaged relationships with others, pain, hurt, guilt and the death of our peace and joy.

Living within the boundaries set for us by God is so much better for us.  It is within his boundaries that we experience a blessed life and the life that God intends us to enjoy.  We are reconciled to God and to others, there is love, joy, hope, peace and purpose.  They are the consequences of keeping within God's boundaries.  In John 10:10 Jesus says "The thief [the devil] comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)." (Amp)  That's the life that God has prepared for those who keep inside the boundaries he has set for us.  It's a mistake and a lie of the devil to think that this kind of life can be enjoyed and experienced outside of God's boundaries.

We all at times have crossed God's boundaries, but the way back is simple, it's to recognise our sin, come before God and confess it to him.  God has promised to forgive us and he welcomes us back in to his presence.  1 John 1:9 tells us that "But 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)

When we really believe that God, our heavenly father, has provided us with these boundaries because he loves us and wants us to experience his best for us, then the choice of where we will live our lives - within or outside of his boundaries - becomes easier.

To Think About:
When have you chosen to cross the boundaries God has set for you and what have been the consequences to this decision? 

Consider a time when you chose to keep inside the boundaries God has set for you.  What have been the consequences of this?

What part do you think your attitude towards God has to play in how you respond to God's boundaries?


Friday, 14 February 2014

Aspects of Love

Dear Friends,

As I write this Valentine's Day is approaching so it will probably come as no surprise to you that I have chosen to write about love.  I'm not talking about the romantic, sentimental, bunch of roses, box of chocolates kind of love, I'm talking about authentic, genuine, godly love.  It's a love based not just on feelings, it's not just a matter of the heart.  To love is a choice, it's a matter for the mind, an act of will.  We are to love consistently, whether we feel like it or not, whether the person reciprocates in love or not, and we should not use it or abuse it to manipulate others. 

We read in 1 John 4:8 "But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (NLT)  God loves us with a love that we have never ever experienced before, and as we follow him and love him in return, his love flows through us to others.  Jesus, the Son of God, says to us "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other." John 13:34 (NLT)  As I wrote last week, we are to become more like Jesus, he's our role model.

There's a great description of authentic, genuine, godly love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8  "4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."  (NIV)

This is how God loves us and it describes for us the kind of love we are to have for one another, whether it's between husband and wife, mother and child, with our parents, siblings, friends etc. making it applicable and relevant to any and every relationship.

So how does that translate to my life today, what does it mean for me to love others in this way?   In order to understand it better I've paraphrased these verses on love below after meditating on them during the week.  As I paraphrased them I found it helpful to keep someone in mind, for me it made sense to consider my relationship with Jason, my husband.  Here's what I came up with...

Love makes allowances for each other, it accepts and appreciates our differences, it is slow to speak and quick to listen.

Love is gentle, gracious and considerate of the needs and interests of others, it is not overbearing, demanding things be done in a certain way (my way).

Love rejoices in others' achievements and gifting, it gives others genuine praise, it does not harbour resentment or long for what others have.

Love does not say 'Look at me, look what I can do', it does not brag nor puff up self, rather it seeks to build others up and encourage them.

Love is not arrogant or conceited, it does not have an inflated ego, instead it recognises the value and worth of others.

Love treats others with respect, it uses words to speak positively, words that encourage and supports others.  It does not gossip, criticise or insult others.

Love is not about looking out for number one, getting the best for itself, instead it looks to give its best to others, to be outward rather than inward looking.

Love is self-controlled, peace-loving and calm, it is not bad-tempered, not irritable and does not take its frustrations and annoyances out on others.

Love keeps forgiving and does not hold a grudge, neither does it bring up previous offences at any opportunity.

Love delights when others pursue the will of God for their lives, it takes no delight in anything that causes others.

Love does all it can to keep the relationship safe, it defends and guards the relationship, and lets nothing come between it.

Love has confidence and faith in each other, it relies and leans on each other, it is committed to each other.

Love believes the best about each other and for each other, it looks forward to a lifetime together, believing that each can be all that God intends them to be.

Love is constant, it doesn't give up at the first sign of trouble, it endures and goes from strength to strength as difficulties are overcome.

This kind of love is never defeated, it doesn't die, rather this kind of love succeeds, it prospers, it thrives, it flourishes.

Praise God!  (Just felt it needed a shout of praise right there!)

Having shared it with you, now I want to spend some more time on my own with God, thinking about it.  It's all very well knowing what love is all about, but I can't just leave it there, it's just as important to discover ways that I can demonstrate this kind of love to my husband (and to others).  That's why James writes in James 1:22 "But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves." (NLT)  I'm also going to use what I wrote about love as a prayer to God, asking him to help me love others in this way, because I know very well I can't do it on my own.

To Think About:
Is there one aspect of love (from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8) that you feel God is prompting you to develop?

Is God bringing to your mind someone he wants you to love in this way?  

How could you paraphrase those verses so that they become more relevant to you? 


Friday, 7 February 2014

Can You See The Family Resemblance?

Dear Friends,

One Sunday morning after the church service I was chatting over coffee with a lady and a mutual friend.  When she saw Jess she said that my daughter looks just like me and my friend added that we have the same character too.  She's not the first one to say how much my daughter looks like me.  I know that on several occasions I've said to Josh, my son, "Oh, you're just like your father!" when he acts in a certain way.  It's no surprise that there are these family resemblances, after all, being family means we have the same DNA.  People also say that you become like the person you live with.

Not only do we all have a physical family, when we become Christians God gives us a spiritual family too, he adopts us into his family and we become children of God. "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure." Ephesians 1:5 (NLT).  With our adoption God also gives us new 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) and with our new life he gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit living within us, his DNA, if you like, "And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him." Ephesians 1:13-14 (NLT).

Just as Jess, my daughter, resembles me in character, we too, as sons and daughters of God, are to resemble Jesus Christ.  In Romans 8:29 we read "God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest of a family of many brothers [and sisters]. He chose them long ago; when the time came he called them, he made them righteous in his sight, and then lifted them to the splendour of life as his own sons [and daughters]." (Phillips) 

People should be able to see Jesus in you and me as they look at look at us, as they watch the way we behave, the way we speak and the way we are with our spiritual family.  For some, we will be the only Jesus that they get to see and this should motivate us to resemble him more and more.  As we learn more and more how much God loves us, we also grow to love him more deeply and as our love for him grows, we will love others as God loves them and they will begin to recognise it as God's love in us.  By loving others we are living our life as Jesus lived his.  "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.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world." 1 John 4:16-17 (NLT)

We obey God and follow his will and live as he wants us to live, not out of fear, but from our love for him.  "All who keep His commandments [who obey His orders and follow His plan, live and continue to live, to stay and] abide in Him, and He in them. [They let Christ be a home to them and they are the home of Christ.] And by this we know and understand and have the proof that He [really] lives and makes His home in us: by the [Holy] Spirit Whom He has given us." 1 John 3:24 (AMP)

We have God's gift of the Holy Spirit within us and it's his work to grow us to become more like Christ.  This doesn't mean we just sit back and do nothing, no, we are to work in partnership with him and we do this by providing an environment in which he can do his work.  It begins with having the right attitude and choosing to submit to God, this is the healthy environment which gives him the room to grow the character of Christ in us so that we become more and more like Christ.  Galatians 5:22-23 "the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence)." (Amp) Our growth is stunted when we refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in us. 

It's my desire this year that I will increasingly show a family resemblance to my Heavenly Father so that when people get to know me they will say "You are just like your Father, I know who's family you belong to."  What's your desire?

To Think About:
Take an honest look at yourself, are you living just like Jesus?  What may be hindering you from doing this?  How do you think the Holy Spirit can help in this area?

Look back on your experiences over the past week or so and ask God if there's one aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) that he is wanting to grow in you? Are you willing for this to happen?