Friday, 25 April 2014

One Year On

Dear Friends,

My blog has just had its first birthday!  A year has gone by so quickly and I'm so grateful to God for enabling me to write a new post once a week for a whole year.  On my own it would have been impossible and if anyone had told me more than a year ago that this would be one way I could serve God I don't think I would have believed them.

I want to thank you, dear friends, who have faithfully stayed the course with me so far and have given me so much encouragement along the way.  God has blessed me so much as I have followed his leading and I trust that as you have read these posts that you too have been blessed and encouraged by God.

When a Christian friend made the suggestion of writing a blog I could so easily have got swept up in the moment, getting carried away with the idea without stopping to consider whether this was of God or not.  It is often my way that I go full steam ahead when I get an idea without considering what the consequences of it may be.  While an idea may be a good one it does not automatically follow that it is God's will for me to put it into action.  So it's important to stop and take time to seek God on the matter.

Before I wrote my first post, there was an interim period of thinking it through and talking it through with God - Is God leading me in this direction?  Is it possible?  Yes, it is possible if the answer to my first question is yes.  Although I'm familiar with other people's blogs, I had no idea how to develop my own.  But again, I experienced God's help in this as those I would usually turn to, my husband and my son, had no knowledge of how to set up a blog.

I love Psalm 139 and in verses 13-16 we read "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." (NLT)

That means that before the idea of starting a blog had entered my thoughts, and even before the world and it's technology had introduced us to blogs, God knew that I would be writing a blog.  He had it all planned out and I find that incredible!  He knew that I would be sitting here with my laptop in front of me on the 24th April 2014 at 10.45am writing another post for the coming week.

Just as God has a plan for my life and how I use it, he also has a plan for your life.  Has there been a thought, a new idea that he has planted in you?  If he has and you're not sure what to do next, might I suggest some things you can do which are based on what I learned as I began looking into setting up my blog.  

1. The most important thing for us to do when something new comes our way and we're not sure whether we're to be a part of it or not, is to seek God.  Share your thoughts with him, ask him to confirm what you think may be from him.

2. Share with a Christian friend you respect.   Look for a group of people who can support you in prayer, who will give advice, make suggestions and will encourage you.

3. Take some time to investigate it and find out more, don't rush into it and then regret it.  Jesus tells us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:37 (NIV) God has given us our minds to use, he has given us common sense and he doesn't expect us to leave it at the door when it comes to our Christian faith.  We are to use it alongside our faith and with the wisdom God gives us. But we are not to rely on our own thinking so much that we ignore our faith in God. 

4. Then, when you are convinced of what God is leading you to, take that step, that leap of faith.  There are so many examples of men and women in the bible who acted in faith, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, David, the disciples, Paul etc.

5. Trust that God is with you, he doesn't expect you to accomplish his will on your own, in fact if you try without him you will find you don't get very far.  We read in Psalm 127:1 "Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted." (NLT) But with him, you will accomplish far beyond what you ever thought was possible. It says in Ephesians 3:20 "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." (NLT) Remember he has given you the gift of his Holy Spirit, and he's the one who will enable to do all that he is calling you to.

6. Whatever you do as you follow God's will it is important that it is all done for the glory of God, rather than bringing glory and attention to ourselves. In 1 Peter 4:10-12 it says "God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. .. Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen." (NLT)

I can tell you from my own experience, there is much joy, satisfaction and fulfilment in doing what God has called you to do.  Paul writes in Galatians 6:4 "Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else." (NLT) and David writes in Psalm 40:8 "I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.” (NLT)

To Think About:
Have you ever attempted to do something without relying on God's enabling help?  What happened?

What difference does it make when you partner with God to achieve his will?

Take a moment to examine your motives as you seek to do God's will.  What do your motives reveal to you?


Saturday, 19 April 2014

From Dashed Hope to Hope Restored

Dear Friends,

With the death of Jesus on that first Good Friday, his followers grieved and mourned not only for Jesus' death but also for the death of their hopes and dreams and the loss of purpose and meaning to their life.  Their hopes were dashed, their dreams deflated and their purpose for living destroyed.  All these things had been wrapped up in Jesus and who they thought he was and his purpose for coming.  Even though Jesus had explained it to them, they had misunderstood him.  They thought he had come to save them from the tyrannical rule of the Romans, they thought he was going to be their military leader.  For 3 days they were grieving the loss of a loved one and they were in despair over all that they had lost.  Two disciples on the road to Emmaus said to a stranger (they didn't at first realise it was Jesus in his new resurrection body) "We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago." Luke 24:21 (NLT)  You can read the whole of this account in Luke 24:13-36.

Have you ever been in a similar position?  Have you experienced for yourself the pain of lost hope, lost dreams, lost purpose? Perhaps the hope of a particular job, marriage, starting a family, travelling, serving God? I have been in a similar position to Jesus' followers,  I was convinced that it was God's plan for me to go to University to train as a school teacher.  I was convinced that his purpose for me was to become a teacher, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the direction my life was heading for. 

However, despite completing my teaching degree, despite filling in numerous application forms and attending interviews, a full time teaching job did not open up for me.  Then, not long after, I became ill with M.E and due to poor health was not able to work in any kind of job.  How could this be?  How could this happen?  I was sure it had been God's plan for me to work as a full time teacher, but I never saw this fulfilled.  My hopes and dreams were dashed, they died because they came to nothing. 

Going back to that first Good Friday, it was not the end and Jesus' followers had Easter Sunday.  When God raised Jesus to new life on that Sunday, Jesus brought with him hope restored, dreams revised, his plan and purpose revealed.  His followers finally understood what God's plan had been all along, yes, Jesus had come to earth to save them but not in the way they had dreamed, he had come to save all people from the power of sin, to redeem us and restore us to a loving relationship with our heavenly father.  They now understood what Jesus' purpose was and the part that they (and now we) had to play in God's plan. "Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT) It was so much better than what they had expected and hoped for and they saw this now. They had to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday.

I believe that it was God's plan all along for me to attend university and gain a teacher training degree, however, at the time I had misunderstood why it was God's plan.  It became much clearer later, that all the experiences in those years were to prepare me for when I taught and led in Sunday School, to prepare me to teach women in small groups and for preaching and teaching in a church setting.  I had learnt many skills, including how to communicate with others, how to teach, how to study and also how to lean on God.  I needed to go through my own Good Friday to come through to the other side, Easter Sunday, where hope was restored, dreams revised and God's purpose for me revealed.  The things God has planned for me are so much better than what I had originally supposed.  In Ephesians 3:20 Paul writes "Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]—" (Amp)

Perhaps you have come through the other side and you can look back and see the things God has planned for you and you are living in the light of his hope and his purpose for you, perhaps he has given you a new dream to replace the original one you had. You can see now how much better life is, how it is so much more than you had hoped for.

But perhaps for some you are still at Good Friday, and you still need the time to mourn and grieve for the things you have lost.  That's ok, we need to feel what we are feeling, to recognise the emotions we are experiencing.  But, let me encourage you, hold onto hope because although it may be Friday, Sunday is coming!  Hallelujah!  Psalm 30:5b "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." (NLT)

To Think About:
Do you have any hopes, dreams, plans that have died?

Has God breathed new life or restored or revealed a new purpose, a new hope, a new dream in you?

If you are still living in Good Friday ask God to be close to you and help you through it, ask him to help you to keep trusting him no matter what.

Are you living in Easter Sunday?  How can you partner with him to see his hopes and dreams and plans fulfilled in you?


Friday, 11 April 2014

What's so good about Good Friday?

Dear Friends,

One way we learn is through asking questions and I can remember my son, Josh, asking me when he was a young boy, "Why do we call the day Jesus died on the cross Good Friday?"  You know, that's a very good question to ask, and by asking it of me he actually made me think seriously about it before responding to him.

Why would anyone name the day we remember someone dying as good?  Well, I would think on that day, over 2,000 years ago, the devil thought it must have been a very good day.  He must have been rubbing his hands in glee.  At last, or so he thought, he was victorious over Jesus, finally, or so he thought, he had orchestrated the death of his enemy, God's Son.  He thought he'd struck God a mortal blow.  The religious leaders thought they too had also finally got their way by having Jesus put to death on a cross.

Jesus' mother and family, his friends and followers would hardly have thought it a good day as they saw the one they loved tortured beyond recognition and then suffer the humiliating death of a criminal on a cross.  Isaiah prophesied that "But many were amazed when they saw him.  His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man." Isaiah 52:14 (NLT) Can you imagine their pain, grief and despair?  In their anguish they had forgotten that Jesus had warned them that this would happen.  In Matthew 16:21 it says "From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead" (NLT)

Yet, despite appearances, Good Friday was actually a good day.  Why?  How?  What's so good about Good Friday?

The devil believed the day was his victory but he could not have been more wrong.  Death was not the end for Jesus because God, in his power, raised him from the dead 3 days later, Jesus is the victor.  Because of Jesus we need have no fear of death, death is not the end for those of us who love God, he has given us eternal life, a life prepared for us to live in heaven with him.  "Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NLT)

Through Jesus' death on the cross we have been made righteous with God.  God is a holy  and just God and therefore the punishment for our sins had to be paid by someone.  The only person who could take that punishment was Jesus, he was the only one without sin.  "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 6:23 (NLT)  He took all our sins on himself as he was nailed to the cross, the sins of every person who has lived and who is yet to live, the sins you and I have already committed and the sins we are yet to commit. God loves us so much that Jesus willingly went to the cross for us so that we might receive God's forgiveness and be welcomed into his family.  "In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." Ephesians 1:5-8 (NIV)

These are the reasons why we call the day Jesus died on the cross Good Friday.

To Think About:
God's gift to us is one that he freely offers to us all, yet for us to receive it for free he paid the highest price imaginable.  Have you accepted his gift?  If not, what's holding you back?  If you have, how are you using what cost him so dearly to give?

In the days leading up to Easter you might like to read the Easter story.  As you do imagine yourself as an eye witness to everything that happens.  What do you think God wants to show you as you look once more at Jesus' death and resurrection?  Below are the bible passages you could read:
The Last Supper: Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20.
Jesus speaks to his disciples in the Upper Room: John 13-17.
Jesus in Gethsemane: Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1.
Jesus is betrayed and arrested: Matt 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:2-12.
Jesus' trial and Peter's denial of Jesus: Matt 26:57-27:2,11-31, Mark 14:53-15:20, Luke 22:54-23:25, John 18:13-19:16.
Jesus is crucified: Matt 27:31-56, Mark 15:20-41, Luke 23: 26-49, John 19:17-30.
Jesus' resurrection: Matt 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-18.



Friday, 4 April 2014

Practicing the Presence of God

Dear Friends,

Today's post is a little longer than usual, I found that the more I wrote on this topic, the more I became taken up with it and with God himself.  So I suggest either you make yourself your favourite hot drink, settle down on your favourite comfy chair and read, or perhaps read it in two sittings rather than one. 

I'm hungry for more of Jesus, for a closer walk with him, to know his presence with me moment by moment.  I think this is what the psalmist longed for when he wrote Psalm 42:1-2 "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?" (NIV)  It says of Enoch in Genesis 5:22 that he "walked faithfully with God 300 years" (NIV), the NLT translates it as  "lived in close fellowship with God" and the Amplified translates it as "walked [in habitual fellowship] with God".  Now there's a great epitaph!

In recent years I've heard people mention Brother Lawrence and his book "The Practice of the Presence of God" which is based on his conversations and letters.  I've often wondered what this is about so I decided to download the book and have started to read it.  I'm finding it interesting and helpful despite the old fashioned English.  In it Brother Lawrence explains how he has practiced the presence of God in his life and maintained a continual conversation with God.

I wonder if the answer to experiencing more of God in my life, having a greater awareness of him with me, is not so much about working hard to have more of him, but is instead about me giving more of myself to him, surrendering my self and my will to him.  So, rather than it become a striving after or a duty that I 'should' do as a Christian it flows from my love for him and a desire to worship him in all that I do.

For me, I believe that having a closer walk with God is not about duty but does include discipline.  Too often we can view discipline as a negative thing but I think it is positive.  Discipline means to train yourself to do something by controlling your behaviour, and self-control is actually the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23).  I think there is a link between discipline and disciple, and as a disciple of Jesus, I am his follower.  As I follow him, he teaches me and I learn from him.  The more closely I walk with him, following in his path, the more intimately I get to know him.  And the more I know him the more I imitate him and the more I become like him. 

As I live and move in close fellowship with God I can bring him glory in all that I do. As John the Baptist said "He must increase, but I must decrease. [He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so.]" John 3:30 (Amp). Life becomes more about God and less about me.  "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)  What does it mean practically to practice the presence of God?  Well, for me, it's not just when I go to a meeting at church, or meet during the week with other Christians or as I have my quiet time with God.  But it's also as I go about my daily responsibilities, as I include God in them, as I have a conversation with him during the things that I do, as I do them with an attitude of worship, as I work on housework, for example, washing my family's clothes which is my service to them but is also my willing and glad service for him.  As I ask him for his help in walking close with him, as I seek his help in the things I'm doing and when they're completed as I give him my thanks for enabling me in what has been done.  As I bake a cake and listen to a bible teacher's message on the radio and ponder what God wants to say to me through it.  As I clean and tidy the living room with Christian music on which takes me into a place of worshipping him through song and as the words of a song touch my soul, such as the song which has taken the words from Psalm 84:10 "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;" (NIV) and which then stays in my heart through the day.  The privilege of praising and worshipping God is a marvellous thing when we realise that God inhabits, or dwells, in his people's praises. (Psalm 22:3, KJV)  He is present when I give him my praise and I wonder if perhaps I am closest to him when I praise him.

I believe the more I "practice the presence of God" as Brother Lawrence put it, the more it becomes second nature to me, that it will become as natural as breathing.  But, let's be honest here, it will take time, it does take discipline, there will be times when I move away from God's presence, but that doesn't mean I then beat myself up over it, call myself a failure (as is often my way) nor do I give up.  Instead, I use it as an opportunity to return to my heavenly father, who waits for me with open arms, ready to pour out on me his love, grace and mercy.

I've shared with you some of what I've begun to do, but I don't want to be too prescriptive, after all it could too easily become all about rules of what must, or should or ought to be and our relationship with God is not about that, it's all about his love and his grace.  Each of us, because he has created us as unique individuals, have a unique relationship with him, which means my walk with him will not be like your walk with him.

What I do know is that a close walk with God will enrich my life, will enrich your life, not only that, it will enrich the lives of those connected with us - our friends, our family, our neighbours, our community and more.

To Think About:
Is God stirring your heart to "practice the presence of God"?

Are you willing to do something about it?

What difference do you think it would make to your life?