Saturday, 31 May 2014

You Are Who God Says You Are

Dear Friends,

All her life Leah had been used to being compared with her younger, prettier sister.  She built an invisible wall around herself, pretending the things people said about her didn't affect her at all, but really each comment was a wound that stung to the very core of her being.  From childhood, through adolescence and on into adulthood, people had told her she was plain, awkward, reserved and dull.  She had heard it so many times that she believed it herself, she believed that this was who she was.  I just wish I was more like my sister, Rachel, she often thought.  If only I was lovely, beautiful, witty, charming, and someone who people loved to be around.

When the sisters first met their cousin, Jacob, it was obvious to Leah that he would prefer Rachel to herself.  Who wouldn't?  He only had eyes for Rachel and barely spoke to Leah except out of courtesy.  He soon fell deeply in love with Rachel and their marriage was arranged.

Now, Leah had a dream that one day a man would come into her life who would love her with all his heart, who would look at her the way Jacob looked at Rachel.  She would be his first choice of wife and they would live happily ever after. 

However, it was not to be. That dream died the day before Rachel's wedding when their father came to speak to her.  His plan was to deceive Jacob into marrying Leah.  After all, he told her, she'd never marry because who would marry a woman such as her, and if he didn't do this he'd never get her off his hands.  There was nothing Leah could do except do as he bid her, and so, with her heart broken, she became married to a man who didn't love her, who never would love her because he loved another woman, her sister.  (You can find the story of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29, my account has included just a dash of imagination!)

To a small degree I can relate to  how Leah felt. One of the first times I remember being compared with another was when I was 8 years old and my family moved to Buxted, a small country village.  We lived next door to an old gentleman and my mum would often clean his home for him and we would pop in and see him or talk to him over the garden fence almost daily.  He gave my sister and me "titles",for my sister "The Queen of Buxted" and for me "The Duchess".  I remember how this hurt me at the time, because even as a young child, I knew that being the older sister I should be "Queen", I was aware the message he was giving me (not in so many words) was that my sister was more likeable, that I just wasn't nice enough or good enough or had the right qualities to be made "Queen".

Maybe your heart resonates with Leah.  Perhaps you're used to being compared with others and maybe you've been told so many times that you're ugly, you're fat, you're stupid, you're hopeless, you're a failure, you're no good, you're dull or you're unloveable.  Perhaps you've even begun to believe those things for yourself.  The more we hear these things, the stronger the hold they have over us and in the end they become our truth, our perception of who we are. 

As I was preparing to write this I felt God say to me, you may not have been the Queen of Buxted but you are my child, I am your King, you are a daughter of mine and as such you are a princess.  These words clothed me with dignity and soothed my soul.  This is my identity, this is who I really am and it is an everlasting identity.   The things God says is not to make one person better than another, he doesn't raise one person up and put down another, he has no favourites and that's good news for all of us.  What others have said about you and me count for nothing, all that matters is what God says about us. And God says you are his child, you are a son or daughter of the King and as such you are a prince or princess.  What other people say about us will pass but God's word, the only truth, will last forever. Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 "Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear." (NLT)  I know whose words I want to hold onto - those that God says, not others.  In 1 Peter 2:9 it says about us that we  "are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession." (NLT)

To Think About:
How can you let go of the negative and wrong things said to you and about you which have shaped how you see yourself?

Replace the lies with God's truth.  Meditate on verses such as the ones mentioned earlier and any of the following: 1 John 3:1; Ephesians 1:3-4, 2:10, 4:24; Romans 8:17 and 2 Corinthians 5:17.  Ask God to help you make the journey from believing them in your head to really knowing them with your heart.

Use words of affirmation to help others see themselves as God sees them.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Taming The Tongue

Dear Friends,

We have recently had two small additions to our family - two fluffy bunnies!  Jess' bunny is Bugsy, (on the left) a dwarf lionhead rabbit who was about 10 months old when she bought him.  He is an indoor bunny and loves to be let loose in our conservatory.  He is happy to be stroked, but doesn't like to be picked up and held.  It's obvious he was greatly loved by his previous owner but I'm not sure that she held him much.  Josh's bunny is Fluff-Zilla (I take no responsibility for the name!) she is a dwarf lionhead/lop rabbit and is about 8 weeks old.  We take her out of her cage daily to hold and cuddle her so that she becomes tame.  We know this won't happen over-night, it will take time, determination and perseverance.  Bugsy, being an older rabbit, will be much harder to tame.

Trying to tame these bunnies reminded me of James writing in his letter (in chapter 3) about taming the tongue.

I don't know about you, but I find that I'm not always using my words in a way that I would like to. There are times when, instead of thanking Jason, my husband, for doing something for me, I open my mouth and criticise him for not doing it in the way I would like it done.  There are times, when in a cross moment, I will raise my voice at my children and speak unkindly to them or speak more harshly to them than is necessary.  There have been times when I have listened to gossip, rather than refuse to be a part of it, and have even been an instrument for passing it on.  As Christians we can be quite good at excusing gossip, reasoning that we are only sharing it because we care so much about the person or reasoning that we are passing it on in the guise of a prayer request.  The truth is that there is no good reason for indulging in gossip and we need to stay well away from it.

I'm not proud of the way I've used my words at times.  I, we, can apologise after the fact, but we can never take our words back once they have been uttered.  The damage, the harm, the destruction has already been done.  That's why James likens the damage an uncontrolled tongue does with a fire that's out of control: "It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that." James 3:5 (The Message)  Think of the destruction an uncontrolled fire and an uncontrolled tongue can cause.

There's poison in the tongue, James 3:8b says the tongue "is restless and evil, full of deadly poison." (NLT)  Small doses of poison given to others causes them harm and pain, the constant administering of poison or a large dose of poison brings death - it kills a person's self-worth, their spirit, their joy, their hope, their confidence, their reputation.

I don't want to harm others with my words, I don't want to tear them down, criticise them, judge them, verbally abuse them, react angrily or with impatience, gossip etc.  I want to use my words to praise and glorify God, to build others up and encourage them, to support them, to bring them hope and joy through the things I say.  I want the words that I speak to be full of love and honouring to God, the one I represent.  In Ephesians 4:29 it says "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (NIV)

But, it's going to take time, and it's going to take more than just perseverance and determination on my part to tame my tongue because as it says in James 3:8a  "but no one can tame the tongue." (NLT)  So does that mean I just give up?  That I just accept that there's going to be inconsistencies with my speech and the way I use my words?  No, thank God, he's given me one who has the power to help me control my tongue - the Holy Spirit.  He's the one who produces self-control (Galatians 5:23) in me.  I know that as I work with him, rather than in opposition to him, then more and more my words will be ones that bless others.

I can also pray and ask God to put a guard over my mouth so that what comes out of it is pleasing to him.  I can ask him to show me when I have got it wrong so that I can limit the damage and I can ask him to give me loving and encouraging words that I can speak into the lives of others.

To Think About:
Reflect on this past week and ask God to bring to your mind situations where you have used your words in the wrong way.  What does he want you to do about this?  (It may or may not be appropriate to ask forgiveness of someone, but you can always ask God for his forgiveness which he offers us freely.)

Starting from today, what practical things can you do, with the aid of his Holy Spirit, to help you to control your tongue?

Over the coming week, ask God to show you someone who would benefit from some encouraging, positive words.  It may be in a conversation with them face-to-face, a phone conversation, an email, a note in the post.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Demonstrating God's Grace Rather Than Harbouring A Critical Attitude

Dear Friends,

I mentioned in my last blog that part of perfectionism involves aiming for impossibly high standards and then being critical and judgemental when I don't meet those standards.

In my perfectionism I also expected others to meet these same high standards, which also meant (and this is not an easy thing to admit to) that I had a critical and judgemental attitude towards others if they failed to meet those standards.  At the time I wasn't aware of these wrong attitudes until God revealed the truth to me.  God showed me how critical I was when others didn't live up to my human interpretation of what makes a "good (or perfect)" Christian.  And he showed me how unlike Jesus I was being.

When the M.E was at its worst I was unable to get out to many church meetings.  Now, prior to this I had been judgemental of others when they didn't attend the meetings I thought they should be at.  God said to me - how would I feel right now, if others judged my non-appearance at meetings in the same way I had been judging them, how would I feel about being misunderstood because they didn't know the reason for my absence, all they knew was that I wasn't there as I "should" be.  You see, that was what I had been doing, judging and criticising them without knowing their circumstances, or what was currently going on in their life, the pains, hurts, struggles they were dealing with.  When, in my pride, I had appointed myself judge when I had no right whatsoever to be.

Like I said, God, in his grace, showed me I was wrong, that it was not my place to criticise or act as judge.  That God alone has the authority to judge us.  In James 4:12 we read "God
alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbour?" (NLT) and also in Romans 14:10-13a 10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” 12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. (NLT)

God showed me how similar I was, in my perfectionism, to the older son in The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is found in Luke 15:11-32.  I was living within the rules and regulations I had created and expected others to do the same.  Then was critical when they were not more like me.  I showed no-one the grace, mercy and love which God has extended towards me, and was living, bound my by perfectionism, unable to enjoy all that God had given me.
The reason God pointed out to me where I was wrong was not to tear me down, not to punish me, but to give me the opportunity to change my heart, to allow him to transform me.  So that I might better reflect the likeness of his Son, Jesus.  If you're familiar with the mirrors at fairground attractions - the ones that distort your image in various ways, such as to give you a really long neck, or look very short and wide - you'll know they don't give a good reflection or representation of what you actually look like.  For that, you need an ordinary glass mirror.  God is transforming me and you so that others will see a clear and true, rather than a distorted reflection, of Jesus. 
God changed my heart and dealt with my critical, judgemental attitude so that I am now more compassionate towards others and show them the same grace and mercy that God has shown me, so that I am more accepting of others ( "Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory." Romans 15:7 NLT) and so I reflect the love of Jesus to them and for them.  (A love such is described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a
My prayer is that I will become more and more open to the Holy Spirit growing his fruit in me: "22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT).  And that I will not return to living with a critical, judgemental attitude.
To Think About:
Read The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. Who do you most identify with?
Are you critical or judgemental of others and if so why do you think that may be?
Have you grasped for yourself just how much God loves and has forgiven you?  Does that affect your attitude towards others?
What kind of a reflection of Jesus are you showing others?

Friday, 9 May 2014

A Recovering Perfectionist

Dear Friends,

I've been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember.  I used to think it was a good characteristic to have until God showed me differently.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Although I wasn't really aware at the time, I had made life all about being perfect in everything I did and this put a tremendous pressure on me.  I hasten to add at this point that this pressure wasn't from anyone else but myself.  So I was constantly pushing myself hard at school to achieve, then again when I was at university studying to be a teacher, and being very hard on myself when I didn't do as well as I thought I should at teaching practices.  As a wife and later a mother I again strove for perfection and was so critical and judgemental of myself.  I had a strict routine which I "had" to follow, so for example, Mondays were the days I had to clean my home from top to bottom, and I had set days for washing dark clothes and light clothes.  You may laugh and I realise it does sound laughable, but if I didn't accomplish things in the order and way they should be done, then I had failed in some way (in my eyes). My church life and relationship with God was about going to all the meetings midweek and Sundays and my service at church was approached in the same way. I set impossibly high standards for myself in everything, not realising that they were unattainable and not realising that I was also placing an unnecessary burden on my life.

It took something quite drastic for God to help me understand the truth.  He may have been trying to gain my attention before this but if he had, I wasn't listening.  It was through having the illness, M.E, that he enabled me to see the error in my ways and help me to change.

From the beginning of the illness I was unable to do anything in the way I had done before - it was just physically impossible for me, so routine and strict order went out the window.  Things were done when and if I had the strength and energy to do them.  I could not do them at such a high standard anymore, my body just would not enable me to do so.  I had to learn to let things go.  If you have tendencies towards perfectionism then you'll appreciate just how hard these lessons were to learn.  With limited health my priorities changed - it became more important to spend what energy I had with Jason and the children, rather than making sure the house was clean and tidy.  Life became less about "doing" and more about "being". 

I learnt to rest in God's presence and learnt more about what he wanted for me and not what I believed he wanted from me.  God helped me to become less critical and judgemental of myself and to be more loving.  We are told in Romans 8:1 "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." (NLT)  God has saved us by his grace, he has made us righteous because of Jesus and there is no longer any condemnation for us, yet all that time I had been condemning and judging myself for not living perfectly.  Never once did God treat me harshly or with criticism when I made mistakes or got things wrong, instead he gave me his unconditional love and unlimited grace.

God showed me how wrong perfectionism is, that it is a weakness rather than a strength.  When God reveals his truth and not "the truth as you see it" it is liberating.  Jesus said in John 8:32 "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NLT). 

I had made life a burden, but this was not the life God intended for me, or indeed, for any of us. "28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”" Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Nowhere does the bible encourage or teach perfectionism but it does teach us to do our best.  "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters," Colossians 3:23 (NIV)  You and I can never be perfect, but we can always do our best.  My best will vary from day to day, often it will be dependent on how healthy and strong I am at the time, but I can always consistently do my best whatever the circumstances may be.  It was something I remember my parents encouraging me to do from when I was a child, yet I had never consistently put it into practice because I was so personally driven towards perfectionism. 

As the bible says "22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy." Ephesians 4:22-24 (NLT).  And I really needed God, by his Spirit, to renew my thoughts and attitudes when it came to perfectionism.

I call myself a recovering perfectionist because I still have tendencies towards perfectionism and when you've been a perfectionist for most of your life it can be hard to break the habit.  But, thank God, he is stronger and more powerful than any habit, and with the aid of his Holy Spirit I have access to his power at work in me, to change me and make me more like his Son.  On those occasions when I do find myself slipping back into perfectionism I know he is ready to forgive me the moment I ask for it. "If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing." 1 John 1:8-9 (The Message)  God extends his grace to me and helps me to start afresh.

To Think About:
God doesn't want any of us to live under the burden of perfectionism and if you too are struggling with it he longs to release you from the weight of it.  Why don't you spend some time with God asking him to release you from this burden so that you can experience the joy that comes from living life as God intended.   Please know, that whoever you are, I'm praying the same for you as I write this post.

Do you struggle to believe that your best is "good enough"?  Our Christian life is not about being performance based and deserving God's love but rather it's about God's grace and love for us.  Remind yourself of the truth of God's love for you with verses such as Romans 8:38-39 "38 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. 39 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) and the truth of God's grace such as Ephesians 2:8 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—" (NIV)


Friday, 2 May 2014

What's At The Heart Of Your Worship?

Dear Friends,

Over Easter, my family and I went to a Spring Harvest Family Week.  The people who attend this week come from all kinds of backgrounds and different types of churches.  Yet none of those differences matter when we come together because our desire is to give God our love and worship. The moment we meet for the first evening session in the 'Big Top' there is a sense of oneness and unity.  I particularly enjoyed the worship and praise times with around 3,000 people.  To have that many people lifting their voices in praise to God in one place was a wonderful thing to be a part of, and for me it felt like a foretaste of heaven.  I can't wait to get to heaven and put my name down on the sign-up sheet for choir!  Imagine how much better our worship will be in heaven!

As long as we agree on the essentials when we gather together - such as that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died and rose again and has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit, the small differences, like the way we choose to worship, really shouldn't matter.

During the week, some chose to dance in the aisles, some danced where they stood, some raised their hands or clapped and others sang at the tops of their voices.  It is not our place to judge what is the right or wrong way to worship God. 

I'm reminded of the occasion when David brought the Ark of the Covenant home to Jerusalem.  14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. 15 So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.
16 But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him...
20 When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”
21 David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord.  2 Samuel 6:14-16, 20-21 (NLT). 

David's worship was between himself and God, it wasn't for Michal, his wife, to judge or criticise the way he chose to worship God.  She was looking at the way it appeared, she didn't see or know his heart.  God saw David's heart, he knew David's motive for worshipping in that way and I believe David brought pleasure to God as he worshipped him.  God says in 1 Samuel 16:7 "The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NLT)

These are things I need to remember when it comes to worship.  Who am I to say what is best and right when it comes to the way someone chooses to worship?  It is not for me to judge or criticise another's choice of worshipping. Their choice is between themselves and God. 

It is far better that I look at my own motives when I worship God.  Am I worshipping in a certain way to be more acceptable to others? Am I worshipping in a particular way because I want to copy them?   To fit in with them?  Or am I worshipping God in a way that springs from a heart full of love for him, with my heart focused on him, not on those around me, and because worship is just bubbling out of me from a grateful heart for who God is and all he has done.  My worship is between God and me, nobody else, he is the one who sees my heart, he is the one who knows the motives of my heart, and when I worship from a heart that's right with him I can bring glory and pleasure to him.

To Think About:
Examine your heart and your motives when worshipping God with others.  What does this show you about yourself?

What do you think could help you to worship God in a more genuine, authentic way?

What is your attitude to those who choose to worship God differently to you?  Does this attitude need to change?


If  what you read was of interest to you, then you may like to know that my book "Dear Friend...52 Weekly Devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is available to buy from Amazon. (It's content is material adapted from previous blog posts.) To learn more, click on the link below:

"Dear Friend..."