Friday, 27 June 2014

"You've Made A Mistake, God!"

Dear Friends,

Have you ever felt that God has made a mistake or got it wrong when it comes to dealing with your life or people in your life?  That's how I felt a couple of weeks back and I even told him so.  Let me explain...

Last month our daughter, Jess, had to decide which GCSE subjects she would like to take next September.  Jason and I spent time discussing it with her, going to the Options Evening for Parents at school, giving her support and advice on her strengths and listening to what she wanted to take.  She was given a sheet which had four columns on it, from each column she was to indicate her first choice of subject and also a reserve in case it wasn't possible to have her first choice.  We were glad to see that Early Years (or Childcare) and Art were in two different columns as these were the subjects she was really interested in.

During our deliberations we have included a lot of prayer as we believe that God is sovereign and we want him to have control over the subjects that Jess will be taking.  The staff at school work on the timetable but ultimately God is the one who makes the decision.  If you were to ask me, I would say, with all sincerity, that I was trusting God to overrule in any decisions that were made on Jess' behalf, and knowing he is in control takes away any worry that I might otherwise feel, I know I can leave it with him because he sees everything and knows what is right and good for Jess.  "But I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, 'You are my God!'  My future (and those I love) is in your hands." Psalm 31:14-15a (NLT)

Then came the day when Jess came home from school with the news that the teacher responsible for working out the GCSE options came to her and told her that Early Years had been oversubscribed and would she be happy to have her reserve subject instead.  I could not believe what was happening and was so upset for her because I knew what it meant to her to take this subject.  After I had told Jason he spoke on the phone to this teacher and explained to him that Jess had chosen Early Years because it was something she was interested in as a career.  The teacher said he would make a note of this for when the team discussed and finalised the timetable for pupils but he could not guarantee a place for Jess.  As most parents, Jason and I wanted to do all that we could to support Jess to ensure she has the opportunity to have the choice of subjects she would like. 

When I had prayed in the beginning and left it in God's hands I had never imagined this scenario.  I had never doubted that there would be a place for her in Early Years. After all, it was something I believe God had gifted her in, it was something she would enjoy and be good at.  What was God doing?  "God, you've got it wrong this time.  You've made a mistake here.  Don't you know how much she wanted to take this subject?  Why didn't you work it out better?  It's obvious that there should be an available place for her in Early Years, why didn't you make it happen?"  Where was my trust in God at this time? Well, you could say it went right out the window. I had said all along that I trusted God, but when it came down to it, did I really trust him?  I knew what was best and right for my daughter and this definitely was not it!   It would not have turned out this way if I'd been in charge! Basically, I was saying to God that I knew better than he did.

Once my emotions had subsided and I had considered the situation more calmly in order to take it all in, I also gave God the time and space to speak into my heart.  I came back to the conclusion that God is sovereign and that he always does what is best even if I don't agree  with him or understand what he is doing.  God tells us about himself that “'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,'declares the Lord." Isaiah 55:8 (niv) Whereas I may think I know what is best for Jess, he really does know what is best for her.  That if she does not take GCSE Early Years right now, it's because he has something better for her.  I have to remind myself that he knows her future, he sees how her life will pan out, and he has a reason for whatever happens, whereas I'm limited in my understanding and what I know.  And all those questions I asked God?  Well, God hasn't got it wrong and he hasn't made a mistake, he never does.  Of course he knows how much Jess would like to take this subject.  And to my question of why he didn't work it out better, well I believe now that he has and is working out what is best for her.  After all he is "'the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,' says the Lord God. 'I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.'" Revelation 1:8 NLT)  Again, it comes back to trusting him.  I believe that this was an occasion as much for me, as it was for Jess, in learning to once more trust God for the outcome.  To trust him in practice, not just to say in my head that I trust him.  I am also using the experience to show Jess how we can trust God for ourselves even when it seems difficult.  That we can trust him because he loves us and always wants what is right for us. "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Romans 8:28 (NLT)

We are still waiting to find our which subjects Jess will be taking in September, but I can now, once again, honestly say that I am trusting God in this.  I know the peace that he has given me which means that whether she is given her first choice or reserve subject, God is in it and he will determine which is right for her.  "Our hope comes from God. May He fill you with joy and peace because of your trust in Him." Romans 15:13 (NLV)  Whatever the teachers decisions may be, I know that he will overrule and it's him that I'm counting on. 

I'm not putting my faith in the teachers to make the right decisions, I'm not putting my faith in us as parents doing the right thing for our children, I'm not putting my faith in the circumstances of life.  I'm putting my faith in God alone.

To Think About:
Was there a time when you tried to work things out on your own rather than trusting God?  What was the result?

Has there been a time when you were able to put your trust in God even though you didn't understand what he was doing or didn't agree with him. What was the result of trusting him?

Is there a situation you are in right now that God is saying to you, "Trust me"?  Will you choose to trust him?


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Do You Know That God has Tattoos?

Dear Friends,

We have framed photos of many of our family, especially our two children, in our home in several of the rooms and Jason also has a photo of Josh and Jess on his desk at work.  Why do we keep these photos visible and not just in an album?  Because our family are precious to us, we love them, they bring us joy and when we see their photos we are reminded of them and how much they mean to us.  They may not be with us all the time, but with the use of photography they are kept close to us.

God has an even better way of keeping us, his children, in his thoughts.  It says in Isaiah 49:16 "See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands." (NLT).  Just spend a few moments dwelling on this verse - God has written my name, Vicki, he's written your name, on the palm of his hand.  Why would he do that?  I believe it's because he loves us so much that he wants us ever before him.  We are precious to him, he cares about us, he's interested in the things and people we care about.  I believe it's another way to say that he has us in his heart.  And, with us ever before him, he will never forget us.  Of course, it's impossible for God to ever forget us.  It may not seem that way  to us sometimes but the previous verse says this: “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?  But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!" v15.  It may be that our own parents didn't show us the love, care and attention that we craved as their children, but we have God's promise that his love, care and attention is always on us.  Telling us that our names are written, graven on his hands, is a way of emphasizing that God will never, could never, forget us.  We can trust and know that we are on his hands and in his heart.

Sometimes I like to look up verses in another version, the truth is always the same, but I find reading it in a different version brings another dimension to my understanding.  I really like how the Amplified version words v16: "Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands;". Wow!  Just re-read it to yourself again, for me it reinforces the meaning behind the words.   My picture, your picture, is "indelibly imprinted or tattooed" on God's hands.  God doesn't need photos! Photos can get damaged, can be lost, can fade.  But God has a permanent reminder of me on his hands, it can't be washed off, it's ever-lasting, it can't be removed or erased.  It tells me how much you and I mean to God, we mean so much to God that he wants a permanent reminder of us always before him.  It shows me, even more clearly, just how much God loves me, how he values a relationship with me as his child, that nothing can take away the love he has for me, that the relationship I have with him is a permanent one, one that is meant for eternity. He will never remove me or erase me from his mind or heart, I won't fade from his memory, I will never be lost to him, I am always visible to him and there is nothing that can separate me from my relationship with him,

In Romans 8:38-39 Paul says  "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)

Just one more thought before I end.  I've shared about what is on God the Father's hands and I wanted to leave you with a thought about God the Son's (Jesus') hands.  When I think of Jesus I think about his nail pierced hands, that he was wounded for my sake, for your sake, as he was nailed to the cross so that we could have a personal and eternal relationship with God.  The marks on his hands are for love of me and love of you and it touches me deeply when I reflect on the truth of this.  Jesus bears these marks as a reminder to us of just how much he loves us and how much it cost him to demonstrate his love for us. 

To Think About:
Over the week meditate on Isaiah 49:16.  What does that verse mean to you?

What does it mean to you to know that God has promised never to forget you?  That he has you on his hands and in his heart.

Reflect on Jesus' nail pierced hands and what this means to you.


Friday, 13 June 2014

Held in God's Hands

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you one of the ways that my Dad communicated his love for me when I was a young child.  Whenever we were out walking I used to like holding his hand and at some point along the walk my Dad would give my hand a gentle squeeze, it was his code for "I love you", then I would return the squeeze to say (again without words) "I love you too."

As a child holding her Daddy's hand, not only did I know I was loved, I knew I was safe and protected. If I was afraid of something, like walking past a big dog I would cling tightly to his hand until I felt the "danger" had passed, and I could relax my grip. When I tripped on a crooked pavement or slipped on an icy patch, my Daddy would keep me from falling.  He gave me security, I knew that anything that might want to hurt me would have to get past my Daddy first. There was no place better to be than in my Daddy's hands.

My Dad's love for me as his child reminds me of my heavenly Father's love for me as his child. The Psalmist says in Psalm 73:23 "Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand." (NLT)  and in Psalm 108:6 he says "Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered." (NIV) I love the image of being held by God.  As I picture this, I see a child holding their parent's hand and the closeness that there is between them, the connection they have and that they are walking in step with each other, the child is not lagging behind and the parent is not impatiently pulling the child along.  The parent matches his strides to the smaller steps of the child.  

God holding onto my hand gives me strength and support so that I am held up by him when I stumble.  There will be times when I'm tempted to do wrong but if I'm keeping close to God then he gives me the strength to resist and to stand firm, "Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand." Psalm 37:24 (NLT)  and God says "I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong." Psalm 89:21 (NLT)

Wherever I go, God's hand guides me: "even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me." Psalm 139:10 (NLT)  It's good to know that he is leading and guiding me through life, it gives me confidence in the direction I take and I know I can trust him to take me where I need to go and I can trust him that we are going there together.

Holding God's hand provides me with protection: "Though I am surrounded by troubles, you will protect me from the anger of my enemies. You reach out your hand, and the power of your right hand saves me." Psalm 138:7 (NLT)  We are safe in God's hands, "I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely." Psalm 63:8 (NLT)  When troubles come, whatever shape they may take, I know that with God right by my side holding my hand I am protected and all I need to do is cling to him and he will keep a hold of me, nothing can loosen his hold.  It's such a precious thought to know that I can cling to him. 

Being held by God also means that I have nothing to be afraid of because he is bigger and stronger than any fear I may have, "Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand." Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)  Rather than looking around at my circumstances, concentrating on my fears or worries, I can rest in the assurance that God is with me, holding me up, I can focus on him and not be overwhelmed by fear.

Dear child of God, there is no better place to be than in the place where we are holding on to our heavenly Father's hand and he is holding on to ours.  It is in this place that we can know with absolute surety that we are loved by him, that he is supporting us, strengthening us, enabling us to stand, protecting us, guiding us, helping us and that he is right beside us, that we are not alone but that we are walking step by step in time with him.

To Think About:
Do you know God as your Father? Whatever your experience of earthly fathers, God is the one perfect father we can ever know.  Ask him to help you to see him as such and begin today to develop a relationship with God as your Father.
What does it mean to you to know that God is holding your hand?

Spend some time reflecting on the verses I've mentioned.  What do you think God may be wanting to say to you?


Friday, 6 June 2014

Down But Not Out!

Dear Friends,

Some of you will know that for nearly a year now I have been receiving help from the London Migraine Clinic.  I had another appointment with them last Thursday and came out of it feeling very down and discouraged.  I was reduced to tears and my initial emotional response was that after all these months I was back to where I'd started, still having regular migraines and being told that once again I needed a two month break from painkillers, apart from using a particular medicine which helps as a preventative and some pain relief, while I continue with the preventative medicine I've been taking for the last two months.  I didn't feel like I wanted to carry on with my life like this, it was just too hard and had got too much for me.

But I thank God that Jason was with me, he took me to a nearby cafĂ© for a hot drink, a chat and a chance to sit down and collect my thoughts.  Jason was happy to support me whatever I decided and we agreed that I was going to keep going with the advised treatment.  I don't give up easily, I'm a fighter, it's in my family genes but it's also a quality I know God has been developing over the years - the quality to persevere and endure.

In each of our lives, in our own personal journey that God calls us to take, there are times when our circumstances and things outside of our control work together to bring us down.  It may be a medical diagnosis which takes us by surprise, a death in the family, unemployment, a split in the family, money problems, a friendship turned sour, any number of things. Or perhaps we thought we were making progress when suddenly something happens and we feel as though we've taken two steps backward.  Or we thought we'd overcome a particular difficulty or temptation but we slip up over it again and we find that we're not as far on in our journey as we thought we were.

We may be down at that moment but with God on our side, with him by our side, we are not out!  Paul knew this feeling very well and he also knew he could keep going because God gave him the power to endure and persevere.  That's why he wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
"7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed." (NLT)

Paul also says in his letter to the Romans "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation." Romans 5:3-4 (NLT) and James says something very similar in James 1:2-4 "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." (NLT) I don't know about you, but my first response is not always one of joy!

If you are going through a difficult time right now can I encourage you to surround yourself with a handful of people who you know will support you, will lift you up in prayer, when perhaps the last thing you want to do is pray, and will be there for you.  I know what a difference it makes to me having Jason, family members and friends on my side.

As we take this journey, which at times may feel like a gentle jog with a pleasant breeze at our backs and at other times feels like trying to walk through the mud and mire, just managing one slow step after another, I like to think about those who have gone before us and who have kept the faith, encouraging us to keep on keeping on, cheering us on from the side-lines.  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses (see Hebrews 11) to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up." Hebrews 12:1-3 (NLT)  And there's that word joy again!

Most importantly, remember that God has promised to be with us every step of the way.  I don't understand how exactly, but because he is God, he goes before us, he goes ahead, he protects from behind and he goes with us.  The prophet Isaiah gave this message to God's people to return to their homeland out of captivity, "For the Lord will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind." Isaiah 52:12b and in Deuteronomy we have the promise that God is with us  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

To Think About:

Hebrews 11 is all about the men and women of faith who have gone before us, who kept going and never gave up. Why not take some time to read the chapter as an encouragement for you to also persevere.

If you are in the midst of a difficult situation right now, rather than trying to face it alone, think about letting a few close friends know so that they can support you in it.

If your journey is relatively easy right now perhaps you can come alongside someone you know who is struggling and be a support for them.