Saturday, 26 July 2014

God Delights In You

Dear Friends,

If you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, you'll know there are times when they bring you great joy.  Such as when you know they've tried their best at school and come home with a school report which says they're a pleasure to teach, or when they show generosity by sharing what they have with others, or show responsibility in working hard in a part time summer job, or make a stand for what they know is right, even though it may be difficult.

Our earthly families are to represent our spiritual family, so just as children bring their parents joy, we too, as children of God bring him joy.  It's an incredible thought isn't it?  That you and I can bring joy and pleasure to our Heavenly Father.

In the very beginning, creating the world, which included created people, brought God joy.  In Genesis 1:31a we read that "Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!" (NLT)  The Amplified Bible puts it this way: "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (suitable, pleasant) and He approved it completely."  The Psalmist writes of God's delight in us in Psalm 149:2-4 "O Israel, rejoice in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King. Praise his name with dancing, accompanied by tambourine and harp. For the Lord delights in his people; he crowns the humble with victory." (NLT)

The theme of bringing delight to God is continued in the New Testament, for example, "for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him." Colossians 1:16 (NLT)  God didn't create you and me because he was needy, because of something lacking in his life, because of a selfish desire to be loved.  In fact, God as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit already enjoyed a perfect loving relationship. He created us because he has so much love to give and he wanted us to experience the love with him that he already enjoys as a Trinitarian (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) God. This is what God the Father says about his Son: "and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.'" Luke 3:22 (NLT) and in Matthew 12:18   “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight;" (NIV)  As hard as it may be to really grasp, the truth is that God loves us just as he loves his Son and takes delight in us.   Jesus says in his prayer for all who believe and will believe in him " I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me." (NLT)  In Zephaniah 3:17 it says "For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs." (NLT)

So how does God find delight in us?  Here are some of the ways:
1. As we find delight in God, as we enjoy being in his presence and walk with him, he takes delight in us.  Psalm 104:33-34 "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! 34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord." (NLT)

2. God delights in our worship.  "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable (or well-pleasing) to God, which is your spiritual (or rational) service of worship." Romans 12:1 (NASB)  Worship is not just about singing and giving praise to God, although that is part of our worship and does bring him joy.  Worship is so much more than that - everything we do is an act of worship, or can be if we are doing it for him.  "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters".  Colossians 3:23 (NIV)  Do you know that picking up the dirty clothes your children leave strewn across their bedroom floor and washing them (the clothes not your children!) can be an act of worship?  As can refusing to take the bait when a colleague deliberately tries to get you to loose your anger.  When you fill up your wife's car with petrol without needing to be asked.  When you're having a busy day but take the time to stop and chat with a lonely neighbour.

3. God takes delight in us when we choose to follow and obey him, not because we must, or because we 'll be in trouble if we don't (like some naughty child) or to gain his favour, but simply because we love him and we love to bring him joy, to bring a smile to his face.  "But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night." Psalm 1:2 (NLT)  "Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands." Psalm 112:1 (NLT).  John, one of Jesus' closest disciples, learnt from Jesus how to really love others and this comes out in the 3 letters he wrote.  In the following verses you can see how the words he writes could quite easily have been mouthed by God himself to you and to me: "Some of the traveling teachers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living according to the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth." 3 John 1:3-4 (NLT)

To Think About:
1. Do you find it hard to believe (and accept) that God really does delight in you?  Despite all our flaws and failings, our weaknesses, our insecurities, our funny little ways, God loves us and takes joy and delight in us.  God is truth, he always speaks the truth and tells us in his word on more than one occasion that he does delight in us.  Over the coming days meditate on these truths and ask God to reveal them to you, that you will really know in your heart, that God delights in you.

2. In the past what has stopped you from believing this?  What difference does it make in your life to believe that God delights in you as a parent delights in their child?

3. Out of the 3 points mentioned above, is there one in particular that God may be drawing your attention to?  If so, what will you do about it?


Friday, 18 July 2014

What Are You Afraid Of?

Dear Friends,

Many of our fears, when expressed aloud, can seem irrational.  Those who know me well know my fear of spiders.  Why would anyone be afraid of these small creatures?  I can't even really explain it myself.  I can cope fairly well with the smaller ones, but the larger ones with big bodies just send a shudder through me and my heart pounds, and usually it takes a cry out to Jason to come and deal with it before I can begin to calm down and relax.

One September as I lay sleeping in bed I felt something tickling me on my shoulder, being only half awake, and not knowing what it was, I just brushed it off with my hand.  (By the way, in case you were wondering, it was a big spider.) It landed on Jason's chest, which woke him up, he grabbed it and flung it away from him where it hit the wall with a soft thud!  Sad to say, (for me anyway) it crawled off somewhere and we never found it.  I struggled to return to sleep, believing that it might find it's way to me again!

Now, we can laugh at some fears, and may consider others to be bizarre, but some hold a lot of power over us and can stop us living the life God intends for us.

Until God revealed it to me recently I hadn't realised that there were two fears in particular which were holding me back from moving forward into the plans God has for me:

1. The fear that I am not good enough - I listen to other women teachers, I read what is written by women writers and see how gifted they are in their calling.  I compare myself with them and don't think I'm good enough to do what they are doing.  I focus on my fear rather than on my faith.  Do you ever find yourself doing that?  God never says to you and me that we're not good enough.  Perhaps others say it about us, we may even tell ourselves it, the devil definitely says it to us, but God - never!  He says the opposite, he says you are good enough, he says I've created you and I've chosen you.  Not only that, I have called you and therefore equipped you for service.  I don't compare you with anyone else, you are unique and you shouldn't make comparisons, concentrate on me working in and through you, equipping you for what I have made you for.

2. The fear of my health failing me - having lived with migraines and M.E for years, I have become used to the reality of not always being able to make plans, because I never know from one day to the next how I will feel and if I will be strong enough to enjoy the plans made.  There's the frustration of having to cancel something, sometimes at the last minute, because of poor health, and letting people down who may have been relying on me.  So I have this fear that I will plan to serve God and then feel too ill to follow through on my commitment.  The fear of possibly not feeling well enough on the day can stop me from stepping out in faith.  Once again I focus on my fear, giving it power over me, rather than focusing on my faith in God.  What does God tell me and you?  He tells us it's ok to be weak, to have limitations, because he has more than enough strength for us and that we are to allow him to work his power in and through us.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9 it says "Each time he (God) said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me." (NLT)  One of my favourite verses is Psalm 73:26 "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (NIV)  Yes, there may be times when I'm not well and don't have within me the resources I need but that's ok because God is the source of all that I need. He also tells us to remember our past.  Why?  Because when I look back over my life I am reminded how time and time again he has proved himself faithful. I have experienced how he has enabled and empowered me to do that which I could never, humanly speaking, have accomplished on my own.  When we are reminded of what God has done for us in the past, we can have confidence to trust him for our present and future.  He has never let us down before so why should he now?  And the answer is he won't, it's impossible for God to let us down as it goes against his character and who he is.  "If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is." 2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)

My fears and your fears may be powerful, they may have a strong hold on us, but when we focus on God, we realise that he is all powerful and he is mightier than any fear we have, and that with our faith in him we can overcome our fears.  The size of our faith doesn't matter, we may have little faith, but what matters is who /what we place our faith in.  It's all about placing our faith in our awesome God.  We can also pray the same thing a father asked of Jesus in Mark 9:24 "The father instantly cried out, 'I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!'" (NLT) Or in other words, I do have faith God, but help me in the weakness of my faith, help me overcome my doubts and my fears, and strengthen my faith.

Time and again God's word commands us to not be afraid and gives reasons why we do not need to fear, for example:
1. God's presence is with us, "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)
2. God is always true to his word and what he has promised, "Look! He has placed the land in front of you. Go and occupy it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be discouraged!" Deuteronomy 1:21 (NLT)
3. God is our help, "The Lord who made you and helps you says: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, O dear Israel, my chosen one." Isaiah 44:2 (NLT)

When I focus on my fears they seem insurmountable and I am paralysed, but when I focus on faith, that is, I focus on God, I focus on his word and place my trust in him, then I am enabled to move forward into the life God has for me to enjoy.

My daughter, Jess, also has a fear of spiders and I can't help thinking that she has learned this response, in part, from me.  We do learn from others and I want to be a great example to those around me, particularly to my children. When they look at me, I want them to see a woman of faith, someone who isn't held back by fears but someone whose focus is on God who gives me the faith to move forward. That my example will give them the confidence and courage, so no matter what fears they may have in life, they can, with God, overcome them and can also step out in faith to enjoy the life God wants them to experience.

To Think About:
At this present time are there any fears which have a strong hold on you?  What is it that they are stopping you from doing?

What can you do to change your focus from your fears to focusing on God instead?

Why not remind yourself of the 3 "Don't be afraid..." verses mentioned above.  You could also look up some more of these verses in the bible.  What can you learn from them?



Friday, 11 July 2014

Everybody Needs A True Friend

Dear Friends,

Some weeks back, my daughter, Jess, had an after school detention.  She was told to attend the Athletics Club and practice the long jump.  When she came home after the detention she told me how one of her friends had come along to the detention too.  It turned out that this friend had not been given the same detention, had not even been in the same P.E lesson where Jess had been given the detention, but had gone along with her just to support her.  When Jess told me this, I thought what a great lesson in friendship it was.

We all need a good friend in our lives.  Not one who is just there to enjoy the good times with us, but one who stands by us when times are difficult.  In The Parable of The Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)  the father gives his youngest son his inheritance and "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living." v13 (NIV). While he had money he had all the "friends" he could ask for and times were good, until his money ran out, then his so-called friends ran out on him.  He had no-one to stand by him in his time of need. "After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything." v14-16 (NIV)  His friends were no friends at all, they were only friends with him for what they could get out of the relationship, when his circumstances changed, his friends made a swift exit, he was no longer of any use to them.

But, true friends stay with us and support us when we are facing a tough time.  "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity."  Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)  A true friend is loyal and is there for us when we are in need.  A true friend encourages, rejoices when you rejoice and comforts you when you are upset.  "Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief]." Romans 12:15 (Amp)  A true friend is one who is not just there for what they can get from the relationship but what they can also give to the relationship, and both friends are blessed by the relationship. We can share what's on our hearts with a true friend and know that they will keep what we have confided to them, we can share our hopes and dreams with them and we can be ourselves with them.  A true friend also speaks the truth to us, when our behaviour or attitudes or speech needs some correcting, they let us know, not  in such a way to condemn, judge or criticise but because they love us and because they want us to be the best we can be.  That's why it says in Proverbs 27:6 "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (NIV)

To return to where I began with Jess and her friend, although Jess' friend was with Jess as she was punished, and joined in with the punishment, she did not take the punishment for her, and it reminded me of how Jesus actually stepped in for me and for you and took the punishment we deserved for our sins.  He chose to die on the cross, bearing the weight of my sins, taking the punishment on himself in my place, so that I might receive God's forgiveness and have the opportunity to become a friend of God.  Jesus said in John 15:13  "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (NLT)

The friendships we have, as good as they are, as much as they mean to us, as much as they are needed, are not meant to replace the friendship that we can have with Jesus.  Friends cannot be everything to us, God never designed them to be, they cannot be there for us all the time, they have their own lives to lead with their own set of responsibilities, but the blessing of having Jesus as our friend is that he can be our all in all, he is there with and for us 24/7 and we can completely rely on him.  I'm so grateful to God that I can enjoy that kind of relationship with Jesus, that I can call him my friend and, not only that, but that he also really wants to be my friend. 

I'm so grateful too for the handful of true friends God has blessed me with, how they have stood by me, encouraged  and supported me during difficult times and how they have gladly and genuinely celebrated with me in the good times, and, of course, it's not just about having friends like these but it's also about being a friend like this.  To have a friend we need to be a friend.   Proverbs 18:24 says "A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (NKJV)  This verse reminds me once more of Jesus and the kind of friend he is to us, he is the best example of what it's like to be a true friend.

To Think About:
Who has God brought into your life as a true friend?  How have they shown themselves to be a true friend?

How have you shown yourself to be a true friend to them?

Do you know Jesus as your friend?  How can/do you relate to him as your friend?  What do you learn from him which helps you to be an even better friend to others?


Friday, 4 July 2014

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

Dear Friends,

I've recently had another intense period of migraines which was a real struggle to get through.  I find that when I'm not feeling well physically, the whole of my being also suffers.  I became quite low having to deal with the pain which was constant for a few days, then lifted for a day or two, only to then return.  When it's like that I also find my mind is affected, I don't think clearly, everything gets blown out of proportion, I become frustrated with the time that is wasted when I have to stay in bed and not able to function on a "normal" level (whatever that may be).  Then too there is the spiritual side of it, it's tough when I believe that there are things that God has called me to do, which have to put to one side at times like these, when what I really want to do is just get on with them.

It really felt as though it was more than just physical, that I was also facing a spiritual battle and I became battle weary.  I wonder too if you are facing a battle right now, not necessarily ill health, although it may be, perhaps it's to do with relationships, or a battle for the soul of a loved one, or caring for an elderly relative,or work related, or your reputation has been maligned, or an unfulfilled dream, or guilt over something you did or was done to you in the past, or an addiction etc..  Whatever it is, it's leaving you battle weary, struggling to keep going, to go from one day to the next, feeling as though there is no release, and you just don't know what to do. 

God gave me some encouragement during this time and I want to pass it on to you that you too may be encouraged.  One morning in my quiet time with him I was reading 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat of Judah was facing war with the surrounding nations and he was afraid, in his fear he turned to God and prayed, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you!...O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.” v6 and 12 (NLT)  One of the men of Judah was given this word from God: "Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!"  The response of the King and the people was to worship God.

Then "Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, 'Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.' After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendour. This is what they sang: 'Give thanks to the Lord; faithful love endures forever!' At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves." v20-22

There is so much in this account, but here are some of the things God showed me:
1. When facing any battle, when I don't know what to do, when I'm too weak to do anything, recognise that God is strong and powerful, look to him for help and keep my eyes on him.

2. God encourages me not to be afraid, not to be discouraged, because this battle I'm in is not mine, but his, therefore, his is the victory, I can experience victory in him, I don't need to keep fighting this battle on my own, in my own feeble strength. 

3. The position I take is to "stand still".  I am commanded to stand firm in the Lord, by exercising my faith in him, believing in his word, that he will do what he has promised to do, standing firm knowing that he is right there with me, I do not face my battle alone.  In Exodus you can read the account of when Moses led God's people out of slavery in Egypt, however, the Egyptians pursue them and the Israelites are caught between a rock and a hard place (in other words between the Egyptians and the Red Sea) this is what Moses tells them: “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:13-14 (NLT) You may like to read the whole chapter to see exactly what God did for them.  There are also many references to standing firm in the New Testament.

4. Worshipping God, giving him my thanks and praise can open the way for God to do something powerful and to work a miracle in the battle.  It was "At the very moment they began to sing and praise" that God provided them with the victory.  I have to admit that I struggled with this one. If I'm honest, singing and praising is the last thing I felt like doing!  I don't even know where to begin when I feel like this!  But we are called to do this and in Hebrews 13:15 it says "Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name." (NLT) By praising God I'm professing that he is Lord of my life, that I am a loyal and devoted follower of my King. I'm thankful that God reminded me of the praise and worship CDs I have at home, I can play these and sing along with these, I don't need to make up my own words of praise, these songs can be just as meaningful and just as powerful, and I do find that once I listen and sing, a change does happen in my heart, and I am enabled to sing and give praise to God.

To Think About:
Has there been a time in the past when you have witnessed God provide you with a victory in the middle of a battle?

If you feel like you're in a battle today is there one of the four points above that God is telling you to apply to your situation?  Or is there something else God has revealed to you in 2 Chronicles 20?

How can you help someone you know is facing and struggling with a battle?