Friday, 26 September 2014

The Case of The Runaway Rabbit

Dear Friends,

Bugsy, my daughter's rabbit decided he'd had enough of being confined to his cage and run in the garden, he wanted to see the world!

On this particular morning my kids were at school/college, Jason was at work and I'd been out having a great time at my bible study group for mums. When I got home I had a lot on my mind, thinking about what to have for lunch and what chores to do before everyone came home at the end of the day.  I locked my car door and as I walked to my front door, some rustling came from the bush at the side of our house.  The thought came to my mind that this could be Bugsy, but I dismissed this idea as quickly as it had come, after all Bugsy was secure in his run, it had to be a bird hopping around in the bush or probably one of the neighbourhood cats.
Jess with Bugsy

I thought nothing more about it and got on with my afternoon.  About 45 minutes later there was a knock at my door.  I opened it to find my neighbour standing there, telling me she had seen one of our rabbits on the pavement outside my house and he had now run back into a bush (that same bush I had mentioned earlier!)  I couldn't thank her enough for letting me know.  Jess would have been devastated if anything had happened to Bugsy.  After a few minutes of playing hide and seek with this runaway rabbit I managed to get him safely secured in his cage once again.  Somehow he'd managed to pry loose the catch on his run and then he had run through the garden and out of our iron side gate.  How long he'd been free I have no idea!

I learnt two important lessons that day:
1. I believe it was God who had placed the idea in my head when I'd come home that Bugsy was in the bush, but instead of listening to his prompting I had ignored him. 

Read how God spoke to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-12: "And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper." (NLT)

How often do you and I ignore God's "gentle whisper", his still, small voice speaking into our lives?  How often do we fail to act on what he says?  Maybe we are just too busy to hear him, perhaps our minds are so full of other things that we just can't hear his voice above everything else that is clamouring for our attention.  Maybe we just don't recognise that it's his voice we are hearing.  Perhaps you and I need to re-evaluate our lives, because if we're too busy to hear him then basically we are too busy.  Where is God's place in my life, in your life?  Is he someone I just add on with everything else or is he a priority in my life?  Does my relationship with him come first before everything and everyone else?  Do I make time to hear from him?  Time when I'm quiet and still before him, just to soak in his presence and learn to hear his voice?  Perhaps we recognise his voice but we choose not to listen, we dismiss what he's saying because what we hear doesn't make sense to us, or we're afraid to act because we're afraid of others' opinions, or we just plain don't want to obey.  I can tell you that I regret not listening to God that day.

When you hear God say speak to the visitor who has entered your church for the first time and looks lonely and lost, when God brings a verse to mind and tells you that's for someone you know and you're to give it to them, when he tells you to sit next to the stranger on the bus, when he tells you to stop what you are doing because you need to listen to your teenage daughter who has just come home from a long day at school, when he tells you to invite someone round for a coffee, when he tells you to share your faith with a colleague at work etc. what will you do?  Will you listen to his still, small voice and will you act on it?  Jesus said in Matthew 7:24 "Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock." (NLT) God wants to use you and me to bless those around us and when we do we find that he will also bless us as we take that step of faith, trusting in his promptings.  Or will you ignore him and later have to deal with regret, wishing you had acted on his voice?

2. God cares about every part of our life and he cares about what we care about.  In the scheme of things a pet rabbit is pretty insignificant, but I believe God cared about Bugsy because he knew just how much this rabbit means to Jess.  That rabbit could have gone anywhere, anything could have happened to it and we would never have found him, but God kept him close to our home, and when I didn't respond to his prompting, he made sure someone else discovered our runaway and told me.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:26, 28, 30 "26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing,  30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?" (NLT) 

God cares about every detail in our lives and he wants us to share them with him. Don't ever think God can't be interested in you, that you're too insignificant, that there are more important people and more important things for him to give his attention to.  That's a lie that the devil would have you believe because he just doesn't want you to believe God's truth about yourself and that you matter to God. God wants us to share with him the things that matter to us, both the big concerns we have such as changing jobs, coping with elderly parents, dealing with a challenging teenager etc as well as our small concerns such as what to cook for dinner tonight, will my young child ever sleep through the night, or a pet that is poorly etc. 

In 1 Peter 5:7 we read "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you." (NLT)  I really like how the amplified bible words it: "Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully."  Wow!  There's a lot to encourage you and me in that one verse, isn't there? Nothing is too big or too small for his care.  Unlike us who can only give our attention to one person at a time, because he's God he can give his attention to me when I'm concerned over something minor at the same time he's giving his attention to someone else who is facing a big worry.  No one misses out on his care.  Don't tell yourself that if you go to God about a particular need you have that you will be taking his time and attention away from someone else, so you'd better just keep it to yourself.  That's another lie the devil puts in your mind because he wants to keep you from the amazing relationship that God wants to have with you.  If we believe what the devil tells us then we are actually believing that God is less than who he is...that he's not really God. Yet God is the Almighty God, Lord of the universe, the one who watches over everything and he still has the time and the capacity to care about you and me.

To Think About:
When have you heard God's gentle whisper?  Have you responded to it?

Do you need to make any changes in your life so that you can more easily hear his voice?

Share today with God any cares or concerns that you have, whether they are big or small.


Friday, 19 September 2014

God Still Speaks Today

Dear Friends,

I had decided what I would write in this post, but then midway through the week I changed my mind, or perhaps I should say, I felt that God changed my mind, as to what I should write about.

In my daily quiet time I've been reading the book of Daniel, and on this particular morning, God highlighted a verse to me which gave me tremendous encouragement, comfort and blessing.  I have written it onto card so that I can keep reading it and meditating on it.  The more I thought on it, the more I felt that I wasn't to keep it to myself, that if it had blessed me, then there were probably others who would also find it encouraging and comforting. I don't know what you are facing right now, I don't know how your relationship is with God, but my prayer is that as you are reading this right now God will bless you and give you the encouragement and comfort you may be in need of.

The verse is Daniel 10:19 “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”  As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, “Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.”  (NLT)

The first word that stood out to me was "precious".  To God we are of value and worth, we are special to him, he treasures us, other translations say we are "greatly beloved" by God.  We are precious to him, not because of anything we have done but because of who he is, because he loves us unconditionally.  Perhaps you don't feel precious to anyone right now, I know I haven't sometimes, because in a world that values what you can do, your level of performance and the contribution you make to society, when your health fails and you can do next to nothing, you can feel pretty worthless.  Perhaps instead of feeling precious you feel unappreciated and neglected, used and abused, battered and broken.  Despite what has happened in your life, what you've done, or has been done to you, when God looks at you, with eyes full of love he says "You are so very precious to me."  In Deuteronomy 7:6b we read "Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure." (NLT) You may be struggling to believe that right now, it may take time for the truth of it to sink in to your very soul.  But ask God to help you to reject the lies you've believed about yourself and replace them with the truth of who you are in God's eyes, with the truth that you are precious to him.

We're told: "Don't be afraid...Peace!"  It's natural for us to feel fear sometimes, when what we're facing just seems too big, when it seems more than we can handle.  What is your fear right now?  Perhaps you're afraid as you wait for the results of a biopsy, or you fear being alone, or fear debt, or losing someone you love, or any number of things.  But we don't need to let that fear overwhelm us or control us because God is with us and he can bring peace into the most unsettled situation, a peace that goes beyond all understanding.  This peace is based on a loving relationship with him, and his Holy Spirit gives us peace within and without.  Can I encourage you that if peace is lacking and fear is reigning then come to God, spend time in his presence, make it your goal to know him more.  The more time we spend with him, the more we focus on him, the more we will experience his incredible peace. Jesus said in John 16:33 "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)  With God we can know what it means to have peace and we can overcome because of him.

"Be encouraged!"  How we all need this.  I don't know about you but when I'm suffering pain, when things are tough, it's easy for me to be discouraged, I can become quite negative, believing that things will never change, I can think I'm stuck like this, it's never going to improve, there's no hope.  But God can bring encouragement into the situation, he can show us that there is another way of looking at life, that there is hope, that he can bring good out of the worst thing we have faced/are facing.  As Joseph was able to say "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good." Genesis 50:20a (NLT) The greatest encouragement God gives me is knowing that he is with me in my pain, he's there in the trial, he doesn't leave me to face it alone.  He brings me comfort in the trial and encourages me to endure, to keep going, to not give up or give in.  But we all, myself included, need to be reminded of this from time to time.

"Be strong!"  Be strong?  When I'm feeling so weak, when I'm at the end of myself, when I have no fight left in me?  How is that possible?  It's possible because God's not saying gather up my own strength, rely on what little strength I have.  What he's saying is "Trust me, I'm going to give you my strength, I shall exchange your weakness for my strength.  Have courage, we will come through this together, rely on me, lean on me.  Draw your strength from who I am and what I can do in and through you.  This is what God said to Joshua in Joshua 1:9 as he took on the role from Moses of leading God's people to the Promised Land: "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.” (NLT)

As Daniel digested these words in Daniel 10:19 he was strengthened, he knew how vital God's word was to him.  We all need God's word in our life, we need to taste and see that the Lord is good, that his word is good for us, we need this spiritual nourishment more than our daily bread.  We need to digest God's word, to chew it over, to feed on it, to allow his word to bring life, hope, peace, comfort, encouragement and strength to us.  There is nothing else like it, and I honestly don't know where I would be today without God's word in my life.

To Think About:
Write this verse from Daniel onto card and carry it with you, feed on it, meditate on it.  Ask God to speak personally to you through this verse. 

Is there someone you could pass this verse on to who would also be blessed by it?

If we are going to hear God speak to us through his word we need to set aside time to regularly be with God and read his word.  How can you ensure that you do this regularly?


Friday, 12 September 2014

Giving and Receiving Comfort

Dear Friends,

I was having a rough morning, battling a migraine and the depression, when my sister rang up for a chat. 

Not living locally to each other but being close as sisters we like to keep in regular contact via the telephone and share what's been happening in our respective lives.  We have a great relationship with each other, always have had despite the usual sibling arguments growing up together.  We tell each other pretty much everything, so apart from our husbands, we are the ones who know each other the best.

She asked me how I was with my health at the moment and it didn't take long for me to burst into tears.  Now, at this point she could have said to me, "I'll ring you later, bye for now", or "Pull yourself together" as some might do.  Instead she said "You have a good cry."  Her words showed me she cared, that she knows how releasing crying can be and that tears can bring healing.  Crying is an important part of releasing pent up emotions rather than holding on to and burying feelings that need to be expressed.

She also allowed me to talk (once I was able to) and be honest with myself and with her.  She let me be myself, rather than pretending to be someone I wasn't, or pretending that everything was ok.  So often when we're with others, we don't feel able to be ourselves, we think we need to put on a mask, that we can't let others see what we're really thinking or feeling because they'd be shocked by what we say or they might judge or criticise us.  She provided me with a listening ear which was what I needed. I didn't need answers, there were no answers.  She showed me she cared by just letting me talk.  That's often what people need when they are suffering - they don't need answers, they don't need to be talked at, they need a listening ear.  The best thing Job's friends did for him was right in the beginning when they sat with him for 7 days, not saying anything but showing that they cared by just being there, by being present in his suffering.  (See Job chapters 1 and 2).

She could have said all kinds of things to me, such as think about those who are worse off than you are.  Yes, there is always someone who may be in a far worse situation than you are, but being told that doesn't exactly make you feel any better.  She could have tried telling me all the things I should be doing, or where I was going wrong.  She could have quoted scripture to me.  But instead she said to me "I'm so sorry, I know that doesn't actually help much but I am sorry for what you're going through."  We all know the difference between someone who just says the words "I'm sorry" from someone who says them with deep-hearted compassion.  And actually, you know what, when someone does say that from the heart, really meaning it, it does, in some strange way, help, because you know they are connecting with you and they are showing you that they genuinely care. 

She was able to say these things, not only because she's my sister and she knows me so well, but also because she has faced her own battles, she's had difficult experiences in life, but God can use those difficult times in our lives to equip us to get alongside and bring comfort to another who is struggling with life.  As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." (NLT) 

We all need someone in our lives - a sister, husband, friend etc - who we can be honest with, who we can share our real selves with, who will show us comfort and compassion when we are struggling, who will provide a listening ear when it is needed, who will provide a shoulder to cry on.  Of course, if we are to have a relationship like this then we are to first put time into developing a relationship with that person, it's not something that's going to happen overnight, it takes time to grow and to also maintain.  We can't expect to have a friend such as this if we are not willing to also be that kind of friend in return.  When the relationship is a mutual one, then we can be a blessing and comfort to them when they are in the midst of their own trial.

I know that it's not possible for a friend to be there for us all the time.  My sister can't be there for me all the time, and I wouldn't expect her to be, she has her own life and responsibilities.  One person cannot possibly meet all of my needs, all of your needs, unless that one is God, and it says of him in Proverbs 18:24 that "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (NIV).  Let's just read again the first part of the verses I quoted earlier from 2 Corinthians "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles" 

I love that - God is the source of ALL comfort and he comforts us in ALL our troubles.  How reassuring is that?  We all need reminding of this now and again.   God is there for you and me all the time, I don't need to wait for a phone call from him, he makes himself readily available.  He provides me with a listening ear, I can say exactly how I'm feeling, I don't need to pretend, and after all, he knows anyway, so nothing I say can ever surprise him.  He loves me and he cares about me.  When I don't have the words to say because I'm so upset, I can just cry in his presence and he shows that those tears are valuable to him, instead of rejecting my pain or ignoring it, the psalmist says of God "You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book."  Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

God knows what it is to suffer, as the Son of God he endured much while he was on this earth and experienced intense suffering, so we have a God who understands, who knows what it is to face trials and difficulties and is more than able to comfort us when we need it.  "Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested." Hebrews 2:18 (NLT)

In the midst of a trial we can feel very much like we are on our own, but the truth is that we have God with us, he knows, he cares, he loves us and he's the source of our comfort.  If you're struggling right now, would you reach out to him. If you will just do this, be open with him, tell him exactly how you're feeling, cry your cries, I know from my own experience that he will give you the comfort you need.

To Think About:
Have you known God's comfort in the past?  Either directly from him or through another person?

What experiences have you gone through that have equipped you to give comfort to another?

Is there someone close to you who you know needs some comfort?  Has God placed you in their life for this reason?  How can you bring them comfort? 


Friday, 5 September 2014

God's Fingerprints On Your Life

Dear Friends,

During our holiday in Spain we spent a weekend in Barcelona and the highlight of my weekend was our visit to Barcelona's Cathedral - Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.  Although work began on it in the 1800s, it is not expected to be completed until 2026. It is an incredible building and has been designed chiefly by the architect, Antonio Gaudi (also known as God's Architect).  It was amazing to wander around this building, but it became more meaningful and special when we listened to our English speaking tour guide.  From what I gathered Gaudi was a man of faith, whose vision was to give his best to God and to bring glory to God through his work.  For his time he was an innovator because rather than having everything about God within the building he chose to have them on display on the outside of the building, his aim being for people to look and learn about the teachings of the gospels and the church, before entering the church. For example one tower is devoted to the Christmas story and another to the Passion and the Resurrection. Throughout Gaudi's work on the cathedral he emphasises the relationship of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  Within this impressive building natural light plays a huge part, another pointer to Jesus, the light of the world.  As with the outside, the inside's focus is God. 

When people questioned Gaudi about how long it was taking to create and finish, his response was that God was his ultimate client, not people, and would tell them, "Don't worry, my client isn't in a hurry."

God is our creator, he created you and me, he is the master builder, the master architect, "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) It is because of Jesus that God has given us the gift of faith, in Hebrews 12:2 we read that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith," (NKJV) and he has given us his Holy Spirit who lives within us, "Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT) and he opens our eyes to see the truth of who God really is.  (John 14:17)

When God looks at us he doesn't see what we were, he sees what we will be, he has the blueprints set out before him, he knows the end design, and with the help of his Holy Spirit he is transforming us from the inside out to make us more like his son, Jesus.  Paul says in Philippians 1:6  "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (NLT)  The transforming work is a process, as this verse indicates, and it takes time. 

I don't know about you, but sometimes I can become frustrated when there seems to be little improvement and little change in my life, when it feels like it's just taking too long.  Sometimes it's hard for us to recognise the change that God is working, but others who know us can actually see a visible difference in us. As Gaudi seemed to know, God is Lord of Time, he's in control, and he's in no hurry, he works steadily and surely, one step at a time, to change us, making us into the person he designed us to be.  

But, sometimes it takes longer because we are reluctant to change, we are reluctant to hand over the control of our life to God.  We don't always like to change, we're happy the way things are, we're comfortable staying as we are.  There may be an area in our life which we've closed the door on and put a notice up saying "No Access".  However, our God is always patient with us, and he's got all the time in the world.  His work in us is a work that takes our whole life-time and it's only completed when we finally get to meet him face to face.  John tells us in 1 John 3:2 "Beloved, we are [even here and] now God’s children; it is not yet disclosed (made clear) what we shall be [hereafter], but we know that when He comes and is manifested, we shall [as God’s children] resemble and be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He [really] is." (Amp) 

Be encouraged, know that God is working on you, he's working on me, that he will finish his work and what we need to do is choose to submit to him and allow him to do his work.

Just as the Basilica in Barcelona is not yet finished, it still stands as a testimony to the truth of God and we too are to live our lives as a testimony to God's truth.  People should be able to look at us and see evidence of God at work in us and living through us.  Even though others may not know who Jesus is, by meeting us, by seeing the difference in us as we become more like him, they will begin to know who he is.  Like I said, the transforming work happens within us, but it's not to remain hidden within, it's to have visible expression on the outside.  We are to live the genuine, authentic Christian life, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our lives pointing to Jesus Christ, not to ourselves. Lives that are lived for the glory of God. 

God's Holy Spirit works within us to produce his fruit.   Paul writes about the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control." (NLT)  Jesus said "When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father." John 15:8 (NLT).When people look at us, when they watch the way we behave and the things we say they should be able to see this fruit evident in us.  In troubled circumstances can people see that we are at peace because of our relationship with God?  Are we quick to loose our temper or do we exercise self-control and patience?  Do we show love to those on the fringe of society, ignored by the majority? When people look at me, when they look at you, do they see these qualities - kindness, goodness, gentleness, joy, love etc.?

When people visit the Basilica they can see Gaudi's fingerprints all over it.  As we develop friendships with others may they too see God's fingerprints on us and may we open ourselves up to allow God to make something beautiful with our lives, not only that, but may it also give others the desire to invite God to make their lives beautiful too.

To Think About:
Be honest with God and yourself - is there an area in your life which you have locked and put a sign up saying "No Access"?  Are you willing to unlock the door to God and allow him to bring change?

How has God been transforming you from the inside out?  Give thanks to God for the way he's transforming you.

Are you living an authentic, genuine Christian life so that others see Jesus in you?  Can they see his fingerprints on your life?