Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Greatest Gift Ever!

Dear Friends,

Over the years I've received some lovely presents.  The only thing with gifts is they don't last forever (particularly if they are edible!), some get broken, some wear out after lots of use, over time some need updating and some you grow out of as you leave your childhood behind.

There is however one gift that has eternal value, which is priceless although it cost the giver dearly, which never wears out or needs updating.  This gift is as essential to us now as when it was first given over more than 2,000 years ago.  "the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! '" Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)  It truly is the greatest gift ever - the gift of God's own son, Jesus.   Isaiah prophesied about this event many years before it actually happened when he said  "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity."  Isaiah 9:6-7 (NLT)

In 1 John 4:9-10 "God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." (NLT)  God's gift of Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, he's what Christmas is all about.

As I've pondered on this, I'm reminded of how generous God is to us, and how he gives and keeps on giving to us.  He's given me so much - forgiveness, love, joy, hope, peace, his presence, spiritual gifts that I can use to serve him and encourage others, my family, friends, my home, the food I eat, the clothes I wear and so much more.

It's God's example of being a generous giver which teaches us also how to give.  When I spend time reminding myself of how generous God is to me, my response is to give back to him.  What can I give to God?  I can give him my trust, but that's quite general and I want to be specific, so, in what area of my life can I give him my trust where perhaps before I've withheld it?  In a particular relationship?  At work?  My health?  I can give him my obedience, is there a particular area where he's been asking me to obey him - to follow his leading out of my comfort zone and do something new, to reject an unhealthy habit? I can give him my time - perhaps there is something I can give up for him, etc.?

Giving to God is not to be out of a sense of duty, not to be done with wrong motives, such as trying to earn his love, and not done with conditions such as if I give something to you, you need to do something for me.  Our giving to God is out of our love for him, knowing just how much he loves you and me, recognising just how much he has given to us, we can't help but choose to give to God.

To Think About:
God gave his greatest gift, knowing that some would reject it, some would ridicule it and some would ignore it.  Have you personally accepted his gift to you?  If you haven't, then there's no time like the present.  Even if you've said no to God in the past and wanted nothing to do with him, today he is still holding out this gift to you waiting for you to say yes.

Make some time over the coming days to be alone with God.  Offer him your thanks and praise for the gift of his son, Jesus.  Also think about the many gifts he has given you and express your gratitude to him in prayer and praise.

What gift will you choose to give him this Christmas?  Be specific rather than generalising about what you will give.

Vicki

My prayer for you this Christmas that each of you will know the blessing of God's presence and peace with you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

"May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace."  1 Timothy 1:2 (NLT)


Friday, 19 December 2014

Mary and Elizabeth's Friendship

Dear Friends,

Last week we looked at Mary's response to the news Angel Gabriel brought her that she was going to be with child, and that the child would be Jesus, the Saviour of the world.  

At the same time, the Angel told her that "your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month." Luke 1:36 (NLT) 

I don't know for sure, but I believe that being in the early stages of pregnancy must have been quite a vulnerable time for Mary.  Physical changes within her body, experiencing a variety of emotions and having to cope with people's responses to her news.  It could not have been an easy time for her, and I imagine she must have felt quite alone in it as she had to face the misunderstanding, criticism and judgement from those around her.

But she remembered what the Angel had told her about Elizabeth and "39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Luke 1:39-45 (NLT).

Mary needed to be with someone who could be a good friend to her, someone who understood what she was going through, who had experienced something similar, and Elizabeth was that person for her.  Being further along in the pregnancy, Elizabeth could share from her own experiences.  She was able to be a support for Mary and provide her with somewhere she could be herself, a refuge, a safe place where she was loved and accepted without fear of condemnation.  Elizabeth was able to share with Mary from her own spiritual understanding and she expressed joy and praised God on seeing Mary and, I think, this prompted Mary to also respond in joy and praise towards God.  She must have been such a source of encouragement for Mary.
 
"Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home." Luke 1:56 (NLT)  Elizabeth helped Mary adjust to her new situation and Mary stayed long enough to get through the worst of any morning sickness, tiredness, lack of energy and other early symptoms of pregnancy she may have been facing.  By the end of her stay, Mary was stronger physically, spiritually and emotionally.  She was ready to return home and prepare to marry Joseph and become a new mother.
Although we are concentrating on Mary today, I am sure that she would have been a source of encouragement to Elizabeth and support to Elizabeth, as she, an old woman, prepared for the arrival of her own first baby.
 
God knew how much Mary and Elizabeth needed each other at this particular time, yes Mary had her own family and Elizabeth had her husband, but these two women both needed someone who understood what they were going through and all that it meant for them, someone they could confide in and share with on a far deeper level than that which anyone else was able to provide them with at that particular time.

For myself, I find that the older I get, the more value I place on friendships.

My son, tells me how many 'friends' he has on Facebook, but that's not what I mean by friendship, I'm referring to good, real friends who don't get going when the going gets tough, who are there in both the good and the bad times, who don't 'un-friend' me  for no good reason.

God knows how essential relationships are, and how we all need good friendships whatever our age, gender, culture, background. Friendships which offer acceptance, which allow us to be ourselves, where we celebrate the joys of life together and support, comfort and encourage each other in the midst of tough times. The kind of friendships where we can confide in one another and feel safe doing so, where we are not criticised or judged but shown understanding. Friendships which have God at the centre, and are all the better for having him in it, within which we can share and talk about God and pray with and for each other. 

To Think About
Who comes to mind when you consider this kind of friendship?  Spend some time thanking God for them. Why not show them your appreciation in some way, perhaps with a handwritten note expressing your appreciation, or inviting them round for coffee, or giving them a small gift etc. 

If you can't think of anyone like this in your life at the moment, why do you think this might be?  Is there anything you can do to change this?  

God did not make us to be alone so what can you do to cultivate this kind of friendship with someone you know? 

Vicki 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Unexpected News

Dear Friends,

With the Christmas season upon us I find myself naturally being drawn once again to the Christmas story, the events leading up to it, and the people involved.  I've been thinking about Zechariah and Mary and their responses to the unexpected news they both receive from Angel Gabriel.

Gabriel appears to Zechariah and says to him “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John." Luke 1:13 (NLT)  Zechariah finds this impossible to believe, he and his wife have prayed for years for children, month after month, year after year, their hopes must have risen time after time,only to be dashed time and time again.  Finally, with old age, they despaired of hope.  Yet God had heard their prayers, the prayers of these two who "were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations." Luke 1:6 (NLT) and now was the time for these prayers to be answered.  Zechariah was unable to respond with faith, only questions.   What he's hearing just isn't possible, it could never happen.  He was just not able to recognise truth behind what he was hearing.  If only God had said this to him when he and Elizabeth were a young couple, then he would have had the faith to believe. 

When believing for something that you know is humanly possible, little faith is required, however, it takes a good deal more faith to believe God for something which you know, humanly speaking, is just not possible.  

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Luke 1:19-20 (NLT).

I'm not here to criticise Zechariah, after all, how often have I, have you, responded with doubt and unbelief when God has said something to us?  How often have I dismissed what God is saying to me because it seems impossible, because I can't fully understand it with my limited mind, how often have I questioned over and over again what I'm hearing, how often have I disagreed or haven't liked what I've heard and refused to believe?

I can quickly forget that God is the God of the impossible, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 (NLT). Yet, God is asking each one of us, to have faith to believe in what he has said to us, the promises he's made to us, and that however unlikely it may seem that it could ever happen, however incredible it may be, to trust that he will fulfil what he has spoken.  As it says in Hebrews 11:1 "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (NLT)

Let's turn now to Mary's example, which is found in Luke 1:26-38.  I find her response amazing and her example inspiring.  Gabriel explains to her "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus...The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God." Luke 1:31 and 35 (NLT)  Here's a young, village girl, probably in her mid teens, perhaps of little significance as far as those in the village concerned, but God sees her differently and he has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.  Mary knows what this could mean for her, her fiancĂ©, Joseph, could reject her, her family could disown her, which could mean she could end up begging or in prostitution in order to survive. She risked being stoned, facing misunderstanding, people believing her to be insane,  criticising her and judging her harshly.  She knows her reputation could suffer greatly, that those who once thought well of her, may now want nothing more to do with her. She is aware that she could lose everything.  All kinds of thoughts and concerns must have been running through her mind, clamouring for her attention.

Yet, with such faith in God she answers Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Luke 1:38 (NLT).  She does not yet know just what this will mean for her and her future, she may not understand fully what is going to happen, yet she responds with faith, laying aside her own will, her own plans and dreams, willing to give it all up and to be committed to God's will for her and she humbly chooses to obey, identifying herself as God's servant. 

I don't know about you, but I find that hugely challenging!  Would that I always responded to God with such faith.  That even though I may not fully understand what he is asking of me, even though it may mean giving up my own desires and wishes, giving up what I want for my life, that I will respond to God by saying, "Lord, I'm your servant, I choose to be obedient to you and be committed to following your will for me."

To Think About:
In the past have you ever responded like Zechariah to something God was saying to you?  What were the consequences or your response?

Is God saying something to you, that you don't quite understand, that perhaps humanly speaking doesn't make much sense, that involves you having to give up something, that could cost you dearly?  Will you respond with faith like Mary and say yes to God?

Consider again the words of Mary: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”  If you applied these words to yourself, what do you think they would mean for you?

Vicki

Friday, 5 December 2014

What's the Condition of Your Heart?

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago I was preparing for preaching and one of the bible passages I was using was from Luke 9:51-56.  James and his brother John were displaying a judgemental attitude and Jesus' response to them grabbed my attention.  Part of what he said was this: "You don't realise what your hearts are like." (verse 55, NLT).

It was true of them then, but it can also be true of me and you.  We can be going about our daily routine, our various responsibilities at home, work and church, unaware of what may really be in our hearts.  We can be blind to what's in our hearts, blind to an unknown sin which we may be harbouring.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10a we read  "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?  10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives." (NLT) We may be able to deceive others, or deceive ourselves, but we can't deceive God, he is the one who really knows our hearts, (Luke 16:15).

It takes Jesus to reveal to James and John the true state of their hearts.  Today, we too need God to reveal to us the condition of our hearts.  God shows us exactly what is in our hearts, whether it's bitterness, anger, jealousy, lust, greed, unforgiveness, hate or something else. When he reveals to me what my heart looks like it's as though he's holding a mirror in front of me and I'm then able to see what he sees.

I'll be honest with you, I don't always like what I see.  For example, there was a time when he showed me how critical and judgemental I was in my heart towards others.  If anyone had asked me I would have told them that I had a heart that was loving to others, that's what I believed anyway, I had no idea what kind of condition my heart was really in.

It's painful when God opens my eyes to see what he sees in me, it's not who I thought I was, it's not who I want to be, I want to be Christ-like.  But despite it being painful and difficult, it's a good thing when God opens my eyes, because now I have the opportunity to change my heart, to confess that sinful attitude and to seek, with confidence, his forgiveness.  It says in 1 John 1:9 that  "9 if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (NLT)  God can cleanse my heart and with his help my attitude becomes more like his.  The psalmist prayed and we can pray the same thing: "Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 (NLT)

God uses a variety of ways to reveal to us what's really in our hearts.  Sometimes he's used my circumstances, a trial I've been going through, to show me the truth, other times it may be during my quiet time with him as I'm reading his word and praying, or through another person, or it can be by any other means he chooses.

God's purpose in revealing to me the condition of my heart is always for my good.  Whereas the devil would use the opportunity to get me to doubt myself, to try to get me to believe that I'm a terrible example of what being a Christian is all about, to feed into my negative feelings and thoughts about myself, to make me believe I'll never be good enough, that I can't ever measure up, that I'm just not worth loving, God uses the opportunity to reveal my sin in such a gentle and loving way, so that I can receive his forgiveness and to change me more and more into the image of his son, Jesus.  "And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." 2 Corinthians 3:18b (NLT)

This is what God wants for each one of us, that day by day we are being changed so that we more closely resemble the likeness of Jesus.  What starts off as a painful process actually becomes a healing one, and we can entrust ourselves to a loving God who wants only the best for us.

To Think About:
Can you remember a time when God revealed to you what your heart was like?  How did he do this?  What was it he revealed?  How did you respond?

Are you open to God revealing to you today the condition of your heart?  Has he revealed anything to you as you've read this devotional?  What will you choose to do with what he shows you?

Vicki