Friday, 27 February 2015

We Are Family

Dear Friends,

I have recently experienced a great weekend away with my church family. 

When we accept Jesus as our Saviour we become part of God's family. "Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. "  Ephesians 1:4-5 (NLT) You might want to stop to take a moment to ponder on what it means to you that God wants to adopt you into his family.  It's quite an incredible thought that God, the creator of the universe, not only loves me but has also chosen to bring me into his family, making me his daughter.

Because we have been brought into God's family, we now have many brothers and sisters in Christ and we are called to love them with a sincere, deep love. "Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. 22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart."  1 Peter 1:21-22 (NLT)

When we are at church on a Sunday it's easy to just mix with the people you are familiar with, but even then there's not much time for real conversations and getting to know one another.  Life Groups (small groups, home groups, whatever their given title is in your church) are great for getting to know one another on a deeper level and have more meaningful fellowship.  But it still means your connection is with a smaller number of people.

What was so good about having a weekend away together was that we were able to get to know others who we hadn't known so well before.  We ate our meals together, sitting with different people, listening and talking with them.  We got involved in different activities and socialised with other members of our church family.  Some of you know that I have recently taken up crochet as a hobby.  This has brought me into contact with another group of my church family.  I think more time was spent chatting than crocheting, but that was kind of the point.  I really enjoyed talking with one lady who demonstrated her skill of tatting (never known what it was before!) and it was fascinating watching her work.

God's presence was with us, whether we were eating meals together, sharing an activity such as golf or crochet, worshipping God together one evening with singing, or during the bible teaching on Sunday morning.  It gave me some small idea of what it may have been like for the early church, "42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had." Acts 2:42 and 44(NLT).  The Amplified version for verse 44 is  "And all who believed (who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ) were united and [together] they had everything in common;". 

For me, it was also a taster of what it's going to be like in heaven.  These are some of the people who will be joining me in heaven.  If I can enjoy being with them, having fellowship with them now and enjoying worshipping God with them, how much better is it going to be in heaven? 

We enjoyed "doing life together" as it's been phrased by others in the past.  We also enjoyed an atmosphere of love and unity.  This formed part of his prayer Jesus prayed to God his Father concerning his followers, "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." John 17:23 (NLT)  Earlier in John (13:35) Jesus commanded his followers to love one another because in doing so they would be showing the world they were Jesus' disciples.  We are called to do the same. 

That weekend we were a living example to the hotel staff and other guests of what it means to be followers of Jesus and part of his family. We demonstrated by our behaviour and speech our love for God and our love for one another.

To Think About:
What attitude do you show to your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Is God challenging you to change a certain attitude towards one particular brother or sister in your life?  Will you take up the challenge?

In what ways do you think God may be calling you to "do life together" with those in your church family?

As part of the family of God what example are you giving to those around you?  Is there something that you need to change regarding your behaviour or your speech?  


Friday, 20 February 2015

Where Are You Placing Your Faith?

 Dear Friends, 
View looking down from the Sky Walk

Some years back my family and I visited the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth.  It's quite an incredible building, 170 metres above Portsmouth Harbour and taller than Blackpool Tower, the London Eye and Big Ben.  It has 350 degrees panoramic views and stretches out for up to 23 miles.

Personally, I'm not a great fan of heights, but I did feel completely safe and it was an experience not to be missed.  On view deck 1 there is a Sky Walk, a large glass floor, the overall thickness of the glass is 60mm and it can hold a weight of 288 stone!

Josh demonstrating faith!
To walk across it we had to take off our shoes and go barefoot.  Some of us did it quite warily; others seemed to have no fear, having complete faith in the strength of the glass to hold them up.  Josh even laid out flat on it!  I wasn't quite so comfortable doing that!

Whether someone walked across the glass with complete trust or went with a little faith and more fear, the glass held up for each person.  What was key was not the size of a person's faith but what they were placing their faith in.

This illustration is true too for our personal Christian journey.  I may be just starting out in my journey of faith and it may be small, but it is there all the same.  Or I may have a larger amount of faith.  The size of my faith is not what is key.  What is key is what I choose to place my faith in.  What is the object of my faith?  The object of my faith, the one I choose to put complete trust in, is God and he will never let me down, he will never fail me.  He is greater than anyone and anything. The writer to the Hebrews in 11:1 says this "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (NLT).  This verse is paraphrased in The Message as "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see."   

The size of my faith, the size of yours, does not affect who God is.  God is still the same, for always and forever, for each of us. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)

I may sit on a chair and have faith that it will hold me up.  I may be full of faith that it will do just as I trust.  However, if the chair breaks and I fall, my faith in that chair has been misplaced.  The size of my faith and trust in that chair had little to do with whether it was a good thing to put my faith in.

In life, we can choose to put our faith and trust in all kinds of things, such as our relationships, our finance, our employment, our health etc. Perhaps this is how you have lived your life or how you are living your life right now.  But that faith is misplaced faith. People may let us down, either intentionally or unintentionally, we may face redundancy, our finance may not be as secure as we had hoped, our health may fail us.  We will never find our security, our comfort, our peace in these things.  None of these things are guaranteed for ever. These things were never meant to be what we placed our faith in.

God is the one who we can, with confidence, place our faith and trust in.  In him we can find security, comfort and peace.  Why do I choose to put my faith in God?  For various reasons, the main being that he alone is God and he alone is faithful.  "And they who know Your name [who have experience and acquaintance with Your mercy] will lean on and confidently put their trust in You, for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek (inquire of and for) You [on the authority of God’s Word and the right of their necessity]." Psalm 9:10 (AMP).  He is true to his word and cannot lie.  Another reason I put my faith in God is because of the example of men and women in the bible who trusted God above all else and God never once failed them.  Finally, because I have followed God since childhood and I know he has never ever let me down before.  So I know that I can place my faith in him for my present and for the future.

To Think About:
What are some of the things or people you have put your trust in?  What was the result?

When you have chosen to trust God, to put your faith in him, what was the result? 
In what ways can you encourage others with your testimony of putting your faith in God?

Is there a particular situation in your life right now which God is saying to you, trust me in this, put your faith in me?


Friday, 13 February 2015

The Love You've Been Searching For

Dear Friends,

As I write this, Valentine's Day is fast approaching.  I'm sure that with that day comes all kinds of mixed emotions for many people.  Some will be eagerly anticipating it, especially if they are in the throes of new love (such as a certain young man I know!), for some it will be a reminder of their singleness when it seems as though everyone else is celebrating, for some there will be sad memories of love lost, others perhaps will be feeling that their relationships fall short of what they had hoped for etc.

But today I want us to put aside these things to re-focus on God and his love for each one of us.  So, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, get yourself comfy in your favourite chair, find somewhere you can be alone from others and let's quieten are hearts and minds so we can draw near to God and contemplate on his love for us.  Take your time as you read, stop and meditate over each verse.

When thinking about what is real love and what is it all about then we need to go to the source to God himself, who is love (1 John 4:8). 

1. God's love is a sacrificial love.  He loves you and me so very much that he willing gave up what was most dear to him.  He showed us love even though it cost him greatly, even with no guarantees of any return from us, even though we haven't done anything to deserve it.  "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 (NLT) and in Romans 5:8  "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (NLT)

2. God's love is a forgiving love.  God doesn't hold our sins, our mistakes, our failures against us.  He doesn't hold on to grudges.  He doesn't remind us of our past.  He has freely forgiven us and continues to forgive us when we confess our sins.  He never, ever withholds his forgiveness.  His is a love which extends grace and mercy to us.  "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." 1 John 4:10 (NLT).  That's real love, that's genuine and that's how God loves you and me.

3. God's love is a constant, consistent, faithful, eternal love.  In his love for us God never gives up on us.  We can have security in the knowledge that his love is a forever love.  He never waivers in his love for us.  His love for us is unconditional, it's not based on what I've done or haven't done, it's not based on me meeting certain requirements. He never breaks his love commitment to me.  His love for me is based on who he is. When he says he will love me forever I can be sure and confident that he will love me forever. He loved me before I even knew what real love was.  God says of himself "Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness." Exodus 34:6 (NLT) 

4. God's love is a protective love.  "How precious is Your steadfast love, O God! The children of men take refuge and put their trust under the shadow of Your wings." Psalm 36:7 (AMP) and "O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love." Psalm 59:17 (NLT).  I can trust completely in God's love for me and rest secure in him.  He is my refuge, my safe place, the one I can go to when life is tough and when I feel everything is against me.

5. God loves me with a generous love"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1 (NIV).  There's something so good about that word "lavish".  I once looked up in a thesaurus other words for it and here are some of them: generous, abundant, bountiful.  That's a good description of God's love for us.  In his love he has given us so much.

6. God's love is a huge love.  His love is all-encompassing, it's limitless, it's far-reaching, we can never go beyond his reach.  In Ephesians 3:16-19 it says  "I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. " (NLT). The Message paraphrase puts it this way, "I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God."

This is in no way an exhaustive list of God's love. There is so much more to say and discover about God's love. But for now let's just finish with one last verse from 1 John 4:16
"We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them." (NLT)

To Think About:
In what ways has God been showing you how much he loves you?

Which of the mentioned verses means most to you?  Why do you think that is?  Why not write it out onto small card and place it somewhere you will see it often to remind you of God's love for you.

God loves us this way and expects us to love others like this.  How can you love others with a sacrificial love, with a love which forgives, is consistent, is generous, is faithful, etc.?



Friday, 6 February 2015

Lessons from the Giant Redwoods

Dear Friends,

I have been reading about Giant Redwoods this week.  I learnt that these incredible trees can grow to 247 feet high, with a diameter of around 20 feet.  They can live for a few thousand years.  They are continually growing, even when they are hundreds of feet tall; their trunk grows wider and their upper branches grow stronger.  It has been found that the older they get the more their rate of growth increases. They need abundant water and have shallow root systems which intertwine with the roots of other Redwoods.

I found this information fascinating and even more so as I considered
what these trees can teach us about our Christian life.  Let me take these next few moments to share some things with you:

1. Our God is an amazing Creator God.  He created all things.  He did so with such creativity and imagination. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. 12 The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:1, 11-12 (NLT) There is so much variety in the things he has made.  Trees are just one example.  There is not just one kind of tree but many, the Giant Redwood being only one of them.  Have you ever wondered where your creativity came from?  Well, here's your answer, from God himself!

2. Just as these trees continue to grow even in old age, there are ways that I can continue to grow as a Christian.  Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:9-11 "I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God." (NLT) I will never get to the point where I know everything about being a follower of Jesus, no matter how long I have been a Christian.  I want to keep growing in my knowledge of God and in my relationship with him.  I want to keep growing in my love for God and for others.  I want to grow to become more like Jesus.  I want to grow as I learn from others.  In the church I attend we are blessed with people who are spiritually mature and by their example also demonstrate to us that we are never too old to learn and grow.  That's the kind of attitude I always want to have.

3.  These trees grow upwards towards the light and they also need abundant water so that they are healthy.  I need Jesus in my life and this is what he said of himself “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8:12 (NLT)  I need his presence in my life so that I know which direction to take.  I need him to light my way.  I need his light to help me know the difference between what is right and what is wrong.  His light is necessary for my life and is the source of my life.

In the bible water is used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus said in John 7:38-40a (NLT) "38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.)"  I need God's Holy Spirit in me.  He is the one who produces new life in me, who helps me to grow more like Christ and who gives me the power and strength to live for God. In one of his prayers Paul said this: "16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God." Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

4. These trees have root systems which intertwine with the roots from other Redwoods growing near them.  It's a system which provides them with strength and support.  Just like these trees I need to be connected with other Christians.  I cannot live the life God intended for me on my own.  I need good, strong friendships with others.  I have shared before how important friends are to me.  I am also blessed to belong to a great women's life group.  Within this group we realise we are not alone when we face difficulties and storms, we encourage each other, are accountable to each other, learn from one another, and grow together. I need them and likewise they need me.  We are connected to one another because we share the same faith in God, we are part of his family. Paul writes "I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Colossians 2:2-3 (NLT).  Or as it's paraphrased by Phillips "How I long that you may be encouraged, and find out more and more how strong are the bonds of Christian love. How I long for you to grow more certain in your knowledge and more sure in your grasp of God himself. May your spiritual experience become richer as you see more and more fully God’s great secret, Christ himself! For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

Do I, do you, see in our Christian life similarities with the life of a Giant Redwood?

To Think About:
Do you want to grow as a Christian?  In what ways would you like to grow?

How would relying more on the Holy Spirit make a difference to your life?

What support system do you have in place?  Who is part of this support system?  In what ways can you support and strengthen one another?