Friday, 27 March 2015

No Greater Love

Dear Friends,

Last year I watched the film "12 Years a Slave" which was based on the true story of Solomon Northup.  It was not easy viewing and I was sickened by the extent of the wickedness of humankind.  As I watched it I found myself comparing it with the life of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Solomon Northup was a freed black man enjoying a prosperous life in New York with his family in the 1840s.  He was tricked and kidnapped by two men who stole his free papers and sold  him into slavery.  Everything was taken from him, his freedom, his family, his identity.  For 12 years he was viewed as a white man's property and viewed as less than human.  He endured extreme brutality on the cotton plantations of Louisiana.  Punished and whipped severely on many occasions for no real reason, he didn't deserve any of the harsh treatment he received.  But he was helpless to stop it.  He tried to escape, but was found and sold once more to another evil slave owner.  Eventually he was helped by a sympathetic white man and restored to his family and life in New York.

Whereas Solomon Northup was taken from everything he knew and was forced to give up his true identity, Jesus willingly gave up everything to come to earth for our sake.

"Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being." Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT)

Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies. His trial was farcical, in reality it was no trial at all and was based on the false testimony of witnesses who were bribed.  There was no justice. He was beaten, whipped, mocked, made to wear a crown of thorns which was forcefully and brutally pressed down onto his head by the soldiers and made to carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion at Golgotha. The result of such brutality was that  "many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man." Isaiah 52:14 (NLT) Finally he experienced the shame and the agony of death by crucifixion.

He had done nothing to deserve it, he had committed no crimes. He was innocent of all sin. 

"As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.


At this point, another phenomenon occurred. As the arms fatigued, great waves of cramps swept over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by the arm, the pectoral muscles, the large muscles of the chest, were paralyzed and the intercostal muscles, the small muscles between the ribs, were unable to act. Air could be drawn into the lungs, but could not be exhaled. Jesus fought to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, the carbon dioxide level increased in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided...The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood to the tissues, and the tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to inhale small gulps of air... With one last surge of strength, He once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deeper breath, and uttered His seventh and last cry: 'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.'" This is part of a medical explanation of what Jesus endured
on the day he died by Dr. C. Truman Davis.  If you would like to read all of it please click on the following link:  http://www.evangelicaloutreach.org/crucifix.htm


Whereas Northup was subject to the whims and orders of his masters, helpless to do anything about his unjust treatment, Jesus was not helpless and he was not subject to any man.  He willingly chose to submit himself to God's will and purpose and he chose to endure the cross.  Jesus could have put an end to it at anytime with just one word, but he endured it for us. "When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross."  Philippians 2:7b-8 (NLT)  He took the punishment for the world.  Let's stop and make it personal, he who was perfect, who knew no sin, bore the weight of my sins, your sins, on himself that you and I might know forgiveness.  Such is the depth of his love for me and for you.

At the end of the film about Northup he is returned to his wife and family, to the life that had so cruelly been taken from him.  He would forever have the scars as a reminder of all that had been inflicted on him.

The good news is that the cross was not the end for Jesus.  Evil did not have the victory because God, in his power, raised Jesus to life.  "He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God." Romans 4:25 (NLT)

Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, his purpose on earth accomplished.  He died that we might have life.  "Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:9-11 (NLT)

All that Jesus endured is made all the more incredible when we realise firstly that this was God's plan for the world from the beginning. God had purposed that Jesus would be the Saviour of the world, that he would be the one to would save us from our sins. In Acts 2:23-24 Peter tells his listeners "But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. 24 But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. " (NLT)  So that we could once again enjoy a relationship with the living God. Secondly I find it incredible because Jesus could have said no to God, but instead he chose to say yes: “'Abba, Father,' he cried out, 'everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.'” Mark 14:36

I confess that I have at times allowed myself to become overfamiliar with the Easter story and the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion.  It's good for me to take the time to look at it afresh, to remind myself what it cost Jesus to show his love for me, to remind myself of what he suffered for my sake that I might know the blessing of a life lived with him.

"In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding." Ephesians 1:7-8 (NIV)

To Think About:
In the days leading up to Easter Sunday set aside some time to read and meditate on the Easter Story.  Ask God to touch and speak to you afresh as you meditate on it.

What is your response to all that Jesus suffered for you?

How will you live your life knowing Jesus willingly gave up his for you?

Vicki

Friday, 20 March 2015

Do You Know You Are God's Prized Possession?

Dear Friends,

Do you know that God considers you his prized possession?

Maybe you find that hard to believe. You may think that because of what you've done or what's been done to you that you are not special, that you are not worth much. You may have a negative self-image and you may compare yourself with others and believe they are so much better than you.

But the truth is that you are so much more than what you think you are. How do I know that? Because that's what the Bible tells me and if I want to know the truth about God and myself I go to the Bible. It's there I learn that being prized by God means that I am treasured, valued, cherished and much loved by him.

At the moment I'm reading the book of James, and rather than rush through it I'm taking my time so that I can really feed on it and digest it. It's taken me most of the week to read the first chapter, but it's been a good investment of my time. It's why today I'm writing about being God's prized possession. In James 1:18 it says "He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession." (NLT)

Why are you and I God's prized possession?
1. He lovingly created you and me. Who we are is no accident. God was deliberate about the way he made us, choosing our character, our nature, the skills and abilities we would have. No two of us are like, each one of us is unique, specifically created by God and for God.   

"13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed."  Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT)  


Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6 "But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live." (NLT)


2. Not only does God prize us, treasure us, consider us as special because he created us, he also showed how much he prizes us because he paid the highest price imaginable for you and for me. The cost was huge but God believed us worth the cost. What was the price he paid? He gave his son, Jesus, so that you and I could be his prized possession.  

Paul also wrote "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 honour God with your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)


God sees us just as we are. He sees the image we give to the world and he knows us from the inside. He knows our flaws, our weaknesses, our strengths and our potential. Knowing all these things, knowing us as we truly are, God still calls you and me his prized possession.

We are not to live as though we belong to any other person, whether they are a friend, parent or spouse. If we do we open ourselves up to being mistreated, misused and abused. We don't need to spend our life trying to win the approval or acceptance of others, trying to be who they want us to be. 

We do belong to God and as his prized possession we can trust him completely. He cares for us, protects us, watches over us and wants the best for us. He wants us to become the person he created us to be. He has our best interests at heart.


So, what is the outcome of knowing we are God's prized possession?  

First, I believe it gives us a right perspective of ourselves. We have no need to compare ourselves with others, to think less or more of ourselves than we should. Not only does it change the way we think about ourselves, it also changes the way we behave. We want to bring glory to God in the things we do, to choose to do those things which are honourable, good and right rather than mistreating our bodies or doing what displeases God. 


The Message paraphrase of Galatians 5:4-5 says this "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life."


Secondly, when we believe that every single one of us is God's prized possession, it has an impact on how we interact with others. Rather than being judgmental, critical, showing favouritism, belittling others, we will see them as God sees them. We will recognise their worth and value, we will believe in their significance, we will accept them as they are. We will love and esteem them as God does.

To Think About:
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you believe you are God's prized possession. Today rest in that incredible truth.

What difference does it make to the things you say, the way you think and your behaviour when you know that you are God's prized possession?

What difference does it make to your interactions with others when you know that they too are God's prized possession?

Vicki

If  what you read was of interest to you, then you may like to know that my book "Dear Friend...52 Weekly Devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is available to buy from Amazon. (It's content is material adapted from previous blog posts.) To learn more, click on the link below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1517787955/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487243591&sr=1-1&keywords=Vicki+Cottingham

Friday, 13 March 2015

The Guilt Trip

Dear Friends,

Have you ever been on a guilt trip?  I have and usually it relates to my role as a Mum.  There are more than likely some Mums reading this who can relate to what I'm saying.   I've bought the ticket more than once for the guilt trip and got the souvenirs (or rather the scars) from the trips I've taken.  As an overcoming perfectionist I can look back and see how I expected myself to be the perfect Mum, to get it right 100% of the time, which of course wasn't possible.  I put tremendous pressure on myself, which resulted in a lot of guilt when I didn't live up to my own expectations, when I failed, and when I made mistakes.

A guilt trip can take you down some really dark places and lead you to feelings of hopelessness, despair and unworthiness.  It has taken me to places where I remember how I  wasn't able to bond for some time with my baby boy because of my ill health and depression.  To the times when I couldn't look after him as much as I wanted to. To where I remember how my baby daughter was taken back into hospital only a few days after birth to be placed on a constant drip as I'd been unable to give her the nourishment she needed and hadn't recognised it quickly enough.  The guilt trips I've taken remind me and reinforce my belief that I have failed my children and that they have suffered as a result. 

At the time of being on one of those guilt trips you could have told me that I was wrong, that I was actually a good mother, but I wouldn't and couldn't have been able to believe you.  Trust me, my husband, my mum, my sister all tried to help me see the truth.  I am good at giving out advice but not so good at taking it. (Aren't many of us?)  If someone else was in my shoes I would have told them that they weren't a failure and there was no need to feel guilt over things which were outside of their control, and that they had done the best they could under the circumstances.

Only God can show us the truth.  The more I grow in my relationship with him, the more I learn about him and his amazing grace.  I know his grace is something I shall be learning about and appreciating for the rest of my life.  And God says to me, as he says to each of us, stop and get off that guilt trip you are taking,  instead come on a journey of grace with me.  The moment you and I say yes to Jesus, we begin an incredible grace journey. What a truly, wonderful, uplifting thought!

God has shown me that guilt is not something he wants me, or any of us, to be burdened or weighed down with.  Guilt is such a heavy weight to bear, isn't it?  But God says to us hand your burden over to me. The psalmist writes in Psalm 55:22 "Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you.  He will not permit the godly to slip and fall." (NLT)  God says I've dealt with your guilt at the cross, you're forgiven.  My forgiveness and power is greater and bigger than any guilt you are experiencing. All the while I'm holding on to my burden of guilt I'm actually saying to God that his forgiveness is not enough in my life, and that's a lie the Devil would have us believe, because the truth is God's work on the cross and his forgiveness is more than enough, nothing else is needed.  God says I've forgiven you, stop condemning yourself, stop holding your mistakes and failings against yourself.  Romans 8:1 "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." (NLT) Ask God to help you believe this, if you are struggling to do so.

God's grace in my life and in your life is more than sufficient for you and for me.  In his grace he loves us, forgives us, watches over us, provides for us, restores us, and he redeems us and our past, giving us hope for the present and the future"...even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16 And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins." Romans 5:15-16 (NLT) 

God has shown me that when I was not able to give love to my children as I wanted to, when I wasn't able to be the kind of Mum I had hoped to be, he had brought others into my children's lives so that they never missed out, so that they didn't suffer, and so that they actually experienced more love rather than being deprived of it.  God provided for them in the shape of my family members and my friends.  He has shown me that time and time again he has had his loving hand on them, they were never neglected, they never went without.  He watched over and made sure my baby daughter received exactly the help that she needed when she needed it.  He has shown me that as much as I love my children, he loves them so much more, and that he has a plan for both of their lives which cannot be thwarted. 

His grace is there for me every step of my journey, his grace enables me to be the Mum he has made me to be, not the Mum I had hoped to be.  His grace in my life means I'm not doing it on my own.  In his grace he has made me a mother to my two children because he knew I am the mother they need.  And he will use all they have experienced growing up for their good.

Paul writes about God's grace in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, 17 comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say." (NLT)

And Peter writes "May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord." 2 Peter 1:2 (NLT) 

This is my prayer for myself as I continue my grace journey with Jesus and for you too.

I know there is no place I would rather be than on a grace journey with Jesus instead of repeating that old familiar guilt trip.  How about you?

To Think About:
What kind of guilt trip have you been on in the past?  Where has it led you?  Will you step off it and embrace a grace journey with Jesus instead?

Can you accept God's gift of grace to you?  Can you see how he has shown you grace throughout your life?  Will you also extend his grace to others?

What does a grace journey with Jesus look like to you?  What will keep you on that journey?

Vicki






Saturday, 7 March 2015

Who's Voice Are You Listening To?

Dear Friends,

Stepping out in faith, in obedience to what you believe God is calling you to do, is not easy.  If it was easy we would not need to exercise any faith.

It can become even harder when others misunderstand you or you sense you are being misjudged by them.  When you experience this it can be very painful and you can feel as though you are alone.  People may not understand or be able to make sense of what you are doing, they may think you are wrong, they may tell you you're mad to think you can do this, that you haven't got what it takes, that you're not qualified, they may even tell you that it's not God's will for your life.  They may misjudge your motives, judging that you're doing it for your own glory and recognition, that you're doing it to promote yourself.

It's painful and lonely because ideally we all  like to feel supported and encouraged.  We like to know there's someone for us, who's in our corner.  Especially when we are facing something difficult and perhaps out of our comfort zone.

What do we do when this is our experience?  Sometimes we think it's better if we go along with what we are hearing.  We can begin to doubt ourselves, to believe that perhaps we weren't right after all.  We can believe that others know better than we do.  We can begin to doubt that we heard correctly from God, that we were carried away with our enthusiasm rather than basing it on what God said.  We can begin to doubt God himself, to doubt that what he has said is possible.  When we experience misunderstanding and misjudgement sometimes it's easier then to just let go of what we believed God was calling us to do.  However, being easier does not necessarily make it the right thing to do.

Let me share with you what I do when this has been my experience and I hope that it will help and encourage you.

I regularly keep a journal.  In particular I write down the things I believe God has been saying to me and the direction I believe he wants me to take.  If I don't do that I just don't remember it!  Having it written means I have a point of reference to return to anytime I need encouragement or reassurance.

When others have told me I'm wrong or said something contrary to what I believe, rather than get discouraged (perhaps I should say, stay discouraged), rather than give up, rather than dismissing it altogether, I take it back to God. You see, sometimes we do get it wrong, and God can use someone in our life to point out that this time we've made a mistake, that we have  actually misheard God. So I ask God for his help, for him to show me if I have made a mistake, to tell me if I'm heading in the wrong direction, and ask him to help me to be open to changing my mind.

After doing that, if I still believe God is telling me to move forward as I have been doing, I ask him if he would reaffirm and confirm it to me again.  You know, God is so good to us, he never turns round and says I've already told you once, that should be enough. He doesn't get fed up with us asking the same thing again.  In my experience, he always, in his grace, speaks afresh to me, and I am so grateful for this.  In him and in his word is where my confidence lies.  He renews my strength so that I can continue to follow him, despite what misunderstanding or misjudgement I may face.  I can continue with resolution, not based on who I am and what I want to do but based on God, who he is and what he says.

Reassuringly, Jesus knows what it feels like to be judged and misunderstood.  The religious leaders of his time didn't accept that he was who he said he was.  They disagreed so strongly with him that they plotted to have him killed.  He was misunderstood by his own family at times.  Jesus was with his disciples teaching one day "When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'" Mark 3:21 (NIV)  Another time, near the Jewish Festival of Shelters,  "Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him." John 7:3-5 (NLT)  Jesus' disciples didn't always understand what he was doing "His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him." John 12:16 (NLT)

Jesus knew what God's purpose was for him.  He told the people "For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will." John 6:38 (NLT)  Jesus was determined and focused on what God wanted him to do, and nothing deterred him from being obedient, not even when faced with the misunderstanding of his nearest and dearest.

So, be encouraged, when you are following God and you face misunderstanding, Jesus knows how you feel because he experienced it first.  He knows and understands what you are going through and I believe he is cheering you on.

Each of us have a choice to make.  Who's voice will we listen to?  God's or the voices of those around us?  In Isaiah 30:21 it says "Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left." (NLT)  That's the voice I want to listen to.

It's my goal to follow the example of Jesus - to do the will of God, not follow my own will or that of another, and I don't want anything to deter me from obediently follow the leading of God in my life.

To Think About:
Has there been a time when your actions have been misunderstood by others?  If so, how did that make you feel?  How did you face that misunderstanding?  What was the result?

If you believe God is asking you to take a step of faith, to walk in obedience to him, what will your response be?

Who's voice are you listening to?  Who has more influence on you, God or another?

Vicki