Friday, 24 April 2015

You are God's Favourite

Dear Friends,

I love my children and will sometimes say to them "You are my favourite son/daughter."  The response I usually get from them is a groan or rolling of the eyes and "Mu-um, I'm your only son/daughter."  I tell them, "Yes, but you're still my favourite!"  It's my way of letting them know how much I love them, how precious, how special they are to me. 

For me, it's a picture of how I believe God loves each one of us.  He loves me in such a way that he says to me, "You're my favourite!"  And I believe he loves you in such a way too and says "You're my favourite!".

God loves each one of us with an incredible, incomparable, unconditional love.  A love that goes beyond the ordinary.  A love that is pure and selfless.  A genuine love.  A love that is beyond our understanding.  He loves us each individually and considers us all his favourite.

I love words and I love the word used to describe how God has given us love in 1 John 3:1 "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (NIV)

And there are two exclamation marks in that one verse just to emphasize how wonderful that is and how it is deserving of proclaiming.

God doesn't just choose to pour out his love on one person but not another, neither does he pour out his love for one whilst giving little to another.  He lavishes it on each one of us, equally and individually.

He loves us so much that he has chosen to adopt us into his family.  You and I have become a loved child of God.  "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 1:5 (NLT)

The incredible truth is that God loves each one of us in the same way he loves his own son, Jesus.  "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) 

In bible times it was the custom for the favoured son, the first born son to receive the bulk of the inheritance, but when God adopted us ino his family, he made us co-heirs with his son, Jesus, and each one of us receives a full inheritance. "And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory." Romans 8:17a (NLT)  Some translations use the word joint heirs or co-heirs.  All that God has is available to each one of us.  How wonderful is that?

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing the lie that God must love this person or that person more than he does us.  That's because it's the way the world works.  People are favoured based on many things such a their gender, their age, their skin colour, their education etc.

Believing this lie leads to us making judgements on others, comparing ourselves with them, trying to measure up, being performance driven and jealous of others.  There is no place for these things in our relationship with God.  And when we truly grasp the truth of the kind of love God has for us, which is so different to the world's love, we have no need of them.

When we feel secure in God's unwavering love and acceptance we begin to love and accept others in the same way.  We don't make comparisons between them, we don't judge them, we don't make them feel they need to measure up in order to be loved by us and we don't create divisions or jealousy by favouring one person above another.  We love them with the same quality of love that God shows to us, recognising that God loves them just as deeply as he loves us. 

To Think About:
Rest in the incredible love that God has for you.  Ask him to help you believe not only in your head but also in your heart that you are his favoured son or daughter.

If you have believed in the past that you have needed to perform to earn God's love, if you have always tried to measure up, if you have constantly compared yourself with others, jealous of others and not felt good enough, ask God to free you from believing these lies and living this way.

Does your love for others mirror God's love for you?  How will you show love to those in your life this coming week?


Friday, 17 April 2015

Journeying from Frustration to Freedom

Dear Friends,

There's one word I could use to sum up how I've been feeling lately - frustrated!  I've been so frustrated by my own limitations.  Fed up and frustrated by chronic migraines and frustrated by the M.E which has recently taken a nose-dive making me feel weak, sick, tired and in pain. To put the icing on the cake of frustration I've been having particularly bad pain in one upper arm for around 2 months which has not got any easier despite doing the exercises my GP recommended.  This week I had an appointment for an injection in my shoulder but I saw a different doctor who gave me a different diagnosis and told me it was not frozen shoulder but a muscular problem in my upper arm.  As I've weaned myself off daily pain medication he prescribed me some anti-inflammatory gel and told me to rest my arm as much as possible and not put too much exertion on it.  Are you kidding me?  It's my right arm, the one I use to do everything!  How is that going to work?  He told me it could take 7-10 days to feel better.  Can you sense my growing frustrations with the combination of limitations I'm facing?

Are you feeling frustrated right now?  Frustrated by your health? Age? Relationships? Work? Something else?

It's human nature (or at least it's my nature) to dwell on these frustrations.  But this does me no good at all.  The more I focus on what's frustrating me the more frustrated I become. The more frustrated I become the more fed up and low I become.  I get down right miserable!  Things feel and seem worse. Not only for me, but for those around me, and that's no fun!

So what did I do?   I phoned my sister.  I just needed to talk to someone slightly removed from the situation but someone who also understood me.  She's great, she listened and gave me some good advice.  So good in fact that I told her she needed to heed some of her own advice!  Rather than focusing on my frustrations I need to accept them and use it as a time to rest and be kind to myself.  Make the most of this enforced break and see it as a positive thing rather than a negative one.

Our mind is a battlefield.  I can choose to focus on my limitations and the things that frustrate me but if I do that I will loose the battle, and I probably won't be the only casualty. Or I can choose to focus on God and experience victory.  Paul says in Philippians 4:6-8 "Don’t fret or worry. [In my case, stop dwelling on my frustrations.] Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry [or your fretting, fuming and frustrations] at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse." (MSG)

I've had some time to do some thinking and talking with God and this is what I'm learning.  This is the journey I'm on and it's about taking one step at a time.

In many ways I like to be in control and be independent.  I like to be doing something.  But in my journey it's about relinquishing this control to God, knowing that he's got the situation in hand and learning to be dependent on him, moment by moment. 

I'm finding that giving up control to God and recognising his sovereignty is incredibly freeing. This is where freedom lies - in submitting to him, depending on him, allowing him to be God in my life rather than me playing at being god.  I'm leaning to let it go - to let go of my need to be in control, to let go of being the one who dictates the way, and instead to keep trusting him.

It's good to have someone to share with (be discerning about who you open up to).  But most importantly we can open up to Jesus who experienced life on earth.  He experienced the limitations of a human body and he knows what we are going through.  The good news is that Jesus is our high priest and "This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin."  Hebrews 4:15 (NLT)

"Be still, and know that I am God!"  Psalm 46:10 (NLT) is a verse that has been on my mind for some time now.  In this world we live in we are always in such a hurry, we are so busy rushing from one thing to another, that we hardly have time to be still or we feel guilty if we do take time out to stop.  Yet this is what God is telling us, and sometimes, if we don't, he allows something into our lives where we are made to slow down and rest.

So, in my journey to freedom, I believe God wants me to take some time out to practice the spiritual discipline of being still and of being silent in his presence.  To take the time to reacquaint myself with him. To go deeper in an intimate relationship with him.  To know him more and know him better.  To take take the time to listen and commune with him, rather than rushing from one activity to the next.  To really know that He is God.  To understand that my life is in his hands, that he is in charge, that he knows everything, that he is sovereign and that he has no limitations.

My journey from frustration to freedom is just beginning, and I'm taking time for plenty of stops along the way, times of sitting quietly at the Master's feet and times when I can just soak in his presence.  At least, that's the plan and that's my desire. Remembering that God is in control, that he is the one who determines the pace and when it's time to just rest in him. All I need to do is follow on this journey.

To Think About:
What frustrations are you facing right now?  If you focus on these where do they lead you?

Is there something God wants to teach you through them?

Does God want to take you through your own journey from frustration to freedom?  (It's likely that it will look very different to mine.)  Are you willing to take that journey?


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Immeasurably More

Dear Friends,

Last week, my family and I went to Spring Harvest (a family bible week).  The theme was "Immeasurably More" based on Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV) "14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

I want to share with you today some of the things that encouraged and challenged me while we were at Spring Harvest.

1. Higher - God is bigger than my understanding, bigger than my experiences, bigger than my circumstances.  "25 'To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?' asks the Holy One. 26 Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. 27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? 28 Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding."  Isaiah 40:25-29 (NLT)

When I face difficulties and challenges rather than focusing on them I need to look higher, look to God, ask for his perspective and then trust him.

2. Closer - God is closer to me than I am sometimes aware.  Paul wants his readers to become even closer to God, because there's still much more of God for us to experience. Ephesians 3:16-17a. My heart is a dwelling place for Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the one who is making me a suitable dwelling place for him. The question is, am I, are you, willing and open to the Holy Spirit making us a suitable dwelling place for Jesus? 

We have a wonderful promise in James 4:8 "Come close to God, and God will come close to you." (NLT)  I need to remind myself that if at times God feels or seems distant, he's not the one who has moved away, I have. 

3. Deeper - in Ephesians 3:17b there is the image of a tree and how our roots are to grow down deep into God's love.  The same image is in Jeremiah 17:7-8 "But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit." (NLT)

When I am grounded in God and his love I have access to his unlimited supply which more than meets my needs.  God's resources are immeasurably more than anyone else's resources.  My desire is to go deeper with God - to experience more of his love and more of him.

4. Wider and further - God's plan for us and the way he works goes far beyond what we can possibly think or imagine.  His vision is far greater than ours, as is shown in Jesus' resurrection.  God's love for all people everywhere goes further than we can possibly imagine or grasp.  God expects me to take the love I have received from him and share it with others.  This is one way his love reaches further.

I need a daily interaction with God, learning to be reliant on him so that I give out from all he has given me and not from my own limited resources.  I cannot give from what I do not have so first I need to experience an intimate relationship with God.  And if I want to experience more of God in my life then I need to give up more of myself so there is more room for him.

To Think About:
Which of the four points above are more meaningful to you right now?

What may God be wanting you to hear and know about his love?

Is there something you need to remove from your life so that there is more room for you to experience more of God?


Saturday, 4 April 2015

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!

Dear Friends,

"Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb...Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen."  Matthew 28:1,5 (NLT)

On Easter Sunday we celebrate the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead.  As Christians, this is where our hope lies - in a living God with whom we can have a relationship.  "And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."  Romans 5:5 (NLT)

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul says "Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters,of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him."  1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (NLT)

Our hope in God is not just for the here and now, it is for the future too because we know he has prepared a place for us in heaven so that we will one day join him and live with him forever.

It's our faith and hope in the resurrection that makes our life worth living.  We know because of Jesus there is more to life than just this one on earth, and that death is not the end for us.

Read the Message paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 15.
"12-15 Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.

30-33 And why do you think I keep risking my neck in this dangerous work? I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think I’d do this if I wasn’t convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus? Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn’t be the end of me? Not on your life! It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live. If there’s no resurrection, “We eat, we drink, the next day we die,” and that’s all there is to it. But don’t fool yourselves. Don’t let yourselves be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk. “Bad company ruins good manners.”
34 Think straight. Awaken to the holiness of life. No more playing fast and loose with resurrection facts. Ignorance of God is a luxury you can’t afford in times like these. Aren’t you embarrassed that you’ve let this kind of thing go on as long as you have?

58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort." 1 Corinthians 15:12-15, 30-33, 58.

In the light of that first Easter Sunday and those verses I'm prompted to consider how I am living my life.   How am I making the most of the life I have been given?  Am I living for God or is it all for myself?  Is my life glorifying God?  I want my life to count for something, actually, to be specific, I want it to count for God and for eternity.  I want to use my time living as he wants me to live.
To Think About:
What is your response to Easter Sunday?

Are you making the most of the life God has given you?

What are you doing to prepare yourself for eternity?