Friday, 29 May 2015

My Grandparents' Spiritual Legacy

Dear Friends,

I was thinking recently about one of my favourite verses which is Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." (NLT)

It's also precious to me for another reason, it was a favourite verse of my Grandad's too.  My Grandad was a good man, he worked hard all his life, he loved God and he loved his family, his wife, son and daughter and his four grand-daughters.  He had a great sense of humour and a lovely smile.  I remember just a few days from his death, (he was at home, his bed had been brought downstairs because he was to ill to move anywhere and my Nan had insisted that she would take care of him at home) he was full of drugs to help ease the pain of his cancer riddled body and in one of his more lucid moments he smiled and winked at me.  I knew by that he was telling me he loved me and it was ok.

After he had died and gone to be with Christ, my Nan gave each of us grand-daughters the opportunity to choose something of Grandad's to have as a keepsake.  I took a while to choose something, but eventually decided on one of his bible's. In it Grandad had underlined scripture that had spoken to him, often with a date next to it, sometimes with a name by it such as my Auntie's or my Nan's.

My Nan and my Grandad both loved God and both are with the Lord now, but they have left behind a wonderful legacy.  They shared their faith with their children and taught them what it meant to follow God.  They passed their faith onto my Dad who in God's time became a Christian and married a Christian woman.

I was on Bible Gateway' website this morning and read their verse of the day.  It was interesting because it fits so well with today's blog which is why I'm mentioning it now.  It's Psalm 103:17-18 "17 But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him.  His salvation extends to the children’s children  18 of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!" (NLT)

I also like it from the Amplified Version: "17 But the mercy and loving-kindness of the Lord are from everlasting to everlasting upon those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, and His righteousness is to children’s children—
18 To such as keep His covenant [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it] and to those who [earnestly] remember His commandments to do them [imprinting them on their hearts]."

My parents passed their faith on to me and my sister. They taught us what it meant to follow Christ and we put our trust in God at an early age.  Both my sister and I are married to wonderful Christian men and we are sharing our faith with our own families.

I have been so blessed to grow up in a Christian family.  As I look over my family tree I am so grateful to see God's hand on my ancestors and the legacy that ultimately he has given me.

I want to continue to build on that legacy, and, with God's, help shape the lives of future generations.

You may come from  generations of Christians  or you may be the first generation of Christians in your family.  Either way, you can still make the choice and ask God for his help that from now on you will share your faith with your family.  You can make the decision to pass it on to your children and your grandchildren.  So that generations from now will be able to look back and see the wonderful legacy that was left by you.

With God's help you can make a difference in your family both now and in the future.

To Think About:
Are there previous generations of Christians in your family?  How have they been a blessing in your life?  Spend some time with God thanking him for them.

What kind of legacy will you leave your children and your children's children?

What are you doing now to build your legacy?


Friday, 22 May 2015

Stop Comparing Yourself With Others

Dear Friends,

Some time back I was preparing  a message I was to give at church.  After spending time in prayer and preparation I was pleased with the content and believed I had something good to share which would bless those who would be listening.

I believe that when we are doing what God has calls us to do there is a sense of joy, satisfaction and fulfilment to be found in knowing we are doing what he has made us for.  Galatians 6:4 says this "Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else." (NLT)

However, I was concerned at the same time for this joy and satisfaction not to turn to pride in myself.  So I spent time alone with God, sharing my concerns with him.  I am conscious of how easily it could be to become proud in my efforts, mistakenly believing that what I have done is good because of my own abilities, my own efforts.  I know I never want to get to that point.  I want to always remember that any gifting I have is ultimately a gift given freely to me by God and that he is the one who enables me to serve him effectively. "In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well." Romans 12:6a (NLT) It I not because of me at all, I'm just his vessel.  So I asked him to help me to keep humble, to be his servant and not give in to any temptation to take pride in myself.

When the morning came, I admit to feeling somewhat nervous and having some doubts in myself.  Had I prepared the right thing?  Was it going to be encouraging and a help to others?  What a bundle of contradictions we humans can be!  I had to remind myself that I was sharing what I believed God had laid on my heart to say, and it was his responsibility to make it bear fruit.

Just before the morning began I realised that there was someone visiting our church who I had heard preach once before.  I remember thinking what a great speaker he was, how he connected with his audience and was able to communicate clearly his message in a relevant and interesting way, with some great humour included.  I remember thinking when I heard him "I wish I could speak like him, he's so much better than I am at it!"  Now here he was, going to be sitting and listening to me speak.

I felt so inferior as I compared myself to him.  Who did I think I was to stand up and preach in front of everyone?  Others are more gifted than I am.  Others can speak so much better than I can.  And all these negative thoughts came flooding into my mind, taking my joy and peace.

I confess I have a tendency to compare myself with others.  I know I shouldn't do it, yet there are times when I still find myself doing it.  I can be quick to put myself down whilst raising up others in my estimation.

None of us should compare ourselves with another.  God teaches us that the only one we should be comparing ourselves to is Jesus.  He is the standard we follow.  God wants us to be more like Jesus, not more like Tom, Dick or Harry (or Tess, Dee or Sally!)  When we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with another we either become proud believing we are better than them and look down on them, or we give in to feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, having a negative view of ourselves, and we place them on a pedestal they shouldn't be on. Both attitudes are wrong, so to have a healthy attitude of ourselves and who we are we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, not on others and not on ourselves.

I like the first verse I mentioned in the Amplified version: "But let every person carefully scrutinize and examine and test his own conduct and his own work. He can then have the personal satisfaction and joy of doing something commendable [in itself alone] without [resorting to] boastful comparison with his neighbour."  Galatians 6:4  

God helped me that morning by reminding me that he was the one who had made me the way I was, with all my strengths, weaknesses, abilities, interests, personality, experiences.  And he was the one who had called me and he made me to preach in the style I had.  It wasn't that it was worse or better than any other style but it was the one that was right for me.  To try to preach like anyone else, to try to be like anyone else is wrong and denies the person God had made me to be.  He hasn't made me or you to be a replica or someone else, he has made us unique.  I also like how the Message paraphrases Galatians 6:4-5 "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."

God also reminded me that if I am trying to preach in a certain way or give a message to please another or gain their approval or acceptance then I am preaching from a wrong motive and would not be glorifying God.  I am to preach as God has called me to preach and say the things I believe he would have me to say.  That should be my motive and in so doing I will bring glory to God. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 "For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts." (NLT) His is the only approval I need. I need to remember as I live my life (whether I'm preaching, or in a bible study group, doing my housework or going shopping) that I'm living for an audience of one - GOD!

God enabled me that day to stand up and preach the message he had given me, in the way he wanted me to present it.  I focused on him and my service was to him and for him.  At the end of the morning, the visitor came up to me and thanked me for what I had said as it was something he needed to hear.

I was so encouraged by it, and I knew it was God speaking through him to give me the encouragement I needed to keep doing what I'm doing. 

To Think About:
In what ways do you find that you compare yourself with others?  What do you notice about your attitude?  How can you stop making these unhealthy comparisons?

As you live your life whose approval do you seek?  Why is their approval so important to you? 

What is your motivation as you serve God?


Friday, 15 May 2015

God Uses Ordinary People

Dear Friends,

As a child and growing up I was painfully shy.  I lacked confidence in myself and battled with an inferiority complex.  I disliked having to do anything which would draw attention to myself.

I enjoyed English Literature but I dreaded those lessons when we would read a book aloud. I would sit in fear of being chosen to read, but being picked to read was inevitable.  I was not skilled in reading aloud, I would stammer and stutter, falling over words and would just make a complete mess of it.  In GCSE English Language we would have to give speeches.  Having to speak about something for 3 minutes to 30 or so classmates filled me with horror!  I had nothing of interest to say, how could I possibly speak for that long?  I would stand up feeling physically ill, with my knees knocking together and struggle through the speech I had prepared.

These experiences added to my low self-esteem and made me feel like a failure.  They were just horrible.

You know, I can really relate to Moses. We have the account of God appearing to him in Exodus 3 and God calls him to return to Egypt because God is going to use him to lead his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land.  Moses says to God “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”  Exodus 3:11 (NLT) and in the following chapter "But Moses pleaded with the Lord, 'O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.'" Exodus 4:10 (NLT)  I so understand where Moses is coming from!

What I love about the Bible is that it is full of accounts of ordinary people used by God.  God uses people you would never expect him to use.  When I see how he uses ordinary people I realise that he can  also use me because I too am ordinary.

He delights in using ordinary people because he can work with us.  When he uses us to accomplish his will he is the one who receives the glory, because it is obvious that he is the one who gives us the power.  He is the one who enables us to do what he's calling us to do.  So often God doesn't call those who are equipped, instead he equips those he has called. This brings me such encouragement and I pray it encourages you too.  I know what I'm like, I know my abilities and I know that I would not be able to serve God were it not for God equipping and enabling me.

Today I serve God by preaching and teaching. I love to share his word with others. No-one who knew me back in my school days, who had seen me in my English lessons, would ever, ever have said that I would now be doing this.  They would never have envisioned this for my life.  I would never have believed it for myself.  But God knew!  It was his plan for me from the beginning. He has called me to this and he alone has equipped me for this.  I know without God this would have been impossible.  It just never would have happened.

God makes it clear to Moses that he will equip him for the task and he will be with him.  God did not expect Moses, and he does not expect us, to do it on our own.  "Then the Lord asked Moses, 'Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.' Exodus 4:11-12 (NLT)

Take courage, dear friend.  When God calls you to a task, don't focus on your own inadequacies or insecurities, focus on him.  God sees what we aren't always able to see.  God has blessed us with his Holy Spirit, he is with us always and we have his promise that he will enable us. He will supply us with what we need to do his will.  When we do something that we are naturally unable to do, he is the one who gets the glory.  It's for us to decide if we are going to trust him. If we will place our faith in him.  If we will listen and step out in obedience, believing that if he has called us then he will surely equip us.

To Think About:
What reasons or excuses do you give to God as to why you can't do what he is calling you to do?

Have you ever regretted not doing what God asked of you?

Is he calling you to something you know is far beyond your ability to do?  Will you believe that he will equip you for it?  Will you take that step out of your comfort zone and watch him work through you?


Friday, 8 May 2015

Be Still

Dear Friends,

Over the past few weeks these words from Psalm 46:10 have been very much on my mind: "Be still, and know that I am God!" (NLT).  They are a great reminder for me during the hustle and bustle and worry of everyday life.

Be... we are human 'beings', yet we find it hard sometimes, or at least I do, to just 'be'. We can find it hard not to feel guilty when we're not doing something.  But God invites us to be with him, to be who we are, to be ourselves, to be real, to be in a relationship with him.  With him there's no need to pretend to be someone or something we're not.

Be God's presence, to be still physically, to quiet our minds, to be present, to sit in solitude and quiet with him, at peace, calm, unhurried, alone with him, to listen to him, to 'do nothing'.

How I struggle with stillness.  As I said, I find it hard just to 'be'.  If I'm watching television in the evening with Jason, I have to be doing something while I watch it, so I'll pick up my crochet or iron some clothes.  Even laying in bed, preparing for sleep, I'm not still, my legs are restless.  And it's even harder for me to learn to be still in my mind.  I start off being still in God's presence, focusing on him, but then my mind wanders all over the place, it's not still and it's not quiet.  All kinds of thoughts push into my mind for attention, such as what I need to get done this day, or a conversation I need to have with Jason.  Do you struggle with stillness too?  So, every time my mind wanders I bring it back to that place of quietness, of resting in God.  Yes, I wish I didn't need to do that, I wish my mind didn't wander, but at least I can choose to bring it back to focusing on him.  With perseverance and practice I believe I can hone this skill.

Know...  God wants us to know him, not just know about him.  He wants us to know him intimately and deeply. He longs for a relationship with us and so he invites us into his presence.  How wonderful that the God of the universe, the Sovereign, Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, wants to be with me, to be with you.  What a privilege that you and I can sit at our Lord's feet and learn from him.  He has all the time in the world for us.  The question is do we have time for him?

I am God... when we spend time with God it puts everthing else into perspective.  He is God and we are not.  He is in control, he is supreme, and our lives are in his hands.  We can trust him, we need not fear and we need not worry.  We can choose to submit to him and his will.  Reminding ourselves of who he is brings focus to our day.  It releases us from the burden of any difficulties and trials we may be bearing because we can hand them all over to him.

I confess that so often in the past I've rushed into God's presence in the morning.  I've spent little time preparing my heart, little time waiting on him and what he has to say.  I've felt hurried and rushed and it's as if I've said to God, "Well, here I am, this is the time I've got for you and this is what I've got to say." Then I've read the bible, asked him to speak, but perhaps not waited long before I've decided I'm done and it's time for me to move on with the day's activities.

But over the past few weeks I've been changing that.  Instead I've taken that verse and this is what I've been doing:  (It's an exercise based on one given at a seminar I attended at Spring Harvest in April.) 

I sit still, I breathe deeply and slowly, I calm my mind and then, without rushing I say this:
"Be" (pause)
"Be still" (pause)
"Be still and know" (pause)
"Be still and know that I am God" (pause)
"Be still and know" (pause)
"Be still" (pause)
"Be" (pause)

I sit still for between 5-10 minutes.  Quiet, soaking in God's presence, still in my mind and my body.  When my mind wanders I bring it back to the quietness of just being with God.  Waiting on him.

Then I open his word and continue being with God.  Unhurried and unrushed.

I still have a way to go with this, I haven't perfected the discipline of stillness or solitude with God, but I'm learning and I'm already experiencing the blessing of beginning my day with God in this way.

It's also a great exercise to try at any time of the day, especially when we begin to feel frazzled.  When we feel like we are losing our peace, when we feel overwhelmed, when things are threatening to bring us down.  It helps us to refocus on God and know that he is in control, he has everything in hand and we can rest in him.  Why not try it at lunch time or a mid morning break?  If you're at work and the only place to be alone is in the water closet, then why not go there, shut the door, and quietly go through the exercise.  No-one else need know what you are doing.

This exercise can also be done using other verses from God's word.  There are so many we can choose from. Another similar verse and which is also great to meditate on is Psalm 37:7 "Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon Him" (AMP).  I'm staying with Psalm 46:10 for now because I'm finding it so meaningful and I'm just not ready to leave it yet.

To Think About:
We can be so busy doing things, that we just don't take the time to 'be'.  How can you create space in your week to just 'be'?

Focusing on God at the start of a new day sets us up for the rest of the day.  Consider setting your morning alarm just 5 minutes earlier so that you can be still and alone with God and try the exercise outlined above for yourself.  I challenge you to give up 5 minutes of sleep to do this.  Will you accept the challenge?

What difference does it make to your day when you make God a priority from the moment you wake?



Friday, 1 May 2015

How to Boost Your Wellbeing

Dear Friends,
(Today I want to share with you a summary of a message I recently gave at my church.  As it's a bit longer than usual you may like to split it into two readings or make yourself a cup of tea and take the time to sit, relax and read.)

Towards the end of last year I was not in a good place, emotionally or mentally and so I was advised by my G.P to attend a Stress Control Course. The course gave me some useful, practical information and in the last session we looked at 7 key things which help to boost our wellbeing so that we can move from languishing to flourishing. Now, while it was good, it was missing one key element – the presence of God and our relationship with him.  When he is included then there is a significant increase in my sense of wellbeing, and I can experience a life that is worth living.

I’ve tweaked these 7 things so that I can share them from a biblical perspective.

1.            Connecting - primarily with God
There is a deep seated need in all of us to know that we ‘belong’, to know we are loved, accepted and valued for who we are.  Whilst we may seek to have this need met in other people or things, this need can only be fully met and satisfied in a relationship with God, the one who created us for relationship.

I really like the amplified bible’s translation of Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He [God] also has planted eternity in men’s hearts and minds (a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy)”

When we come to God, when we ask him to be Lord of our lives, he gives us a new life and a new way of living: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

And it’s this life that truly is worth living!

Connecting with others
Becoming a child of God also means that we become part of a larger family, God’s family.  Within church we can build strong and meaningful relationships with one another.  Loved and accepted by God we now love and accept one another.  We are there to support one another, celebrate together, encourage one another, and share together in all manner of experiences.

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows."  1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NLT)

If we know the secret of having a life that’s worth living, we will want to share it with others, it’s not something we will keep to ourselves, so we will give time to building new relationships, investing in people’s lives, with those in our community, our neighbours, our work colleagues etc.  Our desire will be for others to know for themselves what makes life worth living.

2.            Spiritually Active
Living obediently is our spiritual exercise. Being spiritually active means putting into action what God is teaching us.  It’s not just about reading the Bible, but it’s about application, such as what does it mean to me?  Is there something I need to change in my life?  What direction should I take? How do I relate to those around me? What can I do to have a better marriage? What should my attitude be towards my demanding boss?

If all I do is sit and gather information about living the Christian life by coming and listening on a Sunday morning I’m not going to be spiritually fit.  What I learn needs to be put into action.  Being spiritually active is a huge part of having a life that’s worth living.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out [our spiritual workout] your salvation with fear and trembling,”  Philippians 2:12 (NIV)

3.            Keep Learning
God expects us to grow and mature as Christians, to become more like Jesus.  To do so we need to learn more about Jesus, and to learn more about him we need to be regularly reading his word, regularly connecting with him, building a close relationship with him.

There are a variety of ways we can learn - for example, reading God’s word, reading books by Christian writers, listening to bible teaching, gathering with others and learning from their Christian experience.  Building and strengthening relationships with other Christians who are further along on their journey.

Learning in itself is not enough.  It goes back to our previous point of being active – for it to make a difference in our lives we need to put it into practice.

“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” James 1:22 (NLT)

4.            Give to Others
When we realise how much God has blessed us, that he has made it possible to have a life worth living, we are prompted to give to others out of gratitude for all he has given and done for us.  Our giving comes from our love for God and for one another. 

It doesn’t always have to be something big, it can be small but meaningful things such as saying thank you to someone, phoning a relative or friend who needs support or company, asking a colleague how they are and really listening to the answer, offering to lend a hand if you see a stranger struggling with bags or a pushchair.

Using our spiritual gifts within our church family is another way we can give to others, eg playing in the music team, welcoming people at the start of a Sunday morning, helping in the crèche, praying with someone, serving tea and coffee etc.

We can also give to others in our community, for example by being involved in any church activities which have the purpose of reaching out to the community, sharing with others the Good News of Jesus and what it means to have a relationship with him. When we do we see how we are part of something far bigger and greater than ourselves. 

“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)

5.            Goals
When it comes to our goals, we need to come before God and ask him to reveal what his plans and purposes are for our life so that we can set godly goals.  They need to be goals which are in line with God’s will for our life because then the life we live will be far more fulfilling and satisfying. 

“Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 (AMP)

6.    Healthy spiritual food
What we feed our minds is just as important as what we feed our bodies: the books we read, the people we talk with, the films we watch, our use of the internet etc.  What we feed our minds influences our total health and well-being.  So it’s important to feed our minds with what’s good and right and healthy. Eg, music, reading my bible, group bible study, meditating on God.

“A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)

7.            Gratitude
As Christians we have so much to be grateful and thankful for.  God has blessed us in so many ways, starting from enjoying an incredible relationship with him where we experience unconditional love.  He is the one who makes our life worth living.  Yet, it’s so easy to take all that he has given to us, all that he means to us, for granted.

Once we get in the habit of expressing gratitude to God and also to others it enhances the life we are living.  We become more and more aware of the incredible gift of life that God has given us.  While gratitude is about giving God praise and honour he is due, it also blesses us.  Gratitude has an impact on our relationship with others, our relationships improve, they become stronger.  When others see how grateful we are about life they notice that there is something lacking in their own life and it again brings us the opportunity to share with them the Good News about Jesus and that they too can have a life worth living.

To Think About:
Is your wellbeing languishing or flourishing?  Which of these 7 key points would make most impact on your life and help boost your well-being?

Which of these 7 key points do you sense God is drawing your attention to?  Why do you think that is?  How will you respond?

Is there something that God may be wanting you to share with another person?