Friday, 27 November 2015

What Does The Bible Mean To You?

Dear Friends,

Monday 23rd November was International Day of the Bible.  The idea was to share, either publicly or online, with the world how much the Bible means to your life, by sharing a favourite Bible verse or passage. 

It got me thinking about how much the Bible has meant to me since I was a young child.  How I loved the Bible stories I was taught in Sunday School.  Then as a teenager being part of a youth group where we were taught God's Word.  How much it meant to me as I left home to go to university and relied on a regular quiet time and how that has continued to this day.

As a result, I have many favourite Bible verses, and the list is continually growing.

When I was baptised at the age of eleven I shared my then favourite verse from Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (NIV)  That very day I became ill with terrible stomach pains which progressively got worse over the next twenty-four hours.  My GP had no idea what was causing it, so he called an ambulance to take me to the hospital.  It turned out to be appendicitis, and because my GP had failed to diagnose it (being convinced that was one thing it was not), they operated just in time before it ruptured.  In those days, it meant a long stay in hospital and I hated being away from home.  So, my favourite verse became even more real and meaningful at that time.

Over the years, various verses have become meaningful to me and a favourite for a particular season.  They have become part of my testimony.  It's a mistake to think that our testimony is just about when we first became a Christian.  We have a testimony to share with the world which is regularly updated as we daily experience the presence of God in our life.  I think it sad if all we have to share with others is something that happened years ago.  It's as if we are telling people that God changed our lives once but makes no difference to us now.

In the last few weeks Psalm 71:16a (TLB) has become a favourite of mine.  "I walk in the strength of the Lord God."  I have it written on card and keep it near my bed so that it's one of the first things I see when I wake.  Being only a few words in length, and also because it means something to me, it is easy to memorise and repeat to myself during the day. 

It means a lot to me in my present circumstances as I'm so aware of my physical weakness.  Actually, not just physical weakness but my spiritual weakness too.  In my weakness I am far more dependent on God's strength.  I need him in all that I do.  I need his strength working in and through me so that I can accomplish all he calls me to do. 

When I was healthy I was far more independent, I did things in my own strength.  But now, in my weakness I can do more because it is not me doing it but the power of God working in me.

This verse is a great reminder for me and brings me much needed encouragement.  There's no need to do something on my own and in my limited strength because I have God's presence with me, providing me with his strength.  Whatever I do, whether it's cooking a meal for my family, meeting up with friends, serving God at church, I do it in the strength of the Lord.  Wherever I go, whether it's staying at home, going shopping, worshipping at church, I go in the strength of the Lord.

There is so much for us to discover in God's Word and it can help us in so many ways.  "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

To Think About:
What does the Bible mean to you?  How can you use the Bible to encourage yourself and others?

In what ways has it made a difference in your life?

What is a favourite verse of yours and why does it mean so much to you? 
Would you consider posting a comment - I'd love to hear what your answer is.  Let's encourage one another. 


Friday, 13 November 2015

Using Our Time Wisely

Dear Friends,

Do you ever wake up and feel overwhelmed at all you need to accomplish this day?  Or do you get to the end of your day and feel like you've wasted the time?

I know I can often feel like that, and I know there's so much more for me to learn when it comes to using my time wisely - in work, rest and play.

Psalm 23 has been in my thoughts a great deal these past few weeks and I've spent time meditating on just one phrase or sentence at a time. 

It was while I was meditating on Psalm 23:1 "The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need." (NLT) that I realised God had given me all the time I need for each and every day.  His gift to you and me is time, but it's up to us how we use what he has given us.  The psalmist writes in Psalm 90:12 "Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom."  (VOICE)

I'm conscious that I can waste my time on things, that while not necessarily bad for me, are not that beneficial.  Such as the time I spend on social media or playing an addictive game on my mobile phone, or watching television.

Paul writes to the Corinthians "All things are lawful [that is, morally legitimate, permissible], but not all things are beneficial or advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life]." 1 Corinthians 10:23 (AMP)

I can be so easily distracted from what I'm supposed to be doing.  I start to daydream or try to do too many things at once. 

I get caught up doing things that aren't for me to do, things that God hasn't called me to do, but I do them because I've been afraid to say no to someone, or because I mistakenly think I'm the only one who can do them properly.

If you and I are to live a balanced life then we need to use our time wisely in our work, our rest and our play.  Let's take a moment to look at those three areas:

Work: Do we make the most of our time at work?  Are we diligent in our work whether our boss is there to oversee things or not?  Do we take longer breaks than we are entitled to?  In our service to God are we living out our calling and focusing on that which he has asked of us or do we get involved in too many other things?  Jesus focused on what God's purpose was for him.  He did not allow anything or anyone to distract him from this.

Rest: Jesus modelled what it means to have time alone with God.  Times when he would get away from the crowd just to be with his Heavenly Father.  The wisest use of our time is to spend our first waking moments in God's presence.  This sets the direction for our day. 

We all need rest and sleep.  Living with M.E is teaching me just how valuable times of complete rest and sleep are.  I cannot function without them.  Having the appropriate time to rest and sleep is a good use of our time and makes us more effective in the things we do.

Play/Leisure: Do we make time to be with family and friends and enjoy their company?  What do we do for relaxation?  Do we do things which are good for us, such as going for walks, developing a new hobby or mastering a new skill?  Do we choose carefully what we read or watch on television? 

If we misuse the time we spend in our work or our service, then other areas of our life will suffer, such as our relationships.  I believe that relationship is important to God and should also be important to us.  Jesus knew when to serve and when to spend time enjoying the company of friends.  For example, he shared a close friendship with Lazarus, Martha and Mary, and could be found relaxing in their home on more than one occasion.

Using our time wisely is not about being constantly busy.  Busyness does not always equate to having a productive life.  We can be busy doing all manner of things that may not actually be necessary.  We can be so busy that we make ourselves ill (I've known that from personal experience) and that is not using our time wisely.

To use our time wisely we may need to eliminate some things from our life.  It may also mean spending more of our time on something else.  For example, for me it means ensuring I have periods of complete rest structured in to my day.  For you it may be something else, such as including some quality time with a family member.

If we are going to be wise in the way we use our time, we need the kind of wisdom that comes from God.  Not only that, we also need to be constantly in tune with the Holy Spirit, open to his prompting and reminding.  We need to listen to his words of wisdom and the guidance he gives us as we move through our day.  Then we will be living carefully and as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians  "making the very most of your time [on earth, recognizing and taking advantage of each opportunity and using it with wisdom and diligence], because the days are [filled with] evil."  Ephesians 5:16 (AMP). 

To Think About:
Consider how you spend your time.  Is there something you need to eliminate from your life so that you are using your time more wisely?

Is there something that you could be spending more time on so that you are making the most of your time?

Is there something you could put in place which would help you to use your time wisely?


Friday, 6 November 2015

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Dear Friends

I like to be organised and I like to make plans.  I like to plan the things I need to do and when they need to be done.  I like order and having a system.  I do not like it when that order is disrupted!  However, our plans don't always go according to, well, plan!

Recently, my computer crashed which also meant my plans for that day crashed too.  I was so frustrated.  I now couldn't spend the time I had put aside to work on my laptop.  It made me feel that my time was being wasted because I wasn't able to do as I had wanted to.  Jason suggested I take it in to him at work to take a look at.  It was kind of him, but this was not how I had envisioned spending my day.  It was all taking up what I saw as my precious time.  What made it worse was we weren't able to fix the problem that day.

At around the same time our dishwasher broke, a copper pipe in the kitchen came apart, which meant we needed to have the water turned off while we waited for it to be fixed, and the pump (situated in the airing cupboard) for our shower began leaking. It all meant that time, which I had planned for other things, was now being used up on these issues instead.

As annoying as these disruptions to my plans were, God used the situation to remind me of some things:

1. Technology is great all the time it works.  However, we can't always rely on it.  Sometimes we rely on things and people too much.  This is sure to cause us problems because no person and no thing is 100% reliable.  God, on the other hand is totally reliable.  I can lean on him at all times.  I can rely on him to meet my needs.  He is always there for me and he will never let me down.  "Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock." Isaiah 26:4 (ESV)

2. There is nothing wrong with making plans, but rather than making my plans based on my understanding and what I want, I need to take the time at the start of a new day to be with God.  To talk with him about what plans he may have for me for that day. "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." Proverbs 19:21 (ESV). I try to make it my habit at the beginning of the day to ask for his help to use my day and time wisely.  To concentrate on the things he wants me to do that day rather than the things I think are important or urgent.  To be willing to make changes to my plans if he sees fit to bring something unexpected in to my day.  This should help me to have a better attitude during the day and feel less frustrated about my plans.

3. As much as I like to be in control over what I do, the truth is that it's not possible to have control over everything.  My laptop crashing, the dishwasher breaking down, the leak in the airing cupboard were all outside of my control.  Any control I have over a person or thing is fragile at best.  The only one who has complete control over all things is God because he is sovereign. "The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.  The world and all its people belong to him.  For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths."  Psalm 24:1-2 (NLT).  He wants me to surrender my need to control over to him.  To submit to his will.  When I remember how much God loves me and that he only wants the best for me, it becomes easier to surrender my will to his.  "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

So, when my day doesn't go according to plan I can remember these three things: First, God is the one I can have complete confidence in.  I can totally depend on him for all my needs. Secondly, God knows best how I can spend my day, therefore, to make the most of my day it would be wise to spend time early on in his presence, to seek his purpose for the day.  Thirdly, to surrender my desire to control over to God and rest in him and his sovereignty.

To Think About:
What is your natural reaction when your life doesn't go according to plan?

Have you relied on things or people too much and felt let down by them?

Are you willing to surrender control of your life over to God and watch what he will do?


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Is It Really Possible To Worship God On A Bad Day?

Dear Friends,

Back in the summer I was really struggling with my frozen shoulder.  The pain had got so bad that it wasn't just  certain movements which caused me pain.  The pain was pretty constant, whether I was doing something or sitting still.  The physical pain was also affecting me emotionally, mentally and spiritually.   I really did not feel like worshipping God.  In fact, to be honest, it was the last thing I felt like doing.
Worship is fine when things are going well with us.  We come along to church on a Sunday and join in with the praise and worship – we feel like worshipping God.  During the week we worship God in our hearts and attitude easily because we feel like it.  It comes more naturally.

We are called to worship God.  Paul writes in Romans 12:1 " And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”  (NLT)
But what about when your life feels like it’s falling apart in front of you?  When you are suffering with long-term health problems, when someone you love becomes sick, when your spouse walks out on you, when your child rebels, when you have financial problems, or you are in danger of losing your home?  Is it really possible to still worship God then?
We can learn a lot from King David who wrote Psalm 13 when he was a fugitive, on the run from King Saul.
 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
3 Turn and answer me, O LORD my God!
     Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
     Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me. (NLT)
David is totally open and honest with God - he tells him exactly how he's feeling.  In v2 he asks God four times “How long?”  Is that where you’ve been or perhaps are right now?  How long is my suffering, this hardship going to go on?  When’s it going to end?  How much longer?  When you are in the midst of hardship it can feel like forever.
David feels like God has forgotten him.  That God doesn’t care about him anymore.  He feels abandoned.  He feels like God is looking the other way, ignoring what David is suffering.  Have you ever felt that way?  That God has forgotten you? 
It can be very hard to feel God’s presence when we are suffering. But, our feelings are unreliable.  We can't trust them, however, we can trust God and his Word.  God has promised us that he will never leave us and never forgets us.
David is saying to God in v3-4: “Are you listening?  Will you hear me?  Will you do something?  I can’t take it anymore.  Don’t let my enemy win.  Don’t let me be overcome.”
At times it can feel like we will be overcome by our troubles.   That they are just too much to bear.  That perhaps life is just not worth living anymore.  It’s all just too hard and got too much for us.  But when we go to God he give us the power and strength to keep standing, to overcome.
God wants us to admit our weaknesses, to admit our need of him.  He wants us to come to him and ask for his help.
When life is going well we can have a tendency to think we don’t need God’s help.  Troubles remind us that we do.
In v5-6 we see that by turning to God, by opening up his heart and being real, and by praying to God, David’s perspective on life has changed.  His situation and circumstances are still the same, but his outlook and attitude is different now.
Going to God has allowed God to work in his life and his mind so that he can move from fear to faith, from worry to worship.  Now that David’s focus has shifted from his situation to God he is able to worship God.  We can follow David's example.
David worships God for who he is.  He doesn't say God has been good to me, he says God is good to me.  God is good - it's his character, who he is.  Therefore, whether I'm experiencing a good or bad day, God is still good.
David remembers how God as always been there for him in the past and he is confident that God will be there for him now and always.  God has never failed him and will never fail him.  He is able to put his hope in God.  We can have that same confidence in God as we look back over our lives and remember his faithfulness.
David chooses to respond in worship, "I will rejoice" and "I will sing".  He may not feel like praising and worshiping God but he makes the choice to praise God anyway.
So we learn from David that it really is possible to worship God on a bad day by:
  • Crying out to God - being honest with him about what we are going through and how we are feeling.
  • Go to God with our troubles -knowing that he is the source of our help.
  • When we do this, we open ourselves up to allowing God to work within us.  Our focus shifts from ourselves to focusing on God – making him the centre of our life.  We are then free to choose to  give God our praise and worship.

The question is: Will you and I do this?

To Think About:
What is your natural reaction when in the midst of a trial?

Will you go to God, tell him exactly how you are feeling and look to him for his help?

Will you choose to focus on God rather than your trial or circumstances?  What are some practical ways you can worship God?