Friday, 29 January 2016

Courageous Faith

Dear Friends,

Daith Piercing (inner ear)

It's been said that courage is not doing something without fear, but doing it despite fear.  This was certainly the case for me when I had my daith pierced.  I was fearful of the pain involved, but went ahead with it anyway. 

Why would I do something which caused me fear?  Well, it wasn't because I wanted to make a fashion statement, and neither was it because I'm having a mid-life crisis.  Those reasons would not have been enough to motivate me.  My reason, my motive, for doing it was because it may prevent migraines because the piercing is on a pressure point.  There is no guarantee that it will work, but the possibility that it could, was worth pushing through my fear.  Having Jason with me while I had it done was an added boost to my act of courage.  I didn't have  to face it alone.  Some may well think I'm crazy for doing it.  In fact that's what my two teenage kids believe, although they didn't say so in quite those words.  They did make it abundantly clear what they thought of my actions!

God expects his people to demonstrate courage.  He said the following words to Joshua when he took over from Moses as leader of the Israelites: "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."  Joshua 1: 9 (NLT).

Paul also commanded the Corinthian Christians to "Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous.  Be strong." 1 Corinthians 16:13 (NLT).

So too, we are to be courageous in our faith.  I believe that the ability to demonstrate courage depends in part on our reason for doing so.  What is our motive for being courageous?  If my motive is because I want to live in obedience to God and do his will, I am more likely to show courage because there is a real cause, a purpose, in it.  However, if it is based just on a whim or a passing thought, then I'm less likely to show courage.

One of the reasons Joshua was able to be courageous was because he trusted in God's promise to be with him wherever he went.  When I too trust God's Word that he is with me all the time, that gives me a confidence boost and gives me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and do what he is calling me to do.  Courage also comes from knowing I am in God's will and seeking to be obedient to him. 

I can't summon the courage I need for myself to live for God.  It's just not naturally there.  So what can I do?  What did the early Christians do?  They asked God to give them the courage they needed and God answered their prayers.  For example, Acts 4:29-31 "And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message 30 while You reach out Your hand to heal people, enabling us to perform signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.They finished their prayer, and immediately the whole place where they had gathered began to shake. All the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began speaking God’s message with courageous confidence." (VOICE)

You and I can ask God to give us the courage we need to follow him, to move out of our comfort zone and we can ask with confidence knowing that he will answer our prayers.  He has blessed us with the Holy Spirit so that whatever we do, we do it in the power and the strength that he gives us.  We are not relying on our own limited resources.  We are relying on him.

We are part of a family of believers, so not only can we pray for God to give us the courage we need, we can also pray for others and ask that they too pray for us.  From prison Paul asked that his Christian brothers and sisters would pray for him that God would keep giving him the courage he needed to do God's will.  "And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should."  Ephesians 6:19-20 (NLT)

It is both our privilege and responsibility to pray for one another.  We experience joy as we see them walk with courageous faith and we can celebrate with them.

Sometimes courageous faith will mean doing something that others may think is crazy (just like my children thought I was crazy for getting that particular ear piercing) but we can't let what others think of us stop us from doing what God has asked of us.  We need to have the courage to take that step of faith even if it means others will misunderstand or criticise us.  Once again, God will give us the courage to follow his voice rather than other voices, if we will just ask him for it.  Often God will give us the courage when we act in faith, and not before.  He does this to strengthen our faith and dependence on him.

To Think About:
Has there been a time in your life when you acted courageously despite being afraid?  What was the outcome?

What helps you to act in courageous faith?

Is there something God wants you to do which requires courageous faith?  What will your response be?



Friday, 22 January 2016

Do You Trust God with EVERYTHING?

Dear Friends,

If you were to ask me "Do I trust God with everything?"  Then my answer would be "Yes, of course" and I would mean it with all sincerity.  Yet sometimes experiences have revealed that I don't always trust God completely.
The Bible teaches us to "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act."  Psalm 37:5 (ESV)  We are to trust him with everything - our self, our possessions, our finance, our relationships, our health, our work, everything.

Nearly two years ago, my daughter, Jess had to choose her GCSE options at school.  One of the subjects she really wanted to take was Childcare.  She submitted her choices and I prayed God would overrule so that she would be given the right subjects for her.  When I say I prayed God would overrule, I mean I prayed knowing that of course she would be given her choice of Childcare.  I knew it was right for her and God must know it was best for her too, right?

It was a shock when we were informed that there wasn't a place for Jess in Childcare and that she had been given her second choice, History, instead.  I couldn't believe it.  What was God doing?  Why had this mistake been made?  I was her mother, I knew it was a mistake and I wanted to fix it.  So I got involved (perhaps I should say interfered) to put things right.

However, in the end, despite my efforts on behalf of Jess, it was agreed that she take History rather than Childcare.

Now looking back after about 18 months of Jess' GCSE work, I can see that God had overruled and that what God was doing in Jess' life was actually right and best for several reasons, one being that despite not particularly enjoying school, History is actually a favourite subject of hers and she is achieving good grades in it.  I am so glad that my efforts to interfere did not prevent God's will being done in my daughter's life.  I was the one who had got it wrong, I had made a mistake, not God.  The Bible says "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 don't know what would have happened if I had had my way.  What I do know is it would not have been in Jess' best interests and she would have missed out on all God had planned for her.

How wrong was I to believe that I knew best, that I knew better than God.  I had prayed and said that I trusted God with everything, including my child, yet my response showed otherwise.

My vision is short-sighted, I can only see so far ahead, and what I do see is not always the full picture.  I don't see things as clearly as I should.  It's almost like looking through a dirty pair of glasses.  God's vision is long-sighted.  He sees it all and that's why he knows what is best, not only for my daughter, but also for you and me.

Experiences like these teach me that I can trust God with every aspect of my life, and not only my life but those who are connected with me, those who I deeply care about.  These experiences encourage me to let go more, to relinquish my hold and control and place myself and my loved ones in God's hands.
Experience has taught me that I can always trust God with everything.  I can look back over my life and see that never once has God let me down.  Never once has he taken me in the wrong direction.  Never once has he failed me. 
My faith is strengthened as I trust in him.  I trust him because he alone is worthy of my trust. He alone is trustworthy.  Even if my trust waivers, even if I struggle in faith, he still remains faithful.  "If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful because he cannot be untrue to himself." 2 Timothy 2:13 (GW).  His faithfulness is never dependent on my faith in him.  He doesn't berate me or condemn me when my faith falters.  He loves me and his will prevails.
This is the God I know, and love, and serve.  Do you know God like this?  Do you know what it means to trust him completely?  Have you experienced his faithfulness?
To Think About:
Has there been an experience in your past when you have not trusted God?  Have you experienced the blessing of putting your trust in God?
In what areas of your life do you find it more difficult to trust God?  Why do you think this might be?

How has God's faithfulness to you in the past encouraged you to put your trust in him for the present and for the future?


Friday, 15 January 2016

Forward Thinking

Dear Friends,

I think the following verses are great for meditating on as we move in to a new year. 

Philippians 3:12b-14 I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  (NIV)

Paul is sharing with his readers the principle he lives by: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead.

Of course, some things are important to remember and are vital to the success of our race.  Such as God’s faithfulness in the past and the lessons we have learned along the way, his promises in his Word, and the example of men and women in the Bible.  It’s these kinds of things which encourage us to keep running our race, to keep persevering. Paul’s not talking about forgetting these things. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus,” Hebrews 12:1-2a (AMP)

Paul's talking about forgetting the things that would cause him to look back and stay where he is.  Paul could have looked at all that he had accomplished with God and for God, such as planting churches, mentoring young Christians, and become content with what he had already done.  But this would have stopped him from continuing to move in to what God was calling him to do now.  He needed to let go of these things, no matter how good they were at the time, so that he could follow Jesus and the race set before him; accomplishing what God was calling him to now.  It also meant forgetting those things he had done; which God had forgiven him for.  Not being weighed down by the guilt and shame of having persecuted Christians before his conversion.   These things could have hindered his progress in moving forward.

God is calling us on, calling us to move with purpose and determination.  If we’re to do so, it will mean letting go of certain things that could hold us back. 

Sometimes we can be held back because we want to stay where we are.  For example, being happy and feeling comfortable where we are, not wanting life to be any different.  Sometimes we can be weighed down by fear, bitterness, anger, guilt, shame etc.  These things can keep us from moving forward.  If we hold on to our past it can hinder or restrict us in moving forward.

As you read this, is God calling you to forget something that is behind you?  To let it go so that you are free to move forward, to move with purpose, and persistence, so you can run the race effectively?  Does he want you to receive his forgiveness for past sins in your life?  Perhaps you’ve always believed that what you did was unforgiveable, and they have felt like a weight around your neck.  God is waiting to forgive you, to release you of your weight,  if you will just ask him to.

So Paul chooses to forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead.

Perhaps as you enter a new year, and look ahead, you sense there is something new that God has planned for you.  Perhaps you feel you are in a new season – maybe there’s been a change at work, retirement, health, relationships, finances, ministry etc.  Have you asked God what it is he has intended for you in the race that’s ahead?  Will you choose to strain towards this?  Will you put one foot in front of the other, and step out in faith, even though the way ahead may not be totally clear?

We can follow Paul’s example, and run with determination and focus.  The race won’t always be easy, there may be hurdles, there may be unexpected twists and bumps in the road.  But we can do as Paul did: press on and strain towards what’s ahead.  Committed to the race God has called you and me to run.

Paul was able to run his race because he knew Jesus had a hold of him, he was not running his race as a solitary runner.  Jesus was right there beside him.   I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

I also know that I don’t have to run my race alone.  I have Jesus beside me.  It’s so encouraging to know that Jesus has a hold of me.  Nothing’s going to make him let go of my hand, and whatever I’m facing right now I can be assured that Jesus is right there with me.  Jesus has taken hold of me and my hand is in his.  I sense his closeness.  I’m reassured that I’m not in this race alone.   When things are hard he’s there to whisper words of encouragement in my ear.  When I slip he’s there to catch me.  When I fall he’s there to pick me up, dust me down and get me going again.  And most importantly he understands because he has already run and completed his race.

“Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].” Hebrews 12:2b-3 (AMP)

So, as we enter a new year, let’s keep persevering, no matter what stage of the race we are on – let’s determine to keep going, to run with purpose, focusing on our Heavenly Father, the one who called us to run this race.  Let’s make up our minds today to run and finish well.

To Think About:
What may God be calling you to let go of so that you can run your race without hindrance or unnecessary weight?

What are you straining toward as you run your race?  Is God taking you on a new stretch of your journey?  Will you follow where he leads?

What difference does it make to your race when you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus? 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Moving Purposefully Into A New Year

Dear Friends,

"I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."  Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

As has been my habit in recent years I'm giving time in January to seek God and ask what he wants for me in 2016.  Just like Paul, I want to keep moving forward with intention and purpose.  I want to be deliberate in all that I do.  By the end of this year I want to be closer to being the woman God has made me to be.

1. My relationship with God This year it's about pursuing a deeper relationship with him and enjoying a closer walk with him.  The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:2-3 "Do you want more and more of God’s kindness and peace? Then learn to know him better and better. For as you know him better, he will give you, through his great power, everything you need for living a truly good life: he even shares his own glory and his own goodness with us!" (TLB)  I want to learn more about walking in step with him.  As it says in Galatians 5:25 "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (NIV)

Two specific things I want to do is to develop my prayer life. To develop the skill of listening prayer and having a continual conversation with him.  The second is to read a book every other month by a Christian writer who I can learn from and which will be of benefit to my journey with God. 

2. My role as a wife.  We read in Genesis 2:18 "Now the Lord God said, 'It is not good (beneficial) for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [one who balances him—a counterpart who is] suitable and complementary for him.'"  (AMP)  This year I want to be deliberate about finding practical ways to support and encourage my husband.  To provide him with a safe place where he is free to just be himself.  To be the kind of helper as described in the verse above.

3. My role as a Mum.  My children are growing up, I have a son who is nearly eighteen and a daughter of fourteen.  But they still need me to be their Mum, just in a different way to when they were younger.  This year I'm going to use the opportunities I have to encourage my daughter in her strengths as one way of boosting her self-esteem.  I want to make sure I have time for them both, whether it's just to listen or to play a board game with Josh on the rare occasion he asks me to.

4. My friendships.  Invest time in the friends I am close to.  To seek ways of spurring them on in their own journey with God.  To have fun together.  To learn from each other.  To laugh with them and cry with them.

5. My ministry/service.  To look for ways to develop further in my writing and teaching ministry.  To follow God's calling on my life.  To be a blessing to others.

I realise that in some of these areas I need to be more specific in what I intend to do.  To consider practical ways of carrying out my plans.  To find ways to monitor my progress and my achievements.  This is what the rest of January will be for me as I continue to seek God's direction in every area of my life.

I am aware that having written about it in my blog, I don't want to just forget about it until another year begins.  So what am I going to do?  I'm going to write it in my journal - a place of easy reference for me.  I'm also going to share my thoughts, my plans, with one or two friends who I can trust to keep me accountable.  Who can check up on me at regular intervals to ask me how it's going and to see if I'm on track.

Rather than having a verse for the year as I have done previously, this year I've chosen a word to focus on and which fits with all I've already shared.  The word for me is PURSUE.  This year, 2016, is all about me pursuing:
- pursuing God wholeheartedly
- pursuing his calling on me as a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend and his servant.

To Think About:
Why not take some time out with God and ask him what he wants for you for this year.
You may find it helpful to break it up in to specific areas, such as those I've shared above.  You may have different areas of your life you want to focus on.

Will you share it with someone close to you who will help keep you on track?

Is there a particular verse or word you sense God is drawing you to have as your focus verse/word for the year?


Sunday, 3 January 2016

New Year- New You?

Dear Friends,

At this time of year, we can be bombarded with messages via magazines, newspapers, radio and TV telling us “New Year – New You”.  Giving promises of a whole new way of life if we will just follow the latest diet fad or buy a celebrity’s exercise DVD etc.  But when promises of change and trying to be different don’t work we become discouraged and loose hope.

 Today I’d like to give you encouragement and hope that change is possible – that there is a new life waiting for each of us if we are willing to embrace it.

14 Whatever we do, it is because Christ's love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them. 16 So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! 17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 18 All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did.  2 Corinthians 5:14-18 (NLT)

God offers us the opportunity of a fresh start, one where the slate is wiped clean, where our mistakes and offences are forgiven and forgotten and we can begin again. 

We have been given a new life, and we have been given God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to live out the new life that is now ours.  The Holy Spirit does in us everything that Jesus has accomplished for us. The question is: am I, are you, willing to allow him to work in us?
Let’s look at some practical ideas to help us in living this new life:

1. Abiding in Christ

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)
Becoming like Christ, and living out this new life is a progressive experience.  The closer we follow him, the more we will be like him.  It is important to keep close to God, to abide in him and focus on what he wants for us.  Because he loves us he always wants the best for us.  He gently points out to us when there is something he wants us to work on – a wrong attitude, such as envy, or a certain behaviour, such as selfishness, that needs changing. 

 2. Attentive to God’s Word
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. 2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

To be transformed means to be changed at the deepest level.  It’s a continual process of having our mind renewed. God does this as we study and meditate on his Word.  We need to not just spend time in God's Word, but also take the time to listen to him while we do it. We need to also be open to obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

 3. Accountable Friendships

When God has revealed to you a certain attitude or behaviour to work on then it can be helpful to share it with a close friend.  Someone who will encourage you to keep going when you feel like giving up.  Someone who will support you when it’s particularly tough.   Someone to point out when you’ve made a mistake but in such a way that you know it’s done out of love and because they want what God wants for you.  This kind of accountable friendship works both ways. 

Sometimes it can be helpful if both of you are working on the same thing.  At other times it’s helpful to build a relationship with someone else who is further along in the journey than you are, who understands what you’re going through and are more aware of the pitfalls or temptations.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a (NLT)

4. Avoid Triggers/Temptation

Don’t place yourself in situations where you know you will be tempted to go back to your old way of living.  For example, if God has spoken to you about your tendency to gossip, then don’t mix with people you know are likely to feed that habit – who listen to your gossip or encourage you to participate in gossip.  Instead, surround yourself with friends who don’t have that weakness, who use their words lovingly to build up one another.

5. Allow Time

There is many a time when I have been frustrated over my seemingly lack of progress or slow progress.  I wish I could change overnight, but that’s not usually how it works.  Mostly, change does take time, especially if we are dealing with a bad habit that we have unknowingly nurtured for years.  We need to be realistic about the time it will take.  It’s another reason why it’s so valuable to have a good friend who you can share with, because they can encourage when you feel discouraged and they are able to see things more objectively.

6. Achievable goals

Set goals that are achievable – be realistic in your goal setting.  If you set yourself a huge task then you are almost certain to fail even before you begin.  Use a set of smaller goals to fulfil the bigger goal. 
7. Keep an Account of Progress

It can be helpful to keep a journal as a practical reminder of what God has done and is doing in your life.  It’s a way of looking back over the past to see that you have progressed.  If you’re anything like me, then you may find it easier to remember when you’ve messed up or done something wrong, and you feel like you’re getting nowhere.  But having a written record can give a more accurate picture of the progress you’ve made.  You can also look back and see how God has been with you throughout and what he can accomplish when you allow him to have his way.


To Think About:
Which one of these seven points do you think God is asking you to focus on? 

Is there one you feel challenged over?  One that you feel deep within God is pointing out to you?  One that has stuck in your mind more than the others?  One that God has been prompting you on even before today?

What will you do about it?