Friday, 26 February 2016

The Pharisee in Me

Dear Friends,

When I was in my twenties I would have described myself as a "good" Christian girl - I regularly attended church, this included going twice on Sundays, went to Prayer Meetings and mid-week Bible Studies.  I also served at church in various ways, agreeing to do some things which were not even my calling, but doing them from a sense of duty. Without realising it, my Christian life was more about the law (rules) and less about the grace of God. 

Although I was not fully aware of it, I was very judgemental and critical towards my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I expected a high standard from them (the same standard I had set for myself) and expected them to live as I did.  I know now that I had a heart like a Pharisee (a religious leader from the time of Jesus).

So what changed me?  God, in his grace and mercy, changed me.  He did this through my long-term illness of M.E.   When you live with a debilitating illness which drains you of energy and strength and stops you from living as you have been, you have time on your hands.  There was little else I could do than rest and think, so God finally had my attention.

God showed me how I was like the older brother in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32).  He revealed to me what was in my heart.  The judgemental and critical attitude I had unknowingly harboured.  He showed me I had no right to judge others.

During the time I was almost totally housebound I realised that if other Christians were to judge me with the same standard I had judged them, I would come up wanting: I wasn't regularly attending church or involved in serving within my church.  They could have easily judged me on what I was/was not doing, whilst not knowing or understanding what was actually going on in my life.  They could have been totally unaware of my circumstances.  It was exactly how I had been.  I had judged and criticised without being aware of what was actually going on in peoples' lives.

How wrong I had been!  How like a Pharisee I had been with my judgemental attitude and my rules and regulations of how I believed a "good" Christian should live.
When talking to the Pharisees, Jesus said to them, "You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside?" Luke 11:39-40 (NLT)  To paraphrase it, "God made you, inside and out.  He knows what you're like on the inside.  You may be taking care to act as a Christian on the outside, but you're failing to take care of what's in your heart, such as your attitudes and motives." 
A few verses later Jesus says "What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things." Luke 11:42 (NLT).  Once again, this could be : "You are careful to make sure when you are at church that you are using the right kind of language for a Christian, and contributing your money each week, but whilst doing these things don't neglect what's really important, such as loving God and loving others." (You can read more of what Jesus said about the Pharisees in Luke 11:37-52.)

God was so gracious to me when he revealed the true state of my heart.  He wasn't angry or condemnatory towards me.  He continued to be loving in his approach to me at a time when I was vulnerable.  From revealing my sin to me, he then led me to repentance and experiencing his complete forgiveness.  How grateful I am that God does not treat me as I treat others, or even as I deserve - that's mercy!

And oh, I so want to be more like him!  To show others grace and mercy, love and compassion.

God has been working in me during my ill health.  He has changed me.  He has made me more sensitive towards the needs of others.  He's made me more ready to offer comfort to those who are hurting.  He's made me more aware of the hurt that people are carrying. That they are often going through far more in their own personal life than they would want to tell others about.  Now I am able to extend God's grace and mercy to others because I have received it first from him. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." (NLT)

It's not easy to admit my failings, my sin.  I like to present the image that I am a "good" Christian girl, that I never get it wrong and that I'm a worthy example.  That's my pride talking - another attitude of a Pharisee.  God is still working on me!  Still working on my pride.

God has taught me over time that my definition of a "good" Christian is just wrong.  He doesn't want my life to be all about rules, regulations and legalism, relying on my own human efforts, attending one church meeting after another, busy doing things he's not called me to.  My Christian life is actually all about a relationship with him, giving myself to him, loving him, spending time in his presence and becoming more like his son, Jesus Christ.  Everything else springs from making my relationship with him a priority.
The book of Galatians teaches us that we are no longer bound by the law (as the Jews were in the Old Testament) instead we can experience the freedom of God's grace at work in us as we put our faith in Christ.  We are made righteous, not by the things we do, but by accepting Christ in faith and receiving his righteousness.  Paul says this in Galatians 3:2-3 "Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?" (NLT)
In an earlier chapter Paul says this about himself: "19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die."  Galatians 2:19-21 (NLT)

God has done some amazing work on my heart, but there's still more to do.  You see, every so often the Pharisee in me raises his ugly head.  But I am, I think, learning to recognise him sooner.  The sooner I recognise him, the quicker I can then deal with him.  The wonderful truth is that I don't have to do this on my own, God is always right beside me, giving me the power to overcome.  All I need to do, all you need to do, is ask him for help and in his grace he provides it.
To Think About:
Do you recognise a Pharisee in you?  Are you trying to live this Christian life in your own ability rather than relying on the grace of God?
How has God got your attention in the past and revealed to you your wrong attitudes, motives or actions?
If God is revealing to you a wrong attitude, motive or action, what will you do now he has revealed it to you?
You may want to take the time this week to read The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) or Paul's letter to the Galatians.


Friday, 19 February 2016

When God Says Wait

Dear Friends,

When it comes to your dream, your goal, your purpose in life, it can be hard when experiencing times of waiting.  Especially when we are convinced that the dream we have is what God has planted in us. If you're anything like me, you want to see your dreams fulfilled, and you'd like it to be right now.  Yet often there is a period of waiting from when we first realise what God's calling is for our life to when we see it fulfilled.

I have the tendency to want to run ahead of God, instead of moving in step with him. In Galatians 5:25 Paul writes "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (NIV). And sometimes God has to remind me to wait.  Recently, God gave me the following verse on three separate occasions, each through a different source, (such as my Bible Promises App on my phone, or an email devotional) in as many weeks.

The verse is Psalm 27:14 "Wait patiently for the LordBe brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord." (NLT).

Now, when God repeats himself, I know it's important to pay attention!  And I'm so glad he does repeat himself so that his will becomes more clear to me.  He's not like me, who would say to my children when they were younger, "Now listen carefully, because I'm only going to say this once!"

If you know me, you'll know I also like to look at verses using different translations.  It helps me to get a better understanding of what God is wanting to say to me.  I like the wording of the Amplified Bible for this verse: Wait for and confidently expect the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for and confidently expect the Lord.

So, one translation tells us (twice) to wait patiently for God, and the other one says (twice) we are to wait for and confidently expect God.

The verse reminds me that there is a need to wait for God to act, to wait for his timing, and to wait with an attitude of patience and confident expectation in God.  I can have confidence in him, that he will be true to his Word and that he will do his part as I do mine.

The middle part of the verse tells me to be brave and courageous, or to be strong and let my heart take courage.  At first, the wording seemed strange to me.  Why would I need to be strong?  Why would I need a courageous heart as I wait?

As I've spent time thinking on this, I've come to believe that it is for this reason - that Satan will use this time of waiting to discourage me and to tempt me to give up on my dream.  His oldest tactic, and one that works well, is he tries to get me, to get you, to doubt what God has told us.  It's what he did, right in the beginning, when he said to Eve in the Garden of Eden, "Did God really say...?"  Genesis 3:1 (NLT).  Satan also tried the same tactic on Jesus, twisting God's Word, tempting Jesus, trying to get him to doubt what God had said.  Yet, Jesus withstood Satan's temptation by trusting wholly in God and God's Word.

If I'm not on my guard, if I'm not brave, if my heart is not courageous, I will begin to doubt what God has said, I will start to fear that I heard him wrong, or it was just wishful thinking, or that I've  now missed my time.  That it's just too late for me. That my dream is dead.  This is what Satan wants, he doesn't want God's people to be faithful and he doesn't want us to be passionate about God's calling on us. 

During a waiting period it can be tempting to try to manipulate the situation to get what I want, but again I need to demonstrate patience and wait expectantly for God.  There are so many examples of people who, tired of waiting for God to fulfil his word, would manipulate the situation so that they could experience the fulfilment of what they desired.  But when they took matters in to their own hands the consequences were disastrous.  As in the example of Abraham and Sarah.  They chose their own way to get a son rather than waiting for God to give them their promised son at the right time.  (See Genesis 16 and 21.) Biblical examples such as these remind me not to take matters in to my own hands, not to give in to the temptation, but to wait with confident expectation for God's timing. 

So with a brave faith and courageous heart, I need to keep focused on who God is and what he has said.  Rather than give in to Satan's lies, or give in to the fears and doubts he may sow in my mind.

God's agenda for our waiting time is different to Satan's and it's always for our good.  In the waiting period God is seeking to develop our character, to prepare us and to grow our faith in him.  God is orchestrating things so that we are ready, those around us are ready and so that the circumstances are also right. 
As I wait I need to keep close to God, to keep in tune with him so that I know his timing.  It's how Jesus lived his life on earth, he was aware of God's leading and direction, he knew at various stages that his time had not yet come for God's purpose for him to be fulfilled.  Then when the time of waiting was at an end Jesus said, "Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory." John 12:23 (NLT).  Jesus kept in close communion with God so that he knew when to wait and when to act.

When God tells us to wait we need to understand what he is saying to us.  He is not saying "No", rather he is saying "Not now".  We must not mistake what we see as a delay as God's denial.
To Think About:
Has God given you a dream which has not yet been fulfilled in your life?  Do you sense that God may be saying to you "Wait patiently. Wait with confident expectation.  I will bring it to pass."?
During a waiting period whose voice do you pay more attention to - your own? Satan's?  God's?
Ask God what he wants you to do while you wait. 

Spend some time meditating on Psalm 27:14. What may God want to be saying to you through this verse?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Are You A Risk Taker?

Dear Friends,

I don't like taking risks.  That's why you'll never see me take up the challenge to bungee jump.  On the few occasions I've been dragged along to a theme park I'm the one to volunteer to hold coats and belongings whilst others go on a "thrilling" ride!  Going on a ride that takes you high above the ground, turns you upside down and round and round all at high speed is not my idea of fun!  I'd far rather keep my feet on firm ground and stay the right way up.

Yet, when it comes to our faith and journey with God, I believe he is pleased when we take risks.  There are many accounts in the Bible of those who took risks for their faith.

Noah built an ark because God told him there was going to be a flood.  Ruth left everything she knew to begin a new life with Naomi in Bethlehem.  David faced and overcame the giant, Goliath.  Esther risked her life to stand before the King and save her people.  Jesus' disciples left their work and their home to follow Jesus.  These are just a few of the many examples of men and women in the Bible who were risk takers.

Each of them took risks, but they were calculated risks.  Calculated risks because they knew God, they had a relationship with him, they had faith in him and his Word and they were willing to be obedient to him and take the risk.  All the while trusting him for the outcome.

The Bible tells us that "without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him."  Hebrews 11:6 (AMP)

Earlier in that same chapter we are told what faith is: "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."  Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)

I can look back over my life and see where I've taken risks because of my faith in God.  In fact, I'm doing it right now in this new season of my life.  What is it that enables me to take a risk when I'm not naturally a risk taker?  It's believing God's promises, knowing that he is directing and leading me and trusting him for the outcome.  It's an exciting time as I move out of my comfort zone, but at the same time it's also scary.

I can easily start to have doubts and fears about what I'm doing, and the devil is so quick to jump on these and whisper in my ear.  I listen to him and start to believe the lies, fears and doubts he is spreading in my mind.  Things like:  "I'm not capable."  "I'll fail."  "They only agreed to have me on their team because they're desperate."  "I'll never manage, my health will get worse and I'll let them down."  "They'll regret choosing me."  "I'm making a mistake, I didn't hear God right, I misunderstood him."  And so on.  Ever had those kinds of lies running riot in your mind?

Now I know where these thoughts and feelings are coming from.  I know they're not from God.  I know they're from the devil who wants to stop me being a risk taker. He doesn't want my faith and relationship with God to grow.  He wants to keep me where I am, to immobilise me, to keep me confined to what is, rather than what can be.

So, if I know all this, why do I listen to him?  It comes down to choice - I'm choosing to listen and believe him.  If it's a choice, then I can choose not to listen to him.  But how do I do this?

The moment I recognise where my thoughts are coming from, I need to make the choice to reject them as lies and tactics of the devil.  That's a start, but it's not enough.  Next I need to choose to believe what God says is true.  I need to focus on him.  I need to keep close to him, placing my trust and my life in his hands. 

I need to remind myself that I may not be able in my own strength, but when God calls me to something he will equip and enable me, that his strength is in my weakness, that he has promised to never leave me on my own, that he is totally dependable and that he has a plan for me which is good.  Knowing these things makes the risk worth while.

To Think About:
What is it that stops you from taking risks in your faith?

Rather than paying attention to what the devil wants you to believe, listen to what God is saying to you.  What do you know about God and his Word that encourages you to take risks?

Do you sense that God is asking you to take a risk?  Whose voice will you choose to listen to?  How are you going to respond?