Friday, 25 March 2016

Celebrating Easter

Dear Friends,

As a child I always looked forward to Easter.  Although, if I'm honest, it was more because of the Easter break from school and, of course, there were the chocolate eggs to enjoy on Easter Sunday!

Now that I've grown up a little I look forward to Easter for different reasons and it means so much more to me.  It's the opportunity to celebrate our risen Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. To celebrate that he won the victory over death and that we can experience the hope of an eternal life with God.  It's a time when I can celebrate and worship God with my church family and also my own family.

And this year there's an extra special reason for me to celebrate the day.   My daughter, Jess, has made the decision to get baptised and it's going to take place during our Easter Sunday morning service.

Of course, any time someone makes the decision to obey God and follow his command to be baptised is wonderful.  But to me it's extra special when it coincides with Easter.

Throughout his life on earth Jesus was obedient to his Father.  He went where his father told him to go and he did and said what his father told him to do and say.  This led him to the cross where he willingly gave up his life for me and for you.  He died on that cross and was buried in the tomb.  But that was not the end - after three days he rose from the dead.  Hallelujah! 

"I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said." 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT)

Like Jesus, Jess wants to be obedient to God and follow his will for her life.  Baptism is symbolic - when Jess goes into the water she is identifying herself with Jesus' death and it's a picture of her dying to her old self.  She is identifying herself with Jesus as she is under the water - a picture of Jesus in the grave.  Then as she comes up out of the water she identifies herself with her risen Saviour, and it's a picture of her new life.

"For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus."  Romans 6:4-11 (NLT)

Baptism is not what makes Jess a Christian.  She became a Christian as a young child when she invited Jesus to live in her heart.  Baptism is another step in her journey of faith.  It means she has heard God's call to be baptised and she has chosen to be obedient. 

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT).

Baptism is an outward expression of what has happened on the inside.  By choosing to be baptised she is showing others that she loves God and has chosen to follow him.

Jess will have many decisions to make over the coming years - such as what to study at college, what career to choose etc.  But this is by far one of the most important decisions she will ever make.  Her decision to follow God affects her life now and for all eternity.

As a Mum I want the best for my children.  I am so thrilled that Jess chose from an early age to become a Christian and to now be baptised.  It's something I have prayed for both my children.  More than anything else I want them to follow God, to know what it is to be loved by him, to know his presence with them, leading them and directing them in the plans he has for them.  Yes, I want them to do well in their education.  Yes, I want them to have good friends.  A career that they are happy in.  There is so much I want for them both.  But these things can't compare with having a daily, close relationship with God.  Everything else is temporary - money, work, friends, home - but a relationship with God is forever.  Not just for the here and now, but also for eternity.

So this Easter, my family and I celebrate all that God accomplished on the cross.  We worship him as the living God.  We praise him for the gift of new life he gives to each one of us when we choose to love and follow him. This Easter we also celebrate the decision of our youngest child, Jess to be baptised and to obediently live for God.

"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)

To Think About:
What does Easter mean to you?  How will you celebrate Easter this weekend?

Have you accepted God's gift of new life and made the decision to follow him?  If not, what's stopping you?

What does it mean to you to belong to Christ and to be given a new life?


Friday, 18 March 2016

This Is Real Love

Dear Friends,

Some years back a man was visiting another country and while he was there he was arrested for a crime he didn't commit.  He was given an unjust court trial with witnesses who falsely accused him. 

His father, being a prominent figure, could have stepped in at any moment and put an end to this travesty of justice, but he didn't.

The man was convicted and sentenced to death.  During his imprisonment he was tortured and abused by the prison guards who watched over him.

Still his father did not intervene.  He had the authority to send in those who could have stopped it on his behalf, he didn't even need to go himself.  Yet he did nothing.  The father made his choice - he allowed it all.  And at the appointed time the man was put to death.

Do you consider these the actions of a loving father?  Were there serious issues between the father and son?  What could have happened to cause such irreparable damage to their relationship that the father obstinately refused to step in to the situation?  Did the father even love his son?

The father's actions (or lack of actions) are not my definition of what it means to love.  If one of my children are in difficulty or in pain I would do all that I possibly could to help them.

The story of a son and his father is not just another story.  This was a moment in history - it is His Story - God's Story!  God is that father and Jesus, his Son, and yes, it is God's definition of love although it may not be mine or yours.

It was God's plan to send his Son to earth to die for our sins.  It was God's plan that Jesus take on the punishment that you and I deserved.

Jesus is innocent of all crime.  He is the only perfect, sinless one and as such is the only one who is worthy to take my punishment and yours.

He faced an unfair trial and extreme torture and punishment.  Jesus then endured a death designed for criminals - death on a cross.   

God could have intervened at any moment.  He could have sent his angels to protect his Son.  How painful it must have been for God the Father to watch God the Son, his Son, endure such depth of suffering.  He chose not to step in, not for lack of love for Jesus, but for love of me and you.  How deep must his love be for us that he would allow his Son to face such a death.  I don't know that I will ever, this side of heaven, understand fully the incredible and amazing love he has for me.

"For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 (AMP)

Just re-read that verse as though it was written specifically with you in mind.  Actually, I believe it was written specifically with you in mind:

For God so greatly loved and dearly prized __________ that he even gave his One and only begotten Son, so that ____________, who believes and trusts in Him as Saviour shall not perish but have eternal life.

So, it was God's plan that Jesus suffer and die that you and I might live.  "But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. 24 But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip." Acts 2:23-24 (NLT). 
God planned it so that our broken relationship with him could be restored.  That we might know him as our Father and experience life eternal.  God allowed Jesus to go through all of this for your sake and mine.

Now that's real love!
John writes this in 1 John 4:7-10 "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (NLT)

How do I respond to such a love?  Do I dismiss it?  Do I ignore it?  Or do I embrace his gift of love and forgiveness?  Do I respond with gratitude, thanking him for taking the punishment I deserved?  Do I respond by placing my life in his hands and choosing to live wholeheartedly for him?
To Think About:
Spend some time in the coming week meditating on God's love for you.  Make time to just be in his presence and soak in his love.
You may like to listen to Chris Tomlin's song "At The Cross (Love Ran Red)" as aid to worship:
Your life matters to God.  He paid the highest price for you.  In response to this how will you make every day count?

Friday, 11 March 2016

A Mother's Guilt

Dear Friends, 
I believe there are two kinds of guilt we experience in life.  First, real guilt, when we have done something which displeases God. (I.e. we have sinned.) This sense of guilt can lead us to repentance and seeking God's forgiveness. God's unconditional forgiveness frees us from the weight of guilt. "For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:22 (NLT)

Secondly, there is false guilt and this is guilt which arises when we think that we are just not good enough, that we are failures, that we are to blame for every mistake we make and every bad thing that happens. 

The important thing we need to do is distinguish the difference between the two kinds of guilt. Real guilt is healthy because it causes us to turn to God and receive his healing power of forgiveness.  False guilt is very unhealthy and destructive, it turns us in on ourselves and away from God.

For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 (HCSB)
There are times when I really struggle with being a Mum. If you're a Mum I suspect you probably sometimes do too.

I can be almost overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent and have so much guilt about my ability (or, as I often see it, my inability) to be a good Mum. I experience the guilt of thinking I'm not a good enough mother. That I'm a failure as a mum. I often find that I'm blaming myself for my parenting mistakes. I feel guilty for not giving my children enough love when I struggled with depression. I tell myself it's my fault Josh found it hard to deal with the change of moving from junior school to secondary school.  That his insecurity is because I hadn't given him enough love in his early years so that he felt confident and secure.

So many things can make us feel guilty as we parent - we feel guilty for going out to work rather than staying home full-time with our children, we compare ourselves with the "perfect" mum down the street who always has her children neatly presented in clean clothes and whose children never do anything wrong. We worry that something we've done wrong  during our pregnancy will have a permanent negative effect on our child. We feel guilty that our teenage daughter is pregnant and that it's our fault for failing to teach her godly values. Or our son's rejection of us is down to our failure as a mum. Or it's all our fault that our child misbehaves at school. The list can go on and on, can't it?

The burden of false guilt we often carry is such a heavy one to bear.  The problem is, the more we think like this - that we're not a good enough mum, or we're failures, or it's all our fault etc., the heavier it gets.  Not only that, this guilt and way of thinking becomes more and more real.  It becomes our truth.  (Our truth, but not the truth).  It can take us down a very deep, dark tunnel.

Satan wants nothing more than to keep us in this state of overwhelming false guilt. He gladly reminds us of our failings, our mistakes, our mess ups etc.  He encourages us to dwell on these things. He wants to keep us miserable. He wants to keep us from enjoying life. And there's very little joy to be found when we are suffocating under false guilt.

So, what can we do it about it?  And I'm speaking to myself as much as I am to you because it's still something I struggle with, but I also believe that with God's help it is possible to overcome.

1. If I tell myself not to think like this, no matter how hard I try, I will find my mind going back to that guilt-ridden place. I need to focus on the truth rather than my truth. Rather than relying on my own faulty perception or my feelings, I need to rely and focus on what I know to be true about God. Truths such as he has chosen me and chosen you to be a mother to our children. He knew that we would be the best mums for our children because he created not only us, but them too. If I disagree with him first I'm wrong and secondly I'm siding with Satan who always wants me to believe the lie rather than the truth.

2. I need to be realistic about myself - I'm not perfect so I need to cut myself some slack (and likewise so do you!), I will make mistakes, there will be times when I get it wrong, but it's not the end of the world, it doesn't make me a failure. Not only can we remember that God offers us forgiveness, we also need to learn to forgive ourselves. Colossians 3:13 talks about forgiving others, but I also believe that includes extending forgiveness to ourselves: "accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive." (HCSB).

Although I'm not perfect, God is, and so I can totally rely on him. I can start the day asking him to enable me to be the mum he planned for me to be. I can talk with him during the day and ask him for his wisdom, his patience, his self-control, his strength and his love as I parent my children.

3. As a mum I do have a responsibility to bring up my children as best I know how. I also need to remember that I don't parent my children on my own. Yes I have a husband, but I'm actually referring to God who is our Heavenly Father and he wants to parent my children with me. He doesn't expect me to do it all on my own.  He doesn't expect me to rely on my own resources. 

At the same time I need to remember that I am not responsible for the choices and actions my children make. They are responsible for those themselves.  I can't force them to make right, healthy choices, especially as they grow up, but I can be there to give them direction and guidance.

4. Rather than keep my struggles to myself, I can share them with other mums I have a close relationship with. As mums and women we need encouragement from one another, we need the mutual support. And when we share together we realise that we are not in this alone. Sometimes all we need is a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on.

5. You and I would do well to remember that God loves our children even more than we do.  We can entrust them to his care. My children are not my property, they belong to God and he has given them to me for a short time. He knows what is best for them, and whatever we go through, whatever issues we face, I truly believe that when I entrust them to God, he will, in his own time, bring good from it.

6. One final thing I would say is pray, pray, and then pray some more! Never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray regularly for your children. Pray for God's protection over them.  Pray that God's peace will surround them. Pray whatever is in your heart and mind for them. Why not make a commitment with a mum friend of yours to pray regularly for each others' children. Find out what her prayer requests are, keep it confidential and pray specifically.
I read the following prayer (author unknown) some months back and would like to end by sharing it with you:

Lord, you know my inadequacies. You know my weaknesses, not only in parenting, but also in every area of my life. As you broke the fishes and the loaves to feed the five thousand, now take my meagre effort and use it to bless my family.
Please make up for the things I did wrong. Satisfy the needs that I have not satisfied. Wrap your great arms around my family and draw them close to you.
Ad be there when they stand at the great crossroads between right and wrong. All I can give is my best, and I, today, choose to do that. Therefore, I submit to you my family and myself and the job I have done and will do as a wife and mother. The outcome belongs to you.
To Think About:
Can you distinguish in your own life the difference between real guilt and false guilt?
What can you do about the real guilt you may be feeling?
What can you do to eliminate the feelings of false guilt that you have been holding on to and which are weighing you down?