Friday, 24 June 2016

Set Your Sights on the Realities of Heaven

Dear Friends,

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-3 "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God." (NLT)

I read these verses one morning when I was in the middle of a bad spell of migraines.  The spell lasted for ten days.  Some of the days were extremely painful when I just couldn't function normally, some were more bearable and I could live with the pain and some days I woke free from the pain and hoped for a pain-free day only for the migraine to develop later in the day. 

I know that some of you reading this will have experienced pain much worse than this.  You may be going through something right now which is almost unbearable.  Whatever that painful experience may be, it's not pleasant!  Whether it's long-term ill health, terminal illness, a husband or wife who walks out on you, unemployment, infertility, rebellion of your teenage child, caring for an elderly parent who no longer recognises you etc.

Yet, these few verses Paul wrote were able to give me comfort, encouragement and hope that morning.  It may interest you to know that Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians whilst imprisoned in Rome.  Instead of focusing on where he was and what his life was like at that moment in time, he was able to turn his focus towards God.

We can get so focused on our earthly life, on the physical world around us, that we can easily believe that this is what life is really all about - sleeping, waking, eating, going out to work, coming home again, bearing responsibilities, managing problems.  It's so easy to get caught up in the mundane, everyday life and think this is all there is. 

Especially, I think, that can be the case when going through a tough time.  I know I can be quick to think this is what my life is and I become focused on the here and now.

However, Paul tells us that this is not our "real life".  The truth is, whilst you and I do live in the physical world, but also, alongside this (although I can't explain it or fully understand with my limited mind) are part of the spiritual, eternal world and we read in Ephesians 2:6 that  "For he [Godraised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus." (NLT)  As I understand it, God has done this for us (notice the past tense) but we experience this now only in part because we are living in the physical world.  And one day we will fully experience and know it when we are no longer part of this earthly world.

So, Paul told us in the verses right at the beginning to "set your sights on the realities of heaven".  Heaven is what is real, this is what is lasting and eternal.  This physical world, which right now, seems so real, is temporal and will one day be no more.  Because heaven, the spiritual kingdom, to which we belong is real, Paul says "Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth."

"So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable." 2 Corinthians 4:18 (AMP)

Abraham, a great man of faith in the Old Testament, knew this and practised it.  Here's what it says about him in Hebrews 11:9-10 "By an act of faith he [Abraham] lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God." (MSG)  Abraham set his eyes on the realities of heaven.

So, instead of being taken up with what is temporary, with life in the here and now, let's do what Paul encourages us to do and set our eyes (our minds) on the realities of heaven and our eternal life.

To Think About:
Do you find it easier to set your eyes and thoughts on the things of heaven when life is going well for you or when you are in the midst of difficulties?

What are some practical ways you can focus on the reality of heaven and your real life in Christ regardless of your circumstances?

Choose one of the above scriptures to meditate on over the coming week.  Ask God to speak to you through his word.  Do you think he wants to encourage you, comfort you, give you hope as you meditate on this scripture?


Friday, 17 June 2016

Adopted by God

Dear Friends,

Having grown up in a Christian home I was taught to know God as my Father.  I accepted this with childlike faith, but never really stopped to consider what it actually meant for me. 

I can so easily take something at face value without understanding what it really means or what the significance of it is.  So I recently decided to spend some time looking in more depth at what it means to be a son or daughter of God.

Paul says in Romans 8: 14-17 "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering." (NLT)

Because God has adopted us into his family, we have the privilege of calling him "Abba, Father".  It was how Jesus referred to God when he lived on earth.  For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is preparing himself for the cross and he cries out to God, "Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36).

The term expresses the close, intimate relationship we can enjoy with God.  How amazing is it that the Almighty God, Creator of all things, Sovereign God allows us to call him our Father.  And that he has made it possible for us to know him and relate to him as father. The term 'Abba, Father' also expresses the reverence and respect that a son/daughter has for their father.  In the life of Jesus we see both Jesus' close, loving, trusting, personal relationship with and his respect for God as his Father.

God has made me his daughter, he has adopted me into his family.  In Roman times when a man adopted a son the child gained all the rights of a legitimate child in his new family.  In other words, the adopted son received all the legal rights and privileges given to a natural child.  He became a full heir to his new father's estate.

In the same way, when God adopts us into his family, we receive all the privileges and rights as a son or daughter of God.  Jesus, God's own son, is heir to all of God's promises and as God's adopted children we share in the inheritance with Jesus.  We are co-heirs with him.

In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes this: "But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance." Galatians 4:4-7 (MSG)

God sent his own dear Son to earth to die for you and me, so that it was possible for us to then have a relationship with him.  He made a way for us to come to him and know him as our father.

What an amazing privilege it is to be called and chose by God to become part of his family.  To become his son or daughter.  What an incredible love he has for each one of us that he recognises us as his children and accepts us into his family.

Whatever kind of love, or lack of it, we experienced from our earthly parents, we can now experience and enjoy a close, loving and intimate relationship with God as our perfect Father.  There are no second-class sons or daughters in God's family.  God loves each one of us equally without distinction or condition.  God is good, God is love, God is perfect, and as such his love for you and me is good and perfect.

Not only does God love us with an extravagant love, he is also extremely generous towards us.  All that he has given Jesus as his heir, he also gives to you and to me as his heirs.  All that he has is for us to enjoy.

We have a glorious inheritance to enjoy.  It's not just something to look forward to when we are in heaven, it's to be enjoyed here and now.  God blesses us with the presence of his Holy Spirit, with forgiveness, new life, peace, grace, mercy, spiritual gifts and much more.

I don't know what kind of family you have grown up with.  Whether it's been one which reflected the father heart of God, or whether it's been one which couldn't have been further from mirroring God's love for you.

What I do know is, no matter what our background is, no matter what has been done and said to us, no matter what we have done, God desires to know each one of us intimately. 

God has so much love for you.  He longs to pour out his love on you.  He longs for you to know him as Father.  He has chosen to call you his son or daughter and he has so much he wants to give you.  Yet, he will never push you into this kind of relationship.  He waits for you to come to him.  He waits for you to seek him out.  He waits for you to ask for his forgiveness and to accept what Jesus did for you on the cross - when he took the punishment on himself for your sin - so that you will not just know about God, but that you will truly know God and know him as a loving, good and perfect Father.

To Think About:
If you don't yet know God as your Father, what is stopping you?  What's holding you back?

I have only just touched on the incredible love God our Father has for each of us.  What does it mean to you to be adopted and loved by your Heavenly Father?

If you are a parent, how does knowing God as your Father and having a close, intimate relationship with him, help you to be a better parent to your own children?

Take a moment to watch this video with lyrics of Chris Tomlin's song "Good Good Father":


Friday, 3 June 2016

Learning to Say No

Dear Friends,

Jason and I have a niece who is 19 months old.  One word that she can say very clearly is "No!"  It's a word that toddlers soon learn.  Yet, for many of us, something happens in our growing up years which makes saying "No" very hard.  At least, it has been for me.

Some would say that "Sorry" is the hardest word, but I have actually found the word "No" much harder!

It has only been in recent years that I've been able to say "No" more.  This was once I understood why I had such difficulty with the word.

I have grown up within a strong church culture where there was an emphasis on serving others.  The acronym 'J-O-Y' was often referred to when I was growing up - at least I felt that it was -  it was a constant reminder that Jesus came first in my life, then Others, and finally Yourself.  But I was so caught up in making sure that others came before me that I actually didn't have the resources left to look after me.  This is not a healthy life-style as I learnt to my detriment in my twenties. 

Yes, my relationship with God is my number one priority and rightly so.  When my relationship with him is as it should be I am then able to give of myself to others in a way that is good and right.  Having a right relationship with God also means that there is space to take care of myself, without being selfish about it.  If I don't take care of and show myself love then I am in no position to be able to show care and love to others as God commands of each of us. Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-39 “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’" (NLT)   When God is Lord of my life and when I take care of myself within the parameters of my relationship with him, then I am able to love and serve others. 

When someone asked something of me I would never say no because my belief was that I should always be willing to do for others.  I would always give a yes answer because I was a people pleaser.  I sought the approval of others and one way I sought this was through doing whatever was asked of me.  I remember on one occasion saying no, but then feeling so guilty afterwards that I actually went back to the person and changed my answer to yes!

This is not a great way to live, and it's not the kind of life Jesus wants for any of us.  It makes for a miserable, unsatisfying life.  If we live like this we can become very resentful towards others because we are just trying to do too much and for all the wrong reasons.  If we are always saying yes to others we have less time and energy for the things we would really like to do. Jesus set the example of serving others but not serving in such a way that it was detrimental to his own self.  Jesus only said yes to the things his Father wanted him to do.  He knew exactly what his Father wanted him to do because the two of them shared a close relationship.  He was therefore able to say no to anything that was not his Father's plan for him.

My inability to say no was all based on faulty thinking and wrong motives and once I realised this I was able to do something about it.

When we know that God loves us and we have his approval just because he created us and loves us we don't need to seek the approval of others by always saying yes to their requests.  Paul had learnt this as we see from Galatians 1:10 "Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant." (NLT) 

When we know that God created us with a plan and purpose we understand that we can best serve God and others by using our God-given gifts to bless and encourage others. "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) 

We experience more joy when we do what God has created us for.  It makes for a far more fulfilling and satisfying life when we follow God's plan for us.  We have the time and energy for the things he wants us to do.  In John 10:10 Jesus said "I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]." (AMP)

Once I understood this things I was able to say no when it was right to say no and I was also able to say yes to those things that were in line with what God planned for me.

To Think About:
Do you find it difficult to say "No" to people?  Why do you think this might be?

What do you think would help you to say "No" when necessary?

What difference would it make to your life if you learned to say "No" sometimes?