Friday, 23 September 2016

Who Would Have Thought It?

Dear Friends,

Occasionally after preaching a message on a Sunday morning at church I will have people come up to me and say "I don't know how you can do what you do.  I never could."

But the thing is, no-one is more surprised than me that I am standing up preaching to a crowd of people. You see, very few people today know what I was like growing up, but I do, and it's nothing less than miraculous that I am able to stand in front of a group of people sharing God's truths.

As a teenager I was painfully, painfully shy.  I had a handful of friends, but was so shy around the rest of my peers that I could hardly open my mouth and I only spoke in class when I was pushed to by one of my teachers.

Although I love reading and writing, I found some English subject lessons quite hard-going. In English language we were expected, every so often, to give a 3 minute speech to our fellow class mates. Now, this might as well have been 30 minutes as 3 to me.  I struggled to find anything to say, believing that nothing I said could possibly hold anyone's interest. My knees would shake as I stood before my classmates.  I would even pray that somehow I would be overlooked and I wouldn't have to go through the ordeal - but it never happened!

In English literature when we studied classics such as Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy, we would be expected to take turns in reading sections aloud.  Again I dreaded these moments, because I really found reading aloud very difficult.  It wasn't that I couldn't read.  It was because my nerves would always get the better of me, so that I would continually fall over the words, stuttering and stammering over them.  I had no help or encouragement from my teacher. and so I never made any improvement in that particular area while I was at school.

I disliked being the center of attention and would try to blend in to the background whenever I could.  

I remember as the date for my wedding (21 years ago) drew closer and closer how anxious I was about having to walk down the aisle.  I was not looking forward to having everyone's eyes on me. As I walked down the aisle on my Dad's arm, I don't think I was able to look up even once to smile at our guests who had come to celebrate with us.  Once I reached my husband-to-be at the front of our church I was able to then start relaxing.  It was no longer just about me and I felt safe with him.

So how did I go from being someone like I've described, to who I am in my forties?  If anyone had told me as a teenager what I would be doing, I would never have believed them.  My peers would not have believed them and neither would my teachers.

So what changed?  What happened?

The answer is God was and is doing a work in me.  I became a Christian when I was just 5 years old, but this didn't mean I immediately became the person God wanted me to be.  He needed to do a transforming work in me.  He saw the potential of Christ in me and he was committed to making me into the person he knew I was meant to be.  Others couldn't see this. I couldn't see it.  But God did, and he was and is faithful to seeing me grow. "God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns."  Philippians 1:6 (CEV)  

God chose which spiritual gifts he had in mind for me, he gave me certain interests, strengths, weaknesses and experiences to fulfill his purpose in me.

I can stand in front of others now and share God's Word because as I stand there I know it's not about me. It's all about God.  People aren't there because they want to see me.  I am not the focus of the morning - God is.  Just like Jesus says in Matthew 5:16 "In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."  (HCSB)  

I am able to read aloud from God's word, I am able to speak up and speak out because I know I have something that people need to hear.  Not because I myself have anything of importance to say but because I am sharing God's truth and I know just how much people need to hear the truth.

The wonderful truth is that when I stand and teach God's truth I don't do it alone.  I have the Holy Spirit standing with me.  And something incredible happens when I begin - he takes over and I can forget about myself.

I would be kidding myself if I told you that I never got nervous before doing something for God. The reality is I do find myself getting nervous, but that's OK because those nerves remind me that I can't do what God has called me to do in my own strength.  My nerves remind me that I need to totally rely on God and his enabling power and strength. 

I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]  Philippians 4:13 (AMP)

To Think About:
Are you doing something for God that you never would have thought possible in your younger years?

Who's voice do you choose to listen to?  God who says you can do what he has called you to, even though it may be daunting or others who tell you, you can't?

Are you glorifying God in what you are doing?

Over the coming week spend some time meditating on Philippians 4:13.  (I really like the wording in the  Amplified Bible)


Friday, 9 September 2016

When Life Doesn't Go According To Plan

Dear Friends,

I guess at one point or another in your life, things did not go as you had planned, dreamed or hoped for.  I've certainly experienced that and it took a long time for me to come to terms with this.

I grew up in a Christian home where I was taught how to have a personal relationship with God and how to seek his will and direction in all I did. Believing that God wanted me to be a Primary School Teacher I applied to University and with God's guidance I chose the one that was right for me.  Those four years at university were tough and more than once I wanted to give up and go home.  But believing I was where God wanted me to be, gave me the endurance I needed to keep going.  At the time my plan for my life was to become a teacher and I firmly believed that was God's plan for me too.

In my prayers I asked God to direct me to the teaching post he had for me.  I never doubted that I wouldn't get a job as a teacher.  When no job was offered despite numerous application forms and interviews, I worked in a voluntary capacity in a local school and also worked as a Supply Teacher.

I found it hard to understand - what were the four years of training for if there wasn't a job at the end of it?  I had sincerely, and to the best of my ability, followed what I believed was God's will for me.  Yet my life was not going according to plan.

Then I became ill with M.E. and was not physically able to work.  Again, what was this about?  It made no sense to me as a young twenty-something.

As you will know, it's hard when life doesn't go according to plan.  We can feel frustrated, let down by God.  We can become bitter.  We can feel confused.  We can feel that life no longer makes any sense to us.

It took time for me to understand that even though it hadn't looked like it, I was in line with God's will for my life.  God was working my life out according to his plan.  As I submitted to him and continued seeking his will, he made himself and his plan clear to me.  God is sovereign and he has a way of getting us to where he wants us to be.  

I had been following his direction, but what he wanted for me was different to what I thought he'd wanted for me.  He revealed it bit by bit as I was able to understand it.  Had he revealed his plan in it's entirety in the beginning I know it would have been too much for me to cope with, and so he graciously revealed it to me in steps. Jesus said as much in his conversation with his disciples in John 16:12. 

My training and time away at university had developed me as a person and I grew stronger in my own faith. I learnt and honed skills which God knew I would one day need.  What I needed to do was follow him step by step and put my confidence and trust in him.  

You and I can trust in his promises.

"The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'" Psalm 32:8 (NLT)

God used my experiences and developed spiritual gifts in me so that I am now able to teach groups of women about the bible and encourage them in their own spiritual walk.  He has also enabled me to preach in my home church and in others.  He has blessed me with a love of his word, of studying his word and of sharing his word with others.  This is what he had planned all along, I just didn't know it at the time.

I'm encouraged by the verse: "You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." Proverbs 19:21 (NLT)

Even when sometimes our own plans have been nothing like God's plans for us, when we submit to God and surrender to his will for us, he will get us back on track.  And nothing that we experience through our life is ever wasted. God can use it all.

God has even used my illness for good.  He has used it to make me the woman I am today. And he uses it to encourage others.  

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."  Romans 8:28 (NLT)

When life doesn't go according to plan I believe it's because God has a better plan for our life.  If you're struggling right now with something in your life that has not gone according to plan be encouraged that God has something better in mind for you.  Even though you can't see it right now, even though God may not reveal it for some time to come, will you choose to lean on him and trust him?

To Think About:
Has there been a time in your life when things did not go according to plan?  How did you respond to this?

Have you experienced God's better plan for you?

What did God teach you during and after this process?

Are you willing to surrender to God's plan for your life?


Friday, 2 September 2016

Lessons We Can Learn From Our Family

Dear Friends,

We recently enjoyed a family holiday in Belgium.  When I say family, I mean the four of us, my parents, my sister, her husband and their daughter.

It was a real blessing to be away together.  I loved to see my Dad playing board games, such as Scrabble, with my kids.  And Jess painting our female relatives' finger nails.  It was so good to watch the three generations of our family interacting and having fun together.

When we went out during the day we would vary the kind of activities that we did, so that everyone got the opportunity to do the things they really wanted to, such as visiting the zoo or going to a war museum.  Compromises were willingly made because we wanted everyone to have fun.

It was good to enjoy some quality time together in an unrushed, relaxed atmosphere.

Everyone contributed to making it a good time away.  For example, Jason did what he's good at - cooking.  Jim (my brother-in-law) would often take care of the clean up after a meal.  Responsibilities were shared.

Having said it was a blessed time away, it did have its moments - because no family is perfect.  And although we were one big family, we were also coming together as three separate smaller family units.  Of course, each of these units have their own way of doing things, and this can potentially be a cause of friction between one another if one family likes to do things one way and another family prefer to do it another way.  When you're with any group of people, give and take and understanding is needed.

The day we arrived had been a particularly long day.  We were up at 3.30am preparing to leave home and we didn't arrive at our holiday home until the evening.  By this time I was feeling very tired and not in the best of moods.

I was grateful to Trina (my sister) for unpacking food items and other necessities we had brought  for the kitchen.  However, I noticed she had not placed the beverages, such as tea and coffee in the right area (according to my opinion).  Noting they were not where they should be, ie., near the kettle, I moved them when she was in another room.  I'm ashamed to say I was feeling frustrated and was not displaying a great attitude.  There would have been a much more sensitive way of doing things, but I was too tired and too impatient to consider another way.

After a good night's sleep, I realised that I had gone about it in the wrong way and I could have been the one to create an uncomfortable atmosphere in the house.  I hadn't considered her or her feelings at all.  I felt the need to apologise to her later on in our holiday.  She was very forgiving and hadn't seen it as a problem at all, which was very good of her.

The family is God's idea and we see the importance of family right from the beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis.  God understands the value of family relationships.  Our natural families are supposed to be a reflection of the family of God which we also belong to the moment we accept Jesus as our Saviour and God as our Heavenly Father.  God intended for us to learn how to love others through our daily interaction of loving our own family, .

We learn to love our church family better when we experience what loving others means in our own natural family.

Here are some of the lessons I learned or was reminded of, during our family holiday:

1. Be patient with each another when things are not done the way I like them to be done.   "Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love."  Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)  

The following verse reminds me of the important role that God's Holy Spirit has in each of our lives. 
"Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace." Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)

2. Own up to my faults and sins and receive forgiveness.
"bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."  Colossians 3:13 (ESV)

3. Consider the needs of others rather than selfishly focusing on my own needs.
"Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." Philippians 2:4 (NLT)

4. It's good to have fun and enjoy each others' company.  As well as times of fun, there will, however, be times of sadness, during those times we can comfort one another as only a family who loves can do.
"For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven...A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance."  Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 (NLT)

5. Each family member has their part to play.  The family functions best when each person is involved.
"Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other."  Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)

To Think About:
How does your family reflect God's family?

How has your own family taught you to love God's family better?

Is there anything you could do to build your relationship with others in God's family?