Sunday, 24 May 2015

Peter's final warnings

Coming to the end of a journey through Peter's letters,  into chapter 3. There is a great sense of urgency, a desire that we keep focused, not letting others sway us but living mindful of the moment and times we live in.: "First off, you need to know that in the last days, mockers are going to have a heyday. Reducing everything to the level of their puny feelings, they’ll mock, “So what’s happened to the promise of his Coming? Our ancestors are dead and buried, and everything’s going on just as it has from the first day of creation. Nothing’s changed.”

I want that sense of urgency. I want to live a BIG life, not a little one: and who knows how much time we have, anyway? "... what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God..."And yet..."for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day."

And yet. I struggle, daily, with living out grace. I find myself reacting badly to and in situations at work, at home...and there are the 'ought to's above...

Other people seem to have it together. Gretchen Saffles quotes Christine Caine: “Her success is not your failure.”

I have linked to Gretchen's article, but it is so full of wisdom I am quoting it here:

"The success of other women (the amount of followers, the number of sales, the opportunities of others, the influence of others) is never to be compared with the task that God has set before you. Never. The dangers of this comparison game is that it sneaks its way into the church! Women in Bible studies and in areas of leadership compare their influence and styles with each other. It can happen even without us noticing it. After all, Satan’s ways are crafty, deceptive and cunning. He knows exactly where to shoot a dart at a us to make us crippled in what God has called us to do.
In 1 Peter 3:8-12, Peter was well aware of the disruptive nature of comparison and commanded the church to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind.” It all begins with each woman seeking to follow Christ. We must on a foundation of making Jesus famous throughout the whole earth. Whatever means that happens should be a joy to us. Whether it is through another’s ministry or through the daily tasks God sets before us in working hard and caring for our family. We are all living this life for one purpose: the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
It is easy to have the head knowledge of our purpose, but we need for this truth to sink deep into our hearts and take root. We are all in this life together! One way we see the fruit of this truth in our lives is when we can rejoice with the success of others and bless them instead of bring them down or point out their faults. Even more-so, when we can encourage them and help them along in their pursuit to make Christ known. Anyone else feel a little sting in their hearts reading that?The biggest way to defeat and crush comparison and discouragement in our hearts is to rejoice with others. Also, the easiest way to know what is rooted in your heart is to take note of what comes out of your mouth in these moments.
Have you ever said something that shocked you? I have been surprised by things that have come out of my mouth (especially in marriage). The Lord uses what we say to reveal to us what is in our heart. Matthew 15:18-20 tells us that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. When you see someone succeed, does a blessing come first, or a discouraging remark? As women who seek after God’s heart together, we are to be grace speakers into the lives of others, giving them praise and blessings because we have been blessed by the hand of God ourselves. 
1 Peter 3:10-12 gives us a list of descriptions that should fit our talk: “let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit”, “turn away from evil and do good”, and pray righteous prayers before God our Father. Just as Isaiah’s mouth was cleansed by the seraphim touching a coal to it (Isaiah 6:4-6), so have we been cleansed by the blood of Jesus washing over us. Our mouths were created to be tools to bless, not to curse. The speech that comes out of our mouth should come from a heart that is a recipient of grace and a giver of grace as well. No one is perfect. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. Only God is perfect, and He dwells in us as believers. Through Him, we can live in the grace of God and extend it to those in need.
Today, choose to bless someone with the fruit of your mouth. If this is a struggle for you, spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord to uproot the envy in your heart and plant a seed of blessing, faith and unity instead. We were created to bless and be blessed.
  • What is flowing from your mouth today? Who do you need to encourage?
  • Have you been harboring bitterness or envy in your heart towards a sister in Christ? Confess it to the Lord and ask Him to give you a new heart. Dwell on Ephesians 4:31-32."
I don't struggle overly with bitterness or envy towards other Christian women (at the moment, that is: I have in the past) but, underneath, is an insidious belief that I do need to be 'as good as' in my relationships with my colleagues.

Perhaps a little more humility, a lot more gentleness, a huge heap of compassion and a ton of encouragement towards my co-workers AND my bosses would turn a difficult work situation around? And do so, for the glory of God? I say I want to live a 'big' life - do I dare take 'big' risks?

My prayer is that I have the courage to do this when I am back at work.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Reflections after New Wine

New Wine Guernsey just happened at the weekend: a weekend of remarkable teaching from Ian Coffey entitled Postcards from the Edge: finding God in difficult places, which looked at fear, loss, imprisonment, inadequacy and doubt in the lives of Paul, Ruth, Peter, Jeremiah and John the Baptist.

Thought-provoking and encouraging.

Ian's wife Ruth led a seminar on, more or less, spiritual discipline. Encouraging us to recognise who we are, where we are and how we are growing with God.

One of the people she mentioned was Paul Mallard, who has written a useful book entitled 'Staying Fresh'. A quick glance at the contents page and I am already encouraged:

1 When love turns cold
2 Knowing that we are loved
3 Rejoice in the Lord
4 Counting the cost
5 Fear God, not people
6 Take time to be holy
7 Take more time to be holy
8 Guard your marriage
9 Build godly relationships
10 Preach the gospel to your own heart
11 Use your diary as a spiritual tool
12 Remember you are human
13 Be a good steward of pain
14 Keep an eye on the prize

All kinds of wisdom there.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Unpalatable truths

Sometimes, realising a truth - whether for the first time, or a revisit - is awe-inspiring, life-changing, hit-by-a-train-stopping.
Peter Jobes at Sixty Stadia has just reminded me. He looks at Isaiah 40, where GOD reminds us in a series of questions of how infinitely mysterious he is: 

"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?"


And because of this, we know that God knows everything.

"Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. Godlasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out."


Ellicott comments: "The words come, like so many others like it, from Job (Isaiah 5:9Isaiah 9:10), and must have been in St. Paul’s mind as he wrote Romans 11:33."

Peter says: "...how fantastic is it to know that He understands completely how you feel and why? That whether you’re in the valley of the shadow of death or at your highest height God knows and understands deeply your circumstance, your feelings, your emotions, your potential."

But actually - and here is the unpalatable truth - I realise that no, it's not fantastic.

It's scary. I sometimes don't like my feelings. I often chastise myself for my thoughts. I regularly feel ashamed of my attitudes.

I'm not as perfect as I think I am.

And I don't really like anyone to see that.

Oh, I'll let friends in to see different little bits that I don't feel too bad about. Feelings or thoughts that I think that other people might also share in, or understand. Ideas which aren't too wacky. Reactions and responses to people or situations which are probably common to man. But it's all on MY choosing.

I feel intruded upon when others seem too perceptive. It feels like an invasion of my privacy. My PRIDE doesn't want to let them see my weakness. I think I am open and vulnerable with folk, but then someone says something which inflates the balloon of vanity and I feel - may it be ever so, ever so slightly - affronted.

I don't want anyone else to point out truth to me about myself.

And, though I am ashamed to admit it, this extends to God, too.

I resist. I don't want insight into the areas which need improvement. I want to maintain the facade of togetherness, got-it-sorted competence.

And yet. God's grace does not take offence at my huffiness and taking of offence, but continues to pursue me, with infinite understanding:
"It says everything about His character that despite His infinite strength He can understand us in our weakness. ...He understands all of us, and a whole lot more besides. That’s why next time you’re in a stitch you can guarantee that if you wait on Him, strength will rise."

And so I can accept, knowing that he loves me more than I can ever imagine, that he also understands me and will do everything to keep me from denying myself.

Even if - when - it means revealing unpalatable truths.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

God speaks!

My daily readings led me to 2 Peter 2 today - warnings about false teachers. Good advice, but it wasn't 'speaking' to me. Then I turned to my 'Devotionals Daily' email from Anne Graham Lotz who is anything BUT a false teacher. (And if being Billy Graham's daughter isn't enough, her credentials as a Bible Study Fellowship teacher say it all for me: I was so privileged to study with BSF and credit it with much of my Bible knowledge.)

And so God speaks through her and others like her:

"

A wilderness is defined as an uncultivated, uninhabited, inhospitable region. At least that’s the definition I was given when I googled it. I would also describe a wilderness as dry, barren, lonely, and rocky. And it was in a spiritual wilderness that I found myself several years ago. Because it was a time in my life that was dry… seemingly devoid of the rain of God’s blessing; barren… seemingly devoid of evidence of real fruit in my life; lonely… devoid of any conscious awareness of God’s presence; and it was rocky… littered with problems and obstacles and hard things.

If I could have pinpointed one particular trigger that launched me into my wilderness experience, it would have been my mother’s departure for heaven. Not only did my grief leave me with a feeling of emptiness and deep sadness, but there were many circumstances around the time of her death that seemed to drive me into a spiritually dry, barren, lonely, rocky place.

Life just seemed to close in on me.

One morning, I was especially conscious of the oppression and darkness that seemed to be crushing my spirit to the point I found breathing difficult. I slipped into the place where I meet the Lord early in the morning, intending to open my Bible to the verses on which I had been meditating the day before. But as divine providence would have it, I made a “mistake.” Instead of opening to the intended passage, I opened to a chapter that was several pages past where I had been. But before I could correct my mistake, my eye fell on this verse:

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

The verse seemed to be illuminated. It leaped up off the page as I heard God whispering to me through the words,

Anne, most people shy away from the wilderness. They don’t like the darkness of oppression, loneliness, dryness, barrenness. They don’t like to be in a hard place. If they think I’m going to lead them there, they resist, back off, and want no part of following Me. But, Anne, Moses approached the thick darkness. Because that’s where I was. And that’s where I still am, Anne. Embrace the darkness.

Before I could answer Him, before I could even pray, almost before I could even think, I found myself turning several pages back to where I was “supposed” to have been reading. The first verse of that reading was,

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

The desert is another name for the wilderness! That dry, barren, rocky, lonely place where I seemed to be. And I knew God was telling me,

Anne, I am here. Look closely. You will see My glory in the dark cloud.

I was not consciously aware of seeing His glory at that moment. All I knew is that God had spoken to me and told me He was there. And so I bowed my head, with tears slipping down my face, and whispered to Him in response, If You are truly in the darkness, then I embrace it. I want to be where You are.

God is in the darkness and God is in the wilderness.

I now know that by personal experience. But although Hagar had known God’s presence in her wilderness years earlier, she had forgotten. She did not know that now. So when she suddenly found herself thrust not only into a dry, barren, lonely, rocky physical place, she also found herself in a spiritual wilderness — alone for the first time in thirty years and burdened with the responsibility of providing for the physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and practical needs of a difficult teenage boy. Hagar desperately needed help. She knew she couldn’t go back, but she had no idea how to go forward. And so she wandered… through the desert of Beersheba and the wastelands of her own spiritual and emotional devastation.

You don’t necessarily have to be a single mother, thrust there by an untimely death or a nasty divorce, to find yourself in Hagar’s situation. Like me, maybe life has just crashed in on you. Wounds and rejection can pile up. Perhaps you feel you have no one to turn to, no one to talk to, no one to help you. If you and I are not careful, that aloneness can cause us to wander in our spirits also.

We want to get away from the darkness, to get out of the wilderness, but in our frantic effort we stumble from remorse to resentment, from self-pity to self-flagellation, from self-deception to depression, from brokenness to bitterness, from faith to agnosticism, from frustration to anger, from hurt to hardness, from hardness to helplessness.

May I ask you something I have asked myself?

Deep down in the hidden chambers of your soul, are you offended by God? Angry with Him, even? Are you wandering from God? You thought you knew Him, but now He seems remote at best.

The solemn conclusion I’ve come to is that if He is everywhere, that means He is also in the wilderness. And if I can’t turn to Him there, who can I turn to?

If you are wandering in the wilderness… that spiritually dry, barren, lonely, rocky place… would you remember that the God of Hagar is still there?

Excerpted with permission from Wounded by God’s People by Anne Graham Lotz, copyright Zondervan.

And then our daily readings from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Peter Scazzero) brought us to Job:
"So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman whose morals are in doubt. Shall we accept good - blessings - from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said."


Jerry Sittser talks about sorrow being GOOD for the soul. We enlarge our capacity for empathy through our sufferings, even when we feel scraped raw.

I just want to use it all for God's glory.

Anne says again: "Maybe, just maybe, your valley could become the place of your vision.

Over and over again in my life, God has brought blessings from brokenness. But first I have to open my eyes to see. In some ways, the wounds themselves can be called a blessing because I've discovered that I need to be wounded in order to offer true comfort to others who have been wounded too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) ‪#‎WoundedbyGodsPeople‬"

And then - AND THEN - trying to find another devotional by Suzi Eller which also spoke to me, I couldn't: but stumbled on this from Charles Stanley instead:
"Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know. — Jeremiah 33:3

At some point, we all wrestle with why God allows us to suffer and we wonder if it’s because He no longer loves us. But the truth is, some of the greatest lessons we ever learn come as the result of hardship. During those painful times, if we’ll cling to the Father, we’ll gain tremendous insight into His heart and mind.

Friend, when you experience trials, realize that God doesn’t want to hurt you (Lamentations 3:32-33). Rather, He has great things He wants to teach you — lessons that, unfortunately, can only be learned through sorrow (Hebrews 5:8). So when trouble strikes, be still and ask the Lord to show you what you can learn through the situation.

Your Savior is here — right now, right beside you.

Your loving heavenly Father is beckoning to you, asking you to draw near and learn His ways. So call on Him. He will answer you. And He will teach you great and mighty things that you need to know.

Father, what would You have me learn through my heartache? Teach me, my Lord — I am listening. Amen.

In His presence… call to Him and expect Him to answer.

Excerpted with permission from Every Day in His Presence by Dr. Charles F. Stanley, copyright Thomas Nelson."

The fruits of the spirit...and adventure

Just posting a link here to some interesting posts on living out the fruits of the spirit by Lisa McKay, who I don't know
but is the friend of a friend
and whose husband is a friend of my daughter's boyfriend
and somehow Los Angeles connects with Vanuatu connects with New Zealand connects with Guernsey connects with Los Angeles
and all these connections just make me want to travel
and have great adventures even though I should think about retiring from my job...

I just have to figure out what those adventures will look like.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

If I could have anything I wanted, what would I ask for?

This was A Confederate soldier's prayer, by an unknown Confederate soldier during the American Civil War:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.


I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.


I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.


I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.


I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.


I am among all men most richly blessed. 

What would I ask for, if God were to give me anything I wanted? Would I want to be healthy, wealthy or wise?

To be healthy?
Health is good soil for cultivating ingratitude, taking for granted that our bodies work well.
Health brings ease and comfort. Ease and comfort sometimes makes it difficult to understand those whose lives are full of dis-ease and dis-comfort.
The search for good health can consume our thoughts and attitudes and all our worldly endeavours.

To be rich? 
Wealth brings opportunity.Opportunity to be generous. Opportunity to be selfish.
Wealth brings responsibility. Responsibility to use it wisely and generously, not selfishly.
Wealth brings relationship difficulties: with those who seek relationship because they, too, want to share in the wealth or want it for themselves.
And it brings barriers between those who have, and those who have not, colouring their common humanity.

To be wise?
Wisdom can bring about great good for us and others.
Wisdom can avert many a potential disaster, guide us into good living, mend broken, damaged relationships, restore fortunes.
Wisdom is GOOD.
But wisdom without humility brings a lust for power, a longing for money, desires which lead to utter selfishness.

No. 

I would ask for contentment. To be so utterly content in the moment that dissatisfaction or unease would be strangers to my soul.


Thursday, 7 May 2015

Believe

2 Peter 1:19 - 21

Above all, ...understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So I believe what is written in the Bible about God.
I believe with the understanding that the Holy Spirit gives to the words.
I believe as simply and as completely as I can...

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Humility. And being told what to do.

2 Peter 1:12 - 18

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have...

Because the stakes are so high, even though you’re up-to-date on all this truth and practice it inside and out, I’m not going to let up for a minute in calling you to attention before it.


Reading this morning about powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life, where Henri Nouwen talks about being ready to follow Jesus wherever he guides them. (In the name of Jesus: reflections on Christian leadership.) I think about humility and about being able to accept being reminded of WHAT I ALREADY KNOW. 

Hmm.  I'm struggling at work with being reminded about what I already know, though my bosses do not, as Peter does, affirm this: they just keep on giving me new initiatives to try without particularly affirming what I am already doing.

Still. There is no harm, and a great deal of good, in being humble and accepting powerlessness. Not as 'someone with no spine' who lets other people make decisions for them, but actively following Jesus, accepting the leadership of those he has placed over me because God has put them there.

I don't like doing this. I don't like being TOLD, rather than asked, what to do. I don't like the feeling of being disempowered. I find myself demotivated and discouraged.

I am proud. But perhaps, if I CHOOSE humility, I can, in a small way, recognise that Jesus CHOSE to die on the cross. He was no helpless victim but a powerful, beyond brave and courageous man. I can try to follow his example.

So, as I make every effort to add to my faith, humility has to be foremost.


Monday, 4 May 2015

Adding to faith...

2 Peter 1:5-11 
"make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control;and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. "


The Message
"So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Emotionally healthy spirituality

Reading through a set of daily devotionals from Peter Scazzero. How to become (more) emotionally healthy in our journey with Jesus. Now, there's a challenge. Here's a reflection from a talk his wife, Geri, gave:
"“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
Nicodemus, one of the top spiritual leaders of all Israel, seems clueless to the deep transformational spirituality that Jesus is talking about. Jesus looks at him with a bit of shock and says: “How can it be that you’re a leader in God’s Kingdom and…
  • You have little or no emotional connection with your spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, or congregation
  • You have not had emotional or physical intimacy with your spouse for weeks, months, years
  • You intimidate others with your anger
  • You are defensive, critical, and judgmental
  • You avoid conflict at all cost
  • You don’t feel, or grieve losses and disappointments
  • You don’t play or rest
  • You don’t spend time with God regularly
  • You can’t say “no” or disappoint certain people
  • You are so afraid of what others think
  • You are in such poor health due to poor eating and/or exercise
  • Your finances are so out of order
  • You escape pain through pornography, eating, overworking, gambling
  • You live in anxiety
  • You measure success by numbers and not love
  • You grow your ministry skills but not your loving skills
  • You store up resentments
  • You are separated from your spouse and no one knows about it
  • You are not approachable or warm
  • You are easily annoyed, irritated and offended
  • You don’t really practice what you preach
  • You are afraid to confront certain people
  • You haven’t had a day off in weeks, months, even years
  • You don’t know how to listen
  • You have no silence or reflection in your life
The spiritual formation journey isn’t easy. For Nicodemus to truly see the Kingdom of God would require a death to his illusions, fears and denials. The same holds true for us.   May St. Therese of Lisieux’s wisdom encourage you as it has often encouraged me as you give Jesus increasing access to your interior: “I have my faults, but I also have my courage.”
I'm sure we can tick some of the above at any time in life!! My first reaction to this list was one of guilt...but then I have to remember that I Am Not Perfect And God's Not Finished With Me Yet.
Indeed.