Friday, 27 March 2015

Inspiration for living life loving

Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. (You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart.) 

Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said,

The old life is a grass life,
its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;
Grass dries up, flowers droop,
God’s Word goes on and on forever.


This is the Word that conceived the new life in you.

God's Word.

Not just words from God on a page in the Bible, but God's Word. 
The Word that was made flesh. Jesus. 
The Word which was there at the beginning, before Creation.
The Word who promised that He would be with us always and for ever.
The Word who promised to send us another to help and encourage us - His spirit.

I have new life. I can leave everything that belongs to the old life behind - not just when I die, but now.

I can leave my sinful desires out of my life if I choose to love others as if my life depends on it. 

I can be free from being a slave to my sin. I do not have to give in to temptation. 

I CAN. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Live rightly - for the best Reason

1 Peter 1:17, 21: "You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Live out your time here as (a) foreigner(s) with reverent fear.

I am a foreigner in my workplace, my community, my 'frontline' as Mark Greene (author of Fruitfulness on the Frontline) would put it.



...Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God."

A deep consciousness of God. As Matthew Henry says, "the Word of God been planted in my heart by the Holy Ghost. is a means of spiritual life, stirring up to our duty, working a total change in the dispositions and affections of the soul, till it brings to eternal life."

I feel this. Not often, but just now, as I struggle with angry thoughts and wishes for revenge. I feel my thoughts in an uncomfortable struggle inside me.

Almost like a feeling of indigestion, where the body struggles to digest unpalatable foods, I feel my ungodly responses trying to rise to the surface and spill out of my mouth. I feel the struggle and live in grateful amazement that my sin is not winning my soul. It is NOT turned into action.

I live with huge tension, constantly trying to turn every thought into obedience to Christ, I am discovering this truth: "Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored." Romans 8:5-6

And so 1 Peter 1:21 says: "It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God...Through him (Christ) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God."

My faith and hope are in God. That 0 and WHO -  is what enables me to get through times of trials.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Living generously

I read Peter's call to holiness, to right living, to a generous life: "So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. (Put all your hope in how kind God will be to you when Jesus Christ appears.)Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. 
As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

And I have just written of living generously, and the cost to my self will, the need to kill my selfish desires:

Living generously
is not about giving out of my riches
but my need.

I forgive my enemy
the friend who has betrayed
the colleague who has put me down

open-handedly giving away
my need to win the argument
my desire for love and rognition
my wish for revenge.

  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Living generously
is not about benevolent feelings
but selfless actions.

I bless my enemy
do good to the friend who has betrayed
speak well of the colleague who has put me down.

grudgingly putting away
a desire to wound
yearning for a nasty response
craving harm.

  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Living generously
shows me how far short I fall
of perfection.


And how can I do this? Because I have received the gift of life that is Jesus. Because he has saved me from condemnation  because he loves me. Because I can be joyous and endure because of him.Because.

set my mind on things above.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Keep on keeping on

Eternity. The prospect of life for ever with Jesus. When I think of it, REALLY think of it, imagining life where there is no pain or heartbreak, no sorrow or tears, no dull ache of emptiness and grief...yes, I know this to be true: 

"I know how great this makes you feel, 
even though you have to put up 
with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. 

... genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory."

And what IS my faith? 

My faith is in believing that Jesus died because of MY ugliness and sin: I cannot try to beautify it, ignore or hide it.

My faith is in believing that if I follow Jesus' example, I will try my best to live a life of self-sacrifice and care for others - recognising that I cannot achieve 'goodness' or 'greatness' in my own efforts. I can only do what little I can, steeped in imperfection and the possibility of mistakes, and offer it to Jesus to use.

(A bit like grubby uncooked pastry which 4 year old me offered to my grandmother. I remember my puzzlement that she didn't seem to want it...)

Because: "You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation."

Keep on believing.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Living for eternity

1 Peter 1: 3 - 5 What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

And so I can rest. And smile at the future. God has it.

For, as Angela says over at Love God Greatly:
"This is the reality for those who are found in Christ. Here Peter writes a letter of hope to a people, then and now, who are suffering, hurting… who are needing to be reminded that there is this amazing inheritance waiting for them when they get to heaven. An inheritance beyond anything they can ever imagine. A place with no more pain, sadness or heartbreak. A place were we are finally complete, whole… and without sin.
The place our hearts and minds have been aching for since we drew our first breath. Home. Our real home. 
...Like Peter states at the very beginning of Chapter One, we are strangers in the world.
This is not our home. So let’s start living with this truth in mind.

Let’s stop trying to make heaven here on earth.

Let’s stop trying to “save” for the future, and instead pour our lives into NOW.

Jesus is coming back you all, and with the passing of each day His arrival is getting closer and closer. Let’s spend our days wisely, investing in what will last for eternity…"

Spend my days wisely. The second time in as many days I have been reminded of this. Reminded of Andy Stanley's advice: "In the light of my previous experiences, my present circumstances and my future hopes and dreams: what is the wise thing to do?"

The wise thing is to dress myself with compassion, seeing others through Jesus' eyes. Treating others as I want to be treated. Remembering that this earth is not my home and what matters here is only what is of eternal significance.

"Only one life, will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Getting dressed

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armor. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.

In the face of opposition and misunderstanding, of anger and attack, I get up. I get ready to face the world. I remember who and where I am.

Romans 13 tells me that I can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. I should get out of bed and get dressed, not loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. I need to dress myself in Christ, and be up and about!

Yes, but how?

I clothe myself.

I search in the wardrobe of my soul
for a shirt of compassion.

Its neck is high, as close to my 
wanting-to-be-angry mouth
as it can get.
When I open my lips to retort
the collar tickles my chin
reminding me to speak in tolerance
and mercy.

I put my arms
into sleeves of kindness,
the cuffs
drooping down over my hands,
encouraging me to care.

Around my neck
I hang the heavy necklace of humility
weighing down my pride and arrogance.

I throw a shawl of gentleness
around my shoulders
hoping to keep it on
even when the atmosphere is hot.

I carry a bag of patience
wishing to dole some out to others, too.

And...forgiveness. Forgiveness 
lives in a tiny purse.

But love. 
Love is more important than anything else.
Love is what ties everything completely together.
Love is a coat, covering all.
Love is a basic, all-purpose garment.

May I never be without it.

But life is more than this. More than just clothes. I wear uniform. I am like a soldier in the Lord's army. I am to "Let the truth be like a belt around (my) waist, and let God’s justice protect (me) like armour. (My) desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on (my)feet. Let (my) faith be like a shield, and (I) will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit."

What is the war? The war is living a God-honouring life in a day-to-day difficult world. The war is responding with grace when I want to respond with ghastliness. The war is unwinnable if I do not put the uniform and armour on.

And so:

Truth is the belt which holds my trousers up, keeps me together. 
The truth that God loves me - and my protagonist - so much that Jesus died because of what I have done.

God's justice is a thick winter coat which protects me from the elements.
I am safe and protected from attack, because God is just and will defend me.


A willingness to speak about God's good news for us is the shoes on my feet, taking me places I want to go, taking me places I don't want to go...
When I accept this gift of new shoes in a new life, I accept the responsibility which comes with wearing them. A responsibility to use words and actions to tell about what God has done.

Faith is an umbrella which protects me from the rain of evil.
Sometimes, I just have to shelter beneath this, I know that God loves me, no matter what happens.

The knowledge that God has saved me - ME! - is a warm woolly hat.
And I pray that this knowledge remains uppermost in my mind, regardless of what I - or others - do.

And spirit-filled messages in my mind and in my mouth fight evil.
So, when I know I am loved and saved and redeemed by grace, I can remain open to God speaking into my heart and mind and share what He gives me with others.



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Disappointment

I've had quite a week - partly of my own making. A large part, I think. I've had - am having - the sort of week when I echo the psalmist, repeatedly, "...sin is always before me".

Or, as the Message puts it, "I know how bad I've been; my sins are staring me down."

Staring me down. Shaming me. Filling me with disappointment.

Because here's the thing, the dichotomy: I am a new creation in Christ, I am redeemed, I am bought with a price, I am loved, I am forgiven...and I am sinful. (No point in detailing exactly how - I'm trying not to wallow in the negatives.)

Justified but not yet sanctified.
Considered perfect and blameless - in God's sight, but not yet actually so.

And, as I read the Bible, and try to pray and follow Jesus' teachings and wisdom, I find myself ever falling short of the standard I aim for.

Perfection.

Not possible.

I need to remember that 'a miss is as good as a mile' - in other words, it doesn't matter how much I strive or how close to 'perfection' I get, I STILL DON'T MAKE IT.

Frustrated? Yes. Disappointed with myself? Definitely. Feel like a failure as a Christian? Tick. Have a sense of shame for 'letting God down'? Tick. Tick. Tick.

And as I pondered the relational mess I was in, partly from my own attitudes, partly from the accusations of others, I realised how ridiculous my thoughts and feelings were.

Frustrated - because I wasn't as good and perfect as I hoped to be. Ridiculous. "Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God."

Disappointed? Well, what else do I expect? I am not even near perfect and to think otherwise is self-delusion.

Feeling like a failure? Of course, that is my natural state. All of us - including me -have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. "...we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us."

'Letting God down'?  Am I nuts? Was I ever holding him up? Does he need his reputation defending?
As the Christian rhyme artist, Propaganda, says, quoting Charles Spurgeon: "Trying to prove GOD exists is like defending a lion only He don't need the help. Just unlock the cage."

And so I recognise that I am hugely imperfect but I AM trying my best. And when the attack and difficulties come, I can step back and look more easily at what is happening without seeing it all through the lens of false guilt.

Freeing. Liberating. #gainedperspective

Because though 'my sin is always before me', Jesus has it covered, Literally and liberally, with his huge grace.

#calm #peace #Godlovesme  #Godlovesmyenemiestoo.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Little things?

Three tiny nudges today, within a few minutes of each other, which I hope to remember:

"Without a vision, the people perish." A verse from Proverbs 29 (v18) which refers to the keeping of the laws, where God blesses everyone who obeys the law and society prospers.

And, perhaps, also individually: "If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed."

And so, not wanting to lack vision, I pray for one.

Meanwhile, God reminds me of one of the ways in which to gain His vision.

Through a seminar on suffering and the experience of John Donne when he was locked in isolation while suffering from the plague, I am reminded of the need to dig deep into myself, letting God reveal insights into who I am.

Nearly five hundred years later, a young girl confesses that she avoids isolation, avoids the desert place, avoids being alone with God for fear of plunging into the depths of her own soul.

And 24-7 prayer reminds me of how wonderful it IS to be in prayer, to be in God's presence, to trust that he will reveal truth to me in and from the depth of my soul.

I am, after all, created in God's own image. Created to be in relationship, in conversation of speaking and listening; created to be whole.

Created and blessed to share His vision.
And so, not wanting to lack vision, I pray for one. Alone with God and the depths of my soul.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

In the eye of the storm

I've been closely following the monster super cyclone Pam, as it has wreaked more havoc and destruction in Vanuatu than any of us should have to bear.

The devastation numbs the heart and mind.

As I looked closely at the infra red satellite imagery, as Pam bore inexorably down on the tiny island nation, I noticed the eye of calm in the middle. Where wind barely was. And yet on its edges was the worst of the storm - winds of up to 200mph. Unimaginable.

And so is life. I spent the morning in a seminar examining 'Growing With God in Difficult Times'. Graham Archer from CPAS led us to examine our responses to different life crises.

I felt as if I was in the eye of the storm. Because, as I considered how, at times, I feel unbearably crushed, I took heart from the apostle Paul's own experiences which were, in fact, far worse than mine: "My friends, I want you to know what a hard time we had in Asia. Our sufferings were so horrible and so unbearable that death seemed certain. 9 In fact, we felt sure that we were going to die. But this made us stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting God, who raises the dead to life." 2 Corinthians 1:8 - 9

We listened. We talked. We considered the many, many survival mechanism we humans use to respond to a crisis.

We pray; search the Bible for wisdom and comfort; read other Christians' wisdom in books and blogs;
We face up to the implications, or we 'park' the problem until we can deal with it;
We rationalise, thinking it through;
We look back at past difficulties, looking at how God has carried us through

And so we seek the prayers of others; try to see the problem as a growth or ministry opportunity; get on with life, hiding in busyness; and we fight worry and anxiety, fear and stress.

And I learnt. I learnt of the crisis of pain and fear, physical and emotional. And how important, in it, it is to give myself

  • time
  • information
  • the opportunity to talk.
And when the crisis comes, it brings with it the crisis of meaning, of identity. If I am ill/unemployed/bereaved...then who am I? Do I matter any more? Am I worth the same amount as when I can write a list of my achievements and 'possessions' - even relationships?
  • then the only solution is in the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, reading, worship...
The crisis of death invites me to keep in perspective who I am: remembering that we pray that the 'body of Christ will keep us in eternal life'. ETERNAL life.

And then there is the crisis of life. The criosis of living NOW, of keeping close to God, in difficulties, and in calm. 

Because life is cyclonic. We find ourselves on the edge of the storm where there is barely a rustle of wind to disturb our peace; or caught up in the maelstrom, as difficulties seem to grow, like the winds, ever stronger; or even in an unnatural calm and peace when right in the middle of it. But everywhere, throughout the storm, GOD IS THERE.

We need no satellite image to remind us.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Day I Met Jesus, by Mary de Muth and Frank Viola: a book review


I was blessed with a preview copy of The Day I Met Jesus and devoured it in almost one sitting. (I'm now rereading it more slowly, picking up on other thoughts and studying different aspects of the stories.)

It has an intriguing format: Mary de Muth writes the stories of five different women who encountered Jesus, with each story being followed by a thoughtful, relevant commentary by Frank Viola.

The five women are the woman caught in adultery; a prostitute who dared express her love for Jesus; the Samaritan woman at the well, who had experienced multiple divorces, longing to find meaning and purpose in life; the outcast woman who had chronic bleeding; the woman who sat at Jesus' feet, taking on the role of a male disciple.

Mary de Muth brings these women to life, giving us insight into where these women were coming from, Who has not been paralysed, at times, by a sense of loneliness, emptiness and desperation, as the woman caught in adultery would have felt as she faced certain death? We can all identify with these feelings of desolation, when there seems no way out and sin beckons. We shudder as we read, recognising that, in a myriad of different ways, we too could allow ourselves to be tempted into sin. Mary de Muth clothes these simple accounts with fascinating detail, taking the reader back to life in first century in Jerusalem.

Frank Viola then, after each story, opens it up with Biblical interpretation.He gives a modern and relevant commentary on the passage, inviting us to respond. We are encouraged and affirmed as he helps us apply these familiar stories to our own lives.

At the end of the book - 'Talking It Over' - there are discussion questions for each chapter which can be used in a  group setting; and footnotes for each chapter, too.

This book reminds me of another favourite, 'Chasing Francis' by Ian Morgan Cron. The combination of Biblical narrative and Bible study is powerful enough as it is, but focusing on women's stories in a world where many women are still abused and disenfranchised is empowering. Jesus loved them; he loves us too, just the same.