Monday, 1 September 2014

Showing off and its antithesis

Today's verses (Esther 1:5 - 8 and Matthew 4:8 - 9) show Ahaseurus showing off his enormous wealth - curtains of the most expensive material available; couches of 'gold and silver', presumably covered or inlaid, rather than solid; a mosaic floor of marble, mother of pearl and precious stones.

It is almost too much to imagine: I can  hardly believe it would be possible today. How could a wealthy man ensure that his craftsmen would not be stealing the precious metals and gems they were working with, for a start? Even a tiny amount 'acquired' by a poorer man would be life-changing.

This whole scene smacks of arrogance and exploitation. Even if we did not know that much of the Ancient World was built on the labour of slaves, we can guess so: for one man to own so much is wholly disproportionate in any society.

Then there is the temptation of Jesus, as Satan offers him the world and all its riches: he would have become the most wealthiest and most powerful man ever to live.

And Jesus rejects the offer: he is already the heir of the Great Creator, who owns all the wealth in the world. There is something far better waiting for Jesus, and he refutes the Devil.

How topsy turvy: the 'better' is an agonising criminal's death so that we might become heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ... the words in Romans 8:17 which finish with "if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

Untold wealth...and suffering...

Treasure

Today is the first day of a Love God Greatly (formerly Good Morning Girls) Bible study on Esther.

I didn't know this when I opened an email entitled 'Where is Your Treasure?' from Wisdom For Wives. Odd, especially when I don't read the blog very much.

The writer is talking about money:

"I have heard more than one pastor say that you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at his or her checkbook. This seems to be supported by Scripture.

~~But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21-22, NASB)~~

Maybe that’s why it can be so difficult to discuss finances with our spouses. Maybe these conversations reveal the true conditions of our hearts, and who wants to talk about the true condition of our hearts?? It’s quite possible that when there are unresolved heart issues, money arguments aren’t really about money. One spouse wants to discuss a budget, the other one fears being controlled. Four little words like, “We’re short this month,” can really mean:
You don’t make enough.
You spend too much.
You shouldn’t have taken (or quit) that job.
It’s because you wanted to buy this house that we can’t afford.

Even if the speaker is not (knowingly) holding a secret grudge, the hearer could be filtering the words through insecurities about his/her earning potential, or lingering regret or shame over a financial mistake for which the family is still paying. Rather than churn up all these issues, it is easier (in the short-term) to avoid talking about money, or to just ignore it altogether.

Money or wealth says so much about us, whether we lack money or have more than enough for our needs. This opens up so many thoughts about our 'treasure'. Oh, way beyond money. 'Treasure' is self-esteem, pride, perfectionism, striving to show the world how rich/good/competent/beautiful/clever we are...money can, we think, show others all of these things.

For Ahaseurus, king of Persia in Esther's time, his treasure was his wealth. Yesterday, in church, we were reminded of the danger of pride in possessions when we looked at Hezekiah, king of Judah, who was also proud of his wealth, and so, in 2 Chronicles Chapter 32, we are told how God 'left him'. 

But we 'leave God' so easily when we become absorbed by any treasure which is not God. When we put possessions or position or power or personal gain in the centre of our hearts, in God's place, we leave Him out of our lives. 

And so Matthew 6:19 - 21 reminds us: "Don't store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is."

For both Ahaseurus and Hezekiah, wealth made a statement about who they were. Let us remember who WE are: children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

And if we are co-heirs, then we have all the wealth in the world. Now, there's a thought.


Dealing with difficult relationships: finding forgiveness

Grappling with understanding the title (above) and the labels (below), I found some useful resources:
Dealing with a surprise attack when someone says or does something unexpectedly hurtful or nasty. And the topic of forgiveness comes at me everywhere I turn: Faith Barista, a sermon in church on anger and forgiveness...the book 31 Days to Lovely by Sarah Hawkes Valente, which is proving INVALUABLE.

Of course, dealing with these things involves humbling myself: wow, how I DON'T like to do that. BUT:
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Psalm 149:4  And I have found great encouragement in Psalm 139:23 - 24 which says "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see f there  be ANY WICKED WAY IN ME, and LEAD ME IN THE WAY EVERLASTING.

The way everlasting. The way with God. No other way will bring me the peace and contentment I long for. Sarah Markley says:

"we fail and we fall. We shouldn’t do so on purpose to exhaust His grace, but we all make bad choices and decisions once in awhile. When we do, can we see the beauty in the dust? Can we look for that? Or do we hate our mistakes so much that the beauty that He is longing to show us in the ashes is lost?
He is longing to show us the beauty.
It’s so easy to loathe ourselves. We pile hatred onto our fragile souls. We fail and make mistakes and we hate what we’ve done. Even failures can open doors but sometimes we are too blind to notice.
...What is He longing to show us? That even in our sins, even in our mistakes and misjudgments, He is still there. He is always there. And He is close and good and He hasn’t changed. He is brushing His fingers in the dirty ashes, trying to show us the beauty there.
So, as I struggle with unforgiveness, God is helping me everywhere I look. I have just been sent a free book to review, part of the Everyday Matters Bible Study series on developing spiritual disciplines. The title of the book I have been 'randomly' (God-chosen) sent? Forgiveness.  !!
And Peter Jobes, of Sixty Stadia, has just written a remarkable post. (I love his blog anyway, but the fact that he is a good friend of my gorgeous daughter-in-law Adele is a wonderful bonus.)  Peter says

"It’s quite simple, really, you feel wronged by a situation, circumstance or person and you decide that the answer lies in you putting it right....
....there are a thousand little ways this thinking can creep into our lives if we don’t guard against it. It’s a desire to get up and fight for what we perceive are our interests, even though we know we have a God who promises to do so. It’s a pride problem.
We serve a God who goes ahead of us, rustling through the tree tops to fight on our behalf before we even reach the field of battle (2 Chronicles 20:1-26). We serve a God who pledges His faithfulness to us and seals that promise in His own blood. We serve the Shepherd of Psalm 23 who prepares us a table in the very presence of our enemies. A God who thinned the ranks of Gideon’s army (Judges 7) so that the victory would be demonstrably miraculous. And yet we find ourselves thinking we can win under our own steam?
The truth is that there are many times when faced with a circumstance that the answer isn’t found in our desire to fight it but in our ability to take rest in Him. Where we stop and hand off to Him, His strength is perfected in our weakness.
When the Children of Israel reached the Red Sea they faced what seemed to be an insurmountable problem. God had led them, literally, between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Egyptian army closed in on them and with nowhere to go they started to doubt their deliverance; once again they entered confusion as their enemies seemed to prosper and Moses stood up and gave some wisdom.
The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.  Exodus 14:14 (NKJV)
Or, as other translations put it, we need only to be still, to be silent. When we seek our own path, to our own idea of justice, it’s not about God any more but about our being seen to triumph. Like Caesar returning to Rome, we want a parade of victory but part of being a follower of Christ is that the parade of victory is His.
It can be difficult in life at times, when you want to resolve problems in human fashion and yet know God’s will is for you to hold your peace. It’s so easy to either ignore it and make a mess, or instead revel in the feeling of being a victim, yet we must do neither. We must find a place of peace, and let God set our world to rights.
My prayer is that I will grow more and more into a person whose default behaviour isn’t to strap on the boxing gloves and go twelve rounds with a problem, making more mess, but to hand it over to the one who has already promised to deal with it.
It’s not about being passive, it’s not about being cowed and broken. It’s about having the courage to stand and pray and believe in God’s definition of setting things right above our own.
Finally, a little Bible study guide arrived in the post. I signed up for a copy of 'Everyday Matters Bible Studies for women' which cover a full range of spiritual practices.  There were twenty-four possible topics ranging from Bible Study and Meditation to Worship...I got...yes...wait for it... FORGIVENESS!
#lookingforwardto #gettingstarted #onthatonetoo



Sunday, 31 August 2014

Back to basics

This is the thing.

As I read blogs and tussle with myself, digging myself out of the dark hole I have stumbled into, I keep on rediscovering old truths.

God loves me.
I am inherently sinful.
God still loves me anyway.
God doesn't just love me - he is crazy mad about me.
God is immense and immanent - this is beyond my understanding, but he is simultaneously Creator of stars whose energy I cannot begin to fathom and is also closer to me than my own skin. God is outside of time and space and ....

Psalm 18:20 - 28 holds a special truth for me this week.

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of theLord;
I am not guilty of turningfrom my God.
All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.


And I look at this and I wonder how it can be true.  Commentaries such as Barnes say: "The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness - That is, he saw that I did not deserve the treatment which I received from my enemies, and therefore he interposed to save me. Compare the note at Psalm 17:3.
According to the cleanness of my hands - So far as my fellow-men are concerned. I have done them no wrong."


And yes, I get that. If my conscience is CLEAR BEFORE GOD - not before the Accuser or my own self-doubt, mistress that I am of Second-guessing and the What-ifs - then I know that my relationship with God is right.

But my conscience is not always clear. I am sinful by nature.
Psalm 51:5 says:  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
And this is true.
But this is also true: because of Jesus, I am made clean. Because Jesus died in my place, took my punishment, I have not been dealt with according to my (un)righteousness. 

I can stand blameless before God.

By my conscience is not clear. And so, as I go back to basics, I realise anew that my conscience will indeed not be clear because I am sinful by nature. And because God has forgiven me and will forgive me every time I turn to Him in sorrow for my sins and mistakes, I do not need to beat myself up more than is necessary to bring me to my knees in confession. 

This is me. Sinning, sinful, blundering through life, making mistakes, offending others...ME. AND I AM A PRECIOUS DAUGHTER OF GOD, MUCH-LOVED, BEAUTIFUL IN HIS EYES, LOVED AND FORGIVEN OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Aaaah.

This is what Kirsten Strong Chasing Blue Skies says: the verses from Isaiah have always been encouraging, even more so at the moment. Last week, at Spring Harvest, we studied them again, too.

"Sometimes a new beginning soars on wings of glorious success. Sometimes it takes off and crashes, leaving you flat out laid out. And when that happens, I want to tear out of there and scurry my red-faced self off to safety rather than shake the embarrassment off my skin and out of my hair.
20140829_KristenStrong_holdinghands
Tearing away tempts, but trying again trusts. 
I try again because I’m already hidden in Christ, so there’s no need to hide anywhere else.
I try again because God is the generous giver of fresh starts, and grabbing one means I accept that my rocky start is a bump in the story, not the end of it.
Trying again is knowing hope always moves toward the surface, anxious to comfort and hold you. 
So, for all those facing a new beginning this season – especially those whose new beginning took a tumble - I offer you this prayer from God’s heart to your own. May it remind you that even the most fledgling of starts can turn into your favorite stories.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I stepped out to make a place for myself, and I tripped up rather than took off. I feel embarrassed, nervous, worn out and just plain tried out. I know You understand, and because of You, this stumbling block to my new beginning is only a part of my story rather than the end of it.
Where would any of us be without Your daily (hourly?) offerings of fresh starts? A splayed-out mess at the bottom of the stairs, that’s where. Thank You for giving me a fresh start right here, right now. Thank You for showing me that walking in Your will is walking in success. Thank You for giving me a sure identity in You, not in outcomes.
When I contemplate retreating, let me retreat in Your love. When I think about running, let me run confidently forward in the abundant gifts You’ve tailor-made specifically for me. Give me the ability to see how my decisions today affect the story of my future. When I flip through the memory books of my life, may I see plenty evidence of taking Your hand and walking courageously in Your plans for me. Along the way, may I learn the art of taking myself less seriously. And thank You that no matter if I fly or fall, You make every story good.
And You end every story well.
In the name of Jesus, the One Who is head over heels in love with me,
Amen







Monday, 7 July 2014

Finding quietness... whitespace again

In church yesterday, we were challenged as to whether we had become lukewarm and indifferent to the things of God. If we were going through the motions - serving, attending a small group and church services, etc - but not really connecting with God. The minister asked us to raise our hands so he could pray for us.

But I didn't raise my hand. The heart is deceitful above all else, of course, but I didn't feel I WAS indifferent. I DO actively strive to connect with God, to rest with him, to encounter him... but I AM busy.  It is busyness that is the distraction, and Bonnie's book 'Finding Spiritual Whitespace' calls me aside to rest.

That is my challenge.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Finding Spiritual Whitespace: The Review


Gray_FindingWhitespace_3DFinding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray at http://www.faithbarista.comBookArt7_Jesuswhispers

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista.com, a lovely blog on spiritual topics themed to all things coffee: quirky and imaginative. She has written the book Finding Spiritual Whitespace about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. You can get a copy HERE. I have just finished it, but this is not a book to read quickly: quite the contrary.
I need to start over. I need to re-read - especially the pages, the many many places,  I have pencilled in notes and underlinings and reminders to stop. and think. and revisit. 
Bonnie's book is a journey she has taken involving revisiting painful events in her life. She bravely shares the messiness, the pain and the subsequent healing of memories buried so deep that she didn't know they were there. 

But her body did. She carried those hurtful words and experiences for four decades before she realised how they were affecting her. She became so broken, afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder, that she could no longer function normally. In the hurt and pain, she rediscovered Jesus' spirit deep within her.

This book, however, isn't just show and tell. Bonnie speaks as friend, inviting the reader in to discover healing and wholeness with her. She speaks of reawakening the soul through stillness and rest and discovering Jesus in new and deeper ways. Facing questions of desire and loss; feelings of desolation; going beyond the obvious.

Bonnie writes tenderly from many different perspectives as she draws us into discovering Jesus in fresh new ways. She encourages the reader to take time to rest; to listen for Jesus' voice; to rediscover innate creativity; and above all, to revisit painful memories in the loving companionship of the Spirit of God. This is not self-indulgent, but healthy. We all need to face those things we have buried long before, learning to cope, to live with shame and hurt that has been buried but affects us without our realising it.

Words cannot do justice to this gem of a book. I found myself sinking in, like drinking a frothy cappuccino through the cream to find the strength of the coffee beneath. This book IS strong: its words offer hope and healing and an invitation to a deeper, more intimate spiritual life.

Beautiful, poetic words. Words to retain, words to inspire, words to encourage. A gift and a jewel from a brave heart.






Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Whitespace. Stillness. Listening.

This post is part of the  “Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour” which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. Bonnie has sent me a copy of her book to review. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  

For reasons that I don't wish to explain in detail,  I find myself tripping over/falling into space and silence and stillness wherever I turn.

Bonnie Gray's 'Finding Spiritual Whitespace' has been the greatest place to start, but I have been 'encouraged' by emotional meltdown and comments in sermons about being overwhelmed and numb and... oh, all the things Bonnie explains in her book. The knowledge that it is only with Jesus that deep deep hidden wounds are healed into wholeness.
BookArt4_brokenbeautyBonnieGray_WhitespaceBadge_150findingspiritualwhitespace_book
This search for relationship with and the presence of God in my life meets me at every turn.

Today it was through Lisa Burgess as she talks about:  "...it’s his presence we crave, even when we don’t know it. And it’s in his presence we’re most loved, even though we can’t see him.
“Just the privilege of fellowship with God is infinitely more than any thing that God could give. When he gives himself he is giving more than anything else in the universe.”- Frank Laubach
But how can we tap into that fellowship with God, especially in the everyday moments?
It’s a concept that’s intrigued me for years. I’m not alone in this quest. Not now. Not ever. Whether straight from scripture, from a monk in the 1600s, from a missionary in 1930, or from a friend in 2014, there’s much to learn about being more mindful of God in the now, of intentionally grasping God’s hand in this moment, in this thing.
I find motivation every few years when I reread Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. And now I’m finding it also in finally reading Frank Laubach’s Letters by a Modern Mystic....
...Enjoying God’s presence is knowing that in this hour, this situation, this relationship, we are never alone.
“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Psalm 139:9-10 "
I love Beverley's comment on Lisa's post: Occasionally when i think that God has forgotten me and is no longer listening to my anguished prayers, he speaks! He speaks through the mouths and actions of others, the gentle breeze to cool the heat of the day, the smell of a wild rose, almost forgotten. When we feel forgotten all we have to do is wait and God will always arrive.
I have sat with those who are passing from this life to the next and the one thing they all want is one more…touch, hug, kiss, minute, moment…morning. So many people that i have nursed in these moments have waited for the morning to arrive before they have found the courage to leave.

And so, as I study Sally Clarkson and Angela Peritt's book You Are Loved with Good Morning Girls, I am learning that I AM loved by Jesus. That prayer and Bible study and good works are all well and good, but that it is in his presence that I am fulfilled.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39

And so I look for Him in everyday life and to Him in the quiet and listen, listen for His voice in the silence and the stillness of my heart.
Cartoon - Have you found Jesus? - Look closely.PS: another form of stillness is going for a walk: notes on seeking quiet every day as a way of refreshing the brain. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Finding spiritual whitespace

Finding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray at http://www.faithbarista.comfindingspiritualwhitespace_book21 Days of Rest: Finding Spiritual Whitespace
It is a long time since I wrote here. A time of business and absorption in all manner of things... good things, God things but not time with God.

So it's not a coincidence that Bonnie Gray's book has come out as I embark on a new Good Morning Girls study: You Are Loved.

I needed to set aside the time to know this:


"Christ went to great lengths to demonstrate His love for us….he died on a cross.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”- Romans 5:8
Christ’s death is proof of His unconquerable love for us. He went to such great lengths to demonstrate His love so that we will be secure in knowing we are loved by Him.
“A person who feels loved, lives with relief that they do not have to perform. They live with joy to know they are acceptable as they are. They live with hope because they are not alone.”- Sally Clarkson, You Are Loved
You are not alone.
You are loved."
week 1 memory verse
We can know this in the quiet, in the rest, in the whitespace times...what does 'whitespace' mean? Ask read Bonnie!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Intentionally focused...on ministry, hospitality and PUTTING OTHERS FIRST

Peter says (The Message, 1 Peter 4:1 - 2) "Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings* as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want."
*sufferings:
aka my struggles, difficulties, little problems, inconveniences...

So: "take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit..." (vv 7 - 11)

Baroness Cox wrote this week: "While we might like to think that generosity is largely about what gets given from our own hands, the truth is different. Generous people understand that giving is inseparably linked to receiving, that we can only begin to be used by God to meet another’s need because we have begun to allow Him to meet our own."
Romans 12:3 puts it like this: "it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him."

Proverbs 31 extols the virtues of the Good Woman.
"When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household, and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise:"
Hmm.  I ALWAYS feel incompetent and all the other in- and un- words which tell me that I don't measure up, can never measure up to this Impossibly Perfect Woman.
BUT.
I CAN do what I can with what I have. I might never, will not ever, achieve her perfection, but I can aspire to be more like her. Also, I am comforted when I think that, perhaps, this is also a picture of the church. Because, together, we CAN achieve all this and more.
"So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t." (Romans 12:4 - 6)
Good Morning girls postedWe aren’t aiming for perfection here but rather a heart of serving and loving those who enter our homes. I’m sure it’s not an accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word meaning healing. When we open our homes and hearts to those who are hurting, God uses our act of service to begin healing hurting souls.

Who can you open your home to today? What about the single mom down the street who is needing adult conversations and for someone to look her in the eyes and ask, “How are you really doing?”, or what about the widow whose husband recently passed away from your church? Maybe it’s the co-worker who needs to hear that they matter to God...

You see I think as Christians we have bought into this big lie that satan is selling us. (and yes, I have purposely typed a lowercase “s”) We think God only wants us to do BIG things for Him. That only the BIG things count. Big things like becoming missionaries and moving overseas, adopting 100 children, selling all our belongings or going into full time Christian ministry. You know, the BIG things.

But what if He’s not telling many of us to do those things? What if that isn’t His plan for many of our lives? What if His plan is even better than that?

What if His plan is actually to multiply our reach by each of us individually becoming intentional and purposefully, using the homes He has already blessed us with to reach those people He has sent us… by opening our doors and hearts to them?

What if we are just called to help those who are lonely feel welcomed by offering a simple meal and an open seat at a well-worn kitchen table?

God is amazing like that, you know. When we reach out to bless others, to open our doors and place an extra plate at the table, many times we end up being the one who is blessed.

So what if? What if we dream together and think about the possibilities of change God can do in our homes as we embrace our call to be hospitable? What if we push aside the temptations of perfection, the unrealistic expectations and instead offer real homes, simple meals and loving hearts? How can God move through these simple acts of obedience?

And so: "Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality."

I've heard it said that hospitality is not about homes and hearty dining, food and feasting - though it can be. No, hospitality is about inviting others into your heart and blessing them with what you have. It is about adaptable attitudes, selfless serving and generous giving.

Is that really so hard to do? Take the first step - TODAY.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Journey


It is quite some time since I joined in with Faith Jam Thursdays. Now, at the beginning of Lent, I am prompted to jump in again.
With the theme, today, of Journey.

Journey. The word
conjures excitement
and trepidation.

When I was younger
a journey was 
a wondrous thing
opening doors
of adventure

but

now I am older
a life journey
seems fraught
with fearsome
possibilities

life is full of 
the unknowns of
retirement and 
living other places
and health.

But with Jesus
the journey of life
can be, shall be
one of joy, deep satisfaction
and promise.

Dare I step out,
join in,
embrace 
with open heart
my Journey?