Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The way

Bob posts again: 'Not only is the Jesus way is a path of allegiance, it is a course of worship of Christ. Therefore you cannot bow your knee to another. It is a course of service for Christ. Therefore you cannot put your own needs first. And it is a course of giving all for Christ. Therefore you cannot keep or hold back anything for self.'

And from Michelle, about what is really important in life:

Staying - When we stay in the valley and become honest with God something remarkable happens

The last SATURDAYS post talked about God redeeming even the darkest parts of our story. I love that idea...God turning despair into hope, Night into day, dark into light. But often the idea is a lot easier than the execution. How do these dark-wait-days become redeemed? How can we practically find God in them? Have you asked these questions? I know I have!

Perhaps it begins when we stop trying to turn on the light ourselves. Of course it's only natural to look for light in dark places. When my dad got sick I wanted to find ways to alleviate the pain and shock of it all. No one with any appetite for life initially enters a difficult season by saying, "Oh yeah baby! Bring it on...the more desolate the better!" Nope... We initially want out! But skipping across the top of pain does not allow us to be present with it, which is what brings healing.

While I believe being present with pain is the best way through it, often I need to learn how to do that. In the case with my dad, the only thing I really knew was that I didn’t like it. I wanted things to go back to the way they were. I dreaded the journey ahead for him, my mom, for everybody. So, secretly in my heart, I tried to find a light switch to turn on. I wanted to illuminate this path and find something better, but there was no light switch. (Now, before anyone corrects me, don’t worry, I already know Jesus is the light of life...I don't need a reminder) Since I could not find a way to illuminate that path, I groped for a door and looked for a way out, but every door opened to the same reality. I was so frustrated and overwhelmed. But God had a plan, He still does. And one of the gifts of such sacred darkness is that there is no escape. 


To find the light of Christ we must be willing to journey the dark, solemn places of our soul that rise up and question the goodness of God. Job did that and he wasn't scolded, he was actually reminded of God. Perhaps some would say, we shouldn’t question God’s goodness, or that we should trust him more. Well, that’s a good idea and when you meet someone who has that figured out, let me know. I have tried bringing my “should” or “shouldn’t” self to God. It doesn’t work very well, because it isn’t my real-self. I don’t need God to love the person I should be, I need him to love the person I AM. Nothing discloses the real-me more than moments of desolation.

I suppose that’s why raw honesty works best...at least it does for me. In that hotel room near Stanford sometime around 3 am I could cry out, “God, I don’t like this! I’m overwhelmed with sadness and disappointment. I don’t trust you to be good right now because the pain and shock I feel eclipses much of what I’ve learned about you....or at least what I've come to believe. If you are who you say you are, please come and meet me here.” …And he did, and he brought his goodness with him. Like Job, I wasn't scolded in his presence, I was reminded.
So I asked God to open my eyes to what was real and to see His goodness in it. As I came across a garden at Stanford I was reminded there is a Gardener that grows beautiful things from dirt that holds seeds; and the soil bed of our hearts are being prepared, all the time, for sacred work and beauty. Walking through the many waiting areas God gave me eyes to see past the medicine and notice the sleepy sojourners in waiting rooms, unforgotten by the One who is high above it all. He's the one who remembers our waiting condition and keeps us present before the Father even when we can't do so ourselves (Rom 8, Isa 55:8-9). He collects our tears and carries our sorrows (Ph 56:8). He does it while we work out our disappointments with Him, with our story and with ourselves.

It takes time to make room for such soul-space. Silence and solitude are key. In them, the many screams from this crazy roller-coaster can be silenced. His still small voice finds an echo that carries its way to the canyons of our dismay. And while we wait in the basin of darkness, we learn to die. We loosen our grip on what we must have, who we must be, the things we must accomplish, and we simply begin to rest in who we are and what we’ve been given. We become present with ourselves and, if we invite him, Jesus shows up too. The sinner dines with Holiness and in the power of God’s loving presence, we are changed.

I am slowly learning to let the Light of Life love me in honest visitations. This, after all, is our inheritance. Let us receive it with…joy.

Become silent for a moment. Stay quiet long enough to notice what's rumbling in your heart and mind?
What honest plea might you have for God?
Practice trusting Him by voicing that plea before him. Set your 'should' and 'shouldn't' aside and dare to speak what rises up.
Let the Light of Life love you in the darkness and hold you present before Himself.

Hear Him say, "Oh beloved, show me your face, let me hear your voice. For your voice is sweet and your face is lovely. There's nothing in your story that I have not seen and remembered."

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Faith


I'm going through a little Bible plan by a (previously unknown to me) writer called Nicole Reyes.

Daring Faith.

Today, it was a reflection on Peter's Step

"Recently, I was speeding down a flight of stairs and had the brilliant idea of skipping over a couple steps for sake of time. Let's just say it wasn't my finest moment. Thankfully, my tumble down the stairs only left me with a bruised knee and a bruised ego. And I guess a funny story that still makes me laugh!

Beyond the laughter, there is a lesson: Each step to our destination is an important one. If we try to skip over necessary steps, it will only lead to unnecessary pain.

There’s no shortcut to becoming more like Jesus and fulfilling your God-given assignment. There’s no secret out there that will put you on a fast track to success. There’s no in-crowd that can get you out of simple faithfulness. There’s no magic pill to avoid daily taking up your cross in order to experience Christ’s resurrection power.

There’s just the next step. Jesus is always faithful to lead you to the next step. He illuminates your path through His Word, through the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of others.

It’s never a question of whether or not there’s a next step. The question is: will you take it?

The next step will most likely require courage, humility and discipline; and it will always require faith.

Peter's next step certainly required faith! In Matthew 14, Peter is sailing across storm-raging waters with the disciples when in the distance he spots Jesus walking on water! And when Jesus invites Peter to join him on the water, Peter has a choice to make. Will he stay in the comfort of the boat with his friends or will he take the audacious step out of the boat and onto the water to be with his Savior? Peter chose the way of daring faith: Peter not only stepped on the water, but he began to walk on it as well! With one simple step, Peter’s story took a dramatic and miraculous turn!

Your next step matters. Just like Peter, without it you will never experience God's power at work in your life! The next step is always worth taking. So take your next step. Don’t put it off. Go for it! Jesus is calling; He is beckoning you onward!
"

Reflections

Facebook is a bad, yet fascinating, habit. It's great for news of friends...or acquaintances, rather.  It's also GREAT for drawing my attention to topical items. Sometimes I cry. Often I pray. Usually, at some point, I smile or even giggle.

I pray for Syrian refugees when I see the work that our dear friends' daughter has done, rescuing people from the sea as they arrive on a tiny Greek island. Or when I see other friends posting about Europe's reluctance to take in the homeless and the stranger.

I ponder as I read many, many thoughtful posts from Christian writers. Thank you, Proverbs 31 Ministries. Thank you, Bob.

And it was today that Bob's words rang most true, among the encouragement to godly living, the inspiration to begin each day afresh in loving God and others.

Bob talks about the grieving he is going through after his wife, Lyn's, death from from cancer. He quotes a story from a missionary to India, Paul Hiebert: "Yellayya, a village elder who had come to faith in Jesus, came to Mr Hiebert to report that children were dying in his village from smallpox. The elder said that the other elders in desperation had sent for a diviner who told them that the goddess of smallpox was angry. To satisfy this goddess and stop the plague, the village would have to perform the water buffalo sacrifice. Further, every family in the village would need to contribute toward the purchase of the buffalo. The Christians refused to do this. After much pressure however, many Christians were about to concede, planning to tell God they did not mean it. But Yellayya refused to let them contribute. However, now one of the Christian girls had come down with smallpox. Yellayya came to Mr Hiebert to ask him to pray for healing of the girl.
The missionary wrestled with this because, being from the West where we do not really deal with this realm of spirits and healings very skillfully, he was not trained nor experienced in this kind of prayer. (btw, you may be able to find this article online, "The Flaw of the Excluded Middle." The article counsels a balance avoiding either extreme of secularism or Christian animism.)
Anyway, Mr. Hiebert joined in a prayer meeting for the sick child.
(Still with me?.....)
A week later, Yellayya returned to say that the child had died. Hiebert felt thoroughly defeated, "Who was I to be a missionary if I could not pray for healing and receive a positive answer?" But a few weeks later Yellayya came again with a sense of triumph. Hiebert asked how he could be so happy. The elder replied, "The village would have acknowledged the power of our God had he healed the child, but they knew in the end she would have to die. When they saw in the funeral our hope of resurrection and reunion in heaven, they saw an even greater victory--over death itself--and they have begun to ask about the Christian way."


Glory! For me the capstone is Hieberts comment: "I began to realize in a new way that true answers to prayer are those that bring the greatest glory to God, not those that satisfy my immediate desires. It is all too easy to make Christianity a new magic in which we as gods can make God do our bidding."


We prayed fervently for Lyn to be healed from acute leukemia in 2000, and God chose to overcome the power of that illness. To God be the glory! In 2015 we prayed fervently for Lyn to be healed from esophageal cancer, and God chose to display our victory through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has loved Lyn so much -- and trusted you and me so much -- that He has chosen to display an even greater glory than healing. He has shown, through your faith and mine, that Jesus has defeated death through His resurrection. And that is the greater glory, and for that I am glad! Even as I weep now, I am profoundly joyful. Thank you for journeying with us. May your hope be renewed as you reflect on the powerful witness of Lyn Perrin Rasmussen."


True answers to prayer are those that bring the GREATEST glory to God. And, sometimes, that glory is to show our faith in Jesus.

I ponder these words as I negotiate the tricky minefield of relationships at work, as I seek to live humbly, love mercy and do justly. Often, in teaching, I err on the 'justly', seeking 'justice' for the children I teach, trying to show them the right way to behave. Often, I feel as if I am light on mercy and love. Often, I am tempted to first defend my corner when challenged, rather than taking the humble path and admit that I could be wrong.

So I will aim, again as I begin a new day, to focus on God's glory.


Sunday, 31 January 2016

Purpose and encouragement

Recently, I have the lost the discipline of writing. Life has overwhelmed me, somewhat: enough to distract me. I've found myself wandering in circles: occasionally, actually physically doing so.

Overwhelmingness came from inside. Facing a major life decision: where to live, what to do...work could have been coming to an end (it's not, as far as I know), we could have been moving (we are, but not far...)....

It was hard. But now, as I drift towards an outcome - I can't say I have MADE a decision, but feel as if the way is beginning to come clearer - I seem to be finding new purpose. And I now realise that, in some ways, I had become lacklustre about the most important purpose of all.

Seeking the most precious Pearl.

Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven as a pearl of immense worth: so valuable that a merchant gave up everything he had to buy it. (Matthew 13:45 - 46) We read a devotional by Chris Tiegreen every day, where he talks about this and Paul's assertion that Christ is everything and anything else we might gain which benefits us is just rubbish. Paul says (Philippians 3:8 - 9) "Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him."

I hadn't lost my focus on God - indeed, I sought God and His wisdom earnestly in prayer. But I had let the concern, even worry at times, about our decisions dominate my thinking and emotions. I had stopped searching for the most valuable thing, which was Jesus himself.

Being faithful to worship Jesus, to know him better, was the most important thing. More important than where I should live or what I should do.

I was helped to remember this in tiny, imperceptible ways. Ways in which there was such a subtle shift in my spiritual life that I could barely identify it. For a few months, beginning just after I had made a momentous decision about where I would live, I became part of a group which met to explore spirituality. We thoughts about how we could love God more and be better disciples, we practised different forms of evangelism and serving, but most of all we learned to worship in new and different ways. And as I worshipped, I found myself changing.

The decision I had made - to move - had not left me with peace. After making it, I wanted it to work, although I realised that I was always LOOKING for things which would confirm the decision. The new path promised adventure and excitement, uncertainty and the prospect of having to rely completely on God - but was it really where God wanted me to go? Were some of my motives selfish?

As Marilyn Gardner says in her blog Communicating Across Boundaries   "I think I may have been looking for the wrong things –my purpose, my calling, my sense of significance and belonging–surely Jesus’ tiny story taught me to search out the most important thing. I’m joining the jewel merchant.I’m looking for the Excellent Pearl, the Flawless One, the Pearl of Great Price. He is here and I know the hunt for Him will never disappoint."

I eventually realised that I needed to stay put. I had  become distracted from The Main Thing - knowing and worshipping Jesus. As Marilyn says: "I’ve felt my sense of self being swallowed again by the mundane, by the endless question of who I am and what am I doing here. I’ve wondered again at my purpose.

I know my life has meaning here. I firmly believe we are here on purpose. I just need to find it again.…I need to uncover it. Sometimes it seems to be more hidden for me than for others. And often it seems illusive. Just when I stop looking and settle into my routines I find it in between spiritual direction clients or under a pile of clean clothes. The moment, however, I go to grab it always seems to disappear."


 I needed to stay in my job, stay in the town I am living in, just stay. There was no clear call either way: sensing no sense of purpose in leaving, with no clear idea of what I would do if I moved...

...but then little joys started to come my way.

Relationships that had been a little difficult and tense were restored: difficulty and tension vanished overnight and they became a complete joy.

My job became more rewarding. I saw changes in the children I teach as they became more mature but also in the learning and knowledge they began to develop. I became ridiculously thrilled when I asked them to highlight boring connectives in their writing and an apprehensive little voice said: "I can't FIND any..."  I was delighted to deliver an almost perfect lesson for my yearly appraisal: something that had never happened before. I felt encouraged.

I began to appreciate my life here more. I realised that in my focus on moving, I had stopped opening my arms wide. I had pulled back on giving of myself.

My word(s) for this year to encourage myself are 'Be generous'. I am not a naturally generous person, except perhaps in befriending others, which I had neglected. I needed to learn more and more to open myself up and be generous with my life - with what God had so generously given me.

So, near the end of the first month of the year, I look back and am thankful for renewed energy, renewed direction, a renewed sense of purpose...as I keep my eyes on Jesus: "...who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!" Hebrews 12:2, The Message

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

New Year, New Year's Resolution

Well, I'm not too sure of the provenance of this, but I quite liked the advice....

"Short and Simple
To make a New Year's resolution I'll remember, it has to be short and simple. It has to be something meaningful that motivates me, while instantly reminding me of things I need to do to become a better Christian.
If you're like me, we need a resolution that's more like a concept, rather than resolving to change specific behaviors.
A Broad Motivational Concept
Love is a broad motivational concept that involves every aspect of life.
Jesus tells us that the great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second command is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mk. 12:30-31).
Paul tells us, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
If we love God more, we'll become a better Christian. As a better Christian, we'll improve in every relationship -- we'll become better people, in every way.
Every Christian Can Love God More
Have you thought about the fact that you can love God more today than yesterday?
In Paul's prayer for the Philippians, he revealed that they could love God more. He prayed that their love would "abound still more" (Phil. 1:9). Their love was abounding, but it could abound more and more and more. . . .
There is never a time we can't love God more. Therefore, there is never a time we can't become a better Christian.
Love God More: Increase in Knowledge and Discernment
In Paul's prayer for the Philippians, he reveals how we love God more. He prayed that their love would "abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment" (Phil. 1:9).
Our love for God grows when we increase in true knowledge. "True knowledge" in this verse isepignosis, which results in spiritual maturity as we grow through God's word.
Peter tells us to "long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Pet. 2:2). Growing in the word of God, he says "in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
To love God more, we must grow through His word. The more we grow through God's word, the more we love God as we're "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph. 3:17).
Love God More: Obedience with a Positive Attitude
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 Jn. 5:3).
If we love God more this year, we'll make fewer mistakes while also becoming a better Christian. And, we'll have a better attitude toward obeying God.
A Simple New Year's Resolution: Love God More
Have you thought about loving God more?
  • What can you do to improve your knowledge of God's word, and love Him more?
  • What would change, if you loved God more?
  • Is there anyone who doesn't need to love God more this year?
Whether you're thinking about making a New Year's resolution or setting a goal, think about loving God more through better knowledge of His word. You'll become a better Christian, if you do."

So, simples. Love God more by studying His word. The Bible. Read it. More. And more.

Simples.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

One word....

Last year, 2015, my one word for the year was JOY.  I needed to learn joy, to live and breathe and eat joy, to CHOOSE joy over and above all else, even when joy was not the first or second or last word in my mind.

And as I chose joy, joy came.

Joy came in many small ways, a heart attitude of gratefulness and more optimism than I should have felt.  Joy came in big things: from desperate prayers for an unmarried daughter in January through to her engagement in July and wedding in December. More joy than I dreamed of.

And joy is my word for this year, again.

But to that one word I need to add two more.  BE GENEROUS.  I need to learn and practise and live generosity in a new and extravagant way.

Because being generous is something I'm really, really bad at.

I'm poor at being generous with money as I fear being poor. (Is that not a great contradiction?)
I'm poor at being generous with my attitudes as I prefer to be judgemental.
I'm poor at being generous with myself as I am afraid of things not turning out the way I've planned.
Oh, I have a lot of 'being generous' to explore this year....

And, already, I'm being challenged to give more of myself, when I feel as if I am pouring myself out into nothingness.
I'm being challenged to be more generous with my attitudes, giving the benefit of the doubt even when I am sure it is not deserved.
I'm being challenged to be more generous financially, in spite of a more constrained and reduced income.

This will be an interesting year. OneWordCoffee Linkup
Faith Barista

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Joyy to the worldd!

Joy.

I have been pondering the word all this last week, and now The Day has come, not of course the actual day but the Day when we remember that Joy has come into the world.

Joy: a way to live:
Jesus.
Other.
You.

And I know it in my mind and I speak it with my lips but sometimes, often, I just don't feel that joy in my heart. I CHOOSE joy, but I don't necessarily feel contentment or happiness or gladness or...
"delight, great pleasure, joyfulness, jubilation, triumph, exultation,rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, ebullience,exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, transports of delight,
rapture, radiance..."

This comes only occasionally. But it comes when Joy breaks through into our poor hurting world, when prayers are answered, miracles happen and I see the touch of God.

So here I am, Christmas Day, feeling all kinds of emotions which are not just pure joy, but one thing I know and feel: I am thankful.

I am thankful to be here surrounded by my family: Cat, Jonny, my beautiful-inside-and-out daughter-in-law Adele and my solid, grounded, caring, soon-to-be-son-in-law Andy; my lovely borrowed daughter Mags, and her delightful partner Louis; and funny Faith, generous and caring.  

And I am thankful to be in beautiful New Zealand, the surf rolling gently onto the shore beneath our balcony, the sun bright and the air clear...

And I am thankful to God's great gifts, for the gift of life and love and the eternal promises of Jesus, indeed the greatest gift of all.

And in the thankfulness, a tiny seed of joy begins to bubble deep inside me....

Friday, 18 December 2015

Joy foretold

I puzzle.

Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she will have a son. How wonderful. Here is a girl, engaged to be married, wondering about the children she will have and she hears that her first born will be a BOY.
She will have done her duty by her husband with that one first birth.
And not just any boy, but someone who will grow up special and honoured. The son of the Most High and Holy God. Someone who will be king as David was. Someone who will rule over the entire house of Jacob, her betrothed’s family. Someone whose kingdom will last forever.
And she asks how? How will this happen?

And I wonder why this is not counted as doubt. When Zechariah asks how he will know, really know the angel’s words are true, he is struck dumb. And surely that is some sort of consequence, or punishment, for his apparent disbelief when he asks how an impossible thing can happen without just accepting that God can do anything whenever and however he want.

And I wonder what it means that Mary asks how it will happen? For surely she should expect to have children, she who is engaged to be married. Is this angel’s visit surely not just giving her news of what she can anticipate for her life?

But no. For the greeting of the angel is one that has been foretold, the words from God for just such a time as this.
This is the sign of Ahaz, from the Lord himself: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Isaiah 7:14
This is no ordinary conception, no ordinary baby, will be no ordinary birth... for this is what has been destined from the  beginning, when man fell into sin and there was only one way out...THIS.



Joy

Fix your eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The joy.
This joy at Christmas is not just that of the mother in her newborn.
This joy I barely understand, the joy of the Christ, coming to save his people.
The exultation of knowing that his actions redeem us all.
That celebration of delight in defeating sin’s cruel grip on us, his brothers and sisters.
Joy in family. Joy in community. Joy beyond measure.

Joy. Not just for Christmas, but for Always.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Peace

In peace
I will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:8

Peace
of the child
who is Christ the King.

Peace
as he lies down and sleeps
for His Father makes him dwell in safety.

Peace.