New Term

It is now the middle of September. I’ve been meaning to take up writing again since the second week of August.

Do you remember one of my first posts where I said “I put the pro in procrastinate”? Well I’ve proven that to be true! It’s been 5 months since my last post. I always meant to take a break over the summer holidays, but I think anyone who lives or knows Northern Ireland knows that our summer doesn’t last 5 months!

procrastination

I’ve had the most amazing summer that I can remember for more than a few reasons but I didn’t forget about the blog completely. As I went through some new, fresh experiences I could hear God speaking to me in some new fresh ways and I’d love to share some of these.

Let me start by giving an update on the last post I wrote.

When I reread In the Dock I was surprised at how dark and deep it was. It was written at a time when I was facing great troubles and I had no clue how God was going to sort it all out. I was feeling so out of control of my own life; and I like to be in control (in other words I am extremely bossy!)

I need to tell you, God turned my fretting into rejoicing; He turned the circumstances of my life right around; He made what could have been really detrimental to me and my family become the vehicle to lead us to one of the most enriching experiences of our lives.

To cut a very long, private story short, we ended up spending the summer in the most magical place I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. We spent 3 months in a seaside cottage overlooking the most amazing cliff side scenery that the North Coast has to offer.

During those 3 months we enjoyed the best weather I can remember in Northern Ireland for years. We spent unforgettable times with friends and family and ate endless barbeques. We made almost daily visits to the local harbour where the kids spent hours fishing, crab catching and jumping off too high rocks into too deep sea which thrilled them and horrified me!

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God didn’t just provide an answer to our problems in an officious, adequate way. What I learned this summer is that my God is my Father who loves me like I love my kids. He loves to answer our prayers in a super abundant fashion.

Ephesians 3:20 in the amplified sums it up perfectly:

“…by the action of His power that is at work within us, He is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams]”

He gave me a time away from phones and wifi. He gave me quality time with my family away from the busyness of town. Best of all, He gave me marvellous views of cliffs and vast ocean, that quite literally, took my breath away. Every day as I walked along the coastal path, right outside the back door, I heard Him gently whispering, “Come away with me” (can you hear Norah Jones playing softly in the background?)

He spoke to me just like the lovers in the Song of Solomon 2:10-11:

“My beloved spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The Winter is past; the rains are over and gone.”

It felt like a fresh wind was blowing through my soul; clearing out the old musty winter in my bones and heralding a new season of spring sparkle.

I didn’t know it but, oh, how I needed to get away with Him!

Because I love reading and I have a strong affection for words, I can easily get caught up in making my relationship with Jesus all about the Bible. I am a strong advocate of the discipline of reading the Bible every day. However, I constantly need the reminder that my relationship with Jesus needs to be bedded in a fertile ground of friendship with Him.

Beside the sea I found a new fresh rhythm that refreshed and renewed my friendship with Jesus.

It was so simple, it’s almost embarrassing! As I walked along the coast, looking out at the immeasurable sea, I became aware, once again, of just how awesome He is. I became conscious of His immense power to hold everything together and I was newly sensitive to His favour towards me and His pleasure in me. I was being filled with hope in some deep recesses of my soul that hadn’t seen action for quite a while.

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This summer I didn’t read my Bible every day, or at any set time (I’m a rebel without a cause!!) I just enjoyed looking at His epic creation, breathing in the smell of the salty sea and enjoying a previously uncommon intimacy with my friend, Jesus.

To begin with these coastal walks consisted of me telling Jesus what a good job He had done in making everything I could see. Eventually I think He got bored of that and asked me to press in a little further. I sensed Him tell me to “Pave the Pathway with Prayer”.

Just as the physical, actual pathway lay before me; taking me through varying terrain, sometimes wet and grassy, sometimes stony and sometimes wild with barely a track at all; I believe God was tenderly showing me that this special time was not going to last forever; that the terrain was sure to change and that although He wanted me to enjoy the soft, grassy track He also wanted me to get prepared for the rougher stony patches that lay ahead.

The preparation required was prayer.

I slowly realised that I had been approaching life in a back to front kind of way. I usually waited till a storm arose and then I would go to prayer. Although God has been graciously patient with me, He was now challenging me to be prepared in advance.

There are many things you can look ahead and begin to pray for in preparation. For example, my daughter is now 12, just starting year 8 at a new school and thinking she is surely the coolest thing on a pennyboard (a smaller version of a skate board). She is entering an emotional, hormonal time of change that requires adjustment on both sides of our relationship.

Why would I wait till we hit a bump in the road to begin to pray about it? Instead, this summer I began to pray for her to find her teenage years a wonderful time of discovery and for her to rise to the challenges that a new school would confront her with. I prayed for good friends, and inspiring teachers; I prayed that she would be a leader in noble pursuits and not a follower into questionable activities.

I am paving the pathway that my children will walk over the next few years, with prayer. I am so aware that we will walk through some unchartered territory but I am doing all I know to lay a foundation of prayer into their futures that I have no doubt will provide some safe, steady footing for our souls when the going gets tough.

Other things in life are impossible to prepare for-the unforeseen. But even these we can pave a pathway into. I’ve shared before my love of Hebrews 6:19:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”

I’m learning that the more time I spend with Jesus, the more hope I have for my future-go figure?! (I’m pretending I’m American as I say that. I think we should adopt this saying in Northern Ireland.) Yes, sadly, I am still learning some of the same lessons that I’ve been learning for years.

So, even as I pray into the unforeseen circumstances on the path ahead of me, I am reassured, that in my times of prayer now, I am paving a firm and secure foundation that will prevent me from being thrown completely off course when the winds of change blow, which they surely will.

To conclude I return to my opening thought: – it’s now September; the summer is almost over. I’ve returned to town life. A new school term has arrived, and with it, the busyness of routine. But I don’t mourn the end of that season; rather I draw strength from a unique, wonderful summer when I got to know Jesus again.

And just as He gently warned me, the terrain has changed already; new challenges have arisen, not completely unforeseen. Instead of burying my head to pray about them, hoping that it might pass me by or that I will just “cling on” through the storm; I feel armed for the battle that lies ahead.

What wonderful coincidence that our pastor is teaching a series called “Dancing in the Rain” in which he encourages us to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11)

dance in the rain

I love what Joyce Meyer said recently:

“If you want to run, don’t run away from things, run towards them. God’s Word says that David ran quickly toward the battle line. He did run, but he ran in the right direction.”

So I’m taking my stand, I’m not giving into the temptation to run from my battles. I’m running into the affray, armed with the strength of the Lord. I sense the wind of change is blowing in my direction. I’m not sure exactly what path I will take, but I think I’m ready for my New Term.

Do you have any experiences of “time out” with Jesus? What did that season look like in your life? Did you feel refreshed and renewed in your spirit? Did it prepare you for something new/challenging/surprising?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…it’s good to talk!

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In the Dock

I have done a great deal of writing over the last few weeks, none of which I have wanted to share, as it was highly personal. Nonetheless, as time has gone by and the emotions feel less raw, I actually think I can put some of my thoughts into words that might help others who are in the midst of troubles- in emotions; in relationships; in health issues; in finances or any other way.

I love a good court drama; my favourite TV series at the minute is The Good Wife, which follows the work and lives of a group of lawyers in Chicago. I love their eloquent court room speeches and clever, convincing arguments. The case can twist and turn, for and against them until the judge strikes the gavel makes his decision and the outcome is final.

the good wife

However, I’m not so enthusiastic when my own life feels like a courtroom drama and I am the one in the dock!

This is the vision I cannot get out of my head: I am in the dock and I am having accusation after accusation thrown at me. Trouble after trouble piling up! I have felt completely overwhelmed by the difficult things I have been confronting in my life and I can’t escape. Since when do you hear of a defendant stepping down from the dock before the end of the trial?

This train of thought was instigated by reading the book of Job, which tells the story of a godly man who lost his family and his wealth in one day and not long after, he lost the only thing he had left, his health.

Job is riddled with courtroom imagery. The opening scene is described like a heavenly courtroom.

“One day the members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the Lord, and The Accuser, Satan, came with them,” (2:1)

This is one courtroom I would love to be a spectator in! Imagine the exchange between God and Satan! Imagine God permits Satan to enter at all and then permits him to take everything from Job so that God can prove Job’s faithfulness to Him.

The courtroom imagery continues throughout the book as Job considers taking God to court to prove his innocence and to prove that he does not merit the woes he is experiencing.

 “If someone wanted to take God to court, would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times? For God is so wise and so mighty. Who has ever challenged him successfully?”(9:3-4)

Interestingly, in Job 9:33 and 16:21 Job laments,

“If only there was a mediator between us, someone who could bring us together.”

…more on this later.

After 37 long chapters of questions, arguments and false claims by friends, about God, God finally breaks his silence. He answers Job from a whirlwind. He whips into the courtroom and declares,

 “Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you.” (38:3)

God then targets Job with questions like,

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (38:4)

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear?” (38:12)

 ““Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”” (40:2)

Job’s final response is one of contrition, he finally realises that of course he cannot take on God in court and expect to win the debate!

“You asked, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?” It is I-and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.”(Job 42:3)

In the end, God restores Job’s health, wealth, a new family and influence, double what he had before.

So what has Job’s courtroom images got to do with my own courtroom drama? (Even if it is only happening in my head!)

My name is Danielle, the female form of the Hebrew name Daniel which means, “God is my Judge.”

When I thought about the meaning of my name it revealed a wonderful truth to me: I realised that God is not just A judge sitting up in a heavenly courtroom; or THE judge that we will all stand before on Judgement Day; but He is MY Judge! I need not be afraid of the verdict when I know the character of my Judge:

“Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths.” Psalms 36:6

I gain great peace and hope from knowing that my God is just in all His ways. He can be trusted.

I have realised that when I face a struggles like these, my biggest enemy is not the circumstance but my thoughts; my accuser in my court room drama is The Accuser, Satan. The Accuser throws a host of indictments in my direction, which I foolishly listen to and allow to take root in my thinking. He takes great pleasure in watching me squirm as he argues that God doesn’t love me; He hasn’t got a plan for me; He won’t rescue me from trouble and  I will be overwhelmed by the waves of trouble.

However, unlike Job, I have a mediator; Jesus is defending my case, He is my Advocate.

 “…we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.” (1John 2:1)

I can completely trust my representation in the heavenly courtroom.

I love what Romans 8 has to say about Jesus.

Verse one opens with, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Then verses 33-34 strongly declares,

“Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His own?… Who then will condemn us? No one- for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us”

Then in the last 4 verses I read a most wonderful promise,

“Can anything separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity? …And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It may have taken a few weeks to sink in, but I am now convinced that I am loved by God and that these circumstances are not His displeasure with me. They are simply the troubles of this world. I am now convinced that I cannot be condemned because I belong to Christ and He is my defense lawyer. He presents the evidence of the cross, the nails and the empty tomb to prove my innocence. I cannot be condemned because He already took the punishment.

The most important moment, in the court room scene in my mind, is the moment when The Judge strikes the gavel. As the gavel comes down I don’t have to be afraid of the judgement.

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Psalms 9:3-4 declares the best news I have heard in a long time,

“For you have judged in my favour; from your throne you have judged with fairness.”

God proclaims that He is my Judge and He judges in my favour!

If you too are experiencing your own private courtroom drama in which you are in the dock and you feel overwhelmed by the troubles, please take heart.

Satan is our Accuser but Jesus is our Defender and God is our Judge.  We may have to go through the stresses of the trial process but we can be convinced and assured that when that gavel goes down, God is our Judge and He will judge in our favour!

Vulnerable

My friend has recently introduced me to an author called Brene Brown. I owe my friend big time.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

I feel so challenged by some of the things Brene says about vulnerability and courage.

brene brown vulnerability

I get that, to some, this will sound like self help mumbo jumbo. Not so long ago I probably would have agreed. But something in this resonates so loudly with me in this season of my life. For the first time I feel prompted, not just by a self help motto, but by what I believe is the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, to let people in. It’s time to tell my story with my whole heart.

brene brown courage heart

When I started this blog I made an almost businesslike decision that the blog would be a study and would contain little personal information as I didn’t think that my life was very exciting or that anyone would be particularly interested in reading about me.

The more I write, the more I find that it is almost impossible to write impersonally about the Bible because it is the profound effect that it has on the deepest, innermost parts of my life that drive me to write. That is why there is a longer space of time between posts, because each consecutive post becomes less an exercise of study and more a work in my heart by the great heart surgeon, Jesus.

In this post I am coming to terms with the notion that my strength does not lie in my stoic ability to hide the truth of my experience or emotions. However, it takes courage to make myself vulnerable and although it may not be comfortable, I am slowly learning it is not a sign of weakness.

The past few weeks I have come up against a challenge in my life which I thought I was coping with quite well. Although the circumstances are serious I felt quite positive about the outcome, trusting that Jesus has my life in His hands. However in the last few days I have felt less confident. I am afraid that I may be swept off my feet by the waves crashing around me. This is out of my hands and I feel powerless to change it.

The irony of my previous posts, declaring freedom from fear and a solemn commitment to follow Jesus no matter what, is not lost on me. But isn’t this tension between what I believe and the reality that I am facing really the story of all of those who choose to follow Jesus? Sometimes we question; sometimes we feel weak; sometimes we are straining to see any trace of Jesus in our circumstances.

This is part of the story of who I am: Sometimes I am not strong; sometimes I am not sure.

In and through this time I have been reading the book of Esther, which is one of my favourites. This time I have been reading Esther from a different perspective. I have had the idea of vulnerability at the forefront of my mind.

Esther was a young girl whose parents died and left her in the care of her cousin, Mordecai. She was from a Jewish family living as an exile in Persia under a King and government who held Jews in low esteem. Esther was rounded up with many other young women and taken to the King’s harem to be prepared for King Xerxes who was looking for a new queen to replace the insolent Queen Vashti.

Esther was in a very vulnerable situation. She was a young girl with no say over her life and future; powerless to change the situation she was in. She had every earthly reason to question where the God of the Jews was in the middle of her storm.

Esther’s story and character intrigue me.

To begin with Esther is not an obvious candidate as a strong national leader. No one really expects a quiet, passive young girl who obeys her kinsman to be a saviour. This opinion is affirmed when we read about her response to the call to the king’s bedroom. Instead of putting up a courageous fight and refusing to surrender, she appears passive and defeatist.

“When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested.”(2:15)

It is only in the face of a great national crisis that Esther, (who became queen because she impressed the king so much) began to show some initiative and strength.

Mordecai, her cousin asks her to present herself before the king to beg for mercy for her people. The Jews were all to be mercilessly killed by the evil Haman, who had easily manipulated the weak king to sign a decree.

Not only was it risky to go before the king, “anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold sceptre” (4:11) , but Esther had still not told anyone about her nationality and background. What Mordecai was asking Esther to do was to make herself completely vulnerable, with the risk of death.

I love Esther’s brave resolve in 4:15 “If I must die, I must die.” Where did the reserved, compliant young girl go to?

In chapter 7 Esther makes her request known to the king. She does so in a respectful, eloquent way. She gives no appearance of nerves or fear, although I’m sure she was shaking inside.

I love the picture of Esther reclining on a sofa in 7:3 , the epitome of quiet confidence, whilst Haman begs for her mercy as he correctly perceives that  his evil plan to destroy the Jews is about to backfire.

Esther goes on, not just to rescue the Jews, but to completely reverse their fortunes so much so that, “many of the people of the land became Jews themselves, for they feared what the Jews might do to them.” (8:17)

Chapter 9 tells the end of the story of Esther. Now we see Queen Esther as a fearless leader with great influence and “full authority” (9:29) to promote peace for Jews everywhere, in a way that would be remembered and celebrated for generations to come.

“So the command of Esther confirmed the practices of Purim, and it was written down in the records.” (9:32)

No one can argue with the words of Mordecai in Esther 4:14

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

Esther always could have chosen not to make herself vulnerable. Perhaps she could have survived the cull of the Jews if she kept her head down and kept quiet. But what an awesome thrill of being used to bring freedom and hope to others, that she otherwise would have missed.

Not for one second do I think that exposing some of my personal story will lead to a role as memorable as Queen Esther! But I sense that vulnerability is good for me. It feels scary to reveal a bit more truth, but it also feels like courage. Just like Brene Brown suggests, I am starting by showing up and letting myself be seen.

brene brown courage

I love to read of the progression and transformation of character in Esther. I think the catalyst for change was the moment when she decided that she would show up, be vulnerable and speak the truth. This was not her moment of weakness but her defining moment of strength.

I am not advocating that we all rush into yielding sensitive information about our private lives to anyone and everyone, but perhaps it is time to become more truthful about who we really are and what we are not. Perhaps it is time to let loose and be vulnerable. This could be our greatest moment of strength. Who can imagine what walls of division it may break down or what it might build. (I promise this is my last Brene Brown quotation!)

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Brene Brown.

So the truth of my story, this week, is that I am dispirited, I am frightened and I feel a bit overwhelmed by my circumstances, but I’m choosing bravery and courage instead of hiding and crying. I’ll keep choosing them until I feel it!

I’ll leave you with the verse that I am leaning on this week, written by King David, who wrote with the wildest vulnerability about all his circumstances and emotions in the book of the Psalms.

Psalms 42:11

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again-my Saviour and my God!”

I Have Decided

In the last blog I reminded us all of some of the foundational things that Christians believe. It was good for me to be reminded that “He Really Did”. Jesus really did love us so much that He gave himself for us so that we might receive the ultimate gift that this world will ever know, eternal life.

In the light of this simple, yet life altering truth I want to share my thoughts on living an uncompromising life that reflects the infinite importance of Jesus; a life filled with resolve and purpose.

I think almost everyone knows the old hymn “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus…No Turning Back”.

I love how Hillsong have reworked it and made it the bridge of their song “Christ Is Enough” on the Glorious Ruins album. You have to listen to it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fZ-tBR7LJ0

When I listen to this song it fills me with such great hope, zeal and passion to live a life worthy of being called a Christian

Thank God for such rousing songs with lyrics that inspires such depth of feeling. However, we also cannot deny that life is about so much more than singing a song and feeling a devotion to God that is “buoyed up” by great music.

When reality comes knocking at the door we don’t often feel the kind of emotions that we experience listening to enthusiastic worship music or reading a stimulating book. The euphoric response of “yes, yes, yes, I can do that!” quickly becomes “no, no, no, why me?” I know that’s definitely true for me.

I’m reading a book at the moment by one of my all time heroines, Beth Moore. Beth is an American Bible teacher with an international ministry called Living Proof Ministries. She has written some fantastic books and studies, but I love listening to her best of all. She brings the Bible to life in a very mature, knowledgeable way, and yet, with her southern drawl and funny stories she is really entertaining.

Her book, “To Live is Christ” tells the life story of Saul/Paul with some interesting lessons along the way. She describes Paul’s friendship with Barnabus, whose name means “Son of Encouragement”. In Acts 11 Barnabus lives up to his name when he visits the believers at Antioch (where they were first called Christians).

Acts11:21 says “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” and, for the first time, many of these were Gentiles, and not just Jews.

When this news reached Jerusalem the church leaders sent Barnabus to find out what was going on. When he arrived in Antioch he “saw the evidence of the grace of God” (verse 23). This obviously was good news and Barnabus then “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts”.

I love how Beth Moore explains the importance of this exhortation. She says “He encouraged them to plan in advance to remain faithful to the Lord”. She continues to explain how she taught this principle to her children.

“I’ve tried to make them understand that the point of temptation or the pinnacle of pain is not the ideal time to decide whether to stick with Christ. The most effective time to resolve to obey Christ is in advance of difficulty. Planning to stay faithful can greatly enhance victory”

Beth then explains

“Barnabus had seen the cost of believing in Christ first hand. He was teaching these new believers the kind of resolve that would hold up even against threat of death.”

I feel motivated by the words of Barnabus and the explanation by Beth Moore, and I in turn want to motivate you. Let’s not wait till we are faced with the harsh realities of life like sickness, financial strain, worry, fear, self doubt and more, before we try to make a decision about what we really believe, why we believe it and how we are therefore going to act and speak. Those times of heightened emotions and mixed up feelings are not the ideal time for us to make such an important decision.

Let’s decide now, in the plain light of day, that we believe in Jesus and his gift of eternal life. Let’s establish in our minds that Jesus is the only thing in this world that can satisfy all of the deepest desires in our hearts. Let’s settle in our hearts that we are, above all else, citizens of heaven and we will have a heavenly perspective which is in the light of eternity and not just our earthly experience. Let’s say with a deep conviction that we have decided to follow Jesus and there will be no turning back.

 I have decided image

Like King David’s Psalms 17:5 let’s say with confidence,

“My steps have stayed on your path; I have not wavered from following you.”

To finish I want to look briefly at Matthew chapter 10. In it, Jesus speaks to the 12 apostles that He is sending out to do miracles in the authority of His name.

Jesus doesn’t paint a rosy picture of what it will be like. He says in verse 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.”

The truth is that the invitation to authentically follow Jesus is an invitation to live a life with trials and opposition. If our Christian lives are cosy, safe and without trouble don’t you think we need to question that?  In Matthew 10:38 Jesus says,

“If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.”

I have decided in the deep recesses of my heart that I will follow Jesus no matter what I face. I am well aware that that will involve risk, opposition and trouble along the way. But I have confidence in the One I have believed in and the One who has won eternity for me.

John 16:33

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

He Really Did!

This week I’ve had a few thoughts roaming around my mind. At first I thought they were too simplistic to share, but now I think there is beauty in the simplicity and I should share.

My simple thoughts go something like this:

  • He really did live
  • He really is the Son of God
  • He really did die
  • He really did go into the grave
  • He really did rise after 3 days
  • He really did it for you and me

I have been a follower of Jesus since the age of 4. I have grown up in church and think I have a reasonable grasp on the content of the Bible. I love nothing better than unravelling meaning from portions of scripture into something that makes Jesus come to life to me in a whole new way. There are treasures of wisdom just waiting to be unfurled.

I love these words by the influential author, Spurgeon

spurgeon

We can never outgrow Scripture. There will always be a new fresh revelation to uncover.

So if there are great depths to be mined then why are these simple truths wowing me all over again?

Sometimes, I think Jesus just likes to take us back to the start.

In Western Christian culture, especially in Northern Ireland, we grow up hearing Jesus stories like children’s fairytales. For some Jesus is only the cute baby in the school nativity play. We can become desensitised to the reality that everything the Bible says about Jesus is really true.

Grant a moment for the following ideas to sink into your thoughts and then to drop down into your heart.

Jesus came from Heaven to earth to live among men, as a man and yet still God. On this earth, Jesus was a man who lived and spoke with great love and wisdom that caused people to leave everything to follow Him (because He was God); yet He died an undeserved death which caused Him great anguish and pain (because He was a man). Jesus really did go down into the grave like every man who had died before Him. But after 3 days He did what He promised He would and He rose again!

Jesus didn’t do it so that He would look good, He didn’t do it begrudgingly. He did it because He loves us He did it to give us things that we could never give ourselves.  Forgiveness, freedom and life to mention just a few!

Can we really grasp the significance of these simple truths?

I am convinced beyond doubt that Jesus really did this and He did it for me.

 He really did!

It is not just a nice religious story or a children’s fairytale.

C S Lewis challenges me when he writes

cs lewis infintie importance

Christianity can never be moderately important because Jesus Christ and what He did are not moderately important. What He did is of infinite importance. Literally!

My final thought is this: If I truly have a deep conviction that this is all real and of utmost importance, then what is that going to look like in my every day, ordinary life?

I keep coming back to the same word: uncompromising.

In Proverbs chapter 10 the author, contrasts the life, the actions, the words and the priorities of the godly to the ungodly. Depending on the translation you will find “the godly” translated as the wise or the righteous. In the Amplified Translation you will find the translation “the uncompromisingly righteous” where righteousness is described as “moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation” or as those who are “in right standing with God”.

I am convinced beyond doubt that Jesus has made me righteous (in right standing with God) because of what he did at the cross.  I resolve to live a life that reflects that belief. I choose to purposefully follow Jesus with “moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation”.

Thank God, that even in this He will help us. Our determination alone cannot endure through the challenges of life. But with God’s help we can live a godly life without compromise.

In closing, let me ask you. What do you believe about these foundational biblical truths? Where do you stand with God? If, like me, you believe it with all your heart, then what does it look like in your everyday life? Are you living like these truths are of infinite importance? Do you act with godly resolve? Do you speak with purpose? Are you living uncompromisingly?

Do you believe that He really did?

Christianity can never be “moderately important” so I don’t believe that we can ever be moderate Christians. If we believe that He really did all that the Bible says and if we believe that He really is all that He says He is, that should influence everything that we are, say and do.

For me, I know that it’s time for my life to look more and sound more like I am convinced that Jesus really did and He still really does!

More on “Uncompromising Christianity” in the next blog.

Throw Open the Doors!

Last time I discussed some thoughts about

1Chronicles 14:2

“And David realised that the LORD had confirmed him as king over Israel and had greatly blessed his kingdom for the sake of the people Israel.” NLT

And I asked the question that Martin Luther King so simply said,

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

So if it really is life’s most persistent question then I want to continue asking myself that very question.

What is it that I have been given? What have I received? And what do I carry that I can give to others and that I can use to help others?

So I looked in my Greek Dictionary of Bible Words at the word receive, and what I found has fascinated me and held my attention for the past few weeks.

Lambano is the Greek transliteration of the verb to receive.  It can also mean to obtain; to procure; to lay a hold of; to seize; to grasp with the hand; not to refuse or reject.

This is a broad range of meaning for one word. Simply, it can be used to describe passively receive a gift that is given. Or it can be used to describe actively taking a hold of something with your hands.

 

RECEIVED

Reading Acts 19:1-7 has really helped me to understand the concept of receiving much better.

In Acts 19 Paul is travelling on his 3rd missionary journey.  He arrives at the city of Ephesus where he comes across about 12 men who were believers in Jesus. The first thing he asks them is,

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” NLT

What a confusing question to ask, when Paul himself teaches in Ephesians 1:13 that when we believe in Jesus, God gives us the Holy Spirit as a mark of identity in Him!

The theologian, John Gill, explains the text in his exposition of Acts 19:2 when Paul asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” like this,

“Meaning, not the special regenerating and sanctifying grace of the Holy Ghost, for that is supposed in their being disciples and believers, but the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost,

Simply put, the Christians at Ephesus had, like every other believer, already received the gift of the Holy Spirit when they believed in Jesus.  The person of the Holy Spirit had, after all, existed since the beginning of time, He wasn’t’ a new idea.  However there was more for them to receive from the Holy Spirit.

Whatever your belief about the Holy Spirit, baptism in the spirit, speaking in tongues and prophesy (and I know it can be a contentious issue!) this text clearly shows a difference between receiving and RECEIVING the Holy Spirit.

The former is a free gift that we receive. The action of the verb is all on the part of the giver. God is the giver of the Holy Spirit when we believe in Jesus.  He does all the giving, we are the passive recipients.

However the latter suggests more action required by the one receiving the gift. In the case of Acts 19, The Holy Spirit had already been given yet there were many more gifts to be found in Him that the believers needed to lay a hold of so that they could be effective in all the work that Jesus had planned for them, that is

MARK16 15

I believe with all my heart that God is good, that He gives us good things so that we can share them with our world, but I recognise that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are going to require me to run after Him and take a hold of Him in a way that I have never done before.

Consider Romans 5:1-5 in the Message Translation

“…We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us…we’re never left feeling short-changed. Quite the contrary-we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”

I never want to suggest that there is something we have to do to be worthy of more from God. That would not be a true representation of our gracious God who gives Jesus as a free gift to all. However in Romans 5 I see a clear picture of a Jesus follower awakening to the idea that the more we open our doors to God the more He wants to generously give to us; His door is already wide open waiting for us to RECEIVE through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s review some of the spiritual gifts that are available to believers through the Holy Spirit as listed in 1Corinthians 12:7-10

The ability to give wise advice; special knowledge and understanding; great faith to believe God for answers to prayer and the power to perform miracles are just some of the gifts listed. These are just the start!

On the blog of Frank Viola you can find a list of 50 things the Holy Spirit does, which you might find useful.

http://frankviola.org/2010/11/18/50-things-the-holy-spirit-does/

I just know that I don’t want to get to heaven where I imagine God will ask me why I only opened the door just enough to let Jesus squeeze in, when I could have thrown the door open wide to RECEIVE all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that He so generously wanted to give me. How lame would that look and feel??? What a waste of a life!

I want to conclude by looking again at 1 Corinthians 12. In preface to the list of spiritual gifts, verse 7 says this,

“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”

This is it!

As followers of Jesus we want the people in our world to see Jesus and love Him like we do. We want them to experience His love and approval. We want them to be amazed by His wisdom and power and ultimately we want them to be convinced that He is completely worthy of trust as their Saviour.

How can this be if we haven’t taken hold of all of His spiritual gifts? If we don’t carry all His fullness and show all His power how will people know that He makes a difference in our lives?

It is not pride or arrogance to claim to carry and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is our privilege and duty to throw open the doors and actively lay a hold of and welcome the many gifts the Spirit offers, to make us more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).Ultimately it is our responsibility and commission to use them to help each other.

My heart’s desire is that we become like the believers in Romans 5; struggling to find enough containers to hold and RECEIVE all the Spirit’s love, hope, approval, wisdom, comfort, ability ….the list goes on…and to share it for the good of the others in our world.

Blessed to be a Blessing

Today’s post is an observation of something I have been reading and a few questions about how it applies to us.

I’m reading the book of Chronicles at the moment.  I am appreciating more about the story of King David than I have before. It is resonating with what I am hearing so much of around me lately, which can be summed up in words from the Matthew Henry commentary,

“We are blessed to be a blessing.”

The background story is that as a young boy, David was anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel whilst King Saul was still on the throne. Saul had disobeyed God, so God rejected him and his family in favour of David. However, it was many years before Saul died and David was made King. David’s path to the throne was a difficult one in which David faced many physical hardships, the painful loss of a dear friend and many moral and spiritual challenges in which David proved himself faithful and obedient to the LORD.

By the time David became king he had great support from the people of Israel, as they could see that he was the true king. He also managed to make allies of neighbouring nations who so often before had been the enemies of Israel.

Although David was a man of war, and his reign was characterised by war with his enemies, he was a man characterised by the blessing of the LORD.

The dictionary explanation of the word blessed is someone or something “divinely or supremely favoured, fortunate, happy or contented.”

David not only experienced victory over his enemies, favour with his allies and honour in his kingdom but he also had the blessing of fertility and a large family. In Old Testament culture this was a sure sign of the blessing of the LORD.

David’s greatest passion in life was shown through the things that he gave his time and energy to. During his time on the throne of Israel David dedicated his time to moving the ark of God to Jerusalem, the Holy City; and making preparation for the building of the temple of God, which would house the ark, which his son, Solomon, would later build.

In Acts 13:22 God describes David,

 ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.

I believe it is this passion for God and God’s house in David’s heart that ultimately led to his blessed life and his fame as the greatest king of Israel.

David’s life may seem a million miles away from our lives today as regular people but there’s one verse that reveals much about David and his life that I think is so relevant to God followers today.

1Chronicles 14:2

“And David realised that the LORD had confirmed him as king over Israel and had greatly blessed his kingdom for the sake of the people Israel.”

  1. David “realised”, he knew or he “perceived” that God had “confirmed him” or “established him”.

David really grasped that God was with him and that God was for Him and because of that his identity and purpose were secured on a firm foundation.

How deep is our conviction that God loves us and is for us? As Christians, the Bible tells us in Ephesians 1:13 that

“When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.”

We belong to Him, we have identity in Him and we carry the seal of His commitment to us, the Holy Spirit. What more confirmation do we need? How more established can we be? When we live lives of profound resolve that God loves us and is for us, we are setting ourselves up for blessing.

2.  God “greatly blessed his kingdom”; “highly exalted him”; “made [him] famous” and gave him a “rising reputation”.

The effect of God’s blessing on David was vast and wide ranging.

John the Baptist says in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Some suggest that this means Jesus followers must become small, quiet, and insignificant and without reputation or fame and that somehow by minimising ourselves that God will be glorified. I suggest that John was talking about a reliance on the Holy Spirit rather than our own strength, but was never suggesting that our role in society should be a quiet or insignificant one. He himself was loud (and obnoxious in the eyes of some). He was notorious in the region for his strange dress code and eating habits and was well known by the social and religious leaders of the day.

My point is this: Both David and John the Baptist didn’t shy away from fame or exaltation for fear of appearing proud. Rather they acknowledged that God had given them a voice, a sphere of influence and an opportunity to shape their community and society.

What circles do we move in? Where could we begin to exercise God given influence? Is it time for us to step out of the small, quiet place we have been hiding and use our voice for good?

3.    David realised that all the blessing on him and his kingdom was for the “sake of the people of Israel.”, “For the benefit of his people, Israel”

God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians1:3) and “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3)

We cannot use the excuse that we are not a David, not a king, not important or significant. God has given us every blessing and power to live a God life whoever we are and in whatever sphere we find ourselves.

For those of us truly convinced that God loves us, He is for us and how much he has given us to live a blessed life; we should never be satisfied with just sitting enjoying our blessings. Our convictions should compel us to look outside of ourselves.

It was Martin Luther King Day yesterday so it seems apt to use one of his quotes as illustration,

MLK QUOTE

King David was assured of his identity and blessing from God and He had a heart after the heart of God. David recognised that all that he was and all that he had been given, was for the sake of and the benefit of others.

When are we going to climb out of our little blessing boxes and start to spill out everything that we have to others?

This is God’s heart: God loves people.  Like David we should cultivate a heart that is after God’s own heart.

I don’t have some neat conclusion for this post that gives a suggestion or a solution. I sense God stirring up the waters inside of me, muddying the water. God doesn’t always settle the water so that we I can see clearly. Sometimes God  irritates me with questions that I can’t shake off, but that ultimately prompt me to take action.

I hope your waters are muddy today too!