Hearts First

The love of God is our security, it is a rock beneath our feet. It is a source of joy.

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At the beginning of the year it is tempting to set goals, make plans and dive into the busyness of the new term (not that those are bad things). We tend to hit the ground running after the post-Christmas break as regular meetings start up again and new projects begin. This year as I was praying about our church’s two weeks of prayer which we hold every January I heard God speak two words to me, “Hearts first”.

Before we do anything God wants us to check our hearts. What kind of shape are they in? Are they filled up with the love of God?heartbeat-1892826_640

It is a reminder that first and foremost God, our Father, wants a relationship with us and what we do flows out of that. He created us in the first place for relationship as an expression of the outflow of love between the Trinity . He has always desired to have a people, to adopt us individually as sons and daughters into his family. We are now in Christ and enjoy the same love that the Father has for Jesus because we are “in Him”. It’s amazing! It’s overwhelming! It’s incredible!

In the story of the Prodigal Son the two sons both had a problem with understanding that their father loved them. The younger son felt guilty and unworthy of his father’s love and so he returned home to work as a servant or slave on his father’s estate. blue-1845901_640The older son thought that he earned the father’s love through working hard. Both could not be farther from the truth. The father was looking everyday for the return of the younger son because he loved him even though he had sinned. He was also alongside the older son everyday and all that He had was available to him because he was a dearly loved son.

Even if we’ve worked through these issues before it’s so easy to fall again into guilt and unworthiness, or performance. The new year is a great time for a personal inventory to ask ourselves do we really know that God loves us? or do we still know that God loves us? You see we will never give Him our hearts if we don’t understand this. We love because He first loved us.(1 John 4:19)

The love of God is our security, it is a rock beneath our feet. It is a source of joy in our lives. It motivates us to love and serve others.

Before we launch off into the activity of a new year we need to be saturated with the love of God, to be captivated by him. It’s then that there is an overflow of love to others whether it’s in serving our churches, in evangelism, at work or wherever God has placed us. So before your life gets taken up with “doing” spend some time with your Father, receive His love for you and pour out your love to Him.

He wants our hearts in good condition – filled up with His love.

YOU ARE LOVED!

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Photo Credits
All images: pixabay

 

 

 

What If ……….?

At this time of year I like to review my prayer list, to see what answers to prayer there have been and those prayers that have not yet been answered.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

At this time of year I like to review my prayer list, to see what answers to prayer there have been and those prayers that have not yet been answered. I like to think about my Impossible List and to think about anything else I should add to it now that another year has passed.

Sometimes I don’t like the name Impossible List because, well, it just seems impossible and sounds impossible. I have just been reading a book where the chapter heading was What If? I was immediately captivated by the idea of a What If List? We all have dreams and ideas about what we would like God to do in us or what we would like to do for God, or what we would like God to do in our friends, workplace, city, nation, etc.

How about spending some time thinking and imagining what it would look like if God answered some of those items on your impossible list? For example I have been praying for members of my wider family to know Jesus for themselves and to move from being opposed to God and the gospel to loving God and enjoying the outworking of the gospel in their lives. If I ask myself What If they were saved? I can imagine them knowing the love of God in their lives, I can imagine them worshipping alongside me and praying with me. street-sign-141396_1280All of those things are absolutely impossible at the moment but I find if I use the What If method it lifts me out of praying the usual short prayer of” Lord please save them” to telling God all of my imaginings and asking God to make them reality. It makes praying for long-term requests exciting . If I have gone off the boil a bit in praying for particular things it re-energises my prayers.

During the Christmas season we had many events at our church which were absolutely packed with visitors. I have found myself imagining what it would be like if all those people who were crammed in waiting for concerts and carol services to begin and then rushing for seats were actually pressing in and rushing in to meet with God. What would that meeting look like?

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How would it affect our communities if hundreds were newly saved? How would it affect our city? I find myself thrilled with the prospect of this and I pour it out to God, telling him all about it and asking Him to bring it about.

Asking myself What If has really helped to lift my praying to another level. It has taken me from sometimes dull repetition of the same prayers to prayer times that are full of life.

In case you are wondering if this is Biblical, have a look at what Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians

“Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine—to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen!” (Eph. 3:20)

I like the Message version too:

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

God can do FAR more than we can imagine! 

What can you imagine? Start talking to God about it! He can do more than we can imagine.

Jesus said “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt.19:26)

What If ……………?

 

Photo Credits
Imagine  & Possible pixabay
Worshippers Unsplash

 

 

 

Absolutely Super(lative)!

Thinking about the perfection of God.

Following on from my blog on Biblical Meditation (here) I have been thinking about the phrase Great is the Lord (Ps. 48:1). There is so much in that word “Great” that I haven’t got beyond that.

In the English language great can simply mean above average but as we know that God is perfect in all He is and does, He is not simply above average but the Greatest. This is not in the sense that Mohammed Ali thought he was the greatest – he was only great at boxing. God is the greatest in everything He does and everything He is.

Apologies for the grammar lesson  but what we have  here is a superlative – “the form of an adjective or adverb that expresses that the thing or person being described has more of the particular quality than anything or anyone else of the same type.” (Cambridge dictionary)

file_000-19This means that whatever way I choose to refer to or describe God, He is simply the best example of it. The writers of the Psalms understood this when they referred to God as Lord of Lords, and King of Kings they are using superlatives. We can’t say king-est or lord-est so we say king of kings and lord of Lords. There is no better, more powerful, more resourceful, more wise, more knowledgeable etc, king or lord.

Just to remind myself that God is the best helps me to see God as he truly is, to give wider perspective to my view of Him. Let’s just look at a few of the names and attributes of God and see how this widens our view of God.

  1. Father. God is not just a Father, He is the Father. He is the best Father there ever was and ever will be. This means that there can never be anything lacking in his care for me as his child. It means that He truly will never let me down because it is against his  perfect nature to do so. In the spiritual sense I can never have a deprived childhood because I am a son or daughter of the best and perfect Father. He always knows best for me and is always good towards me. He never turns his face away, never leaves me.
  2. Friend of sinners. Again not just any old friend but the best friend. There can be no better friend. Even if I think I have no friends, I have the best friend in Jesus who always has my back, will always be there for me, always praying for me. I can be confident when I introduce people to Jesus that he really is the best friend they will ever have too. As I have meditated on this I have thought about how I can relate to God friend-to-friend. How I can share all of me with him and enjoy his company (presence) more. I can easily get locked into relating to God in the same way e.g as a child to a father but there is always more to experience of my relationship with him in all its different facets. How can I know Him more as my friend?
  3. Warrior (Jer. 20:11) The Lord is the greatest warrior. No one can conquer Him because He is all-powerful. He is invincible. He has destroyed the works of the enemy and taken captivity captive. He has defeated the last enemy – death. We have this warrior championing our cause. He is our shield and protector. There is no enemy that He cannot defeat.

In my last blog I said words were labels  for things and concepts but they can’t describe them fully. We use  words because we must but God can’t be contained by them.So often the words we use to describe God are limited and we struggle to put into words all that He is but I think it is worth having a go.

Jonathan Edwards the American preacher said this “There is an infinite fulness of all possible good in God, a fulness of every perfection, of all excellency and beauty, and of infinite happiness.”* He understood that God is the superlative of all superlatives.file_000-18

I encourage you to write a list of the names, attributes, and qualities of God and to think about what each of them means as a superlative. Then think about what that means for you. As you think about this I am sure that your understanding of God will increase and you will be inspired to worship Him more. Let me know how you get on.

 

All images created with wordswag
*Jonathan Edwards, Concerning the End for which God created the word. Dissertation published in 1765″ available on Kindle here

 

 

What’s in the box?

Learning to meditate on God’s word

As someone who majored in ancient languages at University I know that words are important. We use words everyday without consciously thinking about them. They are something we use to make communication easier. Words are actually labels for things or concepts. It may be helpful to imagine a box with a label on it. The label does not tell us everything that is inside the box but it does give us the basic idea.12360416_10153151277605800_711565324340775819_n For example it may say “DECORATIONS” but it won’t tell us that in the box there are baubles, tinsel, fairy lights and the first Christmas Star my son made when he started school.

Likewise if I say the word TABLE you will have a general idea about what I am talking about but you won’t know if it is large or small, has three legs or four, is a dining table or a coffee table. Do you get the idea?

Why are you telling me this, you may ask? It’s because we all use words to talk about God. We read words in the Bible about God and we use theological words such as salvation, righteous, atonement etc. Words can be in such common usage that we feel we know what they mean but aren’t actually able to articulate that meaning. Over-familiarity with them can actually hide meaning from us and we can miss out on the richness of truth and how it applies to us.

We can unearth those riches by meditating on the word of God. This is not something many value in the 21st Century but it has been part of Christian worship and tradition over millennia. Today we like the sound bite, the daily bible verse text, the thought for today – anything that is easy and accessible. I would like to suggest to you that meditation is as easy as just thinking about the words in a bit more depth.

So where do I start? Take any verse or passage of the Bible preferably one that is part of your regular reading and ask God to speak to you. Read it through slowly.  Look up the dictionary definition of any word that you can’t define yourself or any familiar word that you are drawn to. Ask yourself  what does it mean? What does it mean to you? Write out your own version of the verse in your own words. Spend a few moments thinking about the meaning of the individual words and and of the verse as a whole. Use your imagination to visualise the meaning, for example if you are thinking about the LOVE of God you could imagine yourself with Him and what it would be like to be with the one who loves you the best. hands-1373363_1280What is God saying to you?Note down any particular thoughts or feelings you have about the verse in a journal/notebook. Ask yourself what is the application? Note down any other verses you can remember that are relevant.Read it again drawing on all the new insights you have gained.

This whole process can take just a few minutes but it is so much more enriching than skimming over verses in an effort to get through a particular chunk of scripture. When we read the Bible we are looking for meaning and for God to speak to us not just going through the motions of “reading the Bible”.

Here is an example of my meditation on the phrase “ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2a)

  1. (Read it yourself slowly)
  2. What do the words mean? Conformed – to behave according to the usual standards of behaviour that are expected by a group or society (here – the world). Transformed – to change completely the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved . Renewal – Make new, to increase the life of or replace something old.
  3. What does it mean? Don’t meet the expectations of the world by behaving as they do even though that’s what is expected. No be completely different. How? By replacing the old way of thinking and replacing it with the new (the truth).
  4. Visualise (I’ve cheated a bit here because I know the Greek word! ) The Greek verb used for transform here  is μεταμορφομαι  (metamorphomai) – it’s where we get our word metamorphosis from. Imagine a caterpillar, how it just lives to eat and eat. caterpillar-562104_1280Then it spins a cocoon and after a while it emerges – TRANSFORMED into a butterfly. How did it do that. By feeding itself. I imagine myself feeding on the word of God and being transformed into someone no longer squeezed into the world’s mold but living free by the grace of God. Free to be the person God made me to be. Free from the constraints of peer pressure and worldly values.
  5. Notes/Application a)I so often wish I could change but don’t know how to. This verse teaches me that I can be transformed by reading and feeding on God’s word so that my thinking is renewed. As my thinking is changed so change in behaviour follows. God has provided his word to me as a means of growth and change. b)It is a command – be transformed. This is something I can do for myself.
  6. Other verses Ps 119:15-16, Matt.4:4, Col. 3:16, Heb 4:12

(There is more application in the second part of this verse – you may like to think about it yourself.)

As you learn to meditate on each verse you will find that you will more easily memorise scripture, you will build up your own commentary in your journal which we will be a source of encouragement to you as you reread it and you will know  God, your Father, more. You will be studying the Bible and it may lead you to more in depth study. You might even venture into a commentary to see what others have said!

Why not have a go and post what you learn in the comments?

 

Not a words person? Are you more visual? Then you might like Bible Journaling using art – my friends have an excellent blog here.

Photo Credits

Star: This is my own photo – please do not use without permission

Other images:  pixabay

 

 

Unspoken Questions

In difficult times the thoughts of most people, Christian or not, turn to God in some way. Why is this happening to me? Why does God allow suffering?

In difficult times the thoughts of most people, Christian or not, turn to God in some way. Why is this happening to me? Why does God allow suffering?

As Christians  we can feel that it is wrong to question God and those questions remain unasked festering away in the recesses of our minds. The problem is that the questions don’t just go away, they keep playing like a tape in our heads and work against us receiving the help we need from God.  We need to ask Him. These are some of the questions the Psalmist Asaph addresses to God:

“Will the Lord spurn for ever,
    and never again be favourable?
Has his steadfast love for ever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Ps. 77:7-9)

Questions lying beneath the surface might be “Don’t you know what’s going on” Do you see me? Do you hear me? If you’re in control why don’t you do something? Why is this happening to me? Why are you doing this to me? All these questions are fundamentally asking “Is God trustworthy?” and “Can I trust Him with my life?” If we can’t resolve this we will never truly trust God nor will we be able to experience His love for us because that requires opening ourselves up to God and we won’t do that if we don’t trust Him.

why-1432955_1280Lying underneath the “Why? question is the notion that we don’t deserve this. We expect our  lives to be plain sailing and  question God when they are not. “What have I done to deserve this? If we haven’t done anything “wrong” then we can make the deduction that God must be fickle or a hard task master who must be appeased. If we distort who God is – that He is an evil tyrant then in turn we distort who we are. Instead of beloved children we behave as slaves working away through our performance to earn God’s approval or love as a means of dealing with our pain.

Sometimes, because we are suffering, we believe lies about ourselves . There is a faulty logic which says that if bad things happen to me I must deserve it and therefore I am in some way unlovable or undeserving of God’s love. This is where wrong thinking can compound our suffering so we are dealing not only with the source of pain but also with the lies we believe about ourselves. This can also lead to unhelpful behaviour where we try to deaden our pain with comfort-eating, drink, drugs, performance or denial etc

Suffering can produce a ripple effect in our lives. There is the initial pain but there can be ripples that go on and on throughout our lives. Some of those ripples are the consequences of what happened to us, maybe a relationship ended or we lost our job, some of the ripples are where we have compounded our own suffering with believing lies and adopting sinful behaviour which in turn produce more ripples of pain/suffering.

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Often we don’t want to face our pain with God because it is so painful for us. Painful to talk about and/or painful to face up to where we have compounded it with our own behaviour. If we can’t go to God we are shutting ourselves off from the very one who can help us.

So how do we answer those questions? We need to take them to God. We need to remember what we already know about God and to remind ourselves that our circumstances do not change the nature of God. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. We need to listen to Him and to those around us as they encourage us with truth.

God IS with us in our suffering. He sees us, He hears us and He understands. How do we know this? Because Jesus came to earth and identified with us. He suffered AND took all our sin and shame on Him. He suffered mockery, rejection, betrayal, physical abuse, and isolation. He has suffered more than we ever will.

Jesus gives us an example of how to cope in times of suffering. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying and  knowing that he was about to be betrayed, beaten and crucified he cried out to God, “Abba!” The name a child calls their father, Daddy. It speaks of intimacy and trust. He was able to pray “not my will but thine be done” because he trusted in the goodness of His father.

Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit to us by whom we can now cry “Abba!” because we have been adopted into His family as His children. Even if we cannot find the words, the Holy Spirit is interceding for us.

If life is difficult right now, or if you are in pain as a result of suffering in the past. There is hope for you. Hope for healing and hope for change.

When I went through a difficult season in my life what sustained me and helped me through was knowing that God is always good towards me. He will always be good to me, He will always be good to you because He cannot change. Our circumstances change, sometimes they are good, sometimes they are not, but God does not change and He is always for you.

How about you? Do you really know that God is good?.

 

Other relevant blogs:

The Goodness Bag,

The Valley of the Shadow of Death,

When the going gets tough

Photo credits: all images are from pixabay

 

 

 

Everyday Fears

I can’t control what may happen to me and those I love by giving in to fear and anxiety

Everyday I take a tablet, everyday when I take it I am reminded that I had breast cancer a year or so ago (you can read about it here). As I take the tablet all sorts of nasty thoughts come to mind. “Am I really free from cancer?” “Is this tablet really working”or  “Oh no I forgot my tablet, am I going to get cancer again” “Will I get all those side-effects”

In addition to this there are the times when kind-intentioned  people ask me “Are you alright ” with a meaningful look as they don’t want to mention the C-word. However I do know what they are talking about and my brain does a loop, “Am I alright now””Don’t I look alright””Maybe they are seeing something I’m not?”

You don’t have to have had cancer to be assaulted with all sorts of fears throughout the day. As a Mum I find I can be fearful about my kids even though they are now adults.  For example, they may be travelling in a car driven by a new or young driver and I wait to hear that they have arrived safely etc.photo-1467219598992-52591d77fdec

I have learned that I just can’t afford to listen to all these thoughts. If I did my life would be controlled by them. Instead I have decided  to trust in the perfect love of God. I can’t control what may happen to me and those I love by giving in to fear and anxiety but what I know is that God is always good and He will never leave me alone to cope with difficult situations.

I like the way The Message puts 1 Jn. 4:18:

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.

The idea that we can take up residence in love rather than fear is helpful. You see I have a choice to make – am I going to listen to those niggling fears and make my home there or am I going to make love my home. I know which I prefer but it is not always so easy.

file_000-17Often we are taken unawares by a fearful thought, then we feed it by allowing it room, going over and over it in our mind, adding to it a number of what ifs (what if the cancer comes back? etc) and before we know it we are overcome with fear and anxiety.

Some of us try to numb our fears by turning to food, alcohol or drugs. Some of us try to suppress or control our fears by adopting certain behaviours – being busy all the time, working hard, perfectionism. There can be a kind of unspoken bargaining going on. If I do x, y or z, God won’t punish me with the thing I’m afraid of.

NO! NO! NO! None of these remedies will ever deal with our fears.Take a look at that verse again:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 Jn. 4:18

The remedy for fear is to know God’s love. At its heart the Bible is a love story. It is the story of God’s love for us, not just as a people but as individuals. We can each know the love of God for us in a tangible way, we can experience it. It is not just a part of the theology of who God is or an abstract concept.

God’s love provides a rock beneath my feet, I am secure in His love. This love means that I do not have to give room to fear. Jesus has already paid the penalty for my punishment so I don’t have to fear that either. Paul asks the rhetorical question:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) and goes on to answer himself:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 ….. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

So everyday when I take my anti-cancer tablet I remind myself that none of the things that I worry about can separate me from God’s love. If I make that love my home I have NOTHING to fear and I can live my  life free from anxiety.

How about you?

 

Related Blog: The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Photo Credits:
Fear photo: pixabay
Racing Car: Unsplash
Make Love Your Home created using wordswag

 

 

 

 

 

A work in progress

I am not yet what I one day will become

Are you like me? Do you get impatient with yourself? rage-1015611_1920Wishing that you could change aspects of your character, frustrated with recurring failings. I am not someone who is always down on myself but there are things about me which I wish I could change and just don’t seem able to. Even after years of being a Christian I find myself still battling with the some of same stuff that I did when I was first saved.

I was in a meeting this week when someone read aloud the following C. S. Lewis quote. It was one of those moments when a truth hits you between the eyes.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship”*

You see we are not yet what we one day will become.  I think that is worth saying again. We are not yet what we one day will become.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as He is.” (I John 3:2).

This is what C S Lewis was getting at . One day we will be like Jesus! The theological term for it is glorification. We are being glorified! That sounds strange doesn’t it? Surely it’s God who is glorified.. Well yes but the Bible is very clear that we too will be glorified.

What does that even mean? We were created in the image of God. In fact  we are “partakers (sharers)  in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). That image of God in us has been spoiled by sin but our glorification means that it  will be fully restored. That is why we will be like Him.

Isn’t this all a bit like pie in the sky stuff? No! This bit of theology gives me hope for today when I feel I am failing. God is at work in me. I won’t always be as I am now. I will change.

star-1553671_1280We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[a] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.[b] For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

There’s that word again – transformed, we are being metamorphosed from something  dull and uninteresting (in CS Lewis words) to something Godlike. That is quite something to get my head around! It is a transcendent truth.

It also gives me hope for  tomorrow – one day I will not only be like Him but I will also see Him! I find I can get so caught up in the minutiae of my life that I forget to think about Heaven. I forget that this life is like the blink of an eye, it is transient, but Heaven is eternal.work-in-progress-24027_1280“Be patient with me, God’s not finished with me yet” is such a clichéd expression but maybe we should address it to ourselves. When we want to take back the words we didn’t mean, when we give other drivers “the look”, when we are over-sensitive to what others say or do, when we do that same old thing again. It is not ok to sin but we can cut ourselves some slack knowing that we can’t transform ourselves.It is God who does that and when he does, it is not by tiny unnoticeable increments. No He takes us as we are and is making  us like Him. How amazing is that?

* CS Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

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I am not yet …  created using wordswag
Other photos pixabay