Hope eternal

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see Hebrews 11:1 (niv)

What do you put your hope in?   I was faced with this question this morning as I walked to collect my Granddaughter to take her to school.

If anyone had asked me this question I would have given a resounding ‘The Lord Jesus’ for there is no greater hope.  But was this true, was I living as if my life depended on Christ?

Well, the honest answer was No I’m not.

My hope is found in all those things that constantly grab for my attention.

Cakes, sweets, chocolate, wine, tv, having a better body, exercise to counteract the cakes and sweets, wanting others to like me, fitting in, standing out, reaching my goal weight, living the perfect life, having an immaculate home, having kids who constantly show respect, having a husband who considers me above all else, being the best version of me, giving the right answer, knowing stuff, in fact being completely honest I’m obsessed with ME!

Isn’t this our human dilemma? isn’t this the Christian dilemma? We know we shouldn’t obsess about self but the more we try not to the more we do.

I’ve tried giving up the stuff that so easily entangles me into sin, into selfishness.  I turn my heart to helping others, to share Jesus with others, to eat well and look after the body God has blessed me with.  But it doesn’t last long, in the darkness of life I hide away and wish I could be a better person, I could make better choices.

But this morning something changed, the reality of this verse transformed my heart and brought clarity to my mind.

My hope, the things that constantly grabbed my attention were all things in the here and now, they were things that I can see.  But Father God, in his word, is showing all of us that our true hope, our blessed hope, our eternal hope is hope in Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. 

We can not see him but our confidence in him brings a hope that brings peace to our souls, brings a purpose in our step and brings a love for others to know Christ and set their hope in Him.

I pray for all of us that our faith and trust isn’t set on the things we can see or on the things we wish we had but in the eternal hope that only Christ brings.

The foolishness of mankind

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No-one likes appearing as a fool do they?  As a child, I remember most of the pictures of fools were court jesters with their funny pointy hats and bells jingling whenever they bounced around.  I don’t know what comes to mind when you think of a person being ‘a fool’?

In our teenage years something seems to happen to the carefree child who loved showing off or just having a go at trying something new.  Or the more sensitive child with a bit of encouragement takes on bravery and courage.

It seems as we head into puberty; into taking on responsibilities; into the abyss that is adulthood, we become aware of our foolishness.  We begin to judge what is a fool because being a fool seems to be the worst crime you can commit.

With that being said we love the tv programmes that depict the stupidity of others.  You can even earn money from sharing your own stupidity and foolishness to the general public, if you are willing to bear the ridicule.

Deep down most of us like to depict ourselves as being wise, as being all together sorted without fault.  This enables us to consider ourselves better than ‘those fools’.  We grow in judgement of what is cool and what is uncool to do; or look; or be, there seems something not quite right with the fool!

However, the bible gives us a different perspective, the bible addresses the skew of our human view of life and others.

Why?

Because God alone is judge, God along defines who is wise and who is a fool.  If we’re honest we can’t even judge our own hearts because they deceive us, we become convinced that we are wise, it’s the rest of ‘them’ that are the problem.

The whole of Proverbs declares the wisdom of God, it declares to us that wisdom in of itself is found only in God.  It is God who is wise and mankind (everyone) who are foolish.

What is wisdom? To fear the LORD, in other words to trust that he knows what he is doing and believe he is who he says he is.  As we’ve thought through before, the LORD is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit working together for the benefit of their created humanity and universe.

What is foolishness? To think that you can go it alone, that you alone have the solution for your own life, and you alone have the right to judge others.

Let us journey together through the pages of Proverbs and uncover the wisdom of He who created us, He who loves us beyond measure, He who wants to share his wisdom with us.

What were you expecting?

Genesis 1:26 The God said ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’. niv

Suffering is a strange experience isn’t it? It’s something we try to avoid at all costs but at some point or other we are faced with it’s reality.

Is it the pain we are trying to avoid or is it the expectation that this shouldn’t be happening?

But where does this idea come from? Why is there this expectation that this life should be all sweetness and light without the need to struggle or the need to overcome.

Could it be written somewhere deep within our very being that we know some how, somewhere we were made for more than this?

Growing in Christ

I sit here looking out on my garden with joy as I see the glorious line of daffodils across my garden wall interspersed with pansies.  I remember planting these last year with the hope of seeing a flush of colour along a boring wall and now I have the benefit of that moment of labour.

They are flowering at a time when I’m contemplating my standing with Christ, do I represent Him well, are my constant struggles with sin limiting who I am in Him, how do I know I am doing what He has planned for me to do?

In one sense I don’t, I wasn’t the one who laboured to grow me, I wasn’t the one who planted the seed of my beginning but on the other hand I am the one who blooms to display His glory to serve Him well. 

As I consider this, I am struck by the truth that it is actually Christ who labours to grow me into His likeness, which shines a light on the truth that my job is to seek Him for my nourishment, to seek Him for watering, to send shoots deep into his word so that I know His purposes for me and to seek His rest as I work to serve Him well.

As I watch these yellow beauties flowing in the wind looking content with their lot, confident in their purpose to shine brightly bringing nectar to the bees, I have much to learn of the joys of Christ’s purposes in me and through me.

A Mother’s love

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How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 (niv).

Here we are on Mothering Sunday giving thanks to Mum’s. Grandma’s, Aunts, Godmothers, all woman who play a significant role in the lives of others.

As with my birthday, today was very different.  Today I had no expectations of how my family were to demonstrate their thankfulness for all I have done for them throughout the past year.  I had no thoughts of what gift would accurately reflect their love for me or my sacrificial love for them.

In fact, I told my children not to buy me anything not even a card because somewhere in the depths of my heart I knew that these dear children are God’s blessing to me, they are his gifts to enable me to grow more and more into the likeness of Christ.

My prayers are, rather than have a gift one day a year, that we all learn from God how to be a gift to one another throughout the year.  To notice those little moments in time that we do something for others without thought for ourselves, to ask God to bring us moments that we can surprise one another with an action of love.  That we all learn what it is to be helpful to one another, to notice when one of us needs to be lifted up or to notice when one of us needs encouragement to focus on Jesus rather than the difficult circumstances of life.

That as family we cry together ‘As for me and my house we will serve the Lord’. That in all we do we draw others to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross so that no-one needs to perish but all have the offer of eternal life with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My children have been three of the most influential people in my life, God has used them to convict me of my sin, encouraged me that change is possible, demonstrated the willingness to love the unlovable, shown me what godly self-control is, taught me how to love well and provided me with opportunities to learn to trust God as my perfect parent.

So today I want to give them thanks, as they are older for allowing me to continue to share this journey with them, to give them thanks that they bring the worst and best in me, to give them thanks for the opportunities they give me to learn how to be more like Jesus.

And above all things I want to give God thanks for blessing me with his treasured possessions and I want to be able to demonstrate to them what it is to be loved well and to be willing to love well as I learn from Jesus how to be the child God planned for me to be.

This is the day the Lord has made……

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Psalm 118: 24 …. we will rejoice and be glad in it’.

It was my birthday this week.  Normally leading up to my birthday I get a little nervous in anticipation of how others are going to celebrate the day.  How will the family surprise me?  Did they take the gift hints that were sent their way?

I love my birthday; the actual date seems a day that stands out from the rest.  This year was different for many reasons, the main being that it is a lockdown birthday, a birthday without a party, a birthday without as much fuss, amazingly a birthday without any expectations!

It turned out to be one of the best birthday’s I’ve ever had because it ended up being a birthday not about me.

This birthday I prayed that I wouldn’t have expectations of others.  With encouragement from my eldest I asked for the gift I would like rather than expect a surprise.  There were even a number of gifts that I selected myself for others to give.  This seems to be the opposite of what a birthday should be; the expectation that our birthday should be about the birthday person, that it is their special day to stand out and be spoilt.

What I was particularly surprised about was the realisation that I had never given thanks to God for my birth on my birthday.  I had often given thanks to God for the life he breathed into me, for giving me the opportunity for being here but I had never reflected on the actual day that 9 months earlier he had knit me together in my Mother’s womb, he had planned the day I would be born.

In this moment of thankfulness, I also realised that my birthday was never just about me, but it was always meant to be a family event, a time to be thankful for the family that God had placed me in, and it is through those relationships that God is refining me and making me whole.  It is through the ups and downs of relationships that cause me to turn to Him as Father to seek his best for me rather than demand or expect something from others.

And somehow through all this the gifts seemed more thoughtful; the cards seem more remarkable than usual.  

As the family were relaxing with the tv wallpaper for background a picture of tulips came on.  Our youngest daughter remarked that those were my favourite flowers, which I was surprised she knew which encouraged my heart.  I was explaining that tulips and daffodils are my favourite spring flowers. Then there was a knock at the door, it was our eldest daughter and granddaughter with a bunch of daffodils which warmed my heart, then not long after my Mum knocked on the door with two bunches of daffodils, I was so grateful for God’s abundant blessings when the door went again.  This time it was a dear friend with a bunch of tulips.

I was left in awe and wonder for God’s provision, as it is seen in these small, wonderful moments of care and love we demonstrate to one another.

May we all continue to shower God’s blessings. to share the abundant joy of being created by Him for Him as he showers us with the gift of one another.

A servant’s heart

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 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, Phil 2:5-6 (esv)

I don’t know about you but, I was overwhelmed by the bible’s description of love.  I realise that in no way do I reflect these qualities in how I love.

My love isn’t patient, at times I do expect to be loved by others; my love isn’t kind, I do demand to be loved by others; I do envy others who seem to receive love easily; I do boast, I do want recognition for the things I have done, I want to be noticed; I am proud especially those times when I feel others are ignoring me and I need to stand out from the crowd.  I gulped at the next description of love, it really isn’t something I had considered before, does my love dishonour others?  Am I trying to tear others down because they seem too big for their boots or they have an easier life than me?  Am I afraid of being left behind in the relationship stakes? 

I know I self-seek, I know I want others to notice me and like me.  I want people to tell me I’ve done a good job and feel better about myself.  And when I don’t get the recognition, I think I deserve then I do become angry and more demanding.

The next one is a tough one, keeping no record of wrongs.  My husband knows full well the damage this one causes.  I was able to recall everything he had ever done wrong against me to the time and date of the offence.  This recall ability would come to the forefront every time a new argument raised its head.

Those moments when life has got too much and all these feelings of abandonment and rejection take over and the compulsion to eat something to make me feel better takes over, in those moments I know I am delighting in evil, in the self-focused, self-indulgent moment of turning my back on God and finding relief in self, in that ‘me’ moment. And that is because in that moment I am not rejoicing in truth but believing the lies of the devil that God and others have abandoned me, that I deserve more, that other people are the problem, and I am the one that it is ok.

Any of this ring true with you?  Are you fed up with self-focus yet?  Or have you too bought into the lie that you are the only one that matters, that you need to go this alone because no-one else cares?

Philippians Chapter 2:1-3 spells out God’s solution; ‘So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves’. (esv)

Can you see?  God’s love gift to us is one another.  God is all about relationships, first with Him, then with one another. God’s solution to being loved is one another.  Humanity’s strategy to love seems to be if no-one loves me then I’m not going to love anyone.  Or I will only love those who prove they love me.  Or I will only love my immediate family, they’re all I need. Or I will only love the lovable. This strategy hasn’t really worked out too well for our communities, this strategy creates individualism and in turn puts people into relational isolation.

God’s strategy is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ love others with the love God has loved you.  There is no greater love than the love of our Heavenly Father, who sacrificed the nearness of his relationship with his own Son so that we can know the love of God, so that we can come into relationship with the God of all creation. 

If we start using God’s strategy of love, then everyone will know love.  As we turn away from self-love and turn towards loving others in the way in which we would want to be loved, then everyone will grow in love.  As we serve God and serve others in this way then we grow in love too.

What an incredible strategy; what an incredible solution to the problem of isolation and abandonment; turn away from self and move towards others in the light of Christ’s love for us.

And remember that in Christ his love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, why? Because Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.  Jesus isn’t in this for himself he loves because he is loved by God and is secure in that love and he loves us in the same way as he loves God. And he promises to continue to love us even when we are unlovable.

Our love for God is always reflected in how we love one another, if we are not loving one-another well we are not loving God.

Let us all ask Jesus to help us to love as he loves and to desire to grow in that love and be willing to move towards others in love.

A daunting prospect? Don’t worry it’s as easy as picking up the phone and saying ‘Hi, how are you’ then listen!

Love shows the way

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1 Cor 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We’ve all had a lot to face up to particularly throughout 2020.  No matter who we are, we’ve had to change in ways that were impossible for us to contemplate, ways that would end up becoming a way of life.

From face masks, regularly sanitising to keeping away from each other these are some of the ways of keeping safe from a virus that up until a few weeks ago had no cure.

Recently there has grown a sense of unease, how long will this go on, I can’t stand it a minute longer. particularly, when the Christmas Tier 4 measures came in, which ruined Christmas for many.

Why was that, why did the Christmas changes bring such a strong reaction?

For many Christmas signifies all the things we treasure most; buying and giving of gifts, food and drink to be shared with one another, family time, the anticipation of our family’s response to the gifts we painstakingly chose.

I wonder what your expectation of Christmas was.  What do you feel you missed out on this Christmas?

We’ve heard much from the Churches across the world about the true message of Christmas, the hope of a world in need and the love of a God expressed through the gift of a child.

Has this child made any difference to your Christmas?  Does God still feel distant and out of reach?

I suspect what is missing out of all our Christmases is love.  If we’re honest it isn’t just this Christmas but other Christmases in the past that left us feeling wanting.  Many of which we only remember the good bits as this helps us to pin our hopes on the next one which we promise will be better than the last one, that the next Christmas will be happier, will be filled with more laughter and more love? 

But each time the next Christmas comes we fall out with someone or someone doesn’t respond in the way we expect or the turkey wasn’t cooked right. Then our desires for the perfect Christmas are exposed, and we are left with disappointment and regret. For many they feel they always miss out on Christmas, this Christmas was as lonely as the last one and the one before that.

Whether we like it or not that baby born in a manger does hold the key to the love we are seeking, he can show us the way to what makes, not just the best Christmas but holds the key to the best future any of us could wish for.

The one thing we all have missing in our lives is true love, the love we were created to know, the love we were created with, the love we are desperately looking for, the love we can know in the here and now, the love that has provided a future so amazing we can’t believe it.

I recently came face to face with the fact that I didn’t really know what love is.  I knew it was something I wanted, I knew it was something I wasn’t always good at doing and I knew that it was something that came from God, but I wasn’t sure I knew what it was apart from that fuzzy feeling you get when you find someone or something you know you can’t live without.

In 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 Paul told the church in Corinthian a few home truths about love, he knew they didn’t know how to do it because they didn’t know what it was.  They thought it was expressed through all the things they did for God, they thought it was something that you gained for yourself, they thought it was something you did for others so God would think you were great. 

1 Corinthians 13:4 ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ (niv)

What a challenge for us all; this is what love is and it is only found in the person of the ‘baby born on Christmas morn’.

This is the love with which God loves us and he sent Jesus to bring his love to us and to teach us how to love with his love.

This is the love we need; this is the love we are missing; this is the love that eradicates the darkness and brings hope to a lost, broken, empty world, a world refusing the love of God, dead set on a trajectory of self-destruction.

Can you imagine a world that loves well, a world that loves with patience, no envy, no trying to be number one, not trying to reach the top of the ladder, a love that doesn’t reject because it wasn’t loved enough; a love that puts others first, a sacrificial love, a love that doesn’t demand, a love that doesn’t expect, a love that rejects all evil, a love that is filled with the freedom only truth brings, a love that never fails, a love that always does the right thing?

Before you make plans for your next Christmas, I pray that you seek the Saviour who came to earth to rescue you from the darkness of the evilness of sin and to show you how to love as he loves, the perfect love of God, the only source of love and goodness.

There is one thing I do know before next Christmas; I have a lot to learn; thankfully I know just the person to ask!

The how to guide of love

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John 14:6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’,

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one easy guide on how to love.  It would be easy wouldn’t it? Just follow the rules and everything will go swimmingly.  Ingrained in our self sin-focused lives is our automatic go to for resolving any problem; to follow a set of rules.

We even think that is the solution that God gives us, after all aren’t the 10 commandments a set of rules to make ourselves right before God, aren’t they the model that we are meant to follow, aren’t the 10 commandments a standard and a measure of our obedience?

The 10 commandments were never given for these purposes.

God gave the 10 commandments to bring us to an awareness that we cannot measure up to God’s standard because God is holy and we are not.  It is that simple, we can never walk into God’s presence because of his holiness and his purity.  The moment sin steps anywhere near to God it is completely consumed and destroyed.  It is God’s grace that creates that separation from man and humanity, it is his mercy not to destroy but to rescue.

It would be like standing next to the sun and not expecting to be destroyed by the intensity of the heat.

The 10 commandments declares to everyone of us that we have no right to be god of our own lives or expect others to look on us as god of theirs.  It also declares that we are weak and cannot do what God requires us to do without his intervention.  It is impossible to meet the standard of God because only God himself can meet that standard, the 10 commandments demonstrates our need of God.  As humanity we are in dire need to be dependant on God, we exist because he declared it; we breathe because he sustains us.

Amazingly in our sin God never abandoned us to our own self defeating consequences instead he came down to earth from heaven to show us the way.  He came down to us in the person of Jesus, his one and only Son, to show us the way to the Father.

The 10 commandments are a picture of a person, a perfect person, a person who could and would meet all of God’s standards, that one person is Jesus himself because he is both fully God and fully Human.  Jesus himself is the standard and meets the standard.  But he didn’t stop there, Jesus is also our teacher who comes into our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we put our faith and trust in Him.  He shows us how to do the impossible; to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and to love others as ourselves.  Jesus shows us the way.

How do we do this?  We don’t Jesus does this through us.

John 15:4-5 Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’.

We only know love because God first loved us, love begins with God, the source of true love comes from and is sustain by God himself.  The how to guide of true everlasting love is found in a person, the Saviour of the world, the Lord Jesus.

Too tough to handle

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‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ Mark 12:31 niv

The tragedy of living in a broken self-focused world is that the collision course of our lives brings hardships and terrors to the lives of others.

For those of us in the world who have been hurt by others, the hurt goes deep into the recesses of our unreachable soul, it’s as if we fence off this part of our hearts with a sign saying ‘Keep out’.

The amazing truth of God’s redemption of a fallen people is that Christ’s death and resurrection makes a way, not just for those who sin, but for those who have been sinned against.  Throughout scripture we see Christ’s compassion towards those who have been wronged, towards those whose hearts have been broken by a world on a destination to eternal death. A world who unknowingly are aligned to the father of lies, the devil who has no goodness in him at all.

Just as a heart that sins is exposed by what it serves so does a heart that has been broken, mistreated or assaulted.  We become a people who are afraid of others, we become a people who refuse to accept or see any love in other people.  We begin to believe that all people are untrustworthy.  This is a lie from the devil.  The devil’s plan is to undermine all that God is and plans to do, so that people in a broken world of sin and rejection stay in the darkness of that sin and rejection of God.

God’s ultimate plan and purpose, as we thought about in our last blog, is to draw us into a relationship not just with Him but with one another, so if the devil cannot undermine our faith in God instead he undermines our trust in others.

Once again there is a solution but as with sin in our hearts that requires confession and in turn receive forgiveness from God; His solution for an embittered heart is also a super difficult one to accept or do.

The Lord’s prayer declares ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us’.  This is the solution to a broken heart that has the keep out sign of bitterness.  Unfortunately, our understanding of forgiveness restricts our willingness to do it.

The dictionary description of forgiveness is defined as an individual, voluntary internal process of letting go of feelings and thoughts of resentment, bitterness, anger, and the need for vengeance and retribution toward someone who we believe has wronged us, including ourselves.

This isn’t the forgiveness that God offers us.  Forgiveness isn’t a letting off, it isn’t a belittling of the sin and seeing it as unimportant, in fact God’s forgiveness towards us required the death sacrifice of his own Son.

The same is true of the forgiveness offered to those who have wronged us, it isn’t a letting off, it is a demand and expectation of justice.  The trouble is we think we are the ones who are to offer the justice because we are the one who has been wronged.  The truth of the matter is; it is God who has been wronged by the one who has sinned, even if we are the subject of the sin it is an offence to God to have one of his chosen children to be harmed by another.  God declares vengeance is His Deut 32:35. It is God who will judge, who will avenge all sin, who acknowledges and provides payment for the brokenness not only in the world but in our hearts.

Forgiveness of another isn’t always a measure to restoring our relationship with the one who has wronged us but it is a desire to restore our relationship with God.  We are declaring to God we trust him to deal with our hurt justly and we have confidence that God will ensure the sin is paid for.  This action takes faith in God to enable us to go through with it. We never forgive because the other person deserves forgiveness just as God doesn’t forgive us our sin because we deserve it.  Grace is to receive undeserved favour and that is what Christ has done for us all on the cross.

And the amazing freedom that comes in the moment when we are willing to take away the ‘Keep Out’ sign and ask God to have our whole hearts, we will then begin to live a life that isn’t afraid of others; a life free from worldly cynicism; a life that doesn’t expect the worst; a life that sees the reality of others in the light that we are all sinners and we have all fallen short of God’s glory.

As our hearts are healed by a loving trustworthy Father who gives us all his goodness and withholds nothing from us, even though we deserve to be eternally separated from Him we then, begin to see the power of his word to transform our lives into the likeness of Christ.

If you are finding life too hard to handle turn your hearts over to the Lord Jesus and ask him to shine the light of his word in the darkest places of your heart through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we all need to remember we are not alone because amazingly God has provided Brothers and Sisters in Christ to be an encouragement and a help in times of trouble.

Instead of isolating ourselves from one another we are to move towards one another offering the love and eternal hope that comes from knowing Christ and being known by Him.

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