Posted by: Jo | October 13, 2017

They Are A Law To Themselves

“They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour.”

(Habakkuk 1: 7)

Why01This week, the study my husband and I do together every morning, featured the book of Habakkuk and in the first chapter, the prophet is complaining to God at the state of the world as he sees it. As we read the first chapter I felt I was echoing Habakkuk’s words. He was horrified at what he was witnessing, at what was happening around him and I could relate to every word he said.  I too had cried out to God when I first heard of the senseless shooting of innocent people at a fun music concert and then the constant stream of persecuted refugees fleeing their own countries in flimsy boats was heart breaking to watch on the news. This is what Habakkuk cried out to God;

“Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.” (Habakkuk 1:2)

Habakkuk felt free to complain to God and God answers him and in his answer, I found an inkling of what the real problem was then and still exists in our own century. Why02The answer comes in these words;

“They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour.” (Habakkuk 1: 7)

As I have noted before in my blogs, I often come across a phrase used in our everyday speech that comes from Scripture and can remember my parents talking about some arrogant person who didn’t think he needed to obey any laws and consequently did what ever he chose to do and they would shake their heads and mutter, “he acts like he is a law to himself”.  God explains to Habakkuk that the evil perpetuated in his time and of course in our present time is done by those who have abandoned God’s law and allowed their own evil selves to be the ones they honour, honouring God and his righteousness, totally ignored.

The giving of the law by the Heavenly Father was always intended to be a gift to God’s people, not a burden of commands to burden them down, but a liberating pattern for all God’s family to live by, a protection from being caught up in evil practices, a guideline for living at peace with one another. The prophet, Isaiah, learnt what happened when we live by God’s righteous laws;

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)

Why03At the end of the book Habakkuk is changed. He has learnt to trust that God is in control and will eventually work out all things for his glory and the closing verse is a good one for us all. Like Habakkuk we need to remember the Mighty God we serve and as we trust him he will give us the strength to follow him and to live by faith in him, despite what is raging around us.

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3: 19)

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Posted by: Jo | October 8, 2017

Awake! My Soul!

 “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.”

(Psalm 57: 8)

MySoul01One morning this week, I awoke early, before the sun had risen and that beautiful, pre-dawn stillness filled the air. I decided to go out for a little while and sit on our balcony and as I sat down, my eyes were drawn to the sky and I was amazed to see stars twinkling everywhere I looked. Vancouver, where I live, does not often treat us to such a spectacle as this. Rain, cloud, mist, heavy fog in winter is more likely to feature in the view we have from our apartment! As I gazed at God’s incredible handiwork, I felt a deep stirring within me and felt I started to understand what David was writing in Psalm 57 about that inner part of ourselves that responds to the Father’s love, our souls.

The soul is that inmost part of our being and Scripture always differentiates it from what else makes up our earthly bodies. When Moses is talking to the Israelites he says this about how we are to love God;

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6: 5)

MySoul02Jesus repeats this to his disciples again urging them to love the Lord God with the deepest most inner part of their bodies.;

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22: 37)

When David cries out for his soul to awake, he wants to feel deep love flowing between the Father and his inmost being. This deep connection to the Father’s love is available to all of us, but sometimes we have hidden that most personal part of our being deep within us and lead a superficial relationship with the Lord, wary of the intimacy that opening that door of our soul might bring.

David certainly had no fear of intimacy with God and is humble enough to admit that in his darkest hours he becomes like a child who clings to a parent when he or she is afraid;

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; and your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63: 7 – 8)

Our Ladies Bible Study at our church is studying Prayer this Fall and using Phillip Yancy’s book*, “Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?” as our MySoul03guideline. Prayer is certainly the most effective way to open our souls to God and this book shows not only for our own benefit, but to take the deep love and compassion we receive as we open our souls to him, to all those around us.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul, all my inmost being, praise his Holy Name.” (Psalm 103:1)

 

Posted by: Jo | September 29, 2017

Avoiding Stumbling Spiritually

“Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”

(Psalm 119: 165)

stumble01Stumbling physically, has beset some of our Home Group lately, me included. I was foolish enough to go walking with inappropriate footwear and stood on a stone, stumbled, and turned so quickly I broke a bone in my foot. Another lady stumbled down the back stairs of her apartment building and ended up breaking her ankle. Stumbling obviously needs to be avoided. Scripture has many verses about stumbling and I suppose looking back to the uneven paths in ancient days and the flimsy sandals they wore, it would be a perfect illustration that everybody would understand when it was used to describe falling off the path chosen by God.

I am always fascinated when I find a common phrase used today, and find it originated in Scripture, “stumbling block” is one such phrase. We often hear it used e.g. his arrogance is a stumbling block for him to ever succeed/ her love of spending is a stumbling block to her ever saving enough to buy a house etc. There are lots of warnings about what can make one stumble and Jesus himself warns us all about who can cause the most dangerous stumbling block of all which might draw us away from God’s will.stumble02

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.” (Matthew 16: 23)

Paul also warns us not to ever put any stumbling blocks in the way of other believers. This can so easily happen, even within our own churches, by judging others, not making newcomers welcome so they give up on coming to church, by setting man made rules about how church services are run and condemning those who don’t abide by them.

“Therefore, let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14: 13)

Fortunately, for us who choose to follow in our Saviours footsteps, he goes before us smoothing out the bumps which may make us stumble. Jesus tells us he is the light of the world and we all know how foolish it is to try to walk safely if we are in a dark place without a flashlight, so choosing to walk in the Lord’s light is a very wise decision, rather than to try to walk in the dark by ourselves

“It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” (John 11: 10)

stumble03One of my favourite verses is David’s confident appraisal of his life as he knows he is walking with God in the light of life.

“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” (Psalm 56: 13)

 

 

Posted by: Jo | September 25, 2017

Called By Name

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voices.”

(John 10: 3 – 4)

ByName01There is something about hearing your own name, even in a crowded room with lots of conversations taking place, if you hear someone mention your name, it triggers a reaction in your brain and you find yourself immediately looking in the direction from which you heard it. Our family is at present being entertained by our little, fourteen, month old, granddaughter, who is trying hard to speak and loves to point to one of us and attempt to say our names. Of course, we all jump in to help her as the satisfaction of even hearing a somewhat garbled version brings us great delight and she is rewarded with lots of smiles in return.

Our personal name distinguishes us from others. It gives us identity. Many years ago, there was a sitcom called, “Cheers” which was a name of a popular pub and the series was always begun with the theme song about why it was so popular and one of the reasons was contained in this lyric, “Where everyone knows my name.”

We all long to be recognised!

Jesus calls himself that Good Shepherd who knows all his sheep by name;

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14)

When we allow Jesus to be our shepherd and accept his offer to guide us and lead us through our everyday life, we will never feel that we are not known, we will never feel again that we are just a part of the nameless crowd.

ByName02When the Lord calls us by name, it is not the fact of just our names he knows, he knows absolutely everything about us.  Out in the world, there are very few people we let know, perhaps none, of our personal thoughts, our fears, our insecurity, even our hopes and desires. David writes a beautiful Psalm (Psalm 139), about this topic in which he revels in the fact that the Heavenly Father knows all there is to know about him and he can relax, knowing the Lord loves him just as he is, he doesn’t need to pretend to be anybody else.

“O, Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar.” (Psalm 139:  1 – 2)

ByName03Our thoughts are the most private part of our personalities and we only divulge them to those we totally trust, the Prophets also knew that to know that the Lord knew every thought they had was liberating, not something that they had to conceal.

“Yet you know me, O Lord; you see me and test my thoughts about you.” (Jeremiah 12: 3)

We can have the same confidence about our relationship with the Lord, knowing he accepts us just as we are when he calls us his own

 

 

Posted by: Jo | September 17, 2017

Letters Written on Our Hearts

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”

(2 Corinthians 3: 3)

HeartWritten01Letter writing unfortunately, in my mind, is fast becoming a thing of the past and I was reminded of this in a very nostalgic way a few weeks ago by a parcel that arrived in the mail from my sister in Australia. She had sold her house and was moving so she had spent many hours clearing out closets. During one such sorting through old papers, she came across a letter I had written to her nearly 50 years ago and decided to send it back to me. My husband and I and our three little girls had moved to an island in the Central Pacific for my husband to become the Dentist for the islanders and the Australian and English workers who filled many roles for the Australian Government and my letter was describing in great, detail that incredible adventure.  As I read my own words, written so many years ago, my heart gave a little leap as memories came flooding back.

HeartWritten02Paul communicated to those early believers through his letters and used this beautiful illustration to describe how when we take the Lord into our hearts all believers can become a letter from Christ to the world.

Before we can fill that role, we need to have the Lord’s words firmly placed in our hearts so others will be able to notice them. The Psalmists were very aware of this;

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119: 11)

Again, the Psalmist prays for the Lord to give him discernment in reading Scripture so he faithfully can represent him;

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in you law.” (Psalm 119: 18)

When we try to live God’s word we will become those living letters of Christ to the world that Paul so aptly describes.

Because of today’s technology, hand written letters have almost disappeared having been superseded by e-mail, texting, twittering etc. The sad thing about these sterile printed words is they are unable to portray the character of the person sending them. HeartWritten03Handwriting always carries with it the flavor of the writer. I have kept some of my father’s letters and when I see that spidery writing his image immediately pops into my mind. Paul even impresses this on his readers when he writes to them;

“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.” (2 Thessalonians 3: 17)

If we want to be those living letters for Christ we need to be genuine. We certainly remain ourselves but, the all, important words written on our hearts will leave behind the flavor of Christ.

 

 

Posted by: Jo | September 8, 2017

Expanding Our Capacity To Love

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

(1 Thessalonians 3: 12)

WellDone02Just recently my husband and I were watching an amazing performance on the TV of a young husband and wife playing two pianos at the same time in perfect unison. They seemed to be playing effortlessly and what is more astounding, the audience, could forward requests though an usher, of songs they would like to hear. Their gift of being able to play spontaneously these requests was further evidence of their skill.  I would have loved to be able to play the piano and envied their gift, but when I thought of how this performance, could only have been perfected by hours of practice, I admired them more for not just the gift, but for the effort they must have put into perfecting the gift.

I then began to think about the gifts God gives to each one of his children and how they can remain dormant unless we put a lot of effort into perfecting them, one such gift is the gift of love.  God has gifted us with a great outpouring of his love, this comes with no cost to us, but as Paul reminds us it needs effort on our part to make it a gift back to him;

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Timothy 1: 6)

How to make God’s incredible gift, a gift back to him?

Gift01Paul had a beautiful prayer for the followers in Thessalonica and a great example for them to follow when he prayed for the Lord to increase their love to overflowing. We can do exactly that; pray for the Lord to help us to love others. I was reading an interesting article about this theme and one lady remarked that as she grew closer to the Lord she noticed, “I believe the new thing God is doing in my life is expanding my capacity and opportunities to love.”

Loving those who are lovable and love us, is easy, but loving somebody is sometimes difficult, but when we ask the Lord to expand his gift to us, he willingly does, and as this lady found out he also provides opportunities to practice the gift.

When we think back to those young piano players, we realise that a lot of hard work had preceded their amazing performance, and they must have had to work together to perfect their skill we need to spend a lot of time with the Lord to perfect our love for others.

If we look up the word, love, in a concordance, we find pages of verses containing what is really the basis of Scripture. If we note the number of times Jesus impressed the importance on his disciples of, loving, we can also see how important it was for him to leave this message firmly in the hearts of those who were to carry it to the world for him.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15: 12)

 

Posted by: Jo | September 1, 2017

Showing Compassion

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

(Colossians 3: 12)

Compassion01These last few weeks, my husband and I have spent many hours in hospital waiting rooms, as we were both having tests that were punctuated by sometimes long intervals in between, which meant just sitting and watching the ever-changing crowd of patients doing the same thing. While I was observing those around us. I was struck by the outpouring of compassion I noticed over and over again between patients and those who were accompanying them. One particular, very, old couple, really touched me. The compassion flowing from the old husband to the old sick wife was beautiful to watch as he stroked her hand and constantly rearranged the rug over her knees to ensure she was warm. His compassion for her was a true testimony of his love.

I also noticed compassion in a different form between nurses and their patients. They may have not known who their patients were, but compassion for another’s suffering was again very evident.

When Paul is writing to the Colossians, he urges them to clothe themselves with compassion. When we clothe ourselves with garments our garments cover us. Paul is urging us as well to cover ourselves with compassion so we can have plenty to share with others. The Psalmists describe our Heavenly Father as being full of compassion;

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” (Psalm 116: 5)

Jesus himself repeatedly displayed this beautiful characteristic. Compassion02

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9: 36)

So, what does it mean for us to display compassion?

If we truly wish to follow Jesus this is an important attribute to cultivate. Compassion means being more aware of others around us and not to be concerned totally with our own welfare. Put others before ourselves. Try to see others’ struggles, rather than judge their faults. It is so easy to blame others for what we see is their own foolish actions and somehow assume we wouldn’t have made those same mistakes. When we realise how our Heavenly Father repeatedly forgives us for our foolish mistakes, it helps us have sympathy for those who need our compassion rather than a long list of dos and don’ts, we think might fix the problem

Compassion03I think Paul sums this problem in a very direct way and a wonderful message for all of us to follow;

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  (2 Corinthians 1: 3 – 4)

Posted by: Jo | August 25, 2017

Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

(Psalm 46: 10)

BeStill03Last week I had to present myself at our local hospital for a series of tests for my heart. I was not looking forward to them at all as two of them involved entering a dome of moving cameras and the last instructions from the radiologist were, “You must lie completely still and not move at all for the 13 minutes it takes for the test to be finished.”  Usually if I am told to be still the first thing that happens is that I have an urgent need to wipe some imaginary thing off my face. I was dreading the test. On the morning of the test, my husband opened the Bible study we read together every morning, and this was the title;

Be Still

The study was on Psalm 46 and as my husband read out the beautiful words I felt the Lord was talking directly to me. I felt he knew my fears and was reminding me of who I could lean on that day.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46: 1)

As I lay with the machine moving around me, I kept repeating that verse and I could lie still when I acknowledged I did truly know the God who is in complete control of the whole universe. BeStill04

“Therefore, we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46: 2 – 3)

Apart from being still for a medical test, being still is good advice for all of us who can get caught up in the busy stress filled life that seems to be the norm for many. We forget that we need to spend some time of every day being still before the Lord, so we can hear his voice. If we are frantically on the move every day our souls, that inner part of us, will not be able to be soothed, restored and strengthened.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62 1 – 2)

Frequently, when Jesus was on earth, he would slip away from the crowds to be alone with the Father as he knew how important it was to rest awhile and be still. He now offers us that beautiful respite in these words; BeStill05

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)

I am praying that I will remember the wonderful example of listening to the Lord and being able to be still during a stressful day that I experienced this week.

Posted by: Jo | August 18, 2017

Well Done!

“His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.”

(Matthew 25: 21)

WellDone01One mother was sharing about a camp her young son had been enrolled in during the summer and how impressed she was with the way the camp instructors dealt with rewards for the many physical activities the children competed in. Her son was not specifically an athlete, but loved the camp as everyone was recognised for what ever enthusiasm they displayed while participating in all the games. He came home on the last day, very proudly bringing an award. When his mother opened the envelope, a beautiful certificate was inside;

Participation Award

Our sermon last week was on the parable Jesus told about the talents in which the master who is going on a journey, entrusts three of his servants, each with a certain amount of money and entrusted his property to them Each had a different amount, one received five talents, one two talents and the last servant one talent. At first when we read the first two servants are praised for doubling the master’s money, but the third punished for just hiding his to keep it safe, we feel this seems to be unjust until we look at the deeper meaning Jesus wanted to convey.

WellDone03.pngAlthough the amount of talents was different for each servant, there was no difference in the reward for the first two who had diligently used the money to benefit the master. The third servant had not put in any effort, merely hiding his money in the ground, not benefitting anybody.

This story made me think of the little boy’s award of wholeheartedly participating in every race, even though he may not be in first place. The first two servants received the participants reward just like the little boy.

Our spiritual walk with the Lord is similar. Our master entrusts us with his wealth and all that is his. We can be active participants using whatever gifts that the lord has bestowed on us or we can bury our gifts and lose that beautiful acknowledgement

Well done good and faithful servant.

The writer of Hebrews describes life as a race and urges us to run it with enthusiasm.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12: 1)

WellDone02Perseverance seems to be the key word for us to note. It is with confidence, not a stop and start walk with the Lord, we make a commitment to participate to the best of our ability, not measuring our efforts with those around us but focusing our eyes on Jesus. As Paul writes:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4: 7)

Let us eagerly pursue that great Participants Award!

 

 

Posted by: Jo | August 11, 2017

Courage Or Timidity

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self discipline.”

(2 Timothy 1: 7)

Courage01Some friends and I were discussing what we were like as children and what different personalities our children had developed from us. I certainly was not a timid child, but I was also not the wild spokesperson for the class. None of my daughters are timid, but two of them are much more likely to tackle problems head on!

Later another one of my friends gave me a very interesting quote about this subject which made we think more deeply as to what timidity represents

“Every timidity eventually turns into regret” – Four Seasons in Rome, Anthony Doerr

The more I thought about this quote the more it not only applied to life, but also our spiritual walk. When Paul was writing to Timothy, a young protégé of his, he wanted to encourage him in his faith and sends this beautiful verse to him, ensuring him that timidity will not hamper him because he has the mighty power of God behind him

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love and self discipline.” (2 Timothy 1: 7)

I think we often underestimate what influence we can have in the kingdom of God. Then that small persistent, voice of timidity begins to intercede, agreeing with us, Courage02undermining our confidence in attempting to try at all;

  • You couldn’t help
  • you haven’t any training in that problem
  • you will never be able to accomplish that
  • you are sure to fail
  • who would listen to you
  • I wouldn’t try that if I were you

There is no sign of timidity when Joshua is given the task to lead the people across the Jordan he is bolstered by a wonderful word from God, ensuring him despite all the obstacles, he will be able to accomplish this because God is filling him with courage.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1: 9)

The secret to having courage is to have the Lord with us. His strength will always outweigh our feeble efforts, but we need to acknowledge his guidance by staying in close with him and obeying his commands.

The lord presents us with many opportunities, many open doors to experience a true fellowship with him, many avenues to use the gifts he has given us. If we allow timidity to stand in the way, regret will become the result. I think the saddest sentence one can utter is – “If only I had tried!

Courage03Sometimes we bravely begin a venture and things seem to be overcoming us, this is when we need to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is always ready to bolster our flagging spirits and listen for that powerful voice as it thunders over what is swirling around us,

“But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”” (Matthew 14: 27)

 

 

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