Posted by: Jo | February 5, 2016

The Bitter And The Sweet

“He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.”

(Psalm 27:8)

image Our Home Group is studying the book of Exodus at the moment and we are now travelling through the wilderness with the children of Israel whom God has so dramatically rescued from slavery in Egypt. We have discovered, much to our surprise, that by delving into the story we have become to see our own lives reflected in the struggles of these desert wanderers and over and over some particular incident will strike a chord with all of us. One such story is found in Chapter 15 in which the Israelites are suffering extreme thirst and finally reach water only to find it is bitter and their reaction is understandable, forgetting all the wonderful provision God has provided, they grumble and complain. God graciously hears Moses’ prayer and the water becomes drinkable.

“When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:23 – 24

One of the questions posed by our group made us all think.

Why not just provide good water right from the start?

This question started a lively discussion about life itself and many of us could share similar times in our own lives when circumstances were very bitter and even made us wonder why we were struggling with them and even to begin to doubt that God cared about what was happening.

As we continued to read the story we suddenly grasped what a wonderful learning experience for both the Israelites and us was contained in this story as God reminds his children to, “listen carefully to his voice and do what is right in his eyes.” and we witness God changing a bitter experience into something really remarkable. He reminds them that “he is the Lord who heals them,” and then from a tiny water hole, the Lord leads them to an oasis, a place of beauty and richness, a sweet ending.

“Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” (Exodus 15:27)

image As our Home Group began to absorb the deeper meaning of this chapter, our sharing also changed. We began to look at the “bitter” times in a different light. We began to see how many times what we thought was bitter, was really a wonderful time where we had to cling closely to the Lord to get through it and by doing so, entered a much deeper, sweeter relationship with him. We realised that unless we had experienced those times we would not be appreciative of the blessings at the end.

Solomon makes a wise statement in Proverbs (Proverbs 27:7) about the man who will never taste life to the fullest when all he desires is to be saturated with the sweet things of life and never hunger for those experiences which can mould and change him.

So many of the old hymns recognised that those rocky times appear in all our lives and I love this hymn that reminds us just where to go when they do.

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

In a believer’s ear.

It soothes his sorrow, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.

Posted by: Jo | January 29, 2016

Seeing Through Fresh Eyes

But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge- do not give me over to death.”

(Psalm 141:8)

image This last week end, our family had an exciting time welcoming an Australian family who were visiting Canada for the first time. They had obviously put a lot of effort into planning a holiday that included all the “must see” areas of our beautiful Vancouver and surroundings and wasted no time in exploring all they wanted to see, nothing was going to stop them not even a little jet lag. When we caught up with them their eyes were shining with excitement and immediately shared all the amazing things they had done in one day, not even letting a little rain deter them from walking in the trees, crossing a suspension bridge over a deep gorge, but best of all seeing snow for the first time and what was more having it snow while they were on the mountain.

While we were listening to our visitors, their enthusiasm was contagious and as they described the day, even though the sites were very familiar to us, they took on a new freshness and seemed to come alive, we began to enjoy them as if we too were seeing them for the first time, we were seeing them through fresh eyes.

Scripture has a lot to say about our eyes and the importance of us never allowing them to become glazed over with anything that may stop us seeing the freshness of the Gospel. Often when we begin to first walk with the Lord, just like our visitors, everything is so exciting, our thoughts are centred on him, we long to spend more time absorbing scripture, we value every lesson we learn, worship becomes a beautiful time of sharing our love with him, but sometimes distractions creep into our lives, we begin to focus on earthly problems, on activities that rob us of time with the Lord, that is when we need to listen to the writer of Hebrews;

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

The psalmists also saw the need to never lose sight of the Lord knowing that snares to a loving relationship were always ready to trap them into losing sight of the great Deliverer;

“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” (Psalm 25:15)

image Any earthly relationship can lose its freshness and sadly we see this so often in marriages where one partner ceases to focus on loving the other. Our relationship with the Heavenly Father is far different, he never loses sight of us, his love is always totally focused on us and never changes, so the door is always open for us to renew and refresh our love at any given moment. Humbly acknowledging we need refreshing will bring forth showers of blessings.

Perhaps the most important part of us that needs constant refreshing is our hearts and one of my favourite hymns expresses this so beautifully.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

I want to see You.

I want to see You.

Posted by: Jo | January 22, 2016

Feeding Others

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

(Mark 6:37)

image A few years ago, here in Vancouver, during the Christmas holiday season, we experienced an unexpected, severe snowstorm which blanketed highways and roads with heavy snow and in turn, made travelling on them impossible, with motorists scrambling to find Motels or anywhere to escape the storm. Many of our friends and some of our family had very scary stories to share, but the one story that made the newspapers, after life had returned to normal, stayed in my mind. A tour bus returning to the city on a country road became stuck in the snow near a local farm. The farmer saw from his house the dilemma for the people on the bus and fired up his farm tractor and by taking small numbers at a time was able to transport all of the passengers and their driver safely to the house. Probably the bus held about 25 people so being a housewife myself, I thought I know the first question racing through the mind of that poor wife as she witnessed her husband rescuing all the bus load;

How am I going to feed so many people!

This same question was part of the amazing story of Feeding the Five Thousand, when the disciples look at the huge number of people who had been following Jesus all day and realise how late it is, and the remoteness of where they are, they too begin to wonder what to do about a hungry mob of people. Their first solution is a very human response and they say to Jesus;

“Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:36)

Jesus replies with a startling, but seemingly impossible suggestion;

“You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)

image Again a human response was; that would take about 8 months of wages.

As we read this story it is still all too familiar in our present day. We can see need in many areas around us, but it is so easy to say move the poor/ the needy/ the mentally challenged/the refugees out of our sight, so the problem no longer involves us. The disciples next thought is still often considered a solution, it will cost too much money to make any difference, we cannot afford to do anything.

The powerful message in this story brings light to many everyday problems. Jesus first tells the disciples to start actively looking for a solution. The same applies to us. Take the first step. Trust the Lord when he asks us to step out in faith for him.

Even though the disciples came up with such a small amount of food, their efforts were blessed by Jesus to multiply into an amazing feast for five thousand. A little becomes much when God’s hand is upon it.

Hunger takes on many different forms and is not always defined by needing food. Many in our present day society are hungry for friendship, the old/ the shut in/ the foreigner learning to live in a new country/the newcomer to the church/ the single mother/the teenager trying to fit in.

Hunger imagecan also be a great need to know the Lord Jesus Christ. We who know and love him can fill that need by sharing our faith.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)

When the lady who fed the bus load for 2 days was interviewed and asked how she did it she replied, “Fortunately my house was well stocked with food

If we wish to fill the hungry around us, we ourselves have to be well stocked as well. We need to go back to our source constantly.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Posted by: Jo | January 15, 2016

Holding On Tightly To Hope

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

(Hebrews 10:23)

image Our little grandson loves to watch on T.V., a sweet cartoon programme about a group of small dogs who each have a special gift of different sorts, yet each dog uses his or her gift to help others who may be in trouble. Those in any sort of peril, radio in to the small boy who organises the little band and he reassures the fearful ones that help is at hand and quickly marshals his trusty group of willing helpers to overcome any problem however big it might be, and his message which reassures the ones in danger is to hold on tightly because help is on the way.

The writer of the book of Hebrews was basically sending forth the same message to the small, early churches, who were beset by all sorts of opposition, doubts, persecution, threats and also needed to be reminded to hold on, not to be frightened, not to despair, not to give in to those anxious thoughts, but to remember the faithful one who has promised to never abandon his loved ones.

When Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica, he elaborates on this message;

“Test everything, Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 – 22)

Sometimes we can be confused by what we are holding on to and mistakenly hold on to the wrong things, so Paul was warning the Thessalonians, and of course us, to examine carefully what we are clutching so closely to ourselves. If what we are holding on to so fiercely are bad memories, slights from friends, bosses etc. anger, jealousy, pride, we are obviously spending far too much energy on what is not good. We have to look seriously at what we are devoting so much of our time to and loosen our grip on what is worthless and what may distract us from experiencing that close walk with our Saviour.

One of my favourite verses about holding on to, is found in Deuteronomy and when I read it I get a beautiful mental picture of a small child clutching a parent’s hand tightly and feeling safe as long as that big strong hand is encircling his;

“It is the Lord God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4)

image The final chapter of the Bible echoes this same message reminding us to hold on to and be filled with hope and to be unswerving in holding on to the promises of Jesus, not to be swayed by false teachers who may weaken our faith, but to stand firm and let no one dissuade you from holding fast.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11)

Posted by: Jo | January 8, 2016

Saying Yes To The Lord

 

“Come, follow me,” said Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

(Matthew 4:19)

image All of us who have had toddlers, or who still have them around, know that it seems they instinctively grasp very quickly the word, “No” and use it in every possible situation, whether it be/ time for a nap/ put away the toys now/eat your vegetables/etc. It fascinates me that every generation is the same and our little grandson is no exception and practises it with dramatic gestures and grimaces to make sure we all get the message.

As we become adults we still sometimes would like to revert to being toddlers and express our feelings, but we learn to conceal these childish outbursts and learn to smile when confronted with pointed questions and add a word like “No thank you” I was thinking about how many times we often say no, even if it is not spoken, our body language conveying it all too well. Somebody comes into our lives needing our friendship, it is easy to convey no without saying it in so many words, but the saddest, “No thank you,” is when we use it in our relationship with our Lord.

I saw an interesting phrase in one of the devotionals I read online, and I have been pondering about it ever since. It was a list of aims for this New Year to increase our intimacy with the Lord and one of the suggestions was this;

Say yes to God’s gifts.

Gifts have been on all our minds during the Christmas season, many of them beautifully wrapped in festive paper, but how useless it would be for us to admire the wrapping and not open the gift and yet this devotional was pointing out that sometimes that is exactly what we do to the beautiful offerings of our Heavenly Father.

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

How foolish of us to refuse this gift and reply, “No thank you, I will just keep going until I burn out and am no use to anyone.

image Or another incredible gift offered to us is often ignored as we mistakenly believe we are strong enough to do it alone. How often have we struggled with some immense problem totally unaware of the beautiful presence beside us, waiting to be taken into to our confidence, waiting to hold us up, waiting to be our defender and hampered by our refusal to just say, “Yes please I need you.”

“.. because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The best example for us in Scripture is when Jesus simply asked the disciples, “come follow me”, they did not answer. No. That will upset all the plans we have for our lives, they simply said Yes to the beautiful gift of salvation Jesus was offering them.

I have decided to start my mornings by thinking of all the beautiful gifts God offers us everyday and to strive to remember to say a resounding Yes thank you and bathe in the warmth of his love all day.

Posted by: Jo | January 1, 2016

Members Of God’s Household

 

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

(Ephesians 2:19 – 20)

image During the Christmas holiday season, many of us pull out that old, tattered, often dotted with food stains, recipe book, to make the favourite foods associated with love and fellowship at family gatherings. This year one of my granddaughters decided these long loved recipes needed to be gathered together before they became lost, into a family cookbook, with each member contributing their favourites. It has become a wonderful exercise in not only in collecting recipes, but an incredible time of gathering precious memories as we remember not just the food that was part of the family get together, but all the fun and laughter that surrounded the table. Then all the memories of what we were celebrating come flooding back and binding us together in shared experiences.

I was thinking over this holiday season what it is that binds a family together? And why when Paul is writing to the Ephesians he tells them and us, once we become followers of Jesus Christ we become a member in God’s household. We join the family. What does that mean? My father was always one to quote little sayings and many of them (because he said them so many times) have stayed in my mind, one of these was about families;

You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your relatives.

When we join the household of God we also cannot choose the brothers and sisters in Christ who also are welcomed into the family along with us imageand the exercise of learning to love them can sometimes be hard. Paul’s letters were directed at these little fledgling groups of Christians who were now thrust together, yes loving Jesus Christ, but also leaning to love one another. Jews were now having to make a huge leap of faith in accepting the Gentiles into the family as they accepted Jesus as their Saviour.

We in our modern day churches also need to learn to love others and when the world sees how being one with Christ changes how we deal with anger/judging others/ arrogance and pride, they too will want to join the household. Paul’s advice is still a wonderful way of binding us together.

“Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them altogether in perfect purity.” (Colossians 3:12 – 14)

Posted by: Jo | December 23, 2015

What Child Is This?

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

(Luke 2:19)

image At this time of year, I find myself peering into all the nativity scenes we still see in public places, in the churches I visit, my friend’s homes and often when I pass my own crèche on the sideboard, each time I do, my eyes become fixed on that young mother and the tiny baby on her lap and the incongruous setting for such a stupendous happening. How could that be a welcoming place for a king to be born!

Mary knew she was carrying a special baby and must have gone over the angel Gabrielle’s startling words over and over again in her mind, wondering what they meant, and at the same time accepting her role in bringing about the fulfillment of the long awaited Messiah.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:30 – 32)

She must have had times of doubt during her pregnancy and imagine when the time came near for the birth of her baby, she finds herself on a perilous journey, riding on a donkey and then has to deal with the terrible fact that her first born will open his eyes in a probably, dirty stable. Her trust in the God she served is evident and we have to believe that Joseph was a faithful servant also, upholding and supporting her.

image But then the miracle of that first Christmas morn. Doubts vanish. A Heavenly host heralds the birth of the Saviour. Shepherds bow down and worship. Wonder mixed with love floods Mary’s being. Every detail of that precious morning is now stored up in Mary’s mind as a beautiful treasure she can remember forever.

No need to ask the question, What child is this? Mary and Joseph know!

Future generations have had to ask themselves that question. In fact, we have to all at some time in our lives answer that question for ourselves. If it is just a beautiful story, or do we acknowledge that the Messiah so long ago promised, became one of us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders, And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Perhaps as we hear the beautiful carol being played during this Christmas season, “What child is this?” we can sing the beautiful reply in our hearts.

This is Christ the King

Posted by: Jo | December 18, 2015

Telling and Retelling The Christmas Story

 

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

(Luke 6:38)

image I was reading this week a very interesting article about, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, the animated cartoon that is celebrating a fifty-year anniversary, this year. I was impressed by the fact that when Charles Schultz, the author, first presented the finished video, he was strongly advised to delete the full scripture reading that Linus was going to read to Charlie, to help him understand what Christmas was all about, because the producers thought it wasn’t appropriate to quote the Bible in a cartoon. I was amazed that Charles Schultz stood up to this criticism and insisted that God’s word, the true story of Christmas, would remain in the cartoon, so for fifty years and counting, the telling and retelling of the Christmas story has been repeated for all the children and adults viewing that sweet little video. This is what Linus read; Luke 2:8 – 14

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests”

As I finished reading the article I thought what a wonderful example Charles Schultz has set for all of us. We, who know that true story, need to make sure that future generations hear and know why we celebrate Christmas. When Moses was teaching the Israelites how to live their lives he impressed upon them the need to remember and not to let slip from their hearts the true story that they had experienced and the necessity of passing on that knowledge to their children.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

image We are a family of story tellers and our grandchildren love to hear our stories, especially when they feature in them. They love to be reminded, over and over again, of what they did when they were small and their eyes light up with delight when the exciting climax is getting close. We have to be careful to include all the familiar story and even when my husband chose to say a different grace at the dinner table, a little voice from the three-year-old, piped up to tell him, “You missed a page, Grandpa” The very fact that they already know the whole story just seems to make it more fascinating for them to hear us tell it.

The Christmas message can only be treated as an amazing story if it becomes a part of family history, to be told lovingly, emphasising the fact that we became part of that story when we became adopted children, told to embrace the wonder of God becoming man, told so the words become part of us.

I love the old hymn that emphasises that we will never get tired of that old, old story of God’s incredible gift to us on that first Christmas morn.

Tell me the old, old story

Tell me the old, old story

Tell me the old, old story

Of Jesus and his love.

Posted by: Jo | December 11, 2015

The Perfect Gift

 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

(Luke 6:38)

image In this wealthy, consumer crazy Western part of the world we live in, I was surprised to read in the media that a “giving day” had been specified and set aside in the beginning of December to encourage people to give generously to charities of their choice. Perhaps the ploy was to get big corporations and well known companies to try to out-do each other, as they published what they were prepared to give on that day. Also at this time of the year the everyday person also has giving on his or her mind as they frantically search through shopping malls to find that perfect gift for a loved one.

When Jesus was speaking about giving, he was not talking about Christmas shopping. He was not talking about big corporations seeking praise from the crowds. He was not talking about the grudging thoughts of givers who hope the recipient will know just how much that present cost. He is not talking about present giving at all. The first and most important thing we begin to understand is that the perfect giver of any gift is the Heavenly Father himself;

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Not only is the Lord the perfect giver of the perfect gift, he is himself the perfect gift to us;

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

When one of my granddaughters was a little girl I was trying to emphasise that the reason for celebrating Christmas was that it was Jesus’ birthday and in true child like innocence she remarked,

Where is his gift under the tree?

Where is his gift under the tree!

That question poses an almost more confounding question. imageWhat could a mere mortal ever give the perfect giver who is also the perfect gift to all mankind?

When we go back to God’s word we have the answer to life’s most complex questions and we find the answer here;

“My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.” (Proverbs 23:26)

But we can never out-give the perfect giver. So when we are willing to give ourselves to him, blessings of good measure will flow into to our lives in abundance and we will be able to spread these blessings to all those around us.

Posted by: Jo | December 4, 2015

A Tangible Presence

“ The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest”“

(Exodus 33:14)

image Many years ago a friend told me a sweet story about her little boy, who during a severe lightening and thunder storm, became very frightened as he had just been put to bed in his upstairs bedroom and all the adults were still downstairs. At one, big flash of lightening he cried out, “I’m frightened” One of the adults to reassure him called back, “Jesus will look after you”. His reply has stayed in my mind ever since and has remained as a reminder of what we all need in times of distress. This was the wail that floated down the stairs;

I need someone with skin on!

We may smile at the little one’s response, but when we examine it more closely we realise the incredible depth of truth behind those words. God promised that his presence would go with us and what is more, Jesus has promised that his spirit would live within us and when that happens we become the tangible presence of our Lord for others to see and be able to touch.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete within us.” (1 John 4:12)

A tangible presence of a caring person can have a powerful effect in all sorts of ways. Studies have proved that babies cared in orphanages, even though they were well fed, didn’t thrive as well as babies being given lots of hugs in a family setting. Studies in senior citizen’s homes have shown the same results, that when a senior has constant visitors that hold their hands, or give hugs, even those with dementia are calmer and respond better to care. Sometimes a hug given with a true sense of caring, speaks louder than many spoken words.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

image We may have been guilty of sometimes saying glibly, “I will pray for you” when what the needy person really needs is a tangible presence of a loving, caring friend who is prepared to be there in person. Sometimes we need to be the one

who has skin on” for another who is frightened, deep in sorrow, battling depression, facing a terminal illness, doubting God’s goodness, lonely, all of which can overwhelm when one is struggling alone.

Many of the old hymns have such beautiful ways of speaking to our Heavenly Father and asking for his help to love others with his love and I particularly like the words in this one hymn that ask God to allow our hands and our feet to move prompted by his love, not to make others think how good we are, but to be a tangible presence of his unconditional incredible love for his children

Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love

Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.

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