Posted by: Jo | July 1, 2016

Forever Friends

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

(John 15: 15)

image Last week I was walking with a dear friend, on our weekly walk together, and we were discussing friendship in general and in particular our own friendship which had developed over the years into a comfortable relationship in which we could say anything that comes to mind, without having to choose our words carefully or censor any challenging thoughts that might upset the other. These sorts of friendships are so refreshing as they allow us to be totally ourselves.

It is so surprising to read Jesus’ words offering us that same intimate relationship with him, as he tells his disciples and us as well, that he does not see us as servants, but as friends. When Jesus calls us his friends, we enter the most rewarding relationship known to mankind. God opens up this relationship when he calls Abraham his friend.

“But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, who I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend.” (Isaiah 41: 8)

The book of Proverbs has many verses about friends, but makes it clear there is a big difference between acquaintances and true friends and makes it clear that friends love one anther at all times, the good and the bad and even stick close when others, even relatives, might abandon, friends need to become forever friends.

“A friend loves at all times…” (Proverbs 17:17)

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18: 24)

Jesus is offering to be the perfect friend for us, he will love us at all times, he will never forsake us, but will stick with us whatever happens. He does challenge us when we experience this loving relationship he is offering, and the challenge is to be a loving friend just as he is.

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

image After our walk last week, my companion decided to take the word, friend, and take each letter to describe the essence of true friends and by using an acrostic came up with this;

Friends are forever because they are: Forgiving

Friends are genuine because they are: Real

Friends are uplifting because they are: Inspiring

Friends are supporting because they are: Encouraging

Friends are open minded because they are: Non- judgemental

Friends are life savers because they are: Dependable

When I read my friend’s words I caught a glimpse of what Jesus was promising when he graciously offers us friendship. These words become a living reality when applied to him. For us to aspire to these beautiful qualities our daily walking companion needs to be the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Posted by: Jo | June 24, 2016

Unity Not Uniformity

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

(Psalm 133: 1)

image Last week I was watching the pageantry taking place in Britain as the country celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday. The Brits certainly have perfected massive displays to honour Royalty, some dating back centuries, and all conducted with such precision it is impossible not to be impressed. I was watching the part where the House Guards were marching past the Queen and as they began to move they appeared to be not a troop of men, but a single body moving in uniformity and it would have been hard to distinguish one from another.  The crowd was not in uniformity, but united in their enthusiasm for the display and showed it in all sorts of ways with loud clapping, waving of flags etc., but of course it was not in an especially rehearsed uniform way, each person retained their own individuality.

This started me thinking about what Scripture means when God’s word urges us as believers to live in unity with the other members of his family. When Jesus is praying for all believers he asks the Father that we remain in unity so the world will see Jesus in us and to know that the Father loves his children.

“I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17: 23)

It is interesting to note that nowhere does the Word tell us we have to be uniform Christians, all of us being exactly like each other, we each have our own personality. The pressure to be like others is prevalent in even our own culture. When we are teenagers we long to be like that beautiful girl, or that football star that everybody idolises or we want to wear the right clothes that fit in with all the other kids, we try to be like everyone else.

These same thoughts can creep into our spiritual lives as well and we can begin to compare ourselves with others, mistakenly believing that we don’t quite measure up in the Father’s eyes if we are not as spiritual as others. We feel that we haven’t got any important gifts and slip into admiring others who we think have spectacular gifts. The one important factor we do need to be in unity with other believers is, there are many gifts, but one Spirit.image

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” (1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 6)

We can celebrate our different personalities, our different gifts when we rid ourselves of the rigidity of thinking we must conform to some sort of uniformity. True unity is only found in being united with Christ and when we cherish this beautiful union of his love, we will achieve perfect unity.

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3: 14)

Posted by: Jo | June 17, 2016

Finishing Well

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

(2 Timothy 4: 7)

image Our Home Group had our final Bible Study this week, until September, and much to our joy we were able to complete the Book of Exodus. I was telling my daughter of our success and she remarked, “Did it take you 40 years?” There certainly was a lot of reading, but the general consensus of the group was

We finished well!

As we read the last few chapters we discovered that, that was basically the theme of these final words. We had read earlier of the strict and very detailed instructions that God had given Moses in how to make the Tabernacle and the sacred clothes for the priests and the wonderful way God had given all the skills needed to fulfill the task. The ultimate test for the Israelites was to see if they could put it altogether exactly how the Lord had designed it to be. They did!

“The Israelites had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39: 42)

They finished well!

We were fascinated to read that no squabbles broke out between workers. No changes in the instructions given. No moaning about how hard the task was. They followed God’s commands.

imagePaul knew to finish well, in life, the same principle applied. He knew that to finish the race there was no turning back. No changing the path set before him. No changing the game rules. Listen to the Heavenly Coach.

The road of life can have many side tracks that may divert us from the one true path that leads us always to the Heavenly Father. Much of the media is flooded with advice on how to set goals for oneself from how to lose 10 pounds to how to get a university degree in 6 months. We have to be careful as beloved children of the Father not to stray from his word and start on any other path that is not his.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw of 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)

image It would have been very easy for the Israelites to forget how they were to complete the Tabernacle or even to forget who had been given just the right skills to carry out each task, but God specifically tells Moses to write down the instructions. It is exactly the same for us. God’s word contains everything we need to know in how to lead our lives, we just have to make sure we never forget to read them. We know Paul finished well and this is why;

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

Posted by: Jo | June 10, 2016

Learn How To Learn

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance”

(Proverbs 1: 5)

image One of my granddaughters is graduating from University this month and my husband and I were discussing with her the next big step in her life. Times have changed since we were choosing careers and we were very interested to listen to her views about education and how she saw what attaining a university degree meant in today’s world of ever changing job descriptions (some of which we have no idea of what they encompass.) She made a very perceptive remark about the value of her 4 years of studying which impressed both of us and made us think this statement is not just for the young, it can be a lifetime goal. She saw the focus of her education was this.

Learn How To Learn

The more I thought about our conversation the more I thought how this applies to our Christian walk as well. Solomon begins the book of Proverbs urging his son to be aware of the need to seek wisdom and to be constantly learning from the wise in fact to seek these persons out and observe and follow their example. Jesus himself was referred to as the Good Teacher and he also urges those who desire to know him, to learn from him. Firstly, he asks his disciples to follow him;

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4: 19)

But it is interesting to note that he is not asking them, or us, to just follow blindly, there is a purpose in following him;

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 29)

image To learn from him means never to stray too far away, in fact stay so close that we are always in contact with him moving as one with him.

This present age of technology has proved to me and my husband, that to be willing to learn is essential to keep up with today’s society. We realised early on the need to master the computer or we would be left behind. And then next came the smartphone (nobody has yet come up with a dumb phone for old people.) Once we disciplined ourselves to learn, we were amazed at the benefits of doing so. So too with our desire to follow Jesus. If it remains just a desire, we will not experience the incredible blessings of learning to live pleasing lives for our Heavenly Father. Our thirst for knowing our Lord in the deepest way can be insatiable, if we never lose the appetite to keep on learning.

“Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning,” (Proverbs 9: 9)

Posted by: Jo | June 3, 2016

Praying Boldly

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”

(Hebrews 4: 16 K.J.V.)

image For a whole year our Home Group has been travelling through the book of Exodus with Moses and the children of Israel. We mistakenly thought at first, that it was a fascinating history lesson, but as we progressed the gems of wisdom, the deepening of our spiritual lives and the amazing insights we gained by studying God’s word, has resulted in a new awareness of who we are.

One such gem of wisdom was hidden in the passage we read this week. The children of Israel have disobeyed God by making a golden calf and worshiping it in front of God’s altar. God is angry with them and at first decides to destroy then, but then decides to remove his presence from them. The eye opening moment for us readers came in the startling boldness of Moses’ plea. Moses boldly asks God to forgive them and then with audacity asks God to change his mind, to not take away his presence from them, realising that only this mighty presence distinguishes them from everybody else.

“…What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33: 16)

image What a wonderful message for us in our present day. How would we like to be distinguished in our present society? It made us all think of what distinguishes people from one another; wealth/power/beauty/race/culture. The thought awakened in us all the desire, just like Moses, that we would want always the amazing presence of our Lord to be obvious in our actions to distinguish us.

God is pleased by Moses’ words. Another good pointer for us is, that we can be very direct when we are communicating with him.

“And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33: 17)

We were all startled by the audacity of Moses’ next request;

“Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” (Exodus 33: 18)

Moses wanted a more intimate relationship with God, He wanted to know him in a real way. He wanted to take that knowledge with him so that he would certainly be distinguishable as belonging to him. He wanted to represent him always wherever he went.image

The writer of Hebrews tells us that we too can be confident in our approach to the Lord. We don’t need to be hesitant in presenting our requests to him. We can boldly ask to be shown his glory. The Psalmists frequently asked to be shown God’s way and to be taught his paths.

Pray Boldly!

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25: 4)

Posted by: Jo | May 27, 2016

Are You Listening God?

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at other times, “Samuel Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

(1 Samuel 3: 10)

I have a friend who loves to write poetry. She started writing fun things in imageconjunction with her sisters, sending each other sometimes funny topics, sometimes about family members, but just recently she allowed me to read her collection and one of them really resonated with me so I asked her permission to publish it in my blog as its message is one that often grips us in our walk with the Lord and perhaps many of us have asked the same question;

Are You Listening God?

Clouds

I walked the neighbourhood last night

To see the setting sun

It covered me with a large pink cloud

And lifted my heavy heart

Are you listening God? – we say out loud

As our negative doubts abound

“O you of little faith” rebounds

“I’ve been watching from the clouds”

The Psalmists knew the darkness of thinking that God was no longer listening to their cries

“Save me, O God for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail looking for my God.” (Psalm 69: 1 – 3)

The Psalmist certainly paints a dismal picture with these words and even goes so far as to ask God to answer him quickly;

“Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly; for I am in trouble.” (Psalm 69: 17)

image The message we read over and over again in Scripture is that yes the Lord is certainly listening to our cries, but we have to be part of the dialogue. If we are doing all the crying out and not listening, we will not hear the comforting words our Saviour is saying to us. We have all come across those people who love to talk volumes, but rarely listen to what others are saying. We can fall into that trap with our relationship with the Lord.

As my friend discovered on her evening walk, we need to be the ones listening so we don’t miss out on the compassion the Lord is so willing to pour out on us. He urges us to set aside quite times to reflect on his greatness and be bathed in his grace and mercy, in whatever situation we find ourselves and one of the best ways is to remember who he is and stop our minds from racing with all those destructive thoughts;

“Be still and know that I am God….” (Psalm 46: 10)

Then remember who we are;

“Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100: 3)

Posted by: Jo | May 20, 2016

Leaving Behind A Little Salt

“You are the salt of the earth….”

(Matthew 5:13)

Just recently a friend of mine forwarded me a copy of a Reflection she had imagewritten encompassing the Sunday Scripture readings for that week and within this very perceptive article she had included a charming little story about her grandmother. She had remembered as a small child, her grandmother always leaving behind a small container of salt in the cupboard of any holiday cottage they were leaving so the next occupants would not have to go without this very important part of our diet.

I was thinking about this story and how important salt was in ancient times and how it was used in all sorts of ways from preserving food to being part of the sacred covenant between God and his people;

“What is ever set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.” (Numbers 18: 19)

Many of the offerings ordained by God were sprinkled with salt as a sign of the importance of always remembering the incredible privilege God was extending to his people in promising to dwell among them.

So when Jesus tells his disciples and us that we are the salt of the earth we become part of that sacred offering. We become sprinkled with salt that is given to us for a very special reason and Paul shows us how we can sprinkle others with what we have been blessed with.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4: 6)

image I was thinking back to my friend’s story and I thought what a beautiful example it set for us as followers of Jesus. I am sure we can all think of those special people who just seem to be able to say those right words when we need them and still leave behind them when they go, a warm feeling. Or others, who can bring laughter into our lives when things seem very gloomy and life looks brighter even when they leave, our spirits remain lifted. Others do practical services of love so the recipients are left with thankful hearts. I would call this;

Leaving behind a little salt!

When Paul was writing to the Galatians, he reminded them of the beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit and I saw this as again a lovely example of how we could take Jesus word’s seriously about being the salt of the earth and try to leave some of this saltiness, mentioned here, behind wherever we find ourselves this week.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5: 22)

image

Posted by: Jo | May 13, 2016

Drenched In Fragrance

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

(John 12:3)

image One of the members of our Home Group was celebrating her 80th birthday this week and she was describing to us the fun filled weekend she had with her church group at the Sunday service and then later with her family. She had been given beautiful bouquets of flowers from her congregation and then later her family had also brought lovely flower arrangements for her. She told us that her apartment was filled to overflowing with these lovely presents and said to us, “My whole apartment was drenched in fragrance!

Strangely enough our study that morning was also drenched in fragrance. Certainly a little different from what our friend was describing, but as we started to read the words in our study in Exodus, we began to realise that in all the detailed instructions on how the various sacred parts of the Tabernacle were to be constructed and how the priests were to be made ready to serve the lord, were all bathed in beautiful aromas of perfume and incense.

“Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.” (Exodus 30: 25)

As the craftsmen worked and the priests obeyed the commands and instructions laid out by God, it would have been impossible not to have some of the beautiful fragrances cling to those exposed to them. We began to realise that there was definitely a purpose to this. We in our group started to exchange thoughts about aromas and many of us associated aromas with lovely thoughts and some of us were always stirred by a certain smell to think of a person, for some a grandmother when fresh bread was coming out of the oven.

God was making sure by his use of fragrance, that it would be a constant reminder of his presence when his children came to worship him,

“…Take fragrant spices-gum resin, onycha and galbanum – and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to a powder and place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.” (Exodus 30: 34- 36)

image When God used perfume to place permanent reminders of who he was to his chosen people, he was drawing on one of our powerful senses and for us who know the Lord Jesus Christ it takes on a whole new and powerful meaning. When we choose to follow the Lord his fragrance will envelope us and as we mix with others, they too will want to know the source of the aroma that sweetens all our behaviours.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2: 14 – 15)

I read a powerful quote about this theme;

When God’s people praise him, their praises rise to him as a beautiful aroma that blots out the stench of evil.

Posted by: Jo | May 6, 2016

Terrors of the Night

“You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”

(Psalm 91:5 – 6)

image One night, last week, my husband in the middle of the night, suddenly shouted out in a loud voice, sat bolt upright and then jumped out of bed. Needless to say I also awoke with a series of possible scenarios racing through my head, ranging from expecting to see some intruder brandishing a weapon, to preparing myself to flee from the burning building. My husband then very sheepishly informed me he had just had a very frightening nightmare! Terror in the night! We have all experienced it in various forms and apparently generations before us have also been beset with this night time horror. I have often discussed this with my friends and puzzled over why as darkness descends and we lie down to sleep, worries overtake us and everything seems to take on a more threatening and menacing overtone.

How do we combat this sleep destroyer?

My source of help, for any sort of problem facing me, is to go back to God’s word. Scripture never shies away from any emotion experienced by mankind and especially in the Book of Psalms you will find the Psalmists honestly writing about what disturbs them. Psalm 91 is one of my favourites as it acknowledges the real terrors that can overtake us and then advises us to fill our minds with this beautiful mental picture of our Heavenly Father as a mother hen, protecting us.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

One of the ways I have used when sleep evades me and worry overtakes, is to try to remember the many times the Lord has solved our problems in the past and then I either recite scripture or go over my favourite hymns (I do this silently as bursting into song during the night would certainly create a certain sort of terror for my husband!) I was delighted to find that the Psalmists also used this to ward of all that is threatening. In Psalm 77 the Psalmist after being very troubled in spirit for many verses, suddenly remembers firstly what a wonderful God we all have and then remembers how he has solved so many problems in the past. A great idea for us to follow as well.image

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77: 11 – 2)

Another Psalmist in Psalm 42 realises that we can take the love of the Lord with us in song for those dark times of night;

“By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me- a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42: 8)

When we allow the Lord to take over those terrors of the night we wake the next morning with these words on our lips;

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22 – 23)

Posted by: Jo | April 29, 2016

Putting On The Garment Of Praise

“to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

(Isaiah 61:3)

image What to wear? Women of all ages will of course resonate with that question, but men also face the same dilemma when important dates or job interviews loom on the horizon. Dress code has changed dramatically since I was a child and I can remember my father quoting with a very serious voice, “Clothes maketh the man” and I can also see him in my mind’s eye, preparing himself for his weekly meeting with the Rotary Club (a service club in which he loved being a member). Every member of that club would not dream of attending a meeting unless appropriately dressed, which meant suit, waistcoat, jacket, tie and of course beautifully polished shoes! My father would emerge from the bedroom impeccably dressed confident that he met the standards expected of him.

Appropriately dressed. I was thinking what this meant when our Home Group came to the passage in Exodus 28 which we are studying at the moment, with the title, Priestly Garments. This lengthy chapter with its 43 verses is entirely devoted to describing in detail not only each article of clothing, but the skills needed to prepare precious stones, weave beautiful patterns in exquisite materials e.g.

“Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen- the work of a skilled craftsman…” (Exodus 28:6)

Our Home Group began the study with the big question, “Why would God go to such lengths with such detail in how the priests were to be dressed before they could come into his presence and what significance did this have for us today?

We were all surprised to find that as we read carefully the preparations for the priests, a feeling of awe began to surround us and we began to experience the feeling of anticipation that would have been flooding over those men. This was no ordinary meeting, God was promising to come and dwell with his people and the people were to learn what an incredible privilege God was granting them and one of the ways to remember was the beautiful array of the priests clothing with every part bearing its own meaning so that its significance would never be forgotten.

“They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29: 46)

image We know that Jesus Christ became our High Priest and fulfilled the sacrifices these priests were being trained for, and that intense detailed preparation is no longer needed, we can actually come and be welcomed into the presence of the Creator of the Universe but, at the same time, reading this passage in Exodus we realised that this incredible privilege should never be taken lightly. We began to think of the spiritual garments we could wear when we enter our Lord’s presence; a garment of praise/ a spirit of humbleness/ thank fullness/piety/ joy/gladness/so we never forget the price Jesus paid for our freedom to worship.

The most beautiful garment of all is the Lord Jesus himself and Paul urges us to clothe ourselves with his beautiful presence and what could be more fitting apparel than him.

“Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13: 14)

In fact, Peter reminds us in his letter that we are now all considered to be a royal priesthood so let us don those spiritual garments.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter2: 9)

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