Tuesday, September 25, 2012

25 September: Chained to Peace

You may have noticed in the last couple of weeks a darkening of my thoughts.  I’m trying to share honestly about my life as a Christian which involves trusting and loving God even when life is dark or challenging or just plain tiring!  That is life, Christian or not, I imagine.  There are great years and hard ones, wonderful times and sad times.  And I must admit that many of my problems are what you would call first-world problems.

But I was trying to list how I feel the other day and I realised that there was one word that trumped them all.  I feel at peace.  I feel grief, physical sickness, uncertainty, disconnection.  Those things are there and they are true and they define much of my thought.  But they do not own me.  I am chained instead to the peace of God. 

How can this be true?  How can this be possible?  I do not know.  I only know that the Bible told me it would be and for the first time in my life I understand the words of Paul in Philippians 4, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4 v 6-7).

There is so much I don’t know or understand in my life right now.  But I feel certain that God is here with me and that he will answer my questions and lead me out to new understanding, new relationships and greater truth.  And that certainty brings peace. 

It is so humbling.  Who am I that God would care for me? I am no different than you, I am no more spiritual or more worthy of God.  So if these words can be true for me I believe they can be for you too.  Whatever you are facing today take action on the words of first Peter “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5 v 7), and I believe you will find that the Lord, today, will care for you.  I believe it because it is true for me, the worse among sinners.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

18 September: Becoming

Have you ever been in a situation when you felt sure God had led you to something and felt sure you knew what you’d achieve; only to end up really confused about your purpose when you get there?  I can focus so much on what I achieve, what I create or what I’m doing that when those things fall away I question God.  Where are you Lord?  Did I hear you correctly when you called me here?  What God, do you want from me?

Or maybe, like me, you are in a place where you currently feel emotionally and physically exhausted.  I have no energy to give, no time to create, no ability to do anything beyond the basics.  So I worry, if I can’t do anything for God doesn’t that make me a failure?  What use am I?

I was reflecting on this – how useless and empty I felt one day – when God lavished me with the truth.  I realised that things can slow us down, things can incapacitate us or drain us; we can fail or have our purposes radically challenged, but nothing, nothing, can stop us from becoming.  Becoming more like Christ.  Becoming more filled with the Spirit of God and living out a life of joy, love, kindness, faithfulness.  

When Paul wrote in Romans 8 “…I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8 v 38 -39) I wonder if this is what he meant.  Life will be challenging.  It will be unexpected and confusing and at times we will fail to achieve what we hope for but God isn’t really interested in what we are doing he is passionate about who we are becoming and we are to become someone wrapped in and reflecting his love.  And so we are assured – nothing can get in the way of that love.

If you are in a situation today where nothing seems to be going your way, or where you know you won’t do anything the world thinks is worthwhile, look instead to who you are becoming in Christ.  Even curled up in a ball, sick and tired you can receive and reflect God’s love.  Even as you are made redundant or miss that promotion you can receive and reflect God’s love.  Hallelujah, praise the Lord!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11 September: Resurrection People

Do you ever have moments or people or events in life where you feel like all hope, all future, has been buried?  Where it seems like the life has gone from that relationship or situation which was previously such a joy?  I have a situation like this in my life at the moment and I’m left struggling.  I can see no future in that area of my life.  I struggle and struggle, I look and I strain and I screw up my eyes but all I see is the black of this grave I’m in.

Then today I opened my Bible to my allotted reading.  Matthew 28.  The resurrection of Christ.  Here’s what I read –

“Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it.  His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow.  The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.  Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
- Matthew 28 v 1 - 7

Now here is a group of women who know how I feel!  Oh the depths of their sense of loss and confusion when they saw their Lord buried in a borrowed grave.  How dark everything must have seemed.  I imagine all future dreams, all hope and all joy would have been gone from their lives and the lives of those who had given everything to spend three years following Jesus and learning at his feet.  For all creation, how dark those days of Christ’s absence. 

But then the stone was rolled aside.  There was light where there was darkness and hope where there had been despair and an unimaginable eternal future on offer.  For we are the people of the resurrection.  Whatever happens in life we can be sure that there will be a future day.  Whatever our pain we are guaranteed a future joy.  We are the people of the resurrection, the massive, universe changing one but also the small ones.  As I read recently, “as Christians we have the power of Jesus’ resurrection to roll stones of hopelessness out of people’s lives and show them a life full of hope and love!”

I look for that life today.  I look for it in the only place I’ll ever find it.  The God-man Jesus of the resurrection. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

September 4: In Someone Else's Eyes

Sorry for the break!  Here's this week...

A few months ago my daughter knocked out one of my teeth.  Or rather she hit my mouth with a jaw crunching head-bash that it fractured one of my teeth and left it unrepairable.  Since that time I’ve been walking around without one of my front teeth while awaiting a less organic replacement.  The dentist offered to wire in a temporary solution but I thought I’d be fine, after all I’m hardly vain…am I? 

It turns out I am.  I feel very different without my tooth and you won’t find a smiling photo of me over the last few months.  I’ve always thought I had a nice smile but toothless I feel a bit like a pirate!

It reminded me how much I care what others think of me, even if I like to pretend that I don’t.  I was reading a reflection, written by Lance Clack, on the temptation of Jesus recently and I realised that this obsession with how we are seen by others is deeply human.  So much so that Satan thought he could use it against Jesus. “If you are the Son of God,” Satan baits Jesus, “tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4 v 3).  And again in verse 6  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Lance Clack reflected, “How often do we allow priorities to be skewed by the feeling that we must prove to others or ourselves who we are or that God loves us? Jesus, secure in His identity, refused to take the bait.”

How come Jesus didn’t take the bait?  How come it didn’t throw him that Satan so directly attempted to attack his identity?  Why did Jesus not care what Satan thought of him?  Maybe it comes from what happened before this temptation.  At his baptism, just before going into the wilderness, Jesus has this experience –

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3 v 16-17).

Jesus knew who he was to God and it steadied him when he was to face attack after attack from others about his identity and value.  When I start to feel insecure, when I’m tempted to ‘allow priorities to be skewed by the feeling that [I] must prove to others’ (or myself) who I am, I need to stop and go back to the source.  To find in God that I am so loved, just as I am, that he counts even the hairs on my head (Matthew 10 v 30).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

7 August: Love is a Choice

I grew up in church singing an 80’s version of ‘TheSteadfast love of the Lord never ceases’. Even now it easily comes to mind, the melody locking the words away in memory forever.  It is based on the words in the Old Testament verses,

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3 v 22 – 23)

What I didn’t really realise before is where those words are found in the Bible.  So when I read the whole chapter, Lamentations 3, recently my head started spinning.  For just before those faithful, hope –filled, trusting words the same author says of God,

“He has made me chew on gravel.
    He has rolled me in the dust.
Peace has been stripped away,
    and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
    Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.” (Lamentations 3 v 16 – 20).

How can the author, who has just witnessed the horrors of the siege and destruction of his home, who feels such pain coming from the hands of God, so readily turn to that same God is praise?  How can he go on a verse later to say “The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him” (v 25) when it seems the Lord has been far from good? 

It appears that we can close our fist at God or lift it high and open in praise and that that decision has little to do with what has happened to us.  It is a choice.  A choice to believe that God is always good.  That we are always loved.  It’s a choice I’m ashamed to say I don’t always make.  But if his mercies are new every day then today I want to start afresh to notice them, to praise God for them.  To lock them away in memory for the dark times.  Maybe you could join me?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

31 July: Live Today

Sometimes I look back on when my daughter was young, her first six months, and I think how foolish I was to wish it away.  I was always longing for the next stage – when she was first born I couldn’t wait for when she would interact and smile at me.  When she always needed to be held I couldn’t wait for her to sit independently.  I couldn’t live in the moment, the moment always seemed to hold only a lack of sleep and time and energy. Yet when I see a young baby now I realise how much of my present-daughter I missed because of my thirst for my future one.  There was so much to love, which I missed because I was thinking only about what I would love in the future. 

I realised this week though that this is also how I see the relationship I have with my heavenly God as I, his daughter, grow.  I am part of the church, his beloved bride.  And the book of Revelation tells me  “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19 v 9).  But I can get trapped forgetting that I am his beloved now, today, as I wake and start a day.  I am loved now, I am living my eternal life now, in death I’ll enter an extensive of that but Christ has already made me one with God again.  What if I am missing the joys of being a present-daughter because I thirst only for my life as a future one?

What is it to believe that I am fully and always loved by Christ?  What confidence might that give to me today?  How might I live differently if I believed that, today, right down to my core, God was here with me in every moment?

I have grown as a mother and I now try hard (and sometimes succeed!) to live in the moment with Elliot.  To enjoy the long walk home from the park as she examines every flower and takes joy in every step.  I guess I now understand that it will pass.  That the future will come before I know it but that this moment will never happen again.

But now I need to learn this as a daughter, as God’s daughter, that the future will come but that God is found in this day.  And his promises of love are here, now.  I want today for my eyes to be open.  Maybe you can join me today in singing Psalm 118“this is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it”.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

24 July: What's Worth It?

On my bad mothering days I wonder if it is all worth it.  At times it is hard to be gentle and kind and present and available to a whining toddler.   It is hard to stick to the advice to avoid television for under two’s when it is such an instant sedative.  It is hard to do a job that is thankless and earns nothing when my boss used to tell me how great I was, how useful.  People don’t say that much to me anymore. 

Sometimes I find myself saying with King Solomon
“What do people gain from all their labours
    at which they toil under the sun?”
- Ecclesiastes 1 v   3

But then today I saw my daughter sitting in a chair with a doll soothing and cuddling it and gentle patting it on the back.  My daughter has been teething lately and there has been lots of giving up my goals or plans for the day and instead sitting soothing her for what feels like hours.  Is it worthwhile?  It is when I see her modelling it like that – when I realise that it’s more then just a drain on my time, it’s a lesson for her in loving kindness, gentle care and responsiveness.  It’s a way to teach her how to love.

I often hear 1 Corinthians 13 read at weddings, but it occurred to me today that we are called to love everyone, even our enemies.  And what is love in these verses? 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
- 1 Corinthians 13 v 4 – 7

There are times we all struggle to love like this.  But it is worth it, it is always worth it.  Whether it’s because we get to see it reflected back to us or just knowing that God sees our effort.  After all, if God is love then any time we choose to love deeply and well we are choosing to be like Christ.  To be truly Christian.