We will be posting a new reflection each Monday, written by different people in church, to encourage and inspire you.
24-Jan-22: Just a few reasons to praise God Elaine Young
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
The Great I AM and therefore all things to me
He is My Refuge, My Fortress
And My Shield, My Guide
And My just judge, My Saviour
My Shepherd, and My Rock
He is My Faithful friend ,and My Father
My Strong deliverer, My Guide
And My Sustainer, My Counsellor
My Strength, and My Stronghold
He is My Protector, My Rescuer
And My Support, he is My Redeemer
My Helper, and My Shelter
My Lover, and My Security
He is My Shade, My Maker
And My Healer, My Peace
My Light, My Teacher
And My Hope, and My Advocate
He is Majestic
The Truth, he is Gracious
Compassionate, and The Avenger
He is Incorruptible, Splendid, Forgiving, and Wrapped in light
He is All Wise, Immortal, and Glorious
He is Invisible, Patient, Kind, Gentle, and Meek
He is The law maker, Sovereign, and Loving
He is Merciful, Almighty and Faithful
He is Wonderful, The Creator
He is All-knowing, He is everywhere
He is Holy, Good, and Righteous
He is The anointed one
He is Everlasting, The Most High
Flawless, Strong and Exalted
He is Victorious, Awesome, and the King of Glory
He is the Covenant keeper
He sticks closer than a brother, he is closer than hands and feet.
He is the architect of my heavenly home
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills
He restores my soul
He keeps me safe
He hears the faintest cry
Delivers me from all my fears
Let everything that has breath PRAISE THE LORD!
17-Jan-22: Praise Monster Robert King
One story in the Bible that makes me question God’s justice more than any other is that of Michal, Saul’s younger daughter. Some people, through no fault of their own, just seem destined to lead rotten lives. Michal may be a princess, but she has a father who is capricious, insecure, and prone to violent fits of rage – not the sort of father you run to for a cuddle, but, rather, one that you tiptoe around and avoid.
Then along comes a ray of sunshine called David. He’s good looking, valiant, God-fearing, popular, and Michal falls head over heels in love with him. And in true Monty Python style, Saul insists on setting David a task to prove himself worthy of his daughter’s hand.
David passes Saul’s test with flying colours, but just as he and Michal are about to walk off into the sunset together, Saul gets jealous and decides to kill David instead. Hastily, Michal lowers her new husband out of a window and then faces her father’s fury when he learns that David has escaped his clutches.
For many years, David is a hunted man, until Saul is killed in battle leaving Israel’s throne up for grabs. Abner, the commander of Saul’s army initially backs Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, but after they fall out, he decides to make overtures to David instead. But David will only ally himself with Abner on one condition:
Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal, daughter of Saul when you come to see me.
2 Samuel 3:13
By now, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. David has met and married Abigail and has numerous other wives and concubines, whilst Michal has been married off to Phalti, son of Laish. So, why does David demand that Abner brings Michal back to him? Surely, he cannot still be in love with her? Or is he just flexing his muscle and showing the world, David wants so David gets? This is not the only time that David callously abuses his power where women are involved. Later in his reign he will even contrive to have his loyal commander, Uriah killed so that he can take his wife, Bathsheba.
Michal’s husband, Phalti is heartbroken. She watches helplessly as he runs weeping mile after mile after the military cortege escorting her back to David. Here is a man who adores her, even to the point of publicly humiliating himself in a vain attempt to get her back. Yet to David, she will be little more than a trophy and an occasional plaything.
Such is Michal’s misery that she cannot even bring herself to join in the celebrations when the ark of the LORD is triumphantly returned to Jerusalem. Instead, she watches from a window in David’s palace, and sees this man who has destroyed her life, leaping and dancing in joyful delirium. Bitterly she strides out to meet him:
How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would.
2 Samuel 6:20
David is totally untroubled by Michal’s cutting remarks, but she is cursed by them. She spends the rest of her life childless, hating David, and yearning to be back with Phalti, the one man who has ever really loved and cared for her. It is hard not to feel sympathy for her – and equally hard not to view David as a monster. How, after treating Michal in such a squalid way can he then have the temerity to jump around and praise God?
But here’s the thing: anyone can praise God, even if they turn out to be an adulterer and a murderer, because Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD”. God has set the bar so low that all a person needs to join in the party is the ability to breathe. David’s one redeeming quality is that he totally gets this and exercises his God-given right at every opportunity.
And David too has had a difficult life, having been overlooked by his father, scorned by his brothers, and hunted down by his father-in-law. Even his mission to return the ark to Jerusalem is marred by tragedy. As the company worship boisterously, the oxen towing the cart stumble and Uzzah grabs hold of the ark to stop it falling off. But because God has decreed that the ark cannot be touched, Uzzah is struck down.
David is so angry and traumatised by this that he promptly aborts his mission and for three months leaves the ark in the care of Obed-Edom. It is only when David learns how much Obed-Edom has been blessed during this time that he resolves to try once more to return the ark to Jerusalem.
And by the time he gets there, he has clearly put Uzzah’s untimely death behind him. It would be impossible for him to praise God in the way he does if he was still harbouring resentments, or reply in the way he does to Michal:
I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.
2 Samuel 6:21
So, what is the story of David and Michal telling us? That life is manifestly unfair? That some people are powerful, and others are powerless? Or that God in his sovereign will chooses whom he does and does not bless? David and Michal’s journeys could not be more different. He begins life as a shepherd boy and ends up being Israel’s greatest ever king; she begins life in a palace with an abusive male and ends in just the same situation.
I imagine Michal as an old woman, still embittered, still skulking around the palace, and telling anyone who will listen about David’s many crimes. Then, finally, she cries out to God: Why did you bless David so richly after that terrible thing he did to me, and why curse me all my life just for that one single comment?
Here’s what I think God would reply:
My child, I only ever wanted to bless you, but you would not let me. Instead, you chose to hold onto your hurt, your resentment, your unforgiveness and the sense that you had been hard done by. You wrapped these things around you so I could not get near you.
Your husband, David did some very bad things, which I had to discipline him severely for. Like you, this made him feel angry, upset and even afraid, but he did not resent me for it or turn away from me. Instead, he emptied himself before me like a child, even when he found it undignified and humiliating to do so. He never stopped loving me or putting his trust in me – and the fruit of that love and trust was his praise. He always praised me with all his heart. And I inhabited that praise and worked powerfully within him, prospering him, and making him ever more fruitful.
10-Jan-22: Fighting Aliens Steve Stapp
In the Sci-Fi movie Edge of Tomorrow, the setting is just a few years in the future when aliens have invaded the earth. Humanity is losing the war and it’s not looking good for the home team.
The main character, played by Tom Cruise, is a successful but arrogant, shallow, and self-absorbed TV news reporter. He talks very confidently about the war when he’s in the studio in front of the camera, but when he’s confronted with the possibility of being sent into actual combat with the troops, he withers and becomes a complete coward, willing to lie, cheat, or do anything else necessary to avoid doing his duty.
He’s anything but a hero, but the interesting thing about the movie is watching the gradual character-building process he goes through until by the end of the movie he is genuinely brave and willing to give his life to save the human race from the aliens.
Am I brave? Hmmm, let’s not answer that. It occurred to me, though, when the Spirit of the Living God took up residence within me, He brought with Him infinite amounts of everything I need. Scripture says God has provided us with power, love, and self-discipline.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity [cowardice], but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.
2 Timothy 1:7-8a (NLT)
God is at work in me building character. There will never be a need for me to save the world because Jesus already did that. But by faith I want to “lean into” and align myself with the qualities of the Holy Spirit within me, and I want to cooperate with God in becoming the person he created me to be. I figure that’s much better than fighting aliens.
3-Jan-22: The Curious Case of the Mystery Christmas Gift Rob King
It’s that time of year. Strings of lights are gingerly taken down; baubles plucked from dry, thinning trees; fistfuls of cards swept off mantelpieces, and the last tasty morsels pillaged from fridges and cupboards. Recycle boxes overflow with bottles; pine needles clog vacuums, and bin bags lie swollen with dismembered wrapping paper. Then, finally, on or around the 3rd January the plastic storage boxes come out and Christmas is put away for yet another year.
“Just three hundred and fifty-three days to go,” our thirteen-year-old says wistfully.
One New Year tradition that my wife insists upon is the writing of thank you cards. Every Christmas she maintains a rigorous inventory of gifts received and from whom. But invariably her efforts are undermined by that one rogue parcel marked simply Merry Christmas – with no clue as to whom the sender and recipient are.
But to not acknowledge a gift is unthinkable – so much so that every one of our discarded Christmas cards are retrieved and the handwriting carefully examined to find a match. And when this line of enquiry is exhausted the debriefing begins:
“Do either of you recall opening a package and taking out an envelope?”
When my son and I protest our innocence, sheets of brown paper packaging are fished from the recycling bin and carefully scrutinised for clues. But still, we are no closer to solving the riddle. So, stage three of the investigation kicks in: known associates of all potential suspects are telephoned and discreet enquiries made.
The mystery package sits on our sideboard looking increasingly incongruous as work life and school recommence. Several times our son kindly volunteers to tear it open, arguing, not unreasonably, that the missing information might be hidden inside. But no, my wife will not entertain this idea. Suppose the package was intended for someone in our wider family, but sent care of us? How could we possibly consider defiling someone else’s present – especially one so elegantly wrapped and finished off with that plump, burgundy coloured bow?
And I am with her one hundred percent on this, but for entirely different reasons. All through Christmas my mind has run riot, imagining what wonderful and exotic gift the package might contain. If it proves to be no more than a tin of shortbread biscuits, I’m not sure I could bear it. So, leave it be.
Besides, we have already opened more than our fair share of presents. Like the rest of the population, we have gorged our way through Christmas, and now I am feeling that oddly melancholy aftertaste. Is it the prospect of returning to work? Or this cold, dank weather? Or what my bathroom scales are telling me? Or is it the thought of all those millions of unwanted gifts being donated to charity shops, or listed on eBay, or going into landfill…?
No, it is not really any of those things. It is the sense that I missed something. And nothing in the festive season reminds me of it quite like that unopened present.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
My new year resolutions:
Know that this gift has your name on it.
Find out more about the person who sent it and just how much it cost him.
Open it carefully and reverently.
Gaze on it.
And above all, give thanks for it.
20-Dec-21: Staggering Extremes Steve Stapp
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Philippians 2:6-7 (NIV)
It’s cold in Harrogate in December. The actual temperature here isn’t really that bad, it just feels cold and damp. As we approach Christmas, I think of the birth of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem, and I wouldn’t want Jesus to feel cold and damp lying in that manger.
Of course, I realize that it is extremely unlikely that Jesus’ birth happened in December. It would have been the wrong time of year for the shepherds to have been staying overnight in the fields with their flocks. Some experts think Jesus was born in September, others suggest June, but no one seems to think it was late December.
The video we watched in church yesterday about the birth of Jesus did a lovely job of humorously dismantling the numerous myths that have built up around his birth. We don’t know if Mary rode a donkey as they traveled, but she and Joseph made it to Bethlehem somehow. The accommodation in Bethlehem that had no space for them was probably just a spare room in a home rather than an actual inn. It is possible that Mary may have given birth when they first arrived, but the scripture only says, ‘While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born’ (Luke 2:6) so the birth could have been days or weeks after their arrival.
There definitely was a manger for Jesus to sleep in, but the manger was more likely in a cave than a stable. The shepherds came to see the new-born baby, but the wise men came later because the scriptures say the wise men found Mary and baby Jesus in a house, not in a stable or a cave.
But when I consider the events that really did happen when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there are aspects of those events that I find staggering. I think of the transition from the extreme honour, glory, and power of heaven that Jesus left behind as the Son of God, transitioning to the extreme poverty, weakness, and ridicule of being born to an unwed teenage girl surviving in overwhelming poverty, a girl who was traveling with a man who had no income, no job, traveling to a little village where they had no immediate family or friends, a village in an impoverished, seemingly insignificant region conquered and subjugated by a foreign military empire.
Jesus willingly submitted to the transition from the best that heaven had to offer to the worst that humanity had to offer. He went from one absolute extreme to the other because God had a plan ‘that the world through Him might be saved’. John 3:17 (NKJV)
Thank you, Jesus, for coming into this world and saving us.
13-Dec-21: Naaman Rob King
“Why does nothing happen when I go forward for ministry?”
I was having a prickly exchange with a friend about the frustrations of being a Christian:
“You hear all these testimonies about the wonderful things that God supposedly has done in peoples’ lives, “ I sniffed, “but he’s never done it in mine.”
I went on to tell him about the numerous ‘come-and-experience-the-power-of-God’ events that I had made pilgrimages to over the years. All those times when my hopes had hung on that moment when I went forward for prayer ministry – and how nothing discernible ever seemed to happen.
My friend said that he would go away and pray for me. The following week he said that God had told him that I should read about Naaman.
“Who’s Naaman?” I sniffed.
Naaman appears in the second book of Kings. A highly regarded commander of Aram’s (Syria’s) army, with whom Israel have an uneasy relationship. He is victorious, successful and “a valiant soldier” (2 Kings 5:1) but also has leprosy.
A captive Israeli girl serving in Naaman’s household tells him all about their prophet Elisha. But a man in Naaman’s position cannot just rock up at Elisha’s house and demand healing ministry. Diplomatic protocols must be observed, so he approaches King Ben-Hadad, who agrees to send Joram, Israel’s king, a letter of introduction.
Naaman also uses the occasion to exercise a bit of Donald Trump-like statesmanship. He arrives at Elisha’s house with his horses and chariots, an entourage of servants, “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing.” (5:5). But Elisha isn’t impressed by this display of pomp and sends out his servant to pass on his instructions:
“Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” (5:10)
Furious and embarrassed, Naaman storms off. His servants scuttle after him and try to calm him down while Naaman goes on ranting:
“I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.” (5:11)
On the face of it, it seems as if Naaman has a justifiable grievance. He has come all the way from Syria. He has brought an extremely generous gift and is ready to do a “great thing” in return for his healing. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect Elijah to come out and give him a bit of high-end spiritual TLC?
But what really seems to enrage Naaman is the thought of bathing multiple times in the Jordan. What if Elisha is deliberately trying to humiliate him? What if his servants all start sniggering behind his back as he climbs down out of his chariot and begins to disrobe? Imagine the stories that will get told in court about how this obscure prophet from an enemy land tricked him into bathing naked seven times in a filthy river? When he gets back to Syria his reputation will be in ruins and questions will be asked about whether he is a fit person to lead their army.
Naaman is a brilliant military strategist and Elisha’s instruction is a total insult to his intelligence. Where is the logic in what he is being asked to do? If his healing is dependent upon bathing in a river then why, he demands, could he not have done this in his own country?
“Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?” (5:12)
Naaman’s servants realise they are in a very difficult position. Ben-Hadad’s letter has already made King Joram extremely twitchy. If their master returns home in this ugly mood, there is a real prospect of war breaking out. So, with masterful diplomacy they entreat Naaman to carry out Elisha’s instructions:
“My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed!'” (5:13)
Their flattery works wonders and Naaman finally agrees to take the plunge and is healed. Contrite and chastened, he pays a second visit to Elisha’s house, and this time the prophet is happy to meet him.
“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel,” (5:15) he tells Elisha.
Naaman’s story has to be one of the funniest in the whole Bible – right up there with Baalam and his donkey – but beneath the humour are some profound lessons about the nature of God’s grace.
Elisha has no interest in Naaman’s expensive gift or his willingness to do some “great thing”, because he knows that neither of these really cost Naaman anything. As commander of the Syrian army, he can well afford all that gold and silver (and can always withhold it if he is not healed) and doing “great things” are just part and parcel of his everyday military life.
Naaman’s whole attitude is betrayed by a single phrase: “I thought that he would surely come out to me.” What Naaman seems to have in mind is a sort of ‘drive-in healing ceremony’ whereby Elisha calls upon his God while Naaman folds his arms and waits to see how things pan out. But prayer ministry (as I have discovered to my cost) doesn’t work that way.
I used to attend all the ‘come-and-experience-the-power-of-God’ events with a consumer mindset: the more famous the preacher, the more likely I was to get a touch from God. But all a preacher can do is inspire a mindset – and we can just as easily nurture that mindset in our own local church or home group.
Naaman was not healed because of Elisha’s prayers, but because he was willing to make a sacrifice on God’s terms rather than his own. When he stepped into the Jordan he surrendered his status, reputation, and intellect – all the things that were most important to him.
The God of Israel charges nothing but demands everything.
6-Dec-21: The Hound Of Heaven Steve Stapp
All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.
Isaiah 54:13 (NIV)
When we visited our daughter and granddaughter in Georgia during the early part of November, they had only been in their new house a couple of months. God had arranged things so that their new house is very near a church, no more than a five-minute drive, and some of the neighbours that our daughter is friends with just happen to attend that church. One of those neighbours has children that our granddaughter loves to play with.
As a matter of context, our daughter has mostly been unmotivated about spiritual issues throughout her adult life. It’s not that she doesn’t believe, it’s just that faith has not been a priority to her.
We pray for our daughter and our granddaughter. Daily. And it looks to me like God is putting some pieces of the puzzle in place. Like a church five minutes down the road where our daughter has friends and where our granddaughter has friends.
While we were visiting our daughter and granddaughter, we all visited that church together. Then before we left Georgia, I gently encouraged her to continue taking our granddaughter to church since God had provided one so nearby where they both already had connections.
A couple of weeks later when I asked about church, she said that she and our granddaughter had attended church that Sunday. Hey, it may not be a Damascus Road experience but it is an answer to prayer…
The English poet Francis Thompson wrote a poem in 1890 titled ‘The Hound of Heaven’. Below are the first few lines:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
It’s my understanding that the ‘Hound of Heaven’ is a picture of God pursuing the poet until he surrenders to God’s love. As my daughter finds herself living near a church with friends who attend there and a six-year-old daughter who wants to be there, perhaps we’re hearing ‘those strong Feet that followed, followed after’ i.e. the footsteps of the ‘Hound of Heaven’ as God in his loving kindness pursues our daughter and granddaughter.
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV)
29-Nov-21: Discovering Our Purpose Rob King
If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.
The self-development industry is huge. A key message of authors like Stephen Covey and Brian Tracy is that we should take time out to reflect upon what we really want from life and then write down our goals. All this seems totally compatible with the Christian life, until you read James 4:13-15.
The narrator in Ecclesiastes is a model exponent of self-development, setting himself this very specific goal:
I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
This man is the total antithesis of your classic Biblical character. He has no interest whatsoever in pursuing a life of holiness or devotion to God. Rather, he bears a striking resemblance to the hedonistic central character in the classic 1941 film, Citizen Kane. He’s wealthy, powerful, highly intelligent and refuses to let moral scruples get in his way. As he looks back on his life, he says:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
At the beginning of his quest, he undertakes “great projects” (2:4). He builds houses, plants gardens, parks and vineyards, and amasses a huge fortune. And when all this fails to satisfy him, he seeks solace in sex and alcohol. Finally, he pursues the academic life, throwing himself into the study of “wisdom and, knowledge” and also “madness and folly” (1:16-17). Like Charles Foster Kane, he explores every facet of life and then delivers his verdict:
Meaningless! Meaningless!… Everything is meaningless!
The well-known Christian psychologist, Dr Larry Crabb once set himself a similar goal, but instead of seeking answers in life, he studied the book of Genesis. It struck him that God created humans with two key psychological needs: to know that we are loved and to know that we are useful. Everything we do, he concluded – even though we do our utmost to disguise it – is driven by these two needs. Small wonder then, why so many of us live unfulfilled lives. As Jeremiah tell us,
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Back in my thirties, I had a dead-end delivery job. One day, I pulled into a surgery carpark and found myself gazing enviously at the array of luxury cars. All these people who had evidently got much further on in life than I had.
Do not covet, said an inner voice.
“Yeah, OK…” I sighed mournfully.
As I drove away, the voice continued:
The reason I tell you not to covet is because it takes your eyes off all the things that I have for you.
So, how do we discover our meaning and purpose in life? One of my favourite authors is the late Norman Grubb, who used to teach this simple prayer:
“Good Morning, God. What are You up to today? I want to be a part of it. May I? Thank you. Amen.”
22-Nov-21: A New Pair Of Glasses Steve Stapp
My brother got a new pair of glasses recently. He had been needing them for a number of years. It always seemed that other things were more important, or possibly there were higher priority things to use the money for, or something.
Having an old pair of glasses that weren’t quite right led to a number of problems. My brother is a pastor and in addition to preaching, he also leads the singing and plays the piano. As he tried to read the music at the piano, he kept having to lean forward and move his head around, trying different angles to find the right perspective to look through his glasses to be able to read the words and music of the song.
Trying to live life with his old pair of glasses was a daily hindrance. It also led to frustrating situations where his attempts to see clearly made him move his head around like one of those bobblehead toys.
God sees everything with perfect clarity, but I don’t. In a sense I need spiritual glasses.
In 1 Corinthians 13:12a (NLT), the Apostle Paul said:
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.
As I turn to God to help me see things his way, trusting the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the wise counsel of fellow believers to help me “see” with greater clarity, it’s almost like God is providing me with a new pair of glasses.
In the verse above, the Apostle Paul said I would always see things imperfectly. Yet if I can see more clearly, that’s a wonderful goal. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul spoke of praying for the “eyes” of their hearts to be enlightened:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…
Ephesians 1:18a (NIVUK)
I look forward to one day seeing everything with perfect clarity, but in the meantime, I can pray along with the Psalmist:
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.
Psalm 119:18 (NIVUK)
15-Nov-21: When All Seems Lost Rob King
There is a scene in the classic 1951 film The African Queen that always brings tears to my eyes. Rosie, a missionary and Charlie, a dissolute mechanic form an unlikely alliance and set themselves the daunting task of navigating the treacherous Ulanga River during the second world war. Their plan is to use their vessel to torpedo the infamous German gunboat, the Konigin Luise which is patrolling the lake downriver.
After many adventures they find themselves mired in thick swampland. Charlie gets out to tow the boat but gets covered in leeches. Feverish, starving and without water, the pair resign themselves to death. Rosie says a quiet prayer and settles down next to Charlie who has already passed out. As the pair of them lie there on the deck, the camera draws back, and we are given a God’s eye view of the scene. They are just feet away from the lake and the rain is about to pour down.
So many of our most treasured stories feature characters facing similar seemingly insurmountable challenges. And always, there is that final gut-wrenching scene when they seem totally doomed. We put our hands to our mouth and wonder, how can they get out of this one?
The Bible has many such stories, but here are three of my personal favourites:
… King Hezekiah is trapped inside Jerusalem, besieged by the mighty Assyrian army. Many of his people have already died of starvation and those that remain are reduced to eating their own faeces and drinking their own urine (sorry, but that’s what it says). The Assyrian king tries to buy them off with promises of a much better life if only they will surrender and renounce their God. Weak and emaciated, Hezekiah staggers into the temple and spreads out the king’s letter before the LORD:
‘…open your eyes, O LORD, and see;’ he prays, ‘listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.’
2 Kings 19:16
… Elijah is the only prophet in Israel that King Ahab hasn’t hunted down and killed. He flees into the scorching heat of the Judean desert until he finds shelter under a broom tree. Hungry, starving and exhausted he prays just to close his eyes and never wake up.
‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.’
1 Kings 19:4
… Joseph is thirty years old. Since the age of seventeen he’s either been enslaved or rotting in a prison dungeon. All his life he’s been faithful to God but where’s it got him? All he has known is treachery and betrayal. His brothers tried to kill him then sold him as a slave. His ex-master’s wife has falsely accused him of rape. A fellow prisoner he once helped promised to use his influence to have him released but then forgets about him. Now all he can look forward to is the daily drudgery of prison life…
The Christian film director, Bart Gavigan said that “story is the last place where we let go of hope”, because it encourages us to believe that life is not just a series of random events, as Robert McKee, the world’s foremost screenplay writing teacher writes:
“Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us in our search for reality, our best efforts to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.”
Storytelling was strongly embedded in ancient Jewish culture and Jesus himself was a supreme storyteller. Yet story always involves some form of suffering – and the more profound, the more compelling and powerful the story becomes. If any of these three stories were dramatized on TV with the same visceral power as they are described in the Bible, they would all require a pre-broadcast warning:
Contains scenes of prolonged graphic and bloody violence that some viewers may find upsetting.
What then would keep us watching? Hope. The hope that God might deliver us like he delivered Hezekiah, or whisper guidance as he did to Elisha or pull us out of a metaphorical dungeon and give us a new life as he did to Joseph.
The Apostle Paul writes that,
“… in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
which is another way of saying that God is telling a story through our lives. Story is God’s antidote to despair.
Yet sometimes that notion seems fanciful and far-fetched. Things happen to us that are so dreadful that the idea that they form part of some divine plan or narrative strikes us as ludicrous and even downright offensive. Few Christians have not experienced hardship, torment, or tragedy at least in some point in their lives.
One of atheism’s most formidable champions was the late Christopher Hitchens who died of oesophageal cancer when he was just sixty-two. Hitchens insisted that he drew strength and comfort from his atheism because he didn’t have to endure the additional psychological trauma of having to make sense of what was happening to him. In a godless universe there is no point in becoming angry or bitter in the face of suffering, and ascribing meaning to it is simply a waste of time and energy.
If I’m brutally honest, there have been many times in my life when Hitchens’ world view has seemed far more plausible than the Biblical one. If I was to see the events of my life – or indeed that of most Christians I know – portrayed on screen, I think I would spend much of the film scratching my head and thinking, what was the point of that? Why did this happen? Where’s the story here? As I prayed about this, the word that came to me was overcoming – “succeed in dealing with (a problem or difficulty).” But what does that word mean to us as Christians?
The book of Job is thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. It is a drama in which things are revealed to the reader that the characters in the story are not privy to. Job’s friends see a servant of God undergo a series of appalling experiences, whilst we the reader are shown a battle in the heavenlies between God and Satan for Job’s soul. Job and his friends argue endlessly, vainly attempting to make sense of his suffering, until, finally, a young man named Elihu who has listened in silence to the debate shares his revelation of God’s deeper purpose. It is one of the most precious and neglected verses in all of scripture:
He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.
8-Nov-21: Pillows Lisa Stapp
Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’
Steve and I recently took stock of our stateside travels since we flew into Seattle on September 16th. Here is the overview as of today, November 8th:
Miles driven: 5,800
States driven through: 14
Beds slept in: 18
A couple of those beds were in ‘Airbnb’s with lovely views of water or mountains; many were in the homes of family and friends where the focus was relationship (and food!); and several times they were in hotels of questionable repute with the sole purpose of providing a place to lay our heads for a night’s rest.
Although the quality and comfort levels of the beds varied, they all had one thing in common – pillows.
Can I be honest? I like to be comfortable. Comfy chairs, cozy slippers and snuggly blankets, hot tea with scones shared around a table, and definitely a warm bed and pillow. None of this ‘roughing it’ nonsense for me!
Then I read in Genesis the story of Jacob fleeing the wrath of his brother Esau. He left Beersheba for Haran and stopped for the night in a deserted place. No Hilton or Mercure, no inn, not even an old shepherd’s hut in sight. What did he choose for a pillow?
When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
That stone came to represent Bethel – the house of God.
The man in Luke 9:57 who declared that he wanted to follow Jesus may have had a similar attitude toward comfort and security to mine. I can imagine his expression when Jesus pointed out the cost of becoming one of his disciples.
I don’t think God is asking me to replace my nice pillow with one of stone, but I do feel He is challenging me to step out of my comfort zone in all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
1-Nov-21: Looking In The Mirror Steve Stapp
When you visit with friends from different periods of your life, especially if you haven’t seen them in years, it takes you back to that time when you first knew them. It’s almost like having a snapshot of what you were like back then. Or perhaps it’s like looking in the mirror but rather than seeing yourself as you are now, you see yourself as you were ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
As I recently visited with various people from my past with whom I have been friends for 30 or 40 years, I remembered who I was then. Many good memories… I also thought about the years in between and reflected on the journey to where I am today. Have I been faithful to God’s leading in my life over the years? Or have I been someone “who listens to the word but does not do what it says…”?
The answer to that question is not necessarily clear cut for most of us. I’ve been more in tune with God’s leading in some periods of my life than in others. But the good news is that God loves us, and he is faithful.
…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
I know there will certainly be negative consequences if I disregard God’s leading in my life and go my own way, but if I turn back to him, I can trust him to accomplish amazing things in and through me.
It is wonderful that we have a loving Father in Heaven who continues working in our lives, accomplishing a “good work” in us through the ups and downs and across the years of life.
25-Oct-21: God’s Mercy Steve Stapp
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:20-23 (NLT)
There are times when you experience something in life that is difficult; something happens that causes a great sense of loss and sadness, but despite the pain, you clearly and undeniably see God’s kindness and mercy shining through. It may be the timing or the context or who you experience it with, but God’s fingerprints on the situation jump out at you. God’s love is undeniably evident in the midst of sorrow.
Our family experienced a great loss a month ago. We gathered on the last Wednesday of September for the beginning of a family reunion that would culminate three days later in the wedding of my brother’s youngest son.
The day started beautifully with lots of hugs and conversations. What no one saw coming was that by the end of the day, my brother’s wife, who was the mother of the groom, would suddenly and unexpectedly die of respiratory failure.
That evening, as she began having difficulty breathing, the six of us who were with her rendered aid as best we could but were unable to prevent her death.
You might ask, where is God’s mercy in that? It was there. She had been struggling with her health for a while and had spoken of how tired she was of carrying on in her current state. When the time came, she was surrounded by those who loved her, and she passed quickly and with a minimum of pain. She recognized that she wasn’t going to make it and was able with her final breath to say, “Love you guys.”
God’s mercy toward my brother was especially clear. When that moment came, he was surrounded by family members whom he loved and trusted, and who provided him with support and encouragement. Rather than being alone, he was with family and felt cared for throughout the events.
Sometimes God’s mercy is seen through the practicalities as well. With the family already gathered, we were able to have the wedding that Saturday and her memorial service the following day while everyone was still there.
Of course, there was tremendous sadness with her passing, but the Lord’s “mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness”
18-Oct-21: Post-Covid Times Emma Claridge
Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.
Isaiah 43: 18-19 (MSG)
Whilst we were all in the thick of the Covid pandemic, what got most of us through, was the feeling that “things will eventually get better” and that we all needed to just “hang in there”.
I too held on to this notion, knowing that life does eventually get better but aware of the unsteady nature of life. However, what I often thought to myself “what if this is as good as it gets – what if life doesn’t actually get any better?”
Many of us may do that, whilst waiting for the right partner, the right job, the right holiday, the right friends, for health to improve. Not to be pessimistic or negative (honest!), but by always waiting for life to show up for us, we could be forgetting or unable to enjoy life as it is now. This is such a growing and predominant issue in today’s society, as mental health issues become more of a relevant hot topic, and we are encouraged to be mindful and live in the moment.
The thing is, whilst waiting for things to improve, we are constantly trying to find some security in life, rather than seeking out God’s stability and security – He is the one who keeps us steadfast and sure:
“the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end”
Lamentations 3:22 (NIV)
When you’re wondering how to deal with life’s twists and turns, the Message version of Lamentations 3 encourages us to “wait for hope to appear” (v29) and reminds us that “the master won’t ever walk out and fail to return…his stockpiles of loyal love are immense”. Isaiah 43:2 encourages us that “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze”.
Surround and immerse yourself in reminders of God’s steadfast love, hope and protection during the more testing times when life feels like is swirling around and dragging you into some deep chasm. Don’t waste time waiting for life to get better but treat each day as an opportunity to change and grow more in your relationship with God, asking and believing Him to sustain you through the good and the bad times.
11-Oct-21: Holding The Line Elaine Young
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17: 11
I read an article recently that spoke of the devil’s craftiness and how he deceived Adam and Eve. Adam had been told about not eating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve was created. And he was present when the serpent was talking to Eve. He had direct instruction from God not to eat of the fruit and yet he took it when Eve gave him some to eat.
Now, he had walked and talked with God face to face all his life, he knew God in a way we can only guess at, but he didn’t stop Eve and say, “No.” At least he should have said, “Let’s ask Father about it first” and question the source of the information. They knew the goodness and kindness of God. What would the outcome have been if they had done that?
There are so many false doctrines and strange ideas going around today and many people are deceived. Fake news is a minefield. There is an idiom that speaks into the times we are living in. Holding the line alludes to former military tactics, in which a line of troops was supposed to prevent an enemy break through. As Christians we have to hold the line, and how do we do that? By doing what the Bereans did. We can question everything we hear and read, things that bombard us and demand that we accept them as truth. The Bereans even questioned the famous Paul of Tarsus and studied the scriptures to see if he was speaking the truth.
Some years ago, a young Christian woman I knew spoke to me about her terror at reading that the particle accelerator called the “Hadron Collider” could create a black hole and about the possibility of the earth being sucked into it. My reply? What does the Word say about the End of the World? It certainly doesn’t get sucked into a black hole! Jesus told the Sadducees when they asked him about the hereafter and the problem of a woman marrying several brothers, “You are in error because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God.” Matthew 22: 29.
We need to know the Scriptures and when we are faced with a new ‘thing’ we need to ask, what does the Bible say about that – everytime. Especially in the troubled times we are living in. Ephesians 4:14 says: we must not be carried away by every wind of doctrine, tossed to and fro, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.
About 14 years ago, we were tired of going to a rock concert at church every Sunday and an elder from the church invited us to a different kind of church which had come about with the blessing of our pastor at the time. It was to be more casual, more open and we went along because we knew and trusted the man who invited us. He had always been a Word-based Christian. However, as time went on, we began to question what we had been drawn into. The man was totally fascinated by the Post-Modern church. His teaching changed and he encouraged the congregation to read the works of the proponents of the movement rather than the Bible itself. The meetings took on a New Age atmosphere and everyone’s opinion counted. I often asked him what the Bible said about the things he was proposing, and we got to feel that we were no longer welcome there. We were happy to leave!
We have to know the Truth of the Word, otherwise we can be deceived as Adam and Eve were. Question everything you hear. A righteous man will not take it amiss if you check out the truth of what he is preaching and would invite you to do so in fact. Paul says in Romans 14: 22 “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”
Time and again the scriptures repeat the admonition 1 Thessalonians 5: 20. “Test the spirits, examine everything and hold onto the good.” Again, 1 John 4:1 says, “Do not believe every spirit but test them to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
God bless you as you hold the line.
4-Oct-21: Home is Acceptance Rob King
‘Searching for Sugarman’ is an extraordinary documentary film about the American singer songwriter, Sixto Rodrigues. In the late sixties and early seventies, Rodrigues released a handful of albums which were critically acclaimed but didn’t sell well, and he soon vanished into obscurity.
But a bootlegged recording of his music found its way to South Africa and was enthusiastically received. This was a time when opponents of apartheid struggled to find a collective voice because all forms of protest were ruthlessly supressed. Rodrigues’ songs united them, and his name became synonymous with their struggle. In South Africa he was bigger than the Beatles and Elvis Presley, except that no one knew anything about him. It was even rumoured that his lack of success back home had driven him to suicide by setting himself on fire onstage.
In the late 1990’s, two avid Cape Town fans resolved to discover the truth. They traveled to the US and Europe visiting places mentioned in Rodrigues’ song lyrics and discovered that he was still alive. Then, one day, in the early hours of the morning one of the pair, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman received a phone call.
“Hi, is that Sugar?”
Segerman knew every one of Rodrigues’s songs word-for-word, so he recognised the voice immediately. Rodrigues, now in his late fifties, had spent his life working long hours as a low-paid housing renovation labourer whilst living in a run-down suburb of Detroit. He had no idea that he was a household name in South Africa.Word soon got around and he was invited to do a series of concerts. As he and his three daughters landed in Cape Town, they stared in disbelief at the fleet of limousines, the white carpet, the posters, the paparazzi, and the hordes of clamouring fans. Every one of the stadium-sized venues had sold out in record time.
But as Rodrigues stepped out to perform, he did not seem nervous but strangely serene. As the wild cheering rang around the arena, one commentator remarked that it felt more like a reunion than a concert. The audience were just happy to finally meet with him. “Home is acceptance,” he remarked. “Having spent his life as an outcast, he (Rodrigues) could now be who he really was and inhabit this higher form of himself.”
Yet despite this, Rodrigues returned to the USA and continued to work as a manual labourer and live frugally in the same house he had occupied for the past forty years. And although he went on the make a fortune from concerts and music sales, he gave most of it away to friends and family. So, this is not just your classic rags to riches story.
Research has shown that a high percentage of young people would prefer fame over success in a chosen profession, and social media has been blamed for fuelling this desire. But I wonder whether social media simply facilitates an innate desire within us all to be known, cherished and have a Rodrigues-like experience with the rest of the world.
Recently, I joined up with an old friend to do the Hadrian’s Wall walk. Every evening he posted a detailed blog to update his online followers on our progress, and every morning he’d snatch up his phone to check the responses. Whilst I’m not judging him, this is the reason why I avoid social media. Having used it in the past, I was shocked by just how much of my emotional well-being hung on getting a “like” or similar affirmation and how much it distracted me from other important tasks.
My friend and I are both in our sixties, so my message to any young people reading this is, this yearning for fame and adulation never goes away. We just learn to conceal and suppress it a little better! And what happens to the select few who experience an excess of it? Ask that to the likes of Princess Diana, Amy Winehouse and Maradona.
So, was Rodrigues’ decision to return to his anonymous life in the USA informed by wisdom and his capacity for inner truthfulness? And did he sense that whilst he had had a rare and precious experience, it was not the thing that his soul truly craved for?
Many years ago, a friend at church told me about a time when his life was a mess and he cried out to God:
“Lord, I’ve always tried to do the right thing.”
“Ian, everything will be alright,” a voice replied.
Ian said that as he heard his name spoken, he had the sense that everything about him was intimately known, and it changed him forever. It made me think of when Jesus told his followers:
“…the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7)
and the verse in Isaiah:
“… you are precious and honoured in my sight, and… I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)
My working theory about fame and adulation is that it’s a fake, a counterfeit and a substitute for a God-given need that is as every bit as vital to our sustenance as food and water. But we won’t find it in this world.
In the Apostle Paul’s words:
“… our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20).
My favourite moment in the film is when Rodrigues is told about his status in South Africa. He stares and blinks, unable to take it in. In the same way, Paul tells us:
“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6)
Our yearning for identity and approval in a world where we are largely deprived of it, is totally healthy and natural. But Peter assures us that we already have it:
“… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
If, like me, you have fantasised about having our own Rodrigues-like moment, then no number of celebrities claiming that fame is not what it’s cracked up to be will assuage it. But perhaps it signals to an altogether deeper craving in our souls: for that glorious moment when Jesus finally welcomes us home.
27-Sep-21: Moving On Emma Claridge
So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause. No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thornbushes, but stately pines – monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God.
Isaiah 55: 12–13 (MSG)
I recently moved house and the few months leading up to moving were predominantly stressful, and like many people I sometimes wondered if it was worth it and if I was doing the right thing!
I moved on what was the hottest day of the year so far and interestingly also the first day that the Covid regulations lifted – feeling like a day of freedom in many ways. The move itself was pretty exhausting, but the feeling I got when I walked in my new house was one of elation. I had a joy that burst out of me, that had felt suppressed for quite some time. The elation of not only moving, but the freedom of Covid restrictions lifting, led to a euphoric feeling as life felt as if it was getting back to some kind of normality again. This feeling stayed with me for about the first 2 or 3 weeks of living here. Everyday I’d wake up feeling on top of the world and taking immense pleasure in having a garden (for the first time in 10 years) and having space to work from home.
It occurred to me just how difficult the last couple of years had been – a relationship break up, working from home, living in a small flat which I couldn’t sell for a year, numerous disappointments and personal challenges, Covid, a difficult workload and occasionally battling as my illness flared up. This move for me seemed to signify a shift from the old into the new in more ways than one. It was an unexpected and strange feeling, as I didn’t expect to feel this way – in fact, the financial obligations and the responsibility were giving me several sleepless nights, so this ecstatic feeling I had when I moved was both unexpected and revealing and made all that previous pain feel worthwhile!
It made me think of how often we don’t realise when we are in a dark place, until we’re no longer in that place. Sometimes that decision to go into something new can feel challenging, painful and difficult… sometimes almost deem it unnecessary or not worth the effort. How many friends do we have who say they don’t need Jesus, because their lives are fine without Him? It’s because they don’t know any different. They may think their life is good, but until they experience life WITH Him, then they don’t know any different.
I hadn’t realised how much difference moving to this house would make in my life on many levels and I’m glad I had the courage to see it through. Sometimes God wants you to step out into something new, out of the darkness and the pain, old thoughts/routines/attitudes and into something that could blow your mind! It may just be the best thing you’ve ever done!
20-Sep-21: He Restores My Soul Steve Stapp
We left our house around 8:30 am last Wednesday morning. After roughly 46 hours “on the road” which included train rides, hotel stays, multiple flights, and a layover at JFK Airport in New York, we arrived in Seattle, feeling utterly worn out and a bit confused about whether it was day or night.
The day following our arrival, our friend “K” picked us up and whisked us away to an Airbnb cottage she had rented that was right on the waters of Puget Sound, an hour southwest of Seattle.
We drove away from Seattle, leaving the city behind, moving further and further out toward the middle of nowhere. As we neared our destination, we turned off the asphalt and headed down a long dirt driveway leading to the cottage.
The property was covered with huge pine and fir trees, rising perfectly straight from the forest floor a hundred feet in the air, like an army of giant sentinels standing guard.
On several occasions during our time there, I walked out and stood silently among the trees, looking across the water. Standing completely still, listening, and looking, I was struck by the difference between the almost constant stress and turmoil with which we live in our daily lives and the silent peacefulness of the beautiful, living creation that our wonderful Creator provided for us.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul
Psalm 23:2-3a (NKJV)
Be still, and know that I am God
Psalm 46:10a (NIV)
God knows what we need.
As I stop my motion and turmoil and choose to be still with God, He meets with me and restores my soul.
13-Sep-21: What Is A Disciple? Steve Stapp
By the time I was about six years old, I probably had a pretty good handle on what Christianity was about because my family went to church every time the doors were open. I had been listening to the Bible being taught every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening for years. Some kids might have rolled their eyes and rebelled, but I actually wanted to have a relationship with God, I wanted to be a follower of Jesus.
Did that make me a disciple?
Around that age, I decided that I needed to commit my life to Christ. I needed to “get saved.” I went to my room and knelt by my bed. I figured I knew pretty well what I needed to pray, and God could fill in the gaps if I messed up.
Three years later, when I was nine, I decided to do it again with some “professional help” so I got my mother. She and I knelt together to pray, and I committed my life to Christ again. The following Sunday I walked to the front of the church at the end of the service and told the pastor what I had done so it would be totally public. A few weeks later I was baptised.
Did that make me a disciple?
Well, maybe I was born again, but what is it that makes a person a disciple?
In my early teens, I saw God do some wonderful things. It was the time of the “Jesus Revolution” in the ’70s. I even read my Bible, memorized some verses, enjoyed singing some wonderful Christian songs, and had the best of intentions.
But around the age of 20, my spiritual life had no vitality and I felt drawn to some things that didn’t fit under the label of “discipleship.”
Was I a disciple?
I sure didn’t look like it.
At the age of 23, Jesus intervened in my life, and I experienced him in a completely different way than ever before.
Was I just then becoming a disciple?
Luke 14:26,27,33 (NLT) says:
If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple… So, you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.
I think Jesus does not want me to underestimate what he’s asking of me.
What is a disciple?
A disciple is someone whose devotion to Jesus surpasses every other devotion in their life. If I live that out, it will affect my thoughts, my feelings, my choices, my finances, my focus, and my relationships.
Jesus will be my betrothed, my “true north.” Everything and everyone else is secondary. It sounds like something I can’t accomplish without him doing a work in me.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)
6-Sep-21: The Fridge Freezer Robert King
Back in my thirties, I used to attend a vibrant inner-city church in Manchester. The ministry team regularly took its simple message to the streets and often attracted people with profound needs. Evelyn was one such person. She lived alone, in the poorest part of the city, her face grizzled with the hardships of life.
“Do you know anyone who needs a fridge freezer?” she asked me one Sunday.
“Yes, me!” I exclaimed. I was trying to furnish my first house, so money was tight.
“Right then,” she frowned thoughtfully, “I’ll ask the Lord what I should charge you.”
She gave me a price a few Sunday’s later and I arranged to collect it. When I arrived, I noticed that she had put the contents in bowls of water to keep them cool.
“But won’t you need a fridge freezer?” I asked her.
“The Lord’s promised me another one,” she assured me.
I felt uncomfortable about taking it away, but she was insistent.
“I need to be obedient to what He’s told me,” she said firmly.
The next time I visited, I found a brand-new a fridge freezer installed in her kitchen.
“I got it from the local store,” she said, cutting the conversation short.
So, this is how the Lord gets you a fridge freezer, I thought to myself. You go to a shop and purchase one in the normal way.
Now I felt even more uncomfortable. Evelyn was on benefits and lived a hand-to-mouth existence. I had exploited her naivety and ought to have cancelled the whole transaction. But the following week there was a different fridge freezer installed.
“I never had any peace about that one I bought,” she explained. “Then I noticed it had a cracked tray, so I went back and asked them to collect it. On my way home, I noticed this, standing next to one of the market stalls. The stallholder said that it had just been left there – and offered to drop it at my house off a pound.”
Whenever I visited Evelyn after that, I made a point of inspecting her unmarked £1.00 fridge freezer. Yes, it was a bargain, but then so was the one that she had sold to me. In fact, looking back, I was the main beneficiary of Evelyn’s faith. Mine too worked perfectly for many years.
The Bible teacher, David Pawson once asked God why he witnessed so many miracles in the African mission fields – and so few in West.
Because they’re poor and they’re simple, came the reply. They’re poor enough to need my miracles and simple enough to believe them.
Just like Jesus’s prayer in Matthew’s gospel:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
26-Jul-21: Wrestling and Trusting Steve Stapp
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
Our daughter lives in Georgia. We have been working with her on the process of purchasing a home near where she currently lives so that she and our granddaughter will have a more permanent place to live and can put down roots. Working with our daughter in purchasing a home is also a way that God has shown us to invest in the lives of our daughter and granddaughter.
But of course, anyone who has been involved in the purchase (or sale) of a home knows that things don’t always go the way you hoped they would. The completion of the purchase and signing of all the documents (the “closing”) was scheduled for 15 July but has already been delayed once and now is at risk of being delayed again unless Lisa and I can get a particular form from a UK lawyer and get it back to the right person in Georgia within the next few days.
The additional delay would not have a direct impact on Lisa and me, but for our daughter and granddaughter it would mean they wouldn’t be able to move into the new home until after our granddaughter’s scheduled first day at her new school, which makes life complicated and stressful for them. Hence, my dad persona kicks in and I’m very emotionally stretched in wanting to fix things for my daughter.
Maggie spoke yesterday at church on Psalm 23 and reminded us that God really is our shepherd, and he cares about us. His plan is for us to be able to lie down in green pastures. He wants to restore our souls. He is also our good, good Father. His dad persona is infinitely greater than mine.
But in his infinite wisdom, God does not always fix things for us or the ones we love. Jesus said:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 (NIV)
So, I lay awake in the middle of the night last night for two hours, tossing and turning, my mind going 90 miles an hour thinking about all possible scenarios and all the ways we might have to respond. Most of us have that tendency to make plans and try to figure out a way to control our lives.
But the Lord is my shepherd, and he loves my daughter far more than I do. I know that in my head, but how do I get my emotions to respond, especially when those emotions involve my dad persona, wanting to provide for and take care of my daughter?
It’s in the wrestling with the messes and stresses and struggles of life that we get to choose faith. It’s not typically a pretty picture, and we don’t know the outcome, but we get the opportunity to press in. God never stops loving us and leading us.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
John 10:14-15 (NIV)
19-Jul-21: Trusting God in Uncertainty Steve Stapp
I had a difficult day on Friday. It’s not that anything terrible happened; it’s just that there were a lot of uncertainties and frustrations and things all on one day that could have potentially gone badly. I was tense, then impatient, then angry.
Looking back, none of what happened was actually bad. We had been self-isolating and were doing an “at-home” Covid test Friday morning which can be stressful, but we didn’t have symptoms and the test results came back negative, so it was fine. There were some business dealings in the US that got delayed and will be a significant inconvenience to our daughter, but no direct impact on us. There were some complicated travel plans that we committed some money to, only to realize one of the dates needed to be moved and we didn’t know if there would be a change fee. There was a business email that looked bad, but when I read through it carefully the next day, I realized it was sent to me by mistake and should have gone to someone else.
Sometimes things happen all at once and the timing makes us feel like we’re being dumped on. There’s an old saying, “When you get squeezed, whatever is in you comes out” and what was coming out of me on Friday was not loving kindness, grace, and patience. It was the other stuff.
The reason I am telling you all this has to do with timing. After my stressful Friday, I sat down Saturday morning to do some reading. I had downloaded three free eBooks (about 20 pages each) written by John Mark Comer, who was one of the main speakers at a Vineyard NLC a while back. I didn’t know what the eBooks were about, and when I opened the first one the title jumped out at me. It was “We Don’t Know What’s Going to Happen and That’s Okay: Living in Holy Uncertainty.”
What can I say? Eons ago before the creation of the universe, God knew that on that particular Friday I was going to have a stressed-out, angry day because of uncertainty and not feeling in control, and then on Saturday I would need to be reminded of the truth by reading that specific eBook about letting go of my need for control and trusting God.
Almost all of us have control issues if we get squeezed hard enough. Then we see the stress, anxiety, anger, coping mechanisms, and compulsive behavior start showing up.
The bottom line of the eBook was this: as Christians, three things that are important to us are faith, hope, and love, and none of them can thrive and be nurtured if our need for control is winning the battle for our lives.
For many, this pandemic season is stripping away the illusion of control. How much are we willing to trust God when we aren’t in control? Was I able to trust God enough to rein in my negative emotions on Friday? It was a battle.
Gratitude also can be a casualty in a “need-for-control” environment. Scripture teaches us that being thankful is a huge part of experiencing God’s joy and peace.
In James 4:14-15 (TPT) it says:
“You don’t have a clue what tomorrow may bring. For your fleeting life is but a warm breath of air that is visible in the cold only for a moment and then vanishes! Instead, you should say, ‘Our tomorrows are in the Lord’s hands and if he is willing, we will live life to its fullest and do this or that.'”
Lord, help me to remember that no matter how much I want things to go a certain way, You know what is best far better than I do, You love me more than I can comprehend, and You can always be trusted.
12-Jul-21: Pruning Lisa Stapp
One of the many aspects of life in the UK that brings me great joy is the beauty found in nature, especially English gardens. We ‘ooh and aww’ on our walks, admiring the results of others’ labours. (Steve often points at a plant and asks, “What’s that?” Usually my response is, “I have no idea, but it sure is gorgeous!”)
The combination of rain and sunshine these past weeks has resulted in tremendous growth of vegetation, seen in the multitude of hay bales in the fields, our neighbours’ gorgeous flower and veg gardens, the weeds in our little car park, and the sniffles and sneezes of allergy sufferers.
Yesterday we joined Nik and Maggie and Emma in attacking the grossly overgrown garden of an elderly neighbour. There was hardly space to walk at the start, but as the cutting and chopping and pruning continued, a lovely garden began to emerge. It reminded us of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett as we found treasures: a birdbath, a birdhouse, a garden shed, even a little pond. Sure, there were some weeds that had taken hold and needed to be uprooted, but the main problem came from the uncontrolled growth of shrubs and plants that had been planted intentionally and lovingly years ago.
Jesus said in John 15:1-2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
The physical garden was a beautiful picture of God’s love and care for me. Pruning usually hurts, and since I dislike pain and discomfort, I prefer to go my own way … but the chaos and ugliness that result from neglect and willful choices are not God’s intention for the life of a Jesus follower. He wants me to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and to trust Him to prune and clear away anything in my life that does not bring Him glory.
5-Jul-21: Being in the moment Emma Claridge
You hem me in before and behind.
Psalm 139:5 (NIV)
Literally 5 minutes from my house are some lovely walks, in particular, a big open field which this time of year is filled with sheaves of corn which come up to my waist. It’s absolutely stunning as the whole field becomes a sea of yellow and particularly so when it contrasts against the blue sky. I was on a walk recently when I felt God saying to look up and take in the surroundings. I hadn’t realised I was a bit absorbed in my thoughts. When I stopped, I was filled with gratitude for the breath-taking sight as I stopped charging ahead and took in the beauty of my surroundings.
It made me consider how often we race through our day – the need to get through to lunchtime, or to something happening that evening – or even to something happening that weekend (when it’s only Monday!). We are not properly living in the moment and possibly missing out on some of the beauty of the moment and inadvertently causing ourselves a lot of anxiety.
I’m currently doing a course on mindfulness. It’s been very helpful in making me think about how my thoughts are often in the past or the future and very rarely in the present. Since I’ve been doing this course, my thoughts seem to have become clearer and less clouded by regrets or fears and I have learnt some strategies for keeping anxiety and stress in check. More importantly, keeping me in the moment and noticing the small patterns to my day – not filling my thoughts with anxiety about the future or regrets from the past.
I was reminded of a verse in one of my favourite Psalms – Psalm 139. The verse ‘you hem me in before and behind’ (v5, NIV) came to mind. I really like the NIV version of this, as it makes me think of God ‘tucking me in’ to my day and keeping me present. The Message version reads ‘I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there too – your reassuring presence, coming and going’.
God is all about new beginnings, not letting regrets from the past hold us back or thinking too much about the future and being consumed with any anxiety that comes from it. I believe that God is very much into mindfulness – He wants us to be present in the here and now and take time to breathe in the moment, not racing through our days missing out on opportunities to either hear from him or to be used by Him.
28-Jun-21: Accepted Elaine Young
I am sure you have noticed the way Satan’s attacks strike at the foundations of our relationship with Jesus. The enemy always questions what Jesus has said, trying to destabilise our comfort and assurance in God. And he chooses his moments when we are most susceptible.
Jesus was in the wilderness, hungry, and thirsty no doubt, and therefore vulnerable. Luke 4 says that he was tempted for 40 days. Imagine the bombardment Jesus suffered for all that time, yet without capitulating to the subtle whispers in his heart.
I find that Satan’s darts are often thrown when I am settling down for the night. Some while ago, I had climbed into bed and childhood memories came flooding back to me. I had a parent who had always undermined me, who constantly brought me down; I wasn’t as clever as my sister, I certainly didn’t sing as well as she could and so on. I always looked for approval, but the reward was faint praise. This parent died many years ago and I have learned to forgive and be confident in my own skin.
This particular night as I lay down, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being ‘not good enough’. Discomfort washed over me, and I was back feeling like that young girl who had to try hard to be accepted. and self-pity stirred in my heart.
The voices in our head, our capacity for self-criticism condemn us far more than others do. We are constantly trying to live up to others’ expectations and often we end up comparing ourselves to what others are doing and achieving.
And as I lay there, I felt God say to me, “You are right. You are not good enough! I came to this earth for exactly this reason. But by my death on the cross, I have made you acceptable in the beloved.”
“You are a new creature; the former things are passed away, behold, I make all things new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
We so often forget this, and try to be good, but we cannot reach perfection. And the comfort is to know that He who started a work will be able to complete it in you. Philippians 1:6
Thanks be to God.
“To the praise of his glorious Grace, we are accepted in the Beloved!” Eph. 1:6 (KJV paraphrased)
21-Jun-21: Onions Emma Claridge
Do you ever find yourself transported back to your younger self, by a relatively minor or innocuous comment or action, that should just past you by, but for some reason feels like someone’s ripped off a plaster on a healing wound.
Recently, I had an experience where I felt rejected by a friend which made me feel on the outside of a well-established social group and not surprisingly, made me feel quite vulnerable and insecure.
I was taken back to my school days, the familiar rejection and awkwardness of friendships that didn’t always work out. As I tried to work through the feelings that surfaced, I reflected how we are very much like onions, complex beings with many layers, some more painful than others to let go of in order to get to the “root” of the issue. Just like when we cut an onion, it can sting/ make us cry until we get to the root of the issue. Sometimes the actual incident that has happened to cause us upset, is relatively minor, indeed we need to often dig quite deep to root out the actual cause of our overreaction and explore that instead.
Psalm 139 is a great psalm to read when you want to be reminded about how well God knows us. Verses 23-24 remind me how easy it is to cause offence, on the back of anxious thoughts:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me, and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
God knows us far better than we know ourselves. This whole Psalm in fact, explores how God knows our coming and our going and our thoughts even before we think them. To God, we are an “open book” and notes that ‘even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking’ (Psalm 139:23 MSG) which is reassuring (as we don’t have to try and articulate it ourselves) but also a little bit scary! Our true intentions and feelings are never hidden from God, but we often have a great deal of difficulty being truly honest with ourselves.
In an effort to deal with this in a positive way, I tried to focus on what my Christian response should be (which was challenging!) rather than the easier and more self-obsessed route of wallowing in self-pity or ranting to everyone I know about how this person had wronged me. I found the following helpful and hope you will too in similar situations.
* Acknowledge it
* Repent any part you played in making it worse
* Forgive the person – keep revisiting until you finally succumb! (‘For we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ Romans 3:23)
* Choose to believe the good in others
* Protect yourself if necessary – in some cases exploring whether the friendship is healthy?
* Seek peace (‘If at all possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ Romans 12:18)
* Pray for the person
* and finally, Choose love – as Thomas Merton (an American monk) put it: ‘our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy’.
14-Jun-21: What Do You Want? Rob King
Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
John 1:38 (NIV)
Several years ago, the BBC screened a documentary about a tiny fellowship in mid-town America. The filmmaker to his credit, didn’t seek to ridicule the group but to explore what Jesus meant to them. He focused on two members: Paul and Adrian.
Paul was a stalwart of the group, but his wife had left him for another man, leaving him to raise his young children on his own. Paul asked the rest of the group to stand in faith with him that his wife would repent and come back to them.
“Devil, you take your hands off of her!” he growled.
The camera panned around to Adrian rolling his eyes scornfully. Adrian attended the meetings irregularly, but never prayed out loud or joined in with the praise and worship. The only time he seemed to muster any enthusiasm was during Bible study when he asked lots of awkward and challenging questions.
Paul asked his pastor to seek out his ex-wife, Jeannie and act as an intermediary. The pastor persuaded her to meet up with him in a local café.
“I’ve got some scriptures to share with you,” he told her.
He unzipped his Bible and pointed a stubby finger at a verse about adultery. Jeannie’s eyes filled with tears. She told the pastor that she no longer loved Paul and had found somebody else.
Several weeks later, during a Bible study, Adrian began to make a sardonic remark then suddenly broke down and began to wail. As he committed his life to Jesus, the film cut to the pastor telling Paul that Jeannie had moved in with her new boyfriend.
“But how can God let my kids grow up without a mom?” demanded Paul bitterly.
In the closing credits we were told that Adrian became a regular member of the fellowship, but that Paul had stopped attending. It reminded me of the 1984 film, Amadeus. The main protagonist, Antonio Salieri promises God that he will live a life of piety and devotion if God will make him a great composer. When the young Mozart arrives at court, Salieri is eclipsed and humiliated and reacts by slinging his crucifix into the fire. God has broken their “deal” and now Salieri has no further use for Him.
One of the hardest lessons in my own life has been to realise that the only deal God recognises is the one already done on the Cross. Jesus told the rich young ruler to dispense with his possessions and then to follow him (Mark 10:21). Yet, we can also be rich in our hopes, dreams and ambitions, and live our lives in a perpetual state of simmering discontent waiting for God to deliver on our terms.
Meister Eckhart, the early fourteenth century theologian expressed it this way:
“Whoever seeks God and seeks something else in addition to God, will not find God. But whoever truly seeks God and him alone, will find God and more than him; for they will find together with God all that he has to offer. If you seek God and seek him for your own ends or for your own pleasure then truly, it is not God that you seek.”
7-Jun-21: Rough Edges Steve Stapp
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honour. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.
1 Peter 2:4-5a (NLT)
I was looking out the window of our flat in Darley this morning as Lisa and I ate breakfast. Between snippets of conversation, I was silently asking God for some insight that would be appropriate for a reflection. Then I realized that God’s answer to that question was literally “right before my eyes.” I was staring through our dining room window at the wall of our neighbour’s house, which like most houses in our village is built from stones. God reminded me that we are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.
That sounds lovely if you think about it from the point of view of the final product, the end result. But if you think about the process it takes to arrive at that end result, it’s not lovely at all from the human point of view.
Other neighbours recently hired a couple of guys to build a stone wall more than two meters high across the end of their property, and we were able to watch their progress from our flat. More pertinently, we were able to hear their progress as they ran a very loud electric saw used to shape those stones along with their chisels and hammers.
Chunks of stone don’t naturally show up in the perfect shape to fit “their spot” in the wall. They have to be shaped by the hand of the builder. That fact is no less true spiritually than physically. We each have a lot of uneven sides and rough edges that have to be dealt with before we can fit well into our spot in God’s wall. And it often feels harsh and difficult as the builder shapes us.
I used to think of myself as someone who was not easily offended, but there have been several cases recently (not with anyone from the church) that have revealed to me that I am more easily “rubbed the wrong way” than I realized.
It is this friction with others that God sometimes uses to shape us into a good fit for the wall of his “spiritual temple”. One person even told me, “The greater the friction, the better the fit” although I’m not sure that’s always true.
I can cooperate with God in this process of being shaped into a “living stone” that fits well in the wall of God’s “spiritual temple” through my willingness to yield to God any so-called “rights” I thought I had, the supposed right to be offended or to be treated a certain way. When we come to Christ and become his followers, those so-called “rights” belong to him.
But without a doubt, the end result is worth it. As we each are being shaped to fit well into our spot in God’s wall, we are forming a “spiritual temple” which will be inhabited by God’s Spirit. We get to be part of something filled with God’s manifest presence, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
31-May-21: New Wineskins Steve Stapp
Life is full of changes, some joyful and some painful. Many changes come and go without us thinking much about them. Friends move into our lives, and we enjoy their friendship; then they move out of our lives, and we miss them. Life is a continual process of change.
We all know this intuitively, but it’s interesting to note that a famous Greek philosopher who lived two and a half millennia ago was sufficiently captured by that thought that he wrote about it in a book.
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted as saying ‘change is the only constant in life’. This saying has also been translated to ‘the only constant is change’. This Heraclitus quote was found in one of the more than 100 fragments of his writings, works that are believed to have been a part of his book. He lived in Ephesus, near modern Kusadasi, Turkey, around 500 B.C.”
Of course, there are bigger changes that impact us more profoundly. Some are joyful, such as weddings or births; and some may be crushingly painful such as the death of a loved one or a terminal diagnosis.
Looking back, we tend to be aware that these changes, both the joyful and the painful, act as demarcation lines, delineating the different periods of our lives. The “single man” phase of my life ended abruptly on our wedding day, and I entered a new phase of being a married man.
While it is easy to embrace the joyful changes, it can be difficult to see that the changes that seem painful at the time are often the very things God wants to use to set us free and heal us, if only we could see it from his perspective.
That doesn’t mean that painful events such as death, divorce, job loss, or chronic illness are actually good. It just means that God knew what he was doing as he spoke through the Apostle Paul that: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Jesus said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” Mark 2:22 (NLT)
Change happens in the spiritual realm as well. God is moving and doing new things all the time. Some of those “God changes” represent a new phase of our lives, walking with Him individually and as the church, and it won’t work to try to fit those bigger “God changes” into our old way of thinking, believing, and living.
I was sitting quietly at home a few days ago, thinking about the potential changes ahead for Harrogate Vineyard Church caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns, and I had a pervasive sense that this is a new season, a time when old wineskins won’t work; we will need new wineskins for the new wine God has for us.
Like many others, I had already assumed that things won’t go back to the way they were before the pandemic. But this felt more profound. It was more than just the idea that “business as usual” won’t work; it felt like a spiritual new season, new wine that will require new wineskins.
If that sense is true, then it’s important to be open to change as we go forward. But we can trust God that it will be life-giving change and the new wine will be worth it.
24-May-21: Screaming At God Rob King
I once bought a van for a “bargain price”. In the ensuing months it cost me a small fortune in repairs, but I needed it for my job and couldn’t afford to replace it.
When its MOT became due, I knew that it would cost hundreds to put right. My mechanic recommended a lenient test centre. It was on the edge of the moors, in the middle of nowhere, but worth the journey if it was going to save me money.
It was a blustery, rain-soaked November day, but finally, through my thrashing windscreen wipers, I spotted a tiny shed with a sign outside. The tester gave me the option to either wait around or go away and come back.
“Go away where?” I asked, looking around at the barren landscape.
But sitting in his oil-stained shed for the next ninety minutes wasn’t tempting, so I zipped up my anorak and headed up onto the moor. The wind and rain battered against me, but I was too wound up to care. Mainly, I was angry at God – and spent the next hour screaming at Him.
Nothing in my life was going right. My non-Christian friends had steadily drifted away, whilst my friendships at church felt phoney and superficial. I hated the in-bred backwater where I lived and felt like an alien. I had a low-paid dead-end job. My family were dispersed and were going through one crisis after another. And I had broken up with my then girlfriend and was deeply in debt.
“But at least you’ve got Jesus,” gushed one of my church acquaintances.
Except that to me, Jesus was about as real and as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster. Why people in church clapped, whooped and raised their hands was beyond me. I would have walked away, but for the fact that nothing else held any meaning for me.
As Simon Peter said:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
“But why?” I yelled bitterly. “Why has my life been like this?”
If anyone had heard me on that windswept moor, I could have been sectioned; but nobody else would be insane enough to venture out on such a day.
“And you’re not there either!” I screamed.
Finally, I reached the ridge of a disused quarry and stood there, gazing down forlornly, like a cried-out child. Then these words came to me:
When the devil offered me all the kingdoms of this world if I knelt down and worshipped him, I refused him and chose to go to the Cross – and because I did that, you can utterly trust me.
That was all. Nothing about personal circumstances – and the MOT report proved to be no more lenient than if I had gone somewhere local.
But looking back, I think God had another purpose in taking to the moor that day.
17-May-21: My Buddy Zacchaeus Lisa Stapp
As I listened to Judith’s recent talk on Zacchaeus and his life-changing encounter with Jesus, I felt a certain affinity with this guy. No, I’m not a tax collector and I am definitely not very wealthy, but my stature could be described as ‘petite.’ Normally I don’t think of myself as short … until I see a photo of me standing between a couple of friends who are vertically-gifted. And then there’s the frustration of finding a seat at the cinema, enjoying popcorn and a drink as the film begins, only to have a not-so-short person choose to sit right in front of you, oblivious to the fact that they have blocked your view. (Do I hear an ‘Amen’?)
Zacchaeus and I share more that just being short, however. Why was he so determined to see Jesus? Judith suggested that perhaps Zach thinks seeing Jesus from the tree would satisfy his curiosity, but Jesus wants him to encounter so much more – His presence.
By the time I was 15 years old, I had made many positive choices in my young life – good grades, involvement in school activities, keeping the peace at home, no smoking or drugs or swearing or messing around with guys. All good decisions stemming from a desire to do the right thing, but my heart felt empty. A friend invited me to a midweek service at her church and I thought, “Why not? It’s the middle of the summer school break, I’m bored and even a bit curious.” Little did I know that it was a weeklong revival and my friend wanted me to meet Jesus as she had done.
I did. I encountered Jesus, as He invited Himself into my home – my heart – and invited me into His presence.
Judith’s premise of a different interpretation of verse 8 is fascinating and not something I’d heard before, but it resonated with me:
But Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am giving back four times as much.’
Luke 19:8 (NASB)
If this was not a promise regarding the future, as most translations seem to say, but reflects the present, it means that Zacchaeus had already had a change of heart and that he had resolved to do the right thing in his personal and business life. But Jesus had more for Zacchaeus to encounter – His presence.
My friend Zach and I “may have been doing the right thing, but it’s Jesus’ blessing that provides completion and brings salvation” (borrowed directly from Judith’s talk). We both experienced the restoration and wholeness that can only come through Jesus.
For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.
Luke 19:10 (MSG)
10-May-21: Redeeming the Past, Building the Future Steve Stapp
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.’
2 Samuel 7:1-2
King David had a desire to honour God. He saw that he lived in a comfortable, beautiful palace while the Ark of the Covenant, the “ark of God,” was kept in a tent and did not have a permanent home. David desired to build a temple for the Lord, a place to house the Ark of the Covenant.
The Lord had something else in mind. Speaking through the prophet Nathan, the Lord told David that it was not his role to build the temple because David was a man of war and bloodshed. Rather, David’s son Solomon would build the temple. But David was able to contribute to the process through the provision of land and materials.
I was reading something recently where the author spoke of David’s contribution, pointing out that David’s most significant contributions to the construction of the temple were directly connected to David’s sin.
At one point, David sinned by ordering that a census be taken of the fighting men of Israel, and God sent a plague as punishment for David’s sin. In order to stop the plague, God required that David build an altar to the Lord on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, which led to David’s purchase of that land at full price.
The author I was reading said that the land contributed by David for the construction of the temple was this land that David was required to purchase because of his sin.
David’s other “big” contribution was his son Solomon who was to be the next king of Israel. Solomon was the one who would build that temple. Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba and David’s relationship with Bathsheba began with adultery and murder.
God does not get rid of our past, he redeems it. He does not throw out who we were, but he transforms us into the likeness of his beloved son, Jesus. God uses all of our life including the detritus of our past in ways we could never imagine. He is good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
3-May-21: Soil Steve Stapp
Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. … Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’
Matthew 13:3,8 (NIVUK)
Jesus later explained to his disciples that the seed was his message about the kingdom and the soil in which the seed was being planted was the human heart [soil = heart]. The seed would grow and bear fruit when the message was received into the good soil of a heart with faith where the message was acted on.
What is the heart?
In the Old Testament, the term ‘heart’ meant the very centre of all parts of human existence. The heart was the source of human thinking, understanding, discernment, and wisdom. The heart was associated with emotions such as depression, fear, distress, and joy. The heart was also the place where desires and motivation come from. Ultimately, the heart was where decisions were made.
One day I was asking myself what it takes to make soil rich and fertile. The answer wasn’t pretty. What came to mind was that soil is made up primarily of three things: 1) things like rocks that were once strong but have been crushed, 2) things that were once alive and are now dead, and 3) things that have been pooped out the back end of something.
When we go through things that feel like they are crushing our hearts, when circumstances seem to kill our dreams and desires, when our lives seem outright ‘poopy’, we can become bitter toward God. But the Bible reminds us that difficult things will come our way in life no matter how hard we try to prevent it, and if we will trust God in the midst of it all, he will not only keep it from destroying us, he will turn our hearts into rich fertile soil that will bring forth an abundant crop for his kingdom.
26-Apr-21: Trash or Truth? Lisa Stapp
For if you embrace the truth, it will release true freedom into your lives.
John 8:32 (TPT)
Steve and I took a long walk last week through the fields behind our house and across the River Nidd to a beautiful area that the locals call Willie’s Woods, a lovely spot where bluebells grow abundantly. It was Thursday, April 22, recognised around the world as Earth Day.
I had been challenged that morning in the daily Lectio 365 reading “to play a part in helping to restore the Earth” and decided to take disposable gloves and a small bin bag on our walk, picking up rubbish along the path. Unfortunately, there was enough to fill the bag by the time we had explored the woods. It was a beautiful, sunny day and a coffee from the cafe at Birchfield Farm sounded perfect. There I emptied the bag, ready to fill it again on the trek home.
As we walked, I thought about all the rubbish that accumulates in my life, not so much in the physical sense but in terms of emotional garbage … hurtful words and thoughtless actions that wound, rejections or abandonments that decimate my confidence and identity … choices I’ve made and things that I have said or done that hurt others … lies that I’ve accepted as truth. Like the rubbish in the bag, some are fairly recent additions, while others have been around for a long time.
Memories can be precious. God tells us to remember certain things – His covenant, His mercy, the miracles He has done in the past, how He rescued the Israelites from Egypt – but not everything falls into that category. In Isaiah 43:18 (NIVUK) we read: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past’.
The question came:
Am I lugging around unnecessary junk from the past, or have I emptied all that stinking trash at the foot of the Cross where Jesus offers healing and forgiveness in exchange?
Where I can find wholeness and righteousness through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9, NLT)?
Where I can know true freedom?
Are you carrying something today that needs to be tossed where it belongs?
19-Apr-21: The One Task Steve Stapp
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Revelation 19:7 (NIVUK)
This weekend Lisa and I watched the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, an occasion which we found touching and meaningful in many ways, not the least of which was the simple fact that Prince Philip and the Queen were married for 73 years. What could we learn about marriage from a couple who had been married for that long?
Of course, not everyone ends up getting married, and there are many who marry only to find it painfully different than they had hoped, but for all of us who are followers of Christ, there is a wedding ahead of us that we can joyfully plan for – the wedding of the Lamb!
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believers in Corinth, reminding them: ‘I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.’ 2 Corinthians 11:2b (NIVUK).
Paul expounded on this idea in Ephesians 5, talking about husbands and wives, then noting in verse 32: ‘…but I am talking about Christ and the church’.
In August of 2004, my nephew Drew invited me to join him as he gathered with a number of his friends in celebration and “male bonding” the night before his wedding. At one point during the frivolity of the evening, someone handed each of us a 3X5 index card and invited us to write down some thoughts or encouraging words to give to Drew as he embarked on the journey of being a husband. He has now been married 16 years and his wife recently came across that card I had written to him all those years ago. She took a picture of the card and sent it to me. It was entitled “The One Task”:
“The one task of a husband is to love his wife. This love often comes easily during the warm spring days of blessing, enjoying love’s fragrant breezes. But love’s greatest measure comes with the empty times, the angry times, the lonely times when the fruit of love seems hidden and out of reach.
During these times remember the one task. Take firm grasp of it and see it as God sees it, through the eyes of eternity. The short-lived trials we endure in this life must not keep us from the one task. See this task through to the end and eternity will be the richer for it.”
As believers, thinking of our future as the bride of Christ, we also have one task – to make ourselves ready for the bridegroom.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people).
Revelation 19:7-8 (NIVUK)
There are many inevitable distractions in life and a thousand smaller tasks we have to deal with, but followers of Jesus are invited into the joy and expectation that our one task beyond all others is making ourselves ready for the bridegroom!
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Revelation 22:20 (NKJV)
12-Apr-21: Love’s Gift Elaine Young
I feel the barbs of the enemy’s hatred,
I hear accusations I cannot deny
I shrink from the torment of sins long remembered
And fall on my face to hide all my shame.
For who can stand before Christ in his splendour?
Strong hands are extended to tenderly lift me;
Work-roughened hands scarred with terrible wounds.
Lord I have sinned. . .
I know, says All Knowing
I see all, beloved.
Then how can you love me? Don’t You remember. . .?
No. They are all covered.
As far as the east is from the west.
And now you are dressed in white garments bought
At a price beyond rubies and gold.
And all I see
Is me in you
Your hope of all glory.
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
5-Apr-21: Scapegoat – on ‘Good’ Friday Jo-Ann Hughes
It started with looks;
looks that said, ‘are you for real?’
looks that said, ‘you’re getting above yourself. I wouldn’t if I were you’.
Strengthened by Innocence,
and kindness shared with strangers,
He moved on.
But soon looks turned
to rude stares;
leers of disbelief, lingering to distrust.
bitter and bad-mannered,
that lashed at purity.
Accusations were choked with anger.
Names called with mocking cries
before the spitting began
from hostile hate and sour lips,
with reddened cheeks
and darkened frown.
And soon fingers curled to fists
and carried cruel clouts
on his innocent battered body.
Bewildered by rage,
deafened by blows,
He surrendered to callous noise
and curled his body,
his aching body,
around every whip, crack and tear.
Satisfaction was temporary;
for Cruelty was not finished,
from mental exhaustion,
and physical inadequacy.
Roaring it turned
to remove him
Throwing all it could,
he was driven out;
carrying hate on his back.
We sent him away.
And He left us.
Our debt? … paid in full.
And now with kind looks and a gentle word we say … sorry!
29-Mar-21: A Broken Man Rob King
The Rev Noel Proctor has had two books written about his life as a prison chaplain. I heard him speak after he had published the first, The Cross Behind Bars in 1983. It was easy to see why he had been so successful in his work. He was funny, gentle and unassuming, and has a natural warmth. And having grown up in Belfast and lived there during the troubles, he was able to make a connection with even the most hardened of criminals. After an hour of being captivated by his many anecdotes, the audience rose in unison to applaud a truly lovely man.
But when he came to promote the sequel, Light Through the Prison Bars in 1995, he seemed more sombre. He was pallid and gaunt, and his suit hung off his painfully thin frame. Although he still had a knack for a story, his focus had changed. Nobody was thinking, what a lovely man, because it was as if he had somehow stepped aside. In his place, the unmistakable presence of God filled the room.
Over the course of the next hour, he told us what had happened in those twelve years. After the publication of his book his ministry had thrived, and many devoted converts were sharing their faith with their fellow inmates. Before long, the numbers attending his meetings swelled, and on the morning of the 1st April 1990, three hundred and nine prisoners had crammed into his chapel.
A visiting speaker shared a powerful gospel message. As Noel rose to thank him, one of the prisoners snatched the microphone out of his hand and began protesting about the inhumane conditions. Noel tried to restore order while the prisoner called on the congregation to take over the prison. Noel watched his devoted converts whoop and cheer and realised that he had been duped. The prison officers in the room were quickly overpowered, their keys taken and the biggest riot in British penal history was underway.
The Strangeways protests went on for another twenty-four days. During that time, one person was killed, and 147 officers and 47 prisoners were injured. Large parts of the prison were destroyed and cost £55 million to repair. Worse still, as news about Strangeways spread, riots broke out in other prisons all over the country.
Noel described feeling empty and weighed down with guilt for allowing himself to be so totally deceived. He made a hospital visit to an ex-prisoner who used to dismiss Jesus’s resurrection as a “fairy story”. Noel confessed to him that he too had all but lost his faith. The ex-prisoner responded by telling Noel that while in hospital he had had a near-death experience and had now become a Christian. As he shared his story, Noel felt the touch of the Holy Spirit and found the strength to go on believing.
So many Bible characters and people used powerfully by God are similarly broken After committing adultery and having his loyal friend, Uriah murdered, David wrote:
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.
Psalm 51:17 (NIV)
In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9) Jesus describes seed falling on good soil and producing a rich crop. As any gardener knows, good soil needs to be made friable so that roots can grow and water can permeate it.
Few people have been more broken than the Apostle Paul. His conversion on the Damascus road came with the realisation that he had killed and persecuted Jesus’s disciples – a crime which never ceased to haunt him (1 Cor 15:9). He gave up his privileged life as a leading Pharisee and scholar, relinquishing his wealth and social status and spent many years alone in the Arabian desert. And even after this, other Christians, remained intensely suspicious of him.
Noel’s talk that day reminds me of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church:
My message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than use clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:2 (NLT)
22-Mar-21: The Comparison Trap Emma Claridge
Love is large…and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else.
1 Corinthians 13:4a (TPT)
You would have thought going through something as ground-breaking as a global pandemic, would stop the usual comparisons between ourselves and friends, besides “we’re all in the same storm” aren’t we?
However, I’m sure you will have found, as I have, that some people seem to be treating this lockdown as yet another way to show how they can excel – either in their amazing home-schooling skills, their ability to parent / work from home / look sexy for the hubby and knock up an amazing 3 course meal and have a date night, all without missing a heartbeat.
Of course, this is mainly the curse of social media and as much as I hate it for what distortions it throws at me, I still find myself slightly addicted to it, in an effort to stay connected to people. For me, it’s a difficult battle and one that requires me to have a lot of self-control in order to not let comparison and envy take over and ruin what peace I may have with my current circumstances and situation.
Recently, I celebrated my birthday. It was pretty uneventful as far as birthdays go, and to be honest, I realised how much I craved my friend’s company whilst living on my own. It made being alone feel even more lonely. However, I tried to remain grateful for my precious friends and my loving family who had tried to make it a special day, yet still slightly having a grump about it.
I then made the mistake of checking out a friend’s Facebook page who had also recently celebrated her birthday. Of course, there was a champagne breakfast, beautiful balloons festooned all over the dining room, flowers, delicious meals made by her handsome/attentive husband, songs and games with her adorable toddler, desserts delivered, and it all looked incredibly fabulous.
I suddenly realised, fighting back tears, that I actually really envied this person and what she had, and I realised by admitting this to myself, how toxic envy can become and how I was the one suffering by allowing myself to think that way. Although I feel ashamed to admit it now, I honestly wished that something bad would happen to her, to even it out and to make me feel better! You know that thing where you might secretly be glad at someone’s misfortune?!
I read somewhere a real straightforward way to deal with this: Show love by thanking God for the person, Show love by asking for further success, Show love by blessing the person you envy and Show love by praising the person.
Basically… this is how to do battle with envy by counteracting it with LOVE!
Remember, Love and Envy cannot coexist:
Love does not envy or boast
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)
This is of course counter-intuitive and ridiculously hard to do, but by doing this exercise, I cried more stinging tears as I realised how much God loves her and had blessed her. I then saw her as God sees her and it broke my heart, and I realised the stubborn pit of envy that had wheedled its way into my soul.
Going forward, I will hope I will remember to react this new way instead of in my usual way, and I hope that if you struggle with this in your life, it will help you too.
15-Mar-21: Healed and Known Elaine Utting
She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
I was very touched by Maggie’s talk on the woman who touched Jesus’ robe as he walked by, and I’ve been thinking on it since then.
The story has been special for me since I became a Christian.
I identify with the woman – I too had spent years and resources trying to ease the pain inside, though mine was emotional rather than physical, and I also experienced Jesus’ healing in a dramatic way when I was at last prepared to reach out to him.
I grew up in an emotionally abusive family situation, though it had a churchgoing tradition. My teenage years to late twenties in the 60’s and 70’s were spent looking at anything and everything that might give some alternative meaning to life.
Relationships, encounter groups, Zen, I Ching, politics, and finally, as I despaired of finding an answer, drugs and alcohol too.
I was becoming an embarrassment to my friends and ashamed of myself. But in those dark times a friend helped me to overcome my pride and reluctance. As I prayed and he prayed for me I experienced a wave of peace that I knew came from the God I was praying to.
I knew very little about the life of faith, or Jesus. But I knew I had experienced a touch from God in a way that changed everything.
And in the weeks and months that followed, the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe became a very personal encouragement.
It also reminded me of an incident from my family churchgoing days.
Our village church held a Sunday School Festival every year, when us village children were dressed in our Sunday best, perched on a platform in front of the congregation and given poems to recite, or verses of hymns to sing solo.
One year I was chosen to sing a verse from the hymn that begins –
Immortal Love, for ever full,
for ever flowing free
The verse I was given was –
The healing of his seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain
We touch him in our live’s strain and stress
And we are whole again.
At the time I thought it was rather ugly, and I wished I had been given a prettier verse instead of that one.
But I have always remembered the words I had to learn by heart. And now it seems to me that even then when I didn’t know Him, the Lord was caring for me, He knew me, knew my circumstances and the road I would take.
The Lord gave me that verse to sing, so that I would be comforted so many years later by the knowledge that He knew me then, He knows me now, He knows my future and He is working in me to prepare me for whatever lies ahead.
Thank you Jesus!
8-Mar-21: Laughter – The Best Medicine Lisa Stapp
‘…a time to weep and a time to laugh…’
Recently Steve and I were on a video chat with our granddaughter. I don’t know if you have ever tried sharing jokes with a 5-year-old, but it can be quite hilarious! She had learned a knock-knock joke at school and tried it out on us. It was funny and we laughed, then told her one of our own. She laughed and then started making up punch lines that were completely nonsensical. But we laughed anyway, mainly because she was having such a good time entertaining us.
God must have a sense of humour. Tell me you haven’t thought of certain creatures and laughed! The images of giraffes and pygmy marmosets are always good for a chuckle. Don’t get me started on the strange animals in Australia. After living in the outback desert for five years and traveling to other parts of the continent, I can tell you about the numbat, cassowary, wombat, Tasmanian devil, and especially the platypus, which on their first examinations scientists thought they were being pranked.
What about Abraham and Sarah? They both laughed when God told Abraham that Sarah would have a son. (Gen 17:17, 18:12) A son at their age? Seriously? But look at her attitude a year later: ‘Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”‘ (Gen 21:6)
Pretty good joke, God.
The best example?
Last week I was reading Numbers 22 and laughed out loud more than once. Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam so he could curse the Hebrew nation who had come out of Egypt. Wisely, Balaam listened to the Lord and refused. After the king sent for Balaam the second time, God told the prophet to go, but to do only what God told him to do. So, Balaam saddled his faithful donkey and went with the Moabite officials.
For reasons I don’t understand, God was angry that Balaam went, even though God had told him to. (If you have insight into this, please enlighten me!) So, God sent an angel of the Lord to block the road three times. Each time the poor donkey, seeing the angel and refusing to go further while Balaam remained oblivious, received a beating from his master.
The first laugh-out-loud moment came when the donkey was given the ability to speak. Can you imagine the shock you would have felt, hearing intelligible words coming out of a donkey’s mouth? But apparently Balaam, angry that his will had been thwarted and that he looked foolish to those with him, totally missed this out-of-character communication. That earned a sad chuckle. I applauded the donkey’s wise question which made Balaam pause and put his donkey’s behaviour into perspective; at that point he was ready for God to open his eyes to see the angel of the Lord.
The next laugh came at verse 33 when the angel said, “Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” (Emphasis mine)
I love that God would spare the faithful little donkey.
We have had many reasons to weep during this past year. However, God models another way we can respond to our circumstances – through healthy, positive humour that helps us to laugh. Just think of the aardvark…
A cheerful heart is good medicine.
1-Mar-21: A New Song Emma Claridge
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him
Psalm 40: 1-3
Recently I was listening to some lesser known 80’s tracks which Spotify helpfully put together for me in a playlist. One of the tracks was by U2, called “40” and it rang a bell, partly because I think I used to sing it in church youth events when I was younger and because the lyrics are adapted from Psalm 40. Coincidentally, the track was apparently written and produced in 40 minutes, in a bid to get another track on the album in the studio time and actually became so popular that it was sung at the end of most of U2’s concerts during the 1980’s. U2, in particular Bono, at the time, were going through a time of discovering religion and arguably when they were at their most spiritual.
The words to this song are pretty simple (like the psalm really!) and reiterate “how long to sing this song” and “I will sing, sing a new song”. This was a song / psalm that I thought was so appropriate for the current day – particularly “how long to sing THIS song” !
As Steve Stapp talked about a few weeks ago, we are having to “wait patiently” through this time. I think I can confidently say that all of us are currently having to endure particularly testing times with varying degrees of challenge depending on our personal situation and are waiting for God to hear our cry and get us back to some normality.
When God answers your prayer and rewards your patience by lifting you out of this current situation and its difficulties, will you have a “new song” in your mouth? Will you sing worship songs to God with a new-found depth and intimacy, based on the depths you may have gone to during this time or will it all be forgotten within a few weeks / months?
I think we have all become aware of what we all used to take so much for granted – meeting a friend for a coffee (inside!), a hug from your best friend when you’re upset, a kiss from a loved one. These things that we took so much for granted before, never thinking they would be taken away. We have had to learn to repeatedly trust and truly turn to God to meet all our needs, in a time, when the world seems out of control and physical touch and spending time with people is rationed beyond anything we could have imagined.
What we have got is suddenly a lot more precious, and spending 30 minutes with a friend in the freezing cold with a coffee suddenly holds a lot more weight and is appreciated so much more. The challenge for me and for us all though, is whether what we have learnt from this experience will change me/us for the better and cause us to “sing a new song” to the Lord.
22-Feb-21: Not Of This World Steve Stapp
“Jesus said, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.'”
That’s hard to remember sometimes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the issues of the world around us, focusing on things like the pandemic and lockdown, economic problems, politics, international struggles, and just getting caught up in the everyday struggles of life, the stress of jobs, relationships, and finances.
Jesus’ disciples struggled with that as well. They had issues and stresses in their lives just as we have in ours. They were praying for and expecting a Messiah, but not one like Jesus.
They were looking for a Messiah who would solve their problems in this world, who would be a political and military leader, who would overthrow Rome, re-establishing Israel as a prominent independent nation and bringing justice and peace within society. That perspective was deeply ingrained in them, but here’s what Jesus said:
Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’
Just like Jesus’ disciples, sometimes we get drawn into looking for social, political, and cultural answers. While we are called to show God’s love in this world by working for justice and trying to meet the needs of those around us, we are primarily called to focus on an invisible, eternal kingdom that can only be seen by being “born from above”.
The Apostle Paul said:
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
To “set your minds on things above” is not easy. It’s natural for our minds to want to focus on earthly things.
What do we do? We keep trying, we keep asking the Holy Spirit to help us, we keep turning to scripture, to prayer, to worship, we keep turning to God, seeing things from His perspective and choosing not to turn to those worldly things that we know are a trap.
Life is messy, a slow process. But we are called to keep “setting our minds on things above” knowing that someday the “not yet” will become the “now.”
Until then, we keep finding our answers in the one who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
15-Feb-21: Fanny Crosby Emma Claridge
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
Philippians 4:11 (NIV)
Continuing the theme and current obsession I have with old hymns, I wanted to share with you about Fanny Crosby who wrote many well-known hymns – in fact she wrote around 9000 hymns during her lifetime!
Fanny lost her eyesight to medical negligence at the age of 6 weeks old, but despite this handicap, she was brought up by her mother to not be dependent on others, who brought her up on her own after her father died when she was young.
Refusing to let her disability affect her, Fanny wrote in her first poem:
“O What a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be”.
She apparently never saw herself as having an affliction, believing that she was blessed by being blind and had a closer, deeper relationship with God because of it. She apparently told a Scottish minister that a benefit was that “when I get to heaven, the first face I will see will be the One who died for me”. What a beautiful mindset.
Fanny had just the one child who sadly died shortly after birth. It is said that she wrote the hymn “Safe in the arms of Jesus” shortly after this experience. The lyrics of this hymn – “Firm on the rock of ages, ever my trust shall be” – stand out to me as it demonstrates her courageous faith. In those times, where infant death, sickness and disease was so common and hardships very much an everyday experience, how powerful to hear those words in contrast to the realities of life.
Up until her death, she was still consoling and comforting people with her words, having dictated a letter for a neighbour who had lost their child, assuring them their daughter was “safe in the arms of Jesus” just shortly before she passed away at the age of 94. She was known as a woman who had a steadfast and vibrant faith and as I’m sure you will agree, was a great example to us all of how to live out your life.
“Perfect submission, all is at rest.
I in my saviour am happy and blessed
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my saviour, all the day long”
Blessed Assurance, Fanny Crosby, 1873
8-Feb-21: Light Emma Claridge
“And this Living Expression is the Light that bursts through gloom— the Light that darkness could not diminish!”
John 1:5 (TPT)
I have become a bit obsessed with “light” during the last few months and in particular its significance in my response to this pandemic.
Lisa Stapp wrote an earlier reflection on this and got me also thinking of the significance of light in my life. I have a bit of a thing about lighting and to me, lighting makes a difference to my mood and how awake I want to be! In the morning, I light up my flat gradually and gently as I ease myself into the day. During the day, I love natural light and try and get as much of it as I can, feeling my spirits lift, particularly if it’s a sunny day. From dusk, I love to have little subtle lights around as I relax myself down for the evening.
I have left up some of my Christmas lights this year, just because I don’t think lights should just be for Christmas! I have some bright twinkly ones at my doorway outside and I love the way they light up the entrance to my flat when I’m coming in from a cold wintry walk or run. They comfort and welcome me and show me that it’s my home amongst the rows of dark flats on my street. In my sitting room, I have a lovely paper star lantern which I have filled with lights and put in my disused fireplace. This normally dark place now shines radiantly with a big star and again, fills me with hope and peace and lifts my spirits.
I can’t help but look at candles and lights without thinking of God’s love and power shining brightly, particularly through these often dark and bewildering times. Like Lisa, I had old batteries in my lantern and putting in new batteries has brought it back to its full potential and brightness again!
As I’m into old hymns at the moment, I pray the words of the hymn, Fairest Lord Jesus, speak to you as they did to me. Maybe light a candle, buy yourself some nice lights to lift a dark area of your home and let the Holy Spirit enter in and meditate on God’s brightness and light:
“Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight
And all the twinkling starry host
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heaven can boast”
Fairest Lord Jesus, Joseph Seiss, 1842
1-Feb-21: Antidote Stephen Price
The real world now sweats behind masks.
Peering out at a scape of confusion
Disconnect, self-conscious, unsure
The street, the shop, the public space
now in compromised state
A carefully choreographed dance
With a deathly solemnity starts
As being negotiates being, plots a course
Awkward, sheepish, alert, fearful
Ready to respond to the mindless miscreant
malevolent maverick meandering to the mortification
of the cautious, considered, compliant co-operator
Playing their part in the new abnormal
Case numbers waver. Hospitals go under
The death rate rises. The mood sinks
Slow tentacled fear imperceptibly grows
And cold uncertainty, slowly flows
Reality threats at all we hold dear
In this mad-cap, bad-crap world full of fear
Can you believe there’s an answer
For this globe in its state so dire?
Where our freedom of choice and passion
Seem to land us head-down in the mire?
Could hope really move all the mountains
That we’ve heaped up through carnal desire?
And the dross and the filth that beguiled us
Be wiped clean with God’s holy fire?
Can He really feel worry and loneliness
Anxiety anger disdain
Can He connect with our emptiness
Frustration, addiction and pain.
Our creator gave us the antidote
To all in our freedom we’ve tried
His plan has been there from the start
Despite His existence denied.
In Him alone there is harmony
Security sent from above
Our choice, to fall prey to our fear
Or allow an embrace in His love
25-Jan-21: Clinging To God Emma Claridge
“But you are to cling to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.”
Joshua 23:8 (NASB)
Recent times have presented many challenges for us all –whether it’s on a personal, professional, financial, mental or physical level.
Everyday problems are suddenly magnified in the light of a pandemic which limits our contact and connection with others. The news is filled with stories that easily generate a sense of fear and anxiety. UK and US politics have dominated the news for some time – causing division, hatred and fear – threatening to engulf us and destroy any sense of happiness or positivity we may have managed to muster up that day.
These last few months have definitely made me question what it is that I cling on to. Sometimes I feel like I’m clinging on to God by my fingertips, as I have a sleepless night wondering how the impact of Covid and the fear generated, will affect those I love as well as those I work with and for. Who or what do I depend on when the world really does seem to crash and fall around me? Does God really exist? Why is He letting us go through all this if He really loves us? Why is there so much hate in the world?
I have found that worship songs suddenly take on a new meaning and invite me to a deeper connection as the words seem to now seem more relevant and mean so much more to me in the light of what we are going through. Sometimes there are no answers, but still we have to try and gravitate towards God.
I was watching a live YouTube version of a worship song sung at a large conference filmed in February 2020 just before Covid hit the world. It was a recording of one of my favourite songs – “Waymaker”. What struck me was not just the song and the words itself, but the fact that it was sung live, back before our world changed. I was watching people really worship, emotionally expressing themselves and thought about how much differently people may sing this now, in light of our current circumstances and with the words meaning more to us than ever. It made me feel quite emotional as I considered this relevance.
As I let the simple words of the chorus line of this song sink deep into my soul and truly believe them, it lifts of the scales of fear that have been placed there and I am lifted in my soul. Let these words sink in…
“Waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness
My God, that is who you are”
Waymaker, Sinach, 2015
18-Jan-21: The Healing Psalm Robert King
Way back in August, the BBC reported that twice as many people were experiencing depression compared to last year. As we head into a new lockdown, that statistic seems likely to increase. Having had numerous episodes myself over the years, I’m acutely aware of how debilitating it can be.
Back in 1983, the psychologist Dorothy Rowe wrote a ground-breaking book about depression. She took the view that it was the mind’s way of supressing emotions when they became too painful to endure. The 2015 children’s film Inside Out is a wonderful exploration of this. It centres around eleven-year-old, Riley’s experience of the five core emotions, Fear, Anger, Joy, Disgust and Sadness when her family moves away from her childhood home.
At first, Riley’s inner ‘Joy’ character runs around her mind shrieking, “stay positive! Keep smiling!” and “look on the bright side!” but all this does is make Riley feel increasingly empty. Gradually, it becomes clear that ‘Joy’ must yield to the other emotions, particularly ‘Sadness’, in order to fully process what has happened to her.
Watching the film made me realise that our capacity to feel emotions – even unwelcome ones – is a gift of God. At times, Jesus could be intensely emotional, when, for example, He was at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:33-36) or railing against the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-39).
Depression has strong parallels with Leprosy. People infected with Leprosy have a reduced faculty to feel pain, which means that wounds and infections go unnoticed causing their bodies to effectively rot away. We have all snatched our hand off a hot stove. That jolt of pain is vital in protecting our bodies from irreversible harm.
Similarly, depression may de-sensitise us from emotional pain, but at a terrible price. Wilfred Owen’s 1917 poem, Insensibility, describes soldiers in the front line becoming progressively inured to the horrors of war. Although Owen recognises that this is the only way they can cope, he adds bitterly,
“But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns/ that they should be as stones.”
When we can no longer emotionally interact with the world around us, we cease to feel human, and with this comes a sense of helplessness and low self-esteem. We lose our motivation and zest for life because there is constant inner voice muttering, what’s the point? Everything becomes an effort and invariably our functioning drops. It is impossible to experience the abundant life Jesus spoke of when we are robbed of our ability to feel, and this can make God seem very distant.
Being told to snap out of it is neither realistic nor helpful, even though it is an understandable reaction. Depression makes us feel like the drowning person in Stevie Smith’s famous poem, and our instinct for self-preservation can make us behave selfishly. But trying to mask or slough off doesn’t work either because it shows on our face and in our body language. We may want people to be tender and empathetic, but often we provoke an opposite reaction, because people naturally think our gloom and negativity is aimed at them – and so we further withdraw and the vicious circle goes on.
I believe that depression can be overcome, but it is a battle – and Psalm 22 provides a wonderful framework to achieve victory. Written six hundred years before Jesus’ crucifixion, it gives us a visceral first-person description of His agony. For this reason, it is often referred to as the Prophetic Psalm.
In the opening line, the writer (traditionally thought to be King David) asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He tells God that he has cried out to Him day and night and cannot understand why He has not responded. C.S. Lewis, described a similar feeling in his book, A Grief Observed, after losing his wife to cancer:
“But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and the sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
At my very worst times, this has also been my experience. But why is this so? Perhaps the answer is found in John 16:13 when Jesus told His disciples what they should expect when the Holy Spirit came. It was not to be wrapped in an emotional comfort blanket, but to be guided in all truth.
This is exactly what happens in the next paragraph. The writer takes the focus away from himself and instead begins to reflect on God’s faithfulness to his ancestors:
In you our fathers put their trust… and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved… and were not disappointed.
Psalm 22: 4-5
But as faith begins to take seed in him, he is overwhelmed by his own inadequacies, and cannot bring himself to believe that God will do for him what He did for them:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults shaking their heads…
Psalm 22: 6-7
Again, these are very familiar thoughts. Depression comes with an inner voice that says things like, you’re useless, you’re worthless, you’re a failure. In my work I come across people whose self-esteem is so low that they even believe that total strangers think such things about them to the point that they dread leaving their homes.
“It’s a sin to hate yourself,” growled the elder when I once went forward for prayer, “You need to repent of it. Say these words after me…”
I repeated his prayer, but all it did was increase my sense of shame about feeling the way I did. I trudged back to my seat and gazed forlornly down at the floor and found myself thinking about my childhood. I had a recurring dream where I was seeking help, but my cries jammed in my throat and people passed me by like I was a ghost.
During Ceausescu’s presidency in Romania, aid workers came across hospital wards full of abandoned and neglected babies. At first, they thought they were dead because of the eerie silence. Gradually, they realised that the babies had ceased to scream because they had learned over time that it was futile. Depression engenders a similar state of abandonment and despair.
How did the psalmist cope with such feelings? He retraces his steps all the way back to the very beginning of his life, when God intricately formed him in the womb. He thinks about how helpless he was when he came into the world and realises that this was God’s way of instilling in him an instinct to trust and depend upon Him. So, as he prays, the psalmist deliberately re-invokes this childlike state:
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no-one to help.
God responds with one of the greatest revelations in the Old Testament, and a new narrative viewpoint woven into the ensuing verses. Unmistakably, we are at Calvary:
I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; …you lay me in the dust of death. …A band of evil men has encircled me; they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. People stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing.
Psalm 22: 14-17
The writer, Philip Yancey wrote a bestselling book: Where is God When it Hurts? Here, God delivers His answer. The psalmist only feels that God has forsaken him, but for Jesus, this is the actual reality. As Isaiah tells us:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
In the next verse, the narrative viewpoint is deliberately oblique:
But you, O Lord, be not far off! O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
Who is making this cry?
Is it the psalmist – or is it Jesus on the Cross – or have their two lives become inextricably linked? As Paul tells us:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
This too is the psalmist’s eureka moment – when his whole outlook suddenly shifts from despair to exultation. You can almost picture him, dashing through the streets, exhorting the people, dying to share the wonderful news:
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one, he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help!
Psalm 22: 23-24
We are sometimes told that when we feel down, we should praise God. But when there is a huge dissonance between what we express and we really feel, are we not being like Riley in the film?
Instead, Psalm 22 meets us in our despair and provides us with an entry point to commune with God. The journey it then takes us on is not an easy one, but it leads inexorably to the Cross. Here, we find Jesus inhabiting our pain at the most intimate level and then triumphantly delivering us out of it. Like the psalmists, we overcome as we allow ourselves to be subsumed into His victory:
They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it.
In my darkest moments, this is always the psalm I read to navigate my way out. It can be used as a meditation, a prayer, but most effectively of all, as a proclamation. When depression takes hold, I drive somewhere quiet and cry it out – repeating it as required.
11-Jan-21: Lockdown Thoughts Emma Claridge
At the time of writing, we have just had week 1 of lockdown #3 (if anyone’s counting). I started work after my Christmas break, with some trepidation about what lay ahead as the families I work with adjust to yet another change.
As we are quickly heading towards the year mark of the first lockdown, it made me realise that we need to stop waiting for life to get easier, simpler, better. If we wait for things to improve, we could be missing out on the pleasures of life just now. Things that we might look back on with regret that we didn’t make more advantage of.
When I think about “enjoying” life at the moment, I feel pangs of guilt and shame. How can I be happy and enjoy life when so many are dying and struggling? Is it right to try and seek pleasure or contentment during this time? I feel there’s nothing to be gained from beating ourselves up, punishing ourselves or forcing ourselves to keep in a negative mindset.
Psychologists tell us to listen to what we tell ourselves, thinking about our thought patterns and eliminating the negative. Although simple pleasures are hard to find at the moment, the benefits of having less to do, less rushing, more family time, more time to appreciate nature (the snow, the sun, the changing seasons), for some people has been a blessing in disguise. I had my quietest Christmas ever this year and although at times I struggled with it, I actually found I was more relaxed than I would normally be.
Although I’ve struggled with my faith at times, I’ve become more emotional and responsive to worship songs than ever before. I’ve spent my time and done things differently and I believe have invested more time in trying to keep in contact with friends and family, which has been interesting and challenging. I have hit some real lows and dark points and found that God has brought me through them when I’ve called out to Him.
I love worship songs and is my go-to if I’m down and struggling. I’ve recently discovered Worship Circle hymns (worth checking out). They have modernised classic favourites and to me, have brought the words alive. I have lapped them up and usually start every morning with Great Is Thy Faithfulness or Blessed Assurance as I find the words really hit the spot!
When I look back at when these hymns were written and by whom, they often had much more hardship than we have and yet have still written hymns of great joy and thanks to God. I’m intrigued to know what worship songs will come about as a result of this pandemic!
…love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us… There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not yet fully formed in love.
1 John 4:17-18 (MSG)
04-Jan-21: Light in the Darkness Lisa Stapp
Born in 1928 at the beginning of the Great Depression, my mother mastered the science of frugality at an early age. I carry some of that trait, evidenced by my aversion to throwing away anything that might still be useful, even if it is partly – or mostly – used. Those overripe bananas? Into the freezer they go, perfect for making banana bread in the future. That almost empty plastic tube of lotion? Cut the top off and scoop out the hidden treasure that refuses to be squeezed out.
With that in mind, you can understand why the partially-used batteries from last year’s Christmas decorations and fairy lights were set aside to be used this year … and why the star hanging above the fireplace shone a bit dimly when we turned it on.
As I contemplated the wisdom of using half-flat batteries, the lights seemed almost non-existent in the morning sunlight. But as the day turned into night, they became much more visible, and a familiar verse took on fresh meaning:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
John 1:5 (NLT)
Later Jesus said:
“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
No matter how dim the light might be or how thick the darkness seems, the light remains. Jesus is here with us, and the darkness of long winter nights and disappointments and grief and Covid-19 can never overcome His light or the life He gives.
21-Dec-20: Ode to Christmas Jo-Ann Hughes
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
Waiting, in forever stillness,
ancient times that seemed to tarry,
aching in patient readiness,
of a grieving prophetess unwary;
anticipation with longing hope,
mocked and scored, despised, rejected,
Anna spoke of coming joy,
in a star through telescope;
her faith in heaven re-connected,
told longingly of a saviour boy.
Prophet Samuel, the temple servant,
joined her in daily sacrifice,
reading scrolls, tales observant,
of promises of a bygone price;
believing in Isaiah’s word;
‘cry out, a voice of one whose calling,
in the wilderness far and wide,
prepare to make the way of the Lord’,
seeking out the lost and fallen,
reaching out for virgin bride.
Comfort! Comfort! Sins forgiven,
David’s highway, through narrow gate,
rugged places will be riven’
Anna, no more, sits in wait;
The sovereign Lord, he comes in power,
rules with mighty outstretched hand,
gathering sheep, once lost now found,
gentle water to strong tower,
he’s heard the cry of dust filled land,
healing hate with love pierced wound.
Faithfulness like falling flowers,
withered in fields of winter wait,
breath of God brings loyal showers,
brings love to earth, rids man of hate.
Heavenly angel hosts appear,
in Judah’s hillsides o’er Bethlehem town,
where shepherds’ watched in awe and wonder,
‘glad tidings of good news’ they cheer,
leaving heaven, royal robes and crown,
He entered mans’ stained atmosphere.
14-Dec-20: What did the Magi see? Steve Stapp
“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”
Psalm 8:3-4 (NLT)
This was the ‘Verse of the Day’ in the YouVersion app this morning. Many of you may have seen it. It brought to my mind a documentary Lisa and I watched this weekend on the ‘Star of Bethlehem’, associated with the story of the Magi described in the second chapter of Matthew.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 (ESV)
While Christians reject astrology, which says that the stars define who we are and control our destiny, we do accept the truth spoken in Psalm 19 that God speaks to us through nature, through the cosmos.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV)
These verses raise a question: if the Psalmist, speaking by the Holy Spirit, said that the night skies ‘reveal knowledge’, then what knowledge did the night skies reveal to the Magi two thousand years ago?
The documentary Lisa and I watched this weekend is just one view among many competing opinions, and it’s not my intent to push anyone toward a certain conclusion. But for the first time in history, using modern mathematics and technology, we can calculate very precisely where all the different celestial objects would be positioned even as far back as thousands of years ago, allowing us to ‘see’ where stars and constellations were positioned as viewed by the Magi.
Just to briefly mention some suggestions and conclusions of the documentary:
1: There is some controversy concerning when Herod the Great died; the documentary took the position that Herod the Great died in the year 1 BCE, not 4 BCE (based on study of the earliest manuscripts of the first century Jewish historian Josephus) which allows for a date for the birth of Christ in 2 or 3 BCE;
2: an interesting configuration in the heavens, which involved the planet Jupiter (the ‘king’ planet) transcribing a ‘crown’ around the ‘king’ star Regulus inside the constellation of the Lion (indicating the Jewish tribe of Judah), took place around September onward of 3 BCE (it took a number of months to complete the motion) that possibly indicated the conception or birth of a Jewish king;
3: nine months later, in June of 2 BCE, an unusual alignment of Jupiter (the ‘king’ planet) and Venus (the ‘mother’ planet) produced a very bright object in the western night skies over the land of Judea (it would have been the brightest object that the Magi would have seen in the skies in their lifetimes), and along with the signs from nine months earlier could have been enough to prompt them to travel to the land of the Jews in search of the Jewish king who had just been born;
4: after arriving in Jerusalem in the latter part of 2 BCE after many months of travel, the Magi would have met with Herod and then turned south toward Bethlehem, based on the words of the prophet Micah, at which time they would have seen Jupiter in the southern night sky (directly over the village of Bethlehem) and they would have seen it do something that modern astronomers refer to as ‘retrograde motion’ that would have made it appear to ‘stop’ over the village of Bethlehem, thus fulfilling the intriguing words found in Matthew 2:9 (TPT) that the star ‘stopped directly over the place where the child was.’
Regardless of when certain things happened or whether certain things were ‘signs in the heavens,’ we can say with glorious certainty that we serve a might God whose glory will continue to be declared in the heavens and who is worthy of our worship.
7-Dec-20: Anna’s Advent Prayer Jo-Ann Hughes
“Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher…”
Luke 2:36a (MSG)
Waiting for expected beauty,
dancing in its embrace,
cherishing rays of warmth,
Anna rests in prayer and grace.
In her darkened temple home,
taunted by indifference,
daughter of Phanuel, tribe of Asher
foretold of great brilliance:
“The galaxies and stars conspire,
light beams to catch and fill,
strike with glorious expectation,
bathing in luminescent will.
Comforting shadow where light will dawn,
Jerusalem road, in temple gate;
from thy high tower, and sovereign place,
rise, Son, rise — illuminate!
Dispel darkness and deep regret
cleanse loneliness and grief”.
Anna spoke of new light to come
and salvation to seek.
Entering temple to purify,
a first born child is given,
a pair of turtle doves descend;
a sacrifice; forgiven.
God’s ancient promise now fulfilled,
Light of the World is born;
Anna’s patient longing filled,
the temple curtain torn.
His falling and rising,
is a sword to pierce your soul;
a sign rejected and opposed,
a bewildering mystery told.
Darkness and light at last rejoin,
prepared before time began;
finding Anna, changing me,
for He is the Light of Man.
30-Nov-20: Frogs Round A Swamp Rob King
In 1979 Iranian students took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two diplomats and citizens hostage for 444 days. Islamic revolution was sweeping the country, making any rescue attempt highly risky. The military devised a plan which involved infiltrating the student group and converting a few of the hard-core fanatics.
They targeted the fanatics because, paradoxically, they are the easiest people to convert. The more stridently a person behaves outwardly, the more superficial their convictions are likely to be. Peter’s actions on the night of Jesus’s betrayal was textbook fanaticism. First, he made a grandiose vow, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33); then, to assuage his fear and self-doubt, he sliced off the guard’s ear with his sword.
Jesus always gave short shrift to such declarations because, “He knew what was in a man” (John 2:25). When a teacher of the law told Him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus warned him, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:19-20). And when large crowds followed him around the country, Jesus told parables that urged them to carefully reflect on the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:25-35).
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, He was hailed as a prophet. With the crowd behind him, this was a perfect opportunity to march into the temple and challenge the exploitative commerce. But instead, Mark tells us, He just “looked around at everything” and set off to Bethany (11:11). It was not until the following day, when the fervour had died down, that He chose to take on the money changers.
Jesus was not an operator and had no interest in self-promotion – a quality shared by the late Billy Graham who toured the UK back in the 1980’s and won thousands to Christ. Dr Graham padded up to the stage so meekly that people in the crowd were heard to murmur, “Is that him?” Even in a stadium his humility was tangible,
My pet hate is the barking, strutting, super-apostle, who skilfully deploys psychological techniques to coerce his audience, saying ‘If you feel God has been speaking to you, I’d like you to stand and make your way to the front… Praise the Lord, Hallelujah’.
As guitar and keyboard simper away in the background, I find myself praying:
Lord, is this worship or theatre? And if I respond, will it be to You, or to a performance? Please Lord, don’t let me click into all those familiar churchy behaviours that turn me into a performer too.
The late Ravi Zacharias said that the barometer of our spiritual health was not our church life, but our prayer life – the one place where we can be truly authentic.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you
As painful as lockdown is, it is also a tremendous opportunity to be real with God and with one another. In recent weeks prayer has dominated our home group. With this has come an increased willingness to truly express our needs and be honest about how things really are.
I’ve often wondered what church life was like in the first century. Pliny the Younger a Roman politician observed scornfully, “They are like frogs holding a symposium round a swamp, debating which of them is the most sinful.”
Perhaps unwittingly, he was paying them the ultimate compliment.
23-Nov-20: You Want Me To What? Lisa Stapp
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)
Hold on, God. You want me to thank you in EVERYTHING?
The Message Version says, ” … thank God no matter what happens.”
Interruptions, an unwanted diagnosis, loss of a job, separation from loved ones due to Covid-19, a world gone mad, the death of a child?
That just sounds like cruelty … until I remember what He is telling me to do. I read this verse and think, “I can give thanks IN my circumstance, but nowhere do I read that I’m supposed to feel thankful FOR it.”
The most personal and powerful example in my own life of this is being ever-so-thankful for God’s presence in the aftermath of the accident that took my son’s life. Am I thankful for John’s death? Absolutely not. Am I thankful that God has used the situation to bring good (which only He can do) and to bring glory to Himself? Resoundingly yes.
Is it hard to thank God in all things? For me the answer is yes, even knowing that it’s God’s will. But it might cost me.
The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was complicated (not to mention messy). The thing is, it cost people to bring their offerings to the priests, including thank-offerings. (Because Jesus offered Himself once and for all as the perfect sacrifice, we are free from the practice of physical sacrifices – and that is something for which we are all thankful!)
So how do I give thanks in difficult circumstances? This verse brings my question into focus:
“Through [Jesus] then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
Hebrews 13:15, (NASB)
I love how the psalmist describes this in Psalm 50: “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,” he writes in verse 14a (NIV), and in verse 23 (NLT) he says, “But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours [God].”
Sometimes it hurts, and most times I don’t want to – it means I have to give up something I value, such as my need to understand and control.
But the giving of thanks changes my focus to Jesus, and He changes me.
16-Nov-20: An Exhortation Elaine Young
We build our shining towers
And graciously extend to You an invitation
To tamely sit upon the throne of our devising.
To dwell in solemn tinselled tabernacles
And rubber stamp our plans,
But leave our hearts intact, we beg!
Allowing us to live our lives in careless pleasure,
Discounting fellow man and disregarding justice.
We do what we think best,
And yet, You stand afar?
The ALMIGHTY thunders:
I am not tame.
I cannot be confined in hallowed halls!
A stumbling block,
I am an offense to religious hearts.
A friend of smelly sinners,
I glory in loud worship
And extravagant sacrifices of praise
Coming from thankful hearts
That overflow with gratitude.
As I chose you.
Leave behind those tawdry treasures that lead to death.
Come out from among them; and be holy.
Come with Me outside the city gates
And bear My disrepute.
Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate”, says the Lord.
2 Corinthians 6:17a
9-Nov-20: When Royalty Comes Knocking Rob King
One dark, stormy night, many years ago, a couple living in a remote hamlet were watching TV when they got a knock their door.
“I am escorting a senior member of the royal family, and we have broken down,” said an immaculately dressed man showing them his warrant card. “Are you able to offer her shelter while I make the necessary arrangements?”
The astonished couple gave their assent and a few moments later, Queen Elizabeth made her way up their garden path, sheltered under an umbrella by her bodyguard.
As I read this story, I pictured the Queen, smiling good-humouredly and telling them not to go to any special trouble, while they rushed around tidying up, stoking the fire, digging out warm blankets and serving her tea and biscuits on their finest china.
The late Princess Diana used to pay incognito visits to some friends she made on a London council estate. Eventually, word got around and crowds and photographers surrounded the house. Despite Diana’s best efforts to lay aside her royal identity even for a night, she was never able to do so.
Some of our best-loved stories are about royals connecting with ordinary, everyday folk. In JRR Tolkein’s epic fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits are befriended by a traveler named Strider who promises to guide and protect them on their quest. Unbeknown to them, Strider’s real name is Aragorn, heir to the throne of Gondor. When Aragorn reaches the city, he finds it under enemy attack. Denethor, the city’s steward wants Aragorn’s help, but dismisses his claim of kingship. Aragorn’s response is to set up camp outside the city walls. Although he will fight for the city, he will not enter it until its citizens are willing to crown him as king.
In Revelations Jesus cries:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
For a long time, I questioned this verse. I had invited Jesus into my life so many times but rarely sensed His presence.
“It’s because there’s a blockage,” declared a well-meaning friend, plucking several volumes off his bookcase for me to read. Before long, I had become an authority on deliverance, inner healing and generational curses – but it made little or no discernible difference to my spiritual state.
But what did make a difference was thinking about the invitation itself and what had motivated me to make it. Essentially, I wanted Him to serve me rather than vice-versa. I wanted Him to expedite all my hopes and dreams, change my circumstances and make me a better person so that I could succeed in life. In other words, I wanted self-realisation, not discipleship.
And so, I kept on inviting Jesus into my life and He kept on knocking. Because He stands at the door in the same way that Aragorn camps outside the city – waiting to be crowned king –
“king of kings and lord of lords”
There is nothing more painful and glorious than when you finally realise that He cannot and will not enter any other way.
2-Nov-20: A Slave, a Gentile, and a Woman Steve Stapp
If I started a sentence with “A pastor, a priest, and a rabbi walked into a pub…” you would probably think it was going to be a not-very-original attempt at humour. But what if I started a sentence with “a slave, a Gentile, and a woman…” What would that bring to mind?
A while back, Lisa sent out a link to an article by author Scott Sauls that was titled “We Disagree, Therefore I Need You”, encouraging the readers to recognize the great value of input into their lives from people whose background and points of view are different from theirs. In the article, the author made this statement:
“In a world where pious Rabbi’s prayed, ‘Thank you, my God, that I am not a slave, a gentile, or a woman,’ the Holy Spirit made sure that the very first three converts to Christianity were a slave, a gentile, and a woman.”
God intentionally challenged the unhelpful prejudices of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, and he continues to challenge us today. Since God’s ways are not our ways and He sees far beyond what we can see, we need to be open to letting him show us how to see past our prejudices, even if it means adjusting our theology or doing something that doesn’t make sense to us or recognizing that God is using someone we don’t approve of.
In Acts 10, Peter wasn’t particularly interested in sharing the Gospel with Gentiles, but God did not hesitate to offend Peter in order to set Peter free from his unhelpful opinions.
“He [Peter] saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
“‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
“The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'”
Acts 10:11-15 (NIV)
Thankfully, God is kind enough to do what is needed to challenge us when we have an unhelpfully narrow view or unhealthy prejudice that is keeping us from stepping into what God has for us and seeing the world from his perspective.
26-Oct-20: The Miracle Worker Rob King
In 1887 Anne Sullivan knocked on the door of a prosperous home in Tuscumbia Alabama to begin her teaching career. Anne had had a difficult life. At five, she developed an eye disease that left her almost blind. At eight, her mother had died of tuberculosis and at ten, her father walked out. She and her brother were sent to a church-funded care home. He died just four months later.
After years of abuse and sexual perversion, the home was investigated. Anne was given a place in the Perkins School of the Blind in Boston, but with her rough manners, she found it hard to fit in. Eventually, she managed to learn the manual alphabet and had several operations to improve her sight.
Despite her experiences, Anne did not lose her faith in God and resolved to overcome her many disadvantages. The school director recognised Anne’s qualities and recommended her for a special post: tutor and governess to a seven-year old girl whose life had been even more difficult than hers.
Helen Keller was just nineteen months old when an illness had left her deaf and blind. Despite this, she could communicate rudimentary needs and distinguish people from the vibration of their footsteps. Every time Helen held an object, Anne would spell out its name on the palm of her hand: M-U-G, S-O-A-P, T-O-W-E-L…
At first, Helen was too locked-up in the bitter isolation of her own world to have any notion of what Anne was trying to do. Anne was just someone to take out her frustrations on. Helen played up constantly, but Anne refused to give up on her.
The genesis of what would become a forty-nine-year relationship is captured in the play, The Miracle Worker. In the climactic scene, Helen defiantly overturns a bathtub of water. Anne grabs her hand and plunges it into the pool of suds.
“W-A-T-E-R!” she screams in frustration, stabbing out the letters on Helen’s palm.
Realisation suddenly breaks out on Helen’s face. She reaches for a toy and thrusts out her hand. As Anne spells D-O-L-L, Helen grabs more and more objects, desperately wanting to acquire this new language, until Anne slumps down exhausted. But Helen still hasn’t asked the most important question. She gropes after Anne and stretches out her hand one last time:
Now, tell me your name.
I weep every time I describe this scene. Perhaps it is knowing that Helen would go on to become a famous author, political activist and lecturer – and that without Anne’s forbearance, Helen may well have spent the rest of her life locked with the confines of her own miserable world. But I think it is even more personal than that.
Because for many years, I felt just like Helen Keller. All those worship meetings, surrounded by waving hands; people declaring their love for Jesus, yelling Hallelujah, basking in His presence and claiming to have a relationship with Him.
But how? How could you emotionally connect with a figure from ancient history? And if they really had a relationship with Him, then why didn’t I? Why was He speaking to them but not to me?
In that scene from The Miracle Worker I sensed God’s answer.
Helen Keller’s epiphany came in an instant of time, but her relationship with Anne grew over the course of a lifetime. When they met, Helen used around sixty signs to convey her various needs. Anne’s language contained nearly half a million words. For Helen to embrace it meant laying aside the life she knew and being continually receptive.
Every time Helen stretched out her hand, it was an act of faith – and that faith had to be outworked relentlessly. She learned to pronounce words that she would never hear and comprehend a world that she would never see. And the bedrock of her education was her trust in a teacher who would grow to be her lifelong friend.
I still have the sense that I do not really know Jesus and a hunger for a deeper relationship with Him. But then that feeling is also shared by the Apostle Paul:
“I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffering, becoming like him in his death.”
Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
In response I feel like exclaiming, but Paul, if anyone knows Christ, surely you do?
I think that he would just smile and shake his head – as if he had placed the tip of his toe into a fathomless ocean – and recall his words to the Corinthians:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)
19-Oct-20: My “Go To” Place Steve Stapp
When you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, and your thoughts or feelings are headed in a direction you don’t really want them to go, what do you do?
These words from the Apostle Paul come to mind:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Okay, Paul tells me that dwelling on negative feelings or focusing on difficult circumstances are not the healthiest thing I can do. But how do I switch tracks? Trying to simply stop thinking about something is amazingly difficult; it just keeps coming back. But Paul is saying that intentionally replacing those negative thoughts with something positive is the way to go.
Do you have certain “go to” scriptures or songs that you can choose to think about in the middle of the night (or any other time) as a positive replacement for negative thoughts or feelings? I have a few very simple ones that work pretty well for me.
When I was seven or eight years old, I was required to memorize Psalm 23 and it’s been with me ever since. I continue to be amazed at how comforting and encouraging it can be to simply focus on the truth of the phrase “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The Lord is my shepherd; he’s the one who is watching over me, the one who has the final say concerning what circumstances I face, what comes into my life and what doesn’t, and he has good plans for me.
That doesn’t mean that he will rescue me out of every difficulty. His plans for me are not about having an easy, comfortable life, but they are definitely good plans; plans for me to mature, grow strong, be fruitful, develop endurance and a deeper relationship with Him. Plans to grow me and transform me “from glory to glory.”
So, in the middle of the night when unnamed anxieties start to stir somewhere inside me and I need to replace those negative feelings with a positive train of thought, I often go to “The Lord is my shepherd.”
In the light of his kindness, faithfulness, and sovereignty, those shadows of doubt and anxiety retreat.
12-Oct-20: Manchester United 1, Israelites 6 Rob King
After seventy-two long years, the Israelites’ exile in Babylon was finally over. Back in Jerusalem with their devastated city now rebuilt, they assembled at dawn in one of the main squares… and held a Bible study.
The text that morning was Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers – the entire Book of the Law of Moses. In the cool Autumnal air, Ezra the priest read it out loud until noon. For around five and a half hours, the people stood and listened attentively while the Levites mingled to instruct and answer questions.
Before long, the people collectively began to weep. All those laws they had broken. All that sin and idolatry. All those years of faithlessness. But for Nehemiah, this was not a time for grieving:
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks” he told them, “…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)
Getting people to celebrate when they’re not in the mood is a tough task. They tried it at my club, Manchester United. All season they had been playing dull, uninspiring football which had reduced the vast stadium to a sullen silence. To try to get the crowd going, the club employed cheerleaders and had the stewards distribute song sheets featuring the fans’ favourites. Needless to say, it did not go down well.
But Nehemiah had far greater success:
“The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.'”
Nehemiah 8:11 (NIV)
What did those Levites know about crowd psychology that the Manchester United officials clearly did not? Because no sooner had the Levites issued this instruction, then…
“all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy…”
Nehemiah 8:12a (NIV)
The dramatic change in the people’s mood was all down to one thing:
“…they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”
Nehemiah 8:12b (NIV)
But what did they understand? What was their collective epiphany all about? I have heard some great Bible teaching in my time, but nothing that has made me want to go off and party. But this is how Nehemiah describes what ensued:
“From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.”
Nehemiah 8:17 (NIV)
It was a holy day – or, in Old English, halidaeg (holiday).
The theologian, Tim Keller likened it to attending your best friend’s wedding. A day when the focus is all on them. Their day. A celebration of who they are and what they mean to you. In these difficult times when work and the pressures of life seem to increase daily, there’s nothing quite like a holy day.
So hit the Psalms. Bang on some praise and worship music. Sing along until the neighbours bang on the walls.
It’s so much better than being a Manchester United supporter!
5-Oct-20: Peace Emma Claridge
“The Lord replied : My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you”.
Footprints poem – Carolyn Joyce Carty (possible author)
I don’t know whether you have ever been through a particularly painful or difficult time, where you felt such an undeniable sense of peace which didn’t make sense, considering the circumstances. I remember going through such a time when I was in my early 30s when a very close friend of mine became very ill and died. I sensed God scoop me up and cradle me almost like a child, giving me enormous peace and comfort – beyond anything that I could get from anything / anyone on this earth.
It reminds me of that famous Footprints poem, which is so well known, it’s almost easy to forget how significant it is. This poem describes how during our most difficult times, God doesn’t just walk alongside us, but literally carries us when we might feel we have lost the ability to even put one foot in front of the other or when we feel overwhelmed by life’s circumstances. I like the imagery that all the way through life, God is with us, walking by our side, but in our most difficult times, we are carried by God.
Just like a baby is often most content and at peace, when being held and comforted, so we can also rest and find peace in our father’s arms. In life, there is so much that threatens to snatch our peace and fill our thoughts with fear and sadness about our circumstances and future. Quite simply, learning to rest and find peace in God is the only way to find true contentment that the world fails to provide. By learning to rest in God, we then let go of things that are worrying us, allowing his peace to protect and guard our hearts and minds as we literally let everything go and trust in Him.
Do you find it easy to be held and carried by God, or do you resist Him? Releasing control and submitting ourselves to our heavenly father, is not always easy to do, but resisting often means we cause ourselves unnecessary stress and pain.
“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7 (NIV)
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.”
Philippians 4:6-7 (The Message)
28-Sep-20: Shade and Shelter Elaine Young
“Each man will be a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and a shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.”
Isaiah 32: 2 (KJV)
Some while ago I came across the slang phrase ‘throwing shade’ and I went to google to find out what it meant. The Urban dictionary describes it as ‘saying a rude or slick comment to someone with only the one to whom it was directed being able to understand its meaning’ or ‘the art of the Sidelong insult.’ Merriam Webster defines it as a ‘subtle, sneering contemptuous expression, sometimes verbal sometimes not’. How sad, but this is the world we live in.
Then we come to the Word of God, where the word, ‘Shade’ has a totally different meaning to the slang. The above quote from Isaiah 32:2 is a case in point. This is obviously talking about the New Age, when a King shall reign in righteousness, but the amazing thing about this is that, when we receive Jesus as our saviour, the Kingdom of God is within us and we can and do behave differently from the way we might have done in the past.
We are called on to be the shade under which the troubled, the hurting, the needy, the brokenhearted, the ill, the frightened, the hungry, the homeless can shelter.
So many times in the Word, we are encouraged to practice hospitality. I think this encompasses more than just entertaining. Romans 12 talks about using our gifts, in serving, encouraging, giving generously, showing mercy, honouring one another, sharing with those in need. I believe that, in this, you will be a shelter from the storm that may be buffeting others.
Isaiah 58 talks about the fasting that God has chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice, and set the oppressed free, sharing your food with the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, clothe the naked. Doing away with malicious talk and pointing the finger (that sounds like throwing shade!). The Lord’s promise that he will guide you always and satisfy your own needs in that dry and thirsty land spoken about in Isaiah 32. And then you can be like a spring whose waters never fail, for those around you who need shelter and comfort in their afflictions.
Keep pouring out what God gives you. As you do that, pressing through even when you feel you have nothing more to give, he will pour out more through you when you are willing.
What comes to mind is the story of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17. She had nothing left and was preparing to die, along with her son, after she had made a final meal of the little bit of flour and oil that she had left. Then along came Elijah who asked her to use that flour to make him a cake. Instead of laughing at him she did what he asked. Not only did she feed Elijah that one occasion, but he stayed with her for some time and because of her faith she was cared for as long as the drought lasted.
Another hospitable woman was the Shunammite who opened her home to Elisha. She was a well-to-do woman who was able to provide a place for Elisha with a place to stay when he visited the area.
There are many examples of hospitable people in the Bible who practiced hospitality by selflessly caring for those around them. Dorcas in Acts 9:39 who was deeply loved by the friends she had and were glad to have her restored to them through Peter’s prayers. Lydia was another such a Rock in a dry land. She looked after Paul and his group of companions in Philippi.
Be that shelter to your friends today. Covid has restricted our movements but you have social media at your fingertips. Strengthen someone today. Phone them with a word of encouragement or provide a listening ear to hear and carry the other’s burdens. To pray for and encourage them is really not a sacrifice at all. Provide a meal if they need one.
“… then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
Isaiah 58: 8-9 (NIV)
21-Sep-20: Both/And Lisa Stapp
There are many things for which I am grateful during these past months of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, especially how God has been moving in hearts and lives all over the world, mine included. It seems that people are more aware of the blessing of family and friends. Several people have said how they’ve been able to reconnect with people from their past. We’ve even saved money by driving the car less often. And don’t get me started on the joys of wearing comfy clothes all day! (Not pyjamas, I promise …)
Can you imagine life without all the technologies available that help tremendously in minimising the isolation by giving us opportunities to connect virtually? (If only we had known to buy stock in Zoom back in February, right?)
So yes, we can and should remember to thank the Lord for these and many other positives.
But then there are the days when someone asks how I am and my unfiltered response is, “I’m hurting.”
We have all experienced loss in this time. I personally have not lost a family member or close friend to the virus, but I’ve watched others mourn and not even be able to gather for a funeral. Jobs, finances, relationships, health issues, dreams, planned holidays or special gatherings, the absence of gathering for corporate worship, even not being permitted to move around freely – these are just a few more ways that grief and loss show up in our lives.
I need to find a balance. By focusing only on the things I see as positive and refusing to acknowledge the pain and sadness, am I being honest? If I focus only on the grief and loss in and around me, where is hope?
I’ve found that balance in spending time with Jesus. He knows everything about me, and still loves me! Also in our weekly home group meetings – not only do I know I am loved and prayed for in my grief, I am pointed to our God of hope and restoration. Others help me along the path as well, and I am so very grateful!
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Romans 12:15 (NIVUK)
14-Sep-20: Reclining Against Jesus Rob King
There is a scene in the Last Supper that has shades of Agatha Christie. Jesus tells the disciples that one of them is about to betray Him, and one by one they seek His assurance that they are not the one being implicated.
Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
Now all they need to do is fix their eyes on the piece of bread in Jesus’s hand, and eureka, case solved. But somehow, they all miss the moment when he hands it to Judas. How is this possible?
Luke’s account provides a possible explanation:
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.
Are they thinking that those of them with the strongest spiritual CVs can’t possibly be in the frame? If so, Simon has a powerful case. He had seen Jesus transfigured and has walked on water. He has been the first to recognise that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus has called him the Rock, upon which He will build his church.
But none of these things seem to reassure him, as he motions towards John and says“Ask him which one he means.” (John 13:26)
Leaning back against Jesus, he (John) asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
John’s body language speaks volumes. Unlike the other disciples he seems totally at peace, secure in the knowledge that whoever the culprit is it certainly isn’t him. But where does his assurance come from?
Could it be to do with the title he gives himself: ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (whom He esteemed and delighted in) (John 13:23, AMP)
To describe oneself this way seems arrogant and presumptuous – like Muhammad Ali calling himself ‘The Greatest’ or Jose Mourinho calling himself ‘The Special One’. Except that John’s title is not about his achievements, but about the relationship he enjoys with Jesus – which we are all invited to partake in.
Reclining on Jesus’ bosom (John 13:23, AMP) is just an expression of John’s total trust and confidence.
Although John’s don’t-ask-don’t-get approach infuriates the other disciples, (Mark 10:37), Jesus seems to have very little problem with it. John is like that little boy, determined at all costs to get that seat next to his best friend – whether in the upper room or in heavenly glory.
A close friend (also called John) described his secure and happy childhood where home was a refuge of continual love and affirmation. Outside were the hostile streets of inner-city Liverpool and a brutal Catholic education. Once, an angry nun confronted him and said, “you’re an ‘evil child!”.
John, who was only seven at the time, looked straight back at her and replied, “well, my mum and dad think I’m great.”
John is one of the most confident, relaxed and self-assured people I have ever met.
7-Sep-20: Unity and God’s Anointing Steve Stapp
I have always found it significant in reading over the prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17 that he placed such a tremendous emphasis on unity. For example, in John 17 Jesus prayed:
“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
John 17:23 (NLT)
In those final hours before Jesus faced torture and physical death, the unity of his followers was such a high priority to him that it was a major focus of his prayer time.
Why is unity so important? And what do we lose if unity is missing or undervalued?
I was listening to a friend teach recently on one of the most famous Old Testament passages on unity, Psalm 133. He brought out some things about unity and the anointing of the Holy Spirit that really spoke to me.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.”
Psalm 133 (NIV)
Psalm 133:2 associates the idea of God’s people living together in unity with the idea of a great outpouring of anointing. Old Testament physical pictures carry a New Testament spiritual application, and physical anointing in the Old Testament speaks of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
Why does Psalm 133:2 specifically focus on the anointing of Aaron when lots of other people were anointed to be either prophet, priest, or king?
Aaron was unique as the first High Priest after the Hebrew slaves were set free from slavery. As High Priest, Aaron had a special role in coming into a place of intimacy in God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. He carried a unique responsibility in stewarding the glory of God.
When Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh, the first miracle was having Aaron throw down his staff which became a snake that ate the snakes that Pharaoh’s magicians produced. Aaron was used by God in shutting down the power of the demonic and releasing the people from bondage.
What about Psalm 133:3 talking about the “dew of Hermon … falling on Mt. Zion”? What does dew bring?
In Genesis 27:28 dew brings God’s blessing, favor, and abundance. In Deuteronomy 32:2 dew represents God’s truth bringing us refreshing and fruitfulness. In Exodus 16:13-15, dew brought the manna in the wilderness – miraculous sustenance, nourishment, daily provision of the bread of heaven. In Hosea 14:5-7 dew brought healing, growth, deep roots, fruitfulness, and even splendor and pleasant fragrance.
If we put it all together, what picture does Psalm 133 paint for us?
When God’s people live together in the unity that He has in mind for us, we experience intimacy with God and steward His glory. We walk in extravagant demon-subduing, bondage-breaking anointing in the Holy Spirit. We receive refreshing and fruitfulness, miraculous sustenance, daily provision, healing, and supernatural growth, and we are an expression of God’s splendor, blessing and favor.
Sweet! Sounds pretty good to me!
31-Aug-20: Grateful for God’s Patience Louise Harris
“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6b (NIV)
During the past few months I have been at home a great deal and like many people I’ve taken an ever-greater interest in my garden.
Not long into lockdown I decided I’d love some Camellias in my garden, so I sent off for 2 plants by mail order. When they eventually arrived, they were bare brown roots and looked very uninspiring and frankly a bit dead! How could they possibly grow into the beautiful blooms I wanted?
I put each in a pot with some good soil, fed and watered them regularly and waited. For ages nothing happened! Then one sprouted a little leaf and before long the regrowth was multiplied, and I had a really healthy-looking thriving plant.
The other however remained completely brown and looked like a dried stick. I decided it was probably never going to grow and I was on the verge of throwing it away when I just thought I’d give it a bit longer.
About a week later the tiniest green shoot arrived – I was thrilled!
Slowly another shoot followed, and I was so glad I’d waited and not given up on it. It was so behind the first plant in its progress but nevertheless the end result is going to be just as lovely.
It occurred to me how grateful I am that God doesn’t give up on us when we are dry and bare, he patiently tends us and waits.
We are all at different stages of growth, but each new shoot is precious, and the end result is our true blossoming.
24-Aug-20: The Vultures Rob King
For much of my Christian life I doubted God’s existence. This often made coming to church difficult. While others all around me praised God, for me He was only a possibility. I tried to assuage my doubts by studying or by listening to endless debates between believers and atheists. There were compelling arguments on both sides, and I concluded that God’s existence or non-existence could not be resolved intellectually.
I read the Bible a great deal, but seldom prayed and never worshipped with any conviction. In church, I felt inauthentic and untrue to myself. Outside church I was in a perpetual state of uncertainty and struggled to have any real conviction about anything. This made me so morose and negative that I came to recognise just how desperately I wanted God to be there.
This also made me question whether my scepticism actually was the real me. What if my discontent was a signal that I wasn’t being true to myself? Because when I practiced belief, I felt positive, energised, joyful and was a much better person.
This realisation didn’t dispel my doubts, but it did change my relationship with them. I began to loathe my scepticism and longed to be like those for whom belief seemed to come naturally. The endless cry of my heart was Oh Lord, how can I know?
Abram once asked God the same question. God had told him that despite his wife, Sarai being infertile and beyond the age of conception, his descendants would be as numerous as the stars and that he would inherit the land before him.
“And he said, ‘Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?'”
Genesis 15:8 NKJV (italics mine)
God instructed Abram to prepare a sacrifice and place it on the altar. All through the day vultures swooped down and Abram had to drive them away. If you’re a fan of nature programmes, you’ll know that vultures never let up. Abram’s battle to fight them off would have been relentless and exhausting.
Similarly, Paul tells us to be “transformed” by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2 NKJV).
This also is an act of sacrifice. Every time we place God’s word over and above our own beliefs, we are, metaphorically, driving away the vultures. Since lockdown began, I have been memorising and reciting scriptures several times a day, but my negative and toxic thoughts have not gone away. If anything, they have intensified. The vultures just keep coming and coming.
At sunset we are told that Abram fell into a “deep sleep” and that “horror and great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12 NKJV). It is only after he goes through this experience that God intervened and His first words were, “Know certainly” (Genesis 15:13 NKJV). Then a burning torch passed between Abram’s sacrifice.
Jesus tells believers, “If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32 NKJV). For Abram, believing was just the start of the journey.
This passage inspires me because it does not romanticise faith, but rather, shows us that we are at war and need to fight. It also shows us that at times, the war can be heavy, bitter, dark and exhausting. But we do not fight alone (even though it may seem that way) and God makes the same promise to us that he makes to Abram:
“Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield, your abundant compensation, and your reward shall be exceedingly great.”
Genesis 15:1 Amplified Version
17-Aug-20: Living in Hope Emma Claridge
In social work, there is a current theme being promoted around inspiring hope into people’s lives. I read a recent article that notes “hope is an essential experience of the human condition” (Clark and Hoffler, 2015).
It is generally felt that if someone has lost hope, then they have very little chance of moving past their difficult circumstances. As social workers, we are encouraged to help people find their hope again, by discovering an inner strength and confidence that things will improve.
Despite authors on the subject determined to separate themselves away from any religious connotations of the word, to me, it is very difficult to have hope without God. To me, hope is not just about believing things will necessarily get better and mustering up inner strength, but trusting that God is in it with me, trusting in His promises and in His faithfulness.
Having this “hope” in our hearts, inspires and motivates us more than anything else. When I’ve lost hope, I feel like the bottom’s fallen out of my world and luckily does not last long as I quickly feel God come near. I always lean towards hope – despite whatever the world: the government, the media, friends and acquaintances may be shouting at me.
Hope believes in a better future, a determination to get through these temporary difficult circumstances.
Matt Redman writes “hope will shine inside of this battle. And this too shall pass”.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf”.
Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)
This describes hope as something which anchors us – it cannot slip or break under pressure. It keeps us grounded through turbulence and is rooted in the most sacred place where the very presence of God dwells.
I also like The Message version of this verse:
“We who have run for our very lives to God, have every reason to grab the promised HOPE with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God…”
It portrays to me the image of someone desperately flinging themselves towards God and then grabbing on to a physical hope as a “spiritual lifeline” in a passionate and intentional way.
This isn’t some superficial hope, this hope we have is grounded in Jesus and He anchors us and holds us secure. This is so different to any hope the world offers or anything we can muster up ourselves. It goes right to the heart of us and to the heart of God and is unbreakable.
10-Aug-20: Let heaven fill your thoughts Elaine Young
A few weeks ago, I was reading Colossians and chapter 3:2 jumped out at me.
The NIV says “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”
The Living Bible puts it like this, “Let Heaven fill your thoughts.”
I stopped to wonder about this. That sounds so other worldly, like the kind of thing you would expect from a monk, or a hermit. But we are called to do this as believers.
How can we mere mortals let heaven fill our thoughts? We have so many pressing things to deal with, how can Heaven fill our thoughts? It’s not just thinking about the sweet by and by with us sitting on fluffy clouds and playing harps. (where did that image come from anyway?) I remember someone being described as being “so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good!” But we are called to think differently.
Let Heaven fill your thoughts…
We have never been there so how do we know about heaven?
We know that Jesus is there. We can’t begin to imagine the beauties of heaven except we know this important fact. Jesus is there and He is coming to take us there! Before He went to heaven, He promised His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would come back and fetch them. When I think of the magnitude of this it brings me to tears.
Jesus spoke a great deal about the Kingdom of Heaven. In some gospels it is called the Kingdom of God, but it is the same thing.
In Matthew 13:44 Jesus spoke about a man discovering a treasure hidden in a field. He went away joyfully and sold everything he had to buy that field. When we really dig into the Word we certainly find the treasure of heaven.
Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.
So, we meditate on the Word and we live joyfully, the way He wants us to live, by setting our minds on the things above not on earthly things. Jesus said seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of the haphazard daily problems we face, what we shall eat, what we should wear, the money in the bank, will be swallowed up in the glory of knowing Him and knowing He will provide. It isn’t about worldly goods. The one who will enter the kingdom of heaven is the one who does the will of the Father in heaven.
And that is summed up by Micah 6:8:
“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
It’s about the inheritance, which is imperishable, kept in heaven for you. We can say with the psalmist:
“Whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you.”
Psalm 73: 25-26
3-Aug-20: Why do I still feel guilty… even though I know I’ve repented? Susan Hunter
If you’re like me you may have at some time or other found yourself asking that question.
We’ve done that thing, that we now strongly regret. So, we earnestly come to God and we confess our sin and repent. We expect to feel better … ‘washed’, forgiven. And mostly, perhaps … we do.
But then there are those times when we still feel the full weight of the guilt. Why do we not feel forgiven. Even despite our knowledge of scriptures such as Ephesians 1:7-8 (MSG):
“Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!”
One reason could be that we’ve missed a step. The part where we need to receive God’s forgiveness.
In his book ‘Spiritual Depression, its Causes and Cure‘, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests that this is a main reasons Christians can carry guilt and feel so unhappy. He suggests that, though we may well believe Jesus died and paid the price for all sin. Yet. That thing that I did. It’s so big. He couldn’t possibly forgive that. So, we are unable to receive the forgiveness He freely gives.
Have you ever found yourself thinking like that? Then bringing that same thing to God to ask Him to forgive you again, then again. When, the truth is of course, He forgave us the first time.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes on to say, “we must never look at any [forgiven] sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus.”
Those verses in Ephesians again, that assure us beyond doubt:
“Because of … his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!
Ephesians 1:7-8 (MSG)
John Wesley wrote ‘He breaks the power of cancelled sin.’ How can cancelled sin still hold power anyway, we could ask. Perhaps simply by not receiving the forgiveness God holds out to us, we give power to something powerless.
Instead – the key, it seems, lies in simply holding out our hands and saying to our loving, Heavenly Father, “I receive Your forgiveness.” Then taking Him at His Word and walking in it.
27-Jul-20: The High Places Rob King
The second book of Kings is heavy going in places. The halcyon days of King David are long gone, and Judah and Israel have split apart. Would-be leaders murder, conspire and seize power, other Gods are embraced and gradually the Jewish people begin to resemble the very nations they have driven out. As kings come and go, their reigns are dismissed in a single short sentence:
“He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”
2 Kings 15:9
A handful of kings get brief nods of approval, but always with a note of regret. They “did what was right” but the high places “were not removed.” (2 Kings 15:3-4)
And then, out of the blue, comes King Hezekiah:
“He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles… He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him.”
2 Kings 18:4-6
As victorious as Hezekiah’s life is, he also endures great suffering. Jerusalem is besieged by the mighty Assyrian army and its inhabitants starved until only a remnant remain alive. Sennacherib, the Assyrian king sends Hezekiah a taunting letter, ridiculing his faith in a God that cannot possibly save him. Hezekiah responds by taking the letter into the temple, spreading it out before the LORD and praying one of the most powerful prayers ever uttered.
Instead of pleading for his life or the lives of his people, he says:
“open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.”
2 Kings 19:16
Hezekiah, we are told, was unique:
“There was no-one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after him.”
2 Kings 18:6
And yet, just a few chapters later, King Josiah gets described in just the same way:
“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength.”
2 Kings 23:25
In other words, getting rid of the high places and abandoning themselves to God didn’t turn these two men into clones; rather, it made them unique and distinctive.
So, what are the high places and what do they signify to us today? For me, it is about those entanglements with a Godless culture; the things that I persuade myself can co-exist with my walk with God; the things that I think give me identity, but in fact, do just the opposite.
This is the theme of the late Leanne Payne’s spiritual classic, ‘The Healing Presence‘. The book’s focal point is three verses in Ephesians:
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
20-Jul-20: God’s Protection Emma Claridge
“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sandstorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of Angel Armies protects us.”
Psalm 46:1 (The Message)
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about standing strong and firm during the turbulence of life. I don’t know about you, but it just feels like you’ve just got life sorted and then one or several things in a row happen that literally pull the rug out from under your feet. During these times, I hardly feel like I’m “standing fearless at the cliff-edge of doom”!
I love this version of Psalm 46 verse 1 as I think it really gets across the turbulence and potentially destructive side of life; how we can not only stand firm and strong in God’s strength, but be fearless and courageous as the windstorms of life rush at us.
God is depicted as strong, capable, reassuring and willing to fight and defend on our behalf. He is a strong protector and has our best interests at heart and more than capable of fighting our battles for us, if we let him, that is!
One of my favourite albums (my Covid album if you like!) is Matt Redman’s ‘Glory Song’ album.
If you haven’t heard it before, I’d encourage you to listen to it as it contains some of the most heart-felt lyrics I have heard in contemporary Christian music. His voice, to me, really has a depth and reality to it which makes you realise he has been through these difficult issues himself.
I came across the album during lockdown and have listened to it almost constantly since, often finding at times that many of the songs spoke to me so clearly and powerfully lifted me out of some of my lowest times. I have many favourite songs on the album, but one of them really speaks to me and links in with the Psalm. It talks about that even though you may have questions, battles and disbelief, God holds us tight in our wrestling.
Questions (You Are Faithful) – Matt Redman:
In all of our questions, all of our searching
When we are wrestling, You don’t let go
In all of our fears and doubts, all our anxious thoughts
When we are restless, still we are held
Lord I believe, but help my unbelief
The questions come, but You remain
The battles roar, but still You reign
And I believe one thing will never change
You are faithful, You are faithful
13-Jul-20: The Lord’s ‘Blessing Smile’ Elaine Utting
Part of my daily reading last week was a commentary on Psalm 80, particularly verse 19.
In the NIV, this reads:
‘…make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.’
The Message puts it this way:
‘…smile your blessing smile: that will be our salvation.’
The commentary mentions Father Raniero Cantalamessa being famous for how his face shines like a light, especially when he smiles, and quotes Mother Teresa, who said: ‘The smile is the beginning of love’.
I started to think about how important smiling is in sharing love and hope as we go about our everyday lives.
Then I realized with a shock that not only has Coronavirus closed our churches, it is also requiring us to cover our smiles when we meet people!
But as we are finding new ways to be church, and attracting more people to our videoed church than would have come to our building, so also I discovered God has the mask thing sorted too.
I didn’t realize that there is a specific quality to a sincere, genuinely happy smile that we all recognize, whether we are aware of it or not.
The lips can smile to convey many things – politeness, cynicism, smugness. I know when I’ve been on the receiving end of one of these smiles.
But when we are smiling to express affirmation, joy and love, we smile with our eyes too! The muscles around our eyes contract, and we get ‘crow’s feet’ at the corners of our eyes. I’ve even heard these wrinkles described as ‘smile lines’.
So though wearing our masks might hide our lips, they don’t hide our eyes, and it’s in our eyes that people recognize a genuine smile.
Makes me want to open my heart to the Lord’s ‘blessing smile’ so my eyes will reflect the love I’ve received from him.
6-Jul-20: The Value Of Questioning Rob King
“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
I love Thomas. I love his courage (John 11:16) and for his willingness to ask challenging questions. Asking questions can make you vulnerable. You run the risk being perceived as a troublemaker or, worse still, a fool. Yet God always has time for them. The psalms especially are full of very difficult and deeply profound questions.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
Good teachers also love questions.
They are a sign that people are engaged and listening.
Questions infuse energy and get people thinking.
A while ago I read ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins. Although it posed some very difficult and hostile questions, I found that ultimately it sharpened my faith rather than undermined it.
For me, the hardest thing to deal with is apathy and indifference – the person who smiles benignly and says, “How very nice for you.”
But when someone hits back with all kinds of difficulties and objections, I know they have been touched.
Sincere, heartfelt questions release the truth rather than undermine it.
Thomas’s question lead to Jesus making arguably His most important ever statement about Himself:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Over the years I’ve asked God loads of questions – and it’s always the ones He answers that cause me the most consternation.
Once I was reading the passage in James that says, “get rid of all moral filth and evil in your lives…” (James 1:21)
“And how do you do that?” I responded tersely.
I was living in a house set way back from the road. The refuse collectors wouldn’t come to my house, so I had to wheel my bin out to them via a long pathway. I was pushing it one morning when He said,
“Just like that.”
29-Jun-20: My Soul Finds Rest In God Emma Claridge
I was going through a difficult spell recently and on a particularly low day, came across the following verse on my Bible app which really spoke to me:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
On the app, it also gave a one minute video reflection on this verse which on this occasion was done by Lisa Bevere (a Christian author/speaker), which was so simple, yet powerful and lifted me immensely and so I wanted to share it with you, to encourage you if you are also going through a difficult day or week.
She reminded me that I need to SPEAK to my soul (like David did in this psalm) and command authority over it, to ANCHOR myself in God that He will keep me steady and calm through life’s storms and to determinedly look to God and not my circumstances and other people to provide that security.
It’s so easy to anchor ourselves in something other than God at the moment… often we do it without realising it.
We eagerly await the next parliamentary speech to see whether lockdown restrictions will be lifted and offer some alleviation of the pressure of our current circumstances. We look to people for emotional and practical support, and then become disappointed and saddened when people let us down or don’t offer us the support we may crave at this time.
It reminded me again that if I choose to place my hope in anything other than God, I will regularly become frustrated, downcast and low.
It takes a big shift in my mind-set to choose to anchor myself to God, particularly during these challenging and turbulent times, but as I visualise myself as a boat being anchored to him in the storm, it makes me feel calm, confident and assured that He will help me deal with whatever is before me…
“truly my soul finds rest in God”
22-Jun-20: His Humility Rachel Bridge
The word “humility” comes from the Latin word “humilis” which means low or humble, indicating someone who is not proud or arrogant, someone modest, someone who puts others before themselves.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under Gods mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)
“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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:29-30 (NIV)
I love these lyrics from a song very close to my heart (I’ve listened to it a lot on my travels to Scotland.):
Be Exalted (Dave Miller)
Would you take the little in my hands and use it for your glory
It’s not much, but everything I have, use it for your glory
We only give, what we received from you, use it for your glory
It’s your love that we’re responding to, Jesus for your glory!
Be exalted O God higher and higher
Be exalted O God higher and higher
Take the little that we have and fill it with your power for your glory
You’re the power in our weakness
You’re the treasure shining through
You are for us, Christ within us
We give everything for you
I think these lyrics say it all – the sheer humility that we are expressing when we give the little that we have, it’s so incredibly innocent and beautiful. Seeing how our amazing God turns it all around for his glory.
As we each go about our daily lives with Christ further along on our journeys, we realise more and more that it isn’t about us – but all about him!! It’s always good to remember that our very giving – our very sacrifices, are always for his glory and not our own.
Let’s encourage one another during this time.
I sense God wanting to use the little that we have (when we humbly give it) to turn it around for his glory as we help those around us, through this difficult time.
I want to end with a short prayer for us all:
Jesus, we come to you now.
As we draw near to your shelter and your safe place,
protect us as we go into this coming week.
Giving the little that we have,
we lay it down at your feet
and ask that you bless it to bless others abundantly
for your glory.
15-Jun-20: Let Love Filter Our Lives Emma Claridge
During this crisis, have you learnt to be more tolerant and accepting of others, or increasingly less so?!
It felt in the early days of lockdown that there was a collective sense of “we’re all in this together”… but are we really, or is this sentiment quite superficial? How can we all be in this together if we are all reacting and behaving differently to it, with health and wealth divisions continuing to drive us apart?
A quote I have seen banded about on social media is:
“We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm,”
with the hashtags – #bekind, #supporteachother, #dontjudge. This to me, encourages us to consider that people may be coming to this from different standpoints, but that in some way, they are experiencing a “storm” in their lives.
This crisis, as much as it may have in some ways brought people together in a collective force to offer neighbours and friends moral and practical support, it equally has given another excuse to vent about people’s different reactions to and behaviours during this pandemic. It’s so easy to judge on a daily basis. People also might be less tolerant due to their own difficult and painful personal circumstances where people’s behaviour may strike a chord and really cause frustration and anger within you.
I have felt really challenged as a Christian by what my attitude should be. Is it for me to judge and cause more division?
Our financial/health and family circumstances may look (and no doubt, will be) very different to others. There may be frustrations going on in your life – money/health/mental health issues which make us judge other people more harshly.
In Matthew 7, God advises us to first take the log out of our own eyes so it will help us see more clearly, before turning on others.
Billy Graham wisely said “It is the Holy spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love”.
In 1 Corinthians 13, it says “love is patient, love is kind” … “love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs” (GNT).
To truly change our behaviour, we need to go back to this basic truth about love and let that filter our lives.
8-Jun-20: What a wonderful God we have! Jenny Dean
Whenever I have gone through difficulties, I have always found the words of 1 Peter 1:3-9 a great encouragement, and so in this time, when we are all going through unprecedented and trying times, I commend them to you.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3-9
What encouraging words Peter starts with. We have new birth, a living hope and an inheritance, which can never perish, spoil or fade, which is being kept for us by God himself. How privileged we are that Jesus died for us, so that we can enjoy these things in the present or in the future and that the knowledge of them can sustain us now, when we are facing difficulties we could never have imagined.
Peter talks about believers facing trials in verses 6 and 7. The trials of the people he was writing to at the time were very different to our current ones, but we have the same living hope to sustain us, as he sustained them and the knowledge, as explained in this passage, that he is using the challenges we go through to prove that our faith is genuine, which will bring glory to Jesus.
My favourite part of this piece of scripture is verse 8, in which Peter talks about the ‘inexpressible and glorious joy’ we experience when we believe in Jesus. As I spend time with him and consider who he is and what he has done for me, that joy wells up in me (which accounts for me not being able to keep still when we are worshipping together). Moreover I know the joy I experience now is only a fraction of what I will feel when I come into the promised inheritance of the new heaven, where “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
This will be experienced by all of us who believe in him of course.
What a wonderful God we have!!
1-Jun-20: Come Away With Me. Susan Hunter
“There is change in the air…
run with me to the higher place.
For now is the time to arise and come away with me.”
Song of Songs 2:13 The Passion Translation
For some time now God has been repeating again and again this same message to me: “Come away with me”.
I’ve sensed God say it directly, I’ve had people say it through prophetic words; one lady came up to me at a Christian event and interrupted a conversation to tell me urgently that the Lord wanted to say it.
It’s been written in emailed devotions I’m subscribed to and I’ve heard it in talks. It’s been expressed in different ways, but it’s the same message. “Come away with me to the quiet place, to the secret place, to your God-space. Come away to hear My voice”.
I know He has been saying it to us as a church family too. People came back from National Leaders’ Conference and gave testimony to that fact. Lisa, and others, shared how God had really impressed it upon her heart and Jeffrey shared something precious and similar from some years ago, that still holds true and fresh today.
Perhaps you’ve sensed the Lord say it too.
So, in this time of unexpected coming away and enforced retreating to our homes, when we’re not dashing out the door for the school run or to hit rush hour traffic; I wonder…
I wonder what we hear Him say at this time.
What do you hear the Lord say; for us, to you, for me?
“There is change in the air.
Arise, my love, my beautiful companion,
and run with me to the higher place.
For now is the time to arise and come away with me.”
(Song of Songs 2:13 TPT)
Maybe you can already answer that question.
If not… let’s try it. Let’s be obedient to His call.
Come away with Him. Intentionally. To hear His voice.
Whether you’re in lock down in a busy family home, there are fewer people with you or you’re on your own, see where you can carve time to come away and find your Secret Place. Take some opportunity for some quiet reflection with Jesus.
In your quiet space; tune into the whispers of His heart for you. Write down in a Notebook or Journal what you feel you hear. Don’t worry at first about it making sense. Just write what you sense you hear the Lord say. Rest in the space with Him.
Read some scripture. As I’ve been typing, the above verse and passage around it came to mind. See if it speaks to you.
Here’s a link to it in the NIV: Song of Songs 2:10-13 NIV
Try reading it phrase by phrase, and ask the Lord to show you what He wants to say to you through it. Note down anything that seems to jump out of the page to you.
Sing out any worship song that you find starts coming to mind. Or play a worship track.
Here’s a couple of great suggestions:
- The Goodness of God, Jen Johnson & Hillsong: http://youtu.be/-f4MUUMWMV4
- Simplicity, Rend Collective http://youtu.be/d8p3n5wzFpM
Keep writing down all you feel God is saying to you. Invite Him to Sing over you. Ask Him to tell you the specific phrase or words He’s singing. Listen for the direct answer and write it down.
Come away with Him. To the Secret Place. Listen to His voice.
What is He saying? For you? For me? For us as a Church family?
25-May-20: A Meditation. Elaine Young
Do you recall, as a child, being told to “Go to your room!” Or as an exasperated parent yourself, sending your child off to their room to contemplate their wrongdoing?
Both of my children have told me (now that they are adults) that waiting for me to appear was worse than any discipline I might have applied!
In these days of lockdown, we have, effectively, been sent to our rooms.
How are you doing?
Angry at having your social life curtailed?
No coffee dates, no convivial lunches at the pub, no sweating it out at the gym.
Or are you afraid of the future?
Will you still have an income when this is over?
Will you and your family be safe through to the end of this pandemic?
Do you feel you have been abandoned at this time, missing the ebb and flow of human interaction?
You just need a warm hug!
The Israelites were basically sent to their rooms when they left Egypt. Their lives there had been grindingly difficult, but they were predictable. They had their little treats: the leeks, the garlic and the onions. They probably had fresh vegetables grown in irrigation furrows.
And then one terrifying night they went into lockdown as the angel of death passed over them and after a hurried meal, they set off on a journey to a land that many would never see. Fleeing Pharaoh’s wrath they followed Moses into a hostile desert, whining and complaining all the way!
Finally, after two months they arrived at Sinai and God called to Moses from the mountain,
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
Not, “I have brought you into the desert to punish you.” But he brought them to this place to be with HIM.
So can we see this confinement as a call from the Lover of our souls to a deeper relationship at this time, away from the distractions and responsibilities of ‘normal’ life.
Hear him whisper:
“You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
He loves you with an everlasting love. Your name is written on his hands.
18-May-20: His Faithfulness. Ian & Joy Revie
We have all faced new challenges recently adapting to change both in our work and home. Often there is sad news and restrictions that we need to work through daily, however one thing we have more of is time and in particular, time to reflect.
As we look at God’s promises to his people time and again, the reflection back is the activity that helps us continue to have hope in God for the future – Faith.
We have been reflecting on how valuable our Housegroup family has been over the years and one of the many good times we have had was at a particularly difficult time over a year ago. We were encouraged to rest on God by reflecting on bible verses that are dear to us, treasured from helping us through previous tough times. These were verses on which we all built our faith and trust in God- promises from God to us in our life.
The result was a wonderful framed collage of everyone’s handwritten verses, and behind each verse was a beautiful story of God’s provision and faithfulness, time and time again, in a variety of situations.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the Peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens you are there, if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise up on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sun, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “surely the darkness will hide me and the light become the night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not harm you…plans to give you hope and a future.
Christ is all and in all.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old from ancient times.
When I was a child. I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope & love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:11-13
So, we are encouraged as we reflect on the journey of how God has brought us to where we are now.Through it all, His track record of faithfulness remains and we feel strengthened as He continues to be our Way Maker, Promise Keeper, our Light in the Darkness.
11-May-20: Foundations. Roger Williams
After several monthly off-site meetings, I was getting frustrated that nothing seemed to be happening in terms of the construction of our next small care home in Bradford. I should have remembered that the foundations are critical and that, though hidden from view when the building is erected, the whole stability of the structure above, is reliant on them.
I recalled the passage from Matthew 7: 24-27 about being wise and building your house on rock not sand.
A life built on Jesus forms a solid foundation like a house built on rock.
When the inevitable concerns of life come, such as disappointments, difficult decisions, family worries, financial concerns, unfair criticism, I want to have the resources to be able to withstand these and remain strong and act with wisdom. I want to be a beautiful house that radiates God’s goodness despite the pressures that come, and I know that this can only happen if I focus on the foundations being strong. I don’t want to be worried and anxious, buffeted like the house built on the sand, with cracks appearing in the walls as the foundations subside.
Psalm 91 tells us that:
‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord ‘he is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
Let us pray for wisdom and strength as we seek to build strong foundations as we trust in God. Let’s praise his name, aware that on the cross Jesus did everything to enable us to be united with Him.
Like Jesus’ disciple, Peter, whom Jesus restored and whose declaration of Jesus’ identity led to Jesus saying, ‘upon this rock I will build my church,’ let us ask that whatever comes our way in life, we will stand firm and ‘rest in the shadow of the Almighty.’
4-May-20: His Safety. Rachel Bridge
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91 (NIV)
Since the lockdown we have all started to go through different emotions of anxiety frustration, etc.
The above Psalm has been in my thoughts a great deal and I have been studying and meditating on it every night since the lockdown began.
I believe it is a Psalm where the very essence of it speaks of:
Overall God’s voice is calling us and guiding us ever closer to himself, wrapping us in his love, warmth and comfort. He’s teaching us to LISTEN TO HIM amidst all the chaos and sadness that COVID-19 is throwing at us, drawing us to his shelter and his safe place.
I do encourage you to take time and reflect on it.
I have felt a tremendous calmness and peace when reading it.
27-April-20: Invisible enemy. Invisible Saviour. Stephen Price
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
Colossians 1:16 (NIV)
If you are as old, or even older(!) than me you will probably remember the name, Gerald Coates. He used to regularly be involved in conversations with non-believers on the Radio. One evening, when his ‘opponent’ was getting particularly irate, Gerald said something to the effect of:
“Okay, let’s just leave it that I believe that everything was created out of nothing by someone, and you believe that everything was created out of nothing by no-one” – an observation which was probably hard to come back at …
The guy that Gerald was speaking to was struggling with the concept of putting faith in the invisible and intangible.
With Coronavirus the entire world is being challenged to have faith that something invisible exists. It has been easy for me to accept the existence of Coronavirus just from watching the media but, now that we have a daughter who is extremely likely to be suffering from Coronavirus, faith in this invisible plague becomes far more active.
Seeing those we love suffering or the people of our church living alone and cut off from fellowship brings the reality of our situation in this world home.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
Currently, the ‘powers of this dark world’ are not only causing suffering but suffering in isolation. This is when we need to remember that as Christians, we are not isolated from God. Not now, or at any point in the future!
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
1 Timothy 1:17 (NIV)
20-April-20: Blessed Is The One Who Trusts In The Lord Emma Claridge
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17: 7-8 (NIV)
I shared with my small group recently about some things that struck me during a recent little break to the Isle of Arran, which we returned from just in the nick of time, although I quite happily could have isolated there!
During these 4 days, I saw 3 rainbows in full (wow!) reminding me of God’s promises and that He won’t leave or desert us – remember how the rainbow appeared after a devastating flood?
“whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Genesis 9:16).
I love that rainbows are now popping up in people’s windows during this time, such a reminder to us all!
Another striking thing, was walking past a really majestic forest of tall pine trees. I was struck by how some of the trees had come down in the previous stormy weather and had crashed down on to other trees. There was no reason why certain trees had come crashing down and others hadn’t, as they all looked the same – good solid, strong trees – but clearly certain trees were either in the wrong position, too exposed, too vulnerable or their roots didn’t go down deep enough.
I have been thinking about this since and trying to work out the significance. I felt that God is saying that we may appear as if we are strong, majestic and coping ok, but unless our roots – ie. our thought processes, beliefs and fears are ground deep enough into Him and His truths, we could be taken out by a freak “wind” or even another “tree” – person / situation / thought / belief / anxiety.
Again, this brings me back to that verse above… who or what are we leaning on?
Ourselves, our friends, family, the media, politicians, blind hope…or a mighty God?
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream” (Jeremiah 17: 7-8).
Both these insights became even more prominent and significant on my return, as the Coronavirus situation developed at such a speed in just a few days and with everyone having to navigate new living and working relationships and define a new normal.
I’m reminded not to try and make sense of this – not to desperately seek some reason, find something to dull the pain, lessen the horror or take away the anxiety… but to fully trust in God and lean not on my understanding in the midst of confusion, hurt and fear and sink my hope into Him and his stream of life.
“It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17: 8)
13-April-20: Chasing After Joy Shelley Johnson
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
(He has sent me to) provide for those who grieve – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
It’s easy to have joy when things are going well and there are exciting things to look forward to. So much harder when life is difficult, uncertain and just plain mundane. Nothing quite saps joy like a mundane, routined, treadmill type of existence.
I think the only way to break this cycle of behaviour and thinking is to put on a garment of praise and thankfulness. Take pleasure and delight in all aspects of your day.
From the butter melting into your toast to blue skies peeping through the clouds. From the laughter of the next door neighbour’s children to the smell of dinner. Take each experience and regularly give thanks to Abba who has given all this and more.
The world we live in, broken as it is, was created for us to explore and know our Abba.
Whilst I know that there are many people who are facing great mountains of fear (loss, finance, illness, etc), don’t allow negative, miry thinking to drag you down and let you lose sight of how truly blessed you are. There is always something, no matter how small, to be thankful for.
Praise and a thankful heart will keep us close to Abba, who in turn will help sustain us through this time of great challenge.
My prayer for you:
May Abba place his loving arms around you.
Open your ears to hear him singing joyfully over your life.
May the seeping despair and lethargy be banished
and may you wear a garment of praise and joy.
I pray that your eyes will be opened
and that you will see His goodness in every aspect of your day!
6-April-20: Trust in the Lord Emma Claridge
“Trust in the Lord and LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING”
Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)
“…Don’t rely on what you think you know” (GNB)
“…Don’t try to figure out everything on your own” (MSG)
“…Do not rely on your own insight” (AMP)
The above verse came to me one night (pre-corona, if anyone can remember back then!) when I was praying for some friends of mine living in a foreign country and who were experiencing difficult emotional and personal problems. I didn’t know the circumstances of them needing to come back to the UK, but as I prayed, God almost shouted this verse at me (but emphasised the bit in capitals!).
I passed on what I hoped was a God-inspired word to my friend and she said it was exactly what they as a family needed to hear at that time (which shows that occasionally we can hear God clearly!). However, as time has gone on and the impact of the virus has gripped hold of the world and turned everything on its head, this verse has never left my mind and its meaning has become ever more poignant and insightful into the current situation we find ourselves.
On the one hand, there is the desperation and fear of millions of people trying to work out how and why this is happening and trying to make sense of it, and yet, there seems to be an amazing sense of God moving in His people and encouraging us to “rise up” and meet the challenge presented. How quickly people have responded with meals, generosity, kindness, praying for people, serving on the front line and loving and caring for others in different ways than they may be used to. Truly beautiful to see God’s work in action.
I find myself strangely at peace inside (you know, that “peace that surpasses all understanding”?) – but experiencing a real mixture of emotions, often all within one day! Occasional real deep rooted fear and anxiety, desperate sadness, a longing to see people and to hold loved ones again, a feeling of being out of sorts and missing routine… but also moments of real intense connection with God; watching the world reluctantly slow down and go back to basics; an uncontrollable fire and passion to be used by God and to reach those I live with and love – a desire to truly love and connect with people and share my faith like never before and also seeing the beauty in simple things (a beautiful sunny day, a lovely cup of real coffee, a bird singing).
I almost experience some total joy at these times and find myself almost loving this new reality, tranquillity and stepping off or in many cases “crashing off” (!) the endless treadmill of modern life, until the reason for why we are in this lockdown comes to mind and threatens to disturb my new-found existence.
However, I remain resolute to choose love over fear and not let the what-ifs take over and disturb my peace and my prayer is that this is the same for you.
30-March-20: Even if He does not… Stephen Price
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
When I am confronted with crisis, it makes me go back to the fundamentals of my faith. I believe in God. God gave us free will. We got above ourselves. God redeems us through His son. We are invited into a salvation which allows us to be ‘heirs and co-heirs’ with Christ, who was, is, and always shall be. While we are on earth, we are Christ’s ambassadors.
I love the passage above from Daniel because it seems to put all this into perspective, even though it is pre new-covenant. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego say that their God will deliver them but, EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, they won’t forsake God because their faith in their saviour is firm.
I would like my faith to be at that place; to pray protection and deliverance for self, family and friends from the latest pestilence and plague whilst remaining unshakeable in my belief that God has ultimate control.