Photographs tell a story

I love looking at old photographs. I like picking them up and recalling the momentous occasions which caused us to stop and capture the moment. When I was little I remember going to visit my grandparents over the weekends and spending a long time listening to their stories as they proudly showed us their photographs. It was always very interesting to see how sometimes my grandma would be excited and cheerful about a particular photo, and sometimes she would pause, look deep into another with a longing for someone she had long lost. She would cry and she would sometimes laugh about the moments she treasured. Through the years, my sisters and I learnt the stories and we could recite them word for word, including the facial expressions and emotions.

As we walk through life we tend to mark moments in our history, don’t we? A birthday party, a first day or last day of school, a graduation ceremony, a group of close friends enjoying time together, a fun day at church camp or a dressing up contest set up by the youth leader. Our weddings, our children and their firsts. Other things we capture, a first car, a family pet, a treasured gift, a house we buy (sometimes, we take a photo of the house we wish we had). We tend to photograph the people who mean something to us in the hope we won’t forget them or how much we appreciate them. When visiting different places we click away trying to capture the place in the hope that when we look at them, we will remember the textures, the smells and sounds, the beauty and the impact the places had in our lives at that particular moment. As it happens, we capture happy moments but we also capture the sad ones. The broken leg, the stiches we had after a bad fall, the last photo with someone we love and we know will no longer be with us when we next visit. The photographs we take and the stories we tell are used to pass on to the next generation a bit of ourselves and our legacy.

In the Bible, we have the stories that God inspired men to write which tells us all about Him and His wonderful plan to rescue us. In the Old Testament we read the account of creation and a perfect place where God placed Adam and Eve and they were living in perfect harmony under His rule and enjoying His blessings. (Genesis 1) We see a sad day when sin entered the world when Adam and Even disobeyed God and creation was cursed and there was separation between God and humanity (Genesis 3). God so loved the world even then, he chose a people for Himself. God promised Abraham he would become a great nation and God would be their God and would be with them always. (Genesis 12:1-2) The accounts of Abraham and his descendants tell us how that story began. It is a fascinating story. An incredible demonstration of love and grace, time and time again.

Joseph’s story tells us of how much sin really is destructive and how it disregards life. His brothers sell him and lie to their father only because they were jealous of him. (Genesis 37)Through all his hardship Joseph trusts God and God performs an incredible rescue of his people from famine and they go to Egypt (Genesis 46). Many years later when they had been enslaved by the Egyptians God hears their cry and again He sends Moses to rescue them. To be a messenger, to point them to Him. (Exodus 3:1-10) They are rescued from Egypt and start their journey towards the promise land. The land God had promised to Abraham his descendants would enjoy.

At this point I have to apologise. These descriptions are more like faded black and white photographs – go read Genesis and Exodus. You will get all the colours, you will feel the emotions and will be placed in a much better place to understand these moments, you know why? Because God himself breathed it and used his chosen people to write it down. These are not just “old photographs”, they are the absolute truth.

After God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians with mighty signs the people started to grumble and complain. Sin continued to corrupt the heart of men and they rebelled against their God. The people disobeyed God and were made to wander in judgement, through the wilderness, for 40 years until they are given the land God had promised (Numbers 14:26-35).

During this time God gives Moses the law, a set of principles and rules by which the people were to live. They were to be separated from the other nations, different, consecrated to God. They were to follow the rules carefully and they were to remember what God had done for them. At the end of his life Moses challenges the people to obey their God and remember what they had witnessed and pass it on to the future generations so they too would love and revere the Lord.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

I learned these verses when I was a teenager and recently I have been very challenged by them. Have I been telling my children about the wonderful things God has done? Am I spending time looking at the “photographs”, those special moments God recorded for our benefit, and sharing them with them? The command was for all the people, not just the ones who are Bible teachers or are in charge of leading God’s people in their spiritual growth. Do I speak about God’s power and might enough that my children want to know Him? Do I share it with them in a way to spark their interest? I am not sure I do it to the extent the verses challenge me to. I want to, but I know I cannot do it in my own strength. I need God to help me. I need the Holy Spirit to change my own desires so I can be obedient.

What about my own “photographs” and stories of my journey of faith? Have I been sharing them with my children? I need to tell them how God changed my heart one day and I surrendered to Him instead of running away from Him. They need to hear that it wasn’t always easy being a teenager that went to church on Saturday evenings instead of going out drinking with friends. There were plenty of tears shed during my school years when I was “bullied” for being a follower of Jesus, God helped me see that He was my friend and He would never leave me. My children need to hear how God helped me through times when friendships were shaken, some lost and some renewed in His strength (I am so grateful for the friends God has kept in my life). I need to let them see that I have cried and wrestled with God many times but even when I didn’t understand, with his help, I still chose to obey. God was there when singleness seemed to be the only option. The struggle to let go of a dream and trust in Him completely. He is so gracious and good and He gave me a wonderful husband to share my life with. He was there when loved ones died, to sustain and strengthen us. God was so present comforting us when having children of our own seemed very unlikely. Through the tears and shattered hopes he was there. We chose to trust Him with everything and He heard our prayers and blessed us with two beautiful children. I need to share these “photos”, these glimpses, these moments that tell my story of faith to help shape and point them to Jesus. Most of all I need to look back and see how much God has done for me and how much He has changed me. I need to give Him the glory.

May our great God help us as we recount the wonderful moments He has recorded in his word for us and may he help us to share our own stories of faith with our children so they too can learn to trust in Him and live for Him.

By the way, there are more wonderful moments in the Bible, so, don’t stop in the Old Testament – read it all!

We were not made to know everything

If I could have a super power I would choose the ability to know everything instantly. Imagine being able to just pick my violin and instantly play a concerto by Vivaldi! How wonderful would it be to be able to hear a language or see it written and instantly be able to speak it and translate it? How satisfying would it be to know all there is to know about science without blinking an eye? It would be fantastic to pick up a book and know everything about it and its author! I would love to know everything there is to know about all the wonderful places around the world. That was me, day dreaming again.

I know that in order for someone to be able to play Vivaldi concertos, hours will be spent on practice and even then, there is no guarantee the performance will be flawless. I know it takes years to understand, speak and translate a language – believe me, I am still learning it. Scientists, even the ones who are ahead of their time, must spend their life learning and researching in order to be successful. The fastest readers need to set aside time to flick through pages and research all there is to know about authors. If one could travel around the entire world our short, finite life would not be enough to cover all the wonderful places God created on earth. But to know things is to have power. Whether we admit it or not, we all desire this power.

How about being able to know everything about the future? That would be amazing right? Things would be so much better if we could know the future and be certain that all will be well. Isn’t that why we spend so much time online these days browsing the internet, searching for all that knowledge we so desire? Maybe, for some of us those hours spent browsing, give us a sense of “I know it all now”. (By the way, it is worth mentioning, I am not against using the internet – that would defeat the purpose of writing this blog to share with you. The internet is also a useful tool in many ways.) We go on then thinking that we are now able to take charge of our lives, our decisions and our future because we are well informed. We think that by knowing all we can change all. Knowledge gives the sense of power, doesn’t it? We were not created to know everything. We were created to trust the One who does.

The Bible teaches us that God and only God knows all things. We call this attribute of God omniscience. God knowns everything intuitively – He has never been taught anything. God does not depend on anyone to teach Him or to counsel He simply knows all things. In Isaiah 40:13-14 we read:

“Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?”

The answer to the question in these verses is off course no one. God is the origin of all things and because He is infinite, eternal, outside time, His knowledge is eternal. He knows everything all the time and He knows it completely:

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ Isaiah 46:10

“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” Acts 15:18

God’s knowledge is also intimate and exhaustive – it penetrates the human heart. Nothing can escape his gaze, He searches the deepest secrets of our hearts.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. Psalm 139:1-4

“From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;” Psalm 33:13

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (emphasis mine)

When I stop for a minute to think about our God and the fact that He knows everything about all things and He knows everything about me, it is just incredible. He knows my deepest thoughts and my fears. He knows my needs and He knows my future too. He has been there already. He knows all the details, the ins and outs of each situation and He loves me. Wow!

Do you know what is even more cause for our hearts to be filled with joy and trust in our all knowing God? He shares some of his knowledge with us. Jesus said that if we believe in Him we have eternal life. God lets us know our future will be spent with Him when we put our trust in Him.

May our gaze be on him. May our day dreaming become of Him. May we trust in Him completely because He knows us completely.

All glory to Him!

Small words, big meaning

I like learning new words and their meanings. For someone like me who speaks different languages and enjoys learning them, words are fascinating. From my own language I love the word “saudade” /saʊˈdɑːdə/. There isn’t a word for that in English. People sometimes use the word “homesick” or “missing” to translate it. But it means so much more than just being homesick or missing something. When we use this word we want to express a feeling of longing for someone or something, a feeling of melancholy. The kind of feeling that makes your heart ache.  

In my Bible readings and exploration of the topic of holiness, I have seen the word “woe” many times. In fact, it is used about 96 times in the Bible and Jesus used it too. In the English dictionary the meaning for this word is: great sorrow or distress (often used hyperbolically). If you are reading that and have forgotten the many years learning language and the treasures of grammar, hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally. This word was used, some believe, to convey to the listeners something important, it was almost like a cry to stop and listen. It was spoken before God’s judgement was announced to the people to convey disaster was coming, should they continue to walk away from their God.

In the book of Isaiah the word woe is used 23 times. Let’s consider one of them. The prophet Isaiah is given a vision of God’s throne and his glory:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

This passage is a classic place in Scriptures to look at the attribute of God which permeates all the others, his Holiness. Repetition is used in the Bible to emphasise a point and holiness is the only attribute of God which is repeated 3 times in a sentence. Note the seraphim saying Holy, holy holy. God reveals his other attributes to us in the Bible but we never read anywhere “Love, love, love is the Lord Almighty”, or “Powerful, powerful, powerful is the Lord Almighty”. God’s holiness is so important that no one could see His glory. Isaiah new that and that is why he responds this way:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah probably used this word woe to magnify the tragedy of his situation: I am ruined. He was fully expecting to die because he knew how unclean he was and he had seen the Lord Almighty. He new that because of all the sin in his life he could never stand before God. Isaiah knew he deserved death. The feeling of anguish, misery, desolation this little word carries to someone like him who recognises their condition of helplessness before a Holy God. Utter despair! In order to fully understand the meaning of the word woe in the context here one would have had to have gone through the same desperation when looking at ones heart.

We don’t see a lot of that these days. People have largely forgotten how Holy God is and how much He hates sin. They think of God as being just love, mercy, good, kind, friendly. But Holy does not come at the top of the list. People live their lives thinking they might be a bit naughty at times, but not sinful. NO, sin does not appear to be the worst thing in ones life anymore. Sure, we still hear in our churches the mention of God being holy and we sing along to famous words “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity”, but are quick to concentrate on the second half of this verse than the first. It is because people have stopped focusing on God’s holiness it has become more difficult to see the filth they live in. It is only when we comprehend God’s holiness (if it is even possible to comprehend it) that we understand that we too should say “woe to me”. Like Isaiah, we too deserve to die because we are sinful. We cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. Tragic indeed! A complete desolation!

But the passage does not stop there. It goes on to show how the Holy, holy, holy God provided the solution to cleanse Isaiah and to give us a picture of what was to come. It is pointing forward to when Jesus was going to come and die for us to make us clean and we too would have our sins atoned for.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

What an amazing gracious, holy God we have! Notice that God didn’t compromise on who He is at all. He didn’t change his character to make sure we could come to him. He didn’t get down from his throne to console Isaiah in his despair. No. God is still Holy, holy, holy, but because of his holy love and mercy he provided a way for Isaiah to be able to be cleansed and that is what the coal was used for. It took his sins away from him, so he could stand in God’s presence. God has provided a way for us to be made clean, righteous and therefore, not be destroyed because of our sin. He gave us His Son, Jesus. It is only when faced with God’s holiness that we can comprehend his grace, his love, his mercy, his justice, his power poured down on us through Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for us.

16 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. 

If we believe that Jesus died for us, in our place, to forgive our sins and be made right before God, and that He rose again and Jesus is now reigning in Heaven, we are made holy. We move from a situation of total despair and desolation to being saved and made right with God. It is of utmost importance that we speak, teach and point to the holiness of our God and pray that in seeing how Holy God is people will experience their “woe to me” and understand how desperately they need Jesus. It is because of Jesus that we can stand in awe in the presence of our holy God!

Focus and discipline

On my way home from work earlier in the week I felt really thirsty and I remembered an illustration I heard once in my youth: we were in church and our Sunday School teacher was talking about this boy who would always get angry in school and get into trouble, although he was a very able and intelligent boy. He was always getting distracted and getting in with the wrong crowd. One day he was sent to the headteacher’s office and was fully expecting severe sanctions to be put in place for the 100th time. In fact he was probably expecting to be expelled. The Headteacher calmly walked towards a cupboard on the side got a glass out and filled it with water, then handed it to the boy, who at this point was quite surprised. The headteacher said: “I want you to hold this glass all the time, everywhere you go today in school. In and out of the classroom, during lunch, break, inside and outside without dropping any of it”. “That is impossible said the boy!” The Headteacher looked him in the eye, smiled and said “Off you go! I will see you here at the end of the school day with your glass of water”.

Bear with me. I do have a point – I promise!

The boy in the story walked around all day very carefully and very slowly carrying his glass of water. At the end of the day he was summoned to the Headteacher’s office and he had his glass of water still full. The Headteacher said to him: “Did you notice all the confusion going on in the corridors while you were walking?”, “No, sir”. “Did you hear all the swearing, all the fighting, all the music?”, “No, sir”. “Did you hear all the people calling you names and inviting you to join them in their mischief?” “No, sir”. “Why?” “I had to keep my eyes focused on the glass, sir”.

I don’t know if this was a real story or maybe just an illustration my Sunday School teacher heard but the point of the story is so important and so relevant to our lives. We must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. We must seek to live our lives to please Him and to be transformed into His likeness.

In the book of Colossians chapter 3 we find the apostle Paul challenging us:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

The Colossians had lost focus, were distracted by other things. There were problems with false teaching in their midst and Paul reminds them of who they are in Christ. They are now His, they belong to Him. They must set their hearts on things above not on things on earthly things.

There is so much to learn from the book of Colossians that it would be impossible to summarise in a post (if you haven’t read it or haven’t gone back to it for a while, I challenge you to read it – so many riches and so much guidance to live a life to please our Saviour), but as I remembered the illustration above I heard so many years ago these words popped into my mind. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” The idea of walking around carrying a glass full of water all day, all the time without spilling any of it seems to require a lot of focus and discipline.

Setting our hearts on things above requires focus and discipline too. Thankfully we have been given all we need in order to accomplish that. We have God’s word to teach and guide us. Paul encourages Timothy to stay firm and remember all he had learned. depicted in 1 Timothy 3:14-17

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

It is so important that we read, study and memorise God’s word in order to know God better and the ways we can live with our eyes focused on Him. That is our discipline. There will be days when we will feel discouraged because we get distracted and feel like we are loosing the battle against sin, but we must remember that God did not leave us alone to complete the task of living a life to glorify Him. He gave us His Holy Spirit. In the illustration above the Headteacher leaves the boy to walk on his own and figure it our by himself (ok, maybe he made the point he wanted to do). God is with us through His Spirit. Jesus promised his disciples in John 14:12-18 that he would send the Spirit of truth:

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 

Be encouraged when it seems the glass is going to slip from your hand (to use our illustration). You are not alone! Jesus continued in verses 25-27:

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit comes from God to us and will teach us all things and remind us of what Jesus has taught us! What a promise and great truth for us to hold on to. When we feel distracted, tired, discouraged, finding it impossible to keep our eyes focused on things from above let us remember that we are not alone! We have a comforter and teacher to help us with our discipline of being transformed into Jesus’s likeness. May God continue to guide us through his Spirit.

The Lord looks at the heart

I have found it very difficult to sit down this week to write a post. I have been very busy and very tired with all the work I have to do. No. That is not the problem. I still found time to browse my social media and I have watched my favourite TV programs. No. I am not that busy and tired that I can’t sit down to think about what God has been challenging me with this week.

The hardest thing I find in my Christian walk is to stop and actually look into things in my own heart. Maybe you understand what I mean. It is so much easier to look at other people’s flaws and failings than my own. My heart has been aching this week. I have been challenged again, again by a very well known story in the New Testament in the book of Luke.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I have read this story so many times and if I am honest I always thank God I am not like the Pharisee in this story, or am I? God has been challenging me to seek Him closely and to pursue holiness. God wants that for every believer. When I read this passage this week my first question was, am I confident in my own righteousness? Do I look down on other people? Have I lost sight of the cross of Jesus?

As far as I know the Pharisees were religious men that kept the law and some were pretty good at it too. They prayed, they went to the synagogue and I am sure they studied and memorized the Scriptures too. These things in themselves are not the problem. The problem is that their hearts were full of pride. They thought they were better than others because of their religiosity. “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get”.

We tend to approach this story and think it does not apply to ourselves, after all we follow Jesus. We understand He died on the cross to forgive our sins and make us right with God. We understand that we are justified in Him for our salvation. We dismiss it and think it only applies to other people. As I read it again I ask myself: Am I a Pharisee when it comes to pride in my heart? Do I boast in the fact that I have learnt so many precious truths about God from many godly man and women? Do I boast in the fact I have read the right Christian books? Do I boast in the fact that I only listen to Christian music in my car (and how dare my kids ask to listen to the pop songs in the radio)? Do I feel incredibly satisfied with myself because I have not missed one service on a Sunday for many years? (I can visualise the tick in the box) Do I give myself a big pat on the back when I acknowledge that for the first time in a very long time I have done my Bible reading every day for an entire year? Has the pride in my heart turned me into this character I learnt to dislike from the very first time I read this story? Has this pride hindered my witness? Has it stopped me encouraging other Christian women around me?

The problem is not so much in the things I did or do, but what motivated me to do them and how I feel about them. Oh how easy it is for those of us who have been blessed to have met Jesus in our youth to feel proud about our journey of faith?

Maybe like me, the Pharisees forgot that in 1 Samuel 16:7 God said to Samuel:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Lord looks at the heart! That is so clear in the story when we read the how the tax collect behaved in contrast to the Pharisee. I can almost see how much his heart ached as he could not even lift his eyes to heaven. He really understood there was nothing he could do or offer but he knew He needed God to pour His mercies on Him. We like him this man, don’t we? He is the kind of Christian we want to be identified with. And it would be right for us to want to be like him because Jesus said he went home justified. Oh how I need to learn to be more like this tax collector in this story!

I know that I have allowed pride to fill my heart. I know that I need to let God’s word speak, break, mould, change and transform me. There is no place for guilt because Jesus took it all away when He died on the cross to forgive me. His sacrifice is perfect and God accepted it. His sacrifice took away my sins and shame and all the guilt. There is a need for repentance and confession. I just remembered the words of a beautiful song called Forgiven:

“Lord, forgive us for our pride When our faith becomes a show Dressed in righteous deeds to hide All the stains below We have judged Your sons and daughters For the sin that is our own May we now forgive each other And lay down our stones

CHORUS Forgiven, forgiven Through the blood of Christ We are forgiven”

My heart aches but at the same time it is filled with the hope that comes with the certainty of forgiveness. I AM FORGIVEN! There is place for God’s grace to shine brighter in my heart. How much I need it. Each day. Only by His grace and his mercy can I ever bow down before His throne empty of myself ready to be filled with all that God wants for me. Only by His grace and love can I fix my eyes on Jesus and not on myself. His blessings upon my life do not depend on my performance as a Christian.

May God help me to remember each day that He looks at the heart. May His Holy Spirit help me to be humble like the tax collector and may I continue to desire each day to be transformed into His likeness. May my life be used to help others to see Jesus and grow closer to Him. All glory be to Him.

“If God wills”

It has only been 5 days (at the time I am writing this) since we were all wishing one another a Happy New Year and yet it feels like a long time ago. Every New Year everyone around me seems to be making new resolutions. Some want to lose weight (which is always a good one), some would like to eat healthier (I would like to do that too), some might want to exercise more and get fit (I won’t even go there!). Some people try to change their attitude: they want to be kinder, nicer, happier, less grouchy, more open to other people’s opinions, more respectful. Others will try to change habits: give up smoking, drink less alcohol, watch less football, play less computer games, help more at home. Some people decide to support a charity, others decide to dedicate one of their holidays to work overseas helping to build a school somewhere in a 3rd World Country. People proudly announce their plans and are full of confidence as they start their new year!

That is great, isn’t it? That people resolve to change their ways! New Year resolutions are good and when a year ends it seems the right time to try again, doesn’t it? After all it is a “New” year. What can go wrong?

I did not have a New Year resolution, but I can tell you that had I decided to stop eating unhealthy food, I would have failed tremendously by now – no excuse. I guess if most people are like me, they are probably feeling defeated already. They had really hoped that this time they would be able to do it! Well, I guess it is only the 5th, they might be thinking. Perhaps it doesn’t count: “let’s try it again”! They tell themselves. Does it sound familiar? I stopped having a “New Year resolution” a long time ago. I failed every time, every single time and do you know why? Because I focused on my own strength. Who was I kidding, right? There is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, get, fit, eat healthy food, be kind, be helpful or go overseas to help build a school. The problem lies with the focus we put on our own strength, or lack of.

A wise friend once told me that he and his family would be able to raise enough money to travel abroad to help build a school during their summer holidays. He told me how he and his wife were praying for guidance in how they could best use their resources each month in order to save some more money. I thought it was such a lovely idea and I was absolutely sure they would do it. I tried to encourage them with my enthusiasm and to that they smiled and said “If God wills”. “If God wills”? What a strange saying, we might think. People don’t say those things anymore. But they should.

The Bible tells us in the book of James 4 verses 13-15:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 

There are important truths we need to learn or remind ourselves of in these verses. The first thing is that only God knows and controls our tomorrows. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. In fact, we do not know what will happen in the next second of our lives. Our God is eternal, outside time. He sees the beginning and the end and every little bit in between all at the same time!

The second truth is that our lives are momentary. I am not sure about you, but I love walking early in the morning when it is misty. Most of all I love watching it disappear quickly as the sun warms the earth. Our lives are that brief compared to God’s eternity. Why would we want to put our trust in our strength to carry out our plans if we know we are here now but might not be in the next minute? When I think about it like that it seems quite a foolish thing to do.

Third truth, we are called to put our trust in God. “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  The Lord, our God, is sovereign and He reigns since forever. He is the one who created all things and therefore, all things belong to Him. Because all things are His, there is nothing wrong with the saying in this verse. In fact, it shows our dependence on Him. It shows that the Christian knows our lives belong to Him and in His grace, mercy and love He will do as He pleases.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore but I do make plans and I try to challenge myself to change in areas I need to (physically and spiritually). These verses are not saying we cannot make plans, rather they are telling us to trust God. To bring before Him our plans and resolution and simply trust that if it is His will it will come to pass. The big plans and the small ones too. God knows all things and reigns over all things. Not only that, He loves us too. His love is so great that He sent His Son to die for us and redeem us.

I am thankful that one day my friend told me that simple phrase “If God wills” and I am even more thankful to know it is not just a saying. It is from God’s word. What a lovely reminder to commit our plans to God. Perhaps we should say it more in our conversations as we encourage one another to continue to grow in our faith. May this be our new resolution (day after day) and may God help us through His Holy Spirit to trust in Him completely.

God bless.

Lost and Found!

Have you ever felt panic and helplessness? Once when I went shopping for food I lost my daughter for what seemed to be an eternity. It was only about one minute. She was normally very good at staying by my side holding on to the trolley or my leg. That particular day the store was packed with shoppers and she wondered off. I lost site of her and never felt such panic. My heart was thumping and I couldn’t think straight. I ran to the end of the isle and looked both ways and could not see her. I started calling her name and tried to hear in the midst of the confusion. Music was playing, people were talking and I could not hear my daughter at all. I ran up and down frantically trying to see her. I think at that point tears were running down my face and I was sweating. I turned back and ran the opposite way and I spotted her. She was calmly looking at some boxes on the shelf. I think they might have been cereal boxes. When she saw me she smiled. I grabbed her in an embrace and tried to calm myself down. If you are a mother, an aunty, a big sister, a grandma, a teacher, a nanny that once lost site of a precious child you will know the feeling.

The Bible tells us that once Jesus’s earthly parents went through the same thing. Not in a supermarket but when they had gone to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. I imagine it must have been a very busy time for the people living in Jerusalem, in fact for the entire nation as they sought to follow their customs established many years before (Deuteronomy 16:1-8). After they had done all they needed to do, they started their journey home only to realise Jesus wasn’t among the family and friends travelling with them, mind you, it took them a day to realise that!

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. Luke 2:41-45

Judging by how I felt when I lost my daughter for the longest minute in my life, it must have been a very stressful and worrying journey back to Jerusalem for Mary and Joseph. They found Jesus! I found my daughter looking at some boxes a couple of isles back from where we were originally. They found Jesus back in the temple.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47

What I find interesting about these verses is that all the people who were listening to Jesus, even at the age of 12, were amazed at his understanding and his answers. It must have been incredible to be in the presence of Jesus, the pre-teenager, who was fully man and fully God answering the questions. It must have been special for those people. Guess what? We have something they didn’t have: we have the Bible. We can hear Jesus speaking at any time. Are we listening? Are we amazed? Are we even spending any time in His Word?

Another reason I think this passage is great is because we have a glimpse of the humanity of Jesus in a different level. Here Mary is telling Jesus off for putting them in that horrible situation.

48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Luke 2:48

I guess at this point in time Mary didn’t really grasp who Jesus was. You would have thought that at that moment she would have remembered what the Angel told her when he appeared to her to announce God had chosen her to be the mother of his Son.

30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

We also see Jesus’s humanity in the fact that He didn’t even think to tell his parents he was staying behind in the temple. Children do that, don’t they? Most of the time is quite innocent. They just can’t think of how their parents will feel and how much they will worry. Jesus’s answer to Mary’s question is interesting as well. You might think that he should have at least apologised to his parents, but no. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand who Jesus was but Jesus had not forgotten. His humanity had not distracted him from who He was and from His mission.

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Luke 2:49-50

When I found my daughter in the supermarket I was very glad she was ok and it took me a while to recover. When we were home I spoke to her about not wondering off and making sure she was with mummy all the time. I tried to make her understand the danger of wondering off. It worked. She didn’t do it again. Sometimes she would ask if she could go see something and as long as I could see her and she could see me we were ok. This has been our rule to this day. She is a teenager now, but she still makes sure she can see me when we go places and she makes sure I can see her too.

We are not told what things Jesus and his parents talked about on their way home but we are told that He was obedient to his parents. That is correct. Jesus, the king of the Universe, was obedient to His earthly parents as much as He was obedient to God His Father. Again, this gives us a glimpse of his humanity. Whatever rules Mary and Joseph had, Jesus followed and obeyed. We are told he grew in wisdom and stature and he found favour with God and with man.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:51-52

I am grateful I re-read this passage this week. It is wonderful to see how Jesus set an example for us of obedience. I also find it amazing that God inspired Luke to record this experience in the life of our Saviour. As my daughter was lost to me and Jesus to his parents, we were all lost. In fact we were all walking away from God, but He came to find us and rescue us through His Son. I pray we keep reading on and that God will open our eyes to see more truths about His Son.

God bless.

“For my eyes have seen your Salvation”

I don’t know about you, but I had hoped that this week, building up to Christmas day would be a quiet one. I was quite happy we had made our plans for the week a while ago and we were organised enough to buy and wrap our presents, order the food, get the house sorted. Little did we know that so many things would change and that we, like everybody else in the country, would have to revise our plans and just be thankful for what we can do instead of complain about the things we can’t.

Needless to say there are many people feeling lonely, hurt and frustrated as we approach the day we are to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. Perhaps cooking the Christmas meal for one or only a couple of people is not worth the effort. Perhaps exchanging presents at a later date won’t have the same “magic feeling”. Watching the Queen’s speech, or any other program, alone is not as good or entertaining. Maybe the church service online won’t feel like church on Christmas day. It certainly is a different day and I am sure we will have many things to talk about in years to come as we look back at this time.

The one thing we can be sure about is that Christmas will never change and can never be stopped. I am talking about the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Jesus became our Immanuel and He came to save us.

On my last post we talked about the Magi coming to see Jesus when he was a toddler and how they worshiped Him. As I continued my Christmas readings in Luke 2 I came across the passage that tells us Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the temple. The person we meet today is Simeon. Simeon was an old man who is described as being devout and righteous. He was full of the Holy Spirit and a promise had been made to him: he would not die before he had seen and he had been waiting for a long time for a promise, God’s promised king.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Luke 2:25-26

I wondered as I read, would I have had the same faith Simeon had? He was still following God’s law and was going to the temple, living his life the best way he could to please God. How long would he live? When was this king coming? Those would certainly be some of the questions I would be asking. We are told the Spirit moved Simeon to go to the temple and when Mary and Joseph take Jesus there this is what happens:

27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:27-32

When Simeon took Jesus in his arms he recognised Him as the King God had promised in the Old Testament. He knew this child was going to bring salvation to Jews and Gentiles. Simeon understood who Jesus was and why He had come.

Simeon also understood that Jesus was going to be spoken against and that not all would recognise and accept Him. He knew Jesus was going to have to suffer to accomplish His mission:

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Even as I am reading these verses again and as I write this post I wonder how many of us will be thanking God that He sent his precious Son to be the saviour of the world. Do we understand what that means? Are we willing to let the Holy Spirit work in us so that we celebrate and recognise Jesus for who He is? Simeon only had the promises of the Old Testament and the law to go by. We have the entire Bible which reveals God’s plan to save us from the beginning all the way to the end. Will we be saying “My eyes have seen your Salvation”? May we be prepared to receive and celebrate king Jesus. May our hearts be filled with the joy only those who recognise how much our salvation cost can have. We celebrate Jesus’s birth so that Easter could take place and on that cross Jesus paid the price to redeem those who will put their trust in Him. May we be ready today, tomorrow and every day to recognise Jesus as the Saviour.

This year might be different, our meals might be quieter than usual, presents might be delayed, but God’s Salvation and hope has come. The king came for me and for you.

God bless.

We have come to worship the King

There are some really interesting people in the story of Christmas. We have Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus (who is, the Son of God), the shepherds, the angels who were there on that night Jesus was born. You might be thinking to yourself: what about the three kings? The wise men!

Well, they were not there, despite the fact Nativity sets include them. The Bible introduces them in Matthew chapter 2. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are not in the stable any more and Jesus was most likely a toddler:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What I find interesting about these men is that they were pagans. They were probably astrologers and some even believe they were involved with sorcery or black magic. The Bible does not tell us how they knew to expect or even recognise this king was the king of the Jews, but God in his mighty plan, used creation to show them where to go. “We saw his star”. God surprises us again. We might have thought He would bring the priests or teachers of the law, no. He brought foreigners, from a distant land, people that practiced things that were forbidden for the Jews in the law of Moses. They answered His call by following the star. Not only that, they said to Herod in verse 2 “(we) have come to worship him”.

God is sovereign and He has all the power and authority to bring to Him whom he wills. We very often make assumptions about people that we think will never be able or willing to recognise Jesus as their king. We forget that it is God himself who brings people to him. In Isaiah chapter 60:3-6, we get the picture that people will come from every nation to worship the promised King.

Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
 to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land,
 young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

How extraordinary, even as Jesus’s story on Earth was just beginning, what was written about Him many years earlier, in the Bible, was now being fulfilled and we often miss this precious detail.

The Magi told Herod they wanted to worship the King of the Jews and that is what they did when they arrived at the house where Jesus was. Verse 11 of Matthew 2 says “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh“.

Many start their journey wanting to worship king Jesus and get distracted along the way. Here we see they actually bowed down before Him. I find it hard to imagine what it must have felt like – to kneel before THE KING OF THE WHOLE UNIVERSE.

Thinking about these characters who play this important part in the story makes me realise that Jesus did come for those in darkness, those that are sinners, those that are broken, those that are lost. He came for me, He came for you. The Magi recognised Jesus as king, by bowing down to Him they recognise His authority and rule. Do I recognise that? Do you? This is a good time to ponder over these important questions and if the answer is “Yes”, praise Him for that, for your faith and mine is a gift from Him and may He continue to bring us back to His throne and may we continue to bow down to His authority and rule over our hearts. If the answer is “No”, may I encourage you to read the rest of the story and consider Jesus, his life, his death and His rule. The time is now – do not delay.

One thing about me is that I love music and how it brings us closer to God and makes us think about who He is and what He has done for us. Whilst you think about the wonders of the Christmas story and this mighty King Jesus, listen to this invitation from this beautiful song called O Come, All You Unfaithful from Sovereign Grace Music.

Christmas Cactus

If you know me well, you will know that I love plants and flowers, but I am terrible with them. Most plants I buy end up dead within a few months, sometimes weeks. I still love plants though. Flowers and their intricate design remind me of how wonderful God is to us that He would share such beauty!

I bought a Christmas Cactus 3 years ago to decorate our window sill in the kitchen. It looked lovely. It was full of life, there were lots of buds and the most beautiful pale pink flowers popping here and there. I apologised to it as I placed it in its prime location.

I did not know Christmas Cacti should not be placed in a very hot room and in a place with direct sunlight all day long. I also didn’t know the soil needed to be moist all the time whilst it was flowering. I thought, cacti grow in the desert, therefore, it will be ok without watering. Well, I guess you might know what happened to my Christmas Cactus: its flowers dropped quickly, and it got very sad and I thought it was going to die. I moved it to our sitting room and placed it on the fireplace and didn’t pay much attention to it for a very long time.  

A few months ago, I was moving a few things around our conservatory and I decided to move my almost lifeless Christmas Cactus to the window sill there. As I looked at it I felt so sad I had not put more effort into looking after it. I spent some time reading about how to care for it and made a conscious effort to water it and I even moved it a couple of times. About two weeks ago I saw a few buds and my Christmas Cactus is now flowering! You can imagine my surprise! My plant has survived and gained strength and is now looking more like it should.  I am always amazed how God uses the simplest things in life to draw our attention and teach us if we are willing to be taught by Him.

I know this post is not really about the Christmas story which we are celebrating this month, but it is part of my story during this season.  

As I reflect on what happened to my plant these past 3 years and the process of being first happy and in bloom, full of life to being neglected on my fireplace and my stepping up to look after it in an attempt to save it, I think about my Christian walk – my day to day walking in faith and living to please God. God wants each believer to be like his Son Jesus. He has given us all the tools we need in order to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. However, living in a way to please God requires us to work our faith each day. It requires our obedience. God’s word challenges us to walk in holiness because we have been made holy by the blood of Jesus.

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”1 Peter 1:14-16

God is challenging me, moving me to think about the important things I once learned about Him all those years ago when I first gave my life to Him. If I am honest, I could say that through the years I got distracted with the busyness of life. I have faithfully attended church and got involved with ministries, but I neglected my learning and my searching the Scriptures for more of Him. I neglected my personal pursuit of holiness. Perhaps I thought that because I am a Christian, I don’t need to do much now, it is all done for me. It is true: Jesus did the work on the cross and that is finished. Amen! He paid the price and now my relationship with God is restored, but I need to do my part in my growing personally.  I am so thankful God has been pointing me more and more to His Word – to rediscover the precious truths about His character and His amazing plan to redeem us. I am enjoying studying the Bible and praying that God will change more each day, until the day He comes again.

How is God challenging you these days?

True faith can no more be without holiness than true fire without heat. John Owen