Saturday, 30 June 2012

The greatest love story ever written

It’s no secret that I really appreciate bible teacher Beth Moore.  In fact I was actually hoping to call my daughter Beth (or a longer version of it), after my wonderful Grandmother, but I didn’t have a girl and Beth is hardly a good name for a boy!! I also appreciate Kay Arthur and Elyse Fitzpatrick. Each of them are a huge blessing to so many other women. They talk about the ‘promised life’. I trust you read correctly because it is the ‘promised life’, not the easy life.  Life isn’t easy, and as Beth Moore often says "easy doesn’t mean good and hard doesn’t mean bad".  We all have the opportunity to live our promised life on earth, a life where you reach your potential and follow the best path.

All these women inspire me because their lives and writings are grounded in God’s Word.  Their love for God’s Word is contagious. It wasn’t long ago I found the Bible more of an accessory on Sundays than the living Word of God.  Sadly, I probably wasn't the only one dusting the top of it before church. I can’t describe or put into words the impact it has on my life and the lives of others I know.

Why am I telling you about these women I admire and whose books and studies I purchase? Do they have me on commission? No sadly, as I’d make a bundle off just what I buy! I’m telling you because of what Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one man (or woman) sharpens another.”  When my life was filled with the daily grind, pointless social media sites and very average TV every night, my light and life were dull.  When I filled my life with studying God’s word, the world, my attitude and how I view things changed and became brighter.  I take no credit. All I did was sign up for a bible study. It was God who did something so special for me. I was so undeserving but I am just so grateful for His love and His grace in His gift of salvation. 

I feel somewhat sad at how I settled for average with God or even way below average if I’m really honest with you, instead of growing in my knowledge of Him.  It’s like tasting Lindt Chilli Chocolate for the first time. From then on you are ruined for any other chocolate.  No I’m not on commission for Lindt either, but do highly recommend it!  Once you have had a taste of the ‘promised life’, how can you possibly settle and go back to an average or below average quality of life?

For iron to sharpen iron there has to be contact between the two. After a chat with a friend at church one Sunday morning, I realised ever so clearly that I had become isolated and insulated. She asked me straight up who I was connected with?  I didn’t have to think long, before I realised, no-one.  So I got connected!!  I now belong to a weekly women’s bible study group. Weekly (or more if needed) I meet with a friend to pray. I have also joined with 4 other women in a small group. I am part of a mentoring program within my church, mentoring and being mentored.  I do studies offered by my church when available. I meet with God privately for ‘us time’ at least once a day and I do my own personal bible study daily. I got myself some iron. They are sharpening me and hopefully through Christ I am sharpening them too. With all that going on, when could I possibly fit in much TV anymore! 

I have no credentials. I am not scholarly. I have not gone to Bible College. I am not one of those obviously gifted individuals that you can tell God will use.  I am a little quirky (that’s a nice way of saying odd). I’ve been very destructive at times.  I’ve hurt people I love. I’ve constantly got my foot in my mouth, (which has made me very well practised at apologising). That’s who I am, a work in progress. Aren't we all?  It’s like this. I want you to see that God is seeking after you and you don’t need to be anything special before you begin your search for Him.  God takes you as you are, just like He called the disciples from their ordinary working lives to follow Him. We don’t need to get it together for us to seek Him. Once you “Taste and see that the Lord is good” Ps 34:8, you won’t want to go back.
We can be ordinary, because God is extraordinary. Getting to know how extraordinary He is, is very compelling.  The Bible is big and contains many amazing themes, but ultimately it’s about God’s love pursuing us. He is like a lover after the one He desires.  His Word is a love story in graphic detail, violent in places, tender in others. You can’t find a more passionate account of love and it’s God’s for you.

I pray that you will want to know God’s passionate love for you. He wants you to get hungry, ravenous for His word, because it will change you. If you want to know how life changing Jesus can be, Saul the hunter of Christians and hater of Jesus became Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ who said “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Phil 1:21 – enough said!

I can gratefully testify that average TV, full of advertising, is out and the bible is in!! Let the iron of God’s word sharpen you. Join a group and let the iron of other peoples encouragement and counsel sharpen you. Find out what is happening in church and get involved. Don’t let the fact that the bible seems so mysterious and complex, scare you away from it.  I’m no intellectual, yet the Holy Spirit has revealed things to me.  He will to you too, if you ask Him. Dive into the ultimate love story ever written.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Luke 9:23-27

Some things stick with you. Sometimes they are horrid scenes from a movie, or lyrics to a catchy song you don't like, or lyrics of a song you love but after a day of it, need of a break from. Sometimes things stick that are special moments or cherished memories. A sermon has stuck with me.  It's been a month since I sat in church to listen to it and I'm still thinking on it. If you would like to listen Click Here and download 20 May sermon from Donald Irvine for a personal and thoughtful sermon on Luke 9:23-27, Submission to Jesus.

Three quotes during the sermon were particularly powerful to me. 

The Prayer of the unknown Confederate Solider:
"I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed."

I feel slightly uncomfortable including this next quote, it's from an era very different to mine, and so is the language.  I apologise if it makes you uncomfortable like it does me. Hopefully you will see it's purpose.

Wilbur Rees:
"I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please - not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of a womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I'd like to buy $3 worth of God please."

The final quote Donald ended with is a quote by Ray Pritchard: 

"Now that you know who I am, are you ready to take up your cross and follow me? Before you answer, let me warn you that to follow me will seem, in the eyes of the world, as if you are wasting your life. The people of the world will never understand what you are doing. It will seem to them that by following me, you are throwing your life away.

You always have another option. You can try to save your life by following your own desires. Lots of people do that. They live as if their careers were all that mattered. But the people who live only for this life in the end will find that they wasted it on things that don’t really matter. They tried to save it by living for themselves, but in the end they will lose it. They have wasted their lives on trivial pursuits.

After all, what good will it do if you become the richest man in the world, or climb to the top of the corporate ladder, or rise to the highest salary level in your company, or win the applause of the world? What good will all that do if in the end you find out it was all wasted? What good will that shiny new sports car do for you then? Will you be able to trade it in for another life? No, you won’t. But if you want to live that way, go ahead. Millions of people do. In the end they will be sorry, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it."

Enough said.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Romans 8: 19-21

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by it's own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creations itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." Romans 8: 19-21.

I began thinking of these verses today, as the rain falls with such force, sideways against my window panes.  My washing is scattered all over the lawn (at least it's out - but sadly my optimism was not satisfied and it will need washing again).  The wind is violent.  I wonder what will happen first, leaks in the roof or a whole sheet of iron flying off the roof.  Add to that hail. And this is only a mere storm.  

The past few years, the South Island of New Zealand has been buffeted by the frustration and groaning of the earth. Christchurch suffered and continues to suffer from violent earthquakes, the most devastating in February 2011, taking the lives of around 200 people.  And still they continue.  I guess with so many friends still living in that city, I cannot think solely of the earth violent shaking, but of the tremendous battles all who stay in the city face every single day, to this very day.

Over a year has passed since the big one that shook the foundations of buildings and caused there collapse, which unsettled sediment that caused it to spew forth from the ground invading not only the streets but also homes and businesses.  So many clean-ups after the many quakes and aftershocks. The tectonic plates continue their unexpected movement. When will it cease?  It will cease, that we can be sure of, when the kingdom of God is fully now.

But for now the earth is groaning, from perfection in Eden, then the fall and the frustration of creation. I'm not going to get all deep here, many brilliant scholars have done so, so I don't need to add an ignorant 2 cents worth.  I just know that on days like this, when the earth feels wild, I guess it is, frustrated, and eager in expectation for liberation from the bondage of sin. Me too.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Quiet Time or Guilt Time

The other day there was a sale on at the local Christian book store. Since I’ve been getting into my Bible study I thought I could grab a few items to help. I found a book so big you could hurt someone with it, its name is nearly as big as the book.  It’s The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. I understood why “exhaustive” is in the title, as I dragged it to the car!  I texted my husband to warn him of the new (yet very spiritual) purchase on the credit card.  He’s not a miser, but even if he was he could hardly be upset with me.  How much more righteous a purchase does it get!  If only I could figure out how to make new jeans godly!

I got home, dragging inside my exhausting book, careful to not drop it on the cat.  After flicking through it, I realise I have no clue how to use this very impressive looking book.  I read the instructions (yes it even has instructions, but no safety warnings), but I was still lost.  I need to learn how to use this concordance. I had myself a mission, as daunting as this book looks, Bible mysteries await.

Why study the bible when our teachers do a great job of teaching us?  Beth Moore says that we were never intended to get all our Bible study from church on Sundays. As good as the teaching is we receive on Sunday’s, it should not be the only source of feeding from God’s word that we get. With Jesus as our High Priest and The Holy Spirit revealing understanding to all He indwells, we can come directly before him and when we do we have all we need to study God’s word. And listen we definitely don’t need a huge concordance, so don’t use that as an excuse not to get stuck in. 

What has amazed me is that when I spend time in God’s word, only the Bible in my hands, the Holy Spirit reveals new insights to me. The Word of God is a powerful book, it’s alive and relevant in our lives. You can find treasures daily in God’s Word even without a concordance.

I’m often confessing.  The only reason I confess to you is in case by some small miracle you can learn from my mistakes.  My confession?  Okay.  Deep breath.  This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I was raised in a Christian home, I knew the right things to do and say.  I interpreted some of the teachings very black and white.  Here goes: I thought Quiet Times were horrid! Quiet time is a discipline, so I was told.  A smack (which wasn’t illegal back in my day) was also called discipline.  Can you see where I’m going with this?  Discipline hurt, a smack hurt, so did the fact that I deserved it.  If I attached pain to discipline, it’s no wonder quiet times became torturous.  I looked forward to them as much as a smack! I gave up on them, for many years, only to rediscover them just recently in a new and wonderful way that was nothing of my own doing. 

I awoke one morning early, so I thought to myself, I might as well get up and pray.  It was a strange thought to me because I love my sleep, but this morning I was refreshed and wide awake at 6am, so I went with it.  It was ok.  The next morning the same thing happened, I was woken, was well rested and ready to go for the day, so got up and had some time with God.  This kept happening, I realised after a few days I was praying before bed that God would wake me up, as I was enjoying my time with him.  I think this was when I got a little smug.  I loved that God wanted to spend time with me and would wake me up to do it.  Then I slept in!  I was so disappointed.  It made me realised, this is a relationship that needs my input, I’m not a new born that just takes, I need to show God I’m in this too.  So to be sure I got to have my time the next morning I put my alarm on.  Since then I have had the pleasure of time with God to start my day, most days anyway.  I’m not legalistic about this, if something happens and children are sick or awake half the night or I am, I don’t force myself to have a quiet time.  I’d hate for a friend to ‘have to’ spend time with me when they weren’t up for it.  Obligation friendship is no friendship at all.

Let this be in no way a guilt-trip for you.  I have had seasons in my life where sleep is limited or bordering on a luxury, so if you deal with insomnia or are Mum of little ones, don’t take this as a guilty slap round the face, think of it as a season to look forward to or make it your own, and create something that works for you now.

Guilt is out, I did sporadic quiet times for years that were based on guilt, and the difference now is monumental. Much to my surprise I love getting up and spending time with God, it’s great, not guilt.  I’d love for you to love to get up and spend time with the God, the God of creation, the God who made the Himalayas and tiny wee fruit flies.  The God who wants to spend time with you.  Why?  Because He loves you, not because He has to, but because He wants to, and even though we will never be able to reciprocate equally, God wants us to want to.

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Eph 1: 5-8 NIV – emphasis mine)

There is just so much in that passage of God’s Word. But if you only have space in your head for one thing, let it be this; He loves you. You are His daughters (and sons), chosen.  Just because it pleases Him and because He wants to. He has lavished His grace on us, lavished!  Lavished – meaning stingy?  Not likely! Generous, abundant, copious, bountiful, prolific, extravagantly, over-the-top, unrestrained, or smother with.  Do you get the picture? His love and grace He offers to you, without restraint, because He wants to.  He wants to meet with you, because He wants to, but He wants you to want to also.  Will you think about having a chance to enjoy time with God, you set the terms, no giant concordance necessary, and see if you have a quiet time because you want to.