Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Week Twenty-Two - Let's Eat Cake!

     As a young girl, I wanted to write, and I have done so throughout my life in various ways.  Today, I find myself writing children’s books and trying to break into the Christian writing circles through this blog and hopefully see these devotions turn into books.  My heart rejoices as God continues fulfilling this desire in my life.
    I wanted to do many other things, too; things that were a part of the person God created me to be.  I wanted to be an architect. My father assured me that was not a career for females.  But the desire did not leave my heart.  Did I become an architect?  No.  But the Lord did allow me to design our church extension and be a part of the team through various renovations.
     I wanted to do work for humanity and serve the Lord in some capacity.  I thought that would be through the Peace Corp, but God had a different idea.  My work for humanity has been through missions; taking the gospel to the foreign field and ministering to the British people.
     Two scriptures became my life’s verses.  Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will perform it.” God had to do steady work in my life!  Still does!  But He has remained faithful working to create in me what He desires. 
     The other verse was Psalm 37:4 “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  As a young Christian, I took hold of the promise of this verse by earnestly throwing my heart’s desires upon Him and giving my life for service.  I’ve never regretted it. 
     I tell you that because sometimes people believe that if they give their lives to follow the Lord, He will take everything away.  I have to say; God is not that kind of Father.  He sees the work we do for Him, and He rewards us according to what He knows will bless our hearts and lives.  We can never out give God – not in money or by giving our lives.  Hebrews 6:10 tells us He will not forget our work and labor of love we do for Him in ministering to others.  That’s what I get from Psalm 37:4 as well. He will give back more than I ever give out.    
     So, what could it possibly mean to delight in the Lord?  Is the psalmist advocating a shallow faith based on pleasing yourself?  Is he saying we can do whatever makes us happy?  I don’t think so. I remember when the promise of this verse grasped my heart.  “Delight thyself,” I heard God say.  “Find all your joy in Me.  Make your soul happy in service and cultivate that happiness by a growing relationship. Marvel in all I have done, am doing and will do.  Fix your eyes solely on Me in every circumstance.  Let Me become your most cherished source of joy and comfort.  And then, the promise can be realized.”  And what is that promise?  He will give me the desires of my heart.
     I’ve heard preachers say that your desires change to fit God’s will, then the promise will come true.  And, I’ve seen that happen.  My desires have changed as I have walked with the Lord, and I’ve seen Him meet those desires. What were some of them?  To be a missionary was one.  Check!  To successfully raise children who are good citizens, good people, and faithful Christians.  Check!  To have a wide and vibrant ministry.  Check!  But I’ve also seen the Lord fulfill the desires that were in my heart long before I knew this promise, desires, as I mentioned before, that are a part of who I am.
     It is still my greatest joy to serve the Lord on the mission field, and I’m learning that God’s plan for my life isn’t limited by location or age.  He is doing a work in my life and isn’t finished yet – not until the day of Jesus Christ, He says. 
     I have one more desire – to design and build my own little house.  There’s still time!  I’m anxious to see how this all work out.
     How about you?  Are you enjoying your relationship with the Lord?  Are you in a place where God can adjust your desires to fit His purpose?  Do you see His activity midst your life and goals?
     His promise is real.  He will give you the desires of your heart if you delight yourself in Him, for in Him are all the treasures you need and the fulfillment of all His promises.  That way you can have your cake and eat it, too!  Isn’t that delightful!

NOTE:  Check out my children's books - Messy Hair Game and Grandpa's Gift.  Available on Amazon.  My newest one, The Pony Cart, will come out this summer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Week Twenty-One - Tangled and Muddled

     Let me introduce you to Marjorie Wilkinson.  Marjorie lived in the early part of the 1900s.  Her writings are more like musings about motherhood, housework, and faith in an honest, sincere way while engaging with the disappointments and difficulties she faces. 
     My friend dug out several books by this author amid the forgotten religious books for absolute pennies in her nearby bookstores.  We both jump for joy when we find another Marjorie book!  Sad to see them so discounted, because they are truly filled with precious jewels of thought.    
     In her book, One Thing I Know, I found many gems to share with you along the way, but for today, I want to refer to one chapter, The Scarlet Cloak.  Here, she mentions her mother’s long illness and how it taught her to gain strength by drawing aside and renewing her courage even at a young age.  She alludes to a book by a man named Stevenson called The Celestial Surgeon and what he called the “great task of happiness.”  I want to find that book!
     Anyway, Marjorie writes, “I realize that to stand up to life, with all my senses fully awake and eager to be used, I need to have my thoughts, feelings, and will rooted in God’s will, and to believe wholeheartedly in His plan for my life…When I am apt to forget that I am able to conquer through Christ, the enemies of my peace—fear, ignorance, and inertia in particular—form tangles in my thinking.  A sense of guilt emerges from the muddle.  Only fresh surrender of my petty self can make way for the larger self that is awaiting life.  Then, and then only, will the enemies of destructive emotionalism—anger and resentment—be turned into the open sea of usefulness and accomplishment.” (p 70)
     That’s a huge quote – sorry.  Let me go back and pull out some of her phrases that caught my attention and warrant our thought. 
     “To stand up to life”—wow!  That takes some backbone.  It’s so much easier to let life just ride roughshod over us or hid behind our door. 
     “With senses fully awake and eager to be used” – What?  I am to face life ready to serve?  Ready to give?  That requires a lot of energy and self-sacrifice.
     “Thoughts, feelings, and will rooted in God’s will and to believe wholeheartedly in His plan for my life”—amazing!  I see the need for my will rooted in God’s will and believe He has a plan for my life, but my thoughts and feelings also rooted in His will?  What would that look like? 
     Then, she talks about the ability to conquer through Christ and relates fear and ignorance to forming tangles in our thinking.  I like that little phrase – “tangles in our thinking”. 
     Oh, how often I feel tangled in my thinking.  How often I find myself needing a good talking to in order to maintain peace!  But when she related these same qualities to inertia, I was thrown into more thought. 
     Inertia?  I always thought of that as an action that moved things, like the power behind a rocket, but when I looked up the meaning, I found: “I
nertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion (this includes changes to its speed, direction or state of rest). It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity.  To put it simply, inertia is a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.” (Wikipedia)
     When you put that together you get the attitude of resisting change, resisting anything that would alter the status quo, stubborn resistance.  And she says this is an enemy of peace in her life.  We think no change brings peace, but she is saying resisting change disturbs peace.  Exactly! 
     God is working in us to create change – to make us more like Christ.  When we stubbornly resist, we create disturbance – become an enemy of peace!  Now, what do you think about that?  Tangles your thinking, doesn’t it?  And the guilt you feel from that constant resistance leaves you in a muddle because though you know God wants to create Christlikeness within you, you are stubbornly resisting the work of the Holy Spirit.
     Marjorie’s solution is to accept that fact that it’s time for that “fresh surrender” of your “petty self” so the larger you God is creating, the one that is awaiting abundant life can be “turned into the open sea of usefulness and accomplishment.”  I love to sail those seas!  Don’t you?
     God doesn’t want his children tangled and muddled.  He wants them ready to stand up to life with every one of their senses in submission to Christ.  He wants to create His work in their lives in order to give them a fruitful and blessed life.  Makes me wonder why we stubbornly resist.  Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Week Twenty - The Ministry of Showing Up

Guest Blogger today.  Enjoy!    

    Our church is a wonderful eclectic mix of people from all backgrounds and professions. In amongst the mix are a number of us who work in the NHS - four doctors, a midwife, a community psychiatric nurse, and an intensive care nurse. This is very useful in a medical emergency! In fact, one morning, one of our elderly members collapsed and we were able to attend to her. Afterwards, she remarked, “If you’re going to fall ill, then Queens Road on a Sunday morning is probably the best place for it to happen”.  
      The downside to working in a healthcare-related job is that the antisocial hours mean we often miss Sunday services, home groups or bible studies. We are not able to be as present in church as we’d like.
      One Sunday morning our ITU nurse, Nick, shuffled into church bleary-eyed with his two toddlers in tow. He’d just finished a night shift. “I may fall asleep” he smiled “but, I’m here. It’s the ministry of turning up”.
      I pondered this concept as I watched Nick’s heavy eyes close during the sermon. On the face of it, you may think that going to church when you’re half asleep is pointless. How can you possibly benefit from the message or the worship if your mind is so fatigued? However, I marvelled at Nick’s commitment and what he was really demonstrating by turning up to church despite having worked a 13-hour nightshift. I choose to be here with you all. I am sacrificing this time to be with you and with God.
      The ministry of turning up! I know what he means.
      Sometimes I work a 72-hour week. I am exhausted. My house is chaos. I need to study for upcoming exams. The fridge is nearly empty and I need to go shopping. I have deadlines looming and my mind is preoccupied with my ever-growing to-do list. I reason that I am not in the right frame of mind to take in anything from the sermon. I may not have the energy to sing along with the worship songs.
You may experience different pressures in life. The baby was awake all night. It’s the only day this week you’ll spend with your spouse. You’ve been rushing around all week and need some rest. Your toddler always needs a nap right in the middle of the service and so staying home is easier.
      We wonder how we can encourage others when we’re running on empty ourselves. What can we possibly contribute?
      The answer is - ourselves. We can give ourselves and our time. We can turn up.

Turning up is an act of worship.

      When I turn up to church despite everything else going on in my life I am showing the world, my church family and God that I have prioritised this small portion of time out of the hundreds of other hours in the week. I am saying God is important to me, and you are important to me. And surely, that’s one of the best witnesses we can give.
      Likewise, when we skip church every other Sunday for no good reason, we send the opposite message. Church needs to become a non-negotiable fixture around which we plan other things, not an optional spiritual extra to end our weekend. I don’t want to fall into a place whereby social events supersede this time set aside to worship the Lord or to be with His people - my family.

Hebrews 10:24, 25 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Turning up is an act of service.

“None of the important things God has for us to do in church each week can happen if we’re not there. We can’t love people; we can’t talk to them and encourage them; we can’t gather with them to listen together to God’s Word. All of this hangs on the rather simple prerequisite of actually being there” (Kevin Halloran).

      I may not play a regular part in the service. I don’t play in the band, I don’t do the children’s talk. But I can encourage people. I can pray with people. I can minister just by simply being there.
      And conversely, on those Sundays when I feel broken and empty, I find myself surrounded by love and encouragement. God extends his arms towards me in the form of a tight hug or the squeeze of a hand from a family member. How can God love me through His people if I don’t turn up to be with them?
      Of course, God requires more from us than just attending church. But turning up is a good place to start.
      So, turn up. Even if you’re tired. Even if you’re broken or hurting. Even if you feel you can’t concentrate or you’ve no energy to sing. Turn up even though you feel no-one will miss you if you don’t, because they will.
      Show your God and your church family that you love them by turning up to be with them.

Psalm 34:3    Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

By Dr. R. Owen

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Week Nineteen - The Japanese Art of Decluttering

    Have you read Marie Kundo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing? Some folks are taking it all in while others are aghast at her suggestions.
    When you read the book, you find eight basic guidelines.  First, she says, “Tackle categories, not rooms.”  She makes comment about keeping only thirty books.  I’d have a hard time with that one! If I love a book, it stays on my bookshelf.
    Second, she suggests we respect our belongings. Make sure your clothes are happy in their closet home!  Third, nostalgia is not your friend. Don’t hang onto every broken crayon. Four, purging feels good!  Lighten your load.  Five, Fold, don’t hang—and she has specific instructions on how to fold!  That is Number Six—fold it right!  Seven, fall in love with your closet. Make it your happy place. Eight—rediscover your style with what remains. Her overall objective is to keep only what brings joy to your life.  I’m no hoarder, but I’m also not overly willing to get rid of everything that doesn’t bring joy to my life.  Some things are just necessary like a vacuum cleaner and a toilet brush!
     I know the Japanese art of tidying up might seem a far cry from our current consideration of the grace of God, but we can use it to help us see a similar process in grace and forgiveness.  It is usually best to take time to tidy up both around the house, and in our lives. 
    At the end of his book, Grace is Greater, Kyle Idleman states, “We’re able to receive God’s grace only to the extent we’re able to recognize our need for it” (p 157). For many of us, our closets are filled with everything conceivable.  Cleaning them out is a healthy practice.  Our lives, too, are filled with every hurt, every odd thing we hang on to with nostalgia, and every broken crayon while we keep cramming in more and more.  We don’t even want to look.  It hurts too bad.  Until we recognize our need to clean out that life-closet, we are not ready to receive God’s grace to do so.  We must open the door, admit our guilt, take a deep breath, and let the Lord help us sort it all out.
    Kyle Idleman goes on to say, “The emptier we are, the more of his grace we can receive.  The weaker we are, the more of his strength we can discover” (p 166).  The closet analogy fits here, too.  Until you make some room, you can’t get new stuff!  By God’s grace, with every old hurt we let go, there is room for more of God’s grace.  Our life’s closet will become our happy place and we will be sporting a new style!
     Personally, I have a few principles I practice in order to keep my grace and forgiveness area tidy.  Let me share them with you.
1)     If I can just let a hurt go, I Do.  No need to wear my feelings on my sleeve.
2)     If I need to bring the hurt to God, I Do.   Confession is good for my soul.  Prayer gives me focus.
3)     If I need to remind myself to be more careful or aware, I Do.   “Walk in wisdom,” I hear God say.
4)     If I need to go and make sure I’m okay with my brother, I Do.   Create the opportunity for forgiveness, don’t let pride or fear stand in your way.
These four things help me keep a tidy spiritual life, make for a peaceful heart, and help me continue breathing in grace.
Do you need to do some tidying?  There’s no better time to start than today. Open that closet door and let God’s grace breath fresh air into the room.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Week Eighteen - Inhale, Exhale

Sometimes, I am sure I am kin to Lucille Ball.  For those of you under the age of fifty, you might enjoy the YouTube clip of her working in a chocolate factory.  Google it! For Lucille, a simple task usually turned into something difficult and hilarious. The more she tried to fix the problem, the worse it got.
    I felt like Lucille the first time I decided to make fajitas.  Everything was going well; the veggies and the meat were cooked and doing their last bubbling in the cast iron pan.  Leaning over, I took a deep breath of the steaming, aromatic mixture.  Promptly, I regretted it as the spices, painfully inhaled, caused a crazy dance around the kitchen and a most exaggerated sneeze.  Note to self: do not inhale fajita spices!
    On a more public occasion, the waiter placed before me a lovely Italian meal.  Seeing the steam rising off the pasta, I instinctively gave the dish a hearty blow causing a layer of Parmesan cheese to waft onto the steak of my friend sitting opposite.  Hearing a deep gasp from the guests around the table, I looked up to see my friend beaming with delight because he loved cheese!  However, that didn’t make the situation any less embarrassing for me!  Note to self: control your blow!
    It reminds me of Newton’s Law.  For every action, there is a positive and equal reaction.  In both of my instances I had not taken time to consider the positive and equal reaction to my inhale and exhale!    
    I use these two stories to illustrate another truth about grace.  Kyle Idleman wrote “What you inhale is what you exhale” (p 119).  If we are decided and purposeful, inhaling God’s grace and forgiveness toward us, we will be giving off or exhaling, the same in our relationships. In order to live in a mode of grace and forgiveness, we must consider not only what we are breathing in, but also what that will look like when we breathe out. 
    My daughter teaches her children to think about the consequences of each decision they make.  She helps them answer direct questions like, “How will you feel after you make that decision?”  “How will the other person feel, and how might they react?” “Will that decision be the best step forward for you?”
     As I watch her instructing her children about choices and consequences, my mind goes to our Lord’s instruction.  We, too, are called upon to put others first, to do unto others as we would want them to do to us, to use patience and wisdom in our dealings, to exercise grace and forgiveness in all our relationships, and many more encouragements that help us breathe in and breathe out good things creating a beautiful perfume, or a sweet savor, as God puts it in 2 Corinthians 2:15. 
    The opposite is also true, for Matthew 12:35 says, “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”  So, if we are breathing out threatenings, or biting and devouring each other as the Lord warns us about in Galatians 5:15, then the odor of our exhale is not a sweet-smelling savor, it stinks!  We have been breathing in fajita spices.  We can’t hide it; our inhale will explode somewhere. It is as simple as that and goes to confirm all God says about us.  As we think in our heart, so are we.  What is in our heart comes out of our mouth.  What we breathe in, we exhale.
    So, if I want to be like a breath of fresh air to those around me, then I must be conscious and aware of my inhale and my exhale.
    How about you?  Are you struggling with halitosis in your relationships?  Do you catch yourself raging and shouting?  Does the low rumble of anger taint your voice and body language? Might be time to check your breath! God’s cure is forgiveness and grace.  Confess it to Him and let His grace be the breath mint you need!