Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Uniquely gifted

We all struggle, at times, with our calling and whether what we do is truly any use.
A lot of the time we don't think so. What use is clean laundry, sparkling dishes, good food, careful filing, balancing a till at the end of the day, cleaning floors.... the humdrum of the household and the workplace? What are we here for, anyway?
I was reminded when I read this on Darlene's blog:
...I had resolved that I didn't have it in me to do this, after all, I'm an average, middle-aged mom from the prairie. What could they possibly want with me? I'm not skinny enough, I'm not young enough, I'm not pretty enough, I'm not confident enough, I'm not experienced enough, I'm not eloquent enough... and the list goes on...

Friday afternoon I felt compelled to open my daily devotion. The feeling was stronger than it is most days--much stronger--I couldn't help but wonder if God was trying to tell me something. After reading it through I knew that He was.

God Calling May 25th

There will be no limit to what you can accomplish. Realize that. Never relinquish any task or give up the thought of any task because it seems beyond your power, only if you see it is not My Will for you. This I command you.

Think of the tiny snowdrop-shoot in the hard ground. No certainty even that when it has forced its weary way up, sunlight and warmth will greet it.

What a task beyond its power that must seem. But the inner urge of Life within the seed compelling it, it carries out that task. The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto this.
The bottom line in all of this is that I've learned an important life lesson: my strength doesn't lie in human wisdom, but in God's power alone. This life isn't about me it's about Him. It doesn't matter whether I'm skinny enough, young enough, pretty enough, confident enough, experienced enough, or eloquent enough, all that matters is that I'm ready and willing to be used as He desires to lead. Whether that means He calls me to further consider this or He leads me in a brand new direction tomorrow I must learn that's it's no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me.

You know what girl? That same message is here for you too. Don't ever let this world get you down. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are a vessel of an almighty God who is able to bring you to and through any situation that you come across. Whether a task is big or small, be ready and willing to answer His call.

Since Paul says it so much better than I ever could, I'd love to close with his words:
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NIV
I've read somewhere else, too, that because I am uniquely and wonderfully made (Psalm 139) that there IS no one else who can carry out the unique and wonderful tasks God has prepared for me, as it says in Ephesians 2:10 


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Walking on water

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o'clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. "A ghost!" they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. "Courage, it's me. Don't be afraid."
 Peter, suddenly bold, said, "Master, if it's really you, call me to come to you on the water."
 He said, "Come ahead."
 Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!"
 Jesus didn't hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, "Faint-heart, what got into you?"
 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, "This is it! You are God's Son for sure!" Matthew 14:24 – 33, The Message
We are accustomed to thinking of this passage as encouragement when we go through the ‘storms’ of life. Jesus gets in the boat and the water calms down. One of my favourite books is indeed called ‘Lord of my rocking boat’  by Carole Mayhall, who was on the staff of The Navigators for many years.  I thoroughly recommend it: full of practical wisdom; teaching about the lessons to be learned from and through the storms; and inspiration to ‘soar’ with God above them.

Today I thought we could look at the process of being in the boat, in the storm, a little more closely.

1. Being in the middle of a storm is bad enough but then something else happens: "A ghost!" they said, crying out in terror.
Our storms are relatively easy to identify: trouble at work, difficult relationships, perhaps money worries or health issues – but what is a ghost?
Could it be our terrified response?
The ‘storm’ is bad enough, but it is often how we handle it which determines how well we cope. Our perception – the  ‘ghost’ in the storm – may be coloured by fear, depression, anxiety, doubt...we react to the ‘spirit’ we see. We see the spectres of despair and discouragement as we are tormented by doubt and disappointment.
Life is challenging enough – we don’t need to add fear to the recipe for disaster. As we struggle with life circumstances, let’s not succumb to spiritual attack. Let us remember that ‘though I walk the darkest path, I will NOT fear the evil one.

John Ortberg (If You Want To Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat, page 14) points out that Jesus meant to ‘pass by’ and that the verb used is the same one used when God ‘passed by’ Moses to show his glory, when Moses was hidden in the cleft of the rock. Maybe we should not be afraid to see Jesus for who he is: on the contrary, other ‘spectres’ then disappear.

2. As we cry out in fear, like the disciples, what happens? Jesus was quick to comfort them. "Courage, it's me. Don't be afraid."
Jesus answers. He tells us to cheer up. And Not To Fear.
Easy? Only if we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith...’ Hebrews 12:2
(Courtney of Women Living Well, in the first introductory video for the Proverbs 31 Bible study, also quotes this verse.)
We can indeed ‘cheer up’ because Jesus has come.

3. These words of comfort were all Peter needed. On recognising Jesus, he then makes a strange request. Peter, suddenly bold, said, "Master, if it's really you, call me to come to you on the water." He needed wisdom: asking ‘if it’s really you,’ he waited for an answer. He didn’t just assume it was Jesus.
We too can ask and wait for an answer from Jesus.
Wouldn’t you just have wanted Jesus to be with you IN THE BOAT? Wouldn’t you or I have asked Jesus to take them miraculously into the harbour or to make the storm disappear?
Peter just wanted to be with Jesus – that was enough for him.

4. Jesus said "Come ahead."  Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. So Peter, discerning between foolishness – jumping out of the boat into the lake and  faith – jumping out of the boat onto the lake – jumped. He moved from difficult circumstances – a tiny boat in the middle of a fierce storm – to something worse. Certain death by drowning.
Yet he started walking.
When I’m also trying to ‘walk on water’ – trying to keep my eyes on Jesus when life is tossing me around like washing on a windy day – I remember some wise words which a friend said to me many years ago: Don’t look at the water. Don’t look at the circumstances, but keep on trusting Jesus.

5. Of course, we know that Peter’s faith wavered. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!"
How far away from the boat was Peter by then? He must have gone quite a way, because he was nearer Jesus. Peter was near enough for Jesus to grab hold of him: Jesus didn't hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.
For us, as for Peter, there is no sitting still in the middle of life’s storms. I am reminded of the quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” attributed to the 18th Century philosopher Edmund Burke. We need to keep moving towards ‘Jesus. Sitting still is not an option. A fish needs to keep swimming against the current if it is to maintain its position, let alone if it wants to actually swim upstream.
How do we keep on ‘swimming’?

6. Jesus had already told Peter to come to him. Just as on other occasions – for example, when there was another storm after Jesus had told the disciples that they were all going to cross over the lake – Jesus had said, ‘This is what we’re going to do, chaps.’
Like Peter, we allow circumstances to tell us otherwise.
Why do we do that? 
We have to get OUT of the boat otherwise we have no chance of walking on water. Jesus makes us many promises but we often fail to believe them. Promises such as ‘I am with you always,’ – but we don’t always believe or act as if that is true.
We cling to the ‘boat’  - the known, however inadequate or unhealthy or unsafe, seems a better choice than believing Jesus when he says ‘come’.
Getting out of the boat is rather like learning to skate: you have to let go of the sides of the rink to experience skating, balancing on your feet instead of clinging with your hands.
It is RISKY. Getting out of the boat – facing a new challenge – will always have an element of fear, that ‘heart in mouth’ feeling before we realise that we are in fact skating freely, ‘walking on water’. (John Ortberg, p21.)
However, getting ‘out of the boat’ is also HABIT FORMING. Once we’ve done it once, it’s easier. It enables us to ‘bank’ memories of God’s leading and power. We did it once, so we can do it again...

Did Peter fail?
Yes – he didn’t get to Jesus.
No – he DID get out of the boat and he DID start to move towards Jesus and he DID let Jesus save him.  SUCCESS!
Let us be encouraged by Peter’s example. Peter connected with Jesus. So can we.

I am struck by the unexpectedness of this encounter.
The unusual
1.      Timing. It was the middle of the night.
2.      Life circumstances. At their worst.
3.      In the middle of obeying. Doing the will of God.
4.      When we’re not expecting him.
5.      Place.
Not at the synagogue – church.
Nor on the mountainside – on a spiritual retreat
Nor on a journey – a pilgrimage
Nor at the temple – New Wine worship or prayer ministry
Nor during quiet prayer times.
In the midst of difficulties.

Are we ready?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Proverbs 31:1-6 - the first few days.

Proverbs 31:1-6
The words of King Lemuel, the strong advice his mother gave him:
 "Oh, son of mine, what can you be thinking of!
 Child whom I bore! The son I dedicated to God!
Don't dissipate your virility on fortune-hunting women,
   promiscuous women who shipwreck leaders.

Leaders can't afford to make fools of themselves,
   gulping wine and swilling beer 

So this chapter all about a marvellous woman starts with a criticism of those who will lead a king astray...
As mothers, we can challenge our children if they are going astray...but how to do this with wisdom and gentleness? Does this also apply to other children in our care - for example, to those of us who are teachers in any way? Or to 'children' in the faith?

 There is the implication that it is so easy to be careless. With position and power and privilege comes responsibility - a reminder that each of us has a Position and a Responsibility. Others are watching us and how we behave: I am reminded of Francis of Assisi who said: 'Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.'
The NIV says that leaders should not drink 'lest they ...forget what has been decreed and deprive all the oppressed of their rights'. LEADERS shouldn't get drunk and make fools of themselves, or they'll forget how to lead and make bad judgements. Isn't it always the poor and voiceless who suffer the most injustice in our world?

I'm known in the staff room for 'saying what everyone else is just thinking and doesn't dare to' - yes, I AM quoting here! Otherwise known as 'putting my foot in it'. Fortunately, everyone just finds this funny - I think I only offended someone once and that person has a reputation for No Sense Of Humour (very very rarely understands any sort of joke or humorous comment from anyone, not just me)! My colleagues also know that the effect is doubled after just one small glass of wine...so I do try to be careful how much alcohol I drink because I know I may very well say something tactless, and don't want to upset anyone if I can help it.

May I watch my words and actions
so that You may not be ashamed
to be living in me.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain."
Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him."
"Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened."
Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well. (Matthew 8:5-13, The Message)

I've pondered this passage on many an occasion. It took me a long time to understand the centurion's attitude before I realised that he - a high-ranking officer in a well-disciplined but notoriously cruel army - had not only recognised but had submitted to the kingdom authority he saw in Jesus.  An authority beyond the reach of mortal men; an authority which superseded natural law, changed the molecular structure of water, interrupted weather patterns and enabled Jesus to walk on water and through walls.

We can learn lots of lessons from that war-bitten veteran.
He recognised Jesus’s authority over the physical world.
He submitted to authority – both that of men in the army and that of Jesus.

I wonder if the centurion came to Jesus as a last resort, having exhausted the medical resources of the Roman army?  What a contrast between the two men: a Roman officer in full uniform and armour putting himself at the mercy of a local prophet, reputedly wacky and religious. A man who owned only the clothes he wore, who travelled around the country on foot, a man of ‘no fixed abode’. The Romans considered the  Jews to be a hysterical people, emotionally labile, highly reactive in contrast to the cool discipline of the Roman army. There were frequent unruly protests, harshly put down, which were indisciplined; disordered; uncontrolled – everything the Roman army wasn’t.
It wouldn’t have been an obvious choice for a Roman to go to Jesus for help with a sick member of the household.

Do we exhaust all other avenues before we turn to Jesus for help? A sticky problem, a difficult relationship – do we ask Jesus for advice, help, intervention? Do we take the least obvious – in the world’s eyes – choice?

The centurion didn’t put conditions on accepting authority. The Roman army was incredibly well-organised with clear lines of command. Superiors were held in respect. Orders from above were accepted without question. The centurion would never have dreamed of openly questioning his commanding officer.

Neither did he question Jesus.  He asserted that Jesus could cure his servant at a distance and with a word: no visit required, no prayers or incantations, no laying on of hands.

What is our attitude towards authority? Do we accept it without question? Do we, at times, argue or kick against it? Do we treat those with authority over us with respect? People are flawed, of course – how do we know when, perhaps, we should take different action?

The centurion recognised Jesus’ authority and was gracious to him: he addressed him as ‘Lord’. He came to Jesus from a position of humility, although he could have commanded Jesus to come to his house and could have demanded that Jesus heal his servant.

And look at the centurion’s attitude towards the servant: The centurion was gracious to and concerned about him, seeking out the Jew with a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. There were many who came to Jesus asking for healing of their children, but this is the only recorded incident where someone came on behalf of a servant.

How do we handle the authority we have over others? What is our attitude towards those who are ‘under’ us?  In work, at home...

The centurion demonstrates real humility: Matthew Henry says “Humble souls are made more humble, by Christ’s gracious condescensions to them. Observe what was the language of his humility; Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof (Matt. 8:8)” 
To paraphrase Matthew Henry: We should value God in those who seem less than we are: less intelligent, less wealthy, less beautiful in appearance, less well-connected... The centurion was desperate for Jesus to help him and knew Jesus could heal his servant just by saying so: he didn’t demand that Jesus visit his house - he was really  humble.
 We need to remember that when we come to God,  we should have a real sense that we are helpless to do anything for ourselves and, left on our own without Jesus, are useless to God.

Jesus admires the centurion’s attitude towards him. The centurion had more ‘simple trust/great faith’ than any Jew he had come across. More faith than the disciples, who had already seen him heal many people? (Matthew 4:23 - 25) More faith than John the Baptist? Than his own mother?

Do we come to Jesus with similar faith expectations?

This story challenges our prejudices. What would the disciples have thought as they saw the centurion – a Gentile, with whom no decent law-abiding Jew would associate – approaching Jesus. Yet Jesus wants to go to the Roman’s house. And then there is also the challenge the centurion poses, in his care for a mere servant.

How do we accept others who are different from us? Perhaps a colleague who we have little in common with? Maybe even someone who has annoyed us? Or someone we feel has undermined us at work?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

'Only' me, little me...

I've been pondering the idea of 'only' for quite a while now. (I'm not finished yet.) I look at the wonderful online ministries all over the world, or friends who have a wide influence, or even women I know close to home who seem to do marvellous and BIG things for God's kingdom.
Then there's me. Just me.
I've been tempted to look at what I DON'T have or do.

So I was interested to read that Courtney, of Women Living Well (with whom I'm linking today) has wondered about the difference she can make with only two children. Two doesn't seem enough to her. Yet many women have no children at all. Many women, unlike her (she has a large online ministry), like me, have only tiny spheres of influence.

I appreciate Courtney's honesty and her insights. We all tend, as she does, to look at our 'lack'. We crave lots of friendships, as Ayla shared recently. We crave importance. We crave a sense of worth, of purpose.

Sharing this with a friend yesterday - a brand new, scarcely known friend, but a friend where we connected instantly - she reminded me that God is pleased with me for standing just where I am.
Because I WAS 'standing' - in a small church, as a lone Christian in my workplace - because I WAS there, God could use me.
It hadn't felt like that.
I need to remember the words of John Newton:

'A Christian is not of hasty growth, like a mushroom, but rather like the OAK, the progress of which is hardly perceptible, but which in time becomes a great deep rooted tree.'
I need to keep patience, trusting that God will do what He will do because I am standing. Like the man with the withered hand: He (Jesus) went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there... Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. (Matthew 12: 9 -10, 13, NIV)
The man with the crippled hand just stood there: all he did was do what Jesus told him.

So now, in the space of a few days, I have been reminded that:
I may feel small and insignificant, but I am standing where I am. God can use me.
I have 'only' 2 children - but they are already doing great things in obedience to God.
And I am thankful for many good friendships, but the best of all is the one who 'sticks closer than a brother' (or sister).

Oh, just one more thing. I'm not sure I'll be saying to anyone on the phone or when I drop in on someone that it's 'only me'. Mae Mobley was told in 'The Help' (read the book, see the movie): 'You is kind. You is smart. YOU IS IMPORTANT'.
Yes, we are indeed.

(Click on the links for better and deeper explanations from Courtney and Ayla on this idea. I'm thankful that I read their wisdom and can share it here.)

Monday, 7 May 2012

RESPECT - advice from Ephesians etc

Came across a set of blog posts on that famous verse from Ephesians about wives respecting/submitting to husbands - nearly always a controversial idea these days.

Worth a look. ?