Saturday, 28 January 2012

I Am Me and You Are You!

I love the people in our connect group. We lift each other and learn together and very often someone will bring something really profound that changes my view on something. Sometimes we share things that are less profound and we giggle and laugh about the comment that has just been made. The occasion that I am going to refer to is somewhere between the two. We have two sisters in our connect group and the older of the two shared with the group about a time when she was younger when she suddenly realised that she and her sister were very different and she found the freedom in that. When trying to explain this to her sister, in a child like fashion, she kept repeating the phrase ‘I am me and you are you!’ in the hope that her sister would have the same revelation that she had had. As a group we chuckled at the thought of this phrase ‘I am me and you are you’ but funnily enough it has stuck with me and has turned into something very deep and profound.

One of the biggest hindrances to finding our place in the world is not accepting who we are. I am me and you are you and there’s nothing we can do about it. Many of us feel inadequate or inferior to others. I have talked before about not comparing ourselves with others but in order to not feel the need to do that, we have to know who we really are. When we know who we are we feel secure and will gain a confidence that helps us lose the need for comparison. We are of course humans and will all have insecurities of some kind, but knowing who we are in God is the greatest start to being rid of the destruction of insecurity. We need to acknowledge who we are now, not who we were or who we would like to become, but who we actually are. We have to come to terms with our past, instead of trying to run from it. We mustn’t pretend it didn’t happen or lie about it or try to act a different way to hide it. You will never move on if you don’t accept that your past has made you the shape you are. You will spend your life trying to be a different shape and as a result you will never feel like you really fit. When we have done things we regret it is very easy to be bound by them, but we must work against this, into a place of freedom.

As a teenager I started to become very aware of who I was. I always felt quite different to my peers. I put it down to my quirkiness and sometimes to the fact that I was a Christian. Over time this developed into a feeling that I didn’t fit. The things that made me an individual actually made me feel out of place. I appeared very confident and, I suppose, in some ways I was, but deep down I had this unnerving feeling that I didn’t fit. I would walk into a room and feel that people didn’t want me there. Paranoia is a powerful disease. It can eat away at our soul if we let it and it can destroy who God intended us to be.

I had a major breakthrough in my later teenage years, but I still sometimes battle with it. When I let insecurity get a grip on me the enemy tells me that I don’t fit and I have to work very hard not to believe him. I do still feel different to other people in lots of ways but this is something that we should celebrate because we are all unique. It is simple but true. I am me and you are you but the thing that ties us together is that though we are different we are all made in God’s image. At the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1 verse 27 we find that ‘God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He then created them: male and female he created them’. We are family, made in the image of God, and we all fit.

I recently watched ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treador’ based on the stories of Narnia. In the film there is a scene when Lucy reads a spell to make her look beautiful like Susan. She is taken to a place where the spell comes true but she very quickly realises that if she were in fact Susan then “Lucy’ would never have been born and none of them would have ever been to Narnia because it was she who discovered it first, at the back of the wardrobe. As she looks at her reflection in the mirror Aslan appears to her. C S Lewis is one of the greatest writers of all time and his choice of words, even within a story, was powerful and they still carry God’s anointing today. Aslan’s response to Lucy rings with the truth of what our Father says to us even now:

“You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are”. 

This phrase is filled with acknowledgement of our humanity but also with the immortality of God and how He feels about us. ‘Don’t doubt your value’. The Bible tells us that we are ‘children of God’ (John 1:12); ‘chosen by God’ (Ephesians 1:4); ‘heirs with Christ’ Romans 8:17; ‘friends of Jesus’ John 15:15; ‘justified and redeemed’ (Romans 3:24) ‘Free’ (Romans 8:2), ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:21) ‘made one with each other’ (Galatians 3:28) ‘predestined’ (Ephesians 1:11) and the list goes on and on. One final thing to remember is that we are ‘loved and chosen’ by God (1 Thessalonians 1:4). God likes us. He sometimes doesn’t like what we do but he does like who we are. He chose us, he loves us and He sees us as valuable. We shouldn’t argue with the Most High! In fact we are so valuable that he sent Jesus to die to save us (John 3:16). He thought we were worth it and still thinks we were worth it.

Doubt is a crippling emotion. We must work against it. If we doubt our value we have not truly grasped what God says about us. In David’s prayer in Psalm 17 verse 8 he uses the phrase ‘the apple of your eye’. The idea that God sees us as the apple of His eye is amazing. He is especially fond of you. If you are someone who doubts your value I would encourage you to write out verses that remind you what God says about you and stick them on your fridge or your mirror. As you encounter these verses everyday they will gradually transform your soul with their truth. As you read them they will edify you. Your soul will start to ‘stand up’ as the truth of God’s word settles upon you. You will start to see what God sees and you must hold on to it.

When Aslan says, “don’t run from who you are” there is a real sense that He knows who Lucy is better than she does. The same is true of us. If God is saying to you now “don’t run from who you are” you have to trust Him. You have to trust that He knows who you really are.
In the family of God we need everyone to value themselves. We can value each other and that is good and right but we also need to look for ways to help each other value who they really are. There is unity and diversity in the body of Christ and this is our family. We need to get our heads around this truth. We are family, we stick together, we all fit and we are so valuable to God and each other.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 says it all:

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body-whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

We are important and significant because we belong to this amazing family. As family we need each other. You belong in it more than you could ever belong anywhere else. Don’t doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are. I am me and you are you and we are family. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Love Always Wins

 Have you ever been hurt by someone? I have and it’s painful. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to recover. We can easily become consumed with our pain. We distance ourselves from the person who has damaged us and try to recover on our own. Perhaps we talk to our other friends about what has happened; we look for reassurance in other places and we think we can just put it behind us and move on a bit broken. It is also easy to think, God will deal with them; they will get what they deserve eventually. Love doesn’t respond like this. Love goes further. 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’.

When we choose to make love our response, we have to choose to persevere because it is not the easy option. To persevere means to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement and we have to continue steadfastly. So if we choose to love we have to insist that our response is love. To choose love is sometimes an unnatural response but if we are in God’s family we have to work against the ways of the flesh and it is hard.

If someone hurts you it is easy to make that person your enemy. Perhaps they actually are your enemy, perhaps the pain has come because they seem to be against you and no matter what you do you can’t seem to win them over. I found these verses taken from Luke 6 from verse 32 onwards a real challenge:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The opening question here stopped me in my tracks. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” The Message says, “Do you expect a pat on the back?” It is not hard to love people who love you. It is hard to love people who hurt you. It is also hard to love people who we don’t like, and if we are honest we all have people who rub us up the wrong way or appear to be our opposition. It is not to our credit to simply love the lovable but it does become a great credit to us if we can love those that our eyes tell us are unlovable. The fact is it is not up to us to decide who is worth loving and who isn’t. ‘For God so loved the world that he sent his only son’ John 3:16. Our Father in Heaven sent Jesus because he loved us: All of us. We have no right to decide who is worthy of that love. We do however have a choice with how far we go to love someone who appears to be unlovable. I have found myself in the past thinking, I could never come to a point where I love that person because of what they did but now I can say that actually I do love them. I preserved and it wasn’t easy and I don’t always like them but I do…deep down… love them. It is a freeing place to be.

Sometimes choosing love is a long process. It may involve forgiveness on a big scale. You might be thinking, ‘but you don’t know what that person did’ and you’re right I don’t, but I do know that if you choose love as your response you will always win. You have probably heard of the idea that things can make us ‘bitter or better’. Love makes us better. Our response can heal us if we let it. God is love and if we choose ‘Love’ He will make us better.

As we seek to find our place in God’s family we must be people who put each other first. I heard a phrase ‘Make their success your honour’. It stirred something in me because it is easy to say that of someone who you believe in, it is right but it is also easy. However, it is not so easy to say it of someone you struggle with. And to paraphrase Luke 6 “what credit is that to you?” It is a credit to you if you can say that of those who it feels like you will never be able to say that of. It is our choice to make it our honour to make them successful. Now this statement works if you are around these people, perhaps they go to your church or are in your family. This is the next step when we decide that love is our response and for the sake of the kingdom we must pursue it.

So what does it mean to make someone’s success our honour? It means as, Luke tells us, to do good to them. It means that we should actively seek to push the particular person into the things that God has for them. Sometimes giving up our own opportunities for them. Sometimes being the one who gives a word of encouragement. This can be difficult and I don’t believe that we should lie but I do believe that if we ask God to show us what he sees about them then He will show us something good.

For it to be our honour is a big thing. In medieval times honour was a word that was associated with knights. I had a look at the knights code of chivalry and a couple of points were quite interesting: ‘To live by honour and for glory’ and ‘To guard the honour of fellow knights’. The later statement reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13:7 where we started. Love ‘always protects’. So we can choose to protect the individual who has hurt us. That doesn’t mean don’t chat stuff through with trustworthy friends, that is part of your own recovery, but don’t gossip about them. Also, if we choose to live by ‘honour for glory’ we must be people of integrity and, as the dictionary puts it, ‘be a source of credit: to be an honour to one’s family.’ We can be people who bring honour to the family of God and as a result bring glory to His name.

If we look back to Luke we see that it says, “You will be children of the most high.” We know that when we accept Jesus into our lives we become children of God but there must be an even deeper implication here in this verse. When we become a Christian we become part of the family of God. To understand we are His children can be tough to get your head around but here we find that our responses can help us find another part of what it means to be children of God. When love is our response we begin to remind others of our Father.

People so often say to me “you’re just like your Dad” and in so many ways I am, but wouldn’t it be amazing if that was said about us in relation to our Father in heaven.  You may not feel like that would be a positive thing to have said over you when you think of earthly father, but if we lift our eyes heavenward, what if someone were to say  to you, “ I saw how you chose love in that situation? You’re just like your Dad; that’s what He would’ve done.” To become a child of the Most High is easy (we enter in to a relationship with our father in heaven). To look like one is harder. It takes effort on our part but I guarantee it is worth it. I am moved by the idea that I am a child of the Most High. The One who is above all others. I want to be a credit to Him.

So as we look to find our place in the family of God we must seek to hear these words said over us, “You’re just like your Dad". Love always wins.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Are you longing to find your place in God’s family? When we are insecure about who we really are our natural tendency is to strive to find our meaning. We compare ourselves with others in an attempt to find our place. Often when we do this insecurity, or vain conceit set in. We either feel worse when we look at ourselves in contrast with those who appear to have opportunity and have it all together, or we reassure ourselves believing that our talents and skills are better than others. If we want to follow Jesus we must take this life choice seriously. As children of God we are family. We need to work against inferiority, competition and vanity. These things won’t help us to find our place, just the opposite in fact. They take us further away from finding who we really are. Galatians 5:25-26 in The Message Bible says, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out it’s implications in every detail of our lives. That means that we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

Hear these words, “Each of us is an original”. Even you! Especially you. God made you on purpose, for purpose.  As we see here, we have “far more interesting things to do with our lives” so we must try hard to not waste time dwelling on who we are not and concentrate on finding who God says we are.

We don’t need to strive for this, though we often think we do. Our Father is bursting with love for us. We will find this to be true the more time spent in His presence. In 2010 a quite amazing thing happened to me. I was tired and, if I’m honest, had come to a point where I felt like giving up, not on God but on ‘stuff’; the bits that felt too hard. I didn’t want to give up but I was tired with how things were and I didn’t know what to do. God said to me, “Come away with me”. So I went. I felt a renewed sense of desperation to spend time with Jesus. I found myself being pulled into His presence everyday and a sense of urgency surrounding it. I would be driving and feel that I needed to arrive at my destination just so that I could read my Bible or worship Him or just simply rest in His presence. I could tap into His presence in the middle of the busiest days, even while putting the washing out. I found myself being filled with the spirit in my living room and spending time dancing before God in worship! The song “I love Your presence” sung by Jenn Johnson,  became a great help to me during this time. I would fall asleep in the presence of God listening to it. I encourage you to get hold of that song if you haven't heard it and let it wash over you. Rest restored me and brought me such a sense of peace and security.  I felt more than ever that my personal relationship with God was more important than any thing.

During this time I read Matthew 11:28-30. It may be a familiar to you: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I looked then to The Message translation and it came alive!

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

During this time of spending time with God I ‘recovered my life’. I felt restored but I also felt a learning process begin. I was beginning to learn about the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’.

God can show us how to take a real rest if we let him. That doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have to do the hectic school run anymore or we have all the time in the world to spend with our loved ones. Life probably won’t suddenly change in that way, but God can teach us to find rest, whatever our circumstances are. So what is real rest? I believe real rest comes when we can learn to settle with who God says we are. Genesis 9:6 tells us that God has made mankind in His image. The Message translation says that ‘God made humans in His image, reflecting God’s very nature’. If we ‘reflect’ God’s very nature, we need to be people who work hard to smooth out the rough edges of our lives in order that the reflection of God can be seen clearly. We do this through studying the Bible, and working to be more like Jesus but also God can smooth out our rough edges when we encounter Him. When we spend time is His presence; when we just rest in Him, we discover great mysteries. I discovered the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ and I believe you can too.

It is hard to describe ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ and how these rhythms can completely transform our lives, but I’ll have a go. If something is ‘forced’ it is strained, affected or unnatural. ‘Unforced’ is the opposite: relaxed, genuine and completely natural. When we see someone forcing a situation, whatever their motive, it is uncomfortable to watch. It’s even more uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of it. I don’t believe that God works like that. I think that God won’t teach us by forcing us into understanding grace, it isn’t a strain for Him to do this and he doesn’t have to change who He is in order to get us to understand, it is the opposite. It is like breathing life and freedom into us through His grace. He says that ‘He won’t lay anything ‘heavy’ or ‘ill-fitting’ on us’. This means that the way He reaches us, when we open up our hearts, fits us perfectly. It is not heavy and it fits comfortably. In fact it is tailor made to reach us and bring us back to life because He knows who we are, even if we don’t. 

If we look at the idea of the ‘rhythms’ it can be felt in every God given breath that we take. Just take a moment now to feel the rhythm of your breathing and imagine hearing the name Yahweh in every breath that you take. As we breathe in we hear “Yah” as we breathe out, “weh’’. Yahweh: the name of God, the name that is higher than any other name can be found in the rhythm of our breath. So we breathe Him in and we begin to learn the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’. We don’t have to do anything. We just breathe and recognise He gave us every breath.

Now grace is something that we will continue to learn about for the rest of our lives. Grace is many things. It is God’s love freely given to us. It is unmerited favour and it is also what God breathes into us. One dictionary definition puts it like this: Grace is “the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them”. When we rest and give ourselves time to really catch our breath, we open a door to God and allow Him to have His way. You will find that when you stop and wait for Him, He will come and breathe grace into your life.

It is my hope that you begin to learn the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ and go on learning them so that God can regenerate and strengthen you. Take time to ‘Get away’ with God, watch how He does it. Read your Bible. The Word of God is alive and it brings us back to life. When we are really alive, we can live freely and lightly and we find out more about who God made us to be, and our place in His family.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Peacekeepers and Peacemakers

We all want peace in our lives. In my busy, and sometimes crowded, life I often find myself longing for the quiet waters of Psalm 23; just to find some space for the peace of God to settle on me. Rarely do I have this space and when I do, I make the most of it. When i don't, I cling to Philippians 4:6-7 which says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". 

When life is overwhelming 'peace which transcends understanding' is well worth pursuing. A couple of years ago a good friend unlocked this verse for me when he drew my attention to the part where it says 'with thanksgiving'. He said, "peace comes when we say thank you to God." It works. When you need to keep peace in your life, thank God for the things he has done.

Sometimes saying thank you is hard. If life is difficult or there are unanswered prayers or unresolved issues in your life it is understandable that we would say 'thank you God that you made the Heavens and the Earth but...(you haven't done what I hoped you would or I still want more or you just don't seem to be there).' When there is a 'but' our peace is threatened. When there is a 'but' there is distrust or even fear. If we are able to turn our 'but' into 'but God' we turn fear to hope. When our 'but this didn't work out' becomes 'but God can do all things' we are able to keep hold of peace because hope is restored. We are then able to say thank you with a grateful heart. 

We all need peace in our lives. We all need to keep the peace of God at the centre of our lives but now I want to look at peace on another level. Peace that is pursued further, peace that is not always quiet and peace that enables us to find our place in the family of God.

In growing up my mum was always one for keeping the peace in our home. She did not like confrontation or arguments. She was and is a peacekeeper. Many of us feel uncomfortable with discord, but sometimes a peace keeper avoids facing these things whatever the cost. For example my gentle mum would often put aside her own feelings just so there wasn't an argument, even if she knew she was right. I have a different temperament to my mum. It may surprise you to know that I do, on most occasions, like to be right! I would argue my case until I was blue in the face! I have learnt (am learning!) to be more open to other people's opinions now but at the time I had to have the last word. The eldest of my brothers is very similar to my mum, a peacekeeper. He would let things go, be quick to apologise and this frustrated me! He would not argue back! He kept the peace.

As I have grown up I have seen the qualities of a peacekeeper but recently I have noticed that sometimes a peace keeper keeps the peace at their own expense. Sometimes, in order to keep the peace, we don't want to rock the boat or have that awkward conversation, so we don't. We think we have kept the peace but potentially at the expense of our own.

Of course a peacekeeper can restore peace that was lost or help prevent disharmony, but it is when their own peace is threatened, when 'peace keeping', that we must pursue peace on a different level.

Matthew 5:9 says, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God". It says 'peacemakers' not 'peacekeepers'. The term 'peacemaker' suggests action. It means 'we make peace, we pursue it with perseverance'. Psalm 34:14 says 'Depart from evil; do good; seek peace and pursue it." In The Message Bible it translates "Turn your back on sin; do something good. Embrace peace-don't let it get away!" A peacemaker HAS to pursue peace. If there is an issue with a brother or a sister in the family of God a peacemaker has to pursue peace because within them there is a deep desire to chase after the kingdom of God which, as Romans 14:17 tells us, is "righteousness and peace and joy". 

If we look to Romans 14:19 the Bible tells us to 'make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification it means that in doing what leads to peace we spiritually uplift each other; we benefit each other; we make each others success our honour. 

It is very difficult to be of benefit to someone if there is not peace in the relationship. On occasions it is also difficult to be of benefit to someone if we simply keep the peace. How does your soul rest with something that causes you concern or heartache? If your peace is threatened because of concern, will remaining quiet benefit the other person? We must pursue peace, as The Message puts it we must "embrace peace-don't let it get away!"

If you are by nature a peacekeeper be careful not to let peace 'get away' in order to 'keep the peace'. If you consider yourself a peace maker you must keep your motives in check. Don't assume that all confrontation is peace making. Difficult conversations should only be pursued if love and peace are your true motives. We must assess each situation individually. Sometimes in order to be a peacemaker we must 'keep the peace' and take an issue no further with a person. Then we look to God, we work on ourselves until we are at peace in our heart. Other times we must pursue that difficult conversation, get to the root of the problem and with love, find peace. This doesn't mean we will always agree with each other but peace will teach us to value each other. It allows us to edify each other and find our place in God's family.

If we look back to Matthew 5:9, but this time in The Message Bible, it says, "You are blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are and your place in God's family." 

So let's be people who cooperate with each other, who don't fight with each other but pursue peace because of love, who go further because of unity in the body of Christ, who will not let peace 'get away'. After all, we are family.