Tag Archives: God

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“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” – Albert Einstein

Earlier today I was talking to my mother – a woman of beautifully simple and childlike faith (something I have always envied in a way) – looking at the tears in her eyes as she explains to me how stupid she feels when comparing her faith and life to those of others. I tell her that she shouldn’t be comparing herself or her journey/faith to others, as it is exactly the uniqueness of her life that makes her special and mesmerising. And yet, at the back of my mind, I know that I should actually be “preaching” this to myself, for I know that I am constantly comparing. We are all constantly comparing…from our bodies to our things to our faith…and we almost never come out on top… We are so quick to see and appreciate the value of others, yet simultaneously always quicker to dismiss ourselves. But then I am reminded that you can only see others as clearly as you see yourself…which implies that we aren’t really seeing other people as accurately as we think we are…and that we are using skew images to compare ourselves to…like walking in one of those classic carnival “Hall of Mirrors” and taking whatever we see – no matter how disfigured – as our only truth…

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

But that means that I, that every one of us, are not living within the identity God gave us. We might be confessing that belief every day, but we sure aren’t living it – for our every need to compare ourselves to others is a warped sense of self worth and a not-so-solid self esteem, based on a definition of success that we never chose in the first place! The solution, obviously, would then be to stop comparing yourself – by building your self worth and developing a solid self-esteem that cannot be disturbed by outside factors and opinions. For doing so will give you the freedom to be the only person you were ever meant to be – yourself. The wonderful – and terribly embarrassing – thing is that we do not need to search for a source of self worth or a basis for developing self-esteem, because WE ALREADY HAVE IT! We have had it all along!

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule…you’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you…you’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought…you’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat…you’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” – Matthew 5:3-8

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” – Matthew 6:30-34

So, if we truly are the believers we claim to be, we have to stop comparing! We have to start finding ourselves where we should always have been looking – with God. And we should RELY ONLY on His opinion! “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” – Johann von Goethe “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” – Janis Joplin

“Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.” – Mary Lou Retton

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The heart of God

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“JOY is the SERIOUS BUSINESS of HEAVEN!” – CS Lewis

I had the privilege of being present at a baby shower last weekend, and the joy of a wonderful Cape vacation this weekend…and all I constantly found myself thinking about was the spiritual discipline of joy. Which sounds strange – how can joy be a discipline?! But maybe it isn’t that strange, seeing that God’s joy and its many different faces surrounded me.

For the joy of the Lord does surround us – in the spectacle we call “Creation”. Just think about how different the story of creation would have been if God had not been as enthusiastic and as joyous…if He had created like we so often do. Content with “it’s all right”. Not wanting to have to go to too much effort. Just doing the bare minimum to get by. What a sad and depressing thing Creation would have been! But instead infinite combinations, spectacular engineering and abundant creative thought surround us. God did not “settle”, did not simply say, “it’s OK” or “it’ll have to do” – His creation ended with “it was GOOD!” And it was!

And it is this joy, this pleasure of the simple fact of being alive and having possibilities to consider, which should fill us with gratitude and make us jump out of bed every morning. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for us…is at the heart of God! Does this mean we will never know sorrow? Quite the contrary – we were promised two things…one: that we would be surrounded by difficulty and sorrow…two: that we would never be alone in this, and that we would always have something to look forward to, to strive towards “with grace in our hearts and flowers in our hair” – Mumford & Sons

Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10

So, make time to celebrate every day’s smallest of miracles. Always keep in front of you the Source of our joy and strong hope. And remember, selfishness is the only thing that keeps us from experiencing the myriad joys God puts into our every day. So don’t just wait…LIVE abundantly! For “today is the day that the Lord has made!”

Up! And away!

That’s the story of…

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In every moment of every day we are surrounded – by things, by events, and, of course, by people and their opinions. And for every one person in our life – whether they are just passing through or part of the more permanent décor – there are at least three different opinions. And oh, how easy it is to lend out our ears to those people and their opinions! In fact, I think it might not be dramatic to say that our ears are on permanent loan! And then not just to the important people in our lives, but to anyone and everyone who might have what looks like an opinion.

Worst of all? We actually LISTEN to their opinions! We let the opinions of random strangers and people who don’t really know us determine the way we think about ourselves and the way we act! Now, some of it might be reasonably explained by saying “that’s the way I was taught” – they’re family so you are obligated to listen; they are in authority so you must listen; they are seen as very wise and so you would be stupid not to listen.

Overwhelmed

I’m sure we all have those rhymes that are ingrained into the fibre of our being, coming almost as naturally as breathing. They might not sound exactly the same, but the gist remains the same: we are duty-bound to live the life and be the person others expect us to be, for that is the way it has always been done and the only way to be a decent human being. And then we become heavy and weary…and who wouldn’t…because we are carrying around others expectations and desires. But to stop doing that, to stop listening to and doing what others want would be unspeakable, wouldn’t it? It would at the very least be very unchristian?! And so we bend and break under the weight of others’ expectations, for there is always more that we could have done or been, always something that could have and should have been different, always something more. A never-ending spiral of not quite being “good enough”…a spiral that started from the very best of intentions…

But then I am reminded of how Jesus’ family once wanted to stop Him from continuing on with the work He was doing and the reaction they got in Mark 3:31-35 (as well as Matthew 12:46-49 and Luke 8:19-21). Jesus’ own family, the people who knew Him the best, those people we would expect would have His best interests at heart, who would be all for the fulfilment of His life’s purpose, had decided that what He was doing did not fit in with their picture of how things were supposed to work. And so they had come to fetch Him, stop the craziness and take Him home with them. Which I am absolutely sure they thought would be the best thing for Him. Can you imagine what life would have been like if He had not rejected them? Well no, because then there would be no life and no hope. Now that’s something to chew on! Jesus Himself, the perfect example of being human, once had to reject those people we are horrified at even thinking of rejecting (and that is only in our own heads, that is not including the shock and anger of those outside ourselves!). I am also reminded of the words of Doctor Seuss himself: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. It is starting to seem as if we need to adjust the way we think about listening…for sometimes the right thing will get all the wrong reactions and strong resistance, while all the wrong things will be encouraged. So what now?

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” – Barbara Kingsolver. The only place our ears should be is where our hope and our life lies – with God. He is the only one who truly knows all the details of our innards, He is the only One who has only our best interests at heart and He is the only one whose biggest desire it is to see us succeed. Now, that success might not be the success the world, our family, our friends or the random people on the street think it ought to be. But that success is the success that we were made for…the success in which our purpose, happiness and satisfaction are hidden away. A satisfaction that might mean dissatisfaction for many…

John 17

Is that the same as saying: “Screw everyone, I’m doing what I want”? Well, yes and no. For sometimes you might be convinced of something that you have to do and it causes others frustration or harm, while other times you know you are acting from within selfish desires and others get angry or hurt. What makes the difference then? What gives us the security of knowing that what we are doing is the right thing, even though it might not be the popular thing? RELATIONSHIP. But then not any and every relationship (as we are so prone to do), only our relationship with God. For it truly is only in our walk with God that the truth of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do can be found. Not only that, but it is only in that relationship that we can find true peace with who we are and what we do, no matter what or who surrounds us.

And so it seems then, Romans, that it is time we stopped lending out our ears and start taking them back! “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” – Henry Ellis. May God, and ONLY God, grant us the wisdom of getting to know this art, and may He give us peace in that knowing.

God-coloured glasses

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“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” - Jeremiah 29:11

A verse that, I am sure, most of us have run into in one way or another – whether it be in an encouraging note from a friend/loved one in a bad time; as a way for someone to try and motivate you towards bigger and better things; or as a prophetic promise given to you. It is a verse that has been over-used, “done to death”, as a quick solution to sticky/uncomfortable emotions or situations. It has also become one of the flagship verses for any prosperity gospel worth its salt (and then you and I both know what the hope equals…think The Apprentice’s theme song…). It has become a verse all about how God’s only desire is to help us prosper, to protect us and to ensure our every need satisfied while nothing bad happens to us. But is this message that we have become so accustomed to what God initially intended? Was that the message He was trying to convey to his people? For those answers we will need to look a bit farther than we might be used to – at the rest of the text surrounding the verse…

The verse forms part of a message, conveying God’s will, sent by the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. And here we have to pause a moment to allow for sinking in… Because of Israel’s constant rebellion and disobedience, God had permitted for His people to be defeated and taken away into exile in Babylon. They had gone from free citizens of their own kingdom, to being a small minority in an alien culture constantly being mocked, harassed and humiliated. Their cities, their homes and their land, had been destroyed – worse yet, the Temple, the earthly dwelling-place of God had been flattened to the ground. And now they were being kept prisoner so far away from Zion that it must be impossible for God to be with them. Under these circumstances “holding onto their faith” becomes an ever-dwindling daily battle. And it is into exactly these circumstances that Jeremiah speaks, that he brings his people news of God’s promise of prosperity and hope. But then not the prosperity and hope that they were expecting…

“The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia: ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase in numbers and not decrease. Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. I, the LORD, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by any others who claim they can predict the future. Do not pay any attention to theirt dreams. They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the LORD Almighty, have spoken’. The LORD says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home’. – Jeremiah 29:4-10

We cry out: "Save us as we want to be saved!" The Israelites were hoping for a power play from God – that He would come forcefully and redeem them from exile; taking them back to the Promised Land and blessing them with more than they could need. THAT would be prosperity and hope! And, if we were only to read verse 11, then that hope could very well sound very plausible. BUT, taking the rest of the text into account, that type of future fades; for, instead of immediate rescue and restoration, God proclaims that the exiles should “settle in comfortably” (i.e. build houses and gardens, marry and have kids etc.) and help build Babylon’s interests. Not only that, He commands them to PRAY FOR Babylon and its people! Because Babylon’s interests are now their interests…the country that still humiliated them at every turn was now their country too…A truth that God ensures is “taken home” by His emphasis on the fact that anyone dreaming or saying anything different – proclaiming quick rescue and immanent departure – should be known for the liars they are. There IS promise of rescue, but then only in seventy years time. It is after this “wonderful” news that we find verse 11, promising prosperity and hope. So how is that supposed to work?! Luckily, God is not done talking yet…

“Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:12-13

Wherein lie the prosperity, the future and the hope that God promises in verse 11? NOT in physical rescue/redemption or material success, BUT in the NEW ESSENCE/NATURE of the relationship between themselves and God. It is not rescue that comes first or is most important for their future and their joy – the foundation of the new future and joy that God promises is thus not to be found or bound to circumstance. It is to be found in God’s eternal self/essence and in His being with them in any circumstance.

Why is it important for us to hear at the beginning of 2012? Because we can (and do) also easily feel like we are in an alien situation/country and that no one is looking after our interests (in fact, that some people are fighting against our interests). We also tend to focus on the negatives of our circumstances – because they do make our lives unpleasant – and lose faith. But faith is to look past circumstance and to see God there.

“An undivided heart, which worships God alone, and trusts Him as it should, is raised above all anxiety for earthly wants.” - John Cunningham Geikie

And to all a good year!

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I don’t know about you, but when I think about the fact that by Sunday we’re in 2012 already, I feel a little overwhelmed. I mean, it feels like yesterday that we were beginning with 2011, and it feels like light-years ago. Sheesh, time flies (and faster and faster too)!

“Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”

Now, I know that not all of us are as emotional or pensive/meditative as others, but at this time of year – even if only for an hour or two – it’s almost impossible to not spend a little while thinking about the year that has passed. And maybe, when looking back, you could be feeling proud, satisfied, surprised, inspired…maybe lonely or sad…or even just tired. This is important because the year that has now gone by has an influence on the year we are entering into: if it’s been a smashing year then you’re probably already jumping for joy at the new year; but if it’s not been your best year, you might be wishing that you could stay in a limbo between the two – a place where you don’t have to deal with the old year, or move into the next.

It would be very easy to over-simplify this and say it’s only about the way you view/understand life – the whole “glass half-empty or glass half-full” shtick – and though there is truth to the saying, we all know it is not as simple as that. We do not live in isolation; people and situations that affect our lives surround us. Whatever the case may be, here we are at the beginning of a new year. Is there something that could be said to inspire us all in our different situations and states of mind?

“You, Lord, are the light that keeps me safe. I am not afraid of anyone. You protect me, and I have no fears. Brutal people may attack and try to kill me, but they will stumble. Fierce enemies may attack, but they will fall. Armies may surround me, but I won’t be afraid; war may break out, but I will trust you. I ask only one thing, lord: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.” – Psalm 27:1-4

Maybe a text where David is going through the same kind of thought process as we are now with the turning of the year. Looking at Psalm 27 I am struck by the realism of the poem – it was not written by someone wearing rose-coloured glasses; it was written by someone who had experienced both sides of life, someone who understands that life is made up of paradoxes, sweet and sour moments, good and bad. Something that is good for all of us to remember at the beginning of this New Year, especially when New Year’s eve itself can be so euphoric. We joke and we laugh and we celebrate, thinking only about the very best things for ourselves and for those around us. But that is not how life works, so maybe that is a good place to start – admitting, together with David, that this new year will have its good and bad parts. There will be times when our faith and our trust will be tested to the utmost.

Sounds a bit too depressing for New Year? Precisely NOT! For in the midst of the realities of life David is writing a testimony of note! He describes God as his Light and his Redeemer, his Refuge, the Rock on which he builds his life. He is looking back at his life, at the year that has passed, and can still describe God as the One that protected him in every difficult situation, the One that never allowed him to go under in any of the storms in his life. This is a man who knows the realities of life and takes them into account – sickness, disappointment, and loss – but does not let these realities bring him down. Why? Because God is the One who lifts up his head, allowing him to look life straight in the eye.

Psalm 27…life as we know it…is ambivalent…filled with things we will never be able to fully understand or explain. We will never have all the answers. There will always be things that leave us in the dark. But in all pain, in every bitter moment, every bad thing that might happen to us need not steal our joy, because our joy’s foundation is not our circumstances but rather the God who is our Light and our Redeemer, our Refuge and our Rock. And He will never ever forsake us.

“What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? It is exactly as the Scriptures say: ‘For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered’. In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love – not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” – Romans 8:31-39