Looking Back

This evening I head off to Uganda. At this time I would normally be looking forward, seeking God for a word regarding the next season. This time God is doing things differently. This time He has me looking backwards.

The past few days God has been reminding me of all that He has done in my life. I’ve been reflecting on how He brought me to Africa for the first time in 2008 (I used the word “never” – I never wanted to go to South Africa, because of the horror stories I’d heard from ex-pat’s – and as we know, that is a dangerous word to use with God!). In the past 5 years He has changed my life around. He has changed what I value and what I strive for. He has redefined who I am and given me a purpose in life; to follow Him.

I have seen His provision every day of my 25 years. I have known His healing after trauma or heartbreak. I’ve felt His presence during the lonely times. I have known His touch when I need a hug and His strength when even my reserves were dry. I have known His love in every season.

God has taught me to worship with tears, singing, dance, walking, fellowship, and much more. He has taught me of His character and this in turn brings me courage. I have learnt that God is good; God is God (and there is no other); and He is love.

God has given me joy; proved time and time again that He is faithful to His promises; and has held me safely in the palm of His hand.

It is by looking back over these things, and many more, which enables me to step out boldly into the next season.

We are often advised not to look back, but to keep our gaze forward. Sometimes this is good advice, when working towards a goal. But it also pays to look back occasionally, because in doing so we see the work of God clearly displayed in our lives.

Let us worship Him for He is a living God, active in the lives of men!

Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah.

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:8-20)

Advertisements

A Painful Choice; 2 of 3

I’m often entreated to be careful when I travel from Australia to Africa. I’m not denying that Africa has its dangers, and I certainly feel loved to have so many people who care about me and my safety, but we also have to acknowledge that life is not certain.

This world is not a safe place and it is not certain. People driving in a safe manner on their way home have their cars wiped off the road by drunken drivers, horrid crimes are committed against children, public places are bombed, natural disasters strike without warning, and fathers are made redundant. Life does not carry safety guarantees.

Now, I don’t want to stress people out by this blog entry. I’m not one to take unnecessary risks. I do not place myself in harm’s way on purpose. And I’m certainly not brave, or fool-hardy! Rather, I’m trying to lead you to analyse how you respond when challenging circumstances do arise (as they inevitably will). We are all faced with them, and we all have a choice as to how we will respond.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (three young men taken into a foreign land as captives), were faced with a very painful choice. They were offered life (with the condition of bowing before a false god), or certain death in a blazing furnace (if they remained faithful to God).

Nebuchadnezzar [the king] asked them:

“Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?” (Daniel 3:14).

He then gave the ultimatum:

“Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15).

So how did these young men (we’re talking teenagers) respond?

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18).

Incredible! They did not proclaim God would save them, only that He could save them, if He so chose.

Would you respond with such steadfast faith if faced with a painful choice between faith and personal comfort, or safety?

What can faith do?

“Impossible is not a word. It’s just a reason. For someone not to try.” – What Faith Can Do, by Kutless.

What do you count as impossible? Little doubts are a given when we take on a difficult task. The question is: do you allow the doubts to grow, or do you give them over to God?

The impossible is not impossible with God.

All He requires from us is that we move faithfully, step by tiny step, towards the goal that He has set before us. Let Him remove the impassable mountains; He will show us the way through the harrowing obstacles, He will keep us sure footed on the dizzying heights, and bring us to the place where, with Him, we can say we have surmounted the impossible.

Matthew 17:20 says: He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

So what does it mean when Jesus says that we will be able to move mountains of we have faith like a grain of mustard seed? Was He trying to make His audience feel unworthy, guilty that they did not have faith even as such a tiny seed? Of course not! Which means: He was encouraging them that even those with the smallest faith could, in Him, do mighty things.

The mountain will be different depending on the season we are in. In one season, it might be overcoming the fear of public speaking to share at your local youth group; in another season, it might be overcoming a fear of failure to take a go at a new career path. Sometimes we might feel that we simply can’t get through the day, but God is there beside us and He can take us through.

Mountains can be time pressures, illness, financial concerns, a breakdown in family relationships, a difficult work climate, or a dream that seems too big to ever achieve – and so we put them aside, giving up.

Do what you can see to do in the “physical” that will bring you a step closer to the top of your mountain: Write a letter of apology, speak loving words to your work mates, give of yourself, prepare a speech and say a prayer for peace, make time for a coffee with someone you want to build a bridge with, or start that dream project you’ve been putting off, too afraid to give it a go.

Whatever your mountain, remember that no matter how small your faith seems, it is enough with God. Let Him move the mountains. Trust Him to do the impossible. Meanwhile, keep walking step by step towards the “impossible” in your life.

The lyrics at the start are from one of my current favourite songs. The words remind me to give things a go. When I find myself praying “God this is TOO HARD!”, I remember:

“(With Jesus) impossible is not a word. It’s just a reason … not to try.”

Just try. Give it a go. Leave the rest up to God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1JBSQMkQEo&ob=av3e

An Invisible Bridge

In “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” Indy comes to a complete stop at a deep gorge, which cuts him off from his goal.

He looks down. Fear stirs in the pit of his stomach.

His response is: “Impossible, no one can jump this!”

Indy looks down again. He needs to cross the chasm – but how?

Then he realises, “It’s a leap of faith . . .” He sounds disgruntled as he mutters words closely resembling, “Oh, Jesu –”

Taking a deep breath in, hand over heart, he takes one large step forward out into midair – only to find a narrow bridge has materialised under his feet. He had not plummeted to his death; he was safe on firm ground, and proceeds across the bridge, back on track towards his goal.

How like our lives this can be! We have a promise from God, a call on our life, an end goal in mind; only, we don’t see how it is possible to get there. No effort of man could pave the way. We muster the courage and take one (rather small) step forward. The difference is no bridge appears. A single paver is beneath our feet with more air before us.

It can seem mightily unfair when God chooses not to reveal the whole bridge to us; at least Indy was able to see the immensely narrow bridge that he was on.

We forget the Lord, so focused are we on that gulf below. We take shuffling steps forward; making very slow progress, because we fear plummeting to our deaths if we were to step out too boldly.

So how do we overcome this fear (a fear which we classify as being “very reasonable” given the chasm below)?

LOOK UP!

Take your eyes from the bridge and look into the face of Christ. He is standing before you. Follow where He leads and your feet will be sure to find the firm ground.

I am foremost amongst those guilty of trying to downplay the great visions God gives to me. They seem exciting at first – until I realise the gulf that lies between where I am and the attainment of that vision. The moment I take my focus off God, fear rises in my throat. I slow my pace and downsize the vision.

We need to spend less time worrying over ifs, buts, and maybes. Instead, we must engage in daily worship and prayer. Fellowshipping with other believers in small groups and prayer meetings builds our faith. Listening to sermons gives us forward momentum.

And ALWAYS, ALWAYS, keep our eyes on our King. He walks before us, so there is no need or reason to be afraid. He has a net below, to catch us if we slip to the right or to the left. And the pavers appear beneath us as we take each step forward.

Do not be afraid to take one large leap after another towards that to which God is calling you. Reflect on what He has promised and cling to it. Do not let yourself be discouraged, for “He who has called us is faithful, He will surely do it”.

Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

Did that Mountain just Move?

Are my eyes deceiving me? Did I see that mountain move? A little to the right, now a little to the left . . . I think I’m going crazy!

Could money have Mt Everest moved wholly from where it stands into the sea? I don’t think so. Can my God? Oh, yes, He can!

And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21-22).

What would happen if we had such faith?

I worry about what people will think of me. What if I give up all I have to chase the dream God has laid on my heart? What if I do this and He doesn’t come through?

Oswald Chambers wrote:

“I may not understand what Jesus Christ says, but it is dangerous to say that therefore He was mistaken in what He said. It is never right to think that my obedience to a word of God will bring dishonour to Jesus. The only thing that will bring dishonour is not obeying Him . . .

“Many of us are loyal to our notions of Jesus Christ, but how many of us are loyal to Him? Loyalty to Jesus means I have to step out where I do not see anything (cf. Matt.  14:29); loyalty to my notions means that I clear the ground first by my intelligence. Faith is not intelligent understanding, faith is deliberate commitment to a Person where I see no way.”

Today we admire the prophets of the Old Testament. We see them as heroes of the faith. Their neighbours, however, mocked them, ridiculed them, beat them, killed them, spat at them . . .  They were persecuted for following the call of God.

God may call you to do crazy things. In fact, much of what He asks you to do won’t make sense at the time. Or the end goal will make sense but the path to the end remains a mystery. Don’t worry about the how – just take the first little step that you can see.

He does not shine a spot light right ahead; rather He lights only the section of path right in front of us with His lamp and asks us to trust Him to lead us safely.

As an example, take Redefined Ministries of the DRC, which we are currently seeking to set up. Last August I couldn’t see that I’d ever get the opportunity to go to the Congo. He was laying the nation on my heart but I could not see how it would eventuate. Now? I have visited the Congo, seen the potential places for the ministry, and we sit waiting for an arrival of money so that Innocent can take the registration documents in, and thus formally establish the ministry in the DRC. This is not by our hands – it is by God’s.

 Life is an adventure when you dance to God’s tune. He can do the impossible.

Step out in faith and trust Him to make your way straight.

So, to finish with Oswald Chambers:

Are you debating whether to take a step in faith in Jesus or to wait until you can see how to do the thing yourself? Obey Him with glad reckless joy. When He says something and you begin to debate, it is because you have a conception of His honour which is not His honour. Are you loyal to Jesus or loyal to your notion of Him? Are you loyal to what He says, or are you trying to compromise with conceptions which never came from Him? “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”

Put Him to the Test – 3 of 3

Part 3 – practical life examples

I thought it time to add an example of stepping out in faith: giving God our whole life as an offering, and trusting in Him for His promise – peace, joy, hope, love . . . eternal life.

Consider the words of Karen Watson. This woman went to Iraq as a missionary and was killed by unknown assailants on the 15th March, 2004. This is the letter she wrote before she went:

Dear Pastor,

You should only be opening this letter in the event of my death.
When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective,  to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward…

The missionary heart:

  • Cares more than some think is wise
  • Risks more than some think is safe
  • Dreams more than some think is practical
  • Expects more than some think is possible

I was called not to comfort or to success, but to obedience…
There is no joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him.
I love you and my church family.

In His care,
Salaam, Karen

Now, I’m not implying that He calls us all to give our physical life, as in the beating of our heart, in service as Karen did. But I am saying that we should be prepared for persecution. We should be prepared for trials. For our hope is greater than all of this.

Not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Now this hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5).

What He calls us to give up is different for everyone. For some it is leaving a good job; others it is taking a higher paid job, but in an environment that drains them spiritually, physically or emotionally. It might mean sacrificing a beloved motorbike to give the money to a friend. Or perhaps sacrificing Friday night football to help out with the church youth group.

You will know what God is calling you to. Sometimes it is a still, quiet voice that repetitively speaks its direction, yet you know its not your own. Other times its a thought where your immediate reaction is “No! I can’t give that up . . . No, I love that too much.”

Don’t put worldly concerns above those of God’s Kingdom.

Put God to the test – give as He calls you (sacrificing whatever He lays on your heart to give over to Him) and trust Him to be your Provider.

Put Him to the Test – 2 of 3

 Part 2 – the Call

Last time we looked at God’s challenge to the Israelites:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:8-10).

Most of you will know that the Law of Moses commanded a tithe (10% of their earnings, crops, etc) from the people. There is much debate about what is demanded from God today, in regards to the tithe. But the simple answer? God demands everything.

Having observed God’s challenge to the Israelites, our next question naturally turns inward, as we ask: “What is demanded of Christians? Of us today?”

Paul knew: Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. (Philippians 2:17).

No longer is the command the offer of physical sacrifices; Paul gave his life as the sacrifice – just as Christ gave Himself for us.

Christ was clear:

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21).

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24).

Take note that the call to walk in faith is again partnered with a promise of rewards.

God demands our very lives – but the reward is treasure in heaven, eternal joy, the glory of Christ . . . and, in the life to come: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelations 21:4).

To be a follower of Christ is to carry a cross. There will be suffering – it is to be expected – but our reward is that we have been welcomed into Christ’s Kingdom as the children of God and fellow heirs of Christ.

Put God to the test – pick up your cross and receive LIFE. It can be scary, it certainly takes faith, but the reward is treasure in heaven.