Thursday 27 November 2014

Shatter my ideas, O God

I have become too comfortable with my ideas about God. When I fall into the comfort zone of faith and practise, I am on dangerous ground. If I assume that God will "do this" or "do that" according to my design and my ideas then I am making God into my subject, when all along, it is I, who need to be God's child and servant.

Advent is the season of preparing for the coming of the Messiah. It is not just about feeling good or singing nice songs - it is about wrestling with our understanding of Christ and asking the Spirit of God to change our false notions of his Greatness.

The following quote from C.S. Lewis is deeply profound, challenging and inspiring.

My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are "offended" by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 May Advent be a wonderful season of reflection and "uncomfortableness."

Living in Grace

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Join the Fun

We are having our annual Night Market on Friday, from 4 - 8pm. If you are in the Pietermaritzburg area please stop by and support the event. There will be loads of awesome things on the go - and these will be catering for all ages. There are loads of interesting stalls and plenty of good food. Just come and be part of the vibe.

If you aren't in the area, please do us a favour? Pray that the rain doesn't hamper the event - it seems that every year the elements test our patience, so we could do with the prayers :) Thanks.

Living in Grace

Tuesday 25 November 2014

What miracle are you praying for?

How do you define a "Miracle?"

I am not even sure there is a satisfactory definition of one? In trying to find a simple definition I came across some complicated quotes and definitions, but I liked the following one the best:

Ron Dunn defines a miracle as "God doing what only God can do!"

The writer of Exodus would seem to agree with this sentiment:

"The Lord replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people. I will perform miracles that have never been performed anywhere in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord—the awesome power I will display for you." - Exodus 34:10

As we enter into the season of Advent let us be reminded that Jesus Christ is able to do miracles. I pray that you would experience the power of God in your life today and that one day you would notice the "miracles" around you.

John 6:2 (MSG) - A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples.

 If you have testimony of what God has done recently (in your life) please share it with me - I'd love to know.

What miracle are you praying for?

Living in Grace

Monday 24 November 2014

Blushing in blood

"To shame our sins He blushed in blood;
He closed His eyes to show us God;
Let all the world fall down and know
That none but God such love can show." - Bernard of Clairvaux

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again." - John 3:16-17

May God touch your heart with joy, peace and love today.

Living in Grace

Sunday 23 November 2014

May You be my Vision...

We sang this ancient hymn this evening at our worship service - it always moves me in mysterious ways. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the song is nearly 1500 years old and echoes profound wisdom and truth - all of which has been passed down throughout the ages. Or it could just be that the lyrics are so God-inspired that they remain timeless. You judge for yourself:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
Be thou my soul's shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of Heaven, thou Heaven's bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won!;
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
Please don't rush through these words - try and read them again as a prayer. I am sure that the original author of these words, Saint Dallan, didn't intend us to skim over them in a rush to our next chores.

What do these words say to you this morning? Do you still have Christ in the forefront of your thoughts or have you pushed him down the order of importance?

Living in Grace

Friday 21 November 2014

Listening is the beginning of prayer

"God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer." - Mother Theresa

This is such a simple, yet profound idea. So often we begin our prayer times with our list and then we try and wait for God to reply. But, what if we changed this whole thing around and actually listened first? Maybe our prayers would take on a different slant?

I am just thinking out aloud....what do you think?

Living in Grace

Thursday 20 November 2014

Imagine the world was like this?

And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.” - Zechariah 1:11

Can you imagine if the world was like that? Wow, it would be amazing!

But, it is not and it doesn't look like it will be "at peace" until Christ comes again. In the meantime, we need to ask ourselves what role we will play in creating peace? We may be frustrated and anxious by what we see around us, but we can still make a difference where we live and work. It really is up to us. We too can be angels of peace.

"Each of us has something beautiful to do for God." - Mother Theresa

Living in Grace

Wednesday 19 November 2014

A Testament to Life

A Canadian soldier who died in battle in December 1943 left this "Testament to Life" in his coat pocket. It reminds me of how much we complicate life, when in truth, it's the simple things that matter the most.

"Today a bird sang for me.
Today I leaned against the strong trunk of a living tree.
Today a lizard ran across my hand.
So I am not alone.
When I get back home (to Canada) I'll remember this.
I will cherish all of life, for all life is really one.
I will never again be a destroyer, thought that is what Man is.
This is my dream, that we will learn to live in harmony,
not between man alone,
but with the whole living world." - Readers Digest.

Matthew 8:22 -  Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” (The Message)

Living in Grace

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The power of a FIRST word

They say that the opening line of a speech or book is the most important! It can grab your attention immediately and draw you into it's world. I am re-reading "Celebration of Discipline" (Richard Foster) and it starts like this:

"Superficiality is the curse of our age."

As I read those words, I think to myself - "That is so true! That is my experience of people sometimes." And immediately I am hooked.

Other famous first liners include:

"Life is Difficult!" - Scott Peck (Road Less Travelled)

"In the beginning..." - Genesis 1:1

"I am an invisible man."  —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

I would love to know which "first liners" you remember or which have made an impact in your life.

Living in Grace

Monday 17 November 2014

Come closer

So my sore throat has finally become Laryngitis. My family are loving the peace and quiet at the moment, as I grow increasingly frustrated at not being able to speak. I have noticed two interesting things while I have had voice:

1. When people hear you whispering, they also start to speak a little quieter - in fact, some of them even whisper back to me :)

2. It seems awkward at first, but people actually come closer to you, when they realise that you can't speak at all. They move in to hear your whispers.

I know I have said it before, but it has struck me again today - God could easily raise his voice to us and speak in big booming tones, but this could keep him at a distance from us. The quieter he whispers, the more we need to move closer to him. The closer we get, the easier it is to hear his voice. Simple, but true!

So, here is a thought for you today. If you think that God has stopped speaking to you, then perhaps he has got "Laryngitis" or at the very least, he is speaking in a whisper. His greatest desire is for us to move closer to his presence, so that he can share his heart with us.

Helen Keller - "Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content."

Revelation 8:1 - When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Living in Grace

Saturday 15 November 2014

God has created me ....

"God has created me to do him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission.
I may never know it in this life
but I shall be told it in the next.

I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught
I shall do good -
I shall do his work -
I shall be an angel of peace
A preacher of truth in my own place
While not intending it.
If I do but keep his commandments." - John Henry Newman

Which of these lines strikes a chord with you today?
Perhaps God is trying to tell you something?

Isaiah 48:15 - I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him. I will bring him, and he will succeed in his mission.

Living in Grace

Thursday 13 November 2014

Bated breath

Sometimes I think that we have a funny language - English can be a little confusing for people to learn and especially when we have idiom's like: "With bated breath." Some of you are thinking that it should be "baited", but that is not actually correct, yet most people get it wrong.

According to some sources the original use of this phrase goes back to Mr Shakespeare himself. In The Merchant of Venice, he writes:
 “Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key, 
With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, 
Say this ...”.

Nearly 3 centuries later, Mark Twain used the same phrase in Tom Sawyer:
“Every eye fixed itself upon him; 
with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, 
taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale”.

We don't use 'bated' in our English language anymore, but it is a shortened version of the word 'abated', meaning to slow down. So, when we speak of 'bated' breath, we are speaking of slowing down our breathing, or catching our breath. This can be used in the context of being extremely nervous or even very excited.

What's my point in all of this? It is surely not to give anyone an English lesson. This is my point:

When last did find ourselves with 'bated breath' in worship? When last did we find ourselves slowing down our breathing, because we realised we were in the presence of the Almighty God? When was the last time you found yourself unable to breathe just because you sensed God was about to do something amazing?

Perhaps our world has successfully put us onto the treadmill and we can't find the "off" button. Our worship and expectation of the Living God have been sidetracked by other gods.

My prayer is that we would come into the presence of God with breath that is willing to abate - willing to slow down because we recognise we are standing on holy ground.

Job 33:4 -  The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

Living in Grace

Wednesday 12 November 2014

A word from Proverbs

Proverbs 12:15-20
"The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.

Fools show their annoyance at once,
    but the prudent overlook an insult.

An honest witness tells the truth,
    but a false witness tells lies.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Truthful lips endure forever,
    but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil,
    but those who promote peace have joy."

May God bless you all today, 

Living in Grace

Monday 10 November 2014

Jephthah... you know this guy?

How many of us have heard the name of Jephthah? Do you know anyone in your town by that name? We often don't have a clue as to who he is and I confess that I haven't met a "Jephthah" anywhere as yet.

However, his name is written in the "Heroes of the Faith" roll, in Hebrews 11. He is considered to be one of the men who displayed great faith in his life time. If you want to read more of his story, then you will have to read it in Judges 11 - click here to go there now. Anyway, his story starts off like this:
Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.” 

Well that’s a lovely way to be introduced in the Word of God, isn't it? Your father was a mighty man and his name was Gilead, but your mother was an unnamed prostitute! The story of Jephthah is a powerful reminder that God is not concerned about where we grew up, or even who are family is, but God is concerned about US. God has a plan and a future for all of us and so we should let go of the hang-ups of our past. 

We have no control over how we come into this world, but we do have a say in how we live this life we have been given. What is more, we also have a choice in where we will spend our eternal destiny.

Out of interest, the meaning of Jephthah's name is very profound – it means “whom God sets free” or “to open” or “to release”. His life story tells us that God released him from his disgrace and allowed him to be used in a powerful way.

Worth thinking about, don't you agree?

Living in Grace

Sunday 9 November 2014

Break down the walls!

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the coming down of the Berlin Wall. A lot can happen in 25 years and our world is certainly a lot different now in 2014, than what it was in 1989. I was only 16 years old when the wall started crumbling - wow, that makes me feel old :)

Starting on the evening of the 9th November people came to the Berlin wall and began to chip off parts of the wall as souvenirs, eventually demolishing bigger portions of the wall, allowing people to cross into the other side. The people who started chipping away at the wall were nicknamed "Mauerspechte" (wall woodpeckers).

The collapse of the Berlin wall reminds me that no "man made" barrier will last forever. We can build walls to keep ourselves in or to keep other people out, but in the end it is pointless. The same applies in our spiritual lives - we can build up a wall of resistance and try and keep God out, but in the end we only hurt ourselves.

What walls have you built up to keep God and others away? Is it not time to slowly start chipping off some of the stone and allowing the fresh wind of the Spirit to blow through?

Isaiah 45:2 - "I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron."

Living in Grace

Saturday 8 November 2014

We remember

We remember so that we can look forward in HOPE!

As we mark a crucial event (Remembrance Sunday) it is important for us to pause and remember. 
"Remember what?" you may be asking.

Well, there are so many things to remember today:

1. Remember the sacrifice of Jesus for us.
2. Remember the many people who have given their lives for our freedom and peace.
3. Remember those who died in all the wars.
4. Remember those people in your life who are special to you.
5. Remember that "Today" is a gift for us to enjoy.

Psalm 78:35 - They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer."

Living in Grace

Friday 7 November 2014

Greater heights

"The love of Christ compels us to do what we never thought we could do and go to heights we never thought we could reach." - Max Lucado

May the love of Christ move us to reach for the impossible and to climb mountains we thought unconquerable.

Isaiah 2:2 - "In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it."

Living in Grace

Thursday 6 November 2014

Is it time to move on... or perhaps not!?

I realised late last night that indeed it had been Guy Fawkes (5th November) - it kind of felt like a damp squib, to be honest. Certainly in South Africa there was very little mention of the event, compared with previous decades. Perhaps this has a lot to do with Diwali taking a lot of the "firework" attention away from Mr Fawkes. I am sure that many pets across the land were quite relieved not to have many crackers going off again last night!

So, here is my question: 
Is it perhaps time to move on from Guy Fawkes and to "Remember" someone else OR is there still a place for us to remember the 5th November as Guy Fawkes night?

You see, I think that most of us don't even know who or what we are celebrating/remembering when we light fireworks on the 5th November. Do we realise that the tradition goes back 409 years when Guido Fawkes was found guilty, along with 13 others, of plotting to blow up a building in the British parliament? He was executed for his role in this plot and their attempt to kill King James.

The people of England were then encouraged to remember this event by burning effigies of Guido Fawkes on the anniversary of the "Gunpowder plot." Over the years, the effigy became known as the "guy" made of straw and soon the whole event took on the name of "Guy" Fawkes.

On the other hand, some scholars have portrayed Guido Fawkes as a positive character, someone who was willing to challenge the government and to put his life on the line for effective change. Sure, his methods are questionable, but we must remember that he lived in the 1600's. In this era, life was short, brutal and impoverished for most of the population. One scholar, has even suggested that we should remember Mr Fawkes as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions."

I can just see that things in our own Parliament are getting out of hand. Any time a member of an opposition party speaks out against the government, they are vilified and labelled as "disruptive." Agreed, sometimes our modern politicians use questionable ways of speaking the truth (e.g. The EFF's chant... "Pay back the money! Pay back the money!"), but the truth is usually very uncomfortable for those who wish to hide from it.

So, here is my brief conclusion. I will remember Guy Fawkes as a day where people should be able to have freedom of speech. If what is preached/taught is uncomfortable for those in power, then perhaps they need to listen more to the cries of their people. I will also remember that my Saviour was crucified for opposing those in religious authority. The truth cost him his life.

What are your thoughts on Guy Fawkes? Please let me know.

Living in Grace

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Where there is doubt...

I don't know why we as Christians are so afraid of doubt. Maybe it is because we have been led to believe that doubt is wrong or even sinful. Even people outside the church have this notion that the church frowns upon doubt. Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked, "Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin."

When I read the story of the most famous of doubters, Thomas, I don't see Jesus as condemning his doubt, but rather as dealing with his doubt. For Thomas, doubt was a state of being, but it wasn't as if he wanted to remain in that place of doubt. I think he would have loved to believe that Jesus had appeared to his friends, but he needed something to pin his faith onto. Jesus is merciful with his doubts and offers him the gift of 'evidence.' With Jesus standing in front of him, Thomas had the option to move from his place of doubt into the arena of faith.

As St Francis urges us, we are encouraged to walk alongside people who are wrestling with their doubts and to offer them faith. It is not our place to judge those doubts, but rather to remind them of life that Jesus Christ brings to us. We are intruments of faith, working in the theatre's of doubt:

"Where there is doubt, faith...."

Jude 1:22 - "Be merciful to those who doubt..."

 “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” RenĂ© Descartes

 “Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” -  Paul Tillich

ACTION: If you have ever doubted something I invite you to share this with God now, believing that God will not condemn your doubts, but will rather draw alongside you and help you.
If you need someone else to share this with, you are welcome to send me a comment/thought too.

Living in Grace

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Wow, you shop here!?

I was taken aback yesterday when, while shopping at Pick 'n Pay, I bumped into someone from another Church community. As Pietermaritzburg is a small city, we have known each other for a few years, despite worshipping at different churches. It was his comment that caught me by surprise. He said: "It is so good to see you shopping in the community that you work in!"

I thought to myself, "Huh? What do you mean? I always shop here!"

But, then he followed up with another comment: "It makes you more in touch with your people - they see you are human. You don't often see pastors doing that!"

And then he carried on with his shopping, while I was left scratching my head.

These are a few of my quick observations on his remarks:

1. It is right to 'shop' in the community in which you work. I have many 'ministry' moments in the shopping aisles and yes I believe it makes you more 'human.'

2. God wants all believers to be present in the world, not hiding in the church.

3. It does make it tricky as to what I put into my shopping trolley - someone may just be watching me:)

4. I am blessed to have many colleagues (in different churches too) who are 'human' and 'vulnerable' before their congregations. Most pastors know their 'frailties' only too well.

5. Some people won't make an appointment to come and see you at the office, but they are willing to pour out their hearts in the dairy/bakery/perishable sections of the shopping centre.

6. I need to spend more time walking up and down the aisles of shopping centres - I may just be surprised who I meet.

7. Church happens anywhere you want it to happen!

Remember, Jesus said to us: "GO into all the world and make disciples of all nations..."

See you at the shops!!!

Living in Grace

Monday 3 November 2014

A broom that sweeps clean

Have you ever been afraid to turn on the lights, just in case you might see something you don't want to see? Maybe its the mess of your kids room, or a gecko running along the ceiling or even a rat in the kitchen (sorry, I couldn't resist that one #UB40). The light reveals things that would otherwise be hidden, but in the end the light can't actually fix the problem. It shows us the mess, but it doesn't clean it up for us.

“The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is, not the broom that sweeps it clean.” - Dr. Phil Williams

"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” - Romans 3:20

We need the law of God to show us the 'mess' our lives are in, but we need the grace of Jesus Christ to make us new. The law is powerless to actually change us - the change comes from the living God working in our hearts. 

In a sense, when we understand the mercy and grace of Jesus, then we actually want him to sweep away the muck in our lives. 

What are your thoughts?

Living in Grace