Saturday 29 April 2023

Lessons from the Shepherd

The Lord invites us every day to come to Him in the weariness of living and the burden of things that trouble us and find rest
While out walking the other day we saw a field full of sheep, but I was struck by a group of young lambs that had seemed to have left their mothers, (they were quietly and methodically munching on the grass), and had congregated in another part of the field in a group or frankly what looked like a gang. The were behaving like a bunch of teenagers. Showing off to one another about how fast they could run around or how high they could spring (they are not called spring lambs for nothing) acting like they didn’t have a care in the world just like young people, while the ewes were working hard on eating the grass so they could provide milk and sustenance for their young carefree lambs. It was a peaceful scene really, reflective of life. But only because those sheep were safe and cared for by the Shepherd. We know the Shepherd of these sheep and we know how well he cares for them, moving them from field to field so they have fresh grazing and tending to their fences so they cannot get out and get harmed, caring for them when they get injured or ill. 

Reading through the gospel of Matthew recently, I was struck by a phrase that Matthew used to describe how Jesus thought about the people in the towns he was travelling around and ministering to. Matthew 9:35-38 (NLT) "Jesus travelled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the good news about the kingdom. And he healed all their diseases and illnesses. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd." What a reflection of lives who do not know the Lord. They benefit from all the Lord provides for them in this world, yet choosing to wander confused and helpless in so many ways because they do not know of or are willing to come under the care of the Shepherd.   

Even those of us who know the Lord as our Saviour and shepherd can get a little bemused and thrown off course by things that happen to us sometimes, leaving us a little confused and feeling a bit helpless. But for both those that know the Lord and those who need to know the Lord, Jesus makes us an amazing offer and wonderful invitation. Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gently of heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.” His invitation to let His love and forgiveness into our lives and thereby find rest from sin (the burden of all our wrongdoings that we carry) is real.  When we invite Jesus into our lives and ask Him to free us from the empty lives we lead, that are built on self-seeking and a broken relationship with God, He restores us to himself in love and heals every part of our lives.  

The Lord invites us every day to come to Him in the weariness of living and the burden of things that trouble us and find rest. The secret is in the phrase `let me teach you because I am humble and gentle of heart and you will find rest for your souls` I have found over the last few weeks that the Lord has been teaching me many things, some of them very challenging, and if the Lord was not such a humble and gentle teacher, I would have felt crushed and defeated. But that is not the way the Lord teaches us. Instead, I feel loved and cherished that the Shepherd of my soul would take time to make sure that the lessons I need to learn in my life, are delivered in a gentle way that lead me to new pastures so I can be nourished.  Jesus`s blueprint of care for us is laid down very clearly in Psalm 23 (NLT)
“The Lord is my shepherd I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows and leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.”  (Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy Burdens and I will give you rest). Only as we learn to rest in the love of Jesus can we be renewed. Knowing that even if we have messed up, or gone cold, or are weighed down with things that are difficult and heavy to carry, we can rest in His love. Even if He has to challenge us or rebuke us or ask us “what we think we are doing?”, it is so He can shepherd us into greener meadows, quieter waters and restore our strength, or even give us strength to put right what we have got wrong.

Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us, but what does that mean. Well, a yoke is a wooden bar fitted across the neck of two animals and connected to the load they are carrying, so they can bear that load together. But if one of the partnership does not submit to the other, then the whole thing becomes incredibly difficult and probably painful and the load does not get lifted. Jesus says that His yoke is easy to bear, this is a promise we can rely on. The yoke Jesus offers us is a free gift, and designed to bring our lives into alignment with His, to walk in step with Him and to follow His leading. Because He is gentle and humble of spirit, the yoke will not be something that (a) we cannot bear or align with or (b) something that is too heavy for us to carry. Again Psalm 23 (NLT) says “He guides us along right paths which brings honour to his name” not shame to ourselves. So, the yoke brings freedom from the fear of being alone and getting lost, the fear of taking the wrong step and falling into shame or worse. It’s the gift of relationship and partnership and its easy to wear because of who the other side is connected to...Jesus.

He also promises that He will take away all our heavy burdens and give us a light one. Some would say I’m really happy to lose my heavy burden so why should I immediately take on another one. But the burden Jesus gives us gives life and not death. Lifts us up not casts us down. He simply says to us follow me and obey my commandments. John 15:9-11 (NLT) “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me, remain in my love. When you obey my commandments you remain in my love, just as I obey my Fathers`s commandments and remain in his love”

Ahh you might say but in that case the burden the Lord put on us is heavy, if we have to obey all the law and commandments. After all there are 613 Jewish laws and commandments. That’s a lot to keep! But actually, Jesus died so we would not have to keep all these commandments and laws, His way is the way of faith not law. He said it clearly in Micah 6:8 (NLT) “O people the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” Proverbs 3:5 (NLT) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and depend not on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will show you which path to take” When we take His yoke upon us and learn of Him this becomes a way of new life to us where because we are following Him and learning from His humble spirit, even the challenges and harsh things He has to say to us are covered with grace and love. How blessed are we the sheep of His pasture. 

Be blessed as you stay yoked to our wonderful Saviour today. 

Author: Jan Pearson

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Saturday 22 April 2023

Climbing the Mountain

Often God will use what we are called to do to change our character and bring healing from the past, then develop us into the person He wants us to become.

For those who are following the plan and purpose of God there will be mountains to climb. The first thing we have to know is; 'what is the Lord calling me to do?' For the person who is committed to the call of God on their lives, God has a plan for you.

American Alpine Institute
God wants you to fulfil that plan and to get on with the job of climbing in faith. Even to climb the whole mountain or to fulfil the big picture there are smaller ledges, banks and troughs to deal with on the way.

Are you still climbing or have you come to the place where you are just not able to continue? It might be that you are in a place where you can neither go up or down – you are just stuck?

In God’s plan for your life and mine there is provision to climb the mountain – to accomplish the climb. After all it’s God’s plan not ours and whatever He is calling us to do we will be able to do it. Often God will use what we are called to do to change our character and bring healing from the past, then develop us into the person He wants us to become.

In Genesis 22 we have an illustration of this in the life of Abraham. He was tested to the limit, even to the sacrifice of his own son Isaac. It’s only through our faith and obedience to the challenge that God puts before us that we find His provision.

There is provision to fulfil the task set before you, but there are conditions. Abraham had no idea that there would be a ram in the thicket, His provision, see verse 13. Abraham looked up and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by it's horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

I want to encourage you to start to move forward, believing that God is with you. First believe that what you are being asked to do is from God and start to move. It’s in our willingness to move first that sets God’s plan of provision in motion. There is always a price to pay that brings the blessing and provision of God.

Author: John Yates

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Saturday 15 April 2023

To God be the Glory

If we do not live to glorify God we completely miss our purpose for being here
Recently I have been thinking about what it means to give God the glory. I confess I used to think it meant thanking Him for all our blessings and answers to prayer, seeing Him in all creation, worshipping Him, praising Him in all circumstances. Well, it is all these things and many more, but it also means living in such a way that glorifies Him. The word glory means “to magnify, give the highest praise, to worship, to put the spotlight on, to give first place to”. Do I do that all the time. No, I do not.

We have a neighbour, who will randomly come and ask me to help her do various things. I am usually able and happy to oblige but I know that sometimes I show my impatience at first, at being interrupted from something I was doing at the time. That does not glorify God. That does not put Him first or put the spotlight on Him.

I could quote many more examples of when I do not glorify God in my daily living yet in reality, that is the sole purpose of our creation – to glorify God.

Jesus glorified God all the time. He came to earth to do the will of the Father. He was always shining the spotlight on the Father and doing God’s will. He emphasised what the Father was really like to the people around Him (and to us through His word). He wanted to show God’s true character and not the one portrayed by the religious leaders of the time. Just before going to His death He said to His Father in John 17:1: Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. And then in verses 4 and 5: I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. He knew that the specific time had come for Him to go to the cross. He knew He was here to glorify the Father and to do His will so that we, who keep on believing in Him, might be saved.

Giving God the glory is for our own good. It is only when we do so that we find fulfilment and true peace and joy in life because it is for this reason we were created. If we do not live to glorify God we completely miss our purpose for being here. We can try other things and tell ourselves we are okay but this can only last for a short time, before discontentment sets in. Ernest Hemingway once wrote that he was going to live the way he wanted. He said, “I’m living proof that one can live any way he chooses and succeed…I have fought in revolutions…I have satisfied my desire, and I stand as living testimony to the fact that you can sin and get away with it.” Ten years after he wrote that, he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
In Ecclesiastes, the writer, (who is widely thought to be Solomon), was a man who had tried everything there was to find satisfaction in this world, but nothing worked and he came to the conclusion, at the end that of the book, in Ecclesiastes 12:13: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. After all his quests for happiness, he came to the realisation that to obey God and give Him the glory was what mankind was created for. Have you ever tried to use something for the wrong purpose? Have you ever tried to use a pair of plyers instead of a spanner to tighten a nut or a knife instead of a screwdriver. It’s just not the same. The job becomes harder, and you find yourself wishing you had bothered to look in the shed for the correct tool. Well, that is like living our lives for the wrong purpose. Things don’t fit properly. It just doesn’t feel right. We were created to give God glory.

If we truly examine our motives, there are times when we do things to shine the spotlight on ourselves for our own glory or to please other people. There are many tragic stories about famous people who can’t cope when they have to give up the limelight or find the celebrity status an empty and unfulfilling experience. God does not want us to crave notoriety for ourselves.

In Daniel 4 it tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar who looked over Babylon and praised himself for having built it for his own glory. For glorifying himself, God sent him to live with the animals and like the animals for seven years. At the end of this time in verse 34 Nebuchadnezzar wrote this: At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives forever.

He came to the realisation that his purpose was not to glorify himself but God. He had to go through a very painful and degrading process to receive that awakening.

If we court the admiration and adulation of other people then that is all the reward we will get. God is not impressed by that. We will get no reward from Him.

Matthew 6:2 says: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."

Thomas Watson, a Puritan from the 1600s said that we know if we are glorifying God:

-When we prefer God’s glory above all other things.
-When we are content that God’s will should take place, though it may cross ours.
-When we are pleased to be outshined by others in gifts and esteem, so that His glory may be increased.

Can we honestly say this is what we do all the time. I know I don’t but I, like all of us, am a work in progress.

The Apostle Paul didn't quit. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 he says: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

So, let’s keep going and do what Paul tells us to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Let’s give God the glory in everything because: You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Revelation 4:11

Author: Thelma Cameron

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Saturday 8 April 2023

How quickly do we answer when Jesus says, ‘Come follow Me?’

His way is the best way, His plan is the best plan, His burden is the lightest burden, one which we can carry and one which will bring us into true fellowship with Him.

I was recently listening to a daily devotional and was challenged about the speed at which I answer the call of God on my life at any one time. God calls each of us to follow Him along the road He has put us on, and to fulfil the calling on our lives as individuals and as part of His church.

This may look different to each person, but it will inevitably intertwine with others along the way as God builds His church. The question is though, if we don’t answer the call of God when He wants us to do something, do we miss out on a blessing that God may give to someone else who is willing to answer His call immediately?

A good scriptural example of this is found in Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV)  While walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ''Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'' Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them, Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

These first disciples had no idea what came next, they simply responded to the call of Jesus and followed Him by faith. This brings up another question; are we a people who will respond by faith or do we need some information from God about what He wants us for before we make a move?

There’s a footnote in my bible that says this, ‘True faith has a number of components: acceptance, embracing something (someone) as truth, union with God and His Word and an inner confidence that God alone is enough’. So, stop and ask yourself ‘do you operate in true faith?’ And if not, why not? What stops us from being able to respond to the call of God the minute He calls us, without having to know what comes next. It’s when we no longer need to know what comes next that we will be able to say with confidence, God alone is enough for me.’

We could ask the question, ‘how do we know if God is speaking to us about something?’ Well, this has to do with relationship. Relationships are important, and the more we build a relationship with someone the more we get to know them. And the more we get to know them the more we know what pleases them, and if our relationship is built on love then we will look for opportunities to please that person. 

If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that our relationship with Jesus is definitely built on Love with Him as our foundation and corner stone.  

The other thing is, the more time we spend with someone the easier it is to recognise their voice in a crowd even if we can’t see them, and that’s exactly how it is with God. The more time we spend with Him the easier it becomes to recognise His voice, so when Jesus says to us ‘Follow Me’ we should immediately drop what we’re doing and follow Him.

So how can we start to hear God’s voice if we don’t already? Well it starts by bringing Him a yielded heart and then letting Him do the rest. If we’re not willing to bring God our yielded hearts, there’s very little He can do to take us to where He wants us to be, because we will always get in the way of Him being able to get us there. 

source: SlideServe
You see we don’t start by doing, we start by yielding. Unless we’re willing to let Him be everything we need and guide our path without our interference, we will always struggle to know what it is God wants of us. He won’t override our will and He won’t make us do something we’re not willing to do, He will just step back and wait for us to respond to Him. And the longer that takes the fewer blessings we will have, and the harder it will be for us to achieve anything meaningful for Him.

His way is the best way, His plan is the best plan, His burden is the lightest burden, one which we can carry and one which will bring us into true fellowship with Him.

So back to the title of this blog: ‘How quickly do we answer when Jesus says, ‘Come follow Me?’ Let's be like the first disciples who had no idea what came next, they simply responded to the call of Jesus and followed Him by faith?

Remember what it says in Romans 8:28-30 (ESV) ' And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also  predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.'

Out of the billions of people who have ever walked this earth and who currently walk this earth, you are one of those God has chosen, predestined and called according to His purpose to be His voice for such a time as this, but like Jesus you can only be successful if you do it His way.

True worship comes with true obedience. So let our prayer be: 'Father, not my will but Yours be done.' Amen.

May God bless you with ears to hear, eyes to see and hearts to respond.

Author: Kevin Hunt

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Saturday 1 April 2023

Jesus is praying for ME!

Intercession is the "sweetest kind of prayer as it is the most Christ like."
As I set out to prepare this blog I have been very aware that I am dipping into a huge subject worthy of much study and where many way more accomplished Bible teachers and scholars than me have already been. Not least the great Charles Spurgeon whose quote above has led me to simply look afresh at how Jesus prayed and modelled prayers for us. In fact the past tense is not enough here as we learn that He is still praying for us…you and me!              

Simply put, God’s plan before time began was for mankind to be in a loving relationship with Him as a perfect people. As sin entered our hearts it was necessary for this to be dealt with. The Levitical priests of the old covenant were to be the link, the mediators between the people and Himself. To intercede to bring blood sacrifices and plead on our behalf in the Holy of Holies. Now through His death and resurrection we have a new covenant in Jesus, once and for all as our Great High Priest. 

Hebrews 2:17 tells us He is the propitiation for our sins or put another way, He satisfies God, justice has been done once and for all. 

At the cross we were bought with the costliest of works, no wonder we are precious to Him! 

As His word promises He will never leave us or forsake us. He has been through too much to give up on us. How He loves us. Now as the body of Christ we are His witness on earth where satan the prince of the earth still attacks. 

Through faith in Jesus as my saviour I know that I am a child of God, washed in the precious blood of Jesus standing righteous before Him. I can claim all these truths and so many more about my relationship with Christ but what has struck me afresh is that Jesus is praying for me...always! Romans 8:34.

Then I asked the question “why?”. If all work of redemption was done on the cross and we now live in Christ and He in us why does He need to be still praying for us? 

Because we are a work in progress, His work, being sanctified from glory to glory. 

Although it was finished on the cross His care for the redeemed is never finished. His steadfast love endures forever. He knows what it is to live on earth in satan’s domain. He became one of us to relate to every bit of humanity, every trial and temptation.
As satan is “the accuser of the brethren day and night ”, 1 John 2:1-2 tells us we have an advocate in Jesus. Always pleading before the throne of God.

Legal terms are used here because God’s presence is a place of justice a, heavenly courtroom, with Jesus as our defence lawyer pleading for us, arguing our case. Satan’s accusations can go nowhere, the prosecution fails every time. By faith we are standing before God in the righteousness of Jesus. Its win/win!

So what exactly is He praying for us? Facing the crucifixion ahead, His own prayer to His Father in John 17 models intercession. As He asks the Father to be glorified, it is not for Himself but only with us in His heart. Those whom God has given Him and those yet to come to faith in Him v20.

He asks that the Father would keep us united in Him and one another through Christ. 

That we would know the fullness of joy in Him through His steadfast and enduring love.

That He would keep us from the evil one while in the world.

That He would search our hearts and we would be sanctified in the Truth…a work in progress 

Jesus pleads...this is a legal term but we know it too as an emotive word. To give a heartfelt cry for something we long for. Its more than just asking it’s a yearning.

In verse 24 we read that Jesus longs for us to be with Him in Glory...we are to be His long awaited perfect Bride. What comfort to know Jesus feels it too!

Christians can be criticised as being too emotional but in Matthew 22:37 we are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and so we pray with all of ourselves. Pouring out our longings with tears, groans and those everyday sighs as so often we just don’t know how to pray or where to start.  

We often see “intercession” as a particular ministry and we know there are those whose life’s work it is to sacrificially pray for the BIG issues of our nations. But we are all called to intercede however we pray whether it be setting aside time on retreat, in our own quiet times or simply going about our daily routines sighing out “one liners” to God on our way. 

Our intercession is driven by emotion, our souls are involved, as we long for answered prayer we model Jesus, we work with Him. “The most Christ like way to pray.” 

It has taken me to get to my age to realise that life is hard! Thankfully many of our trials may be small but they are constant. As soon as one problem however small or great is solved we know only too well there will be another one on its way. This is why Paul exhorts us to pray at all times and in all circumstances for ourselves as well as others. We must be encouraged by the very fact that we feel the need to pray (however feebly) is because we are in Christ, the Holy Spirit draws us in love to care for the world’s brokenness. Our hard hearts are being softened. 

We so quickly are overwhelmed by our problems and those of our nearest and dearest, let alone the profound issues of the world we live in but we can take encouragement and inspiration to pray in the light of Jesus’ very own heart’s cries to our Father in heaven knowing He is praying for us and with us too. Turning our hearts to God adds a new dimension to our prayers knowing we are represented in heaven before the Father’s throne. 

“Intercession is a way of loving others “ (Richard Foster)

Author: Margaret Riordan

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