Look Up

My absolute favourite verse in this chapter is Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” It inspired a song I once wrote, and it’s an encouragement to every Christian.

‘When these things begin to happen’ refers to the things Jesus had been speaking of: The destruction of the Jewish temple, and the run-up to the end of the world. Many will claim to be the Christ; nations will come against each other; earthquakes, famines and diseases; dreadful sights and miraculous signs from heaven; believers brought to trial by the authorities; persecution even by close family; distress for pregnant women and nursing mothers; signs in the sky; storm-tossed seas; confusion and anxiety on the earth. Do any of these sound familiar? From the time Jesus was taken up into heaven after His resurrection until now, we’ve been in the last days; in limbo if you like, as we wait for Jesus’ return.

A verse that’s always puzzled me has been Luke 21:32. It says: “This generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place.” But all these things haven’t taken place! The world hasn’t ended, and all of the generation Jesus was talking to (even John, who lived to quite an age) have passed away. “Birth of the Church” explains the word ‘Generation’ can also mean race, Jesus’ point being that the Jews will remain as a people until all these things have taken place. That makes much more sense.

This is a word to me as much as anyone that when we’re faced with wars or natural disasters, trials, problems in our relationships, or any kind of difficulty, we can do as Jesus says: Look up; lift our eyes, because our redemption (the time of our freedom) is drawing near.

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There are 3 chapters of Luke left and we’re approaching Easter. I’ll aim to post alternate days this week, so we can read the last chapter on Easter Sunday.

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Last year I read “A Year’s Journey with God” by Jennifer Rees Larcombe, and had the privilege of meeting her while I was in the middle of it! I’m currently reading Ann Spangler’s “Praying the Names of Jesus”, which lasts for 6 months and includes 26 of the different names for Jesus – Friend, Lord etc. I like the Monday-to-Friday format – explaining the name, praying you through it, and showing where it’s recorded in the Bible. It’s not date-specific, so you can break for a week here and there, or catch up at the weekend on the days you’ve missed. Next year, I want to read its companion – “Praying the Names of God”. If you started in January, you could buy both and let them take you through the year.

I hoped to finish the devotional I was on by the beginning of December, but it doesn’t look like I will now. There were a couple of Advent books I fancied trying – “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift”, for one. This is the family-friendly alternative to Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift”. I know she’s quite a flowery writer, so I thought the family version might make the same points as the adult book, but in a less longwinded way! This year though, I was going with “Make Him Room” by Kirsten S Oliphant. I loved her Lent devotional (“Consider the Cross”) and wanted to give the Advent one a try, but two dailies plus my regular Bible-reading might be a bit much.

So, I may not read anything special to mark Advent this year. “Advent: A Gentle Journey to the Prince of Peace” could be good if it was on Kindle. Written by a busy single mum and illustrated by her sisters, this book teaches about the history of Advent and includes one devotional for each of its four weeks. Now that, I could do.

These are by no means all the devotionals you can get. ChristianityWorks do an eDevotional, and Bible Gateway publish several that you can subscribe to free of charge. Theirs can be seasonal or topical, such as devotions on marriage you can read as a couple. I like the sound of the Gary Thomas two-week one and may just sign up for it anyway, even though I’m not married!

And if you’ve read this blog for some time, you might remember I partnered with Jess to take you through “Unglued”, chapter by chapter. Well, Lysa has published a companion to the book – “Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress”. Quite a few Christians do this – write a book and then publish a devotional to go with it. My very favourite author has just done exactly the same, and Holley makes the point that all of hers is new content. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

Is there a particularly good devotional you’ve read? One I’ve missed out that you think I should recommend? Please tell me in the comments.

Impulsiveness

We looked at marriage yesterday, but it doesn’t take much to realise that in this world, many haven’t chosen marriage as a way of life. They may feel they’re just as committed without a piece of paper to prove it, but marriage to the Christian is more than commitment. It’s including God in your union with your spouse.

It’s not just sex outside of marriage; it’s the general attitude of: If it feels good, do it. If everyone followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I’m sure the world would be a better place. People would exercise self-control and we wouldn’t see alcohol or drugs destroying lives.

“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

A Lesson from Louisiana

I don’t often write a blog-post about a blog-post, but I read this and it touched me deeply.

Karina is from Louisiana, where they’ve had the flooding recently. Her home was affected and some furniture lost; her car was damaged, and not only that, her church has multiple campuses, three of which also flooded. Phew! And then she said she was single, with no close family. The enormity of the whole situation really hit me.

I’m privileged to have family nearby. If anything happened to my flat, I’m sure they’d have me to stay in a heartbeat. Karina hasn’t got that, but she has her church, and she has the Lord. Here are some quotes from her post:
“I have experienced the goodness and faithfulness of God unlike ever before”.
“I have felt His presence”.
“I will grieve because my possessions were valuable, but I won’t value them above the Lord”.

I went to church a day or so after reading this. During the worship-time, I could not stop thinking about it. I didn’t feel like singing; sometimes I don’t. That time for me is a time to be close to God, which sometimes means asking Him questions and seeking to get His take on things. I understand we all go through trials, but someone who’s so devoted having to lose so much … I kept wondering why the sovereign God – the One with everything under His control – would allow that to happen, until Jeremiah 29:11 (my favourite verse) came into my head. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I felt God say: “It hasn’t harmed her spirit,” and I realised He was right. She may have lost a lot in the natural, but in spite of that, she’s still able to say that God is good; she’s able to be close to Him, and choose to put Him first in her life. I think Karina’s a pretty special person – a reminder to us all to keep our spirits strong, whatever we might have to go through.

If she can say God is good, so can we.

First Came Rest

God seems to be teaching me about rest just lately. Today my pastor was talking at church about something Jesus said. I’ve just looked this up and it’s not the wording I’m used to, but I like it: “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept My teachings and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives” (Matthew 11:28-29). First it struck me that in Jesus’ order of things, resting and being refreshed comes before learning; then I got to thinking it’s always been like that … ever since the beginning.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Genesis 2:2-3). God didn’t launch straight into giving Adam instructions on how to take care of the garden. First came rest, for God and all of His creation; then came the learning.

If you’re tired, maybe the best thing you can do right now is to put on your slippers and make yourself a hot drink, or turn on the electric blanket and lie down enjoying the warmth. The learning can wait for a little while; just take that time, and let the Lord refresh you from your weariness.

Turn it on its Head

Do you remember in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, Wonka would get something wrong and then he’d say: “Strike that! Reverse it”? I’d like to give certain quotes the same treatment. Take this one as an example:
“You’re so heavenly-minded, you’re no earthly use!”
I would argue that those who are heavenly-minded are of far more earthly use. Heavenly-minded people examine their lives. They look at what they do and ask: Does this have eternal value?

When we think of God’s greatest commandments (love the LORD your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself), we see that anything we do for God or for others has value not only for now, but for eternity. That’s what heavenly-minded people give the majority of their time and their money to.

Here’s another:
“Preach the gospel and where necessary, use words.”
When I was growing up, the philosophy was that there were two things you didn’t talk about at dinner parties: Politics and religion. Your beliefs were to be kept private, but faith in Jesus is more than a religion – it’s a crucial part of my life. If God comes first and my loved ones come second to Him, asking me to keep quiet about my faith is like asking a newlywed not to talk about their spouse; it doesn’t work.

I can understand that people don’t want to make a great speech but leave their hearers still in need, and the Bible supports this: “A brother or sister in Christ might need clothes or food. If you say to that person, ‘God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,’ but you do not give what that person needs, your words are worth nothing” (James 2:15-16). We don’t want our words to be worth nothing, but meeting people’s needs should never be a substitute for telling the good news of Jesus and His love that invites us into a relationship with God. Remember when that crowd of five thousand-plus stayed with Jesus so long that they were hungry? Why had they stayed? What were they doing? They were listening to Jesus talk to them about God! God’s Word came first and always will. Meet people’s physical needs if you’re able, but don’t neglect the spiritual. “Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, but answer in a gentle way and with respect. Keep a clear conscience so that those who speak evil of your good life in Christ will be made ashamed” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Are there any quotes that you’d like to turn upside-down?

And There’s More: “You’re Already Amazing LifeGrowth Guide” Book-Review

I looked forward to reviewing this book because if I had to choose a favourite author, Holley Gerth would be it. A Christian counsellor and life-coach, she’s one of the most encouraging women I know. I’ve never met her in person; only online, but I’d thoroughly recommend her blog and any of her books.

This LifeGrowth Guide was written in response to readers of “You’re Already Amazing” who wanted more resources to help them use the book for group study. Holley does a great job of dividing the book into sections. She’s currently running a book club on her blog, working through the guide with her readers, and videos to accompany each session are available at http://holleygerth.com/amazing/

I think Holley’s tips on how to facilitate are useful to leaders of any small group. However, the outlines for group facilitators are at the back of the book. It might be easier (particularly for readers of the eBook) if the outline for session 1 was with session 1, etc, but that really is just personal preference, and I know in many Bible-studies you’ll find the leaders’ notes at the back. Throughout the guide, Holley refers to the Go Deeper questions in “You’re Already Amazing”. I wish these had been included within the guide as well as in the original book, but she does say a printable version can be downloaded from her website.

I hope this is helpful, and that like me, you’ll benefit from Holley’s writing.

When you Have to Give Up

On Sunday, we had a family service – one of those where the talk is shorter, and small children stay in church for the majority of the meeting. My pastor’s wife talked about Nick Vujicic – a man born with a rare genetic disorder that left him without arms and legs, and all the things he’d done with his life. Her message to us was “Never give up” and make use of the gifts and talents you’ve got, because you matter.

She said he had a hard time in childhood and was badly bullied, but his parents kept telling him, “Never give up” and when he was seventeen, he was inspired at his prayer group. In that sentence there, you can see two things he had that some people don’t: A supportive family, and a faith. Apparently he’s learnt to surf, and to drive. He’s graduated from university with a degree in financial planning. Of course I respect him for all this, but I also know of someone who went to university as the first-ever visually-impaired person to do a degree in mathematics. Her school almost stopped her doing the A level. She only managed it because her father agreed to learn mathematical Braille and come into her lessons, at no charge to the school, to give her the support she needed. If you have people who are willing to re-educate themselves and put their own lives on-hold to give you an extremely high level of support, of course you’ll have a higher chance of achieving. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this blind lady I mentioned could finish her degree. How demoralising that must have been to be beaten after all her hard work.

Apparently Nick Vujicic is now married, with two children. It doesn’t take too many brains to work out that in order to marry, the person you have feelings for needs to return those feelings. What I’m really saying is that in my experience, for the sake of your own sanity, there are certain things you have to give up on. Perhaps it’s more challenging sometimes to surrender those things, and yet still find contentment in the life you’ve been given. Nick Vujicic has founded a ministry he’s called “Life Without Limits”, but there are limits. Even in creation, God set a boundary for the waves of the sea (Job 38:11). My message to you reading this blog would be that even if you do reach a point where you have to give up, even if you can’t use your gifts and talents in the ways you’d like to use them, you still matter, and God’s plan for you is good. Don’t look at anyone else, or what they’ve achieved with their resources. Look at yourself; look at God, and make it your aim to be content with the life you’re living in Him.

What to do When it all Goes Pear-Shaped

I wanted to write a post on this theme, but couldn’t find the words until I looked at the life of Moses. As a young adult in Egypt, Moses sees a Hebrew slave being mistreated and tries to help by taking things into his own hands. He ends up murdering an Egyptian and being forced to leave the country – not a great start, so he lives in Midian for a while, where he meets his wife, gets married and fathers two boys. That’s the background.

One day, when he’s looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, he meets with God in a very special way (maybe you’ve heard the famous story of the burning bush). God tells Moses that He’s seen the misery of His people and He’s going to rescue them, and Moses will be the one to do it. Moses of course has excuses. Perhaps he’s thinking of his past and the murder when he says: “I am not a great man”, but every excuse he can find, God has an answer for.

As he went with his brother Aaron to Pharaoh’s palace to ask to leave Egypt, Moses must have thought: “Finally! I’m doing what I always wanted – helping my people, and this time I’ve got God on my side. What can go wrong?”

But the Pharaoh had no regard for God. He accused the Israelites of laziness and increased their workload considerably. Not only did they blame Moses and Aaron, they actually said: “May the LORD punish you. You caused the king and his officers to hate us” (Exodus 5:21): Opposition from Pharaoh, opposition from his own people, and the temptation to doubt God.

Following God won’t always ensure that circumstances go our way, but it’s what we do when everything goes pear-shaped that counts. What Moses did was to pray and ask Him about the situation. “Why have You brought this trouble on Your people? Is this why You sent me here? I went to the king and said what You told me to say, but ever since that time he has made the people suffer. And You have done nothing to save them” (Exodus 5:22-23). God, I did everything You told me to do. What’s going on? And what happened after that? “Then the LORD said to Moses” … Letting God in allows Him to give us His take on things, and to strengthen us for the journey ahead.

Moses tells the Israelites about God’s promise to him, but in their discouragement, they refuse to listen and soon, Moses is discouraged right along-with them. “’Surely the king will not listen to me either. I am not a good speaker.’ But” (here it is again) “the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 6:12-13).

I don’t know all the people reading this blog. I don’t know the situations you’re struggling with, but can I encourage you to let God in?

31 Jesus-Benefits: Familiarity

“From within the womb He called me by name” (Isaiah 49:1).

Almost at the end of this Write31Days series, and there’s one blogger whose posts I’ve found so interesting. Jessie’s an agent, so her 31 Ways to Snag a Literary Agent is a series that (in my opinion) any writer should at least look at. One of her posts is about endorsements, and it reminded me God had called me by name.

I’m known by God and others.

Earlier in this series, we reflected on Jesus – our ally in suffering and how He prays for us. Not only does this happen with Jesus, but with others too. In August, on the morning I was due to have a procedure in hospital, I checked my phone and there was a text message from Chris. She’s one of the best friends I could ask for. I was so touched that she remembered, then went the extra mile and contacted me on the day to tell me I was being prayed-for. Makes me want to follow her example and be that kind of friend to others.

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18).