Yesterday, Today and Forever

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8), but that doesn’t mean much unless you know who He is. We’ve already seen that God and Jesus are one. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3), so anything we read about Jesus can also be attributed to God and vice versa. “Christ Himself is our peace”, says Paul. “God is love”, says John.

If God is love, then surely those two words (God and love) are interchangeable. Here’s part of 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, replacing ‘Love’ with Jesus or God:
God is patient, God is kind. He’s not envious or boastful. He’s not proud or rude, or self-seeking (if God had sought adulation, He would have made us robots incapable of feeling anything else). Jesus isn’t irritable and keeps no record of wrongs. He doesn’t delight in evil, but He’s happy about the truth. God always keeps us safe, gives us His trust, is constantly hopeful and never tires of us. God never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

That’s who my Lord is, and He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. If I snap at a parent I’m supposed to honour, God is still patient. If I’ve harboured an unkind thought, God’s still kind. When I’m struggling, His peace is still available to me. If I feel like throwing in the towel, God’s not about to give up. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).

I think I’m glad I serve a God who doesn’t change.

Peace

Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace
, the Christmas carol says. Had that been sung over Him when He was born, it could have been prophetic. Jesus was able to sleep in heavenly peace not just when He was an infant, but throughout His earthly life. Even when a storm swamped the boat He travelled in, Jesus could sleep (Matthew 8:24).

Jesus isn’t just some historical figure; He’s an example to His followers, so we can expect that kind of peace to be available to us. He said these words the night He was arrested: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). This world’s peace is an absence of war; an absence of conflict; an end to turmoil, but Christ’s peace comes in the midst of difficult circumstances. Psalm 127 tells us God “gives sleep to those He loves.” “When you lie down, you won’t be afraid; when you lie down, you will sleep in peace” (Proverbs 3:24). Why would God say ‘You won’t be afraid’, if there was nothing to be afraid of? What He wants is for His people to be set apart – to lie down and sleep in peace, despite what’s going on around us. Knowing that God’s in control of everything makes a difference. “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered for ever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD” (PSALM 112:6-7).

Peace in the Storms

It’s time again for OneWordAdvent, and this week’s word is peace.

Last time, we looked at John the Baptist’s parents – how they struggled with childlessness until finally, God answered their prayer. We never hear from them again.  It seems they had their happy ever-after and rode off into the sunset.

 

But there are some for whom when they’re called by God, life goes anything but smoothly. One of those is Mary.  When Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John, Mary was visited by Gabriel – the same angel who’d visited Zechariah.  The angel had similar news for her:  She too would bear a son, but Mary was a virgin.  Far from rejoicing at her son’s birth, people would be whispering and questioning the boy’s paternity.  Mary was aware it could cost her the man she was due to marry.  His obvious conclusion would be that she had broken their commitment with another man.  Despite this, Mary submitted to God’s plan for her life.  “May everything you have said about me come true,” she told Gabriel, and the adventure started.

 

Joseph cared deeply about Mary. Her pregnancy gave him the right to stone her to death for her supposed adultery, but he had no desire to.  He would settle for ending things quietly, perhaps resigned to the fact he had lost her to the father of her child, but God stepped in.  An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth.  One storm over:  Joseph stood by Mary, helping her to parent Jesus.

 

At the end of her pregnancy, the unanticipated census sent everyone to their hometowns to be registered. There were no postal votes in those days.  Mary had to go with Joseph to the town of his birth, Bethlehem.  As she made the long and gruelling journey, did she reach out to God in prayer?  Was the memory of Gabriel’s words a comfort, helping her to trust God for her baby’s safety?  They were taken care of when a kindly innkeeper offered them a roof over their heads in his stable, where Jesus was born.

 

In their Jewishness, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple at the appropriate time to fulfil the Law. They were probably keen to show Him off, like any other new parents with their baby, but one old man stood out among the rest.  Simeon seemed particularly eager to hold Jesus.  The Holy Spirit had led him there that day and shown him who Jesus was – the Saviour of Israel and a Light to the world.  Then Simeon turned to Mary.  Perhaps in his voice, she heard another impending storm:  “A sword will pierce your very soul.”  What would this soul-piercing be?  And when would it come?

 

Was Mary’s response to give in to anxiety, or to cling to the truth she had already learnt – that peace comes when you put your life in God’s hands?  She had seen Him speak to Joseph’s heart.  She had seen Him take care of her during her pregnancy, but when Jesus hung on a cross – hands nailed behind His back, it must have been impossible to imagine how God could work that out for good.  Impossible, but maybe somewhere in the recesses of her mind, Gabriel’s words rang out.  “Your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!  People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.”  Nothing was impossible with God …

 

And He proved it again with an angel, sent to roll away the stone from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead, and as she ran from the open tomb to pass on the angel’s message, Mary met Jesus (Matthew 28:1-9).  No questioning her response this time, as she saw the One who’d conquered death to become our Saviour:  She worshipped Him.

 

Perhaps this Advent season, we can thank God for Mary’s story – the way He controlled events and took care of her. Perhaps, as the angel’s words helped Mary, her story can help us to follow her example and trust God with the events in our lives.

The God of Hope

If ever anyone needed hope, surely it’s …  Well, sometimes I could say, surely it’s me.  Perhaps you could too, but the great news is that Christians serve a God of hope, who can fill us with joy and peace when we trust Him (Romans 15:13).

 

About fifteen months before Jesus was born, a man (one of the priests) was on-duty as usual.  In fact, the whole of life was pretty much going on as usual.  His wife was past childbearing age, and he had long accepted that the joy of bringing up children wouldn’t be theirs.  They both loved and served God wholeheartedly.  He could well remember the fervent prayers they had uttered time and again, but with the advancing years came a heaviness that settled on his heart.  As he saw new parents bring in their baby sons for the purification ritual, he would realise afresh that his and Elizabeth’s cries had been to no avail.

 

But God saw those baby sons too, as well as the pain of Zechariah’s loss, and He sent an angel to turn it on its head.  “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” the angel said.

 

His season of pain was over.  The silence, the gnawing ache that had been there so long, and Zechariah couldn’t quite get it.  Imagine him saying through gritted teeth those words he must have repeated to himself every time that old, familiar desire clawed at his heart.  “I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”  Be reasonable.  These are the facts.  Get over it, but getting over it wasn’t in God’s plan for Zechariah.  His patience had paid off.  His prayer had been heard!  Their cries hadn’t been to no avail.  The God of hope had come into their world; flipped it over; given their lives a whole new and unexpected twist.

 

Nine months later, they and many others celebrated the birth of their baby son, later known as John the Baptist.  Zechariah must have remembered the angel’s words about him and marvelled as he watched them come true.  People did indeed rejoice because of his birth, and he would indeed go on to point people to Jesus and His future ministry.  Holding baby John in his arms and praising God, Zechariah was able to acknowledge:  “The rising sun will come to us from heaven … to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

 

The God of hope filled Zechariah and Elizabeth with joy and peace as they trusted Him.  He wants to do the same for us today.

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My thanks to Bonnie Gray for her OneWordAdvent. If you decide to participate in the linkup like I did, please tell me here in the comments.  I’d love to read your post.

31 Jesus-Benefits: No Worries!

“Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Day 16 of Write31Days and here’s something very precious:

Peace.

You’ll see all sorts of books about dealing with anxiety or overcoming worry, but the formula’s right there: Pray about everything. If we’re worrying too much, we’re probably praying too little (I say ‘We’ because I’m telling myself as well as you). My friend Kate once told me the verses below about Jesus leading us into the path of peace and I’ve always remembered that.

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

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And don’t forget the giveaway from Dayspring.com if you want to win $500 to shop there.

Finding What’s Right in Front of You: “Life Unstuck” Book-Review

Have you ever asked a shop-assistant where something is, only to find it’s right under your nose? Sometimes chinks in our lives are staring us in the face, but we need other people’s help to see them. Reading “Life Unstuck” could be one way of giving yourself that help to put your past behind you, enjoy your present, and look forward to your future.

The author’s introduction made me think this would be a bit heavy, but don’t be put-off. Pat came across as more approachable when she started chapter 1 with a personal story, and there are plenty of these throughout. If you love people, I think you’ll enjoy Pat’s style of writing and willingness to admit her mistakes. If you love the Bible, you’ll appreciate going deeper into the intensely personal Psalm 139, one verse at a time.

5-Minute Friday: Fill

Kate Motaung has taken over the reins of FMF this week. She explains on her blog how it works, and did you know Five Minute Friday has a Facebook page? I’ve really enjoyed writing for 5 minutes on this week’s prompt: Fill.
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It’s hard – the empty. You look in the inbox to discover an E-mail that closes a door ... and then another. It’s ok to hurt or to grieve, but the Bible tells us not to grieve like those who have no hope. Because yes, the empty is hard, but I’m blessed to know the One who fills – the One who says ‘Open your mouth and I will fill it’.

Even when the employment door’s stayed closed, He’s been there, filling my life with different ways I can use my time – perhaps not as much as I would like, but always the knowledge that He’s prepared good works for me to do. Always the reminder not to become weary of doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.

Do you know the One who wants to fill your empty? Who wants to come into the gaps and fill them with His peace? His love? Inviting Jesus into your life is something very special, and ultimately, life-changing. Life-changing because from that day forward, you’ll always have Him there with you to help you cope with whatever life may throw at you.

Behind Locked Doors

“The lazy person says, ‘There’s a lion outside!  I might get killed out in the street’” (Proverbs 22:13).

 

Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve never said that, but I have had that kind of attitude.  In worrying there’s a lion outside, what’s the lazy person doing?  Finding an excuse not to go out.  If I don’t have the confidence to do something, I’ll find excuses too.

 

I’ve never had much confidence on buses.  I’ve been on them before, with somebody helping me on at one end and someone else meeting me the other, but never by myself.  My excuses?  There’s a whole list.  I know bus-drivers have to run to a timetable, and that bus companies aren’t always very sympathetic to the passengers.  I can just imagine a driver speeding away while I’m still fumbling around with my cane, trying to find where the steps are to get into the bus.  Some of the seats on buses don’t have seatbelts, and a lady I know fell off one of those seats when the bus lurched forward, thankfully not breaking anything but ending up very bruised.  Trains are better because you can book the assistance, but you can’t on buses, so if I ever had to change buses to get somewhere, the thought of getting off one bus and finding where my next one has stopped all by myself is very daunting.

 

See what I mean?  But I know blind people do manage not only to get on and off buses, but to swap between one and another.  To tell you the truth, I’m embarrassed I can’t do it.  I think I’d have a fuller life if I could, but where to start?  With my local shops near enough to walk to, it’s so much easier just to carry on doing only the things I need to, and keep my list of excuses.

 

Maybe I’m just like that lazy person …

 

But I shouldn’t be.

 

Last Sunday, we sang a song at church:

“There is power in the name of Jesus

“To break every chain”.  We’ve sung it lots of times before, but this time, I thought about my life and really felt that God wouldn’t want me stuck behind my front door as much as I am.  Then my pastor preached on John 20:19-23 – Jesus’ followers after His resurrection, stuck behind locked doors for fear of the Jews!  The locked doors didn’t get in Jesus’ way.  He appeared despite them and His first word to them was ‘Peace’.  What if God wants to break our chains, and give us peace instead of fear?

Communion

No longer the slaughter, the fear, the hurry,

No longer the punishing God in His fury;

No more the spattered blood on the doorposts –

We’re covered, protected forever.

 

Thank You, my Lord, for dying for me;

There really is nothing like knowing Your peace –

Like knowing the veil‘s been taken away

As You opened the gate for us.

 

Forgiveness and healing flow from Your throne;

I recognise You and I give You my all –

The blessing of gathering here at Your feet,

Surrounded completely by love.

Yesterday

I did something yesterday that I do just a few times a year; I went on a train-journey, and I want to thank God for the way He provided for me.  Although enjoyable it was looking to be a bit of a challenging day, so I said to Him:  “Please could I have a Scripture for the day, or more than one?”  And what unread messages do I open before I go?  This one with a tonne of Bible-verses in, and this reminder about grace.  They really helped.

 

If you remember my post about the 2 questions I asked God, you’ll know why fear bothers me, and yet it’s been a weakness of mine.  My big struggle has been a phobia of dogs.  On the train about halfway through my outward journey, a dog barked.  It was a few seats in front of me; I didn’t know exactly where, and I didn’t know whether the owner would let it walk around the train a bit.  I stiffened a little, but then I decided to get out the Bible-verse I had carried in my handbag for a month or so – the one that says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  I kept it in my hand for a while, and again this really helped – just to have a tangible reminder.  When I felt my body tense up, I told myself:  “I can do ALL things, even being on a train with dogs, through Christ who gives me strength.”  Eventually I put the card away and sat there quite normally, which was a miracle and I don’t say that lightly.

 

I got to where I needed to be and was all for doing what I could while I was there to do it, but once we’d done the most important things, my friend said:  “I just want to chat to you for a bit.”  Then God answered my morning’s prayer again and I thought of Martha and Mary.  Just sitting with one another is important too.

 

On the way back, when a train had stopped at the platform and no member of staff came to help me onto it, a lovely lady heading for the same train said:  “You’re welcome to get on with me.”  And when we had to wait for police to remove someone from the train, even though thanks to recent events in Boston my first thought was terrorism, I had complete peace that it was going to be ok.  We soon found it was just someone trying to get out of paying for his ticket.

 

So, don’t tell me God doesn’t care, because I probably won’t believe you.