What do you see as you look around you – blessings or curses? Is that glass half empty or half full? Do you recall the old song with the line, ‘Count your blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done’? Blessings look like family, peace, flowers, bees, butterflies, people, food, freedom, life, breath, health and of course those wonderful fresh tomatoes – we all have many of these and some have all of them. We start with nothing and then God just keeps pressing blessings into lives.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is part of what it is to be human – it belongs to the ‘former things’ but it has no place in the ‘future realm’. We must not deny grief, ours or others, but we must feel it for the mystery of emotion is like the mystery of healing. If we have never grieved, we have never loved; if we have never loved, we have never truly lived. The outpouring of grief touches the very heart of God and often brings a new vulnerability to intimacy with him. Remember that darkness is as light to God for he sees everything and the darkest night is followed by the new dawn. God moves in mysterious ways.
Sometimes you hit a wall and it seems impossible to go on. For those going through assault course training, it’s encouragement from the team that get most over the wall. As marathon runners hit the wall after 20 miles, its encouragement from the crowd that can make the difference. If you’re facing some kind of wall, you need encouragement – getting over or through that wall is possible and it will make you stronger. Others have trod where you are treading.
‘God help us, we can't keep up this pulling, that is certain. Amongst ourselves we are unendingly cheerful, but what each man feels in his heart I can only guess’ – Captain Robert Falcon Scott
This is not a beauty product advert - it is somewhat less superficial! Most of us want to be pure and know that we are meant to be pure, but what does it mean to be pure? The simplest dictionary definition gives this: ‘not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material’, stating that it can be applied to matter, colour, sound and morality. For the child of God, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
‘God is looking for clean hands and a pure heart’ – Monica Johnson
Some people see life as a pack of cards that they are dealt by ‘The Dealer’ whilst others are less fatalistic recognising everyone faces light and shade. Whichever is closer to your position, how do you deal with pain in your life? Whether expected or not, it comes along – we all know that pain can be emotional, physical, spiritual, light, extreme, temporary or worst of all it can be permanent.
Victoria Arlen was eleven when she lost the ability to speak, eat, walk, and move. With little hope of survival, she went on to battle through and become a winning Paralympian. Here’s her take on pain: ‘The climb might be tough and challenging, but the view is worth it. There is a purpose for that pain; you just can't always see it right away’.
From the beginning, Christians have been persecuted for having faith in Jesus Christ. Today, Open Doors estimated that over 215 million are facing high levels of persecution. Jesus himself tells us, ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ – John 15:20. So the oppression against Christians is no surprise to Jesus but every slight, injustice and cruelty against you matters to him: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven’ – Matthew 5:11-12.
Sadly, persecution is everywhere and is here to stay until the Lord Jesus returns – it may be subtle or flagrant but it is very real.
‘Christians are being persecuted, not just in the Middle East but here in this country’ – Wendy Long (American Attorney).
Can you be anything or anyone you want to be? Do you know what and who that is? What is it that defines you – gender, ethnicity, nationality, family, abilities, wealth, achievements, history, sexuality, politics, religion? How do you want people to think of you?
‘When you have a lot of people telling you what you are and perceiving you in a certain way, it's difficult to find your own identity’ - Sia (Kate Isobelle Furler)
‘A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them’ – Liberty Hyde Bailey
Did it ever occur to you that the Bible begins and ends with a garden? Adam and Eve were able to walk with The Gardener, God himself. For a time, the best intentions thrived throughout creation in the garden but things fell apart when the best intentions were not followed through. Fast forward from Genesis to Revelation and you come to a beautiful garden where trees are constantly bearing fruit and even the leaves of the trees bring healing.
Ever seen someone who is frustrated? Ever been the one who is frustrated?! A dangerous maelstrom of swirling emotions start spinning when you are unable to do something you once did or achieve something you’ve set your heart on – impatience, exasperation, annoyance, irritation, resentment, bitterness and anger are not far away.
‘I grew up with lots of anger, frustration, and violence in my heart’ – Rose Namajunas
‘It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness and a mood of helplessness prevail’ – Lech Walesa
‘Everything we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see’ – Martin Luther King Jr
Just as for Jerusalem, everyone wants a piece of the cross, laying a claim to it. So far as the cross goes, here are some of the claims to consider:
- The Jewish Authorities – without them (the High Priest, the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees), who would have taken such offence to a person loved by the people as he healed them and taught them? Yet they needed to get someone else to kill him as a ‘cursed convict’ on a cross, so the Roman Empire was convenient.
Is the hope you have a shifting verb or a steadfast noun? You can hope for many things that may never happen but the Christian hope is an anchor- like noun.
‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf’ - Hebrews 6:19-20
To have such a hope without substance would be to pass a verdict without evidence but we are not called to groundless faith, so what is the hope we can have and what is the substance?
What do John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs and Eleanor Roosevelt have in common? They were all orphans and yet they went on to achieve many things. Living with the knowledge of being an orphan has deep effects on a person’s psyche – to have feelings of rejection, insecurity, abandonment and poor self worth would be typical.
‘I’m trying to find myself. Sometimes that’s not easy’ – Marilyn Monroe
Ever been in a storm, seen clouds gathering and dreading the perfect storm conditions? People the world over have probably suffered these worse than you will ever have to and yet storm surges can happen in our own lives. Suddenly, out of the blue, something happens and a storm is upon you to threaten your very life and existence – a squall. Perhaps this is your current situation or you know someone who is in the middle of one.
‘If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm’ - Frank Lane
‘If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm’ - Mahatma Gandhi
Who do you think said this - ‘When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves’? They were some inspired words from Buddha.
What does JOY mean to you? Is it to do with purity and the beauty of a summer’s day with no cloud in the sky?
‘Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift’’– words of another wise man … Albert Einstein. How are you doing with ‘nature’s most beautiful gift’?! Does joy mean something more to you? No clouds in the sky sounds a good start - if matched by a clear mind, purity and no shadows then the day is full of promise.
It is surprising to read that some are intolerant towards those who are ‘agnostic’ – why should it offend to be undecided? Yet here’s three commentators with that view:
‘I may have had a prejudice against agnosticism as a body of thought: sort of a fence-sitting theory, where you can't make up your mind one way or another’ – S. T. Joshi
Dreams can be powerful to shape us, for good or bad. It is in that subconscious dream-world that we find some of our hopes and fears interacting in a space where we can also meet with God and hear him speak. How can we know which dreams are plagued with phantoms, which are the often outrageous fantasies and which are the ones that can have meaning? Joseph and Daniel were given understanding of dreams and it shaped destinies of people and nations. Young and old alike can be inspired by dreams and visions – the fact is we need more people who are:
Fear paralyses – absolute fear paralyses absolutely. It can’t always be rationalised for it is often irrational. The face of fear has many masks but our fears must be faced if we are to be free to live a life worth living.
‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear’ – Nelson Mandela
‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light’ - Plato
So what fears are you facing? Are they long-standing fears that have dogged your life from childhood or are they the dogs that began to stalk the corridors of your adult mind?
It is in the very nature of temptation that it is hard to resist and that it is common to every single person. Temptation takes many forms and has many disguises but be in no doubt that the aim of the one who tempts is to rob you of joy in your walk with God and the ultimate goal is to ruin you.
‘No one is above temptation. No one is above life in general’ – Kevin Jonas
And yet, every temptation is an opportunity either to bring glory to God through overcoming it or to bring pain to your soul through giving in.
Something dangerous can happen in the heart of a person and in that of a community when a general distrust arises. It is then that cynicism is at work and leads on to a sceptical hardening of the heart which questions everything and believes nothing.
Just as hardening of the arteries is dangerous for physical health, so creeping cynicism can be dangerous for spiritual health. It was Pharaoh’s hard heart that led to his rejection of God and the tragedies experienced in Egypt. A hard heart is a dying heart.
There are many with broken dreams who carry the heartache of disappointment – it could simply be a new car gets mangled or it could be cherished dreams wrecked and destined for the scrap heap. Such emotions are common to all of us but it is perhaps this younger generation that feels it most keenly. Consequences of credit crunch and austerity have led to weighty student loans, unattainable home ownership, uncertain pension prospects and feelings that they have been let down.
Slavery seems to belong to a past era of slave ships, shackles and castle dungeons but sadly this is a delusion. William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln are names of those passionate to abolish slavery who accomplished amazing things. And yet:
‘Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. It is a scourge for humanity’ - Jeff Fortenberry
‘You can't regulate child labour. You can't regulate slavery. Some things are just wrong’ - Michael Moore
Describing slavery as ‘a dreadful thing’ in the Nineteenth Century, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and became an icon of courage and freedom: ‘I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell if he could’.
Can it be a choice? Is Plato right to say, ‘Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety’?
If it’s that simple, why do so many suffer with it?
‘If I can centre down and strengthen the core of who I am, and the core of who I am is my relationship with God, then that helps me maintain peace deep down. If I can maintain a healthy spiritual core, I think that's enormous for helping the stress.' - Anne Graham Lotz
TAGS – God, Prayer, Spirituality
The best teacher can take a complex thing and make it simple – the worst will take the simple and make it complex. So here’s what we know: