The clothes we wear…

When you got up this morning did you put the right clothes on?
Did you dress for work or for recreation?
Did you put a jacket on to go out?
When you got to work did you take off the jacket?
Did you change your clothes for work?

We get to pick and choose the clothing we wear, usually they are related to where we are, but where we are going in life is much more important than where we are going on a daily basis.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Isaiah 61:10 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Galatians 3:27 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

When we are baptised we shed our old selves, we become new in Christ, and with this we are clothed anew, He is our spiritual clothing and something that we cannot take off.  Our spiritual clothing is not just for Sunday mornings or church coffee mornings.  Our overcoat, in fact, our Greatcoat, is one that can’t be seen but can be experienced by everyone around us.

We can change our physical appearance as often as we like, but when we take on our garments of salvation why would anyone want to take them off?

Lord Jesus,
Grant us we pray, to be a light unto the world,
let the clothes that You provided us with
shine with the light of Your transfiguration
to cast all shadow from this world.
Amen.

God’s Kingdom is growing!

Have you ever sat and wondered when the Kingdom of Heaven is going to arrive?  When will the second coming of Christ happen?

We look at these questions from a perspective that is purely centred on ourselves when we ask them.  It’s like putting the blinkers on a horse, you can only see in one direction and can’t see everything else happening around us.  If ever you needed proof of growth, all you need to do is look back to Jesus.  He is at the heart of everything, at the very centre of everything, the deepest root of the vine that is constantly growing, flourishing and blooming.

Yes it is being pruned or vines break, yes it is constantly under attack; persecution happens every single day of the week in all of its various forms but the roots of Christianity are deep and cannot be dug out by anyone.  Even if all of the evil in this world made a consolidated attempt to pluck out the heart of Christianity it would fail, they would suffer from great weakness before they even got close; their resolve and strength would dissipate like the fog before the Sun because we have a light in Jesus far brighter and stronger than any Sun.

Jesus is at the heart of everything, he is in our hearts, in our minds, in our words, our dreams, and our hope eternal.  Want to see how Christianity has grown?  Take a look at this verse from Acts…


8 And Saul approved of their killing him.
The church persecuted and scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Acts 8:1-3 (NIVUK)

This all happened not long after Jesus died and was resurrected. His followers were hunted down, persecution was rife, anyone showing any sign of not conforming and declaring themselves to be of Christ where taken; we can find similarities throughout this world right now where people are being persecuted for being different, for wanting to make a difference.

And yet, even this first large scale persecution of Christians has not stemmed the growth of our faith.  The followers of Jesus scattered, far and wide, the word of God and the love of Jesus followed them, walking in their steps.

From small acorns great oaks grow; from the small intimate gatherings of Jesus and his disciples to the feeding of the thousands, from those faithful few, who held Jesus in their hearts after Jesus delivered salvation to the entirety of humanity and creation, to the masses who worship in churches worldwide today.  Growth has happened, God’s kingdom has grown, and is still growing.

There is a song we sing at messy church (we’ve even sung in Sunday worship with actions!) called Our God is a great big God, I would extend that and say the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s Kingdom is a great big Kingdom and is growing day by day.

Hope in the future can be found in both the past and the present, it is found in Jesus, because He exists in our past, our present and our future, He is our solid foundation, and we can weather any storm that tries to break us if we remain strong in our faith, so that we too may contribute to the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Dear Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed great.
May everything that we do and say be for your glory, for your Kingdom,
that everyone may be delivered through your grace.
Please bless all our Christian brothers and sisters,
and protect all those who suffer,
regardless of origin, creed, belief or ability,
through the deeds of others.
Please, we pray, grant them peace and harmony in their lives.
May all of humanity learn to support all those who seek peace.
We pray for the love of Christ to be upon this world,
to comfort the living and the dead.
We pray for angels to descend and defend
all who are in desperate need.

All of this we pray in the name of your loving Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ
Amen.

Hope

Sometimes life can feel like it’s dragging us down, sometimes it can feel like we’re hacking our way through a jungle to get stuck wading through quicksand, but just like the old Tarzan movies when people get stuck there is always a vine to hold onto, for everyone, that vine is Jesus.  Once we are holding onto that vine, becoming one with it, we know safety is assured, our saviour is on their way and we can live to enjoy life once more.

The vine and the branches
15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…

John 15:1-17 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

There is always hope in life as long as we reach out for the vine that can save us.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. John 15:1

Hope is the subject we’re covering in Celebrate Recovery (CR) so it’s been on my mind lately amongst the turmoil.  It’s odd how much we can find God is with us when we are feeling a bit useless (Matthew 5:1-12).  The other day, after feeling a bit low, I decided to try to write the prayer to open the Hope session of CR (it’s my turn on the rota) so I thought I’d share it with you, to use if you so wish.

Lord Jesus,
You are our flame of hope, rising above us like the pillar of fire before Moses and the tribes of Israel as they escaped from suffering.
Fill us all, we pray, with joy and peace, as we place our trust in You,
so that we may overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hope binding us all together to the vine of life.
May we have rest and peace in our hearts.
We ask that You guard our minds through the night to protect us from our fears, our doubts, and our regrets.
May Your healing be upon our hearts, our minds, and our bodies at the break of dawn.
Restore us, Lord, heal our wounds, instil Your energy within our souls and hope eternal within our hearts.
Allow us to find new strength through Your words, teach us O Lord.
We thank you for Your love that we can live and enjoy life again.
Help us, we pray, to wake up every day with hope.
Of all this, we ask, of all this we pray
through You, our brother,
our saviour, Jesus Christ
AMEN

Pilgrimage

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’

Genesis 47:9 NIVUK

It’s interesting to note that when Pharaoh asks Jacob his age, he doesn’t just use the word years, he doesn’t just say I am this old, he uses the phrase Pilgrimage.

It is a reminder that in all the years of our lives, we are living out a journey. Walking a path from, with and to God; a pilgrimage that lasts throughout our life! Year by year, day by day, and minute by minute.

It can also serve to remind us that when we complain and grumble about our woes and strife, our “years have been few and difficult”, we are not alone. People everywhere struggle; life is a struggle.

What makes a difference is whether we approach life holding on to the hand of God, as we would, our father, or mother, as a child. Place our trust in Jesus, give Him our prayers, and provide Him with our attention, and He will reward faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, with peace in our hearts.

Jacob also recognises that his pilgrimage is not equivalent to the journey of his ancestors. Do we believe he is referring to terms of lifespan (his years upon this Earth), or spiritual effort, or depth of trust in God, or strength and resilience of spirit? Inevitably Jacob suffered from the belief that Joseph was dead. Surely he rejoiced greatly when he discovered he was still alive! Alive, even though Jacob could not see or know of the truth of the matter until he eventually saw with his own eyes. Anyone see a similarity here?

Jesus died for our salvation, and He rose again in victory over sin. He triumphed over evil for all of us! Surely that is worth remembering, to spare some of our time, every day, to ensure we are continually taking one more step upon our pilgrimage. Hand in hand with Jesus, treading in His footsteps and walking in step with God. Overflowing with the Holy Spirit, to not keep it to ourselves but to share it freely, with anyone who has it not, freely, for everyone who needs light in their lives, freely, for everyone we come across on our pilgrimage, our journey with Christ.

Spend some time thinking about your pilgrimage, realise that it’s already begun, and look forward with gladness in your hearts because the glory of God surrounds us, even when we see it not.

Losing focus

18 sleeps till Christmas – WOW! I can’t believe it’s coming up so fast. We have so much to do, and not enough time for it all, how can we manage it all in the time we have? Who have I bought presents for? Who’s coming to dinner? Why do I feel like I’ve forgotten something?

I get stressed just thinking about it!

It’s at times like this when we can start to lose focus, too many things distracting us from the one thing we need to do, which is to share some personal time with God or have a cup of tea and a natter with Jesus. To close our eyes and let the Holy Spirit wash over us, through us and cleanse the stresses of this time of year from our hearts, minds and bodies.

Have we forgotten something? It’s most likely that!

Finding time to work on our relationship with God can be difficult, it is difficult, especially with the pressures of today’s society, but the most important thing we can do this Christmas is to set aside some personal time:

  • For ourselves, because stress is never a good thing, and if you’re anything like me kitchen rules and access get increasingly strict as I turn into an early version of Gordon Ramsay hovering over a Christmas turkey that is never going to come out of the oven the way my imagination is saying it will.

But also

  • Time with God is time well spent.  We can offload all of our worries because He has got our backs on that. Why worry about tomorrow? Why stress about yesterday? God has a plan for us all, and we are very much a part of it.  He walks alongside us every step of our life and empathises with us, and removes our sufferings and our fears, is strong for us in our weaknesses, and is always ready to listen and more than happy to guide us.

Matthew 6:31-33 NIV
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

In this busy time of year, sometimes it helps to have a small devotional to hand but if you don’t have one of those, have a quick browse through the psalms, take a moment, have a sigh, breath deep, dunk a biscuit, sip of tea, and read them slowly reflecting on the thousands of years and the millions of souls who have uttered the same words that you are saying with exactly the same thoughts as those in our minds, the same stresses and the same fears – we are not alone in our thoughts, we are not the first to think them, and God has an answer for them all!

Psalm 141 NIVUK
1 I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

3 Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
    do not let me eat their delicacies.

If you want some further inspiration, sign up to one of the reading plans online or in an app, or sign up for the #FollowTheStar devotionals (app or email) starting from Christmas Eve until Epiphany (Jan 5th). 

Whatever you do, do not forget that all of the commercial aspects of Christmas are purely a distraction, a distraction that interferes with the true meaning, the real reason, we celebrate Christmas.

On December 25th, that once-upon-a-time of year, we all celebrate a birthday together, the birthday of Jesus Christ, who came among the peoples of the earth once before as prophesied and will do so once again heralding the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.

May the peace of the Lord our God be upon us this day and evermore.
Amen.

Changes

Have you ever stopped to think about how much our lives revolve around change?  It is always there.

While we welcome some alteration into our lives, we often tend to focus our minds on those that aren’t welcome, and this is when it takes over our lives, our train of thought burns bad emotions and intentions deep inside, and ultimately turn us away from God.  When we allow that to happen, we fail ourselves; we fail God.

When we find ourselves in times like these, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God and our Lord Jesus Christ are always walking beside us, Jesus is interceding on our behalf, and the Holy Spirit is there to guide us.  We can turn to God, to Jesus, surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, because They are the constant in our lives that does not change.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

In among all the change in our life, Jesus is always there, the rock that is our anchor, our cornerstone, the foundation of all foundations.

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
    a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
    will never be stricken with panic.

Isaiah 28:16

Change happens; it does not always come from God, a lot of it is human-made, as a result of our greed, our desires, our attempt to apply our will over situations, our inability to follow Gods will; what we do in times like this can lead to disagreements, animosity, theft, hostility, and war.

There’s plenty to be said in the bible about change, it is full of change, starting at the very beginning with creation, variations in covenant with God, changes in nations, changes in people, initiated by the Holy Spirit (tongues of fire [Acts 2-3]), by Jesus (so many changes in hearts, minds and body), by God (far too many to contemplate or even begin to describe).  The point is that we should not fear change, we can embrace it even when we do not like it because we can be the light that turns bad to good.

The one thing that never changes is that God loves us all, and He made the most significant demonstration of that love by sacrificing His Son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation; for we do not have to sacrifice anymore, as Jesus took upon himself all the sins of humanity and paid the price, our price, on our behalf, for all of our sins, for the sins of our predecessors, and the sins of our descendants.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:6-8

Life is full of new beginnings, fresh days with which we can become closer to Jesus, I thank the Lord our God for each new day, for each opportunity to start again, for new beginnings, for His eternal love, comfort and guidance through times of trouble.

Holy Jesus, ev’ry day,
keep us in the narrow way;
and when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
2 Corinthians 13:14

What you lookin’ at?

Do you walk with your eyes open or your eyes closed?

Do you walk looking at your feet or with your eyes on your destination?

Today, October 31st, millions of people will be dancing to a tune played by the flute of evil, and I bet the majority of them don’t realise it, some probably don’t care if they do not see hope in their lives and want to live to the full in the here and now – there is no comparison to life in the Kingdom of the Lord our God, but they are blind to this; they walk with their eyes closed to it.  They do not set their sight on their destination; they are too distracted. They are distracted by merchandise, by parties, by friends and family, by everything that is subtly put in their path to distract them from where they should be looking; the Idols used to turn our gaze away from God.  It’s so easy to fall into step, dance the same dance, it is a seductive tune, and it’s easy to do that which we should not do (Romans 7:15-20).  We must resist using the strength we gain through Jesus’ example (Matthew 4:1-11).

One of the most challenging things to do is not to judge others (ref. my failure in the previous paragraph!) – my mind is continuously thinking about planks, reminding me of this, and I sometimes step right into mine, like stepping on a rake and planting my face squarely into the front of the board.  I sometimes feel I should have a collection of planks by my side so I can gift them to people, sign their name on them as say “here’s your plank”.

Try to be forgiving for those who are not aware of what they are doing tonight; they lack strength in the Lord our God to resist the silver tongue that Jesus so skilfully countered.  Instead, pray for them, as Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48).

Churches hold light parties to encourage the young, and the old, to turn their eyes away from all of the distractions, to turn their eyes back to God. We remember one of their pit stops along the way to their ultimate destination, which is their judgement day before the Lord our God.  We all have it approaching, and there is no avoiding it; judgement is coming.  They will shuffle around looking at their feet wishing they’d not done this, not done that. Is it too late? It is never too late! He sees through us to the very core of our being, and we will be judged not on our deeds, but our hearts, our love, of Jesus, of our fellow humankind, of all creation.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:1-6 New International Version (NIV)