A life full of flavour …

Today’s Readings: Ezra 5 & Matthew 16:1-12

I’m not one to do much baking. Cooking yes, but not baking so the function of yeast is not something  I’m really up on, apart from knowing it helps to make the bread rise. As Jesus speaks to His disciples about ‘being on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’, I can certainly appreciate the confusion they might have felt. Matthew 16:6

My own conclusion about this conversation is that Jesus not leaving them in the dark about His comment and explaining His use of such language is very significant not just for the moment, but as an analogy for them to possibly reflect back on into the not too distant future.

A quick check of the purpose of yeast in bread provided what I found to be a helpful description.

‘When yeast ‘digests’ the flour, it breaks these compounds down into simpler molecules which have more flavour to the human tongue. The longer the yeast has to work at this, the better the flavour of the bread.’

What a great lesson to embrace, not just with scripture and the teachings we hold firm too, but also for being reminded about other information, experiences or conversations  – subtle as they may be – we should be on our ‘guard’ about putting into our life.

If the ‘yeast’  I allow to permeate my mind and body has a direct outcome on the ‘flavour’ others experience, and if my purpose is to bring glory to God in all things, then surely there is much to guard against?

‘When a person’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.’  Proverbs 16:7

 ‘May the God of peace …. equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and ever and ever.’ Hebrews 13:22-21

Luke also records the words of Jesus as he describes the yeast to guard against.

‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.’ Luke 12.1b

There are many voices that compete for our attention. How easy it is to be distracted by options and opinions, particularly when they stroke our ego and support our own personal thoughts and feelings. Yes, each of us will have different passions and priorities, but it’s the core of our faith where there is unity.

Might the words of Paul, written to the Corinthians be words of encouragement and a prayer that’s all about making sure the ‘yeast’ we allow to impact our life, be ever pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

‘Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men and women of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.’ 1 Corinthians 16:13

KD

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A heart of integrity …

Today’s Readings: 1 Chronicles & 1 Matthew 18-25

It was about 24 years ago when I was sitting in our Sunday church service and listening to our Senior Minister preach a sermon on this final chapter of 1 Chronicles. You see, we as a church community were about to start a building program that would provide a bigger facility to enable ministry to expand.

‘It’s not about brick and mortar, but about lives changed for Christ’ was the vision we were to be reminded about time and time again. And when the task seemed huge, again, we were reminded that this was something only God could do.

‘The task is great, because this (palatial) structure is not for man, but for the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 29:1b

The leadership of our church followed the same action David did, when he told the people of God how much he would be financially contributing, as the leader. Unheard of!! Why would one be so upfront and so vocal, especially when it comes to money??

Again, as I’ve read and re-read this passage, I’m transported back to that time in the history of our church, where many people did in fact rejoice in the leadership and embrace the opportunity that they could be part of God’s plan to reach the lost in a very tangible and long lasting way.

As I reflect back, there are a number of things I can recall that were important lessons for me:

  • There were many people who gave sacrificially and very generously, who would never see the completion of the building – and knew that would be the case at the time – but that didn’t stop them giving. In so many ways, we may never see the fruit of our labour, whether the work of our hands or the outcome our prayers or our financial giving.
  • There were faithful saints who prayed for an expanding influence of the gospel into our community and beyond who are now in glory.
  • There were some who left a financial legacy to the church (with no strings attached) before the vision for the facility was ever spoken about.
  • There will always be people who complain and grumble …

It’s so very easy to want to hold tight to what we have materially; a constant battle that starts as children, when we need to be taught from an early age what it means to share. A tug of war starts as one child holds tight and the other pulls, with the cry ‘she won’t share with me’ and the response, ‘but it’s MINE!

David put’s it very simply when he says, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” vs 14

This verse is one that I know I constantly need to remind myself of, especially when it comes to being generous. It’s not that I have given, but rather the reminder that it’s God who allows me to keep some …

“I know my God that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willing your people who are here have given to you.”  vs 17

Today, I am still part of the same church community and yes, we have an amazing facility. Time and time again I’m reminded as ministry unfolds across the week and events are held, what a blessing it is to have such a home base. But I pray I (we) never get complacent or believe we’ve arrived; it was never about the bricks and mortar, but about the lives that would be changed (and have been changed), by the grace of God!

What David started he never saw finished, but what he did see and experience throughout life was a God who was forever faithful. David understood that he was part of God’s greater plan for his people, and in David, God saw a man with an incredible heart.

My prayer … the we as God’s people today, would have the same hearts of integrity, that seek to bring glory to God in all we do … that hold very loosely onto the material things of this world.

KD

 

Choosing consistency, resisting compromise  … 

Today’s Readings: 1 Samuel 16 & Revelation 6

The words come out sounding positive and encouraging, and you work hard to make sure facial expressions and body language match the conversation BUT …. the mind is having it’s own conversation that’s totally different or the exact opposite to any external expression.  Have you found yourself in this situation? If I’m honest, I know I have …

Or the times when we might compromise on the task at hand or what’s been asked of us, and of course, there’s always the excuse as to why …..

Of course there will naturally be times when we have to work hard at being gracious, doing things we may not necessarily feel like doing; yes, we all have down days when we need to work really hard at keeping the peace; and yes there are times and people where ‘extra grace’  is required …. and absolutely yes, none of us are exempt from being the person who others are having to work hard at being gracious too!

In 1 Samuel 15, we have just finished reading about the downfall of Saul, who’s actions with God and decisions revealed his stubborn and self-centred heart. God had responded to the call of His people for a King, and appointed Saul. It wasn’t long before Saul’s weakness in leadership is revealed, as he fails to rely fully on God, by rejecting God’s leading.

So what was God seeking? There’s no missing the point with the words spoken to Samuel as he follows God’s new direction to find another to fill the role of King.

‘The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ 1 Samuel 16:7b

How easy it is to judge people by outward appearance; both physical and behavioural, but in so many situations, do we ever really know the person?  … unless of course you share a household with them. There’s a book by well-known writer Bill Hybles, Who Are You When No One’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise.  If you are a reader, can I encourage you to source it out, as Bill provides great encouragement through personal experience and the importance of drawing on scripture and the promises of God in how we should live.

In the words of the Publisher’s Summary, ‘We are all at our best when it counts. But what are we like when no one’s looking? That’s where character comes in – being consistent even when it doesn’t seem to matter. Courage. Discipline. Vision. Endurance. Love. These character qualities are quickly becoming endangered. All too often we hear of marriages falling apart, governments lying, businesses cheating and scandals rocking the church. But with God’s guidance and strength, we can maintain character that lasts despite temptations and troubles.

We also know we worship a God that when we do fail – and we will – we can seek His forgiveness, as we forgive others and seek their forgiveness. My prayer … that I will continue to grow in my faith, and as I do,it will be evident to others. But more than this, when God looks as me; looks deep into my heart, my prayer is that He will see a women with a heart’s desire and commitment to be what He intended for me!  

I know I have often quoted the following passage, but it’s one of the significant verses I often turn to when I reflect on my life and what God desires of me.

‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6:8

KD

A Repentant Heart …

Today’s Readings: Psalm 62

The Psalms in particular have always provided for me a wonderful place to find the right words of expression and comfort when it comes to repentance. Today’s reading is one of those Psalms.

You know those times when you are blatantly aware that you’ve said or done the wrong thing, and even after seeking forgiveness, there is that constant niggling voice reminding you of how sinful you are?

Or when you are confronted by the fact that yes, once again you’ve been a ‘repeat offender’ and done exactly the same thing that you did yesterday or the day before, even after making a decision that you want to change by having a better level of control on your actions or your tongue ….

I certainly find there is a deep restlessness of the soul that comes with the confrontation of sin.

Yes there is also the restlessness that comes with trying to find contentment in the material things of this world, or in trying to find purpose or identity in career or family.

David’s circumstances also bought him into a state of deep restlessness, but he also knew where he could find solace and rest. When the voice of the evil one starts to invade my mind, it’s in prayer and scripture I find truth and peaceful rest.

‘My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him’ Vs 1

‘Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.’ Vs 5

On this day, Palm Sunday – as we approach Easter, we are reminded that for us living this side of the cross, our salvation is indeed found in the Saviour King; in the death and resurrection of Christ. And it’s in the knowledge that Christ defeated death; that full forgiveness is found in trusting Him, we find hope.

The writer to the Hebrews puts this as, ‘… faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do the see. This is what the ancients were commended for.’  Hebrews 11:1-2

David’s words throughout Psalm 62 paint a picture of stability and protection for finding rest in the midst of whatever life was throwing at him.

‘He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.’ Vs 2b and 6b

Like a home that provides protection from the physical storms, God can and does provide protection from all that life throws at us. Add your name into verse 8, as you speak it out loud.

‘Trust in him at all times O people (Karen); pour out your heart to him for God is your refuge.’ Vs 8

And then in confidence, even though I know I will fall again tomorrow and find myself asking forgiveness at times for the same things, I can still say with confidence;

‘One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard; that you O God are strong, and that you O God are loving.’ Vs 11 & 12

KD

It’s not fair!

Today’s Readings: Romans 2 & Proverbs 25:1-17

Although I like to watch the news to stay up to date with what’s happening not just locally but also across our nation and the world, it seems there is an ever increasing number of stories about the physical violence and hatred people display toward each other, criticism and questioning of the integrity of leadership, tragic car accidents, corruption, discrimination, poverty and injustice, …. and the list goes on.

So where are the good news stories? Why don’t I hear more about them?

Yes, they are certainly there, and every now and then a heartfelt story about humanity is shared but as the old saying goes, ‘the everyday doesn’t sell papers; they are not newsworthy.’

It’s so easy to sit in the comfort of my lounge room and pass judgement on what I hear and see; to criticise or draw conclusions about what’s fair or what’s not fair. To lament on how ‘sinful others are’ …

As we start to delve into Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul provides a clear reminder of the fallen world we all live in and the ongoing issues that exist with the way people behave toward one another and try to justify our actions.

But unlike what I see on the TV each night or read in the paper – whether justice or injustice – or whether I try to justify or dismiss my own behaviour, the bible is very clear there is both accountability AND hope.

Paul reminds us that there will be a day of judgement of all people when ‘God will give to each person according to what he has done’ vs 6 ‘For God does not show favouritism.’ vs 11

Judgement is the same for everyone whether Jew or Gentile; whatever your national identity; whatever your ‘religious affiliation; whatever the colour of your skin … and whether you believe salvation alone is found only in Christ, the risen son of the living God or not.

‘For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ Romans 14:11 (a reference back to Isaiah 45:23

So …. rather than allow the grief and heartache of what unfolds around me each day in a fallen world, my prayer is that I might remain joyful and hopeful, yes aware of my own transgressions, but at the same time, holding onto the firm truth of God’s promises.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:16-18

KD

Hope in Salvation

Today’s Readings: Psalm 50

The psalmist projects forward to judgement day, with not just God’s people, but the whole earth summoned before the ‘courtroom’ of God.

‘The Mighty One, God, the Lord speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets …  He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people;’  Psalm 50: 1 & 4

There are those who meticulously keep the religious order of ceremonies …

‘I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings which are ever before me …’ vs8

… but it would appear it was more about ‘ticking the box’ so to speak, than with a thankful heart or obedience in the action, or prayerful reliance on God.

‘Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfil you’re your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honour me.’ vs14-15

And then there are the second group of people called ‘wicked’, who can narrate the law but fail to keep it.

‘What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? vs16

‘You hate my instruction …
When you see a thief you join him …
You use your mouth for evil …
You speak continually against your brother …’  vs 17-20

This side of the cross there is no longer any need for us to bring physical sacrifices or burnt offerings but it causes me to stop and consider where I might have slipped into a pattern of attitude of ‘ticking the box’.

And as I go about life each day, do not just the words of my lips, but do my actions bring credit or discredit to God?

But in the same way the psalm starts with judgement, it also ends with hope, for the psalmist is peaking to God’s people about a judgement to come, with still and opportunity to take God’s extended hand of salvation.

‘He who sacrifices thank offerings honours me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.’  Vs 23

It’s a sobering psalm to read and easy to see others described in the words, but I know there will come a day when I will be called before the judgement throne to give account for my life. But there is forgiveness in repentance, with the joy of knowing that the salvation I have in Christ is not by anything I’ve done, but simply by the grace of God.

‘The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.’ Galatians 2:20-21

KD

This is our God!

Today’s Readings: Psalm 48

One of the things I love so much about the Psalms is that their focus is always on the worship of God rather than the person’s circumstances, irrespective of whether it’s poetry of praise or a grief stricken, heartfelt cry of despair.

And so as we find ourselves on the first day of a new year, how fitting are the opening words of our reading today; a statement of praise that has been shared for thousands of years.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise … ’ vs1

A new year brings opportunity to dream and set goals, but it is also a great opportunity to stop and reflect back on the blessings of the year that has been. It is a time to meditate on the goodness and greatness of God, and even in those challenging and difficult times, to still speak out words of praise.

And at the end of this Psalm, a beautiful verse to take us forward into each day with great confidence.

‘For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.’ vs14

What great assurance to hold onto through the whole of life. At the core of our ever changing and evolving personal life, culture and world, is the stability and consistency God’s promises.

In this Psalm, the reference is to a God who delivered the people from the threat of death at the hands of their enemies, but more than this, this final verse provides us with the certainty that God will be our guide, delivering us from death itself.

It was only a week ago we were celebrating the birth of Christ; the one born to save his people, but Christmas was just the start of the story, with Jesus death and resurrection bringing about our deliverance from death.

There is a song written by Reuben Morgan and published by Hillsong Publishing called This is our God. If you don’t know the song, can I encourage you to source it out and listen to the power in the lyrics. The final 2 verses in particular capture for me a modern day prayer of great praise; our certainty of a Guide from this life into eternity.

Freely You gave it all for us
Surrendered Your life upon that cross
Great is Your love poured out for all
This is our God

Lifted on high from death to life
Forever our God is glorified
Servant and King, rescued the world
This is our God

So on this first day of 2017, and on each day that will dawn as the year unfolds, join me in singing … this is our God!

KD