Life’s Rivers will not Overwhelm Us

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Two nights ago my beautiful wife asked if I wanted to watch a movie with her. I agreed, and we began the process of finding something to watch. I don’t know about you but this can sometimes be a time consuming process as you try and figure out what to choose! Fortunately this time was pretty easy and we decided on a recently released movie on Netflix. In one of the more tender moments in this action packed film, one of the main characters is being questioned by another about his life. After being transparent and sharing a difficult memory the one asking the questions responds by saying, “You drown, not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it”, quoting a line from a book he had read.

I thought this was quite a profound statement probably because I have been struggling a bit lately. I think a lot of what I am going through at the moment is due to our current life of lockdown and I am still adjusting to this new way of life. There have been days when I have just felt down and not motivated to do much and actually just wanted to climb back into bed. This feeling is almost as if I have fallen into a river and am sinking. There’s nothing wrong with how I am feeling as it is a natural response to our situation but I must be careful not to wallow in this feeling (which I have been guilty of doing in the past).

While thinking about this scene and my current feelings I was reminded of these life giving words from Isaiah 43:1-3

1 Now this is what the Lord says—
the one who created you, Jacob,
and the one who formed you, Israel—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you,
and the rivers will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be scorched,
and the flame will not burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior.

Now while these words were written for Israel I find a lot of comfort in them because these are words from the same God who looks after us in difficult times. I can stand firm in these truths even though I am struggling at the moment because God has not and will never let me down. I have no reason to fear as I been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, I am one of the children of God who has been called by name, and I belong to the Holy and set apart God in whom I find my salvation! Reading these verses has helped make me feel a bit better and I will definitely keep coming back to them in the weeks to come.

Much love,

Luke

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Freedom

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Yesterday we observed Freedom Day in South Africa. It was, ironically, one of the least free Freedom Days that we have experienced in recent years, due to the restrictions on our movement during the lockdown. I got to thinking about what freedom means and the words of Jesus were brought to mind:

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.   (John 8:34-36)

There is so much to be said about the freedom that we have in Christ but there is one aspect that I want to focus on in this blog post. Jesus set us free from enslavement to sin, and not only that, he also set us free from trying to earn God’s approval and acceptance. As Jesus said, a slave has no permanent place in the family, they have to work hard to prove their worth, to earn their place. A son is a member of the family by virtue of his birth, he does not need to earn his place in the family.

Through Jesus, the Son who set us free, we are brought into God’s family by grace. We don’t earn our way in, nor do we have to relentlessly strive to keep our place. So many Christians don’t realise the full impact of the Gospel truth. Jesus is our righteousness, it is through Him that we are made right with God and receive God’s approval. We are so used to having to go to the ends of the earth trying to please people that we struggle to fathom the amazing truth of God’s grace. Instead we try to be the “perfect” Christians, doing more and more for God and then harshly judging ourselves for not meeting the standard. Or, disheartened, we stop trying at all, defeated by the impossibility of the task. Yet when we begin to fully appreciate and understand the incredible gift of grace that God has given us, we finally experience the true freedom we have in Christ.

I came across a wonderful testimony that illustrates this point:

“The harder I tried to be perfect, the more miserable I became. It took me almost having a nervous breakdown before I internalized the gospel truth that Jesus saves me by his grace — period. How emancipating to realize that I couldn’t be good enough for him to love me more, or bad enough for him to love me less! Gradually, I learned to love Jesus freely and accept his ludicrously lavish love. Instead of being bound to a list of do’s and don’ts, I began to serve God out of gratitude for all he accomplished on the cross.”

There’s the amazing thing. Realising that we don’t need to strive to earn God’s approval doesn’t mean we stop serving the Lord. In fact it has the opposite effect. It frees us to serve the Lord from a place of gratitude, and not obligation. As a result we will be far more effective at shining our light and glorifying God. Free indeed!

God Bless

Graham

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Gradual Progress

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One of my favorite parts of working in the garden is the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of the day. Before we started yesterday afternoon the grass was looking a little long, some of the flower beds needed to be raked, and a few little things needed a bit of a handyman’s touch – and we got most of it done. When looking around at what we had accomplished we felt good! I wish we could experience the same instant sense of accomplishment when it comes to our spiritual growth. I have been reading a really challenging book about authentic Christianity and have been identifying areas of my life that eventually need to look different. It has been difficult to come to terms with since these changes are going to happen over a period of time and are not going to be easy.

When it comes to growing spiritually this is not something that be achieved like gardening. You can’t wake up one day and declare, “Today I will be spiritually mature!” Maturity takes time, it takes consistency and often, the changes which will take place will not always be able to be observed from the outside. Spiritual growth is an internal change which impacts our actions. Spiritual growth occurs in our hearts first and that heart change often takes time. One of my favorite scriptures that I come back to over and over again is found in 1 Samuel 16:7:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”

Samuel, when tasked with going to anoint the new king, fell prey to being impressed by the outward appearance of one of David’s brothers. But God is clear – God sees our hearts and this is what ultimately counts. Heart change takes time and cannot be tackled in a day – but the effort that we expend to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about this change is completely worth it. At the end of the day spiritual growth is gradual – sometimes unnoticeable – but the more it occurs, the more we look like Jesus. And I really want to look and live like the one who saved me and who has the power to save the world around me.

Much love,

Luke

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Redeeming the Time

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Ah, doing the washing. I’m willing to bet that during this lockdown many people have discovered just how much clothing their household goes through in a week. Who knew we owned this many clothes?!? Does it never end?!?

I’ve been doing the washing in our house for years (not the ironing though!) and so none of this has come as a surprise. I’m an old hand at these things, as some of you are too. I know all too well that loading the washing machine is the quick and easy part, it’s the hanging of the washing that takes a long time. Well, at least for me it does. Apparently no one in the house can take off an item of clothing without it getting turned inside out, so before I hang the clothes I turn them the right way round, I also match up the socks, and carefully arrange the spacing so that I can fit the maximum amount of clothes on the line. Yep, I’ve been domesticated! I also tend do a few loads of washing, fill up the baskets and then go hang it all up in one go. This way I don’t break up my work flow on sermons and other admin tasks too much. It does mean, however, that those hanging sessions can take a fair while and to keep me sane I’ve found a way to redeem the time.

Let me explain what I mean by redeeming the time. In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul has these words to say:

15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (NKJV)

Other translations put it this way: “making the best use of time” or “making the most of every opportunity”. In a broader sense Paul is urging us, as believers who have seen the light of Christ, not to carry on living in the darkness engaged in sinful or frivolous pursuits. Within this point he is urging us to be prudent with the limited amount of time we have on this earth. This not to say that we have to try and do more and more for God to the point of burnout. Rather let us be wise with our time. One way that we can do that is to take the time spent on mundane tasks, like hanging the washing, or sitting in traffic (as we used to do), and find a way to enhance or “redeem” that time to further and grow our relationship with the Lord.

There are many different ways we can do this and I encourage you to think about how you can redeem the time in your own daily routine. Whether it involves prayer, worship or study, you’ll need to find what will work best for you. For me, when it comes to hanging the washing I’ve often found it helpful to play some music on a bluetooth speaker via my phone. Then I am able to worship as I peg up the clothes. But what has really been great is to use the time to listen to sermons or Biblical study series so that I am learning something, furthering my knowledge of God’s word, all while I get the washing hung. One of the resources that I’ve especially enjoyed is the Renewing Your Mind podcasts from Ligonier Ministries which provide good solid theology in an accessible way, plus they take about as long as a hanging session so by the time the podcasts ends I’ve both learnt more about God’s Word and got the washing done!

God Bless

Graham

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