Sunday, 19 February 2012

I'm not home yet...

There is a song which I have been listening to a lot lately.. even when I am not listening to it, the lyrics are rolling around in my head all the time! The chorus goes - 'All I know is I'm not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, This is not where I belong!' ~ It fills me with so much joy, knowing that as Christians we have this blessed assurance that our time on earth is just the one stop we have to make before we get home... But I have also been experiencing so much sadness as I considered this, not sadness for myself, or my brothers and sisters in Christ - rather, a huge sadness for the un-reached world. I see so much hurt, pain and desperation, even within my little suburb...let alone beyond that. I see people desperately trying to find their place in this world...aimlessly seeking - but never finding. It makes me sad to think that they have never experienced the security & freedom in knowing that something much better than this world could ever offer, is what God has in store for us. They have never known the comfort that comes from understanding that the reason we don't ever feel completely at home, is because we are not home yet!

I was watching 'UK Border Force' today, and it actually was a really powerful picture for me of how lost people are. If you have't ever watched this show its basically a documentary following the UK immigration officers and border police as they run around the country tracking down illegal immigrants and deporting them, or they search freight trucks for clandestine's at the borders. Well on one episode today, they stopped a freight truck coming over from France. After searching the truck, they found 17 people squeezed under crates of yoghurt. They were made to pile out, and the absolute disappointment on their faces is ingrained on my mind. They were Afghanistan and had been living in the Jungle in France for over a year, hoping for an opportunity to escape to England, where they expected to be finally living their dreams. When asked 'Why England?' their answers gave England the impression of being a land flowing with milk and honey... they wanted better lives, better jobs, safety, knowledge. Their previous homes had not been great, they had been left with dreams of a happier life, a place to truly call home. And somewhere along the line, they had been told, they would find their dreams and happiness in a little place called the United Kingdom. They were all sent back into France. The next day, the border control found another truck with clandestine's hidden amongst the freight it was transporting...this time there were about 6 of them. What was surprising, was that one of them was covered in dry yoghurt, and that was because he was one of the lads who had attempted to cross the border in a yoghurt truck the day before. He had been sent back to the jungle in France, and he so desperately wanted to be in England, that on probably no sleep at all, he re-attempted the emotionally draining process of raised hopes, only to have them dashed again.

The border force also went to various car wash businesses in England to arrest illegal immigrants, working without the necessary visa's. On making several arrests it was mentioned that for a ten hour day of work, these immigrants were being paid a mere £15/day. I wonder how far that reality was, from their dreams of the UK. They had risked their lives, and in cases they had given up everything to get here, only to find, that work was not easy to come by, and they would be paid peanuts, and would struggle to afford to live here too. My heart broke for them. They had a wearied and defeated look about them, I imagine this is often the state of the non believers heart - they are all wondering, striving for better, hoping for a feeling of belonging, seeking to fit in, dreaming of sweeter. They never quite feel at home, though they cant put their finger on it. They don't have the hope that Christians do, the joy of knowing, that this home is only temporary. Philippians 3:20 reminds us 'For our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ' - What an awesome truth!! What especially strikes me is the 'eagerly awaiting' bit...because that is what we have in common with non-believers - we are eagerly awaiting Jesus, as they are eagerly awaiting their dreams to come true, eagerly awaiting a better life. We are both waiting... But the all important and crucial difference, the whole reason that Christians can have peace that passes understanding, is because they know our waiting is temporary, not indefinite. We know that we will be with Jesus, we will be home... and that my friends, is so very exciting. In every trial and pain that we face, we know, that this is not forever. God reigns, and one day, we will be with Him - we will be HOME. There is such freedom in that knowledge. And although this freedom is available for the taking, so many people blindly live in captivity. The lady who stands outside our corner shop, always intoxicated, always yelling at someone - captive. The teen who feels she is only as good as the sex she gives out - captive. The little boy who is so angry, he wont get through an hour with me without spitting and yelling - captive. The man who is going through divorce for the 3rd time due to infidelity - captive. I could go on. These are all examples of people who are seeking for more. They know in the depth of their hearts, that there is more to life than what they have...but they are looking in all the wrong places. That longing they have is one that God has given us, because we were never destined to remain here... they have mistaken that longing...and it is the saddest thing to watch.

I want to pick them up and tell them that the place they are looking for does truly exist, I want to share the hope of  Revelation 21:4 - He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. I worry about what the state of their hearts is, because I know that without the hope of Jesus and heaven, my heart would be in a dire mess.

I am so excited about the prospect of going home, to finally be with my Jesus, but I am also challenged, I am challenged that I desperately need to up my game on sharing this hope with the lost.... God is breaking my heart for those people more and more each day...I dont want any of them to miss out on what God has offered us all. I think for that very reason, I hope to never lose the devastating image in my mind of an illegal immigrant who's hopes are shattered when he realised he still wasnt home. I want it to motivate me to share the exciting truth of heaven to everyone. Not just within my ministry areas... but within my suburb and city... I want God to push me way out of my comfort zone for the sake of people coming to know Him. Pray for me as I seek to respond to this challenge...and I pray you too will be challenged to share the joy we have.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Banana Cake & The master chef!

I made banana cake tonight.... I never use a recipe for banana cake, and its never the same as any I have made before... I kinda just throw things in and make it up as I go along... and then I bung it in the oven and wait, never knowing whether the outcome will be edible or not.... so far it has always been super tasty, but when I think about it, its quite a gamble, and I am sitting in the kitchen right now, waiting, smelling gorgeous smells of banana mixed with roasting pecans - but all the while I am well aware that because I just made it up, I could open the oven to reveal a total flop...
As I sit here with NO knowledge of what the outcome will be, I find myself thinking how grateful I am that God doesn't take this flippant approach to our lives. He is the ultimate master chef - He doesn't just throw a bunch of different things into our lives and 'hope' that we turn out ok!! And He certainly doesn't sit on the edge of His chair, waiting expectantly for the timer to go off so that He can check in on us to see how we're getting on! Our Master Chef not doesn't follow a recipe for our live's either, in fact - He invents the recipe - and the recipe He creates is not a simple one, it is an intricate recipe, one that, if followed by us, will result in beauty, and we will certainly 'Taste & see that the Lord is good!' 
The bible says that the 'recipe' God created for each of us began before we even came into this world - that's kinda like a chef making a recipe that included ingredients that don't even exist yet!!! That would require some seriously amazing creativity - creativity which is beyond anyone. Psalm 139:16 says: "Your eyes saw my unformed body, all the days ordained for me were written in Your book, before even one of them came to be." - How awesome that God not only thought of us before we existed, but he also had our 'recipe' all planned out.(Quite a contrast to my baking, its normally spur of the moment, and it is almost never planned - I often get half way through making something only to find I don't have the ingredients I need!) Not only that, but He also knew that EVERYTHING He put into our lives as Christians would work out for OUR good. Romans 8:28 - And we know that in ALL things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose!  - Again, very unlike me, half the time I am not convinced that what I chuck in will really enhance the banana cake...I just 'hope' it does!
He leaves nothing to chance, He is a involved in every part of the process....When I bake, I rely on beaters, self raising flour, my oven.... now that I think of it, I have VERY little to do with the outcome - But God is not only the Chef, He is the whole recipe book - holding in Him the recipe for each of our lives, He not only creates us - He IS the raising agent, He is the mixer, He is the oven - He is every thing that makes us possible - He is everything that makes us beautiful! Without Him, we are nothing! 
He is our beginning - For You created my inmost being, You knit me together in my mothers womb. Psalm 139:13 ... and He is our refining Fire - 'This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold....' Zechariah 13:9 - He never walks away from the 'oven' and forgets about us - I do this all the time to my cakes - the result is never pretty when I forget I am baking in the first place!! God never leaves us alone, He never neglects or forgets us. 'No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will NEVER leave you nor forsake you!' Joshua 1:5 
I am so grateful that I am not something that God left to 'chance'. I am so glad that He purposefully and intricately designed me, that He thought me out, planned me, refined me, and never will leave me!! The only thing that was in my hands, was the choice of whether to trust Him or not. Whether to follow my own sinful heart, sinful desires - my own plan for my own life, or to choose to trust and follow the ultimate Master Chef, the One whose plans for my life are good and perfect. 
Hmmmm.... well, judging by how irresponsibly I bake, chucking things in here and there...never knowing how long to leave the cake in the oven, sometimes even forgetting its in there... I think I made the right decision in putting my life in His hands, and choosing to let Him mould me, guide me & make me into the beautiful woman of God He has already planned for me to be! 
I have just pulled my banana cake out of the oven, it smells gorgeous, and looks delicious. The pictures dont quite do it justice. But all I can think is, if my throwing things together without any idea of what I am doing can result in something so scrumptious and beautiful...How much more beautiful will we be if we allow God the be the Chef in our lives. He has it all planned out...intricately. He doesn't make it up as He goes along...and on top of that... He deeply cares about the outcome. Deeply cares. One final thought - I plan to give the banana cake gives me Joy to share yummy things with my friends, and not much satisfaction comes from keeping it to myself - and the same applies to the Master Chef - When His goodness is shared and declared it brings Him joy - it is the purpose He created us for in the first place, that He may get the glory He deserves for His never ending goodness, that the world may know what He has done for us!! So never stop sharing what He has done for you!! And give Him all the glory for the 'Banana Cake' He is making out of you!!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Covered by Him...

Its snowing beautiful white snow! I never tire of it! Everyone gets fed up with it and I just get more and more fascinated with it. I think snow is one of Gods most incredible displays, and I wouldn't be surprised if He came up with the idea of snow just to give us an amazing natural analogy of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

Isaiah 1:18 says ..."though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool!" - It makes me smile, because in my mind I imagine all these people in Jesus' day, who knew the old testament scriptures, having this kind of  "Aha!" moment after they realised what Jesus' crucifixion meant for them and then making the connection with what the Lord had said in Isaiah!

It is SO simple but yet SO VERY PROFOUND because in midwinter, when everything is grey and bleak and the cold is wearying, God comes along and covers everything with the purest white you will ever see, a blanket of fresh snow. And when it well and truly snows, the old is certainly gone, you cannot see anything but the purity and beauty of the snow - and in the same way, the realization of our sinfulness and our repentance of that sin (that grey, bleak midwinter of our lives) is followed by Gods grace covering us with the blood of Jesus, making us 'white as snow'. So that when God looks at us, He sees nothing of our old sinful selves, but rather, He sees Jesus. (2 Cor 5:17 - "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the old has GONE and the new has come."). And Gods amazing analogy doesn't even stop there... because in the same way that snow melts to reveal the beginnings of spring, fresh green grass & colourful beauty - so our new lives with Him begin, and as we seek God in the new life, so our lives will display the fruit and beauty of our relationship with Him! The beauty of spring! Gods analogies are the BEST!!!!

"The winter of my life" is a phrase often used to describe the last phase of a persons life.... I beg to differ, winter is only the beginning!!!  Our lives only begin when we are washed white as snow!!! Before that... we are  'dead in our transgressions' - Just like Ephesians 2:4-5 says "But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy - made us alive in Christ, even though we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved." 

God has been using the whiteness of snow as an example of what Jesus did for us since the Old testament... And this picture still affects me deeply today, every time I see snow, I am reminded of that verse in Isaiah...  I pray that the reality of what Jesus has done for you hits, every time a snowstorm does! 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Craving Correction & Practising God's Presence

'As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another' Proverbs 27:17

I don't know if it comes with age, or if its just something that comes with the realization that there is so much in my life that I need to work on, but I find myself craving correction more and more. By that I mean that I long for people to challenge me and correct the way I think and act - I love it when people are bold enough to tell me where I am going wrong, but I love it even more when they explain that, and are purposeful in it, and are practical by explaining how that problem or issue can be overcome. 
I learn more about my sinful self everyday, but there is still so much I am unaware of, and I am grateful that those things that I don't notice in myself, can be pointed out by others. Its a wonderful moment when God confronts you on things you did not know were an issue! There is excitement in finding a new area to grow and improve on. I don't want to be stagnant in my faith, I want to be constantly growing...constantly learning... there is so much to learn! I am becoming increasingly aware of how incredibly selfish I am, and its not until someone forces me to dissect my thoughts that I realize it! I thank God for His grace and patience in every aspect of my life, I am a S-L-O-W learner, but He remains faithful, always loving and always true! I believe He is really stretching me in the area of  dependence. Because recently so many of my actions have been highlighted as seeking approval & validation from people, rather than Him. Today I saw that I have a fear of abandonment that runs deep - one that causes me to rely way too heavily on what others think of me, and how I react to that. And in thinking about it, I cannot believe how many of my actions are driven by my 'need' for people to like me, to be 'ok' with me and not to leave me! And also driven by the thought that being a good friend to everyone somehow validates me as a person! How insane!
Its hard when you truly and honestly examine yourself and realize that some of your 'good' actions, have bad motives... It makes you feel like you have wasted so much... like any good that you have done has been worthless! But I have come to the conclusion, that this is not so, God used my selfish attempts to love and care for people (even though my motives were not always pure) because He is a God of grace! BUT - God wants me to move on from my selfish ways! And He also is a God of freedom, who does NOT want to see me bound by these chains of approval addiction, need for validation and fear of abandonment. He wants me to be free, He wants me to remember that I am approved by HIM.. and to be able to love out of a pure heart, love without needing love in return...Love, not for myself, but for Him. Love, knowing that He is my identity, my passion, my desire, NOTHING else. What a freeing and liberating thought!!

Someone shared with me today about how we need to 'Practice God's Presence'. I thought I did, but the more I thought about it and the more she talked about it, I realised I completely deny God's presence in some areas of my life. Like in the area of reaching out and loving others... I just assume that because its a nice thing to do, that it would be what God wants me to do.... and He does call us to love... but I should be turning every thought and action over to Him, even if I, in all my lack of wisdom, think I know what's right. 
I think that if I had been practising God's presence in all areas of my life, then I would not be in this position of selfish ambition that I find myself right now.  

God challenged me hugely today.... it kind of went like this - 'Erica, how do you expect to know and feel how much I love you, if you are running after the love of other people!' 'No wonder your'e exhausted!' - 'Come to me!' 'Seek me'. 

It IS exhausting running around trying to find your value in others...even if you don't realise you are doing it! I have decided to stop!!! I have decided to remember who is the author and creator, who is the first and the last, beginning and the end. I am challenged to be more purposeful in practising His presence...ESPECIALLY in the areas I think I don't need to - because those are clearly the most dangerous areas of all! I still crave correction... and I desperately want to change and grow in every area of my faith! I want people who know me to be able to say - She HAS grown, she HAS changed, so that I can say 'Only by the grace of God!' ..I am approved by God, and I need to live it.- I want people to know the full EXTENT of my sinfulness, so they can get a clear picture of how HUGE the grace of God truly is! I want to Glorify God with my life - and I want to know when I am not doing that. I am grateful for the people bold enough to show me areas that I need to work on! 

God is Good.