Day 27 - Issue 25

May 23, 2018

Ephesians 2:14 NLT

'For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.'

Some time back our good friends from many years, Clive and Ruth, came to stay. As ever, amid the humorous and happy reminiscences, I suddenly touched deeply into a source of real pain. It was obvious to me and to us all as the intensity of my communication increased. It related to a deep, unresolved and irresolvable dispute with social services. Investigated over my caring role with Katey, I found myself nose to nose with an inflexible, policy-ridden institution.

I realised as we talked, and perhaps as Clive, then Ruth, delicately attempted to point out the reality of the open wound I still carried, that this incident exercised far too strong a hold over my life. It wasn’t as though I thought about it much, yet stirred as the incident now was, I experienced the anger and sense of complete powerless that had engulfed me then. I was speaking while still occupying the incident, even though it was many years behind me. Holding onto pain, legitimate or not, allows yesterday’s remembrances to steal from our today and our tomorrows.

Here was a stone, in fact more of a boulder that was impeding my ability to move on with my life. The weight of it threatened to crush me. The scale of my emotional involvement, the depth of my pain and the confusion over the emotion and the logic was going to take some unwinding. Yet, I chose to acknowledge the reality of that wound, my own failure to have let go of it, and my need to take some action to move it away and move on. Length of time only lodges these stones more firmly around our heart, and I was going to need to spend some time totally devoted to working this one through. Yet, even as I knew that was the case, I already felt a lightening in my mood that even this boulder would be removed.

QUESTION: Can you find the courage to make an attempt to move away from the resentment and find peace once more with God?

PRAYER: Lord, just as you have broken down walls of hostility, break down any that remain in me.

 

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Day 26 - Issue 25

May 22, 2018

Ephesians 4:32 NLT

'Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.'

Not forgiving others is like letting stones build up around my heart. These stones can produce two reactions. They can provoke me to ponder over the ways I feel wronged by another. Every time I invest energy in that direction is like taking out each stone and giving it a polish. As I polish it I invest further in the resentment, hurt and feelings of rejection I hold. The second problem is that when I fail to get rid of these stones they accumulate, gradually building a wall around my heart. Then I cannot receive the love and affection I crave from other people or, most importantly, God.

As I was in my deepest pit caring for Katey, I took very personally what I viewed as the deliberate abandonment by friends. It was only made worse after Katey’s death when I felt no one was willing to help me get back onto my feet and find work. I realise now this was God’s process to enable me to take stock and deliberately choose the life I have today.

Still, I had to face up to my tendency to blame others for failing me. I was disfiguring the God image in them and fatally damaging myself. I had to acknowledge that my learned behaviour pattern was more about anticipating rejection and then provoking it through my actions.

So what to do? Instead of polishing stones and erecting walls, I was to invest my energies, practically and prayerfully in forgiving others. They may never know I held a grudge, but that was irrelevant. All I needed to do was to forgive, and by so doing, soften my heart and nurture kindness rather than resentment. It was a tough discipline, yet one that reaped rich rewards.

QUESTION: Have you built a wall of unforgiveness that is restricting the flow of God’s love in your life?

PRAYER: Lord, soften my heart towards those that have sinned against me, just as you do.

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Day 25 - Issue 25

May 21, 2018

Ephesians 4:31 NLT

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

A smile on my face does not equal a smile in my heart. Sadly, I have allowed others to upset me and formed an opinion which then clouds not simply my take on them, but also obscures my friendship with God. However justified I might feel about the attitude I’ve adopted, it remains wrong with God.

What I find challenging about scripture is the clarity and simplicity of its demands: ‘Get rid of’, or ‘put away’, as another translation puts it, suggests something as simple as taking off a jacket. If I nurture the wound of bitterness in my heart, then almost every action of another can deepen that wound. A wound that fails to heal is potentially fatal. When bitterness festers, it becomes established within my heart; I am hardly living. It’s all-consuming.

The phrase ‘get rid of’ or ‘put away’ has many meanings. For example, my bitterness I can put away, but like the jacket mentioned above, while it’s in the wardrobe it can all too easily be taken out every time I want to wear it. It has not been dealt with, merely stored.

At the other end of the extreme, ‘get rid of’ or ‘put away’ can mean to place in prison or remove from everyday life completely. This is perhaps a better approach, for my attitude is already judged and found guilty by God and is to be removed from my everyday experience. It is not entirely beyond my reach, yet it is in a process of reform, the highest objective of imprisonment.

In American parlance ‘put away’ can mean to kill, and this is the best outcome for me when I have literally removed all life from my bitterness and anger and no longer feel any desire to speak ill or act inappropriately to the source of such bitterness.

Slowly God has brought me to a place where I recognise and acknowledge this and have found the grace to move forward.

QUESTION: Are there any areas of lingering bitterness in your heart?

PRAYER: Lord, help myself and anyone struggling with bitterness to walk the path of forgiveness.

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Nine

May 19, 2018

Zechariah 14:9 NLT

'And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord – his name alone will be worshiped.'

It’s hard to observe global events or experience personal disappointment and to maintain a constructive view of God’s authority. Why is it that God’s rule fails to counteract the evil and tragedy we observe and experience? Much like those first disciples, we have a choice to wait in anticipation for the promises of God to be realised in some way – and some of these promises most likely lie beyond our lifespan, as they have our forebears.

Living as if God is Sovereign is difficult when the evidence of our own eyes and experience suggest otherwise. And our experience is comfortable compared to refugees displaced by war or children trafficked to satisfy the lust of others. In living as if there is some divine order in the world, are we deluded or worse, seeking to wrap human misery in a fantasy of our own imagination?

It is more than anything else the clearest demonstration of faith, something insubstantial that lies well beyond the reach of reason. Conviction defies logic. And logic has its limitations, as scientific research reveals with increasing regularity. Logic has its place, yet so does faith.

A group of frightened disciples overwhelmed with disappointment are encouraged by meeting the Lord in risen form. Now obediently locked in the upper room, fearful for their fate, they are about to experience the outpouring of God’s love in supernatural form. Yet, even as they receive the most remarkable gifts and will observe supernatural intervention, their lives will be subject to imprisonment, torture and cruel execution, simply for keeping faith with the Lord who has called them, yet is now ascended.

It is indeed a challenge following Jesus. Yet, twelve disciples are empowered to turn their whole world upside down. And so can we…

QUESTION: Will you continue to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done”?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Eight

May 18, 2018

Matthew 25:34 NLT

'Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.'

Once while in Cairo airport, all the luggage from our plane was mislaid. Every so often a different passenger would approach a member of staff, only to be told they would have their luggage in ten minutes. No luggage appeared and ten minutes became two hours with no sign of our suitcases. The passengers’ mood deteriorated, not only because they were still separated from their luggage, but because the delay they were told to expect was a total misrepresentation of reality.

Waiting is the natural stance for God’s followers. We await God’s kingdom in all its fullness and we so easily miss God if we fail to stop and wait and watch. While we wait, we find ourselves filling the time with a variety of activities. All such activities will be weighed by God and where evidence exists that reveals righteousness, it shall be credited to us.

My love for Katey expressed itself in a variety of ways as we encountered MS. My frustration often broke through as we waited on God before the experience made a shred of sense to either one of us. As for my actions, I would not count them as acts of righteousness, more actions born of necessity. I was weary, worn down and cranky along the way, yet somehow we hung onto each other and God too. It never got easier and we were misunderstood by a watching world.

I assume Katey already knows the degree to which her life was considered as righteousness. I await my own appointment with death to discover the truth. Our society platforms individuals and distributes meaningless honours as symbols of its own measure of righteousness. God, however, has the only meaningful and final judgement on the matter.

QUESTION: What are you waiting for God to do or change in your life or those who you love the most?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Seven

May 17, 2018

Luke 17:20b-21 NLT

“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

As I get older I easily forget where I have left things. It’s all very well knowing I need a key to start my car, yet no help at all if I cannot locate the key! Understanding and application are two distinct states of being. Here Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is more than a concept while not yet a tangible reality.

The fact is that the kingdom is visible wherever there is evidence of its existence. I grew up just outside London and travelled there often. I often passed Buckingham Palace with its uniformed soldiers on sentry duty. I knew this was a sign that the UK had a monarch. The royal standard flying from the flagpole told me the Queen was in residence. This was evidence to the reality of her majesty without ever my witnessing her in the flesh.

So it is with God’s kingdom. We choose to live with the reality of the kingdom before it is fully evident. You and I need to establish what flag we raise over our own life to indicate that God is in residence. What behaviours reveal our investment in the kingdom of God ahead of the kingdom of this world? Do we reflect the values of a world of impatience, materialism, selfishness and thoughtlessness? Or do we daily demonstrate the kingdom of God through our lifestyle?

I have learned that I must disengage from much of life both to discern the character of God’s kingdom and find the means by grace to produce evidence of my commitment to its emergence on the earth.

QUESTION: What fragments of God’s kingdom have you witnessed as you journey through life?                                                    

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Six

May 16, 2018

Mark 1:15 NLT

“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

In this period of waiting between Christ’s ascension and Pentecost, the reality of the kingdom hangs in the air. The disciples have encountered the risen Jesus and yet are uncertain of the implications for themselves and the world in which they live. They remain fearful of the consequences of following Jesus, yet obediently pray in anticipation of something remarkable that’s about to happen.

Uncertainty is a difficult emotion to manage. All the times of waiting for results concerning Katey’s condition were tough. We longed for a positive report, but feared the worst. Nearly 20 years on, I experience the same emotions as Jayne meets with specialists about her chronic health condition.

But there is a difference. My self-serving negotiation with God is gone from my lips. I am in prayer and seeking to grasp God’s workings in this distressful condition for Jayne. I am still waiting on what this might all mean, but in such moments I need to remind myself that the kingdom of God is “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, ESV). I must reach out and take hold of it. I must make my stand upon the solid, if unseen, reality of the kingdom, rather than the very real yet transient reality of this present age. Every emotion and thought is connected to the immediacy of my present, yet my identity is primarily established within the unseen yet concrete reality of God’s kingdom.

As I pray I move swiftly between faithfulness and faithlessness; double-minded on many occasions, yet clinging, often desperately, to the hope offered by the kingdom presence Jesus promised.

QUESTION: Spend a few moments considering the days the disciples spent huddled in fear praying in the upper room. What is your experience of living in “no man’s land”? What are you anxious about, yet seeking to stand faithful?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Five

May 15, 2018

Hebrews 12:28 NLT

'Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.'

Living in a liberal democracy, it is difficult to imagine what living within a kingdom really looks like. Although the UK has a monarch as head of state, the Queen has major constraints placed on her. She is head of state but a parliamentary democracy of elected politicians exercises the authority to determine the laws that govern us. The monarchy would not survive long were it to try to assert any form of direct rule.

A kingdom in the proper sense of the word is ruled by a monarch who has absolute power over their kingdom, its laws and its people. If the monarch decides to financially enrich himself and those he chooses at a whim, they can! His authority is absolute. Harsh and unappealing as such a structure sounds, this is the foundation for God’s kingdom. God in three persons is absolute monarch and demands total obedience from all subjects.

My faith has been most tested when I appeal to my rights under the law in addressing God. Surely my faithfulness does not deserve a lack of favour from my God? And herein lies the problem, for I am under grace, not law. I must embrace life’s experience and seek to discover God within it, regardless of the apparent inequality between different human experiences,

Thus the philosopher’s problem with an all-sufficient God. How can it be that some are dealt a favourable hand in life, while others endure unimaginable suffering? A liberal democracy calls us to political protest and direct action, seeking change. Human effort creates a better society for all. Yet God’s kingdom is not of this world and so we are in fact being equipped to live and serve God’s kingdom project both in the here and now and throughout eternity.

QUESTION: What is your biggest challenge right now in praying “your Kingdom come2?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

 

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Four

May 14, 2018

1 Samuel 8:7 NLT

“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.

There is power in the words we use. Words are the means by which God created the world: ‘God said…’ They are also the means we use to communicate ideas and feelings. With words we construct our understanding of ourselves, others and the world we inhabit. Words lay the foundations for realities we have to live with.

My mum is a great example of this. She tends to make her mind up quickly and independent of any external advice, but unintended consequences become apparent over time. This is why seeking the counsel and wisdom of others is a good thing. Also, waiting on critical decisions is useful. In my younger days I was much like my mum, and life was more chaotic than it needed to be.

Here Israel looks for a simple answer to a complex problem. The problem – discerning God’s will in daily living. This is something I have struggled with over the years, initially suffering the fear of stepping out of God’s will, through to a complete confusion as to what God’s will is. Life happens to me, and is this a consequence of failing to live within God’s will? Or is it the reality of God inviting me to discover more of the kingdom though life experience, trusting that whatever the scale of the challenge, I will find my way and God’s way?

Imagining there is a simple answer to the way and will of God is foolish. The elders’ insistence, while looking a lot like assured leadership, was actually a rejection of God. Certainty is an illusion we cherish in a world that seeks to manage risk. We should not be surprised if God acts like the least risk averse person we will ever encounter.

QUESTION: Has life thrown you a curved ball lately?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

 

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Premier Novena 2018: Day Three

May 13, 2018

1 Samuel 8:5 NLT

“Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

One of the greatest challenges and a tremendous source of learning, as I accompanied Katey on her journey with MS, was that there are very few definitive answers. I had erroneously held the view that medical science was far more precise than in fact it was. I discovered when anyone enters a period where health issues are not ‘open and shut’, then with the best will in the world, no medic can provide a definitive answer.

Consequently, both patient and medic struggle. The patient wanting the reassurance that a treatment will bring improvement and solve a medical issue, the medic uncomfortable with their responsibility to deliver news that things can get worse as well as better. I felt like I was stepping onto a frozen pond where the thickness of the ice was forever uncertain. At any moment I might plunge into the icy waters below. Living with uncertainty is stressful and yet is a central part of learning to live on earth.

As the elders in Israel demand a king, tired of the uncertainties of the prophets with their their mixed motives and messages, they fail to recognise that they will not be guaranteed the certainty they crave.

News reports from around the globe reveal that we exercise little control over our day-to-day destiny. None of us has a handle on what tomorrow might bring. This is why Jesus encourages us to think in terms of today rather than tomorrow. All the planning in the world will not divert disaster if it chooses to come calling. God is no guarantee against human disappointment, pain or personal tragedy. God offers accompaniment through such experiences and the promise of a promised land the other side of the desert.

QUESTION: Do you seek simple answers to complex questions?

NOVENA PRAYER: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may my heart desire your kingdom above my own, your will not my will, and your purpose in all things. Give me eyes to discern your kingdom way, and hands that work in collaboration with your Holy Spirit to build that kingdom here on the earth. I entrust myself to you once more this day.

 

 

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