Abundant!

 

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This morning, a well known image kept coming to mind.  It was that picture of a half filled glass of water, and that all important question….is the glass half full or half empty?

What do you think?

Well, before I’d even had time to ponder the answer, I sensed God’s smiling response:

“That question is completely irrelevant in my Kingdom!  When I fill a cup, it overflows!”

Ha!  Isn’t that wonderful?!

You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows! – Psalm 23:5

There are no half measures with God!  Nothing about Him is ever stingy or miserly or half hearted!  Everything about Him is abundant and lavish and overflowing!  What a joy!

I felt today that God wanted to remind me, and maybe some of you, of His absolute abundance!  In Him there is no lack.  He is great in might.  He is awesome in power, He is abundant in loving-kindness!  He really, really is a GREAT BIG GOD!

Feast your heart on a few of these ABUNDANT truths today – if necessary speak them out loud over your circumstances:

GREAT is the Lord and mighty in power.  His understanding has no limit – Psalm 147:5

But You O Lord, are a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness – Psalm 86:15

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom – Isaiah 40:28

Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways are past finding out! – Romans 11:33

Your loving-kindness O God extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the mountains of God.  Your judgements are like a great deep – Psalm 36:5-6

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love for those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us – Psalm 103:11-13

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness! – Lamentations 3:22-23

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;  for His loving-kindness is everlasting – Psalm 118:1

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen – Ephesians 3:14-21

What an amazing God!

 

 

Alive!

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My four year old daughter Emily has an incredible imagination.  She spends hours creating imaginary worlds, using little animal figures such as Playmobil and Sylvanian Families.  She is also rather fond of a lovely set of Lion King characters that I found on ebay.

“Mum” she begs, “make Simba talk!”

So, somewhat reluctantly, I have to put on this really deep American voice and try to bring this inanimate, plastic Lion to life.

“Oh no!” I say, “There’s a big problem in the Pride-lands!”  I pause…not really too sure where this is going.

Emily looks at me with wide eyes.  She’s hanging on my every word and is desperate to find out what the problem is.

Shakily, I continue.  “You see…the waterhole has dried up.  And if we don’t get water soon… we’re going to die!”

Crikey.  Should I be that morbid with a four year old?

Emily doesn’t seem to mind at all.  She’s in the zone completely!  So we spend the next half hour racking our brains to try and come up with a solution.  And eventually we decide that the elephants are our best option.  They can suck some water up (from somewhere or other – minor detail) with their trunks and fill the water hole back up.  And all the while, of course, the evil Scar is trying to stop us at every turn.

For a moment, those plastic characters seem almost real.  But pretty soon, they go back in the toy box.

No matter how convincing my Simba voice is, or how entertaining my story, those characters will never, ever be real.  They’re just plastic.  Even Emily knows that.

And then, in Genesis, i read this:

“Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” – Gen 2:7

Hang on a minute!  Did you get that?  I mean, forget about trying to animate plastic lions… God moulded a man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and that pile of dust became a REAL PERSON!  A living, breathing, blinking, yawning, walking, talking human being!  It’s jaw-dropping!   We can become so familiar with the creation scriptures, that we forget to marvel at them!  No wonder the Psalmists say time and again “There is no one like the Lord our God!”

And then the really mind-blowing thing!  Right at the outset of things, way back in Genesis, God was already revealing His plan of salvation.  This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.  The same thing happens when we are born again.  God takes a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins – and breathes His very life into their spirit, so that they become a LIVING BEING!

Dead.  Stone cold on a slab.  No heartbeat.  Like a pile of dust.  We were all dust-men!   But then suddenly the breath of the Holy One began to rush into the hollow caverns of that dead old soul and BOOM!  Suddenly we have a pulse!  We’re alive!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love, with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made is ALIVE together with Christ!  – Ephesians 2: 4-5

Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gleanings from The Book of Ruth – Part Two

He has brought me to His banqueting table, and His banner over me is love – Song of Solomon 2:4

Our story resumes at mealtime, when the harvesters have a break from their labour and sit down at the table to eat.  Ruth’s natural inclination is to sit on her own, apart from the others.  She is a Moabite, from the wash-basin of Israel, and so her tendency is to separate herself from those who belong at the table.

But Boaz beckons her: “Come here that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.”

So Ruth is offered a place beside the reapers where Boaz serves her roasted grain.  She eats her fill and is satisfied and has some leftover.

The symbolism here of Christ’s love for sinners is beautifully striking – immediately a verse springs to mind:

The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are afar off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” – Acts 2:39

There’s something strangely familiar about this scene, isn’t there?  Bread being given out, with some leftover?  Was there not once a man who broke bread around a table, serving His disciples, and saying “This is my body, broken for you?”

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As I read this scene, I feel my heart being strangely warmed, just like those two travellers on the road to Emmaus who finally recognised Jesus only as he broke bread.  Do we not now recognise our Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus, in this lovely little scene played out between Ruth and Boaz?  What a wondrous foreshadowing of our Saviour’s redeeming love, of how he took on the nature of a servant to redeem the poor and the unworthy – the Bread of Life giving bread to those who were once afar off!

Jesus has called each one of us to come close, to come to His banqueting table, to eat of the bread of life and be fully satisfied!  What an invitation!

And from here, the story continues.  After a series of  sweet little twists and turns, Boaz and Ruth go on to become husband and wife!  A story that begins with death and famine and grief, ends with a wonderful wedding!  Though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning!  God takes a poor, destitute woman, from the washbasin of Israel,  and makes her into a fruitful bride!  A woman with no prospects, no wealth, and nothing to offer but her exemplary devotion to Naomi, ends up becoming a joyous bride, and goes on to bear for Boaz, and indeed for Naomi, a much longed for son!  The child is named Obed, and he grows up to become the Father of Jesse, who grows up to become the Father of none other than King David – surely the most notable King in the bible.

Does this not make your heart sing?  How extraordinarily wonderful!  Ruth – a Moabite, a poor woman from a nation that is despised and looked down on, becomes the Great Grandmother of King David – thus sharing in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself!  I don’t know about you, but this completely blows my mind!

Can you see how it has always been in heart of God to take the far off Gentile, once excluded from the Household of God, and bring them to His banqueting Table?   To take the hopeless sinner into His heavenly home to become the bride of the King!  Doesn’t it make your heart leap for joy when you put yourself in the place of Ruth, when you understand all that God has done for you?

Today as I reflect of all of these things, my heart echoes with great joy, the words of the Psalmist:

“He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,  to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.  He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.  Praise the Lord!” –  Psalm 113:7-9

 

Gleanings From The Book of Ruth – Part One

“Priceless gems have often been found in unlikely places.  Many a choice flower has been found blooming in a rocky crevice.  Rainbow artistries have suddenly lit up the drabbest skies.  Beauty spots have charmed the traveller at surprise turns on the least promising road  It is even so with this superbly beautiful little idyl, the book of Ruth”

Sidlow Baxter, Explore The Book (Bible Commentary)

Imagine my delight, when I checked the Sunday School Rota a few weeks back, and discovered that I had to deliver a lesson to our 3-4 year olds – on the book of Ruth!

My thoughts whirred as I considered the complications of trying to explain to our wide-eyed pre-schoolers, what a ‘Kinsman Redeemer’ is!   It had been years since I’d read the book of Ruth, but I vaguely remembered something about sheaves of barley…and wasn’t there that part when Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz, asking him to cover her with his cloak?  Hmmm.  There was no doubt about it…this was going to be one interesting Sunday School session!

Despite my initial reservations, things went really well! (three cheers for Pinterest for a whole host of craft ideas!)  I even managed to find a beautiful sheaf of dried wheat on Amazon, which the kids were fascinated by.   On-line shopping – what a life saver!

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Once the Sunday School was out of the way, however, I began to sense that there are absolutely no coincidences. God was drawing me into the book of Ruth.  There were delightful hidden treasures within the story that He wanted me to discover.  It was time for me to plumb the depths of the bible’s most quirky little love story.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is the basic backdrop of the story:

  • The story begins when a Judean woman called Naomi, who has spent the last ten years residing in Moab to escape a famine in her homeland, is left destitute when her husband and two sons die.
  • Her two sons had been married to Moabite women – one called Orpah, and one called Ruth.  (This was an ungodly alliance, and was forbidden in Levitical law).
  • Naomi decides to return to her people, where she fairs the best chance of survival.
  • She means to set out alone, and urges her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, and go back to their childhood families.  Naomi has no other sons to be given in marriage to Orpah or Ruth.  Their best bet is to remain in Moab, where they have the best chance of finding new husbands.
  • The two young women have an agonising decision to make.  They have come to love Naomi, yet if they go with her, they will have to live in Judah as sojourners in a foreign land – this is a huge risk to take.
  • Justifiably, with much weeping, Orpah decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth ‘clings to her Mother-in-Law’, refusing to be parted with her.

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I go, and where you lodge, I lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

So what becomes of the lovely, loyal Ruth?

Well, it just so happens that the two women arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the Barley Harvest.  Their arrival does not go unnoticed.  Everyone is curious.  What has become of Naomi?  Where is Elimelech, her husband?  And what of her two sons?  And who is this strange Moabite woman at her side?  I bet tongues were wagging!

One of Naomi’s relatives, a wealthy, upright man named Boaz, owns several Barley fields and employs teams of servants to harvest the barley.

The key to Ruth and Naomi’s survival can be found in a strange harvesting custom, found in Leviticus 19:9

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Nor shall you glean your vineyard nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard.  You shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger, I am the Lord Your God.”

Wow!  Isn’t that just like our God?  Always making provision for the needy and the stranger?

So Ruth becomes a “gleaner” in the fields of Boaz.  She follows behind the team of harvesters, gathering up the scraps that they accidentally drop.  She has to keep her distance.  Moab was known at the time as the ‘washbasin of Israel’ – basically, a foot basin for washing feet!  She is totally vulnerable, putting herself at the mercy of others, and showing herself to be utterly destitute.  She is therefore open to any kind of mistreatment.

But Boaz notices Ruth.  He makes enquiries about her.  And it seems he is deeply impressed by her loyalty to Naomi.  He speaks to Ruth, showing kindness to her in three ways:

  • He instructs her to glean only in his field
  • He commands his servants not to touch her
  • He invites her to drink from the water that his servants draw if she gets thirsty

It must have been fairly unusual for a foreigner to be treated with such kindness, as Ruth falls on her face, bowing down to the ground, saying: “Why have I found such favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

And here is Boaz’s response:

“All that you have done for your Mother-in-law, after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your Father and your Mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you previously did not know.  May the Lord reward your work and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

Someone once said that you can find Jesus in every book of the bible.  Like a golden thread woven through the whole tapestry of scripture, is the overarching theme of Redemption.  Every now and then, if we examine the tapestry in the right light, we catch a glimmer of this glinting gold.  The book of Ruth is no different!  Boaz is a type of Christ.  And here we begin to get the first glimpses of a man that possesses amazing integrity, kindness and generosity.

It also may be worth noting here that godly men are drawn to godly character.  They are not merely impressed by the outward appearance, but by the inner qualities a woman displays by her conduct.  Boaz was deeply struck by Ruth’s courage and commitment.  He also recognised the evidence of her new found faith – By cleaving to Naomi, Ruth had ultimately chosen to put her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God never turns away any that would seek Him.  The time of salvation for the Gentile had not yet come.  Yet God seems unable to resist showing compassion, grace and kindness towards this young, courageous Moabite woman, who has so selflessly thrown herself upon His mercy.

As the story unfolds, we get to see how sweetly Boaz and Ruth become increasingly drawn to one another.  And we begin to see more of God’s wonderful, extravagant heart towards the Gentile.

Part Two to follow soon…!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner, Two Sinners and A Saviour!

 

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The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise – Psalm 51:17

There are two stories in the New Testament which so wonderfully portray the dynamic power of forgiveness. Interestingly, they both share the same three elements: Dinner, a sinner and a Saviour.

Story number one takes place when a Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus round for a meal.  It’s not clear whether Simon is being genuinely hospitable, or whether he has an ulterior motive, but what we do discover later on, is that Simon fails to show Jesus the customary Jewish welcome of a kiss and a bowl of water for the washing of feet. As they are reclining at the table, things take an interesting turn.

A woman with a jar of perfume and a bad reputation, gate-crashes the party.  She breaks open the alabaster jar of fragrance and starts to anoint Jesus’s feet.  Weeping and crying, she dries His tear-stained feet with her hair, and kisses them again and again.  Talk about awkward moment!

Suddenly Simon gets all fidgety in his seat. Ha! If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have been able to discern what kind of woman this was.  If Jesus were truly a prophet, then surely He would have this woman thrown out into the street.

But Jesus with x-ray-like vision, sees right into the depths of Simon’s soul.  And He begins to tell a story about two debtors.  One who owes a little, one who owes a lot.  Both of them receive good news- their debts have been cancelled by their Creditor.

“Now which of these two will love the most?”

“I suppose the one who has been forgiven the most,” Simon rightly answers.

Which leads us nicely onto story number two- the story of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus is the Chief Tax Collector in the Jericho region and let’s just say ‘popular’ is not his middle name. He takes what people owe…plus a little bit extra besides.

But he’s heard a rumour. Jesus is coming to town.  “I’ve gotta’ see him”, thinks Zacchaeus.  “I’ll do anything to see Him”.

But Zacchaeus is a little on the…er, little side.  As Jesus passes through Jericho, vast crowds press in around Him.  And try as he might, Zacchaeus cannot see above the crowds.

So what does he do?  Give up and go back to his mansion?  No!  He runs ahead of the crowd and climbs up into a Sycamore Tree!  Now this man was rich.  He probably had swag!  But nothing was going to stop him!

And Jesus stops right underneath that Sycamore Tree and peers up into the branches, right into the face of a man who is outwardly rich, but inwardly profoundly empty and says:

“Zacchaeus!”

Jesus knows his name. He knows all our names.  “You’d better climb down because  I’m coming to your house today!”.  This time Jesus invites himself round for dinner!

And they talk.  And Jesus explains that He came to this earth to cancel the huge debt of sin that people like Zacchaeus, and the woman with the alabaster jar – people like me, and you- simply couldn’t pay.

And once again forgiveness has its transformative effect.  Zacchaeus is a changed man. Repentance flows from his heart just like the perfume that flowed from that alabaster jar.  Because the point of the story was not so much the broken jar, but rather a broken, sin-weary soul, kneeling at the feet of a merciful Saviour. And Zacchaeus promises to pay back anybody he’s ripped off four times over!

You see it’s true.  He who is forgiven much, loves much.

 

 

A Study On Kindness

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This week, the Lord has been repeatedly drawing my attention to a very beautiful quality: kindness.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but kindness seems to be pretty ‘in’ right now!  Perhaps you’ve heard about people carrying out these ‘Random acts of Kindness, in which kind deeds are bestowed on unsuspecting recipients, with absolutely no strings attached – apart from perhaps inspiring them to ‘Pay it Forward’ by doing something kind to someone else. An example would be paying someone’s bill in a café, or  leaving some coins selo-taped to a vending machine for whoever should next come along, with a post-it-note saying: “Treat yourself to something nice!

I love these kind of stories…they warm the cockles of the heart, don’t they?!

“But remember, boy, that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword.” – Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth.

But what exactly is kindness?  What does it look like?  Is it giving someone your last Rolo?  Or baking a cake for a new neighbour? Is it a natural quality that some people are just born with? Or is it a choice?  Well…I decided to delve into the scriptures to find out.  I didn’t get very far!  It seems kindness is an ocean, and I’ve only paddled in the shallows.  But here’s what I learned from just four verses:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you – Ephesians 4:32

Kindness is tender-hearted.  It’s warm.  It receives others with openness and understanding.  Kindness is having a heart that is soft and malleable, not hard and unyielding.

Kindness forgives…The more a person ‘gets’ how gracious God has been to them, the more they are able to extend kindness and forgiveness to others.  The kindness of God is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  Now I’m no expert, but if studies were conducted, my guess would be that some of the kindest people on earth would also turn out to be the most thankful to God.

But love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:35

Kindness is giving to others who may never repay you or even seem to appreciate your kindness.  So hooray for all those times when you’ve washed up, cleared up, picked up, hoovered up, put up and shut up- and nobody seemed to appreciated it!  Sometimes the arena where our kindness is most acutely tested is in our own homes with our nearest and dearest!    And how about loving our enemies?  It’s easy to be kind to the kind.  Genuine kindness is demonstrated by our Heavenly Father who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself” – Proverbs 11:17

The great thing about kindness is it’s a bit like a boomerang.  You throw it out and somewhere down the line it’s going to come back and bop you on the head!  (It’s worth noting at this point that cruelty works in the same way too – ouch!)  And even if people do not repay you, God most certainly will!  In fact, the reward for kindness is the highest of all honours:  You will be sons of the Most High.  Wow!

Put on then, as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience – Colossians 3:12

Kindness is fitting apparel for the people of God.  Kindness belongs in the same closet as compassion, humility, meekness and patience.  By the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to ‘put on’ kindness along with the other qualities listed- to clothe ourselves in these most beautiful of garments.  Why?  Because they show the world, a world in which kindness can be sadly scarce, the heart of our wonderful, heavenly Father who is overwhelmingly gracious and infinitely kind.

 

 

 

When God Spoke

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“I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears” – Psalm 34:4

When I was thirteen I went to a youth event where a passionate speaker challenged us to be radical for Jesus! I was stirred and full of amen’s…until, suddenly this well-meaning speaker pointed out that practically every single one of Jesus’ disciples was martyred for the sake of the gospel. Now I don’t want to freak you out, but let’s just say, that some of them didn’t exactly die pleasant deaths.

And there was me – thirteen years of age – and sooo not ready to die!  One minute I was flying high on the wings of faith: “Yes Jesus! I’m going to live for you! I will follow you wherever you lead me! I will serve you no matter what the cost!” And the next minute it was like I’d hit a whopping great tree!

Thwack!

Suddenly I was back down to earth with a thud! I don’t think I realized at the time how profoundly this incident affected me. But right there in that meeting, it was like a menacing shadow of fear snuck in through the back door and ripped that faith right out of my thirteen-year-old fingers.

Something in me deflated. I came to Christ as a six year old.  All I knew about Jesus was that He was good and kind and full of peace and love.  Nobody had ever really laid out the cost to me before. I desperately loved Jesus and I wanted to live for Him – but preferably without the slightest hint of persecution or suffering, thank you very much.

I felt paralyzed.  I kept trying to move forward, but I could still feel those shackles of fear holding me fast. In the back of my mind there were whispers of doubt: “You’d better not get too close to God! There’s no need to be radical!  That’s for fanatics – it’s not for the likes of you.  Stay within your comfort zone and be safe. The devil isn’t interested in luke-warm Christians.” Oh that crafty serpent! There’s always a tinge of truth in his sugar-coated lies.

Some years later, in my late teens, I was at another meeting. The Holy Spirit was moving and there was a call to step forward if you wanted to go deeper with God. I wanted to step forward with all my heart. I had a choice. Despite an inner struggle, I found myself responding. In fear and trepidation I found my feet moving. “Now hang on a minute!” I argued with myself “What on earth are you doing? You don’t really want to be doing this now, do you?”

As I stood there, eyes closed, hands raised, waiting for someone to come and pray for me, I silently poured out my heart to God,

“Lord I want to follow you,” I gushed, “I really do want to give my whole self to you – But I’m scared!  I’m being really honest here – I don’t want to die!” Tears began to spill from my eyes as I confessed to God my deepest, darkest fears.  Fears that I’d tried to bury.  Fears that He already knew about anyway.

Suddenly, almost instantaneously, came a still small voice. It wasn’t audible, but it was clear as crystal. In the tender tones of a father, do you know what He said to me?

“Oh Angie, (isn’t it lovely when He calls us by name?) I’m not asking you to die for Me. I want you to live for Me!”

Oh the power of that one simple phrase! Do you know that when God speaks to you, it can change everything? Suddenly His perfect love flooded my being and I wanted to shout for joy! The shackles of fear were instantly smashed off – and all fear was gone!