You are unique and deeply loved

11dec“… I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2.20

We are all aware that Jesus came to this earth because he loves us, but I wonder if we fully understand the implications of this?  When we read that Jesus loved us, it means that he didn’t come to earth out of duty.  Instead he came because he looked at us and was so captivated by what he saw that he was willing to lay aside everything for us.

When Jesus looks at you, he sees something that you don’t see.  You might see your past failures, your sins, or all the bad things that go through your mind.  When this is your focus you wonder how anybody could possibly love you – perhaps you don’t even like yourself!  Yet when Jesus looks at you he sees something utterly different.

He sees someone who has been uniquely created by Father God.  You are not a mistake, someone who has slipped through the net, but a person created by God.  Jesus sees the handiwork of God the Father all over you.

The challenge of this is that you have to stop and change the way you think about yourself.  If Jesus looked at you and was willing to do all he did because of what he saw in you and his love for you, then you have to change the way you see yourself.

You are no longer a failure, but an individual created by the Father, loved by Jesus and in whom the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell.  This is something you need to take seriously.  Repeat these truths over yourself and begin to see yourself in a different light.

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Sharing the same Father

“…my Father and your Father” John 20.17

Just prior to his ascension, Jesus spoke to Mary about where he was going.  He didn’t just say that he was going to his Father, which would have been wonderfully true, but he described it in terms of “my Father and your Father”.  In other words, he was saying that the fatherhood of God was just as real for her as for him.  This good news didn’t stop with Mary – it is also true for us.

When we think about God the Father, one of the most significant implications is that we are his children.  We have all been adopted as children of God (Ephesians 1.5) and are in the same love-relationship that Jesus enjoyed.  For this reason, we read of Jesus talking to his Father about us in John 17.26, and praying that “the love you have for me may be in them”.  The longing and prayer of Jesus was that the love between him and the Father would be the same love that we can share in and enjoy.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is your Father; the love the Father has for Jesus is the love the Father has for you.  Hold on to this and catch the wonder of it.

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Spreading the Kingdom

9dec“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.” Matthew 24.6

Matthew 24 is not exactly a ‘pink and fluffy’ passage! It speaks about events leading up to the end of the world, and touches on subjects such as war and persecution.  We all know only too well that at times we look at the news and events around us and are reminded of these words spoken by Jesus.

One of the reasons that it seems a depressing chapter is that there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it – but actually there is!  In these tough times, we are told, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world” (verse 14).  It is not angels who are going to do this ‘preaching’, nor is just the work of evangelists – it is something for all of us to engage in as best we can.

Preaching the gospel of the kingdom is about proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom and revealing his heart.  All too often, we can be put off from doing anything because we don’t think we can do enough but all of us can do something to bring good news to the people we meet and the situations we face.

Spreading the good news can take many forms: doing small acts of service for people, encouraging a friend to go to church with you, offering to pray for someone (either in person or at home on your own) or mentioning that you find prayer helpful next time someone shares their anxieties with you.

You carry the kingdom of God within you – so where are you going to take it?

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Shrinking fear

‘There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’ 1 John 4.18

In many ways this seems such a stark verse.  It lays out a clear reality: if you are aware of fear in your life, it is probably an indication of an area of your life where the love of God has not permeated.  The challenge, of course, is that we all probably have such areas in our lives – but the good news is that there is more of God’s love to experience.

You probably don’t have to think too hard to identify an area of fear in your life!  As you think about it, what part of God’s love are you struggling to trust?  It may be that deep-down you doubt that he will be there for you, that he does not love you as the person you are, or something completely different.  Try finding a promise from the Bible that counteracts whatever you are struggling to trust.  For example, if you are fearful about being alone, a promise made by Jesus is that he will be with you always.  Whichever promise you choose, write it down, memorise it and for a few minutes repeat it until the words become natural.

By doing this, it is likely that whenever your fear or anxiety surfaces, so will the promise.  At least now you have a choice about which claims your attention and upon which you will focus.

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Satisfied with God’s love

‘Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love’ Psalm 90.14

These words, and the verses following, form a beautiful prayer.  The first thing to note is that it suggests there is a certainty about this prayer being answered, because the love of God is unfailing.  If this is true, there can be no doubt about God’s love being revealed to us.  The prayer Jesus prayed in John 17.26 magnifies this same sentiment.  Jesus said to his Father: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”  The desire of Jesus is that we will experience the same wonderful and unfailing love as the Father and Son share.

A second point to note is the cry that God’s love might satisfy us.  This is not simply a self-centred request.  If we are not satisfied with the love of God there can be a number of unhelpful consequences.   We may begin to approach him in an attitude other than love; possibly of fear, a sense of being uncared for or unloved. Perhaps we will start to look for our satisfaction elsewhere, often at the expense of other people.

The delight of God is to pour out his love upon us, so that we might know it to such an extent that we will find an inner peace that changes our lives and the lives of those around us. Rest in what he delights to do right now.

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‘Yes’ to God

“May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1.38

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary with the news that she would bear a son, Jesus, she had no hesitation in responding with today’s words: “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  In other words, she immediately said ‘Yes’ to God, despite the turmoil and disruption this was bound to cause to her own hopes, dreams and plans.

However, saying ‘yes’ to God is not just about responding to his great callings upon us.  It is also about aligning our daily lives to his will and promise.  One of the main ways in which God reveals his plans for us is through the Bible, and yet it is so easy to read a passage at the beginning of a busy day and then promptly forget it completely in the midst of all the comings and goings of life.

If you start off each day with a time of prayer and/or Bible reading, try finding at least one nugget that you can take through the day with you.  Finding it is the first task, and the second is to remember it, revisit it and apply it to whatever situations unfold in the day ahead.

So spend a little time now finding your nugget for today.  Write it down and take it through the day with you.

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The mission of Jesus

5dec“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19.10

The story of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus ends with Jesus speaking these words, in which he summarises something of his mission to the world – he came to seek and save the lost.

The word ‘lost’ is interesting.  In the Greek, it could also mean that which was destroyed or ruined, and it is in this context that the healing ministry of Jesus can be seen.  When Jesus healed those who were sick – whether in body or mind, by touching their social existence or the state of their hearts – he was reaching out to the destroyed and ruined parts of them to bring his salvation and healing touch.

The joy of this passage is also that seeking and saving the lost is something Jesus wants to do.  It is not a mission undertaken grudgingly or unwillingly, but with joy and purpose as this is one of the key reasons he came to earth.

As you take a few moments to be quiet now, remember that you are in the presence of the one who is seeking you and wanting to help.  There is no point in hiding the things that are less than perfect from him, because Jesus is longing for you to bring them to him so that he can touch and help you.

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Planted in his presence

4dec‘But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;’ Psalm 52.8

It may not seem very flattering to be thought of as a tree, but actually it is a beautiful analogy, especially when we see ourselves as trees planted in God’s presence.

A tree does not make the decision about where it is to be planted – and neither do we.  God made that decision and he has planted us.  You may be able to think of a thousand reasons why you feel he should not have planted you in his presence, but he has!  God has already done it.

When we stop to think about it, raising objections about where we feel we are planted is a total waste of time.  Instead, we would do far better spending our time enjoying what God has done.  We can spend so much time seeking God’s presence, when actually we are already in it.  We simply don’t feel that we are!

Take time now to hold in your mind this image of a flourishing tree.  It really doesn’t matter how accurate your mental picture is, but see in your mind’s eye a tree growing in the courtyard of an ancient building.  Now worship God because you are like that tree growing in God’s house.  He has planted you with care, set you firmly in his presence, and he enjoys the sight.  So begin to believe it – no matter how you feel, you are in God’s presence right now.

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This is our Jesus

3dec“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; . . . A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” Matthew 12.18 and 20

When Matthew was writing his Gospel and reflecting on the ministry of Jesus, these lovely words were what he chose to sum it all up as best he could.  They are actually a quote from the prophet Isaiah, and for Matthew there was no better way to describe Jesus.

These words give us the courage to come back to Jesus every day, regardless of what has happened; whether or not we fulfilled our potential, were obedient to all we were called to do, lived a pure day or achieved all we could.

It is not just the worst of sinners who can find comfort in his arms.  This is also true for those of us who feel ‘ordinary’, believing that we only smoulder and never shine brightly.  For us too Jesus is waiting and longing to whisper just how special we really are.

You can come to Jesus with your struggles right now, knowing that he is acting on behalf of the Father and has no desire to punish you or make you feel any worse than you already do.  You can come back to his loving arms, ask for his tender forgiveness, seek his transformation – and always, always find his love.

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Rejoicing in your inmost being

‘For you created my inmost being;’ Psalm 139.13

It’s perfectly possible to make ourselves look different on the outside.  Fancy dress parties illustrate this beautifully, and with a bit of effort we can even make ourselves look like other people!  Yet it’s far harder to change the inside.  It is this inner self that makes us who we are and sets us apart from other people.

If you’re honest, it may be that you don’t particularly like your inner self.  You may be aware of unhelpful desires and yearnings that you wish you did not have.  However, what if these desires and yearnings have, at their core, something created by God?  The desires and yearnings may indeed be marred and in need of God’s transforming and redeeming touch, but this doesn’t mean that they should be removed.  Deep within them, they are his creation and they make you who you are.

Think about this example of a person with a deep longing to be loved.  Their desperation might have led to inappropriate actions, but perhaps the actual desire was planted by God to be a real yearning and hunger for him, simply because he always wanted to be with them.  Sin warps this yearning and turns it into a desperate clinging to others, but the longing itself may be holy.

‘My inmost being was created by my heavenly Father and he put something in me that is wonderful and unique’.  Let this truth make an impact on you as you rehearse these words and rejoice!

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