Keep It Fresh

Many years ago I assisted Wayne, a young husband, who was being treated badly by his wife. Wayne felt totally committed to his vow to love his wife and so he continued to forgive her for what she said and did and to keep expecting that the marriage could be restored.

The wife divorced him and threw a party the day the divorce was finalised, yet he continued to be determined to love his wife.

At the time, reflecting on what Wayne was going through, I gained a fresh insight into what commitment can be like. It is easy to volunteer for something on the spur of the moment, or to feel good about something when all is rosy. But when things get tough many people drop out.

A friend told me yesterday of his daughter doing a rather challenging Paramedic course. The course is famous for the high level of people who drop out during the first year. That kind of dropping off is often the case, especially in challenging circumstances.

Jesus talked about that, too, in His parable of the Seed in different Soils. The seed that fell in the rocky ground could not find deep root and so the plant shrivelled when the sun was hot. Jesus explained that people without depth will get excited at first, but will fail when they face difficulties.

“Seed among the rocks are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But they have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” Luke 8:13

People who can stick with their word and their commitments in the face of challenges are rare and honourable. This is the way we are meant to be in all aspects of our life.

If you are a shallow, irresponsible person, who can’t be relied on, then there is a lot of work needed in your inner life. You may need God to plough the soil of your heart and dig out the rocks of selfishness, independence, weakness, fear, pride and the like, that keep you from being a fully reliable person.

Wonderfully, God is on your side, even if you are a very weak person. He is able to uphold you and He is willing to carry you through, as you call on Him. God will also take out the stony heart within you and replace it with a tender, soft heart.

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

What I saw happening in Wayne’s life, that was so wonderful, despite how hard it was for him, was that he kept his commitment to his wife fresh. By ‘fresh’ I mean that he didn’t just hold onto his old commitment to her, but re-made that commitment regularly.

Let me explain it this way. A man finds a wife and commits to love her. He says to her, “I love you.” Then he finds out she is a much more difficult person to live with than he thought. So he stops and re-thinks his commitment. He said “I love you”, thinking she was one kind of person, but now he finds out she is different. So he re-calibrates and decides to make a Fresh commitment, and he says to her, “I love you.”

The second “I love you” is not a repeat of the first, even though the words sound the same, because in heart he is making that commitment to a wife who is difficult, instead of to the dream wife he imagined her to be.

Then she lies to him, betrays him, mocks him, humiliates him and scorns him. Again he has to re-think his commitment to loving her, now that he knows how unpleasant she can be. Drawing a deep breath, and making inner resolve to love his wife, despite how horribly she treats him, he says, “I love you”. Again this sounds like a repeat of past words, but internally these are completely fresh words, reflecting a completely fresh commitment to his wife. This time he is saying, “I love you, despite how horribly you treat me.”

The wife then goes and has an affair, hoping to drive away her husband. This hurts the man deeply so he has to once again re-think his commitment to her. He deals with his internal hurt and shame and decides that despite her actions he is still committed to loving her. So, once again, he says, “I love you.” But this time, the words speak of a brand new fresh and even deeper commitment on his part.

The wife might rebuff him and say, “Stop saying the same old thing over and over again.”

But he could reply, “I’m not saying the same thing. Every time I say ‘I love you’ it is a fresh commitment, a freshly deeper declaration of my will to continue to love you despite how severely you oppose me.”

Years ago I wrote that thought as a poem titled ‘A Fresh I Love You’.

But today I want to take that principle, the idea of keeping things ‘fresh’ as we face new depths of challenge and growth, and encourage you to apply it widely in your life.

Do you love your spouse, your children and your extended family? Have they hurt and disappointed you? Can you recognise the challenges that now exist in your relationships and make the choice to love them afresh, loving them and forgiving them and wanting the best for them, despite how they disappoint, hurt and offend you?

How would it be if today you were to refresh all your relationships, recalibrating them, getting back to manufacturer’s settings, applying God’s grace, wiping away all the negatives, because you made a fresh commitment to them?

What about your walk with God?

Have you gone cold on your walk with Him? Have you become offended because God asked hard things of you or didn’t rescue you in some situation where you felt He should?

Have you withheld praise and adoration, and gotten on with the other things of your life? Have you gone cold on prayer and reading God’s Word? Have you given up going to church and connecting with God’s people?

It’s time to make things ‘Fresh’ again. It’s time to dig deep and realise that you can remain faithful and recommit to your past commitments, and find grace to overcome those disappointments, hurts and frustrations. You can put aside your selfishness and love and bless people, and love and serve God, with all the joy and excitement you’ve ever known, by making fresh commitment from deep within.

So, my friends, today and every day from now on, I call on you to Keep it Fresh!

Do Unto Others

Christians have a wonderful ‘Golden Rule’ that prompts us to fulfil the second greatest commandment. Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to Love Our Neighbour as Ourself.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

Jesus also gave us what we call the Golden Rule, when He instructed His disciples to do to others what we would wish others to do to us.

“Whatever you wish that men would do to you, you do even the same to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Human nature has an opposite form of the ‘Do Unto Others’ rule. Instead of calling us to do to others what we want them to do to us, our human nature would rather repay others for the hurtful things we feel they have done to us.

Vengeance runs deep in the veins of human nature. It is an instinct often seen in young children, so it’s hardly a learned process, but more an expression of the fallen human nature.

We react to others with a retort, vengeance, spite, retaliation, rejoicing in their ills and so on. This is the opposite of treating people the way we would wish to be treated. The selfish ‘Do Unto Others’ is the spiteful ‘I will make you suffer because of what you did to me.’

Think of the things you may have heard people say when they have been upset.

“If that’s the way you feel about it you can forget about getting any support from me!”

“How dare you say that!”

“I’ll show you.”

What is interesting in this rather natural vengeance reaction is that people often to do others the very thing they would accuse the other of doing to them. If someone is angry to them, they will be angry back. If someone shows lack of care toward them they show lack of care in return.

Yet, even though they have done the same thing they didn’t want done to them they will blame the other for what they did, on the basis “You did it first!”

This is hypocrisy, yet we excuse it when we are driven by our own self interest.

So we end up with silly situations like these:

“My spouse treats me poorly so I just ignore him (or her) and make them suffer!”

“My children don’t respect me or appreciate me so I don’t do anything for them any more.”

“My work associates try to get one up on me, so I am delighted when I can get one up on them.”

“She never was a very good wife so she deserves what she got!”

We are really poor at suffering wrong and blessing those who offend us, or are our enemies. Yet that is what Christ asks us to do.

“To those of you who will listen I say, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27,28

We are also told that it is not our place to punish people for the evil they do, even if they do it to us. Vengeance belongs to God not to us. We are not given the authority to take revenge, act in spite or pay people back for what they have done.

“Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.” Deuteronomy 32:35

“Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19

When you ‘Do Unto Others’ is it doing to others what you want them to do to you, or is it the doing of retaliation and spite? Do you bless or are you into ‘payback’?

As someone who belongs to Christ your heart is not to be one of spite and retaliation.

To those of you who have a heart of spite toward your spouse, family members or others, I challenge you to check your heart. You are acting like an unregenerate heathen, and not like Christ, who brings grace, and you are not following the instruction of Christ, and you are taking on yourself a privilege that belongs to God. Instead you are to love those you currently feel bad feelings toward.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18

Friends, it’s time to stop and take account of how you Do Unto Others.

Power and Praise

Let me suggest to you that there are two key characteristics of the Christian life that should stand out for any who care to see it, Power and Praise.

I recall this pair being celebrated in a chorus by Dave Richards, popular since 1977.

“For I’m building a people of power And I’m making a people of praise

That will move through this land by My Spirit And will glorify My precious Name.”

Richards saw Power and Praise as two significant characteristics of Christian life.

Christian life is a life of Power. Through Christ we have power over Sin and the Devil and power to change our personal life and transform all the things that we are engaged in.

The Apostle Paul, among so many others, is a prime example of how a life can be radically changed by an encounter with Christ. He was killing Christians until he saw a vision of Christ and was called to serve the one he persecuted.

Christians have power through Christ in them and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Christians employ the power of prayer and use their authority to resist the devil, making him flee.

Ordinary people, without Christ, have to fend for themselves in dealing with fears, failures, weaknesses, problems, habits, broken relationships, slavery to sin, demonic attack, and many other things that oppress us in life. They don’t have access to the comfort of the Holy Spirit or the wisdom that comes from God’s Word. 

In short, they are powerless in so many situations where the Christian has power to take action, pray, find wisdom, employ spiritual power tools (binding and loosing, resisting the devil), be built up by the word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit, employ the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, and so on.

Christians have opportunity to stand out in this world as amazingly resilient, peaceful, wise, free, joyful, loving, effective, enduring, gracious, patient, faithful, consistent and victorious.

That’s because a key characteristic of Christianity is Power. Christians are the most powerful people on the planet, not in their own strength, but through Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Christians are also a people of Praise. Christians experience the most amazing gifts of grace into their lives and so at their deepest level they are joyfully thankful and released to praise God.

We see in scripture that when people encountered God in a wonderful way they seemed to spontaneously praise God.

Peter and John met a lame man sitting at one of the entrances to the Temple. Peter healed the man, who walked and jumped up and down, and he praised God.

“And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” Acts 3:8

On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a huge gathering of the disciples, they spontaneously praised God, using languages they had never learned.

“Cretes and Arabians, we hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” Acts 2:11

The Apostle John was caught up to heaven and saw several groups of people who were there, and he recorded their praising of God.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

“In a loud voice they said: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing!” Revelation 5:12

“After this I heard a sound like the roar of a great multitude in heaven, shouting: Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!” Revelation 19:1

The Apostle Peter declared that we are created to praise God.

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1Peter 2:9

So, you see, Christians are a people of praise. And we are a people of power.

Christians who are strong in faith and enjoying an active Christian life tend to display both these qualities of Power and Praise. In fact, they tend to go hand in hand. When we experience the power of God we are more likely to express our praises to God.

Sadly there are Christians who don’t seem to evidence either power or praise. Maybe they are so defeated and crushed and have not had their faith encouraged to receive more of what God has for them.

Maybe they are too focused on this world and their troubles to be able to appreciate the spiritual power available to them and the work God is working in them.

How would you rate yourself on the Power and Praise scale? How many times each month do you sense the power of God in your life? How often do you employ the many power tools of your faith to see blessing for yourself and others? How confident do you feel about relying on the power of God in your life and circumstances?

If you commit your problems to God and then rest, with peace and confidence, assured that everything will work out for your good, then you are enjoying the power of God in your life. If you worry over everything and fret, unsure that God can and will help you, then you are living far away from the power that is available to you through Christ.

And what about Praise? Do you frequently praise God each day? Is the spontaneous word of your mouth a word of faith and praise, with thanksgiving to God? Or do you express your fears and anxieties?

Here’s a suggestion to help you tap into the power of God and to release praise to Him.

Do what King David did. David praised God and encouraged himself in God, when he was afraid and anxious.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise. In God I trust. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:3,4

King David lived as a man of praise to God, expressing his faith, seemingly deliberately, even when he didn’t feel like it.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted in me? Hope in God: for I will yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” Psalm 42:5

David used praise as a way of expressing his faith and pressing through for the blessings of God. So, Christian, since you are created to show God’s praises, I urge you to deliberately begin praising God, thanking Him for anything you can think of, and calling on Him for His power and grace to be shown in your life.

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1Thessalonians 5:18

Another way to say it is to ‘Count Your Blessings’, or ‘Be Thankful’, or ‘Rejoice in the Lord Always’.

You have an amazing heritage by being God’s Child through your faith in Christ. You have been Born Again and adopted into God’s family, where God is your loving Heavenly Father. Press in for all that God has for you, through His power at work in your life.

Do not settle for less. Remember, you have been called by God to become a person of Power and Praise

Goodness and Mercy

Most Christians will be familiar with the words from Psalm 23, about goodness and mercy following us all the days of our life.

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

Sadly much of the truth of this lovely psalm about the Lord being our shepherd is lost due to familiarity and the tendency to treat the psalm as if it is a children’s poem. 

So let me take a few moments to point out to you what is being said, to bless you and prompt your faith.

Talking of faith, the whole of Psalm 23 is a faith declaration. King David is not making some sentimental reflection on his younger days or trying to be sweetly poetic. King David is speaking before God the declaration of his own confidence that God will be to him what he was to the sheep, as a shepherd.

Let me remind you of the psalm, for those who may not know it.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I will not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:1-6

Look at the declarations made by David.

“I will not be in want”, “Goodness and mercy will follow me”, “you anoint my head with oil”, “He restores my soul”, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.

When a person of faith is challenged they respond by making faith declarations, speaking out what they choose to believe. We believe in our heart and we confess with our mouth.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

So David is making a faith confession. He declares that he is not lord of his own life, but that God is his shepherd and that as a result David will not lack anything.

David confesses that God will lead him, not David leading himself, and so David will come to places of refreshing and will enjoy restoration, and will be led in righteous paths, not the ways of man that lead a person to destruction.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14:12

David declares his abandonment on God. David, even as King of Israel, asserts that he is not the lord of his own life or destiny. God is his shepherd and so things will work out well for him, in the same way things work out well for the sheep, who are cared for by a loving shepherd who knows their needs and the broader realities far better than the sheep ever will.

The psalm closes with the verse quoted earlier about good things continuing through life and then eternal blessings in God’s house.

Let me focus your attention now of a phrase from that last verse, referring to ‘goodness and mercy’. “Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”.

We understand goodness. It means all those good things we could hope for with a loving heavenly Father. It includes God making things work out well for us. It includes God, as our shepherd, making sure we are led to the right place at the right time, protected and provided for. This is the goodness of being led to green pastures and beside still waters. It is the goodness of having our soul restored. It is the goodness of being led in the right paths and protected when we go through the dark valley. That’s ‘goodness’.

The other word connected to it is ‘mercy’. Mercy? Is mercy another form of goodness?

Mercy is something given to a guilty person, punishing them less than they deserve.

The kings and queens of England committed themselves to upholding “Justice with Mercy”. They were to be fully just, upholding justice through the Empire, but softening that justice with mercy.

So if mercy is going to follow you all the days of your life, what would that mean? It might mean that you will continue to get things wrong. It might mean that you will be worthy of some punishment or dealings due to you not making the grade.

It might mean that you get angry, or frustrated, or you act selfishly or with pride, of that you fail to keep your word or you compromise on some standard or other.

It will mean that for some reason or other you will regularly need to be provided with ‘mercy’. And it means that God will provide that mercy to you all the days of your life.

Wonderfully, as Christians, we are forgiven of our sins through the sacrifice of Christ when we put our faith in Christ for salvation. And, as Christians, we can confess our sins each time we commit them and be forgiven all over again.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1John 1:9

By that means then, mercy follows us all the days of our life.

You have a loving Heavenly Father who is your shepherd, leading you through the issues of life, differently to the way you would lead yourself, because He sees what you don’t see. As He leads you there is provision and protection, guidance and ministry into your life to make you whole. There is also an eternity in God’s House.

There is also ongoing forgiveness, providing you with mercy, instead of the just punishments you might deserve from time to time.

And, through all the days remaining of your life on earth you can be confident you will be constantly provided with Goodness and Mercy.

Living Below Par

I confidently assert that each of us is living below what God has for us. I don’t say that to slight people, since I include myself in that statement.

I am confident that what God has for each of us is wonderfully more than we would ever imagine.

Let me share some Bible verses that support that truth.

We are told that God is able to do far more than we would expect.

“Now to Him who is able to do abundantly more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work in us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20

God is able to do more in us that we ever pray for, or that we can even imagine. So certainly we could pray for more and press in for more than we have experienced so far.

Consider this verse …

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2Corinthians 9:8

Are you currently abounding in every good work? Are you currently finding grace abounding in your situations, including all things at all times, having everything you need?

Apostle Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus that they would get a revelation of the amazing power God has for all believers.

“I pray that you might know … The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might which He worked in Christ” Ephesians 1:18-20

Have you received the full expression of God’s power available to you through Christ? I dare say you have not.

I am confident that God has more for you than you could ever imagine. God is ready to do more for you, in you and through you than you would expect. God has power to completely transform your situation and your internal predisposition.

There is nothing God can’t save you from. There is nothing God can’t overcome. There is no situation God can’t transform into a blessing.

God is in the business of taking curses and turning them into blessings.

“The Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord loved you.” Deuteronomy 23:5

The question we should probably ask is, Why do we live below par? What is happening inside us that blocks us stepping into the greater blessing and dimension God has for us?

One answer may be that we are simply distracted, and give God less space in our lives than we should.

We are advised to seek God’s Kingdom as our first priority, but we mostly seek things related to ourselves.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Just listen to the prayers you pray and take note how often you pray for things that concern you, or for your friends and the problems you want to see overcome. That’s not wrong, since Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness and the meeting of our daily needs. What may be telling, however, is whether you ever have a wider perspective.

Jesus also taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done”.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

Many Christians are consumed by their natural life, relationships, work, worries, family, issues with their car or house or health and the cares of this life.

That reflects what Jesus taught about the seed that fell among thorns, which was choked from fruitfulness due to the pressure of things around.

“The seed that fell among thorns are those who hear the gospel but are choked by the cares, riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Luke 8:14

If you are too distracted to experience more of God then you need to do some urgent and serious gardening in your life and get rid of worries, busy-ness, personal agendas, ambitions, fears, image issues, and other things that cause you to focus on this life instead of on the things of God.

Another reason some people don’t press in for more from God is that they have a small image of themself. They don’t believe God could have more for them, or they don’t dare believe they deserve any more than they have.

While it’s fine to be content, it’s not God’s plan that you be robbed of His blessings.

King Saul had a problem of thinking too little of himself. After Samuel anointed him king Saul still hid from the calling. Note Samuel describing Saul’s picture of himself.

“Though you saw yourself as little in your own eyes, are you not now the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”1Samuel 15:17

Some people see themselves as small and unworthy. They shrink from asking for more or getting more from God, because they see themselves as unworthy or not able to cope with what newness might bring.

I suspect that the one most important reason people don’t get more of what God has for them is that they simply don’t ask for it. Whatever their personal reason, they have not claimed what is theirs or asked God for more of what God has already prepared and purposed for them.

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:2

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7,8

God loves you and has provided far more for you than you will ever realise. He wants to give you more of His grace and blessing, and He is waiting for you to rise in faith and to ask Him for it.

It’s your call. You measure out what you will receive from God. I challenge you to stop Living Below Par