Last Sunday in church I was sat there listening to the notices when I had the feeling I was being watched; it was a lovely wee laddie sitting on his mum’s knee looking over her shoulder at me. As my family often jokes with me in such circumstances, “he was wondering what he was looking at!” I returned his gaze with a smile and was lucky enough to get a wee one back before he disappeared again. Then it occurred to me I was wearing a facemask, it was my eyes that had done the smiling.
This incident of a few seconds had me thinking of the value of a smile, even behind a covid facemask. It was William Shakespeare who coined the phrase “that the eyes are the window of the soul,” but the Words of our Lord Christ were most likely his original inspiration for this famous line. The verse in question which we read today comes from that beautiful discourse the Sermon on The Mount. The Bible commentator Albert Barnes says that the eyes of the believer should look forward to their Heavenly reward, seeing The Way ahead following Christ our Lord. He further likens it to tight-rope walking, where they fix their gaze on their destination.
Dear reader, if you are looking forward, following your Lord to Heaven someday you have both a hope and joy in your heart. The window of your soul will reflect your joy in Him, from deep within. Why not share a smile with folks today, and maybe you will have the opportunity to share your Lord too?
Yesterday was a sad day in Scotland, and indeed in the whole of Christendom. Although it comes as no surprise, The Church of Scotland General Assembly voted 274/136 to allow ministers and churches to conduct same sex marriages within Scottish churches. As a layman with no Biblical education except what the Spirit has taught me over the years I am astounded that the appointed guardians of the Gospel in Scotland could stoop to such disobedience against God’s Word. As suggested it comes as no surprise; the Church of Scotland has been on the road of surrender to sinful humanity over many years – this today though is a new low point.
I could quote many scriptures that call believers to obedience of God’s Word, but I choose familiar verses from Psalm 119. It is clear even in these that His Word is ordained, that we should keep them diligently! It never was or is it a debate or a choice; the whole Word of God is our ultimate authority and must be obeyed.
Dear reader, will you please pray for my beloved Scotland? Pray that God will have His way over this surrender of the Church of Scotland; that His Spirit will sweep through our land convicting many of their sin and need of a Saviour and a Holy God.
I read this repost by Beholding Him Ministries last week, which really touched my heart. Not only is it a beautiful story, but it is written really well with great feeling. I would recommend both writers to you in their service of the Lord.
I grew up a daddy’s girl. It was his side of the bed I went to as a little girl when I was sick. It was his car I looked for in parking lots after school and his shirts I stole to sleep in. When my family went on a deep sea fishing trip and everyone got violently ill, I left my mom behind and spent the afternoon laying on his stomach above deck with the sun beating down on us both. Those sounds and smells of that boat–workers yelling and men casting heavy line out into those churning seas and that hot fishy smell- will always be wrapped up with some of my most precious memories of my Dad. He was my person. Because of this, I was always fascinated with his faith even when I didn’t share it. It colored everything in his world. It affected how he treated my mom, how he conducted himself at work, how he dealt with hitchhikers he happened upon. Everything was filtered through his faith. I lived my entire childhood and early adulthood in the shadow of this man I adored. I really thought I understood what it meant to be a Christian. I thought I was one. I was wrong.
When I was 32 years old, my Dad was diagnosed with a horrible, rare disease. Para Supra Nuclear Palsy. It was a horror nobody could dream up. It lasted six years and it ravaged our family. Eventually, it would rob us of his voice, his wisdom, his smile and finally, on a beautiful June morning, it would take him. But, long before that morning, it had robbed me of something else–my Dad’s faith and I had parted ways. I was as angry at God as a person could get. My Dad didn’t deserve to die the way he did and I didn’t want any part of a God who would allow it. But, the same wasn’t true of my Dad. Through those six long years, his faith was the same. Gentle. Sweet. Solid.
One afternoon in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby, I stood beside his car window and helped him pass the time until my mom and sisters were done shopping. At that point, he could no longer walk very well and having conversations with him was hard. But, tell me I didn’t try? I did. Constantly. I knew I was in the last moments with my father. My Father. This big man that had always held my heart. Anything he had to say I wanted to hear. Anything. So, leaning against that dusty door and with my hand on his I asked him, “Dad, is your faith ok? Are you angry?” Did I want him to say, “Yes”? Maybe. That, I would have understood. He had a right to be angry. He was almost to retirement. All of the things he had put off to raise all of us were about to happen. Fishing trips, vacations with Mom, and more visits with grand babies. It was his time. Instead, his granddaughter was pulling up his socks and his wife was shaving his face for him. He had no control over anything.
But, he didn’t say yes. Instead, he struggled to tell me that sometimes he thought that all of this was happening because he still had lessons to learn. A fine tuning of his relationship with the Lord. Folks, I would like to say I absorbed what he was saying in a wise way. But, I didn’t. My temper flared on a level my Mom would have applauded.
“Dad, how can you even say that? If you don’t have this figured out then none of us do! That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard. You are perfect.”
Except, there were cuss words involved. Lots of cuss words. Normally, I would have never talked that way in front of my Dad, but there wasn’t any normal left to be had. I was just so pissed off. But in that moment, like so many others, my Dad absorbed my immaturity with love and grace. He slowly brought his arm from the other side of the car to pat my hand that was resting on his. I can still see his big hand covering mine.
And then, with his painfully slow speech he said, “It’s ok. My worries never touch that peace.”
I knew immediately what he was talking about. I had grown up hearing that phrase my whole life. When bills couldn’t be paid, when cars broke down, when Mom lost her folks, when he lost jobs. The peace that passeth all understanding. It’s what my Dad treasured the most about his faith and I had no clue what it really meant. I understood the idea of it, but never the reality. I cried that day in that Hobby Lobby parking lot and many times after that because I knew I didn’t understand. And, then, came that day my dad was gone. A hysterical voice mail on my phone from my Mom confirmed it. “We lost him Jean Ann. We lost him.” There isn’t a word in the universe that I could type here that would describe that feeling. I woke up in a world every morning that didn’t contain my Dad. He was gone.
I went to his funeral. Both of them. I listened to people talk about him. The stories of him encouraging them and helping them and housing them and changing their lives and I knew it was his faith. His relationship with his God. A God that I had sometimes claimed, but didn’t really know. So, I drove back to Houston with my husband and daughter and a empty heart. I was swept clean and I had no idea what to do about it.
If you could read my journals from those days you would know how lost I was. They are full of furious, one-sided, arguments with God. It hurts me to type this, but I hated Him. With everything in me. I hated God and, to deal with that, I walked away from everything I had ever been taught and decided there was no God. But, I still hated. Then, one day as I was driving down the freeway, a little voice presented itself to me, “How can you hate someone who isn’t real?”
I’m trying to find the words to bring you into that moment with me. How huge it was.
It was a dirty windshield, and a mini-van ahead with a “My kid is an honor-student.” bumper sticker, and the universe shifting on its’ axles and the beginning of everything that matters to me now. In that moment, my soul finally acknowledged that God was real and that I had to deal with Him. Really deal with Him. Not pretend. Not perform. Not promise. There was this real God out there who knew the real me and we had some things to work out.
I started back at the very beginning. I was raised in a Christian home and attended more Sunday School classes than anybody should. I went to Church Camp and Petra concerts and Friday night pizza parties at the local Baptist Church. I knew the lingo but not the Lord. So, I decided to fight with God for real. I checked out book after book about every practiced religion known to man. I wanted to know what everyone else believed. I researched every “gotcha” I thought existed with the Christian faith. I drove three hours to a particular bookstore to pick up a book I was sure would provide proof that there was absolutely no God. It didn’t. Nothing did.
And, during that entire time, I took my daughter to church. I was determined she would be in church even if I was screwed up. I was hoping she could find what my Dad had even if I couldn’t. Somewhere, in all of that turmoil, my journal entries changed. They were no longer written to a God who didn’t exist and that I hated, but to one that was very real and that I needed. I knew He was there. I could feel Him. Not just in church, or when I was reading my Bible, or when I got the best parking place, but in everything. He was huge. He was precious. He was all I wanted. But, I wasn’t sure He wanted me.
I couldn’t get past the feeling that I had somehow wasted the gift of being raised by my Dad. And my Mom. I had grown up in a home where God was celebrated and I had missed it. Taken it for granted. Treated it cheaply. And, I had done so many things that I knew had grieved both of my Fathers. In short, I sucked. And, again, I had no clue how to get past it. I was stuck in a never-ending self punishment. There was no forgiveness for me. I was doomed to a life without God and I knew that was the worst thing that could happen to anyone.
Then, one day, that small voice presented itself to me again. “Do you really believe I don’t love you?” And, in an instant, I didn’t. I didn’t believe it. I knew God loved me. And I knew I loved Him. And life changed. Forever.
If I could, I would go back to that day in the parking lot and take my Dad’s face between both of my hands and I would kiss him and tell him, “Daddy, I feel it. I feel the peace. God found me.” And, I would be telling the truth.
Since I lost my Dad, some really awful things have happened. Happened even after I thought my family had endured all that we could. My Mom got cancer and beat it. And then got it again. And, I cried in even more parking lots and elevators and, on occasion, HEB. And then, on another June morning, I lost her too. I’ve sat in an examining room and had my doctor, with her kind eyes and high- lighted hair, tell me I had Lupus. I’ve buried friends and been helpless as I’ve watched others live through hell. I’ve watched the news and read Facebook and anguished at how we all hurt each other. I’ve had to watch young people I love find really spectacular ways to hurt themselves and their future. Divorce and affairs and drugs. Miscarriages, abortions, floods and heartache. The world is a scary, sad place sometimes, but, through it all, I have this little flicker of peace. A small place that says no matter what God loves me.
No matter what I do. No matter what the President does or who the President is. No matter what my bank account says. No matter illness or heartbreak or loss. God loves me.
And, the really amazing thing is that that knowledge is not just for me. Yes, it changed who I am, but it also changes the world. Because God loves me, I am indifferent to no-one. I can’t be. Your pain is my pain. Your problems are my problems. Your sin is my sin. We have to find our way together. We are His beloved. All of us. And, yes, that includes you. He loves you no matter what you have done or what you are doing this morning.
Throw it out there. The biggest, darkest, most awful thing you have ever done and it is no match for God. He can love it all away. All of it. Even if you’ve hated Him for a long time, and filled up little blue journals with page after page of how unfair He is. Even if you’ve never taken one minute to stop and fight with Him or wonder about Him or even question whether He’s real. Literally, no matter what, He loves you.
I’m not saying that it will be easy. That you won’t still have a temper, or a sailor-mouth, or a drug problem, or a boyfriend on the side, but from the moment you enter into a real relationship with God and leave all else behind you will begin on a journey that will change you and the world around you. He won’t leave you where you start. And, for every success you have, you will want more. You will come to crave those moments that you find yourself more like Him and less like you. You will find yourself willingly walking away from everything you used to hold valuable for a closer walk with Him.
Someday, you might even find yourself, in a parking lot dying from a disease that takes you bit by bit, and you will still be talking to your lost daughter about the peace that passeth all understanding. And, she will listen through her tears and hurt and foul language and a seed will be planted. And, because the Lord adores you, it will bear fruit. And the Lord will let her be lost and angry until He finds her and changes everything. Then, the true adventure will start.
And, through it all, that little flame of peace will burn. The peace that passeth all understanding. A precious gift from a Father who adores you and longs for you.
How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments. I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly!
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. Psalm 119:9 (NASB)
This Lord’s Day verse from Psalm 119 is the first verse in eight relating to the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Beth. Today’s verse addresses the importance of salvation in the young, boys and girls alike. From birth we are all born into fallen humanity and raised in a sinful world. From childhood we seek that which will make us happy, and in adulthood successful. We look in various places for success in life, which only truly comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
The nature of the verse is a question for the future; looking forward to the life that lies ahead. It is almost a recognition that past ways have failed, and a greater way is needed or sought. As a father I see the importance of this for my children, even though they are grown ups in their twenties following their own ways. I pray that they will find His Way of Purity sometime soon. Naturally thus I apply the label of being young with a broad brush; applying not only to years but in spirituality too.
The purity that is spoken of hear is that of being cleansed from the things of this world that defile and create a barrier between us and God our Father. The greatest reference source for this purity is the Word of God; there is no other like it. When rock bottom is reached in life a light dawns on what has happened; I know this from experience when I was far from God years ago – I followed the example of the prodigal son and returned to Him.
I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.” (Luke 15:18)
Dear reader, you may be reading this and seeking a way to God from a life that has not satisfied you – good! It is time to put your pride aside and seek the Word of God and the Father God who loves you and has been seeking you:
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)
And for those brethren reading this who are praying for their children, keep praying. We serve a compassionate and just God who hears and stores our prayers until His time is right. All His ways and Words are Holy and True!
The Hollywood actress Greta Garbo who was famous for many film roles was also famous for saying; “I want to be alone.” Throughout history there are many cases of people seeking solitude, often in the wilderness areas. Elijah sought God in the solitude of a mountain cave when he fled from Jezebel, and God answered him (1 Kings 19:8-13). Moses also often withdrew to the mountain tops to hear God speak. Our Lord Jesus sought solitude frequently, most notably in His wilderness trials (Mark 1:12-13). Often He withdrew from His disciples and the crowds to be alone with His Father in prayer (Luke 5:16). It was not unusual for Jesus to spend a whole night on the mountains alone in prayer (Luke 6:12). Following our Lord’s example saints down the ages have sought solitude, such as St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne who often withdrew to a small islet off the coast of Lindisfarne to pray. We in the 21st Century would also benefit from times of spiritual solitude to seek God. With solitude comes the discipline of silence.
We live in a busy and noisy world, it can be difficult to find some respite from the relentless business of life. Indeed we can become used to what we call background noise, even to the point of being unsettled by its absence. We carry our dependence on sound into our devotional life, but by contrast past saints of the Christian faith valued the silence that we dislike so much. Silence can be personal or group focussed; we experience group silence occasionally at church or as a national minute of silence to reflect on past military conflicts. Personal silence can be practiced anywhere, even on public transport. But the silence that will be focussed on in this post will be personal devotional silence, which goes hand in hand with solitude.
To understand the value of spiritual silence we need to remember our Father God is all powerful, He can hear and see all things – even the depths of our heart (Psalm 139:23). David prayed silently in times of real need, seeking salvation (Psalm 62:1,5). Personally I had a time of deep anguish when I had no words, I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumour and all I could do was cry to God – and He heard me and reassured me (Psalm 34). We are called to pray without ceasing throughout our life; this refers to both audible and silent prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Moments of need arise often without warning, in which we seek our Father’s help assured in scripture that He hears our thoughts (Romans 8:26-27).
When under attack from Satan, either by circumstances or people often the correct response is silence. Our Lord was silent before his enemies; Pilate (Mark 15:3), Herod (Luke 23:9), and before the High Priest (Matthew 26:62-63). In the midst of enemies words are not always the right answer. These are moments perfect for silent prayer in our life. As we come in our devotions to draw near to our Father God, who is Holy, silence is appropriate. What could we possibly say before a Holy Almighty God? (Habakkuk 2:20, Zephaniah 1:7a, Zechariah 2:13). In our silence before the Almighty we can bring a sacrifice of praise and adoration, grateful for His provisions (Psalm 65:1a).
Dear reader, seek God not just in the sound of your voice or the music of worship – seek Him in Holy solitude and silence. Two things are certain in these disciplines; He will hear your heart and, He will reward you.
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.
In life we have regrets; it could be a choice made or an outburst of anger, when once the dust settles you realise you have done the wrong thing. As I write this I can remember such incidents in my past, some not that far off, others many years ago. I have had many times of regret which I hope I have learned from. As I meditated on these verses before us today I was struck by the thought of Almighty God Creator of the Universe having to regret anything. On this occasion it was regretting making Saul King of Israel, for Saul had rebelled against God’s commands. He had acted more than once in his own pride, and the disobedience in sparing lives of the Amalekites was the last straw.
Samuel’s reaction to God’s words regarding having made Saul King also had a profound effect on me. I cannot honestly say that I have ever spent a whole night in prayer, a complete night hour by hour. But that is exactly what Samuel did; his God’s pain was his pain too. Can we proclaim the same today? Samuel’s watchnight prayers reminded me of our Lord Jesus and His frequent withdrawing to the mountains to pray:
“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”
Dear reader, our God’s regret over Saul was not the end but it was a new beginning. It lead the way to His choosing of David as KIng – a faithful servant of God. He can take our regrets and turn them around, creating an opportunity to serve His will beyond our imagination. As we come in repentance before Father God, let us come in fervent prayer – the type that takes a whole night! I for one will be taking up this call, what about you?
I love family gatherings anytime, especially for birthdays or Christmas. It is a time where we eat, laugh and exchange stories; remembering the past laughs and good times. Such occasions are good medicine for our heart, often lifting us at times whe we may be feeling a bit low. There are times in my walk with God I feel a need to draw closer still to Him; and He jogs my memory of past occasions when I felt His closeness in a big way. It will not surprise some folks to know that some of these occasions occurred in the hills and woodlands of Fife; it is where I feel closest to Him.
Today’s verse found me this morning when I was looking backwards in my walk with God, remembering times of blessings. Israel had demanded a king to rule over them and God lead Samuel to anoint Saul as their king. Our verse comes from Samuel’s speech where he reminds Israel of the times when God saved them, and goes on to when they forgot the blessings on them. Trials came and Israel remembered the past blessings and called out to God, who saved them again. And on it went throughout their entire history, even in the present. Someday soon Israel will return once more to Almighty God, their Father.
Dear reader, we all have times of struggle in our walk with God. Let us stop where we are, look backwards to a time when we knew His intimate presence and blessings in our life. As I look back I find my original focus in following where He leads me, I praise Him once more and step past my obstacle onto the path He sets before me. Brethren, remember His blessings today and walk joyfully forward where He leads you.
Today I write of the chosen path of a Truth Seeker, following where God our Saviour leads. Today’s testimony comes from 1993 at a time of trial in my life and walk with God. It was clear to me and many others that I needed a change of field to serve God in; and through some dear brethren an opening occurred in Stockton-on-Tees. A dear sister knew a ministry to young men ran by a man called Harry Wigglesworth and arranged my place in Harry’s house for young men in Leybourne Terrace, Stockton. It was a Christian ministry supported by Stockton Baptist Tabernacle in Wellington Road, under Harry’s watchful eye and guiding hand. Harry was a father figure to us giving us jobs to do and speaking of the Lord with us; I was the odd one out being a bit older and already a believer. I often found myself being approached by the other boys to discuss spiritual matters in Harry’s absence. But little did I know that this was just a stepping stone in God’s plan for me.
It took a weekend when everyone went to Spring Harvest in Cumbria when I was left in charge of the house to bring the change. The house was burgled one night and I chased off the intruders, but it left me feeling distraught. This eventually led to me leaving Leybourne Terrace, Harry and the Baptist Tabernacle. I found myself a bedsit in Hartington Road, opposite the mosque. Previously I had asked Harry about the other baptist church at the end of the road, Lightfoot Grove. It was labelled negatively as a “happy clappy” church; when I was eventually on my own it seemed to be exactly what I needed – it was God’s plan for me too.
I remember the first Sunday I walked in to Lightfoot Grove, what a warm welcome I received! I was greeted at the door by another Harry who had a smile and handshake that made me feel wanted. The worship was encouraging, just like the worship I had been used to back home. At the end of the service I met the Pastor Rev. Tom Richters, a lovely Godly man from the US, who invited me to join them all at the church picnic outing to Darlington Park. I really felt like I was somewhere I belonged.
In the time I was at Lightfooot Grove I was introduced to a clear love for Biblical teaching and a fervour for the life of prayer. I was inspired to make this my new way of life with a love for the NASB Bible. I became close to a particular group of lads my own age and a couple of Godly families, who adopted us all. Father God had lead me somewhere where I could heal from my past childhood abuse and grow in His care.
Dear reader, be assured that Father God knows you intimately, and where you are going in His plan for you. Be calm and await His guidance in your walk with Him, in the safe knowledge that He will save you in all circumstances.
Yesterday at church I was chatting with folks before the service began. Being a creature of habit like most people I sit in the same place every week. with a supporting pillar behind me. I had joked with a sister that “it was a handy pillar…it holds me up!” which received a few laughs. Little did they know a few weeks ago I had felt suddenly unsteady and the pillar saved me from falling during worship, and the resulting embarassment. I pondered the spiritual significance of a pillar when I sat down; this particular pillar holds me up in church, and God is my Pillar holding me in His everlasting arms each day.
I was reminded of the story of Samson, beaten, blinded and chained up by the Philistines. He leaned on the pillar to seek God’s strength, while his enemies only trusted the pillar to keep the roof up – what a contrast. Samson leaned on the Eternal Pillar and they trusted a mere stone pillar.
Dear reader, what is the pillar that you are leaning on each day? Take care, pillars of stone can move as do people and circumstances. Would it not be better to lean on the immovable Eternal Pillar, Almighty God your Father?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.