Breakfast with Jesus

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.’ (Rev: 3:20 NIV)

I love spending time with a close friend or family member. Although it is lovely to have family gatherings or times with groups of friends, there is something very special about a one-to-one with someone you are close to. What I really enjoy is sitting in a café with a cup of coffee and slice of cake, having quality time with someone, particularly one of my children, who are now all adults.

During lockdown I have found plenty of things to do and have started new projects, this blog being one of them. At times I have been rather too busy and have found myself getting stressed, finding it hard to focus on one thing at a time and often not completing anything. My quiet times with God have also become another thing to fit in and at times have felt quite dry.

Then God stepped in: A book had been recommended to me, called ‘Encountering the God who heals’ by John Ryeland of the Christian Healing Mission. One chapter of this book begins with the scripture verse quoted at the beginning of this article – Revelation 3:20: ‘ If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.’ This verse says that Jesus has said He will eat with us –  we will sit together, eat together, enjoy each other’s company; it will not be frantic and rushed, interrupted or cut short by having to dash off. This time with Him will feed us and sustain us through the day. It is, in essence, essential to experiencing His peace in our hearts and to receive His help and guidance in all our activities.

John Ryeland writes, “it is this sense of eating together that is what we miss out on. It sums up the quality of fellowship and friendship that describes what our relationship with Jesus should be like- it should be like eating with Him. This is what Jesus thinks is normal fellowship……. Fellowship is all about an ongoing relationship with Jesus –  as close as Him eating with us.”

Fellowship is all about an ongoing relationship with Jesus –  as close as Him eating with us.”

John Ryeland

The idea of ‘eating with Jesus’ really attracted me, so I put aside my various Bible study guides, set prayers and normal quiet time routines and simply ‘had breakfast with Jesus.’ I would eat my cereal then sit back with a cup of coffee and talk to Jesus. I would ask Him what He would like to say to me. Then I would listen for His answer, which could come in the form of a thought, a sense or impression, a picture, or a scripture. If there was something causing me concern I would tell Him about it and ask what He would like to say to me about it.  I would write down the conversations and look back over them. After doing this for a few days I began to find it very real and releasing, finding that I had a greater awareness of His presence with me.

The joy and pleasure of sitting with Jesus is something we need to seek after daily, not only on certain occasions. We need to feed on Him, listen to Him, hear His words of love and encouragement to us. We need physical food regularly, not only when we need extra help or to get us through a difficult day. It is the same with our spiritual food.

We know how it feels to converse with someone who is always clock-watching or not really listening. Maybe we are guilty of this ourselves. Jesus wants us to savour every moment with Him, digesting every word He speaks. He wants us to commune with Him as a friend, sometimes speaking but also listening. He does not want us to rush in with a list of requests, but to simply be with Him, sharing our hearts and letting Him share His.

I have found that this gives me freedom from the ‘have-tos’ – I have to pray those set prayers, do that devotional, read those prescribed Bible passages, etc. Although Bible study aids and prepared materials are useful and the Holy Spirit can speak through them, I am discovering that just ‘eating with Jesus’ has brought a fresh life to my quiet times. I can really tune in to Him and what He has to say to me and the start of the day and I then sense His presence with me throughout the remainder of the day.

Let me encourage you to spend quality time with Him.

Eat breakfast with Jesus.

John Ryeland has produced some beautiful meditations which draw us into the presence of Jesus.

A Vase of Flowers

It is delightful to see a vase of flowers, hand -picked, carefully selected and lovingly arranged to create something of beauty, which brings peace, joy and a sense of well-being to those who see it. It brings a lovely touch to any room.

Recently my husband and I celebrated our Ruby Wedding Anniversary. Our children very thoughtfully planned a surprise tea party and presented us with a stunning bouquet as a gift. As I enjoyed the flowers over the next few days a thought formed in my mind: the flowers made me think of a family or group of people. Each flower is unique, a masterpiece. Although lovely on its own, when it is one of a bouquet it is part of an overall effect. The flowers together complement one another to create a specific presentation or image. The designer has a purpose in mind and knows just how to arrange them so that none overshadows another, so colours blend well or contrast effectively, so each flower can be seen to its best advantage.

God is the master Designer. Each member of a family is unique and has a specific purpose which no-one else can fulfil. He planned the gender and unique character of each one, and the position of each one in the family is no accident. However, I also have a sense that the family as a whole has a God-given purpose and destiny; the individual members, like flowers which make up a bouquet, complement one another to make a strong and united unit which God can use for His purposes.

Choosing names for our children can be exciting but also quite challenging as we consider our preferences and also the meanings. In the Bible, great importance and significance is given to names. There are many instances when an individual is given a name which reflects their God-given destiny. Peter is one example of this, when Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (New Living Translation) Jacob, in the Old Testament, was renamed Israel, which means ‘wrestles with God’. (Genesis 32:28) If the names of individuals carry such significance, could it also be that the family name bears a similar meaning? That is an interesting thought, but suffice it to say that God’s desire is for families to be united in love, supporting one another in serving Him together and encouraging each individual to pursue their unique gifting to fulfil the purpose He has for them.

Parents, pray for your children and help them discover their God-given gifts and talents. Do all you can to nurture and encourage them. Pray for them to know and love Jesus as their Saviour, teaching and encouraging them in the ways of the Lord.

Seek the Lord for what is on His heart for your family. Are there hindrances to family unity and love? Pray for healing of relationships and allow forgiveness to flow between you. Examine your own heart for anything which may be preventing God’s love and healing from flowing. Call out the God –given destiny for each person and the family as a whole, that God may be glorified. 

Photo by Nathan Dunlao

A prayer:

 Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for placing me in a family and for each member of that family. I offer each one to you, that we may all know You and fulfil the plans and purposes you have for us. May our family bring You joy and delight as we love and serve you individually and together. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Good Steward (The Parable of the Talents)

“It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. The he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more’. “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you had not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you. ‘ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25: 14-30) NIV

In this parable we read of how three servants are held accountable to their master for the way they use the ‘talents’ he has entrusted them with.  Two of them please the master with the good returns they have made with his investment, but the third receives an angry and condemning response because of his lack of responsibility and having nothing to show for the talent he had been given.  Whenever I read this story I feel at best uneasy and at worse, terrified. Although I know I am a child of God, I struggle to understand how the master’s response equates to the loving, forgiving character of Jesus. I’m sure that I am not alone in experiencing this confusion.

To clarify, the master clearly represents Jesus, who will return to earth one day to claim His Church. The servants represent those who claim to be followers of Christ.   The talents represent everything that God has given us. In the story, the talents were sums of money  but for us I believe they can mean our time, wealth, skills and abilities, interests, characteristics and personal qualities, spiritual insights and revelation. Our whole lives, in fact.

Essentially, this parable is about stewardship. We are told that each of us will be required to give account of our lives and how we have stewarded that which the master has blessed us with. On this basis will be decided our eternal reward.

Each of us will be required to give account of our lives and how we have stewarded that which the master has blessed us with.

As we unpack the meaning of this parable we will consider WHY we should use our talents, WHAT our talents are, WHAT MIGHT STOP US from using them, and HOW we can use them well, living our lives in a way that is pleasing to the Master.

WHY should we use our talents?

We have already seen that we will have to give an account of our lives. When we receive Jesus as Saviour, our lives are no longer ours – they are His, and we are accountable to Him for how we live and use the talents He has gifted us with. Are we using them only for our own pleasure, or to extend His kingdom and for His glory?

The scriptures make it clear that God knows and loves each one of us and that we are unique individuals with a specific calling on our lives that no-one else can fulfil. Psalm 139, a well-known and well-loved Psalm, says ‘When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be’. (Psalm 139: 16). In Ephesians 2:10 we are told, ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’.

We are unique individuals with a specific calling on our lives that no-one else can fulfil.

WHAT are our talents and how can we recognise them?

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  1. What blessings do we have? What has God given us and blessed us with? Do we have a home, food, a job? Christian fellowship, teaching and resources? Not everyone has these things. Let’s be thankful for what we have and ask how we could share them with others and use them for God’s kingdom.
  2. What are our responsibilities? Raising a family, managing a home, earning a living, serving in church will all feature largely for most of us. I believe responsibilities and duties can be fulfilled with an attitude of joy and are an important part of serving God and using our talents.
  3. What are we naturally good at? Is it administrating, organising, teaching, practical skills, technology? Whatever it is, it is a gift from God which He wants us to use.
  4. What tasks and activities give us joy? When am I in my element? For some, it might be a creative talent such as gardening, cooking, designing, painting, or music. For others it might be helping and encouraging, serving, visiting or giving practical care and support. Again, God will have put this passion in us and wants us to use it.

As we reflect on these things a picture will emerge of just how much God has blessed us and also the things that make us uniquely the person God created us to be.

I will share a bit of my own story here: One Sunday, about ten years ago, my vicar preached on this parable. I felt the Holy Spirit convict me that I should use my gift of music and songwriting to extend the kingdom of God. I am naturally quite reserved and do not like being in the spotlight so it was a challenge, but I spoke to the vicar and shared what God had put on my heart. He gave me opportunities to use my songs and music in church and I began to place my musical talent in God’s hands and allow Him to use it as he desired.

WHAT MIGHT STOP US from using our talents?

There are many reasons, I believe, but I think most will fall into one of the following categories:

FEAR: The third servant did not know the master; he had no relationship with Him and allowed fear to direct his actions. Fear of failure resulted in him making no effort and therefore producing no fruit. Could it be that we too do not use our talents because we are fearful? Perhaps we are afraid of failure or rejection, or of not being as good as others? Maybe we are afraid of being punished for not doing well enough, as the servant was.  But the Bible tells us: ‘There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’( 1 John 4: 18).

The third servant did not know the master; he had no relationship with Him and allowed fear to direct his actions.

Sometimes, fear may stem from condemning or critical words spoken over us in the past, words such as ‘’you’re useless, you’ll never amount to anything”. We may have been harshly criticised or punished for making mistakes, resulting in damaged confidence and a crushed spirit. In order to protect ourselves from further hurt we may play it safe and not do anything which takes us out of our comfort zone. If we have been crushed in this way, there is healing available through the Holy Spirit.

LOW SELF-WORTH – I have nothing worthwhile to offer: You may feel you can’t do anything particularly well. Or poor health and limited capacity may restrict what you are able to do. But I believe everyone, no matter what their situation, can do something. My dad, in his later years lived in a care home, and although he couldn’t go out due to his poor mobility, he chose to devote time each day in praying faithfully for his family, the Church, the nation, and the carers and patients in the home.  He also befriended another elderly resident, praying with her every day and talking to her about Jesus. He really let his light shine.

TIME PRESSURE: Being over-pressurised and too busy is a very common reason for not using our talents to the full. Do you ever feel that your life is so busy that you are trying to keep dozens of plates spinning? The question to ask in this situation is; why am I doing what I do? Does God actually want me to do all these things, or am I doing them for the wrong reason? We saw earlier that we have a unique role to play and purpose to fulfil. If we are too busy then we may miss the thing God has really called us to do. This topic is a whole subject in itself, but if we are over – pressurised, over- stressed and over- committed then we should stop and take a good long look at what makes us so busy and ask the Holy Spirit to show us which of these tasks and activities He wants us to continue and which we should put to one side or stop. This is an area in which I struggle and I am working through it with the Holy Spirit, to attain the peace and freedom He wants me to enjoy.

Do you ever feel that your life is so busy that you are trying to keep dozens of plates spinning?

I will look at this topic in more detail in my post ‘Living in God’s Rest’.

HOW can we be good stewards?

The good news is that we do not have to live perfect lives in our own strength! Although we may struggle and fail many times, God gives us grace, mercy and help along the way.  Despite all the obstacles we looked at, there is hope. The Holy Spirit is there to help us all the time! If we ask Him He will show us how we should be using our talents and how to do this without striving and being over busy. We can and should repent of failure to be good stewards and with the Holy Spirit’s help devote ourselves wholeheartedly to running the race He has set before us.

The most fundamental thing, I believe, is that we have a close personal relationship with Jesus. From an intimate relationship will flow love and trust and it is from this that our good works should come. Everything we do should come from a heart of love and a desire to serve Him, rather than from a sense of duty or fear of punishment. The things we do for Him should be a joy, not a drudgery. If we do not have this joy, we should ask Him why and receive the healing that He offers.  If we spend time with Him we will know His heart. He will put His desires into our heart so they become our desires!  So, if you have a desire to visit the sick or lonely people, help the homeless, write poetry or arrange flowers, God will have given you this desire.

From an intimate relationship with Jesus will flow love and trust and it is from this that our good works should come.

God has set us up for success

The Lord knows our potential and abilities and will not ask us to do anything He has not equipped us for. The three servants were not all given the same amount, so this suggests that the master had different expectations for each of them. The third servant failed because he had no relationship with the master. But we have been given every opportunity to enter into relationship with our Master through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. The way is open for us. Let us choose to spend time in His presence and experience His love and grace as He helps us on the journey. Let us find the joy and peace that is available to us when we surrender to Him and gladly become partners with Him in extending the Kingdom of God. No matter what our weaknesses and failings are, or how old we are, it is never too late! He has set us up for success! I want to focus on the race God has set before me and not be distracted.  I want Him to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” I pray that this will be true for all of us.

We have been given every opportunity to enter into relationship with our Master through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. The way is open for us.

Prayer:

Father God, thank you that you know me intimately, you love me and have made me a unique individual with a special set of skills and talents. I surrender all that I am and have to you and ask that you will help me to use my God-given talents for your glory and complete the particular tasks that you have given me to do. I break agreement with fear and believe that your Holy Spirit will guide and equip me as I step out in obedience to you.

Thank you, Father

Amen

Living in God’s Rest

Jesus said, “Come unto Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. “ (Matthew 20: 28-30) NIV

Are you trying to keep too many plates spinning?

There may be things which we long to do and we may desire to honour God by serving Him, but somehow the busy-ness of our life with its many pressures crowds in and we feel we are just surviving rather than truly living. Doing all the right things and ticking all the boxes can be exhausting, like keeping dozens of plates spinning or trying to juggle dozens of balls without dropping one, while in our heart we know that it is impossible to do everything right all the time. Yet Jesus said we can find rest.  So how can we find this rest and remain in it?

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened

 So take Him at His word and come to Him. Tell Him honestly how you are feeling, what your frustrations are, what you find difficult and ask for His help. Sit quietly and let Him speak to you. Focus your mind on Him

It is important, I feel, to take an honest look at how we spend our time and energy, evaluating our motives for doing what we do. It might be helpful to make a list of all tasks or activities that occupy your time on a regular basis. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the true motives behind each one, then sort them into categories:

a) Essential activities: Which of them are things which are essential, such as caring for home and family, or work commitments?

b) Shoulds and oughts: Which of them are things that you do because you feel you should or ought to? Are there some that you do to impress or win approval from others, including God? Are you performance orientated, always feeling you have to tick all the boxes?

c) Activities for self – protection: Do you keep busy in order to fill a void in your life, or because you need to be needed? Maybe you want to avoid being alone with your thoughts. Maybe  you think you have to hold everything together so you have no choice but to keep everything going, or your world may fall apart. Which of these tasks drain you or leave you feeling unfulfilled?

d) Things you want to do: How many of the things you do give you real joy and peace? How much time do you spend doing things you love because you know that is what you were born to do?

e) Things you are called to do: Which of your activities do you feel are a genuine calling from God?

Now look at the shoulds and oughts and the activities for self protection. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the reasons behind why you feel the need to be over-busy.

 Ask Him to show you if He wants you to continue with all the things you do, or if there is something you should stop. Is it time to take a different direction, share workloads or take a time of rest? Is there something you should be doing but are not, because you are too busy doing things you have not been called to do? When we come to Him in trust and surrender everything He will show us by His Spirit and give us a sense of what to do or not to do.

‘Take my yoke upon you’

A yoke is a piece of equipment which kept two oxen together, working side by side. While often thought of as being cumbersome and restrictive, when the two move in synchronisation with each other it is easy and effective. I believe this is what Jesus meant when He said ‘take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart’. When we are close to Him He will put thoughts and desires into our heart which we know in our spirit are from Him.

Sometimes the things we find challenging are things God wants us to persevere with and if this is the case He will equip us and give strength for the task. I feel it is a question of discerning when He is calling us to keep going and trust Him because He is shaping and refining us, and when He is saying it is time to stop. Again, this comes from intimacy and walking closely with Him. Often we do not yoke ourselves to Him, but live independently of Him, hearing these words and knowing them in our heads but not in our heart.

‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’

Many Christians I have discussed this with say that they know if a decision is right because they have a sense of peace, whereas they have no peace if their decision is not in line with God’s plans and purposes. This discernment is only to be found when we are in that place of intimacy with Jesus and in close relationship with Him. Walking in partnership with Him is a joy. We will have a sense of rightness in our spirit, and even when things are busy there will be a sense of purpose and excitement. This is what we will experience when we take His yoke upon us and the promise will be realised; You will find rest for your souls.

I have gone through two periods in my life where my employment was stressful and difficult. In the first of these, even though I wanted to quit, through prayer and spiritual counsel from Christian friends I felt that God would have me keep going because He was using this as a time of training in my life and strengthening of character. With His help I persevered and the result was greater skill, greater confidence in my work and a deeper trust and reliance on my Heavenly Father.

The second period of difficulty contained a different lesson and a different outcome. Again I was finding my work challenging and exhausting but this time God asked me to make a change and demonstrate my trust in Him by surrendering my work to Him. About two thirds of the way through this difficult year I attended a Christian conference where the speaker was teaching on Abraham and the test he faced of sacrificing his only son, Isaac, in response to God’s command. The speaker discerned that God was asking us to lay our ‘Isaacs’ on the altar and surrender them to God. The following day, in the presence of two close friends, I lay my job on the altar, offering it to the Lord as a sacrifice and trusting Him to give back whatever He chose, even if that meant nothing. I experienced great peace after doing this. Two days later I spoke to my employer and asked if I could reduce my days, adding that if this was not possible I would be prepared to hand in my notice, as I was finding my present commitment untenable. Amazingly, he replied that this might well be possible and a few days later he confirmed that I could work two days a week as another colleague also wanted to reduce her hours and her request fitted perfectly with mine, so we could job-share!  What is more, it would be in an age group which I loved. The Lord had given me back the perfect amount of work, and the bonus of having my preferred age group was the cherry on the cake!

‘And you will find rest for your souls’

Following this decision I felt deep peace and the outworking of it confirmed to me that this was the Lord’s will for me at that time. The work was more manageable and enjoyable, providing space for me to rest and also to pursue other areas that God was prompting me to be involved in.

It is my hope and prayer that you too will find rest and peace as you allow the Lord to give you His perspective on your daily tasks. May the ‘burden’ that you carry be the one that He has tailor-made for you.

 A Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for the promise that Your yoke is easy and your burden is light.  I place all my tasks and activities at Your feet and surrender them to You. Please show me clearly by Your Holy Spirit which of these are priorities and which I should consider putting down. May I have the courage to do this and experience peace and rest as I walk in close relationship with You.

Amen

This article relates to my article entitled ‘The Good Steward’.

A Maze of Confusion

Since the outbreak of Coronavirus there have been many prophecies and thoughts expressed about what is happening in the spiritual realm and what it means for the nations of the world. These include the following opinions:

  • It is from the Enemy and we must come against it in prayer.
  • The Church is being called to account – it is time to repent, wake up and stop teaching only what people want to hear at the expense of Biblical truth.
  • We are in the End Times and this is a warning that we must be ready. Darker times are ahead.
  • It is a judgement from God
  • God is allowing it and using it as a means of bringing people to Him
  • There is a huge spiritual harvest and revival on the way and the Church must be ready to disciple new converts.

While these varying messages can be confusing and even overwhelming there is no doubt that the world situation is frightening at many levels. I feel that there may be truth in all the above, but let us remember that all prophecy is in part. No-one, not even the most renowned prophets, has the complete picture of the future except God; not even Jesus knows the exact date of His return. The news and media focus only on what we see happening in the natural world, whereas prophesy is from the spiritual realm which the natural mind cannot understand.

Let us remember that all prophecy is in part.

So what should our attitude be?

  • Stay close to the Lord and focus on Him
  • Be mindful of prophecies but test them and do not make them into a doctrine.
  • Hear and discern what God is calling you to do and focus on that wholeheartedly.
  • Be aware of what is going on and what the Enemy is doing but don’t make it your focus.
  • Do not live in fear but receive strength and peace from the Lord.

The Labyrinth

While thinking about this I had a ‘picture’ of a labyrinth, an underground maze of dark, twisting tunnels. It was as though I was walking along these dark, confusing tunnels with no idea of which direction I was heading in or how to get out. Yet, I was holding onto a golden thread which guided me along the right path, and at each turn or fork I would follow the direction of the thread. The thread was all I had to give me any hope of coming out into the light. This is a powerful analogy, I believe, of the darkness and confusion our world is currently in. but our faith and trust in God as revealed in His Word, the Bible, and a close relationship with Him, together create the ‘golden thread’ which leads us to safety.

Our faith and trust in God as revealed in His Word, the Bible, and a close relationship with Him, together create the ‘golden thread’ which leads us to safety.

Hold on to it tightly!

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its surging…Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46: 1-3; 10,11) NIV

A Prayer for Salvation

Here is a simple prayer that you can pray if you would sincerely like to receive Jesus as your Saviour and receive God’s forgiveness for sin. If you pray this from the heart then you will receive forgiveness, peace and love that will transform your life.

Dear God,

I admit that I am a sinner, living independently of you, and I need your forgiveness.  I believe that Jesus Christ died in my place paying the penalty for my wrongdoing. I choose right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus as my personal saviour and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to send the Holy Spirit into my life, to fill me and to help me become the person you want me to be. Thank you, Father God, for loving me.

In Jesus’ name

Amen

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again, he sent other servants, saying,’Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!”  ‘ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless, Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14: NIV)

The invited guests ignore the invitation

Today I am considering another parable in which Jesus uses the illustration of a wedding banquet to teach about the kingdom of God. As in the parable in Luke 14 the king or master who planned and  prepared the banquet, in this case for his son, had invited guests but they had ignored the invitation. The anger and hurt the king felt is clear from his reaction when he ordered his servants to bring in anyone they could find, rich or poor, good or bad, from any background.

The invitation is extended to anyone who will accept

The guests who refused the invitation represent the Jewish nation to whom God sent the Messiah, His Son Jesus Christ. However, they did not recognise or accept Jesus as their Messiah and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ was then carried to all other nations, representing the guests who were subsequently invited.

Wearing the wrong clothes

As I think back to my daughters’ weddings and recall the thought, planning, preparation  and cost that went into these events it is hard to imagine how we would have reacted if nobody came-but we would certainly have felt disbelief, then acute disappointment, hurt and probably anger too at peoples’ indifference and disrespect. In the parable the king was ‘enraged’ and the originally invited guests were given no further opportunity to accept. This in itself is a stark warning to those who reject the gift of salvation purchased for us by Jesus when he gave his life for us, but as we read on we learn that not everyone else present was welcomed. There was one man who was not wearing wedding clothes and the king challenged him, asking how he got in without being dressed in the proper attire. The subsequent throwing out of this man into the darkness leaves us speechless with shock and disbelief; after all, if a guest had turned up at one of our weddings unsuitable dressed we might have thought it strange and a bit disrespectful, but we would still have let them come! So what does this mean and why was the king so angry with the man that he would not accept him?

Only the righteousness of Jesus will allow us acceptance

I believe it means that the only ‘clothes’ that are acceptable to God are the robes of righteousness that we receive when we put our faith and trust in Jesus and accept him as saviour and Lord and grow in relationship with Him.  Many people believe that they will be allowed entry into heaven because they have lived a good life, been kind to others, been to church, been baptised or confirmed, done many ‘good works’, or because they were brought up in a Christian family. But the Bible makes it clear that the only way to salvation is through repentance from sin and through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. ‘ God is holy and just – nothing and no one who is sinful can come into His presence. It is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that can cleanse us from our sin. Nominal Christianity has no place in the kingdom of heaven.

Receive Jesus as your Saviour

So, the message which comes across loud and clear is this: make sure you have repented of your sin and received Jesus as Saviour, allowing Him to change you by the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Here is a simple prayer of salvation that you can pray if you genuinely want to be in a right relationship with God.

Wear the right wedding clothes!

Why do we need Jesus?

What is your reaction to the good news of Jesus Christ? Indifference? Confusion? Ignorance? Hostility? Some may say, ‘Well, if you believe it that’s great for you… but it’s not for me’.

In some respects this is true. We all have the freedom to choose. Yet on a spiritual level to choose to follow Jesus is not just a nice option… it is of vast importance- the most significant choice you can ever make.

Maybe this will be the first time you have ever heard the Christian message, or you have heard about it but never thought it could be relevant to you. I urge you to read on and seriously think about what this message is saying. It could be the only time you ever hear this and it may be that God is holding out this opportunity to you to embrace the truth of His love for you and your need of salvation.

Why is the Christian Message so important?

I will attempt to explain the Christian message as simply as possible. From the outset I wish to make it clear that I believe the Bible to be the complete truth and inspired Word of God. . I have been a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ – since the age of seven. Knowing Jesus as my Saviour is a fundamental part of my life and without my relationship with Him my life would be empty, dry and with no real purpose. It is entirely on the Bible that I base my explanation, together with my own personal experience of the Holy Spirit in my life.

God intended humans to live in close relationship with Him.

Firstly, God created the world (Genesis 1-3) and the pinnacle of His creation was humankind. He designed humans to live in abundance, peace and harmony and in close relationship with Him. When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, they walked and talked with God. They knew Him and enjoyed His company. They had everything they wanted or needed. This perfection was God’s intention from the beginning.

Photo by Norikio yam

The relationship between God and humankind was broken

Then, this all changed when Satan, God’s enemy, deceived Adam and Eve into doubting God’s goodness, by implying that He was withholding something good from them.  When they chose to believe this lie they chose independence from God and forfeited their perfect relationship with Him. Originally God had given them authority over the earth but they handed this authority over to Satan when they doubted and disobeyed God. At this point sin and evil entered the world, with strife, sickness, pain, hatred, fear and death. Sin now separated Man from God.

But God still loved humankind!

Even in their disobedience and independence, God loved them! It broke God’s heart to see His beloved creation spoiled by evil and to see the beings He has lovingly created in His own image going their own way, lost and without Him.

God provides a rescue plan

Because of His great love, God did not want humans to be left in this hopeless state, so He provided a means to rescue us. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. Only a completely righteous person could pay the penalty for all our wrongdoing. Jesus, the only sinless person who ever lived, chose to come to earth and die as a sacrifice for the sins of every person who has ever lived or who will ever live. He provides the only way to be saved and for us to enter into a restored relationship with God.

Photo by tabea

Why do we need to be saved and from what?

  1. Saved from our sin

God is holy and sin cannot stand in His presence. It is only through Jesus that we can be acceptable to God. Being a ‘good person’ is not enough and will not save us.

 If we confess that we are sinners and repent (turn away from our sins) and receive God’s forgiveness, then He will forgive us and we can start afresh

2. Saved from hell

Hell is an unpopular concept which has been largely ignored or dismissed as being unacceptable, including in some sections of the Church. Surely a loving God would never send people to such a terrible place, for EVER? But though many would dismiss hell as a myth, it is clear that many of us carry an awareness of it deep within us. Think about how often it is dropped into our everyday conversations – ‘What the hell!’ …’all hell let loose’… just as ‘Oh my God!’ trips regularly off the tongues of many who say they don’t believe in God!

In the Bible Jesus actually speaks about hell more than He speaks about heaven.

Hell is described as a place of eternal torment. It is not reserved for particularly bad people, but for anyone who has chosen not to believe and accept the love and forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. It is our default position, because this is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s turning away from God. And it breaks God’s heart.  Imagine seeing your children walking straight into danger, ignoring your shouts of warning, and when you point out the escape route they say, ‘no, there’s no danger- you’re crazy!’ and continue on their way.

Faith in Jesus is the only way of escape

But there is a way of escape and that is Jesus. Jesus is the only way. The way is open to everyone who believes.  Thank God!

The gospel message is summed up perfectly in one single scripture verse:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

There is more!

Believing in Jesus and receiving forgiveness from sin are the first vital steps to life and freedom. Once we have received Jesus as Saviour we can then get to know Him and enjoy a close relationship with Him, as God intended from the beginning.

As we grow in this relationship we find we can experience peace, love and joy. Our attitudes to others changes as we respond to God’s love for us. With God’s help we can overcome fear, break with destructive habits and lifestyles and find strength to help us when we go through tough times. Our lives will have purpose and direction and we will receive help and encouragement in our daily lives. His Spirit  in us is our comforter and helper.

So, what should I do now?

  1. Accept you are a sinner- we all are.
  2. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died as a sacrifice for your sin, and rose to life again, conquering sin, death and all the evil works of Satan.
  3. Ask God to forgive you for all the bad stuff (sin) in your life.
  4. Invite Jesus to come into your life by His Spirit. Ask Him to help you change direction and to live for Him from now on.

A prayer to help you make this first step.

Dear Father God,

I admit that I have done wrong, living independently of you and need your forgiveness.  I believe that Jesus Christ died in my place paying the penalty for my wrongdoing. I choose right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus as my personal saviour and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to help me become the person you want me to be. Thank you, Father God for loving me.

In Jesus’ name

Amen

If you prayed that prayer then you are now a member of God’s family; one of His precious children. You can know for sure that you are forgiven and loved by God, and that when this life is over you will be with Him forever in heaven.

Photo by Ben White

Find others to encourage you

We all need encouragement in our Christian life, so I recommend that you find other Christians and spend time with them. Joining a church and getting involved is a good way to do this. Also, praying and reading the Bible is important to help you grow in your relationship with God. Praying is really just talking to God. Lectio 365 and HTB the Bible in One Year are some recommended materials to help you in prayer and Bible reading.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more but aren’t ready to take this step, then an Alpha course is a good way to explore the Christian faith. This course provides an opportunity for honest discussion about the basics of the faith in a non-threatening environment, with no obligation to make a decision. And it is free!

I hope and pray that if you do not yet know Jesus you will make a decision today to follow Him. Do not delay. None of us know how much time we have left.

May God bless you.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

When one of those at the table with Jesus heard him say this, he said to Him; ‘blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God. ‘

Jesus replied:” A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field and I must go and see it. Please excuse me’. Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still, another said, ‘I have just got married, so I can’t come.’

The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you have ordered has been done, but there is still room. ‘ Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and the country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ (Luke 14: 7-11)

Planning a special occasion

As a mother of three daughters two of whom are already married and the third soon to be married I have experienced being part of planning and organising a special event and understand some of the stresses involved! One of the first things to consider is who to invite. This can cause considerable heartache as, with a certain number of places available, difficult decisions have to be made and not everyone in our wider circle of family and friends can be included.

Inviting the guests

Once guests have been invited, we then have to wait for their replies. Some guests reply very quickly and with a definite answer. This helps enormously in the rest of the planning as we know where we stand and if others can now be included. It is wonderful when someone gladly accepts the invitation and this adds to the excitement and anticipation of the big day. When an invitation is declined, however, it can bring a touch of sadness, though often there are valid reasons why the person cannot come. The most frustrating responses are the ‘maybes’ and those who do not reply at all until asked again, sometimes right up to the deadline.

They made excuses…

In this parable, the first group of invited guests make excuses why they can’t come. These include business, property and relationships.  We know that the master is angry and disappointed at their refusal and he sends his servants out to ask others who were not on his initial list. In fact, he is desperate for people to come, as he orders his servants to go everywhere they can to find people and ‘compel’ them to come. Of course, the master represents Jesus, the Son of God, inviting people to accept His invitation to salvation and eternal life made possible by His sacrifice on the cross. The invitation first went out to the Jews, God’s chosen people, but they failed to recognise Jesus as their Messiah, so the invitation was extended to include everyone else – that means us too! God longs with a passion that everyone should respond to Jesus’ invitation of salvation. He does not want anyone to decline. He is desperately calling to those who do not know Him to make that choice, accept His free invitation to be present at the Banquet and be with Him for eternity. Who would want to say no to such an invitation? It carries a promise of forgiveness from sin, eternal life after death and abundant life here on earth if lived in close relationship with Jesus. Why then, do so many not respond to this amazing invitation from the King of Kings? After all, anyone who receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth is deeply honoured, proud and delighted to accept.

Make a relationship with Jesus your greatest priority

I think that clues may be found when we look at the excuses given in the parable. How easy it is to allow our work, possessions and relationships to become so all-consuming that they become all that matters to us and occupy our minds to the extent that we cannot see beyond them. Yet Jesus tells us to ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you’. (Matthew 6:33) I believe this means that as we surrender our lives to Jesus and get to know and love Him more, we will find that our relationship with Him becomes more important. Our perspective shifts, so things which were important to us become less so as we devote our lives to pleasing Him. In the process we discover that He takes care of every detail of our lives so we do not have to stress about them.

A personal example…

Although I am definitely a ‘work in progress’ and still have areas of my life where I am not fully surrendered to God I will try to give an example of a personal challenge I faced when I knew I had to make a choice over a particular issue.  I love my job, yet found that working full time was becoming all – consuming of my time and mental energy, leaving little room for prayer, Bible study or developing gifts God had given me. I had been writing my own songs for a few years but never had time to devote to working on these in more depth or to find ways of using them to bless others. Friends of mine of a similar age had reduced their working hours and I found the thought of this attractive, believing it would lighten the load and allow more space for me to devote myself to growing the Kingdom of God. After praying about this I felt that God was confirming to me that it was the right way forward.  There was a problem, however. Reducing my hours would mean less pay. I had always relied on a regular income for security and although I knew in my head that God would provide I had never had the faith or courage to take Him at His word. The time came when I knew I had to make a decision soon because of the cut- off date for change of contracts. After prayer and seeking agreement from my husband I knew that the right choice was to step out in faith and reduce my hours. I know that others have given up far more than this, but for me at the time it was the step God was encouraging me to take. Decision made, I approached my boss and received approval that my request could be granted. I thus reduced my hours to four days a week, then two years later to three days, and finally to two days. Never once did I look back. The Lord was faithful and provided for us in every way. Indeed, I really felt that the kingdom of God was ‘added to me’ after seeking to put God first in this matter.

Do not refuse the invitation from the King of Kings

If you have not yet accepted Jesus’ invitation to the Great Banquet, take time today to consider what you have to gain…and lose if you reject it. Making the choice to receive Jesus as your Saviour and Lord is the most important decision you will ever make. My heartfelt prayer is that you will accept it and enter into a new life with the King of Kings. Do not delay!

God’s Garden

‘In that day- “Sing about a fruitful vineyard; I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no-one may harm it.” ‘ (Isaiah 27:2,3)

I love the idea that God tends His vineyard and cares for it scrupulously and continually. Although few of us will own a vineyard, it is likely that we will have a garden or have enjoyed a garden at some time and it is from the perspective of tending a garden that I would like to explore this theme.

Although I grew up with a large garden and spent many happy hours playing there as a child, and had parents who enjoyed growing their own fruit and vegetables, my own family have never been keen gardeners. In fact I am sorry to have to admit that for years the best we could manage was to mow the lawn when it got too unsightly and maybe pull out a few weeds here and there. We did buy and plant a few items such as rose bushes and an apple tree, but generally any natural beauty that existed happened by chance rather than planning or good maintenance! Being a full- time teacher and having four children also meant that time and energy for gardening was limited. I would often admire other peoples’ gardens and sometimes felt ashamed of my own, wishing that I had the creative gift of designing and making it well laid-out and attractive.

When I became semi-retired two years ago, with the encouragement and help of one of my daughters I started to work on different areas in the house to de-clutter and re-organise space and get some much – needed decorating and home improvement done. This was satisfying and the next task to consider was the garden, although I did not really have much idea of what I wanted or where to start. It was a very pleasant surprise, therefore, when my son, who had just finished his university course, began to show an interest in developing the garden. He and I visited garden centres together and little by little the garden began to take shape as he created attractive areas using wooden edging, planters and rocks to accommodate a variety of plants of assorted colours and shades.   Although there is still more to be done it looks so much better than previously and reflects the love, care and hard work that he has put into it.

God works in our lives to bring something beautiful from us

As I look around at the different aspects of our garden I often see analogies to illustrate how God works in our lives to bring something beautiful from us, in the same way that we work hard to create a place of beauty which will bring us pleasure. Indeed, a keen gardener will know exactly where they have planted each one and will have carefully considered the best place for it, whether it should be in the sun or the shade, the type of soil needed for it to thrive, the size of pot or planter that is best suited to it, the amount of space it will need and where it will look best in relation to other features of the garden. If we can show love and care for our plants how much more will God, the master gardener, care for us and ensure that we too are in the best environment to grow and thrive so that we will bear fruit and give pleasure and delight to Him.

He ‘plants’ us in the right soil

He ‘plants ‘ us in the right soil, where we will have the best opportunity to reach our potential by bringing people, opportunities and situations into our lives who will bless and encourage us and sometimes stretch and challenge us.

In my own experience I can look back over the years and see how He has brought others alongside me at different times whose friendship, experience and gentle encouragement have helped to build my faith or develop my giftings. One such example is at a time when I was not attending church and did not have any Christian friends to support me. My mother had been praying specifically that I would find a church to go to. Then one day, when returning home on the bus from a shopping trip, my husband and I met a couple  whom my husband had known many years previously at school. They told us about a small Christian fellowship that they attended and how a pianist was needed to lead the worship. I told them that I could play the piano and they invited us to go the following Sunday. We accepted the invitation and were very quickly welcomed into the fellowship where we attended for a number of years and made some good friends who were a blessing and encouragement at a time when we needed it. It also developed my skills in providing a lead in worship and made a way for me to grow closer to the Lord through song and music, things which He wanted to use.

In more recent years I can see how He has blessed me with many good friends and close relationships which have provided amazing support as we have prayed together and spoken into each other’s lives often through times of great challenge and difficulty. One of these ladies had experienced many difficulties and disappointments in her life and a few years ago moved house to live in the same cul-de-sac as me, on the opposite side of the road! God used this for the benefit of both of us, as we began to share in Christian ministries together, specifically a prayer ministry called Healing Rooms held in a local café.

He values us as individuals

Poppies are here today, gone tomorrow, but their beauty, though for a brief time, has an impact.

Each individual plant has a unique character with its own shape, height, colour and leaf design, bringing its own qualities and interest to the overall effect. Some flower year after year while others have a much shorter existence. We have a large number of poppies in our garden, all of which just appeared- we did not plant them. They look beautiful while they are in flower but fade very quickly, literally here today and gone tomorrow.   Nevertheless, they have an effect of their own which adds to the character of the garden, even if only for a brief time. I feel the same is true of every human life. God has plans and purposes for every individual ever born and each one has a unique part to play and contribution to make to the world and God’s kingdom. Sadly many lives are overlooked and considered of little worth, but our loving Father treasures each one.

” For we are God’s workmanship, created  in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do.” ( Ephesians 2: 10)

He maintains the soil and keeps it clear

Regular weeding is needed to keep the soil clear to prevent plants being choked. Sometimes certain plants have to be removed because they obscure and crowd out smaller plants. How often does God, unbeknown to us, remove ‘weeds’ from our soil.. situations or people who would have a detrimental effect on us? However, we too have the responsibility to examine our own lives to see if there are weeds which need pulling out, maybe bad habits or wrong thoughts, or even relationships which are not healthy and which distract us from our relationship with our Father. On this same theme, sometimes a tree or shrub needs to removed completely, the roots dug up and the tree destroyed. We had a tree in the corner of our garden whose roots were spreading out across the whole area and were in danger of encroaching on the house foundations. The tree had to be uprooted and removed to prevent damage to our home. In the same way, drastic action sometimes has to be taken in our own lives; roots of bitterness or unforgiveness may need to be pulled up and thrown away before our relationships with God and others are poisoned. 

He prunes us for greater fruitfulness

I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. “ (John15:1,2)

A year later leaves and branches were growing again, with the promise of fruit to be produced.

 By our back wall is an apple tree that we planted when we first moved to our house in the ‘90s. It produced fruit, but many of the apples would fall off into the road on the other side, because the branches had extended so far out. There were so many apples on the ground outside, many becoming squashed and rotten, that a neighbour complained and we had no choice but to cut the tree down. It was cut almost down to its stump, much to our sadness because we loved the tree, and we really did not expect it to grow again. But grow it did, and a year later branches and leaves were sprouting in profusion with the promise that fruit would once again be produced. God may have to take drastic action in our lives in order to produce greater fruitfulness. This is hard to understand and I cannot give answers but we are told that ‘God disciplines those He loves’ (Hebrews 12:6) Although we cannot always see the reason why we have to go through times of testing we have to believe that it is for our good and comes from the hand of a loving Father.

The purpose of a garden is for enjoyment, rest, peace, beauty and fruitfulness. Our purpose as the body of Christ is to work with our Father, the gardener, and accept His planting and pruning to grow in our faith and in His likeness, in order that we may produce good, healthy and delicious fruit. This will bring joy and fulfilment to us and delight and glory to Him. How wonderful that God is the master gardener. He is not too busy, too tired or too unimaginative to create a beautiful garden in the lives of His children or the collective lives that comprise His Church, the Bride of Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

  Let’s remain in Him, the true Vine, responding to His loving care and discipline as He perfects us for His glory.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and tender care. Thank you that you value me highly and that you personally work in my life to develop something beautiful. Help me to stay close to you and respond to your loving care and discipline. May I enjoy a close relationship with you and bear good, lasting fruit for your kingdom.

Amen