never out of reach


TRex

This has long been one of my favourite memes. Poor little T-Rex, limited in his love expression by his super short arms! 🙂

But even with the longest of arms, we often fall short of expressing the depth or degree of our love for others. The phrase “to the moon and back” gets well used because we’re so desperate to find a measurement sufficient to communicate all that we would hope to.

In Isaiah 59:1 is written …

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.

When I recently came across this verse in my reading I immediately thought of T-Rex and his restricted love! I imagined God – who is quite large in my vision of Him – with teeny tiny arms. Exaggeratedly miming His attempts to reach us. “I can’t, my arms are too short!” It’s a comical thought, but this is essentially the message of the text. Why would we doubt the reach of God’s love and His capacity (and desire) to save us and help us? Do we really think His arms are that short and His hearing is that bad?

In our more intellectual or theological selves we might answer “no!” Of course we know His arms are long and His ear is inclined to us. But in our hearts? In our difficult times, in our pain, our loss, our grief and our burdens we can sometimes not feel this truth to be real. We can feel far from God. We can feel unworthy of His love. We can feel alone or abandoned. We can feel we are beyond redemption.

Be reminded again today of the truth. God is not like a T-Rex! His arms are long and His reach is sure. His love knows no boundaries or limitations. He has done through Jesus all that is needed to make us lovable and reachable. His ears are open to our call.

 

AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU #2 Grow in GOD’S LOVE

When it comes to relationships, to loving other people, you can’t give what you don’t have.

If you’re finding people hard to love and you’re finding relationships are difficult to manage … maybe part of that is that you don’t fully get what love is all about. Maybe it’s because you don’t have a lot of experienceobserving or receiving real love in action? Maybe we don’t fully ‘get’ GOD’S love? The more you understand of God’s love towards you and others, the more that fills you up and overwhelms you, the more that will overflow from you.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

In Luke 15 we see an incredible snapshot of what God’s love looks like. Jesus tells three stories. Firstly the one about the lost sheep – you know, where the shepherd who has 100 sheep notices one missing and leaves the 99 to go searching for it … and then He tells the story of the woman who loses one coin of the ten she had and virtually turns her house upside down to find it … and then there’s the story of the prodigal son or the patient father – who waits patiently and hopefully for his wayward child to return.

All three of those stories end the same way … they end with a celebration!!! Each of them calls their friends and neighbours and says “Rejoice with me!! Something that was important to me was lost and now it’s not!”

Jesus uses that context to tell us that Heaven throws a party when one of us who was lost is found. ALL of Heaven throws a party when one person who is far from God turns back towards Him. Just for one! God loved the world (and the one) SO much, that He sent His only Son to pay the price required to restore us to Himself (John 3:16) – translation – God loved you enough to sacrifice His own Son so that He could have relationship with you! YOU matter to God. And, from the stories Jesus told we can see that in God’s economy PEOPLE MATTER – every one matters … every single one gets a party! Everyone who has wandered off is noticed and missed, everyone who is lost gets searched for, everyone who returns is welcomed and embraced … every ONE matters to God.

And that means YOU and it means ME and it means everyone that we meet – incidentally as we go about life or those that we DO life more closely with … everyone matters to God! If we are able to view people through that lens it will change how WE love, it will change how we do relationships. How we understand God’s love for us and for others changes how we love and connect with other people.

As far as it depends on you … do you LOVE deeply, selflessly, passionately, committedly? Does the way you love look like God’s love? Does the way you love other people reflect how much they matter to Him?

#1 As Far as it Depends on You (read now)
#2 Grow in God’s Love
#3 Grow in Understanding (read now)
#4 Grow in Forgiveness (read now)
#5 Grow in Humility (read now)
#6 Grow in Persistence (read now)

Making Decisions

Guest Blogger – Jeff Benson

In Jeremiah 29:11 God shows us that He is a God who makes plans for his people – plans to prosper them, to give them a hope and a future. God made us and knows our needs (and how to fulfil them) much better than we possibly could, and so it seems crazy that we would ever consider making important decisions without seeking Him first! As it says in Proverbs 3:5-7, being wise in your own eyes and leaning on your own understanding is just plain stupidity – we really need to trust in the Lord with all our heart and allow him to direct us! Continue reading

Why we do what we do …

The most powerful driving force in our lives, what motivates us more than anything else, is our need for love. We are all addicted to love. Our greatest needs (beyond the physical stuff required to sustain life) centre around love; our need for value and acceptance and to know a sense of inclusion and belonging. Fundamentally, everything we do comes out of this core need. We may all express it in different ways, but at the heart of us all is an overwhelming yearning for love.

The reason we are all the same in this is because that’s how God created us! He made us to experience and enjoy intimate relationship with Him that would be fuelled and secured by the most incredible love. Where our value, belonging, sense of self, position and purpose would all be found in relationship with Him and in light of all HE is.

The problem came, way back in the garden, when ‘we’ turned our back on God and made it impossible to be in intimate relationship with Him.  The incredible gift of Jesus to us made it possible to be restored – but the reality of our brokenness and fallenness is we don’t experience the fullness of this relationship on earth as it will be in Heaven.

So we go looking to fill the void that is left. In varying degrees we find ourselves filled with God’s love, satisfied in His heart and thoughts towards us and the Spirit’s presence in our lives. But there is a shortfall.

While we are all the same in that we each HAVE a “Love Void” – we are also each unique in how it is shaped, how it will manifest and where we will look to fill it.

This is shaped by so many different factors: age, gender, life experiences (positive & negative), upbringing, intellectual and emotional development/capacity, country and culture, health status, spiritual life and experience … so many things that impact how our Love Void presents in our lives.

EXPERIENCES – FEELINGS – BEHAVIOURS

All of our life choices, our behaviours, attitudes and responses follow this similar pattern. Something happens – an ‘experience’ – that could be positive or negative, helpful or harmful … and it will illicit an emotional response – a ‘feeling’ – happy, sad, rejected, affirmed etc (again, all unique to us – the same experience can result in varied emotional responses for different people) … and this shapes our behaviour.

For example, we experience the loss of a friend (for any reason – death, falling out, moving away etc) which causes feelings of grief and loss, sadness and loneliness which leads us to behavedifferently as a result. We might become more guarded, less likely to open up to a new friendship. We might become more clingy and needy or more protective and cautious. We might become more thankful and celebrate life more in light of an increased knowledge of how fleeting it can be.

EVERY behaviour is borne of a feeling which is informed by an experience – inclusive of our ‘experience’ of God. How we do relationships, the lifestyle choices we make, how we spend our money, how we approach study and success, how we engage in faith and church life, where we work, where and how we live … all of these things are behaviours that are fuelled by feelings which are sparked by experiences. And in the engine room, the mechanism that is generating all of the motivation and activity, is our need for love.

God invites us to draw from Him, to gain our sense of self, value, acceptance, belonging and love in Him. He is unchanging, His heart towards us is love, and He is faithful. By His Spirit He works with us to refine and mature us and to use all of our experiences for our good and His glory.

In love with love

Consider this quote from Pastor Jeff Benson

“There would be very few people from any race, creed or religion that wouldn’t agree with the idea that marriage (and pre-marriage) relationships must be built on a foundation of LOVE … not just to ensure that they go the distance, but also for them to be the wonderful thing they are meant to be! 

The problem, however, is that the world typically defines love in an upside-down-inside-out kind of way. 

All too often the music we listen to or the movies we watch define love by the romantic feelings that we have towards someone when we open up our heart to them. 

This is a HUGE mistake, because essentially these heightened feelings are that of the need to be loved, not love itself … they represent a self-seeking desire rather than the selfless love that God calls us to place at the foundation of our relationships.”

Love is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot and used in a plethora of contexts. “I love my Mum”, “I love chocolate”, “I love this song”, “I love my dog”, “I love football”.

When it comes to relational love, many have tried to define or describe it …but more often than not, as Jeff said, the focus is on the feelings of in-love-ness. What it feels like to be the object of another’s affection. What it means to have all your sense of self tied up in the attention and opinion of another. Love is defined in measures of romantic gestures …the lengths another will go to in order to demonstrate how in-love they truly are.

“You hang up!” “No, YOU hang up!” – it must be love!

In the absence of a Biblical understanding of love and the subsequent personal implications of that, we are at the mercy of our feelings and others to define that for us.

We need to start with God who IS love and look to Him; to His word to align ourselves with what is on His heart for us to know and embrace. What IS love? What will it look like in MY life? How does it INFORM my feelings and responses?

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #11: Looking Back

At the end of each year I have a staff review with my Senior Pastor, perhaps you do something similar at your work. We look at the year that was: highlights and challenges. We reflect on the things we’d identified as work areas for the year. We pause and acknowledge the growth and fruit that we see in me personally and in the various ministries and people I oversight as part of my role.

I’m terrible at it!! Because I can’t remember past the last few weeks!! It’s true. Before the meeting I go to other people in the office and in my life and say “help me out, what happened this year?!” It feels like the last month has enough happening to fill a list of highlights and challenges on its own!

Looking back is an essential part of doing life well. Without looking back we can be so consumed with the now that we lose sight of how far we’ve travelled and all that we’ve done, learnt, experienced, given, received, released, achieved and become. And most importantly, we neglect a great opportunity for gratitude and celebration!

Before the new year and all it contains consumes your time and brain space, can I encourage you to spend some intentional time looking back? Reflect on significant events and milestones. Acknowledge the difficult experiences you may have had – with your testimony being, at the very least, that you survived!! 🙂 Note the changes you saw in your family, your relationships, your children, your physical or work environments. Reflect on the impact you and your family were able to make in the lives of others – giving to charities or a sponsor child, serving at church, investing in your neighbours – it is always a privilege to be used to bring joy to others. Remember the new things you saw or tried, the traditions you started or continued, the skills you developed, the successes you achieved and the failures you recovered from.

There should be quite a list, but if you’re like me and have trouble remembering too much passed the recent weeks perhaps you could ask others to contribute to the discussion.

Pause to give God thanks for the year that was. Whether it’s a year that you’d love to do again or one you are happy to see the end of. Nothing is for nothing in God’s economy – everything you experienced will be used by Him to refine and strengthen you and to prepare you for the things that are in store.

Share your thankfulness with others. Display a “Top 10 list” on your fridge, post it on Facebook, share it in an email, write it in your diary … or even share it here below.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #6: Things are Different Now

Like millions of others, my heart has broken watching the news reports and hearing the stories out of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, USA. Amongst many other things I’ve processed in the wake of this tragic event, I have found myself thinking about what Christmas will look like for those families. My heart and mind can’t really wrap themselves around all that would be impacted by such trauma and such intense grief and loss.

The reality for many families is that Christmas could look a lot different for you this year than it did last year. You may have moved house or town. You might have experienced loss through the death of a family member or friend. You might have aged parents who are now in care, a sick loved one who is hospital bound, relatives that are overseas or interstate, a relationship that has ended. So much could be different about this Christmas – and if that’s the case for you, it’s a good idea to identify that and process it in intentional and inclusive ways.

People will react to change in a whole raft of different ways. It depends on personality, resilience, emotional maturity, levels of support (perceived or real) and all manner of other factors. Children will also react to change in unique ways but are often impeded in their processing by their capacity to identify and articulate emotions, feelings, fears or thoughts. Some suggestions for self-reflection and/or discussion.

  • Consider what has changed in your family since last Christmas and acknowledge that together. Even if something changed 11 ½ months ago, it may still alter the landscape of your Christmas gathering.
  • Discuss the part that person or situation played in the way you celebrated Christmas last year. Perhaps you had cousins spend the day with you that are now living interstate and won’t be here. Or maybe you lived in a different house that lent itself to certain decorations or activities. Maybe someone who has passed away had a special job at Christmas – they manned the BBQ or handed out the presents, they brought the fruit salad or they led the family Carol singing session.
  • Make a plan for how you will handle that particular difference. Decide in advance who will take on the role or how you will change your celebrations to cope without it being done. Communicate the plan clearly with all who are impacted.
  • Identify the emotions that are attached to the change. Obvious ones would include sadness and grief – but there could be anger, guilt, loneliness, fear, insecurity, hopelessness etc – possibly even relief or happiness. Giving permission for people to feel what they are feeling is a gift that can often bring great release and healing.
  • Be intentional about honouring what HAS been whilst celebrating all that is. New situations, new friends and family to celebrate with, new physical environments all lend themselves to exciting opportunities to add new traditions and memories to your Christmas gathering.
  • Remember that while much may have changed in your life, God has not! He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. He sees everything, knows everything, is not surprised by anything and offers us infinite love, grace and compassion as we process our way through a broken world. Immanuel – God is with us!

When the tough times come

Recently I spoke with a 29 year old woman. She is married with a young family and is wrestling with very real faith/theological issues. When she looks back on her life and the hurts and hurdles she’s faced, she wonders where God was during those times.

It’s an all too familiar question – among many believers, for non-Christians, for those walking away from Christian community and faith – ‘where was/is God in my suffering?’

My own life journey is spotted with moments of deep personal tragedy and trial: my parents’ divorce, the deaths of my Grandparents, life in a difficult blended family, a destructive and broken marriage, a miscarriage – times of intense grief and loss, great disappointment and hurt.

It was around the time of my maternal Grandparents’ deaths (they were killed together in a car accident when I was 11) that I first recall learning the verse from Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. My parents spoke it to us – we even knew a song about it that we would sing around the house. In ALL THINGS God works for the GOOD of those who love Him. All things, all times, always and all ways. We believed it. And so we entered a period of grief and loss with an expectancy that God was at work for good amongst it. We anticipated seeing Him working a tragic situation for His glory and we were not disappointed.

Years later, in the grip of a painful divorce the same truth rang in my heart. God is working for good. Somewhere in the mess, hurt, disappointment and fear His light is shining, His love is prevailing, His purposes are unfolding, His will is coming to pass. I looked for it. I expected it. And I saw God bring the most incredible healing, beauty and redemption – not only in my own life but, by His grace, in the lives of others too.

God works all things together for good.

It’s not a quick fix remedy. Hurt will come. Hardships befall everyone. We experience the darkest nights and the deepest of pains.

It’s about having a belief that nothing in God’s economy is ever wasted. The knowledge that even if we don’t see it with our own eyes or fully understand it in our life time – He is constantly at work for good in all things.

Just a thought …

Back to the woman I was talking with. I completely trust that God will help her to see that He has been working for good in her life – even when she thought she was alone. But I am grateful that I knew going IN to suffering that God would be there.

As parents and leaders we have the chance to instil such a belief in our young people.

Contrary to the cultural expectation of Gen Z – life will not always be easy. There is a real and present enemy, in a world set for decay – bad things will happen to ‘good’ people – we can expect that.

But ALWAYS God is working for our good. We can help our children develop the skill of seeing His activity in amongst great sadness and confusion. We can lay a firm foundation; a surety in the love of God expressed most potently in Jesus, an understanding that we will face big and small challenges in our lifetimes but that our God is bigger still. We can share with them the stories of His faithfulness in difficult times. We can grow in them an expectation that in the deepest of hurts and the greatest of losses God is at work to bring about his will and purposes. What an incredible opportunity!!