Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Prostrate on the Promises

"But let me tell you what is the best way of living in the world. I have heard that a gentleman said to a Negro, "I can't think how it is you are always so happy in the Lord and I am often downcast." "Why Massa," said he, "I throw myself flat down on the promise—there I lie; you stand on the promise—you have a little to do with it, and down you go when the wind comes, and then you cry, 'Oh! I am down;' whereas I go flat on the promise at once, and that is why I fear no fall." Then let us always say, "Lord there is the promise; it is thy business to fulfill it." Down I go on the promise flat! no standing up for me. That is where you should go—prostrate on the promise; and remember, every promise is a rock, an unchanging thing. Therefore, at his feet cast yourself, and rest there forever."

I read this quote from a  sermon by Spurgeon recently.  You must overlook the "non-PC" references, and look instead only at the truth it holds.

I have sung, for many years, the hymn "Standing on the promises".  But, don't the words of this wise servant-man hold much wisdom?  When we claim the promises of God, we can't just gingerly step onto them, hoping they will hold us up when we need them most.  

The more upright we are, the harder and further we fall.

The more upright we are, the more we are still relying on our own strength to remain standing. 

Instead of just saying we accept and acknowledge God's promises, we need to throw ourselves completely upon them.  Embracing them fully, and casting ourselves completely upon God.  Then, we are fully resting on Him, and all He is and does. 

What a reminder, also, that His promises are sure, and stedfast, like a rock.  

"On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand"

But, instead of simply standing, don't we need to throw ourselves upon that Rock?

Prostrate, upon the One who holds us up - supports us and gives us strength to endure when the way is hard?

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 
 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
Matthew 11:28 & 29 

"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31

"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:19

 "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
Isaiah 41:10

You know the promises that apply to your situation - those promises that you cling to day after day.

How about, today, we throw ourselves upon them?

Take hope, sweet sisters, that we can rely fully upon Him.

That His promises can take the full weight of the burden we carry.

Prostrate upon the promises - casting ourselves fully upon the Lord and everything He is able to do for us.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Calling the Sabbath a delight

"call the sabbath a delight"
Isaiah 58:13

Yesterday, on Good Morning Girls, Courtney shared about the Lord's Day, and how they do things in her home (all connected to the current GMG Bible readings, which I have stepped back from doing currently).  It made me think that I would share with you about how we "do" Sundays.

It was always something that, for me, was just a normal way of life.

The Lord's day is a special day, set apart from all others.  It's a day that was both established at creation, when God rested on the 7th day, and in the Ten Commandments, too.  In the Law, there were a lot of regulations about exactly how to keep the Sabbath, but under grace, the Lord showed that it wasn't about the keeping of the laws.  Rather, it's about embracing the spirit.

You may think, from what I have said, that I am going to tell you that we do what we want on the Lord's day, but that is not true!  Under grace, I endeavour to keep the Lord's Day as the day it was intended.

So, what was the purpose of it?

After God created everything, did he NEED to have a rest?  Was He weary from all the work he had been doing?  Of course not!  God designed that rest day for US.  Part of that reason was because, humanly speaking, we need a physical rest from our labours.  But, more than anything else, it was designed to be a day of worship and praise - it was created, as all things were, for God's glory.  It says in the Ten Commandments that God "hallowed" the day - it became a Holy Day.

So, if God wants us to have this special day, what should we be doing in it, and what should we not be doing.

I'm not going to tell you that!

Why not?

Because, under grace, we cannot give a list of dos and don'ts!  I can't tell you you MUST cook your dinner the night before.  I can't tell you that you must NOT go for a walk.  I can't tell you you MUST read only the Bible.  I can't tell you that you must NOT eat complicated meals.

What I will do is tell you how I plan for the Lord's Day, and what I do, don't do and why.

On a Saturday, I always lift out my joint of meat for the next day.  We always have a roast, with virtually no exceptions.  We LOVE our Sunday roast.  I also peel all my vegetables, and cover them with water, ready for the next day.  It's as much about making sure the dinner goes on quickly, after Church, as much as to do with giving myself less work on a Sunday.

We always tidy the house, ready for the Lord's Day.  If on no other day, a Saturday is the day when we do a really good tidy up - all the bedrooms must be tidied, and all the living areas are tidied.

We all have baths or showers, and make sure that everyone is sparkling clean for the next day!

The day starts as normal, with breakfast.  We put on some nice "Sunday" music, whilst we are eating and clearing up.   Then, we get dressed and ready to go out.  We have the joy of living a short drive from the Church, so we don't need to leave until 10.15am.

Of course, the main activity of the day is attending Church.  I love going to worship with God's people, in God's house.  It's one of the highlights of my week.  We are blessed to be in a small congregation, where we all know each other quite well and it is like a big family.  At the moment, with Simeon being quite "vocal", we don't sit in the service long, before going out to Robert's study, where the meeting is relayed out.  However, I still get to hear the Word being preached, and join in with singing the hymns.  I am really blessed by my husband's ministry, which is very Christ-centred and edifying. We are a "traditional" Church, with simple singing of hymns, prayer, reading the scriptures and preaching. I love it.

When we get home, the children have a special "Sunday sweet".  We have a crystal bowl, filled with sweets, and they get one if they have behaved well enough in Church, and as treats in the afternoon. I get on with making the dinner (cooking the veg, the roast is put on before we leave), and the children (or any visitor's that may help) set the table.  We really do enjoy our Sunday dinner!

On the Lord's Day, we don't allow the children to play with lots of noisy toys.  Part of it being a day of rest, is putting aside all their own entertainment, especially if it is not restful for ME! *grin*  Being a peaceful day, in a busy, noisy household of 9, is a special thing all on its own.  They have special Bible story books, and for the older ones, books with a strong Christian theme or about missionaries.  They have a lovely Playmobil Noah's Ark, which they enjoy.  We bought it for "Elijah and Simeon" for Christmas, but really I got it for all the children's benefit.  But, shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, don't tell the little boys! *winks*

We also do Postal Bible School in the afternoon.  Our Church doesn't have a Sunday School, so they don't have that to keep them occupied.   So, this is a Bible Correspondence course for children, which is all run on a voluntary basis, and free to receive  All we pay is the return postage.  They have one per month, and it is age appropriate. They really enjoy the Bible stories, and lessons they learn from it.

Another favourite activity, for the children, is drawing.  They draw picture after picture, and bring them to show me. :-)

Something we have started to introduce, as a treat for me (now that the children are older) is that the oldest ones clear up from dinner,  load the dishwasher, wash up any dishes and tidy the kitchen.  They are getting better at it, and it allows me to sit down after dinner, and put my feet up.

So, what do I do?  I have people for Sunday dinner at least 2 out of 4 Sundays.  My Brother-in-law, Sister-in-law and their boys come 2 Sundays.  So, on those days, I enjoy having a lovely chat with them, whilst supervising the children's activities.  On the other weeks I tend to read.  I have such a busy week, that I don't always get as much reading time as I would like.  Sometimes I will watch a service in America, via Sermonaudio.  I particularly enjoy tuning in to Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, in Grand Rapids.   The ministry of Mr Beeke and Mr VanderZwaag is excellent, and I am always blessed upon hearing God's Word being preached by these men.

Twice a month we also have a "tea" together at Church - once before the evening service, and once after the evening service.  These are precious times to chat to those of "like precious faith" and find out how everyone is.

What do I NOT do on a Sunday?  I do NOT do any unnecessary housework.  I consider it necessary to cook a meal, and to clean up after meals.  I do not consider it necessary to do dusting, deep cleaning, vacuuming or any laundry.  I do break the laundry "rule", if bedding needs to be cleaned, or there is some other "biological" incident.  I also pop my first load for the week into the washer on a Sunday night, to get ready for starting all over again on a Monday.

As it is a day to focus on worshipping the Lord, we don't tend to socialise with unbelievers.  It is harder to keep your mind on the Lord, when people are not behaving in a godly way.

We keep the TV off through the day, just to have a break for that kind of entertainment, too.  I make an exception if I have had children at home ill all day, and I let them watch a Bible story DVD before they go to bed.

We do not go out to eat, or do our shopping (including online).  They are both activities that require someone else to be working on the Lord's Day, so we don't want to encourage that.  We virtually never get our fuel on the Lord's Day, or lift out money from the bank.  Robert has a Saturday night routine, where he fills up the car with fuel, and lifts out his offerings for the next day.   It means it has been thought about, and there is no risk of being unprepared the next day.

We don't do school work, of course, either.  The children are exceedingly glad about that! *chuckles*

So, the summary is that we have a restful and peaceful day, with our main focus being upon worshipping God, and focusing upon His Word.   Putting aside the cares of life and focussing upon the Lord.  As the children get a bit older, I want to start doing some hymn singing around the piano.  I have happy memories of doing this in the past, and want my children to enjoy it too.

I really enjoy the Lord's day.  All my other days are so busy, that I enjoy the rest that I get.  I know I still have to make dinner, but because I try and get ready the day before, it's not that much work. I especially enjoying sitting down, whilst Simeon sleeps, and completely RESTING!

There are, finally, some things I WANT to start doing.  From next weekend (following an incident where a certain young man's Sunday shoes were missing, which resulted in frantic searching just before we left, and a reprimand in the car....), we will be laying out all their Sunday clothes at the end of their beds, laying their shoes in a row by the stairs and setting out their hats and Bibles. I think it will put an end to some of the frantic searching we sometimes  often have to do before we leave!

So, how do you spend the Lord's Day?  Do you have anything special that you do, or things you try and avoid?  Please share in the comments below, or blog about it too!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Matriarchs on a Monday - the Widow of Zarephath

To start off with, I thought that there was just one thing to learnt from this matriarch, but I was wrong.

One of the first things we can learn, can so easily be glossed over. How deeply do we think about the names and titles of people in the Bible?

"The Widow of Zarephath"

A whole title, as if "Widow" is just her name, not her situation.

This woman was alone with her son.  Her husband was dead, and she was left with the huge responsibility of taking care of their son on her own.

Alone, with a drought in the land, and virtually no food left.   No provider for her and her son.  No head of the family.  Just her and her son, trying to fend for themselves in desperate circumstances.

No government support.

No free hand outs.

No counselling.

Just a lone woman, doing what she could to help her son.

When Elijah met her she had NO idea that God had an amazing plan for her.

God, in His sovereignty, had planned it that this widow woman would be out collecting sticks, to prepare her final meal, just as Elijah came along.

God told Elijah that,

"I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee."

I would say that this plan was not something that the widow was aware of.  As far as she knew, she was collecting sticks, to cook her last meal and die. Her measly resources, lacking the provision a husband would have given, nearly gone.

"Commanded" did not mean, in this situation, that God had TOLD her that it would happen.

And yet, God had planned it to be that she would be instrumental in providing Elijah with a supply of food.

She with so little to her name.

She who had endured the sorrow and hardship of her husband dying.

She who was convinced that her life was shortly going to end.

God had far greater plans for her than the death that she expected to soon come.  He had planned that she would be part of a miracle.

Did you ever think, "WHY did God do this?"

Elijah was being provided his food by ravens until then.  God could easily have carried on using them to feed Elijah.  But no, He planned that this woman, bereft and desperate, would be the one who would now provide FOR Elijah.

You know how the story carries on.  Elijah asks her for some bread, and she confesses that she only has a little meal and oil left.  She can make him a little "cake", but then it would be all gone.  Elijah assures her that her meal and oil will not run out, until rain falls again and the drought is over.

That day, the widow was tested.  Her generosity, her faith, her love and her kindness we all put to the the test.  She willingly gave the last of what she had, to a man of God.  She had a sacrificial heart, in the midst of her own dire circumstances.

Ultimately, her faith was put to the test.

And, she passed.

By being willing to open her heart to Elijah, the Lord blessed her, and provided for her.

Instead of death, she had life.

She could have said "no" to Elijah.  She could have insisted that her son must have the last food, for he was just a boy and he needed it more.

But, because her heart was in tune with God, she was willing to give all she had.

As a result, 3 mouths were fed for as long as they needed it.  God blessed all three, as a result of her kindness.

There is so much about this that I find so very challenging.  So many things that speak to my heart.

God told us that she was a widow.  He considered it was an important enough piece of information for us to know.  What can we take from that?  God cares about widows and the fatherless.

Instruction after instruction was given, in the Old Testament, about what was to be provided for the "stranger, the widow and the fatherless".  God cares about them, and longs that they be cared for by His people.

"The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow"

Do we care for the widows and fatherless, as God does?  Do we make sure that we help any that we know - whether financially, practically or emotionally?  Do we give support and encouragement, as representatives of the Lord himself?  I can imagine that we ALL know of widows.  And, if we put our minds to it, there is some way that we can help them?  If God, in the Law, gave instruction for how to care for the widows and fatherless, under grace we should do no less!

Do you think, perhaps, that the widow remembered the words from the book of Moses?  Had she heard the words from Deuteronomy?

"For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: 
 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. 
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." 

The widow, and Elijah, "the stranger".

She was caring for the stranger, as God's Word said should happen, even though SHE was the widow!  A heart of generosity.  That's what WE should have.  If we see a need, are we willing to give up the very last of what WE have, in order to help another?  Are we willing to go without our LUXURIES, never mind the basics, so we can meet the need of someone else?

I really, truly think that the thinking of the world has dragged us into being greedy and self-preserving, instead of having a sacrificial and generous heart. We need to get back into the mindset, which God laid out in His Word, of helping the widows and fatherless.

The last thing that really struck me, was the faith of the widow.  She just did it, trusting her future to the Lord.  She has no idea that when she gave her last to Elijah, that God would turn it into a never-failing supply!

Are we willing to put our faith to the test?  To go out on a limb, and give our all, to the honour and glory of God?  Are we willing to give to others, trusting that God will still care for us?

We don't just have this one narrative to place all our trust upon.  We have many instructions in scripture, that urge us to give and to be generous, and that in so doing God WILL take care of us.

"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. "
Luke 6:38

If that generous woman, in Zarephath, could give all she had, how much more can WE give?  I would hazard a guess that NONE of are down to our last meal, and waiting to die.  If you have the money to pay for internet or a mobile phone contract, you are NOT that hard up! *winks*

Speak to your husband, and find a way (if you don't already) to help a widow or the fatherless.  And, find ways to step out, in faith, to be generous in your life.  Our God is a great God.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He will provide for you and care for you, especially if you have a heart that is generous to give to others who have a greater need than you have. 

Better still, instil this heart of generosity in your own children - find ways to involve them, and train them up to think of others before themselves, and to be big hearted givers. 

May we all have the spirit of faith and generosity that the Widow of Zarephath had.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The illusion of the "perfect" woman - Part 1

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of wife and mother.  Having talked to many ladies about the issues that we face, I think that there are a few important things that I would like to share about.  They are things which we all need to battle against, and make sure that they don't prevent us from living the God-honouring life that we SHOULD be living.

I am going to start today with the subject of unrealistic expectations.

I think that this area of life can be a real hindrance in our Christian walk, and more specifically as wives and mothers.

We are surrounded today by many, many helpful resources.  Websites, books, courses, seminars, all devoted to pointing us to how we "should" be living.  Many godly women seek to give guidance about all things related to marriage and the home.

Most of these resources are excellent.

Many of them give Biblical advice on the role of women, and attempt to give practical advice on how to implement the wisdom of God's Word, in our every day lives.  There is much wisdom contained in the resources they provide.

Then, there are resources about managing our lives, on a practical scale.  Many of these are written from the angle of someone who has an interest in one particular area - healthy eating, home organisation, scheduling, home education.  What they say is good, and often stems from an experiential perspective, which is so incredibly useful.

I am NOT dismissing the benefit of these resources.  In fact, they can be an incredible blessing and help to so many.

I believe the trouble comes when a woman looks at these resources and decides that it is the "perfect" standard to which she must attain.  Following the reading of such a book, a woman can easily become fixated upon reaching similar standards and achievements for herself.

"If _________ (insert name of published woman) can achieve a life with 10 children, a pristine home, all my fruit and veg grown in their garden, eating no processed food, making all her own clothes, home educating to the nth degree......" (the list could go on....)

It can easily become that this "perfect wife/mother" picture formulates, and if we don't tick all the boxes, we have somehow failed!

If this is you, even in the slightest, STOP!!!

The first thing you need to do, is to take a step back and breathe.

Then, ask yourself why.

Why are you trying to meet all the standards you see around you?

Are you doing it because others are doing it?

Are you doing it because you think it's the "spiritual" thing to do or be?

Are you doing it because you think it's best for you, because it was best for someone else?

The ladies who write these books would be horrified to be put on a "perfection" pedestal, but it's where other women seem to place them! Women who are so desperate to turn around their lives, because they are unhappy or discontent, that they will go to enormous, and often unrealistic, lengths to achieve the life they see in others.

I think that there are some sensible steps that we need to consider taking.

We need to take out the Bible, and use that as our measuring stick  

If the Bible does not spell something out as a command to us, we are under no obligation to follow it.  In fact, if someone tries to tell you that something they feel personally convicted about should apply to your life too, they are in error themselves.  I could tell you an abundance of great reasons as to why I homeschool, but I will never tell someone else they are sinning if they don't.  I would not consider telling someone that they are inferior or less spiritual if they make the decision to send their children to school.  I would desperately hope that no-one would ever think they should home educate, JUST because I can wax lyrical about why it's great for us!!

The same applies to any conviction or decision that is not a direct command in scripture.  Unless you are convicted by the Lord to do it yourself, you shouldn't choose to do it based simply upon the choice of another to do it.  It's a recipe for disaster.

We need to speak to our husband's about what THEY think we should be doing

I have known women who have worn themselves thin, trying to be the "perfect" wife and mother.  Then, when they have checked with their husband about what THEY expect, it's WAY less than they were exhausting themselves, trying to be! In fact, they discovered that their husband would prefer that they were happy, calm and living a more simple life, than rushing around, trying to keep up with the latest housewifely "trends", in a manic and exhausted state.

It's far more important for you to have a positive outlook, and a serene demeanour, than to have a family that looks like it jumped out of of lifestyle magazine, whilst you feel like you are going to tip over the proverbial edge.

We need to look at the family situation that God has placed us in, and then make choices accordingly

Do we live in a town, with no garden worth speaking about?  Then, maybe dreams of self sufficiency need to be put on the back burner.

Do we have 5 children under the age of 5 (or something similar)?  Then, maybe we can't have that spotless house with all the children sharing a chore schedule.

Do we have some older children that are needing our time and attention with schooling, as well as pre-schoolers?  Then, maybe we can't follow that one-to-one, 9-5, pre-school programme that we thought looked fantastic.

There are so many ideals that we can see around us, which are good in and of themselves, but they may not be the "right fit" for our family.  Seeing what someone else does is all very well and good, so long as we don't make that our own standard, without thinking that it fits for them, well, because they are THEM! People don't always share their great ideas because they think that EVERYONE should be doing the same - only that it may help someone else.  We can't do all that everyone else does.  It just isn't practical or feasible.

What does YOUR family need in life?  Once you have established that, then you can decide how to go about it to your best ability.

Try not to have too many plates spinning at the same time

Having searched God's Word, and prayerfully considered your own family situation, you may have seen that you need to work on certain areas.  DON'T try and solve them all at the same time!  If you know you house isn't very neat and tidy and you also need to work on making some food changes, don't try and do it all at once!  If you decide you need to start getting up a bit earlier and that you also need to work out some better scheduling, don't do it all at the same time!

The more unrealistic your goals are, the less likely it is that you will be able to achieve even ONE of them.

Don't be tempted to follow every new idea that someone else comes up with 

You can end up spending your whole time chasing great "new" concepts, which you MUST implement in your home.  Your husband and children will end up with a wife/mother who is constantly dotting from one "great idea" to the next, and never sticking at one long enough to make a real difference.  Alongside that is the consideration that the new way may not be necessary at all!  Just because a new way worked for someone else, does not mean you have to abandon the way that works just great for you, in favour of the new one. As tempting as some new, gorgeously dressed up idea may seem, if you have a way of doing something that works just fine, there may be no need to change it at all.

Finally, remember that it's good to make changes when you need to 

I'm not for a a moment suggesting that the shed load of great advice is not worth having, or that you should plod along the way you have always been.  Changes are good, if they are necessary  Advice is great, if you need it and it's relevant. In fact, sometimes a little change is all you need to make a big improvement.

More than anything else, remember that there is never on this earth a perfect ANYTHING! We are all sinners, living and functioning by God's mercy alone.  We must, as God's Word dictates, do our best in all that we do.  However, to think for a moment that there is some perfect woman out there, that we should or could become, is an illusion at best, and a depressing stumbling block at worst.

Let's keep looking to the Lord, seeking to honour Him in all we do, over and above what anyone else is doing.  

I will soon follow on from this, dealing with the reality of when our lives are not picture perfect.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

"Winter" days

I have often heard life compared to the changing seasons.

Spiritual life.

Every day life.

Working life.

There is the season of hope and new life, in spring.

There is growth and development in summer.

There is fruit to be harvested in the autumn.

And then, there is winter.....

There are those seasons where the cold, butter winds of life come whipping through.  Where all the life you thought was there seems to be dead.  Everything seems barren.

And then, the snow comes.  Completely obliterating anything you saw that gave any hope of life remaining.  Everything is blanketed, and smothered.

Do you ever feel like that as a wife or a mother?

I know I do.

Things are going well.  You see growth, you see things flourishing and developing.  You see the fruit of your labours.

Your efforts as wife are consistent and worthwhile.  You are doing a great job of being a wife who honours, loves and obeys her husband.  And then, that bitter wind whips in, with the harsh "snowy" effects of a bad attitude, a resistant heart, unwise words, or an unsubmissive action come in and completely blot out all the good that you had been doing.

Maybe a trial comes, that causes the same effect.  How we choose to respond to trials can bring winter to our marriage.

How about being a mother?

Oh, how the seasons seem to be so real in that role.

You see growth, development and fruit in the lives of your children.  They are growing, learning and responding to the teaching and training you seek to faithfully instil in them.

And then, like a night when you go to bed, only to waken to a heavy fall of snow - everything completely covered - so your children can one day seem to have turned a 180 degree, and all the good you saw is completely smothered.  Smothered by bad attitudes, disobedience, resistance to training, laziness, stubborn wills. You feel a despair, because the life you thought you saw seems to be gone.

Then, a new day dawns.

Poking up through the snowy landscape, there are some signs of life.

Those bulbs that I planted in the dark, dawning days of winter, are poking determinedly up through the soil, and up through the cold snow.  They were planted well, and despite the snow, their roots have gone down, and life is springing up.

So it is in our lives.  If we have taken care to plant well in the good days - when conditions are right, and timing is perfect;  if we make sure to put in what is good, and to feed it and water it with the word and prayer - then despite those wintry days, life will spring up anew.  It doesn't matter how harsh the conditions seem to be.  How cold, and dark, and dismal.  How smothered by the seemingly bad.

With hope afresh, and renewed life, the good comes through.

Growth returns.

That vitality and energy returns.

The promise of things good and new springs up.

When my days are "snowy" and "cold", I will try and remember this image - of life pushing through, despite the weather - and remember that as long as I keep planting the good, then it will push up through the harsh conditions of "winter".