Am I Going to Remain Faithful?

Do you worry about apostasising? That, if it came down to it, under real pressure you might renounce your faith in Jesus? The aptly named 2017 film, Silence, tells the story of a 17th Century Christian priest who, in the face of intense persecution at the hands of the Japanese, eventually renounces his Christian faith. Do you fear that this might be you?

Or, less dramatically, do you worry about doubting God in the heat of the moment, only to return to him in relief and thankfulness once the trial is over? Is this your experience already? I can certainly identify with this pattern. As can the author of Psalm 73. Opposed by proud, godless men, the writer here recounts how his feet ‘almost turned’ from God’s way (v2) and how pointless he feels his devotion to God has actually been (v13). He goes so far as to label himself as having been a ‘brute beast’ in God’s presence (v22). But then he rallies when he remembers that God is on his side (v25) and has never let go of His grip on him (v23).

There are several things we can learn about facing trials from the writer of Psalm 73. Let’s focus on two of them:

One, God remains faithful to his commitment to us. He is transcendent. He knows the future (Psalm 73:17). He will not let you go. God will complete the salvation of his elect, a salvation he planned from before the foundation of the world. Revelation 3:5 says ‘He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.’ John Piper in an article on desiringgod.org explains this verse thus: ‘Having our name in the book of life from the foundation of the world seems to mean that God will keep you from falling and grant you to persevere in allegiance to God. Being in the book means you will not apostasise.’

What a relief! How encouraging! Despite any fear of future struggle if we are God’s children we can ‘rest in the assurance that we are not left to ourselves in this “fight of faith”’ (Piper) and that the salvation God began in us He will complete (Philippians 1:6).

Secondly, we can trust during a trial. If God is going to keep us from ultimately apostasising, surely He can keep us from doubting Him in the heat of the moment! UK resident Chery Gadsby and her husband Jules were faced with the decision to terminate their baby’s life or risk Cheryl’s life as she had severe pre-eclampsia (Woman Alive, August 2017). While she was in hospital friends sent Cheryl a card with Psalm 139:16 in it. The verse reads: ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ Faced with choosing between her life or her baby’s Cheryl was initially angry about being given this verse. Then, after some gentle counsel from a Christian nurse, Cheryl put herself and her baby into God’s hands. God became her strength and she was ‘incredibly aware of the Lord’s peace’ during the trial. This story ends sadly. Cheryl’s baby died in her womb. But Cheryl reports ‘throughout the sadness, we have found that building our lives on the rock of Christ has made the difference to us. The Lord is our strength, our peace and our comfort, and He is faithful.’

Wouldn’t you like to be like Cheryl, trusting God (mostly) through it all? I know I would. I’m sure that in the face of difficulty I’m likely to repeat my pattern of doubt then faith, doubt then faith. But hopefully those cycles will become fewer and shorter, until I trust God implicitly throughout.

Turn to your One-to-One Freedom-in-Fellowship partner now and pray that: she would rest assured for the future, knowing that God will keep her in His grip for eternity; and that she would trust God to be her strength and refuge (Psalm 73:28) in the trials she is facing now.

 

It’s KZN Women’s Convention time!

On 19 August ladies from the East Coast of KZN will gather at Christ Church Umhlanga for the 2017 ‘Radiate Together’ conference. Presenters are speaker/singer duo Cate Arenstein and Lilly Million from Christ Church Midrand. The morning promises to be a wonderful time of teaching, music, book reviews, book purchasing, tea and treats, and fellowship.

Cate and Lilly will explain to us God’s plan to graciously draw people into his family, and then mould us in turn to, together, reach out to others, so that we exemplify being a ‘Redeemed Family of Servants on Mission’. So that we ‘Radiate Together’.

Invite your friends, perhaps even book and pay for them as a way of encouraging them to attend. And when you’re at the conference be sure to browse at the book table. A careful selection of books will be on sale on the day and titles, among others, include: Alive in Him by Gloria Furman, Practical Theology for Women by Wendy Alsup and Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid.

Tea and treats, specially prepared by ladies dedicated to making your morning a delight, will be served during the main tea break. Cappuccinos will be on sale to keep you alert so you don’t miss a thing.

Things you need to know:

Date, time and place: 19 August 2017, 8.30am to 1pm, Christ Church Umhlanga (57 Hambridge Avenue, Somerset Park).

Cost: R90

Bookings: Are online only. Please visit the booking form and payment options here: https://christchurchumhlanga.elvanto.eu/form/84bd6951-4446-11e7-86d5-0a6b0d448233.

If you need help completing your booking and payment ladies will be on duty after each Sunday service on 30 July, 6 August and 13 August.

NB: Bookings close on 13 August 2017.

We cannot wait to fellowship with you on 19 August. Get booking now and see you at the ‘Radiate Together’ conference!

Contact: Sarah at sltinney@gmail.com for more info.

Pride: It’s All About Self

Pride: It’s All About Self

By Brenda Daniels

Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. C S Lewis.

In 2016 someone in my matric year (which was very long ago) formed a Facebook group for the people in my school year. We were urged to share our stories with one another on the group, saying what we’d been up to in the intervening years. Memories of high school flooded back as I thought about what to say. School was a time of great highs, yes, but also many lows. A time when I was full of insecurities, feelings of inferiority, and self-judgment. Now in the present, as I wrote my little spiel on the Facebook group, I felt quite proud of myself. Especially when I posted a present-day picture. ‘Hmm, I look quite good,’ I thought. ‘I’m sure if we had an actual reunion I would put those other matrics to shame.’

I’m embarrassed to admit the latter. To actually put it in writing here. That’s because those self-elevating thoughts reflect pride and God’s Word says that God hates pride, because pride attempts to elevate the self above God. (Killjoys).

So what’s the antidote? To return to my school-day mode of self-condemnation and low self-esteem? No. Jason Meyer, author of the chapter ‘Pride’ in Killjoys, says that self-exaltation and self-demotion are simply two ends of the same stick. They both reflect pride because their common denominator is self-preoccupation. No, we begin to kill pride when we focus on humility. And that is because humility helps us move from opposition to God to dependence on God.

But being humble is easier said than done. I think Paul’s example here is a very helpful one. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Meyer explains this passage by saying that Paul’s ongoing battle with pride had to be countered with some sort of ongoing affliction (the thorn in the flesh) in order to keep him humble. Paul learnt from this to actually boast in his weakness (verse 9) because his ‘weakness was the best backdrop against which others [would] see the beauty of God’s strength.’ (Killjoys).

Turn to your Freedom-in-Fellowship One-to-One partner now and together pray through the 2 Corinthians passage above. Encourage one another to combat the dreadful sin of pride by focusing on God, and thinking of yourselves less. Pray that as you do so God would let the beauty of his strength shine through.

 

Anger

Anger

By Brenda Daniels

I was driving along one afternoon minding my own business and enjoying the music I had blaring on my car’s sound system. I was in the fast lane. A car in the slow lane sped past me (above the speed limit I’ll have you know) and then squeezed in front of me with barely any breathing room. I was incensed. What an idiot! How dare this @X%%Yz} person be so rude and reckless! I leant on the hooter of my car with all my might and shouted, erm, very loudly, spit flying from my mouth in my rage. He didn’t care. He’d got to where he’d wanted to.

In a flash I felt ashamed at my complete loss of control. And yet, wasn’t my anger justified? Anger itself isn’t inherently wrong and, after all, I had been wronged. Author of the chapter ‘Anger’, Jonathan Parnell, in the book Killjoys, cites Marcia Cannon who explains ‘You become angry when you define reality as unacceptable and you feel unable to easily correct, tolerate or let it go.’ Well I could certainly relate to that.

But there is a problem. Apart from anger leading to sin (which it did in my case), our anger is often unrighteous and ungodly. Take the biblical prophet Jonah for example. Jonah had been sent by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but Jonah didn’t want to go because he thought the Ninevites didn’t deserve God’s grace. In Jonah’s ‘definition of reality’ the Ninevites should, well, they should just go to hell. The problem here was that Jonah had played ‘God by assuming the right to draw the lines, defining what should or should not be.’ (Killjoys).

Another problem with our anger is that it is too often consumed with ourselves and not with God’s priorities. While getting irate about things that thwart our rights we often couldn’t care less about the things that God cares about: the injustices in the world, or the many people going to hell because they haven’t heard about Jesus.

Pause for a moment now with your Freedom-in-Fellowship One-to-One partner and consider together how anger in your life may have been sinful. And ponder ‘the supreme example of God’s anger’ as ‘seen in the cross of Jesus planned before the world began (Revelation 13:8)’. (Killjoys).

Desired Treasures

Desired Treasures

By Brenda Daniels

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of greed is: Intense or excessive desire, especially for food or wealth.

Whilst the basic desire described in this definition is physical (food, possessions), I believe it doesn’t preclude desires for other things too, like desires for power, relationship happiness, or success. Desire is the underlying factor, whether for physical or non-physical things. In the book Killjoys, author on the chapter ‘Greed’, David Mathis, says that in the Bible greed can be equated to covetousness. The dictionary definition of covet is: yearn to possess (something, especially something belonging to another).

I can relate to coveting ‘relationship happiness’. Let me illustrate. For many years after I married I struggled to adapt to my new lifestyle. I had come from a home that prized routine. This routine gave me a great deal of comfort and security. But I had married a man whose job had virtually NO routine, from one day to the next, one month to the next, forever. And he was often away from home. Saturdays were particularly hard for me. I remember going out with my small children one Saturday and seeing EVERYONE else in happy family clumps. Husbands and wives, lovers, boyfriends and girlfriends – all holding hands, chatting, basically having a good time. Except me. Here I was alone, coping with two small children by myself when EVERYONE else was together. It was so unfair. I was miserable.

Focusing on what I didn’t have, coveting what I thought others did have, having an ‘excessive desire’ for what I lacked, had definitely robbed me of my joy. But more than ‘killing my own joy’ my comparison-induced misery had dishonoured the God I believed in. I had forgotten to be thankful to Him for what I did have. And most of all I had failed to trust in Him. To trust in the Jesus who, though he possessed everything, on the cross had made himself nothing so that I might have everything in him. Companionship, security, love, family.

Spend some time with your Freedom-in-Fellowship One-to-One partner discussing how you may have failed to trust in the God who is your ‘better possession’ by being greedy for what you do not have. Together meditate on Matthew 13:44 which says ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’

Think together about how you can trust more in Jesus, your greatest treasure.

Which gods do you worship?

Freedom-in-Fellowship One-to-One: Article 5

By Brenda Daniels

Dear ladies,

What makes you uncontrollably angry, anxious, or despondent? The answer to this question, posed by Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods, can reveal what it is you really worship.

To illustrate: Years ago I joined a bookclub. At the first (and only) meeting I attended I was so intimidated by the knowledgeable members and the palatial home in which the meeting was held that I never went back. I just couldn’t compete. Fast forward 25 years (and lots of books later) and I had worked up the courage to join another bookclub. Meetings had started off okay but at the most recent gathering I attended those familiar feelings of intimidation beset me. Everyone else seemed so learned, so much more interesting and accomplished than I was. I left the meeting feeling depressed.

In answer to the question posed by Keller above what can I learn from this incident? That my god of success, my god of achievement, of prestige, of academic excellence actually just doesn’t cut it. When compared to other people more successful, clever and prestigious than myself that god withers and fails me. And leaves me empty.

What is it for you? What god leaves you angry, anxious or despondent if you don’t get it?

The funny thing is, the rewards we don’t get can actually be really good things, like: job accolades for work well done; a healthy body after careful attention to diet and lifestyle; respect from colleagues; well-rounded children.

So how come these “good” things become idols? Keller suggests two reasons. One, if anything, even (or especially) a good thing, becomes “more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.” Two, “the human heart is an idol factory.” (Counterfeit Gods). It is our natural bent, even as Christians, to constantly seek satisfaction in anything other than God.

So what do we do about this problem? The answer, or at least the process, is never going to be a simple one. But we can start by, however imperfectly, turning our longings to God, meditating on his word, and training our hearts to love him above all else.

Proverbs 3:13-16 says:

13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Take some time with your Freedom in Fellowship partner this month to encourage her to worship God above all other gods. If you feel brave enough, share with your sister in Christ what gods it is you worship. And ask her to grapple in prayer with you, asking God to help your heart find ultimate satisfaction and blessing in Christ.

Having the Eyes of Your Hearts Enlightened, that You May Know What is the Hope to which He has Called You

By Brenda Daniels

Dear ladies,

‘It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’ C S Lewis.

Do you feel yourself torn, struggling against strong desires to sin, desires that displease God? C S Lewis in the quote above turns that struggle on its head. He says that what we crave from the world – in this example ‘drink and sex and ambition’ – is actually so small and puny compared to what God offers us in Christ.

Ephesians 1 tells us that in Christ we have ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.’ Every spiritual blessing! Imagine that. It makes our cravings for anything less (beauty, the approval of others, prestige) seem foolish. And yet our human, sinful hearts do struggle to appreciate Christ and be satisfied in him. We need our sisters in Christ to help us appreciate Christ more. The task of seeking God and the treasure of his wisdom is best performed as a communal project. It needn’t be undertaken on our own. Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’

Spend some time now with your Freedom in Fellowship partner, ‘sharpening’ her as together you meditate on and pray through Ephesians 1 below.

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[b]for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known[c]to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory.

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[f] towards all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Reading and Hearing God’s Word is like Sitting at God’s Knee and Listening to Him Speak to Us

By Brenda Daniels

Dear ladies,

Magazines, inspirational talks and Christian self-help books often call us as women to ‘be the best we can be’. They encourage us to look out for ourselves because ‘we’re worth it’. Even in Christian circles we may be urged to ‘find our God-given potential’.

In contrast to reading the Bible these inner journeys seem more relevant and personal. Bible teaching can sometimes feel dry and far removed from our everyday lives. In fact, according to Kathleen Nielson in Word-filled Women’s Ministry, there is a ‘perennial struggle in women’s Bible study circles. Two distinct sorts of camps seem to develop,’ she says. ‘Shall we be warm and welcoming and personal, or shall we be academic and study the text?’

This sort of distinction assumes that the Bible is not personal. Not personal? ‘What could be more personal,’ asks Nielson, ‘than feeling the very breath of God – actually hearing him speak?’ You see ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God …’ it says in 2 Timothy 3:16. Imagine this: ‘Imagine God standing at the foot of your bed at night talking to you. Imagine – the God of the universe speaking right to you. It’s that personal’ (John Frame, cited by Kathleen Nielson in Word-filled Women’s Ministry).

Reading and hearing God’s Word is like sitting at God’s knee and listening to him speak to us. That great God of the universe, the one who breathed life into us, speaks to us through his Word, the Bible.

Take some time now with your Freedom in Fellowship partner to ponder God’s personal word. Together meditate on the following words in Isaiah 55. Encourage one another to find fulfilment and satisfaction, growth and change in God’s word, his powerful and very personal word.

‘Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;

‘For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’

Isaiah 55:1-3, 10-11.

One thing I ask from the Lord… that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever

Freedom in Fellowship One to One: Article 2

By Brenda Daniels. Material taken from Living Without Worry by Timothy Lane.

Hullo dear Freedom in Fellowship One-to-One ladies and happy 2017 to you!

Perhaps at the start of this new year you are feeling fresh, full of energy and looking forward to the year ahead. Or perhaps you feel anxious about what 2017 could hold for you.

Worrying about the future is often due to its uncertain nature. So, for instance, you may be concerned about having enough to eat or drink. Or being capable enough to find a job. Perhaps you worry about your future health, or if you’ll be lonely. Or maybe you find yourself asking a variety of “What if….” questions. When these uncertainties mount up in our minds we can become anxious, lose our appetites (or overeat), feel sad, paranoid or even depressed.

So how, as Christians, do we begin to deal with this future worry? Well, we need a sense of perspective. Jesus gives us this when he tells us about hell in Luke 12. “I tell you my friends,” begins verse 4, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear. Fear him, who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.” Hell is a final reality, one our just God will use to ultimately judge sin. It is God we should ultimately fear.

At the same time as Jesus speaks about hell in Luke 12, though, he also provides a solution to this problem: forgiveness through the Father’s grace. In Luke 12:8 Jesus says: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” Jesus’ explicit purpose for coming to Earth, you see, was to deal with the fearful reality of God’s judgment of sin and the awful nature of hell. He tells us what to worry about, yes, but then (when we believe in him) he takes away our need to worry and gives us the wonderful promise of eternal fellowship with him in heaven.

So, in the ups and downs of the weeks to come, the stresses and strains of your uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to. May God grant you grace to embrace the truth that, if you belong to Jesus, hell has no power over you.

Share some future worries you may have with your Freedom in Fellowship partner and pray together through Psalm 27:4-5:

One thing I ask from the Lord,

            This only do I seek:

That I may dwell in the house of the Lord

            All the days of my life,

To gaze on the beauty of the Lord

            And to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble

            He will will keep me safe in his dwelling;

He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

            And set me high upon a rock.

 

The Lord is the Stronghold of my Life

Material taken from Living Without Worry by Timothy Lane.

Worries and anxieties can be related to past, present or future events. As we reach the end of 2016 focus for a moment on any present worries that are connected to past sins you may have committed. These past sins can cause anxiety in the present particularly when we have struggled with them over and over again (as Paul did when he said in Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”) Coming to Jesus for forgiveness is something we need to do daily. Likewise, though, feeling the reality of past sins and then fighting against worrying about them is a daily calling. Remember that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Cry out to God now to give you a fresh understanding of God’s grace. Don’t remain fixated upon Romans 7:15. Pray for Romans 8:1 to take root more deeply in your heart.

Present worries can also be related to past events you have had to face. Ponder for a moment the difficulties you have experienced in 2016. You cannot change what has been done to you or what has happened to you. What you can do is begin to work out how to live now in a way that is not in the grip of those things. And that involves working out how to live life in a way that lets God be in charge of it.

To keep our focus on Christ is a daily struggle. And we need our fellow Christians to help us do this. Get together with your Freedom-in-Fellowship partner this month and remind each other of God’s grace and love.

Meditate on Psalm 27:1-3 together:

The Lord is my light and my salvation –

               whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life –

               of whom shall I be afraid?

You live in God’s world. You are not alone. God not only exists but he loves you and knows you by name. Take a moment with your prayer partner and put these truths into your own words as you talk to God.

When the wicked advance against me

               to devour me,

It is my enemies and my foes

               who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me,

               my heart will not fear;

Though war break out against me,

               even then I will be confident.

Name the things that worry you. If you feel comfortable, share them with your prayer partner. Now pray together, thanking God and reminding each other that God is present with you in the midst of your anxiety. And you are safe in Christ.