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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4 v4)

In the last devotional I suggested that Romans 8 v8 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” is a very useful and practical way to deal with troubles and difficulties in your life. Today I want to look in more detail at the first of these three – “Be joyful in hope”.

I have known for a while that I have a tendency towards depression. For me it is quite easy to find myself thinking that life is pointless and nothing I do will change that. I know that this attitude sucks the life out of me and is the beginning of a very large spiral that takes me to places I just don’t want to go. But in these experiences I have learned a thing or two about life and how to deal with it.

I know first hand how important it is to be positive, or to be more precise to have an attitude of gratitude. But I also am very acutely aware that when I am in the middle of my depression there is no way that any amount of positive thinking will help. People often try to cheer me up by telling me to think about all the things that I can be thankful for. But when you are depressed it is almost impossible to think of anything positive, and even if can think of something, it doesn’t arouse any grateful feelings at all, no matter how wonderful the thought might be.

So what is the solution? I have learned that if I wait till I am depressed before I deal with my depression then I will fail. I have to deal with it before it becomes a problem. Like medication that has to be taken every day, I have been training myself to develop a thankful heart every morning. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5 v16-18).

This passage always reminds me of a sermon I once heard which emphasised the phrase “in all circumstance”. The preacher made it clear that there will be situation we find ourselves in that are not conducive to rejoicing and giving thanks. Terrible things do happen to everyone, and it would be very wrong to give thanks to God for these things. But we are not told to give thanks for all circumstance, instead we are told to give thanks in all circumstance.

Each day, no matter what terrible things we encounter, we have no excuse not to give thanks. It is not about thanking God for what happens during the day, instead we need to thank God that he is who he is. Even when situations look bleak, God is God. This means he is in charge and no matter what happens, he will see us through.

Our joy must come from nothing else but our hope. This is the secret I am learning. If I try to rejoice because of my circumstance then when things go bad my joy will disappear. This kind of joy is useless. I don’t need joy when things are going well, I need joy when things are going wrong. Nothing in the world can give me this joy. I need to look beyond my circumstances. I need to rejoice in something that will not dessert me or leave me no matter how bad things might get.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31 v8)

Every day I need to develop my habit of rejoicing in the Lord. If we build a habit of rejoicing and being thankful in the good times, it can sustain us through the bad times. “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 9 v1-2)

Like all good habits, it is not necessarily easy. Which is why we must be told again and again. It is the only way we can protect ourselves from depression during bad times. “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” (Philippians 3 v1)

Blessings,

Matt.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12 v12)

Are you struggling to find purpose in life? You are not alone. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or not, life is full of difficult times and a lot of suffering. Unfortunately from the moment Adam fell into sin in the Garden of Eden mankind has been under a curse. It is a curse that exists for everyone, and although Jesus death has removed the curse from us, we still suffer it’s consequences until the day when Jesus returns and does away with sin forever.

God does not want us to suffer, but suffer we must if we are to achieve God’s will. This chapter of Romans makes it clear that our suffering is for a purpose. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” His priority is not to change our circumstances, it’s to change us.

In a writer’s workshop recently, it was emphasised to us as budding authors, that everything that happens in life is good. Either it teaches us a lesson or it tests our resolve, or both. Whatever the case it is good because when we pass the test then our confidence increases, and when we learn the lessons, our knowledge increases allowing us to be better equipped to pass the tests the next time they come.

I think this exactly what the bible means when it talks about suffering in the following passages:

“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.” (Romans 8 v28)

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1 v6-7)

“…because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (Hebrews 12 v6-7)

But what do you do when you are faced with such a test? It is not an easy thing to deal with, and in the end a lot of people fail because they can not overcome their circumstances. But we are called to be more than weak victims of life. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8 v 37).

How is this possible? Today’s passage summarises it beautifully. If you read the preceding words in Romans 8 you will see the principle that is captured in Romans 12 v 12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

It all starts with an unshakable belief that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 12 v 31b), then our hope, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 12 v18); our patients, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 12 v 22); and finally our prayers (even when we don’t know what to pray), “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 12 v26).

Armed with these weapons, we can face our difficult times with confidence. We may still suffer, our situation might not improve, and indeed things may even get worse, but the purposes of God will come to fruition, because in being joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer, we will be transformed into the people God wants us to be.

God Bless,

Matt.

“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a)

We are taught from a young age to be proud of our achievements. Yet the Bible constantly warns us about pride, with passages like “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

So where do we draw the line? Can we speak about what we have achieved and still be godly? Or do we have to keep quiet about our performances and just go about our work quietly? If this is what we are supposed to do, then what did Jesus mean when he said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The key is our motivation. As with everything else in our lives, our purpose in talking about our achievements and our good deeds should be to glorify our Father in heaven. Our focus in what we do in our lives, should be for God not us. Our identity needs to be in him, not in what we do.

It is only natural to want to build up our identity. If our identity is in our achievements then we will make sure everyone knows and do whatever we can to draw attention to it. We might also try to exaggerate the importance or significance of what we have done. Perhaps we might even try to claim achievements that aren’t actually ours.

But if our identity is in Christ, then we will not hesitate to give him the glory, because by building up Christ we build up our own identity. As Christ grows in us, and we and other come to recognise his work in our lives our identity is strengthened and we become more confident.

But it is more than just focusing on God instead of our own achievements. We need to be able to recognise our achievements for what they are, instead of ignoring them (which is false humility). If we claim to be Christian then we must come to terms with the truth Jesus tells us. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)

We are nothing without Christ. So when we talk about our achievements we must recognise the truth in what we read in today’s passage. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

Recognising that it is God who gives us the ability to achieve great things puts everything in context. It is only when we have our identity in Christ, and give him the glory in all things that we can live a fulfilled life and have true self-esteem.

As an example it is worth looking at King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4). Like most of us he was quite happy with his own achievements. “He said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven…‘Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals…until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’ ” (v30-32)

If you can achieve great things without Christ, imagine how much greater your achievements will be when you acknowledge him as the real reason for our achievements. As Harry S. Truman once said “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

King Nebuchadnezzar observed, “I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (36b-37)

True humility is making sure that credit is given to those to whom it is due. In our case we must always give credit to our heavenly father for all our achievements. “For it is we…who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3 v3)

God Bless,

Matt.

Identity – Men

This weekend I have been asked to address a men’s breakfast and it got me thinking about where men find their identity. It came to the conclusion that we are particularly prone to a distinct lack of reality. We often pride ourselves on being hand’s-on and practical, but the reality is far from the truth. Sure we can fix the dishwasher, change a tire, mow the lawns, but can we find a pair of socks in the sock drawer?

Let’s face it guys, we really are dreamers. As teenagers we think we are invincible. We get in a car and imagine we are Nicky Rosberg. We meet a woman and think of ourselves as James Bond. We face the things in the world that we just don’t understand like we are Dr Who. We like to think we are invincible, God’s gift to women, and have a solutions for every problem.

Things don’t get any better as we get older. In fact how we see ourselves often become even less connected with reality. If reality was life I would be 18 years old. Tall dark and handsome, elite sportsman with great 6 pack body. Funniest guy on planet, every other guy is jealous and every woman wants me. I’m richer than Bill gates, more talented than Hugh Jackman AND better looking!

But the truth is something far different, and we can not trust our own judgement on these things. It is only when disaster strikes and we are forced to face reality that we see things how they really are. Although it may not be too late to fix the problem at that time, we are usually full of regret that we didn’t spot the problem earlier. We know that if only we had seen the truth the problem would never have become as serious as it is now.

Let me give you several examples. Take the alcoholic who doesn’t recognise they have a drinking problem, or the man with prostate cancer who refuses to believe that it is anything to be concerned about. Relationships is also one of the areas where guys are particularly bad judges. How many times have relationships broken up, and they guys says “I never saw it coming” despite the fact that the relationship has been on the rocks for many years.

The problems is often related to our identity. How we see ourselves reflects how we feel about our situation. If we see ourselves as invincible then their is nothing to worry about. If we see ourselves as appealing to others, then we can handle rejection. If we see ourselves as gods, then nothing is impossible for us.

Psychologist often promote the power of positive thinking, but given the serious reality check that disaster often brings, positive thinking will not get you through. Instead of taking your identity from who you think you are, take it from who God says you really are.

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’” (Romans 3: 10-11) “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5: 8) “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5: 17)

Look to Jesus. Comparing our life to his gives us the reality check we need. Accepting his life in ours gives us the solution to becoming the very person we always want to be – REALLY.

God Bless,

Matt.

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12 v33)

Possessions are very much like riches. Money can buy possession, possession can be sold for money, but I would like to suggest they are not the same thing. Possessions have their own attraction that I think can make them even more insidious than money. Ultimately money is simply a method of exchanging possessions and when we consider our wealth we need to include possession in the calculation.

As an example, many people are happy to give money out of their income to various charities, but how many would actually sell their house in order to give the proceeds away? Some may leave their estate to charities in their will, but that is once they have finished with it. Very few people would think that it is prudent to sell your home and give it to the church while you were still young.

I am not suggesting for a moment that you should go and sell everything you own and give it to the poor (Unless you are sure that Jesus is asking you to do this very thing, in which case I would say do it immediately). What I want to point out however is that for many people it is far easier to get attached to possessions than it is to money. Cars, houses, entertainment systems, mobile phones – we can become attached to them all. It may well be worth thinking about what you own that you would never give away. What are the things you just couldn’t do without?

As with money, possession should be just tools that we use to further the kingdom of God. There is nothing wrong with having them, as long as we use them wisely. If we are not willing to use them appropriately, or even to give them up if asked to do so, then it should be clear to us that we value them more than we value our relationship with God, and that makes them nothing more than idols in our life.

If you are tempted to excuse yourself by saying that you need your house or you car or whatever else it is that you own, just bear in mind that we must not trust in the things of this world.. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariot, and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.” (Isaiah 31 v1)

You may be diligent with your money. You might regularly give to the house of God and to the poor and disadvantaged, but how do you use your possessions? God requires us to use everything we have for his kingdom.. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13 v44)

This very day you should do a stocktake. Look around you at everything you have and ask how God can use what you have to serve his kingdom better. In this way you will be like the shrewd manager in Luke 16 v1-9, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (v9)

God Bless,

Matt.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

(1 Timothy 6: 10)

Many Christians struggle with how to deal with the issue of money. Often it is a case of one extreme or the other. Many devout christians have taken a vow of poverty for the sake of Jesus and have changed the world for the better. Then again there are many examples of Christians who are (and remain) wealthy who are using their money to advance the kingdom in ways that would not be possible if God had not blessed them..

Part of the problem is that this verse in Timothy is often misquoted as ‘Money is the root of all evil’. This is not what this verse says. It is the love of money that is the problem. Although it is easier for a rich man to love money, it is certainly not impossible for those who are poor to have the same problem.

Probably the simplest test you can do to see if money is a problem for you is to ask yourself if you have the same attitude as Paul did towards money. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4: 12-13)

The biggest sign that your identity is associated with money is that you are never satisfied. You make your first million and you can’t wait for you second million. You get the latest phone and you can’t wait for the next one. No matter how many overseas trips you have been on, you are never satisfied unless you have yet another one planned.

Because the poor have nothing they certainly find it easier to keep their imagination under control. They don’t know what it is like to have, so they find it easier not to want it. But nevertheless they can still suffer from a love of money. Paul had been in both situations. He had been is a position of wealth, and in a position of poverty, but neither had satisfied him. The key to be content, Paul says, is to know that we can only achieve a full life through him who gives us strength.

Being rich will not make us content and will not achieve God’s purposes in itself. Neither will being poor. The only way to be content is to trust him to provide all our needs. He may meet these needs in many ways. Money is only one of them. But we should never forget that he is the one who is does it, and put our faith in God not in the money he provides. Money is simply one of the tools we can use to help us meet our needs. Used correctly it can be beneficial. Used incorrectly and, as Paul says to Timothy, it will pierce us with all kinds of grief.

In today’s passage we are also warned not to be eager for money. If we want to live a satisfied life, and we understand that it is God who satisfies, then it is clear that we should be eager for God instead. As the Psalmist says “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37 v4)

Why would you want money when you can have everything your heart desires. Surely as Christians who have a personal relationship with the living God, the creator of the universe, we are so much more than that.

God Bless,

Matt.

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings” (1 Corinthians 7:23)

In the last devotional I talked about becoming a new creation and finding my identity in Christ. If we want to become a new creation we need to kill off the old, and remove anything that give us our identity outside of the will of God. If we recognise where our identity lies at the moment then we can see more clearly as Jesus changes us and we become a new creation and take up our identity in him.

I would like to tackle some of the areas of my life in which I have found my identity. Each of these areas have been so much a part of my life that I didn’t even recognise that it was a problem. I thought that it was right for me to take pride in my work, and do my best, and show loyalty and give honour to those I worked for. But I never recognised that I had gone too far. I had become a slave and I didn’t even know it.

When it came to my job, I made so many concessions in my life and sacrificed so many things that it became very unhealthy. And all along I thought I was doing the right thing, and it was killing me. God never intended us to be a slave to earthly masters, indeed in today’s passage he tells us the exact opposite. Yet I never took any steps to free myself.

I believe there were two main reasons for this. Firstly, as I have already mentioned, I was never really aware that the situation had become so serious, and secondly my identity was so intertwined with my work that I was afraid I would simply cease to exist if I gave up my job! It gave me a sense of belonging, it gave me meaning, and I needed money to pay the mortgage, and pay for the cruises I loved and the many other things that money could bring.

But the reality was quite different. Far from making my life happy and giving me an identity, my work made me miserable and was taking my identity away from me. I had become merely a cash cow for the company. I was chained to the grindstone and it was killing me.

This is no exaggeration. Those who know me have been telling me for a long time that I needed to give up my job or I would die. Like you, I thought they were exaggerating too, but now that I look back I can see that if I had kept going the way I was going I certainly would not have lived much longer.

You can’t see it when you are in it, but I urge everyone to try and ascertain it for themselves. Take a step back and look at what gives you identity. If your identity lies in anything other than Christ then it is idolatry which is sin and it will enslaves you “for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” (2 Peter 2: 19b). Let my testimony be a warning to everyone that if we have our identity in the things of the world, we will be enslaved and die, but if our identity is in Christ we will be set free to live.

“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6: 20-22)

By God’s grace he has taken from me the very things that have enslaved me. The things that gave me identity, but extracted a heavy toll from my life. What benefit did they really bring me? No, they were leading me to death, and yet all the way I thought they would bring me the joys of life. Instead I have gained a new identity. No money, no job, no corporate belonging, instead I have spiritual riches, a heavenly assignment, and I belong to the body of Christ. Shall I be a slave to the world, or a slave of God? I know which one I would prefer!

Lord help me reap the rewards of holiness and eternal life that come from living with an identity firmly based in you. I once slaved passionately for my work, help me now slave as passionately for you kingdom. Amen.

God Bless,

Matt.

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