Julene Duerksen-Kapao is a mother, wife, educator and Daughter of the King. Julene’s unpaid work includes experiencing life with her super awesome whanau and creating memories. Julene taught at Longburn Adventist College for over a decade in the English and Bible Departments. Currently she is employed at Te Aroha Noa in Highbury, Palmerston North working with the marginalised and most vulnerable in the community as Learning Coordinator for the Young Parent Learning Hub and Youth programmes. Every day is both a joy and a challenge.
What Is This All About?
Has anyone ever asked you as a believer, why you celebrate Christmas? What I mean by that is, how is your Christmas experience any different from a non-believer? One verse jumps to mind for me: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So how is my experience different and what is it all about? This holiday is so much more than good food and family time. It is a time to reflect on having hope and living a life of peace. Next time you have a conversation about the chaos Christmas brings, remember, it’s all about hope.
Having grown up in the Northern Hemisphere, this season brought snow, warm coats and even sleigh rides. Living in the Southern Hemisphere has shifted my Christmas experience to BBQ’s and trips to the beach. Both periods brought family, quality time and Christmas concerts. The purpose of the season did not change, only the environment. Now that we have officially entered the Christmas season I will celebrate what this time means and now I can officially sing “Joy To The World”! Luke 2:10 says “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” and that gives me reason to celebrate and give thanks for this season.
The Blessing of Giving
Luke tells us that when we give, we will also be given, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” Luke 6:38. I remember singing a fantastic song years ago with these words. I remember closing my eyes and feeling the blessings the Lord promises washing over me and filling my heart with joy and gratefulness. It warms my heart knowing of the blessing of giving, not just financially but of our time, creativity, resources, and our friendship. There truly is a blessing in giving.
Isaiah 61 begins with powerful verses articulating the act of being equipped, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…” 61:1, 2. As I read I believe these words were written not only for Isaiah but every follower of Jesus Christ. These words promise that those who believe will be equipped to bring good news, hold the brokenhearted, set captives free and much more. Being equipped and serving Jesus sounds radical and fun! Take some time to dig into scripture, history and current events to hear the voices of those equipped by the Father.
Though The Mountains Fall
It is difficult being separated from loved ones. While I write this my youngest son is spending a few months in the USA with my parents and attending high school. Although this is an amazing experience for him, my mama heart hurts to be apart from my son, especially in our fragile world. I am grateful for God’s protection for my son and each of us as we navigate life, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging,” Psalm 46:1-3.
Give PRAISE a GO
Are you filled with joy? Can you find things in your life to shout praise about? Do your words bubble over with what the Lord has done for you? Psalm 126:2 says “our mouths are filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘the Lord has done great things for them.” This verse reminds me the power of my words and what they say about my God. Here’s your challenge: be intentional about seeing the blessings in your life. Name the ways the Lord has worked in your life. Praise God for them. And tell someone about it! Your praise will become contagious!
My Help Comes From The Lord
I am going to let you in on a little secret: I struggle with feeling worthy. There are many reasons around this. The greatest however, is the enemy trying to convince me that I will never be good enough. I recently found myself paging through the book of Psalms and being flooded with hope and affirmation that regardless of how I feel, the Lord loves me and is proud of me. Psalm 121:2 reads “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” and I am overcome with great hope that I’m not doing this on my own. I am worthy and the Lord will help me.
My Mouth Will Speak…
You don’t have to read far in scripture to read about the power of our words. I love David’s words in Psalm 145:21 “My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord, let every creature praise His holy name for ever and ever”. What is my mouth saying? This verse reminds us that the creatures are praising the Lord’s name. What do my words praise? Do my words glorify the Father? Do my words signify my faith and trust in the Saviour? This verse reminds me to check every word I speak. Wherever you are today and whomever you are speaking with, let the words of the Father be your own.
“Teach me to do your will for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground,” Psalm 143:10
Are you a lifelong learner? My definition of “lifelong learner” is someone who finds learning and opportunity in everything presented in their path. I wonder how old David was when he wrote those words. I believe he was a man who had lived many years and experienced many heartbreaks in life by this time. Yet he asks the Lord to teach him. I love his openness and willingness to ask. I am inspired to ask the Lord daily to teach me. If David kept asking, it is good enough for me!
I’d Rather Have Jesus
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
Let me remind you of the words to a beautiful and powerful song. I only have to read the first few words and I can’t help but say that I’m reminded of my mum sitting at the piano and playing while she sang these words! Do you have songs like that? Songs that take you to a place of peace? A place where you feel the Saviour close? I challenge you to find such a song that you can feel flow through your body with words that speak of the Lord’s love and acceptance of you.
Actions Speak Loudly
“They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and I’m fit for doing anything good” Titus 1:16
These are harsh words. I can’t say that I disagree with the sentiment of Titus. However, the reality might feel quite uncomfortable. I have been watching the news and I am filled with sadness at stories of people claiming to have certain faith foundations yet whose actions contradict everything. Reading and seeing this reminds me to renew my relationship with the Lord asking for a daily dose of His character. May the Lord’s love and transforming Spirit pour out on you. May you feel His presence as you navigate the pathways of your life today.
“The strongest argument in favour of the gospel is a loving and lovable question,” Help in Daily Living pg 8.
I do not claim to be a Bible scholar by any means. However. I know the Bible teaches us everything the Lord would want for us to know about relationships, health, doctrine, personal growth and much more. What I do know and believe, is that the Bible is a love letter to me showing me how I can live a whole and meaningful life. I believe 1 Corinthians 16:14 gives a four word summary of how this is achieved, “do everything in love”. It seems so easy.
My husband and I participate in prison ministries. We go every five weeks to lead a worship time with whichever men decide they want to participate in worship that day. The experiences have been overwhelmingly positive and life changing for us. It is obvious that prison ministries has a crucial role in showing love and compassion to those whose lives have led them into prison. The last week we were in, the topic was “how to treat the Outcast”. I began to work through stories of the Demon possessed man, the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well when one inmate explained, “We are the outcast! Nobody wants to know us when we get out.” This young man had picked up the connection between deep complexities – the theme from the stories and their reality as inmates. As I acknowledged that many times in their lives they would experience being outcasts we were also able to convey over the next little while that Jesus sees no boundaries and limitations to His love. What an amazing opportunity to be the feet of Jesus in this world.
Faith of a Centurion
Jesus offered to go home and heal the Centurion’s servant. However the response leaves me puzzled. The Centurion replies, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus realized the deep faith of this man; far greater than those in Israel whom Jesus had already met and ministered to. His faith was not restricted by religious expectations or peer pressure or even understanding the foretelling of the Messiah. His faith was grounded by hearing stories of a man who performed miracles and believing he was worthy of a miracle. Grow this faith in your life. Grow the passion and belief that you are worthy of a miracle. I believe this story can teach the modern day church-goer the simple lesson of faith.
Power of Our Words
“So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air,” 1 Corinthians 14:9.
This entire passage is about making sense of our words and the messages we are communicating. I am a teacher and I do not always understand what my students are trying to say, sometimes because of their words and other times because of their lack of words. I find that I often have to decode the words and message as I try and understand what is being communicated to me. There is power in our words and unless we are clear, our words will be lost in the atmosphere.
“These divisions of the gatekeepers…had duties from ministering in the temple of the Lord just as their relatives had” 1 Chronicles 26:12
What a legacy for family to have! I wonder what kind of people they were? I don’t have to wonder long as I read they were leaders in their family because they were capable men (verse 6). The surrounding chapters feature the divisions of the people and their roles, each person with a purpose. I imagine being a gatekeeper was a role in which one would hold their head high and know. You may not be a gatekeeper, but you have purpose. Have you talked to God recently about what your purpose is?
Fed By Ravens
“…so he did what the Lord had told him” 1 Kings 17:5
When Elijah heard the Lord say “you will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there,” (1 Kings 17:4) he must have wondered what this was going to be like. Elijah didn’t seem concerned about the hygiene of this. He took the directions and went to this location. Verse five says “so he did what the Lord had told him”. In those five words we see how Elijah was willing to do whatever the Lord instructed.
The Lord promises he will provide. However, it never looks the way we think it will. Elijah demonstrates that when we do what the Lord says, the outcome is always with the Lord’s blessing.
“These are the last words of David…the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s song,’” 2 Samuel 23:1.
Another translation says, “Israel’s singer of songs”. The words David uses to describe himself are a powerful reminder of who he was in God’s eyes: exalted, anointed and someone who sings the songs of Israel. I believe the message is clear that David was special to God. If there was a passage written for each one of us our name would be there, as well as the qualities we hold and the way God sees us. Find a piece of Scripture and insert your name, read it and hear what God thinks about you.
“So the LORD was with Joshua, and his reputation spread throughout the land,”Joshua 6:27.
After the destruction of Jericho, Joshua cursed the rebuilding of the city and no one was ever able to successfully rebuild. The power and glory of the Lord was evident in the land where Jericho had once been a force in Canaan. This verse is interesting to me because of what it says about the relationship between Joshua and the Lord. Firstly, the Lord was with Joshua. Secondly, Joshua‘s reputation spread. What do you think Joshua’s reputation said about the Lord? I believe it conveyed a man who walked closely with, and listened to, the Lord? I wonder what my reputation says about my relationship with the Lord?
Place of Refuge
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8.
Did you know that Deuteronomy 19 discusses in detail, cities of refuge and those who run to them? There are also specific details on how to divide land and create boundary lines. However the key message is far more than that. The need for such places of refuge is because people make mistakes (manslaughter in this case) and the human need for revenge arises. The first 14 verses are much more than geography, they are about protection and caring for people in our community who need refuge. We may not have “cities of refuge” however we have the Lord, who is OUR refuge.
The Lord is close
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crashed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Over a two week period we had five people pass away in the community I work in. Two were elderly people who had contributed to creating change. Three were young people who were far too young. There was a heaviness in our community. Our communities are all similar. There is always loss and new birth, a continual cycle of life and death. We are surrounded by the crushed in spirit and the broken hearted and at times feel overwhelmed. But do not be overcome, there is a promise in this text: The Lord is close! Remember when things are difficult, that the Lord is close and walking with you.
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16a
Last Sabbath dawned grey and cold. The last few weeks have been difficult and tiring. My husband and I realized that we did not have any obligations at church and heard the quiet whisper of the Father saying, “Rest”. We bundled into our car and traveled to the nearest beach. Not long after we found ourselves over the dunes and squishing our feet on the dark sand we looked up; the clouds moved and revealed piercing sun rays in stark contrast to the dark blue sky. This was our rest and church.
Don’t let me sin on purpose
“Don’t let me do wrong
on purpose, Lord,
or let sin have control
over my life.”
There are two truths in this small passage: we all do wrong and the Lord has control! David is saying something we all say: please don’t let me do that on purpose. We know that we are all sinful and in need of Grace. We also know we will not be perfect on this earth…but oh Lord, keep us from purposefully doing wrong, hurting others, diminishing the name of the Lord or anything else to intentionally step away from the Father. The Lord has control! So hand it over. Keep open communication, talk to Him. He will answer.
“When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Luke 7:13
The young man, possibly the only son, has passed away; his mother, heartbroken, weeps for all that should have been.
With no one to care for her, this mother’s belonging now rested in the lifeless form of her son. In Israel when this story unfolded, a woman’s identity was in the men of her life. As Jesus approached and took the scene in, He saw the heartbreak. Jesus said “Don’t cry”, and in a moment, with a touch, Jesus transformed two lives: a mother’s and a son’s.
Grace does not want us to be lost, separated and sad, but to have belonging and rejoice.
It is not about HOW but about WHO – Part 4
“Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” Deuteronomy 11:16
There is a warning: do not be enticed to worship other gods.
When we worship God through love and obedience, we are constantly reminded to observe what He has done for us. We talk about it, we pray about it and we hold each other accountable.
Is it really that easy? Yes! By focusing on Who we worship all the time. Verse 18-20 give guidance around how we can do that: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds…Teach them…Write them…” Remember the Lord in everything you do.
It is not about HOW but about WHO – Part 3
“Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today…” Deuteronomy 11:8
To observe means to see, watch, perceive, or notice “God’s commands”. The Lord invites us to notice how He is working around and in us. In the noticing we find reason to worship and glorify His goodness.
Now it does get a bit tricky because the Lord says “if you obey, I will send rain; I will provide grass…you will be satisfied…” This was just a simple “Remember…Observe…I will bless”. When we focus on the “how” of worship we get frustrated and our human nature gets the best of us. Yet as we focus on the “Who” we can be at peace and trust in His will.
It is not about HOW but about WHO – Part 2
“Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm” Deuteronomy 11:2
We each have our unique journey with the Lord. It is not our parents, our friends or our children. Verse 2 invites us to “remember”. Remember that there are those who have not experienced what we have.
God is pointing out that we may individually experience His love and salvation but we have to recall, retain and reflect on it. We must remember.
We each find our own ways to remember, the important thing is to remember what the Lord has done for us.
It is not about HOW but about WHO – Part 1
“Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today…” Deuteronomy 11:1, 2
Here is a little secret: I am drawn to the Old Testament! I love it! Deuteronomy 11 gives us a fantastic example of the “WHO” of worship. This is not a dissertation on worship in general, just a focus on Who we worship.
As I read about the struggles of the Israelites I see myself. At first glance, Deuteronomy is a continuous conversation about the commandments of the Lord and the laws of Israel; yet, on a closer look we see it is about Love, about Worship.
Recipe for Winning War – Part 4
So they sang! I can imagine that there were some that may have felt a bit awkward about this approach. As the choir sang, the army marched. Can you picture the faces and hear the laughter from the enemy? I can, but not for long.
Verse 22 tells us that “as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
And all they did was sing! I imagine the army joined in as they saw what was unfolding before them. The Israelites returned singing, “for the Lord had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies” (27).
Recipe for Winning War – Part 3
As morning dawned Jehoshaphat gathered the people together. I imagine a rousing pep talk or a quiet murmur as everyone waited to see how the battle would unfold. That is what the Lord had promised: “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” verse 17
Verse 21 explains the recipe Jehoshaphat had been given from the Lord, “ …Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise…as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”
Sing? Wait…I don’t get it! There are least two armies joined together to destroy your country, your people, your family…and the choir is going out front?
Recipe for Winning War – Part 2
2 Chronicles 20: 15-16 “…‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them…”
Verse 18 says how Jehoshaphat bowed down to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Do you see the recipe? The main ingredients are prayer and joining together in worship.
They people camped the night before the “battle”. They were ready, they worshiped and I imagine they held each other remembering all the Lord had done for them. They had no idea how the morning would dawn, how the day would unfold, and how the Lord would demonstrate His power.
Recipe for Winning War – Part 1
Have you, or are you, feeling defeated?
2 Chronicles 20:2-4 “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea…The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord…”
The Israelites were terrified, rightly so, yet “came together to seek help from the Lord”. In the face of trouble (two enemies combining against Israel for war) after prayer, they go forth with the choir first.
Questions to ponder: Who/what are your enemies? How are they “ganging” up on you?
Key words: Vast armies, War, Seek help from the Lord
All of Israel came together, faced their problem and asked the Lord for wisdom: the basic recipe for facing defeat.
Come As You Are
The song “Come As You Are” by Crowder has become an anthem for me as I grow in my relationship with the Lord. I invite you to read the first verse and chorus and be reminded that you can come as you are.
Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted let rescue begin
Come find your mercy oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal
So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame
All who are broken lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home you’re not too far
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart
Come as you are
“Come As You Are” Crowder
Be Firm and Bold. Be Strong
This year I turned 40 and like most other birthdays, God reveals a special text that carries me through the year. This year He had a big one for me, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love” 1 Corinthians 16:13, 14. The key words: bold, firm, courageous, strong and love, hung in my heart and are shaping my thinking and interactions. Paul writes these words just three chapters after writing a very well-known passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13 that we often hear at weddings. I love how Paul has been shown that there is love in being firm and bold, and there is love in being strong.
Accepted Fully – Just Like Me
Do you know the story found in Philemon? I am fascinated by what plays out through the verses. Paul has found that a young man, Onesimus, a fellow believer, is actually a runaway servant. A letter is written to Philemon, also a fellow believer and Onesimus’ owner, appealing for him to accept Onesimus back, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother. Paul pleads, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.” Philemon 17. Paul demonstrates how we can embrace those who have walked away from God or have just run away: full acceptance as brothers and sisters in the faith.
Fix Your Eyes on the Unseen
The last few months have reminded me just how precious life is. 1 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart…light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Don’t we all get a little too focused on the here and now? I know I do. Things can get really, really hard. So hard that we weep at the steering wheel, into our pillow or hide it while we shower. But we weep for the reality we have found ourselves in. Take heart. Read the text and fix your eyes on the unseen.
God Seeks You
Do you know that God reveals Himself to those who don’t know they are looking for Him? Romans 10:20 tells of this fascinating spiritual journey, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” I love hearing how someone who doesn’t know God in any form, is found by a loving, forgiving and accepting God. Not too long ago a friend, who would hardly call herself a Christian believer, heard a Voice telling her she was precious beyond measure. Those words prompted a search for the Speaker and the beginning of a journey of faith. I love this promise that the Lord will reveal Himself even when we are not searching.
Proverbs 28:1 says “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” And I want to be bold. Do you think the Lord wanted His children to be bold? I do. I don’t want to run away from my problems, fears and the enemy’s scare tactics; I want to be bold as a lion, facing whatever may come with the Lord by my side. This year I am being challenged to be bold and step more fully into being the woman, mother, wife that He desires for me. When you are faced with a dilemma, consider what the Lord is growing in you and face it boldly.
Obeyed the Word of The Lord
“Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh” Jonah 3:3a. Are you familiar with the story of Jonah? He heard God, ran away from God, got swallowed by a great fish, humbled himself and cried to God, got spit out on land, then followed God’s initial calling. The story of Jonah sounds foolish from the outside as we watch Jonah finally journey with God rather than against. But does it sound familiar from the inside? Are you ignoring the Still Small Voice that is calling you? Do you find it a challenge to say “yes” and join the Lord in impacting the world around you? When Jonah obeyed, an entire city was saved. I wonder what He has in store for you!
My Peace I give to you
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:27. Recently I was doing maths games with some children I work with. One said, “I already know that” before I had explained the game. I started clarifying the game and when I was finished the same child said, “Thanks for explaining, I actually didn’t know.” When it comes to my relationship with God, I am so quick to say, “I already know that God.” Then He quietly reminds me “my peace I give to you…do not let your heart be troubled” and I say, “Thanks for reminding me. I had forgotten.”
Why did you doubt?
“You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31. I have often felt like Peter. Things have been going smoothly and I feel like I am on track with the complexities of my life. Then something goes wrong, and like Peter, I find myself clawing at the water’s surface reaching for air. I’m sure Peter was stunned as the water rushed over his head. He was probably embarrassed and frustrated that his “walking on water” adventure had finished so disastrously. And then I hear Jesus’ words, “Why did you doubt?” Why do we doubt the power Jesus has to lead, bless and hold all our life? Keep your eyes on Jesus, He wants to grow your faith.
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” Proverbs 25:28.
Today I held an angry child who was learning how to process his emotions. As I wrapped my arms around him, to protect myself and the other children, I felt his heart pounding. I quietly told him that I would hold him until his heart slowed down. He closed his eyes, leaned into me and his anger slowly subsided. How often are we like this child? Proverbs paints a picture of a city broken into without walls. Self-control is a gift of the spirit promised as we build a relationship with the Father. Hold to that promise and let the Spirit “hold” you until you slow down.
No eye has seen
“It is written: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:9. I used to think this verse was referring to heaven and the glories that await us (which are all pretty awesome). Yet as I read it again in the context of the chapter I can see that this is referring to life in the Spirit! Not just a future time, but the now. The chapter is packed with peace, wisdom and hope to the reader. Peace in understanding that Spirit, wisdom in the knowledge the Spirit offers and hope that God has prepared so much more for us. Live in the now, live with hope.
Gardening my life
“At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail,” Job 14:7. The other day I replanted a young Pohutukawa that had been given to me. I don’t claim to be a “real” gardener with much of my knowledge coming from YouTube. The gifting had been a special occasion and I wanted the little tree to thrive. As I moved it to a larger container I noted how fragile the branches and root system were. I also observed how much like plants we are. Job 14 gives me hope that even in painful processes we can sprout again! I love how the Lord even gives gardening advice.
Be strong and courageous
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31:6. What an amazing promise! Just the other day I was reminded of the beautiful simplicity as I heard one child say to another, “Don’t be scared, Jesus will look after you.” There will be something in your life, some opportunity, some challenge where you will gratefully speak the words “for the Lord your God goes with you…” demonstrating trust in the Lord. This is a promise to teach your children and to remind believers. Memorise these words, place them on your heart and walk through life with courage.
Don’t be afraid
“When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work” Nehemiah 4:15. As Nehemiah coordinated the rebuilding of the wall, the opposition grew as enemies became angry and fearful. The rebuilders prayed, posted a guard, and continued working. What can you and I learn from these verses? Dreams are opposed! There are going to be attempts to destroy plans and actions. So how can we respond? Give it to God and get on with it just as those rebuilding the wall did. I love Nehemiah’s words in verse 9, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…”
“So my God put into my heart to assemble…for registration…” Nehemiah 7:5. I have been reading the book of Nehemiah recently and was captivated by the list of names in chapter 7. God put on Nehemiah’s heart to record the names of all those who had returned to Jerusalem. While reading the chapter, I pictured their dust covered feet slowly trudging home to the broken down walls of their childhood. I imagined the mix of grief and excitement that would have flooded the adults as they gathered to record names. Each of their names represented a family, a whakapapa and a history. Even in the rebuilding of walls, names are remembered and recorded. Your name is remembered too.
Praise You in the storm
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up…My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed” Psalm 71:20, 23. There are some days when my heart is heavy for the troubles around me. Life can be overwhelming. David was no different. Yet this Psalm reminds us that we can praise God in the storms of our lives. Find something today to praise God for and acknowledge His presence in your life. I praise God that I can breathe and with every breath, I acknowledge a living and powerful God.
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” Luke 19:40. As Jesus sat on a donkey and slowly moved into Jerusalem, cheers erupted, children scampered to get ahead and adults moved to get a better look. Joy, praise and excitement burst through the growing crowd and the Pharisees panicked. “Tell them to be quiet” they begged Jesus and His disciples, fearing it may get out of control. Jesus’ powerful response reminded all who heard that 1) created earth responds to Him and 2) there was something to “cry out” about. Do not be silent! Jesus authority, power, goodness and the peace beyond understanding that gives humanity hope is something to shout about.
God gave us…
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” 2 Timothy 1:7. As Timothy challenged his reader to speak up, to share the gospel and to encourage the faithful; he also reminded us to be courageous. Timothy’s friends were being murdered for their faith, put in jail and harassed for their message of love, grace and a living Saviour. I find it interesting that what the Lord says through Timothy is that the opposite of fear is power and love. Not just courage, but power. And not just power, but power and love! Knowing that God is love, and that we are “known as His disciples through our love” makes so much sense. Go in power and love.
“The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, A stronghold in times of trouble…” Psalm 9:9. We see, and experience, so many forms of oppression today. Oppression is loosely defined as “unjust treatment”. The devil loves to oppress the minds, the hearts, and the joy of humanity. The Lord detests it (look it up) and Jesus’ power-packed words encourage us to trust. Oppression may be your personal struggle, one your family wrestles with, caused by the awareness of world issues or your observation and experience of society. Yet the Lord softly whispers, “I am your stronghold”. Trust His words and if you are able, take action, join voices and be a part of the “He promises” stronghold.
“…Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you…” Acts 18:9, 10. Speak up! Numerous verses remind us to speak up for what is right. Do not be silent about Jesus’ heart. Acts 18 reminds us that the Lord is with us and we will not be harmed. Paul was at risk from the Jews in Corinth when Jesus spoke these words to him. Are you silenced by others or sense your words are not valued? When your heart is aligned with the Father, and your words are His, be courageous as you speak up in love.
“Rise up and shine, for your light has come. The shining-greatness of the Lord has risen upon you” Isaiah 60:1. What a stunning chapter! The Israelites used to impact the surrounding nations by showing the love of the Father. Yes, in all honesty, that did not always look good for the Israelites as they were distracted by the glitter of the world or were silenced in fear. Yet Isaiah challenged those who heard, and now read, his words to “rise up and shine”, to see the Lord’s shining greatness, His goodness, His justice and His reconciliation. The rest of the chapter is filled with hope and courage, reminding us that the Lord is with us.
Do you want to see?
“So the man went and washed, and came home seeing”John 9:7b. The key point in these words is that the man was told to go and he went. The man blind at birth had not even asked to see. The disciples had merely asked “who has sinned, the man or his parents?” Jesus response teaches us so much about following Christ. Jesus explains that sin was not involved in the blindness; a key point for another post. He makes mud and presses it on the man’s eyes. The man washed, then with faith went home with sight. No one believed his story yet one thing is clear – the man that was blind now could see. Jesus brings sight rather than condemnation.
Since God so loved us
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” John 4:11. What would this look like in your life? In the unique life journey we are each on making an effort to love one another will look very different however I challenge you to learn the name of the cashier at the supermarket, offer to pray for and with a stranger, do something for your spouse they wouldn’t expect, learn the names of those under 10 or over 80 in your church, invite a visitor home for lunch after church, greet the petrol attendant and genuinely engage in conversation. Love is meaningful human connections. Just as God loved us, we are challenged to love others.
I will trust in you
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you” Psalm 56:3. Fear can look like a doctor’s visit, a fractured relationship, that looming difficult conversation, doubt, a phone call and so much more. Navigating life includes navigating the complexities embedded in relationships, finances, faith and all the unique aspects of you. These few words in Psalm needs to be on a bright orange sticky note around your home. Rather than focus on the fear, focus on the trust! While typing this I am reminded to do this very thing. Trust. Trust that God has your future, your best interest and you purpose at the centre of all that comes my way. I choose to trust in God.
We have this hope
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…” Hebrews 6:19a. What does hope look like to you? I love the imagery in this text of hope being an anchor. The stresses, worries and the unexpected of this world pull at every aspect of us: our courage, our health, our relationships…everything. These words overflow with confidence; they are not “we may” or “if you do this you have”. No, they clearly state “we have”. Other than the anchor for a boat, an anchor can be defined as “a person or thing which provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation”. That is the anchor we have: hope in the Lord provides an anchor for the souls, firm and secure.
How far would you go…
“…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” – Ruth 1:16b. Ruth states her intentions courageously. Naomi had no room to question Ruth’s determination in remaining in a relationship. How far would you go with your loved one? I venture to say most of us would do most anything for those we love. Ruth demonstrates the enormous sacrifice attached to saying “I will go as far as it takes” as she proclaims her vow to Naomi. In a beautiful metaphor of Jesus’ journey with us, Ruth exemplifies commitment and perseverance to another human. She had seen something in Naomi, a spark of faith, the peace of hope and the contentment in relationship with Jehovah.
When we gather
I was recently at a church service with only 20 people (including those of us leading). There were several present who did not share the Christian worldview. So after the service finished I asked the person next to me, “What brings you to this little service?” The young man looked shy and replied, “I always feel at peace when I leave. I come every week. I like feeling at peace.” I shared Matthew 18:20, “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” and told him that Jesus himself is with us when even two people gather to share the Word and worship. A giant smile filled his face and he said, “Yeah, I thought so”.
Do not worry
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” Matthew 6:25a. The range of things I could worry about is long: the kids, my husband, bills, work, our new role as a foster family and of course our cold house! So let’s be honest, each of us has a list. It may be different, but we have a list. Yet Jesus Himself says, “Do not worry about your life.” He goes on to remind us that we cannot change anything through worrying. Jesus’ answer comes a few verses later, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” Amen! Turn your face up, towards the Father, and trust.
Does God’s compassion make you angry?
Jonah is an intriguing prophet. He is a great example of God pursuing us even into the storm. He is also a beautiful example of going into frightening mission space. However, what intrigues me the most is his anger at God for forgiving and loving the converted city of Nineveh, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry” Jonah 4:1. In his own conversion story, Jonah did not allow anyone else to experience compassion and the ability of God to transform hearts. How easily we can slip into this mind-set. We treasure God’s compassion for us and those we love yet we can be unforgiving to others whom we think do not deserve God’s compassion. Let us rejoice with ALL who turn to the Lord.
In our world today of Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Google+…we witness the power of words. People share truth and lies, life hacks and abuse, love stories and venomous hatred at a dizzying and confusing pace. I recently witnessed the brokenness of someone who was on the receiving end of a fake Facebook profile and the lies and pain this created. Proverbs 12:18 points out that “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” It is the second part of this verse that brings peace in the midst of worthless words, disappointment and hopelessness: tongue of the wise brings healing! Tune into the words that bring healing. Check in to the Saviour.
Trust in the Lord
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight,” Proverbs 3:5, 6. A few years ago I embarked on a new employment journey. The first few steps of the journey were incredibly challenging however I had the assurance that the Lord had given me a clear picture of how He would use me and that I was on the right track. I have found myself repeating this promise continually. Are there areas in your life that you find yourself ‘doing it alone’ in your own strength? This passage lets you off the hook and invites you to put everything fully in God’s hands.
Above All Else
What is the safety line or boundary in your life? For each of us it will be unique. However, God has outlined the area for you that will protect your heart, mind and soul. Proverbs 4:22 makes it really simple if you are unsure: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Our hearts tend to hold guilt, fear, shame and so much more. If God does not have control of our heart and we are not actively guarding our heart we can be consumed in areas that do not bring us peace or bring glory to God. Invite God today to show you the boundary line for your life. Guarding your heart brings peace and life.
Daughter of a King
The wall was covered in photos. As a little girl I would spend ages staring at the faces in the photos. One day as I pondered a photo of my dad with a woman that was not the grandma I knew, Grandma Arlene said, “That’s June. That’s your dad’s mother, she was an amazing woman.” I knew that my Grandma June was my dad’s biological mother. She and Grandma Arlene had been friends before June was killed in a car accident. Grandma Arlene respected June, loved me and passed on all the love that I would have been given from June. I will forever treasure those simple gestures of her sharing memories with me that honoured my other namesake, June (June+Arlene= Julene). She was love and acceptance, a true daughter of the King. Arlene Duerksen passed away on Friday at 97 ½ years old. “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”. 1 Corinthians 15:50
Joy is an Outlook
“Bless Jehovah, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name,” Psalm 103:1. My husband and I often ask our children how their day was on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being terrible and 10 being amazing. They both usually score their day quite high, so I have to be clever in getting them to articulate what was so good. One day my 9 year old said, “It was just awesome! I was happy all day!” That is a Psalm 103 attitude about life. For so many of us how our day goes is all about outlook. The next verses talk about His benefits, healing and forgiveness. I pray joy, peace and wholeness in your life.
Jesus Our Example
Do you ever feel like church is too hard? Maybe it would be easier to “give it a miss” this week? The body of Christ is made of people, broken people, and that reality can make church messy. Recently, I was reminded of a snippet of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 4:16. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” This struck me as Jesus would have felt the glares, heard the whispers and experienced the subtle hatred, yet He joined in worship. He joined in community and prayed. Jesus gives us the perfect example of how we can engage in worship and church.
Promise & Hope
The other day was hard. It was painful. I listened to a young person share their story of broken promises, broken systems, broken relationships and broken hearts. As the young person shared, we began to shape a new story of hope, meaning and transformation. I love Matthew 11:28 which says, “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The young person sharing was tired, burdened and broken. Aren’t we all the same in some way? Jesus took time throughout His ministry to stop and listen, give hope and offer the transformation only He can provide. Are you tired? Jesus promises to carry your burdens and give you rest.
What, or who, do you listen to?
I recently sat in a learning session where we were challenged to think carefully about the words we speak over ourselves, our children, our relationships and more. Even joking can detract from the intent of love and acceptance. As I listened I was able to remember times when people have spoken words of blessings and graciousness over me and I was challenged to do the same. There is a stunning example of how to speak over those we love in Zephaniah 3:17. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Holy Spirit In us
What is your default? In this world, our natural default is defence, judgment, anger, fear, running away, building alliances and more. In reality, the way we respond in uncomfortable situations is our default. Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the fruit of the spirit and spells out how we can respond when we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Our spirit is always in tension around how we respond to the daily frustrations, struggles, surprises, joys and more and I know I for one do not always get it right. I’m so grateful that Christ journeys with me
The Link Between Belief & Salvation
Most Christians can rattle off John 3:16 without a second thought. It truly is a beautiful verse in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. “For God so loved the world…” yet it is the next two verses that reveal more of Christ’s heart. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” (17 and 18a). The word “condemn” belongs to the deceiver, God’s enemy. And that was never God’s purpose in sending His son. It was always to create relationships. I love the hope those next two verses give the reader. Christ himself is speaking about the link between belief and salvation.
New Heart, New Spirit
The other week I heard the story of a man who had given his heart to Christ while in prison. Accepting Christ’s transforming love changed this man’s life, his relationship with his wife and his heart. He stopped using his “not guilty” plea for the charges he was facing and changed his plea to “guilty”. He is now serving over five years, however he is filled with peace. This man’s story reminded me of our own experience with salvation and God’s transforming grace. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” Ezekiel 36:26. When we enter relationship with the Father, He changes our heart.