All Ruled Out

“Gross!” my kids exclaimed… “Yup,” I said, “John the Baptist ate honey and locusts”.   

John certainly had an interesting life… an angel made it to his Dad before he was born that he wasn’t to ever drink wine, and when he was older he lived in the wilderness and had a pretty unique diet! I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t have to live like that! But look at the calling John had on his life, so there must be something behind that…

…and then there’s Jesus. He drank wine, he feasted, and look who he hung out with! He also didn’t seem to be concerned with all the religious rules that the Pharisees loved, like what to clean and when, and how to pray and when to fast. In fact, this is what Jesus told a crowd about the generation they were in: Luke 7:33-34  “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at this glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Apparently, neither Jesus nor John were going along with the rules that people assumed made a good Godly person… I find it so interesting how many different lifestyles God calls people to! Some he calls to have financial wealth and influence, some are called to live a life of near-destitution in foreign countries, some He asks to refrain from this or that, and others He just plants in one place to faithfully walk with Him day in and day out in a very “normal” (from outward appearances) lifestyle.  

When my husband and I were just married, I found out he loved going to the movie theatre! And he found out that I wouldn’t go with him… I explained to him that since I was young I was very sensitive to what I watched and listened to, because I had a mind that liked to run away with things and which I found difficult to keep under control. I’d struggled with nightmares and night terrors, and all kinds of fears… so, not long after I came to Christ, I started becoming convicted about what I was watching, reading, and listening to. Eventually I just boycotted most movies that I wasn’t very familiar with, especially at the movie theatre. However, I couldn’t convince him not to go, I just wasn’t going to go with him! I realised it wasn’t a hard and fast rule that Christians shouldn’t go to movie theatres or watch films, but it was a personal conviction – something God had laid on my heart to refrain from. If I’d gone against that conviction, I felt that for me, it was wrong. Still to this day, if we’re watching a movie at home, I always check the rating, the story plot, the reviews (for content, not opinion!). The few times I haven’t done this, I’ve regretted it… but I’m sure not going to go around telling everyone they’re horrible for going to the movies!

Romans 14:2-6  “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”

Romans 14:22-23 “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  

Of course, there are quite a few things in scripture that are “rules”… things we certainly aren’t meant to be doing or exposing ourselves to, and we need to know what those things are. The beautiful thing is, God does have rules for us, and they’re meant for our good! They are for our protection and spiritual well-being, not to be used as weapons or whips on ourselves or others. Our church here in Te Atatu focuses on a different spiritual discipline each month, and I love that, because those things are very helpful to our spiritual life. But the funny thing I’m finding out is, apart from the obvious stuff, God might convict us to do totally different things! It might even be different things this year to what it was last year! And it will most likely be different from believer to believer, because He knows our different needs and seasons of life!

This has taken me a while to understand, but then just look at Jesus and John the Baptist… and God told Samson not to cut his hair! He sure hasn’t ever asked me to do that.    I remember reading about Hudson Taylor, the great British missionary to China. During his preparation to go to China, he felt God asking him to just live on a simple diet of apples and brown bread, so he did. He was a medical student, and one day he was working on a deceased body that had septicemia… and he contracted it! What a deadly disease… do you know what the doctor said to him when he eventually survived it? “Your diet saved you!” I wonder how many people would think how deprived they were if God asked them to do something like that, and just brush it off… and yet it was the very thing that saved his life that year.  

I saw a great quote the other day: “Religion is man trying to get through to God. Christianity is God trying to get through to man”. There’s a lot I don’t know about other religions, and maybe this is an oversimplification, but it seems that they all involve a bunch of rules that need to be obeyed in order to “get through to God” or “be good enough”.

The wonderful thing I love about following Jesus is… it’s not a religion! We aren’t worshiping a bunch of rules! Here are some common ones I’ve been stuck on: “Memorise more scripture, have a bible-reading plan and stick to it, this is how/when/how often you need to do your “quiet time”, if you use these spiritual words you’re a mature Christian, if you don’t do church/worship/communion/theology this way, it’s not correct!” Once we get into this mindset, it’s no longer all about Him… it’s all about us! I often think of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, going to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee had obeyed all the rules… but missed the point! His rule-following had made it all about him. The tax collector, who had probably broken most of the rules, had finally realised who life was really about.

Are you a rule-lover? Are you a “this is what I did and it works so you need to do it too” kind of believer? Or “this person had this lifestyle and did these things every day and look how God used them!” kind-of thinker? 

One of the best and biggest questions I’m learning to ask God is, “What do you require of ME?” And then just do that.

Heaven on earth

Sue’s Views
I managed to go for a couple of walks this weekend. It was great to not only get out of the house ….. but also to discover a whole different world! The spring blossoms were blooming and attracting tuis who were singing and calling with their funny clicking sounds. Families were walking and playing together. Everyone greeting and smiling at one another. As I reluctantly came away ….. I realised that that was a picture of Heaven on earth. There are actually 2 kingdoms coexisting ….. the Heavenly Kingdom where God is King ….. and the earthly kingdom where Satan is ruling. It’s up to us which kingdom we choose to be citizens of. To be a child of God means being ‘in the world but not of it’. We have God given power and authority to influence those around us and change the atmosphere. We are not fighting against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in the spiritual realm. Let’s not just fight against Covid ….. but against the evil forces behind it!

Don’t walk through all the open doors

When our first child Anna was still a young baby, we met a man who lived in our same apartment block in Shenzhen, China. He was Chinese-American, a very successful businessman, and was quite interested in David and I helping him run some of his English Teaching business. We bumped into him a few times in the elevator in our building, and every time he would bring it up. We politely shrugged it off, as we had a young new baby and no experience in running big English Centres, although I had worked in one. Eventually we moved to another apartment building in a different part of the city. One day I was visiting a friend back in our old apartment block, and lo-and-behold, I ran into him again! He tried very hard to convince me I would be great for managing one of his centres, and the idea started to stick in the back of my mind. I asked him where the centre was that he had in mind, and when he told me the address, I realised it was right across the road from our new apartment!
 
I went home and told David, and we agreed to meet with him in his office. When we arrived at the meeting, we realised just how successful this man was! He had a big and fancy office in the building where he had a big company, and proceeded to tell us all his business endeavors and accomplishments. After meeting with him, I felt this must be the direction that we should go with our teaching business! We had lost quite a few students due to our move, and I was feeling quite anxious about it and ready for something different. We’d never managed an established English Centre before, and it made me feel important and excited. I love to “manage”! (Just ask my kids!). David, however, wasn’t so convinced. “But it’s literally across the road from us! How can that be a coincidence?! It must be a sign…”, I said. We went and looked around the centre, and though it was low in student numbers and activity, we met someone there we knew. It turns out a friend-of-a-friend’s husband worked there as a teacher! “See? Another sign…” I told David. “This is definitely what we’re meant to be doing.”
 
After another meeting with him, I was rearing to go. I had told the ladies in my bible study group all about it, and we were all excited about this new direction that God seemed to be leading me and David in! However, David was still not convinced. Like all our big family decisions, I said my piece and then allowed him to take the responsibility of the decision-making. He said he just felt no peace, and that we shouldn’t go ahead with it. He arranged to go and have one last meeting with this guy and let him know. That was the end of it. I was so disappointed, frustrated, deflated, but I knew that David always felt the seriousness and responsibility of making the right decisions by God for our family… so I just had to give it up and let it go.
 
Several weeks (or maybe it was months) later, I ran into some friends at a shopping mall. It happened to be the friend and friend-of-a-friend whose husband we had seen working in the English Centre! After catching up I shared how we’d bumped into her husband there, and she told us how glad he was to have quit that job! “Why?” I said, “What happened? We were going to manage that place! In the end we didn’t though…” 

 

“It’s a good thing you didn’t!” she said, “that boss was terrible! My husband almost never got paid on time, the guy was so unreliable, and my husband always had to fight for his salary!” The centre had soon closed after that.
 
Wow… my husband had been right all along! The door of opportunity that I thought had opened so widely for us would have been a snare! Goodness knows what could have happened if we’d put all our eggs in that basket. Not only would it have had financial implications, but it would have taken away much-needed time from our young family. In fact, right after David said “no” to that job, I found out I was pregnant with our son Levi!
 
Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way which seems right to a man and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death.” I don’t know if it means physical death, spiritual death, or the death of opportunity, blessing, relationship, or all of these. All I know is, don’t judge a way by how it appears! I was taking all the appearances of the situation as “signs” that this was God’s way for us, when in fact, it wasn’t! That was a really big lesson for me.
 
Recently a friend of mine told me about the difference between “faith” and “confidence”. Sometimes, we feel confident about something because perhaps we’ve seen God give it to other people, or it’s something we want, or we are desperate and impatient for something to happen. “Faith, on the other hand”, he explained, “comes from hearing, hearing what God has to say.” Had God actually told me that job was something He wanted me to have? Had I even asked God if that was the right thing for us? Or was I just so confident that it must be, because all the ducks seemed to be in a row (and it served some of my selfish ambitions)? Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is stay back when all we want to do is walk right through that open door… especially when it has flashing lights, confetti, and good music on the other side!

Daffodil Day

Sue’s Views
Today is Daffodil Day in NZ. It’s a day dedicated to focus on cancer awareness and research. Whilst Covid is a horrible and deadly pandemic ….. let’s not forget many more are struggling with other diseases that must be very difficult under our current restrictions. If you are suffering ….. or know someone who is ….. here’s a Bible verse for you to claim: ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!’ Psalm 103:2-5

Walk by Faith

Sue’s Views
Life at the moment is a bit like a mystery tour! We can’t see far ahead ….. but we just follow the path we can see. Our vision is limited ….. but God has a bird’s eye view of the whole journey. He wants us to walk by faith ….. not by sight! When we walk by sight ….. we can easily take a wrong turn. There is a way that seems right ….. but it leads to destruction. Let’s keep moving forward and more of the right path will become clear.

Learning from the Past

Sue’s Views
After all the rain we’ve had in the last few days ….. let’s hope the dams are filling up! But we can’t afford to be complacent. We humans can have very short memories at times. We need to learn from the past in order to prepare for the future. A preacher I admire said ‘History repeats itself. It has to because no one listens!’ Let’s be ones who listen ….. and learn ….. so we are better equipped for the future.

Sent from my iPad

Lemonade

Sue’s Views
When life gives you a lemon ….. make lemonade! Our level 3 lockdown has been extended a few more days. For me ….. one of the hardest things is the feeling of being in limbo. Not knowing what next week will look like ….. let alone next year! But the truth is we never do. The best way forward is to live one day at a time. Don’t worry about tomorrow! Today is all we are assured of. When tomorrow comes ….. it will be another ‘today’ ….. and will have enough for us to focus on. All our ‘tomorrow’s’ are in God’s hands!

Infestation

The apartments we lived in in China all had one thing in common… they were full of cockroaches! Some apartments were worse than others. I remember going out to the kitchen in the evenings after the kids were in bed and turning on the kitchen light to go and make a cup of tea… as soon as I turned on the light, I saw a seething mess of little black things with legs scuttling away into the nooks and crannies! They loved the darkness, and thankfully hid away in the daytime. But when it was night, they all came crawling out. I remember being woken up by a very big one biting my face in bed! And to top it off, we had to fight mould in everything as well! When we felt God leading us to move back to New Zealand, I remember thinking “well, at least we won’t have to face cockroaches there!”

When we moved back to New Zealand, we lived in a farmhouse.  It wasn’t long before we found out it was time to face a new pest: mice! I had never dealt with mice before, and they were pooping all over our bed and our baby’s cot! Something had to be done… Thankfully we knew some people who knew what to do. We got good recommendations for some mouse poison that could be out of reach of the kids, and we set traps. We then realised that there were also possums on the farm eating the fruit in the orchards! My uncle helped set up traps and taught us how to check them. The pest situation got under control. Eventually it was also discovered that the mice had been eating away at the wiring in the house! Suddenly, power-sockets stopped working! Half the house had to be re-wired.

We have since moved house, and are now fighting ants! Why did I think there would be a dream home where I wouldn’t have to fight some kind of pest? Some pests erode the safety of our home. Some pose a threat to the health of the inhabitants. Some eat away at the food supply… and some quietly eat away at the interior, unseen, subtle, until one day things start falling apart and stop working. Each pest is different in the way they affect us, and also in the way we must fight them! As far as I know, a mouse trap is useless for keeping ants away!

What are the pests that are trying to infest your life at the moment? Your relationships? Your church? Do you know how to fight them? Are they noticeable, or are they hidden and slowly creeping into your heart?

Here are a few common spiritual “pests” which can become infestations that destroy:

Idolatry (worshipping anything or anyone other than God), pride, selfishness, materialism, disobedience, deception, unforgiveness, unbelief, complacency, destructive thought-patterns, self-sufficiency, jealousy, unhealthy anger.

We will never be free of things trying to invade our life, our mind, our heart, our relationships… they may be different each time, but we need to know how to deal with them. Paul told us in Ephesians that we are not fighting a physical battle as Christians, but a spiritual one. How do we fight that kind of battle? It took me a long time to learn this lesson. It all seemed too abstract to me. But when I started losing control over areas of my life, I started to realise how important it was to fight the battle. Here are some of the weapons that we can use to fight “infestation”:

Prayer, fasting, praise and worship, love and grace, obedience to the truth of Scripture, the gospel, humility, thankfulness, the blood of Christ, our testimony, encouragement, the armour of God (found in Eph. 6:13-17), church discipline, spiritual gifts.

Sometimes, invading pests can turn into “infestations”, and we need others to intervene and help. We don’t have to fight on our own!

Recently I saw a post on social media about natural “pest control”… spiders! Honestly, I hate spiders! Perhaps it’s my years of growing up in Australia, but those things sure creep me out. However, when I was living in rural Korea (which also had a lot of the same spiders that Australia had, funnily enough!), I decided to face my fear, literally. I would go for a walk through the farm-roads, and when I saw a big Orbweb spider in its web, I would walk up close to it, and just look at it. Stare it down! I realised there really was nothing to be afraid of, it was just how they looked! They probably don’t even bite…

Spiders sure are great natural pest controllers! Fear has been a “pest” that has infested my life before, but now I know better… therefore, I’ve (almost) overcome my fear of spiders, and am trying to allow them to just do their pest-controlling job! Perhaps we need to overcome some fears in our lives in order to get the pests out too…

Are you afraid of being obedient to some areas of scripture? Are you afraid of confessing some things to someone? You might just find that these are the very things that will get some pests out of your life!

The Glad Game

Are you a ‘glass half empty’ or a ‘glass half full’ person? Do you see a dry, barren tree ….. or a tree that’s about to burst into life? The way we view life makes a huge difference to how we feel. The thing is ….. we can change our natural or default way of thinking. We can create new pathways in our brain by continually replacing the old habits with new ones. That reminds me of Pollyanna’s ‘Glad Game’. She always looked for something to be glad about!

Wait in the Lord

Sue’s Views
Those of us who like to know where we’ll be this time next week ….. are most likely finding it challenging at the moment. We can’t make plans because we’re playing the ‘waiting game’! Waiting for a decision from the PM ….. waiting for a vaccine or a cure ….. waiting for the borders to open etc. I suggest we stop waiting for these things to determine our future. Let’s start waiting on the Lord ….. who sees clearly what’s ahead ….. and is able to help us through. ‘Those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.’ Isaiah 40:31