Posted by: Heidi Silberman | June 6, 2012

The Big Picture

The king of Aram had high admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior he suffered from leprosy. 2 Kings 5:1

The Arameans were at times friends, at times enemies of God’s people the Israelites. They weren’t followers of God by any means, yet for some reason God gave Aram great victories through Naaman. God had a plan for this man who didn’t follow Him, a plan to bring physical healing and spiritual certainty. At the end of it all Naaman made a promise to worship the Lord and sacrifice only to Him, declaring “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” (v.15)

But what led to this statement of newfound faith? Let’s take a look at the key events in the story.

  • Naaman has leprosy.
  • Israel is invaded.
  • A young girl is taken captive and becomes a servant in the household of the enemy army’s commander – Naaman.
  • This girl has compassion on her boss and speaks out about her faith in the hope that he will listen and be cured.
  • Naaman listens to the advice of the young alien servant girl.
  • Naaman overcomes his arrogance and obeys the silly instructions of Elisha, the prophet of God, to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

The first three are awful, tragic events. They are circumstances that lead to people posing the “why God?” question – a question that God doesn’t answer straight away. The final three are emotionally challenging tasks. They require depth of character within both the servant girl and the commander. Yet all these unpleasant, difficult things are crucial for the fulfillment of God’s plan. This messy list is God’s plan A – there is no plan B. God knows this series of events will lead to Naaman recognising Him as the only true God.

So what is God’s plan for you? For me? I want to see the big picture. I want to know the ending now, but that’s not going to happen. I’m sure if I were the servant girl I would have been bitter and kept my knowledge to myself ensuring that Naaman never be healed because he didn’t deserve it. So nehhh. Grumble grumble whinge whinge.

That’s how little I know of the big picture. I classify things that happen in my day/week/life as good or bad or fun or upsetting or difficult or nightmarish but for all I know tonight’s nightmare will lead to next year’s success, today’s pain to next month’s surprising opportunity.

So I need to search God’s word daily, surrender to Him daily, ask Him for help and guidance daily. I need to believe and trust that every day God is putting me in the right place for His purpose to be fulfilled both in me and through me. And even now as I look back on my life I can see His hand at work, evidence that my faith in the one true God is not misplaced.

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Posted by: Heidi Silberman | May 1, 2012

Liar, Liar

But the old prophet answered, “I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this message from the Lord: ‘Bring him home with you, and give him food to eat and water to drink.’” But the old man was lying to him. 1 Kings 15:18

Part 1. Prophet receives a message from God to deliver to the king. It comes with a Cinderellaesque proviso – instead of ‘be home by midnight’ it is ‘don’t eat or drink anything while you are there’. Prophet goes. Prophet delivers message (complete with miraculous interventions and cool groovy special effects provided by God Inc.) and heads for home.

Part 2. Second, older prophet hears about the first one. Wants to talk to him. Or listen to him. Or be in his good books. Or get back in God’s good books. Who knows? All we’re told is that he chased after the younger man on a donkey and asked him to come over for a meal. Which he refused to do – because of his God-given instruction. Without batting an eyelid, the old prophet blurts out the above lie – a supposed status update from God. He is desperate to have him over for dinner, even if it involves deception and causes the poor guy to disobey.

Part 3. Younger prophet takes the words at face value, trusts an untrustworthy person, disobeys God and is eaten by a lion. Noice. Old prophet, wracked with guilt, cries at his grave. Bit late now.

So – if you can’t trust a prophet of God, whom can you trust? Well, the truth is no one. You can’t trust or believe anyone all the time. Sometimes people will lie to you to make themselves feel better “So-and-so is a terrible mother.”  Sometimes they’ll lie to make you feel better “You look fabulous!” Sometimes to avoid confrontation “Yes, I totally agree.” to get out of trouble “I can’t come in to work, I’m really sick.” or to get something they want “No, I’m not married.” To compound the problem, people lie to themselves constantly – we all do it and these lies influence our behaviour and relationships every day.

What’s to be done? Hide in a hole and not listen to anyone? Make everyone speak through a lie detector? Walk around with pursed lips and accusing eyes, convinced everyone who opens their mouth is about to commit the atrocity of deceit?

All possible options, but they aren’t really going to help. How about focus on the truth? Jesus said God’s word is truth (John 17:17). The more time we spend reading the bible, the more this truth becomes part of us and the wiser we become. It also helps us become aware of the lies we tell ourselves and understand the secret hidden desires of our own hearts and their effect on our words and actions.

We should continually be seeking God’s guidance and wisdom rather than simply relying on the words of people. If the young prophet had double checked with God before blindly following the other man back to his house for lunch he wouldn’t have met a lion on his way home.

It is good to trust people and see the good in them, to believe them and give them the benefit of the doubt, but we are not to be naïve: we need to be aware of the bad in people too. Jesus said we are to be “as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Fortunately God knows all things, understands all people, reads all hearts and gives guidance to those who seek Him. He will help us be wise in our interactions if we ask Him for wisdom.

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | April 4, 2012

The Hardest Things To Say

All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him. He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about – and neither should you! 2 Samuel 14:14

King David lost two sons in one day. Amnon was killed by his half-brother Absalom who then fled, fearing retribution. Grief is agony, this one doubly so, and David must have had a maelstrom of conflicting emotions swirling within. It was three years later that a wise woman spoke the above words to him. Responding to the challenge David invited Absalom to return to the city but it was still another two years before he saw his estranged son and was reconciled to him.

God is interested in people’s lives. He longs for family members and friends to remain in relationship with each other and to restore those relationships when they have been cracked or broken. Often all that’s needed is an apology and forgiveness. That’s all. It’s not easy – Elton John was right when he sang “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” but it’s worth the self-examination, the humility and the admission of guilt to fix something rather than throw it away.

“I forgive you” is right up there on the list of difficult-to-say phrases but not saying it leads to bitterness which then infects other relationships.  It gets complicated when you want to forgive and move on but the other person refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Forgiveness is still important, but perhaps restoration of the relationship isn’t possible – sometimes it’s just not safe. In the case of David and Absalom the reconciliation didn’t last long. Soon Absalom rejected his father, rebelling against him and attempting to take over his kingdom.

The first half of this verse looks at another relationship and gives us cause to think. It’s pretty blunt: we’re all going to die. It’s only a matter of time, so let’s fix up one particular relationship – the most important one – while we can.

“God tries to bring us back” God tries? Really? God is God – doesn’t He just “do or not do there is no try”? (Or am I thinking of someone else?) Well He could, but He has chosen to give us free will. He does everything He can do to try to bring people back into relationship with Him but if they don’t want to come He won’t force them. Just as we can’t force friends or family members to be reconciled to us.

But we can make sure we’ve got it right with the God of the universe. Oddly enough this one’s easier. After all, we’re saying sorry for wrongdoings He already knows about anyway. And what’s more, He’s waiting with open arms – the words “I forgive you” already on His lips. We just need to believe and accept that forgiveness.

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | February 23, 2012

Look Outside

One day news came to David that the Philistines were at Keilah stealing grain from the threshing floors. David asked the Lord, “Should I go and attack them?” “Yes, go and save Keilah,” the Lord told him. 1 Samuel 23:1-2

Things had started off really well for David. Looking after sheep as a young man he had gained physical strength, fighting skills and musical ability (a strange combination but it made sense for shepherds then!). He loved God and God blessed him mightily, having Samuel anoint him as the next king of Israel – a promise for one day, no one knew when. Then came the fight with Goliath which made him an instant hero, famous throughout the nation. King Saul gave him a good job; he had power, prestige, a wife who loved him and a best friend willing to die for him.

How easy it is to worship God when life looks like that. How simple to trust God when all is going well. What a joy to step out in faith, battle after battle when your side always wins, to serve when your own needs are all met. But how quickly the page can turn to reveal a change in circumstance – in David’s life and so often in our own lives.

David’s life changed when an enemy appeared. Not just any enemy but one who seemed to hold all the cards. Saul wasn’t just the king (although that would be bad enough to have the ruler of your nation as your enemy) he was also David’s direct boss, his father-in-law and the father of his best friend. David’s presence reminded Saul of his own sin, his own refusal to submit to God’s will. His paranoia that David would fast-track the process in order to become king was also an issue. He wanted David dead so David left all he loved in order to stay alive. He didn’t go alone. People joined him because they believed in him, but plenty would assume that God had dropped David – why else would he be suffering so?

Word came to David that Saul had murdered 85 priests and their families thinking they conspired with David. On hearing this news David could be forgiven for running into the hills and hiding, or giving up, or railing at God. But he did none of these. He had also received other news, that a township nearby was being harassed by the Philistines. Instead of fearing for his own safety or lamenting all he had lost he looked to a need outside himself and asked God what he should do about it. Then he obeyed.

David never stopped trusting God. He believed all along that God had everything under control and he continued to seek God at every point. He reached out to the needy around him, even though they didn’t deserve it. The townspeople he saved were ready to hand him over to Saul soon afterwards (1 Samuel 23:12).

Just because life takes a nosedive doesn’t mean God has forgotten you. You can trust God because He keeps His promises. But while you’re waiting for life to improve, ask Him what He wants you to do – there is bound to be someone who needs your love, comfort or skills whether or not they deserve them.

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | February 15, 2012

God Prays For Me?

“And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” Paul in Romans 8:27

Ever feel alone? Ever feel like no one could possibly understand? Ever find yourself stuck in a situation knowing you should pray but you just can’t?  Knowing you should talk to God about whatever is going on, whatever you’re feeling, but you’ve just run out of words? Perhaps words seem somehow inadequate, weak or impotent. Perhaps you feel that praying is pointless. Maybe you think God wouldn’t listen because you’ve stuffed up too much, or maybe sometimes it just seems too hard to think.

This verse holds a promise for that very moment when you put your head in your hands and your chest heaves with unresolved angst. Then the Holy Spirit steps in. The process is humbling.

It starts with our Father God knowing our hearts. That is amazing in itself. We don’t even know our own hearts – it is often only with the benefit of hindsight that we can interpret our emotions and understand events that have befallen us. But this knowing is only the beginning.

His Holy Spirit prays for distressed believers “with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (v 26). No wonder we have trouble putting words together to pray – even the Holy Spirit can’t find them. He bypasses the requirements of language and communicates our deepest needs directly to God. And what’s more, God understands.

What better prayer support could we possibly have than someone who knows our hearts, perceives the situation in more detail than we do ourselves, knows the hearts of every person involved, can express prayers better than we could with groans beyond the realm of any language, and best of all prays these prayers in perfect line with God’s will. I long to pray in harmony with God’s will and here I find that Someone is already doing it for me!

This is incredible enough, but there’s one more thing. Not only does God do all this for us, but He also tells us He is doing it. He doesn’t leave us floundering, He has put His promise in writing. He wants us to know that He is aware of the strange, scary and inexplicable depths of our hearts. He wants us to know He is praying for us, incapable as we are in our distress. He wants us to take Him up on it, to trust and believe God has a plan and that we are being prayed for in harmony with that plan.

So with head in hands in the day of despair we can silently rest there knowing that we are not forgotten or rejected. We are being prayed for by the One who knows what we need.

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | February 7, 2012

Never Alone

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus, quoted in Matthew 28:20b

The other day my five-year-old came up to me with her right arm out to a 45 degree angle and her fingers curled to form a loose fist.

“Mummy,” she said “do you think I’m holding someone’s hand?”
“It doesn’t look like anyone’s there.” I said taking the safe option: not risking answering the question in case I got it wrong.
She wouldn’t let me get away with that. “Yes, but do you think I’m holding someone’s hand?”
“Well, no I don’t think you are.”
She beamed – I had given the wrong answer, exactly as she wanted. “Well I am. I’m holding God’s hand!”

She hasn’t had years of theological training, she’s never been part of an in depth discussion regarding the theological implications of the above verse and I’m pretty sure she couldn’t memorise it for you, but she knows that God is with her all the time. She believes it and holds on to that truth in her little hand.

This week she takes that faith with her as she begins school, safe in the knowledge that she is not alone. When she is feeling unsure or scared she can reach out and hold Jesus’ hand, grasping a promise He made thousands of years ago, and which He has never broken.

There are times we forget this promise, overwhelmed by things we can see – the never ending to-do list, the pile of unpaid bills stacked high, the “E” on the report card, the missed bus driving off into the distance, the dent in the car door that wasn’t there before the shopping trip, the doctor’s diagnosis, the letter of rejection, the wedding ring no longer worn, too many empties in the recycling. But Jesus assures us “I am with you”.

“always”

Not sometimes or usually or when things are going well or when you do the right thing or if you try harder next time or when you’re inside a church building or when you’re surrounded by Christians.

“always” 

There are times I have to reach out, just as my daughter does, and hold onto Jesus’ hand. I can’t see Him, and sometimes I can’t feel or hear Him either. Those are the times I really need to take hold of this promise and believe that He is with me.

“…even to the end of the age.”

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | December 5, 2011

Setting: Inside the Jerusalem Inn

[Jesus] replied, “As soon as you enter Jerusalem, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The teacher asks, where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is the place. Go ahead and prepare our supper there.” They went off to the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover supper there. Luke 22:10-13

Imagine the equivalent of an Aussie pub in first century Jerusalem. A place where blokes go to share stories, take time out from the troubles of life, and debrief with a mate.

‘Nathaniel! What can I get you?’

‘Carlton Cold thanks Davo. How was your Passover?’

‘Yeah, not bad, not bad at all. There you go, that’ll be $4.50. How about you?’

‘Good in the end, but tell you what, it started off weird, real weird.’

‘Yeah? Howzat?’  Davo grabs a teatowel and starts drying glasses. All the talk around town lately has been of this Jesus bloke, it’d be good to hear about something else.

‘Well you know Thomo had all the rellos coming for a big bash over the weekend, right, so he’d booked my upstairs room, cause it’s the big one and there’d be room for all of them for the Passover dinner an’ all. So I’ve got my girls to set it up all nice, put the big table in there and it’s all ready for them, then on Passover morning  Thomo sends me this message: he wants to cancel the booking. Turns out his brother’s booked the room down the road at Zeb’s place. Well, I was ticked off I can tell you, I could have rented that room out ten times over a week ago, but how was I going to get anyone to pay for it now? You know what Thomo says? He’ll cover it. His mistake, so he’ll cover it. Blow me down – didn’t expect that.’

‘Yeah, that Thomo’s a good bloke.’

‘You’re not wrong there mate, you’re not wrong there. So I send the girls to go pack everything away and Talitha says to me ‘Let’s leave it set up.’ ‘Well what in the blazers for?’ I say ‘Just in case.’ She says ‘Just in case what?’ I say, and she doesn’t have an answer, but you know women, there’s no point arguing with her, and I figure it doesn’t make much difference either way so we leave it set up. Then later on one of the girls is on her way out and this dog runs past her through the door, all crazy like, crashing into things, knocking stuff over, he goes through the place like a cyclone. The guys are all chasing him trying to get him out, but before they can catch him he’s made a right royal mess and there’s a big pitcher smashed out in the courtyard. So they catch him and chuck him outside, but now we’re down one pitcher, and it being a long weekend an’ all, we’re gonna need all of them, so Jono goes out to get another one and fill ‘er up. I’m trying to catch up on all the stuff I’ve got to get done before nightfall then Jono gets back with the new pitcher, but he’s got these two blokes with him. Jono brings them to me, shrugs his shoulders and takes off. ‘What can I do you for?’ I says and this bloke says ‘The teacher asks, where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ Well Davo, I’d heard about this bloke, this Jesus bloke – well we all had hadn’t we – and I know that’s who they’re talking about and then I knew.’

‘Knew what?’

‘Well, that Talitha was right – this was the just in case – this is who the room was set up for!’

‘How’d you know?’

‘I dunno, I just knew. So I took them upstairs and showed them, and they were looking at me all weird, like they didn’t get it and you know I didn’t get it either but I knew it was right and they looked at each other and said ‘It’s all just like He said it would be.’ Weird huh? Give us another beer would you mate?’

Maybe it didn’t happen quite like that (or maybe it did!) but somehow it was all organised. Jesus’ disciples ran into a man with a pitcher at the city gate and followed him to a place where a room was ready. Everything was prepared because God was in control. And He still is today.

In Romans 8:28 we read that ‘God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.’ Everything. That’s not ‘some things’ or ‘only really important things’ or ‘the few things He can manage’ or ‘what He has time for’ or even ‘everything except your mistakes’. No that’s everything – including your suffering, your sin, your errors, your failures and those of the people around you. All these things work together for the good of those who love God. It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, when life is hard or painful or messy, but ultimately God works everything together for our good.

I’m pretty sure the disciples didn’t feel like events were turning out for their good the day after the Passover meal, but a few days later in the clear dawn of a new era they could see how Jesus’ death was the ultimate working together of all things for the good of those who love God. Because Jesus took the punishment we deserve we can come to Him having messed up and say ‘I’m sorry’ knowing that we are forgiven. Because God is in control we can trust Him even when it looks like life is disintegrating beneath us.

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | November 14, 2011

Not Just a Vision

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realise it was really happening. … Peter finally realised what had happened. “It’s really true!” he said to himself. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jews were hoping to do to me!” Acts 12: 9 & 11

Persecution was spreading. Christians had been killed or imprisoned for their faith and now it was Peter’s turn. He slept uncomfortably, chained between two soldiers, knowing that a trial and possibly a death sentence awaited him in the morning. Suddenly he was woken by a tap on the shoulder. He opened his eyes, chains clattering as he shielded his face from a bright light in front of him. “Quick! Get up!” said a voice and the chains fell from his wrists.

Peter’s fuddled brain slowly started working. Oh, I get it, it’s a vision like I had in Joppa. His eyes adjusted to the light and he could see an angel in front of him. “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” Peter found his clothes and put them on looking towards his guards who sat motionless, oblivious to his movements. Well, that’s because I’m not actually moving – I’m still lying there asleep between them. “Now put on your coat and follow me.” Peter shoved an arm in his coat sleeve, following the angel through the now open cell door. Yep, vision. Done this before: do what I’m told and God will teach me something through it he thought, fumbling with his other sleeve which was inside out.

They passed the first guard post. The soldiers didn’t even blink, looking straight through Peter when he walked past. This is some vision. I wonder what lesson God is going to teach me? They passed the second guard post. One guard yawned and his mate dug him in the ribs, but neither so much as glanced in Peter’s direction or noticed the bright light passing by. Maybe it’s ‘You are free in spirit’ or ‘I will guide you through this difficult time’ perhaps it’s ‘Do not fear for I am with you’.

They came to the iron gate that led to the street. Guards were everywhere and yet not one head turned nor eyelid blinked when the gate opened of its own accord and Peter and the angel walked away down the street.

It closed with a clang and suddenly Peter was alone in starlit stillness. He stopped and listened. A baby cried in the distance, a guard laughed behind the gate. Dust swirled around his feet and he pulled his coat close against the chill wind. He rubbed his aching wrists that were red raw from the chains but chained no longer. The last five minutes replayed in fast forward as reality exploded in his mind. It’s really true! The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jews were hoping to do to me.

This was no theoretical lesson, this was practical application. God did it even though Peter didn’t recognise God’s hand in the doing.

God still acts. We need to trust Him and obey Him like Peter did. It’s more likely that we’ll receive instruction from His word the bible than an angel, but anything’s possible.

We also need to recognise what He has already done. Sometimes we take credit for things God has achieved or forget to thank Him for answered prayers.

Open your eyes, take a look at what God has already done in your life and thank Him for it.

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | November 7, 2011

You Are More

Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. Romans 3:24

I am guilty.

Are you?

I have sinned, stuffed up, made poor choices, turned away from God, been selfish, gone my own way, done what I wanted regardless of what was right, hurt people, not cared about others, lied, stolen, flouted road rules, hated, lusted, disobeyed God and at times considered myself more important than anyone else.

Have you?

I can’t fix myself, clean myself up, take away the wrong I’ve done, correct the mistakes I’ve made, solve the problems I’ve created, take away my guilt, change the past, unmake poor choices, unhurt people, be perfect, make myself new, holy or righteous.

Can you?

But God can declare us not guilty. He is kind and chooses to pour His grace on me. I don’t know why, but He does. I am guilty and yet He declares me not so. I sin and deserve punishment but Jesus takes my sin, my guilt, my punishment and makes it His. So I am left with freedom.

Does this make sense to you?

Not to me. This totally makes no sense whatsoever – the God of the universe who made all and is supremely perfect in every way choosing to forgive little ol’ me (and you if you accept it). I know what I have done. I know who I am. Even so, it not making sense doesn’t stop it being true.

If God in His gracious kindness declares me not guilty, who am I to dwell on my sin? I need to forgive myself, accept God’s forgiveness, not be bound by my former behaviour, be more than the sum of my past mistakes, be more than the choices I have made, be more than the problems I create.

I have been remade. Everyday I am renewed, restored, forgiven.

Now I need to believe it.

Know it.

Live it.

(With thanks to Tenth Avenue North for writing an awesome song – “You Are More”. Check out the clip here.)

Posted by: Heidi Silberman | October 7, 2011

Knowledge, Wisdom and *ahem* Discipline

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 1:7

Fear in this context refers to a sense of reverence and awe leading to worship rather than feelings of terror leading to screaming and running away. Mind you, if I were to truly recognise who I am and honestly compare myself to God, screaming and running away could be an appropriate response.

God is awesome and awe-inspiring, perfect and powerful. Me – not so much. I could claim a sliver of those adjectives occasionally, in certain situations, but God is all of them all the time, in every circumstance. The moment I grasp this difference is when knowledge and wisdom begin.

Seeking knowledge anywhere other than God and His Word leads to disappointment. Hearing wisdom, then acting in opposition to it is foolish. Failing to learn from the experience of foolishness is pouring folly upon folly. My four year old is an expert at this. I warn her not to do X because Y will happen, so of course she does X. And, not surprisingly, Y happens. She doesn’t like Y. Sometimes it’s a natural consequence (like the cup falling on the ground), sometimes it’s a Mum-imposed consequence (like not playing on the computer). Either way it’s not a good thing in her mind. But because she’s stubborn, and because she’s 4, she does X again. And Y happens. Again.

This is what children do. Eventually they learn that it is best to listen to wisdom and act upon it. Failing that, second best is to act foolishly then learn from the experience. It takes practice to become wise and there are plenty of grown ups who still have trouble with it. Whether it is travelling from unhealthy relationship to unhealthy relationship or using the same dodgy parenting techniques year after year or holding onto ever more grudges without being willing to forgive, many adults initially fail to seek wisdom and later fail to learn from the past.

It’s hard to do because it requires taking a long hard look at Self and pointing out the yucky bits. It’s best to do this in the company of Jesus, taking a long hard look at Him at the same time. The good news is He longs to forgive us, to give us knowledge, wisdom and discipline when we need it so that we can live better, more joyful and healthier lives.

 

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