Hope forecast

DSC_0292 It was our wedding anniversary recently and having neglected our favourite spot during lockdown, we decided to head to the coast for a day out.

The weather that had been glorious for weeks had now turned, as English summers often do, and the forecast for the day was a cool and cloudy morning with rain arriving at lunchtime.

Never mind, we would plan our day carefully with a walk on the beach early while it was dry and then head to lunch and some shopping when the rain set in.

So, we fed the dog, put lunch out for Paul’s mom and packed the British summer combo of raincoats and sunglasses before heading south.

But, the closer we got, the less accurate the weather forecast appeared to be. By the time we reached the beach it was, as the locals would say, ‘tipping it down’. We sat in the car, the windows fogged up and my mood tanked.

I wasn’t upset that it was raining; I had expected that. I was upset that my careful plan had backfired. Now the walk would be wet and cold and the dry weather would arrive just as were heading inside to eat.

I pouted for 20 minutes while my husband, thinking on his feet, found a local coffee shop and promptly ordered strong coffees and bacon sandwiches. He knows me well.

Thankfully my blood sugar and my mood improved so we pulled raincoats and hats out of the car and began to walk the beach towards the town. It was drizzly and cool but still beautiful with dark clouds colouring the sea grey.

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As we walked, I had a redeeming thought.

Actually, it is nicer to have the good weather ahead of us than behind us because it is more fun waiting for the sun than dreading the clouds on the horizon.

And sure enough, as we walked through damp sand and broken seashells, past families with soggy dogs and toddlers in rain boots, slowly the horizon began to brighten up. It was gradual and sometimes we thought we might be imagining it, but after walking for an hour it was definitely brighter out over the sea.

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And then I had my other redeeming thought.

This is just like the Christian life. The best weather is ahead of us.

Let’s be honest, life on earth is a mixed bag. Some parts of the journey are all skipping and dancing; other days are much more of a trudge. There are busy seasons when hours run out before the to-do list does and all our edges are frazzled. There are longed for celebration days that are full to the brim with good news and confetti and smiles. And there are sad days, good-bye days and letting-go-before-I-want-to days.

But all the while, slowly off in the distance, the sky is getting brighter as our eternal hope, warm like summer sunshine, comes closer.

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Is today a trial for you? Is it a ‘holding on by the skin of your teeth’ kind of day, damp with disappointment?

Look out to the horizon with eyes of faith. The good weather is ahead of you.

Or maybe today is a blue ribbon day for you that drips with blessing and flows with milk and honey.

Still, look to the horizon so you don’t forget.

Every one of your best days are still to come.

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For children of God there is an endless summer ahead where rain and tears are banished and where disappointment, disease and death will fade from our memory like a bad dream we had once had. 

CS Lewis describes this place in his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, like this:

The term is over, the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended; this is the morning….. and now at last they were beginning chapter one of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.’

What is ahead of us is more real, more glorious, more beautiful than anything we have experienced or can imagine.

This truth allows us to live the hard days with confident, expectant hope and to live the really great days with open hands. It makes us people who aren’t running from clouds but looking for the sun to break through, people who live this life well because it is short and it matters but there is so, so much more.

And when we breathe in our first breath of heaven, we will exclaim, like the guests at that wedding in Cana, that our God has saved the best for last.

‘Wake up for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.’  (Romans 13.11b)DSC_0313

 

 

 

 

 

Letting go and traveling light

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The end of July was an unexpectedly crazy time for our family.

Because of Covid19, our children’s wedding dates had begun to slide all over the place until our daughter and our son’s weddings nearly collided, finally landing eight days (and eight time zones!) apart.

So, five days after celebrating my daughter’s day with our families, I found myself on an empty plane crossing the Atlantic with a facemask and feet still sore from my impractical shoe choice days before.

When I arrived in California the usual customs and immigration set up was even more thorough than usual. My passport was checked several times and so was my temperature. When I finally arrived at customs the airport arrival area was within view. I was tired and frazzled and not at my best when I was asked if I had any fruit and vegetables in my bag. No. Any meat products? No. (Who brings meat products in their bags? I wondered, picturing pork chops.) However, as the agent leaned towards my bag I had an awful realization. I remebered that I had some salami in my handbag.

What had seemed like a clever low-carb snack for my trip, suddenly became illegal contraband in violation of US import legislation.

In my jetlagged fog I found the whole situation rather funny. Typically the agent did not.  He confiscated the pesky meat snack and warned of fines if I broke the rules again. As I walked away I remembered with horror that I had more in my suitcase I had forgotten to mention! All I could think to do was quickly walk away and eat it in the car.

It is a funny story but there is a point.

We should know what is in our bag because sometimes there are things that need to be left behind.

God is always doing new things in our lives, moving us on. 2 Corinthians 3.18 calls it glory to glory. He is changing us; He is making us more like Jesus. We are on a glorious journey with the Good Shepherd of our souls that takes us over mountains and through deep valleys and around strange corners, every step moving us closer to who we are created to be.

My favorite passage of scripture, Psalm 84, calls this process of pilgrimage, strength to strength. Disapointments and difficulties are no match for a heart set on a divine destination. Experiences along the way, both good and bad, are all used for our good and for God’s glory.

And all the while the Spirit works gently, encouraging us to shed what isn’t needed anymore, to travel lighter and lighter.  

New seasons have new challenges.

New wine needs new wineskins. (Matthew 9.17)

Ground that has been neglected needs to be prepared for planting.  (Hosea 10.12)

In the well-known passage in Ecclesiastes we see that life has different seasons. There are times of planting and times of weeding, times of celebration and of mourning, times of building and times of tearing down.

And these different seasons of our lives need very different mindsets.

New challenges require new packing lists.  

Perhaps you sense that God is leading you into a time of rest after a time of kingdom busyness. Maybe you have experienced a long season of waiting and now feel it is time to obediently act. Perhaps you feel God leading you back into ministry after years of focusing on family life, or vice versa. Maybe you sense God drawing you to sit at His feet and just listen with no agenda. Or you know it is time to step out onto new territory with new opportunites for God’s kingdom to advance.

Whatever it is, there may be things that have served you well in a previous season that it is now time to let go of. Commitments that were right for a time may need to be reconsidered. You may need to rethink how you are using your time and resources.  Schedules and well-worn routines may need to be reimagined in light of new priorities.

This is a precarious time. It can feel uncomfortable and confusing, daunting and dangerous. You haven’t been this way before.  But don’t be afraid. This is the time to dig deep in God’s Word; The Bible is our compass in unchartered waters. Take one step at a time.  Make faith your default position. Let go and move on. Be radically obedient, full of love and covered in humility.

Decide that anything you have to leave behind is worth it if it means you can know God better and love others more deeply and fulfill every drop of your destiny in Jesus. 

‘And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-travelled, these roads curve up the mountain, at at the last turn – Zion!  God in full view!’ Psalm 84.5-7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psalm 46

 

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Psalm 46 tells us that sometimes mountains fall into the sea.

Sometimes something that you thought was true turns out to be a lie.  Sometimes good seasons that you imagined would last forever, don’t.  Sometimes the roles in life that have defined you come to an end before you are ready.

And sometimes the earth beneath you gives way.

Sometimes the one person you thought you could utterly rely on lets you down.  Sometimes things that you thought were safe and solid, crumble.  Sometimes life turns out differently than you had hoped and the disappointment is hard to shake.

Sometimes nations rage.

Sometimes politics and 24-hour news can leave you pessimistic and tired.  Sometimes what you can’t control in the world taunts you and the brokenness on your television is too much.

An unexpected crisis can rattle your core and knock you off your feet.  It can change the landscape of your life and disorientate you.

And too much bad news can eat you up inside.  It can slowly steal your faith-filled optimism and make you older than your years.  It can jade your soul.

But there is an answer.

‘Be still and know that I am God.’

The picture painted here with the original Hebraic language is stunning.

To ‘be still’  is so much more than stopping our forward motion.  The meaning in the original is to let go, to sink to the ground, to stop fighting, to desist.

And why is this important?  Why is surrender the correct response to the crisis?

Because only then can we really know that He is God.

And this knowledge is a kind of discovery that goes beyond our heads. It is when circumstances are tough that we dig deep enough to uncover the treasures of God’s character that would otherwise be a secret.  God’s love and goodness are displayed so much more clearly against the dark backdrop of discouragement and disappointment.  His miraculous provision can only be experienced from a place of need. Answers come after painful questions.  Revelation comes out of blindness.

Sometimes mountains fall into the sea.

Sometimes the earth beneath you gives way and the nations around you rage.

The best response is to sink to our knees.  When we surrender to God’s ways we more fully discover the depth of His love. He is closest when we are most in need; He is strongest when we are not. It is at the end of our ideas and solutions that we are in touching distance of His will for our lives.

Adversity is the most beautiful doorway to communion with Jesus if you can view it that way.

Whatever challenges you face, His presence is the answer, His voice is the cure.

Seek Him and thank Him. Find Him and worship.

He is safe.

He is good.

He is near.

He is fighting for you and He always wins.

‘God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You are a proven help in time of trouble – more than enough and always available whenever I need you.  So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away.  We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea.  For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you.  God has a constantly flowing river whose sparking streams bring joy and delight to His people….God is in the midst of His city, secure and never shaken.  At daybreak His help will be seen with the appearing of the dawn.  When the nations are in uproar… God simply raises His voice….Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God….The mighty Lord of angel armies is on our side!  The God of Jacob fights for us!’                                                                                                                                                         Psalm 46.

 

 

 

Therapeutic grace

 

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‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.‘ Psalm 23.6

I suffer from a disease.

It is called fearful indecision-itis and the prognosis without treatment is grim. It results in a life of untapped potential, capped by caution and riddled by regret.

But thankfully there is a successful therapeutic; its called grace.

God’s grace, His unmerited favour, is the birthright of His children. It is underserved and unreserved. Grace means that God’s goodness and mercy follow me, even through my mistakes or missteps or mishaps. Grace isn’t scared off by wrong turns.  

And this God-grace, if I will let it, can embolden me to step out of the boat and onto the water. God’s grace can give me the courage to invest myself, my time and resources, instead of fearfully burying them for safe-keeping. Grace can and should make me brave.

Jesus explained to His disciples that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we need to be like children. Have you watched a child recently? Have you seen how they are free to try things, to explore, to create? When did I trade freedom for caution?

Probably about the time I first experienced the shame of falling short and the uncomfortable feelings it produced. And then, like my firstborn daughter who determined to learn to ride her bike without ever falling over, I started to live very cautiously.  Soon I gave up bike riding altogether.

It has been a miserable trade.

Because it was for freedom that Christ set me free. Fearful indecision is not what I am made for. I am created to walk on water, to do great exploits for the kingdom. My inheritance is boldness, my spiritual DNA is undaunted. My God is so, so big.

When I get it wrong, He forgives and helps me clean up the mess. When my own stupidity robs from me, God’s grace redeems and restores. When I blow it, He is my soft place to land, where truth and love can fix me.

When I am lost He doesn’t ask me to find Him, although He would be well within HIs rights to do so. Instead, He finds me. He comes close when questions and doubts take me down dead ends and when I am stranded by indecision. He is there to help when I bite off more than I can chew or when restlessness takes me off track.

God’s hand is long enough to save.

It reaches down into the valleys of my life and rescues me. No situation ever surprises my Good Shepherd or lands outside of His jurisdiction. I am never more than a breath away from His goodness and unending mercy.  

Neither are you. If you know Jesus, His mercy and goodness are your life-long companions. His grace is sticking to you like glue.

So keep your heart soft and your ears listening. Always listen, obey, and trust. But don’t be afraid.

You are the child of a good father. 

Live free and open. Have a go. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Shake off regret.  Face fear and do it anyway. Pray for the impossible. Try something really hard. Dream. Create. Ask. Try.

Live life with a carefree boldness that shows you know whose child you are and that you believe His grace is always more than enough.  

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Doers not thinkers

 

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Unfortunately, lockdown is a perfect storm for over-thinkers like me.

With its combination of empty diary pages and the daily flow of pandemic news, my tendency towards analytical overdrive has only gotten worse.

And the busier my mind gets, the less I seem to achieve.  Like a fairground roller-coaster, my thoughts, dilemmas, worries and fears go round and round never reaching any kind of conclusion.

It is exhausting.

Indecision brings confusion. It leads me into a paralysis of analysis that achieves nothing of value and steals my peace and forward motion. Over-thinking tells me that fear is carefulness; it persuades me to trade accomplishment for ‘keeping my options open’. And like the hall of mirrors in a Fun House, it leaves me in a dead end with an distorted view of myself and my circumstances.

There is a book in the Bible that speaks strongly to us over-thinkers, the Book of James.  If you haven’t read it recently, open it up. I did this week and the familiar words were still painfully challenging.

‘But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, will be blessed in his doing.’  James 1.22-25

James is clear. Power lies in doing things, not just thinking about them. And the first dangerous step towards deception is to stop doing anything. The minute my faith becomes something I only think about, when it only consists of theories and metaphors, I have moved away from the mirror and I am in danger of losing my way.

There is somethings very grounding about looking in a mirror.  It helps us see things as they are, not as we wish them to be.  After weeks of quarantine, every glance in the mirror reminds me how I desperately need to see my hairdresser!  It also reveals that I haven’t been outside in the sun enough recently and that I better ease off the snacks or I won’t fit into my mother-of-the-bride dress when it is needed.

I can’t escape the truth when I look in the mirror.

But I can walk away and forget.

God’s truth is my mirror. It reminds me of the reality of my condition. If I look at it with an open heart it restores perspective and helps me to resist the unnecessary rabbit holes that over-thinking leads me down.

But is the acting on that truth that keeps me from forgetting it.

Before experiencing this season of enforced rest, I really believed that a quieter routine would automatically lead to a quieter soul. I have now discovered it is not that easy. It is perfectly possible for me to sit in my garden, surrounded by peace and tranquillity while I reap a whirlwind in my mind that churns out anxiety and fear. And it happens more often than I wold ever want to admit.

But James gives us a key to ending this cycle.

Be a doer.

Act. Begin. Obey. Follow through.

Create. Design. Fix. Build.

Thank. Praise. Worship. Pray.

Sometimes we need to tell ourselves to file away questions and to put pending decisions on the back burner. There are things we don’t know, things we can’t control, things we don’t understand. Clarity will come soon enough but until it does, there are things we can do.

Because that is where the power is and that is where the blessing is.   

The enemy is quite happy when I am over-thinking, living in the busy world in my head.  Because in that world there is no grace for me. Grace is only found when I live in the present. When my mind is stuck in lockdown limbo I can’t make promised-land progress. God’s promises in my life are only ever received by faith and an atmosphere of over-thinking only produces hesitancy, fear, indecision and doubt.

It is okay that there are circumstances we are confused about right now. It is okay to feel unsure about certain decisions and bewildered about how the current situation will play out long-term. But it is not okay to stop being a doer.

In the midst of waiting for God’s direction, we can still move forward in faith. If we are experiencing indecision in an area of our lives, we can turn our attention to other ways to obey.

This is a great time to pull out old journals and sermon notes and remind ourselves of truths we heard and never acted upon. It is the time to dig deep in God’s Word and to put into practice what we find because even in times where we have little control of our lives there is always something we can do, something we can obey, someone we can bless or serve.

And I suspect when we choose action over endless thinking, wisdom from God’s heart will come and we will see the right way ahead for our lives when the time is right.

So lets’ get out of our heads and back in the real world. Let’s choose sunshine on our faces today, petting our dogs and Zooming our friends. Let’s turn off the news. Lets create something good to eat or make something pretty to look at.  Let’s breathe and trust and worship and laugh.  Let’s do something.

Let’s look for every opportunity to do good and to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that lockdown, despite its frustrations and worries, will be a beautifully fruitful season in our lives.

 

 

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My Seven stages of quarantine

 

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Our family quarantine started with a big dose of denial.

As news of Coronavirus came in from other countries we dismissed it. When a handful of cases finally reached the UK, our lives went on as normal. We were busy finishing the wedding favors, booking someone to do our make-up and putting homemade cookies in the freezer for visiting family. Surely this won’t be as bad as they are predicting!  Maybe the UK will dodge the bullet.

But denial soon became dread as all our plans unraveled. First, international flight bans decimated our guest list, then venues and suppliers pulled the plug. We did everything we could and even brought the wedding forward twice, hastily rearranging ceremonies and lunch, each time for a smaller and smaller group. Finally, we managed to whittle it down to just the bride, groom, two witnesses, and a willing vicar. With 24 hours to go, we rushed around with gloves and masks, buying supermarket flowers for the bouquet, laughing at the comedy of it all.

But in the end, we just couldn’t outrun government restrictions; weddings were banned indefinitely and we cried.

At this point, our quarantine experience moved to a new stage – acceptance and comfort eating. For the next two days, we wallowed in our pajamas, ate croissants and chocolates and commiserated with each other. Friends and family were wonderful;  their texts and phone calls brought a much-needed perspective. We didn’t do much for a couple days but just let ourselves recover, nestled under quilts with mugs of coffee and the cookies from the freezer.

Having accepted the wedding would have to be postponed, comfort-eating soon gave way to the shopping stage. We had bought some extra food and put it in the freezer but we needed a bit more so we headed out, hand gel in our pockets. We filled the fridge with fruit and veg and the cupboards with rice and pasta. We got extra dog food, soap, and medicine.

And this seemed to spur us on to a more productive stage of quarantine. Sure, this crisis was frustrating and unwelcome, but we could use it well. We added exercise to our routine and tried some new recipes. We Skyped family and Zoomed with our church. We pulled together to make the best of it, and, if we didn’t watch the news too much, it was all quite fun, kind of like an episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or a weird summer camp.

That enthusiasm lasted a week and a half.

And now I am not sure what to call our current stage. Maybe the way harder than I thought’ stage, or ‘when summer camp feels like prison’ stage.

Like everyone else in the UK, the novelty of isolation has worn off. Being apart from family and friends is really starting to hurt. We have become lethargic from too many cupboard carbs and irritated with our roommates. The fun food has all been eaten, the news is depressing, our income is fragile.

So what stage is next?

I guess that is up to me.

I could choose the ‘box-set stage’ where I escape into endless episodes of something harmless but pointless  Or I could go into the ‘organizing-overdrive stage’, cleaning out drawers and labeling jars of supplies to keep my anxiety neatly in its place.

I could vlog or jog for days. I could batch bake or learn Latin.

Or I could just stop for a minute and take myself back to the time before Covid19 and canceled weddings, and remember what I would have done with a few weeks that were completely empty and quiet.

And then I could do that.

When I first started this blog, I wrote about the secret ingredient of timeSo often in my life, it is time that has been the difference between defeat and victory, dilemmas and solutions, confusion and clarity.

So many good things can happen when we have time. And in this strange quarantine-quiet, schedule-scarce existence, that is the one thing I have.

There is no excuse, there are no distractions; I have time.  These empty days and weeks are an opportunity. And, Ephesians 5.17 tells me what to do with an opportunity. I must capitalize on it, multiply it, increase its value by using it carefully.

Because hidden in the frustration and fear that this crisis has brought, are moments of God’s grace we have been longing for. Our quiet homes and schedules are actually breeding grounds for spiritual breakthrough. Our financial needs, our worries, and concerns can be the catalyst for going deeper with God than we have ever needed or desired before. This unwanted, unplanned, sad time can lead to open doors, spiritual victories, and life-changing encounters with God if we don’t waste it.

Soon enough some kind of normality will return. Wedding planning, university lectures,  and church ministry will all kick in again. There will be good, wonderful, blessed noise; but it will be noise all the same.

So this morning I chose a new stage of quarantine.

I got out of bed like I had something important to do.  Because I do. 

I watched the sunrise for the first time in weeks and I thanked God that He has made this day.

I embraced the quietness of this time by sitting and listening because I really want to hear.

I accepted the uncertainly by choosing worship because I want to learn to trust.

And for the first time in months, I sat down to write because I remembered that I had something to say.

Oh sure, I will tidy today and do some wash.   I will probably exercise and cook some good food.  But I won’t let these quarantine days slip through my fingers.

Because opportunities, especially hard ones, are only useful to us if we don’t wish them away.

Seize the day.  It is from God’s hand.

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Numbered days

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‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ Psalm 90.12

My husband and his two brothers began the difficult process of sorting through their family home this weekend. They lost their father 12 years ago and their mother’s serious fall before Christmas marked the end of her ability to live on her own.  

They spent the day sifting through boxes of photos and drawers of old birthday cards.  They found remains of past hobbies and school projects and faded photos with names and dates scribbled on the back.  Some sparked happy memories and some painful ones but together they recorded the history of a family, the highs and lows, the celebrations and the losses.

Lord, teach us to number our days.

The same day I was sitting around a table full of family and friends at my daughter’s bridal shower.  We laughed and gave advice and toasted the bride to be.  I tried to be fully present, to drink every drop of this moment but my mind kept wandering off to scenes in our garden when this young woman was a toddler and our family was just starting.  I felt a mixture of blessed-beyond-measure and nest-emptied-out all at once and I cried happy-sad tears.

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Lord, teach me to number my days.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I will be 51.  It is much older than I feel.  In those fifty years, I have accomplished some things I hoped I would but other plans haven’t worked out. I’ve discovered abilities that I didn’t know I had and weaknesses that I am still fighting to overcome.  There are now fewer years ahead of me than behind me; but that doesn’t mean I have fewer ideas, hopes, dreams or plans.  It feels like the less time I have, the more I want to change the world.

Lord,  please teach me to number my days.

Knowing the preciousness and the brevity of life is nothing less than a gift from God’s hand. 

Having the wisdom to enjoy every moment but to spend those moments well is priceless.

If you have a young family, you don’t know it yet but there is a moment in life that sneaks up on you.  It is the moment when a house that was full of children and noise becomes quiet.

When a son who dreamed all of his life of flying, who covered his walls with airplane posters and flight suits, is actually packing for the Airforce and the days left at home seem too many to him and far too few for you.

When your daughters and sons have found soul mates and it rains happy weddings, and letting go really hurts, even though you wouldn’t change a thing.

When you can still remember the piles of washing and smelly sneakers in the hall and homework on the table.  When you hope with your whole heart that you spent those early years well, that you didn’t clean when you should have been playing or worry when you should have been laughing.

And if you are younger than me, let me tell you a truth; it all goes by much quicker than you think it will.  There is less time to do good than you imagine.  Most upsets are storms in teacups and most worries are molehills so don’t get distracted from why you are here.

There are really only a few important things and those things are so easily forgotten.

And that should really, really scare us.

Lord, teach us to number our days.

Show us what is important and what is not.  Explain to us what matters in the light of eternity. Challenge us to live a life of fruitfulness rather than convenience and comfort.

Help us to not sweat the small stuff but to happily lay down our lives for the big stuff.

Teach us to value fixing relationships, not throwing them away.  Remind us to forgive and forget and laugh and let it go.  Show us how to be sincere, not two-faced, doers not just hearers. Teach us how to always be who we say we are.  

Lord, teach us to number our days.

So that we will add light to every gathering and grace to every relationship.  So that we will always prioritize people over possessions.  So that we will decide life is too short to be overly busy and too precious to fill with gripes and grievances. 

Lord, teach us to number our days.

Then we will tell people we love them rather than assume they know.

We will face the things in us that need to change and not even notice those things in others.

We will shun pettiness like the life-stealer it is.

We will be the solutions not the problem, the smile not the critic.

We will make time to share the good news of God’s love and acceptance to anyone who needs to hear.

And then whether we have one more day or fifty more years, we will make them count for eternity.

 

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Find your spot and build

 

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In the 5th century BC, Nehemiah heard the news that would change his life.  The walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed.  For any Jew, this was distressing news; for Nehemiah it was unacceptable.

Without a doubt, many sleepless nights followed.  But, tossing and turning wasn’t enough for Nehemiah and soon he was heading to Jerusalem with official papers in his hands, ready to rebuild.

What keeps you up at night?

What injustice breaks your heart?  What wrong do you feel compelled to make right?  What stories make you cry?  What problems are unacceptable?

What has God uniquely created you to build?

On Jesus’ last day on earth, He left us with our heavenly commission.  Having been raised from the dead, He announced His ultimate authority and promptly passed the official papers to His followers, telling them to go into all the world and make disciples.

And the task of rebuilding began.

For more than 2000 years, believers everywhere have found their place along the wall, picked up their tools and started to make right what had been spoiled.

Believers like Matt, an American that I met the other day.  He is rebuilding in Harrow, London in a community of South Asians. It is a modest ministry and you won’t read about it in a Christian magazine. But with hospitality and sacrificial love, Matt and his family are sharing God’s love and beautifully repairing what is broken.

Or like the dear Italian family who spoke at our church recently.  This couple, along with their 10-year-old son, are building the Kingdom in Niger, West Africa.  The work is dangerous and fruit is slow-growing, but they are faithfully working with joy and courage and God’s Kingdom is being established soul by soul.

Some Kingdom-builders use medicine and bandages; others use computers and spreadsheets. Some teach kids, some feed the poor and some faithfully pray.  Some are called to spend their lives faithfully working on a small part of the wall, while others are given the grace and ability to rebuild large sections.

In the Book of Hebrews, chapter three, the author describes a house that is being built.  It is God’s house, God’s kingdom, God’s family. It is that house that we are called to build.

It is more than a nice project; it is what we are here for.

It is more than renovation or redecorating. It is spiritual warfare.

If we haven’t already, it is time for us to find our place along the wall. It is time to serve, not out of habit or selfish ambition, but because it really matters.  There are people who are hurting and lost and broken and forgotten.  There are needs that you and I have been created to meet; there are parts of God’s house that we are called to build.

So, let’s discover our God-given passions, the things that make us toss and turn at night, and let’s get to work.  Let’s build with faithfulness and humility, not comparing our calling with anyone else. Let us honour those building beside us and pray for those building across the world.  Let us encourage other builders in our community (there is plenty of broken wall for anyone who has the heart to build so competition between builders is just silly).  Let us build with obedience and faith, commissioned by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

And let us build with courage and with joy, knowing that what we are building is strong and beautiful and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big enough story

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What is your favourite movie?

Do you love a tear-jerker or a romantic comedy, a thriller or some classic sci-fi?

Whatever our individual preferences are, we probably all share one thing – the love of a good story. The best movies always come from great stories. That’s why sequels are so often lacking; because the really great narrative has already been told.

A good plot has highs and lows, surprises and twists, intriguing characters and interesting settings. And every good story, without exception, always has a problem.

Without conflict or struggle, a narrative is only an observation, an article, a commentary. Without a problem, there is no tense cliffhanger or satisfying resolution, no hero or heroics. There is no story.

We live in a time in history with unprecedented freedom and choice. Coffee shops cater to our sophisticated needs with endless options. We can order almost anything we want online and have it delivered the same day. We can have a different flavour of crisp every Friday night this year if we want. We can find our dream new job or plan an exotic holiday in the warmth of our living room, eating Vietnamese takeaway. Choice is wonderful; it makes life pleasant and interesting and colourful and fun.  But it doesn’t necessarily make for a riveting read.

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From cover to cover, God’s Word reminds us that it is often in the circumstances that we don’t choose that our destinies are revealed.

One of my favourite movies is Apollo 13. It is based on the true story of the ill-fated mission to the moon in 1970. As the movie opens, we see the preparations being made for another mission by NASA. The overwhelming excitement of 1969 had come and gone and public interest is waning.

Until something goes terribly wrong.

And then, suddenly, what had seemed mundane becomes unmissable viewing as NASA engineers attempt the miraculous.

My favourite character is Ken Mattingly. Ken was chosen to be the Command Module Pilot for this mission. However, he was accidentally exposed to German Measles and so three days before the launch he was removed from the mission and replaced with the backup pilot, Jack Swigert.

The film dramatically portrays how the expertise of Ken Mattingly became an invaluable part of a successful rescue. His personal disappointment set the stage for a much bigger, more heroic story.  

It is the apparently insurmountable obstacles that make the story of Apollo 13 so compelling. Without the problem, all you have is a third trip to the moon. That’s not exactly a script directors would be fighting over.

And it is the same with us.

It is when the chips are down that our stories get interesting.

Just think about the heroes of the Bible. Think about Abraham and Ruth, Joseph, Esther, Daniel and David. Think of the difficulties they faced and the lack of control they had over their own lives. Think of what they lost and what they were forced to give up. Think of the disappointments and setbacks. Think of the pain caused by their own mistakes and the suffering caused by the choices of others.

And then remember the destinies they lived out, the beautiful and redemptive purposes they fulfilled.

It is when we face struggles and difficulty that our lives seem to widen out and open up. Life without challenge is two-dimensional; it is thin and small.

But we belong to a big God and He desires for us to live big lives.

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So, by all means, enjoy choices when you have them. Order the coconut milk latte and the gluten-free organic muffin and enjoy every bite. If you don’t like your job and you have another option, take it. If you want to run a marathon or learn Mandarin, do it. If you want to study something new or try a creative hobby, thank God you live in a place where you can choose these things and go for it.

But know that there will be things you can’t control. There will be things you don’t like that you didn’t choose. There will be pages of your story you didn’t plan and plot twists you didn’t see coming.

And these things will be the making of you.

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They will be the moments that you see God move in supernatural, miraculous ways on your behalf. They will be opportunities for you to become stronger and more resilient than you ever thought possible. They will be a catalyst for great growth and Jesus-like character that will equip you for all God has planned for your life.

These difficult chapters in your life will be the times you seek God like never before and you will find Him.

And your story will be epic and beautiful and big enough to point to God, the hero of all our stories.

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Beautiful good

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As I have shared with you before, I absolutely love this time of year.

I know that it is grey and cold, the paycheck is weeks away and Christmas sugar withdrawal is kicking in, but I love it anyway. I love all the potential and possibilities of a new year.  I love setting goals and objectives. I love writing it all down in colourful new notebooks, the pages as untouched as the days of 2020 out ahead of me.

And some of my resolutions will be quite successful; some will not.  Nonetheless, an annual reset is a valuable tool and this time of year can be motivating and fruitful.

But there is something else that is true, albeit a little less exciting.

Galatians 6.9 reminded me this morning that I must never, ever get tired of doing good.

It is easy to get bored of doing the same thing, however good it is.  It is easy to lose motivation in the middle of service.  New and shiny opportunities often eclipse more worn responsibilities and commitments.  It is always more fun to redecorate than to clean up.

But this is just another way in which our faith is counter-intuitive. Following Christ consists of both obedience to ancient truths and listening for the fresh whisper of God’s Spirit every day. We are called to be faithful in often mundane ways while we were are believing for the miraculous.  It is quiet, humble service that positions us for greater influence and it is character, not charisma, that gets God’s attention.

So, January is also a good time to remember what God has already said, His promises, challenges, encouragements and commands.  It is a good time to read over old sermon or conference notes.  What struck you as important or rang uncomfortably true in 2019?  What words or scriptures pierced your heart when you heard them?  What personal promises were you given?  What brought conviction?  What good things did you hear that you have not yet put into practice?

You see when Galatians tells us to never get tired of doing good, the word not only has the meaning of what is right and moral, but also what is beautiful.

Doing the same-old good is so beautiful.

Faithfulness is lovely.

Obedience is stunning.

There is immense value in tending to the things God has already planted in your life while you believe for new things from His hand.  

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There is divine beauty in blooming where you are already planted.

And, there is a kind of faithful living that makes room for more of what God wants to do. 

If we can resist the temptation to devalue things God has already told us to do, we actually position ourselves for new blessings.  Because obedience can feel very ordinary until it reaps what it has sown.  And as Galatians 6.7 reminds us, it always does.

Sowing faithfully will reap new opportunities.  Choosing to value what God has already said, will give us ears to hear new promises.  Taking small responsibilities seriously will prepare us for bigger ones; unseen service will make way for honour.

So take some time today to remember some things God has already spoken to you.  These promises and commands, however old, are worthy of a place in a new notebook.  They are beautiful.  Take time to remember the things God did for you in 2019 and to thank Him.  Put a high value on ordinary, everyday obedience.  It is precious to the heart of God.  Honour every word God has spoken to you and make continued obedience a priority.

And decide that when new opportunities and blessings come in this new year, you will be found beautifully tending to what God has already given.

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