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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A designer Christmas

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I hope all of you will have a blessed Christmas, a happy Christmas, a merry Christmas.

But most of all, I hope you have a careful Christmas.

Now I know that isn’t a very festive sounding greeting. It won’t be used on any Christmas cards or as a strapline on television ads. It may even sound a little Grinch-like, as if I am wishing you a Christmas with no chocolate or tinsel or festive sweaters.

But when the Bible says, careful, it doesn’t mean an Ebenezer Scrooge kind of carefulness, with frugalness instead of fun and no coal for the fire. No, when the Bible says careful, in Ephesians 5.15-17, it means intentional.  

Because intentionality is the only way to get the Christmas you really want.

An intentional Christmas is one that has planning and thought. It is premeditated, not accidental. It is designed, not left to chance.

A good Christmas is created; it is not a fluke.

And the good news is that even today, on December 16th, we can design the next couple of weeks to be the meaningful, joyful holiday time that we really want and need.

But we will have to be very careful about how we use our time. Today is the day to pull out our battered 2019 diaries and look at the last two weeks of December. Most of us will have days off of work and it really matters how we spend them. So what do you want to make sure you have time for? Don’t just wish and hope; pencil it in. Who would you really like to catch up with? Text them now and make it happen. What would you like time to think about, listen to or read before this year ends? Make an appointment with yourself, treat it as important commitment and then follow through. What would make Christmas extra meaningful to you? Make space and do it. Do not ever believe the lie that we are slaves to Christmas busyness. We can take control and make the last two weeks of December beautiful. And then we can bring that intentionality right into 2020, determining to always prioritize the things that we value most.

We will also have to be intentional with our money. If we have bought the presents and food needed then we need to stop. It is so easy to keep going, to be swept along with the compulsion to purchase a few more stocking stuffers or tins of chocolates just because ‘it’s Christmas’. But knowing when ‘enough is enough’ is a gift that your wallet and your waistline will thank you for in January. Only spend in accordance with your values. Stick to what you can afford. Give cheerfully to those in need. Be generous with your time and your words and enjoy blessing others in creative and surprising ways.

Relationships, too, need intentionality at this busy time. We will spend time over Christmas with people who are sad or discouraged, facing loss or ill health. Some people are extra sensitive and easily feel left out. Some find social situations stressful. If we can be more aware of others, we can include and encourage the people we love. We can be the one who pulls others in and makes them feel like they belong. All it takes is a few minutes of our time and caring enough to notice.

And we can be careful with our own hearts.  Overcommitment can wear us out.  Family get-togethers can rub us the wrong way. It is so easy to get hurt feelings and frazzled souls so we must remember to make time for ourselves as well.  Even a few minutes a day in worship and prayer might be the difference between a happy Christmas and one that is fraying around the edges.  So do something you enjoy every day. Hug your kids. Worship Jesus by the Christmas tree.  Smile at shopkeepers.  Stir up gratitude and choose to see the best in everyone, even yourself.

Remember, Christmas is not set in stone.  Traditions can be changed if they don’t fit anymore.  We can try new recipes and new routines and new ways of celebrating.  We can make time for what matters to us.  We can design our Christmas so that it serves us and the people we love well.

And it will be a Christmas that fills up instead of wearing out, looks outward instead of inward, prioritizes people over stuff and points to Jesus, who gives everything purpose and value and joy.  

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Strength from truth

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In the Book of Joshua, chapter one verse eight, we see the Lord God commissioning Joshua after Moses’ death.

Here God reminds Joshua of both the promised land as well as God’s promised presence.

God finishes with the command for Joshua to be strong and courageous.  But He tells Joshua to be careful too and to never deviate from God’s ways. And how was Joshua going to ensure that he kept on the right path?  By meditating on God’s truth and speaking it.  Like the majestic tree in Psalm 1, truth and strength are inseparable.

Because spiritual strength and bravery always come from believing truth, thinking truth and speaking truth.  

The problem is that this kind of command doesn’t fit well into modern life.  Life is busy and noisy and fast.  And so the temptation is to ‘dip in’ to truth, fit church in every other week, listen to worship music on the way to the gym or watch clips of a popular speaker now and again.

And that works for a while.

But what happens when I face an unexpected battle?  What happens when a storm hits or floods rise in my life? What happens when I need immediate spiritual strength?  In those times, last Thursday’s entertaining podcast may not be enough.

Because hearing about good and true things is only the start; established truth is where the power is. 

I have heard hundreds of great sermons.  I have enjoyed dozens of uplifting concerts and inspirational conferences.  And yet they are no good to me unless I take time to think about them, believe them and act upon them.

Spiritual success and prosperity are the fruit of a disciplined approach to truth.

There are no short-cuts, no microwavable spiritual entrees.  Strength is built.  Faith is grown.  Victories are hard-won.  Truth-thinking has to be fought for daily.

Of course, I want to be like Joshua, taking back every inch of my promised land from my enemy’s grip. But the problem is, I don’t always want to pay the price.  Filling my life with truth takes time and effort.  I might have to sacrifice other activities.  I might have to get up earlier or put down my magazine or turn off the tv.  I will definitely have to listen more and allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to apply truth to my heart, even when that is uncomfortable.  I will have to be willing to be wrong and willing to change my opinions or attitudes.  I will probably have to say sorry more often, to God and to people.

And I will have to open my mouth.

Isn’t it interesting that God tells Joshua that the truth must never leave his mouthTruth should be on the tip of my tongue.  It should be my first reaction to difficulty, my first thought when trouble comes.

Because I have come to see in my own life that if I am never speaking something out, I probably don’t really believe it much.

One of my favourite verses is Psalm 119.171.  In the message translation it says, ‘Let praise cascade off my lips; after all, you’ve taught me the truth about life!’

When I allow Jesus to teach me His truth, when I let that truth dwell in me, take root and grow, the result is always a cascade of praise.

My reaction to difficulty will be praise if I believe the truth about God’s goodness and faithfulness.  If I believe that I am a beloved child of a Good Father and that I can trust His character, thanksgiving will be my default setting.

When we face difficulty, loss or disappointment we often find our hearts and minds full of fear, worry, dread, anger, resentment or envy.  And these reactions are signs that there is a truth I am not believing yet.  

Becoming a truth-lover and truth-liver takes intentionality.

So today I am not just listening to worship music, I am singing it out loud so my soul can hear and believe.  And I have opened up the Bible, even though I didn’t feel like it.  I have written down verses that speak faith and boldness to my heart and I have put them next to where I sleep so that truth is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning.  I have told my soul that God is good.  I have declared what I know to be true even though my emotions didn’t necessarily agree today.

Because truth brings the freedom that Jesus died for me to have.

And today that’s all my soul needs to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change

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I will be honest with you; I don’t like change.

I will never forget the moment my dad told me that we were moving to England just before my Senior Year in Highschool. I felt genuine grief as yearbook moments I had dreamed about were erased with one conversation. It physically hurt.

And I remember, after a wedding day filled with cake and laughter, getting in the car with my new husband. At that moment, the reality of the situation dawned on my four-year-old sister and she broke down in tears. It dawned on me too and I sobbed all the way to our Paris hotel.

The summer before my oldest daughter went to ‘big school’ was awful. The last few days of August became a kind of tortured count down as I anticipated this unwelcomed milestone and privately grieved into my pillow each night. Even now, the shortening days of late summer remind me of that dreaded back-to-school feeling when carefree summer fun ends and routine returns. It still makes me feel sad.

Last September I had the ultimate back-to-school moment when my youngest skipped off to uni. I won’t lie to you; it ripped a little hole in my soul.

And of course, there are the weddings. The first was a year ago, the second will be in April. When your daughter gets married, you laugh and cry and dance till late and then you wake up the next morning with the weirdest mix of both joy and loss. I don’t think there is any other moment in life as bittersweet.

But the Bible is always honest with me. It tells me that there are no predictable human experiences on Planet Earth. Life moves on and it changes all the time.

Seasons come and go, both metaphorically and meteorologically. It can’t always be summer, even if we wish it could. Autumn arrives, so does winter, and then spring sneaks up on you again. Joyous moments come and then they fade away like summer roses. Often there are miracles, hopeless situations that turn on a dime. Sometimes there are seasons of seemingly endless disappointments.

Family life ebbs and flows with beginnings and endings, new ventures and unplanned good-byes. There are gains and losses. There are twists in the road we didn’t bargain for and opportunities we couldn’t have dreamed of.

And all the time God is unchanging, unflinching and utterly unmoved. 

He does not change.

He is the rock I stand on. His love and goodness are the foundation underneath what often feels like shifting sand. They are the only guarantee in the midst of the flux and flow of this life.

He is the constant in the variables that sometimes shake me. He is the only safe place I can hide. He is faithful and good and He can always be trusted.

He is where I go when change scares me and when blessings humble me. He is where I go when I don’t understand. He is the answer to every question and the comfort for every mixed emotion. He is where I start when the day is fresh and full of potential and where I finish when the day is over and things didn’t work out as planned.

He is God.  He is for me.  His mercies are new every morning. His love and character are unchanging. 

He is who He says He is; He will do what He has promised.

Today that is all I need to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kept

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‘He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.’  Psalm 121.3

God keeps us.

No one knew this more than King David.

When these words were written in the Torah, the word for ‘keep’ was the Hebrew word, ‘shamar’.  This is a wonderful word with the full, colourful meaning of ‘to hedge about with thorns, to guard, to protect, to mark, to observe or preserve, to protect or save, to have charge over and to reserve, to take great care over and to tend.’

The picture painted here is of a sheepfold.  Imagine a careful and attentive shepherd gathering his sheep in the evening and surrounding their resting spot with thorn bushes he has collected to deter predators.  In doing this he is keeping his sheep.

This word is used over 400 times in the Old Testament and none more beautifully than in Numbers 6.22-27.  Here, in the middle of laws that were necessary but burdensome, God speaks to Moses and gives him a blessing for Aaron to speak over the people as they meandered through desert sand.

‘The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His face upon you and give you peace.’

Because wandering sheep need keeping.

So do I.

I need the Good Shepherd to gather me up when I am lost and to bring me home.  I need Him to fight battles on my behalf and to hide me behind a thorny hedge of His love.  I need a safe place to land.   I need streams of water and green pastures and soul restoration.  I need protection from enemies I haven’t noticed and decisions I haven’t thought through.

I need to know it doesn’t all depend on me.

Because, if I am honest, my Christian life is a mix.  Sometimes I feel like a David fighting my Goliaths, with sky-high faith and smooth stones that hit their target; other days I feel like David’s sheep, all full of wandering and willfulness.

But my God keeps me even then.  He is faithful beyond my ability to reciprocate and He is patient with my sheepy ways. I am set apart, marked for eternity by the Good Shepherd.  My welfare is His concern; my wholeness is His priority.  

He watches over me as I sleep in my bed and goodness and mercy follow me everywhere.  He remembers His promises to me and prepares my heart and my life for their fulfilment.  He quietly completes every good thing He has started.

He holds me so I cannot fall.  He forgets all of my sins and remembers every hair on my head.

There is a place of rest for me if I can believe this is true; a place where my sleep is deep and shalom is my default.  It is a place of security and joy and it is the place where great faith is grown.

And it is a place available to me every day by just believing that He is who He says that He is.

Let the Good Shepherd keep you today.  He is good.  He is able.  You are safe.  You are kept.  You are His.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire

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When I was growing up, my best friend’s house burned to the ground.

By God’s grace, no one was hurt but every precious item they owned, every photograph and heirloom, every article of clothing was consumed as their quaint, historic log cabin went up in flames. It happened quickly and without warning.

Fire is unbelievably powerful.

If you are American you will know about Smokey the Bear who since the 1950s has been the face of forest fire prevention in our National Parks. I still remember the haunting television ads on my black and white television as the dangers of stray cigarette butts or unattended campfires were underlined with scenes of raging wildfires.

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In the Bible, God says that my words can be that dangerous.  

Read the verses from James. Hear the seriousness with which they were written.

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech, we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.’  James 3.5-6  (the Message)

Now read it again.

Now decide if you will believe this is true.

God says that it only takes one word, one gossipy spark to start a hellish fire. It only takes a sentence to make a friendship evaporate or for a reputation to literally go up in smoke. Words can split families for generations and they can leave someone’s self-esteem with first-degree burns. Malicious comments can burn a ministry or a marriage to the ground.

And yet most of us go through life underestimating the destruction of careless words. We drop unkindness and criticism like burning matches and walk away, never even looking back at the blaze we have left in our wake.

We all do it.

We need to stop.

Let’s be honest. Each day, in every workplace, home, church and friendship group there are a million opportunities to get upset with one another. There are disagreements, niggles, rubbed-the-wrong-way moments and differences of opinion.

These are normal and a part of being human but it is what we do next that really matters.

And the Bible only gives us two options.

The first option is to go to the person and discuss it, work it through and forgive.  This is very simple but it takes guts. It definitely doesn’t involve calling up your best friend to dissect it or spreading your annoyances to an audience. It just involves you and the other person, in love, talking through a disagreement while it is fresh and hasn’t become infected or infectious. It is what someone does who values relationships above petty differences and who knows how to love people who are different. It isn’t easy but it is right and it will ensure the fallout doesn’t start a fire.

The other option is much easier and probably the right one most of the time. We can just extend grace and let it go. We can decide to not easily be upset or bent out of shape.  We can choose easy-going instead of fault-finding and grace instead of gripes. We can assume others have good motives even when they do something we don’t like. We can make allowances for different approaches and perspectives and look to learn from others, not always assume we are right.

Handling conflict well is rare and it is hard but it really matters.  

Because there is a different kind of fire that I need in my life; it is an Acts chapter two fire. It is the fire that came down on a room full of people who were unified in passion and purpose. This fire spread when differences were treated as trivial and more important things were prioritized. It was a fire stoked with humility and fueled with spiritual hunger.

There are two kinds of fire and I don’t think that I can have both.

I will have to choose what fires I start, what flames I fan. I can stir up love for God in myself and others or I can dampen it with negativity and criticism. I can speak hope to the discouraged or kick someone who is already down. I can spread judgement and misunderstanding or I can light the touch paper of grace and forgiveness every time I am tempted to be offended.

God, give us soft hearts, careful words and kind spirits. And then set our hearts on fire for your glory.

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something out of nothing

kelley at 13

“The Shepherd laughed too. “I love doing preposterous things,” he replied. “Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection. If there is one thing more than any other which I should enjoy doing at this moment it is turning a jellyfish into a mountain goat. That is my special work,” he added with the light of great joy in his face. “Transforming things —to take Much-Afraid, for instance, and to transform her into—“ He broke off and then went on laughingly. “Well, we shall see later on what she finds herself transformed into.”
― Hannah Hurnard, Hinds Feet on High Places

I remember the first time I read those words.

I was thirteen at the time and a friend gave me a copy of the Christian classic book, Hinds Feet on High Places. This allegorical story is about a character called, Much-Afraid, and the Good Shepherd who helps her to overcome fear and to follow Him on an adventure up into the mountains.  It is based on some verses in Psalm 18.

I enjoyed this book about a preposterous Shepherd who heals and transforms, but I didn’t really think it applied to me. How could I? When I looked in the mirror I saw only a freckled, bespectacled teenager with nothing remarkable or noteworthy to mention. Just a country girl with hair that had a mind of its own and insecurities no curling iron could tame. The idea that God had preposterous plans for me never even crossed my mind.

Over the years I re-read the book and the same parts always made me cry. In particular, every time Much-Afraid would look down and remember how disfigured her feet were and how impossible the mountain paths would be.

I cried because I have lived that moment many times.

For me, it was an internal disfigurement, a lack of self-esteem that would show up at the most inopportune times. It would hit me when I was up in front of people and it was immobilizing. It didn’t matter how much I practised for the piano recital or the volleyball game or how good I was when I was alone; as soon as I stepped out in front of people I would remember my crookedness. I was ordinary at best, an under-achiever, nothing special. And it became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy as I would crash and burn again, in public.

But what I didn’t understand at 13, I am beginning to get at 50. It is that God is not remotely limited by what he has to work with. He sees potential where we cannot. A small lunch was more than enough to transform into a buffet for thousands; a pretzel would have been sufficient.

The God that I call Father has been making something out of nothing since the beginning of time when He spoke light and time and order out of emptiness. Transforming a broken life is bread and butter to Him. It is what He does. And it is what He has been doing for me since the day I met Him.

In 2 Corinthians 5.17 is a very familiar verse. It says, ‘Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’

The original Greek word that is translated twice as new here is Kainos. It means, ‘recently made, created, fresh‘ but it also means, unprecedented, unheard of, uncommon.’

Is that preposterous enough for you?

He is taking your life, and He is taking mine, and He is making something out of nothing.  It is what He does. He is turning what is marred into His masterpieces. He is the potter and we are the clay and the pots He is making are filled with treasure because they are filled with Him.

In my own life, He is taking self-doubt and turning it into powerful faith because even if I can’t, I am starting to believe that He can. He is slowly turning failure into gratefulness and humility and He is making brokenness an opportunity to need Him and to know Him better.  He is taking disfigurement and making it beautiful.  He is taking every line of my story, the painful and the joyous, and writing a testimony of His goodness and power.  

And, as preposterous as it may sound, He is taking my life and making it extraordinary.

Because nothing God does is ordinary.  Nothing He plans for our lives is predictable or commonplace.  And everthing He does is good.

And in the end, despite crooked feet and a bruised soul, Jesus wants to lead us right to the very top of His will for our lives. Will we dare to follow Him?

It is good and it is all for the glory of His beautiful name.  

 

It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places.’  Psalm 18.32-33

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