Celebrating faithfulness

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I woke up today to the heartbreaking news of another man of faith, a church leader, who has walked away from God.

Plenty of blogs have been and will be written to explore the why’s and wherefores and there will be many opinions and conclusions in the weeks ahead.  Lives are complicated and the reasons people walk away are varied.

Barnabas Piper posted this advice in response,Every time a prominent Christian leaves the faith go find a story (or twelve) of unknown Christians being faithful in the midst of persecution and suffering.’

So instead of adding to the endless speculation of why someone falls away, I thought I would process my own feelings by celebrating faithful people I know.

Last week I had the privilege of listening to a young man named Ben Courson speak at a conference I was attending.  Ben is the son of a well-known pastor in the US.  It was a special moment for me because my dad knows his dad and so I was familiar with his story, which is a very difficult one.  Ben’s sister died in a car accident when he was a young boy and he lost his older brother to cancer only last spring.  Alongside the pressures of growing up as a Pastor’s kid, Ben struggled with depression for 10 years and had a heartbreak in his marriage that was devastating.

And yet Ben travels the world with the message of hope. He speaks to young people about a faithful God who holds onto us in the midst of tragedy and suffering.  He talks about a faith that, ‘doesn’t always make sense but does make miracles.’  I don’t know if Ben ever considered giving up; I expect he did.  But he is finishing his race with joy.  He has wrestled with God, worked through his questions and doubts and allowed God to turn grief into a message that brings life to those who need it.

And I want to tell you about friends of ours, a young couple who felt called to serve in an extremely dangerous part of the middle east.  They said yes to Jesus and spent the first years of their marriage preparing.  They will not have children; their calling is too dangerous.  The American dream for them was living on a boat in San Diego while they faithfully and quietly trained for the mission field.  There were many setbacks and delays and discouragements but I have had the joy of sharing lunch with these precious servants of the Lord and I came away undone.  They are the happiest couple you would hope to meet.  Purpose infuses every word they speak and they think nothing of what they have given up to share God’s love with others.

And let me tell you about a faithful Pastor in Pakistan.  My daughter’s fiance is from Pakistan and a few weeks ago my husband and I were at a barbeque with the two families and we had the privilege of meeting this family friend.  He has attended dozens of Christian funerals after church attacks by extremists and his congregation has to have armed guards every Sunday.  And yet the idea of not meeting together on a Sunday has never even crossed their minds. The faith of these precious followers and their commitment to each other is strong and resilient and it withstands challenges we have never faced.

And in my own family and church, there is such beautiful faithfulness.  The quiet heroes I know ask for nothing in return and their names are not known beyond their small circles of influence.  They run medical clinics without taking salaries and spend their vacations serving disabled children.  They give up evenings to run Alpha groups, do marriage counselling for free and pray for the sick. They help troubled young people furnish their first homes and they preach to small congregations with loving preparation and excellence.  They raise families and they serve their communities and churches without recognition.

And these stories are multiplied throughout the world where Christians are building hospitals and schools, campaigning to end slavery or equipping young offenders to lead successful and happy lives.  These Christians don’t wait for governments to solve the problems; they get out there and work for solutions themselves with creativity and passion.

If I never fall away, it will be for two reasons; the grace of God and the amazing Christians I know.

Look around you this Sunday and see the faithfulness service of others.  Be generous with your encouragement and miserly with your criticism.  Pray for your leaders, thank those who serve your kids and have your worship leader over for dinner.

Then read about the persecuted church, if you dare.  Pray or give or write a letter to one of these saints.  These are our brothers and sisters, our family.  They will be never be asked to speak at a conference or write a book and yet their faith is inspirational.  They face things we cannot imagine and they need our love and support to carry on.

And decide that whatever else happens, you will be a person marked by faithfulness.  Pray if you said you would; be there when you are needed.  Don’t even think about missing church because someone needs you this Sunday.  Be the one who happily chips in and helps out.  In a world of fragile commitments, decide to be utterly dependable.

If you have questions, ask them; if you have doubts, work them through.  Seek out godly mentors, read good books, worship, pray.  Get truth in God’s Word.  And then when it makes sense again, get back in the saddle and serve this broken world with everything you have.  

Be faithful because He is faithful.  Stay true and strong and finish the race with beautiful joy.

‘No life can surpass that of a man who quietly continues to serve God in the place where providence has placed him.’- Charles Spurgeon

 

 

Masterpieces

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Ephesians 2.10 says, ‘For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things that He has planned for us long ago.’  (NLT)

It is said that the painter, Monet, was travelling on a train when he saw the beautiful French village of Giverny.  He was so taken with it that he rented a cottage just so he could paint the scene.

C S Lewis’ famous wardrobe into Narnia is thought to have been inspired by a heavy, ornate wooden door that he used to walk past in Oxford.  The door was covered in carvings, including one in the centre that was of a lion.

Paul and I recently went to an amazing exhibition of glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly.  These mesmerizing and breathtaking works of art were inspired by plants and animals, fire, water and even bubbles.

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DSC_1716The creative process is so interesting, isn’t it?

For me, it usually starts with a thought.  Sometimes that thought is sparked by something I hear someone else say or from something I have read.  Often it will be a situation that I experience and I think, ‘I need to write about that.’

Creativity starts with inspiration.

Have you ever thought that God was inspired when he created you?

Just read Psalm 139. 16-18.  And then believe it about yourself.

Before you were made, before you were knitted together, the Bible says that God planned your days.  He had a thought, an idea about how the world needed a person just like you.  And then, motivated and inspired by the works He had designed for you to accomplish, He oversaw your creation.

There is nothing random about your existence.  You were a thought that became a soul.  Your soul is unique and so is your story.  It has not been and will never be replicated anywhere else on the planet, at any time in history.

And it is with your uniqueness that you most glorify the artist who created you.  You have His stamp, His signature.  You are His masterpiece, His original artwork, a valuable and precious part of His portfolio.

And He has a destiny for you to walk in that will bring glory to Him and good to the world.  

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Don’t waste a second comparing yourself to anyone else.  Don’t hide.  Don’t wish you were someone else with a different story.  And don’t doubt your beauty.  You are a masterpiece of the Divine artist.

But do let Jesus mould your character.  Let Him knock the edges off, like facets in a diamond.  He is the potter and you are His clay.  If life has hurt you, let Him heal and make you whole.  You are in the hands of the master restorer and He knows what He is doing.

Let your Creator make you more like Himself and in doing so, make you feel more like yourself than you ever have.  

In Him, we find the joy of our uniqueness, the satisfaction of His Divine purposes for us and the Shalom peace that comes from total surrender to the one who made us.

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Finding Selah

There is a beautiful word that occurs 71 times in the Psalms.  It is the word, ‘Selah’.

The Amplified Bible translates this word as to pause calmly and think of that. Other commentators define ‘Selah’ as to pause and praise. It may have been a Philistine word originally that denoted a musical solo or derived from a Hebrew word that means a division or breaks in the music.

When Selah appears in the Psalm, it is making room for a break,  an interlude, a pause that gives an opportunity for thought and consideration of the great truths that are being sung about or read.

And it is something I need more of.

Last weekend I headed off for a spiritual retreat with two of my dearest girlfriends.  We drove for the morning, ending up on top of a hill near the coast of Wales.  The retreat centre was beautiful with traditional grey stone buildings and carefully landscaped grounds with overflowing baskets of summer flowers.  It was a little piece of heaven.

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When we arrived we signed in and headed off to the whitewashed Chapel, our arms full of Bibles, notebooks and expectation.

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Inside there was an undeniable sense of a place that has been soaked in prayer.  The stillness and peace struck me immediately and my heart soared with the anticipation of meeting with God.

But there was a problem.

You see although the atmosphere around me was still, I was not.  And this proved to make ‘retreating’ quite hard work.  Like a naughty puppy, my busy mind did not want to cooperate.  It ran rings around my quiet time, distracting me with thoughts about lunch or the noisy page-turning of Bibles across from me.

Pausing is clearly a skill I need to work on.

And so I did.  And by the next afternoon, I was beginning to win the battle with my wandering thoughts.  And the spoils of that little victory were very rich indeed.

I walked in the summer sunshine to a large wooden cross on the grounds and I felt God’s grace to lay down my fears and to leave them there.  I read my Bible in the sunshine, highlighting passages that spoke so beautifully into challenges I am facing and I thanked Him for every blessing I could think of.  I hiked to the highest point, a meadow up above the stone Chapel, and I declared God’s goodness over things I didn’t understand as I looked down over the lush Welsh valley with every shade of green you can imagine.  I sensed God’s still small voice.  And when I prayed I knew I was heard.

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And I came away from the weekend free, light and full of faith.

But I also came away with one niggling, uncomfortable thought.

How often do I miss out on hearing God because I just can’t be quiet enough, for long enough?

I am afraid of the answer.

You see, I am designed to pause.  

God created day and night so that within every 24 hours of our lives there would be a natural cycle, a reset, a fresh start.

Then, He modelled for us the weekly cycle that encompasses Sabbath rest.  This is not legalism, but our Good Shepherd leading us to green pastures of refreshment within our busy lives.  And we are not designed to go more than seven days without it.

And God also gave His people regular feasts and holidays.  These were opportunities for pausing, remembering, commemorating and celebrating.  They were chances to gather as a community around shared values and history and to pause normal domestic life regularly throughout the year for spiritual and physical refreshment.

I need pauses in my life.

I have been created that way.

I need stillness and space in my day.  I need time when I am unplugged from the endless, mesmerizing stream of information and entertainment that I struggle to control. I have to be brave enough to put technology in its place or it will continue to quietly steal from me.  In modern life, a quiet soul will not happen without a fight.

And, I need church every week.  This pause is nothing less than a God-ordained command for my good.  A Sunday Selah is my weekly reminder that I serve a God who deserves my full attention, not just the dregs of my busyness.  It is an opportunity to think about others, to serve and love them and to remember that I am part of a family.  And it is my weekly reminder of what is true and what really matters as I consciously turn down the volume of my internal noise and lean into God’s voice instead.

And finally, I need more celebration in my life. I need times to be with family and friends as we leave behind mundane life to remember what ties us together. I need Christmas Carol services and Easter hymns and communion wine.  I need summer festivals with lively worship and I need quiet weekends at prayer retreats where stillness is the goal.  I need family gatherings where Christ is the centre and testimonies of His goodness are on our lips.  And, I need church get-togethers where I laugh with brothers and sisters as we serve each other and share the Good news to those who haven’t heard.

I need a whole lot of Selah.

I need it after long, difficult Tuesdays and after wonderful, fun Fridays, after bad news and after good news, after victories and defeats.

I need it every Sunday when the weekend is waining and the new week is looming.  I need that weekly exchange of leaving behind the burdens of the last seven days and picking up God’s grace for the next seven.

I need Selah when I am disappointed or elated, or everything in-between.

Because I need God.

And He is found in pauses.

And it is hard work but it is worth it and the spoils of that victory are rich indeed.

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Lingering Legacy

 

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There is something deep inside human beings that wants to leave something of importance behind after we are gone.

This innate desire has inspired architects and musicians, artists and scientists to create, invent and discover.  Museums and history books are filled with artistic, political, military and scientific legacies that still impact the world today.

My husband is an architectural technician who worked in the town of Windsor for the first years of his career.  I like to walk past the buildings that I know he did the drawings for and sometimes I feel a tinge of jealousy.  It is a wonderful accomplishment to have created something that stands for others to see and admire, something that will keep standing probably long after you are not.

But whether you are a world-famous artist whose creations are appreciated by millions or a stay-at-home mom whose accomplishments are less tangible, we all produce legacies.

We tend to think of legacy as what is left behind after death like keepsakes, photos, heirlooms or trust funds.  But even during our life, we leave things behind all the time.  We just aren’t always aware of it.

Every time I open my mouth, I leave a kind of legacy.  The words I speak are sometimes remembered long after they have been spoken. Words have the power to build up or tear down.  They can restore hope or dash it.  With just a sentence I can encourage a friend to believe again for a miracle or lift the spirits of a tired leader.  Words can reassure someone who is feeling left out and make them feel like they belong.  Or words can cut someone’s legs right out from under them.

And either way, I am leaving a legacy.

I can be known as a woman who thinks the best of people or one who likes to assassinate characters over coffee.  I can build a reputation as someone who welcomes and includes newcomers or as someone who always plays it safe and sticks with my usual gang.

I can give this world one more professional griper, always critiquing others as part of my Sunday lunch, or I can extend gratefulness, grace and understanding of which there is a great shortage.

When I was a little girl I used to visit my grandparents on the East Coast every summer.    I can still remember watching my grandmother get ready to go out for dinner, choosing clothes and jewellery and scent.  She was a quirky lady and loved men’s cologne and the woody, musky scent would linger long after she left the room.

You and I have an essence, a fragrance, and we bring it with us wherever we go, whether we are aware of it or not.  It is who we are and it lingers after we leave a room.

 It is how people are left feeling after they have spent time with us. 

And it is totally within our power to choose what this fragrance is. We choose what we are known for.  We choose our legacy by how we spend our time and energy and how we treat the people in our lives.

We decide each and every day whether we are loyal or flaky, kind or brittle, empathetic or cold, forgiving or offended.  We will be known by our character and our character is being formed by each and every decision and reaction we have.

Let’s decide today that we will choose a legacy that is worthy of the King we follow.

And let’s determine that every time we leave a room, we will leave behind the essence of Jesus and nothing less.

 ‘The memory of the man or woman who is righteous is a legacy to the world.  The name of the wicked just decays.’  Proverbs 10.7

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Heavenly nostalgia

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Last weekend our family snatched a few precious days away.  It was the only time we could all get away together over the summer so we headed to the South coast of England near Chichester.

West Wittering beach is very special to our family.  It is isn’t the most beautiful beach in the world but it is very dear to us.  It was not only the location of my husbands family holidays growing up, but it also became our family’s go-to destination for last-minute beach trips, usually on the final Bank Holiday in August, to say goodbye to summer.

And this is a poignant summer for us, squeezed in between weddings and October changes that will leave our boy’s bedrooms empty again. So, we booked a weekend in a caravan, packed our towels and suncream and headed for the beach.

And I never even considered that it would be so emotional.

As my long-legged young adults vacated the cars, I suddenly remembered them as excited young children, their arms full of buckets and spades and nets to catch crabs.  We would arrive at the coast early enough to find the perfect spot to lay out our towels near the rock pools that my children loved. These mini sealife centres would entertain them for hours. All sorts of critters were collected and kept in buckets, as beach pets for the day, only to be released as the sun sank low in the sky and thoughts turned to dinner.

The memories of those happy days are vivid and bittersweet.  They make me cry and smile at the same time.

It is the human condition we call nostalgia.

And all of us suffer from it from time to time.  It is a combination of a kind of warm remembering and a bittersweet longing for happy times in the past.  It is the feeling you get when a song from your youth comes on the radio or you eat your favourite childhood candy.  It can be triggered by a particular smell, an old photograph or revisiting a place you once lived.  It is sometimes described as, ‘looking back with joy.’

When scientists first identified this mental state, they believed it to be a wholly negative condition, an illness that needed to be cured.  Remembering and longing for the past was considered unhealthy and dangerous.

However, as time has gone by and more scientific studies have been done we have discovered how important nostalgia is to our well-being.  We now know that reminiscing is comforting and it can relieve stress and anxiety.  It also reduces feelings of loneliness and makes us feel connected.  And, it can increase our sense of gratitude and make us less selfish.

Familiar music stirs memories in dementia patients and reaches them in a way that no other type of communication can.

And nostalgia can actually make us more optimistic about the future, more inspired and more creative.

The word, nostalgia, comes from two Greek words meaning returning home and pain.  It is that deep longing for home, for the familiar, for your family, your tribe.  It is a yearning for the past, homesickness for where you come from.

In Ecclesiastes 3.11, King Solomon says that God has set eternity in human hearts.  We are created with a spiritual memory, an innate nostalgia for a home we have never seen.  And this produces a forward-looking joy, a reminiscing about what is to come.  

It reminds us every day who we are and where we belong.  It can blow away anxiety and fear and fill our hearts with overflowing gratitude.

Maybe your life is really great today, the sun is shining and all is right with the world.  Be grateful but remember that it is only a shadow of perfection to come.  As CS Lewis said, ‘there are better things ahead than any we leave behind.’  

Or maybe life is hard and disappointing.  It is okay to be homesick for a place you have never been to.  Let the reality of your eternal home comfort you and bring you peace.

Either way, let Kingdom nostalgia fill you up with optimism, Divine inspiration and endless creativity to live life well.

In every beautiful moment of celebration, in every disappointment or loss, let eternity continually remind you of its existence.  This is not all there is.

There is a place where we belong.

Look forward in joy.

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Trusting goodness, seeing good

 

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Jeremiah chapter 17 describes two kinds of people.

In verses 7-8, we have a beautiful picture of a person who has encountered the goodness of God.  They have experienced His unconditional love for themselves and they have responded to it with trust and faith in His character.  The result is fruitfulness, strength and vitality.  Their lives are established and abundant.

Then, in verses 5-6 we see a person who struggles to trust.  They just can’t lay down a lifetime’s habit of self-reliance.  So, they put all their hope in their own decision-making and hard work, rather than in God’s care for them.

And verse 6 says that the person who cannot trust, cannot see when good comes.’ (KJV)

It is hard to imagine how that happens. How is it possible to not recognize something that is good?  What causes this kind of spiritual blindness that distorts our perspective?

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story about a wayward son.  He has a loving and generous father but he doesn’t see it that way.  He only sees restrictions and rules, unwanted responsibility and expectations.

He wants to live life his own way now and he doesn’t want to wait around for dad to kick the bucket.  So, he asks for all his inheritance.  His father reluctantly agrees, and the son leaves home with pockets full of his trust fund.

But fast living is expensive and soon he finds himself sitting in a pig pen, the money squandered.  At that moment, the penny drops and the son realizes what he has left behind.

And, all at once he is able to see what is good for him and what is not

And he heads home.

You see, in order to see good, we have to see God as He is.  We have to know Him as our father and be assured that we are safe in his care. Then we can be confident that His plan for us is good and we can stop trying to work everything out for ourselves. Knowing God’s character helps us to trust His will as well as His timing.  We will have the courage to hold out for God’s best, whatever the cost.

If we don’t know Him well, this will be a tall order.  If we aren’t sure God is trustworthy, we can fall back into old patterns of independence and miss out on His supernatural answers, provisions and blessings.

Because the truth is that some things that are really good, don’t immediately look good at all.  And some things that do look good are not God’s best in the long run.  Situations that you are tempted to escape from can be a provision in disguise.  And sometimes what you think is God’s provisions is actually a counterfeit.

So being able to see good is imperative if we are going to live life well.

The key is trust.  It opens our eyes to what is good and what is from God.

We are not spiritual orphans.  We have a good Father who created us and loves us.  He is working all things for good in our lives.  We can, without exception, trust His leading and direction, even when it doesn’t make sense.

There is a place of abundant life and spiritual growth and it is called Trust.  It is the place we run to when the penny drops and we remember how good God really is.  It is the place we return to after stubborn wanderings and pig pen epiphanies.

It is where we find our Father waiting for us.

It is home and it is good.

 

 

Wedding invitations

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I read today about Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding of Cana.  And as I read I imagined the scene of this unexpected unveiling of the miraculous.

Bible scholars talk about the importance of first mentions.  It is a rule that says that when something appears in the Bible for the first time it is significant.

And the wedding at Cana is a significant miracle for sure.

Turning water into wine was a miracle full of symbolism and a Jewish wedding was the perfect backdrop.  Jesus was using this moment to announce that there was a new way, a more perfect way to come to God.  This new way would bypass middlemen and temple sacrifices and lead us straight into grace.

I love weddings.  I love everything about them.  I love the poignancy and the fuss and the beauty.  There is just something so special about getting all fancy and spending the day with people you love to celebrate a new marriage together.

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In truth, Jesus could have done a wine miracle or sermon almost anywhere. But He chose a wedding.

I like to imagine Him celebrating, laughing, eating and dancing.  Jesus was a local Galilee boy and this was His community, His friends and family.  Everyone was there.  It was a meaningful milestone, part of the social fabric of people’s lives.

And I can feel the embarrassment of the host when the wine ran out.

But there was good news.  Jesus was there.

He wasn’t off in some monastery on a mountain.  He was invited to the party and He came. And because He was there, the miracle was possible.

Long before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be called, ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us.’

God’s plan of salvation was never going to be just set in motion from a distant seat in heaven.  The plan was always about a near Saviour, a God who is with us.

God came to us so the miracle was possible.

And He is still here by His Spirit.

The salvation that Jesus came to bring is for now, today, in the midst of mundane routine or beautiful celebrations and everything in-between.

If we keep Jesus for Sundays, we are missing out. God is not bored by the ordinary and the earthly.  He happily accepts the invitation to join us in whatever we are doing, whether that is a wedding or washing up.

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In Psalm 46.1, David describes God as our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Another way to say that would be that God is our  ‘help at hand.‘  He is near, available, present, on call.

And because He is here with you, a miracle is possible.

So, don’t be tempted to limit God to religious activities or to save Him for emergencies.

This God of new covenants and best-saved-for-last miracles is here with you right now.  He is interested in your life.  You are precious to Him.  So, invite Him.

And He will join your celebrations, your milestones, your loss and your grief.  He is just as comfortable in your Monday morning ‘blahs’ as He is in your Sunday morning best.  Empty pots don’t worry Him.  Disappointments and doubts are safe in His hands.  There is no need for pretence so don’t waste the time.  Be real.  Ask Him for what you need.

He is God and He is near.  You are loved and the miracle is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I have learned from starting a blog at age 49.

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I have been blogging for over a year now.  It has been scary and challenging and a lot of fun.  And after sixty entries, I have learned a thing or two.

First of all, I have learned that is good to try something new.  Stepping out of my comfort zone has stretched me and caused me to rely on Jesus in new ways.  Because I  can’t really live out my God-given destiny and not take risks, however unnatural that is for my personality.  The parable of the talents (Matthew chapter 25) teaches me that the treasure I am given is not supposed to be buried for safe keeping.  Only investments, even risky ones, yield the returns that will please my Creator.  It just isn’t possible to be full of faith and overly cautious as well.

When I was a little girl, I tried a lot of after-school activities.  My poor mom would buy me all the required gear – ice skates and cute skating dresses,  colourful gymnastic leotards, horse riding boots, etc.  And every time, after a few weeks, I would quit.  And it was always for the same reason.  I quit because there were girls much better than I was and so I lost interest in trying.  If I couldn’t be the best, really quickly, I didn’t want to bother at all.

But the problem is, there is always someone better.  There are writers I love whose command of the English language makes me want to cry.  There are books I have read that are written so beautifully they are like works of art.  It would be easy to compare myself and give up.  But what I have realized over the last year is that there is great satisfaction in trying, learning and growing. It is okay, even enjoyable, to be a beginner at something that you love.  And, it is a whole lot better than not trying at all.

And I have also discovered that the aspects of God’s character that I can learn about, think about and write about are endless.  When I first started this project I had a backlog of writing that had filled journal pages for years.  I was worried that once I had used those ideas I might run out of things to write about.  How silly!  Every time I open the Bible there is something new to see.  Every time I take the time to really think about a passage of scripture I am rewarded with a fresh revelation of God’s beauty.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  As a Sunday school teacher, I have taught most Bible stories several times.  I have a pretty good grasp on basic Christian doctrine and theology.  And yet I am only just scratching the surface of who God is.  He is so above-all, so multi-faceted that I could study His character for my whole life and there still be more to know and experience and love.

Any time we are tempted to think we have heard it all, we are in danger of missing out.    Being a careful follower of Jesus means being a life-long learner.  It means having the humility to know that I don’t know it all and the spiritual hunger to keep digging.

Finally, I have learned that I have something to say.  And so do you.  The Bible calls it the word of our testimony.  It is the things that we know are true because we have experienced them.  It is the lessons learned in dark places and the character formed in adversity.  And our testimony is valuable.  It is our personal, ever-evolving story of His goodness to us.

And, someone needs to hear it.

Our story can be shared with a hurting friend over coffee.  It can be sung or painted or blogged.  It can fill a book or a sermon or a conversation over the fence.  But know this, it will be good news to someone who really needs good news.

Don’t be afraid.

It doesn’t need to be perfectly articulated, just sincere and true.  Nobody can tell your story, only you.

So, take a risk.  Step out in what you know God is calling you to do.  Don’t be afraid to be a beginner.  Start.  Learn.  Develop.  Grow. 

Keep learning about who God is.  Keep digging and seeking and getting to know Him.  Read and listen.  Pray and wait.  Open your heart to His Spirit and open your life to His voice.    

And don’t be afraid to tell your imperfect, unfinished story.  Someone is waiting to hear it.  It is beautiful and it is yours and it can change the world.

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Only essentials

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‘You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.’ 
― John Maxwell

I recently read a book that my brother recommended called, ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown and it has been nothing short of life-changing.

It is not a spiritual book, but a practical one about rethinking our priorities and what we spend our time, energy and money on.  It is about making sure that we are focused on what is most important and allowing other demands to drop lower down our to-do list.  Or even to drop off the list altogether.

If there was ever a time in history when we need the ability to sift out the non-essential so we can focus on the essential, it is now with all the distractions that 2019 has to offer.

In Matthew chapter 22.37-40, Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment.  So, the Son of God takes the law, every commandment and detailed moral requirement in the Torah, and He distils it down to just two.

Love God.  Love people.

These are simple words but they are not easy ones.  Because, like the rich, young ruler found out, our time and resources are finite and it is so tempting to spend them on earthly trinkets, leaving no budget for eternal treasures.

Living a life of essentialism means believing that we have choices to make every single day if we are going to invest in what matters.  It means knowing that we cannot have everything.  It means resisting the urge to spread ourselves thinly so we can excel at a few important things instead.

I read the Sermon on the Mount today.  These verses are rich and challenging.  They paint a beautiful picture of following God, loving what He loves and putting value on what He values.  As I read the passage this afternoon, I felt the Holy Spirit recalibrate my heart; like a spiritual compass helping me to point north again.

Because, if we want to live life well, there really are priorities. 

Inspired by the passage in Matthew 5-7,  I have written a few things that I want to be intentional about over the coming months.  Maybe they will help you to think about your own life and what is essential to you.

The person that I am becoming greatly matters to God so I will let Him work on me.

I am here for a reason so I will be a light, somehow, every single day.

Unforgiveness comes between me and God so I will refuse to entertain it.

Some things matter in eternity but most do not.  I determine to live like I believe that.

I can only have one boss so I will make sure it is God.

There isn’t enough time in the day for both powerful prayer and compulsive worry so I will choose prayer, whether I feel like it or not.

It is the easiest thing in the world to know about what the Bible says but never obey it.  I have decided that won’t be my story.  

Not everyone who thinks that they know God actually does.  If I do nothing else, I will make sure I know God.

Take some time this week to think about what is really essential to you.  Write your values down and put them somewhere where you will see them.  Ask for grace to rearrange life so what really matters takes its rightful place in your schedule.  Be brave.  Let some things go.  Worship God with how you spend your time.

Dare to live like you believe everything that God has said is true and that nothing matters more than being part of what He is doing.

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(these pictures are from the place in Northern Israel where it is believed Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poured out, filled up

Image result for little red hen book

I don’t know about you, but I have to remind myself regularly that God’s way of thinking and mine are quite often at odds with each other.

That’s why Jesus had to tell so many parables.  He was describing a culture that his disciples had never heard of and were struggling to understand.  Most of the time they still didn’t get it.

Quite often I miss it too.

Many years ago, I was sitting in bed with my young children, reading them the story of the Little Red Hen.  I assume you are familiar with this children’s fable, but if not, here is a summary.

The Little Red Hen, who lives in a farmyard, fancies some nice freshly baked bread.  So she asks her farmyard friends to help her go harvest some wheat for the flour.  One by one, the pig and the duck, the rat and the cat, all say no.  They are basically lazy and can’t be bothered.  So she goes and harvests the wheat herself.

Then she asks for help to thresh the wheat.  Again her short-sighted mates decline.  So, she does it herself.  The same thing happens with milling the flour and baking the bread.

Soon a beautifully baked loaf emerges from the oven all golden brown and the smell wafts its way around the farmyard.  Of course, her predictable friends all come running, hoping for a slice.  At this point, the Little Red Hen gets her moment.  ‘Oh no!’ she exclaims, ‘you didn’t help me harvest the wheat or thresh it or mill it or bake the bread so you don’t get to help me eat it’.  And she promptly tucks into the freshly baked treat to enjoy it all by herself.

I can still remember the pleasure that I felt as I was reading this to my kids, snuggled together in bed.  ‘Oh I love this story’ I thought to myself.  ‘ I love that clever, hard-working hen.  She’s so responsible, so independent, so gutsy. ‘

I guess I related to her.

I’m a first-born, responsible type of gal.  I play by the rules and I work hard.  As I sat there with my kids under the duvet, in the middle of a life that was too busy and church responsibility that felt unappreciated, I comforted myself with the thought of blessings that would compensate me.  I salivated at the thought of these golden baked rewards that I had earned, special rewards just for me.

But I had it a little twisted.

Because there is absolutely no place in God’s Kingdom for entitlement, only gratitude. 

And, the blessings that come from obedience are for sharing.

Every good thing I do or have comes only from Jesus.  I cannot even worship Him without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  I can’t be a good wife or mom on my own.  I cannot serve Him, love Him or love others without His grace on my life.

And gratitude is so incredibly powerful.  It kills ego and it grows into selfless generosity.

If I really believe that every good thing I have is from God, I will be happy to share it.  I will never expect special treatment or privileges.  I won’t keep track of the things I have done for God, expecting my equally large slice of reward. 

I will be blessed and filled-up in order to pour out.

I will feel able to give out encouragement and love and acceptance because I know there are endless reserves of them all in Jesus when I am in need.  I will be open-handed with my time and my friendship, not waiting for proof that someone is worthy of them.

And there is such freedom in this kind of generosity.  I am free to stop thinking about myself and worrying about my needs.  I am free to love and give extravagantly and to let others shine. I am free to keep giving without any thought to stocktaking.

Because this Kingdom has a King and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

He modelled this topsy-turvy Kingdom living when He left behind privilege and made Himself nothing.  He was rejected by His own creation and betrayed by friends.  He healed and performed miracles that were met with antagonism and unbelief.  He was alone when in obedience He went to the cross and was crucified.

And after all of this, He was raised to life and received His reward, the keys of life and death, which He freely shares with His beloved humanity, without reservation.

There is no place in this Kingdom for Little Red Hens.

It is a Kingdom of gratefulness and generosity where egos die and freshly baked gifts are sliced and shared and all blessings become worship.

Take time to be thankful today.  Find someone to share your blessings with.  Find someone to share yourself with.  Be generous with your words at every opportunity.  Joyfully live the upside-down, kingdom life.  Fill up and pour out.  Smile at a grumpy person.  Forgive someone who hasn’t even noticed they have hurt you.  Share something you earned with someone undeserving.

Let gratitude for God’s overwhelming, unmerited grace colour everything you do and say so that all who cross your path will know, without a doubt, what kingdom you belong to.