Detours, disappointment and delays

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You’ve heard of twice-baked potatoes and triple-fried French fries, well this is a twice-written blog post.

Each week I set aside a day for writing and I am often working on several blog entries at once.  I work a little on each one and then try to plan the order in which to post them.

As I have meditated on Ephesians 5.15-17 and thought about how to make the most of every opportunity, it occurred to me just how often opportunities come wrapped in disappointments, detours or delays. 

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So, I’ve been working on this idea and developing thoughts and words to express it.

And then I had some bad news.

It quickly reminded me just how hard disappointment is and I knew I had to rewrite this post with the authenticity that real life handed me.

Defeat, failure and bad news can have tremendous power in our lives.  They have the ability to knock us sideways and derail our thoughts and emotions.

Proverbs 13.12 describes this feeling well when it says, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’

Every person knows what that kind of heartsickness feels like.  It is that awful pain in your soul that occurs when things that really matter haven’t turned out how you wanted them to.

I feel all those feelings today.  I feel defeated and discouraged and worn out.   And most of all,  I feel like giving up.

But I have been here before, as the pages of my journal remind me.  I have faced challenging circumstances that were hurtful and hard to understand and I have faced disappointments that were devastating. And every single time, without exception, I was able to eventually see God use it all for good in my life.

It is because I am so deeply loved by God that He intervenes and interferes and gets right in the middle of my business.

Because sometimes my good ideas need to be refined and sometimes my bad ideas need to just fizzle out. Sometimes dreams need to drift away because God has better, more perfect plans.  Other times dreams have to die so God can resurrect them in His timing and for His glory.  Sometimes the direction I am walking in needs a small tweak and sometimes it needs a complete U-turn.

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And sometimes I just need to grow roots deep down in God and only difficulties will do that for me.

It is interesting that Proverbs 13.12 says that after the disappointment, when God’s blessings come, the result is a tree of life.

I am wondering today if it is difficulties in my life that produce the roots needed to support times of blessing and growth in the future.   Perhaps it is only in waiting on God and trusting in Him that I am prepared for the increase and abundance that will come.

None of this means it doesn’t hurt.  It just means there is purpose in it.

There are things God is doing that you and I just can’t see yet.  I believe there are solutions and answers that will surprise us and there are new directions we couldn’t have imagined. And, in the midst of loss, when you least expect it, supernatural life can spring up.

And all the while we find ourselves falling deeper in love with God.  His words and His voice become all we want and all we need.  Our roots go deep and our hope is only in Him.

Today is an opportunity for me that is hidden in my disappointment.  I will not waste it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native-born

 

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I spent the day yesterday glued to all things Royal as I watched Harry and Meghan tie the knot.  While this eclectic, British/American wedding unfolded, I couldn’t help but think about nationality and culture.

I have now lived in the UK for over 30 years and in many ways, I feel quite British.  I understand their dry sense of humour now and know the affectionate place it comes from.  I have been completely infected by the British love of gardens and pubs and roast lunches.   I have even come to enjoy rainy day walks as long as I get the obligatory cup of tea afterwards.  I have learned to talk less and listen more and to drop everything when the sun is shining and enjoy it.

But whether I like it or not, my nationality always shows itself eventually.

I like tea, but I LIVE for coffee and I drink it out of a Cowgirl mug.  My laugh is way too loud and please do not take me to a restaurant that does not have a burger on the menu or we cannot be friends.

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I am way too optimistic to be passed off a local.  I hate English mustard and fish and chips.  And don’t take away my visa, but am pretty indifferent about nature programs.  Sorry.

Nachos still are, and always will be my love language.

That is because I am a native-born American and where I spent the first 17 years of my life still affects what I like and what I don’t.

In Ephesians 5.8, before Paul encourages us to live carefully, He explains why.

Because we are children of light, or as the Amplified version says, ‘native-born to the light.’

In the next verse, Paul tells us a life of light consists of every form of kindly-goodness, uprightness of heart, and trueness of life.  

As Christians, this is our culture and it should colour who we are.

In this harsh, critical, hateful world we show where we are from when we choose kindness.  This kindness will stop others in their gossiping tracks and it can change the atmosphere in our place of work and our homes.

Those of us native-born to light should be immediately uncomfortable with all hypocrisy and any kind of posturing or posing.  Instead, we can be known for our sincerity and integrity, both of which are in very short supply in 2018.

We shouldn’t be surprised if we have no taste for things that are tasteless or off-colour because we love what He loves and hate what He hates.

Our natural desire should always be for justice, mercy and humility, (Micah 6.8b).  Unforgiveness, vengeance, bitterness and pride should feel very uncomfortable to us.  Followers of Jesus love like He loves or they are not followers.

And, our natural habitat should always be with those in need, not the cool group

After 33 years in this country, I have to fight hard to keep my American identity.  That is because I want to fit in here. I want to understand others and to be understood.  But I have to be careful not to lose who I am.  It is the same with Kingdom culture.

We have to find a way to live here, love our neighbours, listen, understand and be involved.  But we cannot afford to lose who we are because it is our distinctiveness that makes us useful, not our blending in.

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Don’t be afraid to be different, to show where you come from and who you are.  Don’t be afraid to be the kind one, the generous one, the forgiving one.

Live the set-apart, laid-down life you are made for.

Stand up and stand out.  Stand alone if you have too.

Love the world you live in enough to change it.  

‘Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.’  Romans 12.2 The Message.

 

The miracle of margin

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If we are to live a careful life, the life described in Ephesians 5.15-17 that makes the most of every God-given opportunity, we will need margin.

Margin is space, leeway, a little extra.  It is good old elbow room.  It is leaving enough space in our minds, our schedules, our finances and our hearts for unexpected life events or God-opportunities.

And margin really is miraculous because when we leave space for God, He fills it.  

I love the story of the widow and Elisha in 2 Kings 4.  Here we see a dear woman who needs a miracle.  She really is in the most desperate situation. Elisha tells her to collect as many jars as she can. Then the miracle happens as oil fills every last jar to the brim and the widow has a resource she can now sell.

I often think of those jars.  The number of jars available really did determine the size of the miracle that day.  I think it is often the same in my life.  The space I make to hear God, meet with Him and serve Him determines the size of the miracle I can receive.

And yet, how often do I ask God to bless my fullness instead of asking Him to fill my emptiness?

Perhaps we have become uncomfortable with emptiness.  We are so used to noise and activity that quiet can make us uneasy.  Busyness is the badge we wear to prove we are valuable.  Multi-tasking is a way of life.  Our schedules are packed and our minds are busy.

But what if we decided to make some space?  What if we, in faith, put out some empty jars for God to fill?  Like wells dug before it rains, we could dig down into our lives and make room for God’s agenda.

What if we determined to not be over-extended in any area of our lives so that we have space for the unexpected?

Because margin is really availability.

If I have leeway in my schedule, my energy and my resources then I can respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If someone is hurting, I can be there.

If I am touched by a need, I can give.

If God is speaking, I can stop and listen.

And if God opens up an opportunity to me I will have the energy, time, inclination and resources to wisely make the most of it.

God wants to do so much more in and through you than you ever have imagined. He wants to speak and deliver and heal and restore.  He wants to extend His Kingdom in your life and the lives of those around you.

He just wants more space to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milestones and Altars

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I am in a thoughtful mood today and I should be.

I had another birthday recently and I turned 49.  You can never know what a year will hold and for me, the last twelve months held three unexpected funerals and my daughter’s engagement.  And for added poignancy, by turning 49 I have now outlived a parent.

I believe that one of the characteristics of the careful life we read about in Ephesians 5 is that it is a reflective life.  That is because some moments are more important than others.

In Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 it says, ‘It  is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting because that is where will all end up some day.’

This might seem a very strange thought.  I can think of quite a few things I would rather do than hang out at funerals!  But there is so much truth here.  Funerals remind us that life is very precious and short and if we allow them they will recalibrate our priorities.  The reality of death turns our eyes upward to things that are eternal and reminds us that so much of what we worry about really doesn’t matter in the long run.

Equally, milestones in our children’s lives are opportunities for gratefulness and appreciation.  The bittersweet feeling of marrying off your daughter or taking your child to school for the first time reminds us to enjoy each stage of parenting and not to wish it away.  It gives moms (and dads!) an opportunity to let go a little more and to move into the next season with a new level of trust in God.

In the Old Testament, we see how the children of Israel built altars to remind them of significant things God did for them.  We can do the same.  When something significant happens in our lives we can take the opportunity to reflect and learn.

Our model for this is in the Psalms where we see David pouring out his disappointment and hurt in the presence of  God.

Very often, within the next few verses, we see him move from despair to hope again as He is ministered to by God’s presence and God’s truth.

David shows us that we were never created to live in a state of confusion or bewilderment.  These times of struggle are meant to be temporary teachers.

When big events happen to us, whether happy or sad,  we can safely process them in His presence and in the light of the truth of His Word.

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Then we can somewhere, somehow build an altar.

The altars I build are pages of journals filled with pencil and pen scribbles that remind me of things I have learned in dark times and in bright, happy ones.  I record verses that have sustained me, words I receive from the Lord as well as my prayers and thoughts.  They are my own kind of Psalms as I have journeyed from despair to joy over and over again.

Think about ways that you can create altars of remembrance to God’s faithfulness.

If writing isn’t your thing, scrapbooks with sketches and verses or photographs with dates and thoughts added are both beautiful ways to remember desert manna.

 

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Bulletin boards, notebooks and artwork can all be ways to collect personal revelation before it blows away.

Living carefully means recognizing significant moments in our lives, seeing the lessons in them, recording God’s faithfulness and moving on in His grace.

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Don’t forget to remember

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Let’s be honest, we forget a lot.

Much of what we fail to retain is unimportant which is why our brain doesn’t file it away.  Last week’s grocery list, a recipe you only made once or a magazine article you causally glanced at in the doctor’s office are quickly discarded by our brains to make space for what you will need to remember today.

But some of what we forget is very important.  We listen to sermons, read passages of the Bible and hear God’s voice speaking to our hearts.  In order to really understand the things of God, we have to mull them over, chew on them and let the truths take root.  And if we are going to do that, we have to remember what we have heard and read in the first place

If you have not yet discovered how indispensable a journal or spiritual notebook is, consider trying it.

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In most other areas of life we know that if we don’t help ourselves to remember, we will forget.  That’s why we have diaries and to-do lists.  We put invitations on the fridge where we can see them and alarms on our phones so we don’t forget appointments.

But what about all the times we feel God speaking to us, encouraging us, challenging us through sermons, Bible reading and prayer?

How much of this precious, life-giving manna from heaven do we just allow to fall through the cracks of our busy lives?  Could it be that we are often spiritually hungry, dry and a bit lost because we haven’t treasured and digested God’s words to us?  Do we struggle to know God’s leading because we have forgotten the things He has said or things He has told us to do?

The solution is so simple, write it down.  

Record everything you receive from the Lord.  When a preacher says something that you know is for you, write it down.  When God impresses on you a way to pray about a situation or when a verse of scripture jumps out at you, jot it down somewhere where you will see it and be reminded.

This is called journaling.

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There are many ways to journal and everyone is different but here are a few ideas to get you started.

Start a spiritual notebook.  I learned this one from my parents who have filled notebooks over the years with God’s words to them.  These books sustained them when life and ministry got hard because they reminded them of God’s promises and His leading in their lives.

Just have a place that you write down any time you sense God speaking to you.  If you receive a prophetic word or someone gives you a verse, write it down.  Write down truths you discover during your daily Bible reading and prayer time. Be honest about your struggles and your victories too.  If you are confused about something, say so.  If you have questions, put them down.

If you love writing then you will really enjoy this process and will probably fill pages quickly but if writing isn’t your thing, bullet journals are for you.  When there is something important to record, just write the date and a sentence or two of explanation.

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Have a prayer journal.  This has changed my prayer life.  I started using one because I didn’t want to forget things that I needed to pray about but it has become so much more than that now.  I fill pages with really specific ways that I feel led to pray for situations and people.  If I come across a verse that applies, I write it down next to the person’s name so I can pray the verse over them regularly.  I also just recently began writing prayers down as a different way to pray.  It is really powerful and gets me out of the rut of always talking to God in the same way.

Have a notebook with you at church.  I keep one in my handbag but my husband has one tucked in his Bible.  This way you can write down anything from the service that you want to remember.  I often hear God speaking during worship as well as the sermon and if I don’t write it down it is forgotten by the time I’m driving home.  If someone has an encouragement for me or if I have one for someone else I can quickly scribble it down before I forget.  Also, I record if I have committed to pray for someone in the week.  I never want to be someone who offers to pray and then doesn’t.

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If things are precious to us, we keep them.  I have a box for each of my children up in the loft, full of schoolwork, art projects, first shoes and baby pictures.  These are extremely valuable to me and so I look after them.

Let’s look after everything God gives us.  Every rhema treasure from His Word, every encouragement and promise, every whisper of the Holy Spirit deserves to be kept, treasured, prayed about and acted upon.