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 practiced 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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Priceless possession

valuable painting

One afternoon in late summer, a soon-to-be university student was packing her things for the new adventure ahead. Alongside her clothing and books, there was a framed picture she had recently inherited from her grandmother that had sentimental value. It depicted a scene of Native Americans on horses in the mountains of the American west and it had hung above her grandmother’s bed for decades.

As this student was placing the picture in a box, she noticed that a mosquito had found its way under the glass so she opened up the frame to clean it. As she lifted up the glass she realized that what she had thought was just a framed print was actually an original painting.

And it was no ordinary painting. Experts on the Antique Roadshow declared it to be the work of a French painter, Henry Francois Farny. This quaint family heirloom was actually worth around $300,000!

Sometimes we have something in our possession and yet have no idea of its value. It may be hanging on the wall or sitting in a drawer or boxed away in the loft. And because we are ignorant of its value, we aren’t particularly careful with it. It can get knocked around, chipped and tarnished as we treat it like it is ordinary and replaceable.

In Proverbs 4.23, we are told that the condition of our own hearts matters more than anything in our possession. Our hearts, the seats of our thoughts, decisions and emotions, are priceless to God. They determine what kind of person we are and where we are going next. We can read tons of great books and listen to powerful speakers but it is the state of our hearts that really affects the direction of our lives.  

And the Bible has a lot to say about my heart.

It tells me that my heart is the soil in which everything is planted. God speaks truth to me; He gives me abilities and callings.  They are perfect gifts from Him but they need good soil to flourish. And my heart is specially created by God to be that good soil.  It just takes some gardening; that’s my part of the deal. If I value what God has entrusted me with I will be careful where I plant it.

The Bible also says that hearing Gods voice and knowing His will for my life can be tricky. It takes a kind of sincerity and sensitivity that can easily spoil. If I value hearing from God I will weed out pride and unbelief, knowing that humility gets God’s attention.

And the Bible tells me that I have to be intentional about whole-hearted love. It is so easy to be content with far less and then little-love becomes cold love. Hearts tend to expand for the things we care for and shrink for the things we neglect.  A heart of love is the result of good investments of time and energy in what matters.

And Bible is clear that my response to those who have hurt or disappointed me really matters. Because unforgiveness is nothing less than captivity for my soul. It kidnaps my joy and freedom and puts a cap on my sensitivity to God’s leading. If I can’t extend forgiveness, I  probably haven’t experienced it fully myself and that gap in my spiritual life is a dangerous one.

You see, my heart has the ability to lead me to God’s deepest desires for my life. 

Or it can lie to me. 

It can be good soil or cement  It can be sensitive to God’s Spirit or it can be dull and hard.  It just depends.

But my heart is a gift from God.

It is the place where He can impart supernatural vision and passion.

It is the place where Godly dreams are imagined and where His still small voice is heard.

It is the place where I can stir up faith; it is where I can forgive and decide to follow.

Value your heart because everything important starts there. Be careful what you plant. Make space for the whisper of God. Believe that no fear or doubt, hurt or disappointment that you find there is beyond His loving reach.

And be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus, the creator and lover of your soul.

 

‘So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are.
Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.’  Proverbs 4.23 (Passion translation)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing for uni

Well, here we go again.

Summer is fading away like the flowers in my garden.  The nights are drawing in and the mornings are full of that exciting, back-to-school chill.  The exam results finally arrived and my youngest is excitedly preparing for his next adventure.

And so once again the dining room is a collection point for items on the university list.  I have gathered together frying pans and towels and cleaning wipes and bottles of vitamin C to compensate for the inevitable junk-food binging.

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And now I feel some last-minute panic as I try to cram in important information like the recipe for my chilli or how to avoid catching fresher flu (the key is to regularly wipe door handles with anti-bacterial wipes).

But I needn’t sweat the small stuff really.  Yes, my son will shrink some sweaters and burn dinners in the first term.   He’ll probably put off doing wash until he has no clean underwear or socks.  He will stay up too late and flunk a test or two, lose important items and spend way too much money on pizza.  But these are minor life lessons, nothing to worry about really.

It’s the bigger stuff that matters.

And the big stuff isn’t really crammable.  These are the things that have to be modelled.  They have to be taught life-to-life, little by little, during dinner conversations and family vacations and school runs.  I can’t just put them on a tick-list or tuck them in his suitcase.

So with my son’s permission, here are the things that I hope he has started to learn but that I want him to keep in mind as he sets out into the foothills of adulthood.  These are the things that really matter.

In a world that highly values image, be the one with character.  Character is a hard-won and often neglected quality and yet it determines so much of the kind of life you will live.  People who keep their word, follow through with commitments and stand up for what is right are hard to find.  Faithfulness doesn’t sell magazines but it will make you a successful spouse and friend.  So do the right thing even when it is hard or costly or unpopular.  Be honest about your failures and aware of your shortcomings.  Decide that before popularity, success or status; goodness is what you will strive for. 

And live generously.  Be generous with your money and your words and your time.  Remember birthdays. Be the first to say sorry and the last to complain.  Think the best of people.  Give second chances even when you have been let down. Treat others kindly when no one is looking.  Tip well.  Include outsiders; notice the lonely.   If help is needed, volunteer. Share what you have.  In every situation that you find yourself, be the solution, not the problem.

And then be brave enough to face your ‘stuff’.  Don’t blame other people when you misbehave; take responsibility and make it right.  Acknowledge your mistakes.  Recognize patterns of behaviour that are destructive and then prayerfully take them to Jesus.  Never, ever be afraid to ask for help or advice or counselling or prayer.   Do whatever it takes to be the best version of yourself. 

And finally, treat your faith like it is the most valuable thing you have.  Don’t ever neglect it or take it for granted.  Work through any questions and doubts.  Hang out with people who love God more than you do.  Decide that being at church on Sunday is non-negotiable; you need your church family and they need you.  Treat the Bible as a treasure.  Pray like God is really listening, because He is.  Don’t ever forget what Jesus has done for you and saved you from and who you would be without Him.

There are things that matter and things that really don’t.  Know which is which.  Know that you are loved by your family and by Jesus and that your life has value beyond exams and degrees and careers.  You are who God says you are, His precious child, and as you pack up for your new adventure that is the most important thing to take with you. 

 

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