Beautiful good

DSC_1468

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.  

DSC_0449.JPG

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.

DSC_0455

 

 

 

A designer Christmas

DSC_0112

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.  

DSC_0038

 

 

DSC_0141

 

DSC_0250

 

DSC_0097

DSC_0055

Strength from truth

IMG_20160503_071644053

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

DSC_0290

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

DSC_0507

‘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

DSC_0035

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.

smokey the bear

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.

DSC_1237

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

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

MVIMG_20190309_151626021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

DSC_0294

DSC_0295

DSC_0297

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. 

 

DSC_0024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating faithfulness

DSC_0021

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 when you say you will; 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