Risky Kingdom Business

 

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I have never been a risk taker.

I like to play it very safe.  I have no desire to gamble with my money and extreme sports do not interest me in the slightest.  I did try a snowmobile once when I was 24 but honestly, I drove like a grandma on a mobility scooter.

I also went white water rafting when I was a teenager.  I can still remember how my life flashed before me with each tiny rapid on the relatively tame river.  Never again.

But, today God spoke to my heart.

As I opened my Bible this morning, underneath my quilt with a warm coffee in my hand, I read Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 with fresh eyes.  So often we need fresh eyes for familiar stories or we can overlook the depth of truth that goes beyond Children’s Bible pictures or Veggie Tales cartoons.

One of the servants in this story is also risk-averse.  He always plays it safe and hedges his bets.  And if you think that this cautious planning should be applauded, you are wrong.  The Master’s reaction is harsh.  There is no praise for this carefulness, only disappointment. It is an uncomfortable parable.

And it teaches an uncomfortable truth.  I cannot please God without taking risks.

I am so tempted to soften that sentence, to try and qualify it.  But I can’t.  The bible won’t let me.

Hebrews 11.6 says, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.’

You see, when I talk about risks I don’t mean bungee jumping or stock market trading. I mean obedient faith.  I mean doing what God says to do, despite the possible dangers.  I mean stepping out and stepping up, opening my mouth or opening my wallet.  I mean saying yes to God when it looks impossible or ridiculous or costly.  

In the parable, the servant who hides his talent does so out of fear that the Master isn’t a good man.  The writer of Hebrews makes a similar point.  In order to please God, we must believe that He exists but also that He is good and that He desires to reward His children.

You see, we will never dare to take risky faith-steps, to lay it all on the line if we aren’t utterly convinced of God’s power, but also His goodness.

And in the Kingdom of God, there is just no alternative. The keep-what-you-got and squirrel-it-away kind of life is not an option Jesus ever presents to His followers.

No, this Kingdom is more of a ‘throw-your-bread-on-the-water’, take-up-your-cross-and-follow-me, lose-your-life-to gain-it kind of following.

It is the kind of life that ‘wastes’ precious perfume on Jesus because everything we have is for His glory, not our own.  It is a Christianity that turns the world upside down and might land you in jail or in the lion’s den, but your worship will always have the victory.  It is a kind of living where the end is certain, but only uncertain faith-steps will get you there.

It is a faith that dares to try again and believe again, despite the fear of failure. It is a faith that steps out of the boat because those few moments with Jesus on the water are always worth it, even if we get wet.

It is a kind of spiritual walk that serves God with no self-consciousness or comparison and never worries about being perfect, just being obedient.

Read Hebrews 11 today if you dare.  Read those names.  Read how they lived and how they died.  Read how those men and women of God held nothing back.  There never considered contingency plans or risk assessments or insurance policies.

They left everything on the field.

Because they were Kingdom people and they served a King.  And that King once dared to leave the comfort of heaven for an audacious plan of redemption.  He chose love and obedience over self-preservation and safety.  He emptied Himself and He humbled Himself and He offered Himself to people who were free to say no.  This is the God we serve and follow.

And the only answer to a God like this is ‘yes’.

The only way to follow Him is wholehearted.

Because the only risk we have to worry about is wasting our lives on things that don’t matter.

And, the only truly safe way to live is to give Jesus everything and follow Him wherever He leads us.

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Am I enough?

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Up it popped on my social media again.  I’ve seen it before, it has done the rounds.  But it jumped out at me today and made me think.

‘You are enough’,  the beautifully calligraphed words told me.

And all at once I felt both comforted and uncomfortable.

Because I want to be enough.  I want to wake up in the morning, free to enjoy the day God has given me without the voice of perfectionism whispering in my ear.

I want to feel valuable whether I lose those twenty pounds or not.

I want to be at ease with myself, not always driven to compare with others who are more outgoing or more accomplished, less disorganized or less freckled.

And, I am desperate to be free of the insecurities that comparison breeds in my heart, stealing my joy one envious thought at a time.

I want to feel like I am okay.  I want to feel enough.

But there is another side to this coin.

One of my favourite verses in the Bible says ‘and He has said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’  1 Corinthians 12.9.

Paul found joy in knowing that he wasn’t enough.  He actually enjoyed showing off how un-enough he was!  And the reason?  Because that is where the power is.

The Bible tells us that there is a wonderful freedom in accepting my limitations.

And, it is a freedom that leads to power.  The Greek word used for power here is ‘dunamis’ which means a miracle-working power.  And it really is miraculous.  When God’s power meets my weakness, there is a miracle of multiplication every time.  What isn’t enough, becomes enough.  What is weak, becomes strong.  What is fearful becomes brave.  What is selfish becomes generous and kind.

And that’s really good news because the truth is that I am flawed.  I fight tendencies toward anxiety and fear on most days.  I can be overly sensitive and way too worried about what others think about me.  I procrastinate difficult tasks all the time.  I can be messy, overly excitable and easily discouraged.  I can be self-focused and I can be a coward.

So, am I enough?

The answer is in the gospel accounts of the New Testament.  Here we read about the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 where Jesus miraculously multiplies a little boy’s lunch to feed a crowd.

Was that lunch enough?

Well, it definitely wasn’t enough to feed thousands of people.  In fact, it was woefully inadequate.  No matter how thinly you sliced that bread and fish, it would have never have been sufficient, not even close.

But notice, Jesus isn’t disappointed with the size of the offering.  He didn’t tell the lad that he should have brought more lunch.  He just received the gift, took it in his hands, thanked God for it and multiplied it.  And a modest lunch filled every hungry mouth that was there that day.

Was that lunch enough?  In the hands of Jesus, it was.

So, maybe in His hands what I bring is enough too.

My God never berates me for small offerings if they are from a sincere and generous heart.  He isn’t disappointed with how much I bring to the table.  He doesn’t compare my contribution with others.  Instead, He lifts it to His Father and transforms my lack into His abundance.   

I am clay and I am dust but I am bought with a price.  I am a valued daughter, unique and precious to my dad.  I don’t need to be like anybody else. God takes great joy in who He created me to be and He takes full responsibility for finishing what He has started.

So, I have decided that it would be better to say this, ‘It is okay to not be enough in the hands of God who is enough.

It is not nearly as catchy I know, but it is infinitely truer and within its truth is freedom and miraculous, multiplying power for me today.

 

 

 

Don’t look for a formula, just dance

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Following Jesus is not a formula, although sometimes I wish it was.

The disciples did too.  One day, Jesus cast out a demon that they had not been able to deal with.  So, they took Jesus aside to ask Him why. They wanted to know where they had gone wrong.  What had they missed or failed to say or do?  They wanted Jesus to give them a failsafe plan, some sort of demon busters 101, a handy card in their pocket with infographics.

But this is not the Kingdom way.

It is no coincidence that the Bible so often uses seeds and plants to describe God’s Kingdom.  That is because the Kingdom is alive and growing.  Christian living looks much more like farming than computer programming.  It is organic and unpredictable and often a little messy.

Because following Jesus is about a relationship.  And to God, this is the priority.  He knows, in His loving and perfect wisdom, that quick answers and formulaic approaches only fight against real following.  So, He does things a different way.

It is called abiding.

It is a walking-in-the-Spirit type of travelling with Jesus that is living and personal.  It is a kind of walk that winds here and there, to-and-fro, where straight lines are rarely a feature.  You can’t bottle it or tame it.

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  This is not a hippy-dippy kind of faith,  a making-it-up-as we-go-along faith where we create God in our own image.  No, this is a faith based on truth, deep ancient truth that is revealed to us in God’s Word and through His Son.  It is a faith that values everything God values and honours everything He has said and done.

This is a principled, strong, courageous faith.

But it is not a formulaic one.

Because people and problems are complicated.  There are practical issues and deeply spiritual ones.  God has unique solutions for personal situations and His creativity is endless when it comes to leading and guiding us and answering our prayers.  He has different callings, blessings and challenges for individuals all well as churches, ministries and families.  So, don’t waste time comparing or copying.

Following Jesus isn’t a march.  It’s a dance.

As I think over the last year, with all the events, both planned and unexpected, the challenges and disappointments, joys and blessings, I am grateful for a God who has been close.  He has untangled messes and straightened out my thinking when it was crooked.  He has met deeply private, personal needs and has spoken life to my heart when it was broken.   When I have been completely out of ideas and energy and even hope He has given me His Divine wisdom and His joy as a free gift just because I asked Him for it.

He has led me, over the last year, in a joyous, unpredictable journey.  We have walked through restful green pastures and shadowy valleys.  And every day His truth has strengthened me, His presence has guided me and His words have sustained me.

Surely goodness and mercy will dance with me all the days of my life.

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What do you have?

 

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 (The western wall, the only remaining part of the Temple in Jerusalem.)

 

In Acts chapter 3, we read about the healing of the lame beggar.

Picture the scene with me.  It was three o’clock in the afternoon and there were crowds of people arriving at the temple for one of three regular times of Jewish prayer.  In they came, through ornate gates, congregating with purpose, greeting friends and family.  The temple area also attracted beggars, each one living in hope that religious piety would produce charity.

And so we meet our ‘certain man’, a man lame from birth, who had been brought here early and deposited near the entrance to the temple.  Over the years, he had become a fixture at the Temple, part of the furniture, all but invisible to the regulars.

Until today.

Today he catches someone’s eye.  When the lame man sees that Peter the Apostle has noticed him, he extends his hands in anticipation of coins.  How disappointing it must have been to hear Peter’s words, ‘I have no silver or gold’.  Empty pockets mean a wasted trip and a hungry night ahead.

But the Apostle isn’t finished.

‘What I do have, I give to you.’

And in a God-ordained moment, he takes the man’s hand and lifts him to his miracle.  Joints and ligaments that had never borne weight are immediately strengthened as trepidatious steps became joyful and abandoned.

Suddenly, this insignificant, invisible life becomes a display of the miraculous, a living testimony that Jesus the Son of God is alive and His Spirit is working.

And all because Peter and John gave what they have.

All because they had something to give.

Let’s not forget that there were a lot of people at the Temple that day.  Many, I am sure, were well-meaning, sincere worshippers.  Perhaps they dropped a coin or two into needy hands on the way to their religious appointment. Perhaps they quietly prayed for these poor souls and wished them well in their hearts.

Or maybe they had their own personal problems on their minds as they approached this hour of supplication.  And who can blame them?  We all know how relationship difficulties, financial worries or health problems can preoccupy us, even at church.

But not Peter and John.

Fresh from Pentecost’s power, they are filled up and sold out.  God had done something new in their lives, something dynamic and extraordinary.  It was fresh and real and recent. In that upper room, God had shown up in power and glory, fulfilling ancient promises with the precious gift of His Holy Spirit.  They had witnessed the miraculous and experienced the life-changing presence of God.

And so Peter and John had what this man really needed.

Don’t get me wrong, good advice can be very helpful.  Compassion and empathy are beautiful and essential qualities.  Taking time to listen is vitally important. But when someone is hurting, broken, sick or lost what really matters is who I believe Jesus to be and what I know He can do.

Today, even in the middle of our mundane, ordinary lives, God wants to do something new.  He wants to fulfil promises and answer prayers.  He wants to meet us in our waiting and surprise us with His goodness.  He wants to do more than we have thought or imagined.  He wants to give us an ever-increasing revelation of how good and able and willing He is.

Otherwise, what do we have to give?

Sure, we can dust off stale stories of things God did decades ago in our lives. We can hand out our hollow theories or opinions or ‘something really good I read in a book’.  We can post platitudes with hipster fonts or some celebrity preacher’s Sunday soundbite.

Or we can meet the need around us with an introduction to the living, powerful God we know.

We can have testimonies to share that are hot off the press and daily bread that is fresh out of the oven.   We can offer real faith in a real God.  We can give out to others from the overflow of our own personal walk with God and all the wonderful things He has done and is doing in our lives.

And He wants to start today.

He wants to do something new.  He wants to surprise you.  He wants to give you a fresh experience of His love and goodness and transforming power.

So, wherever you are today, whatever you are doing, thank God for every good thing He has done in the past.  But covet a new testimony of His goodness as well.  Don’t be content with old testimonies.  Ask God for a new touch, a Rhema word from the Bible, a miracle of healing or deliverance or provision.   Then, in every situation, you can share with others what they really need.

His name is Jesus.  And, you know Him.

He is alive and He is powerful and He is working on this planet to change lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t miss the new

 

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God is doing something new in you.

Don’t miss it.

Don’t mistake it.

Don’t misunderstand it.

He is working in your life, today, in this season, in this moment.  He is doing something new and good and beautiful.

It started when you first met Him and He made you His new creation.  It started with a new name and a new destiny as old debts and identities were cancelled.

And what He started in you, He is finishing.

He is bringing His new life to every corner of your old one.

Do you see it?

New things are, by their very nature, tricky to recognize because they are unfamiliar.  They are different to what we have experienced before.  They seem foreign and easy to misinterpret or overlook or even reject.

Sometimes these good, new things are hidden behind disappointments or imperfect circumstances.  Or perhaps they are disguised as set-backs or u-turns or closed doors.

Sometimes they just feel too painful to be good.

In Isaiah, God pleads with His children, ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’  Isaiah 43.18-19

God was doing something new but His children were in danger of missing it.  It didn’t fit within the perimeter of what He had done in the past.  It was almost unrecognizable, even strange but it was good and it was God.

And so it is with us.

God is making a way.  He is carving out a path.  It may twist and turn and appear to be going completely the wrong direction, but don’t fear.  It may look unfamiliar, even scary but remember that it is a new way, a way you haven’t gone before.  Trust the Good Shepherd to lead you well.  Trust His ways because they are perfect.

Don’t expect things to always be the same, to look safe and familiar.  We have mountains to climb and the paths are steep.  Sometimes the only way forward is straight up.

God is always doing something new, something surprising, something out-of-the-box.

It’s a God thing. He is the creator after all and His ways of working in our lives are countless.

Our God has never run out unique melodies so don’t be surprised when He gives you a new song to sing.  

His mercies are new every morning, so keep your eyes open.  There are fresh revelations in His Word and new places to discover in prayer.  There are areas of your life that are broken that Jesus wants to touch and heal. There are long-standing circumstances He is ready to change and old prayers He is ready to answer.

Look. See what He is doing.  It is new and fresh and alive.  Don’t miss it by facing the wrong way.  Don’t let yesterday’s discouragement close your eyes to a miracle today.  Remember the wonderful things God has done in the past but don’t expect future blessings to look the same.  God is so much bigger than that.

Let Him be big.

Let Him work newness into your life.  He has already started.  There are green shoots poking up through the cold soil.  Don’t miss them. Open your eyes, your heart and your hands.  Say yes to God, even before you see the whole picture.  Trust His goodness and His leading and He will make a way, a new way, a good way.

And then expect every single day of your Christian life to be utterly unpredictable and altogether miraculous, for the glory of His name.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowable

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“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
― A.W. Tozer

It really does matter what we think about God because it matters to God what we think about Him.

Our God, Yahweh, the Alpha and the Omega, the triune God who experiences perfect fellowship within the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, this God wants us to know Him.

Just read Jeremiah 31.33-34.

‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’

Hear the excitement our God feels at the thought of this new covenant that would be ushered in at the cross.  He couldn’t wait for that veil to be torn.  He couldn’t wait for you and me to be welcomed into His family.  He couldn’t wait to be known.

Romans 1.20 tells us that God created a world where His invisible attributes are displayed by the things He has made.

Some of you will remember the old British tv show, Through the Keyhole, where a presenter would be filmed walking through a house, pointing out the pictures on the walls, the books in the bookshelf and the collectables that line the shelves.  The idea was to try and guess what celebrity the house belonged to from the clues.

Now imagine our God, speaking solar systems and planets into being, forming continents and mountain ranges and carefully designing everything so as to leave endless clues about His nature. Who made a world like this?

Our God did. He has shown Himself to be a God who creates complex beauty from nothing, who is infinitely creative and who cares about the smallest detail.  Every rose bloom and beetle, every sunset and seashell is a hallmark of God’s artistry, stamped on this world.

And He did it all just so that anyone who looks with an open heart can see what kind of God He is. 

God has also carefully and painstakingly revealed Himself in His Word. In the Bible, God makes clear His plan for the world, from the very beginning.  We see His ways as they weave through history.  God’s character is painted in technicolour with burning bushes and rainbow promises. His provision is demonstrated by feather-light manna and rams in thickets and a lunch that feeds a crowd.  Seas that are parted and blind eyes that are opened show us His unmatched power.  From cover to cover, the Bible shows us what matters to God and what He has done about it.

And, we see in John 17.25-26 that God sent Jesus to reveal more about what He is like.  This final, costly act insured not only that our sins were covered, but that God’s good and loving character was perfectly modelled to his beloved humanity.  Just in case we were to misunderstand God and see only His power and not His love, or if we were to imagine that we are just a small cog in some impersonal plan, Jesus’s life shows us just the opposite.  In Jesus, we see a God who does everything out of goodness We see kingship that looks like servanthood and instead of a religion, the life of Jesus invites us into a relationship.

We see God’s perfect love evident from the very moment of creation, but it is proven at the cross.

Our God is without rival.  He is the beginning and the end.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful.  And yet he chooses to use His power for redemption and restoration.  He chooses sacrifice.  He chooses love and He chooses us.

Don’t ever believe anything else.

Don’t even contemplate a God who is distant or harsh or unavailable.  He is present, He is a Father and His children can draw close and know Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Sincerity

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I have really struggled to write a blog post over the last week.

I started and then abandoned several ideas.  I even revisited part-written entries that I had saved for a future date, but nothing clicked.

It’s not that any of these themes weren’t good.  It is just that they lacked an important ingredient, the one thing I am determined to never leave out of anything that I write.

They lacked sincerity.

And that is because even though I have some helpful things to say about decluttering and simplifying life, renewing my thoughts and knowing God better, those subjects are not what I am really thinking about today.

Do you remember my positive New Year attitude?  Well, it has run dry in record time.  I am disappointed and worn out.  I am desperate for God’s answers but wobbly in the waiting.  My coffee is cold, the computer is waiting, and worry is my wallpaper.

It is uncomfortable, but it is real.  And isn’t that where we should always start?

In fact, aren’t honesty and sincerity the starting points for everything good God wants to do in our lives?

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we see Him give the Sermon on the Mount It is the most exhaustive, comprehensive teaching about what being a follower of Jesus should look like.  We are taught how to behave in marriage and in society.  We are given examples of effective prayer and fasting and we are shown a radical lifestyle of forgiveness and generosity, all of which serves to make us effective witnesses in the world.

But look at the way the sermon starts.

Jesus starts with what we often call the Beatitudes.  Look closely at these familiar verses.  See how they are challenging us to be something before we do something.

The beautiful blessings promised here are for those who have allowed the Holy Spirit to work mercy and meekness and spiritual hunger into their souls, not those who know how to just look super-spiritual.

It is the pure in heart, not the impressive or the accomplished, who will see God.  In God’s Kingdom, it is always all about the heart and good works are the beautiful by-product.

Being comes before doing every time.  Otherwise we run the risk of hypocrisy.

It is so much easier to just act kind, rather than to be honest about the unkindness in my heart.  It is painless to accept an apology from someone I have no intention of forgiving.

Christian platitudes cost me nothing and giving advice is a cinch.  Sharing out of my own difficulties feels far riskier.

But honesty is the key to everything.

Because there is no help available to me in my struggles if I pretend I don’t have any. 

It is so easy to play church. Becoming like Jesus is much harder to fake.

Jesus ends this epic sermon with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. Just in case we are inclined to be too cerebral about following Jesus or to tend towards too much navel-gazing, He reminds us that the proof of a changed heart is always obedient action.

It is not in what I talk about, tweet or quote.  It isn’t in what books I read or what knowledge I accumulate.  My opnionated dinner discussions or social media rants prove nothing about who I really am. 

The proof is how I respond to the good things I hear, read and study.   All the wonderful sermons I hear, the podcasts, the myriad of Christian books I read, the blogs, and the Bible studies only strengthen my life if I put in to practice what I have heard.  Otherwise, I am just a know-it-all standing on sand.

There is a much better way, a building-on-rock way.

Jesus wants to work forgiveness in my heart so I can forgive.

He wants to give me the gift of strong faith so I can pray truthful, faith-filled prayers for myself and others.

He wants to make me less offendable so I can love people who are different than me, not just pretend.

He wants to give me a love for His Word so I read it because I want to.

He wants me to make me more like Jesus every day, but to always give me the grace to be honest when I am not.

He wants to meet me where I am today, not where I wish I was.  He wants to touch where I am hurting and restore hope.  He wants to hear my honest heart-cry and speak to my soul.  He wants to sit with me and then put me back on my feet. He wants to love me as I am and make me hungry to be much more.

He wants my service to Him to always come from sincerity and my Christianity to be real, not just uplifting verses on a coffee cup.

If I can resist the temptation for the knock-off version, I can have authentic faith this year.  If I will dare to be real about who I am and why I need Jesus, I can have testimonies of the power of God, not just theories.

Honesty empowers me to trade skin-deep resolutions for heart-deep changes that lead me to victory.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

January thoughts

 

 

In England, January can be pretty dreary.  These weeks, after the Christmas lights are boxed away, often feel particularly bare and bleak as festive jolliness is replaced with disappointing bank balances and diet programs.

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And yet, I have always liked January.  Maybe I am strange but I just love all the potential and possibilities that come with the start of a new year.  I also really love the quietness that January brings.  We don’t have any family birthdays or anniversaries until February and our usual church and social commitments are often pared down as everybody recovers and regroups after the craziness of Christmas.  So, I am usually able to keep the first few weeks of the year slow and uncommitted and to set it aside for thinking, planning and prayer.  I love it.

Seasons are good and January can offer us a unique perspective.  It can be a time when life, like a deciduous tree, is stripped down to just the skeleton of trunk and branches.  No tinsel or glitter, just the reality of who were are and what our life really consists of.

And, this can be good.  It allows us to see exactly what we’ve got.

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Outside my back door are the glazed pots that were overflowing with flowers as recently as October when family played in my garden and wedding rehearsal dinner drinks were shared with bride and groom-to-be.  Some of those pots are now completely empty, the bedding plants have served their short-term purpose of cheap summer colour for my patio.  Others look dead but they are secretly hiding the roots of perennial life.  And, so although the pot looks empty, I know it will spring into life when the days get warm again.

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And then there are my reliable evergreen shrubs.  They aren’t dazzling, but they keep my winter garden from being completely barren.  This the time of year I appreciate their faithful presence most when there are no flashy blooms for them to compete with.

Life is a lot like my winter garden and at this time of year, with pared-back schedules and quiet calendars, we can really assess and take stock of what we’ve got growing and what will need attention.

When I think of the evergreens in my garden, I think of the faithful presence in my life of a few people I can utterly rely on.  Along with my faith in God, these relationships form a support system that is irreplaceable in my life.  These precious ones don’t just say they will pray, they pray.  They get a word from God for me if I need one.  They encourage, love and speak life to me when I am ready to give up, which is more often then I would like to admit.  When circumstances are crushingly disappointing and grief overwhelms me, their number is the one I call.  I simply could not do life without them.

This January, with its fresh diary pages still empty, is the perfect time to make these relationships a top priority, not an afterthought.  Let’s remind ourselves before all the shiny new experiences and opportunities arrive, that life’s most precious gifts are dependable, loving friends and family and let’s decide to give them the time and appreciation they deserve.  Remember, our closest relationships still need the oxygen of love and appreciation to thrive so let’s give the best of ourselves, not just leftovers, to those who mean the most to us.

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And then there are those hidden perennials, the things in your life that have been beautiful and fruitful but lie dormant now. 

Perhaps there are areas of gifting or ministry where God used you but have now dried up.  Or maybe there are areas of victory that have succumbed again to the enemy.  Have you lost ground?  Have you seen a work of God seemingly die and you are left bewildered and bereft?  Winter is a time for exercising faith.  It is time to believe again that what God has started, He will finish.  It is time to pray again over those fallow places and to expect green shoots.  It is a time to believe in God’s ability and desire to do what He has said He will do.  

Winter is not for the fainthearted gardener.  When the ground is hard and cold and the colour has been sucked out of the garden, only those who understand how God works will keep their spirits up.  Only children of the King keep singing songs of deliverance when circumstances look lifeless.

But, we can use these short, grey days to revisit God’s promises.  We can remember words and verses that we have received and decide to believe again.  We can ask the Holy Spirit to stir up faith and hope and to restore our confident belief in a powerful God.

And then there are the dead, empty pots that were bursting with summer bedding only months ago. 

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These are the seasons of life and ministry that have finished.  It can be very painful to let these go.  Grown-up children and the looming empty nest is the vacant pot I am staring into and it is very hard.  I have overwhelmingly enjoyed raising a family and it has been my identity for 26 years.  An end to a good season can feel like grief.  It is painful and sad.

So, what can January offer these empty spaces in our lives where something good used to grow?

We are offered a chance to, with God’s grace, let them go.  We can choose acceptance and supernatural joy that surpasses all understanding.  We can pray over the newly vacant areas of our lives and dedicate them to the one who specializes in empty vessels.  He promises to fill and multiply and satisfy.  We can trust in His goodness to us and then we can dare to make space for something new.  We can start the new year with a heart of expectancy and eyes open to see what new things God is doing.

So, can I encourage you to embrace January?  Use it as a time to take stock, assess, survey what you have.  Put away the Christmas decorations and let life just be what it is.  What good things do you have in your life?  How can you tend and care for them more intentionally?  What needs weeding or pruning or feeding?   What have you neglected that matters?  What must you accept is over?

Then, shore up and consolidate what is valuable.  Tend to the relationships that mean the most.  Invest more time in knowing God.  Love your family.  Appreciate your friends.  Be there for someone who needs you.  Serve your church.  Care about those who are suffering.

And, believe again for good things from God.  Hold on to promises. Write them down.  Shun cynicism and cultivate child-like faith.  You can’t have both.  Believe God for the big and the impossible.  Pray audacious prayers.  Dream big and hang out with other God-dreamers.

And if it is time, let things go.  If you know God has shut a door, accept it.  If you need to cry, cry.  But, don’t look back.  Look up.  Set your heart on pilgrimage.  Keep going.  Keep serving.  Keep worshipping and keep walking.  Let God fill where you are empty and heal where you hurt.  Don’t let even a drop of bitterness or resentment find a home in your heart.  Not ever.  Keep your heart soft and your conscience clear.

This year, give Jesus permission to do something new, something incredible, something life-giving and beautiful in your life.  Give Him permission to do things differently than you have planned.  Give Him permission to surprise and overwhelm your life with Kingdom bounty.

And, if you dare, give Him permission to do whatever it takes for you to know and love Him more and to walk in every good work He has planned for you.  

 

 

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Kingdom Christmas

Oh, how I love Boxing Day.

For those of you who don’t know, Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and is a holiday in the UK.  I won’t take time to explain the history of this day (look it up if you are interested) but all you need to know is that now Boxing Day has become just a wonderful, relaxing extension of Christmas.  There are family gatherings, meals out, sale shopping and many, many brisk walks to mitigate the over-eating from the day before.

As I picked at the leftovers, tidied up and mopped the floors this morning, I was pondering our Christmas Day.

Our family is changing.  Sometimes more quickly than I am ready for but it is changing none the less. It was interesting and wonderful sharing Christmas with my new son-in-law and other ‘appendages’ and talking about different Christmas traditions.

Of course, everyone thinks their way is the best way.

For some, Christmas can’t start until they have been to a Christmas Eve Candlelight service at church or read the Christmas story together before tucking excited children into bed.  Some insist opening gifts on Christmas Eve is the only way.  Others somehow manage the patience to wait until after the Queen’s speech.  In some houses, Christmas breakfast is smoked salmon while others keep it simple with tea, toast and a few chocolates from the tin.  My mom started a tradition of fancy breakfasts in our house so we go to town and pull our grandma’s dishes and wine glasses, despite the impracticability of it all.

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I know some very artistic present wrappers but many more ‘stick it in a gift bag’ types.  Some families love games while others can’t imagine missing the Christmas Day film.  Whether you always buy new pyjamas for the family, fill up stockings with goodies or don’t bother, cook for a crowd or only a few, insist on Christmas pudding or apple pie or chocolate cake, you probably love the way you do Chrismas.  It is your family culture, a mixture of your upbringing and your spouse’s and new things you picked up along the way.

But it struck me yesterday, that for those of us who love and follow Jesus, we have a culture that binds us, the culture of the Kingdom of God.  And, whichever way we love to do things over the holiday season, there some cultural norms that should tie us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

First of all, Christmas, at its heart, is about giving.  As Christians, we shun materialism, but we embrace generosity.  If I decided one year to escape the commercialism of Christmas and hunker down in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and just think religious thoughts, I would be missing the central core of the message of Chrismas.  For God so loved the world, He gave. 

Love gives.

It just does.  If we don’t give, we don’t love.  Love gives hugs and it cooks and washes up.  Love makes time for family and friends and those who are alone.  It gives even when there is no reciprocation.  In fact, I don’t think there is a proper way to remember the birth of Jesus that does not involve generosity.  We give to those we love, those we work with, those who have less than us.  We give out of an overflow of what God has given us. We give time and kindness and the gift of ourselves, even when we don’t really feel like it.

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And, Christmas is about people.  There is something about the holidays that draws us together.  Christmas songs like ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ and ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ capture well this need to be with those we love.  Perhaps it is the desire to share time with those who know us best,  those who we are bound to by blood or marriage or friendship, or perhaps it is a need to connect with those with whom we share traditions and history.  This is, of course, a Kingdom value too.  In God’s Kingdom, people are always the priority.  As children of God, we are being like our Dad when we love our families, appreciate our friends and when we make room in our gatherings for someone new to join us.

There is something very Christ-like about looking around the Christmas table and deciding to love those you have been given, despite inevitable conflicts, irritations and frustrations.  It takes work and commitment, forgiveness and grace.  It takes the love only God can give.  It is the way we show we belong to Jesus and it is a perfect way to celebrate His undeserved gift to us.    

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And, by the way, thoughtful gifts are a beautiful way to show someone that we know who they are and we ‘get’them.   I personally think that being known is one of our deepest human needs and these holiday times are an opportunity to express this to one another in intentional ways.

Yesterday, after all the presents had been opened, the lunch was eaten and games had been played, my husband had us all go into the kitchen with the lights off.  He went out in the garden and suddenly it was lit up with a string of festoon lights that I had admired earlier in the year. I’m a writer and a thinker.  Honestly, I can be a little complicated and not everyone gets me.  Sometimes that is really very lonely.  When those closest to me show me I am loved and understood, and even liked, it is a healing gift to my soul.

And finally, a Kingdom Christmas is always filled with worship.  Worship is intended to be the starting point of everything we do.  It is what we were created for.  It can, and should, fuel every aspect of Christmas, and actually, every part of our lives

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These next few days can be worshipful, despite the full schedules, if our minds are daily being renewed (Romans 12.1-2) and we are careful what we are thinking about. Finding opportunities for prayer and God’s Word will leave less breeding ground for the disappointments, annoyances and hurts that Christmas can so often produce, like every other time of the year.

Whatever we are doing today, whether it is a long walk, movies and chocolate, a family party or just chilling,  we can fill it with the culture and traditions of the Kingdom of God.

We can give.  We can give encouragement and kindness, thoughtful gifts, delicious food or just our undivided attention or acceptance.  Sometimes these gifts are the most costly,  and the most appreciated.

We can also decide to make people the priority.  We can call someone who would love to hear from us.  We can play a game with our kids and tell our spouse how much we love them.  We can decide to forgo sale shopping and really be there for someone who needs it. We can choose help when we would rather sit and love when it feels undeserved.

And we can worship, every moment of every day.  We can worship God with how we act, with our thoughts and with our hearts.  We can find the good in the disappointing and find the beauty in the mess.  We worship God because He deserves it.  And, because worshipping our Creator and loving people is the only way to spend Christmas.  it is, in fact, the only way to spend our lives.  

Wishing you all a Happy Boxing Day!

 

 

 

 

 

The rightful King

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Our God has a habit of showing up in very unexpected places.

We see in Genesis chapter three his startling visit to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve have sinned.  As two broken souls are coming to terms with their first sip of shame, they are stunned to hear the sound of God’s footsteps as He walks through the ruins of paradise, looking for His children.

In Exodus chapter three, another man hears His name spoken.  Yahweh sets a bush ablaze and Moses experiences a Divine interruption of his ordinariness.  In that surprising moment, destinies are birthed and the dry desert becomes holy ground beneath his feet.

As onlookers witness the attempted execution of three Jewish boys in Babylon, their God, our God, makes His appearance alongside them in the furnace. Their lives are preserved, their uncompromising faith vindicated, their bodies and clothes unscathed.

But was there ever a more surprising appearance of God than in that manger in Bethlehem?

In one of my favourite quotes by CS Lewis, he says this.

“Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

More than 2000 years ago, beneath a starry sky, God’s plan of redemption was set into motion.  He had successfully snuck behind enemy lines and out-manoeuvred the opposition.  Herod got a sniff of what is about to happen, but He was too late.  The rightful King had landed. 

In a place of no fame, to an ordinary young couple, at a time when nothing much seemed to be happening, God shows up, His splendour hidden, His glory veiled.  After what seemed like a very long and dark silence, God speaks to His world with this full-volume, angel-illuminated announcement,

Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere!  For today in Bethlehem, a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah.”

Let the wonder of this plan of God sink into your heart.  This moment in history was the fulfilment of hundreds of years of prophecy and it was the beginning of the end for the enemies of God.  It was a turning point in the war that would culminate in a victorious empty tomb.  The rightful King had landed.

I don’t know about you, but I need this today.  I need to remember that Jesus is a victorious King and that His place on His throne is undisputed.  My ordinary life has been brought into His Kingdom and He is at work in every moment to sabotage the enemy’s plans for me.  His ‘MO’ is to show up and show Himself mighty as He works miracles in my mess.

Thanks to God, I see the evidence of His presence.  The enemy is losing ground in my life.  God’s ways are finding their home in my heart. Like the wonderful scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is on the move.  Winter is melting, Spring is advancing.  Bulbs of His character are poking up through my hard, cold ground.

I think Christmas is the perfect time to step up this ‘campaign of sabotage’ against the schemes of the evil one in our lives, and the lives of those we love.

As we wrap presents, let’s declare God’s purposes over the recipient.  Let’s sing Christmas Carols with less nostalgia and more faith.  Let’s pray for those who will be spending time with over Christmas, fighting on their behalf, expecting our God to show up and bring freedom, healing and breakthrough whenever souls and bodies need it.

Every prayer, every Godly thought, every kindness, every step of obedience is an act of sabotage, an act of war.

The rightful King has landed.  His Kingdom is on the move.  We are part of it.

Merry Christmas.

 

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