Redeemed significance

 

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Life is so short. Whether you live to be ninety years old or 19, life is just a breath.

We, humans, handle that information in a number of ways.

Some of us try the ‘carpe diem’ approach.  We seize minutes and hours and days and try to squeeze every drop of adventure out, travelling the world with our ‘bucket list’ in hand.  The mantra is, ‘no procrastination, no regrets.’  And hopefully, no time to think about much else.  We live for experiences and pleasure, grabbing life by the throat before it has a chance to disappoint us.

Others of us believe we can outwit ageing.  With a mixture of denial, health food and exercise we pretend we have control of our mortality.  If I look young and feel young I can close my eyes to the reality and just absorb the unrealistic optimism shared by those next to me in the gym.

Still, others worship at the altar of mindfulness and spirituality.  We believe this is the way to add meaning where there isn’t any.  We hope that crystals and candles will bring something eternal, something transcendent.  If only we can live life in the moment, maybe it won’t slip through our hands so quickly.  If we can tap into something bigger, something greater, perhaps we can infuse our existence with significance.

But the Bible always deals with truth head-on.  Life is short.  We will all die and we don’t get to choose when.  We cannot preserve our lives or prolong them substantially.  If we keep them, we lose them.  If we hold onto to minutes and hours in the hope of getting more out of life, we actually get less.  Even bucket lists disappoint and mindful living falls short.

In fact, there is only one way to live this life carefully and that is to spend it well.

John Piper, in his book, ‘Don’t waste your life,

“But whatever you do, find the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life, and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life.”

Life isn’t to be saved, it is to be spent.  We live life well when we spend it on what matters.

That is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5.  when he says to redeem the time.  The Greek word for redeem is ‘exagorazo’, which means to pay a price to recover something from the power of another.

You see, there is a price to pay to buy back our lives from futility and that price is faithful obedience.  Nothing else works, no Instagram worthy trips or fancy stuff or youthful skin. The only way to inject meaning into our lives is to see opportunities to do good and to take them.  Every moment spent worshipping Jesus or loving my kids or sharing my faith or praying with a friend has eternal value and it rescues my life from the curse of insignificance.   

Our lives are meant to be given away in love for God and others.  Our time, instead of trying to save it, can be spent generously and without regret.  We can buy back our daily routines from the world’s value system, that so often produces emptiness and despair.  And, we can redeem every day of our lives for the glory and God and the good of everyone who is a part of it.

What a gift, what a privilege this life we have been given is.  It is precious Kingdom currency.

Invest it well.

Start today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love that is large

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Less than a week after my daughter’s wedding, my husband’s aunt died.  Dear Ruth was well into her nineties so it wasn’t a surprise but it was a really sad moment for Paul as he had developed a close relationship with her over the last couple of years while she has been in a nursing home.

With the wedding flowers still filling my dining room, it was time for another trip to the florist to choose pink roses and lilies for the casket.  Then today we had a look at the little chapel where her funeral will be.  It had beautiful stained glass windows and that musty smell of old church pews and hymnal dust.

And I kept thinking the same thought, over and over again, that life is only as rich as our relationships.  

Sweet Aunt Ruth never married or had children.  Any colleagues or friends she had have already gone.  There will only be 20 people at her funeral, but her nephew wept as he chose flowers for her today.  And loving and being loved is what makes life full.

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I will never forget arriving at the imposing chapel on the morning of Hannah’s wedding.  It was pouring rain and I was running slightly late.  As I entered the room and looked around I was completely overwhelmed.  It is not very often in life are you in a room with everyone you love.  It really doesn’t get much better than that and I still feel so grateful.

But, relationships are hard work.  In even the most loving families, churches or friendship groups there are endless opportunities for upsets, misunderstandings, grudges, gossip and pain.  No one can hurt us like those who are close.

When I was a child I experienced a terribly painful rejection.  For many years afterwards, it marred me and affected how I lived life.  When rejection has a hold of you it tells you to hold back, to protect yourself.  It whispers that you should love small and give away only what you can live without.  The result is a gnawing fear in your soul that you will always love more than you are loved.

But God’s love, this agape gift, calls us to something much bigger and freer.

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I recently read 1 Corinthians 13 in the Passion Translation of the Bible.

‘Love is large and incredibly patient.  Love is gentle and consistently kind to all.  It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else.  Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance.  Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honour.  Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offence.  Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong.  Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others.  Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

God’s love is large and extravagantly generous.  It goes the extra mile and turns the other cheek.  It will compel you to forgive and to forget and to never give up on anyone.  If you let it, it will turn acquaintances into friends and it will bring prodigals home.  Agape can fix families and it can fix you.

In God, there is nothing to fear. We can pour our lives out in His service, love past annoyances and offence, forget about ourselves for a bit and trust that He has us in the palm of His hand.  We can live a life free from self-promotion, selfishness and self-pity. We can trust our own needs to a good Father and then happily celebrate the blessings of others.

1 Corinthians 13.13b in the Message Bible says, ‘Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. 

I am convinced, the older I get, that this is the only way to live life.

Trust God in every moment of every day.  Trust Him when you don’t understand and when things don’t make sense.  Trust Him above your circumstances and your feelings.  Trust Him because He is good.

Then hope, without exception.  Know that everything He promises will come to pass and that one day absolutely everything will be put right.  Put all your hope in Jesus, knowing that He has done enough and is enough for you, period.

And finally, love without reservation.  Worship God wholeheartedly.  Serve Him only out of love, not duty.  Show your gratitude with your availability.  Love people.  Love difficult people.  Love them more than your hobbies or vacations or things.  Love the people who have hurt and misunderstood you.  Love your messy, moody teens and your annoying colleague.  Love your ageing aunt whose mind is fading and foggy and who keeps repeating the same stories over and over.  Love people who are different than you.   Make new friends and treasure old ones.

Decide every day to love with extravagance and sacrificial generosity.  This is the path to fullness. 

 

 

 

This Pilgrim’s progress

 

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There is one thing I know I am doing right.

That’s what the Apostle Paul tells the believers in Philippians 3.13.

I like Paul. He wasn’t afraid to use dramatic language when it was appropriate.  Having spent the previous verses sharing how he was wrong for much of his life, how he had completely misunderstood who God was and what He was doing in the earth, he then boldly makes this statement:

I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.  No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing’  Phil. 3.12-13a (NLT)

And what is this one thing?

‘Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.’ Phil. 3.13b-14

Paul always shows us how to keep the main thing the main thing.  And he says here that if we are Christians, this is a top priority.

It is interesting that he calls it ‘one thing‘ although it has two parts.  There is forgetting what is behind us and then straining towards what is ahead.  I wonder if Paul calls them ‘one thing’ because you can’t have one without the other. 

Think about it. You can’t really strain forward if you are looking back, can you?  It is pretty hard to focus on something you aren’t looking at.  You can’t win a race facing the wrong way.

I should know, I have tried.

So often in my life I have attempted to follow Jesus with all my attention on the baggage I was dragging behind me.  And so often my run has become a crawl.  It was tiring and needlessly hard, frustrating and disheartening.  Because it is hard to follow Jesus well with old thinking, old habits and old perspectives. 

There are things I have to take off if I am serious about this race.

If you are a fan of elite sport, you will know how minute the margins are between winning and losing, often only fractions of a second.  Olympic teams will have many experts working for them, looking for any tiny adjustment that can be made in technique or diet or equipment.

Paul describes it as, ‘bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing.’

That’s the only way to run this race well.

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In Hebrews 12.1 we see the picture of a runner who is free and unencumbered.  He is focused, lean and mean.  Anything surplus to requirement has been discarded.  He is single minded and he is ready for the start line.

But often in my life regrets, disappointment, hurt, brokenness and destructive ways of thinking and behaving have been like bungee cords that hampered my forward progress and eventually pinged me back into defeat.  When I am not walking in repentance, forgiveness, mercy and grace I am not free to run well.

To move forward, I have to leave things behind.

And the reverse is also true.  I cannot leave the past behind unless I am intentionally moving forward.

In my favourite passage in the Bible, Psalm 84, David says that ‘blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.  They go from strength to strength.  For the Lord God is a sun and a shield.  No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’

When we decide that our identity is that of pilgrims or travellers who are heading towards our home, then we will leave behind what we don’t need.  There is a strength that comes when we focus on our destination and believe it to be all that really matters.  There is a forward momentum that kicks in and propels us into all God has planned for us.   He promises to withhold no freedom, no deliverance, no victory from those kind of followers. 

In other words, if we keep going we will get there.

2 Corinthians 5.17 describes the very essence of the Christian life. ‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.’

Every day His mercies are new.  New things are always coming, old things are passing away.   This is the normal Christian life. We are constantly letting go and reaching forward at the same time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us something that we have to leave behind.  It can be painful but it always makes room for new blessings and revelation.  Other times God encourages us to walk in a new way of thinking or living and in the process some old stuff just gets crowded out.

I want that heart, that outlook, every day of my life.  I want the grace to keep straining, pulling, moving forward.  I want to let go of anything that is holding me back or slowing me down.  I want to shed my baggage, maybe close a door or two and I want to make space for God to do something new.

I want to make space for His will and His presence in my life.

I want to listen and obey.  I want to know what really matters.  I want to be facing the right way and I want to finish my race with joy.  I want to make progress.

I want to be a pilgrim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver medal sadness

 

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A recent scientific study has found that Olympic athletes that win silver medals die younger than those who win either gold or bronze.  There is something about being so close to gold and just losing out that takes it toll on minds and bodies.

Dissatisfaction can kill you.

There is a kind of disappointment that seeps into your bones. There is a longing that will eat you up.  Proverbs 13.12 calls it deferred hope and it makes us sick.

Expectations are powerful.  I have seen Olympic competitors who were not expected to win a medal celebrate their surprise silver like it was gold..  And I have seen world champions miss out on gold by the smallest margins, their faces full of shock and sadness.

It is all about the expectation.

Sometimes things don’t work out as we had hoped.  Sometimes people let us down.  Sometimes we make assumptions about what God is doing in our lives and we are wrong. Sometimes we are misunderstood and sometimes we fail.

These dashed hopes will drag us to the bottom if we can’t let them go.  Like ageing sports stars we can live a life of what might have been as the regret sickens our souls.

Of course, desires are normal.  Wants and wishes are part of being human. The problem is when desires turn into expectations.

We can have expectations of others that are unspoken or unfair.  We can have expectations of life that are unrealistic.  We can expect to find value and meaning in ways that can never satisfy.  But these great expectations lead to great disappointment.

Be careful where you plant your deepest longings.

Always expect less of people and more of God.

Jesus says in John 6.35 that those who come to Him will never thirst.  My Bible dictionary defines thirst as to ‘painfully feel the want of the things by which the soul is refreshed’

When we walk with Jesus, we can be free from painful wantings.  He promises that He is always, in every situation, enough.  

Like the determined athlete who uses disappointment as motivation for next time, we must move on from life’s let-downs and press forward for what matters.

So, put the silver medal in the drawer.  Put to bed the things that didn’t work out like you thought they would.  Forgive.  Forget.

We are called to run a race that has eternal value.  We were created to be satisfied with nothing less. We have been given everything we need to finish this race well so let us expect to.  Let us expect to live a life of spiritual success that fills heaven with treasures.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lied ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.’  Philippians 3.12-14

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Content after the event

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We did it.

The dust has settled, the house guests have gone home and the flower arrangements are  starting to wilt.  Wedding outfits are in the wash and the redundant to do lists have been binned.

I feel completely exhausted.  And totally content.

Contentment is a gift and I have grown to treasure it, because for much of my life it has been a battle.  Being content has so often been strangled by perfectionism.  My idealistic nature would dream up plans, scenarios and colourful Pinterest pages, only for the reality to painfully disappoint and steal my happiness.

But thankfully, contentment can be learned.

When we stir up gratefulness to God, we produce conditions where envy and disappointment wither and contentment can thrive.

Ann Voskamp beautifully says it like this, ‘Being joyful isn’t what makes you grateful.  Being grateful is what makes you joyful.’

I have found that gratitude and joy help me to accept things as they are and acceptance is a powerful, life-changing quality for recovering perfectionists.

Acceptance on the day of my daughter’s wedding kept my joy and sanity intact.

I had, long before the big day, accepted the fact that there were things we could not control.  So, when the heavens opened just as we were all leaving for the church, I just thanked God for umbrellas and frizz-control hairspray.

When the weather spoiled the plans for live music outside after the wedding, we laughed and hugged and took pictures inside a beautifully decorated corridor of the university building.

And there were other little mishaps.  I totally forgot to put on earrings in the rush of getting ready.  I burst into tears when I realised the moment I had imagined of seeing Hannah come down the stairs of our home in her wedding dress was going to happen after I had to leave for the church.  We all ran a little late.  We got a little snappy.  We lost things and forgot things.

And the day was imperfectly wonderful.

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2 Corinthians 4.7 says, ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’

This is the life of a Christian on earth.  We have treasure, but it is wrapped in clay.  Every perfect thing that God does in our hearts and lives has to contend with earthly limitations.  He is perfect.  We are not.  His kingdom is glorious.  This world is muddy.

And our beautiful Christian wedding was the same.  It was a divine moment when two people became one, when families that love each other witnessed and celebrated and danced together.  It was a day of beauty but it was wrapped up in inevitable imperfection.

But if we can accept this truth about our lives, there is a divine purpose because God promises us that our imperfections highlight His glory.

One of my favourite quotes is by Priscilla Shirer. She says, ‘Contentment is the equilibrium between the enjoyment of life now and the anticipation of what is to come’

As I danced with my nieces and nephews and laughed with old friends, I was living in that equilibrium, in the place where God’s glory is wrapped up in tired feet and too much cake and rain-flattened, mother-of-the-bride hair.

It is a wonderful place where I have grace to accept the imperfection of clay and worship the good God who one day will wrap glory in glory, for all eternity.

As I told my daughter the week before the wedding, happy weddings are beautiful weddings. 

And happy, content lives are beautiful ones that point to the goodness and sufficiency of life with our God.  They shout, ‘He is enough for me.’

 

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Wedding Shadows

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Colossians 2.16-17 says, ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  They are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’

When Paul wrote this letter to the church at Colossae, he was writing to people who were neglecting to make the main thing the main thing.  False teachings had reached this fledgling fellowship and had caused traditions and rules to take precedence over the centrality of Christ and his finished work. Festivals and food restrictions became a bone of contention among the believers there.

Paul nips this heresy in the bud.  He is very clear.  Celebrations, feasts and sabbath days were given to us from God.  But they were never meant to be more than a shadow of what was to come.  They were intended to point us to Christ, not take centre stage.

It is an easy mistake to make.

Jewish feasts are beautiful.  They are colourful and joyful and noisy.  These celebrations tie generations together as traditions are handed down and memories are made. Anyone who has shared a Passover meal with a Jewish family or witnessed the glorious feast of Tabernacles will know what I mean.  They are compelling occasions.

And yet Paul says they are only shadows.  They are the muted, blurry outline of something much more glorious.  In comparison with Christ they are like a badly taken photo in a dark room on a gloomy day.

Weddings are shadows too.

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DSC_1251We are excited for Saturday.  We have planned it for ten months and there have been blood sweat and tears!  We have designed a wedding cake, chosen flowers, printed menus and hand-lettered until our hands hurt.  We have carefully chosen the colours and flowers and the dresses.  Suits and ties have been bought and shoes have been polished.  I have even tied tiny gold acorns on each place name!  It seemed a good idea at the time.

Weddings are funny things, aren’t they?  So much fuss for one day.  It doesn’t make sense except that the fuss is supposed to equal the significance.

We make a big deal out of weddings because marriage is a big deal.  Choosing who you want to be with for the rest of your life is a momentous decision, and so we treat it as such. On Saturday our family will have a wonderful day as we bless our daughter and her new husband and witness them starting their lives together.  It will be emotional and beautiful and it will be worth all the time and money because of its significance to us.

And it will be only a shadow.

There is a day coming that is the culmination of everything God has planned and sacrificed for.   The preparations for that day have been going on since creation.  We cannot imagine the glory and perfection of it.  It’s beauty will be unmatched and its joy unending.  Every tear will be wiped away, every disappointment will feel like a distant memory, and, love will win.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”I Corinthians 2.9

Until then we enjoy the shadows that point us to Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five things I am glad we did when the kids were small

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What a month it has been in my house.

The wedding preparations have reached fever pitch (nine days to go now!) and my youngest just turned 18.  I am well and truly on the edge of saying goodbye to raising kids and it has made me a little pensive.

Because of my personality, I have found myself thinking about family life and things that I wish we had done differently.  It is easy to have regrets because my husband and I were young parents and we made a lot of mistakes.  We were way too strict with our children at times and not strict enough at other times.  We (actually I) lectured too much.  We didn’t pray near enough and consequently we often parented in our own strength which was completely ineffective and sometimes hurtful.

But, as I leave this season and rather reluctantly step into a new one I have also found myself thinking about some of the good decisions we made.  Some were accidental and others were intentional, but all were the result of the unending grace of our good, good God.

 1. We intentionally kept life simple when the kids were small.

Paul and I decided quite early on that we would keep weekends as free as possible.  When I think back over those years I smile.  There were endless Saturdays of make believe in the back yard and walks to the park.  We decorated bedrooms with colourful murals and worked on school projects on the kitchen table.  The kids learned to swim at our local pool.  Rainy Saturdays, of which there were many, were for movies and lots of lego.

Resisting the temptation to fill up our time with outside activities wasn’t always easy but it paid dividends in our relationships.  We had time for each other and time to just be a family.  I have no doubt that the bonds we built then are the bonds that hold us together now.

Because simplicity makes room for the good stuff.

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When you keep the family schedule from getting too crazy you leave room for important conversations.  There is space for emotions to be worked through and conflicts to be resolved.  A routine with margin allows children to explore who they were created to be and what they enjoy doing before committing to loads of activities and the expensive paraphernalia.

2.  We made time with extended family a priority.  When my brother got married in California, we took our three kids, rented a house and enjoyed every second.  When my other brother got married four years later in Colorado, we did the same thing.  These were costly ventures, both in time and resources, but those memories are priceless because they impressed on my children that they belong to something and that they are part of a tribe that loves them.

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Every birthday my kids ever had, they wanted their grandparents to come.  For many years our Christmas day was divided between the two sides of the family.  We would open presents with my family, have lunch together and then scoop up children and new toys and head to my in-laws for present opening and an evening buffet that no one was hungry for.  Did I resent such a busy day sometimes?  Yes, a little.  But when we lost Paul’s dad 10 years ago, the first thing I thought was how glad I was that we shared those moments with him.  My kids reminisce about those family Christmas days with fondness and gratefulness.  It was totally worth any sacrifice on mom and dad’s part to see the joy grandchildren bring to grandparents, and vice versa.

3.  We made a small, family church the centre of our lives.  My kids were raised in a small church and they grew up serving.  You name it, they have done it.  They have set up chairs, played drums, done audio visual jobs, played guitar, sang, performed dramas and helped with fundraising for missions.  They were part of something that really mattered and they were loved by the people they did church with.  Each of my children were baptised in front of people who had been at their baby dedication and many of those same dear friends will be at my daughter’s wedding.

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Investing in those relationships was worth every hour we gave to it and has produced young adults who still love church and still love God.  I am so grateful.

4.  We spent money on experiences, not stuff.  As our children were growing up we may have had a house full of second hand furniture and ebay bargains, but we have had some fun together!  Some of these adventures cost almost nothing, like our annual camping trip to the beach on the South coast of England.  Others, like our mammoth trip to the western United States, had to be saved for.

Last week, when we all got together for my son’s birthday, the subject of vacations came up.  My grown children lit up as they remembered swimming in the rain in Devon, driving through Joshua Tree national Park and surfing with missionary friends in the Pacific Ocean.  I am absolutely sure that they have forgotten the times they had to wear their sibling’s hand-me-downs or the modest Christmas and birthday gifts the had but they will never ever forget building a house for a family in Mexico or seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

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5.  We bought the ugly house with the backyard.  When we found out I was pregnant with my youngest, we knew that we needed to move and so we got a pile of house details from the Estate Agent.  There were adorable cottages and slick modern town houses and then there was one really ugly 1950’s semi. We kept ignoring it, but having exhausted the other choices, decided to at least visit.  It was just as unattractive as we had feared.  There was yellow wallpaper and brown carpet and a weird room that had been added on with Formica flooring and wonky walls.  But the backyard was long and wide and as soon as we set foot in it we pictured our four kiddies running around.  So we bought it.

For the last 18 years we have lived our lives in that yard.  We have had birthday parties and July 4th barbecues. Bikes were raced and puppies trained.  There were paddling pool afternoons and snowball fights and late evening smores.  Friends have joined us for barefoot badminton and Paul and I have spent hours talking and praying as the sun set.  The improvements to the house have consequently been very slow and even now we aren’t really finished.  But as I make the homemade wedding confetti from the flowers that frame this little piece of heaven, I have absolutely no regrets.

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Because no one gets to the end of their life wishing they had bought more shoes or upgraded to a better phone.

And, when it comes time to give your daughter away or move a young adult into their first apartment, you will find great comfort in remembering all the sunsets and sandy toes that you have spent your money on.

If we make relationships our top priority, in the midst of all the busyness and demands of life, we are living life well.

And maybe if we spend our life enjoying and serving others and worshipping and following God there will be no regrets that really matter.  

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Choked and forgetful

 

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Deuteronomy 8.11 jumped off the page today.

Make sure you don’t forget God.

Whatever you do, don’t let this happen.  Prioritise your remembering.  Don’t forget who He is and who He made you to be.

But it is so easy to forget.

If life in 2018 is marked by anything, it is marked by distractions.

And, these distractions don’t wait in line like polite customers at the Post Office!  No, they crowd in like shoppers on a black Friday.  They jostle and pull and stampede. And yet often we don’t even notice.  That is why they are so dangerous.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus doesn’t pull any punches about distractions.  He says they actually choke good things God has planted.

Why doesn’t that scare me as much as it should?

It is possible, even probable, that I can miss opportunities from God just because I am busy with something else.  I can miss God’s voice because louder ones have my attention.  I can completely forget promises He has spoken to me.

I can forget Him.

Matt Chandler says, ‘”Find the things that stir your affections for Christ and saturate your life in them. Find the things that rob you of that affection and walk away from them. That’s the Christian life as easy as I can explain it for you.”

Maybe it really is that easy.

Maybe the grace that I extend to myself to watch what I want to watch or buy what I want to buy or do what I want to do is actually slowly, quietly stealing my passion for God.

Because, whether I want to believe it or not, my affection and my passion are not endless resources.  The are finite and they have to be spent very carefully.  

Jesus said that we can only follow one leader and that a life focused on earthly treasures has no energy left for heavenly ones.

Mary understood but Martha didn’t.  You can’t be two places at once, so choose wisely.

Jesus tried to teach the rich young ruler that you can’t follow God and obsessively love your stuff at the same time.  Our hearts just aren’t that big.

Jesus teaches us, again and again, in His parables and teachings, that what we chase is what we love the most and that loving God means choosing Him first.  

And choosing to put God first isn’t a spiritually vague concept.  It means deciding every day to minimise distractions and to give Him my very best, not my leftovers.

I know it is a battle.  Life is busy.  We have a wedding in less than three weeks and university application deadlines are looming.  My dishwasher just died and my hair needs to be coloured.

But I have the power to decide what I think about when I wake up and what I think about as I fall asleep. 

We all do.

Remember Jesus today.  Count your blessings and your answered prayers.  Turn worries into a conversation with the only one who can do anything about it.

Relax, He is in control. 

Believe, He is good.

Smile, you are adored.  

Remember, you are His.

 

 

 

Stairs that lead to miracles

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Sunday’s sermon was about Daniel and I can’t stop thinking about him.

You know the story.  King Darius has been tricked into making a law that would hand down a death sentence to any man or woman who prays to anyone or anything other than the King.  Daniel hears the news.  His response is simple.

He goes upstairs, opens the window towards Jerusalem and prays like he has done three times a day, every day of his life.

What an understated moment in Bible history!

Daniel is faced with a horrible execution of unthinkable violence and he just does what he always does.   It sounds so unspectacular, so uneventful.

But it really isn’t.

It is a glimpse into the secret life of a man of God, just before he receives his deliverance.  We are made privy to the backstory, to the secrets behind the miracle so when the miracle comes we understand.

My youngest is learning to drive.  He will be safe on the road when the mechanics of driving a car are automatic to him so that he can handle unexpected situations without having to think too much.

And so it is with me.

The enemy of my soul dreads the day prayer becomes my automatic response to difficulty.

He knows there is a place of victory available to me when God’s presence and His Word become non-negotiables.  He knows that when I no longer believe the lie that discipline is legalism, I am on the way to a powerful, overcoming life.

And it can start today.

When I feel too busy, I can pray.  When life is good and I have nothing to worry about I can pray.  When I don’t feel like it, I can open my Bible.  I can slowly, daily wear out the carpet that leads to my prayer spot.  I can keep going until prayer is like breathing and God’s Word has become the place I go for my answers, without exception.

You see, disciplines are slowly grown.  There are no shortcuts or microwaved entrees when it comes to habits and character.  Eugene Peterson calls it a ‘long obedience in the same direction’.  What a beautiful description of following Jesus every minute of every day.

Because most of the time following Jesus looks somewhat ordinary.  It isn’t, of course, but its miraculousness can be hidden within our daily grind.  We get up, meet with Him, worship and commune with Him and then we cook or type or iron or change diapers or draw buildings or run companies.  And we do the same thing the next day and the next.

When small problems and troubles show up, we remind ourselves to do what we always do. When disappointment arrives, or fear or betrayal, we just do what we always do.  If something happens that we don’t understand, nothing changes.

We climb those stairs and open that window and tell God He is all we need.  We listen for His voice.  We turn our eyes away from circumstances and towards the God of promises and faithful, loving care.  We decide to believe He is good.  We allow His Word to comfort and redirect and change us.  We raise our expectations of the miraculous and flex our faith muscles.

We remind our hearts that God is very, very big and lions and kings are very small.

And then when a big crisis hits, there is no big decision to make.  It has already been made.

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

 

 

 

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Tethered to goodness

Thinking today about escaping puppies and wandering souls.

 

2014-05-20 06.42.11We didn’t know there was a gap in our hedge.

Our previous labrador, Rudi, have never discovered it.  But three days after we took ownership of a six-month-old puppy named Buddy, he found it.

It was an unusually warm spring morning and having let Buddy out into the garden, we were enjoying coffee in our pyjamas.

The doorbell rang and it was our lovely next door neighbour with Buddy in her arms.  While we had been relaxing, Buddy had escaped next door, gone in through her back door that was open, up the stairs and right into our neighbour’s bed!  I was absolutely mortified!  I still blush when I think about it.

Unfortunately, it was so much fun that Buddy decided he would regularly visit his new friend and because our boundary is a hedge instead of a fence, every time we fixed one gap, he would find another.

In the end, there was only one solution, a very strong tether.  Every time Buddy was playing unaccompanied, we would tie him to a tree so he couldn’t escape.

Tethering is a very effective solution for wandering.

In one of my favourite hymns, we find these words,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Every time I sing that song, I think how painfully true it is of me. Like a natural reflex, I suffer from an innate predisposition to wandering.

My thoughts wander.  My desires wander. My schedule and my plans wander.

My minutes and hours and days wander regularly from my Heavenly Father to pretty much anything else.

It frustrates and embarrasses me.

Why can I remember movies and magazine articles but not Sunday’s sermon?

How on earth do I get to the end of the day without making time for Jesus but I have never, ever forgotten to eat or get dressed or check Facebook?

Why is it so hard to focus when I am reading God’s Word or praying?

These lyrics make an interesting suggestion, though.  They suggest that God’s goodness is our fetter.  A fetter is a chain that was used to bind prisoners around the ankle.  It prevented escape, just like Buddy’s tether.

What a beautiful picture.

God’s goodness is the ultimate antidote to wandering. 

Not rules or responsibility or religion but only the goodness of God keeps us content enough to stay close.

So, one answer to our propensity to wander off is to constantly, in every way possible, remind ourselves of the unmatched, unrivalled goodness of God.

Every time, in the midst of busyness and distractions, we take a moment to remember how good our God is, we are tethering our heart to His.  We are ensuring that there is only so far we can drift away from His presence and His will.

With less than five weeks to go to my daughter’s wedding, I have to put this into practice daily.  Otherwise, my thoughts will be consumed with ribbons and glue and Pinterest pins and to-do lists and I will begin to believe that small, earthly things are really important and big, eternal things are unimportant, just as long as I find my wedding shoes and the florist gets the right shade of roses.

It is a battle we fight every day.  It is the battle for our hearts.

And our secret weapon is the knowledge of how good God really is.

So, whatever we are doing today, we can make worship the theme tune.  Just turn on some music, sing the words, believe the words, and live the words, even while driving the car or folding the laundry (or 120 orders of service!).

Find scriptures and quotes about our good God, decide they are true and display them where you will regularly see them.  Today I have put a little reminder by the kettle because I certainly need that truth as often as I need caffeine today.

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If you struggle to believe and trust in the goodness of your heavenly Father, may I suggest Bill Johnson’s book, God is Good.  It is a life-changing study of the character of God that will tie you tightly to Him as you understand the depth of His love and the certainty of His goodness.

Try making it a habit every day to write down three things that you are thankful for.  Ann Voskamp says in her book, One Thousand Gifts,  ‘The real problem in life is never lack of time.  The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving.’  That is because when we stop thanking God, we soon forget His goodness.  The next step is wandering away, searching for goodness elsewhere.

It is a funny thing but Buddy never tries to run away when we are in the garden with him.  When he is enjoying our presence, there is nothing else that can compete.  He knows we are good.  He knows we are his source of food and play and petting and walks.  He just forgets sometimes.

It is the remembering that keeps us.

Today, whatever you are doing, determine to remember how kind and loving and good our God is.  Remind yourself, in every way possible of the truth of the unchanging character of Yahweh.

Stop pulling.  Stop straying.  Stay close.

An abundant, joyful, purpose-filled life is only found in the presence of our good, good God.