Heavenly nostalgia

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Last weekend our family snatched a few precious days away.  It was the only time we could all get away together over the summer so we headed to the South coast of England near Chichester.

West Wittering beach is very special to our family.  It is isn’t the most beautiful beach in the world but it is very dear to us.  It was not only the location of my husbands family holidays growing up, but it also became our family’s go-to destination for last-minute beach trips, usually on the final Bank Holiday in August, to say goodbye to summer.

And this is a poignant summer for us, squeezed in between weddings and October changes that will leave our boy’s bedrooms empty again. So, we booked a weekend in a caravan, packed our towels and suncream and headed for the beach.

And I never even considered that it would be so emotional.

As my long-legged young adults vacated the cars, I suddenly remembered them as excited young children, their arms full of buckets and spades and nets to catch crabs.  We would arrive at the coast early enough to find the perfect spot to lay out our towels near the rock pools that my children loved. These mini sealife centres would entertain them for hours. All sorts of critters were collected and kept in buckets, as beach pets for the day, only to be released as the sun sank low in the sky and thoughts turned to dinner.

The memories of those happy days are vivid and bittersweet.  They make me cry and smile at the same time.

It is the human condition we call nostalgia.

And all of us suffer from it from time to time.  It is a combination of a kind of warm remembering and a bittersweet longing for happy times in the past.  It is the feeling you get when a song from your youth comes on the radio or you eat your favourite childhood candy.  It can be triggered by a particular smell, an old photograph or revisiting a place you once lived.  It is sometimes described as, ‘looking back with joy.’

When scientists first identified this mental state, they believed it to be a wholly negative condition, an illness that needed to be cured.  Remembering and longing for the past was considered unhealthy and dangerous.

However, as time has gone by and more scientific studies have been done we have discovered how important nostalgia is to our well-being.  We now know that reminiscing is comforting and it can relieve stress and anxiety.  It also reduces feelings of loneliness and makes us feel connected.  And, it can increase our sense of gratitude and make us less selfish.

Familiar music stirs memories in dementia patients and reaches them in a way that no other type of communication can.

And nostalgia can actually make us more optimistic about the future, more inspired and more creative.

The word, nostalgia, comes from two Greek words meaning returning home and pain.  It is that deep longing for home, for the familiar, for your family, your tribe.  It is a yearning for the past, homesickness for where you come from.

In Ecclesiastes 3.11, King Solomon says that God has set eternity in human hearts.  We are created with a spiritual memory, an innate nostalgia for a home we have never seen.  And this produces a forward-looking joy, a reminiscing about what is to come.  

It reminds us every day who we are and where we belong.  It can blow away anxiety and fear and fill our hearts with overflowing gratitude.

Maybe your life is really great today, the sun is shining and all is right with the world.  Be grateful but remember that it is only a shadow of perfection to come.  As CS Lewis said, ‘there are better things ahead than any we leave behind.’  

Or maybe life is hard and disappointing.  It is okay to be homesick for a place you have never been to.  Let the reality of your eternal home comfort you and bring you peace.

Either way, let Kingdom nostalgia fill you up with optimism, Divine inspiration and endless creativity to live life well.

In every beautiful moment of celebration, in every disappointment or loss, let eternity continually remind you of its existence.  This is not all there is.

There is a place where we belong.

Look forward in joy.

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Trusting goodness, seeing good

 

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Jeremiah chapter 17 describes two kinds of people.

In verses 7-8, we have a beautiful picture of a person who has encountered the goodness of God.  They have experienced His unconditional love for themselves and they have responded to it with trust and faith in His character.  The result is fruitfulness, strength and vitality.  Their lives are established and abundant.

Then, in verses 5-6 we see a person who struggles to trust.  They just can’t lay down a lifetime’s habit of self-reliance.  So, they put all their hope in their own decision-making and hard work, rather than in God’s care for them.

And verse 6 says that the person who cannot trust, cannot see when good comes.’ (KJV)

It is hard to imagine how that happens. How is it possible to not recognize something that is good?  What causes this kind of spiritual blindness that distorts our perspective?

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story about a wayward son.  He has a loving and generous father but he doesn’t see it that way.  He only sees restrictions and rules, unwanted responsibility and expectations.

He wants to live life his own way now and he doesn’t want to wait around for dad to kick the bucket.  So, he asks for all his inheritance.  His father reluctantly agrees, and the son leaves home with pockets full of his trust fund.

But fast living is expensive and soon he finds himself sitting in a pig pen, the money squandered.  At that moment, the penny drops and the son realizes what he has left behind.

And, all at once he is able to see what is good for him and what is not

And he heads home.

You see, in order to see good, we have to see God as He is.  We have to know Him as our father and be assured that we are safe in his care. Then we can be confident that His plan for us is good and we can stop trying to work everything out for ourselves. Knowing God’s character helps us to trust His will as well as His timing.  We will have the courage to hold out for God’s best, whatever the cost.

If we don’t know Him well, this will be a tall order.  If we aren’t sure God is trustworthy, we can fall back into old patterns of independence and miss out on His supernatural answers, provisions and blessings.

Because the truth is that some things that are really good, don’t immediately look good at all.  And some things that do look good are not God’s best in the long run.  Situations that you are tempted to escape from can be a provision in disguise.  And sometimes what you think is God’s provisions is actually a counterfeit.

So being able to see good is imperative if we are going to live life well.

The key is trust.  It opens our eyes to what is good and what is from God.

We are not spiritual orphans.  We have a good Father who created us and loves us.  He is working all things for good in our lives.  We can, without exception, trust His leading and direction, even when it doesn’t make sense.

There is a place of abundant life and spiritual growth and it is called Trust.  It is the place we run to when the penny drops and we remember how good God really is.  It is the place we return to after stubborn wanderings and pig pen epiphanies.

It is where we find our Father waiting for us.

It is home and it is good.

 

 

Wedding invitations

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I read today about Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding of Cana.  And as I read I imagined the scene of this unexpected unveiling of the miraculous.

Bible scholars talk about the importance of first mentions.  It is a rule that says that when something appears in the Bible for the first time it is significant.

And the wedding at Cana is a significant miracle for sure.

Turning water into wine was a miracle full of symbolism and a Jewish wedding was the perfect backdrop.  Jesus was using this moment to announce that there was a new way, a more perfect way to come to God.  This new way would bypass middlemen and temple sacrifices and lead us straight into grace.

I love weddings.  I love everything about them.  I love the poignancy and the fuss and the beauty.  There is just something so special about getting all fancy and spending the day with people you love to celebrate a new marriage together.

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In truth, Jesus could have done a wine miracle or sermon almost anywhere. But He chose a wedding.

I like to imagine Him celebrating, laughing, eating and dancing.  Jesus was a local Galilee boy and this was His community, His friends and family.  Everyone was there.  It was a meaningful milestone, part of the social fabric of people’s lives.

And I can feel the embarrassment of the host when the wine ran out.

But there was good news.  Jesus was there.

He wasn’t off in some monastery on a mountain.  He was invited to the party and He came. And because He was there, the miracle was possible.

Long before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be called, ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us.’

God’s plan of salvation was never going to be just set in motion from a distant seat in heaven.  The plan was always about a near Saviour, a God who is with us.

God came to us so the miracle was possible.

And He is still here by His Spirit.

The salvation that Jesus came to bring is for now, today, in the midst of mundane routine or beautiful celebrations and everything in-between.

If we keep Jesus for Sundays, we are missing out. God is not bored by the ordinary and the earthly.  He happily accepts the invitation to join us in whatever we are doing, whether that is a wedding or washing up.

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In Psalm 46.1, David describes God as our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Another way to say that would be that God is our  ‘help at hand.‘  He is near, available, present, on-call.

And because He is here with you, a miracle is possible.

So, don’t be tempted to limit God to religious activities or to save Him for emergencies.

This God of new covenants and best-saved-for-last miracles is here with you right now.  He is interested in your life.  You are precious to Him.  So, invite Him.

And He will join your celebrations, your milestones, your loss and your grief.  He is just as comfortable in your Monday morning ‘blahs’ as He is in your Sunday morning best.  Empty pots don’t worry Him.  Disappointments and doubts are safe in His hands.  There is no need for pretence so don’t waste the time.  Be real.  Ask Him for what you need.

He is God and He is near.  You are loved and the miracle is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I have learned from starting a blog at age 49.

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I have been blogging for over a year now.  It has been scary and challenging and a lot of fun.  And after sixty entries, I have learned a thing or two.

First of all, I have learned that is good to try something new.  Stepping out of my comfort zone has stretched me and caused me to rely on Jesus in new ways.  Because I  can’t really live out my God-given destiny and not take risks, however unnatural that is for my personality.  The parable of the talents (Matthew chapter 25) teaches me that the treasure I am given is not supposed to be buried for safe keeping.  Only investments, even risky ones, yield the returns that will please my Creator.  It just isn’t possible to be full of faith and overly cautious as well.

When I was a little girl, I tried a lot of after-school activities.  My poor mom would buy me all the required gear – ice skates and cute skating dresses,  colourful gymnastic leotards, horse riding boots, etc.  And every time, after a few weeks, I would quit.  And it was always for the same reason.  I quit because there were girls much better than I was and so I lost interest in trying.  If I couldn’t be the best, really quickly, I didn’t want to bother at all.

But the problem is, there is always someone better.  There are writers I love whose command of the English language makes me want to cry.  There are books I have read that are written so beautifully they are like works of art.  It would be easy to compare myself and give up.  But what I have realized over the last year is that there is great satisfaction in trying, learning and growing. It is okay, even enjoyable, to be a beginner at something that you love.  And, it is a whole lot better than not trying at all.

And I have also discovered that the aspects of God’s character that I can learn about, think about and write about are endless.  When I first started this project I had a backlog of writing that had filled journal pages for years.  I was worried that once I had used those ideas I might run out of things to write about.  How silly!  Every time I open the Bible there is something new to see.  Every time I take the time to really think about a passage of scripture I am rewarded with a fresh revelation of God’s beauty.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  As a Sunday school teacher, I have taught most Bible stories several times.  I have a pretty good grasp on basic Christian doctrine and theology.  And yet I am only just scratching the surface of who God is.  He is so above-all, so multi-faceted that I could study His character for my whole life and there still be more to know and experience and love.

Any time we are tempted to think we have heard it all, we are in danger of missing out.    Being a careful follower of Jesus means being a life-long learner.  It means having the humility to know that I don’t know it all and the spiritual hunger to keep digging.

Finally, I have learned that I have something to say.  And so do you.  The Bible calls it the word of our testimony.  It is the things that we know are true because we have experienced them.  It is the lessons learned in dark places and the character formed in adversity.  And our testimony is valuable.  It is our personal, ever-evolving story of His goodness to us.

And, someone needs to hear it.

Our story can be shared with a hurting friend over coffee.  It can be sung or painted or blogged.  It can fill a book or a sermon or a conversation over the fence.  But know this, it will be good news to someone who really needs good news.

Don’t be afraid.

It doesn’t need to be perfectly articulated, just sincere and true.  Nobody can tell your story, only you.

So, take a risk.  Step out in what you know God is calling you to do.  Don’t be afraid to be a beginner.  Start.  Learn.  Develop.  Grow. 

Keep learning about who God is.  Keep digging and seeking and getting to know Him.  Read and listen.  Pray and wait.  Open your heart to His Spirit and open your life to His voice.    

And don’t be afraid to tell your imperfect, unfinished story.  Someone is waiting to hear it.  It is beautiful and it is yours and it can change the world.

1st Birthday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only essentials

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‘You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.’ 
― John Maxwell

I recently read a book that my brother recommended called, ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown and it has been nothing short of life-changing.

It is not a spiritual book, but a practical one about rethinking our priorities and what we spend our time, energy and money on.  It is about making sure that we are focused on what is most important and allowing other demands to drop lower down our to-do list.  Or even to drop off the list altogether.

If there was ever a time in history when we need the ability to sift out the non-essential so we can focus on the essential, it is now with all the distractions that 2019 has to offer.

In Matthew chapter 22.37-40, Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment.  So, the Son of God takes the law, every commandment and detailed moral requirement in the Torah, and He distils it down to just two.

Love God.  Love people.

These are simple words but they are not easy ones.  Because, like the rich, young ruler found out, our time and resources are finite and it is so tempting to spend them on earthly trinkets, leaving no budget for eternal treasures.

Living a life of essentialism means believing that we have choices to make every single day if we are going to invest in what matters.  It means knowing that we cannot have everything.  It means resisting the urge to spread ourselves thinly so we can excel at a few important things instead.

I read the Sermon on the Mount today.  These verses are rich and challenging.  They paint a beautiful picture of following God, loving what He loves and putting value on what He values.  As I read the passage this afternoon, I felt the Holy Spirit recalibrate my heart; like a spiritual compass helping me to point north again.

Because, if we want to live life well, there really are priorities. 

Inspired by the passage in Matthew 5-7,  I have written a few things that I want to be intentional about over the coming months.  Maybe they will help you to think about your own life and what is essential to you.

The person that I am becoming greatly matters to God so I will let Him work on me.

I am here for a reason so I will be a light, somehow, every single day.

Unforgiveness comes between me and God so I will refuse to entertain it.

Some things matter in eternity but most do not.  I determine to live like I believe that.

I can only have one boss so I will make sure it is God.

There isn’t enough time in the day for both powerful prayer and compulsive worry so I will choose prayer, whether I feel like it or not.

It is the easiest thing in the world to know about what the Bible says but never obey it.  I have decided that won’t be my story.  

Not everyone who thinks that they know God actually does.  If I do nothing else, I will make sure I know God.

Take some time this week to think about what is really essential to you.  Write your values down and put them somewhere where you will see them.  Ask for grace to rearrange life so what really matters takes its rightful place in your schedule.  Be brave.  Let some things go.  Worship God with how you spend your time.

Dare to live like you believe everything that God has said is true and that nothing matters more than being part of what He is doing.

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(these pictures are from the place in Northern Israel where it is believed Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poured out, filled up

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I don’t know about you, but I have to remind myself regularly that God’s way of thinking and mine are quite often at odds with each other.

That’s why Jesus had to tell so many parables.  He was describing a culture that his disciples had never heard of and were struggling to understand.  Most of the time they still didn’t get it.

Quite often I miss it too.

Many years ago, I was sitting in bed with my young children, reading them the story of the Little Red Hen.  I assume you are familiar with this children’s fable, but if not, here is a summary.

The Little Red Hen, who lives in a farmyard, fancies some nice freshly baked bread.  So she asks her farmyard friends to help her go harvest some wheat for the flour.  One by one, the pig and the duck, the rat and the cat, all say no.  They are basically lazy and can’t be bothered.  So she goes and harvests the wheat herself.

Then she asks for help to thresh the wheat.  Again her short-sighted mates decline.  So, she does it herself.  The same thing happens with milling the flour and baking the bread.

Soon a beautifully baked loaf emerges from the oven all golden brown and the smell wafts its way around the farmyard.  Of course, her predictable friends all come running, hoping for a slice.  At this point, the Little Red Hen gets her moment.  ‘Oh no!’ she exclaims, ‘you didn’t help me harvest the wheat or thresh it or mill it or bake the bread so you don’t get to help me eat it’.  And she promptly tucks into the freshly baked treat to enjoy it all by herself.

I can still remember the pleasure that I felt as I was reading this to my kids, snuggled together in bed.  ‘Oh I love this story’ I thought to myself.  ‘ I love that clever, hard-working hen.  She’s so responsible, so independent, so gutsy. ‘

I guess I related to her.

I’m a first-born, responsible type of gal.  I play by the rules and I work hard.  As I sat there with my kids under the duvet, in the middle of a life that was too busy and church responsibility that felt unappreciated, I comforted myself with the thought of blessings that would compensate me.  I salivated at the thought of these golden baked rewards that I had earned, special rewards just for me.

But I had it a little twisted.

Because there is absolutely no place in God’s Kingdom for entitlement, only gratitude. 

And, the blessings that come from obedience are for sharing.

Every good thing I do or have comes only from Jesus.  I cannot even worship Him without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  I can’t be a good wife or mom on my own.  I cannot serve Him, love Him or love others without His grace on my life.

And gratitude is so incredibly powerful.  It kills ego and it grows into selfless generosity.

If I really believe that every good thing I have is from God, I will be happy to share it.  I will never expect special treatment or privileges.  I won’t keep track of the things I have done for God, expecting my equally large slice of reward. 

I will be blessed and filled-up in order to pour out.

I will feel able to give out encouragement and love and acceptance because I know there are endless reserves of them all in Jesus when I am in need.  I will be open-handed with my time and my friendship, not waiting for proof that someone is worthy of them.

And there is such freedom in this kind of generosity.  I am free to stop thinking about myself and worrying about my needs.  I am free to love and give extravagantly and to let others shine. I am free to keep giving without any thought to stocktaking.

Because this Kingdom has a King and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

He modelled this topsy-turvy Kingdom living when He left behind privilege and made Himself nothing.  He was rejected by His own creation and betrayed by friends.  He healed and performed miracles that were met with antagonism and unbelief.  He was alone when in obedience He went to the cross and was crucified.

And after all of this, He was raised to life and received His reward, the keys of life and death, which He freely shares with His beloved humanity, without reservation.

There is no place in this Kingdom for Little Red Hens.

It is a Kingdom of gratefulness and generosity where egos die and freshly baked gifts are sliced and shared and all blessings become worship.

Take time to be thankful today.  Find someone to share your blessings with.  Find someone to share yourself with.  Be generous with your words at every opportunity.  Joyfully live the upside-down, kingdom life.  Fill up and pour out.  Smile at a grumpy person.  Forgive someone who hasn’t even noticed they have hurt you.  Share something you earned with someone undeserving.

Let gratitude for God’s overwhelming, unmerited grace colour everything you do and say so that all who cross your path will know, without a doubt, what kingdom you belong to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful pruning

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At the lake that I love so much there is a particularly beautiful spot I always visit in the Spring.

It is called the Punch bowl and it sits within a section of the lake called the Valley Gardens.  Imagine a bright green, grassy floor surrounded on three sides by gentle hills that are overflowing with vivid azaleas and rhododendrons in all shades of pink and purple, red and orange and white.  The colours are so bright they almost look artificial against the grass and the blue sky.  The blossoms peak around early May, depending on the weather, and for as long as I can remember it has signalled to me the beginning of the British summer.

Two years ago some very worrying signs appeared, warning us that a renovation plan was about to start on the Punch Bowl that would take at least 5 years.  And sure enough, as soon as the flowers had finished blooming, the area was cordoned off and work began.

I had all but forgotten about the signs when my husband and I happened to walk past the area last spring.  The cordon was still in place but we peeked down into the valley and were shocked at what we saw.  Large trees that were damaged had been completely removed and the azaleas and rhododendrons were drastically, even brutally cut back.  The Valley was bare, colourless, lifeless.  I wanted to cry.

I googled the Garden’s website where I read reassurances that there was a careful plan and that the area would return to its former glory.  But, I struggled to believe it could ever really recover.

Then, last night my husband suggested we walk around the lake.  It was late afternoon and the park was emptying out of visitors as the weather turned cloudy and cool.  We found ourselves at the far end of the lake near the Punch bowl so we had another peek.

Mr Head Garderner, I am sorry I ever doubted you!

Even just two years into the renovation plan, my little spot of heaven is already fighting back.  The bushes that had been so harshly pruned are small but the colours are as bright as ever, even on a dull day.  They are already benefitting from the improved drainage and space and they are flourishing.

‘Wow,’ I said to my husband, ‘these gardeners really know what they are doing!’

And immediately a still small voice pricked my heart.

Because I have been experiencing some pruning of my own.  It is painful and ugly.  It has left bare patches in my life and in my soul.  The process has felt rather brutal at times.

But I see now that it is not.

It is the work of the Divine Gardener, the Good Shepherd of my soul who loves me more than I know.

His pruning is perfect.  He is never, ever trigger-happy with garden tools.  He doesn’t want to damage, He wants to heal.  His aim is restoration, not ruin.

But, He is a Gardener.  And, gardeners think in the long term.  They think in seasons, even years, planning and planting, seeding and weeding.  It is laborious and time-consuming.  Because beautiful projects always are.

So, I have a choice today.  I can question God’s workings in my life or I can trust the gardener’s plan.  It is okay to cry and grieve over what has been pruned but then it is time to peek over the fence with faith-filled eyes and expect to see the returning blossoms of His goodness where He has carefully tended my life.

Because I am always in good hands.  My God is gentle and careful and He is kind.

And, He loves me enough to renovate and restore until every corner of my life is beautiful.  

 

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Nothing to add

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I am sure you, like me, watched in disbelief as Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames.  My husband and I had our wedding in Paris and so we felt personal sadness to see this iconic landmark so badly damaged.

There was a particular poignancy that the fire happened a week before Easter and so photojournalists competed to get the perfect picture of the inside of the church.  The winning shot was on every newspaper and every digital outlet the next day – a large golden cross on an altar, rising undamaged from the rubble, highlighted by dusty sunbeams.

And I couldn’t help but think of the utter simplicity of the gospel.  When we take away all the religious clutter that we so often add, we are left with an absolutely perfect love story that is without equal.  And it stands alone, complete.  Our religiosity adds nothing.  Zero.  Nada.

We humans are funny. We somehow think that Almighty God needs manmade, ornate adornments.  And yet all of creation exists to worship Him.   Every mountain peak, every ocean belongs to Him (Psalm 95).  The heavens declare His glory (Psalm 19).

Isaiah 66.1 says it best.  ‘This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?’

It is just so easy to complicate God’s story.

And it is easy to complicate my response to it. 

It is so easy to try and add to what God has done, to think that religion and ritual add value to God’s gift or make our worship more pleasing to a distant and difficult God.

But when Jesus said, ‘It is finished’, He meant it.  When the curtain that concealed the holiest area of the Temple was torn in two, it was clear that God’s presence could once again be accessed directly and worship would now be based on internal obedience, not outward ritual.

But some of us struggle to accept a free gift.  It makes us very uncomfortable.

When I was growing up, we had an apple orchard.  In apple season the trees would produce far more than we could handle, even with my industrious mom canning endless jars of applesauce and apple butter.  So, one day we decided to put a basket of apples out by our fence with a sign saying, ‘Help yourself’.  You would not believe the arguments we had with people who insisted on paying us for them!  Their pride just wouldn’t let them receive free apples.  In the end, most of the fruit was spoiled and had to be thrown away.  What a waste.

And so it often is with faith.  It feels good to offer God something in return for His sacrifice.  It somehow relieves our guilt or makes us feel less helpless to attempt to add to what He has done. Religion is an easy way to earn something that is offered as a free gift of grace.

Notre Dame is a lovely structure and it is historically significant but it is just a building.  We are no closer to God in a fancy cathedral than we are in our back yard or driving in our car or sitting in the hall our church rents on a Sunday.  Worship is about a relationship, not ritual.  Liturgy is lifeless without love.

And even though I am tempted sometimes to earn what I have been given, the cross reminds me just how silly that really is.  Because the gospel story is very simple.

I desperately needed a Saviour.

He came.

It is straightforward and it is beautiful.  It is all I need.  It is enough to fuel my worship for all of eternity.

There is nothing to add to it but gratefulness, nothing to do but to give my whole heart to Jesus in trust and obedience.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, enjoy the simplicity of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Worship Him in grand buildings or rented halls or living rooms.  Sing with choirs or with your kids and a CD.  Enjoy His free gift with a thankful heart. Sit in the sun, breathe, smile, rest.

It is finished.  And it has just begun.  And we are right in the middle of all the glory of what God has done and what He is doing and what He is yet to do.

Happy Easter.

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Who will I be? It depends.

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Recently Paul and I walked again around our favourite lake.  It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and we bumped into very dear friends that we had gone to church with many years before.

They are older than us, around my parent’s age, and yet they hadn’t changed from how we remembered them.  Their circumstances are different, of course, and they are now blessed with about a dozen grandchildren.  But the essence of them hasn’t changed.  They still have the gentle meekness, the same kindness in their words, the same contented outlook on life.  He smiled as he told us how he continues to play the drums in church, more than thirty years since we first met them.   They gushed about the lovely day and the bacon sandwiches they had treated themselves to and their upcoming special anniversary trip.  They generously asked after all our children and we all said how good God is.

As we continued our walk I just couldn’t stop thinking about them.  ‘I want to be like them someday’ I said to Paul and he agreed.

A week later, my husband was walking the dog at the same spot when he bumped into another old friend who was cycling past.  Paul hadn’t spoken to him in probably 15 years.  And, he hadn’t really changed much either.  Still busy and hassled, talking too fast and always in a hurry.  The refrain was familiar.  Life is hectic and busy and stressful.  He, by his own admission, is overextended because his lifestyle is expensive to maintain, in both money and time.  He will have to work until he drops.  He is sorry he can’t make time for church, but his days are already invested and there are none left.  He misses it but not too much.  And he cycled away.

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As I think about those conversations, there is an uncomfortable truth that I am faced with.  And it is this.  The way I am living my life today is more than likely the way I will be living it in 20 years time.  Because habits take only 40 days to form and so after 40 years they are pretty much carved in stone.

It is so easy to think in ‘somedays’.   We tell ourselves that someday we will slow down and enjoy our family.  Or someday we will give our relationship with Jesus the time it deserves.  Someday we will serve others more.  Someday we will go on that mission trip or study a book of the Bible.  Someday we will step out in faith and do something risky for God or finally obey what we know He has been asking us to do.

But change is really hard.

And every day that goes by it gets harder. 

Over decades we dig deep grooves in the soil of our lives that are nearly impossible to ignore.  We have ways of doing things, natural tendencies and preferences.  We also have bad habits and we have well-practised excuses for those bad habits. And we just keep going.

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Nowhere in the Bible is this process better illustrated than Psalm 1.

‘How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.’  Psalm 1: 1-3 (NASB)

Here we see a beautiful tree, planted in a stunning location.  It is healthy and vibrant and fruitful.  It is prospering in every possible way.  Each leaf is glossy and green, every root is strong and stable.

And the key to a life like this is in the previous verses.

Decisions. Habits. Priorities. Choices.

There is nothing ‘someday’ here.  It is all about what I do right now.  It is about where I spend my time and who I hang out with.  It is about what gets my undivided attention and what doesn’t.  It is about who I admire and what values I live my life by this week, today, now.

It is all about the place that God has in my life, whether He is just an add-on or whether He is the absolute centre of everything that I think and do.

And, the truth is that it will probably never be easier than today to make hard choices and decisions.  It will never be easier to make God my first love and to make serving and following Him the centre of everything.  There will probably never be fewer demands on my time or distractions in my mind.

There will never be an easier, better day to make changes than today. 

As I sit at my desk, my mind full of worries and frets and to-do lists and diary appointments, I am wondering who I will be in 20 years.  If you were to bump into me walking at the lake (with my fourth labrador!) who would you see?

My deepest desire is that all the good that Jesus has already done in my life will be magnified for His glory and that the good habits I have started, even if I am inconsistent, will have produced fruit in my life.

And I hope that I will have had the courage to keep changing.  I hope that the things that hold me back now will have been overcome and that I will have continued to allow the character of Jesus to be fully formed in me.

And I hope that I will be full of fresh testimonies of the power and grace of God as He continuously moves me from the old into the new until the day I go to be with Him.

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Not wasting my waiting

 

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‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’  Isaiah 40.31.

I feel like I have been doing waiting all wrong.

And I have done a lot of waiting.  I’ve waited for many answers to prayers, long after I expected them to be answered.  I’ve waited for God’s direction and for His solutions to problems.  I’ve also waited, through tears, for spiritual understanding after confusing disappointments.

And my waiting has not looked remotely like Isaiah’s description.

Far from renewed strength, waiting has often felt like the life was draining from me.  Rather than running, I barely crawled.  At times I was in danger of completely losing hope.   Instead of eagle-soaring, I curled up on the sofa with a bowl of ice-cream and a box set.

Because waiting is really hard.  The most difficult times in my life have been lived in the space between the promises and the provisions of the Lord.  Those times can feel hard and long and really desperate.

And yet James 1.2-4 says, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.’

There is a better kind of waiting than the one I have experienced.  There is useful patience in trials.   There is a way to wait that reaps spiritual benefits.

So, how can I wait well?

I can make Jesus my focus.  Isaiah is describing those who wait on the Lord‘.  Sometimes I am so fixated on circumstances they are all I think about.  They become my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night.  This is not good for me.  And it will never produce faith or hope.

Turning my attention towards God’s truth and His faithfulness helps me to rest while I wait.  This rest is a source of renewed strength and without it, I will wear out.  Focusing on the goodness of God and His faithfulness to me makes my spirit strong and helps me to handle discouragement and doubt.  By starting the day with worship, whether I feel like it or not, I am choosing to focus on God, not the situations I cannot control.  By filling my thoughts with God’s word throughout the day I am choosing what He says over what my circumstances are telling me.

I can also saturate my waiting with gratefulness.  Otherwise, I will become discontent.  Praying for something that I desperately need from God without thanking Him for what He has already done is dangerous for my soul.  It causes me to lose perspective and turns my waiting into whining.  Gratefulness is a simple habit to learn.  But don’t underestimate it, it is a powerful weapon and it will kill self-pity with one blow.

And finally,  I can be expectant of blessings while I wait.   Look at those verses in James again.  There is a promise that patience during times of difficulty brings complete provision of everything that we need! Read those words and believe they are true.  Then expect abundant provision to be produced when you wait with faith and hope.

When we find ourselves in a painful season of waiting, we can decide to view it as a conduit of blessing.  We can expect to receive something that we are lacking.  It is a promise from God.  Times of waiting, however grueling they feel, are opportunities for supernatural provision.  God uses trials to heal us, mature us, make us more like Jesus and to prepare us for whatever is next.

There a spiritual sweet spot in the gap between what I am believing for and what I have received.  It is the spot where Christian maturity is produced and my readiness to receive blessing is expedited.  If I don’t resist or resent these seasons, they won’t be wasted.

And I really don’t want to waste my waiting.  It is already painful enough.   On this grey Thursday, while I am waiting for God to answer, I want to squeeze out every drop of goodness.   I want to look to Him, worship Him, thank him and expect Him to provide everything that I need.

I want to never waste an ounce of waiting and then by God’s grace, I will be ready for the answer when it comes.