Advent Jubilee

 

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Oh, the pain of finding the perfect quote when it is too late!

My husband sent me this quote after my last blog post.

We need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.  The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.’  CS Lewis

As usual, CS Lewis says it better than I ever could.

This is the tension of the normal Christian life.  It is a life of perfecting, but not perfectionism; resting, but never passive; grateful, but still hungry.

You see when the New Testament uses the word ‘perfect’ it comes from a Greek word, ‘teleios’, that means mature, complete, whole or mature.

There is a work that Jesus has started in my life.  His desire is to finish it and my job is to let Him.  

This is so important to understand. We cannot afford to get this twisted.

The normal Christain life is a life where I am to let go of trying to be good enough but to instead put all my effort into being available, open, and teachable to God’s perfecting work in me.  

Legalism has no place in this kind of Christianity, but neither does lackadaisical Jesus-following.   The only appropriate response to God’s graceful gift is to be willing clay in the Potter’s hands.  The cross of Christ means I can make peace with my past mistakes and failures, but I must never make peace with an incomplete work of sanctification and restoration in my life.  

This is the full gospel.

I love the verses in Luke where Jesus announces why He has come.

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he has anointed me to be hope for the poor, freedom for the brokenhearted, and new eyes for the blind, and to preach to prisoners, ‘You are set free!’ I have come to share the message of Jubilee, for the time of God’s great acceptance has begun.”  (Luke 4.18, the Passion Translation)

Is there anything more beautiful, more hopeful, to know that we live within the time of God’s great acceptance?  This friendship with God that we experience as Christians is beyond comprehension.

But look closer, there is more.  God’s saving work in our lives also includes freedom, healing and wholeness.  God’s desire is to save but also to restore.

Let’s never be content with less than Jesus came for.

In this time of Advent, let’s invite God’s work of Jubilee right into the centre of our lives.  As we remember the birth of Jesus, let’s also sit at the feet of the risen, victorious Jesus.  Let’s dare to bring Him what is fractured, damaged or bound and expect His life-giving, restorative work, wherever we have need of it.

Let’s celebrate Christmas this year thankful for God’s gift of salvation but also hungry to know all the fullness of that salvation in our hearts and lives.

 

 

 

 

Holy discontent

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I write a lot about contentment.

It is something that I highly value and believe to be a key to happiness and well being.  It is nothing less than a gift from God to wake up and love what you already have.  There is peace and freedom with this kind of gratefulness that is worth pursuing.

But I had a realization today.

Sometimes I am content with things that I shouldn’t be.

Just as I am learning contentment in the areas of my life where I am prone to perfectionism, so I also need to learn when a good healthy dose of discontentment is needed.

Here are a few from my life.  Maybe you can relate.

Sometimes I am content with a remote, rather business-like relationship with God.  Sometimes I am okay with just going through the motions of Christianity. There are times when going to church, singing songs, going to mid-week meetings and serving in Sunday school feels like enough for me, even though it isn’t.  In these times I can feel close to God, but I am actually further away than I know, following a second-hand lifestyle instead of the voice of my Shepherd.

In the middle of one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, Jesus speaks these words, I have loved you, just as the Father has loved me.  Remain, abide, stay in that love and live there.  (John 15.9)

It is possible for me to live every day in the living reality of God’s love.

It is also very possible, even likely, that I can regularly miss out on it all together because I allow myself to be content with less.

The problem is that I am easily satisfied with all sorts of things other than Jesus.  I am by nature a girl who loves to have fun.  I am never happier than when I am spending time with those I love, eating out or having coffee, playing games or watching football.  I love trips and holidays and special occasions.  I love shopping and a good box set.  They fill me up.  And if I let them, they will keep me full and satisfied and completely oblivious to the call from Jesus to come close and know Him.

John Piper says, “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

I am always in danger of being content with small things.  They can be good things, even wonderful things.  They can be gifts from God’s hand.  But I have to remind myself to enjoy them in a way that moves me to worship the Giver, not the blessings themselves.

Because in my life, this satisfaction with small things always results in a satisfaction with a powerless faith.  I have this tendency to accept defeat in my life, to habitually keep fighting the same battles over and over again.  It is embarrassing how easily I become comfortable with fruitless prayer or a sporadic, feelings-led relationship with God’s Word.

My problem is that I am too easily pleased. 

But it’s not okay, it is not enough.

It is a weak, pasty version of my destiny and it falls very far short of what Christ bought for me on the cross.

The Bible tells me that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, lives inside of me!   Do I really believe that?  If I do, then I should expect to see God’s power at work every day of my life, changing hopeless situations, bringing answers and victory where there is bondage and defeat.  I should expect healing and wholeness and answers for my questions.

And I should become very uncomfortable with any other kind of Christianity. 

There is a holy discontentment that should keep me up at night.  It is a dissatisfaction with anything that falls short of God’s will in my life.  There is a Godly frustration I need to cultivate that won’t rest until victories are won.  I need to get mad when the enemy steals from people I love or when he whispers lies to my heart.  I need to be offended when the advance of Gods kingdom is thwarted.   It should matter to me.

My prayer today is that God would make me a woman who is consumed with this kind of discontentment, who is utterly dissatisfied with defeat, stagnation or status quo.  I pray He would fill me with gratefulness for everything He gives and discontentment with even a drop less than His perfect will.

May God bless us with good friends, loving families and fun.  But, may only a life filled up with testimonies of the goodness and power of God ever satisfy.

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.