What do you have?

 

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

 

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

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

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

Until today.

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

But the Apostle isn’t finished.

‘What I do have, I give to you.’

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

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

And all because Peter and John gave what they have.

All because they had something to give.

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

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

But not Peter and John.

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, what do we have to give?

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

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

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

And He wants to start today.

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

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

His name is Jesus.  And, you know Him.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t miss the new

 

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God is doing something new in you.

Don’t miss it.

Don’t mistake it.

Don’t misunderstand it.

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

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

And what He started in you, He is finishing.

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

Do you see it?

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

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

Sometimes they just feel too painful to be good.

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

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

And so it is with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Him be big.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knowable

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

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

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

Just read Jeremiah 31.33-34.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t ever believe anything else.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Sincerity

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

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

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

They lacked sincerity.

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

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

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

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

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

But look at the way the sermon starts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But honesty is the key to everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

January thoughts

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The rightful King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas.

 

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Clearing Christmas clutter

 

 

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We finally faced the dreaded task last weekend and cleaned out the loft.

It was pretty miserable, dusty, dirty work but it needed to be done.  With children coming and going, moving in and moving out, the loft was filled to the brim with all sorts and it had become impossible to locate the last few Christmas decorations.  So, I announced a family work day with the promise of pizza reward.

If your family is anything like ours, clutter is a constant battle.  As soon as you clear a surface in the house, it seems to instantly become a magnet for keys, post, phones and pretty much anything else that needs a home.

And there are other kinds of clutter.  We can pile up unmade decisions or unresolved conflicts.  Too many commitments or projects can squeeze the life out of our routines until they are joyless.  And of course, worries, fears and negative thoughts often clutter our minds and drown out God’s voice.

Don’t be fooled, clutter is nothing but a thief.  It steals our time and our attention, clogging up closets and minds.  It distracts and derails us.  It burdens us and pulls us down.

And, Christmas is no exception.

When clutter fills our holidays, what is really important can disappear under a pile of festive jumble. 

But we can fight it if we want to.

And we can start by saying no.  Over Christmas the invitations are endless.  So is the list of things we think we ‘have to do’.  It is impossible to do it all so we must learn to be selective.  What is most important and what can you just leave out this year?   What gives you joy and fills you up?  What do you dread?  There are, of course, responsibilities and commitments that are non-negotiable but there are also things we do that are unnecessary and just serve to wear us out.  I love receiving Christmas cards but I find it very hard to organize myself to send them, so I don’t.  For years the kids and I would have a big all day baking marathon. It was so much fun but now they are all working and busy so we had to let it go.  My girlfriends and I often wait until January for a big get-together.  It is a fun event to look forward to and one less item to fit into the Christmas calendar. What can you leave out this year or reschedule for the New Year that will free up some time and space in your schedule and in your heart?

Then, resist the hype.  Every advert on the television, daytime tv slot or magazine cover tells you that Christmas has to be perfect and that it has to be expensive.  Don’t listen, it isn’t true.  It is meaning that makes celebrations special, not matching baubles or a perfect party outfit. Most of my decorations are quite old now, but they are filled with memories, like the mugs that Paul and I were given on our first Christmas after we were married or the Christmas quilt the women in my family made together years ago.

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So, this year, look the culture square in the eye and swim upstream.  De-emphasize perfection and acquisition.  Emphasize the unseen virtues of tradition and generosity of spirit.  Be different.  Celebrate Christmas in a way that gets you noticed.  Travel light and be a light.

And learn to love simplicity.  Christmas lunch doesn’t need dozens of side dishes.  It really doesn’t.  Streamline it down to the most popular elements.  Make the table pretty and then enjoy.  If you really love baking and have time then go for it, but if not, don’t sweat.  I now make just three cookie recipes every year and then I buy stolen and Italian panettone.  That’s it.  Boring maybe, but it saves me overspending and overeating and frees up time to just be with people I love.  I don’t need to be a martyr to an endless supply of baked goods or a gourmet lunch.

The key with Christmas is to include what is important and then to be brave enough to let the unnecessary go.  

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So, think before you buy.  As we are trying to clear our own lives of clutter, let’s not contribute to anyone else’s.  Spend much more time thinking about what to give and less time walking around the shops, dazed and desperate.  I find myself favouring gifts that are perishable much more now and I try and avoid anything that will need storage or dusting.  Gourmet food, toiletries, candles or gift vouchers for activities like the cinema have become my go-to’s.  If in doubt, just ask and save yourself from wasteful guesses.  Let’s be honest, most of us don’t need any more knick-knacks.

Then, make time for quiet.   In order to enjoy the spiritual aspects of this season, we have to make room to think and to meet with God.  I like to get up early before my young adults have emerged, and sit by the tree with my Bible.  There is something so important about worshipping first before the craziness of the day starts.  I also take any chance I am given to get outside and just walk.  I have learned this tip from the British and there is no better way to balance out the overdose of chocolates and mince pies.  A brisk walk somewhere beautiful is a very good way to clear mental clutter.  It can put things in perspective and still our souls.   Without these moments of escape, we run the risk of starting the New Year with ragged emotions and tired hearts.

And finally, make space for loving people.  Over Christmas, we will inevitably be spending time with people we find difficult or with whom we have a strained relationship or just clashing personalities.  Instead of accepting the awkwardness and enduring it, how about approaching it with prayer?  Praying now for those we will be seeing over the holidays in the days leading up to our get-togethers is so powerful.  It makes space in our hearts for love for family members or colleagues and it has the power to change and heal situations.

People are what matters, so make relationships the priority.  

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Decide today that Christmas will be clutter free.  Be brave enough to let the tinsel go and fill the days with only the good stuff.

Enjoy it.  Do what you love.  Do what matters.  Play games and laugh.  Kiss your husband.  Be generous with words and smiles and time and attention.  Read the Chrismas story.  Wonder at His love for humanity. Weep at His love for you.

The recipe for a good Christmas isn’t rocket science.  Start every day with worship and end it with gratitude.  And, fill the middle with love.  

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.