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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why this is not a self-help blog

 

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I’ve always been a sucker for a self-help book.

If you could peek at my Kindle library you would see the collection of organizing books that I have read in the hope of transforming my scatteredness.  And then there are diet books and fitness plans alongside books that tell me  how to use my time well and get more done or how to simplify my life and slow down.  And, within the pages of these books I have found very practical, good advice that has helped me to make important changes.

But as a follower of Jesus, I must always remember the limitations of self-help books.

First of all, motivational writing is only helpful if it is true.   The pages of a book can tell me that I have within myself all the keys to my own happiness and success.  They can convince me that I can become anything I want to be if I try hard enough.  They can tell me that the sky is the limit if I will just change what I believe about my capabilities.  They can offer me all sorts of beautifully uplifting sentiments that will fill me up and make me smile.  They will sound good and true but they are only partly true which makes them misleading.  And it makes them wholly inadequate to sustain me when life gets really tough.

It only takes one terrible mistake, one devastating piece of bad news or heartbreaking betrayal to show me how little control I really have.  At that moment, what I really need to know is that I belong to a God who is in control, even when I am not, and that nothing can ever separate me from His love or His purposes or His presence.

Another problem with self-help books is that they assume personal happiness is always my goal.  But I’ve tried chasing this elusive quality and it is an impossible and exhausting exercise.  Happiness has a way of always feeling just out of reach.

The Bible tells me that the goal of the Christian life is to know God and to make Him known.  It also promises me that joy is the inevitable, beautiful fruit of my growing relationship with Him.

I don’t ever want to settle for mere happiness.  It is flimsy and precarious and it can be snatched from me with one phone call.

God’s joy is altogether different.  It is a hardy plant.  It can survive, even flourish, in the midst of grief and disappointment, blossoming in impossible places.

You can’t produce it yourself though.  It is the natural byproduct of a life poured out for Jesus and for others.

Another limitation of self-help books, even by Christian authors, is that they can overemphasize life here and now.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I believe in John 10.10 with my whole heart.  I believe that Jesus wants to give me that abundant life today.  I believe that He wants to heal and deliver me from the things that hold me down and He wants to provide my needs and bless me.  But, I don’t have to race around with a bucket list of experiences in order to live life well.  I don’t have to chase accomplishment or acclaim in the fear of wasting this time I am given. I can enjoy life, with all its ups and downs, its limitations and disappointments, joys and blessings precisely because I know that this isn’t all there is.  And, thank goodness for that!  It takes the pressure off of ‘making life amazing every day’ and just allows me to enjoy the imperfect journey, knowing that there is a day coming when everything will be as it should be.

And finally, although self-help advice is often good and helpful, the ‘why’ can be a bit misguided.  And why we do something really, really matters.

With my whole heart, I want to live life carefully.  I want to use my time well, eliminate distractions and clutter.  I want to change my thinking.  I want to be less lazy and more productive.  I want to expect more from myself and believe more from God.  And I want to encourage others to do the same.  That is why I started this blog a year ago.

But it has never been about reaching my full-potential or realizing personal dreams.  I am not a slave to a Pinterest vision board or Instagram philosophies.  I am running for a different prize.

I want to use my time well because there is need in the world that God wants to meet.  I want to be more oganized so I can make time for what has eternal value.  Decluttering matters because stuff is way less important than people.  Health and fitness matter because there is Kingdom work to do and I need the energy to do it.  I  need to look after my mental health so I can enjoy everything God has given me and so I can love others well.

And I should ask Jesus to work every healing and deliverance in my life that is needed because people who are whole can best lead others into wholeness.

Self-help can be just a poor copy of something much better.  I have a Shepherd who loves me.  He promises to lead me and restore my soul and He says I will want for nothing.  He takes my broken, imperfect life and makes it a Kingdom resource in His powerful hands.  He helps me overcome obstacles so I can walk on my high places.  Not because I am all that amazing, but because He really is.

What a relief that is!

I know my limitations but I know the limitless transforming power of the Creator of the Universe which trumps any weakness I bring to the table.

This girl doesn’t need any self-help.  I just need to help myself to the spiritual treasures that are mine because of Jesus.

And then any good I accomplish will be all for His glory and for the renowned of His wonderful name.

 

 

 

The gift of feeling small

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When my husband suggested we go away for my 50th birthday I didn’t hesitate. ‘Just take me somewhere with proper snow’.

Maybe it is because I was born in the middle of a snow blizzard (my mom had to ride in a police car behind a snow plough to get to the hospital!) or maybe it is because the first seventeen years of my life were lived in places where winter was white.  For whatever reason I love snow.  And although we often get an annual dusting where I live in England, it is rarely enough to satisfy.

So we booked five nights in an apartment in the Austrian Alps.

I had completely forgotten what it feels like to live life at the foot of the mountains.  We just could not stop looking at them, mouths open and cameras clicking wildly.  They were too beautiful, too imposing to ignore.  ‘It is good to feel small sometimes, isn’t it’, my husband commented.  And it really was.  There is a strange, comforting feeling of insignificance at the base of a mountain.

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We were soon reminded of how quickly mountain weather changes.  One moment storm clouds would arrive, dropping the temperature and blocking the sun.  And then, as soon as you had put on another layer it would move away again revealing sun-soaked peaks that we had almost forgotten were there.  They always seemed bigger when they reappeared and we always felt even smaller.

Our apartment was cosy and the views were mesmerizing.  We never got tired of eating bowls of soup in front of the large window where we watched skiers on runs that were carved through pine forests.  They looked like tiny, speedy ants against the dramatic Alpine backdrop.

On three of our days, we had planned winter hikes.  Snow-covered trails were a new experience for us.  They were steep and tiring, even with the help of our new blue walking poles.

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Our second hike was particularly difficult and we were afraid we had bitten off more than we could chew.  So we were ecstatic when we finally spotted the mountain hut, smoke curling out of the chimney and the smell of Austrian goodies that made our mouths water.  This is the Austrian way to climb mountains.  If you plan your trek well, you can recharge with soup and coffee and cake.  And the views take your breath away.

My noodle soup hit the spot.  Still warm from the hike, we sat outside around wooden tables and looked down, amazed at how high we were.  It was exhilarating, like being on top of the world.  Until, of course, the map showed us that a three and a half hour hike had only brought us a small way up this mountain, highlighting that our efforts, although commendable were relatively modest.

When we got back down to the village, with a mixture of careful hiking and less careful slipping and sliding, we looked back at where we had been.  We felt so tired, so happy and so, so small.

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And then, on the last day, in the middle of fun and food, it happened.  My old enemy, anxiety decided to show up.  Like the mountain storms we had watched from our window, it blew in quickly and blocked out the sun.

And so I cried in a Mcdonalds in the middle of Innsbruck.  And I felt smaller perhaps than I ever remembered feeling in my life.

And my problem seemed bigger than it ever had before.  It loomed over me like those mountains we climbed and I knew that I could hike all day and barely make it out of the foothills.  The difficult truth is that anxiety is just too big for me.

But there is another truth, a truer truth.   My God makes an audacious claim in the Bible.

He tells me that He can move mountains.

These are such easy words to read.  They are familiar to anyone who has spent much time in church.  They adorn posters and bookmarks in every Christian bookstore in the world.

It is good to feel small sometimes.  It is comforting to know that I’m just a little speedy ant on this planet but what really matters is how big I believe God is and what I think He is capable of.  

I don’t know what your mountain is today but I know how it makes you feel.  I know that it dominates the landscape of your life and sometimes it blocks out the sun.

And I know that it is probably too big for you but that’s okay.

Goliath was too big for David.  David had youthful passion and bravery but without God, it would have ended very badly.  David took on Goliath because He knew the size of God compared to the size of his enemy.

It is good to square up to our Goliaths, to face up to our mountains.  It is good to be brave and defiant.  It is also good to know how small you really are.

It is a gift from God, even in a dingy fast-food restaurant, to realise how much I need God. And it is beyond wonderful to know that we are children of the God of five-smoothe-stone miracles and mountain-moving power who doesn’t just tell us to lace up our hiking boots and try harder.

Which is a relief because I am small and the mountain is big.

But, I believe with my whole heart that God can move it for me.

And I believe that He will.

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Risky Kingdom Business

 

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I have never been a risk taker.

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

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

But, today God spoke to my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They left everything on the field.

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

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

The only way to follow Him is wholehearted.

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

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

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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.