something out of nothing

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“The Shepherd laughed too. “I love doing preposterous things,” he replied. “Why, I don’t know anything more exhilarating and delightful than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith, and that which has been marred into perfection. If there is one thing more than any other which I should enjoy doing at this moment it is turning a jellyfish into a mountain goat. That is my special work,” he added with the light of great joy in his face. “Transforming things —to take Much-Afraid, for instance, and to transform her into—“ He broke off and then went on laughingly. “Well, we shall see later on what she finds herself transformed into.”
― Hannah Hurnard, Hinds Feet on High Places

I remember the first time I read those words.

I was thirteen at the time and a friend gave me a copy of the Christian classic book, Hinds Feet on High Places. This allegorical story is about a character called, Much-Afraid, and the Good Shepherd who helps her to overcome fear and to follow Him on an adventure up into the mountains.  It is based on some verses in Psalm 18.

I enjoyed this book about a preposterous Shepherd who heals and transforms, but I didn’t really think it applied to me. How could I? When I looked in the mirror I saw only a freckled, bespectacled teenager with nothing remarkable or noteworthy to mention. Just a country girl with hair that had a mind of its own and insecurities no curling iron could tame. The idea that God had preposterous plans for me never even crossed my mind.

Over the years I re-read the book and the same parts always made me cry. In particular, every time Much-Afraid would look down and remember how disfigured her feet were and how impossible the mountain paths would be.

I cried because I have lived that moment many times.

For me, it was an internal disfigurement, a lack of self-esteem that would show up at the most inopportune times. It would hit me when I was up in front of people and it was immobilizing. It didn’t matter how much I practiced for the piano recital or the volleyball game or how good I was when I was alone; as soon as I stepped out in front of people I would remember my crookedness. I was ordinary at best, an under-achiever, nothing special. And it became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy as I would crash and burn again, in public.

But what I didn’t understand at 13, I am beginning to get at 50. It is that God is not remotely limited by what he has to work with. He sees potential where we cannot. A small lunch was more than enough to transform into a buffet for thousands. A pretzel would have been sufficient.

The God that I call Father has been making something out of nothing since the beginning of time when He spoke light and time and order out of emptiness. Transforming a broken life is bread and butter to Him. It is what He does. And it is what He has been doing for me since the day I met Him.

In 2 Corinthians 5.17 is a very familiar verse. It says, ‘Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’

The original Greek word that is translated twice as new here is Kainos. It means, ‘recently made, created, fresh‘ but it also means, unprecedented, unheard of, uncommon.’

Is that preposterous enough for you?

He is taking your life, and He is taking mine, and He is making something out of nothing.  It is what He does. He is turning what is marred into His masterpieces. He is the potter and we are the clay and the pots He is making are filled with treasure because they are filled with Him.

In my own life, He is taking self-doubt and turning it into powerful faith because even if I can’t, I am starting to believe that He can. He is slowly turning failure into gratefulness and humility and He is making brokenness an opportunity to need Him and to know Him better.  He is taking disfigurement and making it beautiful.  He is taking every line of my story, the painful and the joyous, and writing a testimony of His goodness and power.  

And, as preposterous as it may sound, He is taking my life and making it extraordinary.

Because nothing God does is ordinary.  Nothing He plans for our lives is predictable or commonplace.  And everthing He does is good.

And in the end, despite crooked feet and a bruised soul, Jesus wants to lead us right to the very top of His will for our lives. Will we dare to follow Him?

It is good and it is all for the glory of His beautiful name.  

 

It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places.’  Psalm 18.32-33

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Priceless possession

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One afternoon in late summer, a soon-to-be university student was packing her things for the new adventure ahead. Alongside her clothing and books, there was a framed picture she had recently inherited from her grandmother that had sentimental value. It depicted a scene of Native Americans on horses in the mountains of the American west and it had hung above her grandmother’s bed for decades.

As this student was placing the picture in a box, she noticed that a mosquito had found its way under the glass so she opened up the frame to clean it. As she lifted up the glass she realized that what she had thought was just a framed print was actually an original painting.

And it was no ordinary painting. Experts on the Antique Roadshow declared it to be the work of a French painter, Henry Francois Farny. This quaint family heirloom was actually worth around $300,000!

Sometimes we have something in our possession and yet have no idea of its value. It may be hanging on the wall or sitting in a drawer or boxed away in the loft. And because we are ignorant of its value, we aren’t particularly careful with it. It can get knocked around, chipped and tarnished as we treat it like it is ordinary and replaceable.

In Proverbs 4.23, we are told that the condition of our own hearts matters more than anything in our possession. Our hearts, the seats of our thoughts, decisions and emotions, are priceless to God. They determine what kind of person we are and where we are going next. We can read tons of great books and listen to powerful speakers but it is the state of our hearts that really affects the direction of our lives.  

And the Bible has a lot to say about my heart.

It tells me that my heart is the soil in which everything is planted. God speaks truth to me; He gives me abilities and callings.  They are perfect gifts from Him but they need good soil to flourish. And my heart is specially created by God to be that good soil.  It just takes some gardening; that’s my part of the deal. If I value what God has entrusted me with I will be careful where I plant it.

The Bible also says that hearing Gods voice and knowing His will for my life can be tricky. It takes a kind of sincerity and sensitivity that can easily spoil. If I value hearing from God I will weed out pride and unbelief, knowing that humility gets God’s attention.

And the Bible tells me that I have to be intentional about whole-hearted love. It is so easy to be content with far less and then little-love becomes cold love. Hearts tend to expand for the things we care for and shrink for the things we neglect.  A heart of love is the result of good investments of time and energy in what matters.

And Bible is clear that my response to those who have hurt or disappointed me really matters. Because unforgiveness is nothing less than captivity for my soul. It kidnaps my joy and freedom and puts a cap on my sensitivity to God’s leading. If I can’t extend forgiveness, I  probably haven’t experienced it fully myself and that gap in my spiritual life is a dangerous one.

You see, my heart has the ability to lead me to God’s deepest desires for my life. 

Or it can lie to me. 

It can be good soil or cement  It can be sensitive to God’s Spirit or it can be dull and hard.  It just depends.

But my heart is a gift from God.

It is the place where He can impart supernatural vision and passion.

It is the place where Godly dreams are imagined and where His still small voice is heard.

It is the place where I can stir up faith; it is where I can forgive and decide to follow.

Value your heart because everything important starts there. Be careful what you plant. Make space for the whisper of God. Believe that no fear or doubt, hurt or disappointment that you find there is beyond His loving reach.

And be a whole-hearted follower of Jesus, the creator and lover of your soul.

 

‘So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are.
Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.’  Proverbs 4.23 (Passion translation)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing for uni

Well, here we go again.

Summer is fading away like the flowers in my garden.  The nights are drawing in and the mornings are full of that exciting, back-to-school chill.  The exam results finally arrived and my youngest is excitedly preparing for his next adventure.

And so once again the dining room is a collection point for items on the university list.  I have gathered together frying pans and towels and cleaning wipes and bottles of vitamin C to compensate for the inevitable junk-food binging.

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And now I feel some last-minute panic as I try to cram in important information like the recipe for my chilli or how to avoid catching fresher flu (the key is to regularly wipe door handles with anti-bacterial wipes).

But I needn’t sweat the small stuff really.  Yes, my son will shrink some sweaters and burn dinners in the first term.   He’ll probably put off doing wash until he has no clean underwear or socks.  He will stay up too late and flunk a test or two, lose important items and spend way too much money on pizza.  But these are minor life lessons, nothing to worry about really.

It’s the bigger stuff that matters.

And the big stuff isn’t really crammable.  These are the things that have to be modelled.  They have to be taught life-to-life, little by little, during dinner conversations and family vacations and school runs.  I can’t just put them on a tick-list or tuck them in his suitcase.

So with my son’s permission, here are the things that I hope he has started to learn but that I want him to keep in mind as he sets out into the foothills of adulthood.  These are the things that really matter.

In a world that highly values image, be the one with character.  Character is a hard-won and often neglected quality and yet it determines so much of the kind of life you will live.  People who keep their word, follow through with commitments and stand up for what is right are hard to find.  Faithfulness doesn’t sell magazines but it will make you a successful spouse and friend.  So do the right thing even when it is hard or costly or unpopular.  Be honest about your failures and aware of your shortcomings.  Decide that before popularity, success or status; goodness is what you will strive for. 

And live generously.  Be generous with your money and your words and your time.  Remember birthdays. Be the first to say sorry and the last to complain.  Think the best of people.  Give second chances even when you have been let down. Treat others kindly when no one is looking.  Tip well.  Include outsiders; notice the lonely.   If help is needed, volunteer. Share what you have.  In every situation that you find yourself, be the solution, not the problem.

And then be brave enough to face your ‘stuff’.  Don’t blame other people when you misbehave; take responsibility and make it right.  Acknowledge your mistakes.  Recognize patterns of behaviour that are destructive and then prayerfully take them to Jesus.  Never, ever be afraid to ask for help or advice or counselling or prayer.   Do whatever it takes to be the best version of yourself. 

And finally, treat your faith like it is the most valuable thing you have.  Don’t ever neglect it or take it for granted.  Work through any questions and doubts.  Hang out with people who love God more than you do.  Decide that being at church on Sunday is non-negotiable; you need your church family and they need you.  Treat the Bible as a treasure.  Pray like God is really listening, because He is.  Don’t ever forget what Jesus has done for you and saved you from and who you would be without Him.

There are things that matter and things that really don’t.  Know which is which.  Know that you are loved by your family and by Jesus and that your life has value beyond exams and degrees and careers.  You are who God says you are, His precious child, and as you pack up for your new adventure that is the most important thing to take with you. 

 

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Celebrating faithfulness

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I woke up today to the heartbreaking news of another man of faith, a church leader, who has walked away from God.

Plenty of blogs have been and will be written to explore the why’s and wherefores and there will be many opinions and conclusions in the weeks ahead.  Lives are complicated and the reasons people walk away are varied.

Barnabas Piper posted this advice in response,Every time a prominent Christian leaves the faith go find a story (or twelve) of unknown Christians being faithful in the midst of persecution and suffering.’

So instead of adding to the endless speculation of why someone falls away, I thought I would process my own feelings by celebrating faithful people I know.

Last week I had the privilege of listening to a young man named Ben Courson speak at a conference I was attending.  Ben is the son of a well-known pastor in the US.  It was a special moment for me because my dad knows his dad and so I was familiar with his story, which is a very difficult one.  Ben’s sister died in a car accident when he was a young boy and he lost his older brother to cancer only last spring.  Alongside the pressures of growing up as a Pastor’s kid, Ben struggled with depression for 10 years and had a heartbreak in his marriage that was devastating.

And yet Ben travels the world with the message of hope. He speaks to young people about a faithful God who holds onto us in the midst of tragedy and suffering.  He talks about a faith that, ‘doesn’t always make sense but does make miracles.’  I don’t know if Ben ever considered giving up; I expect he did.  But he is finishing his race with joy.  He has wrestled with God, worked through his questions and doubts and allowed God to turn grief into a message that brings life to those who need it.

And I want to tell you about friends of ours, a young couple who felt called to serve in an extremely dangerous part of the middle east.  They said yes to Jesus and spent the first years of their marriage preparing.  They will not have children; their calling is too dangerous.  The American dream for them was living on a boat in San Diego while they faithfully and quietly trained for the mission field.  There were many setbacks and delays and discouragements but I have had the joy of sharing lunch with these precious servants of the Lord and I came away undone.  They are the happiest couple you would hope to meet.  Purpose infuses every word they speak and they think nothing of what they have given up to share God’s love with others.

And let me tell you about a faithful Pastor in Pakistan.  My daughter’s fiance is from Pakistan and a few weeks ago my husband and I were at a barbeque with the two families and we had the privilege of meeting this family friend.  He has attended dozens of Christian funerals after church attacks by extremists and his congregation has to have armed guards every Sunday.  And yet the idea of not meeting together on a Sunday has never even crossed their minds. The faith of these precious followers and their commitment to each other is strong and resilient and it withstands challenges we have never faced.

And in my own family and church, there is such beautiful faithfulness.  The quiet heroes I know ask for nothing in return and their names are not known beyond their small circles of influence.  They run medical clinics without taking salaries and spend their vacations serving disabled children.  They give up evenings to run Alpha groups, do marriage counselling for free and pray for the sick. They help troubled young people furnish their first homes and they preach to small congregations with loving preparation and excellence.  They raise families and they serve their communities and churches without recognition.

And these stories are multiplied throughout the world where Christians are building hospitals and schools, campaigning to end slavery or equipping young offenders to lead successful and happy lives.  These Christians don’t wait for governments to solve the problems; they get out there and work for solutions themselves with creativity and passion.

If I never fall away, it will be for two reasons; the grace of God and the amazing Christians I know.

Look around you this Sunday and see the faithfulness service of others.  Be generous with your encouragement and miserly with your criticism.  Pray for your leaders, thank those who serve your kids and have your worship leader over for dinner.

Then read about the persecuted church, if you dare.  Pray or give or write a letter to one of these saints.  These are our brothers and sisters, our family.  They will be never be asked to speak at a conference or write a book and yet their faith is inspirational.  They face things we cannot imagine and they need our love and support to carry on.

And decide that whatever else happens, you will be a person marked by faithfulness.  Pray when you say you will; be there when you are needed.  Don’t even think about missing church because someone needs you this Sunday.  Be the one who happily chips in and helps out.  In a world of fragile commitments, decide to be utterly dependable.

If you have questions, ask them; if you have doubts, work them through.  Seek out godly mentors, read good books, worship, pray.  Get truth in God’s Word.  And then when it makes sense again, get back in the saddle and serve this broken world with everything you have.  

Be faithful because He is faithful.  Stay true and strong and finish the race with beautiful joy.

‘No life can surpass that of a man who quietly continues to serve God in the place where providence has placed him.’- Charles Spurgeon

 

 

Masterpieces

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Ephesians 2.10 says, ‘For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things that He has planned for us long ago.’  (NLT)

It is said that the painter, Monet, was travelling on a train when he saw the beautiful French village of Giverny.  He was so taken with it that he rented a cottage just so he could paint the scene.

C S Lewis’ famous wardrobe into Narnia is thought to have been inspired by a heavy, ornate wooden door that he used to walk past in Oxford.  The door was covered in carvings, including one in the centre that was of a lion.

Paul and I recently went to an amazing exhibition of glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly.  These mesmerizing and breathtaking works of art were inspired by plants and animals, fire, water and even bubbles.

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DSC_1716The creative process is so interesting, isn’t it?

For me, it usually starts with a thought.  Sometimes that thought is sparked by something I hear someone else say or from something I have read.  Often it will be a situation that I experience and I think, ‘I need to write about that.’

Creativity starts with inspiration.

Have you ever thought that God was inspired when he created you?

Just read Psalm 139. 16-18.  And then believe it about yourself.

Before you were made, before you were knitted together, the Bible says that God planned your days.  He had a thought, an idea about how the world needed a person just like you.  And then, motivated and inspired by the works He had designed for you to accomplish, He oversaw your creation.

There is nothing random about your existence.  You were a thought that became a soul.  Your soul is unique and so is your story.  It has not been and will never be replicated anywhere else on the planet, at any time in history.

And it is with your uniqueness that you most glorify the artist who created you.  You have His stamp, His signature.  You are His masterpiece, His original artwork, a valuable and precious part of His portfolio.

And He has a destiny for you to walk in that will bring glory to Him and good to the world.  

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Don’t waste a second comparing yourself to anyone else.  Don’t hide.  Don’t wish you were someone else with a different story.  And don’t doubt your beauty.  You are a masterpiece of the Divine artist.

But do let Jesus mould your character.  Let Him knock the edges off, like facets in a diamond.  He is the potter and you are His clay.  If life has hurt you, let Him heal and make you whole.  You are in the hands of the master restorer and He knows what He is doing.

Let your Creator make you more like Himself and in doing so, make you feel more like yourself than you ever have.  

In Him, we find the joy of our uniqueness, the satisfaction of His Divine purposes for us and the Shalom peace that comes from total surrender to the one who made us.

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Finding Selah

There is a beautiful word that occurs 71 times in the Psalms.  It is the word, ‘Selah’.

The Amplified Bible translates this word as to pause calmly and think of that. Other commentators define ‘Selah’ as to pause and praise. It may have been a Philistine word originally that denoted a musical solo or derived from a Hebrew word that means a division or breaks in the music.

When Selah appears in the Psalm, it is making room for a break,  an interlude, a pause that gives an opportunity for thought and consideration of the great truths that are being sung about or read.

And it is something I need more of.

Last weekend I headed off for a spiritual retreat with two of my dearest girlfriends.  We drove for the morning, ending up on top of a hill near the coast of Wales.  The retreat centre was beautiful with traditional grey stone buildings and carefully landscaped grounds with overflowing baskets of summer flowers.  It was a little piece of heaven.

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When we arrived we signed in and headed off to the whitewashed Chapel, our arms full of Bibles, notebooks and expectation.

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Inside there was an undeniable sense of a place that has been soaked in prayer.  The stillness and peace struck me immediately and my heart soared with the anticipation of meeting with God.

But there was a problem.

You see although the atmosphere around me was still, I was not.  And this proved to make ‘retreating’ quite hard work.  Like a naughty puppy, my busy mind did not want to cooperate.  It ran rings around my quiet time, distracting me with thoughts about lunch or the noisy page-turning of Bibles across from me.

Pausing is clearly a skill I need to work on.

And so I did.  And by the next afternoon, I was beginning to win the battle with my wandering thoughts.  And the spoils of that little victory were very rich indeed.

I walked in the summer sunshine to a large wooden cross on the grounds and I felt God’s grace to lay down my fears and to leave them there.  I read my Bible in the sunshine, highlighting passages that spoke so beautifully into challenges I am facing and I thanked Him for every blessing I could think of.  I hiked to the highest point, a meadow up above the stone Chapel, and I declared God’s goodness over things I didn’t understand as I looked down over the lush Welsh valley with every shade of green you can imagine.  I sensed God’s still small voice.  And when I prayed I knew I was heard.

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And I came away from the weekend free, light and full of faith.

But I also came away with one niggling, uncomfortable thought.

How often do I miss out on hearing God because I just can’t be quiet enough, for long enough?

I am afraid of the answer.

You see, I am designed to pause.  

God created day and night so that within every 24 hours of our lives there would be a natural cycle, a reset, a fresh start.

Then, He modelled for us the weekly cycle that encompasses Sabbath rest.  This is not legalism, but our Good Shepherd leading us to green pastures of refreshment within our busy lives.  And we are not designed to go more than seven days without it.

And God also gave His people regular feasts and holidays.  These were opportunities for pausing, remembering, commemorating and celebrating.  They were chances to gather as a community around shared values and history and to pause normal domestic life regularly throughout the year for spiritual and physical refreshment.

I need pauses in my life.

I have been created that way.

I need stillness and space in my day.  I need time when I am unplugged from the endless, mesmerizing stream of information and entertainment that I struggle to control. I have to be brave enough to put technology in its place or it will continue to quietly steal from me.  In modern life, a quiet soul will not happen without a fight.

And, I need church every week.  This pause is nothing less than a God-ordained command for my good.  A Sunday Selah is my weekly reminder that I serve a God who deserves my full attention, not just the dregs of my busyness.  It is an opportunity to think about others, to serve and love them and to remember that I am part of a family.  And it is my weekly reminder of what is true and what really matters as I consciously turn down the volume of my internal noise and lean into God’s voice instead.

And finally, I need more celebration in my life. I need times to be with family and friends as we leave behind mundane life to remember what ties us together. I need Christmas Carol services and Easter hymns and communion wine.  I need summer festivals with lively worship and I need quiet weekends at prayer retreats where stillness is the goal.  I need family gatherings where Christ is the centre and testimonies of His goodness are on our lips.  And, I need church get-togethers where I laugh with brothers and sisters as we serve each other and share the Good news to those who haven’t heard.

I need a whole lot of Selah.

I need it after long, difficult Tuesdays and after wonderful, fun Fridays, after bad news and after good news, after victories and defeats.

I need it every Sunday when the weekend is waining and the new week is looming.  I need that weekly exchange of leaving behind the burdens of the last seven days and picking up God’s grace for the next seven.

I need Selah when I am disappointed or elated, or everything in-between.

Because I need God.

And He is found in pauses.

And it is hard work but it is worth it and the spoils of that victory are rich indeed.

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Lingering Legacy

 

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There is something deep inside human beings that wants to leave something of importance behind after we are gone.

This innate desire has inspired architects and musicians, artists and scientists to create, invent and discover.  Museums and history books are filled with artistic, political, military and scientific legacies that still impact the world today.

My husband is an architectural technician who worked in the town of Windsor for the first years of his career.  I like to walk past the buildings that I know he did the drawings for and sometimes I feel a tinge of jealousy.  It is a wonderful accomplishment to have created something that stands for others to see and admire, something that will keep standing probably long after you are not.

But whether you are a world-famous artist whose creations are appreciated by millions or a stay-at-home mom whose accomplishments are less tangible, we all produce legacies.

We tend to think of legacy as what is left behind after death like keepsakes, photos, heirlooms or trust funds.  But even during our life, we leave things behind all the time.  We just aren’t always aware of it.

Every time I open my mouth, I leave a kind of legacy.  The words I speak are sometimes remembered long after they have been spoken. Words have the power to build up or tear down.  They can restore hope or dash it.  With just a sentence I can encourage a friend to believe again for a miracle or lift the spirits of a tired leader.  Words can reassure someone who is feeling left out and make them feel like they belong.  Or words can cut someone’s legs right out from under them.

And either way, I am leaving a legacy.

I can be known as a woman who thinks the best of people or one who likes to assassinate characters over coffee.  I can build a reputation as someone who welcomes and includes newcomers or as someone who always plays it safe and sticks with my usual gang.

I can give this world one more professional griper, always critiquing others as part of my Sunday lunch, or I can extend gratefulness, grace and understanding of which there is a great shortage.

When I was a little girl I used to visit my grandparents on the East Coast every summer.    I can still remember watching my grandmother get ready to go out for dinner, choosing clothes and jewellery and scent.  She was a quirky lady and loved men’s cologne and the woody, musky scent would linger long after she left the room.

You and I have an essence, a fragrance, and we bring it with us wherever we go, whether we are aware of it or not.  It is who we are and it lingers after we leave a room.

 It is how people are left feeling after they have spent time with us. 

And it is totally within our power to choose what this fragrance is. We choose what we are known for.  We choose our legacy by how we spend our time and energy and how we treat the people in our lives.

We decide each and every day whether we are loyal or flaky, kind or brittle, empathetic or cold, forgiving or offended.  We will be known by our character and our character is being formed by each and every decision and reaction we have.

Let’s decide today that we will choose a legacy that is worthy of the King we follow.

And let’s determine that every time we leave a room, we will leave behind the essence of Jesus and nothing less.

 ‘The memory of the man or woman who is righteous is a legacy to the world.  The name of the wicked just decays.’  Proverbs 10.7

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Heavenly nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the human condition we call nostalgia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a place where we belong.

Look forward in joy.

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Trusting goodness, seeing good

 

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Jeremiah chapter 17 describes two kinds of people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he heads home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is where we find our Father waiting for us.

It is home and it is good.

 

 

Wedding invitations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there was good news.  Jesus was there.

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

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

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

God came to us so the miracle was possible.

And He is still here by His Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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