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 setbacks 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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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This Pilgrim’s progress

 

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There is one thing I know I am doing right.

That’s what the Apostle Paul tells the believers in Philippians 3.13.

I like Paul. He wasn’t afraid to use dramatic language when it was appropriate.  Having spent the previous verses sharing how he was wrong for much of his life, how he had completely misunderstood who God was and what He was doing in the earth, he then boldly makes this statement:

I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.  No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing’  Phil. 3.12-13a (NLT)

And what is this one thing?

‘Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.’ Phil. 3.13b-14

Paul always shows us how to keep the main thing the main thing.  And he says here that if we are Christians, this is a top priority.

It is interesting that he calls it ‘one thing‘ although it has two parts.  There is forgetting what is behind us and then straining towards what is ahead.  I wonder if Paul calls them ‘one thing’ because you can’t have one without the other. 

Think about it. You can’t really strain forward if you are looking back, can you?  It is pretty hard to focus on something you aren’t looking at.  You can’t win a race facing the wrong way.

I should know, I have tried.

So often in my life I have attempted to follow Jesus with all my attention on the baggage I was dragging behind me.  And so often my run has become a crawl.  It was tiring and needlessly hard, frustrating and disheartening.  Because it is hard to follow Jesus well with old thinking, old habits and old perspectives. 

There are things I have to take off if I am serious about this race.

If you are a fan of elite sport, you will know how minute the margins are between winning and losing, often only fractions of a second.  Olympic teams will have many experts working for them, looking for any tiny adjustment that can be made in technique or diet or equipment.

Paul describes it as, ‘bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing.’

That’s the only way to run this race well.

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In Hebrews 12.1 we see the picture of a runner who is free and unencumbered.  He is focused, lean and mean.  Anything surplus to requirement has been discarded.  He is single minded and he is ready for the start line.

But often in my life regrets, disappointment, hurt, brokenness and destructive ways of thinking and behaving have been like bungee cords that hampered my forward progress and eventually pinged me back into defeat.  When I am not walking in repentance, forgiveness, mercy and grace I am not free to run well.

To move forward, I have to leave things behind.

And the reverse is also true.  I cannot leave the past behind unless I am intentionally moving forward.

In my favourite passage in the Bible, Psalm 84, David says that ‘blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.  They go from strength to strength.  For the Lord God is a sun and a shield.  No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’

When we decide that our identity is that of pilgrims or travellers who are heading towards our home, then we will leave behind what we don’t need.  There is a strength that comes when we focus on our destination and believe it to be all that really matters.  There is a forward momentum that kicks in and propels us into all God has planned for us.   He promises to withhold no freedom, no deliverance, no victory from those kind of followers. 

In other words, if we keep going we will get there.

2 Corinthians 5.17 describes the very essence of the Christian life. ‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.’

Every day His mercies are new.  New things are always coming, old things are passing away.   This is the normal Christian life. We are constantly letting go and reaching forward at the same time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us something that we have to leave behind.  It can be painful but it always makes room for new blessings and revelation.  Other times God encourages us to walk in a new way of thinking or living and in the process some old stuff just gets crowded out.

I want that heart, that outlook, every day of my life.  I want the grace to keep straining, pulling, moving forward.  I want to let go of anything that is holding me back or slowing me down.  I want to shed my baggage, maybe close a door or two and I want to make space for God to do something new.

I want to make space for His will and His presence in my life.

I want to listen and obey.  I want to know what really matters.  I want to be facing the right way and I want to finish my race with joy.  I want to make progress.

I want to be a pilgrim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver medal sadness

 

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A recent scientific study has found that Olympic athletes that win silver medals die younger than those who win either gold or bronze.  There is something about being so close to gold and just losing out that takes it toll on minds and bodies.

Dissatisfaction can kill you.

There is a kind of disappointment that seeps into your bones. There is a longing that will eat you up.  Proverbs 13.12 calls it deferred hope and it makes us sick.

Expectations are powerful.  I have seen Olympic competitors who were not expected to win a medal celebrate their surprise silver like it was gold..  And I have seen world champions miss out on gold by the smallest margins, their faces full of shock and sadness.

It is all about the expectation.

Sometimes things don’t work out as we had hoped.  Sometimes people let us down.  Sometimes we make assumptions about what God is doing in our lives and we are wrong. Sometimes we are misunderstood and sometimes we fail.

These dashed hopes will drag us to the bottom if we can’t let them go.  Like ageing sports stars we can live a life of what might have been as the regret sickens our souls.

Of course, desires are normal.  Wants and wishes are part of being human. The problem is when desires turn into expectations.

We can have expectations of others that are unspoken or unfair.  We can have expectations of life that are unrealistic.  We can expect to find value and meaning in ways that can never satisfy.  But these great expectations lead to great disappointment.

Be careful where you plant your deepest longings.

Always expect less of people and more of God.

Jesus says in John 6.35 that those who come to Him will never thirst.  My Bible dictionary defines thirst as to ‘painfully feel the want of the things by which the soul is refreshed’

When we walk with Jesus, we can be free from painful wantings.  He promises that He is always, in every situation, enough.  

Like the determined athlete who uses disappointment as motivation for next time, we must move on from life’s let-downs and press forward for what matters.

So, put the silver medal in the drawer.  Put to bed the things that didn’t work out like you thought they would.  Forgive.  Forget.

We are called to run a race that has eternal value.  We were created to be satisfied with nothing less. We have been given everything we need to finish this race well so let us expect to.  Let us expect to live a life of spiritual success that fills heaven with treasures.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lied ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.’  Philippians 3.12-14

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Good enough

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I am probably just like you.

I want to live life well.  I want to know Jesus and to follow Him.  I want to be like Him.  I want to make the most of every opportunity I am given and to multiply it for God’s glory and for the extension of His Kingdom.

But I get tripped up by things sometimes.  One of those things is trying to be perfect. 

In Luke chapter 10 we see the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha.  I love these two women that Jesus loved.  Just two sisters trying to serve Jesus and follow Him.  Women like you and I.  Mary is captivated by Jesus and sits at his feet to hear every word He speaks.

And Martha loves Jesus too.  It was her idea to invite Jesus into their home in the first place.  But, when Jesus arrives she can’t relax and enjoy the evening.  Something is driving her.  I don’t believe she loves any less.  I think dear Martha lets the pressure of getting everything right rob her of something more important.  And it probably wasn’t the first time.

Martha wanted to show her love for Jesus in a practical way.  How wonderful!  How precious and good!  But then she got a little carried away and soon there were elaborate recipes, side dishes and table settings and she was overwhelmed.  That is because perfectionism always escalates what is required. 

You know what I mean.  Like when an invitation for lemonade in the backyard becomes high tea at the Ritz.  Perfectionism drives us to make even simple things into elaborate productions until we are completely worn out.

 Just look at verse 41 where Jesus rightly discerns that Martha is ‘worried and upset about many things.’  Do you relate to that?  I do and if I am not careful, this can become a way of life.

If my value is based on my achievements, then no ball can be dropped and every plate must be spinning.  It all has to be perfect or I don’t feel good about myself or my life.  I can’t rest or worship or have fun until things are just how I want them to be, which of course is an elusive goal.  There is always something more than needs to be done.

And then, perfectionism affects your relationships.  It is all so inevitable.  We worry and work and wear ourselves out and then we get upset when others don’t share our unrealistic expectations.  It wasn’t enough for Martha to turn a simple meeting with Jesus into an elaborate feast, she wanted help with it.  How unfair it is when we resent someone else’s relaxation because we don’t know when or how to relax.  Mary was able to sit at Jesus’ feet because she was comfortable with rest. 

But worst of all, perfectionism causes you to miss out.  Just like Martha, if we don’t identify and fight this in our lives, we will miss out on all sorts of God-given opportunities.  We will miss out on fellowship because our cooking is average or our home needs redecorating.  We will miss out on exciting ministry opportunities because we don’t speak or sing as well as so-and-so.  We won’t apply for a job or try a new hobby in case we aren’t good enough.  And worst of all, we will miss out on time with Jesus because we are busy icing an unnecessary cake.

Perfectionism makes it very, very difficult to live the careful life, maybe even impossible.  

That is because when we spread ourselves too thinly, we end up neglecting the things that really matter.  The only way to stop this is to recalibrate our thinking.  Our minds need daily renewal so that truth can thrive and lies can be rejected.

You can start today.

Right now, remind yourself that you are a deeply loved child of God.  You are really good at some things and pretty average at others.  But, you are learning and growing.

Remember, perfection is not the goal, God’s perfecting is, and He is working on your character, not your resume.  You are not in competition with anyone else.  You are uniquely created and valued by the One who thought you up.  You are His idea and He likes you.

God is refining you but that is His job and His business and He will finish it in His time.  

There are things in your life today that really matter and things that really don’t.  Pray for the grace to know which is which.  Then you will work when it is time to work and you will drop everything when Jesus comes to visit.  

 

 

 

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Native-born

 

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I spent the day yesterday glued to all things Royal as I watched Harry and Meghan tie the knot.  While this eclectic, British/American wedding unfolded, I couldn’t help but think about nationality and culture.

I have now lived in the UK for over 30 years and in many ways, I feel quite British.  I understand their dry sense of humour now and know the affectionate place it comes from.  I have been completely infected by the British love of gardens and pubs and roast lunches.   I have even come to enjoy rainy day walks as long as I get the obligatory cup of tea afterwards.  I have learned to talk less and listen more and to drop everything when the sun is shining and enjoy it.

But whether I like it or not, my nationality always shows itself eventually.

I like tea, but I LIVE for coffee and I drink it out of a Cowgirl mug.  My laugh is way too loud and please do not take me to a restaurant that does not have a burger on the menu or we cannot be friends.

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I am way too optimistic to be passed off a local.  I hate English mustard and fish and chips.  And don’t take away my visa, but am pretty indifferent about nature programs.  Sorry.

Nachos still are, and always will be my love language.

That is because I am a native-born American and where I spent the first 17 years of my life still affects what I like and what I don’t.

In Ephesians 5.8, before Paul encourages us to live carefully, He explains why.

Because we are children of light, or as the Amplified version says, ‘native-born to the light.’

In the next verse, Paul tells us a life of light consists of every form of kindly-goodness, uprightness of heart, and trueness of life.  

As Christians, this is our culture and it should colour who we are.

In this harsh, critical, hateful world we show where we are from when we choose kindness.  This kindness will stop others in their gossiping tracks and it can change the atmosphere in our place of work and our homes.

Those of us native-born to light should be immediately uncomfortable with all hypocrisy and any kind of posturing or posing.  Instead, we can be known for our sincerity and integrity, both of which are in very short supply in 2018.

We shouldn’t be surprised if we have no taste for things that are tasteless or off-colour because we love what He loves and hate what He hates.

Our natural desire should always be for justice, mercy and humility, (Micah 6.8b).  Unforgiveness, vengeance, bitterness and pride should feel very uncomfortable to us.  Followers of Jesus love like He loves or they are not followers.

And, our natural habitat should always be with those in need, not the cool group

After 33 years in this country, I have to fight hard to keep my American identity.  That is because I want to fit in here. I want to understand others and to be understood.  But I have to be careful not to lose who I am.  It is the same with Kingdom culture.

We have to find a way to live here, love our neighbours, listen, understand and be involved.  But we cannot afford to lose who we are because it is our distinctiveness that makes us useful, not our blending in.

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Don’t be afraid to be different, to show where you come from and who you are.  Don’t be afraid to be the kind one, the generous one, the forgiving one.

Live the set-apart, laid-down life you are made for.

Stand up and stand out.  Stand alone if you have too.

Love the world you live in enough to change it.  

‘Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.’  Romans 12.2 The Message.

 

Redeemed restlessness

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I love Ecclesiastes 3.11.   In the middle of Solomon’s downbeat sermon is this verse of scripture.

‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’

We can’t know or understand all of God’s purposes.  His ways are high above ours.   There are parts of our stories that have left us bemused at best and there are many experiences that will not make sense to us in this life.

But there are some things we do understand because He has put eternity in our hearts.  We know there is more than just this life and that heaven is infinitely more real than the desk I am sitting at or the computer keyboard I type on.

We know, but we forget.

We forget that this life, however wonderful it is, cannot satisfy.  We forget and then we wonder why we feel restless.  We wonder why in the wake of the most perfect occasions or celebrations we can feel flat and empty again and why our happiest experiences are often tinged bittersweet.

C S Lewis says it like this, ‘If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.’

Restlessness is a gift.  It reminds us of who we are.

Ephesians 5.8 tells us we are children of light.  In the Amplified Bible is says we are to lead the lives of those native-born to light.’

This is our identity.  As new creations, we are from light and of light and light is where we belong.  

Philippians 2.15 says that when we live like Jesus calls us to, we shine like stars.

Stars are not of this world.  We see them, we admire their beauty and they feel close but they are from somewhere else, somewhere very far away.

And so it is for us.  We are here, shining as lights, living our lives, following Jesus on earth.  But our light is from somewhere heavenly, somewhere eternal.  We are not of this world and so it will never quite feel like home.

Never forget who you are.  Live this life well but live it as a visitor.  You were created for so much more than this so be restless, be discontent with everything this world offers.  Only Jesus, His life and His purposes, will satisfy.

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