Knowable

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

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

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

Just read Jeremiah 31.33-34.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t ever believe anything else.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Sincerity

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

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

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

They lacked sincerity.

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

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

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

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

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

But look at the way the sermon starts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But honesty is the key to everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

January thoughts

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Redeemed significance

 

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Life is so short. Whether you live to be ninety years old or 19, life is just a breath.

We, humans, handle that information in a number of ways.

Some of us try the ‘carpe diem’ approach.  We seize minutes and hours and days and try to squeeze every drop of adventure out, travelling the world with our ‘bucket list’ in hand.  The mantra is, ‘no procrastination, no regrets.’  And hopefully, no time to think about much else.  We live for experiences and pleasure, grabbing life by the throat before it has a chance to disappoint us.

Others of us believe we can outwit ageing.  With a mixture of denial, health food and exercise we pretend we have control of our mortality.  If I look young and feel young I can close my eyes to the reality and just absorb the unrealistic optimism shared by those next to me in the gym.

Still, others worship at the altar of mindfulness and spirituality.  We believe this is the way to add meaning where there isn’t any.  We hope that crystals and candles will bring something eternal, something transcendent.  If only we can live life in the moment, maybe it won’t slip through our hands so quickly.  If we can tap into something bigger, something greater, perhaps we can infuse our existence with significance.

But the Bible always deals with truth head-on.  Life is short.  We will all die and we don’t get to choose when.  We cannot preserve our lives or prolong them substantially.  If we keep them, we lose them.  If we hold onto to minutes and hours in the hope of getting more out of life, we actually get less.  Even bucket lists disappoint and mindful living falls short.

In fact, there is only one way to live this life carefully and that is to spend it well.

John Piper, in his book, ‘Don’t waste your life,

“But whatever you do, find the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life, and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life.”

Life isn’t to be saved, it is to be spent.  We live life well when we spend it on what matters.

That is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 5.  when he says to redeem the time.  The Greek word for redeem is ‘exagorazo’, which means to pay a price to recover something from the power of another.

You see, there is a price to pay to buy back our lives from futility and that price is faithful obedience.  Nothing else works, no Instagram worthy trips or fancy stuff or youthful skin. The only way to inject meaning into our lives is to see opportunities to do good and to take them.  Every moment spent worshipping Jesus or loving my kids or sharing my faith or praying with a friend has eternal value and it rescues my life from the curse of insignificance.   

Our lives are meant to be given away in love for God and others.  Our time, instead of trying to save it, can be spent generously and without regret.  We can buy back our daily routines from the world’s value system, that so often produces emptiness and despair.  And, we can redeem every day of our lives for the glory and God and the good of everyone who is a part of it.

What a gift, what a privilege this life we have been given is.  It is precious Kingdom currency.

Invest it well.

Start today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stairs that lead to miracles

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Sunday’s sermon was about Daniel and I can’t stop thinking about him.

You know the story.  King Darius has been tricked into making a law that would hand down a death sentence to any man or woman who prays to anyone or anything other than the King.  Daniel hears the news.  His response is simple.

He goes upstairs, opens the window towards Jerusalem and prays like he has done three times a day, every day of his life.

What an understated moment in Bible history!

Daniel is faced with a horrible execution of unthinkable violence and he just does what he always does.   It sounds so unspectacular, so uneventful.

But it really isn’t.

It is a glimpse into the secret life of a man of God, just before he receives his deliverance.  We are made privy to the backstory, to the secrets behind the miracle so when the miracle comes we understand.

My youngest is learning to drive.  He will be safe on the road when the mechanics of driving a car are automatic to him so that he can handle unexpected situations without having to think too much.

And so it is with me.

The enemy of my soul dreads the day prayer becomes my automatic response to difficulty.

He knows there is a place of victory available to me when God’s presence and His Word become non-negotiables.  He knows that when I no longer believe the lie that discipline is legalism, I am on the way to a powerful, overcoming life.

And it can start today.

When I feel too busy, I can pray.  When life is good and I have nothing to worry about I can pray.  When I don’t feel like it, I can open my Bible.  I can slowly, daily wear out the carpet that leads to my prayer spot.  I can keep going until prayer is like breathing and God’s Word has become the place I go for my answers, without exception.

You see, disciplines are slowly grown.  There are no shortcuts or microwaved entrees when it comes to habits and character.  Eugene Peterson calls it a ‘long obedience in the same direction’.  What a beautiful description of following Jesus every minute of every day.

Because most of the time following Jesus looks somewhat ordinary.  It isn’t, of course, but its miraculousness can be hidden within our daily grind.  We get up, meet with Him, worship and commune with Him and then we cook or type or iron or change diapers or draw buildings or run companies.  And we do the same thing the next day and the next.

When small problems and troubles show up, we remind ourselves to do what we always do. When disappointment arrives, or fear or betrayal, we just do what we always do.  If something happens that we don’t understand, nothing changes.

We climb those stairs and open that window and tell God He is all we need.  We listen for His voice.  We turn our eyes away from circumstances and towards the God of promises and faithful, loving care.  We decide to believe He is good.  We allow His Word to comfort and redirect and change us.  We raise our expectations of the miraculous and flex our faith muscles.

We remind our hearts that God is very, very big and lions and kings are very small.

And then when a big crisis hits, there is no big decision to make.  It has already been made.

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

 

 

 

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Tethered to goodness

Thinking today about escaping puppies and wandering souls.

 

2014-05-20 06.42.11We didn’t know there was a gap in our hedge.

Our previous labrador, Rudi, have never discovered it.  But three days after we took ownership of a six-month-old puppy named Buddy, he found it.

It was an unusually warm spring morning and having let Buddy out into the garden, we were enjoying coffee in our pyjamas.

The doorbell rang and it was our lovely next door neighbour with Buddy in her arms.  While we had been relaxing, Buddy had escaped next door, gone in through her back door that was open, up the stairs and right into our neighbour’s bed!  I was absolutely mortified!  I still blush when I think about it.

Unfortunately, it was so much fun that Buddy decided he would regularly visit his new friend and because our boundary is a hedge instead of a fence, every time we fixed one gap, he would find another.

In the end, there was only one solution, a very strong tether.  Every time Buddy was playing unaccompanied, we would tie him to a tree so he couldn’t escape.

Tethering is a very effective solution for wandering.

In one of my favourite hymns, we find these words,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Every time I sing that song, I think how painfully true it is of me. Like a natural reflex, I suffer from an innate predisposition to wandering.

My thoughts wander.  My desires wander. My schedule and my plans wander.

My minutes and hours and days wander regularly from my Heavenly Father to pretty much anything else.

It frustrates and embarrasses me.

Why can I remember movies and magazine articles but not Sunday’s sermon?

How on earth do I get to the end of the day without making time for Jesus but I have never, ever forgotten to eat or get dressed or check Facebook?

Why is it so hard to focus when I am reading God’s Word or praying?

These lyrics make an interesting suggestion, though.  They suggest that God’s goodness is our fetter.  A fetter is a chain that was used to bind prisoners around the ankle.  It prevented escape, just like Buddy’s tether.

What a beautiful picture.

God’s goodness is the ultimate antidote to wandering. 

Not rules or responsibility or religion but only the goodness of God keeps us content enough to stay close.

So, one answer to our propensity to wander off is to constantly, in every way possible, remind ourselves of the unmatched, unrivalled goodness of God.

Every time, in the midst of busyness and distractions, we take a moment to remember how good our God is, we are tethering our heart to His.  We are ensuring that there is only so far we can drift away from His presence and His will.

With less than five weeks to go to my daughter’s wedding, I have to put this into practice daily.  Otherwise, my thoughts will be consumed with ribbons and glue and Pinterest pins and to-do lists and I will begin to believe that small, earthly things are really important and big, eternal things are unimportant, just as long as I find my wedding shoes and the florist gets the right shade of roses.

It is a battle we fight every day.  It is the battle for our hearts.

And our secret weapon is the knowledge of how good God really is.

So, whatever we are doing today, we can make worship the theme tune.  Just turn on some music, sing the words, believe the words, and live the words, even while driving the car or folding the laundry (or 120 orders of service!).

Find scriptures and quotes about our good God, decide they are true and display them where you will regularly see them.  Today I have put a little reminder by the kettle because I certainly need that truth as often as I need caffeine today.

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If you struggle to believe and trust in the goodness of your heavenly Father, may I suggest Bill Johnson’s book, God is Good.  It is a life-changing study of the character of God that will tie you tightly to Him as you understand the depth of His love and the certainty of His goodness.

Try making it a habit every day to write down three things that you are thankful for.  Ann Voskamp says in her book, One Thousand Gifts,  ‘The real problem in life is never lack of time.  The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving.’  That is because when we stop thanking God, we soon forget His goodness.  The next step is wandering away, searching for goodness elsewhere.

It is a funny thing but Buddy never tries to run away when we are in the garden with him.  When he is enjoying our presence, there is nothing else that can compete.  He knows we are good.  He knows we are his source of food and play and petting and walks.  He just forgets sometimes.

It is the remembering that keeps us.

Today, whatever you are doing, determine to remember how kind and loving and good our God is.  Remind yourself, in every way possible of the truth of the unchanging character of Yahweh.

Stop pulling.  Stop straying.  Stay close.

An abundant, joyful, purpose-filled life is only found in the presence of our good, good God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staying close

What my dog teaches me every day.

IMG_20160526_074014915John chapter 15 is a favourite chapter of mine.  In this passage, Jesus invites us to move in closer.  He invites us to abide.  The Greek word used here means living, staying, remaining.

There is nothing frantic here.

My Labrador, Buddy, sleeps all day under my husband’s desk.  If Buddy could be on his lap he would be.  He gets as close as he can to his master and then he just stays there.  However, when Buddy goes for a walk,  he does not stay.  He runs off, sniffing everything in sight, chasing squirrels and birds.  He is with my husband but he is not abiding.   If he hears his name he will come back, only to run off again.

I see myself in both these pictures.

But with all my heart I want what John 15 is offering me.  I want fruitfulness, not withered branches.

I want the kind of joy that fills me up, gives me strength and blesses those around me.

I want Jesus to call me his friend.  I want to know what He is up to.  I want to partner with Him in His plans for this earth.  I want to be right smack in the middle of everything He is doing.

But first, there is John 15 verse 5 where Jesus lovingly reminds me that without Him I can do nothing.

Perhaps the key to abiding is believing that is true. 

When I become convinced that without God’s presence, power and provision I cannot live this life, then I will seek Him. When I am desperate for wisdom I will go to His Word.  When I really need answers I will pray.  I will seek and knock and remain and there will be no time for chasing squirrels.

When I know that every single thing I need is found in Him I will spend time with Him. I will sit close and listen and love Him and let Him love me.

 

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Opinionated wedding planning

 

DSC_1069In Ephesians 5.15-17 we see that living carefully is equated with wisdom.

No surprises here.  The dumbest thing I can do is waste my precious, God-given life on things that don’t matter, right?

Today, as I was thinking about wisdom, I read verse 17 in the Amplified Bible and this phrase jumped out at me, ‘do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish’.

In verse 15 we see the opposite of this when it says, ‘Live purposefully and worthily and accurately’.

If I want real wisdom, the ability to know what is the right thing to do and how to do it, then I have to overcome the barriers to wisdom, one of which is thoughtlessness.

I have written about thoughtlessness before and how a busy and fast-paced life can often cause it.  But I think there is another, perhaps more subtle contributor to my thoughtlessness and it is a strongly held opinion.

The problem is that if I have a strong opinion about something, I don’t feel the need to revisit it.  I just re-enforce my idea, occasionally sharing it on Facebook with others who agree with me.  There is no room for listening to another point of view or gaining fresh input or even recognizing when I am wrong.

Now, when I talk about opinions, I don’t mean Biblical beliefs.  I am not talking about something I have studied in the Bible and wrestled with and prayed about and then made part of my belief system.

I am talking about all the other stuff.

I am talking about the ‘I just really think…..’ stuff.

I am talking about my politics, denominational preferences, parenting style, cultural bias and personal choices.

I am talking about the way we I live my life and the way I think everyone else should live theirs.

I don’t think there is anything more humbling than actually doing something that you have theorized about for a long time.

Like for instance, parenting.

Or marriage.

Or church ministry.

Or really anything that is hard.

It is so much easier to be an armchair pundit than to actually play in the game.

Honestly, I feel like my forties have been one long journey of replacing my not-so-great ideas with God’s loving wisdom. It has been humbling, embarrassing and very painful.

And it has been so very freeing.

You see the danger is that when I form opinions about what I will never do or what I will always do, I run the risk of thoughtless behaviour.

I risk automatically living life in a certain way, without ever questioning it.

Being thoughtful means lifting my opinions to God and letting God’s Holy Spirit breathe on them.  Then the useless, papery chaff just blows away and the wheat remains.

God, in His great mercy and love, if I let Him, gently removes anything that has no value to my life and He leaves what does.  He blows away my foolish assumptions so that only truth remains.

And actually, I can’t have both anyway.  I can’t hold onto my opinions and also seek God’s way of doing things. That’s why the Bible tells me that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  I can’t ever really be wise unless I value God’s perspective above my own.

I cannot ask for wisdom with a closed hand or a closed heart or a closed mind.

Here is a small example from my real life today.   I am planning a wedding for my daughter.  It has been exciting, fun, and hard.  And as I look back over the last 8 months I can see that my biggest problem has been my strong opinions about how weddings should be done.

I dread to think how many times over the years I have voiced my wedding theories, saying how things should be done, what I like and don’t like, how the day should go, how the service should be, etc.

Those words haunt me now because it just isn’t that simple.  Weddings are complicated and there are many people to please as well as budget limitations and practical considerations.

So, one by one, my ‘non-negotiables’ have gone out the window and compromises have been made.  And one by one my silly opinions, my judgements, my ideas have been replaced by God’s perfect wisdom for this wedding for this family on October 6, 2018.

And that is so much better, isn’t it?

Because I can’t have both.  I can’t have my way and God’s way.  I can’t have God’s answers if I worship my own.  There is no space for the whispers of the Holy Spirit in life that has it all figured out already.  

Living life carefully means even my strongly held opinions must not be off limits to my loving God who sifts and divides and replaces what is useless for what is true and good.

So I choose to let Him in today.  I will let Him walk around my life and touch and restore and replace all that is not of Him.  I will let my wonderful God show me how to raise kids, spend my money, love my spouse, plan a wedding and how He has uniquely designed me to change the world.  I will learn to let God guide my politics, my doctrines and my decisions.

And then, most powerfully of all,  I will learn to give others the freedom to do the same.

Instead of opinions, I want only the voice of the Shepherd saying, ‘Here is the way.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wisdom’s value

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The verses that originally inspired this blog are Ephesians 5.15-17.

‘This causes you to realise that you will have to be very careful about the way you live; to be wise, not foolish.  Make use of every opportunity to please God by the way you live, especially as there is so much evil in the world around you.  How much better to understand what God wants of you than to live in a sinful, foolish manner.’  (The Truth Bible version.)

I keep a bookmark there in my Bible so I can revisit this passage regularly, gleaning all the goodness from it for my life.

Today my eyes settled on a phrase.

‘Be wise, not foolish.’

So often when I need wisdom, (God’s way of doing things, God’s perspective for a situation), I think of James 1.5 that tells me that if I need wisdom, I should ask God.  This is a good thing to do and I can testify to the fact that God always answers that prayer.

But it isn’t the only way to obtain God’s wisdom.  In this verse in Ephesians, we are told to be wise, not foolish. The Greek verb used here for ‘be’ means to become or to generate something.

So, it is possible to generate wisdom in my life.

I can ask for wisdom, and God loves that, but I can also live life in a way that is producing wisdom too.

This is a far less passive approach, isn’t it?   While daily asking my Heavenly Father for His heavenly wisdom, I can also be busy making the conditions of my day to day life conducive for this wonderful gift.

And the Bible is very clear what these conditions are.

Proverbs 9.10 tells us that, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’

Knowing God’s will for me in every situation starts with an understanding of who God is and who I am.  There is a wonderful humility that comes from knowing I have the potential, even the tendency, to be wrong about quite a few things, quite often.

 

Fearing the Lord means dreading the idea of living one minute of my life outside of God’s loving will.  It means loving His ways because I love and trust Him.

I believe that I cannot produce wisdom from a heart that is unteachable or proud or independent.  It is like trying to grow a beautiful olive tree in a bucket of cement.

When I really know God and how good He is, I will value every word He has spoken.  I will treasure every instruction and command and warning.  I will love what He loves.

Read Proverbs chapter three today.  See how beautifully God’s wisdom is described.  It is compared to gold and silver and rubies.

I wonder if, in 2018, wisdom is a bit out of fashion perhaps.  We live in times where doing things my way and figuring it out for myself are greatly admired.  We pride ourselves on not living life like the previous generation did.  We can treat their advice and input like family heirlooms we don’t want to inherit,  preferring to head down to Ikea instead.

But what about God’s ways?  Are we too independent for those too?

I don’t have a lot of valuable jewellery but I have a few pieces that are precious to me.  I have a string of pearls my parents gave me for my high school graduation and a gold locket that belonged to my grandmother.  And of course, I have my wedding ring.  These are precious to me.  They are precious because they are made beautifully from valuable materials but mostly they are priceless to me because of who they are from.

God’s ways, His Words of life to me, should be priceless.  His wisdom is like expensive gemstones, rubies and diamonds that are set in gold.

And yet, so often I think I know best and I make myself a pasta necklace like the ones my toddlers used to make for Mother’s Day.  Instead of the family jewels in my jewellery box, I wear it, admiring my independence and self-reliance.

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But the only way to cultivate Godly wisdom in my life is to value it.

When I can see just how beautiful God’s ways are compared to my human logic, I am in a good, safe place.  It is the place where I can hear what God is saying and see what His is doing and make choices and decisions that produce life.

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