Messy Faith

messy faith

Messy play, a phrase that fills me with a little dread. Not because I’m so OCD that I can’t handle Sienna getting a little grubby, in fact I know it will be super fun! It’s just I know that the joy of cleaning up the aftermath of her experimentation will be bestowed upon yours truly! I absolutely see the value in it and I understand that it’s an important part of her development. I want her to be free to explore and express herself, but if I’m honest, it would be far easier (and tidier) to pass on this responsibility to someone else, maybe when she starts nursery or visits the grandparents! That said, the benefits to Sienna far outweigh my desire for a tidy house (remind me of this when I’m in the midst of chaos!) These include the fostering of imagination, creativity and curiosity. If you could see the state of my living room on a daily basis, you’d see that unfortunately mess, development and curiosity often go together!

Recently I’ve been re-reading some passages of scripture which I find difficult to wrap my wee finite brain around. Whilst I’m aware that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55 v 8-9), I don’t feel I can use this scripture as an excuse not to delve deeper into His word and ask some tough questions. Don’t get me wrong, at times this would definitely be a preferable escape route. There are certain things in life it would be easier to brush over because they don’t make sense or they’re uncomfortable to navigate. Maintaining faith through confusing topics, scripture and circumstances can be messy. Even if faith is at the core of how we process things, it’s not always straightforward. My faith is pretty well established in that I’ve been a Christian for many years and have seen God’s undeniable hand at work in my life and that of others. However, I still have enquiries for God regarding personal experiences, His word and theology that I don’t yet have answers to. It would be much more convenient for me if somebody else could tackle them so that I can maintain a nice neat and tidy faith. But if I choose to ignore the deep and difficult conversations I miss out on the opportunity to discover God in new ways. If I remain afraid of the clean-up operation on the other side of my exploration, I may miss out on potential peace and new levels of intimacy with my Heavenly Father. Besides, what really is my faith if it doesn’t involve some risk and curiosity and a little bit of mess? 

The good news is, I’ve realised that God can deal with messy, in fact, I’d go as far as to say that maybe He prefers our mess to our ‘pretence’ that everything is ok. I had a conversation this week with a dear friend whose opinion I love, trust and respect. We were discussing some aspects of scripture that can be difficult to understand and we each have a slightly different viewpoint on at present. What I loved about the conversation is that we were both open to listening to the other’s point of view as our united goal is to better understand God through His word. One thing we both strongly agreed upon is that it’s in the times where we grapple with scripture and life the most that we feel the closest to Jesus. Ultimately we hold onto the promise that the truth will set us free (John 8 v 32) and that Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life (John 14 v 6). So whilst we don’t hold the keys to full knowledge and understanding we know and trust someone who does. 

A few years ago I came across something called “The knowability of God” by Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology) which makes me sound way more intelligent and informed than I actually am. His theory has enabled me to tackle difficult topics of scripture and life from a fresh perspective. In brief summary, Grudem states that we can only know God because He first chose to reveal Himself to us. This means that the very fact that we have an opportunity to know Him is due to our infinite and unfathomable God wanting us to. This encourages me that we don’t need to fear our curiosity about God and His word because He actually wants us to know Him more. That takes the pressure off any guilt or shame we may feel in not having all the answers or feeling uncomfortable with certain texts because God wants to reveal Himself more clearly to us. Grudem also states that whilst we can never fully know God, we can still truly know Him. If He was completely comprehensible, He would cease to be God. Being God indicates that He is greater than man. This, however, doesn’t make Him distant. I could never fully know Rich, my husband because there are parts of his inner man known only by him and God and yet I do truly know and love him. If we don’t give ourselves space and permission to get a bit messy with scripture and God, we miss the opportunity to know Him better.

Jesus is our reminder that God made the first move in wanting us to find Him. He is our clearest example of God’s character, principles and love. This means that we can weigh up everything we don’t understand against our knowledge of Him. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1 v 24) This reassures me that as long as I continue to walk with Him, there is wisdom to be found. Rich puts it like this, Jesus is the lens which brings into focus a God that would otherwise be too huge to recognise. Despite not being able to fully comprehend God’s magnitude He is both knowable and recognisable through Christ. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God..” (1 Colossians v 15).

So, if you have tough questions, be encouraged that God is able to deal with our messy faith and is, in fact, the best person to take it to. He wants to be known. 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Matthew 7 v 7 – 8

Love Beyond Reason

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This past week I attended Hillsong Conference Europe as I have every year for the past seven. In one of the evening sessions Carl Lentz, Hillsong New York lead pastor, preached a powerful message about God’s love. It was so significant that I think many were deeply moved and changed, myself included. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you will have seen I’ve returned to the subject of love in the scriptures often. Clearly, God is stirring something within me. This stirring should be an obvious expectation for a Christian, to linger on and develop in love, and yet sadly it isn’t. Carl’s message was based on John 13 v 34 – 35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples”. Interestingly, this passage is one Rich and I have talked a lot about over this past year as we’ve processed life’s changing scenery. I was reminded once again by his preach that there is no reasonable excuse not to love. Even when it hurts, when it’s messy and when it’s undeserved. When I look at Jesus and how He lived, and all that He has done and continues to do for me, I have no foundation to stand on that allows me not to love. To remain in Him and on this journey with Him, I must remain in love (see the previous post, Remain In Love). God is love. If I say yes to Him I say yes to love, there are no grey areas surrounding this subject.

What resonated most was how important the stakes are when considering love. People will see Jesus if only we love one another. We so often focus on our ‘calling’ or purpose, our work or the gifts and talents we have and how to develop them as we pray ‘me-centric’ prayers to satisfy our desires and yet we live in a world desperately crying out for love. God delights in us fulfilling all of our potential but not at the expense of love. Carl reminded us that love is easily defined – just look at Christ, it’s simply developed – follow Christ and it’s dangerous when demonstrated – Christ changed the world forever with His ultimate act of love.

So why do we make Christianity so complicated? At what junctures, in our well-meaning efforts, have we missed the mark and gone off track? I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I do know the simple solution to realignment and the ultimate purpose of the Church – Love; to receive love, to have love and to give love.

To love is to show grace and mercy, to forgive without receiving acknowledgement or apology, to show kindness where others haven’t and to give second chances where most wouldn’t. Love gives with no hope of return. It goes further than one has asked and extends considerably beyond the limits of worth. There’s no way we can do any of this in our own strength nor should we try. When we misunderstand or misplace love it causes problems. Our own reserves are finite and easily wasted. True Love does not exhaust us until we are dry, empty and weary. It doesn’t cut deep and leave us broken, but it does penetrate the deepest recesses of our souls. I can’t love undeservedly and even deservedly of my own accord consistently and faithfully. I must place my love in Him and look beyond the reality of the circumstance towards Him.

His love is infinite and abundant, it never runs out, it encompasses all things if we allow it. Our hurts, disappointments, misplaced hopes and unfulfilled dreams all wash away in the ever-flowing stream of His love. Not only that but this plentiful and refreshing flow allows new things to be seeded and grow, joy to replace grief, life to replace death, peace to replace anger. His love knows no bounds and it waters even the darkest and most lifeless parts of our soul if we allow it.

There’s no situation I can face that Jesus does not understand. He was grossly misunderstood by his own people, falsely accused, rejected, beaten, abused and tortured. He acutely feels our pain. He asks us to forgive not to exonerate bad behaviour, but to set us free from the bondage of bitterness and hate. Love is the better way. He doesn’t ask us to pretend that things didn’t happen but rather He offers us healing. He doesn’t excuse poor behaviour, but rather teaches us to see the brokenness in others. He’s not asking us to try and love because people deserve it, He’s showing us how to receive His love so that we can move beyond our past.

True Love is unreasonable. Reason informs me that because of this they deserve that. Reason is a good thing and applied well can carry great wisdom. But love trumps reason.

Love melts away anger and offers comfort. It has the ability to bring us to our knees because we choose it not because we are forced and then it gently lifts us up and restores.  

Love doesn’t offer us behaviour modification as prescribed by self-help gurus, although that may be a fruit of its tender embrace. Rather it offers hope, belonging, faith and security. It first pours in and only when we are full to overflowing is it required to spill out into our lives. Really God isn’t asking us to do too much more than allow Him to first love us and see what happens. To quote an old hymn, “love changes everything”. I’ve written it before and no doubt I will again because I personally need reminding of it daily, “Love NEVER fails” (1 Corinthians 13 v 8).

There’s an old Aesop fable I remember hearing as a child about a dispute between the North Wind and the Sun. As they discussed which of the two was stronger, a traveller passed by wearing a cloak. They agreed that whoever would be able to strip the man of his cloak would have the greater strength. The North Wind went first and blew and tore angrily at the cloak but this only made the traveller hold onto it all the tighter. When the sun had its turn, the warmth of its rays offered much relief and as the heat gently grew stronger, of his own free will the traveller removed his coat. This old tale reminds me of the love of God, it’s strong and powerful like the heat offered by the sun but it doesn’t force itself upon us and demand we let down our guard. Rather it warms and shines and gently nudges us to let go of our burdens.

Give Love a chance, your life and others depend on it.

Stop, Look, Listen

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We live in an age of information. Never before have we had such access to knowledge and never before have we had as much freedom to think and express our opinions as we do now in the Western world. This is a wonderful thing, it provides opportunity, education, learning and discussion. It allows us to learn from our past and dream for the future. We have tools and studies, media and guides, facts and figures. There are podcasts, blogs and vlogs, groups and churches, programmes and courses. As soon as we start to type something into a search engine, multiple possible outcomes to the end of our sentences are quickly and freely offered.

Yet, sometimes there is an aching within, a deep longing or questioning, a hunger that can only be fulfilled by stopping and waiting in His Presence. A place where all other voices fade away, a place of peace and stillness, a place to find the truth, a place where we are unable to give but only receive. A place where only His answer and opinion will do, His kindness can heal and His love will restore. It’s a sacred place, a holy space. It can’t be found in the busyness, in the hustle and bustle, in the toing and froing. It’s not in the devotion or the service or the worship or the conversation, although all of those places lead us to Him. It can be difficult to find when life is full, but it’s harder still to live without it.

It’s an undefinable space in one sense, as it’s more a state than a physical destination, for some it’s found in nature, for others a special chair or a long drive, wherever it is and whatever it looks like for each of us it must be sought. It’s a place uninhabited by everyone but Him and you. A place to be real to the core of your being, to weep, to laugh, to declare, to be silent. We can’t sustain our faith by grabbing at snippets of truth like they are snacks that keep us going throughout the day. Sometimes we must be still and feast.

Jesus had the greatest mission on earth, the highest responsibility and the highest call and yet He was still with the Father. It was this stillness and this connection that gave even Him strength, direction and peace.  

There aren’t words of encouragement that I could give that even scratch the surface of what can happen in this place. It can be found only by you if you want it if you seek it and if you desire it. It restores, it levels, it refines and it injects life. The best prayers are uttered here and the greatest honesty is found here.

Were you ever taught as a child to stop, look and listen before crossing the road? Imagine if we applied that to life in general. Roads need to be crossed and paths walked, we are required to move, but imagine if we engaged our spiritual senses before we stepped out, what disaster could we avoid? What worry might subside? What clarity might be bestowed? What healing could be found? I believe there are secrets and mysteries only revealed in the stillness, only available to those that will stop long enough to hear. 

How do we find this rest, this stillness, this peace, His Presence? I’ll be honest, I’m still learning, but here are some things I know must happen before I can even get close to experiencing this wonder.

Stop – Let’s put down our phones, turn off the TV, step out of the room, leave the laundry, stop browsing the internet, at least for a moment, although He deserves and we need more than that. So often we want to relax, to wind down, to escape, I get it – me too! Hello Netflix. There’s nothing wrong with those things but they don’t compare to the miracles found in His Presence. It requires us to stop and there’s just no excuse that’s a good enough reason not to stop and be in the Presence of God. I’m preaching to myself. You’re too busy not to do it.

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope.”

Psalm 130:5

Look – We need to focus our eyes. Really look, really seek and really see. Look and earnestly desire after God, with open or closed eyes for it is the heart and soul that need to observe His goodness.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7 v 7 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”

Jeremiah 29 v 13 – 14

Listen – Pour out your heart, empty your mind, speak, cry, shout, pray, write and then linger. Be still and linger some more, switch off everything external and listen for Him.  There are things only He can clarify and life only He can give. Be reassured, “It’s the nature of God to speak” (A.W. Tozer). 

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””

1 Kings 19 v 11 – 13

Finally …

“Be still, and know that I am God;”

Psalm 46 v 10

 

You Do You Boo

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There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing a garden start to bloom, especially when it started out as a wasteland. Unfortunately, the previous owners of our house hadn’t taken much interest in anything beyond the back door and so what we inherited was their personal dumping ground. I’ve admitted before, I’m not the avid gardener in the family, but I am slowly becoming more interested and most definitely enjoying the fruit of Rich’s hard labour (cheers hubby).

Each plant in the garden is unique and beautiful in its own way and serves a purpose within the greater ecosystem. Some have heavenly scents, others provide shelter for wildlife, some provide pleasure as they flourish in bright and beautiful colours. All require care and planting and all have similar fundamental properties important for their growth. All are established in the same soil in our backyard and must form a solid root system to remain healthy as they grow upwards towards the sun. Each element of nature in the garden is connected and compliments the overall masterpiece (you’re welcome Rich – in faith ;)) that is our garden. The beauty and purpose of one flower doesn’t subtract from the beauty and purpose of another, but rather it adds to the overall picture and essence of the landscape.

There’s something about the snapshot of our garden that speaks to me about life as a Christian. We also require planting and care to grow, including the occasional pruning (ouch). We have many similarities and our fundamental needs as people are the same. Together as His church, we should create a magnificent landscape alluding to the wonder of God. As individuals we are spectacularly unique and yet can unite together to contribute to the common goal of His will. The essence of our Creator is reflected in many finite beings who each have different desires, gifts, preferences and purposes, like the essence of the gardener is reflected in the variety of his masterpiece.

When we say yes to God and grow as Christians – the aim is not to become clones of one other but to be released into the freedom of who we were always destined to be. We’re inextricably linked by the Source of our creation, who provides our planting and nourishment. Whilst we have similarities, individually we have permission to bring our unique beauty to the garden of life. All of us are designed to glorify the creator and together unified all add to the form and strength of His garden. Too often it’s easy to misinterpret salvation and belonging as changing to become carbon copies of one another. God is the one that connects and aligns, not a sterotype or set of behaviours. He unites us with some non-negotiable truths, such as love, grace, mercy, faith and of course Jesus to name but a few. Our commission is the same, however, if we’re not careful we turn unimportant man-made beliefs into obligations under the guise of faith and in doing so try to squeeze people into a mould they were never created to fit.

When you envisage the garden, each plant can only be what it was created to be, nothing more, nothing less, its purpose is set from the beginning. The rose bush fails at producing apples, whilst the lilly will never be evergreen, but that doesn’t make them lacking, it makes them different. To expect them to bloom in ways other than what they were created to do is a course set for failure and misses the opportunity to cultivate the personal beauty within each of them.

Without negative intent, I think at times we Christians, unknowingly guide people into discipleship with a slightly skewed understanding of what it is. The goal of discipleship is not to produce mini ‘each-others’ that all think the same, speak the same and act the same, but rather to point others continually to the ever careful and faithful Gardener. In Him, we find true purpose, kind pruning and continued sustenance. Guided by Him, we find our true place in His garden and learn to love our unique expression of Him whilst still remaining planted in the greater landscape.

We must also guard against comparison amongst ourselves as we step back to view the greater perspective offered by eternity and our relationship with Him. This allows us to dig deep into what it is He has for us to fulfill in this ministry, privilege and opportunity called life. There isn’t only one way to serve, to minister and to be. We all have an important part to play in making the Earth a better place and Heaven more full. 1 Corinthians 12 puts it another way as it likens us as Christians; Christ’s body to a human body made up of different parts, different in function, capacity and size but every part important to the overall purpose.

Let us all celebrate our differences, encourage our unique qualities and embrace each other’s gifts so that we may flourish in our respective patches of the garden. Let us get to know the Gardener who provides all that we need as we grow alongside and compliment one another. Planted in the same ground, watered by the same Source but flourishing in our unique ways. He will guide us into Truth so that we are always growing towards the Son.

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Will The Real Slim Me Please Stand Up

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I’ve recently joined slimming world because I’ve realised that I can’t keep pretending that the clothes I wore pre-baby will one day miraculously fit again. In my mind, I’m still 25 and as fit as I was when training to be a professional dancer, in reality, I have an ever-expanding mum-tum. Whilst proud of the beautiful munchkin produced by the mum-tum, I’m no longer ok with this extra flab taking up permanent residence on my person and I can’t use the excuse of being a new mum anymore – that ship has sailed.

Harsh as it was starring in the mirror at the withered balloon that is now my midriff, I had to face up to the hard fact that to fight back against it, I must actually do something about it. Much to my surprise, I managed to lose a few pounds in the first week of following the programme, and for once, not due to a hole in my purse! I have witnessed actual bonafide weight loss! It’s amazing what we can do when we set our minds to something, and when it costs us something to participate!

I wouldn’t have seen any results or even joined any group had I not first admitted that I was no longer the perfect size 10 and that something had to change! Wearing baggy oversized clothes not only has a time and fashion limit, but nobody is fooled as to what lies beneath, least of all myself. Admitting the need for change to myself was the first step towards getting healthy.

This all got me thinking about why it takes us so long to admit and deal with things in life? To drop the pretense and actually take actions to get help or get better? I don’t know why we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear to be perfect, especially as Christians. Maybe it’s media, celebrity and image, or maybe it’s family, friends or the past? Either way, deep down we know that we actually aren’t perfect. We default to masking our issues and continue to fool ourselves into believing that we’re ok with them and will deal with them at some point in the future. It’s amazing how much we can hide by parading around in baggy T-shirts to cover our underlying issues. The irony is that the longer we smile on the outside and keep up the facade of being ok with whatever situation we are in, the further away we are from seeing real progress and change. As soon as I decided to face the fact that I was no longer my healthiest self and put action into thoughts and words, I saw results quicker than anticipated.

As Christians, we should definitely seek to attain maturity in our faith but this shouldn’t be mistaken for pretending to be perfect. The longer I walk with God and the deeper my relationship with Him develops, the more I realise my need for Him. If I am to actually mature, to love and lead better, I need to be more reliant on Him, His word and His strength. I never want to think or feel like I’ve made it. If that is ever the case, I will have missed the point. Being transformed into His likeness requires pruning. Pruning produces greater fruit, greater influence, greater love, more grace, more of His heart. I believe wholeheartedly that the world needs to look upon our lives and see blessing upon blessing and grace upon grace. They need to see a church flourishing, people with financial freedom, dreams and vision, healings and justice, but for them to see that, we must first admit that we are sick and in need of help. We must conquer mountains and take new ground and move forward and beyond things that hold us back so that we can do more for His kingdom. However, we can’t achieve this if we pretend that life is always a party full of ‘insta’ worthy friendships, relationships and careers all of the time. The truth is that pruning can suck! Pruning requires honesty, sacrifice and perseverance, but pruning produces the BEST fruit.

We mustn’t forget that it was grace motivated by love that bought our freedom, and it is His grace that continues to guide us through life. It is grace that the world needs alongside our honesty and love and a life that signposts to a real Saviour who reached down and pulled us out of our pit and continues to do so. Without Him we have nothing and we are nothing and we produce no good fruit. He enables us to breathe, to live, to love and to laugh, He enables us to dream and upskill, train, do and be. He gives us platforms we don’t deserve and opportunities we couldn’t create ourselves. He is good and kind and faithful, slow to anger and rich in love.

So, will the real slim me please stand up? She’s in there somewhere, underneath the layers! She’s waiting on the other side of some honesty, hard work and sacrifice and a little bit of pruning, discipline and help from some healthy weight loss gurus.

What are you waiting for? What’s on the other side of your fresh admission of your need for a forever Saviour? It could be healing, restoration, freedom, financial stability. Let’s not waste another moment pretending everything is ok. It’s ok not to be ok. We must give ourselves permission to be human and therefore God to be God. It’s not an excuse for sin or complacency but an opportunity to grow, a path towards real freedom.

John 15 v 5 – 8 NIV

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Mirror, Signal, Meltdown

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Recently we purchased a new car, I know what you’re thinking – what an exciting life we lead! It’s not ‘new new’ but new for us and still in great condition and get this – amazingly, (this feels like a novelty) –  everything works! We were blessed with our previous one and it’s been a huge help since having Sienna to have the extra space it offered for the mountain of things that come along with travelling with a child. However, it was a miracle that it passed its last MOT as there was a lot of onerous things wrong with it. For example, the driver’s seat fixed in only one position, so both Rich and I had to manoeuvre a one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-all driving posture. If the driver door wasn’t at least ajar when unlocked, the car automatically re-locked itself causing the alarm to trigger – tricky when trying to get yourself, bags, pram and kid out of the car. It wasn’t far off a crystal maze challenge! There were also various important buttons missing, no air-con (imagine that in this heat wave UK peeps) and other minor but annoying issues that all made vehicle operation pretty tedious at times.

The new, but not ‘new new’ car has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles and fandangled ways to turn on the car and operate a variety of gizmos and gadgets. All wonderful and super efficient – as long as you know what you’re doing. You can probably tell by my description of car parts that I’m not completely au fait with motors. I’m not ashamed to admit that I took a test drive with the hubby to ensure I knew what I was doing. The first attempt was only mildly successful, as it resulted in me stalling in the middle of the road whilst passers-by asked if we needed a push! Cue the hubby wanting the ground to swallow us up whilst I break into a mild sweat and hit all sorts of buttons in an attempt to restart the car. Have you ever done the same thing multiple times and expected a different outcome and find yourself shocked every time that you achieve the same result? That was me! (That can be a different blog for another day!) We had to quickly jump out and switch positions amidst the ever-growing queue of traffic as I tried to politely smile and wave with a confused look expressing, “sorry, not sure what’s wrong, it’s a mystery, we’ll be gone before you know it,” – Eek! You’ll be glad to know, the streets of South East London are now safe to drive again and I am of course a pro at driving our lovely new but not ‘new new’ family car.

Despite the fact that I had been desperate for a new car, in that moment of discomfort and ever-so-slight mild beetroot face embarrassment, I longed for my old broken and dysfunctional car, because at least I knew what I was doing and that brought me some comfort. Even though the seat didn’t quite fit my stature and preference, I had adjusted accordingly to its awkwardness and it became my ‘norm’. Even though everything took twice as long to accomplish, at least I was prepared for its malfunctioning parts. I’d become accustomed to its irritating nuances.

Isn’t that a bit like life sometimes? We long for ways to make our journey smoother and more efficient but when opportunities arise, if we don’t ‘click’ with them straight away, our lack of experience and insecurities can make us want to run back to our old broken and dilapidated ways. Even though our old ways are broken and dysfunctional, like my old car, at least we knew how to function in them, how to get by and make things work. We became accustomed to operating slightly off-kilter.

When pushed out of our comfort zone, it takes a while to adjust. It can offer a better experience of life in the long run if we embrace the stretch. But can we take the risk and embarrassment of our vulnerabilities being exposed as we stall in the middle of the road in full view of nosey onlookers whilst trying to find our feet?  

One thing I’ve realised about the stretching seasons of life is that they are rarely planned or welcomed. We don’t wake up one day and think, “today is a good day to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and overwhelmed”. Rather, they seem extremely ill-timed and we can feel completely unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the changes required. So, here are some quick things I’ve learnt about the seasons of stretch from my new but not ‘new new’ car test drive experience:

  • I’m Perfectly Equipped – I’ve actually been driving for a decade and ask Rich on a good day and he’ll agree that I’m a great driver! I know the laws of the road (mostly – ha! Who knows all of them seriously?) and I can do all of the necessary procedures to get safely from ‘a to b’. In this instance and often with stretching and new ventures, I just needed a bit of practice to adjust to the new settings. We actually know more than we think and have more in us than we realise. Take salvation, the initial decision and the daily walking it out, it offers many new revelations which present choices for us all on how to apply them. Sometimes we soar and sometimes we struggle, but we need not worry because the Bible reminds us that, “God has placed eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3 v 11) In other words, we are hard-wired towards our destiny right from our conception. It’s His plan and His will that we find Him and learn to navigate this life with Him. He wants us to stretch and grow and even prosper. So take heart that you have everything you need to face what’s ahead, you just need to practice and grow into it.

 

  • Try Again Straight Away – For a moment I felt deflated and a tad anxious to try again, but as soon as we had managed to pull over, we swapped seats and after a little recap of all the important buttons, off I went again. I was probably a little tentative and over-cautious, but nevertheless, it was easier. It’s so important not to let a failure or failures stop us from going again because our success could be on the other side of one more try.

 

  • Don’t Stretch Alone – Fortunately for me, I had Rich at that moment to help bring some guidance, clarity, encouragement and let’s be honest, a kick up the bum. We weren’t made to do life alone, we were made to live, love, laugh, cry, try and fail alongside others. Life is better when shared, warts and all. Who can we lean on to take the wheel when we need them to and who will encourage us back into the driver’s seat when it’s time? Or who can we do that for?

 

Well, there you have it, I hope my mini, ‘new but not new new’ car drama has brought you some encouragement. Whatever you’re facing, be it big or small, don’t be tempted to jump back into old and broken ways that weren’t really working for you anyway. Have faith that it’s within you, take a breath, try again and don’t do it alone. Once you get the hang of it, the ride will be much smoother in the long run.

Right, I’m off to swat up on some road theory – jokes!

 

Remain In Love

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This post is just some thoughts I had on John 15 today, rather than my usual style of blog post. The next ‘official’ blog is coming shortly, so disclaimer if it’s not what you expected and there’s an undeniable multiple and heavy use of the word love!

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

John 15 NIV

Yes, I’m still on the love vibe, riding that love wave like a Jesus hippy. Not always intentionally if I’m honest, nevertheless, I guess God is drawing me into something.

So many times I have read the above scripture and missed some of its beautiful truth. There’s so much to glean from this one passage. I must remain in Him, the possibilities of my eternal fruit-bearing potential depend on it in fact. I draw my strength from being connected to Him, there’s no doubt about that. I recognise that pruning is for my benefit however uncomfortable, it fortifies me, deepens my roots and ultimately produces greater fruit. Without Him I am nothing, that’s clear. Yet all the while I’ve missed the blatant and glaringly obvious command given right in the midst of it. I’ve understood that I must keep his commands and perhaps without realising have thought this required some sort of dutiful compliance on my part. Obedience isn’t a bad thing when you know the intent. 

However, as I have read it afresh this week, what has leapt off the page at me, is that remaining in Him and keeping His commands look like loving others. Jesus Himself reminds us in Matthew 22 v 37 – 40 that all of the law and the prophets depend on the greatest commands of love – to love God and to love others. And yet at every turn it’s so easy to miss in our religious ways. It’s no small and easy thing to love others, especially when they aren’t easy to love, but really it is what most reflects Him and what truly bears precious fruit. What empowers me with the ability to do that again and again? Through ease and discomfort and all of the sometimes seemingly painstaking list of loves attributes noted in 1 Corinthians 13? Remaining in His love. His love is my source, His love bears fruit through me and gives strength and purpose to my love. The fruit of His love is more love, love that changes things, that messes things up in the right kind of ways. When we lead with love, look with love, start with love, forgive with love, atmospheres are changed and strongholds are broken. God doesn’t want our sacrifices of time and hard work, loyalty and striving, He wants our love. He doesn’t want us to do better, to do more, to be more, He wants us. Love is key. Love is the way, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; God IS love!

Love does, love acts, love serves, love calls out injustice, love goes the extra mile, love is patient and kind and keeps no record of wrongs. The receiving of love breaks down walls, it makes one trust, it draws people out and it embeds security. It makes us stand taller, believe harder, dream bigger and most of all, love never fails (1 Corinthians 13 v 12).

My perception of this verse has changed and deepened, my revelation of the constant need to receive and make use of His love has quickened. His all-consuming, abundant, heaven-come-to-earth kind of love.

So much I could write, so many scriptures I could use but all I choose is this – Lord let me remain in you, in your love. To truly know it, to feel it, to be wrapped in it and to exude it to others. Help me to love others how you love me, the good, the bad and the ugly, teach me to remain. Help me to know what’s important. Love.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

1 John 4 v 7 – 12

 

Storage Space

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Phone storage is one of my most frustrating weekly battles. I find myself constantly deleting apps and pictures and trying to rearrange things in order to avoid that annoying pop-up reminder that my storage is nearly full. I feel like I’ve literally just sorted it when it rears its ugly head again! I even have an extra monthly “cloud” add-on to allow me extra space! One of my biggest irritations is when the mysterious “cloud” decides for me which apps to offline without consulting me. Then, ridiculously, I find myself in an extremely inconvenient situation, like being stranded in London and desperately hoping my bus times app will reload in time for me to make it to my destination. What often happens is I delete and then reload apps and spend ages going through files and photos in order to organise my phone which is supposed to make life more efficient. Too much wasted energy is thrown at this process and it irks me! (Random fact – I love the word ‘irk’).

Unfortunately, I have to hold my hands up and say it’s probably down to user error rather than a technical fault. If I’m honest I can’t think of anything duller than spending a precious child-free evening figuring out how to properly rectify the issue. In fairness, I have tried a few times but it leads only to further frustration as I can’t figure out how to improve the issue. (All phone-storage-for-dummies suggestions welcome!) The add-on storage I pay for on top of my bill is so little per month that it seems like a good temporary solution. However, that temporary solution has now lasted six months! If you total the overall spend it’s definitely money that I could be spending elsewhere in a better way. Not only do I still not have enough space on my phone but now I’m paying for the ‘privilege’. I wonder at what point I will stop brushing this annoyance under the carpet and actually learn to deal with the cause of the continuing problem? Now that I’ve shared it with you all, I feel it’s about time I dealt with it! You can keep me accountable.

God often speaks to me through the ordinary everyday experiences of life. As I was frowning once again at my phone and trying to refrain from throwing it through the window – yes I do need space for one more cute picture of my child even if it looks the same as the last five –  I reflected on what issues in my own life (apart from phone storage) I keep pushing to one side. Perhaps they aren’t so huge that they cause major ripples in my day to day life but too much energy, time or stress is being spent on them. Like when totalling up the cost of my add-on storage bill, it all soon compounds.

Could we be living more care-free in some areas of our life? Could we have more freedom in others if we just sat down and faced some issues head-on, no matter how dull or even painful? If we took a step back and considered the long-term effects on our health, finances, relationships or careers we’d probably view things differently. There’s only so long we can keep rearranging our “apps” before something has to change.

It’s often easy to “deal” with big things head on because they often have an immediate and obvious effect on our lives. We have to be careful, however, not to neglect the small niggling things in hope that they will magically disappear if we ignore them for long enough. Like a child playing hide and seek that thinks just because their eyes are closed, they can’t be detected.

Many small things can actually shake our foundations more than huge events if left unattended. Did you know that termites are known as ‘silent destroyers’? They can chew through wood, flooring and wallpaper undetected for a long time, which apparently (according to pestworldforkids.org) contributes to a massive yearly damage cost to properties of around $5 billion dollars!! They are only ¼ of an inch long and yet together colonies of them cause insurmountable damage.

What “small” things are we not dealing with that if rectified could allow us more space and energy in our soul to focus on moving forward into greater avenues. What are we unnecessarily paying extra for, with our finances or time and energy? God is so good and faithful, He desires wholeness and purpose for us and is ever patient. He lovingly guides us, if we allow Him, into the continued path of righteousness. This isn’t a path to obtaining perfection through rules and striving, but rather continued revelation of our right-standing in Christ, and therefore all that we are and have access to because of His love and sacrifice. How much more space would we have to fill our lives with good if we sorted out our storage issues and properly cleaned out our data?

It’s just a short blog this week, nothing particularly profound but rather a nudge to myself and maybe you if the shoe fits, towards making room for more of Him and less of annoying underlying things, that left unchecked, have potential to cause more strife than I need to deal with in this life. Who’s got time for that? Not me! Some circumstances in life require extreme breakthrough and prayer and others just require us to stop long enough to linger in His goodness and accept His grace to deal with our “stuff”.

Recently I’ve been delving into “The Passion Translation” of the Psalms. The language is beautiful and eloquent and it’s been a refreshing journey into the continued goodness of God. I’ll sign off (and check my phone storage plan – maybe) and leave you with the one I read yesterday and pray it will lead us to His wonder, love and guidance as we take time to Selah and prepare to clear out some unnecessary nuisances.

Psalm 19 – The Passion Translation

“God’s Story in the Skies

God’s splendour is a tale that is told;

his testament is written in the stars.

Space itself speaks his story every day

through the marvels of the heavens.

His truth is on tour in the starry vault of the sky,

showing his skill in creation’s craftsmanship.

Each day gushes out its message to the next,

night with night whispering its knowledge to all.

Without a sound, without a word, without a voice being heard,

Yet all the world can see its story.

Everywhere its gospel is clearly read so all may know.

What a heavenly home God has set for the sun,

shining in the superdome of the sky!

See how he leaves his celestial chamber each morning,

radiant as a bridegroom ready for his wedding,

like a day-breaking champion eager to run his course.

He rises on one horizon, completing his circuit on the other,

warming lives and lands with his heat.

God’s Story in the Scriptures

God’s Word is perfect in every way;

how it revives our souls!

His laws lead us to truth,

and his ways change the simple into wise.

His teachings make us joyful and radiate his light;

his precepts are so pure!

His commands, how they challenge us to keep close to his heart!

The revelation-light of his word makes my spirit shine radiant.

Every one of the Lord’s commands is right;

following them brings cheer.

Nothing he says ever needs to be changed.

The rarest treasures of life are found in his truth.

That’s why I prize God’s word like others prize the finest gold.

Nothing brings the soul such sweetness

as seeking his living words.

For they warn us, his servants,

and keep us from following the wicked way,

giving a lifetime guarantee:

great success to every obedient soul!

Without this revelation-light,

how would I ever detect the waywardness of my heart?

Lord, forgive my hidden flaws whenever you find them.

Keep cleansing me, God,

and keep me from my secret, selfish sins;

may they never rule over me!

For only then will I be free from fault

and remain innocent of rebellion.

So may the words of my mouth, my meditation-thoughts,

and every movement of my heart be always pure and pleasing,

acceptable before your eyes,

my only Redeemer, my Protector-God”

 

Fatherhood – Embracing The Tension

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REPOST in honour of Father’s Day 

Rich and I have been married for 7 years, nearly 8, but have been together a decade in total at this point! We met when we were both still students and have laughed, lived, loved and cried together ever since. Every year is sweeter with my best friend. Marriage takes work and I’m blessed to work hard alongside him. He’s generous, kind and full of integrity. Don’t be fooled by his quiet demeanour, he has a witty sense of humour and works harder than anyone I’ve known. He has wisdom and discernment beyond his years, and a huge random tank of knowledge stored in that beautiful head. There’s so much I could say but at the risk of gushing and causing you to reach for the sick bucket, I’ll stop there. 

I asked him to write a blog on his perspective of parenthood, here’s what he had to say…

Fatherhood – Embracing the Tension

When Anna asked me to write a blog entry for her, I didn’t really know where to start.
There are lots of things that I could write about. I could write about a husband’s perspective on the whole birth process. Maybe I could talk about the initial days of fatherhood and some of the preconceptions I had. I could maybe give some pithy advice as to how to juggle life as a Dad and as the sole breadwinner. But somehow, I feel that all of the above could be written about by far more experienced, and eloquent people than myself.

Becoming a Dad has been the best thing that has happened to me, but also the most
challenging. It is both amazing and terrifying to think this little person is your child, your responsibility, your legacy. That you have the ability to both love her and also fail her. Going to work is bittersweet. I travel quite a lot with work, which always used to be fun and exciting. It now can seem as though I’m missing out when I’m away. We often can’t wait to get her to sleep in the evening, especially after a busy day but as soon as she’s in bed, we’re talking about her, missing her a bit if truth be told. Not enough to wake her up though! I’ve basically realised that being a Dad isn’t simple, it’s actually often paradoxical with the right thing being held in tension between two seemingly conflicting positions. I’m learning to embrace the tension.

Here are a few tensions I’m currently trying to embrace:

I’m expected to lead but I don’t know where we’re going

When I think of my Dad, I always felt like he knew exactly what was going on and what to do in any given situation. I’m sure he didn’t. He was probably doing exactly what I am currently, and making it up as he went along. As men, I feel sometimes we feel the pressure to have it all together and know which way we’re going. The thing is, most of us if we’re honest probably don’t know where on earth we’re going, let alone what we’re going to be doing there when we get there. It’s this self-imposed pressure that I think can cause a sense of inadequacy and even depression. The fact of the matter is, no one knows what is going on. If someone tells you they do, don’t believe them. We don’t get the full roadmap, we have light enough for the next step, no more, no less. I’ve come to realise that when it comes to my family I don’t actually have to know everything and have it all together. I don’t have to lead my family through a specific route that I’ve mapped out. I just have to show them how to take the next step. I have to model what it is to walk in faith, to walk in humility. I lead my family when I model excellence and a healthy work ethic. I lead my family when I am kind and compassionate in a situation that would often warrant a different response. I lead my family when I am consistent, loyal and faithful. I lead my family when I say sorry and show vulnerability. It turns out I can lead even when I don’t know the way by modelling how to take the next step with integrity, even if I don’t know the final destination.

I’m not 20 any more but I’m also not 80

It’s true. When I look back at what I used to look like, it’s as though a complete stranger is
looking back at me. I was a lot thinner, healthier and had way more energy. I have realised that actually, I am not immortal. I need to look after myself and my body so I’m still around and useful when I’m older. I’m by no means a health fanatic, but I have come to realise that I cannot expect to eat what I used to, drink whatever I want and do no exercise without repercussions. People never think of their health until they lose it. I don’t want to be a 40-year-old dad with an 80-year-olds body. I’m trying to look after myself better these days, understanding that I’m not 20 any more but I shouldn’t feel like I’m 80 either. I can’t do what I want any more and it have no repercussions. It’s early days but hopefully Sienna and Anna will thank me for it long term.

I can’t be there all the time but I can be fully present when I am there

This one is really important and so hard to do. As a dad, or the working parent, you can find yourself constantly feeling guilty. You feel guilty for going home early to see your child before they go to bed. You also feel guilty working late knowing your wife or other half is taking the full hit back at home. You know you need to go to work and put in a full day there, but you also need to be a dad/parent and help out when you’re home. I’ve come to realise that it takes discipline and perspective to navigate. Does that email need to be replied to this second? Can that call wait until tomorrow? Similarly, will missing a bath time once in a while ruin my daddy-daughter bond? Can Anna put her to bed once or twice without me being there? The answer is usually yes to all of the above. The real issue isn’t how much time you spend at a certain place, it’s being fully there. If work had 100% of your focus between the hours of 9-5 you wouldn’t need to take work home with you. And if your family had 100% of your focus when you’re with them, they wouldn’t feel like they’re missing out on you either. We lead full lives, we work jobs to pay bills. We work out this journey pragmatically, we have to. The goal is not to spend every waking moment with my family, it’s to let them know that wherever I am, I’m doing my utmost to do my job well so I can come back to them with no unfinished business. They are my priority, wherever I find myself and whatever responsibility I have to fulfil. I need to work in a way that honours my boss and prioritises my family.

It’s impossible to always be in a good mood, but I ‘m consistent with my countenance

I have made the decision, that I always want Sienna to know that I’m pleased to see her,
regardless of what kind of day I’m having, and regardless of how much of a pain she’s been. That’s a choice, it’s a decision that I’ve made, that she will always know that her Dad is pleased to see her. It’s important to me because that’s how I want her to view her Heavenly Father. I’m not always in a great mood. I could have had an awful day but I have disciplined myself to always smile at my daughter whenever I see her. It’s a small thing, she probably doesn’t even notice it, but I need to remind myself that it’s how God is with us. He looks on us and smiles. I can’t always be in a good mood, but I have committed myself to be consistent with my countenance towards Sienna. She needs to know that she can always come to me, no matter what, and she is welcome. She needs to know that her Dad is, and always will be, pleased to see her.

Written by Rich Harris

Merry-Go-Round

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On a recent trip to Brighton, I enjoyed a brush with the past and some childhood whimsy as I joyfully rode on a merry-go-round. I was a little sceptical as to whether I would enjoy it as much as I did as a child, but I needn’t have worried, because it was blooming marvellous! However, it did seem to last a little too long and towards the end, it was becoming a little awkward being one of only two adults on a ride full of mostly children. Plus, there’s only so many times you can circulate the same views before becoming mildly nauseated (I loved it really!)

There’s nothing wrong with a little fun on a fairground ride and life should most definitely be enjoyed. However, like the merry-go-round that repeated the same motions over and over, and continued around the same axis a little too long for my liking, life too can become tiring, boring and nauseating when we continue to circle around the same issues. Week after week or even year upon year we can face the same battles if we’re not careful. Sometimes they’re disguised as something different but if we dig a little deeper, we’d see the root of our issues is still very much the same. Whether it’s a struggle with relationships or finances, insecurities, health concerns or our past, life has a way of allowing us to think that we’re making progress. We appear to be moving forward until something happens that forces us to realise we’ve actually been journeying around in a large circle only to have ended up right back where we started.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re supposed to speed through life and conquer one thing after the other like we are totalling up points in a computer game, and I also believe that certain things take time to process and change. We need time to grow and mature. Nevertheless, I wonder how much more I could accomplish or how much further on I could be in some areas of my life had I jumped off the merry-go-round of some of my struggles sooner and dealt with them earlier. Can anyone relate? Like the moments you think to yourself, “why am I here again?” Or “why am I dealing with this again?”

I can’t help but think of the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, as they travelled unknowingly and unnecessarily for much longer than needed in the desert. A people miraculously rescued from slavery, destined to be known as “God’s people”. They were guided and protected by His Presence, despite themselves, and set up to show the world the Glory of an amazing, saving, all-powerful God. Which they did, through no effort or deservedness of their own but purely because of God’s mercy and grace. One of the saddest things about their wilderness experience is that the oldest generation saved from Egyptian slavery died in the desert. Thank God that their offspring still went on to inherit the land the Lord had promised, but I can’t help but feel a little sorrow for those who perished in their desert season, they were saved for freedom and yet missed out on their promise. Their discouragement and grumbling claimed their inheritance. They failed to remember and see the goodness of God and mature from their past issues.

It makes me ponder my own life and salvation and some of the things that maybe I encircle around. Things that have held me hostage for too long when I should be living in a promise. Doesn’t the world need to see the people who claim to be God’s, carrying His Presence, seeing His victory and overcoming their battles and living in the promise? Not for selfish or exclusive reasons that lord it over others, instead because people everywhere have needs and face various issues daily. They could do with knowing about a loving and saving God who, despite the issues of life is able to penetrate our circumstances with His grace, favour, healing and restorative power. There’s not only our promise at stake but others too.  

Of course, when we become Christians, life doesn’t just magically and instantly improve. We learn many things gradually as our revelation of Him deepens. But, what holds us back from our breakthrough? What stops us from taking hold of the promises of God? Yes, we have been ‘saved’ and our eternity is sure and that’s the most amazing gift we have, but to quote Brian Houston, “There is more” for us now. More to pursue, more to do, more to be. Eternity starts now.

What if we weren’t always playing a defensive game which sees us reacting to the issues of life, feeling like we’re always on the back foot and just managing to get through? What if we played in the offence for a change. Rather than feeling like we’re always fending off the attacks of the enemy when they arise, why not start from a position of victory (1 Corinthians 15 v 57), put on our armour (Ephesians 4) and take some ground for a change. Move forward. Advance. First, in our own lives so that we can cease riding upon the same old problems. Then, for the lives of others so that we are free to actually show and tell the good news of Who God is in our everyday lives. Whilst we remain on the defensive and focus on putting out the same old fires, we are distracted from deploying all that we have access to as children of God (Romans 8 v 16) and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8 v 17) to take down the kingdom of the enemy. We don’t want the world to look on and wonder what’s so special about being a Christian, but rather think I want to know their God. Will life stop throwing us lemons? No. We are after all part of a greater eternal battle, but we can learn to slice those lemons and make delicious lemonade for ourselves and others along the way. A soldier with some successful battles under his/her belt has the confidence to pursue the enemy and wisdom to take him down.

So what must we do? Well this is just a short blog post and not a Bible study, plus I’m running out of words but here are three quick things I’m learning to practice:

Pray – It’s absolutely one of our greatest weapons and key to unlocking our breakthroughs. It connects us with God, opens heaven, keeps focus, changes us and declares truth. I start with the Lord’s prayer because, well, Jesus told us how to pray, so it has to be the best way.

Don’t Delay – This is a very tenuous title (don’t judge me!), but I wanted them all to rhyme! So, here are some cheeky subpoints that are actually the point! Don’t delay:

  • In the Word – It’s alive and active and our firm foundation. It guides, declares, corrects and brings life. 
  • In taking action – whether that be getting help, stopping or starting something, just do it!

Slay – Change my perspective and therefore my position. I’m on the side of victory and I’m going after that which belongs to God. We have no reason to fear when we realise the battle is the Lords.  

FYI – I haven’t got this nailed! But we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. God is good – let’s hold Him to it. Time to get off the merry-go-round.