Love Thy Neighbour

LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR copy

London is a beautiful City full of history and innovation that sees rapid growth and change and has the obvious hustle and bustle of a Capital City. It’s bursting at the seams with people and is often a place in which many live but don’t necessarily dwell long term. There are lots of rentals and students and people passing through for a season. We ourselves have been here for only 7 years and have moved 4 times during that period due to rental contracts and differing jobs. Having a community in a busy and large City, with such a migrating population can be tough, and for us, we are lucky to have found one through Church. However, we don’t all live in close proximity to one another, and so some of the places where we’ve lived have provided more of a base rather than a home.

Last year was a busy year full of lots of change for us. We welcomed our first child, transitioned into new roles and found ourselves once again in a different area of London. This time, however, we had the opportunity to purchase a house as we were blessed with some inheritance which we used as a deposit. I think there’s a saying in property that reads along the lines of, “buy the worst house on the best street”, that way you will add value to your home in a sort after area and it’s still affordable to buy. The London housing market is in a league of its own and as we looked for a property it soon became apparent that our money wouldn’t stretch as far as we’d thought. No matter, we were still fortunate enough to own our own home, it just turned out that it was the worst house on not the best street! Regardless, we have a nice little two-bed end of terrace with an amazing 60-foot garden. It wasn’t left in the finest of conditions from its previous owner and so it was what you’d have called a ‘fixer-upper’. Nevertheless, whilst we haven’t viewed this as our forever home, it is a good start on the property ladder and a place to establish our little family together. A home that we can raise our young child in and be hospitable with, a safe haven to come back to and the start of building a legacy for Sienna.

Recently I was challenged at Church as our pastor addressed the issues and growing concern surrounding young people in our City and the increased levels of violence amongst them. As a Church, we want to be part of a long-term solution. This is, after all, our City. In his message, he said something along the lines of, “Don’t pray to God for something if you’re not prepared to be part of the answer.” Inspired by this but not knowing where to start, I consciously made a decision to pray not only for our City and Country but also for my street, my neighbourhood and my community. I felt challenged to be present in this community for as long as we live here and not just see it as a transitional place. I realise that it’s not yet the most sought after area, but the majority of people that live here are normal, hard-working every day decent folks. I prayed my prayer and got on with my day.

Then something happened which made me want to rescind my previous thoughts, challenge my prayer and make plans to leave the neighbourhood as soon as possible. Someone walked into our house in the middle of the day, assuming everyone was out and took the easiest things they could grab in an instant. On realising someone was upstairs they made a quick exit. We only realised we had been burgled when we noticed our visiting family’s car was gone from outside! They’d taken the keys!

As if it wasn’t enough that someone had broken into our private property, the very next day, I noticed something across the street that appeared suspicious. With a heightened sense of awareness, and despite feeling nervous as I got our daughter ready for bed, I called the Police. The short version is they responded quickly and efficiently and so the criminals were caught and arrested. In that moment I had a choice, do I still love my community although it’s hard or do I close the curtains, let the world pass by and hope for the best as I plan my departure? I thought if I really want to pray for my City and see a change it must start with me. As the title of Bob Goff’s book states, “Love does!” Love does even when it’s uncomfortable and love loves even the bits that we don’t like as much. If I don’t care about my street and if I don’t take action how can I expect anyone else too? It’s easy to point fingers or step back but if this is now my community, it’s my responsibility.  Getting involved in things at arm’s length not having to get my hands dirty feels better, but there are needs right on my doorstep.

The enemy would have us stunted from moving forward because we feel intimidated or fearful. However, as my dear friend, Ope always says, “the devil is a liar!” It’s true he comes to kill, steal and destroy but what’s also true is that Jesus is, “..above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1 v 21. He has the final say, He is our provider, protector, redeemer, saviour, strength, peace and victor – AND the list goes on. The devil has nothing on Jesus. It’s an uneven match.

We were blessed to buy this house and therefore blessed to be in this area and so we must not let those who wish to destroy our blessings have the last say. There are so many exhortations in scripture that remind us of the goodness of God and the protection we have as his people. I need to believe that whilst we are here our prayers and our actions can make this a better place for not only ourselves but also our neighbours. My neighbours need to know a loving and very real God who is able to reach down and infiltrate their lives and situations. This starts with me; with me showing them the evidence, showing them His favour and the power of prayer. This means not being afraid to do the right thing. Of course, it’s easier to type than to action but if ministry truly is life, then this is my life and therefore this is my ministry and our neighbourhood is our responsibility.

A few quick things I have learnt or been reminded of this week:

  • Light casts out darkness – ALWAYS! “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1 v 5
  • God is on my side, He’s my protector  – Psalm 91
  • Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as in Heaven,” so He’s invested in the outcome – Matthew 6 v 9 – 13
  • Ministry is life – Romans 12
  • God loves my neighbours and so should I – Mark 12 v 30 – 31
  • Jesus has all authority Matthew 28 v 18 and He gives us authority – “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10 v 19
  • Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to attack – put on your armour – Ephesians 6 v 10 – 18

Heart’s Intent

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There are so many fun new things to experience with Sienna as she continues to develop and grow, and she certainly has a curious mind and adventurous spirit. With each new week, we witness her try new things, increase in understanding and attempt new words. She takes joy in repeating and practising that which she’s learnt and lucky for us we get to partake in this repetition, over and over and over and over again!

Along with new pleasures come new frustrations and anxieties for her cute little self. There’s still much to learn and understand as her comprehension is still infant. One of Sienna’s ‘wonderful’ phases of development we currently ‘get to’ navigate is bouts of separation anxiety. This is where children may experience some anxiety when away from their loved ones. Helping her to understand that we will always return can be a tricky endeavour whilst she is unable to comprehend an explanation of what’s happening. However, the more she experiences our return and the consistency of our character in this way, the more assurance will build within her. Her anxiety now, is due in part, to her lack of knowledge and understanding.

As parents, we try our best to teach her new language and ways in which to help her let us know her feelings, needs and desires. We also endeavour to gradually expose her to different experiences with us, so that, as in the case of separation anxiety, she will soon have a full memory bank of positive encounters with the faithfulness of our return and her anxiety will become a thing of the past. Whilst these things can be difficult to deal with now, as we spend time together daily, reinforcing our love for her and teaching her our ways, her revelation of us will grow. The hope is that she will learn the consistencies of our character and the increasing depth of our love. That she will know and understand that it’s our pleasure to help her, to love her, to ease her pain and to teach her. With that, also comes discipline and whilst we don’t enjoy saying ‘no’ to her we do it because of our love for her. Our love causes us to want the best for her, and eating wires, putting her hands in the bin and throwing things in the toilet isn’t that!

My encounters with her often cause me to wonder about my own experiences with my Heavenly Father. I remember times in which I have been frustrated and anxious and wonder if sometimes it was due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of Who He is and His intentions towards me. How many times have I missed his guidance or discipline because I didn’t understand the motivation? I think about the times I’ve lacked comprehension of His ways and wonders, and been distant from His word which has caused me to feel separation anxiety. What am I missing out on now even because I haven’t taken the time to know Him more? This reminds me of a verse in Hosea, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”(Hosea 4 v 6). It’s sad to think that things, hopes, dreams, understanding and worse – people may perish due to lack of knowledge when it’s been freely given. I want nothing more than for Sienna to be able to see the love behind the decisions we make, as well as be able to clearly communicate with us so that we can respond quickly and accordingly. I imagine our Heavenly Father may feel much the same in wanting us to know more about Him and understand His love.

As a family, we have daily opportunities to grow together, to learn, to laugh, to love, to communicate and to flourish as our understanding of each other deepens. As Sienna’s communication develops, conversations will flow more freely and become two way, understanding will grow and revelation will deepen. The good news is, it’s not too dissimilar for us as children of God. He wants to be known, if that were not true He would not have revealed Himself to us time and time again. We only know Him because He allows us to in many ways but perhaps most clearly through Jesus. The invitation is to know Him more, to also grow together as a family so that we may know His heart and intentions towards us so that we can live the life He has called us to and enjoy His Presence and Fatherly love.

I wonder if some of the anxieties and frustrations that you are feeling today could be eased if you could understand the intentions of a good Heavenly Father towards you and how it’s his pleasure to respond. Furthermore its His pleasure to know you. Jesus reveals His heart over and over throughout the gospels, in fact, His whole life and death point towards His motivation towards us. I leave you with this scripture and trust that you, like me, will accept His invitation to know Him more. I pray that not only will our understanding develop but the vaults of our memory will fill to overflowing with experiences of His goodness as we take on the challenge to grow as His kids.

“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. ‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’”

Matthew 7 v 7 – 11

 

Praise Junkie

PRAISE JUNKIE

When you’re a performer, the applause and reaction of an audience is something that you measure to gauge the success of your presentation. This is not a narcissistic thing, it’s natural to want to please the people for which you’ve worked hard to entertain or engage. It’s a phenomenon mimicked in many areas of life, the want or need to please others, to be liked or valued and gain recognition for the work we have done. A child looks for praise from their parents, an employee from a boss, a leader from their followers and vice versa.

I’m fascinated by John the Baptist. Seemingly an outcast in society, yet clearly influential with active disciples and a flourishing ministry. A man sent to prepare the way for another, to honour another above himself. A man content when his disciples left him to follow Jesus, in fact, that was what he aimed for. He didn’t seek the praise of others but rather pointed them to the One Who is to be praised. A man so in tune with God that He recognised the Son standing in front of Him when many other supposedly religious leaders didn’t. When confronted with the migration of his disciples to Jesus, he selflessly said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3 v 30). It’s so easy to read the scriptures and forget the weight of what’s being said. I think we’d probably all like to think that we would have the same response as John in this instance. But I wonder what would happen if all of our followers, various platforms, ministries, careers or accolades that we’d worked so hard to build were suddenly redirected elsewhere, would we truly be ok with that? If we faded into the background and never received another word of encouragement, thanks, or acknowledgement for our hard work, would we still be content? If we could never insta story our achievements or show the world our accomplishments would they still be worthwhile?

There are many speeches and social media accounts that tell wonderful tales of how Jesus is first in our lives and everything done or gained is all because of Him. Yet I wonder, when we get to heaven, what He will actually put His name to and what will have “us” written all over it.

In The Message version of John 1 v 6 – 8, it states John the Baptist’s sole purpose for walking this earth,

“There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.”

I’m challenged to ponder if I’m content learning to play “second fiddle” (Romans 12 v 10 The Message). Does the life I lead really point fully to Jesus or the gifts He’s given me? Are they two different things? Surely if I’m winning, He’s winning? If I’m successful, He’s successful. I think maybe there’s a fine line between me looking good and Him looking good. I definitely believe He wants us to prosper and bring glory to His name as we live surrendered to Him and allow His abundant provision of grace and healing, mercy and love to overwhelm our lives. But I wonder how often we ask for His guidance, His direction, His Presence before we work hard. I wonder how often we see His miracles amongst our hard work and sacrifice. I wonder what bears His name and what bears ours in the mix of this chaos called life. At each juncture which signposts lead to Him and which me?

The beauty of saying yes to Jesus is that, despite ourselves, there’s always an opportunity to grow. He didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3 v 17), and so we have chance upon chance to re-align our focus and vision and reposition ourselves correctly in Him. He definitely wants us to be more, to do more and to have more but there’s a greater purpose to all of it. God is a good Father and He delights in lavishing us with His goodness, just because He loves us. However, when we truly experience the beauty of His grace and the wonder of His miracles we naturally become aware of our position in Him, but not in a way that forces us to submit but rather to gladly humble ourselves.

The praises of one another are fleeting, and whilst I believe in encouragement as a Godly gift to one another, everything we do should all be to His glory. If I am competent by my own means through hard work, training and sacrifice, this is a good thing, yet there is still more to do to allow Him to bring heaven to earth, as He taught us to pray.  

Another who gave His life to point to the goodness of God the Father, is Jesus. It’s the great mystery, He Himself is God and yet gave up His rights as God to become a man that He may show us the heart of the Father. How we could live and walk with Him and point others to His goodness. A life given for humanity.

Will my life point to a good Father? Will it show His glory and not my own as I learn to continually walk in His Presence and see His miracles unfold before me to be shown to a world desperately in need of some supernatural intervention? I hope so.

Help me, help us, God, to chase only one thing, You.

“I saw the sun begin to dim

And felt that winter wind

Blow cold

A man learns who is there for him

When the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold

‘Cause from then, rubble

One remains

Can only be what’s true

If all was lost

Is more I gain

‘Cause it led me back

To you

From now on

These eyes will not be blinded by the lights

From now on

What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight

Tonight

Let this promise in me start

Like an anthem in my heart

From now on

From now on

I drank champagne with kings and queens

The politicians praised my name

But those are someone else’s dreams

The pitfalls of the man I became

For years and years

I chased their cheers

The crazy speed of always needing more

But when I stop

And see you here

I remember who all this was for”

Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek For “The Greatest Showman”

From Now On lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Fox Music, Inc

 

 

 

Busy Is Not A Badge Of Honour

Busy Is Not A Badge of Honour

It seems like busy is a badge of honour we wear with pride these days. “How’s your week been?” “Busy” “How’s work?” “Busy” “How’s life?” “Good, busy, but that’s a good thing right?” I know I’ve said it before and no doubt meant it.

Being a parent, in some ways, brings a new level of busy into life with increased to-do lists. However, it’s also afforded me the ability to streamline, as I now weigh the importance of what I give my time to against caring for another human, Sienna.

I’ve realised busy doesn’t make us good or better, and it doesn’t always translate into significance, although it can give a false sense of purpose as we exert ourselves on a never-ending treadmill. There are definitely times and seasons that require more of us and these allow us to grow in capacity and get more done, but after a push must be a rest. In order to allow the soil of our soul to replenish and grow new things, we need a chance to rest.

Busy was a constant pace of life for me, pre-child. When I slowed down in order to care for Sienna, and at times struggled, I had to question why I struggled, or why I had placed so much value in always having a project on the go. When I was just left with myself, was I happy with the person I had become and the things I had built? Even though built on a foundation of good intentions, were they important? Did anybody notice I wasn’t on the treadmill anymore? Had I, in turn, noticed others that weren’t as busy as myself or doing the same things as I? Had I been present in moments or just busy through them? Were people truly important to me or was the task always more pressing, under the guise of it being for others? They were tough questions to ask and although the answers weren’t all negative I did come to the conclusion that moving forward I’d rather be present than busy.

God’s treasure is humanity, He died for people, He overcame hell (literally) for people and so they need to be my greatest treasure also. I’ve realised that when we are busy, despite good intentions, people and their needs can often become overlooked. Caring for others isn’t convenient. It means stopping, listening, waiting, making time and going out of our way for others. When we’re busy we have less time to activate our care. I worked for a charity and I’ve always served within the church. It was easy to think that because I was doing roles and tasks that essentially were for the betterment of people that I was caring for others. And I was for the most part. However, if truth be told, sometimes the mission overtook those I was doing it for. An easy thing to happen for any of us if we’re honest. When we become so busy doing, we can forget all about ‘being’, as well as those that we are ‘doing’ it all with. Ultimately we won’t take what we did with us into eternity but we will take who we are and hopefully that which we’ve truly invested in other people.

Within all of us, I think there’s a hunger to live a life of significance. Incessant busyness can be a facade of significance and we must always re-assess what we do and why we do it. This requires stopping to think. For me, I want to have a positive influence and impact on the small section of eternity that I have the opportunity to reside on this earth. If people are in eternity, then it is people I must invest most in, and they must be my main priority in whatever endeavour I pursue, in every sphere of life. Whether they be family, friends, colleagues or neighbours, the way I treat them and interact with them has greater consequences than surface level human decency. In John 13 v 35, Jesus puts it this way,

By this, all people will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.”

People will know that we belong to Jesus by how we love one another. Not what we put on for others, not what we work towards or the tasks we produce, but how we love one another. How we go out of our way for others, care for others, forgive each other, provide for each other, treat each other, LOVE one another.  

1 Corinthians 13 v 1 – 7 (The Message version) expresses it like this,

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. “

Basically, if I’m busy doing lots of ‘good stuff’ but I don’t have love, I have nothing. Quite sobering.

There are many great books available about time management and priorities in which we can learn from the experience, mistakes and corrections of others. But knowledge is no good unless it’s applied; application equals wisdom. Having some time to think has made me think again about some questions that I should regularly ask myself in order to recalibrate to being present over busy. In order to “change the game”, we actually have to CHANGE the game. Doing the same things as before but harder and faster or even more efficiently does not change the trajectory of our lives, our organisations or our families. In order for things to be different, we have to do things differently and actions speak louder than words. There’s a saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been.”

Do you like me, need to reassess anything in your life? Here are some of the questions I have asked myself, what are yours?

  • Is this pursuit valuable; in alignment with my core values/convictions?
  • Is what I’m doing sustainable long-term?
  • Does the trajectory I’m on lead to the life that I want to live now and in the future?
  • Is what I’m sacrificing worth the outcome? I have to spend my energy on something, so is this worth the cost?
  • Can I make decisions about my own life?
  • Am I stewarding well what God has given me?
  • Who’s agenda am I fulfilling and do they care about me?

 

Delete Forever

DELETE FOREVER

Unfortunately, I’m one of ‘those’ people when it comes to computers! Quite often mistakes are down to user error rather than a computer fault. There are others in the family who are far worse than me but they shall remain nameless so that I don’t get in trouble! One thing I have accidentally done before is pressed the ‘delete forever’ option. It’s great when freeing up space on my computer and I mean to erase that which I have now deemed as ‘trash’. However, it’s not so good when I didn’t mean to remove a file in the first place and in an attempt to retrieve it, I again erase it and banish it forever!

It’s interesting that my computer was designed in such a way that I’m able to resurrect things that I’ve scrubbed out. To undo that which I have done. It’s also interesting that it doesn’t completely delete things the first time even though that’s my intention. This is great when I’ve made a mistake and need to get a piece of work back. Other times it’s frustrating that I have to delve back into my ‘trash’ and choose again to delete the things I thought I’d already erased to ensure that they are completely gone! I wonder if whoever designed it knew that as humans our nature is to hold onto things unnecessarily, or second guess our decisions, or feel the need to drag back into the present that which is belongs in the past. Who knows, they probably didn’t think too philosophically about it, but hey it works for my post.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

1 Corinthians 13 v 5

Yep, I’m still mulling over the words of 1 Corinthians 13. Perhaps it’s due to an increased hunger to experience more of the Presence of God who is Himself Love (1 John 4 v 8) and so I have a heightened awareness of Him and therefore It.

As I read verse 5 through the lens of His love for me, evermore so because it’s Easter, I feel humbled, grateful and undeserving that He chooses to keep no record of my wrongs. To wash them as white as snow and delete them forever as though they never happened. It’s not just forgiveness I receive when I accept His love for me, and that would be more than enough, but it’s no kept record of the dark parts of myself that nailed Him to the cross. That’s pretty mind-blowing. I could thank Him for that forever.

What challenges me is to love likewise. How do we keep no record of wrongs when we are hurt, we are grieved or scarred deeply? To forgive is one thing, and that in itself can take a lifetime, but to keep no record, wow that’s a tough call. Sometimes we might think we are ‘over’ things and perhaps have told ourselves such, when in actual fact we have buried the pain deep within, pushed it aside or tried to close a lid on it. The issue with that, however, is that when you bury a seed it has the potential to grow. Although day to day we may seem ok whilst getting on with life, a root of bitterness may be waiting to spring forth and rear its ugly head. Like a weed, it wishes to sap energy and choke future possibilities to love, have meaningful friendships and relationships, dreams, hopes and purpose. Understanding that the personal stakes are high is not the hard part, the difficulty is in actioning this aspect of love.

There are times when we are right to be angry, when we are victims and when we want to learn from circumstances and guard our hearts for the future, but how do we really find the courage to forever delete the records of those that have hurt us?

I’m not sure the answer is instant, in fact, I think it’s a lifelong pursuit. I guess we would have to start with the cross, for that is where the debt of our wrongdoings has painfully and undeservedly been paid for. I know when I truly think on the love that nailed Jesus to the cross, the last thing on my mind is what others have done to me, but rather what He has done for me. In those moments, all I feel is the warmth and overwhelming sense of His grace. When I know His grace and it penetrates the depths of my soul, it’s abundance seeps out. It’s so important to visit the cross and linger often, to pause and pray, to worship and repent, to cry and to be grateful. But our journey doesn’t end there. We need to look up and look on and see the resurrected Christ, Who draws us unto His life-giving self, full of hope and promise and future and love.

From a place of accepting and knowing His love, we can start to heal and move forward. Embraced by His love, the hurt inflicted on us, intentionally or unintentionally, becomes harder and harder to see as it fades into our past as He leads us heavenward.

One thing I am learning is that there is no limit to the depth of His engulfing love, the more I ponder on it, experience it and sit within its healing, it becomes more and everything else becomes less.

So how do we delete forever and not keep things stagnating in our ‘trash’ file? Well, it’s not so much a case of press this button and it’s gone, but rather the answer is simply, Him. To be in Him, to walk with Him, to allow Him to love us. I imagine it will transpire a little differently for us all as He knows us individually and personally, but the answer is still Him. The many depths and wonders of Him, His love, His grace and His peace.

I pray this Easter as we remember its significance and continue to draw ever closer to Him, the painful things stored away in our memory bank, the insecurities, regrets, hurts and losses will fade evermore into the distance.  

“Love NEVER fails.”

1 Corinthians 13 v 8

Happy Easter 

Tunnel Vision

TUNNEL VISION

This week we did the grocery shop as a family. When we’re all together, I’m aware that Rich isn’t a huge fan of shopping so I try and be as efficient as possible. I sent Rich off with Sienna to get an item off the list whilst I went in the opposite direction to fetch another. On my return, I spotted them both a little before they caught sight of me. Suddenly, Sienna, who was sitting in the trolley, looked up and saw me walking towards them. This was much to her delight and she responded by gleefully waving and saying “hiya” – that’s the Stokie in her! As soon as I realised she had seen me, I joyfully waved back and continued to make a beeline for them both. With my eyes fixed on her as our gaze locked, I ploughed through the other customers to receive my prize – a cuddle and a happy wiggle. However, in doing so I almost had a collision with a trolley and nearly mowed down an older person. Oops. Fortunately for us all, I caught them in my peripheral vision just in time to avoid chaos! What can I say? I was so happy to be reunited with my family, even after only a few minutes, and more importantly, I was delighted to see the excitement on Sienna’s face that I didn’t want to disappoint. I became headstrong in my pursuit of fulfilling that happy longing of hers to see her mummy.

It’s a cute small tale from an ordinary part of life, but it did pop into to my memory and make me smile as I got on with my day today. It made me think of how perhaps God must view us. Being a parent has definitely expanded my view of my relationship with Him. When you see the cogs turn behind the eyes of a toddler who’s just been told not to do something, you can definitely understand how Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Despite having access to all of the other wonderful gifts God had given them, they wanted the one thing they couldn’t have. Not too dissimilar from my little tinker! But more than that, the ways that I love Sienna, despite all of these things have given me a whole new revelation of God’s love for us. When she turned to see me and was filled with joy, my mummy heart wanted to respond as quickly as possible so that she knew her feelings were reciprocated.

How much more does God long for us to look up and notice Him so that He can respond in kind? We are created in His image, so we carry aspects of His nature and qualities. Yet they are but a shadow; a small reflection of Who He is. His Father heart must ache much more than mine for all of His kids.

In determined and unrelenting pursuit of us, motivated by pure love, despite ourselves, His tunnel vision for restoration lead Him to the cross. So desperate for us to know His heart, He put on human flesh and left His high position to become nothing to serve us, His creation, His children,

“..rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

Philippians 1 v 7-8

I saw a beautiful line this week in, “God is Good, He’s Better Than You Think”, by Bill Johnson. It reads like this, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology – He is the will of God personified.” Basically, if you want to know what God thinks, how He acts, what’s important to Him, look at Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5 v 19). What Jesus taught, when He healed, when He had compassion and when He placed value on those that society outcast, you see the true heart and nature of God for humanity, for you and me.

I don’t know where you find yourself this Easter week. Up to your eyeballs in eggs and bunnies, busy at work, enjoying a holiday or feeling lonely or lost. Whether on top of the world, at rock bottom or somewhere in-between, it’s always good to be reminded that there is a Father in heaven with tunnel vision gazing adoringly at you. Since the beginning of time, He has pursued a relationship with us. When we messed up He set about embarking on His recovery plan. He’s not far off or distant, aloof or callous. He eagerly awaits us to notice His face looking intently and lovingly at us. He sent His Son to right our wrongs once and for all so that we would never have to doubt His feelings again.

Happy Easter week!

The Yield Point

The YIELD POINT copy

The Yield Point:

Where Growth Becomes Permanent

This past week has been particularly full for me, more than usual and my capacity has been stretched and tested. When thinking about it, I was reminded of an analogy for growth that my husband once shared which seemed accurate and encouraging. Rather than regurgitate his words, I asked him to pen his thoughts so that I could share them with you.

Enjoy……………..

I just recently went back to Cambridge with my family. It holds a lot of fond memories for me. It was where I studied at uni, where I met my wife, where I got my first job, where I got my first house. Cambridge will always be an important and formative place for me. I caught myself driving through the small winding streets and reminiscing about how things used to be. Life seemed so simple back then. Of course, at the time it didn’t feel simple at all. When I look back at what I used to stress about it’s actually quite amusing. It seemed huge at the time, but with the passing of time and a bit more ‘life experience’, it all seems so trivial now. It struck me that personal capacity develops through the years without us really noticing it. This made me wonder, “How does our capacity grow?”

Did you know that metals are elastic? It’s true. Metals behave similarly to elastic bands when you apply tension to them. Just like an elastic band, metals will stretch when you pull them. If you stop pulling them they will return to their original length. Because of this property, metals are said to behave elastically under certain conditions. If you apply more force, the metal will stretch further. Apply a bit more still and it stretches a bit further still. Each time the force is removed, the metal will return to its original shape. There is a point, however, that once crossed, will change the metal permanently. It’s called the yield point. Before the yield point, the metal has enough capacity to take the force applied to it. When the force is removed it simply relaxes back into its normal position. But when the yield point is reached, it’s a different story. The metal has been subjected to so much force that all of its inbuilt capacity to carry the force has been overwhelmed. When removing the force now, the metal does not return to its original length, it has been permanently stretched and therefore is permanently enlarged.

I think this illustration gives an unique insight into how growth can work in us. For most of our lives we operate within our ‘elastic zone.’ Every now and then a little more is asked of us than usual. That might be in the form of a work deadline, a house move, or revising for an exam. An external pressure that applies some extra “force”. When these challenges come our way we feel stretched and a little overwhelmed, but we actually have enough capacity within ourselves to deal with the stretch on a temporary basis. Remove the external pressure and we return to normal. Nothing has really changed, although we’re pretty happy we don’t have to deal with whatever it was anymore. For most of life’s ups and downs, this is perfectly adequate.

There are, however, certain situations where we reach the end of ourselves when all our capacity is spent and the external force isn’t removed but continues to pull. Perhaps things start with just a work deadline which then escalates into a work deadline and a house move, plus an exam and maybe an illness, add the kids playing up and … well, you get the idea. Before we know it one thing has snowballed into another and it feels like an avalanche is heading our way. It can seem never-ending and like we’re going to be engulfed any second. The truth is though, we’ve hit our yield point. It’s painful, and it feels like we’re going to break, we’re being permanently stretched. It’s in these times that we find ourselves experiencing permanent growth. If we place these experiences into the hands of God, it can be in a positive way. When all the external pressures are removed, we don’t return to our original state, we return to a new state, hopefully, a bigger state. We’ve been permanently enlarged.

There have been so many times in my life that I’ve felt completely out of control and at breaking point, but if truth be told, I’d just hit my yield point. As human beings, we are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Unfortunately, it’s only in times of pressure that we see how resilient we really are. I have changed the way I view challenges and setbacks. I’ve reframed them as ‘Moments Of Permanent Growth.’ Easier said than done I know, but it does change your outlook and perspective in a positive way. Tough times come to everyone, it’s an unfortunate fact. Live long enough and you will have a period that just seems to really suck. Understanding that these moments can be of benefit to us in the long term, doesn’t necessarily make them easier to navigate, but it can give them a sense of purpose in the midst of the stretch. They aren’t pleasant but they can be useful.

Looking back on the tough times I’ve had to walk through, I wouldn’t want to walk through them again, but I do recognise that I’m a bigger person because of them. I guess that’s the point really. Ultimately it’s in our lack and in our need that our awareness of God is heightened. In our weakness we can see His strength. When we get through the other side and look back, we realise that God is faithful and so the next time a challenge comes we have a personal revelation and experience of His faithfulness in our life. “If God got me through that, He can get me through this.” That allows us to face an uncertain future with an assurance that we do have the capacity to withstand adverse force, but not in our strength, in His. So if you feel like you’re at breaking point, take heart! Where we end, He begins.

2 Corinthians 12 v 9

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

One Shot

one shot

I was watching BBC Breakfast recently and a gentleman in an interview made this statement, “There’s no dress rehearsal for life.” He inferred that we’ve only got one shot at this thing called “life”, so therefore we may as well give it all that we’ve got. For whatever reason, at that moment his words really struck a chord with me, and I started to think about all of the time I’ve wasted throughout my life waiting for some kind of permission to live my best life. Perhaps due to waiting in a false humility for opportunities to present themselves, taking scripture out of context and not wanting to self-elevate. Self- promotion for the sake of selfish gain is never a good thing, but we can so often confuse that with passionately and unapologetically pursuing the fulfilment of all that God has placed within us.

Have you ever apologised for yourself? Apologised for your gifts or passions? Not wanted to seem too keen, or held yourself back because you wanted to be a good servant. Being a good servant and honouring leadership are wonderful things, I’m not talking about being a lone ranger and doing your own thing through selfish ambition. However, we have one short span of time called life to use up the potential, gifts and passions within us to the betterment of humanity for the glory of God, so what are we waiting for? What a sad thing it would be, to be at the door between this world and the next and still be full of potential, like a battery full of energy but never used. I want all of my potential to have run out because it’s been converted into destiny.

For a long time I misunderstood calling and purpose and it sometimes stunted me from moving forward whilst I waited for permission from God or others to be me. From a pure heart of wanting to do the right thing and not miss out on His “calling” for my life, I ended up often more confused and frustrated as I waited for a big flashing sign to guide me in a certain direction. When I realised that I was “called out of darkness into His wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2 v 9) and that my purpose, therefore, was to help others know this same transformation; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19), my whole perspective changed. No longer did I need permission to be me, to be who God created me to be, to love the things that I loved and be good at the things I was good at. I didn’t need confirmation as to whether or not I was “called” to be a dancer or this or that, but rather I shifted my focus to see the bigger picture.So often as Christians we can over-complicate things. This must give the devil much amusement as we trip over ourselves whilst trying earnestly to be our best selves by somehow quenching the very things that we love. It’s simpler than we think. Romans 12 v 1-2 sums it up beautifully,

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (The Message)

Give your life to God, every bit of it, and be you. Be you, your best you, and in doing so, every day give your life to God, your breathing, thinking, planning, dreaming, mundane, exciting, interactions and relationships. Give it all to God and get on with it. If we seek God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6 v 33) and truly worship Him in everything, then we can rest assured that, “..then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.”  (Romans 12 v 2 NIV).

The goal is Christ, to be in His Presence and to be transformed by His Presence. If we gave our every day to Him, we would love more, forgive more and be kinder. We’d be the best boss, the best daughter/son, sister/brother, wife/husband, mother/father, friend. We’d be the best customer at the checkout, the greatest encourager, the most generous giver. We’d notice people and care about others and the world entrusted to us. We’d work hard to pursue our desires because we could rest assured they were His too as we delight in Him (Psalm 37 v 4). Our natural bent, the overflow from our heart would be to bless others and grow His Kingdom on earth. So often we make the goal the gift, “call”, ministry, career, purpose, achievement, success and miss the simplicity of just being, being in Him.

If we aimed to fully know Him and be fully known by Him, we would question less if we’re doing the right or wrong thing because we’d know Him and His character. I’ve been with Rich now for a decade and his wife for 8 years of that. It’s safe to say I know him pretty well, we talk every day, we share the fun times and the hard times, and I’m pretty confident I know how’d he react in most situations. I know how he’d feel about a variety of subjects because I’ve taken the time to build our relationship, and it’s two way. I know his heart.

When I look at the Israelites, they were imperfect and often foolish and grumbling. Yet God chose them to reflect His goodness. He rescued them, saved them, won battles for them and provided for them. The world looked on in awe as His Presence, protection and provision were with them, despite themselves. There’s a whole world out there, in all types of situations, circumstances, jobs, cities, countries and war zones that need to look at us and see God’s Presence. They need to see the blessing of being under His protection and salvation despite our failures and mistakes. They need to see us being our best selves because our identity is placed in Him, our love flows from Him and His grace helps us each day. They need to see what it’s like to be called out of darkness into His wonderful light and in so doing want it too.

It’s time to stop worrying, fretting, deliberating, apologising. Pray, find His Presence, look for His peace and go for it! We have one life! Make the most of it!

Safe Place

safe place

Everyone is entitled to a safe place. A place to find shelter that offers comfort, a place to return to often, that feels like home. A place that brings familiarity when we feel lost or lonely, and a place to just “be” when we have nothing to say. A place that brings warmth, love and rest to a weary soul, and a feeling of protection in an unknown climate.

Sienna has just turned one and she becomes more independent with each new day. She has courage and curiosity to try new things and explore new adventures alongside an endearing belief that everyone will love her just like we do. It’s fun to watch and I feel proud and relieved that she feels comfortable enough to do this. However, she’s still young and when she’s tired, afraid, unwell, hungry or just wanting some familiar comfort she returns to her safe place; us, her mum and dad. If she wakes before she’s fully ready or her teeth are causing her pain, or there’s something she’s a little unsure of, you can be certain there is only one place she wants to be, and that’s firmly in our arms. The familiar rhythm of our hearts, the smell of our skin, the ease of our voices and the warmth of our hold bring her peace. Sometimes if we’re lucky she just wants a cuddle because she finds enjoyment in being with the ones who love her the most and we have a playful and loving exchange.

When she places her head on my shoulder, it’s one of the greatest feelings to know that she feels secure, loved and at home at that moment. No matter what else is going on in her little world, in our arms she finds a place that she knows and is fully known. Sometimes she may be silent, other times she may “talk” (baby babble), but on any occasion, she will never be rejected from our loving embrace, regardless of her circumstances, mood or behaviour.

I wonder do you have a safe place? Or are you in need of a safe place? Do you need reminding that one exists for you too? Do you know that there is a Person Who is to you like I am to Sienna, in fact, more than and better than I could be, even as a doting mother? 

David, in the Bible often found himself in risky and lonely situations and in need of a safe place. Sometimes due to external factors, other times due to his own decisions. Whether in despair from trying to avoid a delusional king hell-bent on murder, the anguish of his own sin or the elation of promises fulfilled, there was one Person he always turned to, his King, Saviour, Father and Friend; his “Safe Place”, God. Well known for his poetic Psalms, read one of his revelations of his “Safe Place” below…

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths, for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Psalm 23 (NIV)

When Sienna feels safe in my arms, and I feel the love that swells in my heart, I’m awed to think of how our heavenly Father must feel when we consider Him our home. It thrills me when her little tiny arms wrap themselves around me, I want her to know that she can do that always. Yet I know that I am but a poor reflection of the shelter found in the Presence of the Almighty. It is His will to be our ever-present place of refuge. As Psalm 23 conveys, there is no need or circumstance that God is overcome by, He provides peace where there could be fear, provision in our lack, guiding in our wandering and goodness and love (mercy in some translations) in abundance.

If you’re wanting to find a safe place today or just need a reminder of one that awaits your return, I leave you with one of my most recited Psalms. Full of truth, my heartfelt prayer in every season, Psalm 91. It speaks of comfort, promise and truth found in the shelter of The Almighty, and like Sienna to my arms, it’s a place we can always return to. Our safe place.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call on me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble,

I will deliver him and honour him.

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’”

Psalm 91 (NIV)