When God Spoke

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“I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears” – Psalm 34:4

When I was thirteen I went to a youth event where a passionate speaker challenged us to be radical for Jesus! I was stirred and full of amen’s…until, suddenly this well-meaning speaker pointed out that practically every single one of Jesus’ disciples was martyred for the sake of the gospel. Now I don’t want to freak you out, but let’s just say, that some of them didn’t exactly die pleasant deaths.

And there was me – thirteen years of age – and sooo not ready to die!  One minute I was flying high on the wings of faith: “Yes Jesus! I’m going to live for you! I will follow you wherever you lead me! I will serve you no matter what the cost!” And the next minute it was like I’d hit a whopping great tree!

Thwack!

Suddenly I was back down to earth with a thud! I don’t think I realized at the time how profoundly this incident affected me. But right there in that meeting, it was like a menacing shadow of fear snuck in through the back door and ripped that faith right out of my thirteen-year-old fingers.

Something in me deflated. I came to Christ as a six year old.  All I knew about Jesus was that He was good and kind and full of peace and love.  Nobody had ever really laid out the cost to me before. I desperately loved Jesus and I wanted to live for Him – but preferably without the slightest hint of persecution or suffering, thank you very much.

I felt paralyzed.  I kept trying to move forward, but I could still feel those shackles of fear holding me fast. In the back of my mind there were whispers of doubt: “You’d better not get too close to God! There’s no need to be radical!  That’s for fanatics – it’s not for the likes of you.  Stay within your comfort zone and be safe. The devil isn’t interested in luke-warm Christians.” Oh that crafty serpent! There’s always a tinge of truth in his sugar-coated lies.

Some years later, in my late teens, I was at another meeting. The Holy Spirit was moving and there was a call to step forward if you wanted to go deeper with God. I wanted to step forward with all my heart. I had a choice. Despite an inner struggle, I found myself responding. In fear and trepidation I found my feet moving. “Now hang on a minute!” I argued with myself “What on earth are you doing? You don’t really want to be doing this now, do you?”

As I stood there, eyes closed, hands raised, waiting for someone to come and pray for me, I silently poured out my heart to God,

“Lord I want to follow you,” I gushed, “I really do want to give my whole self to you – But I’m scared!  I’m being really honest here – I don’t want to die!” Tears began to spill from my eyes as I confessed to God my deepest, darkest fears.  Fears that I’d tried to bury.  Fears that He already knew about anyway.

Suddenly, almost instantaneously, came a still small voice. It wasn’t audible, but it was clear as crystal. In the tender tones of a father, do you know what He said to me?

“Oh Angie, (isn’t it lovely when He calls us by name?) I’m not asking you to die for Me. I want you to live for Me!”

Oh the power of that one simple phrase! Do you know that when God speaks to you, it can change everything? Suddenly His perfect love flooded my being and I wanted to shout for joy! The shackles of fear were instantly smashed off – and all fear was gone!

Forget-Me-Not

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There are so many things to remember these days!

“Have you got your key?”

“Mum, did you remember to pay for my school trip?”

“Did you remember there’s a meeting this evening?”

“Don’t forget your P.E. Kit!”

“I must remember to take those library books back on Tuesday.”

“Don’t forget your packed lunch bag!”

Sound familiar?

Just last week, I fell prey to absent-mindedness on a number of occasions!  On Monday I filled in some important forms for my daughter’s new school.  I put them by the front door so that I wouldn’t forget them the next day…and then on Tuesday, I managed to leave the house without them! On Wednesday, I popped into the shop and bought a few groceries…but came home without the milk.  On Friday, I took my car into the garage, walked all the way back home, only to discover that I’d forgotten to take my door key off the car key-ring.

You know that old saying:  “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on”…well, that pretty much sums me up!

And here we are again, heading towards November – the month of remembrance.  Soon we’ll be buying red poppies and taking part in two minute silences.  Lest we forget…

A few days ago, I stumbled across an interesting verse in the book of Judges:

The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of God, and forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” (Judges 3: 7)

Hang on a minute…back up the truck….I thought doing evil in the sight of God would entail murder or betrayal or deepest, darkest deception.  What did the sons of Israel do that was so offensive to God?  They forgot Him.

God has always wanted a people who will love Him and serve Him with wholehearted devotion.  And the truth is, He’s worthy of nothing less.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind…”

But the Sons of Israel ‘forgot’ Him.  They forgot the God who had brought them up out of Egypt.  Split open the Red Sea so they could walk though on dry land.  Provided Manna from heaven and water from a rock.  Who knows what distractions may have lured their affections away?  But I would hazard a guess that it was a gradual slide.  Perhaps they gradually stopped talking about Him quite so often – stopped remembering the miracles.  Perhaps they stopped being thankful.  Perhaps they got too busy trying to pay the bills.  But somehow, their hearts drifted away from their first love.  And it wasn’t long before they were serving Baal and Asheroth – worshipping idols.  How tragic.

The word ‘remember’ comes from the Latin root ‘mem’, which means ‘call to mind’ or ‘be mindful of’. So many words that we use in our everyday language stem from this root:  Memento, memoir, memorandum, memorabilia.  All of these things are designed to prompt our memory.  They remind us of important things, or preserve special memories.  But what can we do to remind ourselves of the One who is more important than any other treasure?

David had the right idea – In Psalm 103, we see an example of him “calling to mind” the goodness of the Lord:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,

And  forget none of His benefits,

Who pardons all your iniquities,

Who heals all your diseases,

Who redeems your life from the pit,

Who crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion,

Who satisfies your years with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”

It seems to me that remembering the Lord is not some hit and miss thing, like it so often is with things like milk and car keys.  We must choose to remember.  We need to keep calling to mind the goodness of our God.  We need to constantly remind ourselves of His past mercies and all of His faithfulness.  It’s a deliberate thing.

Jesus made this clear to us on the night before he died.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying: “this is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19).

If there’s only one truth that we choose to remember in this lifetime, surely it should be this one:  That Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God, laid down His life, so that we might live.  Let’s never forget.

What The Stars Say


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“The heavens are telling the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge.” Psalm 19v1-2

We don’t get the best views of the night sky in South London.  But I remember camping out in the countryside as a child…It was a completely different story!  All I wanted to do was fling my head back and marvel! These days, satellite images allow us to get a glimpse of galaxies far, far away.  They bring us back evidence of things unseen! Weird and wonderful nebulas that look like gigantic eyes in the sky. Pictures of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which looks as though someone just opened a pot of glitter whilst waltzing through the universe!  We learn about stars which are bigger than the sun. We are told mind-bending facts about how many trillions of light years away these spinning orbs hang out.  Just getting my head around the idea that a trillion is equal to a million millions is baffling enough!

The enormity of the universe is completely staggering!  Our planet is but a miniscule blue dot in the vastness.  But in one little sentence, Genesis tells us how God created the sun and the moon – and then adds, (as though it’s just an afterthought), “He also made the stars!”  Countless billions of them!

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147v4).

He knows each one by name? Wow!

“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth”! (Psalm 33v6).  It’s like He just breathed them out!  It leaves me speechless!  What kind of God is this?!

Just think for a a moment about a solar eclipse…a total solar eclipse takes place in the somewhat rare occurrence that the moon travels directly in the path of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Momentarily, the moon appears to completely cover the sun, blotting out its light, as though it were night time! A few days ago me and the kids watched a video clip of a solar eclipse.  It was breath-taking. In four or five minutes, the sun was slowly but surely obscured. Then came a few moments of complete blackness, and then seconds later, an ethereal corona appeared like a milky mist around the sun – at which point, my daughter’s nine year old friend cried out: “Wow – I think that’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!” A fitting response, I thought!  You could hear people on the video clip whooping with delight and amazement, yet many of them probably completely missing the point that SOMEBODY MADE THAT HAPPEN!

In Psalm 8 David says, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained…” One of the meanings of the word ordained is “set in place!” Think about that for a moment. God placed the sun and the moon in their place. It was not some random accident! When you think of it like this, a solar eclipse is nothing short of miraculous! The sun and the moon lining up like that in such a precise way is jaw-droppingly awesome, and really ought to bring us to our knees, like David. Creation is a living, talking testimony of the sheer power and wisdom of our God. The heavens do indeed preach us a sermon about the brilliance of their Creator. Every night the stars are saying something – can you hear them -shouting out loud to all who will listen?  They are crying out: “Isn’t He Majestic?  Isn’t He glorious?!  Isn’t He magnificent? If you ever need reminding of the power and breathtaking wisdom of God, then why not take a leaf out of David’s Psalm Book, and just look up!  The heavens are creation’s great signposts – they point us towards the One who put them there!  How majestic is His name!

Click the link below to enjoy a wonderful song of worship.

https://youtu.be/1CBNE25rtnE

The Potter

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“Yet You O Lord are our Father.  We are the clay and You are our Potter, we are all the work of Your hands.”  

Isaiah 64 v 8

I was a transfixed ten year old girl, watching a Potter at work.  A lump of clay, grey-brown and formless, growing, expanding, springing up here, being stretched out there.  Rounded to perfection.  A rim added with a pinch of fingers. Holes cut out here.  A spout added there.   A long clay sausage curved into an elegant loopy handle – a teapot!  So perfect, appearing like magic at the touch of the potter’s skillful hands.

This week, at our lady’s group, a friend asked for prayer.  She is going through a storm.  Life is hard.  Times are tough.  As we prayed for her, suddenly I found myself picturing a Potter and some clay.

And then I realised something.   A Potter knows exactly how much pressure to apply to the clay in order to create a desired shape.

Sometimes God allows situations to press against us.  Sometimes His hand seems firm upon our hearts.  Sometimes it seems that the pressure is too much and we’re going to crack.  But know this:  When God’s touch seems firm and heavy upon us, when the pressures of life crowd in, that’s when He’s shaping us the most.  The more pressure He applies, the more we are being moulded and transformed into His likeness and into all that He plans for us to be.  He knows what He is making.  He sees the end result.  He has something great in mind.  It may not be finished yet.  What He is making may remain a bit of a mystery to us.  But one thing’s for sure – He is the Potter, and He is in complete control. He has not taken His hand off us.  He’s a Master Craftsman.   If you’re feeling the pressure today, if you’re feeling like your life is spinning out of control, take heart and trust Him!  You’re probably being shaped into something beautiful.

Three Words That Changed My Life

It’s amazing how three little words can say so much. Take these three phrases for instance:

I love you.

I am sorry.

I forgive you.

All of these phrases are small – but they can change an awful lot can’t they?

But never, in all of history, were three words as meaningful as the last phrase uttered by a dying man, over two thousand years ago. They were three small words that changed my life forever. And they can change yours too.

They were the words of Jesus as He hung upon a cross, dying.

“It is finished!”

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When Jesus uttered those words moments before He died, it wasn’t a cry of relief that His suffering was about to come to an end. He didn’t merely mean: “Thank goodness this ordeal is over!”

It meant so much more.

Jesus’ death was not just an unfortunate end to a good man’s life. There was something far deeper going on. The bible tells us that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

He chose to go to the cross.

A ransom is a sum of money demanded for the release of a prisoner.

So who was the prisoner?

Me!

And you.

Okay, so let me just clear things up – I’ve never been to jail. This is a metaphoric image.

Before Jesus rescued me, the bible tells me that I was like a prisoner on death row, a slave, chained and bound by my sin. No matter how hard I tried to become a better person, I couldn’t get free.

So Jesus did the unthinkable. He paid my ransom. It meant that He had to die in my place. It meant that He had to take all of the sin off my back and bear it on His own. It meant that He had to be punished, beaten, bloodied and bruised instead of me.

And that’s exactly what was going on when Jesus hung on the cross.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore the sins of the whole world upon His shoulders, on a cross, on a hill called Calvary, on a day that changed History forever.

Which brings me back to those three words: “It is finished!”

The same phrase has been found on bits of ancient papyri, written across tax receipts. It really means: “PAID IN FULL”. Wow!

The price for our redemption, our ransom, was PAID IN FULL by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Perhaps you are familiar with the words from an old hymn: I pray they have new meaning for you today:

“Long my imprisoned Spirit lay, fast-bound in sin, and nature’s night,

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke the dungeon flamed with light!

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose went forth and followed Thee!”

All I had to do was say three little words in return. “I am sorry”.

And as Jesus arms were outstretched, nailed to that splintered cross beam, His answer was plain to see:

“IT IS FINISHED!”

“I FORGIVE YOU!”

“I LOVE YOU”!

When You Don’t Have Enough

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Monday morning began at 3:45a.m for me!  I had been in the middle of a perfectly blissful sleep, when suddenly the baby awoke.  Oh no, I groaned…here we go again!  First she wanted to snuggle. Then she needed her nappy changed.  Then she wanted some milk.  Whilst waiting for the milk to cool, she spied the book box, and asked me to read her a story.  Story read and milk now ready, I settled her back in her cot.  Relieved that our night time escapade was over, I jumped back into bed and snuggled under the covers…but moments later, to my despair, she was moaning again, asking for another cuddle….In and out of bed went I – and in and out of the cot went Emily!  Eventually after to-ing and fro-ing for about two hours, I finally dozed back off at about 5:55.  Ironically, the alarm was set for 6:15!  Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

Not a great start to a new week.  I got up, made myself a cup of tea and sat down to contemplate the day ahead.  My head began to spin a little, as I contemplated my enormous to-do list.  I thought about the home-school lessons that I didn’t have time to plan over the weekend.  I thought about the mountainous pile of washing that was spilling out of the laundry basket.  I thought about the four extra people that were eating with us that evening and the shopping that needed to be done. I thought about the numerous piles of clothes that needed to be sorted through and re-homed following our recent loft conversion.  I needed to order some new curtains and blinds.  I needed to organise a venue for Emily’s forthcoming birthday party, plus call the hairdresser and book haircuts for Grace and I, oh and I was supposed to find a babysitter for the weekend…the list just seemed to go on and on.

I had two options. Run around like a mad woman trying to get everything done. Or run to God.

I knew from bitter experience that I needed to pray, or there would be trouble ahead.   I didn’t have a clue where to start.  I didn’t have enough time – or patience.   I didn’t have enough energy.    I certainly didn’t have enough sleep!  As I faced the day, I felt completely stumped.  It all seemed too overwhelming.  Suddenly I remembered the  story of Elisha and the widow who was in debt.  She was a lot like me.  She didn’t have nearly enough.  Creditors were banging on her door.  They were threatening to take her sons into slavery if she didn’t settle up soon.  But there was no way she could pay.  She was desperate for someone to help her.

So she called for Elisha, the prophet.  Elisha said to her:

How can I help you?  Tell me, what do you have in your house?”  

And the widow responded truthfully, “Your servant has nothing there at all, except a little oil”.

I’m sure you know the rest of the story.  It’s a story of miraculous provision.  Elisha tells the woman to go and get a load of empty pots from her neighbours.  Then he tells her to go into her house, close the door, and start pouring out the little bit of oil that she has into the empty pots.  And so she does.  To her amazement, she has enough to fill the first pot.  And then another.  And again another.  To her surprise and wonder, the oil just keeps on flowing!  Golden, oozing, glorious provision, poured straight out from heaven!  The oil doesn’t run out until every pot is filled to the brim!  Now she has enough to sell!  And enough to pay her debts

Perhaps ‘not having enough’ isn’t such a bad place to be after all…because it’s only in times of lack that we really lean on God.  I knew as I faced the day on Monday morning, that even if I tried my very best try, there was absolutely no way I was going to get though the day, without some serious help from on High.  I needed God to show up.  I needed His grace.  I needed His strength!  I needed Him to download a shed-load of patience…(and I needed it fast!)

2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness!” 

What an amazing verse for the days when you are almost running on empty.   Our weaknesses are really great big opportunities in disguise!  Opportunities for God to show up!   Opportunities for His miraculous provision.  He is the God who loves to take the little that we have and multiply it.  If the only thing you can offer God is a lil’ old jug of oil, He can make it overflow!  If all you have in your lunch box is a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, God can feed an army!  If the only thing you have, is a miniscule grain of faith, God can use it to move mountains!  If all you have left is a heart that says “yes” then you’re just the person God is looking for!  If you don’t have enough today – don’t worry!  God has plenty!  All you need to do is ask Him.  His grace is sufficient.  His power is made perfect in weakness.  Just give God your best and He’ll take care of the rest!

P.S…Want to know what happened after I prayed on Monday morning? At 9am, there was a knock at the door.  It was a lovely friend from church who is a teacher.  She said that I had been on her heart.. and she wanted to help.  She came armed with Maths text books for my children, and a fun word game.  And she offered to help me create a bank of fun activities for Home-School!  Tears sprang into my eyes as I realized that God was sending His miraculous provision in the form of a thoughtful friend.  Later that day, there was another knock at the door.  It was my mum, sleeves rolled up, ready to help me sort out that pile of clothes and toys.  She spent three hours helping me get things organized and took two loads of laundry off my hands!  Now I have tidy bedrooms and for the first time this year, I can actually close my laundry basket!  How amazing is our God!!

All of us have similar tales to tell.  Why don’t you share with me your stories of God’s miraculous help from on High – I’d love to hear from you.

When Change Comes A’Calling

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“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear  though the earth should change,  and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.”

If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that nothing stays the same forever. July always seems to be a season of shifts and changes – a time of goodbyes and new beginnings, especially for children. Changing classes. Changing schools. Leaving Primary School. Leaving school forever. This world is ever moving – ever changing. Who can stop the hands of time from turning?

Only this week, my daughter Grace was faced with this fact when some of her older friends graduated from one our church youth clubs. She felt a sudden pang of sadness as she was suddenly faced with a stark reality – change is unstoppable, and that sometimes, the people we care deeply about, move on.

“Though the earth should change, and though the mountains should slip into the heart of the sea“.

I used to think this verse was metaphoric. But recently I watched a David Attenborough Documentary called Frozen Planet. It showed how climate change is starting to affect our world. Great mountains of ice in the Polar Ice-Cap regions are literally melting and slipping into the sea as we speak.melting-icecaps

 

Climate change. Floods, earthquakes, land-slides. Sometimes I get nervous just turning on the news! The world seems to be changing so quickly. Just this week we have all been rocked by news of the tragic plane crash over the Ukraine. There is unrest all around the world, with attention at the moment on Israel and Iraq.  Distressing events unfolding day after day. Peoples lives suddenly cut short in an instant. Such events can strike our hearts with fear and terror.

But…take heart! “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble”.  A refuge is a place of shelter, a fortified tower, a safe haven.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run into it and are safe“. Prov 18:10

Where do we run to when change comes a’calling and our hearts faint within us?  We run to God our rock – the only place of stability in an unstable world. He is a very present help in times of trouble.  This verse makes me smile.  You would think that someone could either be present or not present, wouldn’t you?  But God is VERY present!  To me that says that He isn’t just a by-stander.  He isn’t just an eye-witness standing in the wings.  He is not distant, detached, standing idly by, watching our lives play out.  He is involved!

I sent this verse to my lovely cousin Michael this morning, who in the last few days was suddenly faced with enormous change in the shape of a triple heart bypass operation.  I could almost picture God in the operating theatre with His sleeves rolled up!  There is nowhere we can go to escape His presence!  Even when we are under the Surgeon’s knife, God is with us!

God is also with my husband’s family who are currently facing the enormous change of emigrating to Texas.  They are currently in the process of packing up their whole life in boxes.  Saying goodbye to family, friends and loved ones and experiencing the wrench of leaving schools and home and church, even country, and having to start life “from scratch.”  Oh how painful change can be!

And I know that He will be with you too.  Whatever change you are facing right now –  whether it’s having a baby, moving school, moving house – or something as tragic as the sudden loss of a loved one.  Whether you are the one moving on, or the one being left behind.  Take heart!  Do not fear!  Though the earth should change and the mountains should slip into the heart of the sea, God is in control.  He is not removed from your situation.  He is not absent.  He is present.  And not just present, VERY present.  ‘Very’ is a word of emphasis.  It underlines!  It’s written in bold and italics!

Whatever ‘trouble’ you may find yourself in today, He is with you!   He is the same God that was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in the fiery furnace.  He was with Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  He was with Moses and the Israelites when they were faced with the red sea in front of them and the Egyptian Armies behind.  He is the same God that was with David when he stood toe to toe with a nine foot giant.  And He will be with you too.  When we remember His awesome works, and remember His past mercies, we know that we need not fear!

If you are in a season of change, or troubled over world events, run to the Rock today. He is a shelter, a safe-haven, and a firm foundation that cannot be shaken, no matter what your changes or shifting circumstances may be.  Even if the earth should change, and the mountains should slip into the very heart of the sea – you need not fear.  He has got you in the palm of His hand.  He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Growing Pains

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Twice this week, I have been reminded of the old adage: “No pain, no gain!”  It seems to me that growth seldom comes about without a considerable amount of toil.

My first reminder came on Wednesday, when we had to clear out the loft.  You see, our house is about to grow!  Well not literally.  Over the next few weeks, all of our unused roof space will be cleverly converted into two extra bedrooms and a bathroom.  It will be a wonderful blessing when the work is all completed, but home renovations certainly come with their own set of peculiar challenges…

Allow me to elaborate.  The entire contents of our loft is now piled up precariously in various places around the house!  Not a nook or a cranny has escaped!  Christmas trees in bulky boxes are stuffed in corners.  Seldom used sleeping bags and travel cases now adorn the top of my wardrobe.  Dusty old college books are stacked up in the girl’s room, along with those random photos that I don’t really know why I kept.  A box of video tapes that my kids used to watch over and over again is fast becoming a trip hazard in the hallway.  My son’s beloved wooden train set – all 380 pieces of it – now adds to the clutter in his already overcramped bedroom!  Don’t we humans gather a lot of ‘stuff’?  Suddenly I am acutely aware of the reason why we needed a loft in the first place!

And just when we thought we’d pulled out the last box of junk from the roof, my husband made a surprise discovery!  There in the corner of the loft, up in the rafters, was a bee’s nest!   Didn’t see that one coming!  Three phone calls and fifty quid later, the bees nest was carried out of the house in a very buzzy cardboard box, by a man clad in a bright blue boiler suit and a most curious netted hat, followed –  hot on his heels – by a pack of fascinated children!

So the first thing I’ve learnt is this:  if you want to see growth, you are going to have to sort through all of your extraneous clutter!  You might uncover a hornets nest, and you might just find the contents of your life are subject to a bit of ‘rearranging’! Ouch!

My second reminder came today – whilst I was doing some gardening.  I had decided to tackle a long-neglected patch in my ‘flower bed’.  I hesitate to call it a flower bed, because in actual fact, it seemed to have merged with the rest of the lawn!  It had enough grass growing through it to start a small meadow!  The clay soil, untouched for over a year, had become hard and compact.  It took a considerable amount of force to plunge my fork deep enough into the soil to get beneath the stubborn roots of all the unwanted grass and weeds.  It involved an awful lot of bending down, hands in the dirt, removing stones, picking out dead stems and roots. I had to painstakingly avoid pulling up a crop of  lilies along with the unwanted grass.  And just to add to the challenge, this particular section of the flower bed, has a rather over-zealous climbing rose at the back of the border – beautiful, but deadly!  It seemed to have sprouted dozens of spiteful little thorny shoots, which lay hidden in the undergrowth, just waiting for me to spike myself on!

There seemed to be only one approach to this task: inch by inch!  There were no short cuts.  This was going to take time, effort and energy.  You see, there’s so much more to creating a beautiful garden than simply planting flowers!  That’s the easy part.  As any true gardener knows, it’s the preparation – the groundwork – that really counts.

As I was breaking up that hard, unyielding soil, I couldn’t help but reflect on the wonderful ways that God has dealt with me over the years.  Breaking up the “fallow ground” – turning over the hard, unyielding, unfruitful places in my heart.  As I removed stones and bits of rubble, I couldn’t help but think of how God has “removed my heart of stone, and given me a heart of flesh.”  As I heard the satisfying ‘pop’ of weeds being torn out of the earth, it reminded me of the way He has lovingly and patiently rooted out some of those stubborn sins that threatened to overwhelm me.  As I pruned back that over-eager climbing rose, I couldn’t help but think of the way He sometimes has to prune back the parts of us that aren’t bearing fruit – the straggling, unruly stems that spoil shape and form, weighing us down, zapping us of energy.

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The second thing I learned about growth, is this:  it requires dedication, time and commitment. And sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable.  If you want to see growth, you are going to need to dig deep.  It may require lots of time spent on your knees, crying out to the one who is able to get to the root of those stubborn weeds that threaten to take over!    It may involve the pain of pruning, of cutting back those things that are unnecessary.  You see, there will never be growth without toil.  There will never be new life without labour.  Though there be pain in the night, joy will surely come with the morning.

Is growth then, really worth all the effort?  Isn’t it easier just to remain within the confines of all that is safe and secure?  Isn’t it easier just to put your feet up and leave well alone.  Well I suppose we have to ask ourselves a few difficult questions.  Do we want to stay within our current limitations?  Do we want to let fear keep us within our comfort zones?  Do we want to live in our cramped and cluttered houses with our hoard of hard-to-let-go-of  ‘stuff’, or do we want to be stretched for better use.  Do we want to have lives full of colourful and vibrant blooms, or remain a hard, stony, unfruitful patch of earth?  Do we trust the Master Craftsman to “enlarge our borders and stretch out our tent-pegs”?  Do we trust the Master Gardener to make us into a “well-watered garden?”

Praise God that there was once a Man who bore the thorns and went through unimaginable toil in order to make me His own.  He humbled Himself and bowed low to remove the stones, the rubble and the weeds from my hard, unyielding heart – all because He loved me too much to leave me as I was – all because He wanted to make me into a fruitful vineyard, a planting of the Lord.  I wonder if you will join me today, in offering up your heart to all of God’s workmanship – no matter how costly or painful – in order that we might grow into all that He wants us to be.

 

 

 

What Lies Beneath

My kids love our sofa.  It is large enough to accommodate all four of them at once.  It even has a section which flips up and out to make an enormous sofa bed.  It’s perfect for family movie nights.  Come into our lounge on any given day, and you are highly likely to find one or more of my kids, feet up, wrapped in a throw blanket, watching TV or playing on a video game.  Sounds cosy doesn’t it?  Well brace yourself – I’m about to make an embarrassing confession!

A few weeks ago, I decided to give my lounge a deep and thorough spring clean.  This involved rolling up the rug, and pulling the sofa away from it’s normal resting place to clean the laminate flooring beneath.  Well!  What a disgusting sight met my eyes when I did!  There was dust and fluff.  Pencils and pens.  Wooden building bricks and lost puzzle pieces.  Sweet wrappers and crisp packets.  You name it, it was under my sofa!  My eyes took in item after item, before coming to rest upon a grim-looking sticky patch which can only have been created by a spilt drink which had seeped beneath the sofa unbeknownst.  Yuk!

A shiver went down my spine as I sifted through the slurry, picking out the bits that were worth keeping, and then disinfecting and mopping away the mess!  Our lounge had looked clean on the surface, but it wasn’t until I exposed the hidden areas in the room that I realised the filth that we had been sitting in!

What a picture this is of sin!  The bits of our life that are visible, the parts of our conduct that everyone can see, are on the surface relatively clean.  We don’t drink or do drugs.  We are faithful to our spouse.  We are upholders of the law.  We go to church and read our bibles.  We pay our taxes.  We don’t lie or cheat or steal.  And so before long, we can begin to kid ourselves that we are doing pretty well, thank you.

hiding

Then suddenly God ‘moves away the sofa’ and shines the light on some hidden motive, or sinful attitude that is lurking away in a dark corner of our heart.  Pride, anger, ungratefulness, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, envy.  Ouch!  It can be so painful to see what really lies beneath, can’t it?

1 John 1 v 8-9 say this: “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Have you ever been shocked and horrified by the sin that you are capable of?  I know I have.  On numerous occasions I have felt the humbling hand of God upon me, showing me how prone I am to miss the mark.  But the good news is – God is never shocked.  He never throws His hands up in horror saying “Tut, tut.  Well, if I’d have known what you were really like, I would never have chosen you!”  When we begin to see some hidden sin being unearthed in us, our first instinct can be to try and conceal, or cover up our faults.  We would rather keep things hidden in the dark, than allow God’s light to expose them.  We don’t want to confess our weaknesses.  We don’t want to face up to our failures.  It’s too messy.  Too painful.  But ultimately, when we conceal our sin, we are only deceiving ourselves, and in the end this makes matters worse.

When my daughter Grace was a little girl, she had an endearing but rather infuriating habit.  If ever she had an injury, a cut on her finger, a graze on her knee, she would instantly cover it up with her hand.  For some reason, her first instinct would be to conceal the wound.  It was as though she didn’t want me or my husband to see how bad it really was.  She didn’t want to go through the potential discomfort of having it cleaned up.  And so we would go through this incredibly long and frustrating ordeal of having to try and prise away her hand, trying to coax her into showing us the damage.   We would say things like “Be brave, I am not going to hurt you.  Please Grace, just show me!  Mummy can’t help you if you don’t show me!”  And eventually with tears running down her face, she would trust us enough to nervously uncover the wound and let us deal with it.

Proverbs 28:18 says “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion”.

Concealing our transgressions ultimately does more harm than good.  Listen to this description from David in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long!  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.

And then comes the relief in the next verse:

“I acknowledged my sin to you and my iniquity I did not hide, I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord – And you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

Praise God that when he ‘moves the sofa away’ in our hearts, when He reveals to us that we are weak and frail and prone to blow it time after time after time, He does it as a loving father who wants to clean up our mess, remove the stain of our guilt and bandage up the gaping wounds of our sin-stained souls.  When we allow God to shine His light on us, to expose the hidden attitudes, motives and selfish desires within us, praise God that He treats us with kindness and compassion – not a wagging finger and a shaking head.  He is there, ready and waiting to sift through our slurry, to remove the dirt and the filth and to lovingly clean away our guilt and shame.

Psalm 103 v 12 assures us that when we confess our sins and our faults to God, He will do more than just brush them under the rug:

“As far as the east us from the west, so far have you removed our transgressions from us!”. 

When Jesus bore our sins on the cross – he did a complete and thorough job. He paid the price for each and every one of our sins, so that when we confess our faults to God, we can know the freedom of forgiveness and the blessings of His grace.

So if God is shining His light on some hidden area of your heart today, take courage.  Trust Him. He is a good and loving Father. Confess your faults and don’t conceal them.  God has just the right tools for the job.  He will clean you up, remove the stain of your sin, bandage up your wounds and shower you with His love and compassion.   And you will know the freedom and blessing of forgiveness.  What a joy it is to sit and relax in a room that has been completely and thoroughly cleaned!

Pursued By Love

It’s amazing how suddenly it gets dark in winter.  My eleven year old son Samuel has recently discovered this phenomenon!  He has just started travelling home from school on public transport.  When he leaves school at 3:20pm, it’s still daylight, but by the time he gets back home to the bus stop at the end of our road, deep darkness has descended.  The bus stop is only a five minute walk away from home – but five minutes can seem like forever, when you’re alone in the dark.

A few weeks ago he came through the door looking more than a little relieved to be home.  As I made Samuel his customary welcome-home cup of tea, it wasn’t long before he was sharing with me what had been bothering him.
As he had been walking up the road towards home, he had heard the footsteps of someone walking behind him.  Perhaps only naturally, he began to quicken his pace.  But as his own footsteps quickened, so too did the ones behind him!  Suddenly, his overactive eleven year old imagination began to run riot.  Somebody was following him!  Somebody was out to get him!  Anxiety began to mount.  He daren’t turn around to face his pursuer.   And so he just kept on walking, as fast as his little legs could carry him, with his face set like flint towards home!  And then it happened.  The footsteps gained on him.  His pursuer was getting closer.  Surely something dreadful was about to happen!  He could feel his heart pounding in his rib-cage like a drum.   The fear was almost too much to bear…..and then in a moment, the panic was over.  Whoever had been behind him, was now suddenly in front!  They had simply been in a hurry and had been trying to overtake him!

The dark times of life can descend upon us so suddenly, can’t they?  We hear bad news almost every day.  All of us know people who have been faced with life’s darker days.  Perhaps we have faced them ourselves.  Illness.   Bereavement.  Redundancy.  Divorce.  Debt.  The list goes on.  It’s no wonder so many of us experience fear and anxiety at different times in our lives.  Worry can creep up behind us when we least expect it.  And fear can be a relentless pursuer – always on the lookout for someone who feels vulnerable and alone in the dark.  The future is so unpredictable.  We can live in a sense of dread that something terrible is about to happen.  The footsteps of fear can sometimes overtake us – and home can feel so far away.

For a few days after Sam’s frightening experience, I agreed to meet him at the bottom of the road and walk home with him.  But after a few days of doing this, I began to feel that I ought to encourage Sam to overcome his fears.  As I began to ponder how to help him, I felt God remind me of a well known verse from Psalm 23:

“Surely goodness and loving-kindness shall follow me all the days of my life”.

That’s it – I thought!  And so I began to share with Samuel.  The bible tells us that what’s REALLY following us is God’s goodness.   Not calamity and disaster.  Not dread and fear!   Friend, we are pursued by love!

pursued-by-love

Winter may last for a few months.  The world may still have its dark days.  But God is with us!  Even if we have to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we have no need to fear – for God is with us!  And His rod and staff they comfort us.  He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies – in other words, He makes it quite clear who’s side He is on!  He’s on OURS!  Totally 100% for us – just as I am for Sam.

So now, we have it pretty well worked out.  Every time Sam gets off the bus, he calls me from his mobile phone.  And we talk as he walks.  Even though he cannot see me face to face, he knows that I am there.  He can hear my voice – and the sound of my voice ushers in all the warmth and comfort of home.  We talk about his day.  We talk about what we’re having for dinner.  Sam normally asks me to put the kettle on for that daily cuppa.  We talk about any old jibber jabber really.  It doesn’t matter – as long as he knows I’m there.

Remember, God is just a prayer away.  If we can only learn to ‘talk as we walk’, then no matter what this life throws at us, we will have the assurance that God is with us.  And as we talk with Him, we will begin to hear His voice.  The voice of our Father, which chases away all fear, and ushers in all the warmth and comfort of home.  And every now and then we will hear Him reminding us that we are not really all that far from home.  In fact, the kettle’s already on….

To finish, I will relay a funny story I heard recently:

Two boys were walking along the road.  Suddenly they heard footsteps behind them.  The first boy said to the second:

“Shhh…don’t look now, but I think we’re being followed!”

The boys walked on, huddling closer together.  The second boy felt a pang of fear for a brief moment, but then after a few seconds, he relaxed a little and spoke up, reassuringly.  “Aaah don’t worry.  It’s probably just Shirley Goodness!”

“Who’s Shirley Goodness?!” asked the first boy.

“I dunno’,” shrugged the second boy, “but I heard my mum reading about her in the bible the other night – she said that Shirley Goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life!”

All joking aside – it’s totally true.   We are pursued by LOVE!