Autumn Skies

Sometimes when I look at the sky I am astonished by the otherworldliness of its beauty. No wonder the great painters through history have imagined it as the heavenly realm! The fact that it changes so quickly, can go from a sheer, dull bank of moist grey to this:

Evening view

~ View from our bedroom window ~

is amazing.

When I look at the sky, which you have made,
    at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—
what are human beings, that you think of them;
    mere mortals, that you care for them?

Yet you made them inferior only to yourself…

Psalm 8:3-5 (GNT)

I know many people think the beauty and wonder of the world and the processes of life can’t be argued to ‘prove’ God on an intellectual level (I personally would disagree, although I haven’t figured out how to express this coherently yet) but when I look at the natural world I see God at work. And His work is exquisite.

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

Smudges on the Mirror

I was feeling low. Feeling useless (lies from the past still creep up on me post-EMDR, even if not as much as they used to). This led to me succumbing to temptation. I sinned. Then I beat myself up over it. I felt like what on earth -or under heaven – is the point in being a Christian if I just carry on sinning? I couldn’t, at that point, see the work God has done in me, by grace, all I could see was this great big useless blobby blot of sin. My prayers, such as they were, were a tangled mess along the lines of ‘I don’t know why you bother with me, God, I’m useless. You might as well not have bothered with the crucifixion and everything because I just go and throw it back in Your face and sin.’ I trudged upstairs.

The mirror in the bathroom was really nasty. Smeared with toothpaste and goodness knows what. I fetched the bottle of white vinegar and squirted it onto the mirror. I wiped a few times. It was still smudgy. Luckily, I already knew that the trick to cleaning with vinegar is to keep wiping and wiping, turning the cloth over so that you’re always wiping with a dry spot. After a minute or two – hey, presto! – it gleams.

All of a sudden I could see myself clearly. It was as if God said, “Hey! You! Yes, you are useless on your own. But that’s ok. So’s everyone else. Bunch of numpties, the lot of ’em. But I love you, so as long as you keep seeking the truth, keep aiming for shiny, all you have to do is show up; let me do the rest. If you try to go it alone you just end up with smudges. You can try wiping them, but you’ll just get more smudges. With me, I make it all new and shiny, and you can see clearly again.”

141px-Mirror

“Mirror” by Cgs – English Wikipedia

Oh, yeah…

‘Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”’

Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

 

Lessons from housework. Who knew? I am reminded of God’s beautiful blessing for the Israelites:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
 The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

Numbers 6:24-26

A Pure Love of God

‘…all of these experiences and insights lead us to a pure love of God… We are not to retreat from society… Our experience of love propels us into the world in order to accomplish God’s work. Every social engagement, therefore, is an expression of our Christian beliefs.’

~ Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, ‘Longing for God’

 My daughter came home from school last week singing:

“When I needed a neighbour, were you there? Were you there?

When I needed a neighbour were you there?

And the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter

Were you there? Were you there?”

It’s been decades since I last heard that song. It made me think. For a long time, when I have asked God what He wants me to do, often the only response has been, “Be a good friend.” This I have found continually baffling. Is that it? That can’t be all of it, surely?

When I heard my daughter sing, I wondered what would happen if I swapped ‘neighbour’ for ‘friend’.

When I needed a friend, were you there?

And suddenly the penny dropped. It makes a whole lot of sense. ‘Neighbour’, in my mind, despite my knowledge of the biblical description, is a somewhat vague term. My neighbour is the person who lives next door, someone I smile at and say ‘good morning’ to. My neighbour is someone who puts out our dustbin when we’re away and with whom I share the occasional friendly chat on the driveway or over the garden fence (the neighbours on the other side pretend we don’t exist and never even acknowledge our presence, even though we have lived next door for over a year now!).

So ‘neighbour’ has certain cultural connotations, despite my intellectual understanding of its use in the bible. ‘Friend’, on the other hand, I can understand: I can be a friend and I’m doing the work of God. This doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to only spend time with people I really like and consider it a job done, but it makes the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’ a little more accessible.

So this is what happened over this past week: Jesus tapped me on the head. I wondered how I could have missed it for so long, given that Jesus’ entire ministry was spent with His friends. D’oh!

Love your neighbour. And this is how you do it: be a good friend.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:11-17 (The Message)

Priorities

No matter where we start, our life with God must pass through the cross. In a day filled with all sorts of spiritual options, it is hard to recognise the enduring testimony of this uniquely Christian approach. The idea of the cross and the sense of sacrifice it entails call us to a path different from every other.

~ Longing for God by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe

Reblog: Bible Memes You Never See

Excellent post. Chipper little bible verses are great in their own way, but they’re a signpost to the bigger picture. Too often in our instant gratification, can’t-be-bothered culture, we forget that there is a paragraph around that sentence, a chapter around that paragraph, other chapters around the original chapter, a book around those chapters and a collection of books in one cover that sets the entire context – God’s beautiful word, contained in the bible.

I think it was Adrian Plass who wrote that the bible is God’s love letter to humankind. Context is vital if we are to understand the real message of the bible. Who wrote it? What was their culture like? When was it written? Was it written by more than one person? How did it get passed down through the millennia? And then of course we get to the ‘why’. Why was this written, in this way, at the time in which it was written? Which areas have remained the same through history and are equally valid to us today? Which areas were specific to the time in which they were written?

As a Follower of Christ, the importance of the Word is dear to my heart. If I am to know it with all my ability, I have to ask these questions – I have to have context.

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

I’m thinking of publishing a new Scripture translation. I’m going to call it The Meme Bible.

Meme – a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

Bible – a collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity.

Spend any time on social media and you’ll see memes. Spend time on social media where Christians post their thoughts and you’ll see Bible memes, complete with chapter and verse, offered to inspire and encourage people through the word of God.

Yet I’ve never seen a meme for Job 2:9b. Instead, I see memes on the blessing of abiding in Christ, and on the love of God and loving one another. They always feature pleasant typeface and compelling imagery  such as rainbows, running horses, storm-tossed seas, and more images that draw the eye to the text.

Meming Responsibly

I have to…

View original post 783 more words

Humility is Strength, not Weakness

Humility… is a result of seeing ourselves properly. It involves recognising that our gifts and abilities need to be developed further. It understands that others have gifts and abilities as well. Humility allows us to see our role in the greater purposes of God’s design without feeling threatened by the achievements of others.

Foster & Beebe, Longing for God

LittlePeople

Happy are those who are humble; 

they will receive what God has promised!

Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; 

God will satisfy them fully!

Matthew 5:5,6 (GNT)

I think humility is always a good place to begin. This is a kind of motto for me, if ever I am confused or befuddled (which happens to us all more readily than we care to admit). In our me-obsessed world, humility is often confused with weakness or lack of confidence. It is neither. On the contrary, humility is not self-degradation at all but a recognition of the true value of myself and others as children of the Most High God. We are one in Him, so there is no requirement for pride. If I belong to God, I don’t have to be ‘better’, and I can never be ‘worse’. Comparison and all its ugly trappings are gone. Humility is freedom to truly be who God made me to be.

All These Things

tick box

clipartbest.com

“All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Matthew 19:20 (WEB)

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we, as Christians, instead of presenting a list of all the things we do do – tick, tick, tick the boxes – asked our Lord what we still need to do. If we did this continually, maybe we would remain in a state of humility, which is where we’re supposed to begin.

Roots

[Jesus said] “…a farmer went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds… fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth. When the sun had risen, they were scorched. Because they had no root, they withered away.”

Matthew 13:3,5,6 (WEB)

As a parent, the most important thing I can give my child is roots. This is my God-given role. These roots consist of several things:

  • a loving, stable home
  • treating each child as an individual with unique, God-given talents**
  • encouragement and opportunity to make the most of their talents**
  • an experience of what it means to love both within and without our family
  • an experience of what it means to forgive and be forgiven
  • compassion for those who suffer, whether close at hand or far away
  • knowledge of the Word of God – a peg board on which to hang the ‘keys’ of all the above, providing each key with context, so that as the child grows they have ready-made tools, learned gently and softly through the years.

**As you’ll know if you’ve been reading for any length of time, we have a young man with special needs in our family. He may not ever live independently. He may never get a job. Even if he doesn’t, he is a Hand-crafted human being and has his own gifts and qualities that are worth celebrating. Jesus made sure He always esteemed the vulnerable. We should too.

Can you add any more to the list of ‘roots’? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!