The view from up there

The first time I went to the roof of a tall building in a city, I was blown away by being able to see everything – all buildings and streets laid out neatly to view, all the people moving along the sidewalk like ants, and toy cars pushing their way through the arteries of the city. Of course you can’t tell much about the people – if they’re happy or angry or suffering. And it’s not easy, looking down from a great height, to judge which buildings are tall, and which are not. So you don’t see closely, but it’s a great view!

Sometimes we think God sees like that. We think of Him high in His heaven, so far above us that he sees everything, distracted by the big picture so that our daily experiences and realities must be remote to him. And of course it’s right to exalt him – He’s God, and we’re not – but we do Him a disservice when we imagine He only looks at us from that distance.

Because God doesn’t see like we do. He doesn’t love like we do. He might be looking at a few billion people, but more than looking at all of us, he’s looking at each of us. He’s high above, and here below – both at the same time. He’s here, right with you, walking with you through this very personal storm you’re facing today. And from that intimate perspective, he sees everything, and loves you.

We’re not alone down here. Our Father is with us, guiding us up, always.

Jeremiah 23:23-24          “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord,     “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8                        “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

Ephesians 3: 17-18          And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ

Psalm 73:28                      As for me, it is good to be near God.

Running in the Rain

A friend who trains for marathons says anyone can run in good weather, but real runners continue to train on cold days, wild days, wet days. This is what marks the serious runners out from the others, the strength and persistence they build up running through the rain. Nobody enjoys bad weather, but as a runner, my friend is glad of the chance it brings to build resilience, endurance, to become serious.

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These are hard times for the world. The pandemic spreads fear and isolation, separates family and friends, causes grief and hardship. It’s easy to praise God in good time, but this is a storm. It’s not a good thing, but as Christians, we can see the chance it brings for us to become serious, to worship and praise in the middle of this time.

This is our running in the rain.

Let’s praise Him.

Rejoice always

Philippians 4:4   “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Psalm 23:4         “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Isaiah 40:31       “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

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What are you working on?

Irish poet Seamus Heaney writes in his poem Scaffolding how masons starting on a building begin with the scaffolding, testing all the weak points, tightening bolts, making sure it is all solid and secure. And yet this is the part that all falls away at the end, revealing the walls within.

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The walls will endure. Even though the scaffolding is the important thing at the beginning, we are glad when it is removed.

Sometimes when we build, we don’t know whether we’re working on walls or scaffolding. If we’re building with God, we should not be dismayed if it all seems to fall apart when we’re done. It might not have been the wall we were working on. It might have been the scaffold that allows the wall to be.

Isaiah 58:12         Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Matthew 21:42  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?

Isaiah 55:8           “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

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God’s not your life jacket

Have you been on a flight and watched the stewards talking you through what to do in case of accident? There’s a life jacket under your seat, an oxygen mask over your head, you should wrap the straps around behind you, secure them in the front. You should not inflate the jacket in the plane. You should find a light and whistle. You need to do this before you do that. It’s complicated, and if the plane came down in fire and darkness, I don’t think I’d remember the finer details.

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I’m glad there’s a life jacket there, under my seat as I fly, but I don’t have confidence in it to save my life. I don’t have confidence that I would remember exactly how to access and use it. I’ve never seen or held the life jacket. I’ve never tried to put it on, never interacted with it. I know it’s there, but I don’t know it, and I can’t learn because it’s only for emergencies, and we don’t get to practice beforehand.

God’s not like that. He’s not hiding somewhere, waiting for things to get really bad in your life before you can ask him to step in. He’s here right now, in your daily everyday. He wants us, right now, in this mundane day we are in, to reach for Him and get to know Him. He wants a relationship with us. He wants us to know Him.

If I have a crisis, I know I will call Him instinctively, and He will help. I have confidence in this because I know God, because it’s happened before, in my life, in a thousand small ways.

God’s not my lifejacket, to turn to for the first time if there is a panic. He’s better than that. He’s my everyday. He’s your everyday too, if you let Him. That’s the kind of God we have. Why not ask Him to show you more?

Jeremiah 23:23  Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?

James 4:8           Come near to God and he will come near to you

Psalm 40:1         I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.

John 7:37            On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud

voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

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Ready to run?

Running is not like walking. When you run, there is a point in the stride when both feet are off the ground at the same time. When you walk, you’re always in touch with the earth. That’s the rule that applies for walking races in the Olympics – is there always one foot on the ground, the umpires ask? If so, good. The person is walking, not running, and can go on. The Olympic walkers contort their stride to get the maximum pace while keeping within the rules. They look in pain sometimes, or even a little ridiculous, to be honest, and while it’s a complex and skilled sport, it doesn’t look like the best way to move. Why not break into a run? Why not fly a little?

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Because running is flying. You push off with one foot after another, propel yourself forward so that most of the time you’re not even touching the ground. You’ve lost contact with the world. You are pure forward motion.

The important thing in Olympic walking is the ground. Staying in touch with it all the time. Not being found to have broken away. The important thing in our non-spiritual lives is the world, keeping in touch with it, living out its expectations of us. But when you run – what matters is speed, pushing away from the ground, moving forward. That’s a walk to live, spiritually, too.

At a certain point, God says run. He says stand in faith, stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist. He says walk in the way of love. And then, when the time is right, He says run …

I want to run. Lord, help me to let go the rules of the world that are always checking to make sure I’ve one foot in contact with the earth. I want to break free of that, and all the contortions that come from fitting the expectations of others while still moving forward. I want to make the best use of the time I have. I want to move as far and as fast as you have planned for me. I want to RUN towards you, in the path you have for me. Help me to run.

And you? Are you ready to run too?

Hebrews 12:1    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us

Isaiah 40:31       but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint

Psalm 119:32     I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.

 

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Spiritual Rock-climbing

You’ve seen the pictures – a climber half way up a sheer cliff, defying gravity. A climber victorious on a summit that seems impossible. It’s a great achievement to reach those heights, and there are a few things you need to learn. Don’t look down. Don’t panic – don’t let fear overwhelm you. You need to stay brave all the way up. Don’t get attached to the safe foothold or handhold you’ve worked so hard to reach; you have to let go so you can move up to the next one. Stop now and then to rest, even though you haven’t reached your goal yet. You have time. Move when you’re ready.

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We have a journey with God. He has plans for us, places He wants to take us, which seem impossible. If we are to reach His destination, there are things we need to learn. Don’t look back to not look to the past, to the failures and inadequacies. Do not be afraid. Of course it looks impossible. That’s what a spiritual walk is, from the world’s point of  view. Don’t get attached to the almost-there, the nice foothold we have right now, half way up the climb – keep letting go, so He can provide a new place. Recognise when it’s time to rest. We have time.

Thankfully, unlike the climber on the rock face, we’re not doing this alone. He is here to keep us brave, to restore us and to lead us. He is the one to look to when we don’t want to look down. He plans our journey, holds our hands, and brings us to a place of triumph that would be impossible alone.

So what are we waiting for, in this new year? What are you ready to let go?

Jeremiah 29:11                For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

John 12:15                        “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Isaiah 30:21                      Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Psalm 18: 32:33               It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.

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The real wonder of Mars

My social media is full of this picture – a sunset on Mars captured this week by Mars Insight. It’s beautiful, yes? And it moves us, to be able to see such a thing. Someone posted “We are the first people ever to see a sunset on Mars. It’s quite a thought.”
It really is.

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And here’s another thought. Our God has seen this many times, every Martian day since the world was formed. He has seen our little planet from the Mars view, looking like a star in the sky. He has seen the beauty of the turquoise Martian sand dunes. He made all this, all the universe, and in all of this it’s you and me that he has chosen as his children.

That’s who we are – children of the One who created sunset on Mars. It’s quite a thought.

Ephesians 1:4-5                 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

Jeremiah 1:5                      “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Psalm 8:3-5                         When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.

Psalm 148:3                        Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars

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These times …

I don’t like stormy weather. I like summer days to be warm, autumn mornings to be crisp, nights to be clear, cold and starry. I don’t like the sort of rain that whips around you from all directions, and I don’t like steady, soaking drizzle that seems capable of continuing indefinitely with no sign of respite.

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But there is always respite. Storms pass. That’s what storms do.

These times, for me, are trying – these days and months. So many things are unsettling now, it’s like pelting rain followed by relentless drizzle on an endless repeat cycle. Spiritually, it’s the kind of weather that makes it hard to lift your head up. I don’t like it. I don’t understand it.

I know, like any other storm, that this will pass. I don’t feel it. I only know it because I’ve seen weather before, and because the Lord has given us promises for our storms. I wish I felt it, but it’s enough, perhaps to know.

I’m not loving these times. I’m not feeling hope, but I still have hope because – thankfully – it doesn’t depend on my feelings. Storms pass. He is faithful. Better times will come.

Psalm 62:5                        Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.

Matthew 8:23-26            Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Hebrews 6:19                   We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Hebrews 11:1                   Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

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the message of falling leaves

Outside my window, leaves are falling. Red and gold, they look beautiful, carpeting the grass, building up in drifts,  signalling the season. Their beautiful color, it turns out, is not something that just comes at the end of their lives. It was there all the time, masked by the green of chlorophyll that was so important to keep the tree alive through photosynthesis. Now that work is done and the chlorophyll fades, revealing the other colors of the leaves. By the time they fall, they are in a real sense not part of the tree any more. A new layer of cells has grown at the base of each stem, cutting them off and sealing up what will become a leaf scar after they have gone. For a while they hang on, beautiful and barely connected, on the tree but no longer of the tree, and then the wind catches them and they fall.

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That’s how I want to die – my work done, my true self finally revealing itself to the world, all the beauty of Christ in me, the hope of glory. I want hang on just for a while, in the world but not of it, until the Holy Spirit catches me, lifts me, and I fall into the arms of God.

These beautiful leaves, this season, our lives in Christ.

Colossians 1:27                  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

2 Corinthians 3:18            And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Timothy 4:7                     I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

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God, revealed.

The Bible is full of metaphor – the Holy Spirit comes as fire, God offers the Spirit as living water. God is light, writes John, and there is no darkness at all in him. Not that God is like light, but that God is light. Light itself. Why? Because it is not just one quality of light that reflects Him, and because light is something that is here in the world with us, something we learn about, that will teach us more about His nature.

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Science advances, thank God, and so we understand a little more all the time about the basic things like light and water and flame, and the fundamental things, like waves and matter and atoms. And as we understand these things, we can understand God also. Einstein famously found that nothing on earth can move faster than light. God is light, and he rushes to reach us faster than anything else can. We learned that water seeks its own level, flowing down to the lowest point it can find, just as God comes down, finding us at our lowest. We know fire consumes and creates light in the process, and we found it burns up what will burn and refines what will not. The patterns of atoms in your hand mirror those of galaxies – infinity, contained within you.

All these things teach us.

The world is full of metaphor, full of light and water and fire. We make new discoveries, and all that we learn about the world points to the One who designed it. On purpose. He wants us to know Him, because He loves us. God is not hidden or distant. God is right here, in plain sight, if we only open our eyes.

1 John 1:5                            This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Psalm 19:1- 2                      The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.       

Jeremiah 23:23-24           “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

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