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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Behind the thing you love

I once lived in a building with very tall trees out the back. Big, beautiful trees that I loved. It became apparent that they were a hazard to the building next door, so they had to be cut down. I was so sad about it. I couldn’t imagine the back yard without those trees, the rippling green leaves, the birds.

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When they came to cut them down, yes, it was like butchery, all sawdust and noise, reducing the elegant trees to lumber. I thought the place would never be the same again. And it never was. Instead it was full of sky, beautiful and ever-changing. The back rooms of the building filled with light. The space the trees occupied was cleared, creating a new thing, more beautiful than I could have imagined. I loved the trees. The absence of the trees revealed another kind of beauty.

There’s a poem by Kenneth Koch, inspired by a railroad crossing sign that says “One Train May Hide Another”. One thing in our lives may hide another, unexpected thing. Even a thing we love may be blocking out something more beautiful, more beneficial for us. The trees were beautiful. The light and space are more beautiful.

When something we love is suddenly removed from our lives, yes, it might seem like butchery, but perhaps there’s something new, or something hidden, that we will see in the space it leaves behind. Not every loss is a blessing, but look carefully at the space that is left. It may reveal to us a new blessing that we could not have imagined.

Isaiah 60:17                         Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler.

Ecclesiastes 3:11               He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Haggai 2:9                            “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. “And in this place I will grant you peace,” declares the Lord Almighty.

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Mirror, mirror

There used to be a thing in carnivals and funfairs when I was a kid, called the Hall of Mirrors. It was usually a narrow maze, lined with curved and bent mirrors on the walls and ceilings. As we made our way through, everywhere we turned, we saw ourselves as distorted and ugly. It was disorienting to see different, twisted images of ourselves on all sides, but we laughed, because we knew it wasn’t real.

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The world we live in gives us feedback all the time on how we’re doing, who we are, and who we seem to be. It’s how we interpret someone’s reaction to what we’ve done, or the way we might dwell on things we did, or didn’t do, or things we think we can’t do. The thing is, that’s a just a mocking mirror, reflecting a distorted image of us back to ourselves with all our flaws exaggerated.

What ordinary life shows us is not who we really are. It’s not me and it’s not you. What you really are is perfect in Christ, loved beyond belief by God, blessed beyond measure regardless of your own messing up, or how you look to yourself or to others. He knows who you really are, and He can see you perfectly. We can look in the world all we like, but we’re never going to see that perfect image.

But still, this is where we live, in the world that is a narrow hall of mirrors. Everywhere we turn we will see the reflections. We can’t avoid it. You can’t avoid it. But know this, that it’s just a distortion. Know that the real you is perfected and loved and hidden in Christ, and choose to live out of that.

 

Ephesians 1:4                     For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.

John 17:16                           They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

Colossians 3:3                    For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Ephesians 2:10                  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

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the truth in your hand

There’s a free app on my smartphone that lets you point it at the sky, and it shows you all the stars that you would be able to see if the sky were clear. On a cloudy night, when you can see nothing much up there, you can point it in any direction and it will reveal the glorious constellations above. And if the moon is bright, and a single star or planet appears as a faint light in the evening sky, it will tell you what it is, and how it fits with everything else.

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I love the stars, and while I always know that they’re there, even if I can’t see them, this little app shows me where they are all the time in relation to wherever I am. It reveals more about them, even when all I can see is a tiny point of light. It helps me to understand them more.  I hold my ordinary phone in my hand, and it shows me the universe.

The Bible works in the same way, building my faith in what I can’t see, showing me where the Lord is in relation to me – where I am in relation to Him – all the time, even when I’m a little lost, or something has come between me and my clear sight of Him. If I can see nothing, it shows me where He is. If I can see a little spark, it reveals more. It helps me to know Him more.

It’s such a small book, to hold something so powerful as the light of the world. You can hold it in your hand, and it will show you everything.

Psalm 119:105                    Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Proverbs 3:13                    Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding

Psalm 19:1                           The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Matthew 4:4 J                   Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

John 6:63                             The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

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Knowing more than is written

I grew up inland, but am spending time on an island where rain sweeps across the ocean, a thick white line on the horizon, smudging the distant islands, bearing down on the coast. These are sudden, summer storms that catch out tourists in their pleasure boats so that they need rescuing, despite their tide tables and navigation charts.

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Local fishermen shake their heads. They also have tide tables and navigation charts, but they don’t rely only on them. They have a relationship with the sea;  they know its nature. They know where each current will take them, how the tide will work with them or against them, when they should sail out and when they need to head for home. It’s an understanding that has nothing to do with what they have read. It comes from experience, maybe while being taught by someone older, certainly from spending time out there on the water. If I’m leaving safe harbour, I know who I want on board.

Knowing God is like that. It’s not the same as knowing about Him. It means knowing his nature, knowing what you can trust Him to do, where He might take you, how He will support you, when you can step out in faith and when I should not. It’s a knowledge that will enable you to move confidently, trusting Him, not what you have learned.

I love the sea, but will never know it like the local fishermen. God, on the other hand – God the almighty creator of the universe – has an open invitation for us, for you, to spend time with Him, so He can help you to get to know Him. Theology is fine and useful. So are tide tables. But it’s knowing the sea that counts on the ocean. And it’s knowing Him is what will enable you to navigate life.

It’s there, an invitation to wisdom, just waiting for you to ask.

1 John 4:8                            The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Ephesians 1:17                  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Psalm 138:3                        On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.

Proverbs 3:5                       Trust in the Lord with all your heart and  lean not on your own understanding

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What do you have in your house?

In the Bible, there’s a story where Elisha is asked for help by a widow who has been left destitute and in debt. Creditors are coming to take away her sons as slaves. She asks him for help, and his reply is not to give money, or to miraculously provide money. Instead he says “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” And she replies that she has nothing at all, but then as an afterthought mentions a small jar of olive oil. And it is this small and insignificant resource that Elisa uses to make supernatural provision for her.

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This is interesting in two ways. First, he doesn’t just miraculously make something out of nothing. Instead he uses the little she has, although it doesn’t seem nearly enough. Jesus wants to use what we have to do amazing and wonderful things that are beyond our imagination. When He fed five thousand  people, he didn’t start with an empty basket. He used the small amount of loaves and fishes that were there. He starts with the inadequate, does miracles with that.

The second thing, though, is that he didn’t just pick up the olive oil and increase it; he asked the widow to tell him what she had. He said “Tell me”. He asked her to find something in the middle of all her lack that was hers. He asked her to name it, and to offer it up as part of the miracle to come.

When I’m under pressure, the easiest thing to see is all that I don’t have, all the reasons why what I want is impossible. I don’t have enough of this or that. That’s objectively true. But there’s also some small thing I have that is less obvious  – a word, a pen, a book, a phone, a talent – that one thing I have that seems insignificant, that tiny jar of olive oil that is obviously not enough. That’s where I need to start, to find it, name it out loud, offer it into the mix, and let Him do miracles with it.

What do you have in your house?

 

2 Kings 4:2           Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

John 6:9               “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Proverbs 3:5-6   Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

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Living below the water line

There’s a beach I love, a storm beach, long and wide and great for walking. I must have walked it hundreds of times now, and so have tens of thousands of others over the years. And yet it shows no trace of our walking. The tides wash in and out, cleaning off our footprints, leaving the beach perfect, smooth and damp, a clean canvas every day.

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We live our lives imperfectly, and mess up in big or small ways all the time. I used to believe that God maintained a record of all of that, preserving the tracks of my imperfection. I thought I’d started with a beautiful clean canvas and gradually filled it with indelible marks that would be one day forgiven, of course, but for now were clear and visible to God.  I thought it must be disappointing for Him. I believed I must be a disappointment.

But it’s not like that. God forgives and forgets constantly, not occasionally, renewing our lives through Grace. The tracks of our imperfection are wiped as soon as they are made. This forgiveness of sins – it’s not something that will happen eventually. It’s already done.

Here’s the thing: we are not leaving footprints on a beach that will be erased when the tide finally comes in. We are walking below the water line. His forgiving, living water pours out to forgive and renew us all the time.  No matter how crowded and cluttered the world is, He sees us in the pure and perfected work that Grace is doing in our lives. He loves us, pure and simple. Our sins leave no trace in his memory, because of where He has placed us, because of our position in His love.

We are living below the water line. We can live bravely, not afraid of messing up. We don’t have to worry about the tracks of our past, or even of our future. God’s forgiveness isn’t something that might happen. It already has happened. We can follow where He leads us in the freedom of Grace, the beauty of His forgiving love.

Hebrews 10:17-18            Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Hebrews 4:16                    Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Luke 15:24                           ‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

2 Corinthians 3:17           Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

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Alive and active

There’s a video going around social media that gives a different look at how we move around the sun.

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The sun that seems so still to us is actually barrelling through space at 70,000 km per hour. We are not locked in a dead orbit, circling the sun endlessly along the same path. We’re in a vortex, drawn in by the sun as it moves, pulled along, spinning through space to places we would never go without it. The sun seems calm and still, but it’s always on the move. We are part of that movement, spiralling in a vortex, always on a new path.

This is who God is. He’s not a still point in the universe, waiting to be adored, but a living and powerful God who is always moving, bringing us with Him to places we couldn’t imagine. We lock into his orbit and it’s not a dead end, not a boring endless life of circling the same pathway. He takes us to unimaginable places, takes us with Him on His adventure.

Look. See what He’s doing. He’s moving right now. And He’s inviting us along to move with him. Alive and active.

Matthew 8:22    But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Joshua 3:4           Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.

Hebrews 4:12    For the word of God is alive and active.

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