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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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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