Love is…

Have you ever seen a murmuration?  Beautiful… surprising… mesmerising.

Just before dusk, in places where starlings roost, they take to the sky together, flying in unison to create extraordinary, dynamic, swirling patterns in the sky.  Sometimes thousands of birds all fly together in close formation and the resulting dance is breathtaking.

It’s frankly amazing that these birds don’t just fly into each other.  Their synchronisation is astounding.  And the patterns are always different, so it’s not rehearsed.  It must simply be that as well as lightning fast reactions, starlings are incredibly good at responding to each others movement and direction.

In fact the science suggests that each bird is acutely aware of and responds almost instantly to the seven birds closest to it in the flock and through them is connected to the entire community, so that the whole flock is able to respond to any perceived danger as one.

The western world is pretty individualistic.  There is definitely more kudos attached to going it alone and ploughing your own furrow than there is to walking in step with others.  So this part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is, for us, somewhat counter-cultural –

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:1-4

I wonder if we have anything to learn from the starlings.  It’s supposedly impossible to have strong friendship with more than 150 people, and we really need to have an even smaller group of people that we relate to closely, but perhaps, like the starlings we can gain unity through connecting together in different combinations, and by choosing to make and maintain friendship across generational, church and other ‘boundaries’

But for the murmuration to work each starling has to not just be aware of, but also willing to respond to those around it.

Today there’s been a little flurry of “Love is…” cartoons on my social media-   You know, those one-liner comic strips that were so popular through the seventies and eighties.  Well,  while I was giggling at those, I thought of the line that Paul put in the centre  (and perhaps the pinnacle) of his great treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is… not self-seeking.

This is the key to making community of all kinds, but perhaps especially in church life? Love chooses to lay aside conceit, ambition and my own rights and  looks to the needs of others, not because we’re weak, but because togetherness makes us strong.

 

So, Happy Valentine’s day – May you be able to love and serve those the Lord has put you near to with the love he has abundantly poured out over you. And together may we be a captivating witness to the world.

 

 

 

 

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Reflections

I’m searching for stillness.

There was a rare day of sunshine yesterday, so I went for walk in my local park.  As I wandered aimlessly along the riverbank, enjoying the frosty air and the slanted winter light, I suddenly found my heart caught up in the beauty of this sight –  sun and trees reflected almost perfectly in the still water.

A moment later and the wind had nipped at the surface, stirring the water into ripples and eddies which wiped the reflection away.  But joy had already captured my heart and I stood watching until my toes froze in my muddy boots, hoping to see it again.

Even the fast-flowing, muddy waters of the Derwent, when caught in a brief moment of stillness, can open a window onto heaven.

I’m aware that, in a way, this is us.  Made in his image and following Jesus, we reflect a tiny bit of God’s glory, or his likeness, into the world.  The light and the glory aren’t ours of course, both come only from Him, but, at our very best, we reflect that light and glory out into our lives, punching a hole in the veil between earth and heaven so that his kingdom comes..

And when we do there may be those passing by who are so arrested by the sight, so captivated by his beauty that they become desperate to see it again.

Our world so needs to have the God’s beauty reflected into it:  Light, joy, grace, redemption, forgiveness, love, peace, hope.

‘And yet’, the Spirit seems to be whispering, ‘to reflect the very best image the water needs to be perfectly still’.

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

So that’s why I’m hunting for stillness.

Because I find a longing has awoken: a longing to be a reflector of that captivating beauty of God; a longing to be a window through which people see Jesus; a longing to see Heaven itself leaking through into the world. And I’m wondering if a bit more stillness in my life might be the key.

So I know it’s a battle to carve out the time to say to ourselves ‘be still’, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.  I’m going to take some time today, just a few minutes, to remember who God is, to draw on the deep well, to lean back into his strength.  Perhaps you could join me, so that through your stillness you can become a reflector of light, love, grace and beauty into the world.

Peace be with you.

 

There aren’t many answers on the back of this postcard – but in times of turmoil, i’ve found this helps – Our lovely choir leader taught us to capture a moment of stillness by taking a minute to breathe this prayer:

Taking a deep breath in for two counts you say to yourself, ‘Be still,’  then hold it for the next two thinking ‘and know’ then slowly breathe out for four – ‘that I am God.’  Try it.

 

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If you enjoyed this post – you might like my book Postcards of hope available here.   Ellie

Shaken?

I love this picture, and right in the midst of the swirl of tinsel hanging and turkey shopping I know that I need to remember this more than ever x


My smallest girl was so excited yesterday unwrapping our Christmas snow globes.  She gave each one a little shake before she found a place for them on the bookshelf and watched the swirl of white glitter surround the figures within.

This time of year is a bit like living in a shaken snow globe.  All the busyness of school plays and concerts, shopping, cooking and trying to get everything done is like a huge swirl of glitter celebrating yet surrounding and sometimes obscuring the message at its heart.

At the centre of my advent snowglobe there’s the extraordinary miracle of a newborn king laid in a manger, Almighty God constrained in weakness, a world changed forever.  I desperately want to celebrate it, to marvel with the shepherds at the miracle of the incarnation, to be soaked in the reality of God-with-us.

And yet there are days when all I can see is the snow, and however hard I try I can barely make out the outline of the new parents cradling my lord and my saviour. This postcard is exactly where I’ve been for the last few weeks, struggling to get a glimpse of Jesus through the snowstorm.

When I started to pray about this picture I was certain that God was going to talk to me about finding stillness,  about making space for the glitter to settle so that I can see clearly.  And that would no doubt be a great plan.  But I was wrong, he wanted to say something quite different –

 Know

Just know it.  Even when you can’t see it, know that he is there, at the very centre.

The shaking of our snow globes doesn’t remove the figures inside, just obscures them.

Know

This Christmas, even when you can’t see for glitter, know that he did invade the world that he created.  Know that he brought his Kingdom to Earth and that, in spite of all appearances, the increase of his government and peace will not end.

Know

Know that however much the snow globe of your life is shaken, and by whatever means, he will still be there. Even when it feels as though the world has been turned upside down and the storm is at its most suffocating – nothing has changed… he is still there.

And it is possible to reach out through the storm or the glitter and catch hold of him, not seeing perhaps, but touching the miracle of the God who loved us and came to pitch his tent among us.

He is still there

God with us.

 

 

 

 

A Crucible for Silver… or for Steel?

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.

Proverbs 17:3 NIV

This postcard of a crucible in action might be making you concerned for tough times ahead, a fire that will heat you up and draw impurities to the surface so that God can skim them off.  Probably good, definitely terrifying, possibly true;  and the way people often interpret this verse.

But the journey God has taken me on while praying about this picture has led me to some other places, and I’ll share them with you now, in case he has something to say to you in them too.

The first thing I’ve been reflecting is another verse from Proverbs, which casts a light on how the Lord tests us for purity:

The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, so a person is tested by being praised.

Proverbs 27:21 NRSV

So it’s not the oncoming stress of Christmas that’s going to test your heart in the crucible; or people yelling at you over the things you did or forgot to do; or grumpy teenagers, or any of the many genuinely difficult things you face.

No.

It will be the praise of men: the pats on the back, the applause, the people telling you what a great mum, chef, crafter, singer, house-decorator, work colleague, teacher, father, pastor _________ (fill in the blank) you are, that will be the heat that drives the impurities to the surface and shows you up for who you really are.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s bad to give or receive encouragement or praise, I think it’s great.  But just be aware that it will test you.  When people praise you, notice what rises to the surface, how you react and feel.  It may be an opportunity for revelation!

The other thing I felt God say when I looked at this picture is:

“Don’t think you’re always the silver, sometimes I am calling you to be the crucible“.

So I looked it up. A crucible is a container made of a material that is able to withstand very high temperatures.  It can be used to melt metals to make tools or beautiful jewellery, and also to create alloys – a combination of metals that can’t be reversed – like bronze or steel.  The reaction that needs to take place to create these strong, important, useful materials can only happen in a container able to cope with very high heat.

Some changes, some miracles, can’t take place without a crucible, a person willing to carry the miracle, a person willing to take the heat

And at this time of year, when I’m thinking of the ultimate miracle of the incarnation, this reminds me of the extraordinary faith and courage of a very young woman who looked into the heat ahead of her and said: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)

This Advent, may you each have the faith and courage of young Mary, and if God calls you to be a crucible for your miracle, or someone else’s, may you be able to say with her, “Yes,  let it be as you have said”.

You are the Light of the World

I can’t tell you how odd it feels to be staring at a blank page and a ticking cursor again after all this time away!  But here I am, called back into a familiar place, a postcard bubbling away in my mind, words wanting to be written..  Thanks to all of you who have waited patiently through this busy season, who have prayed, helped and encouraged and who have bought and given away copies of my new book Postcards of Hope.  I deeply appreciate you all.

You are the light of the world.

This is a picture of a storm, and of a lighthouse, built onto the solid rock of the cliff, but surrounded and battered by the wind and the waves, and wondering when it will all stop.

All of us who have built our lives on the rock of Jesus know that sooner or later a storm will come, and although our feet are firmly rooted, we will be buffeted by the gale.   We also know that even though after it all we will somehow still be standing, there is no doubt that it’s going to be difficult, frightening and perhaps painful for a while.

This postcard is especially for those who right now are weathering a storm.

I think I can hear God whispering two things through this picture:

The first is a promise that nothing can ever sweep us off of this Rock.  However terrifying the waves look, however relentless the pounding, however lengthy the storm, nothing can separate us from him.  You will not, you can not, be swept into the sea.

The second is a call to try to shift our focus from the storm, and onto being who he has called us to be.

The storm, weak or powerful, that fills our horizon is God’s problem.  It is only he who is able to tell the wind and waves to be still, the thunder to be silent; only he who can control it, only he who can give us the strength to bear it

It’s so easy to get distracted by the noise and power of the storm; so easy to give it all of our attention; to pour our energy into fighting it, or trying to resolve it.  And yet the job of the lighthouse is not to deal with storm, but to be a light in it.  Its calling is simply to continue to be a beacon for others; to lead and to guide and to continue to hold out the hope of a safe harbour to those who haven’t yet found it, even in spite of the waves.

Today, even in the midst of pain and chaos and uncertainty,  lean into him.  Believe that one way or another he can and will deal with that storm, while you, leaning back, do what you can to hold out the light.

You are the light of the world.

 

 

 

Shaken?

School play tonight, Soccer party tomorrow, concert on Monday,  and still so much to be done!  I think it must be time to repost this, one of my Christmas favourites. x


My smallest girl was so excited yesterday unwrapping our Christmas snow globes.  She gave each one a little shake before she found a place for them on the bookshelf and watched the swirl of white glitter surround the figures within.

This time of year is a bit like living in a shaken snow globe.  All the busyness of school plays and concerts, shopping, cooking and trying to get everything done is like a huge swirl of glitter celebrating yet surrounding and sometimes obscuring the message at its heart.

At the centre of my advent snowglobe there’s the extraordinary miracle of a newborn king laid in a manger, Almighty God constrained in weakness, a world changed forever.  I desperately want to celebrate it, to marvel with the shepherds at the miracle of the incarnation, to be soaked in the reality of God-with-us.

And yet there are days when all I can see is the snow, and however hard I try I can barely make out the outline of the new parents cradling my lord and my saviour. This postcard is exactly where I’ve been for the last few weeks, struggling to get a glimpse of Jesus through the snowstorm.

When I started to pray about this picture I was certain that God was going to talk to me about finding stillness,  about making space for the glitter to settle so that I can see clearly.  And that would no doubt be a great plan.  But I was wrong, he wanted to say something quite different –

 Know

Just know it.  Even when you can’t see it, know that he is there, at the very centre.

The shaking of our snow globes doesn’t remove the figures inside, just obscures them.

Know

This Christmas, even when you can’t see for glitter, know that he did invade the world that he created.  Know that he brought his Kingdom to Earth and that, in spite of all appearances, the increase of his government and peace will not end.

Know

Know that however much the snow globe of your life is shaken, and by whatever means, he will still be there. Even when it feels as though the world has been turned upside down and the storm is at its most suffocating – nothing has changed… he is still there.

And it is possible to reach out through the storm or the glitter and catch hold of him, not seeing perhaps, but touching the miracle of the God who loved us and came to pitch his tent among us.

He is still there

God with us.

 

 

 

 

Sleeping Beauty

You know the story – The beautiful princess wandered idly through the castle and then pricked her finger on a poisoned spinning wheel. The poison had been intended to kill her, but the protection of the Good Fairy’s spell saved her – she could not die, but she did fall asleep – for a very very long time…

Sometimes you see something like this happen to the faith of someone dear to you.  They get touched by some kind of poison, perhaps disappointment, or hurt or rejection or grief or pain, and it sends them deep into a kind of spiritual sleep.

Often the spinning wheel they pricked their finger on was the church itself- something that someone did, or said, or didn’t say or didn’t do. And when someone feels let down by God or his people, it can cause them to withdraw, carrying their injured heart to the safety of the highest tower of the castle, to bolt all the doors and to allow the forest to grow around.

Of course the castle that made you feel safe for a while can become your prison, and after a few months or years of letting the dust settle and the forest grow it might seem impossible that anyone could ever reach you again.  Isolation from the people of God isn’t actually all that good for us, much less turning our face away from God himself.

I’m not one for reading the last chapter of a book before you’ve read the rest, but in this case it’s good to know the end of the story:

Even after 100 years of growing thorns and gathering dust, a Prince comes.

Not only does he have the means to cut through the thorns and brambles, but also the will and determination to do it.  Love compels Him. The Prince is able to make it through to the highest room in the tallest tower, or wherever else the princess has gone to hide, and stands on the threshold, waiting to be invited in.

And this is the point where the story in my head strays away from the one in the movie.

For the Prince of Peace waits on the threshold for an invitation.  He is ready to come and breathe new life into the soul of the one who has been sleeping, to heal the old injury that led to their hibernation, but he seems to wait to be asked.

If you hear something of yourself in this story, today is a good day to respond…

If you wonder how God could ever find you again through the doors you’ve locked and forest you’ve allowed to flourish, know that He can.  He already has.  He is just outside the door, waiting to hear you whisper his name.

If you are frightened by the thought of trusting, of trying to belong, of being hurt again, I understand.  But the people of God need you, and you need them. It may take enormous courage, but it’s time, and you will have a Prince by your side.

Perhaps you have watched as someone you love has withdrawn from faith.  Keep praying my friend.  The pilot light is probably still lit, and just one breath from God can make their Spirit roar into life again.  Until then, your friendship is a gift in itself.

 

 

Words and Pictures to help you hear from God

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