Category Archives: Identity

When all is not lost

You may recognise this smile.  It featured in the book, Postcards From Heaven, when the front tooth was missing, and now 3 years on it’s full of big teeth, and the somewhat irresponsible owner of a (very-expensive-to-replace) removable palate-expander-thingy.

We were having a fantastic day at the Zoo and it wasn’t until we were just about to feed a magnificent giraffe that the gorgeous Chaos-Generator turned and grinned at me, revealing the tell-tale lack of wire.

“Where’s your brace?!” I yelled, “and why isn’t it in your mouth?”…

Fellow parents of wonky-toothed children may recognise the scene that followed. After an intensive hunt through bags and pockets and some frustrated remonstrations,  I left the kids with their Grandma and unenthusiastically retraced my steps around the Zoo wondering where on earth she might have taken it out and dropped it.

After unsuccessful hunts around the ice-cream stand and the Gopher viewing area, eventually I returned to the picnic area where we’d had lunch, more than an hour after we had left it.  The picnic table we had sat at was empty, and I hunted on and around it and the bin where I’d thrown the empty crisp bags, but the floor was covered in a thick layer of bark chippings and I imagine several families had used the table since we had.  There really was no chance of finding a 4cm wide piece of see-through plastic and wire.

The tiny bit of hope I had left drained away as I sat down at the table,  convinced that we would never see it again.

And then I looked down, and there it was, just next to my foot.

I’m not sure now whether it had been there all along, or whether God had moved it there.  But as I picked it up, flooded with relief, I heard God whisper “I am a God who restores”.

“I am the God who restores”

It’s funny because I would have said I knew God as Restorer well already, and I do, but in the sense of a restorer of a master painting – someone who comes in and painstakingly cleans something up and carefully repairs damage!  But obviously I only had part of the picture…

When I looked it up, the first definition of restore that I found was ‘to give back or return’.

Part of what God longs to do as our great Restorer is to return to us things that have been taken away,  things that feel forever-lost.

Perhaps there are parts of your heart,  your confidence, your strength, your faith or your hope that feel as though they have been taken away and are gone.  There are times in life when difficult things happen to us and something good that we had is taken away; we make a mistake and some part of us is lost.    If that sounds familiar, hear this:

 

Our God is the God who restores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On fruitfulness

It’s nearly pomegranate season here on the island, and recently I saw a tree so laden that its branches were bowing under the weight.  These beautiful fruit are not quite ripe enough to be harvested, but heavy enough to change the shape of the tree that’s bearing them.  And it’s made me think again about the reality of bearing fruit in the kingdom of God.

Firstly, there are seasons.  The harvest has to come at exactly the right time. Too soon and the fruit isn’t ripe, too late and the wasps will steal it away.  Different fruit is ready at different times:  Accepting that life too has seasons and that God makes things happen according to his timing makes christian life a little bit less frustrating.

Secondly try as it might, this pomegranate tree will never produce a lemon, or cherries, or a sweet juicy nectarine.  Those things are wonderful, and I’m grateful that there are trees that grow them. But pomegranates are beautiful in their own way.  There’s something really powerful about seeking out what kind of fruitfulness God has for you in this particular season and then not wasting time or energy trying to do or be something else.

The third thing is that fruitfulness can be really heavy work – The branch that carries these fruit has taken time to mature and grow strong enough to bear them, but still, it’s bowing a little under the weight.   Sometimes fruitfulness is tiring: doing the things God is calling you to do, investing in the people God has given you, making the choices he is challenging you to make; all of those things weigh heavy.  But it doesn’t mean you’re getting it wrong.  Just that you need to make sure you make time to retreat into God’s presence to be filled and strengthened.  Just like the tree that needs to have a prop or two under its branches to carry the weight of its fruit  so we need to learn to lean back into him and let him shoulder the burden of ours.

 

If this is you – please schedule yourself some time with God as soon as you possibly can and ask for his strength and grace as you bear and gather in this harvest.

If it’s not you right now, can I make this a call of prayer for those that do need it?  I’m reminded of the time that Moses was praying over a battle, and the people of God were winning the battle as long as he had his arms raised in prayer, but would begin to lose as he tired and his arms fell. It’s a great story of the power of prayer, but I especially like the part where his friends realise what is happening and stand with him as they build stone towers that he can rest his arms against.

Perhaps you have a friend, or someone else who comes to mind, whose ‘branches’ are bowing under the weight of the ministry that God has given them.  Please pray for them. Call out to God and let’s be a part of releasing some supernatural strength into some parts of the kingdom that really need it!

 

reflect greens

 

fruitfulness

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Dot

“I wonder what that means?”

As we walked around the exhibition I noticed that a few of the paintings were marked with a bright red sticky dot.  Small, but bright. Obvious.

I found out later that the dot marked out a painting that had been picked out by a buyer and paid for.  Ownership had been transferred but, so that it could remain hanging as part of the exhibition,  collection has been deferred to the last day of the show.

To show which paintings have been sold (and are no longer available to buy) a little red sticky dot is placed on the wall next to it.

This is the picture that popped into my head a few days ago when I was skimming through Ephesians chapter 4 and read this:

‘… the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’ (Ephesians 4:30b, NIV)

 

Today’s postcard of hope is that the Holy Spirit in our lives is like the red dot at an art exhibition.  When we believe and trust in Jesus we are instantly marked out for redemption.  His presence shows that we are ‘already paid for’.  Ownership has been transferred, only awaiting collection on the final day.

It’s a picture brimming over with grace.  There is absolutely nothing I can do (or not do) to affect my status.  I have been bought; the required price has been paid: I belong to God.

And I wonder to myself: If I really, really believed this, if I knew it in the deep places of my heart, how would I live differently?

Perhaps, I could rest in that truth: It is done. I am sealed for the day of redemption

Perhaps, I could stop worrying what God thinks about my multiple mess-ups.  He knew… he bought me.

Perhaps, I could stop striving, working hard to earn his favour. I belong to him… I can’t change the ending.

And perhaps, I could use that confidence and freedom to serve him from my heart instead of my head. I belong to God… he will be coming back to collect me.

 

I’ve read it in scripture and I know in my head that this is true: The Holy Spirit in me is a mark showing who I belong to.  And I can always try harder, strive to live differently.

But while it may be my style to try to modify my behaviour and hope that somehow that will sort out what’s in my heart, God’s way is to transform my heart, so that what flows out of it is good.  This postcard’s truth is so obvious, so important, that it sometimes gets stuck somewhere on the journey between our heads and our hearts.  We know it to be true but struggle to live out of it.  It’s probably one to ask for help with…

 

Father, thank you that you chose me,

that you valued me,

paid the price and bought me,

that I belong to you.

Spirit of wisdom and revelation, 

unfold this truth in the deep places of my heart.

 

 

reddot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is well with my soul… reasons to love Good Friday

Once again it’s the time of year when our thoughts are drawn to the cross, to the pain endured there, to the freedom achieved there. But, if I’m completely honest, Good Friday hasn’t always felt like good news…

I first decided to follow Jesus when I was fifteen, and somehow in those early years I picked up the idea that Good Friday was all about feeling bad and guilty.  This was a special day in the church calendar when we all took a good long time to think about how awful we were, about how much our beautiful saviour went through for us, and about how responsible we were for that terrible pain and suffering.

I don’t remember anyone teaching me that this was ‘Guilt Friday’, but that’s what I learned. This was the day to look at the cross really hard, and then to feel really, really bad.

and I did.

But a beautiful revolution happened about 15 years later…

Late one lent evening, as I sat in a prayer-space looking at a wooden cross draped with red silk,  I had one of those moments where something you’ve known in your head for a long time finally makes it into your heart. God showed me the cross as if it were an enormous power shower towering above me. I suddenly realised that as I knelt beneath the flow of Jesus blood, as it poured out over my hands, my head, my heart, it didn’t stain me with responsibility, it didn’t make me guilty – it made me clean.

So I realised that on Good Friday I couldn’t come to the cross and feel bad about myself, or about how much Jesus suffered for me. Not because I’m not a sinner, or that Jesus didn’t suffer, but because some much bigger, more glorious things were filling up my head and heart so much that there wasn’t room for anything else.

As I said to a friend at the time:

“I know I should be feeling bad, but I just can’t help myself, when I look at the cross, all I can feel is clean

Awesomely, gloriously clean.

And when I remember what Jesus was prepared to go through in order to heal my relationship to the Father, what he chose to endure so that you and I could be made clean and whole and entirely free from guilt and shame, I don’t feel bad (all that clean-ness gets in the way), but I do feel very, very grateful, and very LOVED.

Really really loved.

The words of this hymn, It is well with my soul by H. G. Spafford, explains the feeling that wells up inside me better than I can:

My sin – oh the bliss of this glorious thought! –

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

With that in your head it just won’t be possible to look at the cross and feel bad.

So this Easter, as you’re celebrating the extraordinary victory of the cross and resurrection, take another look at the cross and see if you can see this power shower.  If you feel even the smallest part dirty, or guilty, or unworthy or ashamed – step in.  The cross can wash you clean.

.power shower

Willow

I’m a bit willow-ish – not willowy, that’s for sure – but willow-ish.

It’s about nine years since God told me I’m like a pile of sticks.  Words from God aren’t always easy, but sometimes the most difficult ones have the most value.  I was (and still am a bit) like a pile of dry willow sticks: brittle, stubborn, prickly, awkward, broken in places and very much in need of being bent into shape.

But God, because he is gracious, also gave me a picture of how I could be…

This is a basket made out of willow.  It can both hold a harvest and carry a feast. It is strong.  It is still what it once was, but also completely transformed.

God and I have talked many times about the process of transformation that makes useless sticks into a beautiful basket. And I always end up with these two ‘keys’ to becoming:

Soaking and Surrender

Willow must be soaked, preferably overnight, to make it flexible.  Otherwise when the weaver attempts to bend it or twist and wind it between the uprights it will simply snap.

Dry willow is brittle and inflexible: soaked willow is soft and pliable.

I need soaking.

I need to immerse myself in God’s presence and in his word.  I read once that we are like pendulums, we need to swing between abiding in God and working; worship and ministry; backwards and forwards.  Not spending enough time in God’s presence will make my heart brittle again, but time soaking him in will quickly soften it up.

And as he softens my heart I become more and more ready to be transformed into the shape he wants for me. But even then I need to be willing to let him.

In my willow-ness, most of my task is to surrender. Some of my stubbornness has been soaked out, but most of my determination remains.  I have to choose to allow the weaver to create whatever shape he has in mind for me and not to insist on becoming something else.  It’s so easy to try to second-guess God, to demand to know exactly what he’s doing, or even to come up with a ‘better’ idea.   It’s a challenge to trust him, to rest in the truth that he knows what he’s doing, but it’s necessary.

Soaking and surrender.

It’s great when God gives you a picture of how you could be, especially if he then reveals the keys to becoming.  It may take a long time to get there, but we have do some ability to speed up the process.

For me, and I suspect for many of you, a continual process of soaking and surrender is the way forward.

basket

Ordinary beauty

This morning I painted a teaspoon.  Not a fancy one, or one of the cheap, bendy ones I reserve for putting in the kids’ lunchboxes,  but just an ordinary one from the kitchen drawer.

In fact that’s the word that comes to my mind when I look at this spoon – ordinary. 

Useful, certainly; ready-for-action, definitely; but resolutely ordinary.

So I’ve been reflecting today on what it means to be ordinary.   Which is, by definition, what most of us are:

or·di·nar·y    – With no special or distinctive features; normal.

It’s unfortunate that ‘ordinary’ has come to be an insult.  Our culture finds it hard to honour the everyday and tends to despise (or ignore) the ‘unexceptional’.  To be significant, the media tells us, you must be exceptionally rich, or attractive, or talented.  It’s sad to say but I wonder if the church often does the same.

And yet, in the Bible it seems that God doesn’t only use people who are exceptionally talented, or exceptionally rich, or exceptionally beautiful, or exceptionally strong or exceptionally clever.  On the contrary he mostly uses normal, faithful, obedient, available ordinary people.  Moses and Gideon, Esther and Mary, John and Peter. All unexceptional people to the untrained eye, mostly living very ordinary lives until they encountered the living God.

Like this spoon, which was surprisingly difficult to paint because of the intricacies of the ever changing reflections, light shining onto these ordinary people lifted them into the extraordinary.  Though they must receive honour for their obedience and willingness to serve, the glory of what God did with their lives belongs to him.

I also struggle sometimes with the ordinariness of life.  The snapshots I see of other people’s lives on social media look so much more interesting than mine!  Even though I know that they must also have to go to the shops, cook dinner, do the laundry, help with homework and a million other everyday things; I still get frustrated with the proportion of ordinary in my life.

But the whisper I’m hearing today through my teaspoon is : Don’t despise the ordinary.

It took me an hour of looking and sketching and painting to realise how complex and beautiful this little spoon actually was, and how its scratches and dents make it unique. I’d dismissed it in a second as ordinary and uninteresting, and yet on closer inspection found that the light dancing across its surface was so complex that it was both lovely and too difficult to capture.

I wonder if this is a good way to react to the ordinary? A good way to react to ‘ordinary’ people and to my frustratingly ordinary life?

To choose look for the light of God as it plays across the surface.

His light, his fingerprints, are all across my ordinary life if I stop to search for them.   Beauty hidden in the ordinary, blessing waiting for me to find it. I just need to take the time to look.

 

spoon

 

 

 

 

Superhero Socks

I don’t know about you – but this time of year really brings out my inner superhero.  It’s probably exactly the right time for this post, on the destructive power of impossibly-high-expectations, to have another airing! Enjoy x

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This is my sweet five-year-old, dressing up in her fifteen-year-old brother’s superhero socks. He has a wide collection, and likes to wear them mismatched as a tiny but significant (?) piece of rebellion against the oppression of school uniform…

I’ve decided that having an impossibly high expectation of myself  in any situation is like being quietly stalked by a Superhero.  This SuperSomeone tiptoes along behind me, like a malignant imaginary friend, waiting for  the moment to point out my inadequacies, show me how I could do things better, or encourage me to aim ridiculously high.  Next to her, I always feel pretty rubbish really.

Now, while it’s perfectly OK to enjoy a good superhero story, and even (in some circumstances) to wear the socks; I’m sure you’ll agree that to believe that you can be a superhero is a dangerous, possibly even life-threatening delusion.

But, we all seem to do it. We all seem to invent a ridiculous, superhuman version of the role we’re in, and then expect ourselves to be it : SuperSomeones.

My loudest and most powerful Supersomeone is ‘SuperMummy’. She stands in the background of my life, ever ready to rear her (very beautiful and perfectly made up) head at any opportunity. For some reason she is most likely to manifest the night before the children’s birthdays, or Christmas, when she ‘forces’ me to organise beautifully themed birthday parties, ice cakes until 3 in the morning and try to make everything  ‘just perfect’.

If I ever take my eyes off Jesus and let them settle on SuperMummy, I’m done… I come to a few days later, confused and exhausted, wondering (again) why on earth I thought I needed to do all that stuff.

You see SuperMummy always wears make-up, is slim, has beautiful hair, can wear scarves stylishly, bakes perfectly, has a beautiful home (she found that piece of furniture in a second-hand store and distressed it herself) and a high-powered career, is amazingly spiritual, never shouts, and can preach in high heels without falling over. SuperMummy reads bedtime stories to all of her children every day, never forgets the PE kit, or shows up with kids in uniform on Mufti day, can instantly find a protractor the night before Maths exams, runs the PTA and never misses a dentist appointment…  Gosh, she can probably service the people carrier as well.

SuperMummy does NOT exist… But do you know what? if I let myself be conned into trying to be her, I may not exist for very much longer either.  Trying to be a superhero is exhausting and dangerous… and not what Jesus has asked us to do.

Whoever you are, and whatever stage of life you are at, I bet you
have a SuperSomeone.. A SuperPastor, SuperDad, SuperFriend,
SuperDaughter, SuperWorshipLeader, SuperChristian.  Walking
quietly beside you, whispering over your shoulder, “You need to be more like me”  Do you know what? –  You need to get rid of them, right now, whatever it takes.

SuperWhatever will distract you from what God is calling you to be and to do, he or she will suck all the life out of you, exhaust you, whisper ‘try harder’ over your shoulder until you can’t manage another step and then show you all the ways you’ve failed.

Whatever you think about what he has written or said since, a few years ago Rob Bell, in a very popular book called Velvet Elvis had a moment of pure genius. Writing on this subject he said:

‘KILL YOUR SUPERWHATEVER… ACT NOW… SHOOT FIRST!’

At the moment we fell into his arms and surrendered to him, God our father gave us a gift to help us defeat the Supersomeones. An enormous endlessly supplied water cannon, filled with… grace.

There is grace enough to cover ever one of your imperfections… and mine. There is grace to not to have to be perfect, to be a superhero. In fact, Grace says “you aren’t a superhero, I didn’t make you that way”.

Of course, our kids, work colleagues, churches, friends, families, need us to try to be ‘good-enough’, but there’s a loooooong way between that and a superhero.

So there’s my challenge for you for the week: ask God to shine his light on your inner Superwhatever; ask him to show you where you have ridiculously high standards of yourself and then apply a ridiculously generous amount of grace…. Shoot first.

superherosocks feat