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Poured Out

 

It’s nearly Pentecost.  And this year more than ever I’m aware of the need for a fresh pouring out of the Holy Spirit in my life.  So here’s a repost from a couple of years of ago… May some fresh hope and fresh hunger bubble up in your heart this week…

I’ve been thinking about Pentecost, about the confused but hopeful disciples gathered in an upper room. Meeting together perhaps to celebrate Shavout – the festival of the first fruits, but certainly to pray, to stare at their empty hands, to hope. Waiting, but not sure about what they were waiting for. Hoping, but not sure what to hope.

And then suddenly…

The Holy Spirit showed up in the room.

And he sounded like a violent rushing wind and he looked like flames of fire.

I suspect the Holy Spirit can choose to look and sound pretty much how he likes, but on this occasion he came to them in a way they could not mistake. The same fire that had burned with the presence of God in the bush where Moses heard God speak now came to rest on each of them. Wonderful but terrifying.

Almost every time I read a story in the Bible, something different about it grabs my attention. What stirs me most when I read this one today is the very first gift that the Holy Spirit chose to give to those trembling disciples. As the Spirit was poured out he gave them a gift of languages, the ability to make the good news available to everyone.  

I love that. The very first gift of the Spirit was one that shouted for all to hear that everyone could be included, that the presence of God was not just for the chosen few, but from now onwards it was for everyone who called on the name of the Lord regardless of where they came from.

Of course they were misunderstood. And some who didn’t quite understand what was happening yelled out their criticism (as occasionally happens today when the Holy Spirit shows up in a way that’s not quite what we expected!) so Peter stood up to explain what was happening, quoting this beautiful verse from Joel:

‘In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men will dream dreams.’

Acts 2:17 NRSV

Sometimes we think about the presence of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit (or of some of them), as being just for ‘the special’, just for ‘the holy’ or just for ‘someone-else’.

But God is pretty clear about it here.  When he pours out his Spirit, it is on all flesh.  No-one who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ is excluded from that statement:  we can’t exclude others from it and we can’t exclude ourselves from it.

God didn’t say, “I will pour out my spirit on those who shout loud enough, or pray hard enough, sing sweet enough or close their eyes long enough”.

He said “all flesh”

even when you’re tired

even when you’re lonely

even when you’re grieving

even me

even you.

That’s the beauty of Pentecost – the good news in my language, the spirit poured out into my flesh. The precious, beautiful Holy Spirit, suddenly available and present to us all. Poured out not in a trickle or a dribble, but in abundance – a gush of the pure, sweet, inexhaustible presence of God poured out over anyone who wants to come and stand underneath it.

Any time you like.

You just have to ask.

Embers

We’ve just moved into a new place.  To our great delight, as well as the necessary number of bedrooms and walls and a roof,  it has an open fireplace.  Believe it or not, winters in the med can be surprisingly chilly, and this one is definitely no exception(!)  so the past few weeks have seen something of a revival of the art of fire building and tending!

In all that, this simple picture has really found a place in my heart – Someone blowing gently on the embers of the fire and seeing them suddenly glow with light and heat.  It’s so easy, and yet almost magical to watch.  Seeing this happen over and over has stirred my heart, and a conviction has taken root that now is a time to pray over embers.

How many of you know people whose hearts have burned with passion for God in the past, but for whatever reason have gone cold?  How many of you have watched the fire of someone’s first love for Jesus settle into something steady but lukewarm?  Perhaps some of you can recognise parts of your own heart where the light and heat has gone out?   Perhaps you’ve even begun to believe that hope, joy and excitement are for new believers, and that the reality of faith is slogging it out in the cold.

Sometimes it’s about circumstances or disappointments that have caused a gradual, not even noticeable coldness, or perhaps we’ve lived life or done ministry in a way that really has ‘burned us out’.   Sometimes we’ve made mistakes (or others around us have), and instead of running to the stream of forgiveness we’ve let our guilt or unforgiveness smother the fire within us like a heavy blanket.

As always, there is so much grace here. We all live in seasons, there are times when we feel more or feel less of God’s presence, or have more or less zeal to serve him.  Sometimes faith really is about putting your head down and forcing yourself forward.  That’s kind of normal –  a pendulum swing in our walk of faith.  But maybe you look down at your own heart right now and all you see are embers.

In all of these cases, I am absolutely convinced that all God wants us to do with our embers is to surrender them to him and ask him to breathe on them again.

Where you can see embers in your own life, or in the people you care about, it’s time to pray.  It’s time to pray that God would come and breathe where the fire has almost gone out, to blow gently on the embers and to see them glow into life again.  It’s time to ask him to restore light, life and warmth to the hearts of men.

And it’s time to sit back and watch what happens.

 

embers-crop

 

 

 

 

 

The monster under the bed

In the half-light of my smallest child’s bedroom, lit only by a glowing IKEA nightlight, almost anything can look like a monster.

The only cure is to call for monster-fighting Mummy, who comes wielding a mightiest of monster beating weapons: The light switch

One flick of the switch and the evil monster that lurks beneath the bed is shown up for the what he really is… A pile of tennis balls, a broken doll, that long lost trainer and an abandoned sweatshirt.

I felt just like this the other day when troubled by a decision I’d made, and desperately worried it was the wrong one. I went for coffee with a friend and poured out all my concerns, all the reasons behind my decision, and my fears for the future. Then God used my friend to shine some light on my situation, to reveal that things weren’t quite as I had understood them to be, that there was hope. She turned on the lights and the monster wasn’t quite the monster I had thought it was.

One of the prayers I’ve been taught to pray a lot is to ask God to shine his light into the situations I’m facing. This picture reminds me of just what a powerful prayer that can be. So often our ‘monsters’ turn out to be less unpleasant than we feared.

Of course, not everything is a pile of shoes… there are sometimes real live terrifying monsters lurking in our lives. But God’s light switch will always show them up to be smaller than they have become in your imagination.

More importantly, it will light up the strands that cannot be seen in the darkness, that powerful hope that is anchored in Jesus:
the monsters are temporary, but the love, peace and joy of his presence will be eternal.

Butterflies

I’ve got butterflies on the brain!  This weekend I’m off on a butterfly themed Guide camp and have spent the last fortnight immersed in butterfly cakes, butterfly songs, butterfly games and butterfly badges.  I can even tell you the word for butterfly in 8 different languages…

In and through it all, as ever, God has been whispering his own message, a story that is so much more beautiful and important than anything else that’s going on!

When I look at butterflies I’m drawn in to the extraordinary hope of becoming.  The caterpillar has all the potential to become something beautiful and beyond itself, all wrapped up in an ungainly, flightless body.  It goes through a time of slowly feeding and growing, and then an incredibly tough season of transformation, but in all that time it is becoming.

One of the most glorious things about being a follower of Jesus is realising that who I am now is not all I’m ever going to be.. That I can expect an onward journey of becoming more like Jesus, with more hope, love, faith and grace being released into my life.  Even when ‘everything is NOT awesome’ I am still becoming.

And in that time (and this is the bit I really love) I’m not travelling away from who I really am – I’m actually travelling towards the person I was always meant to be.

In this world obsessed with self-actualisation, I’m letting go of my need to know myself and choosing to try to know Him; letting go of my right to be myself and choosing to be who He calls me to be. And beautifully, gloriously, amazingly, this actually leads me to a place where I become more deeply and truly myself than I could ever have been.

Beautiful.

IMG_1778

I’m becoming.

Have a great weekend my friends, and if you read this on Friday, pray that it doesn’t rain too much in Cyprus this weekend!  x

Mango tree

I hate waiting…

Since I moved to an island I’ve realized that they way to get the very best fruit is to eat whatever is currently in season. Strawberries appear in May, cherries in July, figs in September, and clementines in December- fresh and delicious, and at their very best in their own season. But if you want cherries in September, well, you’re probably just going to have to wait.

I’m a bit like the cheeky children in a story I heard from my friend Bron.
In the front yard of their old house in a remote town in Mozambique they had a wonderful mango tree. It was heavy with fruit and they were looking forward to sharing a bumper harvest with their friends and neighbours. They patiently waited and watched as the fruit grew, happily anticipating the day when they were sweet enough to eat and dreaming about jam, pies and fruit salad!

Unfortunately, the children of that neighborhood are not great at waiting. Much to my friends’ frustration, these kids would sneak into the yard and eat the mangos while they were still green, hard and sour. That first year, most of the fruit never had the opportunity to ripen!

God’s word for me this week has been simply this- to eat fruit in the right season.

Eat fruit in the right season

Sometimes we can see what God is growing in our lives a bit ahead of time. But if we are in a hurry to harvest what we see growing on the tree, if we push into something ahead of God’s timing, we risk missing out on the sweetness it would have had if only we had waited to the right time.

Don’t eat fruit that isn’t ripe yet

On the other hand, I don’t want to let caution, laziness, or lack of awareness stop me from bringing in the harvest when it’s ready.

but don’t leave ripe fruit to rot on the tree

That’s all very well, I thought, but when it comes to the opportunities in front of me, how on earth am I supposed to discern which ones are ripe for picking and which aren’t yet?

I stumbled across the answer on Wikipedia while I was looking for a picture to paint from:
you can tell when a mango is ripe because it smells really, really good.

Pray this week that God would give you the nose to smell out which ‘fruit’ is ripe so you can be aware when you are tempted to jump ahead of God’s timing, or when you’re being too cautious to reach out and enjoy what’s in front of you.

Enjoy whatever is on the tree this week. May it one way or another be a blessing to you.

Nametapes

At this time of year, as I prick my fingers sewing nametapes into the children’s clothes, I ineveitably come back to thinking of this story. It’s one of my favourites, so I thought I would post it again for those who didn’t see it the first time around, and for those who did, but need to hear it again..

This is how I remember it… like a page in the much-loved story book of the children’s early lives… a moment that God used to touch my heart.

It’s more than ten years since my firstborn started school, but I still remember the day when I was battling through the pile of freshly-bought school uniform, dutifully sewing in the little white woven name tapes, and my four year old came to ask me what I was doing.

Now, I’ve read that the average four year old asks around 200 questions a day, and mine was maybe even a little above average in this department, so I cast around for an answer that would pre-empt any further questions and maybe even send him back to his lego:

“I’m sewing in little tapes with your name on them, to show everyone that these clothes belong to you; and then no-one can take them away from you and they can’t get lost.”

It must have been a good answer, because he just looked very thoughtfully at me and then disappeared upstairs to his room again.

A minute later though, he reappeared, dragging his much beloved (and slightly gruesome) Blue-Blanky. This worn and grubby cot blanket had been at his side constantly for the past three years (apart from one heart-rending moment in a motorway service station and some late-night under-the-cover-of-darkness trips through the washing machine…) and was a great source of comfort to him, and occasional stress to me!

“Sew my name on Blue-Blanky Mummy,” he said earnestly, “then everyone will know it’s mine, and no-one can say it’s not and it can never ever be lost, or taken away”

So I did.

About a week later I was reading Ephesians when this verse caught a hold of my heart:

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of his glory” Ephesians 1: 13-14 NIV

I suddenly realised that the Father has done the equivalent of sewing a woven nametape onto my very heart and soul – he has marked me with a seal.

Isn’t that marvellous?… isn’t it wonderful?  The Holy Spirit is the irrevokable royal seal on your life that declares to the earth and to the heavens for ever and ever:  “This soul is MINE”.

When I look at this picture, I hear God whispering:

“Everyone will know you are mine, no-one can say you are not, and you can never ever be lost, or taken away”

I wonder if you do too?

cashtape

Once upon a time…

Storytelling can damage your health.

I realised this a week ago, in the shower, often the scene of epiphany moments for me.  I was getting ready for a lunchtime flight back to Cyprus and while I was washing my hair I let my mind wander off for a bit..

A few moments later, my heart pounding and feeling slightly sick, I realised that I had been telling myself a very stressful story about a security guard at the airport deciding my ipad was dodgy and trying to take it away, my older daughter melting down and the six year old pulling one of her disappearing acts…

In the space of a few minutes I’d gone from feeling fairly relaxed about my flight to having butterflies in my stomach and a racing pulse.

And that was my epiphany:  I was getting stressed about something that was entirely imaginary.  My brain was making up a story and yet my emotions were reacting as if the story was real and true.

I’ve always known that stories are powerful.

A story can explain something difficult to grasp beautifully simply, it can lodge in your mind and keep whispering its message for years to come.  The news that millions are suffering can pass us by, but the story of one family, or one child can awaken the compassion that leads to action.

And I’m a story-phile: I love, reading, writing, collecting and telling them.  But usually I think about the postive ways a story can influence someone. In my shower-epiphany I realised that these  little stories I tell myself, the ‘what-would happen-if’ stories, are making me stressed when I don’t need to be, and that’s really not good.

Of course it’s not just the what-would-happen-if stories that I need to take control of and force into the shape of the truth.  The even more dangerous ones are harder to spot..

Those stories that start ‘he thinks….’ or ‘she thinks’ and never have a happy ending. When someone does something that hurts or offends me, my brains tends to freewheel into storytelling… “He did that because he thinks I’m not important”,  “She did that because last week I forgot to phone and she thinks that I am not a good friend and…”, “Because I did that, he is going to feel really bad and then…”

Experience tells me that those lines of thought provoke a load of negative feelings- sometimes the really powerful kind that leave you in the bottom of a hole for a few days.  I wonder if some of you reading this also sometimes end up expending a huge amount of energy thinking about, worrying and feeling bad about something which you wrote yourself and isn’t even true.

Of course, as well as making us feel bad and messing up our relationships with people around us, all these stories also occupy us very nicely and distract us from the many things that God would like us to be thinking and caring and feeling and doing something about.

Or some other stories that need rewriting (particularly just now): more or less any that begin ‘that person doesn’t deserve my compassion because…’ or  ‘they don’t deserve the freedom, safety, stability or shelter that I have because….’

All stories that need rewriting

I’ve decided that this week’s challenge is to stop reacting to those imaginary tales and to learn to stop telling myself them.

So, here’s my plan:

To ask God to show me every time I’m telling myself a story.

To ask him to show me the truth – what the real story is.

Finally to spend some time thinking about this:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:5