Tag Archives: christianity

Winter Nights and Fairy Lights

There’s something fascinating and overwhelming about the dark at this time of year.  It’s still pitch black at seven when the alarm goes off and by the time I hear my daughter’s key in the door the daylight has already begun to drain away.  Day after day there’s a bit less light and a little more darkness. It can feel like the darkness is winning.  But then, even as we are drawing towards the shortest day of the year,  something beautiful happens.  People begin to rebel against the coming darkness… and drape their streets and homes with tiny lights.  Suddenly thousands of fairy lights twinkle through trees and across living room windows, all declaring that, against all evidence to the contrary, this is the time to celebrate –  light is breaking in!

It certainly makes me think about how you and I are called by God to shine out like stars in the sky.  Boldly resisting the oncoming darkness we can each choose to live in a way that allows a pinprick of God’s own light to break through into the world.

It’s also a picture of how we need each other.  One or two fairy lights don’t make a huge impact by themselves, but joined together in an orchestrated rebellion against the darkness? There’s something so captivating about that picture – Hundreds of thousands of tiny little twinkling lights in a sea of darkness, defiantly holding out the truth that the light has come, and the darkness has not overcome it.

As I’ve been contemplating this picture of fairy lights in a row, all connected to one another, I remembered our annual childhood ritual of checking every bulb in the string before we put them up.  Back then fairy lights were wired in series, individual lights that were interdependent, part of a greater whole.  Every last one had to be in working order and in place for them to light up, and there seemed to be a lot of time spent around our plastic seventies tree trying to work out which coloured bulb had slipped out of place or needed attention.

Of course the analogy doesn’t entirely hold up.  Sadly in many of our churches one or two or maybe many of us can slip out of place or get broken and no-one will notice until it’s too late.  So for me at least, this picture is a challenge to check on and check-in with my neighbours – the brothers and sisters in Christ that God has chosen to put me near.  Sometimes people need a bit of time to talk, to know that someone cares about what they’re going through, to know that someone has got their back.  Sometimes they need some help in getting some restoration in their relationship with God.  I have no doubt that being open about our own struggles and helping others by knowing and loving them well enough to hold them accountable is the only way we can be pure enough to shine out.

We’re in this together friends.  Let’s be a twinkling, joined-up, rebellion against the darkness.

The light will always win.

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.

 

 

 

Breakfast

Today I forgot to eat breakfast..

This is actually a pretty unusual occurrence.  Unlike my teenage daughter, I am totally committed to both the concept and practice of breakfast, but somehow in the middle of the hunt for hairbrushes, socks and PE bags… I just forgot to eat anything.

I didn’t notice my error on the way to school or on the way back, in the supermarket or while hanging out the washing.  But I really noticed 4 minutes into my daily dose of pain on the treadmill:  There was nothing in the tank.  I could amble, but running, or even a moderately brisk walk was completely out of the question!  I was going nowhere.

I don’t often make the same mistake with the car.

If I’m going on a long journey I make sure the tank is absolutely full before I start.  It’s expensive to fill the car up, and it takes a few minutes longer, but I need to know I’m not going to run out of fuel halfway through the journey.  And I don’t know what might happen on the way, what the traffic will be like, or whether the road will be closed and I’ll have to make a detour so I need to know I’ve got not ‘just enough’ but ‘more than enough’.

Around the town I take more risks:  Waiting until my fuel light is blinking frantically before I put in just enough petrol to get the needle out of the red zone,  knowing that the light will be flashing again a few days later.  I tell myself it’s OK to run the car like this because I’m never very far from a fuel station and I do seem to  manage to just dodge disaster, but…

All this has made me think about how I live my spiritual life.

I know that when I’m aware of a challenge ahead, something where I need to do more than just survive, but to be able to pour out God’s love, grace and power to people around me, I take my time with God a bit more seriously.  Praying, reading the word, soaking, reading scripture aloud, singing worship and spending time with other Christians talking about Jesus… all these things that ‘fill-up’ my spiritual tank I do when I realise there’s something on the road in front of me that’s going to require more than just myself.

Most of the time though, I suspect I get by on the ‘just enough’, and occasionally, like this morning, I realise that I’ve run completely empty and that I need to drag myself back into God’s presence and ask him again to pour out his abundance into my emptiness.

There are times in life that it’s hard to do anything but grab a moment with the Lord here and there.  Kids, jobs, family, sickness, life,  all require our attention and time and energy. It can be so hard to find time to invest in our relationship with God.

And there is grace for difficult times: We can get by like that for so long. But it’s not a way to live long-term.

We need quality time in God’s presence.

We need it because we don’t actually want our lives to be just ‘getting-by’, but because God has written a much more exciting calling in our hearts:

to be a continual outpouring of God’s love, grace and power to the people around us.

And we can’t only be pourers, it simply doesn’t work…  Like jugs we are made both for pouring out and for filling up.

 

 

It’s actually pretty obvious which one of those needs to happen first.

 

So whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly.  Whatever it looks like for you.

Carve out time, make a priority, find a space: Eat your breakfast!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Squeezed

Ever feel like you’re being squeezed by life?  Yes. Me too.  Today I feel squeezed by little things and big things, important things and unimportant things. Things that need to be done right now, things that needed to be done yesterday and things that I have no idea how to do. All building up and squeezing away.  If you feel a bit like that this postcard might be for you too…

I’ve had the picture of an accordion in my head for a couple of days now.  It’s funny how different instruments or pieces of music can tug at a memory or make an association for us even if we’re not entirely sure why. For some reason when I picture an accordion I always hear the tune of ‘the Old Rugged Cross’ or ‘How Great thou Art‘ playing in my head.   I can probably blame my grandfather, Reg, for that as I’m told he played a concertina (similar to this) enthusiastically and rather badly for most of his adult life and apparently those hymns were in his repertoire.

I’ve found out today that this family of instruments, also called ‘squeezeboxes’, all work by compressing air with bellows and then forcing it over reeds. The reeds vibrate at different pitches creating the sound that we hear.  Depending on the combination of keys and buttons pressed by the player, the air can be forced over several reeds at once so harmonies, chords and a bass line can all be played at once.  The more pressure is created by the air, the more notes can be played loudly at the same time.

Pressure and worship.

You probably can’t avoid pressure in life, (and it probably wouldn’t be good for you if you did). But like this accordion player: you do have the choice about what you do with it.  On a squeezebox you can make an awful cacophony… or by pressing the right buttons you can turn that pressure into worship.  It still might not sound all that beautiful to listen to: but it will be worship.

My favourite example of this is Psalm 22. It begins with David under pressure and wondering why he’s been abandoned. His description of his circumstances is pretty colourful but my attention is caught today by this line: ‘My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs’ (Psalm 22:16 NLT).  I know that feeling. As though a hundred little things, and one or two really big things are snapping away at my heels. Stressful, painful, tiring, everyday pressure. And yet David seems to manage to choose to turn that pressure into worship. A few lines later he declares:  ‘All who seek the Lord will praise him, their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy’ (22:26).

Of course you can’t just pick up an Accordion and instantly know how to use it.  You have to learn, and then you have to practise.  But it’s a challenge isn’t it?  To take whatever is causing stress, pain or pressure in your life and choose to learn how to turn that pressure it into worship.

 

accordion

 

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In amongst all the everyday stresses something rather wonderful happened this week. Postcards from Heaven – The Book was published on January 22nd.  Already I’m hearing stories of God speaking life and grace into people’s hearts who have received a copy as a gift. So a huge thank you to those of you who have bought it and given it away!

If you haven’t got one yet:

If you’re in the UK I recommend getting a copy direct from the publisher here

or those of you in the US or Australia can buy a copy here

If you’ve already read the book and  it would be really helpful if you have time to find the book on Amazon or Waterstones and write a review!  Thanks

 

 

 

 

Harvest in Unexpected Places

It’s that time of year again when the kids are rifling through my cupboards trying to find not-out-of-date tins to take in to school for Harvest.  It brings back sharp memories of carrying a shoebox full of rice pudding and tinned carrots and leaving it at the front of a chilly church  amongst piles of similar offerings and wondering which mother had time to make bread in the shape of a bushel of wheat.

Harvest Festival for me is a time not only of being thankful for all that we have, but also of anticipating future fruitfulness and harvest in my life.  It’s reminded me of this postcard from last year and I thought I’d share it again today – hopefully it will inspire you too to expect a harvest in unexpected places.

It was 1917 and as blockaded Britain was slowly running out of food, the government announced that everyone needed to start growing their own supplies using whatever land was available. Suddenly, in cities all over the country people began digging up lawns, roadside verges, parks and other bits of unused land and turning them into allotments.   What had been ornamental or neglected or not-thought-of became places of harvest that produced food for a hungry nation.

Perhaps most of us have areas of our lives where we might expect to be fruitful.  But there are times when God turns those expectations upside down.  Sometimes when we feel like we are all out of resources, God produces a harvest in unexpected places – places we wouldn’t even have considered looking for it.

The garden fork in this postcard is a tool for turning over the earth.   Transforming a neat tidy lawn into a vegetable patch is a job that requires a lot of digging; turning over; planting of seeds and patience.  It strikes me as quite a challenging process!

It’s not an easy statement to make: “yes Lord, come and dig me over”.  You can’t pray that quickly or without some thought.  It’s a deeply courageous prayer.    But I know that without a doubt that a moment of surrender is the beginning of the process of new fruitfulness.    A veg patch never looks ‘finished’, it doesn’t have neat edges, may not be approved of by the neighbours, but it does something wonderful – it provides food for the hungry.

Today might be a good time to ask God what part of your life he wants to use to grow a fresh harvest in (and what that harvest or provision might look like!).  It might be a talent, a gift, a place, a group of friends, an opportunity… or something else altogether.  It may surprise you what He says!

Perhaps you look at this picture and recognise that you are already ‘in the process’ – that earth is being exposed and turned over,  stones being sifted out.  Or perhaps you are aware  of your area of your life which have been dug over and planted with seeds, prepared for something – but you’re not sure yet what shape that harvest is going to take.  Ask God about it today, but rest in the truth that He is the Lord of the Harvest, and that if we surrender to the process, He will bring it about.

Jesus
Lord of the Harvest
Be with me today
as I offer you the land of my life
the fields, gardens, paths and verges
Show me
the places I overlook
break up old soil
and plant new seeds
so that I may see your harvest
in unexpected places.

A Harvest from Unexpected Places

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