Dare to be different

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Last week I noticed that there were two pansy-like flowers growing out of different parts of the lawn. They were too oddly positioned to have been planted and I was intrigued about their unexplained appearance. Later that week, I then went to visit a friend 135 miles away, only to find a lone pansy-like flower growing in her garden too. Like any other time, when I come across re-occurring themes, I began to ponder what the Holy Spirit might be trying to teach me.

It made me think about objects and people being in places where they appear not to fit in, where they stick out like a sore thumb. The world seems to promote the need to live a carbon copy life, raising a generation of people who believe that in order to fit in, we always need to be picture-perfect and live ‘photoshopped’ lives ready for social media posts. I believe that as Christians we are called to be different; not just to go along with the norm, but to stand up, and at times stand out, for our beliefs. We can seek to be pioneers; the ones to raise our heads above the parapet and dare to be different. Jesus wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in, or go against the social norms of his time. The New Testament is full of accounts of times that Jesus went against the grain. How amazing if we could look to be more Christ-like in this area. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us about Jesus being a pioneer.

‘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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’

I love the word ‘pioneer’ and when I googled the definition I was really encouraged and fired up by what I found.

noun
– a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.
synonyms: frontiersman/frontierswoman, explorer, trailblazer, discoverer

– a person who is among the first to research and develop a new area of knowledge or activity.
synonyms: developer, innovator, groundbreaker, trailblazer, pathfinder, front runner, founder, founding father, architect, experimenter, instigator, avant-gardist, creator; spearhead

verb
– develop or be the first to use or apply (a new method, area of knowledge, or activity).
synonyms: develop, introduce, evolve, begin, launch, instigate, initiate, spearhead, institute, establish, found, give birth to, be the father/mother of, originate, set in motion, create, open up, lay the groundwork for, lead the way for, prepare the way for, lay the foundations of; blaze a trail, set the ball rolling, break new ground, make the first move

(See my post ‘A Bun Dance’ for more on my love of words. https://rubyslippergirl.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/a-bun-dance/)

In the bible, it tells us Jesus knew what his disciples would go through, and prayed for them, ‘I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ John 17:14-16 NIV

Despite not knowing where the flowers came from, I can still enjoy their beauty, even if, as much research suggests, they might just be weeds. Those flowers weren’t concerned that they were the only ones sprouting up in that area, they continued regardless. Recently, I decided to start a business, and whilst I have been supported, I can tell that there are some people who just don’t understand what I am doing, or show their ‘support’ in unconventional ways. As a reforming people pleaser, this has been hard to take, but God is teaching me to be bold, not to be so concerned with people’s opinions of me and to run with perseverance. This experience has taught me to try my best to build others up, even more so if they are kingdom building in a way which differs from mine. God has gifted us each individually and called us to live out his purpose in unique ways. Does it matter that the way I’m running for God looks different from the way you are? After all, our races are all marked out differently but we have one common goal.

‘So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.’ 1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV

Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Get to the core of the matter

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Recently I was gifted some peonies, but because I was in a rush, I left them in their wrapping and put them in a vase. A day or so later I went to unwrap them, only to find that they had started to wilt because they hadn’t been treated properly. To last longer, they needed their plant food, light and space in water. That’s what happens to us. When we try to follow others’ callings or suppress our gifting or don’t live out God’s best for us, we can end up wilting or feeling out of sorts, and being constrained, because we haven’t treated ourselves properly.

‘Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.’ (1 Corinthians 12:15-20 NIV)

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up with the image of an apple core in my head. Immediately, I thought about the core being the waste of the apple and how it was the flesh of the fruit that was the useful, important part. However, as I ruminated on this image more and more, the words ‘stored potential’ came to mind. I realised that it was the core, which contains the apple seeds, that carries the potential to birth new trees, and therefore new fruit, if they are planted. It made me think about how, often when everything has been stripped away in our lives, we get down to the stored potential within us. It’s more often when we are at our rawest, when we’ve been rocked by life events, that what we are really made of can come to light. It can be in these moments that we re-evaluate our lives and really begin to look at the things that God wants to do in and through us. That stored potential is within every one of us, but how many of us are tapping into that God-given potential? If we would just surrender our need to be in control or our feelings of insecurity which tell us that dream is impossible, He can begin to release those hopes and dreams that He has placed in every one of us, the ones that if we step out boldly, God can bring to fruition. The alternative is we leave those seeds of stored potential unplanted and suppressed within us, and chalk them up as unfulfilled dreams.

‘They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran.There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anakthere. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites,Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:26-33 NIV)

Think of a battery. It contains this power that will only be unleashed once it is in the correct environment, that is, an object which needs exactly that size and number of batteries. A battery still has the power within it if it is lying on the kitchen table, but that power is only useful when it is exactly where it is called to be. It’s not enough JUST to be full of stored potential, we’ve got to apply it as well.

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land,because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14: 7-9 NIV)

We are all full of stored potential- use yours.

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Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff!

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Photo credit: Deposit Photos/ ronleishman

‘God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.’ (MSG)

‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,’ Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

Recently at work I organised a seaside afternoon, which involved turning our school playground into a seaside, complete with beach volleyball court and paddling pools. What I hadn’t thought about was the fact that the numerous inflatables I had ordered would need blowing up- manually. On realising that it would be me huffing and puffing away, I began the mammoth task of blowing them up, and swiftly came to the conclusion it would take a lot longer than I expected! A colleague happened to be passing my classroom door and stopped to find out what I was doing. She then advised that she believed the PE department might have a hand pump that would make my task a little easier. I dutifully but begrudgingly went along to said PE department, not really believing they would be able to help, and asked if they had a handheld ball pump that I could borrow. The teacher replied that she didn’t have a hand pump, but they did have an electric pump, and proceeded to tell me all about the different settings and nozzles that could be used for an optimum experience. It far exceeded anything that I could have asked for or hoped for!

This reminded me that we sometimes go to God and ask him for a little, not really expecting him to come through, and then are amazed when he outdoes our asking. Not that we are meant to treat God like a vending machine of our deepest desires, but I feel God would say, ‘Be more extravagant in your asking – and your expectations!’ After all, He is the God of the impossible! Maybe people who have been disappointed in the past, when God hasn’t answered a prayer in the way that they wanted, have become really near-sighted in their asking. At times like these, we need to remember that He is the God of miracles. He is the God of the parting of the Red Sea. He is the one who can raise from the dead. He is the one who can make the seemingly impossible possible.

‘If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ Matthew 7:11 (NIV)

Whilst writing this blog, I realised that it is rare for me to ask people for help or to do something for me, mostly, I think, because of a fear that they will say no. Everyone is entitled to their no, but think about what we might be missing out on, just because the fear of a no stops us from asking. I’ll admit I probably use this same measure with God.

The electric pump episode also convicted me about trying to do things in my own strength. I was hesitant to ask the PE department for help, thinking it would be quicker to do it myself, and convincing myself that they wouldn’t have the equipment I needed. I was, of course, spectacularly proved wrong when I conceded. We are not expected to do it alone, that’s why we’ve been placed in community and why we’ve been given power in the Holy Spirit. I wonder how many of us there are that God is waiting for us to come to the end of ourselves and concede we can’t do it alone before He steps in and works in us and the situations we face. I wonder how richly He is waiting to bless us if we would just let Him in.

‘I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.’ John 10:10 (MSG)

 

Bloom where you’re planted

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I was checking my emails recently when the words ‘Bloom where you’re planted’ popped up in the subject line of one message. It immediately jumped out at me as I’ve been exercising my green fingers in our school garden with some very willing volunteers. We’ve had highs and lows; from when our early seedlings were killed by a late frost, to seeing the fruit of our labour as our vegetables begin to grow.

Before we started growing anything, we had to remove the weeds and wildflowers that had taken root in the planter. Once we’d done this, we began to sow seeds and plant seedlings. What I hadn’t realised was how deep the roots of some of these wildflowers went, and how inadequately we had pulled them out in the first place. Even now, as the vegetables are flourishing, we have to weed out the wildflowers so that they don’t choke the vegetable plants. Every time our gardening club meets, I have to help the children discern what is weed and what is vegetable plant before they dig everything up in their eagerness to keep our vegetable patch tidy. How like real life that is! When we try to muddle through life on our own, we can make our own plans and potentially miss what God has for us, inadvertently pulling up the good things that God wanted to plant and nurture in us. Proverbs 16:9 tells us, ‘In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.’ We need an expert gardener to teach us what needs to remain planted, and what needs to be pulled up and discarded. Thankfully for us, we have an expert gardener and the Holy Spirit to help us discern.

John 15:1-8 says, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory,that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’

The word ‘bloom’ reminded me to seek to thrive in my current position, not just survive. It encouraged me to strive to live my own life to the full, and not try to emulate someone else’s life, or bloom where someone else is planted. When I thought about the word ‘planted’, it spoke of God’s intentionality and his power; that he knows exactly where we are, and what we are facing. Nothing surprises him. In Isaiah 22:22, we read, ‘I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.’ We also learn that, like Esther, he has placed us, ‘for such a time as this.’ Being planted also spoke of being deeply rooted in God, and knowing that where all else fails, we can trust him because he is steadfast.

For me, reading the line, ‘Bloom where you’re planted’ tied in with finding a playing card lying on the pavement whilst walking home the other day. It spoke to me about using the cards you’re dealt in life, about not waiting until everything is perfect before you start moving into what God has for you. You may not have a great hand, but God can use what you have for great things. The playing card that I found on the floor had been discarded or misplaced by someone else, but it became my treasure, in that, it taught me a lesson.

When our plans don’t go how we want them to, it’s easy to give up, or want to give up, but God wants to use our mess for someone else’s good. The saying, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ came to mind as I thought about writing this. Sometimes God wants to use your pain to help someone else; what we would happily throw away is exactly what God would use to speak through. When we look in the bible, we can see that time and time again God used people’s pain for good. He did it with Hannah, with Esther, with Abraham and Sarah and he did it with his own son, when he allowed Jesus to die on the cross as a sacrifice for each and every one of us.

I keep coming across tangled, weed-like undergrowth with beautiful flowers blooming within them, which truly reinforces that message of ‘bloom where you are planted’ for me. I feel like God would say, ‘It’s no accident where you are today. Bloom and be the sweet smelling fragrance wherever you are, for however long you are there, whether it’s where you would have chosen or not.’

Recently, when my plans fell through, I was annoyed, but the more I thought about it, I began to be encouraged to wonder what God wants to do in and through me here and now. It doesn’t mean I won’t move in the future, but for the meantime, for reasons I don’t yet know or understand, God wants me right where I am.

Psalm 33:11 says, ‘But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.’

 

New Vision- seeing is believing

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“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Luke‬ ‭24:31‬ NIV

I had put off going to the opticians for ages, despite the fact my vision had gone blurry at times and I had had a few headaches; I was anxious they were going to tell me there was something medically wrong, so I just didn’t go. (I know- I am the queen of procrastination and burying my head in the sand- it’s something I am working on!)

A company sent me a letter telling me I was due an eye test, so I eventually plucked up the courage and went. All was fine, but I was lambasted by the optician who told me I hadn’t been for nearly 5 years (!) and that my prescription had changed. She issued me some new glasses, and warned me that wearing them would seem strange at first. When I collected the new glasses a few days later, I tried them on in the shop, but didn’t notice any difference. It wasn’t until I went outside that I noticed the difference. Everything suddenly seemed so much clearer, closer and sharper; people felt like they were looming close to me and I found it difficult to judge the distance of objects. It was a really surreal experience!

Seeing through those new glasses reminded me of the new vision that God gives us through the Holy Spirit. When we are in a comfortable, secure environment, like church, it seems normal and safe, but it is only once we go out into the world and we can see, that any dangers that seemed to be our focus before can be put into perspective. The new glasses changed my perspective: things which had seemed further away, without my new glasses, suddenly appeared to be in the forefront of my vision when I put them on. And so it is when you become a Christian, things that seemed like a huge problem in your life can begin to pale into insignificance, and issues which seemed insurmountable, eventually shrink to problems which can be solved with God’s help. I no longer have the eye problems that I had experienced, when I am wearing my new glasses, but I have to keep wearing them. My enhanced vision will only last as long as I wear my glasses. When I take them off, I won’t suddenly start seeing with perfect 20/20 vision. So it is with our faith. This is exactly how our problems and fears can seem when we don’t take them to God and ask him to work in them, and us. When we take our eyes of Jesus and put them back on our problems, our faulty, blurry vision will return. If you are a Christian, it is impossible to see clearly apart from Jesus.

God isn’t a vending machine style God who we should just expect to fix our problems then leave us alone. Once you let Jesus into your life, he will permeate every area of our lives- whether that was our initial intention or not- because he loves us enough to want to change us for the better.

Sight is a recurring theme in the bible. We are told stories of Jesus healing the blind (Mark 8:22-25, John 9, Luke 18 and Matthew 9) and we are also told to ‘walk by faith and not by sight’. (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV)

The Holy Spirit also gives us a chance to see God more clearly at work in our lives. God has always been there working in us, it might just be that because we have had the wrong prescription on our glasses, our vision has been more fixed on our problems or fears. As Christians, once we’ve been given our new (faith) glasses, we can begin to see more clearly where God is at work in our lives, and it will also make it easier to see the areas that we perhaps have kept hidden away from God, and need to surrender to him. On the other hand, it may simply be easier to see a new direction that God is taking us in. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong in our lives, and how that is impeding us from moving forward properly, with new glasses, our vision can be readjusted to focus on Jesus, and see him at work more clearly. This makes me imagine God as being like an all powerful optician.

In the bible, God is given several names which reflect the character traits he exhibits to different people. One of these names, EL Roi means ‘the God who sees me’. God always sees us, even when our vision is faulty and we can’t focus properly on him, or when we are in the depths of darkness. However, he doesn’t want us to keep living in this way. Just like during an eye test, when the optician asks you to wear a test frame and tries out different lenses and asks you to read letter charts to test the strength of lenses that each eye needs, God can allow us to go through tests and trials to reshift our focus, strengthen our faith, and ensure that our vision is the best it can be.

There is a Jimmy Nash song that came to mind while I was writing this, which says, ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone/ I can see all the obstacles in my way/ Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind/ It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright sunshiny day.

Recently, we celebrated Easter, and part of that Easter story is when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples, although they did not immediately recognise him. Most of us will know the story of Doubting Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus had risen until he saw his scars first hand. It was also following his resurrection that Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with them, as they went out and spread the gospel. “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke‬ ‭24:49‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Click here to listen to a song about being able to see once eyes have been opened:

Amazing Grace by Chris Tomlin

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=YDYG77NX

Because you’re worth it

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Hebrews 12:1 (NIV) ‘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’

At the start of the year, I challenged myself to run a half marathon and despite not classing myself as a long distance runner, I diligently set out to train for it. (See ‘The best made plans’ https://rubyslippergirl.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/the-best-made-plans/) While most people were encouraging and enthusiastic about my challenge, I experienced some people who on the surface I felt doubted my ability to rise to the challenge. One asked a friend whether I’d be able to keep up on a training run, while another who was also running, drew comparisons and expressed his concern that I might ‘beat him’ and used his desire to finish before me as an impetus to keep training. However, rather than dissuading me, it spurred me on, and made me realise just how far I’ve come in finding my identity in God. Even a year ago, if someone had expressed doubt over some of my plans, or drawn unfavourable comparisons, it would have left me feeling defeated and deflated, and I probably would have doubted my ability to complete that race.

It reminded me of the ten spies who were sent out to go and explore the promised land ahead of the Israelites and their reaction to what they had seen, versus the reaction of Joshua and Caleb, who had also witnessed the same thing.

Numbers 13: 31-33 says ‘But the men who had gone with him said, “We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!” So they began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored is one that devours those who live there. All the people we saw there are very tall. We saw Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak are Nephilim.) We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.”

While Numbers 14:5-9 (NIV) says, ‘Immediately, Moses and Aaron bowed with their faces touching the ground in front of the whole community of Israel assembled there. At the same time, two of those who had explored the land, Joshua (son of Nun) and Caleb (son of Jephunneh), tore their clothes in despair. They said to the whole community of Israel, “The land we explored is very good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. This is a land flowing with milk and honey! Don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. We will devour them like bread. They have no protection, and the Lord is with us. So don’t be afraid of them.”

Joshua and Caleb knew God’s character, what he was capable of, and they knew who they were in God. Those are definitely attributes to aspire to.

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t, if God has said you can. The Israelites might have missed out on the Promised Land because of the opinions expressed by a few. Which of God’s promises might you miss out on because of the opinions of a few?

In my post ‘T(wit t)who do you think you are’ (https://rubyslippergirl.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/twit-twho-do-you-think-you-are/) I shared a little about my journey to find my identity and worth in God.

My worth

My worth isn’t found in my clothes,
And it’s not in the fluctuations of the scales.
It’s not to be found in my appearance,
Or when the world tells me I’ve failed.

My worth isn’t found in others,
Their opinions, their actions or words.
It isn’t to be found in a hobby or a job,
Or in times I’ve suffered let-downs or hurts.

My worth isn’t found in status updates or tweets,
It isn’t in how many likes I receive.
It isn’t changeable whether I’m elated or deflated,
And it isn’t dependent on what I achieve.

It isn’t to be found in relationship drama,
It isn’t in unrequited love.
It surpasses all human knowledge and understanding,
And begins with the One from above.

I know I’m fearfully and wonderfully made,
I know I’m more precious than rubies and gold.
I know that though earthly riches may fade,
My worth is always to be found in the Lord.

(Anon)

Be footloose and let it shine

820‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.’ Psalm 119:105

As Christians, God’s word should lead our feet; the way we walk, the direction we go in life and the work we do on His behalf and how we do it.

I hate feet! I think it’s the thought of all those gnarled toes, corns and verruccas, hard skin and long toenails that could be lurking in people’s socks that put me off! Such is my dislike of feet, that I shudder whenever I think of them, and have resorted to wearing flip flops whenever I have to use public showers.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that those who spend a lot of time standing or walking, therefore putting repeated pressure on their feet, are the ones whose feet are likely to need TLC. One antidote to unsightly feet is a pedicure, where a professional will slough off the dead, hard skin, leaving you with baby soft undersoles. If you’ve ever been for a pedicure, they usually suggest that you wear flip flops afterwards, so as not to ruin the pedicurist’s hard work. It’s the same with our faith walk. If we don’t spend time walking out our faith, we won’t develop. Equally, every so often we need to rest and be restored. The more hard work has gone in, the more developed that hard skin on our feet will be. Having baby soft undersoles may look nice, but as soon as the feet are put through any intense work, if there is not a protective layer, it is going to be painful. You don’t want the feet that are fresh from a pedicure, but their owner is cautious because they don’t want to smudge their nail polish. Neither do you want the feet that are on a safe, protective surface, where the owner is fearful of what they may come into contact with.

Anyone who plays netball regularly can tell tales of feet that have been battered around inside trainers, feet that have been stepped on, as well as lost toe nails, injured muscles, bones and ligaments. As they weather the storm, your feet develop hard skin, to protect them from pressure. Despite the risk of injury while playing netball, I always went back for more the following week because what could happen to my feet didn’t outweigh the pleasure of playing. In the same way, the pressure and pain that can sometimes come with faith doesn’t override the blessings that following Jesus gives.

Feet are an important part of our walk of faith. No matter what shape our feet are in, whether they are weather beaten and battered, they need to be ready for walking and ready to step out and be led by God’s word. Your feet will tell the tale of your walk.

Recently I was out running after work and needed to use a headtorch as it was already dark. I noticed that I had to aim my gaze close to my feet in order to see path ahead clearly. Every time I looked further ahead, the light became weaker and it was more difficult to see where I was going. It reminded me about my faith walk; that every time I look too far ahead and take my eyes off Jesus, or look to other things to ‘be a lamp to my feet’, I increase my risk of stumbling, but when I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, he is there to guide me.

‘Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.’ Psalm 119:105-112 NIV

The best made plans

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‘We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.’ Proverbs 16:9 NLT

Do you ever get the impression that God has an incredible sense of humour?

I recently signed up to run a race which is going to require regular training, so last night the super-organised part of me set out an in depth training schedule, detailing when exactly I was going to fit runs in around my other commitments. Imagine my horror when I woke up this morning to a weather warning, predicting snow and icy conditions for the exact period that I had planned to go running this evening. After getting annoyed, I did manage to adapt my workout, and see the funny side, that on Day One, my carefully put together schedule needed to go out of the window.

It reminded me that sometimes, in life, we make our intricate plans of how we think life is going to go, and struggle to accept it when God has other ideas. We try to shoehorn His will for our lives into our own will, or disregard it completely, therefore limiting what God has for us, and wants to do in and through us. However, when we surrender and stop trying to fight, we open ourselves up to receiving God’s best for us; which is so much better than anything that we could imagine for ourselves. The Bible is full of promises which resonate this.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, ‘However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”-
the things God has prepared for those who love him.’

In Isaiah 55: 8-9 it says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

“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.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

Orchidding me

 

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I’ve previously written about my two orchids (read my post entitled ‘Out of the ashes’) and am amazed that they have survived another year. It seems to be an annual occurrence that one or both of them comes close to death, but they have made it. Earlier this year, after managing to kill off all the flowers on my large orchid, I was relieved to see it again began to grow off-shoots and buds. Seeing the contrast every day between the old dead twigs and those new shoots fascinated me, and that image spoke to me about those areas in my life that were dying off, or where prayers hadn’t been answered, and those where I felt God was opening doors.
One morning back in November, I woke up and felt that I needed to cut off the dead branches. As I did so, I began to understand how easy it was in life to hold on to those old, comfortable ways, that perhaps were doing us no good, or had no value, but that we hold on to because of their familiarity. That relationship, that toxic friendship, that fear holding us back, that harmful self talk. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) says, ‘The old has gone, the new has come.’ It does not say, ‘The old hangs around and reminds us where we went wrong, while the new comes.’ This incidentally, is the message of grace and forgiveness that runs through the New Testament, that when Jesus died, he took our sins to reconcile us to God.“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In John 15, Jesus speaks about God as being a gardener.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:1-2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’m blown away by the fact that God doesn’t want dead wood in our lives, so he endeavours to cut it off, but we have to be open to him doing this. Even the good branches in our lives; the stepping out for Him, the listening for his voice, the using of gifts that he has given us, don’t escape his gaze. Every gardener knows that they need to prune if they wish to see better growth or fruit in the coming seasons. How much sweeter would life be if we didn’t continuously focus on what we don’t have, or what we had lost, rather than look forward in anticipation of what God wants to do in and through us?

What is God pruning in us right now? What is he calling you to leave behind in 2016 so that you can enjoy what is he birthing in you for 2017?

Christmas Presence

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Photo credit KE Photography

 

‘If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.’ Matthew 7:11 (NIV)

My nephew loves opening gifts. No matter his mood or state of tiredness, invite him to open a gift and he will perk up almost instantaneously. It doesn’t even matter whether it is his own birthday or that of another family member; as soon as he hears the distinctive rustle of wrapping paper, he will sidle up to you and ask, ‘Can I open it for you?’. I’m convinced he would take joy in opening even the most unappealing of gifts, such is his love of unwrapping. As a result of his love of unveiling presents, I love buying Christmas and birthday presents for him. It’s a joy to see his face when he opens a present that has been specially chosen for him. At this time of year, that is bound to be a scene played out all around the world.

While we’ve been busy preparing for the festivities of the past few days, how easy is it to forget the reason for the season? John 3:16 says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

That satisfaction that we get from seeing a loved one open, use and delight in a gift we have given them is exactly how I believe God feels; not only that he has given us the gift of his son, but that he also gives us each individual, personalised gifts, and he delights in seeing us step out and use the gifting he has placed within us. The amazing thing is that each gift is specifically chosen for us, and God cannot wait to see how we receive and use them.

This year, it has become increasingly apparent to me, that the only way to become good at something is to practise doing that exact thing. I have not always felt like running, but having entered a race, I know I need to. At times I have bargained with myself about going to the gym instead because it’s warm, or tried to wheedle out of running altogether; however, neither of these tactics will train my body in the right way for the task- only putting on my trainers and going for a run can do that. The only way I can get better at, and faster at, running is to run. Similarly, with our gifts, we can try to only do things that are within our comfort zone, rather than what God has asked us to do, especially if the latter requires some effort on our part; but that won’t grow us in our gifting. For example, if we are called to learn to play the violin, it is no good practising on the drums. We have to pick up the violin, go through that stage of sounding awful, making mistakes, playing wrong notes, stumbling and perhaps failing, before we get to the stage where we can pick up the violin and play a note-perfect piece.

As we go through the Christmas period and into a new year, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to explore our gifting and use it to bless those around us. Just as we would be disappointed if we had carefully selected a gift for a loved one, only to find it left unopened and unwanted under the Christmas tree, so too would God.

Remember: A God-given gift is for life, it’s not just for Christmas!

‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.’ 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)