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I’ve been thinking about generosity and abundance a lot in the last few days.  I love the invitation in scripture to enter into cheerful giving – that means it is possible for generosity to be attached to a whole lot of fun and joy.  Many of us may not feel the words fun and generosity belong in the same sentence, but the more I enter heaven’s invitation to live generously, the more i’m convinced that it has the power to inject unreasonable levels of joy into our lives.

Here are my favourite two reasons why:

Firstly, as we give generously, stretching ourselves and our means, we get to let go of the reality of the seen realm and tap into the greater reality of the unseen realm where there are limitless resources and storehouses that never run dry.  The fact is that if we allow our bank balances to have the final word on how we live and give, then they will have just that, the final word.  We will have tied ourselves to them for our provision, for our adventure, for our blessing. But if we allow heavenly storehouses the final word on how we live, on how we give, then our bank balances will not have a defining hold on us and we’ll be allowing a far greater, richer reality to resource our lives.

Secondly, when we give generously it is one of the moments when the expression ‘Like Father, like daughter (or son)’ shines most brightly, for our heavenly Papa is the most lavishly generous being in existence – He is the prodigal Father – and we can never out-give Him, but we certainly can look like Him as we live open handedly. Everything He does is an overflow of abundant generosity. It makes me smile to think i can look a whole lot like Him as i enter into the adventure of giving.

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Just a quick thought today –

Recently I was reading Matthew 6 and something so simple yet incredibly encouraging jumped out at me.  If we don’t understand the Father, we’ll think we have to bring something ‘worthy’ to make Him listen to us – in Matthew 6, Jesus talks about reliance on clever and long winded language.  But in reality, if we are basing His listening to us on anything we have to offer – be it gift, strength of faith, impressive eloquence or anything else we can think of, then we simply have not understood Him.

As He teaches, Jesus here makes a step from the incorrect belief of gentiles that long prayers lead to being heard and simply says instead – your Father knows.  Your Father is listening not because of anything you can bring.  He listens simply because He is your Papa and He knows.  He knows your needs.  He gets it and He gets you.  He’s listening not because of what you can convince Him of.  He’s listening because of who He is.  He is your Papa and His heart is for you.  A little further on in Matthew 6, Jesus teaches against worry and does so again on the basis of relationship.  He is your Father.  And you are valuable to him.  Not because of what you do, but because in making you His child He gave you value.  Full stop.

So today as you go to Him – whether in hurried prayers in the midst of thousands of demands, or whether in hours of glory and soaking up His goodness, understand this:  He’s listening to you.  Not because of anything you are or aren’t doing, but simply because He’s your Papa and that’s what He does.  He really is just that kind.

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For a little while now i’ve been thinking over the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  It’s an epic story – almost unbelievable – yet it really happened!  My focus hasn’t been so much about Jesus and the incredible miracle He performs, but rather His disciples and their role in the whole thing.  I’ve been trying to put myself in their shoes, trying to imagine how they felt as Jesus asked them to do something so completely ridiculous as feed a crowd of more than five thousand people with someone’s pitiful packed lunch.

Can you imagine it?  Matthew 14 tells us that Jesus and the crowd are in a desolate place – there’s no hope of relying on anything in that setting to bail the disciples out when Jesus asks them to feed the crowd.  The disciples are faced with thousands of hungry people… a crowd that are so hungry that they may well be tipping into the well known phenomenon of hanger (the meeting point between hunger and anger!) at any moment!  And as they face this crowd that may well turn into a rioting mob pretty soon, Jesus is asking them to do the impossible.

Just at the point when things probably seemed like they couldn’t get much worse, Jesus gets everyone to sit down so there’s an increasing sense of expectation, prays over five loaves and two fish and then breaks them up and hands the pieces (which when divided by 12 can’t have been much more than one handful each) to his disciples.  At that point the disciples must have been looking into their hands and then looking up at the crowd wondering what on earth Jesus expected them to do.  Was this some kind of painful, un-funny joke?  It’s actually quite an embarrassing moment if you think about it.  They must have been so nervous as they made the walk from Jesus towards the crowd, they must have been calculating how many crumbs they could break their handful into and wondering how many people they could possibly placate before the crowd would start rioting in disappointment and frustration.  Surely not an easy moment for them.

I wonder at what point the multiplication happened.  At what point did the disciples realise that the pieces just kept remaining in their hands even though they were handing them out.  Please note that there’s no mention that the disciples had any help carrying the food which presumably means that the multiplication didn’t happen all in one go at the beginning so that the disciples knew there would be enough for everyone, but rather must have happened in the process of them walking from one person to another which meant that they required faith to keep going until the very last person’s needs were met.

It’s remarkable to me that they did it.  That they agreed to Jesus’ crazy plan.  That they obeyed even when what they held in their hands right up until the very last second was painfully small.  The fact that they did walk from Jesus to the crowd with such meagre supplies tells me that they must have been convinced enough about Jesus’ heart for them and ability to do something amazing (although my guess is they had no idea what kind of miracle was about to take place), to make them walk forward into the crowd, rather than finding the quickest route out of that desolate place.  The disciples must have believed that Jesus was for them.  That Jesus wouldn’t set them up for failure in such a horrible elaborate way.  That Jesus wouldn’t ask them to do something if He didn’t have some kind of plan up His sleeve.  They must have had enough faith in who Jesus was for them to empower them to walk towards an otherwise pretty certain beating up.

I’m so inspired by what the disciples did.  At the beginning of this year as i’m looking at a busy diary and fresh challenges (some fun and some definitely not so fun!) and increasing demands on what i already feel are meagre resources, i’m provoked by the faith of the disciples to meet the challenge head on.  They knew Jesus enough to know that He isn’t mean.  They knew Him enough to know that He isn’t a fan of cruelly setting up to fail those who trust in Him.  They knew Him enough to know that He cared about them and that when He put them in crazy situations it was because He wanted to do through them equally crazy miracles!

So, at the beginning of 2017, as i look at the packed lunch in my hand and feel the nudge of Jesus to walk forward and feed thousands with what surely is not enough, i’m challenged to believe that His heart is for me.  That He loves me.  That He’s not setting me up for some kind of spectacular defeat, but rather catapulting me into the wonderful realm of the miraculous.  I’m provoked to press myself ever deeper into His heart for me so that the crazy situations i find myself in, the situations that feel horribly overwhelming, suddenly become opportunities for increase and Kingdom breakthrough.

What resources are you holding in your hand at the start of this year and what situations are you facing that far outweigh your ability? Rest assured, it’s a set up.   A wonderful, God-filled, Kingdom-favoured set up.  He’s going to do the impossible and He’s going to do it through you.

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Do You Not Care
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This morning i was thinking again of the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat in the midst of a storm.  Remember that one?  Jesus is fast asleep while his disciples are understandably terrified as the storm rages all around them and the waves are breaking in, filling the boat.  They think they’re going to drown and are wondering why Jesus isn’t doing anything to help.  They find him asleep and wake him with these words, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4:38)  And Jesus amazing, wonderfully gets up, speaks to the storm and suddenly everything is quiet and still again.  He then turns to the disciples and asks them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (Mark 4:40).

Often i have read these words and thought that Jesus was asking the disciples why they didn’t have faith that He could calm the storm, but i’m not so sure that that’s what He’s getting at anymore.  I think that Jesus’ question as to whether the disciples had faith is in relation to their earlier question – ‘Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?’ – which in fact was a question of love not of power.  They weren’t asking whether Jesus could calm the storm, they were asking if He cared enough to do so.  ’Do you not care that we are perishing?!’… ‘Here we are in the midst of a storm and you are fast asleep as if you don’t care enough about us to do anything about the waves that are about to overwhelm us!’  And Jesus turns to them, having quieted the storm, and asks them why they are afraid and if they still have no faith.

If 1 John 4:18 is right, perfect love drives out all fear.  Jesus sees the disciples are afraid and the reason is that they have not fully understood His perfect love and so in the midst of the storm, fear rushes in because their hearts are crying out with questions about His heart and whether it has enough affection for them to meet them in their most vulnerable space.

I wonder how many who read this today are finding themselves in the midst of a tumultuous storm.  I wonder how many of us in our brokenness are crying out with questions about God’s heart towards us.  There’s nothing quite like the combination of a storm and a sleeping God (or so we assume because of His seeming lack of breaking through) to make us question whether we really are that important to Him and whether He cares all that much for us.  The enemy loves to jump into the boat with us and shout in our faces that God doesn’t really love us and the storm is proof of it.  Oh but don’t listen to the enemy – he is a liar.  His only intention is to deter you from your destiny.  Let me encourage you, even in the midst of the most terrifying of storms: GOD LOVES YOU.  His heart is full to overflowing with affection for you.  He sees you.  He hears you.  Even in the midst of your storm, He is putting in motion His plan to make all things work for your good and has dispatched His goodness and mercy to be your unwavering companions.  Take heart, stand tall, lift up your weary head and let the warm rays of His steadfast love light your way ahead.

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KeepOnWalking

This week i’ve been reading through the account of Abraham and Sarah and their crazy radical challenging life.  What’s struck me is that the Bible’s account of their story doesn’t really start with them but starts with Abraham’s father Terah.

In Genesis 11 we’re told that Terah had three sons, one of whom (Haran) died while they were in their homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans.  We’re then told that Terah set off from Ur to go to the land of Canaan but when he came across a place called Haran he settled there instead and never made it any further into his adventures.  I wonder if he settled in Haran because of the son that he had lost of that same name?

It makes me think of how crucial it is for us as the people of God to process our hurts and disappointments well.  If we don’t learn to fully deal with the hurts of our past, we may like Terah be tempted to settle in places where we end up keeping those wounds alive rather than walking free into the crazy wonderful destiny that God has marked out for each of us.

The beautiful thing about this story is that God redeems what is lost for Terah and calls Abraham to continue journeying to where his father had started out – and promises all of that land as an inheritance for him and his offspring.  Oh the kindness of our God – giving to Abraham what Terah had hoped for all those many years ago.

Let me encourage you (and me!) today: let’s be quick to bring our wounds and hurts before Jesus and allow Him to bring healing and restoration to our hearts and minds so that we are a people who walk fully free of our pasts, empowered to keep pressing forward into all the adventures that God has promised us.

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Over the last couple of days i’ve been reminded of some well known verses in the book of Ezekiel (chapter 37) where God takes the prophet to a valley filled with the bones of an army.  It’s a valley that represents utter hopelessness and total defeat – you only see a graveyard of an army if that army was defeated.

And yet, into this hopeless place of defeat, God speaks to Ezekiel and tells him to prophesy to these dead, defeated, dry bones and tell them to live.  And of course, as Ezekiel obeys the promptings of God and makes prophetic declarations of life even in this valley of defeat and failure, life springs up and what was once silenced by the enemy is restored to full strength and glory.

I wonder how many of us carry the shame of our previous defeats?  Moments where we failed to be all that we’re created to be.  Moments where opportunities – so promising – were missed and seemingly forever lost.  I wonder if for some of us, God is calling us to revisit these valleys in our hearts where we have grieved over dry bones, and is prompting us to declare life into the places where we’ve fallen before.

What strikes me about the passage in Ezekiel is that we’re told there were very many bones – a vast army defeated – and that they were very dry – this defeat had happened quite a while ago.  I believe some of us are being called to revisit the places we would see as our biggest defeats, our most epic failures, and into those many bones that may have been in the valleys of our hearts for quite some time, we are to start prophesying flesh and breath and life.

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave is very much alive in us and still loves to bring dead bones back to life.  In a Kingdom where the grave itself holds no permanence and weakness is the perfect platform for power, defeats and failures are merely opportunities for God to show His nature as restorer of what is broken all over again.  Let Him in, excavate those dry bones and let Kingdom power break out to make the valleys shake with the sounds of life once again.

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ButGod

It’s been a few months now that i’ve been living in the ‘But God…’ space.  You may not call it what i do, but i can bet that you’ve lived in that space too at some point or another.  It’s the space where all your circumstances seem to be completely opposite to what God has promised you.  It’s the point of tension between what your world looks like and what God has said it should look like.  It’s not an easy space to live in.

And when i’m in that space, i find the words ‘But God…’ trip off my tongue so frequently.  ‘But God, why are you letting this happen?!’… ‘But God, don’t you remember what you’ve said?’… and on and on my questions go.  Initially my ‘But God…’ questions were not questions of faith but rather questions of complaint.  Questions which at the heart of them contained doubt as to whether God cared about what He’d said and what was going on in my life.  But then i read some words in Genesis 32 which changed the ‘But God…’ question for me.

In Genesis 32 we see Jacob who has been called by God to go back to the land of his fathers hearing some seriously frightening news that his brother Esau (who Jacob previously cheated out of his father’s blessing) is on his way to meet him with 400 men by his side.  Not news that Jacob wanted to hear at all!  So when he hears the news, this is what Jacob prays –

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Here’s Jacob obeying the call of God and trusting His promise to him and suddenly he hears terrifying news.  News that stole every last bit of courage for his home-coming out of him.  News that filled him with fear as he realised that he may never make it to his homeland given that Esau was on his way to meet him and presumably was not particularly impressed by the wrongs Jacob had committed against him.  As Jacob stood bang in the middle of the point of tension between what He’d heard God say to him and what his circumstances seemed to be screaming at him (i.e. TURN AROUND AND RUN AND SAVE YOURSELF!), he began to pray a ‘But God…’ prayer, but not one that was steeped in doubt bur rather in faith –

But you said, ‘I will surely do you good…’’ (verse 12) (italics mine)

Jacob stood in the ‘But God…’ space and chose to make it a place of courage, a place of faith.  He reminded himself (and God!) of the goodness promised him and then refused to obey what his circumstances were telling him to do.  He refused to turn around.  He refused to give up.  He made his home in the ‘But God…’ space.  But God had promised to surely do him good, so onwards he would go.

I wonder what promises God has spoken over you that your circumstances are trying to get you to turn away from?  I wonder whether you are listening to the discouraging voice shouting in your ear ‘Turn around! You’ve got it wrong! Go back to where it was safe!’ or whether you’re allowing the still small voice to wash over you with ever increasing certainty, ‘But You said you will surely do me good.’

God has promised that His goodness and mercy will follow you all of the days of your life.  Into the wind, into the waves, into the heart of the storm they will follow you. Don’t give up.  Don’t turn around.  Onwards into his promises let us go, choosing to make our home in the ‘But God…’ space until all the other things fade away and what He has promised unfolds in all its brightness before our eyes.

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Recently i was reading through Ephesians 5 and came across this verse that really impacted me –

‘… instead [of filthy or foolish talk] let there be thanksgiving’ (Ephesians 5:4)

The Message translation puts it like this: ‘Thanksgiving is our dialect’.

I like that. I am created to be a woman who is fluent in thanksgiving. A woman who is aware of her good, good Papa in all circumstances so is able to speak the language of gratitude irrespective of my surroundings. A woman who finds that thanksgiving is instinctive – not something i have to actively think about but something that just comes out naturally.

Much like learning any language, it may be challenging to begin with and the language may not flow too easily from me. But, with enough intentionality, enough time given to practice and any language becomes increasingly instinctive.

I want thanksgiving to be instinctive for me.

A couple of weeks ago i read a Bill Johnson quote – “Complaining proves nothing but that you can hear the voice of the devil”.

Complaining is a practice completely at odds with thanksgiving. Complaining puts me in the slip stream of the devil’s ideas and intentions for my circumstance. Thanksgiving on the other hand is the language of heaven – constantly connecting me with the heart of my kind Papa who has shown His goodness to me time and again.

So here’s my challenge to you and to me – let’s be a people who start speaking the language of our home and let thanksgiving flow from our lips. Let us step out increasingly to see our intentionality lead to fluency. Let our natural response in all circumstances become the dialect of thanksgiving because we are a people who know that our Papa is with us and His goodness will be our ever present reality.

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In my quest to stop ‘playing it safe’ in life, i’ve been asking myself some hard questions about what i believe God has created me to do and how i’m positioning myself for it. It’s not good enough to fill our journals with prophetic words that people have given us and simply wait for them to happen. God invites our involvement. And whilst only God can bring the words to full fruition, our role is that we would position ourselves in faith for them and, crucially, when an offer of a compromise comes along, refuse to settle.

The Devil’s aim is to try to derail us from our prophetic destiny and to do so he often uses one of the three Ds:

Distraction –

If the devil can get you looking in any other direction, he will. Whether it be sin, or just getting busy with life, or even other ‘good’ pursuits – as long as it’s not the reason you were created, he’ll happily lead you there.

Discouragement –

He loves this one. Whether it be by intimidation or by causing delay, if the devil can he will try to sap all the courage from you so that you won’t have the heart left to pursue your destiny. Look at the life of David – he had to overcome both the in-your-face intimidation of Goliath and the long years of waiting in Saul’s shadow in order to step into the fullness of his destiny as King of Israel. Intimidation and delay both have one purpose in the mind of the devil: discouragement.

Diminishment –

If he can’t succeed in either of the above, he’ll go for a compromise to diminish your impact. His plan is one of containment – if you have to pursue your destiny, he’ll try to get you to stop at a lesser stage than the one you were created for. Look at Moses for this one. God tells him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and when he tells Pharaoh that, Pharaoh initially says no and then starts offering Moses a compromise instead –

Exodus 8 – ‘If it’s worshipping your God you’re after Moses, why don’t you just do that in this land? I’ll let you worship, but just stay in Egypt’

Exodus 10 – ‘Okay, okay, if you have to leave Egypt, why take all the bothersome women and children with you – they’ll only slow you down anyway – why don’t all you guys go alone instead?’

In both cases, the enemy’s intention was clear – if Moses insisted on pursuing his destiny, then an offer of a compromise would have to be made so that at least there would be a diminishing of the effect of his destiny.

I feel like often we are good at spotting the first two of the enemy’s tactics, but sometimes stumble at the last hurdle. Maybe we feel like close enough is good enough, or are nervous to hold out for the fullness of what God’s spoken – what if it doesn’t come to pass and we’re left with nothing to show for all our trouble? But let me tell you, both of those thoughts are whispers directly from the enemy’s camp. Don’t pay him any attention – he’s a liar!

Don’t lose heart! You were made for greatness and the enemy knows it. Keep fixing your eyes on Jesus, keep listening to the voices of those who have gone ahead all standing witness to the faithfulness of God. He who called you knows what He’s doing. Refuse to turn aside, refuse to let your knees get weak, refuse to settle for less than the full prize. Keep your eyes straight ahead, for just beyond the horizon, just beyond all the enemy’s scare tactics, you’ll see the sun in all its glory rising.

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Do you have a theme for your year? Every January i like to spend some time thinking, dreaming and praying to get a sense of what the year ahead is going to look like and to settle myself into a truth that i believe will be key for the challenges and adventures ahead – a theme for the year if you like.

For any of you who’ve been following this blog for a while now, you may remember that last year’s theme was God’s faithfulness – and boy did i need to return to that wonderful truth again and again as my husband and i said goodbye to loved ones, moved countries, took on new jobs, renovated a house, found new friends and had a gorgeous little baby boy! Faithful is certainly one of the words i’d use to describe my Papa God in 2015!

So, looking ahead for 2016, i’ve stumbled upon a new theme for a new year. This one’s going to require more courage from me. My theme for this year is ‘Playing by the Rules’. Now that may not sound like it will need much bravery to see it through, so let me try to explain –

In Ezekiel 11 God tells the Israelites

“You have not walked in my statutes, nor obeyed my rules, but have acted according to the rules of the nations that are around you.”

As i read this verse a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that we are all playing by someone’s rules. No matter how we live our lives, no matter how independent-minded or unusual we like to think of ourselves, the reality is each of us is living life either according to Kingdom rules or worldly ones – there is no other option.

The more i think about it, the more i can see how big a temptation it is for me to live by worldly rules – rules that dictate how i spend or save my money (usually selfishly and in accordance with my bank statement), rules that dictate how i interact with people (often seeking to please people so i will be liked), rules that dictate whether i take risks or not (failure is something to be feared so playing it safe is often deemed more ‘sensible’). The temptation to live by worldly rules is strong because it makes me feel more in control.

Playing by Kingdom rules is much more risky. Now, don’t get me wrong – when i mention Kingdom rules, i’m not talking about the 10 commandments. I’m talking values far deeper and far harder than 10 simple laws. I’m talking about outrageous, over-the-top love like Jesus modelled, even to my enemies. I’m talking extravagant generosity, for my finances are dictated by the unlimited resources of heaven and my Papa who loves a cheerful giver is my provider. I’m talking crazy faith that laughs in the face of risk – for faith pleases Him, not performance, and so the fear of failure need not have a hold over me anymore. I’m talking unreasonable joy and unshakable hope and mystifying peace.

So, you see, my theme of ‘playing by the rules’ is no easy task – it will take courage to live in the grace that will empower me to live according to these rules. But oh, i want to go all out in playing by them. I don’t want to play it safe any longer. I want to be outrageous and unreasonable and unshakable and risky. And i want to do it all to the glory of God.

How about you?

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