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This last month I was one of the millions of people who sat and watched as Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle.  I love weddings in general, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint with all the pomp and ceremony and glamour, not to mention the incredible promises of covenant to one another.

I’ve been intrigued by the social media frenzy stirred up by Bishop Michael Curry’s passionate preaching.  Voices of admiration rang out almost as loudly as some in the christian camp booing him for not giving a full enough rendition of sin and its penalty.  Whilst I can understand where some are coming from, I’ve got to say I thought his message was timely, beautiful and profound.  As I understand from scripture, God is love – and so I’m not convinced that we can ever overemphasise the incredible world-transforming nature of it.

Listening to him preach and reading over some of what’s been commented has led me to scripture again to look at love.  I’ve been musing over Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 and am more convinced than ever that God’s heart for the world and for His people is to be totally and utterly overwhelmed and immersed in His love.

Here’s Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 –

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (NKJV)

A few thoughts on these verses –

  1. Let love be your foundation

Our roots are in love – that’s where everything starts in our journey with Jesus.  Sometimes I think we’ve tried to rewrite the Gospel so that God’s motivation toward us becomes more sin and judgement focussed, but the best known verse in the world remains true in direct opposition to this sort of thinking – it was because God so LOVED the world that He gave His son.  Let’s not muddy the waters by trying to get theologically clever.  Let’s be clear – the gospel story is rooted in one emotion and Paul’s prayer springboards from that place of rooting and grounding:  Love.  It’s not a flimsy fickle sort of love.  It’s not a here today, gone tomorrow kind of love.  It’s a world-transforming, cross-bearing, death defying sort of love.  And it’s on offer to you and me.

  1. Let love be your comprehension

Starting in love, Paul prays that we would be able to comprehend it.  That our minds will be stretched to understanding the incredible proportions of it.  That our thinking would be inundated with this emotion from the heart of the Father.  The gospel has you rooted in love, now let’s journey in understanding it, in filling our minds with the truth of it, in trying to grasp the extent of love that our Papa has for us.  It’s a study that is so vast that it blows our minds (and boxes of thinking) wide open.

  1. Let love be your experience

Paul’s words are provoking because though he prays that we comprehend the love of God in verse 18, he’s clear in verse 19 that it goes beyond comprehension.  No matter how much we study and learn of the love of God it will never be enough because it is so much greater than our minds can fathom.  Comprehending His love is a worthy and important pursuit, but it’s an insufficient one.  God wants to journey us so that the love that we start in and work to understand is a love that we enter into an experience of.  He wants to take us from being merely students to the wonderful privilege of being sons – the first focusses on learning, the second on relational experience.

Where are you in your journey with Jesus?  You may be someone who is trying to grapple with the idea of whether God really cares about you, or you may be just starting out on getting to know Jesus and are getting your feet planted firmly into His awesome love.  Wherever you are, let me encourage you today – His love is so beautiful to read about and think about, but was never intended to be just a theological concept.  He is inviting us to experience Him and His heart, to meet His affection which is beyond any box we’ll ever be able to hold in our minds, so vast that it is breath-taking in wonder and depth.  Let’s step in a little deeper today and invite Him to come and do what He has always intended – to show off with His love so that we come face to face with His affection and are undone in His presence once again.

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Just a quick confession at the start of this year:  I started a ‘read the Bible in one year’ plan.  I’m already behind.

BUT despite the fact that I’m finding it a challenge to get through all of the reading for each day (not really the point, is it?!) God’s been speaking to me wonderfully through the book of Genesis and has set me up with a thought that i’m trusting will shape this year.

I was reading the familiar creation story again and something exciting popped out at me.  As you read the account of God making the world, you see that God creates everything that fills the earth according to its kind – plants and trees ‘according to their kinds’ (1:11) and fish and birds ‘according to their kinds’ (1:21) and beasts and livestock and creepy crawlies ‘according to their kinds’ (1:25).  And then this recurring phrase suddenly changes when God makes man.  He doesn’t make humanity ‘according to its kind’ as you would expect from everything He’s created so far.  Rather, He creates humanity according to HIS kind – ‘in the image of God He created them’ (1:27).

You were created according to the God-kind.  You are not ‘only human’ as the enemy would love you to believe, putting a lid over you of what you can and can’t achieve.  There’s actually no such thing as being ‘only human’ in that sense, because humanity wasn’t created with the limitation of its kind – it was created with the impossibility of the God-kind.

At this time most years, I look ahead with both excitement and some sense of being overwhelmed as my diary is booked right until the end of the year already and there is so much that I’ve agreed to that feels far beyond me.  But since reading Genesis 1, I’ve had this recurring thought in my head – I’m not ‘only human’.  There is no such thing.  I’ve been made according to His kind and right from the beginning He designed me to think outside the box and to disagree with seeming impossibilities.  Yes, the fall broke that beautiful reality, but coming alive in Christ brings me right back to my original design and His original intention.

So, as you look ahead to this year, I want to encourage you to ignore the enemy’s condescending lies that you can’t possibly have what it takes because you are only human.  What a lot of nonsense!  You have been made according to the God-kind where His intention is for you to live outside the box of possibility and feasibility.  Everything in your make-up was designed to touch the impossible and shine with His glory on the earth.  Get ready 2018, you’re going to be the year of smashing impossibilities.

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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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‘Stop trying to be profound and awesome – it will get in the way of love’ – Shawn Bolz

I’m going to be honest with you – sometimes i find writing a blog really difficult. The trouble I have, is that with each new week and hopefully new blog post (i’m trying to keep them coming regularly… this in itself is proving tricky) i feel pressure to come up with something amazing and profound. Something world changing. Something awesome. And as it turns out, coming up with something like that is not so easy. And so i end up spending quite a lot of time staring at the computer screen hoping for some heavenly inspiration to hit me, writing occasionally and all in all wasting a lot of time.

Thankfully though, somewhere in between staring at the screen and practicing my typing skills, i start remembering the advice i heard Shawn Bolz give at a gathering for young leaders and slowly the pressure comes off and i can get back to focussing on what is really important – listening to what Heavenly Papa is saying, being undone by His love again (because everything He communicates is an overflow of who He is: Love) and learning how to overflow with that myself, to other people.

The thing about trying to be awesome is that at its root, it’s a self-serving motivation. Love, on the other hand, is other-centred. Sometimes, what i have to bring may not seem like much – it may not be the most witty or clever. It may not be the most profound. But what matters is, is it the overflow of love? Of course, this is not just about writing a blog. This is about how we live our lives, how we approach other people, how we think about people’s perceptions of us. When we’re sharing the good news of Jesus with people – what is our motivation? To come up with something clever? To win the argument? To have a story to tell our friends later? Or to pour out all of Heaven’s love on that person? When we pray for the sick and command healing to their bodies, what is our motivation? Are our hearts moved by a desire for Heaven’s fireworks, or are our hearts moved by compassion for the broken? Sometimes i know my heart can be motivated by me being seen to be awesome, rather than by wanting to love the person in front of me really well.

The incredible thing is that when i read the Gospels, i encounter a God who is consistently motivated by love. Not a weak, romanticised version but the real deal – powerful, passionate and selfless. Jesus healed the sick as an overflow of compassion, not a show of power (see Matthew 14:14, Mark 1:41, Matthew 20:34). He multiplied food, not because it would make Him look good, but because He was too full of love to send the hungry away (Matthew 15:32). He gave Himself up on the cross as the ultimate expression of Father’s love – not at its root an expression of justice, or an expression of God’s hatred for sin – no, the root motivation of the cross is unstoppable, irrepressible love.

I want to be undone all over again by the raw love of God for me, and want to be a channel of that to those i meet today. Not trying to be awesome – too aware that often that comes at the cost of love – but really seeing the person in front of me and asking, what does it look like to unleash Heaven’s affection on this person right now? It may be something small, it may be something simple, it may be something inconvenient – but whatever it looks like, it will be love.

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One of my favourite authors is a man called G.K.Chesterton. I still remember where I was when I read his book ‘Orthodoxy’, vacillating between being unable to put it down and forcing myself to slow down because I didn’t want to finish it too quickly. I felt like i was eating a feast – simultaneously feeling full and satisfied and yet hungry for more delicious mouthfuls. It is a book filled with fantastic insights and provoking arguments. If you haven’t already read it, do. I promise it will do you so much good.

In Orthodoxy, Chesterton talks of ‘the eternal appetite of infancy’ – a state of fascination and wonder and delight, even in repetition. He writes, ‘Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.’

Jesus said that His Kingdom belongs to little children – the way in is child-likeness. Child-like faith that is quick to believe and sees no reason to doubt. Child-like questions that are motivated by curiosity and not skepticism. Child-like joy that is always ready to bubble over into laughter and delight. Child-like fascination and wonder where repetition does not breed boredom but causes almost unreasonable excitement as the words ‘again, again!’ are exclaimed again.

In my eagerness to seem ‘mature’ I wonder if I have lost some of the beautiful child-like fascination that my Heavenly Papa so delights in. I wonder if I have somehow mixed up maturity and religious behaviour in my head and so become a more solemn version of the woman I was created to be, missing the fun, sun-lit moments that my Heavenly Papa is joyfully setting up for me. Some years ago Jesus spoke to me and encouraged me to take my grown-up ‘leader hat’ off and put my ‘child hat’ on instead so that I wouldn’t pass by moments pregnant with His goodness and pleasure because I was too busy being grown up. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, ‘Earth’s crowned with heaven and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit around and pluck blackberries’. I want to live my life seeing heaven crammed in every moment, I want to see and take off my shoes, I want to persistently wear my child hat so I am ever increasingly caught up in wonder at my marvellous Heavenly Papa. He really is so worthy of wonder – if only I will open my eyes to see.

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A few years ago i had a picture during a time of worship that has been going through my mind in recent days. What i saw in that moment changed how i lived life subsequently and now as its memory has been floating around in my mind, i’m feeling afresh its provocation to step out just a little bit further than my predictable, safe normality and allow myself to be stretched again. In the vision i saw myself jumping into ocean waters and swimming as deep as i could go and then returning to the surface to catch my breath. I had this feeling of needing to go deeper still, so i would jump back into the water again and try to get to new depths, before inevitably having to come back up to catch my breath. The vision continued like this a number of times – repeated cycles of me plunging into the waters, trying to stretch to greater depths but always, disappointingly returning to the surface to catch my breath. As i tried to make sense of what i was seeing, i felt the Father gently but firmly pinpointing my problem – i was struggling to reach the depths i longed for because i was always saving enough breath to return to the surface. His invitation to me, though simple, was completely radical to the sensibilities of my ‘rational’ thinking – He was inviting me into adventure with Him where i would not save enough breath to return to where i’d started but i’d invest it all in exploring new depths of His heart. No more safety net. No more sensible reserves incase my God adventure didn’t come off. No going back. His invitation was full-blown, abandoned, head-long plunging into the unknown with no intention of ever coming back to the surface. Of choosing to make my home in the depths of His heart and His adventures for me. To take the hand i’ve been dealt with today and go ‘all in’ on it. I don’t know about you, but i don’t want to reach the end of today knowing that i still have breath in me for returning to the surface. I want to live today recklessly spending all my reserves, trusting that the One who calls me to Himself has more than enough to sustain me on this crazy wonderful journey of following Him.

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