Where the greenhouse used to be

I was surprised, not so long ago,

In the garden of all places,

Where the greenhouse used to be.

Small patch of land, soil and some paving slabs,

I grabbed my spade and began to dig.

I’m not sure why I did.

Boredom perhaps, curiosity.

I’d done the rest: Flowers, shrubs, ponds and plants,

Every inch of garden, Carefully crafted and nurtured into growth.

Except this patch.

I don’t know why I waited.

The rest had taken time alright,

Year after year of dedicated time,

But perhaps I waited because I knew what I would find

In that corner.

Vague memories of what used to be,

Or just a sense of something new that would change the way things are.

Still, one day, I dug.

Crack.

Spade blade on something hard.

A rock? Too wide.

I dug a little wider.

To my surprise I found,

A chest.

I pulled it out and set it down,

In the corner, where the greenhouse used to be.

Muddy chest, once new, now locked and rusted shut,

Through years of being almost disappeared under layer and layer,

Of life.

Soil and weeds, over years, months and weeks,

Gradually covering,

As people, places, things I used to know,

Priorities so important once, now forgotten,

Disappointments and unmet expectations,

Dreams dreamed and not quite reached,

Or altogether ripped apart,

Like passing minutes and grains of earth

Layer upon layer covered that chest

Until it lay forgotten.

Now found.

I opened it.

It wasn’t easy.

Through lock and rust I had to thrust.

I hesitated, I didn’t want to break it,

Didn’t even know if what I’d find was good or bad, or nothing.

But something told me I had to do it now,

To wait another moment was to risk another burial.

It had to be done. So done it was.

You’ll never guess what I found inside.

Not medieval coins or ancient crockery,

But a beating heart.

Fragile, weak and small,

But still alive.

Protected in this shrine of grubby memories of earth and time.

And the strangest thing, to my surprise,

I knew this heart was mine.

Distant memories echoed in my mind of a time

This heart beat in me.

A time before it sunk beneath the years,

And days of people, things and places,

Shattered dreams and broken promises,

Wasted time and mundane mediocrity

The simple stuff of life allowed to gather,

And to cover what should have been it’s source,

Not half-forgotten, hidden, buried deep,

Where the greenhouse used to be.

I heard a voice.  Still, calm, it whispered:

“Pick it up.

Pick it up and put it in.

It’s never too late for new life to begin.

Your heart is beating still,

Kept alive through time by mine,

The source of life even when unseen,

But now you have a chance to start afresh,

To know your heart and know mine too,

To dream again with hope and expectation,

Based on me and not on you.

The new begins today.

Pick it up.”

Pick it up.

Did I?

Will you?

A faith buried through years of life, distractions, hurts and joys,

Is still a faith that beats with life never too late to be awakened.

Things will change when we let Him in,

Re-discover dreams, allow ourselves to feel again,

But change brings life, and life in all it’s fullness,

When it’s nurtured by the gardener,

Not buried in the corner

Where the greenhouse used to be.

Pick it up.

Colours on the Horizon – viewing the future from the Father’s table

There is a new season coming for the church.  A season characterised by creativity and community.  As a friend and I were praying and talking yesterday we were struck afresh by how true this is, how we can see signs of it already bubbling up, but how we have no idea what it will look like.  Like colours on the horizon we can see signs of it, but can only walk to it step by step, doing what God says each moment.  This isn’t a set model that we can develop a tried and tested strategy to reach. We feel like we have been given an opportunity to explore what it might look like in one particular church gathering that we’re part of.  Exploring by simply doing what God says to do each step.  First we began eating together, now we want to encourage, demonstrate and release creativity and expression towards God.  That is what has inspired this poem.  It’s not meant to be polished or amazing, it is the beginning of an expression of praise through creativity, of me finding a voice I didn’t think I had, in the hope that others might find theirs.  (Click on the image below to read the poem.)

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Perseverance: The Christian Life Part 2

From: http://www.gembapantarei.com/2008/11/7_leadership_lessons_from_a_mountain_goat.htmlThe purpose of the Christian life is to be faithful – to live with God as the kind of person He has made us to be.  This is what we are called to focus on and put our effort into.  This is the essence of the last post.  But there is more.

There are callings that God places on our lives, things that He is wanting to do through us.  Ephesians 2:10 describes the Christian as God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared in advance for us to do.  We are called to put our effort into being the person God has made us to be, but there is also a purpose he has made us for.  This purpose is something that God will work through us as we focus on living faithful to Him.

Yet I wonder how many of you have, like me, experienced the reality that when we put our face to the work God has given we begin to face opposition?  When we hear the call of God and decide to walk with Him, things often get difficult.  The fact remains that we are in a battle and this battle is real.  But how do we fight it?

Here the book of Nehemiah reveals a simple yet profound truth.  Our secret weapon in spiritual warfare is Perseverance.

Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament that described the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  A number of years after God’s people had been exiled and Jerusalem destroyed, the Persian King gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  What we read both describes the historical situation and offers an example of how the Enemy brings opposition to God’s work and how we respond.

Opposition to the work comes mainly from Sanballat, the leader of the neighbouring people who did not want Jerusalem rebuilt.  Throughout the book we see numerous attempts from him to obstruct Nehemiah.  First he mocks and ridicules the very idea of rebuilding the wall.  Next he begins to threaten.  Later he calls Nehemiah to have a conversation giving a false sense of security, but then begins to spread lies that Nehemiah is seeking to revolt.

Mockery, accusation, distraction, and lies.  Ring any bells?  Anyone who begins to follow a clear call of God, no matter how great the experience that led to that call, will experience some or all of this issues.  Having moved cities or started a new role or stepped out in a particular way we’ll face ridicule that we’re being stupid, accusation that we’re doing the wrong thing, distraction that we should be busy with something else, and potentially even lies accusing us of things that have no basis in truth.  We may even find, like Nehemiah, that close friends of ours begin to speak the same things to us – even when well meaning.  It was one of Nehemiah’s friends who tried to convince him to hide in the temple due to fear that Sanballat was sending people to kill him.

What was Nehemiah’s response?

From: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/654-nehemiah-4/

This is what I find particularly interesting.  Nehemiah fought this opposition by simply keeping on keeping on.  He persevered with what God had said.

Too often we can slip into thinking, as soon as opposition raises it’s head, that we need to stop, turn aside and ‘deal with the opposition’ before we carry on with the work.  The assumption is that we must first make this opposition stop before we can continue with what God has called us to

John Wimber, whose teaching brought this to my attention, puts this wonderfully: ‘Nehemiah didn’t stop building the wall in order to fight the opposition. Rather, he fought the opposition by building the wall.’

Now, Nehemiah didn’t simply ignore opposition.  He took some precautions by arming some of the workers and setting people as watchmen.  He also brought every issue to God and we repeatedly read that, when accusation or threat came, he went straight to God in prayer and asked for help.  But he kept on building.

The Christian life is a call to faithfulness and the response to opposition is perseverance.  Why?  Because ultimately it is God who works through us to do what He has planned to do.  Our job is to keep in step with Him – to be the people He has called us to be in order that He can do through us what He has purposed to do.  There is no opposition that can stand in the way of that and there is nothing that can harm us when we dwell in Him.  And that is the topic of the next post.

Asking Questions

Question MarkI remember during theological college being told over and over again about the importance of asking questions.  It is the central component of any genuine listening, it is core to forming authentic relationships, it is a key avenue for finding out how you can genuinely help or love anyone.  Questions, I was told, are important.  I agree.

I’m an extrovert by nature and I talk a lot (those who know me will verify!).  Learning to ask questions has, for me, meant learning to not jump to assumptions about what people are saying and to hold back on my responses until I’ve given them plenty of time to speak.  It has meant learning to own up to my ignorance or confusion about things people are saying so that I actually find the truth, rather than pretending to know what they’re talking about.  It has meant learning patience, humility and love.  These lessons have been learnt the most thoroughly, and led to the greatest benefit, in my most intimate relationships.  Right up there among them being my marriage.  Asking questions and (very importantly!) waiting to answers, even ones I don’t like, has deepened my relationships across the board.

So, what about in our most important relationship, the relationship that (for those who believe at least) defines all the others?  What about in our relationship with God?  Do we ask Him questions?  Do we wait for answers?

It was maybe 8 years ago that I remember first being struck by the idea that I could actually ask God questions and He might answer.  I’m not just talking about musing to myself over theological concepts or conundrums of life, but asking specific questions about everything from ‘who have you made me to be?’ to ‘what do you think about this person?’ to ‘what can I do to bless you today?’ or ‘what are you up to in this place today?’  If God is a distant being known only through words on a page then any questions we have we need to deal with amongst ourselves.  But if God is our Father who relates to us even so intimately as filling us with His Spirit – His very presence – then we’re in a two-way relationship and communication is open.  For me, this radically changed my faith.  A new life came into it along with a joy and dynamism because it no longer became simply about following precepts in a book, but about being aware every moment of the presence of my Father with me, speaking, loving and moving.

So why did it take so long?  I think because, probably like many others, I wondered whether God could really actually speak to me.  Would he?  How would I know if he did?  Understanding a few key things helped me with all this….

1. Jesus told us He would speak.  John 10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me.”  If you’re a sheep you can hear.  From the first

Logo for the excellent pre-school at St Mary’s, Loughton

Word at creation through to Jesus answering his disciples’ questions away from the crowds, the Bible is full of God coming and speaking to His people.  Jesus’ promise was that if we’re a sheep we would hear – we can listen, be known (in relationship) and follow.  Not only can we hear God, but we can know that it is Him.

2. How do we know?  A major question for me was ‘How do I know it is not just me?  It feels too natural.’  Sometimes we’re waiting for a bolt out of the blue, an audible voice or writing in the sky.  Yet if we’re made for relationship with God then we are designed to hear His voice – it is natural.  God often speaks to me with words and phrases that pop in my mind because I’m a words person.  I know others who hear God through pictures because they think pictorially.  The imagination God has given us is a huge means by which He speaks and often it will seem like the most natural thing in the world.  So we don’t discount it from the outset….but how do we know?

3. Community, obedience and intimacy.  Not an exhaustive list, but three key parts of discerning God’s voice.  Intimacy – like any person, the better you know them the better you know their voice.  You get to know them by spending time with them and listening to them.  Give time to being with God, waiting for Him to speak, getting to know His character, what He’s like.  Obedience – listen and do it.  I learnt to recognise God’s voice as I began to try and follow it.  I made a choice to stop waiting until all my doubt was removed and what He may have said sufficiently analysed before acting on it – I began to act.  As I followed gentle promptings I began to discern more easily what was me and what was Him – it becomes fairly obvious as you walk it out!  Community – we don’t walk alone.  Talk to others who know Him well – ask them how they hear God speak – ask them to weigh up with you what you believe God is saying.  Look to Scripture.  The Bible is written by our community – God will say nothing that contradicts Scripture, though He may speak about things not explicitly in there (like who to marry, where to work, etc).

So, what do you think? Does God speak today?  Ask me any questions, let me know any thoughts, tell me how God speaks to you and what this means for you….I’d love to hear, so why not leave a comment or answer the poll and continue the conversation?