Risen!

He is risen

Very early,

Sunday morn,

Grief rising up like a gathering storm.

Day-break,

Hearts ache,

As the weight of it all begins to dawn.

 

Thorns, nails,

Mournful wails,

Laid in a tomb that wasn’t His own,

Laden with spices,

We make our way,

Not even knowing who’ll roll back the stone.

 

Earth quake,

Guards shake,

Heavenly beings in dazzling white,

Our hearts pound with fear,

Too scared to draw near,

We bow to the ground at this dazzling sight!

 

“You needn’t fear!

He isn’t here!

“Why search for the Living among the dead?

Hurry, go!

Let everyone know –

That Jesus is risen, just as He said!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Give Up!

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Beautiful Agapanthus

 

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” – Isaiah 61:10-11

I’ve been praying and longing to see Revival in the UK for many years now.  Perhaps you’ve been praying for your nation too?  Or perhaps you’ve been praying for years to see someone come to faith.  If so, I want to encourage you today!

One morning, a few years back, I was talking to one of my daughters about how committed I am to praying for revival in this land.  Just before rushing out of the door to school, she looked at me, a little perplexed and said something along the lines of:

“Mum, this world is so awful.  I’m not sure that one person can make that much difference…”

(But more of that story later!)

When I inherited the garden in our current home, it was literally two strips of weedy,  unyielding earth.  The soil was full of stones.  The ‘garden’ had not plant nor flower, just hundreds of very deep rooted weeds.

The only thing it did have, was potential…it was a blank canvass really.

So, determined to have a garden, I began.  Digging, weeding, removing stones.  It was pain-staking, back-busting!  I tried adding sand into the heavy clay soil in order to improve the claggy, ‘stick-to-your-boots’ consistency.  I bought bags of rich compost and literally poured them into the beds, digging and turning the earth again and again, to try and provide a more habitable environment for plants and flowers.  The groundwork took time.

But eventually the condition of the soil improved.

Then came the long job of buying and trying – going to garden nurseries and coming home with car boots full of perennials and shrubs.  I remember placing the plants in the soil – and frankly, being a bit underwhelmed.  These puny little plants would just look so insignificant, so small in all that earth!  They didn’t make much impact.  They certainly didn’t look like the garden magazines I had been browsing through!

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Pretty depressing!

Was all this hard work ever going to be worth it?

Fortunately for me, my mum’s garden is full of flowers!  So much so, that she was able to give me clumps of Geranium and Sedum from her own beds.  Every now and then she’d pop round with a tub full of Iris or Day Lilly – and we’d dot them around as fillers.

All of this activity went on for several years.  Planting things.  Trying things.  Moving things.  If I’ve learned one thing about gardening – it’s this:  No pain, no gain.

But then suddenly…years down the line, you begin to see your garden taking shape.  Suddenly, there’s colour and form.  People start to notice: “Isn’t your garden looking lovely?”  But best of all –  you notice!  One warm summer’s evening, you sit outside,  sipping a mug of tea, realising that all your hard work is starting to pay off.  And you smile…because somehow, the fact that it took time, years even, makes it all the more rewarding.  I tended this garden!  I kept going year after year, even though – to start off with – nothing much seemed to change.

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Yes, it’s the same flower bed!

Looking back, all those years that I’ve spent tending my garden, have run parallel to the years that I’ve spent praying for this Nation.  Isn’t God great?  Don’t you just love the way He weaves the natural and the supernatural together to teach us things?   What a prophetic picture lies within all of this toil!

Because the thing is…whatever you sow into a garden, you’ll eventually reap.

Put in a Climbing Rose and come July, you’ll have Climbing Roses!  Plant a pot full of Daffodil and Tulip bulbs in September, and POP – there’s your first bit of early spring cheer!  Fill your low wall with Geraniums, and hey presto – Geraniums it is!

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Today I want to remind you of the wonderful principle that  God has set in motion.  Sowing and reaping.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.  He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him!” – Psalm 126:5-6

I know that if you’ve sown seeds of prayer for your nation, or your loved one’s salvation – perhaps tears at times – then no matter how long, no matter how many years it takes, some day, one day…you will see your reward.

If you’ve been praying – particularly for revival or salvation –  and you’re on the verge of giving up…please don’t!   One fine day, when you least expect it, you’ll turn around and your garden will be filled with beautiful blooms!  And what a wondrous reward it will be – the fruit of all your labours!

Can I tell you the rest of the story about my daughter?   A few days later she came downstairs in the morning and said: “Oh by the way mum, I had a dream about you last night….”

“Go on,” I said, intrigued.

“You were trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks together,” she said.  “At first nothing was happening.  But you didn’t give up.  Then all of a sudden, there was a spark, and then the whole thing just burst into flame!”

My mouth was almost agog as she added:

“And I think it’s to do with you praying!”

So today, here’s God’s message to you (and me):  Keep going!  Don’t you dare give up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zacchaeus

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! – Psalm 32:1

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So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a Sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way…Luke 19:4

 

The streets of the city were crowded that day,

The Teacher was coming – He was heading this way.

My heart leapt within at the sound of His Name,

This man who healed lepers, the blind and the lame.

 

But the crowds all around me were blocking my view,

And try as I might, I just couldn’t push through.

Not much to be said for my stature – it’s true,

So I ended up right at the back of the queue!

 

Then ahead of the crowds in the distance, I see,

Down the long dusty road,

There’s a Sycamore Tree,

I was desperate to see Him,

So it had to be done.

I kicked up the dust and I started to run!

 

My robes snagged on branches as I scrambled up high,

And I hoped, against hope, that He wouldn’t pass by,

Still my heart skipped a beat when He stopped by that tree,

And He peered through the leaves,

Looking straight up at me!

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What would He say to a man such as me?

What was I doing here?

How could it be?

That this wonderful stranger should call me by name?

In that moment, I knew, I would not be the same.

 

The people were outraged- He was going to eat,

At the home of *Zacchaeus, the swindler, the cheat!

But whenever He spoke, all my pride fell apart,

And something was changed in the depths of my heart.

The tears started falling, my heart overflowed.

I would pay it all back, every penny I owed.

I would give it all gladly,

I would do anything,

For this wonderful Man,

For this beautiful King!

 

The love that He showed me,

The grace that He gave,

Swept over my being, like wave after wave,

What joy filled my soul, and what gladness within,

When the Son of God cleansed me,

From all of my sin.

 

 

  • Amazed to discover today that the meaning of the Hebrew name Zacchaeus means, “Clean, pure!”

 

 

Abundant!

 

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This morning, a well known image kept coming to mind.  It was that picture of a half filled glass of water, and that all important question….is the glass half full or half empty?

What do you think?

Well, before I’d even had time to ponder the answer, I sensed God’s smiling response:

“That question is completely irrelevant in my Kingdom!  When I fill a cup, it overflows!”

Ha!  Isn’t that wonderful?!

You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows! – Psalm 23:5

There are no half measures with God!  Nothing about Him is ever stingy or miserly or half hearted!  Everything about Him is abundant and lavish and overflowing!  What a joy!

I felt today that God wanted to remind me, and maybe some of you, of His absolute abundance!  In Him there is no lack.  He is great in might.  He is awesome in power, He is abundant in loving-kindness!  He really, really is a GREAT BIG GOD!

Feast your heart on a few of these ABUNDANT truths today – if necessary speak them out loud over your circumstances:

GREAT is the Lord and mighty in power.  His understanding has no limit – Psalm 147:5

But You O Lord, are a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness – Psalm 86:15

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no one can fathom – Isaiah 40:28

Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways are past finding out! – Romans 11:33

Your loving-kindness O God extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the mountains of God.  Your judgements are like a great deep – Psalm 36:5-6

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love for those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us – Psalm 103:11-13

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness! – Lamentations 3:22-23

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;  for His loving-kindness is everlasting – Psalm 118:1

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen – Ephesians 3:14-21

What an amazing God!

 

 

Alive!

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My four year old daughter Emily has an incredible imagination.  She spends hours creating imaginary worlds, using little animal figures such as Playmobil and Sylvanian Families.  She is also rather fond of a lovely set of Lion King characters that I found on ebay.

“Mum” she begs, “make Simba talk!”

So, somewhat reluctantly, I have to put on this really deep American voice and try to bring this inanimate, plastic Lion to life.

“Oh no!” I say, “There’s a big problem in the Pride-lands!”  I pause…not really too sure where this is going.

Emily looks at me with wide eyes.  She’s hanging on my every word and is desperate to find out what the problem is.

Shakily, I continue.  “You see…the waterhole has dried up.  And if we don’t get water soon… we’re going to die!”

Crikey.  Should I be that morbid with a four year old?

Emily doesn’t seem to mind at all.  She’s in the zone completely!  So we spend the next half hour racking our brains to try and come up with a solution.  And eventually we decide that the elephants are our best option.  They can suck some water up (from somewhere or other – minor detail) with their trunks and fill the water hole back up.  And all the while, of course, the evil Scar is trying to stop us at every turn.

For a moment, those plastic characters seem almost real.  But pretty soon, they go back in the toy box.

No matter how convincing my Simba voice is, or how entertaining my story, those characters will never, ever be real.  They’re just plastic.  Even Emily knows that.

And then, in Genesis, i read this:

“Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” – Gen 2:7

Hang on a minute!  Did you get that?  I mean, forget about trying to animate plastic lions… God moulded a man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and that pile of dust became a REAL PERSON!  A living, breathing, blinking, yawning, walking, talking human being!  It’s jaw-dropping!   We can become so familiar with the creation scriptures, that we forget to marvel at them!  No wonder the Psalmists say time and again “There is no one like the Lord our God!”

And then the really mind-blowing thing!  Right at the outset of things, way back in Genesis, God was already revealing His plan of salvation.  This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.  The same thing happens when we are born again.  God takes a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins – and breathes His very life into their spirit, so that they become a LIVING BEING!

Dead.  Stone cold on a slab.  No heartbeat.  Like a pile of dust.  We were all dust-men!   But then suddenly the breath of the Holy One began to rush into the hollow caverns of that dead old soul and BOOM!  Suddenly we have a pulse!  We’re alive!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love, with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made is ALIVE together with Christ!  – Ephesians 2: 4-5

Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gleanings from The Book of Ruth – Part Two

He has brought me to His banqueting table, and His banner over me is love – Song of Solomon 2:4

Our story resumes at mealtime, when the harvesters have a break from their labour and sit down at the table to eat.  Ruth’s natural inclination is to sit on her own, apart from the others.  She is a Moabite, from the wash-basin of Israel, and so her tendency is to separate herself from those who belong at the table.

But Boaz beckons her: “Come here that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.”

So Ruth is offered a place beside the reapers where Boaz serves her roasted grain.  She eats her fill and is satisfied and has some leftover.

The symbolism here of Christ’s love for sinners is beautifully striking – immediately a verse springs to mind:

The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are afar off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” – Acts 2:39

There’s something strangely familiar about this scene, isn’t there?  Bread being given out, with some leftover?  Was there not once a man who broke bread around a table, serving His disciples, and saying “This is my body, broken for you?”

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As I read this scene, I feel my heart being strangely warmed, just like those two travellers on the road to Emmaus who finally recognised Jesus only as he broke bread.  Do we not now recognise our Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus, in this lovely little scene played out between Ruth and Boaz?  What a wondrous foreshadowing of our Saviour’s redeeming love, of how he took on the nature of a servant to redeem the poor and the unworthy – the Bread of Life giving bread to those who were once afar off!

Jesus has called each one of us to come close, to come to His banqueting table, to eat of the bread of life and be fully satisfied!  What an invitation!

And from here, the story continues.  After a series of  sweet little twists and turns, Boaz and Ruth go on to become husband and wife!  A story that begins with death and famine and grief, ends with a wonderful wedding!  Though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning!  God takes a poor, destitute woman, from the washbasin of Israel,  and makes her into a fruitful bride!  A woman with no prospects, no wealth, and nothing to offer but her exemplary devotion to Naomi, ends up becoming a joyous bride, and goes on to bear for Boaz, and indeed for Naomi, a much longed for son!  The child is named Obed, and he grows up to become the Father of Jesse, who grows up to become the Father of none other than King David – surely the most notable King in the bible.

Does this not make your heart sing?  How extraordinarily wonderful!  Ruth – a Moabite, a poor woman from a nation that is despised and looked down on, becomes the Great Grandmother of King David – thus sharing in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself!  I don’t know about you, but this completely blows my mind!

Can you see how it has always been in heart of God to take the far off Gentile, once excluded from the Household of God, and bring them to His banqueting Table?   To take the hopeless sinner into His heavenly home to become the bride of the King!  Doesn’t it make your heart leap for joy when you put yourself in the place of Ruth, when you understand all that God has done for you?

Today as I reflect of all of these things, my heart echoes with great joy, the words of the Psalmist:

“He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,  to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.  He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children.  Praise the Lord!” –  Psalm 113:7-9

 

Gleanings From The Book of Ruth – Part One

“Priceless gems have often been found in unlikely places.  Many a choice flower has been found blooming in a rocky crevice.  Rainbow artistries have suddenly lit up the drabbest skies.  Beauty spots have charmed the traveller at surprise turns on the least promising road  It is even so with this superbly beautiful little idyl, the book of Ruth”

Sidlow Baxter, Explore The Book (Bible Commentary)

Imagine my delight, when I checked the Sunday School Rota a few weeks back, and discovered that I had to deliver a lesson to our 3-4 year olds – on the book of Ruth!

My thoughts whirred as I considered the complications of trying to explain to our wide-eyed pre-schoolers, what a ‘Kinsman Redeemer’ is!   It had been years since I’d read the book of Ruth, but I vaguely remembered something about sheaves of barley…and wasn’t there that part when Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz, asking him to cover her with his cloak?  Hmmm.  There was no doubt about it…this was going to be one interesting Sunday School session!

Despite my initial reservations, things went really well! (three cheers for Pinterest for a whole host of craft ideas!)  I even managed to find a beautiful sheaf of dried wheat on Amazon, which the kids were fascinated by.   On-line shopping – what a life saver!

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Once the Sunday School was out of the way, however, I began to sense that there are absolutely no coincidences. God was drawing me into the book of Ruth.  There were delightful hidden treasures within the story that He wanted me to discover.  It was time for me to plumb the depths of the bible’s most quirky little love story.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is the basic backdrop of the story:

  • The story begins when a Judean woman called Naomi, who has spent the last ten years residing in Moab to escape a famine in her homeland, is left destitute when her husband and two sons die.
  • Her two sons had been married to Moabite women – one called Orpah, and one called Ruth.  (This was an ungodly alliance, and was forbidden in Levitical law).
  • Naomi decides to return to her people, where she fairs the best chance of survival.
  • She means to set out alone, and urges her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, and go back to their childhood families.  Naomi has no other sons to be given in marriage to Orpah or Ruth.  Their best bet is to remain in Moab, where they have the best chance of finding new husbands.
  • The two young women have an agonising decision to make.  They have come to love Naomi, yet if they go with her, they will have to live in Judah as sojourners in a foreign land – this is a huge risk to take.
  • Justifiably, with much weeping, Orpah decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth ‘clings to her Mother-in-Law’, refusing to be parted with her.

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I go, and where you lodge, I lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

So what becomes of the lovely, loyal Ruth?

Well, it just so happens that the two women arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the Barley Harvest.  Their arrival does not go unnoticed.  Everyone is curious.  What has become of Naomi?  Where is Elimelech, her husband?  And what of her two sons?  And who is this strange Moabite woman at her side?  I bet tongues were wagging!

One of Naomi’s relatives, a wealthy, upright man named Boaz, owns several Barley fields and employs teams of servants to harvest the barley.

The key to Ruth and Naomi’s survival can be found in a strange harvesting custom, found in Leviticus 19:9

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Nor shall you glean your vineyard nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard.  You shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger, I am the Lord Your God.”

Wow!  Isn’t that just like our God?  Always making provision for the needy and the stranger?

So Ruth becomes a “gleaner” in the fields of Boaz.  She follows behind the team of harvesters, gathering up the scraps that they accidentally drop.  She has to keep her distance.  Moab was known at the time as the ‘washbasin of Israel’ – basically, a foot basin for washing feet!  She is totally vulnerable, putting herself at the mercy of others, and showing herself to be utterly destitute.  She is therefore open to any kind of mistreatment.

But Boaz notices Ruth.  He makes enquiries about her.  And it seems he is deeply impressed by her loyalty to Naomi.  He speaks to Ruth, showing kindness to her in three ways:

  • He instructs her to glean only in his field
  • He commands his servants not to touch her
  • He invites her to drink from the water that his servants draw if she gets thirsty

It must have been fairly unusual for a foreigner to be treated with such kindness, as Ruth falls on her face, bowing down to the ground, saying: “Why have I found such favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

And here is Boaz’s response:

“All that you have done for your Mother-in-law, after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your Father and your Mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you previously did not know.  May the Lord reward your work and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

Someone once said that you can find Jesus in every book of the bible.  Like a golden thread woven through the whole tapestry of scripture, is the overarching theme of Redemption.  Every now and then, if we examine the tapestry in the right light, we catch a glimmer of this glinting gold.  The book of Ruth is no different!  Boaz is a type of Christ.  And here we begin to get the first glimpses of a man that possesses amazing integrity, kindness and generosity.

It also may be worth noting here that godly men are drawn to godly character.  They are not merely impressed by the outward appearance, but by the inner qualities a woman displays by her conduct.  Boaz was deeply struck by Ruth’s courage and commitment.  He also recognised the evidence of her new found faith – By cleaving to Naomi, Ruth had ultimately chosen to put her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God never turns away any that would seek Him.  The time of salvation for the Gentile had not yet come.  Yet God seems unable to resist showing compassion, grace and kindness towards this young, courageous Moabite woman, who has so selflessly thrown herself upon His mercy.

As the story unfolds, we get to see how sweetly Boaz and Ruth become increasingly drawn to one another.  And we begin to see more of God’s wonderful, extravagant heart towards the Gentile.

Part Two to follow soon…!