Saturday, 7 January 2017

Singing. Good for the soul.

If you are one of those people who love to sing and are blessed with a beautiful voice, you can stop reading right now. This isn’t for you.

No, I’m speaking for those of us who have struggled to hold a tune, were never picked for the school choir and who have learned, from a very early age, to mouth the words whenever there is the chance that someone else might hear them.

I’m one of those women. That’s why I like to worship with a large and very, very noisy band. I don’t like to hear myself attempting to singI LOVE worship songs - the lyrics, the melodies and even the (sometimes) seemingly endless repetition of some of the choruses.

But I still wish I could sing properly. I carry the tune in my head, where it is faultless, but what comes out of my mouth is sadly lacking.  My voice is quite low-pitched and often I can’t sing with other women. My best singing experiences have been in a large formal church setting where there was a choir with a number of bass and tenor singers. It was a satisfying experience to growl along with the men.

But, as that doesn’t happen very often, I have learned to sing silently. It’s just kinder to everyone else.

Until one day I came across these Scriptures:
I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.” Judges 5:3, NIV.

Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.” 2 Samuel 22:50 NIV

And so on. And on. The Psalms are full of sung praises to God. Out loud. Singing in the Bible was never in silence – it wouldn’t have been singing, otherwise.

I realised that it wasn’t enough to just sing in my head and my heart, good though that was: I actually had to sing with my mouth. Ouch. I mean, I don’t even like the sound of my own voice.

But I did sing. Alone, where no one could hear me.

As I sang out loud, I began to discover all kinds of benefits.

Singing aloud aligned my heart to God. I experienced a deep sense of peace and release from worry as I entered the workplace.  I usually felt calmer and, often, more joyful: Psalm 71:23 says, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I whom you have delivered.
Singing was a deeply satisfying way of connecting my heart to God’s.
I experienced the truth of Psalm 63:5, which says: I will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

Singing aloud changed my attitude. When I was finding my relationship with one of my bosses challenging, I read 2 Chronicles 20:22: “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” (NIV)  Singing praises to God defeated the wiles of the enemy. My boss didn’t leave, but something shifted and I no longer felt harassed by her.

And, amazingly – because I never expected this – I found that my singing improved. As I sang, the practice released inhibitions and I was able to begin to pitch my voice more correctly. I learned to choose the right key in which to sing and began to gently harmonise when my voice’s range did not enable me to reach high notes.

I extended the practice of singing loudly in my car to singing quietly when I walked or cycled. The spiritual benefits far outweighed any potential embarrassment!

So, join me, even if – especially if – you think you can’t sing. You can. And you, with the voice of an angel, who has just read to the end of this despite the Health Warning at the start? Please sing whenever and wherever you can – loudly and enthusiastically. You are a blessing to the world and I thank you.

Even if a little part of me is still a tiny bit envious. I’m working on it.

This was my second attempt, which I submitted to incourage.me.  Unsuccessfully, but never mind, Writing is good for my soul, too. I might try again next time....

Listening. in silence. with grief. and thankfulness

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd have a go at becoming an incourage.me guest writer: an ambitious undertaking at which I was not successful: they chose 22 submissions out of 150. (Which was not as much as I thought, but nevertheless...) 

So now I am free to post my little attempts. This is the first:

To the lonely, the grieving, the newly-orphaned, the empty-nesters. Words of comfort.

It catches me unawares, this sudden grief. It deluges me as I pack the Christmas ornaments away, each little memento reminding me of Christmases past when my family was together. When we were all younger and the veil of Past Christmases casts its rosy glow over my memories.

Or I am flooded with regret, as I look back at relationships now gone for ever, as family members have passed on. The Shouldhaves shout loudly at my bruised heart which aches from lost opportunities.

And then there is simply the loneliness as a friend moves away or a spouse is lost.

And I, too, am lost. Sliding down a helter-skelter, buffeted by feelings.

I sit, alone, in a silent room. And start listening.

My heart brings Scripture to me. Psalm 34:17 - 18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted  and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

He does? I think. I know that what the Bible says is true. It doesn’t feel like that, though, so I grab the words with my mind, hanging my thoughts onto the precious words. I repeat them to myself, again and again. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. I am crushed. He saves me. He saves me.

And the still small voice inside my heart whispers: “Be thankful.
And I remember:

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;

may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!’

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Christ in us; the HOPE of glory

I’ve been reflecting, as so many have, throughout Advent on what I hope for. REALLY hope for. And though I can list many ‘hopes’, I know that there is really only ONE hope and that is Jesus.
Christ in us the hope of glory.”
The hope of glory. The hope of living in a beautiful, perfect world of ‘no more suffering, no more tears’. The hope of being with Jesus, the most perfect and beautiful man who ever lived. A man who has brought hope and healing to all, whoever and wherever they are.
I’m constantly challenged by a wish, a stirring, a hope of doing more. A deep need within me to grab hold of a life of sacrifice for others because of Jesus. A holy unrest.
But what can I do? I think of a time in my life when I lived more simply and humbly, serving in a rural community in Kenya. I look at my daughter and son-in-law, among others, serving refugees in dark places. I consider my life now – my easy, comfortable, every-day-without-danger-or-inconvenience life – and recognize how my selfishness get in the way of my serving. For who REALLY wants to put themselves out for others?
My ponderings are brought short by a blog from 24-7, where there is a quote from a refugee on Samoa: ‘This complaining will only bring you deeper darkness”.
I ‘complain’ to myself that I’m not sure of my calling. Or I don’t know how to practise it. Excuses and complaints.
I am not in a position to do the ‘big’ things any more (read: at the moment; who knows what the future may bring?) but I can do the ‘little’ things.
Simple hospitality – inviting colleagues to my home; befriending whoever crosses my path; mentoring, sharing what God has given me with others; welcoming the stranger. Taking time.
And as Linda Sourris says in this blog, as she talks about inviting refugees into her home: “So when we open our home, we try most of all to bring them Jesus.
THAT is a calling. To bring Jesus. Whenever, wherever, to whomever.
Jesus. The hope of glory.


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Sharing

Stewardship  - a charity which encourages generosity - reflects on the wonder of the incarnation and Mary's response in the wonderful hymn of praise she sings.

The reflection at the end caught my eye: 
"Do we sing songs of gratitude when we give? Here is Mary, a young teen, receiving the gift of a son, but with serious strings attached. This was not a child that she would be able to keep to herself; he was to be shared with the world as a saviour, a living sacrifice to reunite us with our God. And Mary sings in praise and thanksgiving."


Not a child she would be able to keep to herself. I have been reflecting on a Christmas without any of our children at home, which is the first time ever. Son at in-laws, daughter also at in-laws on the other side of the world. And, quite frankly, have been feeling sorry for myself, battling sadness in what is supposed to be a joyful season.

But none of us can keep our children to ourselves. They are God's gift to us, gifts to be shared. We rejoice when our children share their lives with a soul-mate in marriage. We are pleased and proud when they make choices to serve others in their work and in their play, giving generously of their free time. We admire our son and daughter-in-law who pour themselves out in teaching children who have had a much poorer start in life. We watch in wonder as our daughter and son-in-law choose to work among the neediest of this world, refugees in a war-torn area.

We have been privileged - for which we praise and thank God - to have had these amazing people living with us for much of their lives. Of course, we are still in close relationship - just not physically present. We do well to remember that we should not expect to keep God's gifts to ourselves, nor is it good for us.

And so we can join in as the Stewardship reflection finishes with a prayer:
"Today, we pray that Advent may be a time for us each to kindle, or rekindle, a spirit of gratitude and praise to God to be evident as we give to and receive from one another."

Gratitude and praise. Simple.

Amen.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent. Fifth Day.

"Broken for me, broken for you..." so the communion song goes as we remember a soon-to-be-broken-on-the-cross Jesus.

This Advent I find myself, also, breaking. But Ann Voskamp has encouragement for the broken us:
"“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Devotion Graphic
When I feel like we’re drowning in all of life, our daughter Hope and I will go up to the lake and feel the waves pound, sense the serene fury of water.
As the waves break against the earth it quakes the inner cochlear, and there’s nothing else to hear but the breaking. Hope stands there with windblown strands of hair across her face, the electrical energy of each breath of wet, briny air sparking something in her.
“Is there anything lovelier, really, than the way waves keep touching the shore no matter what tries to keep pulling them away?” I lean into her and say it over the sound of the wind, of the crashing surf.
Hope tucks her hair behind her ear, “Love’s like waves — it keeps reaching out, no matter what tries to keep pulling it away.”
She and I stand there in the battering of the elements, watching waves, eyeing how the light catches in water, how the waves move like the earth’s own pulse, like our own heartbeat.
“You know — a pool isn’t like this.” I say it slowly, watching the waves, seeing it for the first time: “It has no power, no life — because it has no breaking of waves … Strange how that is: It’s in the breaking, there is life.”
What did my husband say again and again? “Never be afraid of being a broken thing … Unless a seed breaks, there is no life.”
All down the shoreline, the waves keep crashing and breaking … and living.
Hope slips her arm through mine.
All of life’s losses break us, break through us, scar us. I want them not to. Frankly, there are days I’d like to hide my scars and the jagged edges of my brokenness, days when I wish there were no marks to bear. But if losses don’t leave their mark — how can we say we were ever marked or shaped by love? Scars are signs that show the way we loved.
Hope’s hand rests on mine.
You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break.” (Psalm 79:9, MSG)
Give us a break, God, in the midst of overwhelming stress and the pounding of waves, the storms of life.
And I don’t even realize I’m saying it out loud: “When you’re hit by the breaking waves, break deep.”
You’ve got three options when breaking waves hit, when you feel like you’re drowning.
Either let fear make you run hard — but fear never makes you safe, fear just makes you fall — and fall hard.
Or, fall back on your pride and try to stand against that wave breaking over you — and it will break you.
Or lastly, when you’re hit with a breaking wave — you can break deep. You can break deep into that breaking wave and let yourself be moved by Living Water and transformed and formed by Christ and remade by the rising current of His Love.
The only way through a breaking wave — is to break deep into the wave.
The only way through the overwhelming waves is to break deep into the roiling water and dive into the depths and stretch out both arms through the fathoms and let yourself be made into the shape of a cross.
That’s all there is: You can either be broken by fear or broken by pride — or you can break into the surrendered, cruciform shape of Christ.
Break deep. Break deep, and break free.
I turn to Hope — I kind of feel baptized. She and I — we can face stress, the waves coming from every side, because we can break deep into the wave of whatever comes at us, arms opened wide and choose to live shaped like a cross, cruciform. It feels like surrender. When you choose to break deep into the breaking waves — when you break the surface of the water again — you can feel born again. Remade into the image of Christ.
When you’re in over your head, you can touch the depths of God.
Hope turns to me. “Hear it, Mama? It’s like every crash of the waves is echoing it.”
Break deep — break free.
Lord, when waves of stress rise and threaten to overwhelm, cause me not to be broken by fear of being overwhelmed or by the pride of standing in my own strength. When I feel stress, cause me to break deep — break deep into whatever is coming at me, shaped like Christ, acting like Christ, formed like Christ, broken and given and surrendered like Christ, cruciform like Christ. Cause me to break deep today — and break free. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Ephesians 4:24, “And then take on an entirely new way of life — a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (MSG)
RELATED RESOURCES:
Longing to live a life that’s fearless of brokenness? Ann Voskamp takes those who carry their own unspoken broken on a journey into The Broken Way — a fresh, authentic way into more time, more meaning, more abundant wholeness — a literal way to shape your days into the abundant life.
CONNECT:
Enter to WIN a copy of The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp. In celebration of this book, Christian Book Distributors is giving away 5 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here. {We’ll randomly select 5 winners and email notifications to each one by Monday, December 5.}
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Think of one stress today you are facing. What’s one way you can break deep into that wave, surrendered and living Christlike?
- See more at: http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/the-way-to-break-free-of-stress/#sthash.RrgdeVgr.dpuf"

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Advent. Fifth day.

Thoughts turning towards Christmas. Advent 'calendar' up at school - a puzzle of Nativity pieces to put together, one each day, with a 'good deed' to go along with it.

And a little go at a Christmas song...
In King David’s city a Baby was born
As prophets and sages had said (that) He would be
A King in a stable, in Bethlehem’s dawn
The Good News appearing for you and for me.



The shepherds were eager the glad tidings to share
As angels shone o’er them as bright as the day.
Wise men from the east made a journey with care
The signs in the stars shone to show them the way.



We too, now at Christmas, rejoice in His name
And share in the joy with all those who adore/in accord.
We remember the reason the little Babe came
He is our great Saviour, Christ Jesus our Lord.

And then we look up and we say “Thank you Jesus”
For all you have done and for what lies in store
Your presence is with us, you go on before us
We thank you and praise you for Christmas evermore.

We wait and we wonder with Mary and Joseph
A babe is a-coming, and what will he be?
Messiah, Redeemer, a King and a healer
The Saviour God sent to save both you and me.

A stable is home for the King of all Kings
Born into a family of lowly esteem
Rough men hear the report that the angels will bring
A message to bring them the news of their dreams.

So let us now wonder and go to that stable.
Join in with the shepherds, worship and adore.
Remember he’s with us to love and to guide us
Our saviour, King Jesus, now and evermore.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Advent. Third day.

Struggling this Advent at the prospect of a 'childless' Christmas. Ridiculous, when last year we were all together just before Cat's wedding: son, daughter, daughter-in-law, prospective son-in-law, 'second daughter' (daughter's best friend) and her partner... wonderful.

I find myself almost wishing that Christmas was over, at times. How ungrateful is that?

Hugely. Enormously. SELFISHLY. So I'm focusing, during Advent, on the incredible GIFT we have been given. On the SACRIFICE that God made in sending His son. And on the realization, anew, that this is something I should NEVER TAKE FOR GRANTED.

So today, I choose
Sacrifice over self
Kindness over selfishness
Smiling words instead of complaint
Laughter over sorrow.

Because of Jesus. Because of Jesus. Because of JESUS.  Lord, help me.

Psalm 30:
"I will praise you, Lord!
You saved me from the grave
and kept my enemies
from celebrating my death.
I prayed to you, Lord God,
and you healed me,
saving me from death
and the grave.

Your faithful people, Lord,
will praise you with songs
and honor your holy name.
Your anger lasts a little while,
but your kindness lasts
for a lifetime.
At night we may cry,
but when morning comes
we will celebrate.

You have turned my sorrow
into joyful dancing.
No longer am I sad.
I thank you from my heart,
and I will never stop
singing your praises,
my Lord and my God."

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Advent. First day.

Advent begins today. I can't begin with any words of my own, because Pete Greig's beautiful, lyrical words and The Piano Guys beautiful, lyrical rendering of 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' have filled my heart:

"God of all hope and light and colour, I ask you to come again into the darkness of our world. We need you more this year than ever.
Father God, since you love the world you have made, love us again with your presence. Give us again your son, that the darkness and crying and dying, would be displaced by his unexpected light and love and life.
Immanuel, come quickly to us again. Visit the lonely elderly and those in prison. Be born again in the divided town of Bethlehem. Become a refugee again in the sprawling camps of Lebanon and Greece. Return to rule in the dark streets of Aleppo. Come again to the frightened people of Ukraine, Yemen and North Korea. And please Lord Jesus, would you see my need too? Would you visit my home, my hopes my heart again this Advent?
Spirit of God, you who moved over the primordial chaos and somehow created beauty, create peace again from the chaos of our world. Intercede and groan for us at this time. Fill us with love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and self control. Make us agents of reconciliation. Anoint us again to take Good News to the poor, to proclaim this year - even this year - as the Jubilee of God's favour.
And so we carve you a dirty manger in the darkest corners of our lives today. We prepare a place for the community of heaven at our table - the true altar of our homes. Let the smell of baking bread fill this season. Let the dead red wine begin to breathe before the feast.
I choose quite defiantly to make space in the busyness and perfectionism of this season. It's time to change the dirty sheets in the spare room. In worship we will roll out some kind of red carpet for your reign in the streets where we dwell, we'll prepare a VIP reception in the places we work. We will join with the groaning of creation, praying the oldest, most desperate, most important words the church ever prayed:
'Maranatha:
Come quickly Lord Jesus.'
"

And so I pray for God to show me how, in my hectic world of school and gloomy tiredness in the dark of winter, when i find myself secretly longing to be in the clear light of New Zealand for a time, I can do something small which will fill my heart with God's purpose. 

A prayer for a sick girl.
Baking for a harried mother.
Kindness and flowers to an elderly friend. 

Pausing to take in the wonder of nature: sunrises, sunsets, birds in the garden and overhead.

Perhaps my prayer is already answered.

Old Age. Adventure. NoretirementinGod'skingdom.

I heard and read three things this week which got me pondering my contribution to life. The first was from an organisation called Our Daily Bread which gives reflections on a Bible reading plan. It talks about a an ancient lure used to catch trout:

"Fishermen still use this lure today. It is called the Red Hackle. First used over 2,200 years ago, it remains a snare for trout by which we “get the better of them.”
As the years add up, God's faithfulness keeps multiplying.

When I read that ancient work I thought:Not all old things are passé—especially people. If through contented and cheerful old age we show others the fullness and deepness of God, we’ll be useful to the end of our days. Old age does not have to focus on declining health, pining over what once was. It can also be full of tranquility and mirth and courage and kindness, the fruit of those who have grown old with God.

“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord . . . shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing” (Ps. 92:13–14 nkjv).

Lord, thank You for Your faithfulness throughout our lives. Help us finish our lives well in service to You and to remember that old age does not mean uselessness.

As the years add up, God’s faithfulness keeps multiplying."

The second was a reflection and celebration on Jackie Pullinger's life, as she has served God so faithfully and pioneeringly in Hong Kong for the last FIFTY years. It was by Pete Greig, founder of 24-7, He says: "Giving thanks today for this woman whose resilient witness over FIFTY years has impacted millions of lives, including my own. Whilst working with Jackie Pullinger I found my faith, discovered the power of prayer, saw that women can lead as well as men, smuggled bibles, ate dog-meat, chased men in pyjamas through Kowloon, and came to understand God's fundamental passion for justice.

Without Jackie Pullinger there might well still be a 24-7Prayer movement but I'm not sure I would ever have had the joy of being part of it. Thank you Jackie for changing this one life."

And the third was hearing about a very elderly member of my church. When my dear friend Renee went into a residential home, little Margaret Le Page faithfully posted Renee the weekly church newsletter, with a handwritten note of encouragement. Now she herself is in a nursing home, but she prays for the church members and phones them to ask how they are so that she knows more specifically how to pray for them. All she has is an armchair and a phone... and a heart willing to serve the Lord in any way she can.

As Cat and Andy prepare to go to Iraq, serving refugees, I reflect on what I have done for my life to serve God. And yes, I know it's not about DOING but BEING the best person God has designed me to be, but nevertheless.... doing is outworking of being. The most 'Jackie Pullinger' type of thing I have ever done is to teach in a bush school in Africa for a couple of years.  And spend the rest of my life trying to work out how to live better. I said 'yes' to Jesus forty odd years ago and have been trying to work out what that means and how to do it best every since.

So, nearing retirement from paid work in a couple of years, I, as I suspect others of my age do, start to reflect on how much time I have left on this earth and what I can do with it. If I were to die in a year's time, what would I do now?  

Not sure.  But it's good to reflect, be intentional... and not take myself too seriously. As in these videos:


Monday, 14 November 2016

Fear and faith

I've had the opportunity recently to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time. But, in fact, it is I who feel so encouraged by our conversations. It is as if God is graciously reminding me of His goodness and mercy. He reminds me of Scriptures and brings apposite reading to my attention: like this one by Valerie Burton. Here's an extract:

"… Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9b (NIV)

....My anxiety about rejection meant I hesitated to share ideas even when my idea was truly a great one. When it came to saving money, it meant I’d pay more for something even though I knew I could get a better price.

It seems I’m not alone. Research shows that we women tend to underestimate ourselves. As a result, we are more likely to shrink from possibilities, second-guess ourselves and settle for less than what’s possible.

We are also more likely to be perfectionists, so we’ll spend more time thinking about the perfect approach to a conversation or problem but become paralyzed to speak up — fearing that failure is too great a risk.

But here’s what we must remember: We have God with us. God’s Word says, “… Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9b).

It wasn’t until I connected my fear with my faith that I truly had a breakthrough. James 2:17b says, “… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (NIV). In other words, your actions must line up with your faith. This means showing up as though you belong. Speaking up when He prompts your heart’s desire. And seizing opportunities when God places them before you.

Lord, give me courage to step up and speak up rather than allow fear to paralyze me. Grant me wisdom to know what to say when I get flustered. Help me see myself as You see me, rather than through the lens of any insecurities or doubts I may have. Free me from fear that masquerades as perfectionism and gives me an excuse to put off important conversations for another day. Help me become the wise, bold, courageous woman I know You’ve called me to be. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.”