Let me simplify it for you…

“You have 6 or 7 minutes – just tell us what has happened in the last 2 years and what you would like to do in the next 5…”

This was the brief I was given 3 days before speaking to a large conference – there were many people who wanted to get their message across, so any time was a bonus and I diligently prepared and limited my comments to the time available.   The day before, I received a text telling me that the time given was now 4-5 minutes and I would be on the platform as part of a group (each with a different story to tell). So I adjusted my notes and cut a couple of things out.

One hour before I was due to speak I was informed that we now had 7 – 8 minutes for the group of the four of us which meant I had 2 minutes at best – more culling and refining had to take place. Every word now counted more than ever and I had to chose which aspects would stay and which would go.

When I walked onto the platform I knew what I was going to say but I was positioned on the 4th stool from the interviewer. The first speaker took 4 minutes, the second 2, the third 1 and a half and so when it came to my turn, the interviewer said “In 30 seconds, sum up what has happened in the last two years…” So I chose the 3 highlights that quickly came to mind. And then the interviewer said “Tell us the 1 most important thing that you are going to do in the next 5 years”. I knew that I had 10 seconds left at most before the academy award style music started to play. I had to condense all my plans, goals and passion into a single phrase and so I did – and I think I did OK but it was really challenging to do so. Anything unimportant or confusing was removed; I was left with a single sentence, pregnant with potential.

This moment reminded me of a similar experience in Jesus’ ministry. One of the Pharisees (the teachers of the Jewish Law) asked Jesus to sum up the Old Testament in a single phrase. Jesus took over 600 specific commandments and brought it down to just one.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” Luke 10:27

Such profound clarity is perhaps just what you need today!

Have you been diluted?

Everything was running just like normal and yet, each day, it was becoming more and more green.

We are coming to the end of the swimming season and I have been trying to keep my pool looking nice and clean so that we can make the most of it whilst the weather holds but the last few weeks have proven difficult because of the massive amount of rain that we have had.

During the last month my pool has overflowed at least 4 times and for a while there I wondered if it was ever going to stop, but eventually the clouds cleared away and the sun came up but my pool was left looking decidedly green.

So, with the first fine day, I skimmed of the leaves, vacuumed the pool, threw the chemicals in that usually fix things and waited – still green.

So I made a trip to the pool shop with a sample of water and their analysis told me that everything was fine except for the salt level;

I needed to put in 150kgs of salt to balance my pool. This seemed like a lot but the expert assured me that this was the case… The problem was that the rain had diluted all of the salt content of the pool and left it vulnerable to the algae that makes a pool turn green. The more it rained the more diluted the pool became, and the more diluted the pool became, the more green.

So I added the salt, mixed it all in and within two days the tide had changed and the water started to turn clear – The pool is now back to normal – at least until it rains again!

As I was loading the many bags of salt into my pool I pondered the concept of dilution and the different types of ‘rain’ that could affect my life… I thought of the enthusiasm that I often start a task with and the ‘dilution’ which comes through disappointment and difficulty; I thought of the love and commitment which is present in a newly-wed couple that can be diluted through familiarity and the breaking of promises; I thought of the passion with which people approach their initial relationship with God and how time, challenge and grief can dilute it to mere ritual and form rather than vibrant relationship.

Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?”         Matthew 5:13

The question is…Have you been diluted?  

Not a resolution, a revolution…

The tree is back in its box, the baubles have all been packed away, the fairy lights are back in the garage and the confetti and streamers have been cleaned up from the New Years Eve celebrations – and so we are into another new year.

When people write about the New Year they often speak about a ‘fresh start’ or a ‘new focus’. They express hope and confidence that this year is going to surpass the previous one and that improvements are on the way in various areas of their lives. People make resolutions and state that they are going to get fit, thin and more beautiful – they determine that they need to change house or work or relationship status – it is actually a time when people consider change and wander through various scenarios of how their life could be different – but then the reality strikes – the exercise regime is halted, the old challenges remain and become our focus and the post ‘silly season blues’ take over.

For many of us, this time of year is a challenge – for some the year is going to be filled with ‘excitement, adventure and really wild things’ but for others it is going to be filled with ‘life’ – and not a very different life from last year.

I am sounding a little depressing but that is not my purpose, I just want to point out that we cannot survive on just the hype of a Christmas cake and a midnight countdown – true happiness and contentment require more substance.

The truth is that I could be fitter, thinner and more beautiful – I could diet, exercise and have a face lift but the contents of my ‘life’ would not change, I would still be the same ‘me’ inside, facing the same challenges on the outside.

The only way I can change my life is to allow change within – and this is more than a ‘resolution’ it is a ‘revolution’. It is a determined decision to allow something to happen within that changes my perspective and is outworked in my actions and behaviour.

The Lord said two things of interest for us as we start this year – ‘My mercies do not fail…they are new every morning’ & ‘I have come that you might have life and life more abundantly’.

So the Lord is willing and ready to work with you as you seek for more life, joy, hope and peace to be present (not just for a few weeks in January but) throughout the whole year ahead!

Let’s allow Him room in 2017…

It started with a tax…

It was one of those simple decisions that impacted everybody. The Emperor Augustus decided that he wanted to know how many people made up the greater Roman Empire and so he ordered everyone to return to their ‘home town’ to register – he did this for two reasons – to get a definitive count of the strength of Rome but also to be able to effectively tax all of the people and raise the required revenue he intended to spend.

When you think about the challenges of displacing much of the population of several nations it makes our failed census of August 2016 not look as bad as we remember!

So this is the context in which we find the ‘Christmas Story’ taking place. Joseph and Mary travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem not because they wanted to, but because they had been forced to…the roads were crowded, supplies were limited, accommodation was scarce but there was no choice…

We all know the story pretty well: the innkeeper offers them a place with the animals because it is all he has available; the shepherds visit after the baby is born because they have heard the angels sing… the world, for the most part, remains blissfully unaware about what has taken place… it is a series of images which endure and are recounted year by year.

But it all started with a tax…the first Christmas was destined to ‘cost’ everyone something and because of this it was not a time of joy and peace but a time of concern and frustration.

Many people still view and approach Christmas as a ‘cost’ – expensive presents, food, days off work and crowded streets and roads. As we approach the final days before the 25th I often hear people grumbling and complaining about one aspect of this crazy season or another – they focus on what it is costing them and they wonder if it is really worth it.

The fact is that the first Christmas may have coincided with a cost but it is actually all about ‘a gift’. The ‘gift’ is not the romanticised and sanitised image of the nativity but the powerful message of what really transpired that first Christmas – the Emperor want to tax the world but God in Heaven reaches down to give the world its greatest gift – He presents His only Son, to live amongst us and to show us the way to live.

So don’t just count the cost this Christmas – make certain that you recognise the wealth you have been given through the Gift of Jesus!

This Christmas I pray you will receive ‘the gift’ that waits for you!

Better than birds…

“Don’t sit there – sit up there!”

“It’s wet and cold on the ground – it is much warmer and dryer over here…”

I wasn’t talking to another person and I was not talking to myself but I was trying to reason with a third party who seemed determined not to follow my sage guidance at all.

I had just released a little over a dozen small birds into my aviary, which has been vacant for some time. It was later in the evening than I had hoped and the light was fading – I was a little concerned that the birds, who were disoriented by their lengthy journey from the pet store, may not find a comfortable place to roost and might pass the cold night on the very cold ground. Because they were such small birds this could lead to all sorts of problems…

So I released them and the vast majority made it safely to a perch but there was one, and then two and at times four who seemed happier sitting on the ground. I repositioned them a couple of times, which is always fun to watch someone trying to catch a small bird, but each time I placed one on a perch another would head for the ground.

I soon realised that this was an ‘exercise in futility’ and I would have to let it go and see if they survived the night – I provided enough food, water and warmth for them to make the most of and I would see what happened.

The next morning I was very pleased to find them all perched safely and doing well – perhaps my concerns were unfounded and my actions redundant but it made me think about our responses to the plans and purposes of God.

The Lord has provided so much for each of us – the problem is that often times we don’t accept or make use of what is available. Whether it is the food, shelter or warmth He offers; the guidance, correction or encouragement He brings; or the faith, hope and love that change everything. Often we would rather sit on the ground because we think we know best!

My birds made it through the night because they made use of what had been provided – they may be completely unaware that it had been planned and purposed for their good. We can life safe, comfortable life, blissfully unaware of the care the Lord showers upon us each and every day – but let’s be better than birds!

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:26

What is your label?

“I don’t think that is your name!”

“It certainly doesn’t suit you!”

I was at a conference this week along with hundreds of other people but I had the privilege of sitting up the front in a seat that had been set aside for me – as I sat down the sticker on the chair must not have been attached properly because it stuck itself to the centre of my back and so, for about an hour, I walked around with the word “Reserved” stuck prominently for all to see.

During the hour that I walked around with this label on me, it is possible that no-one else saw it, it is far more probable that several people chuckled to themselves and it is even possible that a couple of people may have been confused by it – but one thing is for sure (from my perspective) it was a label that didn’t suit me at all.

I have been described in many different ways – some are flattering and others not so. Some people like my personality but I know that there are some who view me differently. There are many adjectives that I would use to describe myself but ‘reserved’ is not one I would claim.

I would accept ‘enthusiastic’, ‘excitable’, ‘thoughtful’ and even ‘careful’. ‘Driven’, ‘passionate’, ‘impetuous’ and ‘spontaneous’ would even be acceptable. However, the title ‘reserved’ doesn’t do it for me – it suggests ‘holding back’, ‘timidity’ and a ‘lack of action’ and this is not who I am comfortable to be.

The person who took the label off my back was a friend who saw the funny side of that name being upon me but often we have ‘labels’ put upon us which we do not deserve or which are inaccurate.

People place labels on us because of our ethnicity, our belief structure and our place in society. Labels limit us to a narrow life and lead to nothing but misunderstanding. Labels cut us off from one another and segregate us.

So you probably have many ‘labels’ just like I do – some you are happy with, others you would like to remove but I have found that there is only really one label that matters at all. The Bible says that we have the opportunity to have the ultimate label – it is one which changes our future and defines our actions and responses. It is a label worth wearing and worth living up to!

“They shall see Jesus’ face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”            Revelation 22:4

Time to grow up!

I had a moment last weekend where the chaos subsided and I realised just what was happening. I stood next to my son as his eyes lit up and then started to glisten as his new bride walked down the aisle to meet him. It was a beautiful day, in a fantastic location, surrounded by friends and family, who all seemed to be having a wonderful time…and I also had the privilege of conducting the service.

This is the first of our children to be married and so it starts a new era for our family and so many things change – we have not lost a son but gained a bedroom! No really…we have gained another daughter. A new family unit has started and they will (I’m sure) do things differently, reach for different goals, experience different things and that is what makes it fantastic!

Life is all about growth and with growth comes some pain – it is bitter sweet to watch your children launch out on their own, especially when you have been so focussed on their safety, comfort and development – but to not allow them to grow would be terrible, to not see them become all they could be would be such a waste.

I did find myself looking at my son throughout the day and recalling the child he was, his growth, his challenges, the times he was sick and the times that he really needed me and I confess that it made me ‘misty’ more than once – but those feelings were balanced out but the fact that I know he is now a fine young man with a great future and a great partner to share the road with.

I have no doubt that they will do well and I look forward with expectation to what is ahead.

‘Ahead’ is a good place to look, looking ‘behind’ is fun and nostalgic but you can’t achieve anything if you dwell there.

Remember, ‘growth’ is the right option to choose no matter how old we become.

In the great ‘love’ passage in 1 Corinthians, that was read at the wedding, it says at the end

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became adult, I put away childish things… Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Cor13:11–12

Maybe it is time we all ‘grew up’ and get to know Him who already knows us so well.