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Friday, 31 January 2014

The grace of a dog's love

I've been thinking a lot about grace these last couple of days. Grace is a concept so contrary to our normal understanding of the way the world works that even as Christians who praise God for his grace, we live as if we have to earn our way into God's kingdom.

We live as if we need to keep producing the goods, doing the good deeds, being generous with time and space and finance, in order to earn God's favour. But in fact the Bible says we are saved by grace, not by works. And we move into the spotlight of God's grace when we turn to him, recognising our own helplessness to be 'good', sorry for all the misdemeanours and felonies we have committed with our words and our deeds, and looking to Jesus for salvation.

Then we experience the liberating joy of being swept into the exuberant embrace of God and loved, truly, madly and deeply.

I wonder if one of the reasons that we have the phrase, 'a dog is man's best friend' is because a dog shows his/her owner so much grace. A dog never withholds her love just because you were away a few hours longer than usual.

I remember once, years ago, when I was away for a period of time for family reasons. When I came back after a few weeks, Don met me at the airport and when we drove up to the house, our dog at that time, Magic, saw me in the car. When Don turned off the engine, Magic raced round the car two or three times, maniacly happy, before leaping in across Don's knees to greet me with a wet slobbery kiss on the face.

She forgave my absence in an instant.

I hope it's not irreverent to compare God's grace to the non-judgmental love of a dog. To me, it kind of helps me 'see' it.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Torn Apart

One thing about being knocked down with illness: it gives you time to reflect. So today, as I lay in bed, I was thinking about that utter devastation on the roadside verge that I described the other day. 

You know, where the JCB driver had just ripped and torn his way through the branches of any trees or bushes which he thought were growing too close to the road.

The other day I’d been reflecting on the way our Father the gardener prunes us gently and thoughtfully so that we grow beautiful and fruitful. 

Today I realized that most of us have the experience of being pruned like those trees on the roadside. We’ve had people criticise us, belittle us, ignore us, abuse us, not believe us, and treat us as if we are worthless. 

Some of those times, it has felt as if a limb has been ripped off, an eye gouged out, or utterly gutted. We may readily recognise the roadside scene of utter destruction and carnage and identify with it in a painful way.

The good news is that God doesn’t see us like that. The good news is that God loves us rather foolishly because we don’t really deserve such lavish love. Maybe we think we deserve to have our sinful habits hacked off in a painful way, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t need us to be perfect in order to love us. He doesn’t require us to have everything right before he opens his arms and draws us into a loving embrace. And he doesn’t rip and tear through the things that are not quite right. He gently prunes us with loving care and wisdom.

His grace is enough to melt my heart and make me fall on my knees before him.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

A Certain Roughness

There was a certain roughness on the underside of my watch strap the other night. 

Can’t remember when I was given this particular watch, but I believe it may predate at least some of my kids. So at least a quarter of a century ago. 

Just now I found a bit of the metal bending away from the strap, looking alarmingly as if it could break any minute. Now I know that most 21st century people with any kind of cachet don’t wear watches. They consult their Smart Phones when they feel the need to check the time. 

But I don’t own a Smart Phone. I prefer to rely on my own brain, whether or not it answers to a similar description. I don’t want my life tied up in a wallet-sized bit of high-tech wizardry which is just waiting to turn itself off, run out of battery, go out of range, or fly out of my pocket and into the hand of a clever thief. 

I’d rather keep my life safe in my head, and the time displayed starkly by itself on my left wrist, as it’s been for decades.

Now I’m slightly anxious lest this bit of low-tech organizational aid slips off into a ditch somewhere. I’ll have to be on my guard, remain super-vigilant.

That certain roughness gave me some warning that something on which I depend might just not be so dependable after all. 

Nothing in this world – high or low-tech, living or mechanical – is completely dependable. Anything might give way or be stolen or hacked or lost or broken at any moment. 

Only God can be trusted to never change. He alone is completely dependable. He is always there for me – whether I’m on time, or running late.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


I'm thinking a lot about eagles today. I don't think I've ever seen one of these majestic birds, except perhaps at a wild animal park somewhere.

I've been thinking about how they soar above the storm clouds to avoid being pummelled by the rain. Soar. I love that word. It conveys power, height, and a certain effortlessness. Riding the thermals. Rising on the waves of air. It communicates a certain exuberance, a joy in rising above the storms and  maybe even basking in the sunlight which shines beyond the clouds. An affinity with being somewhere over the rainbow.

Eagles have several traits which lend themselves as metaphors for a healthy relationship with God. But today, this is my focus. I am still set aside, hunkered down by a roaring fire and sneezing and coughing and sniffing. It's amazing that it has taken over two weeks of ill health for me to finally give in, to finally stop trying to get on with my to do list. Why? What is wrong with me?

Today I read in the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, those famous words...those who wait on, who trust in, The Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.

I may look like I am slumped by a roaring fire. But in fact, I am soaring on wings like eagles, as I wait on The Lord.

Monday, 27 January 2014


Well, though I said pruned, it would be more accurate to say mauled. Or mangled. Or chewed.

The JCB which ripped up the honeysuckle at the end of the drive on Friday sneaked back today and made a meal out of the couple of elderflower trees and the bramble bushes on the other side of the road.

Surely it would have been easier, and the result would have been less like a bomb site, if the worker had got out of the cab and used a chainsaw. Clean and neat trimming then. Instead we are left with branches that have been chewed and ripped, short amputated limbs of these once pretty trees.

Oh, I know they will grow back, but like a bad haircut, it will take time. We may not have many brambles next year. The fragrance of the voluptuous honeysuckle will be reduced as so many fewer flowers will bloom.

Jesus called his father the gardener, who pruned those branches which did not bear fruit. The Father, though, is gentle and kind. He doesn't rip away parts of our lives. He carefully sizes us up, judges which bits are a waste of time, and snips them off.

I am happy for him to prune my life. I certainly don't want the butcher in the JCB anywhere near me!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Friday's Feast

With a tsunami of bad news from the newspapers, radios and TVs, threatening to drown all hope, I thought it would be good to focus Friday’s thinking on feeding my spirit (and hopefully stimulating you to feed yours) by remembering some of the great things God has done this week.

There are the two ladies faithfully picking up my mother’s paper and putting it on her porch, one lady who Mom has never met. Thank you God, for the gentle touch, reminding Mom that you see, and you care.

There was the sale of a car which didn’t pass its MOT last week, and now the provision of possibly two replacement cars. Thank you, Lord, that you meet all our needs.

Improving health round here – praise the Lord!

News of something which I am not yet free to share but which is awesome, truly awesome. Praise God.

Inspiration for writing the children’s talk for church this week – extolling the faithfulness of God who always keeps his promises. Couldn’t have done it without you, Lord.

Daily encouragements from God’s word. A lamp to my feet. Thank you.

The promise of something else which is wonderful which requires more prayer before it can be shared. I’m on it, God!

Time to share with Don. Thank you, Jesus.

A return to the Bible study which I’ve missed so much over the past few weeks. Thank you for every friend there, Lord, and bless them today.

Every day I draw near to God through nature, which is such a blessing. Every day God provides food for our table and fuel for the fire and warm clothes. Every day God blesses us with good contacts with friends and family, deepening relationships. Every day I can connect with my mother via Skype and be sure all is well with her. Every day my legs have been strong enough and my health good enough to wrap up warm and head out with Dusty. Into a peaceful country, free from fear of attack.

Thank you, Lord, for all my blessings.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Season of Hibernation

One or two of the broom bushes on the drive have been pruned so hard it’s difficult to know whether or not they are even alive. They are nothing but twisted skeletons of bare branches looping and lacing round each other. 

Another few weeks, and it may be a different story. Hopefully there will be green shoots poking through the hard brown wood, promising new life.

We all have seasons in life when we need to pull in, like a tortoise pulls in its appendages, and hibernate. Perhaps we’ve been ill, or through a difficult time relationship-wise, or struggling with depression. 

Two images of living things taking a break from life. The broom bushes, and the tortoise. When conditions improve – when the air warms up and the sun pays us more than a passing glance – life should begin to stir again. 

Hibernation is a natural state, but it does render one more than usually vulnerable. My cousin’s tortoise failed to respond as winter gave way to spring one year, and they discovered it had been consumed totally – by rats, or a dog, or some other kind of predator. 

So make sure if you are hibernating, that you are in a safe place, protected and yet in a position to respond when conditions improve.

Best place I know to hibernate, is in the shadow of God’s wings.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Power Failure

Power failed this afternoon at our place. It was perfect. Long enough to get the candles out and appreciate seeing things in a different light. Long enough to sit down together and read by candlelight. Long enough to just sit, and relax.

But within about an hour the lights were up and running again. Back to the computer. Into the kitchen to cook dinner, put on the dishwasher. The heating came on at the right time so the house was warming up when the B&B guests arrived. They could shower in the electric shower. After dinner we could watch TV – first an episode of Cheers (still good after all those years), then a few minutes of the day’s news. 

It’s amazing how dependent we are on electricity. It’s good to be reminded of our dependency by losing it for a short spell.

It’s amazing how dependent we are on power from God. We never lose it, but we often live as if we have no access to it. We prefer our independence, little realizing how puny the results of our lives are when lived in our own power, and not in the power of God.

A different perspective. 

Revealing my deep need for power from above.