Last night was our third Leaders Community gathering since we launched in September. As an elders team we really felt this was an area God was prompting us to prioritise and be intentional about, that is an integral part of what is needed if we are to move forward into everything God has for us as a church family.
In light of our theme “Lean In” this year, we connected, worshipped, discussed and prayed around what leaning in meant for our leadership and how we help those we lead and do life with to lean in as well. As I was preparing for the evening, God gave me a picture that I’d love to share with you.
The picture was of a rugby field, with players running around with the same end goal in mind - to win - but operating in their individual roles. They all had specific jobs to do but at certain points there was a need to all come together as a scrum to drive the game forward.
We, you and I, are like those players. We all have individual roles and spaces but our goal, I hope, is the same. Our God given mission is to BUILD the church. Whether you are sharing the gospel, raising children to love God, being salt and light in your work places or taking someone out for coffee. Whether you are evangelising, making disciples, serving, encouraging, worshipping, teaching, learning or resting - it is all for one reason. To build His Church, the Bride.
The times where we have to all come together to lean in and push forward are when we form a scrum. Every member of the team is needed. You are needed. No matter your experience, your gift, whether you are on the rota or whether you feel like you will make any difference - everyone is needed. And all of them is needed. In a scrum, the players pushing forward are using their whole selves, every ounce of energy and strength. And there are those on the outside, ready waiting to anticipate, support and run when needed. Not one person is a spare part.
You are not a spare part.
I have felt God challenging to me to be all in - to use everything at my disposal to build his church. To not be passive but to engage, to lean in with all I have. He’s been showing me the times I am sitting on the sidelines opting out, where I am not offering all I am and all I have. I don’t think this is necessarily about doing more and giving more - but just being willing to give what we have and if that looks like measly scraps then that’s enough and God can multiply it into being more than enough.
I wonder what a Sunday morning would feel like, what our homes, the school gates, our workplaces, our relationships would be like if we lent in with our whole selves..
I think it would feel like we were building the church and bringing His kingdom to earth.
This morning was a fairly typical morning in the Moore household. I sat down to do a 10 minute devotional from IF:Equip and got about half way through before Martha wanted a story and/or Rupert needed feeding. This is what life is like with two little ones. There isn't much time. Life is hectic, fast, messy and also brilliant fun. It is hard to remember let alone find time to do a quiet time. It is tricky to engage in church whilst keeping an eye on toddlers running around or keeping babies quiet. It would be easier to disengage and feel guilty that church and faith sometimes doesn't "feel" like it used to. Something has changed and it can be easy to think it is God rather than the season we are in.
I relayed this story to a friend and she replied, "yup, they don't call it the black years for nothing!" and I instantly wanted to reject that name. The black years. How many times do we name a season negatively and then live as if there is truth in that name?
Friends, I don't know what life is throwing at you during this time. Maybe you are tired. Perhaps you are grieving. Disillusioned? Disappointed? Doubting? Whatever it is you are going through at the moment, God is still God. He is BIG enough for all the emotions, all the turbulence, all the surprises we are dealt. And He can still move. Whether it feels like He is or not. We can trust Him to be God in the good times and the bad. The happy and sad. The colourful and the black.
There is a beautiful chorus in the "Desert song" by Hillsong that goes...
"All of my life, in every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship"
What ever the colour of your season, we still have reasons to worship. So let's not sit back, let's stand up. Let's not back off but lean in. Let's remind ourselves that He is still God and big enough for where we find ourselves.
I am a few months in to being a mother of two and I have just about caught my breath. There have been situations and circumstances that have made this adjustment just that little bit harder but it finally feels like we are getting the hang of it. At least, there are hours (sometimes maybe a day) where I think I have it all together and I am coping well. And then something happens... my eczema flares up, we get a set back on our plans, the children get ill, someone asks something of me that is more than I can give and then I am not so much coping but surviving. The guilt sets in and I am ashamed to say that for this season I. Am. Not. Coping.
You see, I have always prided myself on the fact that I can get on with things, that I keep going, that I cope. So it was a bit of a shock to learn that suddenly I cannot do all of this by myself. Of course this isn't the first thing I have found difficult. There have been tricky times before but I've got through them. And therein lies the problem. I. I have got through them. At least that is what I seem to have been telling myself. God is definitely trying to teach me a lesson here that I have, (excuse my bluntness) been too thick to learn. This time round, despite dusting myself off after each fall, the punches have kept on rolling and I am feeling done in. In this season I am having to accept help, to learn to rest, to say no and put things down. I have had to reassess priorities and put boundaries in.
And I am still wrestling with this lesson.
But despite feeling shame in not being able to do it all, although I worry what asking for help says about me. God is reminding me that there is no pride in being able to do it all, no badge of honour for being so independent you don't need anyone else. Instead He tells us that His power is made perfect in our weakness and that we should boast all the more gladly in our weaknesses so that His power can work through us (1 Corinthians 12v9). In fact, Jesus said we are blessed if we are poor in spirit (Matthew 5). It is not for us to hold it all together, to do it all in our own strength, priding ourselves on being independent and ok. It was never the point. We were designed to need each other. To need him. That's how the body works, we need each part to function like we were created to. We were never created to go it alone. Phew!
So when we can be brave enough to show up and take the risk to expose what is really going on for us, not only can we experience true community as we ask others to stand with us in it. But we also allow God to be who is he is meant to be. Our God. Our Father. Our comforter. Our provider. Our councillor. Our strength.
Freedom within boundaries
I have been watching my 2 yr old daughter Martha walk round the kitchen, mainly talking gobble-de-gook to herself, hearing her repeat phrases that I must say a million times a day that she has picked up. "Right", "so", "that's it, good girl", all hilarious little conversations between her and her baby that mimic our daily dialogue. But then I am caught off guard as she walks round the room again, pointing to various items and repeating, "No....." "mummy cross,” and my heart breaks. I worry, wondering whether this is her overriding feeling of what I am saying to her day in, day out. That I am a stern figure ruining her fun, managing her, rather than releasing her. Controlling, rather than empowering.
The thing is, in reality, I do say ‘no’. No to when she is about to touch something that will hurt her. No to things that aren't good for her. No to things that she wants but because she is two and I am not, I am aware of things she isn't yet. (There are also a number of not so noble reasons I say no too!) So, yes I say no. Not because I want to restrict her, but because I want her to be safe and secure. Can you see where I am going with this?
In this very average, every day moment, God reminded me again about who He is. He is not an angry parent, saying no to every desire, every road we want to travel down. He isn't putting in arbitrary rules to ruin our fun, but because He is God and we are not, He knows what's best for His children. He knows what will bring us goodness, what will bring us joy.
With Him, there is always more freedom within the boundaries He puts in place. We just have to choose to trust His goodness. His faithfulness. His love.
Let me just say from the get go: I am for marriage (I am also for singleness). I am for healthy, functioning relationships. I believe in the fairy tale marriage. *Gasp*…It’s just that I have a slightly different view of what that looks like to the picture we are sold by this world.
In the wake of Valentine’s Day and the beautiful card and flowers still sitting on my dining room table, I find myself with a sense of sadness. I’m sad because when I look past the pretty filters of Instagram and the carefully constructed statuses on Facebook, I know there are people who are hurting and aching because their relationships don’t seem to measure up to those that the movies depict or the perfect life that social media portrays.
So let me tell you what I believe a fairy tale marriage/relationship looks like….
It looks like patience.
Putting others first.
Sound familiar? This is what 1 Corinthians 13, biblical love looks like. The Message puts it like this…
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.
I don’t know about you but none of these things come naturally to me. By nature I am selfish and sinful, so this idea of love is hard. work. This is love that needs constant work. Constant grace. Constant forgiveness. It needs Jesus. Every. Single. Day.
It may not sound glamorous, but it is real and it is SO worthwhile. When we subscribe to this ideal, we get a glimpse of what God created marriage to be. Two people growing together, daily choosing each other. Preferring the other’s needs above their own. Wouldn’t a world where people chose to love like this be something to be reckoned with!!!
I'll let you in on a secret, I am not very good at praying. I find it hard. I get distracted. I can't find the words. I tell myself I don't have the time. I doubt. I get myself to a place where I know I should have been on my knees way before getting here, and then don't know where to start.
When was the last time you prayed?
This week at school, I have been prompted to pray by my team at school. They don't go to church. I'm not even sure if they believe in God, but yet they have each challenged me to pray. There have been times they have asked me to pray for things, from weather to more serious situations. And there have been times something good has happened and they ask if I had been praying. I am sure some of this was in jest, but the challenge was still heard. ARE YOU PRAYING LOU?
And yes, I have been a bit more this week. Not long prayers. Short phrases shot up to God about daily situations. And do you know what, some of them where answered. I hadn't even given the prayers a second thought until a colleague pointed out, what they asked me to pray happened. Thank goodness God is more faithful than me.
Despite my failing and reservations, I know prayer is a way into an intimate relationship with God. We need to spend time and converse with Him, just like you would to grow a healthy friendship. So where do we start?
"Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always." 1 Chronicles 16:11
We start my seeking his face. We start by building a relationship.
Thank Him for the blessings bestowed each day.
Say sorry for where you have fallen down.
Present your requests.
Do it again!
We can be reassured that when words fail us that God knows our heart (Acts 15v8) and that Jesus intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8v34). We don't have to pray long prayers, out loud for all to hear (Matthew 6:5-12) and we can take comfort that the Lord is close when we call, however long its been (Psalms 145:18).
But lets not settle for that. Lets challenge ourselves to pray. Pray for those around us. For our colleagues. Our friends. Our family. Use them as your prompt. Pray for their days. Pray for their family. Pray for blessing. Thank God for them. Pray for the situations they are in. Help them give their worries to God. Pray that God would meet them.
It's been a while since my last post. It's been a while since I have felt I have anything to say. It's been a while since I have felt like I have anything to give. It's been a while since I have felt God speak, since I have felt His love. It's been a while.
It feels better just writing that. Admitting it. Relief.
Have you ever felt like that?
I have felt a bit lost recently. I guess I have been hurting. And when I am hurt, I hide. From friends. From family. From God. I have been mad. Disappointed. Confused. Frustrated. And hurt.
Today as I have been cleaning the house and adding little homely touches, I listened to a talk and then whacked the worship music on LOUD. As the words and truths permeated my being, tears ran down my face.
"How many time have you found me wandering in the rubble of yesterdays hope. Weighed down with burdens, barely standing but, I am desperate to see you again. I'm running into your arms of grace, with no reason to hide away. It's not the first time I've been in this place but I'm come home again. Welcomed home again."
God welcomed me home again today. I have kept Him out of the hurt corners of my heart. I have kept Him at arms length. But today He welcomed me with GRACE. Today as the tears fell, so did the walls.
You see, when I am hurt, I retreat. I become a recluse. I try and stand by myself. I close myself off from love. From the promises He has spoken over my future. I believe the lies. And then I blink and find myself distant, alone. And I try and find my own way back again. Believing that I have to do the work. That I have to start again. That I have to have my "routine" right before I can face Him.
“But while Lou was still a long way off, her father saw her and was filled with compassion for her; he ran to his daughter, threw his arms around her and kissed her."
The parable of the Lost Son tells us something different. I may feel more comfortable being punished for being distant, to apologise forever, to pay the price. But God bridges any gap we put between us and Him. He runs to us and embraces us with His forgiving arms of grace. We will find Him waiting for us to return.
Today, my only response could be to lift my hands and exalt Him. Proclaim truths where there had been the whisper of lies. Step up and out where I have held back. Fall on my knees and lay it all down again. Relinquish control.
As I prettied the house, I read over some promises and prayers written out on our wedding day by friends and family. I read over prophecies given to me. I forced myself to dream again. They had been forgotten, tarred by faithlessness. But today as I found myself on the way back, I reclaimed them. I put them into a centre piece on my table where I can see them daily. So I can be reminded. Encouraged. Inspired.
"I run this race set before me with perseverance, so that I can be all that God has created me to be."
So, with my heart bowed low and my hands held high, all I can do is walk with Him and build up a dialogue where there has been silence for a while.
I love it when a song captures every emotion your heart cannot possibly express itself. This happened again for me on Sunday night at Resound. The band started playing, the lights were dimmed, people were pressing into the presence of God. And in that place God reminded me that He is faithful.
Its been a pretty tough couple of months. It hasnt been terrible, just tough. I am learning a lot. I am being challenged. It is good. But it is also tough. When life gets like that, my default position can sometimes be to back off. From people. From situations. From life. It has felt a lot like a season of winter.
In winter, any living thing starts to reserve its resources. They might slow down. Hibernate. Trees shed there colourful leaves and pool their resources round the heart of themselves to endure a time with limited light. That's how I feel. I am still standing. The roots are still running deep, unshaken. I am just reserving my strength at the core of who I am. At my heart. It means I feel a bit prickly. A bit sparse and exposed. I am not sure that I have much to offer. It is not the most attractive season. There is not much warmth or colour.
But its ok. Spring is coming.
As I listened to the lyrics of the worship song my Matt Redman called "Never once" God was telling me that in every step, in every season He is with me. There will be scars and struggles on the road to victory but never once did I ever walk alone.
We have never walked alone.
As I look back I can see His footprints. Evidence that He was there. I felt challenged to start knowing this truth for now. For the future. Not in just hindsight. We have come a LONG way and He has been there for the highs and lows. He will continue to carry us with constant grace and perfect peace.
We will never walk alone.
Because God is faithful. Faithful in His promises. Faithful in the small things. And faithful in the big. Faithful in His love. In His word. In His plans. Faithful in every season. And that is what I am going to cling to in this place waiting for spring. It feels lonely and uncomfortable. But God is faithful. He is near. He is with me. He will walk with me, and through a season of Spring. And beyond.
We aren't walking alone.
I have come to realise that I could be a whole lot better at being thankful. I am good at minding my P's and Q's but I am not very practised at noticing all the good things in my life.
Last night at the Rev's members meeting we were given the opportunity to reflect on what we were thankful for. I couldn't believe how quickly so many blessings came to my mind. As I wrote them down, my heart swelled and as I took a deep satisfying breath, in and out, I felt like life got a little more perspective.
There are so many things in life to be thankful for. For being alive. For being free. For having enough. For being loved. For being worth enough that God sent his son to die for me.
As my thoughts became more specific, I thought back over the last year and about all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. All the promises that have been fulfilled. All the ground that has been gained in battles against insecurity and brokeness.
It took me back to my second year at Uni. I was huddled in my room trying to warm up next to the radiator. I felt more than a little lost. I needed God to make Himself known and as I opened my Bible pleading for some guidance, the words Isaiah 62 came to my mind. I didnt know the verse and as I flicked through the pages, I though I was crazy to think anything meaningful would come from it.
But as I read the words, tears came to my eyes. These words resonated deep within my soul. It was a promise that there would be growth in who I was. That there would be healing and connection in my future. There would be marriage. There would be joy. There would be many things to be thankful for.
Eight years later, this promise is well on its way to being fulfilled. As I look back over the last year alone, there has been so much restoration. God has restored me. He is restoring me. And I am sure He will keep on doing so. And the only thing I can do is to fall on my knees in thankfulness. God has graciously poured out gift upon gift and I want to have a grateful heart in response.
So here goes,
I am thankful for Gods comfort and presence in my life. For my husband who looks after me and is my greatest champion. For my family and all those who are included in that phrase. For my lifegiving friends. For a restored relationship with my sister Sarah who is becoming more like a best friend. For a job I love. For my students who make my life worthwhile. For small victories that come in many shapes and sizes. For the unique and diverse community I am part of. For my colleagues who keep me going each day. For my gorgeous nephew Toby who I adore. These are just some of the things I am thankful for. Some of these I never thought would come true, somethings I never thought I could be. And although I am undeserving, God continues to bless me and restore me and fulfill so many of my hopes and dreams. And all I can be is THANKFUL.
"For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you."
I dont know about you, but when I am tired, overwhelmed and a little insecure I am more likely to hide. I am more likely to build a wall around me. I am more likely to take the easy option. I retreat in myself. I let the echoes of lies reverberate around my head. I allow myself to lose the ground of my journey I have gained over the years.
I can remember the first time I went to church for myself. A friend invited me to a youth service she was involved in when I was 16. I can remember where I sat. I can remember how I was feeling and I can still remember the emotion I felt when I heard my friend read out this poem in the service.
"To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,
before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the
greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change,
grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free."
Looking back, I can see that God was talking right to me. I look back 12 years and see a shadow of who I am today. I was afraid. I was ashamed. I was hiding. God was telling me to step out and RISK. To risk being known rather than keeping people at arms length. To risk believing good things instead of accepting the lies. To risk being loved rather running in fear rejection.
My fears are still there. I still have to quiet the words in my head. I still have to remind myself of the words in this poem. I dont want to be a person who does not learn, or feel, or change, or grow, or love. I want to live life to the full.
I now know that God bridges the gap between my step of faith into the unknown when I take a risk. I know He is a God who honours the brave and courageous. He breaks the chains of those who refuse to be enslaved. He accepts us and loves us even when those risks dont work out. Through Him, stepping into the unknown, risking, is safe.
I have this poem up in my classroom and I have had to print it out several times for students who start copying it out when they are supposed to be listening to me! These arent usually students who are "into" poems but I think it speaks to their heart. As it has continued to speak to mine. It reminds them that there is a choice we make through life. A choice to take the easy road, to hide our true selves or a life where we are free. I hope for people to choose freedom. To be so deep in the knowledge that they are loved and accepted that they risk showing themselves. And in doing so find a place of peace whilst staying in a habit of risk.