The Lone Wolf

There are many analogies, parables and referrals to sheep within the bible and Jesus’s teaching calls us to be ‘as sheep’.
Matthew Chapter 10 Verse 16 ESV
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
The singular and plural word for ‘sheep’ is ‘sheep’. Sheep are a flock or herd animal and were not designed to thrive alone.
As sheep, the Christian brethren flock together under the leadership of our shepherd, The Lamb of God himself.
Goats are different, also a herd animal but with a strong spirit of independence. They can be lead with a well-trained guide, the right stick or reward but for those of us without livestock experience, think of trying to drive a collection of cats in a chosen direction!
Sheep like to be near to one another but when bad weather is approaching, they can sense this and will band tightly together, sharing communal warmth.
So, to be ‘as sheep’ we need to be able to be part of a herd, follow a leader, discern the ‘weather’ around us and pull closer still in times of trouble!
Sheep and goats can live well together but there are nevertheless keen differences.
If you spot a sheep that looks like a sheep and smells like a sheep but cannot be herded, operate as part of the flock or join in when danger threatens, then, you are probably looking at a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

Awaiting the Snowdrops

Happy New Year to you! Many of us are planning for new things this year, maybe making new resolutions for our health, thinking of having a go at new hobbies or expanding existing interests?
Whilst I am also acknowledging the New Year, I am finding myself avidly seeking the new life that I am fully expecting to see, raising its head in my garden shortly.
Why am I so confident of this, given the frosty weather, the bare, leafless plants and the frequently bleak skies?
Because, I am looking for the bulbs that I planted in my garden some months ago. I believe that they will have lain dormant, safely buried under the soil awaiting the right time to begin to grow.
God’s word tells me;

Book of Galations, Chapter 6, Verse7. ESV
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

In the bible, there are many references to reaping and sowing with a more horticultural bent but ultimately this is a spiritual law.
So, in the natural I am standing on this, awaiting my ‘first fruits’ of the year but the meaning of this verse goes much deeper, into the heart of all things spiritual.
The next verses read;

Book of Galations, Chapter 6, Verses 8-10. ESV
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Your thoughts, words and actions are all seeds! We are all sowing into our lives constantly and I want to sow good seeds that will produce good fruit and not weeds that will gain a stranglehold on my harvest.
So, focussing on these scriptures and sowing seeds that will produce life to my spirit is the foremost choice for my resolution this year!

Layby’s and Services

My husband and I pulled into a ‘layby’ on our life journey this week and headed down to the West Country, our destination was a much loved Christian Retreat. We headed, according to the Sat Nav, onto the fastest route, via the motorways. Our purpose was a week’s pit stop where we could rest, refuel and recharge.
Once underway, we had planned a nonstop journey. The fuel tank was full, the tyres were checked and we were armed with travel mugs of hot coffee so we were feeling, unusually for us, a little smugly prepared.
But this wasn’t to last for long! Soon our dashboard pinged an audible warning accompanied by a visual Exclamation Mark. Frustratingly our vehicle then informed us that we had low pressure in our front left tyre so, despite all our checks, we now had to seek the first available fuel station.
So, as I began to focus more closely on the signposts regarding upcoming Services, I began to notice the signs by the roadside, announcing ‘Tiredness can kill, Take a break.
Suddenly, I felt Holy Spirit bring an impact with the combination of our destination and this message. He then quickened this scripture to mind;
Book of Matthew Chapter 11 verse 28 and 29. ESV
28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
‘Rest for our souls.’ This really stood out to me. Also, we are twice instructed how to find rest in these two consecutive scriptures. Rest is important.
So, fatigue can kill in the natural but it had been highlighted to me that it can also suck the living water out of our spiritual life, like the hot sun dries out the terrain in the desert.
We need to seek out an oasis both spiritually and in the natural.
As Jesus is the reason for this season, then rest for the soul should be top of the ‘To Do’ list but as I look around me, I can see harassed and stressed people with turkey, tinsel and that elusive but perfect present at the forefront of their minds. Honestly, I don’t need to look around me to see this; I can sometimes just look in a mirror! But, I have been reminded, tiredness can kill. In more ways than one.
Keep the Christ in Christmas and keep yourselves close to the origin and the source. His yoke is the only one you want around you!
So with that in mind, I would like to thank you all for your kind support this year and I would like to wish you all very Merry Christmas!

Self-Laid Stumbling Blocks

When the disciples were following Jesus, during his earthly ministry, they observed the amount of time and the priority that He gave to prayer.
In Luke chapter 11, we can see that this led them to ask him, Lord teach us to pray? Jesus began by saying, ‘When you pray’ so we know that this is an expectation of our Christian walk and then He taught what we know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
He demonstrated prayer spoken out to our Father in heaven and followed His teachings with a parable and then with these well-known verses;
Book of Luke Chapter 11 verse 9 and 10. ESV
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Therfore, we are to ask, seek and knock in prayer and await an answer with expectation.
So, am I alone in experiencing disappointment?
This is a both a big confession and a big question?
I am a bible believing Christian and I trust Jesus with my life, I have given it to Him after all, so, how do I correlate this scripture with those times in prayer that I have felt that my cries to the Lord just did not reach His ears?
Why Father? Am I asking in vain? I have considered if perhaps his promises simply weren’t meant for me but realised that lies were starting to take root. However, something wasn’t right and I began to wonder if, perhaps, somehow we can hinder our own prayers?
I needed to seek further into God’s word and see how other scriptures sat alongside, but in context.
I found that, initially, Holy Spirit led me to the Apostle James to gain some direction. Specifically;
Book of James Chapter 4 verse ESV
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
And also;
Book of James Chapter 5 verse 16 NIV
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Aha! So, finally, I came to understand that the condition of our heart matters! I learnt that if you are righteous then your prayers are powerful and effective and, additionally, if you ask with selfish intent then you simply do not receive.
In short, we absolutely can place stumbling blocks on our own path and in our own way.
There is more to explore on this subject but now I know that my heart condition can be an obstacle but I also know that I have the ability to change that!

Marinate and Meditate!

By beholding, we become changed.
This is so true. What we view, watch, play, listen to, read or talk about impacts us and affects our lives at a deep level.
Firstly, I would like to apologise to the wise person who uttered these words as I haven’t been able attribute this phrase, but many thanks go to whoever was responsible.
I have been mulling over the above little gem, meditating on it you could say and the more consideration I have given it, the more loudly the wisdom speaks.
Alongside of my musings, due to various recent celebrations, we have had family and friends around for supper and although my husband likes to cook experimentally, we have frequently dug out ‘that recipe’. You know the one, the dog eared and discoloured paper it is written on is no longer needed, the ingredients, method and cooking times are seared into your memory and you know that it has never, ever let you down! Time after time it is well received and returning visitors request it again and ask how difficult it is to make it before asking for the recipe.
This is the point at which my husband starts to shift awkwardly from foot to foot, somewhat embarrassed as the simple key to this recipe is taking plain, everyday chicken breast and marinating it overnight. It transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary! I think he feels that his ‘genius’ is exposed at this point!
So, this led me to ponder on why and how we marinate food? Marinating food is done by adding oil or other liquid and infusing it with the flavours that you wish to enhance and impart. Soaking or ‘marinating’ for long enough can soften the toughest meat and additionally, when heat is then applied to cook the food, there is less chance of the meat becoming dry.
I am realising that with just a little more effort put in, there is a much greater reward enjoyed and that we need to use wisdom in choosing what we behold and what we allow to permeate us.
God’s word teaches that meditating on the Book of Law day and night, carefully doing what it says, leads to success and prosperity. We also know that whilst we live here on Earth, as Christians, we are called not to befriend the world. For now, we live in the world, so what do we need to be doing to ensure this is our reality?
As the apostle Paul wrote;
Book of Romans, Chapter 12 Verse 2 ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So how do we manage to refrain from friendship with the world? As Paul teaches here, be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
So how do we go about renewing our minds? Paul continues in Philippians;
Book of Philippians, Chapter 4 Verse 8 ESV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
So we can spiritually marinate and meditate! We take our ordinary everyday lives and we marinate them in the oil of the Holy Spirit, softening our hardened areas as we purposefully soak up and absorb what is good for our flesh. We then also purposefully meditate on and behold what is good and pure, guarding our eyes, our ears and our minds from the pollutants that would contaminate us, in awareness that they surround us almost constantly.
Day and night, we keep our eyes on Him and we choose to feed our flesh, souls and spirits with the goodness, holiness and wisdom of His word.

Sibling Rivalry

I ask you to please be patient with me as I follow the road for this week’s blog. My path this week takes a meandering route but it does reach the summit, I promise!
Last week we touched on the message of the annually recognised Remembrance Day, which is ‘lest we forget.’ This year was particularly poignant as it was the Centenary year, the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1.
As a teenager, in my final year at secondary school and as history was one of my chosen subjects, I got to go on a school trip to visit the Battlefields of the Somme. Initially, my perspective was on how many days out of the classroom this meant for me and who I was sitting next to on the coach, but and it was a big but, I was in for a massive and unforgettable change of focus.
I am the daughter of a man who, as a conscripted soldier, had fought in WW2 and maybe because of this, I had an interest in the history of the two World Wars and possibly arrogance that I knew more about it all than my peer group did. I was about to be disabused of this prideful belief.
What a shock! What an impact the visual can have! Shock usually wears off but this has stayed with me all the rest of my days. The sight of those graves, as far as the eye could see was simply unforgettable.
Yes, we had museums to visit and English speaking tour guides to listen to but the sight, indeed sights; because there are many different graveyards to visit, of those well-tended but tragically numerous graves left me speechless.
In silence, I wondered around them, glancing at my sixteen year old school mates, particularly the boys, enthusiasm for life bubbling up within them and contained only by the stern and watchful eye of our teacher. So many headstones were bearing the names and ages of those fallen men. So many of those men were aged just seventeen when they were killed; just one year older than my friends and I.
I had held back my tears but my personal dam broke as I read stone after stone inscribed ‘Unknown Soldier’. Unidentifiable, bless them, their final place of rest marked but not specifically recognisable to those that loved them.
Nameless in death, their lives laid down in the name of freedom, bodies broken beyond recognition, their sacrifice in this war as great as their identifiable comrades.
Did their more anonymous sacrifice have the same value and count equally towards our victory? Absolutely it did!
We can see a parallel in the life of the unknown Christian Soldier, although that in itself is a paradox as we are all known equally to God.
Are we all called to be leaders? Yes, we are!
Are we all called to be household names, bestselling authors, pastors of mega-churches, the vocalists of popular worship bands or even just simply up on the stage? No, we are not!
A commission is a command, an instruction or a role given to a person or a group.
The Great Commission Matthew Chapter 28 Verse 18 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is the calling that we ALL have, to share the gospel and lead people to Jesus.
For each one of us, our walk, our part in this victorious battle is going to be as unique as is our own DNA, however, we can often get caught up in envy of the specific callings and paths of our brethren.
We can stumble on our own path when we see our brothers and sisters called into the places or ministries that we might like to have ourselves. We can fall when that brings judgement born of pride and jealousy. Perhaps we might think that we can sing better than her or that we can speak better than him? We struggle spiritually in a similar way to how we can struggle in the natural when others are awarded or granted what we had hoped to have been given. Maybe you had your hopeful eyes on that lovely engagement ring or were perhaps counting on the income from that promotion ‘with your name on’ at work?
Whatever it might be, we must pick ourselves up, recognise, repent and readily turn our eyes back to Him. With perfect grace He will pick us up, forgive us and cleanse us of whatever dross attached to us when we were down in the dust and dirt.
Trust in Him, He created you and He will perfectly place you where you can best utilise the gifts, talents and skills that he bestowed upon you. As you follow Him again you will find your true calling and your personal mission and direction will unfold. Whether you become a ‘known’ or an ‘unknown’ soldier, as you lay down your life, your sacrifice will count equally towards our ultimate victory in Christ.

Don’t Look back in Anger…..

As my regular readers are aware, my friend recently challenged herself by doing the Camino Walk. She has now completed this mammoth trek and is home safe and well.
Her recent walking adventure may be over but there will be changes in her life, because of this experience. Also, she will have returned home with many new and varied belongings that she didn’t embark on this journey with!
She is now in possession of a whole host of new memories, experiences and a new found confidence that comes with leaving your comfort zone far behind you and testing your physical ability and endurance to its limits!
Additionally, she now has in her possession many photographs, taken along the way to mark memorable sights and precious and important moments. She has the visual evidence of her endeavour to cast her eyes over in the present time as she processes the reality of this achievement. The photos, alongside may other things, may well contribute to helping her memories move from the surreal in her mind, to the realm of reality. Also, these images may well serve as visual aids in the years to come, prompting recollection of beautiful scenery or poignant times! Sometimes it is really good to have reminders of past events at our fingertips but equally, sometimes it really is not!
As we walk out our daily journeys, our aim is to walk with Jesus, keeping our eyes on Him and our feet firmly on the narrow path.
However, in the natural, our perspective only allows us see a short distance ahead, just until the vanishing point disappears into the horizon.
From that point on we are dealing with the unknown and when our current place on our path is arid and the sun beats down relentlessly or it is wet and the rain water won’t stop flooding, then we can run low on good fuel and tire out so much more quickly.
We cannot see or know when a change of scenery will come and sometimes when we can’t see how far we have to go, we turn to see what lays behind us.
A glance over our shoulders, just to see how far we have come, can be helpful. With this perspective, we can view historic mountain ranges and valleys that we have already travelled and triumphed over and this can encourage us to switch our perspective back and keep moving forward.
If we focus in however, amongst the triumphs are the pitfalls, diversions and quicksand’s that had us surrendering to temptation, lost, hurting and sinning against God. We can zoom in on every past mistake and failure, reviewing and replaying them repeatedly through our minds.
Can we learn from history? Yes, we can, can’t we? The phrase ‘lest we forget’ can apply to our own lives as well the tragedy and sacrifice of the global world wars but, and it is an important but, we are commanded to forgive and that includes ourselves!
So, don’t look back in anger, instead focus on what you learnt, how you returned to the narrow path and most importantly, how you refocused your gaze on Jesus!
Add some fuel to your tank and feed yourself the nutrition of scriptures such as;
Isaiah Chapter 43 verse 2 ESV
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
We can revisit yesterday and use what it can teach us but we cannot redo it, repeat it or repeal it. So, by all means learn from it but don’t dwell on it and don’t pick up past burdens of shame or guilt. Leave them at the Cross of Calvary, where they were paid for and continue peacefully on your way, trusting in Him that you are on the right path because His word says;
Jeremiah Chapter 29 Verse 11 ESV
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Tales of the Unexpected

Last week I referenced in this blog, that if I pictured myself walking the Camino Walk, then I supposed that the temperature might be out of my comfort zone. I was referring to the heat, as the average temperature for this area of northern Spain in October is 18 degrees C.* Too hot for walking and climbing in my opinion but as I understand it, as the days roll by and the temperatures drops, there needs to be factored in an increasing chance of rain.
So, imagine my surprise when I received a picture from my friend of a snow covered signpost, surrounded by a snow covered landscape. Yes, that’s right. Snow! Beautiful but unexpected!
Apparently my friend made the Spanish News for, in her own words, ‘being the only nutter walking off into the snow’.
Bless her, she didn’t have clothes specifically suitable for this weather, she just made sure that she wore ALL she had!
This brought to mind the holy tension between our need, as Christians, to be prepared, ready and equipped and yet, not to worry or be anxious about tomorrow.
If we take a look at the following parable, taught by Jesus, we can see the wisdom in being prepared and equipped with what you might need for your journey and also the potentially very serious consequences of not being ready.
Matthew Chapter 25 Verse 1 ESV
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Seems clear enough, doesn’t it? We need to plan and look ahead, don’t we? And yet, in the following parable, also taught by Jesus, we can clearly see the pointless nature of worry and anxiety. We are asked to consider if being anxious can add a single hour to our lifespan?
Matthew Chapter 6 Verse 31 – 34 ESV
Do Not Be Anxious
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
We know scripturally that we will have trouble in this world and there is wisdom in planning ahead. We also know that expecting the unexpected and waiting in fear and anxiety may give the illusion of control but in reality, it is pointless and changes nothing. Worrying won’t increase our provision of food, drink, clothing, time or indeed anything else! So what then should we do?
The answer is far simpler than it can at first appear, read once more; But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Paul also writes in Philippians;
Philippians Chapter 4 Verse 6 ESV
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Seek Him first and trust in the help and counsel of the Holy Spirit as He will provide for your needs and lead you in planning with God-given wisdom in line with His will. In all things, we are called to trust in Him. That is ALL things, whether expected or not.

The Road Ahead

Apparently, the commonly agreed length of the ‘Camino de Santiago’ walk is 500 miles and that is the length of the ‘Camino Frances’ which is one of the most popular routes.
As I shared last week, I am included in, via WhatsApp, my friend’s adventure as she walks out her personal Camino walk and she shares her thoughts, experiences and her photographs.
Amongst these photographs have been pictures of the Distance Markers along the way which have really given me food for thought!
I imagined myself on this path, a little out of breath, with an aching back, sore feet, the temperature out of my comfort zone and then coming around a corner to be faced with a stark notification of just how far I still have to go!
Often these Markers display the digits in triplicate, displaying the Miles, Kilometres and Leagues, assisting the diverse nationalities of the pilgrims who undertake this journey but this visual clarity punches hard and leaves quite an impact!
Clearly my friend uses a map and shares her journeys with other travellers who advise one another as, with some advance knowledge, they plan to walk through woods, villages and farmland. They are aware, in advance, of the heights involved as they plan to manage the climbs that it takes to walk across the mountains.
Whilst I have the deepest admiration for the pilgrims undertaking this journey, my blog is about walking life’s journey and the comparison in my mind has led me to ponder upon the following scriptural truths.

Psalm 139 v 16 NIV
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
John 16 v 33 NIV
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Only God knows how many miles we have to go before we sleep and I give thanks for this blessing!
Whilst I am aware that my flesh is mortal, I am so grateful that I don’t live my life with a visible stopwatch, counting down the time until the years and months turn into days, hours and minutes.
Jesus tells us, that we will meet unspecified trouble in this world but peace is found, not in foreknowledge of our lives, but in Him. We don’t know how deep the valleys may be or how high the mountains. Indeed, we don’t have the knowledge of when our journey will end or how many miles we still have to go, we are not meant to have that. We are instead called to trust fully and completely in Him.
The only map that we need for our journey is the Bible and in it we find Jesus and He is the truth, the light and the way.

A Lifetime Pilgrimage

I recently met a lovely woman who had chosen to undertake a Camino Walk. She very kindly invited me to join her ‘Whatsapp’ group, featuring her travels in step by step updates and I have been able to follow her journey quite closely.
As I have kept pace with her adventure, I have been struck with the realisation that, as different as they may be, her pilgrimage and my every day journey, share many similarities. Here is today’s ponderings!
Daily, I aim to keep my feet firmly planted on the rock-solid but narrow pathway beneath my feet, keeping my eyes fixed on Him and following His direction.
But, as my new friend shared that she had lost the stick that she had been leaning on to support her journey, I was reminded of the amount of times that I too get lost because I take my eyes off Jesus who is the one with the map!
I take my eyes off Him, seeking a different view and spot what appears to be an oasis in the distance. All I have to do is just take a different, busier and wider path. I must be correct as so many other travellers are going this way? Sometime later I find that the oasis was a mirage and that the soft sand beneath my feet has caused me to sink. This wilderness that I have arrived at is arid and I am thirsty! I thank God that as I turn around, regretting my mistake I find Him again, my source of living water. I am so glad that he comes looking for me when I have gone astray!