How to send an email (the Biblical way)

Late one balmy evening, King David was strolling across his roof terrace when, in the distance, he spotted a neighbour’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing on her rooftop. Shoving to one side the inconvenient fact that she was already married (to a soldier called Uriah), David sent for her and they slept together. As a result, she became pregnant and suddenly David found himself in the hottest of waters.

Initially, David thought he could cover it up and hoped that Uriah would quickly return from the battlefield (where he’d been fighting), sleep with his wife and hey presto, sudden pregnancy explained.

But it wasn’t to be.

Uriah came home from battle and out of (misplaced) loyalty skipped a great marital reunion and inexplicably chose instead to sleep outside the palace, along with his fellow soldiers.

Now King David was really in trouble, so he wrote a letter to Joab, the commander of the army which said, ‘put Uriah at the front of the battle, so that he’ll be killed’.

And then 2 Samuel 11:14 records that David actually gave the death sentence letter to Uriah himself, to carry to Joab.

Uriah unknowingly carried his own death warrant to his commander in chief. If only Uriah had known the explosive contents of that letter.

I was reading this story recently, grimly smiling, having been the recipient of a few ‘hand grenade’ style letters myself.

You might be familiar with the type.

Person A is disgruntled or has misunderstood your actions/words and so instead of having a quiet word, fires off an emotional missive and copies everyone (and their mother) into the cc line.

When it arrives in your inbox, it lands with the force of an incendiary device. As you realise its contents are not going to be a pleasant read, you glance at the ‘copied to’ line to see just how many others have been included. And then you read and you re-read, hoping you’ve misunderstood the tone.

But if you receive a message like this, is there a Biblical way to respond?

Don’t use email for your dirty work

King David had all sorts of message options at his disposal. Instead of summoning a messenger or sending a trusted aide, he chose instead to write a letter condemning a man to death and then gave it to the man in question, to carry himself. To me, that seems like a unusually cruel way to send a message. Uriah, battlefield hero and patriot to the king travels all the way to the front, never knowing he’s carrying his own death warrant.

For me, the rule is simple, never do your ‘dirty work’, using a third party ‘messenger’ like email or text. I try (personally) to stick to a rule; never get into difficult conversations or any kind of backwards/forwards argument on email/text. Email was designed to convey simple messages to people outside our immediate reach. It was never intended to be a weapon of mass destruction.

Don’t include others

King David could have sent a message direct to Joab but instead, he chose to include Uriah in his twisted plan. Why? Scripture doesn’t say but to me, that seems like a pretty cheap shot.

Ever been tempted to do the same? Abuse the ‘cc’ (or worse…the ‘bcc’) line in an email?

I’ll admit, I’ve done it! I’ve felt annoyed and fired off work emails and copied in the person’s boss.

And I’ve had it done to me.

On one occasion, when a simple chat could have dealt with a misunderstanding, instead I was sent an email copying in not only my boss but 3 additional leaders, thus escalating a minor misunderstanding into a Category 3 hurricane.

Simple lesson for me, having been both the sender and the recipient, follow the gentle rule in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over”.

A first step should always be to try and deal with the issue privately between the two of you. Don’t abuse the cc line.

Have a chat

King David had really screwed everything up. He now had a pregnant mistress and a murdered soldier on his hands. 2 Samuel says that God was ‘displeased with him’ (to say the least!) and sent Nathan the prophet to have a word.

Nathan arrived in person to deliver a devastating word of correction to King David. Nathan too could have sent a messenger, but he went himself to confront David.

Some things are simply best said, when they’re said in person, because when we have a face to face conversation, we can assess a person’s reaction, we can correct any misunderstandings and we also have the opportunity (like it says in Matthew 18) to ‘win them over’.

I love this simple verse in Hebrews 12: ‘Try to live at peace with everyone! Live a clean life. If you don’t, you will never see the Lord. (CEV).’

Hitting ‘send’ when you’re hurt, angry or irritated often feels like the justifiable thing to do.

Sending a message instead of having a chat often feels like the easier option (especially if you dislike confrontation).

Copying others in unnecessarily also feels like a convenient way to ‘make a point’.

But they’re also great ways to escalate things unnecessarily and create hurt and division.

Instead, let the Lord fight your battles. Don’t be tempted to do it on email.

Practice what you preach

I spoke at church on Sunday, a message which had been nudging my ribs all week, called ‘When God takes you the long way round’.

It was a whistlestop tour of the book of Exodus and the story of the Israelites’ long journey through the wilderness. I wanted to show that sometimes the things which we think will kill us, can actually make us spiritually and emotionally stronger than we ever thought possible.

In life (just as the Israelites discovered), we often face dead ends, speed bumps and other things thrown into our path which cause pain, heartache and which can trip us up.

‘Speed bumps’ in particular are those pesky problems which suddenly crop up, which look devastating at the time, but if we navigate around or over them with care (and God’s help), it’s possible to see huge and surprising victories.

At the end of my message I said, ‘I couldn’t stand here and say these things if I didn’t believe them’.

And it was true.

And it was also true that I hadn’t experienced a ‘speed bump’ in a while.

Until today, that is.

Through a whole chain of events, something difficult from the past cropped up and metaphorically slapped me in the face. I wasn’t expecting it and so I was mentally winded, wounded and if I’m honest, angry.

I thought this no longer bothered me.

But it turned out, it did and for several hours, I fretted, stroked my anger, and shared the rage with a few friends (who were suitably angry on my behalf). And then, I was reminded of my own message on Sunday.

Don’t look at the speed bumps, at the problems, instead, look up and ask God what he can do. When we take our eyes off the bump in the road and put them on Jesus, that’s when we see miracles start to happen.

That’s really what I said!

48 hours later, I was disregarding my own preach and staring resolutely at the problem instead of fixing my gaze on the problem solver.

Thankfully, God used a family member to remind me of my own words.

And as I thought it through, although this felt like an unwelcome injustice, actually, God can do something through it, if I allow him to. But first I have to start looking up, not down.

So is the problem fixed? Nope.

In fact, in human terms, it’s probably going to annoy me for a while.

But learning (again) to look up and ask God for his way forward, is infinitely better than stewing, fretting and pillow-punching.

Above all, he is a good God. Nothing can change that. Not hardships, not injustice, not speed bumps. But in order to see that, we’ve got to look up.

Or in my case, practice what I preach.

Why I’m not taking part in the women’s march

On Saturday, my Twitter feed was ablaze with pink. People were tweeting and retweeting pictures from the women’s march in London and from other similar demonstrations across the western world.

I’ve been aware of the movement since it began, from the controversial hats (you know which ones I mean) to the rainbow flags demanding rights, as well as gender equality when it comes to workplace pay. A full list of what the women’s march stands for is on their website.

I think, as a woman, I can understand the feelings of injustice. At some point in our lives, most women will have been talked down to in meetings, passed over in promotion for a (less-qualified) male. Many others will have faced rape, assault and all manner of other horrors. On a human level, rage, resentment and anger are all perfectly justified.

And yet, why do I find myself unable to join this movement? Something about the sea of pink, the fiery celebrity speakers, shirts and banners emblazoned with slogans, jarred with me and at first, I couldn’t exactly understand why.

And when something inexplicably bothers me, I have to get back to my Bible and figure out where the unrest is coming from. As I did, I had a Kathryn Scott song, I belong to you, playing in the background and all of a sudden the pieces for me, began to slot into place.

Nothing can take me from your great love.

Not hardship, nor hunger, no pain, no depth of sorrow, not weakness, nor failure, no broken dream or promise.

Be set free to know who you are. Be set free from the wounds of the past.

The thing is, when you truly know who you belong to, no one can ever take away your ‘rights’ or your freedom. Not the ‘patriarchy’, not inequality, not injustice.

The truly free woman, a girl who is at peace with God and with others is safe on the inside and nothing, not even hardship or broken dreams can steal that.

Instead, she’s secure, she sees a future, she walks in freedom, regardless of the circumstances, and she sees rage as something which will hold her back.

Some years back, I went to Zambia with work and met an incredible woman named Margaret. I’m still friends (via text) with her today. If anyone had reason to be angry, Maggie did.

She was born into rural poverty and when her husband left her (with 3 children, one with cerebral palsy), she ended up in prostitution, to try and raise money to feed her children. She was gang-raped, contracted HIV and lost her home. Her disabled daughter was later also raped (in an unconnected attack) and became pregnant. The baby didn’t survive and later, Margaret’s daughter passed away too.

Hopelessness on a scale like you’ve never seen before.

And yet Margaret is probably the happiest person I know.

Through a micro finance scheme she was able to leave sex work and started her own business making tie dye clothes. She’s got enough money for ARVs (anti retrovirals) to keep the HIV at bay, she has a new home and you’d struggle to meet someone more full of joy.

I remember saying to her one time, ‘why are you so happy? So many people have so much more than you and yet they’re incredibly miserable?’

Her answer was one word: Jesus.

She was a woman who’d been abused by men all of her life. If anyone deserved to be at the front of the line protesting, she did. But in her heart, she is free. She’s not looking back, she’s not shouting at her abusers, she’s looking up, at a God who sees her true worth and who is always completely fair and just.

I’m not belittling anyone else’s experience. I’m not trying to invalidate how other women feel. I’m not telling others what they should or shouldn’t do. I’m not saying (necessarily) that systems can continue as they are.

But what I am saying is that when you operate from a place of God’s perfect freedom, nothing can dent that. Nothing can change that. Not world systems, not unequal pay, not insults, nothing at all can separate you from his great love.

It doesn’t matter who others say you are. It doesn’t even matter what others have done or haven’t done.

Ultimately, you are who God says you are.

And that’s enough for me.

How to start over…at a new church…

Finding and settling into a new church is jolly hard work. Over the years, I’ve done it a few times, both as a student and later, when moving (several times) to different cities.

For me at least, it all begins with a bit of googling, trying to work out if a church’s values are close (ish) to mine, if there will be people-a-bit-like-me, if they’ll be friendly, if they teach the Bible, if the worship team can string two notes together, if the pastor looks (reasonably) sane.

Next up is a quick social search. Are they on Facebook/Twitter? What do people say about them? Incidentally, if your church’s website is out of date, includes clip art of flashing crosses/doves and your Facebook hasn’t been touched in over a year, you might want to fix that. I’d hazard a guess that many people visit a church’s website or Facebook long before they make a decision to visit the church, so it’s a good idea to keep them current. First (web) impressions count.

I write all this from fairly recent experience, as not too long ago, I left a church community and had to start over in a new one. Here’s my reflections on the process so far.

Before you leave…

I knew I first needed somewhere new to go. I know myself pretty well on this score. If I left without a new church to go to, the pull of the snoozy duvet on a Sunday morning would be too strong. I was ‘churchless’ once before, many years ago. I got lots of Sunday lie ins but like an ember on the fireside of life, I soon grew pretty cold.

So, leaving without somewhere to go wasn’t an option.

Leave well

Before I left, I sat down with 3 different people I respect, shared my struggles and thoughts and their advice was unanimous; leave on good terms (if you can). Too many people leave churches by simply fading away (perhaps lacking the courage to explain their reasons) or they depart, banging the door loudly and angrily behind them. The advice I was given was simple, leave well, don’t do something you’ll later regret. And so that’s what I at least tried to do.

It sucks a bit

Yes, it does. No matter how difficult the situation has become, walking away from a community of people you care about, comes with a side dish of mixed emotions. Not just for you, but also for the people you’ve left behind. It is a type of loss and it’s ok to grieve for a while. And then mentally and emotionally, you’ll know when it’s time to move on.

People stop talking to you

Yup, they will. I’ve analysed this one a fair bit and try as I might, I don’t understand it. Why should attending a different church, lead to the loss of friendships? I mean we’re all part of the body of Christ, right? We’re all still Christians? So why on earth would people think they have to stop speaking to you or socialising with you? I accept it will happen if a person has left on bad terms or there’s some kind of scandal, but if it’s a reasonably amicable departure, then why the need to cut off all contact? It’s one I don’t understand.

Don’t look back

It’s easy to look back, roll circumstances round in your head, but my goodness, there’s SO much in God’s Word about moving forward, walking head held high into a lovely new future and not looking back at a disappointing past. I often think of Lot’s wife, she who was turned into a human salt cellar.

Was it because she longed for what she’d left behind? Or was it because she was disobedient and did what she was expressly told not to?

Who knows!

What I do know is that once you’re absolutely clear God is moving you on, pack up your bags, walk hand-in-hand with Jesus into the future and don’t look back.

So, if you’re fortunate enough to never be in the position of a leaver, how should you treat ‘refugees’ who turn up at your church?

Be on the lookout

Walking into a new church for the first time is awful. Even if a church is the friendliest, loveliest church on the planet, that walk from car to door for a first-timer can be utterly terrifying. No seriously.

So if your church gets some newcomers, look out for them. It’s not just the job of the welcome team. If you can, say hi and (this is a biggie!), offer to introduce them to others. Church life is all about knowing others and being known. If you can help a newcomer meet others, you’ll drastically reduce the amount of one-hit-wonders who wander through your doors, never to return.

On my church hunts over the years, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve walked into a church and not soul spoke to me. That just adds to the general awkwardness and embarrassment. If you can, be the type of church where every visitor, always get a smile and a hello. Have people whose job it is to look out for newbies and encourage a culture where it’s impossible for people to arrive or leave unnoticed.

Don’t be weird

Don’t make newcomers do weird stuff, like stand up, wave their arms or publically introduce themselves in some way. Please don’t. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s comfy with that on a first visit.

Don’t chase them to fill in a card with all their details or sign up for something or other on that first Sunday. That kinda feels like being proposed to on a first date. And that rarely works out well. Just be nice, real…normal.

I remember years ago, having moved to a new city, a friend and I were church hunting and found what looked to be a friendly little place up the road. We went in, sat down, the music started and then, they locked the doors and started parading round the perimeter of the room with flags.

Apart from the locked doors being a bit of a fire risk, my friend and I looked at each other (and then the flags) with just a hint of panic. Were we expected to grab a flag too? Would they ever let us out? Turned out the minister hated people wandering in and out, so they regularly locked the doors once the service got started. As for the flag waving, no idea.

Safe to say, we didn’t go back.

Give them time

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, most leavers just need a bit of recovery time. It’s normal to need space to process, to figure stuff out, to sit and be. I’m thankful I’ve been given that time at my new church.

So, some of this might sound a bit negative but that’s definitely not the aim.

I love the church, as a believer I have to be planted in one (I shrivel up without that!) and I love the idea of being part of the wonderful, global family of God.

Churches are made up of humans. Sometimes there’s disagreements and it becomes necessary (if all else fails) to move forward into something else. Sometimes you have to leave because you’re moving to a new area or circumstances have changed in some way.

Whatever the reason, whether you’re a leaver, a leader who’s had people leave or just a person looking out for newcomers, pray, get guidance, get God’s wisdom, keep a good attitude and above all, be the kind of person who does church life well.

An answer to prayer…

Two Sundays ago, as I was leaving church, I got a phone call to say my dad was on the way to hospital, after developing chest pain. We found out later that evening, that he’d had a heart attack.

My dad’s had quite a few heart challenges over the years. In his early 40s, he was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and since then, there’s been open heart surgery, stents and a few other cardiac nuisances along the way.

After a round of blood tests, later that night he was admitted to hospital and the following day, was sent for a scan to see how his arteries were performing.

On Wednesday, the cardiologist told him the scan showed ‘narrowing’ in two of the arteries which had been repaired years before. This wasn’t the news we wanted to hear (especially a week before Christmas) but we rallied lots of friends to pray and knew we could trust God to walk with us, through it all.

On Wednesday night, as I was leaving work to head to the hospital, a colleague prayed with me. She reminded me of something she’d heard recently about healing – there’s the facts, the logic, the diagnosis and THEN there’s the truth, God’s truth.

If you’re diagnosed with an illness, you can’t deny facts and pretend it’s not there, but you CAN declare God’s truth over the situation. God’s truth is always bigger, higher, more powerful than the facts.

After praying together, I got in the car to drive 50 miles to the hospital. Before leaving, I switched on a Revive church podcast for the journey. I didn’t know what the teaching was about, it was just called Seated but I clicked it on anyway.

About half way through, (as I was zipping up the M6), the speaker said the exact same thing…’there’s the facts and then there’s the truth. Today, declare the truth, that God is a healer, that with him, nothing is impossible’.

Twice in one night? God was definitely saying something, so as the podcast came to an end, I started praying what seemed like an impossibly huge prayer.

The facts say my dad has problems with his arteries, but the TRUTH says that God can heal him, restore him and put this right. And taking a bit of a bold step, I prayed really specifically that when they did further tests, the narrowing would be gone.

20 minutes later, as I pulled into the hospital and walked down the sterile smelling corridors to CCU, I’ll admit, all my fiery car praying now seemed a bit daft.

I was being literally confronted with the real life facts, the beeping monitors, sick people in beds, the nurses rushing about…the reality of patient life in Coronary Care.

But dad seemed to be in good spirits and as we eventually got up to leave, we prayed again with him, the truth OVER the facts. Although we’re deeply thankful for and respectful of science, the truth of what God says is more important than a medical diagnosis.

Fast forward to Friday, dad was booked in for an angiogram. For the unacquainted, this is where they thread a tiny catheter to the heart through an artery, looking for blockages. Because medicine is so wonderful, they can usually fix the blockages by implanting metal stents at the same time. Dad was told in advance that if they could fix it, they would try to, but there were no guarantees.

It was a nervy day for all of us. I was at work, keeping busy and kept in regular contact with the rest of the family and everyone else who was lifting him up in prayer.

Finally at 4pm, he went down to theatre and was released (hurrah!) at around 5.30pm. My mum rang me just afterwards to say that dad was out and recovering.

Guess what they found?

Nothing!

No narrowing…just a stent from a previous procedure which needed to be replaced.

But what of this narrowing they’d found in the CT scan?

Oh, said the doctor, CT scans aren’t always reliable. Sometimes they exaggerate what’s really there.

Do they?

I don’t know.

What I DO know is that God called a small army of people together to pray for the narrowing to be gone. And it was!

God reminded us again too that his word, his truth always stands head and shoulders above the facts the world offers to us.

Yes, my dad is alive all these years later, thanks to brilliant medical minds and incredible drugs, but there is only so much they can do. And when it comes down to it, I’d rather be putting my hope in God’s life-giving word and truth, than in human facts.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t know why some people experience healing and why others do not, but I am learning so much on the journey;

1. Don’t ever be afraid to pray, big, audacious, ‘impossible’ prayers.

2. Listen to the facts, do what the doctor says, take the medicine, do the treatment, but accept and absorb the truth. The truth of what God says, plants joy in our hearts. That’s what gives us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

3. Don’t be surprised when it works. Speaking to myself here, as much as anyone! When I was first told the results of the angiogram, my first comments were, ‘so there was nothing there? They were fine? How’s that even possible?’

D’oh!

If you’re waiting for your own breakthrough or healing this year, hope this answer to prayer, encourages you.

God is still very much in the business of answering prayer.

It’s time to wake up…

About a month ago now, I had a really amazing and lovely encounter with God.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting it to change my life quite so dramatically, but it has. The only thing I can say, is that my eyes have been opened to this whole new world, a whole new spiritual reality. And my goodness, for me now, there’s no going back.

In the last few weeks, in addition to some great teaching at church, I’ve also been doing an online course by Jarrod Cooper called Moving in prophecy. I didn’t know what to expect (and knowing the speed my life operates at, if I’d even finish it) but slowly, slowly catchy monkey, and hey presto, a few weeks on, I’m loving it.

But in reality, all this teaching is great, but pretty useless if I wasn’t willing to take a big, fat step out of my comfort zone and put it to use. But who wants to leap out of warm, safe comfiness? Well, not me.

But after a really interesting experience the other night (long story!), this morning I got up, poured a coffee and then got settled into a really lovely quiet time. Time just seemed to melt away and I remember at one point, praying, ‘Lord, show me something? I don’t know what….but something?’

Almost instantly, this picture began to form in my mind. I was a bit puzzled, as it didn’t make much sense, but later, for the sake of keeping a record, I jotted it down in my journal. I figured that if it was just me, being silly, well no one would ever know, so why not?

At 8.30am this morning, this is what I wrote;

Just been praying and had this picture in my mind. I was at work (in the room we’re meeting in this morning) and it was like there were wisps of black smoke creeping across the floor. The smoke was getting thicker and most people couldn’t see it, but we felt the effects…the coughing, the choking, the watery eyes.

But then I could also see like these warriors in white (the word ‘centurion’ popped into my head) and they weren’t on duty but they’d been asleep, they were waking up. It was like I could hear their armour rattling as they started to stand up slowly, look around and see what was going on. Didn’t think they were angels but more like a picture of people’s ‘inner man’, their inner spirits. Their inner spirit has been asleep and the smoke has been creeping in but these ‘centurions’, the inner spirits of people are starting to wake up, to be brought to attention. And oh my, when they do, when they wake up and stand to attention and start to really see what is happening, the forces of darkness will be pushed back.

NO idea if any of this is from God but it’s what I saw in my mind, so thought I’d write it down.

Oh, Wikipedia says, ‘centurions usually led from the front, occupying a position on the front line….interesting.

So yep, that was my (rambling) journal entry and I later left the house, not thinking too much about it. I headed straight for the building (the one I’d seen in this mental picture) and to our quarterly Leaders’ Day. These are great days, worship, teaching from a guest speaker, lunch and other good things. Today’s speaker was Steve Uppal and he started by saying he was going to go slightly off-piste on his planned message (always a good sign!).

He then started to talk about the need for God’s people to strengthen their ‘inner man’, to focus on the internal, rather than the external, to wake up the warriors, to start advancing the kingdom of God. He used this word several times, ‘warriors’ and the whole message was grounded in this idea that we need to wake up, realise that the time is here, it’s now, it’s time to get a bigger vision, to get moving.

I was on social media duty, so I was live tweeting and I nearly dropped the iPad in absolute awe at what was happening. This is exactly what I’d seen in this mental picture, curled up under a fluffy blanket, at 8.30am this morning. Just after I’d asked God to show me something, anything.

The amazing, lovely part is that the picture I saw, was in the exact room that Steve was preaching in. Did I get a sneaky glimpse into the ‘warriors’ who would later be waking up in that room?

Hours later, I’m still in a bit of a befuddled daze. Feeling excited and scared by the possibility that when you grab a bit of faith and ask God to do something, he really does answer. I mean, seriously?! Who knew?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known this was possible. I just haven’t always known it was possible for me. But more importantly, aside from the amazingness of it all, the truth of the picture and the message is now soldered into my heart.

Have we been asleep?

I know I have been.

For months, maybe years, I’ve been wandering along in a nice, comfortable place. I knew what God had done for me, I knew there was way, way more, but I felt like I was doing ok and and was maybe a bit too busy to go any deeper. I felt God was near, I was doing fine, that was good enough for now, wasn’t it?

But inexplicably one day, I get thrown out of my nice, warm nest, by a prophetic word from a visiting pastor, and suddenly, I can see how much I’ve been missing.

And there’s no going back.

It’s time for all of us to waken up our inner warriors.

There’s a battle to be won.

I don’t want to be found sleeping on the job.

This is what miracles are made of…

So it turns out that Acts is about the most riveting, exciting book of the Bible you’ll ever read. I’ve read it before, lots of times but I’ve never really, really read it. It’s like lately, I’m reading my Bible with the spiritual equivalent of Google glasses. I can see things I didn’t see before. It’s as though I can feel the emotions of the authors, the feelings of the characters. It’s come alive.

So today I was reading Acts 12

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭12:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen….

I can almost imagine the scene. Paul is in a filthy, rat-infested prison, shackled to a wall. All around him are the screams of prisoners being tortured and the daily ritual of yet another trespasser being hauled off for beheading.

Once you were in that prison, there wasn’t much else to do but think.

I wonder, if among every other thought, Paul struggled with the idea that If Herod gets me this time, my enemies will be DELIGHTED…they’ve wanted this for so long…’

When you’re in the middle of a deeply unjust situation, that can be one of the most troubling, vicious thought processes, of how your enemies will respond and laugh when they discover the mess you’re in.

In fact, I wonder sometimes if that type of thinking bothers us more than the injustice itself.

How much they’ll laugh. How cocky they’ll be. How they’ll think they’ve won

Paul seems to indicate this is part of his thought process, when he thanks God for delivering him from what the Jewish people hoped would happen.

At some point, we’ve all done it, laid awake in fury, mulling over injustice. The very thought of the other side ‘winning’ makes your bones melt to mush.

And yet through all Paul’s suffering in that filthy hell-hole, the endless hours of thinking, sleeping, praising, mulling, all the things you’d do when you had nothing else to do, God was working out a plan.

An angel was literally going to walk into the prison, past the guards, unclamp Paul from his shackles and set him free. Of all the things Paul thought might happen, I can’t imagine he saw that one coming.

I wonder if sometimes, while we stew and mull and over-think some of the situations we find ourselves in, that we’re forgetting to think about what God might be about to do?

Dwelling on the negative ‘what ifs’ is the easiest thing in the world.

But what if, instead of looking at the filth and the shackles and the rats and the iron bars, we started instead to get lost in imagining what God might do? What he can do? What might be just around the next corner?

I’ve been challenged lately to find and stir up that crazy bit of faith which (for me) is often buried under piles of ‘realistic thinking’.

But instead, I’m learning to throw off what I can see, what I think could happen and exchange it instead for the world of what God could do instead.

I can tell you right off the bat, which one I prefer.

When God changes everything…

A few years back, I got caught up in the middle of a hurricane. Not a real one, with lashing rain, storm lanterns and food stockpiles, but an uncommon type of emotional storm which has a similar effect; rips the roof off your house and leaves you stranded. Or drowning.

One night, feeling pretty bad, I walked in the door and without even taking my coat off, I flopped down and laid on the living room floor. For a second, I half wondered if this was it, marbles well and truly lost, but as it happened, it was the precise moment that God turned up.

Before the theologians point out that God was always there, then yes of course, I agree. Of course he was. It’s just that I couldn’t sense his presence. Couldn’t figure out why this was happening. Could see no purpose in it all.

And so as I laid there on the floor, I found a tiny bit of gumption (somewhere in my left little finger) to switch on some worship music.

I wish to this day, I knew what the song was (I’ve tried in vain since, to find it on Spotify) but all I know is that within seconds, the house was filled with this incredible, awe-inducing presence of God. The kind of presence that leaves you mute and immobile, for fear that it might go away. The kind that is so tangible, it’s almost touchable, but not quite. The kind that makes you think that if this is just a fraction of what heaven is like, then why wait? Why can’t we all go now?

There wasn’t much prayerful conversation going on. I felt like I couldn’t really move anyway, but I knew somehow that God was stitching things back together, healing, restoring, sorting.

An hour passed (maybe longer) but when I finally opened my eyes, things were different. I’d inexplicably been in the presence of the King…and it’s impossible to be there and for stuff to stay the same. The situation hadn’t changed but oh my word, I had. And that’s all that mattered.

I was thinking about this recently while listening to Fly by Jason Upton.

For those who don’t know the story, Fly was a spontaneous worship session with just Jason singing and playing. He could hear these heavenly harmonies all around him and later, voice analysis seemed to indicate there’d been more than one voice pattern recorded (yet he was the only one actually singing). Make of that what you will.

I just know that when I listen to it (listen out for the harmonies around two minutes in), I’m back to that indescribable carpet moment, where I know my father started fixing, healing, mending, making sense of the trouble and giving me a purpose for the struggle, which was far from over.

As the old song goes, just one touch from the king, changes everything.

I knew then and I know today, even as new storms hit, that it’s completely true. When God comes into a room, the situation might not change, but I always will.

Don’t believe your own publicity…

When I was a kid, I loved the story of Esther. A family friend gave me a tape cassette with an accompanying book (in rhyme) of the story and I listened to it so many times, I eventually wore the tape out.

Most great stories have a goody and a baddy and the evil villain in Esther’s story was Haman.

He was an important figure in the government of King Ahasuerus but had repeated dramas with a local man called Mordecai. In short, Haman’s exalted Government position meant that mere mortals were expected to bow in his presence. Mordecai refused and Haman was (according to Esther 3), ‘enraged’.

Officials pleaded with Mordecai, ‘Come on, just bow when he walks by….it’s not that big a deal….go on…’ But Mordecai was resolute and refused to bow, acknowledging that for religious reasons, he was not able to bow to anyone other than the Creator of the Universe.

Haman grew angrier and angrier at this stinking rebellion and began to plot a genocide which would not only finish off Mordecai, but every Jewish person living in the land.

There’s lots more to the story (I won’t spoil the ending), but reading it again recently, I started thinking about how differently Haman’s life could have been, if only he’d not believed his own PR.

Most of my life has been spent working in media and communications. That’s often been served up with a side dish of celebrity life and I’ve met plenty in both the secular and Christian worlds who, somewhere down the line (it seemed) had started to believe their own publicity.

We’ve all heard desperately sad stories of leaders who’ve had ‘moral failures’; lives left in tatters after affairs, porn, embezzlement or unfaithfulness of some kind or another. And I’m guessing no one wakes up one day and decides to risk everything and gamble away their reputation. More likely it’s a slow, sliding process which begins when a person starts to believe they really are as good as the publicity says.

But, is there a way to stop disaster in its tracks?

Haman’s story in Esther says that if he’d paid attention to the warning signs, maybe there would have been.

Check the perks of the job

Many positions of trust and authority come with ‘perks’. It might be a special title, a uniform, or a reserved parking space – all of which lets people know who you are. But just because we’re offered the perks, doesn’t mean we have to use them. One of Haman’s perks was the decree that everyone needed to bow in his presence. When Mordecai didn’t, Haman was enraged. Who the hell did Mordecai think he was?

If deep down, we need to use the perks of the job, as a way of letting others know just how important we really are, we might have a problem.

Don’t be a name-dropper

Haman liked to name-drop, throw around the news that he was, yaknow, hanging out with the King and Queen. Who wouldn’t respect someone with amazing Royal connections? Haman needed people to know that he was friends with influential, powerful rulers. He loved the look of surprise on people’s faces, as they realised that he had the ear of the King.

No one likes a name-dropper. And do we *really* need to retweet the lovely things people say about us on Twitter?

You’re not the star of the show.

The King asked Haman’s advice about how to honour a special man. Haman figured the King must be talking about him.

The King wasn’t.

Haman believed he was the star of the show, the one the King wanted to honour. He was wrong. And, as the story goes, he was pretty dispensable too.

Don’t abuse your power

Haman’s plot to wipe out an entire people group, was way beyond the scope of his responsibility. But he had a little power and he was about to abuse it, in order to serve his own vested interests. He had a personal spat with a man, so used the power of his office to cook up some divine justice. It doesn’t have to be anything as desperate as a genocide, but in much smaller ways, it’s easy to use the power we’ve been given, to serve our own interests.

The story of Esther is a terrifying, cautionary tale about what can happen when we start to believe our own PR.

But it also speaks to the heart of who God often chooses to do his finest work. He’s always been a specialist in using the downtrodden, the unlikely, the orphaned. In other words, he doesn’t actually need us at all. If he chooses to use us, then wow, but he certainly doesn’t need anything we can bring to the table (as tough as that is to hear).

If God can anoint a nervous young girl from the back of beyond to save a nation, He really doesn’t need our abilities or talents as much as we think he does.

Stop playing dead…

When I was a kid, my dad used to play this game with us. He would flop on the floor in the middle of the big sheepskin rug and ‘play dead’. Our job as kids was to tiptoe oh-so-gingerly across the carpet, seeing how close we could get before he’d grab a leg, a finger or a snip of clothing.

The point of the game was to not get caught and if we saw the slightest movement from the sleeping monster, we’d run away squealing with red-faced excitement before he ‘woke up’

I’ve been thinking this week about this idea of playing dead. And how easy it is to do, emotionally, every day.

Some animals, like possums and hedgehogs (and dads) play dead all the time. A terrible threat (or a perceived threat) comes their way and they either curl up into a tiny protective ball or flop dramatically into a dead-like pose.

If I’m dead, you can’t actually hurt me further. There’s nothing worse than dead.

For a long time now, I’ll admit, in lots of different ways, I’ve been playing dead.

I mentioned (several times….ha!) the interesting experience I had a few weeks ago, and from that point, it’s been as though everything is very much alive.

It’s almost as though I see life, God’s word, my circumstances, the situations I’m walking into, with the spiritual equivalent of Google glasses.

In the past, when threat and trouble bubbled up, on the inside I’d curl myself up into a little hedgehog ball.

Nothing to see here.

Wait till the threat has passed. Just be quiet. Play dead.

It’ll soon be over.

And yet, I can’t see anything at all in the Bible that says this is an ok way to live.

In fact, everything that I’m currently reading in Acts and Ephesians is about WAKING UP, it’s about grabbing every opportunity, about chasing, walking, moving forward into everything that God is doing.

In that environment, knowing I’m loved, trusted and secure, why on earth would I ever want to play dead?

Ephesians 5 jumped out at me this morning…particularly these bits…

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

And then later in verse 14;

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

They’re all doing words not dying words.

Follow, walk, move, get up, WAKE UP.

I know sometimes it’s so much easier to play dead, to curl up and wait for the storm to pass (I’ve done it for years) but I’m starting to feel and realise, that quietly dying on the inside is no longer an appropriate response to threat or challenge.

I know that at times, life can feel utterly defeating. Stuff hits us hard, loss and stress smacks us to the point we’re not sure we can take any more. Sometimes we desperately need a rest, a break, a chance to find peace.

This isn’t about working ourselves into the ground without any rest though. Rest is important. But it is about refusing, whatever happens, on the inside, to not play dead, to not be defeated.

To keep that steely, fiery, Godly determination intact.

To not give up.

It’s time (for me at least) to stand up, be counted and to stop playing dead.

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