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.

Coffee, Elijah and a fireball from heaven…

After a huge, unexpectedly incredible week, I woke up yesterday morning with a brief feeling of ‘meh’.

You know ‘meh’? That feeling of pre-coffee blah; low energy, low mood, that if not suitably restrained, can leak painfully into the rest of your day?

As I got out of bed to head straight for my morning cure (caffeine), a strange thought popped into my bed-head, don’t go straight for the coffee, call on the name of the Lord. 

There was a second’s hesitation, as I really needed that drink, but I stopped, stood there with my bare feet crunched into the carpet and asked for God’s spirit to give me strength for the day.

And suddenly, standing there in the quiet, it returned; that lovely, pervading feeling of God’s spirit; I’m with you. It will be well.

Meh and blah quickly scarpered and if I’m honest, I was a bit surprised, because it really was that easy.

Why hadn’t I done this before? What makes me think that experiencing God’s power is difficult? That I need to put on a performance? That pyjamas are not suitable attire? No idea where these ideas come from.

I was reading 1 Kings 18 this morning which tells the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel.

At the time, there was this huge cultural debate over who was really God. Was it the God Elijah spoke about or was it Baal?

Elijah, growing incredibly fed up of this constant discussion decides to show the people that God, his God, is the one they should be worshipping.

You’ve probably read the story at some point, but Elijah decided to demonstrate the truth by creating two identical altars and sacrifices. The prophets of Baal would ask their god to send fire on their sacrifice and Elijah would ask his God to call down fire on his. Whichever God answered with fire, was THE God. Job done.

As the sacrifices were laid, the prophets of Baal limbered themselves up for a long and sweaty old day. This was obviously going to take some doing. Suitably prepped, they started calling on Baal, shouting his name over and over and over.  They jumped and danced around the altar, working themselves up into a bit of a stinky lather, but as noon approached, nada.

Nothing, no voices, no fire, no spontaneous display of Baal’s supposed power.

As the afternoon wore on, the prophets began to cut themselves (this was a thing they did, apparently) as the sweaty swaying, chanting and shouting droned on. But despite the cutting, wailing and screaming, still, nothing.

Stony, deafening silence.

Elijah starts to tease them (I love this bit).

Keep going fellas. I’m sure he’ll hear you eventually. Maybe he’s off somewhere meditating? Maybe he’s having a snooze and just needs to be woken up?

As the day relentlessly wore on, it was clear, nothing was going to happen.

And then it was Elijah’s turn.

He steps up, builds his altar, drenches it in water (perhaps to prove there was no trickery involved) and then he prays.

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, HEAR me. You are God of all and I am your servant. Let these people know that YOU alone are God.

Silence.

And then a fierce roar as a huge crackling fireball falls from heaven, smacks at high speed into the middle of the sacrifice, licking up everything in its path.

No screaming, no wailing, no dancing, no cutting required.

Elijah just understood the power of the name he was calling on. And that meant he didn’t need to do very much at all.

What a thought.

When we know (and I mean really know) the power of that name, we don’t have to try. We don’t have to work ourselves up into a lather, position ourselves in a certain way or (in my case) get out of our pjs.

We can summon heaven’s power by just calling on the name above all names and without any fanfare, he’s there.

And so yesterday, when meh and blah stopped by for the briefest of visits, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t properly dressed or that I hadn’t yet read my Bible.  I could still stand there, bleary-eyed, hands held up to heaven and ask for power to help me get my day started the right way.

When we know the true power of the name we’re calling on, there’s no need for metaphorical Baal dancing.

We can just call on the name. And he’s there.

Don’t give up…

Did you know cashpoints are mentioned in the Bible? Ezekiel 8:7 says that God led Ezekiel to a ‘hole in the wall’ (boom, boom).

But seriously, in a huge vision, Ezekiel was allowed to look through a wall and take a sneaky look at what was happening inside the temple. 

The temple was filled with ‘evil beasts’ and 70 elders who were saying, ‘God doesn’t see us, he’s LEFT us’.  In a terrifying picture, Ezekiel could see all kinds of filthy creatures crawling across the floor and God shows him that everyone is ‘worshiping at the shrine of their own idol’.  In other words, they’d picked whatever they wanted to worship and had each built their own altar to it.   The incense was rising up and combined with the darkness, the stench, the idolatry and the filthy beasts crawling around, it must have felt like a scene from Hell.   If it was me, I’d have run a mile. 

As the vision continues, Ezekiel can see women mourning the God of Tammuz and then he gets to see another 25 men who’d given up completely. They were still inside the temple but were actually worshipping the sun instead. 

To me, this is BIG! Is it a bit like some parts of the church now? We’re surrounded by a narrative in the media that says, ‘Look at the mess of the world, the Church is dead, give up people, God has LEFT the building’. 

That sense of hopelessness invades hearts, till in the end, it’s easier to just turn away and worship something else. Oh people stay within the church (just like the 70 elders) but their backs are turned and they’re worshipping the sun instead.

Ezekiel is a tough read, but despite all the ferocity, it still sends one clear message – be faithful. When everyone around you is giving up or worshipping something else, stand STRONG. 

When people say, ‘God is done with you, done with this world’, let something rise up inside that says, ‘No…God is NOT done with me or this world’. 

Despite what it might look like, God has NOT left the building. Don’t give up. 

It’s not about me

Last week, I had a pretty amazing experience.  

And right now, a week later, I feel alive. There’s something about connecting with this loveliness of Jesus which makes you insatiably hungry for more. To be honest, it’s a bit frustrating because I’d love to be sitting around reading my Bible, listening to preaching all day, but well, I’ve got a job to do and responsibilities, so I’d best crack on. 

But this week, in my down time, when I’ve been reading, processing, absorbing, a few different things have come to mind, so I thought I’d jot them down.

Any move of God starts first of all with me.

The great revivalists, the ones of hundreds of years ago who saw God change counties and even countries, all seemed to know one thing. Great moves of God start with me.  They start when I (you!) get fired up and excited about prayer, about God’s word, about listening, absorbing, learning, practicing, being willing.  All the great revivals started usually with one man or one woman saying, ‘Right, ! I am GOING for this’ and then getting stuck into serious, dedicated private prayer and devotion.  Something about those times of getting closer to God made them attractive to outsiders. It made others wonder what on earth was going on. Suddenly people started saying, ‘hang on…I want whatever he’s having’.  And so it began. 

It begins with me, but it’s not about me

Here’s the tricky part though. It begins with me and my actions but oh my goodness, it is definitely not about me.  In fact, believing that I have anything at all to do with whether God chooses to move or not, is probably the fastest way to bring it to a sticky end.  

I’ve been in the church all my life (pastor’s kid) and I’ve been part of two churches where the pastors had to step down after admitting they’d messed up their private lives by having affairs.  I’ll not pretend to know much about how this happens, but I wonder if it begins when we start to believe our own publicity?  We see God blessing what we do and somewhere down the line, we confuse God’s blessing with our own ability and start to think we’re special, we’re different, that the normal rules don’t apply. 

King David was a classic example. He was seeing mega victories in battle, he was loved by his people, he was a man after God’s own heart but one night, he’s walking on his roof terrace and he sees the stunning Bathsheba taking an evening rooftop bath at a neighbouring property. 

Who knows the initial thought process that went through his mind, but I wonder if there was part of his brain which thought, God has blessed and anointed me, surely he wouldn’t deny me this? Don’t I deserve good things? I’ve been faithful, I’ve served God, he wouldn’t put it in my path if he didn’t want me to have it, would he?

Admittedly that’s just conjecture, I have no idea what David thought (beyond the obvious) but I do know that a simple bad thought led to a series of poor decisions which led to the destruction of a marriage, a murder and the death of a baby.  

Later, God redeemed the tragedy through the birth of Solomon but so much pain, destruction and heartache could have been avoided by just doing one thing, keeping his eyes fixed on God and not on what he wanted in that moment.

Don’t chase the experience 

When God does something amazing in our lives, it’s easy to fixate on the experience itself or even the person that God used to bring it to life.  Years ago, I was at a service and someone gave me a really specific prophecy which literally knocked me off my feet. For days, I was stunned, blown away by what had happened.  I wanted MORE so I went back to the meetings, back to see this person, all looking for more, more, more of the same. 

After I was repeatedly disappointed, I had to realise that God didn’t want me to chase the experience or the prophet, he wanted me to chase him. That need for ‘more’ was a desire God put in my heart to pursue what God was saying, to read my Bible, spend time in God’s presence, not just buy the speaker’s book or video. 

When you get too big for your boots

When God does something amazing, if we don’t guard our hearts, it can be easy to lose sight of what it’s all about. Ultimately any move of God has to make us desperate for more of his word, for more of Jesus, not for more publicity, followers, big experiences or personal glory.  If we keep our eyes on the main thing (Jesus), I’ve discovered he has this unique way of kicking me in the shins.

Ever been at a dinner party or an event and you’ve said something you know you shouldn’t have? Quietly but obviously, under the table comes a tap, a nudge or a swift shin kick from your significant other (often accompanied by a pointedly raised eyebrow). That’s a message to say, ‘you’ve gone too far. Wind your neck in’. 

For clarity, I’m not saying that God kicks us but like a loving nudge, sometimes he has to give us a spiritual poke in the guts to say, ‘remember, this is NOT about you. This is about MY glory, about what I’m saying in my word, about my plans, not yours.

For me, this week has been life-changing, overwhelming but whatever happens next, let me always be willing to feel a heavenly shin kick and to remember above all, it’s about the astonishing glory and beauty of the living God. 

It’s not about chasing experiences, people or human rewards or about anything I think I have to offer. It’s about Jesus and what he’s going to do.  If he lets me be part of that, then my goodness, wow.  

But it’s not (and never will be), about me. 


Surprised by God 

For me, the last 6 months have been pretty tough. I’ll spare you the gory details but in short, I have been fighting battles on several fronts. 

Remember those old pop-up monster attractions at fairgrounds, where you had to take a sledgehammer to each monster’s head? The minute you slammed one, another popped up?  The prize went to she-who-could-slam-the-most-monsters in a minute?  Yes, well, that’s been my life so far in 2017.

My solution? Well, I knew that I needed more of Jesus, more quiet time, more worship, more space to process and to invite God on this journey with me. But in reality, I chose (instead) to just make myself very, very busy. 

Without me realising, quiet times in the morning soon turned into Facebook-surfing. That book I bought on putting God back into the centre of your life? One chapter was read, before being quietly pushed under the bed to act as a dust catcher.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t backsliding, this wasn’t moving away from God. If anything, I believed more, it was just that deep down, I wasn’t feeling that peace, the security that comes from knowing you’re firmly in God’s hands, despite what’s swirling around you.   

In fact, the last time I truly felt that overwhelming peace, was a few years ago when I took a mad, last minute day-trip to Jarrod Cooper’s church in Hull.  At the time, I was in a bit of a personal tornado and all I could think was, I need to be in God’s presence. That’ll fix stuff. 

So I rang my long-suffering cousin who lives in Yorkshire and after she agreed to be my church wingman for the night, I did a 308 mile round trip journey (yep, in an afternoon) to go to church.

It was worth every mile. But that’s another story.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when finally, I realised I was going to have to slow down. I took a few days away from things, felt marginally better and thought I’d maybe even conquered the strange stressful malady which seemed to be following me around like a dog on heat.  But deep down, I knew things needed to be radically different. 

So many of the necessary changes in my life were out of my control, but I knew if I could just get my heavenly peace back, I’d be ok.

And then this week, something remarkable happened.  

I’d known for a few weeks that we were having a visiting speaker/prophet at work. I knew too that the plan was for him to spend individual time with each member of staff, sharing whatever God told him. For some, that’s an utterly terrifying thought but for us Pentecostals, we tend to get a bit excited about such things. 

Now I should say that I’ve been in meetings before where people have ‘prophesied’ and it’s felt like a case of too much cheese before supper.  I’ve been left thinking, ‘Really?? The creator of the universe, the one who flung stars into space wants me to know that he looks a bit like an orange?  He has lots of layers and once you get past the pips, he’s a bit juicy in the middle?  (Yes, it’s been that odd)

But here’s the thing, when you genuinely, really connect with the power of the living God for the first time, there’s no mucking about. There’s no hysteria.  You’re just simply awestruck by his beauty, by his presence, by the way you want to curl up in a ball and absorb the very real presence of the living Jesus.  And the prophecy that follows isn’t scripted, generic or auto-suggestion from a leader, it’s personal and very specific. It’s God talking to his children. 

And so, as I walked into our conference room at work on Thursday, I went with an open mind and the minute I walked in, I was struck by the holy presence in the room. 

A worship song was played and I could feel myself melting into that oh-so-familiar (but sadly missed) embrace. 

One by one, different colleagues were called up to be prayed for and as time went on, I began to think that I would be missed out.  I continued to feel this lovely presence of God and in the end I said, ‘Lord, if this is all you give me today, it’ll be enough’.

At which point I suspect, God laughed (in the lovely, kind way that only he can).

Next thing you know, it was my turn. 

What on earth would he say to me? 

Please, please, let it be real.  Jesus, I really need to know you see all this, that you get it.

Fergus (the prophet) took my hand and started to chuckle.  

You’re the 90-mile-an-hour lady. You’re always here, there, busy, but sometimes it all gets too much and you crash and burn. God says ‘slow down’.

He then said a few other things which will remain between me, God, the audio recorder and the other 20 people in the room.

But suffice to say, he repeated (almost word for word) something I had said in the privacy of our living room just one week before. 

He then prayed against it and I remember feeling this incredible sense of love, peace, just no-words feeling of being overwhelmed by a father who loved me enough to send a man from Australia to tell me to slow down. A man who would pray with me about something I’d said in private, something no one could have ever known.

I walked out of the room, wondering if I was even safe to drive. I felt overwhelmed with God’s kindness and compassion and gentleness. 

And I felt free.

I slept deeply that night and all day today, I have remained slightly stunned and shocked at what just happened. 

I didn’t want to listen to nonsense or the narrative of the world around me, so I plugged myself into worship music. I felt protected, distanced, loved, absolutely sure of God’s love for me. 

All of a sudden, all the battles I’d been raging just didn’t seem that important any more. Once again, just like the 308 mile round trip to Hull, God has given me a glimpse of the bigger picture.

And that changes everything. 

That makes me drive home and sing so loud and so freely to my Spotify worship playlist, that people in the car next to me look at me in surprise. 

It makes me wander around the supermarket, silently praying for everyone who walks past me. 

It makes me want to write blogs, to sing my heart out again, to tell everyone. It means I’m now able to make decisions, whereas before I was locked in indecision. 

It means I can be courageous and say to people who speak harmful things into my life, ‘no…no more’.  It means I no longer have to be something I’m not good at being. I no longer have to live up to anyone’s expectations, but God’s. 

And you know what, this feeling of being overwhelmed by God’s graciousness might pass, but that’s ok. 

He’s reminded me again in extraordinary fashion, that he’s heard every thought, every cry. 

He’s truly the God who sees. 

And that’s enough for me. 

How to be a real progressive.

It was a breezy Autumn afternoon and the school’s Headmaster stood watching as the kids raced around the windy school yard.  

School ties flung over shoulders in the breeze, the children ran up to the edges of the chain link fence which separated the yard from the busy road. Sometimes they would lean against the fence, rattle it, poke it or throw balls against it. It was almost as though they wanted to break free.

And so the story goes (and I’m sure it’s an urban legend) that one day, feeling sorry for the children, the headmaster decided to remove the fence. 

Suddenly, the kids were free. No more boundaries. No more restrictions. They could decide for themselves how to live their own lives. 

But instead of grabbing their freedom, the kids (oddly) huddled in small groups in the middle of the playground. They didn’t go anywhere near where the fence used to be. The boundaries were gone, they were finally free, but it seemed as though they no longer knew how to keep safe. 

I thought of this story recently when I read an article on Twitter about the ‘toxicity of religion’. The gist was;

There should be no boundaries in my relationships, whether they be friendships or sexual partners. Boundaries are social constructs. 

Out-dated codes of morality stifle who I really am.
We need to learn the power of trusting ourselves to be good. We don’t need a higher power. I AM my own higher power.

It’s a fairly common theme on social media, a big push towards new values. On the surface, it seems liberating and freeing. Finally, instead of being stuck within the constraints of society, we can challenge all the world believes to be true and instead become the guardians of our own morality.

Bottom line; I am master of my own destiny. I get to choose what is right and what is wrong for me.

A progressive might think it’s a new and fresh way of thinking, but the truth is, there’s really nothing new about it all.

It’s the oldest thought process in the world.

From the very first chapters of the Bible, almost as though it was programmed into our DNA, Adam and Eve decided to go it alone. They wanted to see what was hidden beyond the boundaries, what life would be like, without God dictating their every move.

Fast forward to the time of Noah. From all accounts, progressives decided to throw the rule book out the window. The movie Noah (the one with Russell Crowe) depicts this in all its horrifying brutality, as the people gang up on a living animal and tear it to shreds.  

According to the movie (and the Bible);

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.”

Harsh words. But it seemed people had chucked God into the rubbish. They didn’t need boundaries, rules or oppression from society’s values.  

They wanted to go it alone.

If you’re a Bible reader, you’ll know these aren’t isolated incidents. The whole Bible is crammed with stories of people saying, ‘I don’t need you God…I can figure this out for myself’.

From the Tower of Babel to the time of Moses and the people dancing round a golden calf, to Jonah, Nineveh, Sodom and Gomorrah, through to the more contemporary horrors of today; humans have always thought we could govern ourselves.  

But the truth is, we can’t.

We think we can determine right from wrong, but sooner or later, an ugliness bubbles up, and selfishness and personal agendas step up to the plate.   

Authoritarian governments and religious institutions then set themselves up, with loads of rules in an attempt to control the worst excesses of humanity. Look at North Korea, some parts of the Middle East and closer to home, some religious institutions too. But sooner or later, someone will rebel, break free and begin the cycle all over again. 

The truth is, we don’t know how to govern ourselves and we can’t save ourselves. For generations, we’ve tried and we’ve always ended up right back where we started.   

But there’s good news; 

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 

Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. Romans 3:23

And the most amazing part… grace means that living a life with boundaries doesn’t have to be suffocating or an oppressive regime stuffed full of rules.  

Grace means we can be who we can do more, be more, be free to not always get it right, be forgiven when we screw up and know what it’s like to be deeply loved. Just like the kids in the schoolyard, we can run about freely, at peace, but be secure because of the fence. 

Running from the rules is the oldest thing in the world.  

Good job God knew it would happen and gave us someone, a Saviour who could save us from ourselves. 

And when we know that, when we stop repeating the endless failures and mistakes of the past, that’s when we truly become progressive.

First kisses and great advice

As a teenager growing up in the church, there were specific rules when it came to dating.  Firstly, he had to be a Christian, secondly he had to be part of a church and even better if he was part of our church.

My first ever date with a boy occurred at the grand old age of 15.  To this day, I can still remember all the nerves and excitement and the anxiety about perhaps being kissed (would I know what to do?). I even remember what I wore and the slightly gritted-teeth smile of my dad, as he watched his little girl disappear out the door into the care of a blushing young man from church (who furthermore was 18 and had a car).

To be honest, the whole thing was an unmitigated disaster. We had nothing in common and sat in McDonald’s, nursing melting milkshakes, grimly reading the menu boards or the side of our plastic cups. Anything to avoid looking at each other and acknowledging the awful chasm of non-chemistry silence which threatened to swallow us up.

In the days preceding, my best friend had recently successfully navigated her way through her first kiss.  She and I had talked this over a lot and her advice was simple, you don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want to. 

With this advice ringing soundly in my ears, I realised in the middle of my McDonalds date, that I really did not want any kind of lip-to-lip contact. But worryingly, despite the date’s awkwardness, my suitor seemed to be implying that’s how he wanted the evening to conclude.

As we eventually (HUGE sigh of relief), made our way to the car to head home, I studiously avoided any kind of inviting eye contact. And later as the car pulled up in front of my house, I was so keen to escape, I got my foot tangled up in the seatbelt and fell out of the car, flat on my chin, on the pavement.

You don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want to. You don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want to. 

Despite desperately trying to recover my dignity from my splayed position on the pavement, the  wise advice of my bestie was still whirling around in my head.

Advice. 

We all need it sometimes. Though we don’t always know we need it. And even when we get it, we don’t always listen.

Where do you get your advice from?

I usually go first of all, to family and then to friends, but I’m learning that the best advice doesn’t always come from the most obvious of sources.  Some of the most ‘obvious’ people (like ministers or trusted friends) have at times, given me the worst advice.  

And so now, any advice I’m given, has to stack up against what my Bible says.

Recently, while navigating my way through a bit of a crisis, I was given some advice which actually made me feel worse. Later, I couldn’t understand why I felt more upset, more negative, after the chat, than I did before.  

And then I realised that despite the giver’s best intentions, the advice came with a side order of all their own fear, negativity and bad experiences.  It was loaded and rooted in their own unhappy worldview.

But God’s word always says something different.  Oh, it doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, sometimes it’s words of correction or an instruction to change direction, but it’s always rooted in God’s overwhelming love for humanity.  

Even in the Old Testament when God gave instructions to the Israelites that must have seemed archaic and even at times, brutal, it was always for their own good. God has always loved his creation and every instruction, every bit of advice, every corrective word comes from a heart bursting with mercy and compassion.

Today, some people look at the Bible as a dusty book full of rules designed to oppress and limit progressive thinking. But in reality, the Bible is an inspired manual which understands human nature (and our tendency to self-destruct).  It offers a way of life which might sometimes seem difficult, but which is designed (just like the instruction booklet which comes with any new appliance) to help us get the most out of the life we’ve been given.

As far as advice goes, it doesn’t get any better than that. 

So I’m thankful for all the wonderfully wise people in my life who offer advice when I need it most. And I’m thankful too for God’s word which helps me to know which advice to take and which advice to discard. 

P.s You don’t have to kiss him, if you don’t want to. 



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