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.


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.


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. 

I got trolled…

I got trolled!

My last blog post on the subject of Joel Osteen generated some pretty negative online responses from strangers. 

Within an hour of posting, I’d sent several rather nasty comments straight to the Spam folder, which among other things, accused me of making up the story and oh, my particular favourite, the suggestion that I must be the product of ‘abusive, irresponsible parents’. 

For a moment, I thought, ‘what have I got myself into?  I just want to write a blog. I don’t want all this aggro’.

But then I remembered a situation a few years ago, when an (anonymous) neighbour took offence at my parking style and started to leave rather vicious notes on the windscreen. I couldn’t understand where all his (or her) rage was coming from. Surely, if they were unhapppy, they just needed to talk to me? There was no need to leave anonymous poisoned pen letters.  

But one particular morning, despite my best attempts at parking correctly, I found another note sticky taped to the windscreen.And this one made me mad.  It was just so unnecessary. So childish. 

Later, I was chatting to my dad and after listening to my tale of woe, he said, ‘why don’t you pray for him?’ (Assuming it was a ‘he’).  

What?? Pray for this IDIOT? This vicious, nasty, small-minded person who had nothing better to do with their time, than write spiteful letters???

But the stinger came when my dad said, ‘maybe no one’s ever prayed for him before? Maybe God let this happen so you would?’

As the words sunk in, later, through gritted teeth, I gave it a try. It took some practice, but oddly, as I reluctantly persevered, I could feel the aimless rage start to melt away. No longer was I angry at this faceless note-abuser, but I was curious as to why he was so angry in the first place? Was there something else going on in their life, which would explain it? Why would he want to upset people like that, with rage-filled words and insults?

There were no answers, but I could feel myself dealing with the situation in a healthier way. And then I started to have some fun, praying he’d somehow get to know Jesus, that everywhere he went, he’d (annoyingly) run into over-zealous Christians (the kind with flags and tambourines) until he had no choice but to submit and deal with the rage.   

So last night, as I was reading through the unpleasant messages again and for a moment, feeling stunned by how vicious some people can be, I suddenly remembered that I could pray for each of them. I only have their anonymous hide-online names, but God knows who they are and he’s more than capable of hunting them down with some totally undeserved grace and mercy.

It’s not nice to be trolled, but as it turns out, it’s quite good fun to pray for people you don’t know. 

A church we’ll never forget…

When I was eight years old, my parents packed up a comfortable life in Scotland, sold everything they owned (house, car, the lot) and as a family, we set off on a huge adventure as itinerant missionaries, travelling across the US.   

Times were tough. We drove across the States, pulling a caravan behind us and stopping at different churches and towns along the way. The parents were living by faith and sometimes didn’t even know where the next meal was coming from. But even all these years later, they will happily recall story after story of how God provided for them. He never once let them down. 

During one particularly lean patch, we were travelling through Houston, Texas and unknown to us kids, money was really tight.  Our parents were also tired and wearied by all the struggles of full time ministry life and decided pull up our caravan for a few days and take a rest.  So we parked up on a pitch owned by a local church. I say ‘local church’ but really, it was a campus. It had a congregation of thousands and was almost like a mini city, known for programmes and all the  amazing work it did in the nearby community.   

Those first few days were like a little slice of heaven. Everyone was so friendly, so warm. It felt like a refuge from the storm. My parents decided they’d like to meet the senior pastor.  They wanted to thank him for the great facilities on site, tell him how impressed they were at all the ministries the church was involved in. So, after making an appointment, the parents put on their Sunday best and off we went to the offices where my brother and I were deposited in the air-conditioned waiting room. 

It was a hot, hot day and I remember the receptionist calling us ‘sugar’ and asking us if we wanted some lemonade or iced tea. As we sat there, two shy British kids, blushing at the warmth of Southern hospitality,  the door fell open and in a rush of sweltering air, a tall teenager fell in, carrying a big stack of books.  

A few dropped to the floor, he reddened, apologised, picked them up and went into one of the back offices. Not long after, my parents emerged from the office and I could tell it had been a good meeting.  They were beaming.

Turns out they’d been able to meet with the senior pastor, a man called John. He’d listened to their story of being missionaries from England. They’d laughed, prayed and shared ministry tales.  

At the end, Pastor John asked them suddenly, ‘how’s your financial situation?’ Immediately jumping into British reserve mode, both parents were at pains to point out they were fine.  But Pastor John saw through it and the church wrote them a cheque, a ministry gift, which basically helped to fund the next few weeks of life on the road. That weekend, as a family, we were invited to sit in the family section of the huge arena they called their sanctuary and dad was invited up to close the service, (in front of thousands), in prayer.

It was those simple acts of gentleness and kindness to my weary parents, which recharged their emotional batteries and gave them the strength to go on.  

I was thinking about this today after reading an article, Megachurch closes its doors (and an onslaught of angry tweets).  It seemed person after person has lined up to attack this church for supposedly not doing enough, after the horror of Storm Harvey. 

There have been aerial shots of the property, reporters demanding answers and everyone (seemingly) overlooking the fact that for decades this church has opened its doors wholeheartedly to anyone who needed help.  A quick look at the ministries page on their website shows they do everything from helping with addiction issues to offering respite nights for families with disabled children.  In addition, during previous disasters, the church has been there, serving with food projects, clothing for people in need and for years, offered tireless generosity to probably hundreds of thousands of people who have passed through its sites.  

I know, because my family was the recipient of their incredible open-heartedness. The church that ministered to my weary parents all those years ago, was Lakewood church in Houston. The senior pastor was John Osteen (who has since passed away) and the young book-carrying teenager who swept through the office doors, was the boy who would one day become the pastor, Joel Osteen.

As soon as I read the story and the sadly predictable social media reaction, I knew something was ‘off’. It just didn’t fit what I knew to be true, both from that visit as a child and from visits I’ve made since as an adult.  And as soon as I started to dig into the facts, sure enough, it seems there was more to the tale.  As soon as news of the storm started to circulate, the church had offered to open its doors as a shelter but was told by the local authority they had enough shelter places.  The church had then cancelled its Sunday services, so that people didn’t try to battle through flood waters to get there. Somehow, that ended up as the headline, ‘church closes its doors to victims’.  

Bad story if you’re a church. Great story if you’re a headline writer, trying to sell newspapers.  

No church or church leader is perfect and I know Lakewood has had its controversies, but I know from experience that generosity and kindness run through the heart of this church like writing through a stick of rock (or, for the Americans, like frosting through a twinky).  And if that weren’t the case, it would have been a church our family quickly forgot.

So as Lakewood church faces its own storm, both the horrifying aftermath of Storm Harvey and a PR battle, there will always be a family in England who remain incredibly grateful for their kindness and generosity.  

And oh, if you’d like to read more about what really happened at Lakewood, here’s the details. 

When you’re surrounded by enemies…

In many big Hollywood blockbusters, there’s often a bad guy and a good guy. From pantomime villains to gun-toting psychopaths, loads of films are based on the idea of baddies versus goodies. 

In the Bible, the ‘baddies’ were a group known as the Amalekites.They pop up quite a lot and were known for their unrelenting brutality, for their fondness of killing children and for their tactic of picking off (and murdering) the weakest and most vulnerable, those who were struggling at the back of the line.The Amalekites were also descended from Esau. Remember him?  

He and his twin brother Jacob had a pretty difficult relationship.  Esau traded his birthright and inheritance to his brother, for a bowl of stew and later, Jacob tricked their father into giving him a blessing, which rightfully belonged to Esau.Genesis 27 says from that point on, ‘Esau hated Jacob’ and the two didn’t see each other for many years. Esau went on to become the grandfather of Amalek, from whom the Amalekites descended. 

And that’s when the trouble really got started. 

I was reading about them the other day in 1 Samuel 30. As it turns out, the evil Amalekites had attacked the camp of David and kidnapped not just his wife and children, but the wives and kids of all his men. 

The Amalekites were known for their blood lust but on this occasion, it seems as though they decided to delay the sadistic gratification. Instead of instantly killing their hostages, they decided instead to carry them off and (presumably) mentally torture David and his men just a bit more.

Can you imagine the anguish? 

The people you love most in the world have been kidnapped by people who love to torture and murder their victims?? What would you do?  How would you respond?

1 Samuel 30 says that the men around David ‘wept until they had no more strength to weep’ (know the feeling??) and David himself, full of desperation, threw himself at God’s feet and then it says, ‘he strengthened himself in the Lord’.

He was facing the worst thing in the world and yet before he drew a sword or devised a battle plan, he ‘strengthened himself in the Lord’?

I read that this week, in the middle of my own personal battle and I realised that no matter what the circumstances, I too can ‘strengthen myself in the Lord’.

Reading the text I was aware that it didn’t say that ‘God strengthened him’. Instead it said that he actively, had to choose to do it.

Sometimes in life, when it feels like there’s an Amalekite around every corner, we have to stick a stake in the ground and like David, get strengthened and then, refuse to budge.

How did David strengthen himself?  Was it through worship? Prayer? Something else?

We’re not told and to be honest, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is what God did through the circumstances.  And if he did it then,  he can do it now.  

Interestingly, some scholars have said that the current ISIS regime descended from the Amalekites.  Is that true? Some of the evidence seems to stack up, but it’s not really important. 

The bottom line is, if you’re facing your own Amalekite battle right now, where it seems as though there’s no way out and the only way forward, is negotiation with a (metaphorical) bloodthirty enemy, then take heart.  

Grab a Bible, a notebook, crank up the worship music, pray with a friend but do whatever it takes (like David) to strengthen yourself in God’s goodness and grace. Remind yourself of all he’s done in the past, how he’s saved you before, how he’s promised to look after you.  As you do, you’ll get strength, you’ll get courage and you’ll also get a battle plan, a way forward.

It worked for David. It can work for you.

When celebrities do good things…

I was watching a TV chat show the other night. You probably know the kind; celebrity interviewer deposits 3 or 4 other celebrities on a sofa, grills them lightly with safe, pre-arranged questions, all the while hoping there won’t be a monstrous clash of VIP egos.  

Usually, the celebs are wheeled in by eager-eyed publicists (I know, because I used to be one!) in order to promote a book, or a film.  And sometimes the celebs are there to just promote themselves.

The other night, I watched in a bit of transfixed horror as a well-known US comedian turned up for her sofa slot.  She was asked what motivated her and her reply was along the lines of, ‘I want to help people’ 

‘In fact…’ she continued, ‘I donated my entire salary from the last series to charity’.

This last phrase seemed to be carefully annunciated, almost as though she was giving a cue to the audience, so they would know precisely at what point they were expected to clap. They duly took their cue, the comedian nodded her approval at her own words and then blushed slightly, as though she was surprised by their well-scripted applause.  

It was a superb performance.  

I was torn. I mean, giving up your salary for a good cause is a great thing.  But when did it become socially acceptable to tell everyone? 

It’s quite a common thing at the moment. I’ve seen loads of online videos/posts from people who’ve filmed themselves giving their shoes to street children, handing out cash to people in need or some other charitable act.  Recently, a ministry leader set up a video and filmed himself giving burgers to homeless people and Facebook nearly exploded.   As more people commented on how kind and gracious and saint-like this person was, the further the videos travelled online. 

So, in reality, is a little self-promotion such a bad thing? After all, surely the fact that the good deed was done, is all that’s important?  A homeless person got shoes, some street children had a great meal.  Surely that’s what counts? And if the do’er happens to get some good publicity as a result, does it really matter?  

Well, from a Bible point of view, yes it does. In one of his well-known talks about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Jesus said in Matthew 6;

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

I think the last sentence clinches it; Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

In other words, they’ve received the short term praise and admiration of a human audience.  Al those likes and shares and comments of, ‘you’re an inspiration’ are really just brief, earthly moments of glory.  When people stop sharing the videos and move on to something else, the admiration is over. 

Everything Jesus said or did was designed to point people toward eternity, to the greater (more satisfying) goal of pleasing God, and living for a purpose beyond ourselves. He talked about storing up treasures in heaven, rather than on earth and he knew (long before the world was ruled by social media) that ‘earthly treasures’ and accolades can be destroyed or stolen.  Far better to focus on the rewards of eternity.  

And for Christians at least, we know that while human praise is lovely, (admit it, we all like it!) ultimately, it’s nothing compared to the eternal, private reward of knowing we did the right thing (without publicly announcing it).  


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