When Dreams Come True…and it is Time to Tell a Story (Pt 2)

Whenever we travel to see friends in far off places and I spend time with God asking what he wants to do while we’re there, I know that my heart is being moulded to fit whatever is needed when we arrive. It is no accident, nor is it our own doing that we visit and therefore we look forward with confidence to seeing what Jesus will do for our friends. He is utterly kind and our hearts are often filled to overflowing as we watch while he moves one way and another bringing a measure of whatever is needed. He is wonderful, full of grace, sweetly revealing kindness and mercy. Oh how he loves his children!

The following is a journal entry from before our most recent trip, it’ll give you a peek at what goes on behind the scenes.

Preparing for an encounter session in Helsinki.
I love the sense of lift in my heart as I read scripture and listen to music and wonder about the truth God might want to convey to these dear ones. I know he has riches for them and want to make sure we find all of the treasure he has intended us to deliver to them. I can see each of them, quietly, gently, meeting with the One who loves them best of all. Meeting with the One who looks on them with kind eyes, who has pursued them through all the years of their lives. He’s the One whose heart is full to bursting with fondness for each precious one there. Whether there are two, or twenty, they are loved daughters and sons.

They are hungry to meet with him—but it’s all too easy to forget he is eager to meet with them too, not like a teacher searching a room for the presence of a particular pupil, ready to tick their name in a register, but as a delighted Papa feels his heart lurch as his son or daughter flings open the door of their home and calls ‘Dad! I’m here!’

What does he want them to discover or remember? Whatever it is, it will be satisfying, comforting, energising, bringing greater freedom and, as a friend of mine says, they will be free to be glad.

Each time we are together with this growing group of friends they become more dear to us. During a smaller gathering on one of our early visits I found myself thinking: ‘How can I live without these women in my life?’ I tell you now, it’s not easy, but I have had to learn how to content myself with being a long distance part of their church.

Living in Finland during winter brings its own challenges, one of the greatest, at least it would be to me, is the lack of bright daylight. If you’ve ever felt flat because of gloomy weather, then perhaps you can begin to imagine some of what those who live so far North must go through as they endure the long grey months.

Jonathan and Melissa Helser of A Place For The Heart have written a song called ’Sing Winter’, the lyrics are tenderly reflective and bear recalling to mind, especially if winter isn’t your favourite season. We played this song as part of an encounter session.

Click on the link to watch Jonathan and Melissa singing their song and to read the story of how the song came to birth.

https://bethelmusic.com/blog/sing-winter-song-story/

During our time with them, eating delicious meals and talking way into the night, we sensed the pleasure of God as he met with his friends. To watch as he does what only he can do is awe-inspiring.
This father type of God—oh so kind, and loving and beautiful—enjoys drawing people out of themselves, helping them discover aspects of his nature that he has taken such delight in placing within them.
He wants them to hear what he has to say from the depths of his heart, his hopes and dreams—and he wants each and every one to experience a greater awareness of his love for them just as they are.
Our great privilege is that we get to be there witnessing him interacting with his children. My question is…’When can we do it again Papa?’

When Dreams Come True..and it is Time to Tell a Story (Pt 1)

A little while ago I noticed an image on Instagram, the words caught my attention—this is what they said:

So the LORD blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning.’ Job 42:12.

Memories from years ago came to mind, memories of God speaking through various means, but all to the same end—for us to be encouraged that we weren’t finished with—that he had adventures for us to take part in which we had no clue about as yet, but in time we would, he would make sure of that.

One such memory was of him telling me our autumn harvest would be greater than all our previous fruitfulness. Then there was a prophetic word from a person who knew neither us nor our situation, he called us out from a crowd and in essence told us we had a greater measure of kingdom work in front of us than behind. At that time it seemed more than unlikely, we were feeling redundant as we had recently handed over the leadership of the much loved group we had been serving for many years, and we felt little hope of ever finding anything we would enjoy as much as the young people we had been working with.

The kindness of God in giving these reassurances stands out clear and vivid to me now, yet it was difficult to see back then how all he was depicting might become a reality. It’s also easier to see from this point of view that if we had continued to be so happily occupied then we wouldn’t necessarily have noticed when Father wanted us to move into another area.

After a considerable length of time searching for our next niche, we took on leading the students and twenties team, we loved looking after them and seeing those in that age group make the move from leaving home into growing independence, and witnessing in many of them a discovery that their trust in God was just as good for life ‘out there’ as it had been while they remained at home with parents. We had a long and fulfilling time with these amazing people.

After eight years of feeling entirely at home with the students and twenties we recognised the nudges of God that this, too, was coming to an end. It was not an easy transition, any more than the earlier change had been, this period had been an adventure, and we love people fiercely, so having to move on to something new isn’t a simple gear shift for us, I don’t suppose it is for anyone. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I need to fill in some details.

Quite a few years ago I started dreaming about different countries, this was new for me, I was accustomed to hearing God clearly through my dreams, but usually for others. In one particular dream I saw us travelling to various countries to encourage churches, this couldn’t have been any further from the truth as far as I could see, but I took note because it had a familiar ring to it that indicated it wasn’t just any old dream but a message from God’s heart. I told people who I thought might have a clue what it could mean in practice, but at that time no one seemed to have any more of an idea than we did.

Then, some years later I was invited to speak at a church ladies breakfast, and although I thought the person who gave the invitation may have mistaken my abilities for rather more than I was aware of, I accepted his offer. The event turned out to be months later so I had plenty of time to ask God what he wanted me to do.

Where does this fit into the story? Well, while I was preparing for the weekend away we developed some of the material that we use now, also, during this time I found a growing conviction that something was going to fall into place about ‘our countries’ while we were there. As it happens I was right, just days before we were due to travel I received a message from a church planter in one of the countries in my dream, he told me he would be preaching on the Sunday at the church we were visiting. I was a little excited, I might have squealed, I might even have told him that I’d been following him on Twitter for ages and would love to hear about his church plant. I think he may have thought he’d gained a stalker.

(Note to self…try not to react like a delighted puppy when around people who don’t know you yet.)

Over those few days away God took hold of events and moved everything into the fast lane, things fell into place just as I had sensed they would. The first thing was that the event with the ladies went well, oh my, they were just lovely, and, even as I spoke, I remembered that I loved preaching. Who would have guessed that little rediscovery was about to be made?

On the Sunday we went out for lunch with the friend who had invited me to speak and our new friend the church planter. There came a moment during our meal where no one was speaking, and I felt I had to tell my story then or I might never get another chance. So I did, I spilled the beans about my dream, then held my breath as the following silence gave me every opportunity to imagine what was going on in their minds, especially in the thoughts of the church planter—he took a moment to consider, then told us he knew people who were planting churches in all of the countries I’d mentioned, that they’d all be at a conference he would be hosting in a few months, and would we like to go along to meet them? You know it—I said yes before my heart had even taken another beat!

Some months later back in the normal routine of things at home, we had to say sad goodbyes to our students and twenties group, we spent a long time afterwards grieving the loss. Life felt incredibly flat without them.

We didn’t notice the timing then, but only the next month, we went on our first visit to Helsinki, to do something other than simply meet people who were planting churches in these cold countries.

Kevin and Lydia Jones had us stay with them for nine days, which is remarkable considering we’d only ever met briefly at a couple of conferences, and then once over coffee where we told them the sort of sessions we hold and what tends to happen as a result. We were being drawn into a precious gift of friendship even in those short conversations. Don’t you love the way Jesus puts people alongside each other to explore his kingdom dreams together? That is how we found ourselves in their home, listening to why they moved to Finland, and telling them of the dreams which had resulted in our being there too.

That all seems a long time ago now, and quite a lot has happened since.

Women Who Toe the Line Rarely Tear Down Strongholds

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What if Mary hadn’t sat at the feet of Jesus, but had decided to toe the line instead? How about Rosa Parks, what if she had decided that the struggle was just too hard, and she could leave it to others to fight for civil rights? Or the women who became known as The Suffragettes had shuddered at the thought of all the disorder they might cause if they protested, and left the voting to the ones who knew what they were doing?

Where would we be if these people hadn’t seen there was more, not just for their own small lives–which may have seemed insignificant to them–but for those around them? What if they had felt the weight of ‘should’ and ‘should not’, so much so that they decided they would toe the line and go no further.

Was this a rebellion, a behaviour coming out of a rebellious spirit? Or was it behaviour that caused them to inwardly tremble too, as they did what they would not have chosen to, in their pursuit of the truly greater thing?

We have often perceived Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as a beautiful and tender act of devotion, and I’m not decrying a heart of devotion to Jesus, he is the Beautiful One, what I am saying is that we have mistaken Mary’s action as the simple act of a devoted woman who so loved her Lord that she was willing to risk misunderstanding and to forgo helping Martha prepare a meal for the other disciples. This isn’t the case. Mary was in an area of the house which was set apart for males only, for those who were there to learn from the Rabbi, to learn so as to teach others at the appropriate time. Much as Paul sat and studied at the feet of Gamaliel, this is what Mary was doing, and Mary was welcomed by Jesus, he said in her defence: “She has chosen the greater thing.”She was learning from Jesus, not solely to nourish her own heart and mind, but in order that she might pass on all that she had been taught. Much as Jesus later instructed all of his disciples to do: “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to do all I have commanded you.”

What looks like rebellion, can, in truth, be a holy act, a set apart for God and others act. Do I desire rebellion? Good grief, no, but sometimes there needs to be a civil–holy–disobedience as the system confines its inhabitants to a too small world.

This world is big and glorious, but broken, and needs men and women both.

It needs them to pursue the hurt, the wandering, and the wondering; to chase after a better way of accomplishing tasks so as to lessen the damage done. To see the better way for wherever their heart’s dreams and hopes lie, to make the difference they yearn to make, that they are created to make.

Can I ask you to be brave and to do that thing you dream of as you sit with God? Please don’t confine your question to “What will they think if I do this?” but also ask yourself: “What will not happen if I don’t do this? What will be missing?”

You may be the one who makes a world of difference to one, and therefore  a real and tangible difference to the world as a whole.

Know you are an image-bearer. Know your Creator thought of you, imagining all you would be capable of. He saw your trembling heart and hands, but also your delight at seeing his plans come to fruition. Dear one, please don’t toe a line unless it’s a line drawn by the one who made you to impact the world.

 

We are made for transcendence and endless horizons but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. We must dig deep and yet seem reluctant, even afraid to do so.”

Richard Rohr: Immortal Diamond

Come with us and we will do you good…

Come with us and we will do you good.’ This is such an affectionate truth, spoken from the heart of those who want just that, to do people good, and if this is our desire then we need to know who our God is, and who we are because of that.

If we have this understanding, and I don’t simply mean information gathering, but gut level grasp of this knowledge, then we can genuinely say: ‘Come with us and we will do you good’ and it be true.

If we don’t know who our God is, and what he is like, then we may well lead others down a rabbit hole of legalistic rules and regulations.

If we don’t know who we are we may manipulate and control from a lack of understanding of our own belovedness and firm security in God.

Yet when we are aware of our identity, we become free to let others be who they are in all their magnificence because we know we are each precious and deeply loved.

What freedom there is in this, freedom to notice the gold, the greatness, the gifts, the skills, the character and the family likeness in one another. Freedom to make sure equipping happens, and that people are released to serve in the way that suits them best and which makes the most of who God has made them to be.

Let’s discover who God is and who we are and then in community let’s go on the adventure he’s called us to share with him

The nature of Father God is our bedrock and with a genuine understanding of his character we become those people who are happy to be in his presence, prepared to encounter him without any sense of anxiety.

It is also vital for us to know our identity in Christ, not as some tick-box exercise, but a soul deep assurance of who we are. The goal of self-knowledge isn’t to be absorbed in ourselves, but free from ourselves in many ways, free to be present for others in ways we find tough if we are battling self-doubts and insecurities.

Putting in the work to understand oneself is good work, work which will indirectly benefit all those around us. Family, friends, colleagues, and so on, will all enjoy the person who has gained greater liberty from the character flaws inherent in us all. Each of us is gifted and flawed in our own unique manner, and when we understand how that is, and how we can best attend to these characteristics so as to grow the good and starve the bad then we will be becoming all God has dreamt of for us. We will be on our way back to Eden in a way, back to how he planned for his creative masterpiece to function…only better, because now we appreciate the privilege of that relationship which once was lost.

I want us all to experience as much of heaven on earth as we are permitted, to become as much like Jesus as it is possible to be in this place. It is possible to be triumphalistic, I don’t want to drift into that, but we aren’t in too much danger of that, much more the opposite tendency, to accept our flaws as our lot, believing we can’t change in any meaningful measure.

Leadership needs to be perceptive, equipping, and releasing if optimal growth and healing is to come about

Leaders can only embody all of this if they are secure within themselves because their own identity and relationships are thriving in God and with their community. It is possible if the community isn’t in place as yet, but leaders will be richer and more generous if it IS there. Leaders need their own souls cared for too.

Perceptive

To know and understand the people around them with a view to helping them explore and unearth the richness within.

Equipping

Authentic community is essential for our healthy growth, friends who know us well can help us see aspects of our character which may slip by unnoticed if we are isolated. The help they can bring us isn’t in the form of policing us and our failures but in calling out what we are made for. Accounting for our ability is the best way to view accountability. There are talents and skills which can go undeveloped without good friends to give us a gentle shove in the right, but often scary, direction.

Tools to assist with self-understanding are many and varied, personality typing e.g. Myers-Briggs, or the Enneagram; discovering your spiritual gifts and motivations, etc., all help no end. Discovering this information helps you to understand who you are and some of the ‘why’ you may have had about your self and your life, you may even have eureka moments as you explore, “Ah…that’s why I do so and so!”

Releasing: Free to love others more fully

Some may exhibit a slightly sniffy attitude to the sort of study this entails, as if it is too self absorbed for words, and it can be if that is where it finishes, but the intention is to build understanding so as to facilitate freedom to love others more fully. This is as far from being self absorbed as East is from West, building health into oneself with the purpose of liberty from the suffocation of selfishness is true generosity of spirit to others.

Where The Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom

We are set free by the Spirit through knowing the truth of how he loves us and how we are made with all of our gifts, personality traits, etc., we are his Beloved, his inheritance, his treasure…let’s explore the wide open space of this reality.

Father God has dreamed a dream of you, why not invest time and energy in discovering all that he has intended for you? 

Worship…Do We Need To Develop Stamina?

imageI remember hearing a prophet say we should develop stamina for spending extended time in worship, to learn to be willing and able to engage at length in the presence of God. The challenge he brought was fitting then, and remains so now.

What if a shift in awareness comes as God makes his presence felt, but the time is getting late?

What might he do in our worship if we didn’t rush away?

Do we have the stamina to remain in Father’s presence if he moves in an unusual way, or even if he doesn’t, but we just long to pour out more of an offering than usual?

Do we even want the necessary strength, or would we prefer to be in bed at our usual time?

We cry out for his presence but are we willing to stay with him, or do we think, ‘Our usual finishing time will do…thank you very much.’? 

I hope not. I would love for the church…and that includes me…to be hungry enough to keep asking for the more, and to have the strength of heart to stay the course when the ‘more’ is happening. We may have work in the morning, or the sure knowledge of a baby waking us later, but if we have met with God won’t we relish what we have experienced rather than resenting the tiredness?

As I imagine these opportunities to linger, I’m not thinking of nightly meetings as has often been the custom during revivals, I’m thinking more of a deliberate decision to explore the wide open space of worship, enjoying the presence of Father God, after all this is where we are invited to dwell and to rest.

Then perhaps there will be those times when something special is happening, right here, right now, and someone needs to make a decision, well, we all do. Will we call a halt, bring on the speaker, draw the meeting to a close,  sidle off in hopes we go home unnoticed, or will we risk it and stay? Imagine Moses, when he saw something odd going on in a bush, was he tempted to think he would just press on with whatever he was doing there and then? Thankfully, he decided he would stay to see what was happening. He had to make a choice. So do we.

Are we keen for him to be free to do whatever he wants? Are we brave enough to stay when he makes his presence felt? What might happen to us, in us, through us, if we stay? Might we be history makers?

Who could you encourage?

I once asked a wise man what vision he had for the church he leads, he said he didn’t have a set vision, but wanted everyone to function freely and well in the gifts that God had given them, because then the church would be what it was intended to be.
It seems to me he has something precious there, a heart to see people released, trusting them and helping them to receive equipping to be all God has made them to be.
Funnily enough, that man and his encouragement have been a great part of the equipping and releasing of what we do now.

Who might you encourage by sharing your heart with them?
Who needs you to notice some ability in them, to draw it out and give them a push in the right direction?
Will you be brave and do it?

What if you had an opportunity to share your thoughts?

If you had an invitation to say what is going on in you at the moment, what God is doing, or saying, that sort of thing, what do you think you’d say? This isn’t always an easy one to answer is it? Unless it’s just me who struggles to articulate it of course, but I don’t think that’s the case.

I would love to get together with some people who wanted to open up that treasure house for a rummage around.

Wouldn’t you?

Why not take some time to think about this, you never know when you’ll get an opportunity to tell what is brewing in you. It might be sooner than you think.

Praying The Psalms

The Psalms are great for helping us pray, especially when we feel lost for words. We can whisper them to our Father and find our stumbling words becoming steadier as we continue.

Psalm 86

How precious are you Lord, that you give me the inner life to be able to read such a thing as a Psalm and know it as my own?

1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
You answer me, how thankful I am that you are a communicating God.

2 Preserve my life, for I am godly;
Because you’re kind and you have chosen and changed me.

Save your servant, who trusts in you-you are my God.
You have never let me down, nor will you.

3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.
You listen to me, I don’t need to be afraid of you being disinterested. You care for me.

4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
Lord, as I lift my heart to you in thanks for simple things, you make me remember joy and gladness.

5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
You are faithful in all your ways, by your self-revelation you cause me to love you. 

6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.
7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Where else can I go but to you, no one else can change my heart or my situation.

8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
Nothing and no one like you…and you have chosen to let me know you!

9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
I long for that day!

10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
How many lives have I seen you change- how many times have I seen you heal bodies?

11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
Give me an undivided heart. 

12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.
This is amazing…I am able to glorify your name!

13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
To know I am loved by you is an immense privilege. To be able to live free of fear is a delight, help me live in the good of this truth more consistently.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.

Thank you for protecting me from the enemy.

15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
In all my inadequacies and failings you still love me!

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.
Thank you for not ignoring me, but hearing me, for responding to my need for your strength.

17 Show me a sign of your favour, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
Your constant love shows me I have your favour, day in day out.

Desiring God…Why?

 

The desire for more of God can be overwhelming at times.

Why does this yearning stir us to search for him?

Why do our hearts lurch, and cry “YES!” at the phrase ‘Deep calls to deep“?

Why is there any desire for more of him?

Because he has made us and we are his.

He has planted that deep hunger in our hearts in the first place, so how can he resist it when it starts to provoke us to go after him? Why would he want to?

We can long for the Lord so much so that we know what it is for everything in us to cry out, “Let me see you or I’ll die!”

Yet, for now we don’t see him, not how we’d like to, but he does promise us this,
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
John 14:21, 23.

Intimacy with our Papa God is a precious reality,  we can know and experience it whether we are worn down by life or experiencing the giddy heights.

Loving him, worshipping him with all we are, seeking his face, longing to know his heart for others, we will come to a deeper experience of knowing him, here and now.

His response to our longing for more of him is often to send someone, perhaps a preacher, a poet, or a prophet, to bring a message in such a way as speaks kindly and personally, and reveals more of his Father heart.
At such a time it is only possible to accept that he heard our cry and responded.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.
Proverbs 8:17

Not Rushing Away

On the first Easter Sunday, Mary, while it is still dark, and after a sleepless night, is up and out of the house to visit the tomb.

As she arrives she finds the stone moved away. Appalled, and certain the body of Jesus has been taken, she runs to get Peter and John and they all return in great haste to the tomb. The men look in, see the spice-laden grave cloth crumpled at one end of the slab where his body had been laid, and the cloth which should have been covering the face of Jesus, folded neatly and left at the other end.

Startled by the sight, but more than that, by what it reveals, Peter and John stumble out of the tomb—and believing, go home.

Mary, distraught at the now double loss of her Lord and friend, hesitates, standing away from the tomb, expecting nothing but emptiness and more grief.

As she approaches and bends down to look into the dark cave, she sees two angels, it dawns on her they are speaking, asking her a question, a ridiculous, senseless, question, “Woman, why are you crying?

This was nothing like she had been expecting.

Through her tears she sees another figure off to one side, she takes him for the gardener. He asks her the very same question, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

Almost choking on her words, she asked where he’d put the body of Jesus. The blurred figure called her by name, ‘Mary!’, Mary realises this is her Jesus, and overwhelmed by emotion, she reaches out to gather him close.

Jesus drew back even as he spoke to her. He hadn’t yet ascended to his Father, so she can’t be allowed to cling to him—he told her to go and find his brothers to tell them he is— ‘Ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’

You can read more of this account in The Gospel of John, Chapter 20, Verses 1-18.

 

As I read through this story one aspect stood out to me more than it ever had before. It was this.

Mary didn’t rush away, but lingered, and because of this she had a significantly different experience.

Mary saw and spoke with angels. She met the newly risen Jesus. She made eye-contact with him in the very same instant she realised who it was she was even setting eyes upon!

She had a conversation with him, and was given an unrepeatable assignment—Jesus told Mary to go and tell the other disciples what had happened, and to pass on his message.

This is no small matter.

Why did Jesus choose to meet Mary, and not Peter and John? These men had always been two of the three he had picked to spend extra time with, yet this time he chooses Mary.

He didn’t make a mistake, he didn’t miss them, and therefore, just ‘make do’ with her. He only ever acts with purpose.

Just an aside, since the 3rd century Mary has been called, ‘The Apostle to The Apostles’. At least in part because she waited and didn’t rush away.

Peter and John missed the angels, the conversation with them, the meeting with Jesus, a conversation with him, maybe even an assignment for them too.

All of this leads me to ask— How much do we miss by not waiting around?

The most fruitful times I have are those times when I linger in worship, or prayer, or bible-reading; soaking in his presence. Staying there is precious, and life-changing.

What might we hear, feel, or see, if we stay for longer?

What might we miss if we choose brevity, and rush to get on with the busyness of the day?

There must be time for long, slow, presence-loving worship, prayer, reading, and thinking.

Also, what might we miss if we rush away after spending time with others? Don’t you find some of the most significant times with people can be when others have left, and conversation changes gear, becoming more open and vulnerable?

 

As I prepared this post and listened to worship music, there was one particular track which seemed to fit with Mary’s story. I’d love it if you’d spend a little while listening to it, but don’t listen as ‘you’, listen to it from the viewpoint of Mary when she has had this experience of meeting the risen Jesus. I hope you enjoy it.