Ten years ago, I wrote a book called ‘In Pursuit of the Miraculous’. I reckon I could write a follow up based on the past two weeks alone! It has been nothing short of miraculous.
It all started when my wife Lydia gave birth to our beautiful baby daughter Sophia Hope at 11:27am on a balmy Monday morning in mid August. All seemed to be going well at first. However, later that evening, Lydia had a faint whilst she was on a short walk to freshen herself up. The medical people initially put it down to sheer exhaustion. But the following day, she had two more similar episodes, the latter of which resulted in a complete loss of colour from her face. As I held my little daughter in my arms and watched my wife slump to the ground surrounded by nurses and doctors, an uncomfortable lump formed in the back of my throat that I could hardly bear to swallow. It was an unbelievably shocking situation, the gravity of which I was more than aware of. I will never forget the feeling of absolute vulnerability as I wondered whether my little girl might lose her mum. It was heart breaking to see.
Further tests showed that Lydia had developed internal bleeding during which she lost 3 litres of blood. They carried out two blood transfusions, none of which were successful. In fact, her blood count afterwards was even lower than before. Furthermore, her blood pressure continued to drop dramatically while her pulse rate raced dangerously high beyond 150 bpm. These were all the signs of continued internal bleeding. That night, the consultant told me in no uncertain terms how serious the situation was if the bleeding should continue. The medical team then proceeded to administer two more blood transfusions. ‘The next 12 hours are critical’ were the parting words of one consultant.
It was around this time that I sent out a message asking people to pray. So many agreed with us for a miraculous breakthrough. We were certainly in miracle territory. I personally called out to God and laid my hands on Lydia’s head, believing for complete healing. This was no time for nice prayers. It was the cry of a broken & desperate man claiming healing over his wife’s life. I remember feeling a powerful sense of God’s presence in that moment.
The next day, Lydia began to slowly stabilise. Her blood pressure rose, her pulse rate dropped and her haemoglobin levels were higher. These were all signs that the internal bleed had stopped. It truly was a miracle. God had answered our prayers.
Over the next few days, there were a few more drama’s including threats of further internal clotting and a lot more calling out to God (those stories are for another day). However, time and again, God answered. Eventually after 11 days in hospital, all her levels normalised and we were allowed home. That was an emotional journey for sure (ok, playing disney tunes didn’t help!).
Archbishop Temple once said ‘When we pray, coincidences happen’. I am in no doubt whatsoever that God did a series of miracles in my wife’s situation in August 2018. I don’t understand it all, but I just know that God was at work.
Having had some time to reflect on what happened, it has not dented my confidence in God. The very opposite is true. There’s a growing conviction in my heart to believe like never before for God’s miraculous power in others. With him, all things are possible. I totally believe it.
To all those who stood in agreement with us, thank you. To the medical team who cared for us, we salute you. To Jehovah Rapha who intervened and heard our cries for healing, we honour you. God is real.
We’re all prone to wandering from God. It’s not for no reason that Isaiah describes us as being ‘like sheep who have gone astray’. Sure, sometimes our relationship with God is fresh and fervent. But if we’re honest, it’s not always like that. Complacency can so easily set into our lives. We get distracted from what really matters. Priorities change as life progresses. Sometimes, the very breakthroughs we believed for become the blockage to our faith in Jesus. Ironic indeed.
The tendency to go our own way is exactly the issue with the prodigal son in the third of three stories Jesus tells in Luke 15. Yet what makes this tale different from the previous two parables is the extent of God’s love for people. For example, in the story of the lost coin, the woman searched and found it. Then in the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd went looking and recovered it. But in the story of the rebellious son, the father let his child go. This was an act of profound love on the Father’s part. After all, true love is unforced. Yet the father waited…day after day…month after month…year after year. The story teaches us that distance cannot limit the scope of God’s grace. The Father wouldn’t stop waiting. Why? Because he believed his son would one day come home. He had a conviction that the prodigal would eventually ‘come to his senses’ and be drawn back. That’s exactly what happened. The son’s return was met with underserved forgiveness and unmerited favour. That’s grace. Breathtakingly generous.
Salvation is 100% the work of God. It has nothing whatsoever to do with human achievement. We cannot earn a place at the Father’s table. Any hint of ‘merit’ indicates the existence of religion rather than authentic relationship. The only reason we can approach God is because HE has drawn us. His grace has made a way. He has been waiting for us. The story is not about prodigal rebellion. It’s all the Father heart of God.
In my own walk with God, I have found that I am not merely drawn to God once…but over and over again. His heart of love is what does it. How can I resist such utterly astonishing grace? It never fails to amaze me how much God loves his people. When the Holy Spirit tugs on your heart, don’t resist. Allow him to lead you to the place where you belong.
At the wedding of Harry & Meghan, something happened which caused quite a stir. A bishop by the name of Michael Curry preached a brilliant sermon which had some real conviction & passion. These are things you don’t always find amidst the formal pomp and circumstance of a British royal wedding.
The response to Bishop Curry’s message by the stiff upper lip types was monotonously predictable. There was a great deal of murmuring from those who can’t bring themselves to recognise any different expression of church other than the established one. The BBC commentator patronisingly described Bishop Curry’s sermon as ‘forceful and uplifting‘. Say what?? Mr BBC man was uttering verbal clap trap of the most condescending kind. Honestly….the BBC…bless. Bishop Michael was different…and surely this should be well and truly celebrated?!!! He wasn’t being ‘forceful‘ at all. He simply sounded like a man who believed what he was talking about. That’s a good thing!!!
As I watched Bishop Curry preaching his brilliant message and the awkward reaction afterwards, my mind was drawn back to something that happened when we first planted the Junction Church in Loughborough. I’ll never forget chatting to a brand new Christian who’d been journeying with us. This zealous person had gone into town giving out flyers advertising our new church (something which we had not asked them to do). After receiving lots of positive feedback from passers by, a church minister who happened to walk by (wearing a collar) took one of the flyers and rudely asked what this was all about. As the new Christian naively tried to explain our heart, the minister then proceeded to scrunch up the flyer and grumbled words to the effect ‘we don’t need another church in this town‘ before abruptly walking off. The new Christian could hardly believe what had just happened. Truly shocking stuff…yet that’s just one story!! Surely it would have been far better to just celebrate a different kind of church instead of criticising it?
Anyway…back to Bishop Curry. I loved his sermon. I love it that he was different. I love the fact that he dared to bring some warm passion into a context which can be cold and clinical. This is exactly what the UK Church needs more of. It’s something to be celebrated, not frowned upon. This is a new day and there’s change in the air. A new generation is rising up. It’s time to get with it. God bless Bishop Michael!!
Hello. It’s me, now in your 40’s. You’re old now…but not VERY old…yet. From your present vantage point though, you’ll no doubt reckon I’m ancient. Great thing is, I don’t really care. See, that’s what happens when you put a few years on the clock; you become less concerned about what people think of you. This is mostly a good thing, I think.
Now permit me to indulge in some patronising reflecting which I know you’ll read with contemptuous amusement. And by the way, be sure to keep that bizarre humour of yours, no-matter what anybody says. When christians try to turn you into an intense zombie like creature of pharisaical kin, resist it with every funny bone in your body. I promise, your humour will save your life…literally. Don’t worry if others are bemused by you. That’s ok. As long as you enjoy life, that’s what matters. Though probably best to avoid telling that misplaced joke at the funeral service you’ll take in 2012.
Now then, you’re currently in your 20’s. I reckon this is the most significant decade of your life. The foundations you lay today are a prophecy of your tomorrow. So don’t be in a hurry. Just build slowly & well. And don’t worry if people havn’t recognised your potential. Quietly get on with it. Good things will follow….I promise.
Over the next few years, you’ll hear more and more clap trap about ‘going on a journey to discover who you really are’. I can confirm that your hunch about this is absolutely correct. Yes, it’s all complete and utter tosh. Never EVER try to find yourself. If you do, you’ll end up becoming the sick child of an even sicker society. This is not good. No, don’t ‘find yourself’. Instead, define yourself by your God given convictions. Never compromise on them…not for one moment. Carpe Diem…..seize the day. Cos you’ve only got one shot at this thing. So make it count.
Now Roy, can I please implore you to work a bit harder. I know you could easily get a first in your degree if you’d just put in a tad more effort. Just because you can pick things up quite quickly and remember details doesn’t mean you have an excuse to give as little attention as possible to your subject of choice. Theology matters….even more than music. Yes it does. Your 40 year old self wishes he’d worked a bit harder on this. Don’t be complacent. You’re going to need it because one day, you’ll pioneer a church called the Junction Church. And believe me, if you think the world is messed up now, wait till you see what it looks like in 20 years!! Just a heads up….Instagram is not an instant weight measuring mechanism. And facebook is not a reference to someone whose face actually looks like a book. It’s all far more complicated than that. You’ll see. But keep working at simplifying your life. You’re going to need to.
Right, a quick word about friendships. They’re far more valuable than you currently realise. So cherish them…especially the good ones. In fact, invest in these a lot more. See, what gives quality to life is not money or stuff. It’s the people you do life with. There are many fine acquaintances…but not many great friends. So build great friendships. They’re more important than you presently realise.
Don’t worry about feeling too young to serve God. It won’t be long until you wake up one morning and discover you’re 30. From that point onwards, life becomes a mad race to the finish line (wherever that will be).
Ok, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m closing off now. Can I implore you though, over the next few years, choose your battles well. Some things you’ll be tempted to fight about just aren’t worth it. So channel your passions to what really matters. Live well. Aim for the ‘well done good and faithful servant.’ In the end, this is what matters most.
Be confident, but avoid arrogance. Be wise, but don’t be too cautious. Be passionate, but resist anger. In 2018, the world has become angry to boiling point. It needs a different vibe.
Right then, hopefully I’ll be in touch in another 20 years. Until then, keep giving it your best shot. Enjoy the journey.
p.s. In a few years, you’ll meet a young lady called Lydia. Marry her…no questions asked. She’s definitely the one.
The most precious commodity in any relationship is…trust. When it is strong, magnificent feats can be accomplished. When it is weak, suspicion reigns and progress is hindered. The thing is, trust is something that needs to be built with intentionality. Here are five ways to construct it around your life.
This means avoiding gossip, a vice that poses as harmless chatter but is one of the most destructive forces to healthy relationships. It feeds suspicion, encourages fear and stirs distrust. Be assured, whoever gossips to you will also gossip about you. Resist it with all your heart. Choose to believe the best of others, not the worst. Speak life…always. That’s how you build trust (Prov 11:13).
Ambiguity may maintain the status quo for a while. However, it ultimately kills trust. When people don’t know where they really stand, this does nothing for the health and strength of friendships. It’s always better to be graciously honest and vulnerable. Proverbs 23:23 says ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it‘. This is what healthy relationships are built upon.
In a world where so many just seem to easily give up on each other, faithfulness is like pure gold. It’s what builds longevity into relationships, creating trust over the long term and proving commitment through the diverse seasons of life. God values it very highly (Matt 25:23). We should too.
Jesus defined greatness as servanthood (Matt 23:11). This means we don’t ever need position to serve. Nor do we need to be motivated or persuaded by some ulterior motive. Selflessness is one of the most powerful ways to build trust. It serves and serves and serves, without thought for itself. This is what Paul meant when he spoke about ‘honouring others above yourselves‘. (Rom 12:10). It’s the foundation on which trust is established.
How we respond to correction is a statement of our heart. Pride resists it. Humility receives it, even if it’s measure is unpleasant. In the end, a teachable spirit enables trust to be built and love to be established. Everyone has something to learn. Proverbs 29:1 tells us that resistance to reproof is something which breaks trust beyond healing. That’s why it’s wise to receive correction well.
Building trust can’t be rushed. It takes time. But it is totally worth it in the long term.
So you want to do well in life, right? Of course you do. I mean…come on….lets move past the wearisome pretence of false humility. Who on earth wants to be unsuccessful? Nobody!! But there are some things that people who are successful NEVER do. Here are ten of them:
1) They never make excuses
Some people have turned excuses into an art form. Problem is, the illusion doesn’t last forever. Excuses are made by people who don’t really care. But successful people really do care. So they get organised and make things happen. It’s what makes them successful.
2) They never blame others
Blame is a classic trait of people who live unproductive lives. Laying blame on others makes them feel better about themselves. But here’s the truth. Are you ready? Gossip, negative conversations and pulling others down will NEVER make you successful….ever. Little people belittle people. Successful people resist the temptation to blame and instead, embrace responsibility. That’s what makes them stand out from the crowd.
3) They never say ‘I’m too busy’
When I hear someone say ‘I’m too busy’, I make a mental note, and then accede to their request by never asking them to do anything…ever. It is a deeply insulting thing to say ‘I’m too busy’ because it is pompous, arrogant and brimming with self importance…as if no-one else on the planet can be as busy as they are. Successful people are very busy…but they make time for what they believe in. ‘Too busy’ is an excuse, not a reality.
4) They never whinge & whine
Negativity will never cause you to flourish in life. For many, the tendency to whinge and whine is a comfort zone. But its a false comfort. It achieves nothing in life – other than to create a vibe around you that makes you unattractive and unappealing. Successful people are winners, not whingers. Winning in life starts by winning people. Positivity will massively help with that!
5) They never believe they’re THAT good
Really clever people always begin every conversation with the assumption that other people are far smarter than them. So they avoid the pitfall of insulting people’s intelligence with grand notions of their own brilliance. People who are unsuccessful in life believe their own publicity and live off the inflation of an over blown ego. However, all it takes are a few prickly circumstances – and the bubble bursts. That’s why it’s never wise to believe you’re THAT good. Successful people certainly don’t.
6) They never settle for mediocrity
Settling for mediocrity is the surest way to ensure you slip down the spiral towards a miserable, pitiful existence. You see, mediocrity settles for anything. But the ‘anything’ always tends to be downwards, not upwards. Successful people don’t tolerate mediocrity. They pursue excellence. For them, there are no limits. So they dare to rise higher.
7) They’re never unreliable
All the ability in the world means nothing without reliability. Many gifted people never achieve anything like their potential because they are unreliable. Successful people cultivate a reputation for dependability. They do what they say they’ll do. The really successful ones even go the extra mile. They’re more valuable than gold.
8) They never use people as commodities
Successful people cultivate great relationships. They value people for who they are. Unsuccessful people just use others, and when they can find no further usefulness, they dispose of friendships. But relationships are the most precious thing we have in life. If you ditch people, you squander your destiny. Successful people genuinely value their friends.
9) They never take themselves too seriously
Life is too important to be taken too seriously. Unsuccessful people can sometimes tend to be super intense. Their intensity drives great people out of their lives. Successful people have the fun factor. They’re ambitious – but secure enough to laugh at themselves along the way. Great people will always want to be around that kind of company! That’s where real success is built.
10) They’re never lazy & inconsiderate
Rest is an important part of life. However, laziness is a killer of dreams. Successful people work hard and always utilise their time so they are considerate toward others. No truly successful person has ever accomplished anything of significance without hard work and consideration toward others. This is the furnace where real success is fashioned. They’re never lazy.
Life is a series of seasons. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us of this truth when it says ‘To everything, there is a season‘. The problem for many people is that they get lost in transition. You see, seasonal changes are inevitable, but they’re rarely clear cut. They can even look uncertain at times. For example, it doesn’t suddenly stop being winter one day and then turn into spring the next. Transitions are far less pronounced than that. Just when you think spring has sprung, winter reappears again and hopes can feel dashed. The same is true in life.
Resist the temptation to despair when it feels like things are not working out for you. What looks apparent is not the real story. In the seeming chaos and upheaval, God is at work. There’s a shift happening in the atmosphere. You’re moving into a new season, even if it doesn’t seem obvious. It can be messy, inconvenient and can even feel a bit unsettling. But that’s ok. Stay the course and dare to keep trusting God. The transition will pass and you’ll eventually find your rhythm again.
Yet how many people have given up too soon? How many people have misread their situation and assumed that it would be better to bail out? Sadly, what then tends to happen is an aimless journey of wandering begins – without meaning and lacking vision – it eventually ends up in a pit of deep resentment. If only they’d held their nerve a little longer. The transition would have passed. There was a new season of opportunity ahead, but it was missed by yielding to fear.
Whatever you do, don’t miss your God given purpose! Life is too short to live in bitterness and disappointment. Seasonal transitions are part of the tension we have to manage. That’s just life. Every day, you get a little older & every morning you wake up, life has moved on a bit more. Instead of fearing change, embrace it. Trust God through the times when you’re not quite sure what’s going on. It’s ok for everything not to be ok. What matters most is that God has your back. Don’t get lost in transition. Be found in Jesus. That’s how you overcome (1 John 5:5).
I recently read some Christian blogs which were full of complaint about churches that have ‘hipster’ lights, punchy music & a ‘style’ that is not to their liking. Afterwards, I found myself thinking….SO WHAT??? In a world that’s in desperate need of the life giving hope of God’s good news, are these things seriously worth getting so angry about? I mean, in the grand scheme of things….really??
So what if some churches like a few lights? So what if there’s a bit of beat in the music? So what if some churches don’t conform to traditional ways of doing things – and sing songs that have been written in the last 2 years rather than 20 or 200 years ago? So what???
Surely what REALLY matters is that people are encountering the life transforming grace of Jesus Christ? Surely it would be better to celebrate churches that are courageously reaching out and impacting a generation with the greatest news on the planet? Surely the REAL travesty is that there are so many churches out there where new salvations are few and far between?
The Pharisees detested Jesus because he didn’t fit with their expectations of how things should be done. They even accused him of being a compromiser, or as they put it, a ‘friend of sinners‘ (Matt 11:19). But what was meant as a carping, sniping criticism was actually an unwitting compliment. You see, Jesus related to everyday people, used illustrations they could identify with and connected with their lives. Meanwhile, religion loves to stay in it’s own little theologically correct bubble and feels better about itself when it is pontificating about what it doesn’t approve of. Every Christian would do well to take care not fall into it’s pit. It’s a death trap in which many churches today are paying a heavy price, their very existence on the edge of extinction.
If we’re going to win a generation, then the Church (capital C) is going to need to shake itself out of complacency and recapture the raw heart & essence of Jesus message. Think for a moment about the first line of the most well known verse in the bible – ‘For God so loved the world‘. That one statement tells us everything about the ONE we worship. If it matters to him, it ought to matter to us. In the end, that’s what REALLY matters.
University is an experience that is one of the best times of your life. I used to think that this was just because of the no-rules, no-parents, lets-get-drunk-every-night aspect. Personally, that’s never been my scene. So when I arrived at uni as a fresher, I thought they might be ‘alright years’. Truth is, my expectations were pretty low. Boy God was about to teach me a huge lesson!
It’s an season unlike any other where we are surrounded by thousands of total strangers, where we learn to feed ourselves on very little money, and where we actually have to wash our own clothes too!! In the process, we turn into caffeine addicts, and sometimes, it can even feel like someone’s idea of a mad reality TV show! But amongst all the craziness, university is a time where God can seriously challenge us, build us, and influence us to become the people we’re designed to be.
There are a few things I think are really important to remember when you enter university and throughout the following years where so many life changing things will happen:
DON’T LIMIT GOD WITH LOW EXPECTATIONS.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) This verse says it all. Our human brains can’t even begin to comprehend the plans God has for us. I could never have imagined the life God had waiting for me when I came to university. I have done so many things I never would have thought possible and, if I had stayed in my comfort zone, I may never have realised the awesome-ness that was God’s plan. Don’t miss out on the opportunities you are given during this time, because He can do immeasurably more through you than you could ever dream of.
YOUR IDENTITY IS IN GOD.
Identity is something widely discussed at university. It’s something everyone wants to find, and some people will spend their whole lives searching for. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Isaiah 43:1 which says “Don’t be afraid, because I have saved you. I have called you by name and you are mine.” We are His. No matter what life throws at us, the one thing that we can be sure about is our identity in God. This verse also shows the incredible character of God as He doesn’t say “don’t be afraid because I will punish anyone who hurts you”, or “don’t be afraid because I’ll give you super powers to save yourself” even though, as creator of the universe He can pretty much do whatever He wants! He emphasises the one thing that we need to know to get us through anything we face. The only thing that actually matters. That we are His.
REMEMBER, IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK.
Sometimes, Christians can get the idea it is somehow wrong to feel a bit scared in life. It’s easy to interpret verses like “be strong and brave” (Deuteronomy 31:6) and to “not worry about anything” (Matthew 6:25) as meaning ‘don’t ever feel frightened‘. But that’s not what they’re saying. And sometimes, we put pressure on ourselves that can lead to feeling guilty when we are going through tough times, because we’re afraid of being afraid! But this is not the case. Having God in our lives doesn’t mean we won’t feel worried. It means that through those challenging times, we can lean on God’s strength to do what we feel that we can’t do. “His power is made perfect in our weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) The impact of this verse is amazing, as it implies that the less we feel we can offer, the more we can know God will provide. So in those times in your life when you feel completely at a loss – watch out – because God is probably up to something big!
GET PLANTED IN A GREAT CHURCH!
The Sunday of my second week at university I found The Junction Church and with it, I discovered an incredible community. Having a place where I knew I could get to and be encouraged at the start of each week made all the difference in the world, especially in my first year. Getting around people who will champion you and support you is so important in life in general, but even more so at university with the fast paced changes that you will face, I can’t recommend enough that you get planted into a good church. God has awesome plans for each and every one of our lives, we just need to be willing to take away the limits we put on God and ourselves, keep our eyes focussed on the identity we have in the One who made us and learn how to look for God’s strength in our weakness.
If we could offer you one piece of advice in this next season of your life, it would simply be this: only go where you’re going to grow.
One of the greatest dangers of 21st century Christianity is a ‘spirituality’ that is insular and introspective. When faith becomes so inwardly focused that it gets consumed in it’s own little world, we must not mistake this as ‘deep’. It’s actually shallow. It mistakenly assumes that this is the only environment where faith can grow. Problem is, there’s no real growth at all. You see, faith must be exercised in order to increase. James 2:17 makes it clear that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’. This means getting out of the comfort zone, lifting our eyes beyond ourselves, pursuing God’s greater purpose in the world and having the audacity to submit to God, not our fears. This is faith.
Our heart for the Junction Church in Leicester and Loughborough is to create an environment where people can truly grow. Our passion is not to build a big church, but to grow big people. We’re not content to be settlers. We’re called to be pioneers. That means daring to take new ground. It also means reaching the unreached, touching base with people who don’t yet know Jesus.
Interestingly, over the past five years of pioneering the Junction Church, the most fruitful periods of spiritual growth we’ve experienced have not occurred in the intensity of introspective meetings, but in the intentionality of reaching out to a world that desperately needs to experience God’s grace. It’s here where God imparts revelation more than anywhere else, where faith is active and we depend upon God’s supernatural provision. This is the atmosphere for miracles.
One of the wisest things you can do in life is to get yourself into an environment where you’re going to truly grow. Even if it scares you, embrace the intimidation anyway, and resist the temptation to settle into comfort. Sure, it’s a far more convenient life in the comfort zone – but if you want to broaden your capacity for genuine spiritual growth, then you’ve got to break free from the subtle restrictions which insular spirituality wraps around you. As local church pastors, we want to see people grow to become everything God has called them to be. This is our journey. This is our mission. This is our heart. Why don’t you get on board? Could change your life.