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.
Have you noticed that the fear industry is booming at the moment? These are good days for things like suspicion, cynicism and gloom. They prey on people’s worst instincts, creating an atmosphere that is thick with the toxicity of distrust. It’s contagion blows into key aspects of society including politics, media and education, and it spreads confusion over a hurting nation. Church is not exempt from it. If you are the type of person whose disposition leans more towards negativism, then the sinister climate that hangs overhead will simply encourage unbelief.
Personally though, I’m resisting it. In fact, I find myself battling to protect against a pessimistic default. It could be the easiest thing for me to slip into a downward spiral of doom and despair. That’s why I choose my friends very carefully. It is never helpful to keep company with a vibe that panders to the prevailing culture and rolls with it’s hateful jibes. Better to acquaint with faith than fear.
Fear feeds negative culture and starves faith of it’s vitality. Religion loves fear because it provides an opportunity to manipulate and control people. That’s why Jesus reserved his most ferocious words for the religious establishment of his day. They thrived off the power that fear afforded them, playing on people’s anxieties with subtle yet brutal precision. The Pharisees hatred of Jesus was venomous because Jesus exposed their hypocritical legalism and preached a message of freedom instead. His word hasn’t changed. But neither has the spirit of religion.
When we understand the difference between religion and relationship, it changes everything. One controls you. The other empowers you. One holds you back. The other releases you into your God given potential. One leads to hate while the other to love. Interestingly, Jesus was never into religion. His message was totally relational. He came to set us free from the grip of fear, and into the loving embrace of God’s amazing grace.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul says ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear’ (2 Timothy 1:7). This verse is a massive statement. It tells us something about the culture that God wants us to carry in our everyday lives, and which changes the atmosphere around us. It is FearLESS, not fearful. It is FaithFUL, not faithless. The threat of fear can only be expelled by the power of love. That’s why the bible teaches us that ‘love drives out fear‘ (1 John 4:18).
There used to be a TV show called the Muppets. One of the puppet acts featured was a couple of old curmudgeons who were theatre critics. They were constantly carping and sniping at every performance they watched and they could never bring themselves to say anything kind about acts other than their own.
Sometimes, the Christian world can seem a bit like those two old disapproving muppets. Instead of modelling a generous and grace-filled culture which celebrates others, it often feels pretty cold and mean spirited. All the ‘expressions of unity’ in the world are nothing compared to the uncomplicated simplicity of warm encouragement and genuine appreciation. It’s not rocket science. But it really matters.
One of the biggest challenges facing Christianity in the UK is largely unobserved in its own ranks. Its called CYNICISM. This is a habitual way of thinking which is far more comfortable criticising than celebrating. I’m not sure it’s fair to say this is a distinctly British problem, but it is undoubtedly an issue for the wider Church in our nation. It doesn’t take long to pick up on its vibe in conversations and social media interactions.
Cynicism is usually wrapped up in the language of pseudo intellectualism and illusions of spiritual superiority. It is contemptuous of anything it perceives as different. But the tell tale sign of it’s lurking presence is the constant negativism which lies at its core. It much prefers to find fault than search for what is good. This ultimately leads to a sense of pessimism which contaminates local church life and is a killer of faith. What then follows is a downward spiral of doom, gloom, insecurity and eventually, the self fulfilment of its own fears. This is one of the major reasons why so many churches are dying a slow and ungracious death. The toxicity of cynicism is a contagion which smothers life. Leaders would do well to be alert to its subtle danger.
Whatever you do, don’t be a church cynic!! Check your heart to see if it has found a home in your life. If the very reading of this blog post stirs a reaction in you which is resentful and irritable, then this is a good thing. You’ve just been alerted to the existence of cynicism in your life.
The Church should be the very antithesis of worldly culture. Instead of accusatory and disapproving sentiments, the vibe of every local church should be positive, warm and encouraging. This is the shock to the system that is so desperately needed today. Merely talking about ‘love’ is as meaningless as explaining that water is wet. It needs to be articulated in a way that is real and authentic. Cynicism is no friend of true love. Thats why the alternative needs to be experienced. More than ever, people need to see what real love looks like. It is everything which cynicism is not. Here’s a good prayer to pray: “Lord, help me live your message. Amen”
Here at the Junction Church, we’re passionate about championing a rising generation. This is far more than a platitude. It’s a reality that is happening week after week. For me, this is part of our divine remit. Nothing encourages my heart more than seeing young adults finding their feet and walking in God given confidence.
The other day, I happened to read an article which lamented ‘millennials’ in today’s Church (universal), with particular emphasis on the influence of Hillsong music. The article urged churches to return to the spirit of the 80’s / 90’s during which period, worship was more ‘authentic’. As I read the blog, I found myself thinking ‘what’s so authentic about walking backwards?’ Besides, there were plenty of voices back then which deplored what was happening! You see, the problem with the good old days is….they were never THAT good.
As someone who has reached the dizzy heights of ‘middle age’, I am all too aware that I could very easily settle into middle life listening to classical music and 1990’s hits (ok, mainly classical music). The temptation is to comfortably live off some pretty decent memories of years gone by. But as much as some great things happened back in the day, we must be sure not to allow the sentiment of hindsight to blind our perspective. Our greatest gift is to cheer on those who are younger than us. This is an honour…and the BEST way to stay fresh and young at heart.
There is a rising generation, whether we see it or not. Get to know their heart and you’ll find they are authentic and fresh…in their way. Church leaders would be wise to give them space to express worship that helps them connect with God, not impose our stylistic preferences upon them. This rising generation are the future. The reason large sections of the Christian Church are struggling so desperately is because of the sheer disconnect with this generation – and a failure to invest in them. You’d think we’d learn, hey?
Is what is happening today perfect? No. But it wasn’t perfect 20 years ago either…or 100 years ago…or 500 years ago. But we have every reason to have hope and optimism for the future. A generation is on the rise. World, you’d better watch out.
If the BBC managed to get the Cliff Richard story so catastrophically wrong, it begs the question…what else are they getting wrong? To wittingly tarnish a person’s character because of crass & inaccurate ‘reporting’ is far beyond unfair. It is a blatant abuse of power. No amount of compensation can ever salvage the reputation of the accused.
Cliff Richard is a high profile example of what many lesser known people have had to endure because of misreporting and bullying by the press. Most victims of media injustice are powerless against such gigantic organisations as the BBC. Those who peddle accusatory stories without presenting absolute and irrefutable evidence know they can hide behind the protection of the corporation – unaccountable and unconcerned about the collateral damage their cheap headlines create. What is deeply disturbing is the way media rivals have been closing ranks in defence of the BBC, with cries of ‘press freedom’ as their justification. Such defensiveness would strongly suggest a more widespread issue. Anyone who cares about justice will be concerned by this.
It is one thing for the media to speak ‘truth to power’. Problem is, the industry itself has become far too powerful. Can you think of any national institution that wields more clout? And far from conveying ‘truth’, it often feels rather more like peddling opinions than reporting news. While there are many brilliant journalists out there who operate with upmost honesty, it is not beyond the bounds of reason to think that some journalists might have personal vendetta’s they are pursuing. What about the possibility of rich and powerful lobbyists pushing their particular agenda’s through the media too…and paying for the privilege? If it is true that these kind of things go on, then what is the extent of it? Who knows?
One thing is for sure. The idea of a self regulated and unaccountable press is something which can no longer continue. Too much damage has been done to too many people’s lives. It seems to me that this privilege has been thrown away by a culture of contempt. The media must be profoundly transparent about how issues are covered, just like any other public organisation. This is especially true of the BBC, a corporation which is afforded multiple millions of tax payers money.
Truth is, the media needs to get back to being factual & boring. We should never be aware of the personal opinions, suspicions & biases of journalists, not even the faintest hint. Politicians, yes…because they are accountable to the electorate. But reporters? No. Impartiality is the basis of a healthy media. Sadly, the media’s ‘freedom’ has been used irresponsibly by some who have flexed their position to gain influence which goes way beyond that of an ordinary citizen. For too long, the industry has set itself up as the moral guardians of a nation. Problem is…this kind of ‘morality’ is hypocritical, self-righteous & fundamentally flawed…as the recent Cliff Richard court case has proven. Trust has been eroded, perhaps even beyond repair.
It is amazing to think that not one single BBC employee has yet been held to account for the Cliff Richard travesty. Quite astonishing. If this were the BBC reporting on another organisation’s misdemeanours, can you imagine the relentless outcry that would ensue? Yet, notice the strange quiet around the beeb. The story is fading away. They’ve gotten away with it. Not the victim though. He is left picking up the trashed pieces of his life.
Distrust is the price of dishonesty. Instead of trying to defend the indefensible, the media would do well to reflect carefully on what has led to the current predicament. Integrity matters. This is what builds trust.
Sometimes, it feels like the world is becoming increasingly judgmental and disinterested in understanding. When an accusatory culture rules the day, it creates a toxic environment where negativity and division flourishes. No doubt the thoughtless (and even abusive) use of social media has largely contributed to this vibe.
Yet in the midst of all the craziness, there are people – real people. No, not the caricatured stereotypes labelled by dogmatic idealism. Just down to earth, everyday people, each with their own story to tell. Truth is, everybody has one. But who will listen?
Some are able to articulate their stories better than others. But it’s our story that has led each of us to the point where we currently find ourselves in life. Our upbringing. Our circumstances. Our flaws. Our mistakes. Our joys. Our sorrows. Our disappointments. Our successes. The list goes on. These all form part of our story.
If only we took the time to listen a little more instead of throwing accusations. If only we sought to understand the experiences of others instead of judging them. If only we tried a little harder to see beyond the narrow idealistic argument to the grit of a path which has been walked before. Then maybe, just maybe, we’d measure our words more carefully and extend a little more grace. We all need it.
One of the greatest contributions each of us can make in our world today is to resist the pressure of merely running to the beat of the crowd. History teaches us how catastrophically dangerous this is. In a world of confused noise, wise people take time to think for themselves. One of the most helpful ways we can do this is to exercise the gift of listening. No-matter how much we feel we know, all of us have much to learn.
Above all other voices, what about the one that matters most? Who will believe his report? When God speaks, it’s usually quiet and still. It takes discipline and reflection to discern his wisdom, especially in the midst of a thunderously rowdy world. Yet his word is the one that is eternal consequence. Dare to stop. Dare to think. Dare to LISTEN.
Leadership in any sphere of life can be a lonely experience. It’s not that a leader isn’t surrounded by amazing people. No, it’s that the buck must stop somewhere. This is where true leaders step up.
In the late 1970’s, there was a British Prime Minister called Jim Callaghan. He was a decent man with a chirpy demeanour who the tabloid media nick-named ‘Sunny Jim’. Yet behind the seemingly relaxed exterior was a burdened soul who carried the weight of heavy criticism. Many historians today accept that Callaghan was unfairly blamed for a national crisis. During his twice weekly performance at Prime Ministers Questions (an unforgiving environment at the best of times), he always asked his wife Audrey to accompany him. She would sit in the public gallery and Jim would regularly look up to her for comfort and reassurance. You see, she was the one person who came anywhere close to grasping the loneliness of what he had to bear.
In the good times, leaders resist credit and instead share it with others. In the tough times, leaders get out onto the front line and embrace responsibility, often receiving far more flack than they deserve. Yet any leader worth their salt will never complain about this apparent injustice. They simply accept it as part of the price a leader must pay. The worst kind of leadership is that which deflects and blames others. This produces toxic culture which eventually ends up with an implosion of trust. People will never flourish in an environment like that.
If you should aspire to leadership in life, my advice is to quickly ditch any notions of privilege and position. Leadership is lonely. No-matter how prestigious others think it might appear, you will rarely ‘feel’ it. But you will be all too aware of how vulnerable and weak you are. Criticism will come at an incredibly fast pace. Thats why faithfulness matters. In our weakness, Christ’s strength is made perfect.
The ultimate example of leadership is Jesus. He held no position and occupied no office. Instead, he made himself of no reputation and carried a servant heart (Phil 2:5-11). He embraced the responsibility of our sin and covered the cost, a travesty of justice which he bore with grace and love. Despite the loneliness and misunderstanding, Jesus went all the way. This is REAL leadership.
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!!
There’s no such thing as a perfect life, not here on earth anyway. All of us have areas of challenge and struggle which we have to face. For me, I had to come to terms with a less than ideal situation pretty early on. This meant I was fostered from the age of 5 right up until my 18th birthday. So it’s been an interesting journey, complex and way beyond my control.
Thing is, sympathy is not the answer to hardship. Most people detest the idea of others feeling sorry for them. It’s disempowering and pitiful. Actually, I’ve discovered for myself that God’s grace not only saves me but empowers my life too. It’s upon this truth where true freedom is found.
In a less than perfect world, God is totally worth trusting. That’s exactly what I’ve chosen to do. He has made a universe of difference to me. This doesn’t mean I suddenly have answers to all the complicated questions of life. I don’t. We’re all born into a unique set of circumstances. Everyone has struggles. Just because someone else might have been brought up differently to me doesn’t mean they don’t have their share of issues too. These normally just take a different form. That’s why it’s a mistake to measure a person’s inward wellbeing by their outward appearance. The two don’t necessarily equate. No-matter how good somebody’s life may look, the truth is that none of us are perfect.
So whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, lean into God’s grace. Why? Because none of us are THAT good. But God’s grace really is THAT good. It has saved me. It can save you too. Lean in. Keep trusting. Allow God’s grace to shape your life. This is what will make a difference.