Signature on the Universe...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Boy with the Red Balloon

Despite the fact that I teach on God’s perfect plan for our lives pretty much every day, it still amazes me when I actually recognise that fact in my own life. An experience that I had back in mid-February was one of those moments, where through prophetic revelation God showed me how He had been guiding my steps all along, planting seeds right back when I was only 4 or 5 years old. He is truly amazing.

Not long after I started working in the role that would eventually become Children’s Pastor at St. Mary’s in Loughton back in 2006, it quickly became apparent that God was preparing to take me on one of the most significant steps in my journey of faith so far, and as that journey unfolded, a number of prophetic words told Sam and I that 2012 would be a significant year in my ministry. So, as our daughter Melody was born in October, already we were starting to think and explore together what exactly would be the significance of 2012 – was it simply that we would be experiencing our first full year as parents, or something more? As January began, we prayed together a dangerous prayer – we laid down everything at God’s feet: my job, Sam’s job, our home, our finances, even the country that we live in and prayed ‘all this belongs to you Lord, teach us how  you want to use it’. And then we made space to listen. The fantastic thing is, when you listen, God speaks. He’s always speaking, its just we don’t always make the space to hear what He is telling us.

We have a whiteboard in our kitchen that we use for writing prayer points and other messages, and very quickly this became filled with words and pictures from the Lord from our times of waiting in His presence together. The common theme that quickly emerged was one of big changes, and as we prayed further, one scripture He gave us was from the opening of Ezekiel where the commission is ‘to the people of this nation’ not to the place where other languages are spoken; we had asked Him to place some boundaries around just how much He would change things, so at least we now knew we were not leaving the UK… Then, through the most remarkable set of circumstances, God blessed us not only with the opportunity of buying our first home, but with a totally unsolicited cheque on the doorstep which more than paid for the deposit which we could not afford (subject to completion we’ll be moving to Epping in April). So we thought ‘God’s keeping us in the area, He’s blessed us with a new home, a new daughter – what a brilliant year!’ And as ever, St. Mary’s continued to grow, more and more young people were coming into the Lord’s presence and Sam was really getting her teeth into her role working alongside Café Hope and it almost seemed God was finished making 2012 significant. How wrong we were.

I awoke on the morning of Wednesday 15th February at 3:31am precisely, to three intense realisations. The first of these was that I could hear the voice of God speaking to me as I opened my eyes. The second was that the room was filled with an orange firelight which I now realise was the manifest presence of the Spirit (tongues of fire Pentecost-style). The third was the two dreams I’d just had, which I was about to write off as very bizarre nightmares, were actually from God. As babies and small children are particularly tuned in to the spiritual realm, unsurprisingly Melody awoke at this point, and as Sam sleepily turned over and said ‘It’s your turn’ (we alternate night feeds) I had to apologise and say that God had just hit me over the head with something and I needed some time to process what was happening, to write everything down before it escaped my mind because I knew I really didn’t want to forget any of it.  Sam, in the best traditions of the wife of noble character said a fairly confused ‘OK then’ and took Melody downstairs to feed her while I feverishly wrote down all that God said.

To recount all of those two dreams and the subsequent three hour long time of prayer and discernment that Sam and I shared once Melody had settled down again would make a far longer post that I have time to write at the moment, and there is much still to be weighed and discerned, but two ‘headlines’ appeared from our discussion very quickly…

Firstly, in 2007/8 as ignite was in its infancy and my relationship with Sam was becoming more and more serious, I was really seeking the Lord on whether it was His will (as I knew it was mine and her will) to get married. In His amazing grace, He answered that prayer basically with ‘this is your choice. Your ministry will be utterly different if you marry her, but I will bless it either way.’ Who says that God doesn’t honour our freewill?! In the dreams of two weeks ago, there was a really strong theme that I had misinterpreted what God said here – He didn’t mean that my ministry would be different, he meant that mine and Sam’s ministry together would be different – that He had a work for us, a harvest for us to bring in, working alongside one another in a much deeper way than just supporting one another in separate careers through marriage. When Sam has volunteered with ignite in the past, it has been the happiest of my times of ministry there –it always just felt right to be ministering right alongside her, and now we know why – it was a taste of what God has planned for us in the future. It was this realisation that drove many of the other things that God was saying that night, and this which we understood was the fulfilment of prophecy from more than five years ago, and was the fruit of a seed planted by the Lord when I was 4/5 years old.

Secondly, as I heard the voice of the Lord in my mind as I awoke, His words were clear as crystal and are now embedded in my head and my heart. He said, “I am closing your lips so you can teach.” This, coupled with the promise that God has a work that Sam and I will lead together in the future, is what has led me to lay down my role as Children’s Pastor at St. Mary’s. My ministry there is all about communicating with people – I love preaching, I love teaching and talking and chatting and helping young (and old!) minds encounter the Gospel and fall in love with the Word and the presence of the Spirit, so with closed lips, there is no way that God can want me to continue in that role. To honour all my current commitments and so as not to leave ignite dead in the water, I have resigned as of the 31st August this year, meaning that I’ll be around for the whole Easter and Summer terms as well as Love Loughton, ignitionMAX Summer and Soul Survivor, but from then, I’m not sure what God is calling me to – I am still seeking God on what He means by the second part of that sentence ‘so you can teach’ – either I am to spend a time seeking Him and studying the Word so that He can open my lips again in a new ministry, possibly the one I am to lead with Sam, or of course the other way we teach with closed lips is by writing, which since I was a child I have deeply loved to do and have largely completely neglected during the last season in my life. Whatever happens, I am not actively seeking anything but God come September, and He has blessed Sam with a job that means if we live frugally (which is how we believe He has called all Christians to live anyway!) we could survive financially on just her income. The other blessing in that is when Melody comes towards her first birthday, I will be around so much more than I am now; if this next season is closing my lips so I can teach her, I would be blessed beyond measure as after only 13 months in this world, first in Sam’s womb and now in our arms, she is the greatest blessing I have ever experienced. God has also been greatly challenging us on the teachings of Sabbath, and whether I stayed at St. Mary’s or not, I knew that in obedience to Leviticus 25, my seventh year of ministry which begins in July 2012 would have to be a Sabbath year where nothing new was planted and we ‘lived off the land’ – now I see that teaching will be expressed in my own life rather than in the journey of ignite.

Leaving the staff team of St. Mary’s will be one of the hardest things I have ever done, but when God speaks so clearly, who are we to do anything but obey? ignite is winning awards, getting funding, seeing young people saved and empowered, has offers for masses of new schools ministry, has new communities popping up all over the place… in the wisdom of the world, leaving now is insanity. But as the Lord says in 1 Corinthians 3, the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. If I have built in accordance with the Lord’s plans, ignite will stand long after I have left and its ministry will continue under new leadership. One massive blessing is that I do not leave the post in a sense of burnout, frustration, anger, lack of opportunity for growth – all the things that usually lead people to move on – but just because God says its time. I can leave well on a happy note, and that is more than many of my colleague’s in children’s ministry are blessed with and for that I am truly thankful.

Sam and I have yet to discern whether we need to find a new worshipping family to join or whether the Lord wants us to stay at St. Mary’s as members of the congregation, but either way, Melody is still signed up to start at Little Lambs nursery when she’s 2 ½ and, at the moment, we are only moving as far as Epping, so we aren’t planning to disappear and cut ties unless God specifically tells us. Café Hope does a good coffee, and as a father at large come September I’ll need some good toddler groups to go along to (and I hear St. Mary’s has a couple of those…), and most of all the revival that I have been praying for since I started working there in 2006 is finally looking like its stirring, so we know it will be a brilliant family to stay part of if it’s the Lord’s will. I did pray that the fullness of the revival would be unleashed before August because it will be immensely annoying to have worked so hard to see it come and then miss it, but I think God’s timing is probably calibrated to His perfect plan than my desire… But who knows! (God does. So it’ll be cool either way).

Please pray for us in this season. It is clear that just when you think that God has finished what He’s up to, He pours out a whole bucketful of new revelation so I’m not going to second guess Him again – there are still many parts of our lives which we laid down that He hasn’t spoken to us on yet, and there are still many aspects to the words, Scriptures and dreams He has given us this year still to be discerned.  We firmly believe that anointing has only ever flowed on to God’s people through passionate obedience to His will, and that is what we give ourselves to now. I’ll keep my blog updated as God unfolds the next part of His plans. With a little earthly trepidation, we can’t wait to see what He does next…

By the way, for those who are wondering, the title of this post refers to the content of the dreams and the seed God planted when I was 4/5 years old. The image of a Red Balloon has been signficant for nearly two decades of my life now... A bit less spectacular than a pillar of fire, but I will follow wherever the balloon leads me, because it belongs to God. You can so tell I work with children!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Return of the King...

I have to admit that I feel a little worried about doing this. It's been over 4 years since I put anything on this blog. In fact, the 'I' that wrote the previous posts is so different from the 'me' today that I felt compelled to delete those old posts before starting this clean page.

I feel slightly worried that I'm writing this out of vanity, hoping that people will stumble on my musings and somehow think I'm some sort of prodigy. Of course, I'd be entirely lying if I pretended that wasn't somewhere in my motivation. We are all prideful beings, but I hope I can be honest enough in what I write that you'll see that I'm not trying to wow you with anything I write about myself. If I'm self-deprecating in these posts, please hear a true humility in my written voice and not false hubris. And, as my mother likes to put it, I sound like I've 'swallowed a dictionary' and am making up words, again, please don't read a sense of me trying to be clever. I went to university for five years. Reading academic books for that long does something to the way you write, and try as I may if I don't use the 'big words' and slightly archaic turns of phrase, it doesn't sound like the personal narrative voice in my head that is dictating what I write here.

Oh, and if I should throw in the odd comment that seems completely off piste, I apologise. If you know me, you'll know that I speak in asides and that seems to come out when I write too... For example, my hand is now starting to cramp as I think this is the longest thing I've ever typed on an iPhone. For another example, this post which was originally written on my iPhone I'm now editing on my laptop, and I'm stunned by how many miscorrections the iPhone had made to it...

Now I've done the authors introduction (which I know for myself is the bit of a book I often least enjoy), so apologies, I come to the heart of the matter. Why am I writing this here and now? God is moving. Plain and simple. He is, of course, always moving, but there is a particular writing here and now in the limited sphere of His kingdom I see around me in Epping Forest. The dreams of His people are getting bigger. The belief that Nothing is Impossible with Him is spreading. The word 'revival' is tentatively being spoken with an expectation of 'here, today' rather than that's all well for Toronto or Africa but not here, not now. So this is part of my response to that. And my call for every believer to get on their knees and beg that it truly would be here and today. This is a outpouring that will start, proceed and continue with the cries of the people of God to their maker that He would send the cleansing rain and then burn us with tongues of fire.

He's clearing the seabed before the tidal wave hits. He's using a Cross the smash down the walls of the churches. He's telling is it's time to sell all we possess that we might rush and buy the field where the treasure lies. Pictures His people have had here today and from their Saviour uttered millennia ago. It's coming and it's coming in our lifetime. We need to be ready, and we need to grab it with both hands. This time, Ge's going to pass by and be not only the still small voice but the thunder, the lightning, the fire and the earthquake.

He's sorting me out so I'll be ready for it when it hits. He's growing my dreams to be a bit more the scale of His dreams. He's lifting my gaze to the day when people are turning up at churches at 2am desperate to pray. He's breaking my heart ofor every child who has had their childhood stolen by the filth and lies that our culture feeds them and the brokenness of their families that the Enemy has somehow convinced us is 'OK' and 'normal'.

Let the drums be sounded, let the whistle be blown, it's soon and very soon that Gods people are going to be called to rise and charge over the top. I pray with all my heart He will see fit to let me be one of the ones leading the charge. We've got a war to fight, and we already know we have the victory in Christ. If your Spirit sings as you read this, shout that you're with me, that you're with Him, and we'll live or die for the Name together. I've said to God before that in my ministry I want to settle for no less than every child in my town to be saved. I'll give my life for it.

We need Acts - and I use that word very deliberately - of radical discipleship to be happening across our nation. What does radical discipleship look like? Well, actually, it doesn't look radical at all, it just looks like this big fat book that lots of us so called 'Holy people' carry around but don't actually sit down around read often enough. We need to seek revival around every single corner because if we don't expect it then we'll miss it. Again.

In the last week, I've seen it. The birthing of something beautiful. As the song says, "It's rising up, all around, the anthem of the Lord's renown." I can hear it playing in my head as I write this. This is where I've heard it stirring in the last week...

In a meeting with a church leader discussing how we don't care where the children and young people end up going on a Sunday morning as long as they are being brought into the Kingdom. A meeting that's been echoed again and again to me over the fortnight by churches from many denominations.

In a group of twelve young people who wanted to dip their hands in the blood of Christ that they might be set free from their sins and receive the Spirit, many of whom then went on to pray in tongues for the first time, one of whom recomitted her life and I know God has set the potential inside to be a great pastor in the future.

In a conversation with a teenager who said that she would own up to her mum about lies she had been telling even though she was terrified of the consequences because she knew it was what God wanted her to do. And then went and actually did it.

In a group of children, most of whom are not from church backgrounds, who were so excited to hear what the Bible was that they all wanted to take one home with them (so of course we gave them all one) and next week would like to learn about tongues. And we'll ask the Spirit to give them that too.

In a meeting with a Christian teacher who heard that a family was in such dire straits that their son didn't even have a bed for them to sleep in, so they arranged for their church to buy them one.

In the steadfast friendship of my Christian brothers and sisters who are so incredibly supportive of me.

In the eyes of my wife when I came home an hour earlier than she was expecting me tonight.

In the sure and certain knowledge that when Jesus said 'surely you shall do even greater things than these' that he really did mean it, and there is no restriction on the amazing things that He will do by His Spirit for His Good Pleasure and furtherance of His Kingdom. Manna from heaven, gold teeth, tongues, healing, prophecy, shaking, jumping, singing, crying, gold dust... It's all there, and there's so much more besides.

It's all happening! So, the outpouring that all this foreshadows, why not here and why not now? Because we aren't ready for it yet. The groundwork that has been going on for years isn't quite ready yet. We're standing on the shoulders of giants but we're not quite tall enough to touch the stars. But we are so close that I can taste it. So close that the first signs are starting to appear. So close that the wonders are starting to occur. So close that His people are starting to expect that 'business as usual' will never be a phrase they can use again. So close that His people are starting to long for the revival that wasn't a month long or a year long but shaped nations and brought down strongholds. The world is shaking. The ground is moving under our feet. Do you want to feel it?

Because God is a gentleman, He won't force it on us. If you want to ignore it, He will let you. The angels will weep for your unbelief, but He will let you. The Enemy will celebrate that you stood back and let it pass by, but He will let you do it. I know sometimes I want to ignore it, because it scares me to death. I know sometimes I want it to pass by, because it's turning my world upside down.

But always, without fail, God is gracious, and by His Spirit He reminds me of one thing. Of hands nailed to a cross. Of screams of agony. Of the perversion of the crown of the King of the Universe into an instrument of torture. Of the fact that I was bought at a terrible price, a price far beyond what I deserve. Of the fact that as Christ flung stars into the sky, His hands were already pierced for me, and they will be for all time and when time is finished.

So what response can I have to the Jesus who died for me, who rose for me, than to say use me in any way you can, in any way you will, however weird or scary or awesome, because a single drop of that precious blood is worth more than every second of my life.

Jesus Christ, let it be here, let it be now. Here I am. Send me.