Give me also springs of water

I was sitting in a worship meeting recently, soaking in His Presence, when a snatch of a musical interlude took me right back to the 70s. I was born again into the crazy charismatic house church movement in U.K. At 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon Richard would load up his aged Triumph 2000 with as many students as we could squeeze into it and trek the twenty miles from Oxford to the Cotswold blanket town of Witney. The students were dispersed upon arrival in ones and twos throughout a number of families where we would be kindly fed and watered. My hosts were often two older ladies – sisters whose kids and grandkids had moved away. They sublimated their occasional crankiness with each other, and the forced economy of consolidating their households, into lavishing kindness on far-from-home students. Supper would be genteel but efficient because at 6.30 p.m. they would both retire to their respective rooms to “prepare for the meeting.” I would be left alone in the lounge reading my Bible and wondering what the night would hold.

The church at Merryfield house was one of the original “house churches” that was birthed, not out of the idea that small-is-beautiful, but out of the necessity the comes from being thrown out of established churches (mostly for baptizing adults who had previously been christened!) Merryfield house was not, in fact, small at all – but a rambling Cotswold stone manor house that accommodated two families and several singles upstairs and had a downstairs lounge that could house seventy to eighty bodies, a full worship band and some pretty impressive dance moves. The worship “cooked” – we could marinate the same four lines thirty or forty times whilst the pianist, a diminutive lady with an enormous pregnant tummy would dazzle the ivories and deliver devastating words of knowledge in the same moment. Husbands and wives who fought on the way to the meeting would sit outside in the car park until they had made up, lest they be exposed by a piercing prophetic word. The Presence of God was overwhelming. The gifts flowed. The fear of God was palpable.

That was forty years ago. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was sitting in a worship meeting, crying out for more of God’s Presence when we had had so much then. We were cutting edge – we had been delivered from the Egypt of religious observance into the real, the charismatic, the Holy Ghost party. We sold everything (yes, literally!) We gave up homes and families and career opportunities in pursuit of discipleship. And yes, it’s been a great journey. But so many bodies were left dying in the wilderness and here I feel like Caleb, on the borders of the Promised Land yet again – wondering if we could skip Joshua and Judges and go straight to 2 Samuel instead?

As I was musing over my trip down memory lane, I felt like the Holy Spirit reminded me of a story at the beginning of Judges. Caleb’s nephew takes the stronghold of Kiriath-Sepher and is given Caleb’s daughter as a reward. (Sorry that’s not a good story for egalitarians!) But Caleb’s daughter, Achsah, is a spunky chick and has the gumption to ask for a gift of her own:

She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have set me in the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.

It does sometimes feel frustrating to think that we are raising up a new generation to take the promises that we had tokens of in our youth – I am still trusting to be lucky enough to get to see the great end-time revival but I don’t know how many cities I will now conquer. There is a new generation rising up who will see and do church differently because they see their own place in the world differently and how they can change and influence that world.

But the gift of water is in our hands. We are all looking at the crisis unfolding in Cape Town and it is very clear that it is no use having the land if you don’t also have the springs of water. There is a generation that has seen the mighty works of God and, if we remember who we are, has the authority to speak to the rock – even in the desert. We are not just re-opening the wells for ourselves, for our own benefit, but for the benefit of a generation called to possess the land.

So let’s remember who we are – let’s press in again to the intimacy of first love. Let’s tap into the well of God’s Spirit within us. Let’s teach the new generation to press through, to trust God, to find the water of His Presence in difficult times and not to forget to keep drinking in the good times too. One thing I have learned through the years of desert wandering is that God’s purpose is not ultimately fulfilled by miraculous interventions and last-minute rescues but He is looking for a people who will walk in abundance, confident that if the heavens appear not to be moving, I can move the heavens. I can call down the rain of the Spirit. I can walk and minister from overflow.

Exploding blue boxes

Some churches have flower arrangements in the Sunday sanctuary. I am so glad that we have blue boxes – exploding blue boxes! If you weren’t there to see them, let me explain.

It’s a prophetic vision: “I saw multiple blue boxes with the lids ‘exploding’ off them. The exploding open boxes was like there was a supernatural removal of hindrances. Ensuring that there is no ceiling, no lid, no limit on God’s love, blessings and provisions. Revealing open doors and ushering in a transformational revelation of his unending love and goodness.”

I love that we have “seers” who see into the supernatural realm to describe what God is doing. I love that we also have creative artists who can turn the prophetic vision into a 3D tangible installation (hence the boxes.) And we also have scribes, who can interpret and record:

Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
Do not conform but reform:

Reformat your hard drive.
Make the neural pathways come alive.
Make a new space in an old place –
reboot your brain.
Organize a little prison break from fear and anxiety.
Risk a little variety.
Explode your regular nicety.
Break out of all your boxes,
your rules and orthodoxies.
You could even relax your orthopraxis.
Butt your head against ceilings of conformity,
railings of religiosity –
convince your grey matter to scatter caution to the winds!

Do not think more highly
And do not sink more lowly
than His thoughts, His wild extravagant thoughts about you:
thoughts of generosity;
plans of glory-osity;
plans to love and cherish,
to prosper and inherit
every good gift prepared for you beforehand
from the Father of lights.

Do not limit His good intentions
with preconceptions or pretensions.
Sweep unbelief under the carpet,
or maybe right out of the door.
Worship with abandon.
Turn and place your hand on
someone who needs a jumpstart,
a healing or a new heart.
Let the Spirit flow.
Let Him blow your mind with thoughts of loving kindness.
Let Him blow your fuses with power and love that oozes from every pore until
you’re pouring out His goodness on all of those around you.
Let Him spill His light into a dark and needy world.

It’s time to break out, shake out,
Stake-out a claim for all of Heaven’s promises
Right-up.
Right here,
Right now.

And I love that we have crazy love-sick worshippers to respond to all of the above.

Positive Parenting

Having been invited to write about Positive Parenting, I am nervously “dipping my toes into the waters” of blogging, not at all sure that I can do the honour, nor the topic, justice! 25 Years of journeying and learning as a parent of three, brings me to the realisation that when God gifts us with children, it is not so much an indication of any competence of our own, but rather a visible demonstration of the lavish grace, goodness and generosity of our wonderful Father, and an invitation for us to better discover HIS wonder and worth, as we partner with Him!

I fi have the smile of God, all other frowns are inconsequential.

Parenting is in fact, too glorious and grand an undertaking for (even our best) human effort alone – as impressive as it strives to be!

In our longing to steward well these gifts (children) entrusted to us, I have realized that there’s a cruel and deceptive task master that so often drives parents, named ‘Perfectionism’.

Perfectionism is not only elusive, leaving us discouraged and defeated (much like that dangling carrot which the desperate donkey can never get to!) Perfectionism is also a fallacy. My encouragement to parents is to put down that rod of perfectionism which you’re using to beat your back with!

I believe that sadly, too many parents aim at ‘perfectionism’ and ironically end up missing the goal – which is EXCELLENCE! The good news is that Excellence in our daily parenting is one hundred percent do-able!

It’s do-able because we parent in partnership with the Giver of our gifts, our Heavenly Father. Our capacities, our resources, our understanding is finite …. God, however, is infinite in every wondrous way (one of which is redemption … another blog for another day!)

Excellence is possible because in Jesus Christ, we parent FROM a place of validation, not FOR validation. In His eyes, we are already supremely loved and esteemed.

Fear is silencedIn Jesus, our primary and true identity is in fact as God’s ‘beloved son/daughter with whom He is well pleased’. Our human tendencies towards self-deprecation make it hard to hear and believe these words, but once we embrace this truth, all our thoughts, words and actions emanate from the deep knowledge of God’s infinite and unconditional love. We are then set free from our insatiable compulsions to prove ourselves (pride) and from trying to control outcomes as a parent (fear). The narratives in our hearts determine the kind of hurdles we invite/navigate.

When we are centred on the Truth and in relationship with Him, we become empowered to parent effectively, with excellence and with “love, power and a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

Life lived and parenting done ‘before an Audience of One’, means that God’s got your back. He’s got your children’s backs too. It means our great reward is in His eyes!

Grace and joy to your hearts!
Kirsty MacGregor

So, what do you have to say?

So, What do you have to say?

I am sure you may have noticed the huge response to the events in Charlottesville. Many people are speaking up against the wrongs that are happening in our world. They are renouncing hatred, racism and violence. Rightly so. I confess, I have my head a little under the sand. It is my coping mechanism, but I am not proud of it. So I say very little about such things. But the Lord has challenged me this week. The time of me being silent is over. Not only about the events that happen on the world stage; but also the suffering, the tragedy, the pain, the heartache, in our community and in our Hillside family.

But, don’t you think what breaks the silence is as important as the breaking itself?

These two words, shared below, have inspired me to open my mouth. To speak up, loud, often and proud… but not to moan, or even acknowledge the evil or renounce it, BUT to speak words that will chase the darkness away with the bright Light. The words that fill my mouth are the weapons of warfare against this evil – it is the name of Jesus, the testimony of who He is, and what He does, and what He has done, and will do! In my bringing glory to the King, I remind the enemy just who has won this battle!

Isaiah 60:2 “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.”

Who me? Yes, you!

I can bring Your glory to this world that is in need of Hope, Love, Life and Light. So I declare Your name and Your goodness!

Please ask Holy Spirit to speak to you as you read the two words below and see what response He asks of you. It may be different to mine ☺

From Cary Hirshovitz, Oman:

“Though this world harbours much poison and the sky is full of tortured cries;
though the soil is saturated with blood and our waterways with sickness –
there is something bigger, more pervasive and utterly indestructible.

Though the hearts of many a man be in an eternal winter;
their minds as jagged and as murderous as their ways –
there is something bigger, more pervasive and utterly indestructible.

Though night seems to become claustrophobic and never ending –
there is something bigger, more pervasive and utterly indestructible.

Though chaos, hatred and evil grows – ITS DAYS ARE NUMBERED.
The darkness does not stalk us – WE PURSUE IT!
There is no contest, there is no balance, there is no ying and yang,
there is one pure Light and the darkness CANNOT defeat it.
Darkness is only the absence of LIGHT.
LOVE HAS WON and will win. Evil does NOT HAVE THE LAST WORD.

Amidst the cries of millions of suffering people,
we must dare to believe, fight with hope, go in love,
walk in forgiveness, act in peace,
continually seeing the One who is the Way and has the way.
Amidst destruction we must BUILD.
Amidst devastation we must restore.
Amidst unspeakable pain we must heal.
Amidst rampant fear we must speak truth!

Evil cannot win because it has already lost!
Fear is a liar! The Lion has the final word.
Love does not rest or sleep and He hates what is evil.
He is not complacent and HE IS NOT A TAME LION.
Raise your hopes everyone! Let your courage rise!
The Light shines and the darkness has not understood it!
THERE IS NO CONTEST.”

Christy Johnston, from the Gold Coast, Australia, shared this word:

“My heart hurts: It deeply aches of the unspeakable brokenness in this world. The inconceivable pain and consuming fear. Brothers fighting against brothers. Nations against nations. Mother against child. Father against son. My heart hurts. 

My heart cries: How do we overcome the prejudices that we, as a human race are facing in this day and hour? How do we fight these terrors? How do we overcome? My heart cries. 

My mouth speaks: Only One has the capacity to break the chains, only One has the ability to restore. Only the love of Jesus can consume this sickness and darkness, only He can chase away every fear. Only His love can break down these walls. The gentle yet fierce roar of His love and affection must be always on my tongue – for they must hear Him through me. My mouth speaks. 

My hands move: I cannot stand by and do nothing. I have a voice and I cannot let any opportunity pass by to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I must move with His kindness towards everyone I meet – whether face to face or virtually. They will know His love through me, they will taste of true peace as I live my life through the Prince of Peace. My hands move. 

My decree: My life matters. I refuse to let this be the way my generation goes. I refuse to let racism divide. I refuse to allow injustice to prevail. I refuse to allow abortion to destroy. I refuse to let fear stand in the way. I refuse to allow brokenness and crisis of the soul to prevail. I am the light of God and I refuse to hide His light… I will bring the light of the Kingdom wherever I go and darkness will flee. I am an influencer of my generation and history will stand to tell the testimony of Jesus living His story through mine.”

What say ye?

Fire and Love

Let heaven roar and fire fall.
Come shake the ground
With the sound of revival.
 
In the week following the Knysna fires I felt myself squirming a little at the number of songs we were singing about wind and fire. I know these are the main metaphors the New Testament uses to describe Holy Spirit falling in revival, but it just seemed tactless that we sing so glibly about something so powerful and uncontrollable (and potentially destructive). Do we realize what we are praying for?
 
In a broader sense, fire in the Bible is often a means of purification. Our God is a consuming fire – one touch from the altar can take away the sin of my lips and cleanse the passions of my heart. Even in the natural world fire is the fastest way to get rid of the dead wood from a past season – those of us who live in Natal have often smelled the delightful aroma of burnt toffee as the sugar farmers burn off the cane stubble. Fire in that sense seems destructive but brings life – the Knysna forests will grow again. It may take a very long time – but nature resists barrenness with a fierce passion. Plants often survive where man-made structures do not. In the Cape there are some fynbos whose seeds are germinated under intense heat and we saw in Knysna, too, human seeds of mercy, compassion, kindness and love for strangers burst out spontaneously and miraculously in a country that is often dry and hardened by donor fatigue.

It feels like many of us have been through a season of fire lately and it is not always easy to see beyond the initial devastation. In a fire we can lose items of great personal and sentimental value – we have to mourn these losses even though we might feel guilty that others have lost more practical necessities or even beloved relationships. No grief or loss is actually comparable to another but sometimes the loss of a much loved person is so close that we feel it with the shock of a severed limb – numb at first, then persistently debilitating as we try to adjust to life without that functional part. The pain of a phantom limb is particularly hard to treat because the limb is no longer there to heal itself or be healed by others.

Hillside has also been through a season of fire – we have lost some people (good and precious people) for all kinds of reasons, some relationships have changed and some of the old structures have been burned to the ground. All of this has been very painful – the more so, the closer we have been to the heat! I can assure you that nothing and no one was relinquished lightly – we have fought very hard not just to keep people and maintain relationships (sometimes it is right in God to let go of people), but to maintain honor and dignity – to value the past and to speak life and hope and blessing over the future of everyone who has ever been part of this family. If some have wondered what was going on – the reluctance to speak has not been any kind of “cover-up” but more a covering-in-love of painful relational dynamics. Richard spoke last Sunday of his own pain in the process – we don’t have the right to speak of anyone else’s.

But we do speak of the new life and growth that is fast emerging from the ashes of the old. We are thrilled and humbled by the goodness of God in guiding us through to a new leadership structure and filling that structure with amazing people that we would love to introduce and highlight and honor this coming Sunday. We are full of faith that the new season will be even more fruitful than the last because that is the nature of our God – he prunes what is fruitful to make it more fruitful. We will continue to declare the goodness of God in the face of not always experiencing it because it is the truth. We will continue to declare that God heals, and pray for the sick, even in the face of people sometimes dying, because that is truth too. We will continue to declare a culture of honor and a culture of love that fights for connection because that is also what is true – even if we have failed to achieve it fully in the past. As Bill Johnson says, we won’t reduce our theology to the level of our experience but we risk and fail and move on because our Father has so much more goodness for us to experience.

So back to Daniel Bashta, an apt song for the new season:

Let love explode and bring the dead to life
A love so bold to bring a revolution somehow…
 
My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive
And He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion.
 
Jill

Choosing hope

On Easter Sunday Richard and I were at the King’s Feast in Bethlehem where David Crone (Senior Pastor of the Mission, Vacaville) preached a message for “Resurrection Sunday.” There was not a dry eye in the house, as the message was basically the story of how their 31-year old daughter died from complications to a minor surgery – and how they chose hope in the midst of their tragedy. In Deborah’s words, as she left the hospital she made the choice “I will not live sad and I will not live mad.” At the end they ministered healing powerfully to many people in the room who had lost loved ones and had not been able to step away from the pain of that loss. Or to say with reality that God is good in all circumstances.

The message was very powerful for me because we were in the middle of our own Hillside tragedy – fighting for the life of Struan Harris – wrestling in prayer for his healing, walking his wife Cindy through the pain of all possible outcomes as he lay on a ventilator in ICU, aware that we might have to face this day when we finally say goodbye to him.

In all of that, I have to say that the goodness of God is never more real than when facing tragedy: so many small answers to prayer; such incredible kindness from strangers; such loyal and faithful service from the saints; and the peace that passes understanding – all were tangibly evident for Struan and Cindy. And no – we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. For Struan it is by no means the worst possible outcome – he is safe in the arms of his heavenly Father. For Cindy, she is choosing to rest in the same place.

In this life we sometimes have to choose hope – because, as David pointed out – it is so much better than hopelessness. Hope is superior to hopelessness in all circumstances! Hope produces faith and joy and peace. It’s smart to choose hope! But it is also a vain hope to hope in anything other than God. Living hope is resurrection life. Abundant hope is an overflow! Hope sets my compass on life – when I choose hope, I see hopeful things all around me. When we set the reticulating activating system of our brain on hope we see signs of hope everywhere. And hope comforts me. The most tragic consequence of Tragedy is that it can define our identity. We can become a widow or a hijack victim or a rape survivor or simply a hurt and wounded person who filters all of life’s future experiences through the lens of a bad thing that happened to us. Which is why we have to choose “I will not live sad and I will not live mad.” We don’t ignore our pain and doubt and questions – but we process and push through and release. It is possible to live this way – the Crones are living proof of that fact.

If you would like to hear their story – you can download “Resurrection Sunday” (SESSION 4) from Breakthru Life’s website HERE

 

Jesus, our identity

One of the great challenges of living as a son or daughter of God in the middle of a fallen world is how we hold onto our identity amongst the indignities of life? We know that we have an amazing future and that we ought to relate to one another according to that glorious destiny – but often we are caught living a less than average existence in the here-and-now. We don’t want to give power to our problems – so we don’t talk about them at all. We become fractured individuals whose inner and outer lives don’t agree – and so we change like chameleons as we step between church and world. No wonder the world finds us flakey and unreal. 

The good news is that we have, as the book of Hebrews tells us, a high priest who shares our humanity – who fellowships in our flesh and blood. Jesus’ life and death redefined what is shameful: he walked through the same indignities that we suffer – without being ashamed – our identity is not affected by bad things that happen to us. Shame does not need to cause us to hide from one another. Of course there is true guilt – which comes from bad choices and covenant breaking sinful behavior – but so often we are shamed by things which are not the result of our choices – sickness, weakness, being cheated by someone, being rejected by someone. This Easter we need to remember that Jesus is the champion of our salvation – he has suffered and conquered death for us – death being the ultimate indignity. This is not just good news for us – in a competitive world, the life of Jesus looks like solidarity with ordinary people in the pain and indignity of their lives – we are able to sit with them without judgement or fear. It looks like a life with the capacity for true relationships in a world of spin – no image projection needed here. It also looks like Hope in a world of no hope – what better news than that? Happy Easter everyone. 

To hear more about Jesus our awesome High Priest you can listen to Richard’s message from Sunday.

Listen Now

What remains

This week I had the special privilege of addressing group of women in ministry. What’s special about that, you might ask? Well, the invitation came from Focus on the Family, a high quality international organisation that we are blessed to have located in our neck of the woods – an organisation dedicated over many years to helping families and helping the church to help families. But what was special for me was the chance to meet a group of women from many different streams, denominations and ministry expressions – that I wouldn’t normally brush shoulders with.

The topic I was invited to speak on was “seasons of marriage and ministry” – with the intriguing question “what remains?” It was a set-up, of course because when asked to address this forum for “pastor’s wives” and “women in ministry” my first thought was “that’s not who I am! (A pastor’s wife, that is!) This led me (and the ladies) down a delightful rabbit trail of asking “who am I?” When all the hats that I wear are put aside, when the roles in my life change, when doors of opportunity open (or close!) – who am I, really?

My identity is not the same as the roles that I play or the things that I do – otherwise my identity would crumble in the face of loss or change. My identity is unique to me, like my fingerprint – but it is defined relationally – in respect to my eternal destiny as a child of God.

We know that we are created in the image of God and the relationship he intends for us for all time is that we should be his sons and daughters. We are saved as sons – we are not like drowning people who were rescued and then tossed onto the beach to sort ourselves out, but we are embraced into family like the prodigal son and given a robe, a ring, sandals and a party! But princes and princesses often live under the glass ceilings of other people’s expectations. (The problem with a glass ceiling is that it is invisible until you run into it – ever run into a patio door? Ouch!) We allow ourselves to be defined by gender and other role stereotypes. I may conclude that I am first and foremost a child of God, a daughter of the most high. But even when I proclaim myself a princess, I can be constrained by cultural norms of how a princess ought to behave! I’m afraid I am a muddy princess at best!

So how do we find out who we really are?

In the natural process of life, a child’s identity is formed from the potential of genetic inheritance (DNA) by the interaction with and input from two loving parents. The child’s first interaction is with the mother – the mother carries the child for nine months in this wonderful, safe cocoon and then, as the child is thrust into the harsh light of day, it has two intuitive questions to answer: do I exist and am I alone? As the mother cradles the child in her arms (and we have all read about the importance of maternal bonding) she gazes into its eyes and says “yes – you are here, you are the most beautiful baby that was ever born, I am so glad that you exist, it is a good thing that you have come into this world and you are not alone – I am here for you”. That is the start of the process. But a healthy child cannot remain bonded to the mother forever, so God gave us fathers who were meant to separate us from the mother and impart identity by calling out our individual gifts and shaping our unique personalities.

The Holy Spirit reveals a kind of maternal expression of the godhead when he broods over creation and breathes life into it and loves and comforts us. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so that we would never feel alone or abandoned.

But it is the Father who names us, who shapes us, who says “you will be a peace-maker or a freedom-fighter or a joy-bringer. You will be a prophet or a worshiper – you will pastor the sheep in my house or you will pastor lost sheep out there in the marketplace. You will be creative or celebratory. You will bring order into chaos – even making hard sums add up correctly. You will be a light in the darkness, a hope to the hopeless. You will design objects of beauty to display my splendour or engineer solutions for practical problems.”

Who are you today? You see, there is a deep core answer to that question and there is a multifaceted answer like the faces of a precious jewel because you are a joint heir with Christ but you also represent individual and unique aspects of your father’s DNA. There is an answer that holds true for every season of your life, regardless of the roles you have to play or even that you get to play, to work out your diving calling and purpose.

Close your eyes for a moment – and ask yourself this question – if my life were a sermon, if I had one message to preach, one statement to make to the world – what would it be? We all have a life purpose that is broad but unique and can be worked out in many ways and seasons.

And we also have many individual gifts and qualities – natural and supernatural – take a pen and paper and ask Father God – what do you say about who I am? What qualities do I have that you want to highlight to me in this season? Don’t be defined by the world around – but allow the Father to name and call out your true identity in Him.

Jill Lawton