Archive for May, 2012

May 16

The Armour of God

When I was a teenager having a rough time at school, my youth worker told me about the armour of God passage in Ephesians 6 and suggested reading it every day before I went to school. I did as she suggested and took great comfort in the power of the words, believing God was protecting me. I read the passage so often that I memorised it, and every day on my walk to school, in the alley-way between mine and my friends house I would pray it as a prayer. I would picture a strong belt being tied around my waist, a huge shining breastplate covering my chest, a heavy, thick shield in my hand, a beautiful helmet on my head and a deadly sword in my other hand, glimmering in the sunlight. I was covered in the armour of God and no one at school could touch me.

Sometimes it felt like it wasn’t working. Things were still tough, bad things still happened and it was still a really tough time. Some days were okay, but some days were awful.

Since my teenage years I’ve reflected often on this passage and if I’m honest at times I’ve questioned why this spiritual armour didn’t seem to protect me at all. God protecting us is a funny thing. On one hand we’re told that God will protect and defend us, but then things happen in life where we don’t feel protected or defended at all. Jobs can be lost, loved ones can be taken from us, relationships can break down, disease can harm us and people can mistreat us.

Paul (the writer of Ephesians) starts off the passage in Ephesians 6 by reminding us that we are in a battle and that battle is not against flesh and blood but something way darker – the schemes of the devil himself. Rulers, authorities, powers and forces of evil in heavenly realms. Scary stuff. To be able to stand against this, we need the full armour of God. A belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, a shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

When I think back to those tough times as a teenager, there were times when I did feel supernaturally protected by God. On a youth weekend away to the coast organised by my church, I was right in the middle of dealing with a horrible situation, during which I decided to involve the police who charged a girl in my year with assault. My peers were divided between those who thought I was a ‘grass’ and those who knew what this girl had done and could see she deserved justice.  After the weekend was over I knew I would have to go back to face it all. I was walking along the beach telling God I couldn’t go back unless he went back with me, that I needed his help and protection to get through it all. I was almost at the end of what I could cope with, and I was pretty much on my own. As I looked back towards the shore I saw a huge white figure, about eight feet tall, so bright I couldn’t look at it for long and so I looked away. I suddenly felt God’s presence so strongly I couldn’t stand up, and I heard ‘He’s going back with you’ gently whispered in my ear! Despite trying to argue it away with my cynical mind, I couldn’t argue with how I felt and what I had seen, and some amazing ‘coincidences’ happened over the next few weeks that helped me cope with school until everything had calmed down.

As well as times like that, I remember how vital my own actions were. There were so many times it would have been so easy for me to use all of the tactics that had been used against me. I could have got older friends from different schools to ‘sort out’ the people that were hassling me. I could have punched back, I could have retaliated with better insults, more manipulative games, I could have let myself hate those people. Sometimes I did all of those things, but they never helped me, and they never protected me. But when I responded to hate with love, when I reacted to judgement with grace, when I stood up for what was right, when I let peace guide my decisions, when I made a choice to believe things would get better, when I stopped trying to control every situation in my life and let God do the guiding, when I dived into the bible and let it mould and shape me…things were good. Not easy, but good, and I ended up stronger, wiser and completely anchored in God. I do believe there were times God protected me, even though it doesn’t make complete sense and I still have a lot of questions about it. But I believe I was protected by God through my own choices as well, when I chose to do the right thing instead of the obvious thing.

Sometimes God protects us, but sometimes our actions and choices protect us too. It’s very easy to separate the natural and the supernatural. It would be easy for me to say something like ‘God protected me in the supernatural and my choices protected me in the natural’. The problem with that is that’s not how the Hebrew mindset worked. A Hebraic mindset sees everything as one – body, mind, soul, natural and supernatural, it’s all the same. So when we make a choice in what we perceive to be the natural, it of course has repercussions in the supernatural, because they can never be separated.

Truth. Righteousness. Peace. Faith. Salvation. Spirit. Word. They defend us. Not through something magically covering us when we ask God nicely, but through tough choices that we have to make on a daily basis. We have to choose to speak and see the truth, even when our voice shakes, even when it’s easier not to see what’s really going on. We have to behave with holiness, to act justly, to be righteous. Every day we make choices, that determine how much armour we have. If we don’t steal that stationary from work, we are protected. If we don’t lie on the insurance claim, we are protected. If we don’t take the higher paid promotion because we don’t have peace about it, we are protected. If we let God deal with that person who screwed us over rather than taking it into our own hands, we are protected. If we spend more time studying the bible than we do twitter or facebook, we are protected. This is the armour that God has given us.

Sometimes when we feel attacked it’s so easy to pick up the weapons of the world. To argue, shout, scream, lie, manipulate, control, backbite and scheme…but these are not our weapons or our defence. We are in a battle, but we are part of an army that fights with different weapons than the world. We fight with love and we are defended by the choices we make. In the story of David and Goliath (read it here) everyone expects David to take King Saul’s armour and weapons. It would have been the best of the best, the most technologically advanced form of protection in the world. But it didn’t fit and David couldn’t wear it. It just wasn’t him, it wasn’t the way he fought. Instead he chose to do it God’s way and armed with nothing but his knowledge as a shepherd, some stones and a slingshot, this teenager defeated one of Israel’s most feared enemies.

I am convinced that protection comes when we relentlessly sow the seeds of the kingdom in our lives, when we truly live out what it means to follow Jesus, when we make the tough choices, when we reject the weapons of the world even when they seem so easy and familiar to us. When we fight and defend with what God gives us, what we can achieve and resist is immeasurable, unimaginable and untouchable.


May 07

Birds – Flying Home

A lot of people have asked why I am moving back to Bath after having moved away less than a year ago! It’s a valid question, and one I hope to answer during this post. I’ve decided to tell a bit of my story because I think it’s a good one, as God has yet again exceeded my expectations and done something quite unbelievable. So here goes.

For eight years of my life I lived in Bath, a city I absolutely loved. Unfortunately a very painful situation left me jobless and churchless, with many important relationships broken, my calling in question and with massive damage to my relationship with God. My parents (who have been amazing throughout all of this and deserve a mention!) offered to let me stay with them in Nottingham for a while and suggested I took time to recover and figure out where God wanted me next. I also heard of a job going with Nottingham YFC that was only part time, so would be something I loved doing whilst also giving me time and space to work things out. A few months previous to this I had sensed a calling to be a part of Trent Vineyard, a church in Nottingham, and so with all these things combined and without really knowing why, I packed my bags and headed to Nottingham confused, damaged and heartbroken, but thankful for safety and the promise of rest.

A couple of months before I left Bath, I started to notice birds. Huge flocks of them. In the sky, in art (some of which is included throughout this post), on TV, on jewellery, in song lyrics…I can’t explain it but I knew God was trying to say something to me about it. I kept asking Him what, but couldn’t figure it out, and at the time was too exhausted and preoccupied to push for an answer. As I left for Nottingham they were still everywhere and I wondered whether it was about being free or flying away to somewhere new. I wasn’t sure.

Anyway, I made a start on building a new life in Nottingham, thinking that this was where I would live now. I started my job, got two more little part time jobs, dived head first into church and joined as many teams as I could! I knew the easy thing would be to hide away from church after a damaging experience but no matter how much we screw it up, I will never let anyone take away my passion for the local church, or my call to join God in building it. I decided Fridays would be my Vineyard day, split between helping out at a school for young people who have been excluded from mainstream education and editing films with the media team in the afternoon. I loved it and began to feel a bit of hope that it all might work out.

As part of getting stuck into church I signed up to do a four week ‘Values’ course, which is an introduction to the values of the church with a chance to meet other new people and ask questions. Whilst chatting to a staff member and telling her I had moved to Nottingham after living in Bath for eight years, she told me about a couple who were moving to Bath the following summer to plant a Vineyard church. I didn’t really think much of it, except feeling excited for friends in Bath who love the Vineyard movement and weren’t at that time in a church.

The following Friday the lady I was chatting to at the course came to find me in the media room and asked if it would be okay to pass on my number to the couple (Mike & Flic) who were planting the church as they wanted to pick my brains about Bath. I was a bit hesitant as I didn’t want to have to tell them about everything that had happened, but agreed and arranged to meet with them. As I drove home that night I again saw a huge flock of birds, with the same annoying feeling that God was trying to say something to me!

That week I had dinner with a friend and I was explaining my frustration about the bird thing! As we were talking a huge flock of birds flew past the window, to which I laughed, pointed, and said, “like that!” She explained that the birds were migrating geese, who fly away during the winter because where they are is too cold, doesn’t have enough food and cannot sustain them if they stay. They fly somewhere safe and warm for the winter to ensure their survival and return in the summer. I instantly felt a massive wave of peace and knew that was exactly what God had been trying to communicate to me. It was right for me to fly away, to be free and to go somewhere safe and warm. I felt hugely relieved, and because I am stupid, didn’t even let it register in my mind that migrating birds always fly back again!

The following week I met with Mike and Flic and told them everything they wanted to know about Bath – areas, schools, needs etc. Annoyingly it was a great evening and I just clicked with them, loving their vision for starting a church there and feeling like I wanted to help. I offered to meet them again and make them a little promo film if needed.

I remember rushing to a friends house full of excitement, telling her about the birds, the church plant and how great I felt it would be for Bath. She quite helpfully pointed out two things – the first that migrating birds always fly back again, and that I came alive whenever I talked about Bath.

Uh oh. I couldn’t go back could I? Could I?

I had planned a visit to Bath anyway at Christmas to catch up with friends and do some filming for the Vineyard promo film, and the trip suddenly had a third purpose – to prayerfully consider whether I could really come back, and whether God even wanted me to. I still remember driving down the hill into Bath, and as soon as I saw the city I just burst into tears. Bath is my home. I love it, I miss it, I never really wanted to leave.

Of course I want to come back.

There are so many other confirmations I have had but to list them all would make this even longer than it already is! The bottom line is that I am coming back to Bath because it is my home, because I believe God wants me there, and because I am incredibly excited about being part of a church from the very start. Being a part of Trent Vineyard has been so healing in so many ways and I know God not only needed me to be a part of it to meet Mike and Flic, but also to begin a healing process in me. There have been so many things I have seen and heard that have helped in this – seeing the way people are empowered and equipped, the accountability and oversight that is in place for leaders and staff of every level, how mistakes are owned, the way conflict is dealt with, how the primary role of the leaders and staff is to ‘equip the saints for works of service’, the whole ethos and values of the Vineyard movement…I could go on. I am very thankful to Trent and feel privileged to have been a part of it, I am only sad that it will now be for such a short time! Of course it’s not perfect, but no one there pretends it is. Trent has also been a safe place where God has gently and lovingly brought up things that I could have done differently, and allowed me to learn from my mistakes and move on.

I am aware how some might perceive my return, and perhaps even misinterpret and twist what I’ve written here. That’s up to them. I trust God, enough that if I was doing this out of wrong motives he would reveal that, and put a stop to me coming back. In fact I have found the opposite to be true, as again and again practicalities are taken care of, obstacles are removed and confirmation after confirmation comes my way. I love the story in Acts 5, where the apostles are brought before a very angry council! Most of the council were filled with rage, jealously and anger and wanted to kill them or at least put a stop to what they were doing, but one Pharisee called Gamaliel stands up and gives some very wise advice which I won’t attempt to add to;

‘Leave these men alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it. You will only find yourselves fighting against God.’ Acts 5:38-39

I think one of the most incredible things in all of this, has been when I started to notice birds. It was months before I had even decided to leave Bath! It blows my mind that before I even decided to leave, God had already put things in place to bring me back. I flew away from an unsafe place, have been protected and looked after, and now it’s time for me to fly home.

My favourite band in the world is a fairly unknown band from the USA, called Mutemath. When they release a new album I get very excited and usually spend weeks dissecting each song! I remember driving back from house group one night while all this was going on, and for the first time really noticing the lyrics of a particular song. Since then I have played it constantly, never quietly, as it sums up beautifully this whole story. So many of the questions at the start were questions friends asked me as they hardly recognised the scared, confidence smashed mess before them, and they were also questions I asked of myself. As the song builds the questions are replaced with the reminder that life with God means stolen things are replaced and broken people can be rescued, restored and redeemed.

The song is called ‘In No Time’ and I would love for you to hear it. A link and the lyrics are below.

Sometimes really rubbish things in life happen that don’t make sense, and leave you in a total mess. But while all that is going on and you are in the inexplicable pain of that awful moment, remember that God might already be working, planning, shifting things around, to give you back what you lost. And when it’s over you might even find that what you get given back, is a thousand times better than anything you had before.

God is a God who rescues, restores and redeems. He rescued me from an unsafe place, He has spent almost a year telling me who I am and healing my broken heart, and now He has redeemed what happened by replacing what I lost with something amazing. And I believe there is more to come.

Beautiful, clever, loving, gracious, merciful, genius God.

Mutemath – ‘In No Time’

Where’s your heart gone and where’s your soul?
Where did all of your faith go?
Where’s that old spark a failure stole?
Well I’ll bet we find it in no time at all.
We’ll find it in no time, we’ll find it in no time,
We’ll find it in no time, we’ll find it in no time at all.

Where’s your nerve gone and where’s your hope?
Where’s that sunrise we’ve been waiting for?
Where’s that one day you got it all?
Well I bet we find it in no time at all.
We’ll find it in no time, we’ll find it in no time,
We’ll find it in no time, we’ll find it in no time at all.

When the walls start falling on the world you had,
Just hold tight in no time we can get it back.
When the skies come crashing on the world you had,
Just hold tight in no time we can get it back.

We can get it back, we can get it back.
We can get it back, we can get it back.