HOP gathering in Europe

augsburg hopI have just returned from Augsburg, Bavaria in South Germany, from a prayer summit. With my friends Paul, Kev & Katie, we spent four amazing days with 120 leaders of houses of prayer across Europe. 42 HOPs, 20 nations, every denominational stream – an awesome mix of variety but with the same DNA! Everyone is following God’s call to grow night and day worship and prayer in specific places for the sake of cities and nations.

I was a bit blown away by the sense of significance of the gathering. We went to connect with likeminded people and we certainly did. We met some beautiful people with very moving stories of how God has led them on a prayer journey over the years; some great miracles and costly sacrifice. God’s presence was strong amongst us. I was personally touched afresh by God’s amazing love which keeps freeing my heart to grow in Him and in my destiny.

The Augsburg HOP team blessed us beyond expectation and they are a powerful example of a dedicated space with continuous corporate worship and intercession since 2010 – and from a Catholic charismatic stream.

Paul, Kev & Katie with new friends Tom, Christiana, Jeremy and Alice

Paul, Kev & Katie with new friends Tom, Christiana, Jeremy and Alice

We have come away feeling very much part of a Holy Spirit movement with a growing momentum across our great continent. We are looking to see the glory of God cover the earth.

As the song says: ‘Day and night, night and day, let incense arise!’



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245_Stepping_upI haven’t blogged my reflections on life in the last two months. Not that I haven’t been thinking, far from it, but we have been living a busy and interesting journey in the city and as a family.

Last month our city churches hosted a national conference on ‘Transformation – it’s our time’. Great connections with Christian here and oversees who have a similar heart to see Gods kingdom breaking out more in society. Also a significant prayer journey leading up to the conference for various people locally. There was a focussing of attention on how to nurture a spiritual environment here in our city where God can move – to believe and act on a vision for community transformation. We are growing up in faith.

Yet this talk of transformation is in a society not without its challenges. A nation in which civil rights and God established principles on sexuality clash and where brokenness and moral meandering measure our path. Transformation is much desired but not necessarily with God in the midst of it. In surveying these things, we are wising up.

This month our daughter finished junior school. Good grades, large scale shows, special parties, prize giving, group hugs and photos – it was all a fantastic way of finishing a year and ending that season of her life. It’s not all easy of course, the thought of ‘big school’, an unfamiliar taster day, the reality of missing her friends, the end of the familiar and comfortable routines. But we were proud of her and her friends as they took their bows and said their farewells. They are stepping up into a new phase of life.

That’s where I find myself at the moment, in my city and with my loved ones, and how often that is how God leads us. He holds our hand through the turn of chapters, calls us to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves and our society and embody the faith we believe in. Much challenge, much grace, much reward… If we wise up, step up and grow up in our faith.

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Making sense of God’s call

thinkingI’ve been musing about many things in recent weeks because there has been much in the news and in the world around to try and make sense of.
I’ve shared in the sense of shock surrounding terrorist attacks in Boston USA and in Woolwich closer to home.
I’ve followed with pain the parliamentary debates and national mood about redefining marriage.
I’ve noticed areas of promising regeneration in our city and passed through derelict streets and decaying local centres.
I’ve enjoyed celebrating friends’ weddings and birthdays and also sat with others friends coming to terms with cancer and serious illness.
I’ve stood in strong faith with others praying for spiritual transformation across communities and yet been challenged by people around me far more fervent for God than I have been in past weeks.

And in the midst of all this normal flux of good and bad, joy and pain in this world we inhabit, I try to come to terms with a forerunner calling and destiny. The reason I started this blog was to reflect on faith, life and ultimate things. I grow in conviction that the 2nd coming of Jesus is closer than we think – maybe not immediate but only decades away. Just as John the Baptist was a forerunner declaring a simple message before Jesus’ ministry 2000 years ago : ‘prepare the way for the Lord’, so too there will be many voices united in a similar call in the closing years of human history.

Many times I don’t know what to do with this sense of God’s call to me. I shy away from saying it too much to those around me for fear of sounding like a stuck record. I also think I struggle with the radical nature of this message. It’s radical in the sense of being an unusual focus. It’s also radical because it is essentially prophetic and future oriented – these things haven’t happened yet. I am also reticent about these things because of sounding wacky and unbalanced – in an age of fear of extremism, there is a cost to being a forerunner. In addition I sometimes worry about the possibility of being plain wrong – I might not be hearing from God at all and just projecting my own internal thoughts about the future.

I think too that it is easier not to concentrate on such things because it requires hard work – in thinking, discerning, reading and praying to understand a new area of theology for me (eschatology/ end times) – and a reassessment of priorities and lifestyle. I still like my comfort and an unruffled life, which of course is an illusion anyway.

So, even in the light of these uncertainties and life around me, this forerunner conviction grows. I do hope I am not the only one feeling this. Time will tell.

One afternoon last week, when I was concerned about the cost of pursuing this call, I happened to be reading Mark 13v34 when Jesus speaks of the day and hour of his return being a mystery. He still tells his disciples to be ready and even calls for the one at the door to watch. The name for that person is a ‘porter’. Well I happened to take that quite personally, as God’s gentle challenge, imbued in my surname, to be one of those who will watch in faith for the signs of Jesus’ return.

I hope that might be an encouragement to any who are either wrestling about God’s call on your life, to keep wrestling with it and not to bury it. The may also be others who God is similarly speaking a forerunner word and prophetic understanding. I somehow don’t think it is going to go away!

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Faith to overcome

ImageWhen I knew that two Nigerian bishops were going to visit our house of prayer, I was really looking forward to meeting them. I knew that the church in their country was growing fast, but I also knew from the BBC news and broadsheet reports that there are ongoing terrorist attacks against Christian congregations that could threaten to destabilise the country. So I was keen to hear how God’s work was going and concerned to find out how they were coping with fear and stress of intimidation and attacks.

So bishops Sunday and Simeon arrived in their ecclesiastical finery and we gladly hosted and showed them round our prayer rooms. Then conversation turned to my questions on their welfare.

Their response fascinated me. Yes, churches are growing, new congregations being planted and many people coming to faith. Yes, terrorist attacks are a problem; churches have suffered but the threat is less than news reports say and far away from their districts. They seemed surprised to hear my concern, for their eyes are more on the kingdom and less on the problems.Image

However the two bishops in turn expressed concern for the church of the UK. They saw the British church as their parent and were aware of her ailing health. So they quizzed us whether the spiritual fire is still burning in our congregations, and whether young people are still coming to know the Lord. We were touched and likewise sought to reassure them of much good news in our country going against the current of the secular tide – of spiritual health and focus on mission and hope in God’s transforming power.

So there we were, two parts of the body of Christ expressing concern for the other’s welfare. Different situations, contrasting challenges, particular issues to overcome. One facing threats and intimidation, the other secular marginalization of belief. Both real and both needing courage to rise and live out our faith in God.

Jesus calls us all to be overcomers, not just in personal life, but as the collective body of Christ. In the book of Revelation he challenges a variety of churches to overcome – overcome threats, temptation, deception, division, apathy – so that they can gain eternal reward of reigning with Jesus (Revelation chs 2&3). We see the need for the persecuted church across the world to be strengthened and encouraged. They see the need for the Western church to be full of faith and radical in sharing the gospel. Let us all be aware of our own need for God’s grace and power to overcome and be grateful for the prayers of our brothers and sisters across the world.

In the words of Hebrews 10v24: ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds’. We can all be overcomers.

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Tackling trees and other challenges!

loppersWe’ve been putting it off for a few months…knowing that the back border needs tackling in our garden. One tree dead and another overgrown conifer trespassing onto the patio. So last Wednesday we set at the task. My wife cutting the small branches and I doing the heaver labour, armed with small loppers and a spade.

We went through a gamut of thoughts over the next two hours. ‘It’s not so hard, just some small trees….oh, these branches are bigger than we thought…the loppers won’t go through this…maybe we should get a professional in…we won’t give up yet…don’t know how all this foliage will fit in the car…phew the branches are off, now for the roots…they won’t budge…at all…excavating around the tree…snipping off the small roots…no movement…can’t see what’s holding it…ah, some big ones now…one by one…it’s shifting…round the other side…chopping wearily now…loosening…sheer brute force now…over and on its side…one last tug…out!’

Well we’ll think twice about breezily taking on such trees again (I strained some forearm tendons in the process!) but we did it. There was, and is, great satisfaction about overcoming challenges that seem bigger than us. Whether it is a work project, or rocky patch in a marriage, or financial struggle or longstanding fear, with God’s help we can find reserves of determination, love, hope and faith to conquer things we thought impossible.

Jesus encouraged faith that could take on huge challenges – “say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Matthew 17v20). I don’t think Jesus was meaning easy faith, for he himself wrestled in prayer at different occasions. But he did mean overcoming faith. As the elderly apostle John wrote, ‘everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith’ (1 John 5v4).

We will enjoy a better view down the garden, and decisions about new shrubbery now. And in other aspects of life conquering challenges through faith and perseverance opens up the way for new growth and opportunities. What might God be encouraging you to tackle and overcome in this season of your life?

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Credible leadership

ImageTwo things in the news about leadership this week have caught our attention. The first is the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, former Conservative prime minister and watershed political figure. Her passing has cause a virtual storm of comments on her legacy and impact on the nation. Possibly one of the most divisive Premiers in modern times, Mrs Thatcher has earned a mix of admiration, grudging respect and fierce hatred for her time in office. Despite mixed opinions no one can doubt that she showed strong leadership in her generation. 

The second is the continued warmongering actions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The rest of the world is guessing at the motives behind renewed militaristic threats against South Korea and the US and also at the character of Kim Yong-un. Is the new untested Premier flexing his muscles to consolidate his leadership or is he a pawn figure fronting a desperate and brittle regime losing its grip on the nation?

Lots of things stand or fall on leadership. The success of a project, the growth of a team, the win of a game, the future of an economy, the fate of a generation; much hangs on good leaders rising to the occasion and taking people through situations that could make or break them.

As Christian leadership guru John Maxwell says: ‘Credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt.‘ Credible leaders are long sought after, but not always liked when in place. Credible leadership is about character and authentic lifestyle, and choices made for the good of the many.

When we think about Jesus we tend to exalt him as a spiritual figurehead, inspirational character, great teacher and many other aspects of his life. I wonder how often we look at him as our leader. Bible passages speak of Jesus in heaven as being seated at God’s right hand – a place of privilege and leadership. He is not just resting after his atonement, but actively interceding for us and over human history. The book of Revelation in particular, highlights Jesus’ end time leadership. He is the one who takes the scroll and breaks the seals, setting in motion the events of the last days before his return. He will lead the second coming procession out of heaven and will rule perfectly over our world.

It is Jesus’ leadership, not just of his church and faithful followers, but of the closing years of human history that is an important theme for reflection for forerunners.

Forerunners learn to submit to Jesus’ leadership, first of their lives, and then of overarching events of the world. God’s kingdom is a never ending kingdom and Jesus has proved his utter credibility in his life, death and resurrection. It takes diligent prayer and discernment to understand what God is doing in these days. In times of personal suffering, national shaking and also in times of blessing and revival when God moves in ways we have not yet seen, will we be offended at Him or learn to joyfully follow His leadership? 

I want to be able to say with all my heart that I look to Jesus and trust his leadership whatever happens.

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Always resourceful!

bigstock_Little_Girl_Holding_Recycling__3911999The news article that exposed the recycling con last weekend was quite sensational. Government officials now admit that much of the recycled waste, carefully sorted by the British public, ends up sold overseas to companies that then discard it in landfills in Asia. Even our best green efforts seem to end up wasted.

I’m thankful that Jesus takes a different approach; he doesn’t waste anything we bring to him from our past lives.

Last week a group of friends in our lounge were reading some of the resurrection stories in John’s gospel together. We ended up with the fishing miracle by Galilee and Jesus’ recommissioning of Peter (in John chapter 21). I remember commenting that, if I was Peter, I would have thought God was clearly finished with me. A loud denial of friendship, a running away, a giving up, a return to an old life – all indicators of this fisherman’s harrowing Easter ordeal and end of the road feeling. How amazing then, that Jesus recreates the scene in which he first called Peter to follow him. The same miracle of fish, the same revelation of Jesus’ power, the same initiative of Jesus and the same love and vision in his heart for this man called Peter.

God’s calling and purpose for each of our lives is a stronger force than we really know. He can find ways of weaving in our past mistakes and rerouting our paths to bring our diversions back into His overall plan, if we only, truly want to love and follow Him. That was all Jesus really wanted to know about Peter that day. Was this a total meltdown of life and faith? Was it an un-mendable fault line in his character beyond repair? Apparently not and, heartening for us, not much is irredeemable by God’s hand, beyond a hardness of heart and an unwillingness to receive His forgiving grace.

This story made us think more radically about God’s ability to renew and re-use. If Peter (and the robber on the cross, and Thomas, alongside the whole raggedy bunch of disciples) was able to be re-commissioned, then what about the rest of us? Could a repentant Judas have been welcomed back and reinstated? Could a hard headed Jewish high priest, a wavering Roman governor, a turn coat face in the crowd have been potential subjects for redemption? Never underestimate either God’s resourcefulness or willingness to put you in the right and keep leading you down the path of life.

Thank God that my past does not have to disqualify me, nor my present mistakes have to abort God’s plans for my life and future. Nothing is wasted in his hands. Now doesn’t that give us cause to jump out of the boat and wade through water to him, just like Peter did? An embrace and a destiny await us if we will keep saying ‘yes’ to God.

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Worshipping and wondering

20130401-215503.jpgEvery Easter I look for the moment where something fresh clicks in my heart. Nearly forty years celebrating this festival with eyes of faith, fifteen of them leading services as a minister. Knowing the stories, accompanying others towards an encounter with the cross and empty tomb, I hope that I too might be touched by the mystery afresh.
It happened on Friday night at the very end of our viewing of ‘The Passion of the Christ’. I knew the closing scene would lift us from the agony of watching His sufferings, and reveal a glimpse of the resurrected Jesus. What fascinated me was seeing His nail pierced hand as He walked out of the tomb. I was puzzled by this in a way that surprised me. Why would His glorified body not be perfect? Why the scars? Surely we will all be able to identify the Son of God in heaven without need of such marks?
I know intellectually that there is something in the ‘deeper magic’ of the universe (to use Aslan’s words) that will always acknowledge redemption and atonement at the very heart of God.
Yet in my soul the scars simply and profoundly lead me to worship and wonder. He will always be our saviour, he will always be our song. The reality is that he died and rose for us to do what we could never do; descending lower that we could go, to defeat sin and plunder hell; lifting us higher than we could reach, to open a way and populate heaven.
I realise this weekend afresh that the scars are His marks of a Champion and I would never wish it otherwise. They will always bring tears to my eyes, an ache and fierce joy to my heart, and wonder to my worship. Thank you Lord, thank you!


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Knowing who and whose you are

pope francisThe world’s press has been in a fever over the appointment of the new pope. Jorge Mario Bergoglio! Who is he? What are his credentials? What does he believe? He is the first Jesuit 
pope, the first from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere. He has impressed already with his humility, lack of pomp, and desire to mix freely with people. His initial messages have emphasised encountering Jesus, rejecting worldliness, and showing God’s mercy. More importantly, Pope Francis seems eminently comfortable in his own skin and, even aged 76, at peace with this calling to lead the worldwide Catholic community.

There is an inestimable value in knowing who and whose you are. People with such inner confidence have much to add to the world around because they are not responding to others from any lack of worth or insecurity.

Jesus embodied this for, even at his baptism, He knew that he was the Beloved Son in whom the Father was very pleased (Mark 1v11). His sense of identity and mission was tested in the wilderness (v13) and yet He came through with a clear message for his generation – ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe the good news’ (v15).

If I am to have a voice which speaks into the needs of my peers, community or nation, then my foundation has to be in the love and acceptance of my Heavenly Father. From that place of holy intimacy I have neither to please or fear people who might want to influence me. That, of course, is tested in the crucible of temptation and difficulty. As we come through that refining journey, it is from within that sense of knowing ‘whose’ I am that I find contentment in ‘who’ I am. My unique gifts, life story, passions and context for ministry, are being shaped by God to help others know that the kingdom of heaven is at hand for them.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something. So can you. You and I play our little part (and the pope plays his unique part) in the big story of God reconciling the world to Himself and calling all to embrace His loving rule.

How content and confident are we in our identity and ministry?


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Finding your voice

ImageI have a developing interest in photography. It started in earnest, strangely enough, when I hit a wall of depression three years ago. I couldn’t really focus on thinking about much, but one avenue open to me was to take pictures. Noticing the world around me, focusing on beauty, capturing light became a hobby. Now I find myself half way through an online photography course and working through techniques and assignments. Last week the writer encouraged participants to develop their own unique style of photography – something that is not a copy but personal and a mark of their inner person. That is undoubtedly a journey of trial and error, flitting and eventually discovering a style or, as the writer described it, finding your voice.

How many of us live our lives being an echo instead of a voice? The crowd chants what it hears around the stadium. The young person attempts to mimic the ‘in style’ of the famous and popular. The world weary traveller gives up on dreaming and joins in the gossip of grumpy old men. We are surrounded by the muzak of news stations, chat shows, internet forums and twitter feeds of opinions, breaking stories and tittle tattle. But who is bringing a voice from God into the situations of our community and nation?

A forerunner call involves a season of living in a hidden place with God whilst a voice is formed within us. A message of His love and a call to the world to be reconciled is forged in the secret place of our inner life. It takes time and it takes a stripping down of attempts to simply mimic the voice of others. A friend prayed for me during my depth of depression that God would help me to find a deeper and more authentic voice through it all. That prayer feels like it is being answered bit by bit.

John the Baptist was content to be know simply as a voice; the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ (Mark 1v3). God is looking for forerunners who aren’t bothered about their popularity or name, but are content with having a small part in preparing the earth for the return of the Lord.

What is the voice that God is forming and stirring within you? What is the unique message of your life that can bless and challenge the world around you? How will your life and mine help to create a culture of readiness in the church and nation for Jesus’ presence and ultimately, Jesus’ coming rule and reign?

Make me a voice, Lord, and not just an echo.

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