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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Ezekiel 47 // New life from the heart of worship...

So I've been looking at Ezekiel recently in my foray through the OT prophets, and specifically I've focused on Ezekiel 47. Partly because this passage has been given as a prophetic word for our church and has been important to us, but also because I wrote a short talk on it as a piece of coursework for #VicarSchool . So this lengthy post is some thoughts based on that talk...

So what's Ezekiel all about...?

Well, this was the 6th Century BC, and the ruthless ruler Nebuchadnezzar was forcibly taking land into his kingdom of Babylon. As part of this campaign, his armies plundered Jerusalem, carrying off into exile the king, royal family and significant leaders and people of importance, fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans, about 10,000 people in total (you can read about this in 2 Kings 14). Ezekiel was at this stage a trainee priest and he was included in the exiles. Subsequently (10 years later) the city was completely overthrown, after 18 months of siege, resulting in destruction, famine and disease. The city was almost completely destroyed and any surviving inhabitants were carried off into exile to join those who had previously been taken.

In amongst all this chaos, God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to these people, the Israelites. Chapter, 47, is actually part of a vision God gave to Ezekiel, which starts in Chapter 40, of the new temple restored and with God’s presence within. 

So, here we have a people (the Israelites) in despair, dejected, having been through all kinds of pain and torment and now living in exile. Previously they would have heard some doom and gloom from Ezekiel but as we progress into the book and his later visions and prophecies they focus on hope, and renewal, a new and glowing future, one inhabited by God prophesied for them. This would have given them something to believe in, to hope for, and would have helped them to focus back on God.

And here in Chapter 47, there is almost the ultimate message – not only will the city and the temple be restored, but life in abundance will flow into the land. I am reminded here of John 10:10 where Jesus says: ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’

And what have the Israelites been through? – everything they had has been stolen away, people have killed in their thousands, and their homes and city destroyed but here God is saying to them through Ezekiel, I will give you life and in abundance. It’s the same message from the Old Testament, later given by Jesus in the New Testament, and it’s also the same message for us today, that God brings us life in abundance.

So what can we draw from this passage for ourselves today?

In fact I think there are a lot of similarities with the Israelites situation and with our world today, but perhaps in a more spiritual sense. Obviously there are areas of the world where the scene of post-war destruction and despair are a daily reality, but for us here in our western world, I think it relates to us more spiritually. We battle daily with the evils of this world: of temptations, of debauchery, of ungodly attitudes and behaviours, all of which fuel our society and all of which pull as away from God. Our idolatry isn’t towards the God Baal or Asherah as it was then, our idols are things like money, fame, sex and status, but the result is the same - that these things can so easily pull us far from God.  In Chapter 9 we see God saying to Ezekiel:

Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. 
Ezekiel 9:4 (NIV)

As a society of course there are faithful Godly individuals today, just as here in this book, so a question for us is: are we going to be the kind of people who lament the detestable things going on in our society and if so, how do we do it?!

I think it’s simple - we get right with God, we focus on him. That is the key here and now, just as it was then.


If we look back slightly as Chapter 43 we see the glory of the Lord re-entering the new temple (43:4-5)

As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

So the vision is of this new temple, now filled with God’s glory and as we read on in our passage, we see this stream, this river, flowing from the temple, directly from God’s glory, from his presence.  God enters the temple from the east and here the water flows back out to the east, increasing as it goes.

This speaks to me of the importance of our worship in God’s presence. God’s glory already inhabits the temple, we see that, but then his life flows from the temple. So what happens then for God’s presence to be transformed in that place to then go out in such abundance? I believe it is through the active worship of the people in the temple in the presence of God. Exodus 33:14 shows the Lord telling Moses his presence will go with him, so we know that God’s presence can be carried. Something happens when we come into God’s presence, something that allows his glory to increase, to spread and to impact.

And for us, we don’t worship in God’s presence in the same way, do we? 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19, tells us our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. So how can we then enable that abundance of life from God’s presence to go out from us? to the land, or to the people around us?

I think it’s both clear and simple: By being in God’s presence, in worship.

Back then, they went to the temple, but we have that within our very beings. So we should honour God with out bodies, in worship and prayer, in time in his presence, and then we can be filled up - to go out. And what might start as a trickle of water from us can become a flowing river too deep to stand in. You never know what a small act of kindness or blessing or a word can do for someone else – something seemingly small God can grow into a river teeming with life.

Did you know that rivers are particularly significant in the Hebrew scriptures, usually signifying the bringing of God’s blessing. For example there’s the river flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10) and in Psalm 46:4 which talks of: the river ‘whose streams make glad the city of God’ and ‘God is within her…’  and of course here in Ezekiel 47 we see the river bringing abundant life wherever it flows, with trees on either side, (v.7) and (v.9) swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows, waters that were once dead will become alive with life. It’s a complete reversal of the situation!

And in fact, the description of where this river will flow is interesting because it means that to get to the Dead Sea as described in the passage, it would literally have a geographically impossible route, across parched valleys, up and through mountain ranges (water doesn’t flow up hill!). But filled with God’s glory, it goes to impossible places. I feel that for us it’s a word that we will go to impossible places taking his life and abundance with us. Not only that but the waters it flows into, the Dead Sea, cannot sustain any life at all as it has such a high salt content, but this river not only changes the water to fresh, but brings swarms of living creatures. Completely miraculous!


So then, how is that going to happen for us? What do we learn from this passage? It’s significant that this water flows from the heart of the temple, from the altar, where the glory of God resides and it is this water, this life bringing water that brings life to the surrounding land. So, if we are to be like this life bringing water, where do we need to reside? In a place of worship – as I said, in God’s presence, for us as individuals but also for us corporately in our churches.

This is a message of hope and renewal, just as it was then, it is now. But above all it is a call to turn to God: for us to turn to him, to be filled by him and to then be used by him, to share this glorious life giving water with all those who need it. The church can be an agent of renewal, a source of life, but to do that we, all of us, we need to turn again, to God...

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Seek. Dwell. Gaze

Loving this scripture at the mo:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: 
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.... Psalm 27:4

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

So, post the 'owl incident' I've been thinking more on wisdom. In the Old Testament you find the 'wisdom books' - JobPsalmsProverbsEcclesiastes, and Song of Songs. I've always loved Job in a funny kind of way, I guess going through some kind of suffering, in my case being ill, makes it mean a bit more than it otherwise might. But if you'd asked me what it was about, I wouldn't have first said 'wisdom', I would have said it's about something like faithfulness.

So, what is wisdom? where does that come in? Is wisdom just being very wise, full of intelligence and maturity? generally giving good advice on situations? Although let's face it we don't exactly see that from Job's friends... Well, as I discovered in one of my classes this term, at the very centre of the book of Job (literally the centre, at 28:28), is this:

And he said to humankind,‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’

But it's not the only place that says this, of course these books are all about wisdom so here's a few more mentions too:

Psalm 111:10 says this:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,To him belongs eternal praise.

and Proverbs 1:7 says:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

So then are we to understand that wisdom is simply found in the fear of the Lord and shunning evil? To be wise, to be filled with wisdom then, we need to fear the Lord and turn from evil?


I'm not sure that wisdom is something that we prize much these days. Wisdom to me means so much more than just knowledge, maturity, or making the right decisions, it's always had a supernatural air about it. Like those who are wise are led by something more than themselves into the things they share. And isn't that what the bible is telling us, that wisdom comes from a relationship with God? Fearing the Lord isn't literally about being afraid, it's more than that, deeper than that, it's about awe and conviction and an inner pull towards something so holy that it can't be described. 

There's something about experiencing God that is like a magnet, like an unseeable force drawing you towards it, there's nothing you can do to fight the pull as it draws you slowly, completely, towards that final inevitable conclusion. It's that pull, that draw, which at times feels full of fear, and such holiness, that all you can do is fall to your knees in wonder. 

No words can fill that space. No emotions. Just abandonment...

Is it then, in that place where we experience the wisdom of God? that we are slowly, gradually, inevitably filled with his knowledge? 

I think so. The wisest people I know are those who have spent a lifetime in God's presence. Short life or long, they are the ones who truly know the presence of God and the insight that it brings. They are the ones that have abandoned themselves to being led by him, to being taught by him, to knowing him.


And in all this, with the owl incident, everything God has been teaching me is about seeking him first. About spending time with him, being led by him, being taught by him and about being ruthlessly abandoned to him.

There were never going to be any short cuts to Wisdom, even our secular ideas of wisdom picture someone (or something) old, mature and seasoned. And it's just like that with God, the more we spend time with him, the more we are filled with him. The longer our lives, the more time we have spent with him.

I don't know if I'll ever be like one of the wise people I look up to, giving out such pearls of advice to rookies like me, but that's ok, because I'm not sure I'm seeking wisdom for wisdom's sake. I'm seeking God, for his sake...

Saturday, 21 March 2015

140 Character Gospel

Quote from Shelly Miller in a Share the Hope Post / 2014

I read an article a while back that looked at inspirational quotes and how we have become so addicted to them. If you google 'inspirational quotes' you get over 55,000,000 matches. And we see them everywhere don't we? My Twitter timeline is full of them, magazines use them as illustrations, coffee shops write them on chalk boards - in fact that is so on trend that you can get your own chalk board quote designed for you...  A few short words to make you feel better, to tell you you're not on your own, or to help you feel part of something. Some are quotes from well known people, others are just feel-good phrases, and they are usually funked up with a nice photo stuck behind them too.

Inspirational quotes are everywhere.

Quote found here.
And I'm not anti them at all, I love them! I've put a few together myself, and in fact for a project I am involved in called 'Share the Hope', we have used many to illustrate the posts and help spread the word about the project. But it's not just inspirational quotes that litter our lives with soundbites, is it? it's everything. I'll admit the most news I get is through the BBC's tweets, 140 character headlines and the occasional picture to explain it. Promotional emails have even cottoned on to this, so the subject tells you in one line all you need to know, and let's face it, how many of us actually read promotional email theses days, even if we have signed up to them?

What's it all about? Are we all really so busy that we don't have time to actually watch the news, or read a book that inspires us? Even though many are busy I'm not sure that's the answer, I think it's got more to do with the fact that we are bombarded with information, all day every day. The communication revolution has taken over so much that we have to actively choose an escape if we want it, turn off our phone, leave Facebook alone for a while, for example. Our minds are assaulted by ideas and thoughts and images all day, so then if something's going to stick, it's got to grab us by the whatnots and grab them quickly. So, 140 characters? Perfect. A one line inspiration? Just what we need. We make snap decisions and that's about all we can take.


So then I ask myself, what does all this mean for the church? We have a message to get across and I wonder, are we actually doing that in that in the age of the sound bite? Last week I had to put together a 60 second sermon. I thought it would be a sinch, but my first draft was 5 minutes long! I came away thinking what can you actually say in 60 seconds? but the more I think about it the more I think, maybe we should be doing more of this. If the rest of the world has cottoned on to the need for short snappy statements, has the church? In some ways yes and even the CofE has several Twitter accounts, but what about individual churches? What about us as Christians? Are we reaching people with the gospel in 140 characters? It's a challenge where every word counts and I'm not sure we've even taken up the gauntlet yet...

Monday, 16 March 2015


Over the next few days I'll be experimenting with some new designs and layout on the blog, sorry for any inconvenience, do bear with me!

The curious incident of the dead owl in the daytime

So God has been speaking to me in some funny ways this last few weeks and it's all got to do with owls....

Last week I was coming out of work and my eyes were drawn to a van parked up with what seemed to be some feathers stuck in the front of the grill. When I got closer I realised it was a dead bird, and not only that, it was a dead owl.

It was really rather sad, and quite alarming that there was a dead owl, wings spread, stuck in the front of this van. I mean, why was it there? did the driver not realise he had hit it? did he not realise it was there, stuck in the grill? Surely someone else had noticed? The driver was nowhere to be seen, and the friend I was with did check to make sure it wasn't alive and stuck.

So, I'm sorry about the rather macabre start to this post, it's just that since then, for over a week, I just couldn't get it out of my head, it's such a strange thing to see, I felt that somewhere in it God must be trying to show me something.

So I prayed and I felt God was saying that owls bring wisdom into dark places, but those doing that work need to do so with all their senses alert and in tune with God. One false move and danger wins. 

In the bible owls are mentioned several times and the prophets often refer to them inhabiting great ruins, after great destruction and war. I quite like this imagery, that in a place of great pain and heartache the owl lives, bringing with it wisdom, maturity and intelligent thought. In a place where many will not go, and yet where some are stuck unable to leave with nothing left, something brings wisdom into all that. I wonder if that isn't what we are called to do? Take the gospel into the dark places.

Anyway, since then, I've been wondering if there is something more important in all this, something prophetic maybe and I've asking God to show me. In the last week I have literally seen owls everywhere - not real ones (!) but I'll glance in a shop window and there will be an owl, or on the weekend I went to a jewellers to pick something up and looked across the room and there in the cabinet was a silver owl, and then yesterday my son (who knows nothing of my recent owl obsession) brought me home from church a Mothers Day gift - and it was an owl! To top it all off, and just in case I was still thinking it might be a coincidence (I wasn't)  I saw this when flicking through Facebook, below, it's from Kris Vallotton, a modern day prophet at Bethel church in the US.

Some people were commenting on his post, what on earth does he mean a 'prophetic mascot', and my interpretation would that it's simply an encouragement for those who are prophetic. It can be lonely place, and the darkness can feel overwhelming, but just to take this and be encouraged, God has a purpose for you.

I'm not sure what God has been saying to me through this yet, but I've always been fascinated by the gift of prophecy and I feel that God has given me some gifting in this area, and recently I've been studying it more and more, reading up on the Old Testament prophets and reading about prophecy in general. I'm sure this isn't a coincidence!  I don't know, right now this is a jumble of thoughts from the last few weeks, but whatever, it's exciting because I know God is speaking to me through all this!

Owl Update: 19/3/15

So now I think I know what this whole owl thing is about....

On Wed eve we had a gathering for leaders for one of our missional projects. It turned from a meeting into an evening of worship and prayer and sharing how God has been moving in each of our lives. It was amazing how all our stories and words from God matched up with each others! The message basically being that in this project we need to be completely focussed on God and that we should be seeking him more for the prophetic in this area.

So I feel that this whole owl word, is for now and for this particular project, for us as a team to be completely centred on God (and if we're honest this focus had shifted slightly). But also to be carrying the light (and wisdom) into the darkness and in so doing being aware of the danger and that we need to have all our senses tuned to him, at all times. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Mothering Sunday, the joy and the pain.

Mothering Sunday today and here's a few more thoughts after my 60 second sermon this morning! (there's not much you can say in 60 seconds!)

If you can't watch it all, just spend today with people you love, wherever you are at.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

God given moments...

Some thoughts on making the most of the moments God gives us. I spoke at 'Church in a Pub' on this theme tonight, but this is an expanded version...

Monday, 2 March 2015

Grief and emotion in daily life

Photo credit: Martin via Wylio

So I should probably start by saying this is not a post about death or dying (although I have just come back from a Vicar School weekend looking at this theme). It's more some (slightly rambling) thoughts about grief and our emotions, and how we experience them through our lives, and not just when dealing with bereavement.

I learned a lot this weekend about grief and dealing with it, but what has really surprised me is that I realised I am experiencing grief for things other than death, in my life. We looked at stages of grief and it was in that I recognised some of the emotions in my life. 

We are naturally beings with emotions and feelings, and yet so often we don't really pay attention to those feelings. It's only when they overwhelm us and make us incapable of going about our daily lives that we really address them. The danger though is that feelings we haven't dealt with suddenly appear and surprise us when we are least expecting it, a bit like a bird pooping on your head from a great height in the middle of the High Street when you are happily minding your own business. Which by the way, according to superstition (which I don't really do) is lucky. Hmm seems to me like a bird crapping on your head would be distinctly unlucky, but there you go. This morning I found myself quite amazed when preparing to share something quite positive from my life and from the weekend that I was engulfed by snot and sobs. Thankfully my Vicar School mates have seen the snot thing before so it wasn't too awkward. However I really couldn't get a grip on myself, even having shared what I wanted, so I took some time out in the salubrious surrounding of the ladies lavs in the King Charles Hotel. I stared in the mirror, asking God in bewilderment: 'what on earth is this about? because you're going to a have to help me out here, I haven't got a flippin' clue!'

Well, turns out God does actually listen and I became aware of some deep rooted pain from a situation I thought was dealt with, emotionally dealt with that is. Turns out it's also something that isn't just going to go away and I think in acknowledging that pain this morning God gave me a bit of freedom to feel hurt, and angry, and let down, and to recognise the injustice of the situation. There was, and is, great freedom in that, to think, actually yes, this is all a bit pants and that's ok.


We don't really do emotion in this country do we? We're all stiff upper lip, jolly good, carry on. Total stereotype I know, and things are improving, but think about it, we feel awkward with PDA (public displays of affection) don't we? we're all: 'get a room'....  People who are overly emotional and can't move on, we get fed up with, think they should be 'over this by now'. And it's because we don't know what to do with it, we don't know what box to put it in, we can't just solve it with a 'nice cup of tea'.

I wonder how many people with long term depression or mental health issues could actually be helped by being allowed a public outlet for their emotion, rather than feeling they need to keep it in. I've written before about the stigma of mental illness and I think it's part of the same thing, public emotion makes us feel awkward, we just can't deal with it. When actually if you think about it, if you've been through something terrible, on whatever level, it's quite right that you should want to scream and shout about it. In my case I tend to come home and rant at my husband about anything that has affected me, he's the one person who hears me swear (ok someone else heard me today so almost the only person!) and I think that's actually quite healthy - letting the emotion out that is not the swearing. It's not big and it's not clever... You know what it's like when you try to cram too much into a suitcase, eventually the zip is going to burst open and all your dirty laundry will be on display and it will be when you are least prepared for it. But like that, with our past emotions & memories, better to give them a good look at every now and then and put away the ones we have done with.


Some very good friends of ours moved house a while back, moving about half an hour drive away. We went from seeing them almost every day to once every few months. I have to admit it took me some time to get used to this because I missed them terribly, we all did, kids too. I realised this weekend I had actually grieved the loss of that relationship. Of course the relationship is still there but it's so different, vastly in fact. Of course when we get together it's like we haven't been apart but the being apart has been quite challenging. If only I had realised sooner that it's actually pretty normal to grieve over loss and change. And I'm someone who actually thrives on change and new things, but this was different.


So I guess I've come away from this weekend realising how important it is to think things through, to recognise emotions when they come and to allow them to be worked through when and where necessary. Some things we continue to carry with us, and we learn through them, others we can put to one side once dealt with or when the time is right. But that remembering to do that is the key...