Well, we walked into Manchester airport today ready to embark on a family holiday to Central America. The threat of a pause from routine business, and I mean ‘busyness’, has created some space for my mind to begin to imagine again, and maybe even hear from Heaven.
Our arrival in ‘departures’ came just a few days after the Brussells’ bombings where a few maniacs created global panic yet again by willingly blowing themselves up for a cause few of us understand, causing many unwilling and unsuspecting victims to depart into eternity with them.
Only these severely mis-guided individuals knew what the nature of ‘terminal’ truly was. May The Lord make sense of it all, especially for the families of all that were lost, even the terrorists who surely ‘knew not what they did’.
It does heighten one’s alarm mechanisms when you’re checking-in at Terminal 1 Manchester just a few days after something like this. Seeing heavily armed policemen everywhere is not the most relaxing start to a holiday. Yet at the same time, having these guys around brings a sense of re-assurance and security.
Protecting people is never going to go hand-in-hand with relaxation. Being alert reduces the risk of harm. Without due diligence, there remains an imminent threat of clear and present danger.
My imagination was starting to run wild as I walked from the check-in area to the departure lounge, amidst a sea of humanity of all shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, only some of which strangely stood out as my journey went into slow motion. Strange that.
With the horrific pictures of the Brussels airport check-in scene flashing in my mind, it wasn’t hard to allow some natural instincts to surface, which can so quickly mutate into anxiety and even full blown fear should anything present itself as ‘threatening’.
I was able to control these thoughts quite easily, aided no doubt by the evident security on view, but my imagination did release some pictures of what I would do if anyone were to appeare in front of me who might threaten this scene, my own life, and the life of my nine year old son walking beside me, Sebastian J Fellows.
My prodigy, the next generation! My pride and joy. Seb!
It’s wonderful how our God has built into us all an incredibly powerful gene that automatically seeks to protect the next generation. It’s most evident in Mothers, but today I detected this gene operating very healthily within me too.
The screen of my imagination showed me exactly what I would do if an imminent threat presented itself and endangered my prodigy, eg, a young male jihadist opening his jacket in front of us revealing his explosive potential!
I pictured myself launching at that threat in my mind’s eye at the speed of Bolt and the ferocity of a lioness suddenly sensing her cubs’ innocent vulnerability.
I imagined myself throwing my arms around my next generation, enveloping him with all the energy I have, willing to lay my life down for his without question or hesitation, adrenaline pumping, and heart racing.
Amidst these thoughts that were by now racing through my mind faster than the craft I was about to board, I heard a voice deep within whisper a question that was as clear as though my flight was being called over the public announcement system.
“Bing bong! Why don’t you sense the same degree of danger that this whole generation is facing? Will My Body throw it’s arms around them? Will you give your life in exchange for theirs??”.
Wow….I wasn’t looking for that!
But it seems that The Lord IS looking for exactly that!
Generation savers. Prodigy protectors. Totally devoted Mothers and Fathers with the ferocity of a lion, willing to change, to reach out to become predators of the enemy that will devour their offspring if they are not vigilant.
When I look back over recent weeks, I realise that I’ve heard this Voice many times before, though not as clearly as today. Maybe His Voice was the ‘still, small voice’, maybe like the one that spoke to Samuel in the corridors of the temple, but maybe this Samuel was a little too busy to stop and hear? Are you?
Maybe the Voice today was amplified by the scene, by the Brussells bombings, by the evident scale of police protection on view. I don’t know.
What I do know is that the idea of serving the next generation over and above my own, and the one above that I chose to honour many years back, has been re-presenting itself over and over again in recent weeks, in various places.
What I can say is that He now has my attention, and I believe He asks me to ask you to be willing to open your heart, open your mind, open your arms, and throw them wide around the generation emerging around us, those walking next to you in your own terminals.
What this means for you, I cannot say. It’s not my call to know or say. Each of us must ask our Father to bring direction to our own walk, but my hope today is that these simple thoughts will pull a trigger somewhere deep inside your own heart that will find it’s target, and if like me you find that He has already been whispering deep down inside, a broader context and target will begin to emerge.
On a wider ‘Love Black Country’ context, it’s interesting to look back over the last 12 months or so and piece together some of the threads that we sense The Lord has been leading us in and toward
‘Fatherhood & Family’, ‘Adoption & Fostering’, and more recently ‘Merica arise!’ and ‘Focusing on the Next Generation’, the theme of our next Leadership Retreat coming up next month.
It shouldn’t really be rocket science should it! Most of these have been quite clear and public in our strategy and communications, and less obviously, we have also been in consultation with the TLG organisation about how we connect churches with schools, and another theme we’re right now about to look at with a group that help with meals for kids in school holidays, and offering some support in how some local organizations connect with universities.
In one of our boroughs, there is a current move to connect a number of secondary schools together the likes of which we’ve never seen before in our history, spear-headed by pioneering Christians divinely called into this harvest field, and God only knows what other strategic alliances and plans He has afoot right now, whether obvious, clear, mature, immature or premature! His fatherly heart to spread his net over WHO is coming is relentless.
I wonder what is happening in your heart right now? Is there something afoot, some dreams stirring? Where is your net poised to gather?
Is The Master strategist releasing something in you too, through you, and in and to those around you?
Maybe it’s time to take notice, to acknowledge His voice within you, and maybe even to share them with someone?
You might find common threads emerge that amaze you as our God is an awesome God, and He’s well able to put finger prints on fingers, and nails, and connect them to hands, wrists, ulnas (I put that in to help you see that there will always be parts we don’t immediately understand!), elbows and upper arms…and shoulders, etc.
Whilst we recognise that ‘the government will be upon His shoulders’ (Isaiah 6), sometimes it needs to have our finger-prints around to identify His Work!
It takes just one Dad to protect his Seb, but in order for a whole generation to be covered, honoured and released, it will take an ‘US’ to emerge as Generation P!
If your response is anything less than a resounding YES, my prayer is that He will show you how imminent and dangerous the threat to the next generation really is.
Our awareness of the threat does not create the threat. Equally, our lack of awareness does not eradicate it. Rather, it empowers the threat.
I need to pray this over myself too if it makes you feel any better! It took the Brussells bombings, a scene like today (when my own son was perceiveably under threat), and His Voice within to arouse this sense of desire to make me want to STAND UP and send out this rally cry.
Whilst the awareness of the threat may for me now subside as my holiday starts and the airport scene dissipates, the threat does not go away. So much is at stake. Our cubs remain vulnerable. God holds parents responsible for their dependants. We must raise the level of our personal and corporate vigilance. I hear The Father’s call right now going out to those who will be willing to stand in the gap on behalf of our children, “Who will go for us?”
‘Our Generation’ IS emerging, and they ARE depending on us. What will they inherit? Where will their churches look like in 10 -15 years time? What kind of Jesus will they be exposed to?
In 40 years, when many of us will be long gone, what will the spiritual landscape of The Black Country or the emerging West Midlands Combined Authority look like?
Do you care? Do you think what we do now will make any difference? Really?
What jobs will our dependants be ready for, and what jobs will be ready for them? What education system will be influencing them, and why? What access to healthcare will they have, and what ‘entertainment’ will fill their imaginations? What kind of government will serve them or rule over them, in or out of Europe?
Maybe some of these questions seem odd to you. Maybe the first few about ‘church’ are the ones you relate to easier. Well, please don’t think your church or mine will drift into a glorious future without some divine intervention. The enemy prowls around, especially while we rest on our laurels, whether individually or corporately.
I added the other ‘secular’ questions as I believe our faith is meant to stretch beyond our sacred ecclesiology into wider life and community. This is where 99% of real life happens after all.
Whether our thoughts stretch beyond the end of our nose or to the ends of the earth, our intercession is meant to be for the whole of life, and the whole earth. John 3:16.
I’d like to bring these thoughts together now by referring to a real life story found in The Bible. It centres on one of the good guys in Israel’s dodgy history with Kings and rulers, and it’s focus is all about generational transition.
The questions above, both sacred and secular, were surely in the mind of a King who had done so much good to turn the nation around spiritually after inheriting such a mess from his father Ahaz, definitely not one of the good guys!
We read early in his story how Hezekiah made major reforms and led the people toward a revival of sorts.
He started so well.
In 2 Chronicles 29, we read of the steps backward that the previous generation(s) had taken, or at least allowed to occur.
-they had turned their faces away from The Lord’s dwelling place (vs 6)
-they had turned their backs on Him (vs 6)
-they had closed doors (vs 7)
-they had put out lights (vs 7)
-they did not bring offerings or sacrifices (vs 7)
Verse 9 tells us quite plainly that this has now resulted in the next generation being held in captivity. The situation is bleak!
So, this is what Hezekiah and his church inherited. Not the ideal platform for revival……or is it?
If I were to be brutally honest when I look around our region, I would have to say that apart from a few exceptional examples*, we’re pretty much where Hezekiah found himself, and I am genuinely sorry if that offends.
(*I say this so as to refer to some of the great things God is doing in our area right now that are pretty self-evident, but also add that I do not believe that we can or should use exceptions as foundational building blocks).
Most of the people in Gen X ( and Y, whoever you read!) who were born out of the post-war ‘Baby Boomers’ in the 1950/60’s are pretty much held in captivity, whether to culture or religion.
Materialism, secularism, humanism and consumerism have put the lights out in most peoples’ souls, and the privatisation of community, marriage break-ups, teenage suicide, economic injustice and deprivation, fewer and fewer opportunities, and social transience (amongst others!) do not foster the desire for God in many generations.
If we’re honest, and take time to observe, we’ll surely see that most people around us are not looking for God. They do not disbelieve as such. It’s more that He is irrelevant, and by the way, which God do you mean?
Being aware of our true condition is the starting point for change.
Change we must! I believe that many of us in the Body of Christ, and I would extend this to the vast majority of us, are gripped by some of the forces of wickedness that prevail in the ‘isms’ just referred to above. When we read of the ‘powers and principalities’ in Ephesians chapter 6 that Paul outlines, it is so easy for us to reduce these to myth, or imagine that they are merely ethereal realities beyond our reach or control, even though we are explicitly told to wrestle with them!
Yet, the overwhelming violence that apathy and lethargy thrusts over the body corporate is clear to all……….or is it?
Vladimir Nabokov writes, “Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective: it has to be shattered before being ascertained.”
This is a brilliant observation, and OH so true!
But can we afford to wait until we are older and wiser to look back with so much regret when we can at least commit together NOW to desire for change? Can the next generation, and even the generation around us now afford this unnecessary delay?
As far as most of the 1.2 million souls in our 4 boroughs of this sub-region are concerned, ‘God’ has turned His back on them, so they’ve returned the favour, and their lack of interest in what they perceive is on offer causes a crescondo of voices to cry out ‘our faces will only come to your temples when we need you to christen, marry or bury us’!
They’ve slammed the door shut from the outside. Sadly, as with Hezekiah, our forefathers have played their part in that (and maybe even us), and many must have been willing for that to happen, cruel as this may sound. No-one was willing to shatter the illusion that ‘all is well’. Not enough!
And so, complacency was born from the wedlock of apathy and lethargy. Surely Jesus would not see His reflections of Laodicea rife among us here today?
Let’s make no mistake about it, The Body of Christ has not drifted to where we are now guys. She has been steered here by the decisions (or lack of) consciously made in the past…..it’s about leadership, and how we desire to shake off the complacency around us to acknowledge our true condition, and make some decisions for change, maybe even wholesale reformation!
In verse 9, where was the sacrifice? Whilst many in our past no doubt gave themselves to serve individual congregations and organisations in various guises and methodologies, where did it ultimately take us?
We have a few exceptional signs of life.
But, is it ultimately a ‘success’ to have a few towers standing tall when the walls of our city are broken?
Who were the city leaders? The apostles and prophets? The generals, who could stand back and see the context of the eternal war beyond the next individual conflict?
Where were community or city ‘watchmen’? Where were the generational guardians and protectors who thought more of the future than the present; who offered their bodies as living sacrifices; who were willing to lay down their own comforts and conveniences for those yet to come?
Where were the battalions inspired to truly ‘devote themselves’ to mission? And more poignantly, where are they now?
Biblically, ‘devotion’ can be defined as ‘the total and irrevocable giving over of something, often to the point of destruction’, which is why you can see Jesus’ devotion not in his messages, but in His Message!
That brings a different light to the kind of devotion we now need to see released through and in us.
Where are the Hezekiah’s, or ‘the men of Issachar’ (as in 1 Chronicles 12:32) who understood the times and knew what to do?
We do not seem to have inherited these from past generations, so maybe we should discover them in our present generation, maybe in you?
But there’s good news. Hezekiah arose from a wicked generation and stood up tall in heaven’s view. So can we, if we can learn from the past and project into the future, doing this TOGETHER in our present.
But a warning….this is not a job for the single, individualistic wannabees who want to build a tower for their own ministries. It’s a calling for the humble, family-oriented, Body-conscious followers of Jesus who can release their giftings in sync with others, and who can together repair the walls, and in so doing, maybe even bring a greater sense of context and further release to the few genuinely God-inspired towers remaining out there too!
Hezekiah seemed to know what to do, and maybe if we can learn from (some of) this story, we too can turn the tide in this generation and release a wholly different future for those who follow on behind us?
We see him taking a number of stages (in 2 Chronicles 29) in response to failures of the past that we could think about ourselves, maybe even corporately;
-a call to consecration
-a command to remove obstacles
-a call to covenant
-a command to become aware (there it is!)
-a corporate call to stand before God
-a call to burn incense
If you read on into Chapter 30 you’ll see great efforts made to turn things around resulting in some unusual happenings, and significant advances were made.
It also led to a ‘supernatural unity’, linked to a ‘cohesion of leadership’, and following on from a ‘word from God’. What a cocktail!
Verse 20 reads, ‘And The Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people’. If we want The Lord to heal our people, maybe we can learn from much of this.
But if we are to learn from the example of Hezekiah, we must not only do so from what ‘he did well in the eyes of the Lord’ when he begun, but we must also take note NOT to do what he didn’t do when ‘he did evil in the eyes of The Lord’ in his final days sadly.
If you flip over to Isaiah to pick up a deeper narrative, you’ll see what happens later, despite all that was turned and learned.
From chapter 35 onwards, we find an extra-ordinary story unfold that Hollywood would struggle to screen. Battles, sieges, angelic warriors and prophets!
But in chapter 38, after all that, as is life, we find Hezekiah terminally ill. The Old Testament is not filled with emotion, and things are so often ‘black or white’, so we don’t really know too much of the the why’s and wherefores, as they say . But, the hero is at death’s door.
Spielberg can only look on camera-less, drooling as we pass by yet more prophets, sieges, healings, promises by God and an act of ancient magic using the sun (yes the sun!) Chapter 38 closes with a great worship time, and the prophet Isaiah prescribing the medicine to preserve the King’s life. And we see that the medial condition presented itself as a boil!
It’s bizzare. It’s remarkable really.
But it is tinged with great sadness too, as when we read further into chapter 39. We saw that Hezekiah had sought to preserve his life in prayer, and that God had granted him an extension, a further 15 years of his life.
But, did he, maybe like many of us, only ask for a better retirement! A more relaxed environment, better health and prosperity.
In seeking an extension to life, did God give him just what he asked for, and no more? Should the extension of life been much longer, or included his children and nation?
In praying to extend our lives or our sphere of life, must we be equally extend our vigilance and care into all this will generate, lest we bring upon others blessings and curses beyond our understanding?
What do we do with the extra that God provides? Would it have been better that God had not healed him? Tough questions!
We will have to wait till eternity to ask Hezekiah what happened as God’s Word conceals some things for us, maybe for him.
But what we do see as we read on in chapter 39 is that the king allows himself to become relaxed, casual, complacent, maybe a little proud and arrogant.
He allows some of his recent enemies into his courts to take a look around at all of the slendours of war and peace, and this proves to be something he would live on to regret.
Isaiah tells him that his lukewarm approach to the imminent threat of very real enemies he had fought to defend his nation from in the past would run riot into future generations.
His lack of awareness of a LESS THAN imminent threat, from very real enemies, despite how they presented themselves, would soon alter the course of history for his own flesh and blood.
And his too!
Isaiah tells him that his very own children YET TO BE BORN will be carried away to become trophy eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon. Man, that’s even worse than a suicide bomber standing before him, yet his Fatherly instincts seem to have vanished altogether.
Sadly, God chose to record these words as the chapter closes, and the king responds to this awful threat, maybe to highlight how critical it is that we do not repeat this mistake, that we do not limit our prayers and scope to the here and now.
Isaiah 39 v 8…..”‘The word of The Lord you have spoken is good’, Hezekiah replied, for he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime'”.
‘Good!!’ How can this be good Hezekiah?
Unless you are only concerned about your own skin, and that which is so imminent that anything beyond the end of your own nose is virtually foreign, alien, irrelevant.
If we call discrimination against other races ‘racist’, surely we are being ‘generationist’ when we do the same against our future children?
The man must have changed. From the start he had sought to create a better society or kingdom for all around him, but towards his end, he was concerned only for himself (or so it appears).
Whilst we would want to incorporate Hezekiah’s beginnings, we cannot ignore how he seems to have finished. Yet, if his attitude and failure to act could take future generations INTO captivity, maybe our heightening awareness, right attitudes and actions can lead us OUT?
It’s almost like we’d be better off NOT starting anything if we are not MORE careful of how we value what God gives in the battles we win, and how we will seek to pass on all that we have stored up.
Hence, this is why I sense The Lord is speaking to us about the next generation and therefore (one assumes) what might be coming ahead of us, and them.
Let me close with a few invasive and deliberately provocative questions to tease out some kind of response:
-what do you see as an imminent threat
-who is under threat as you imagine this?
-what kind of future do you see for your kids that would make your skin crawl?
-are you sure this won’t or couldn’t happen?
-do you really care two hoots about the European elections?
-does what’s happening in th US presidential elections concern you?
-does the research showing the demise in the influence of the UK church cause you to lose any sleep?
-what do you feel as you read this??
Hopefully, the kind of responses you had will help us prevent some of the stuff the enemy has planned for our region and nation. Believe me, he is strategically planning, and so must we.
He does not suffer from lethargy, apathy, disunity or inconsistency.
The gates of hell are perpetually striving to block the advance of God’s people, and they have a unified leadership that never sleeps, a very real invisible army that keeps watch on all that is seen, with an intense passion that relents as though their very lives depend on it. There’s little complacency in that camp!
Can we visualise and enable Jesus to release an ekklesia that He IS building such that these gates cannot prevail against?
Can we hope, pray for and behave in such a way to empower Him to order corporate alliances and leaders that demonstrate the unity that He has already given us?
Can we become so aware of the reality of the mission we’ve been called into that a passion emerges across the whole body of an Epesians 4 order.
I am convinced that unless our eyes are opened corporately, the sleeping giant will remain as she is.
I am equally convinced that God has sent his Prince to release us from our slumber, and that He is calling to us right now. Even today, I heard His voice in Terminal 1, and I believe His call goes out across the whole Body, seeking to commission us again to reach not only the generation we find ourselves a part of, but those who, as Bill Johnson so wonderfully puts it, ‘who’s floors will be our ceilings’.
We can aim a lot higher if we try. Let’s give it a go Black Country Church. Let’s disarm our inherited complacency.
My final word is to quote an old Steve Green song called “Find us faithful”.
I dedicate it to my Seb (and Eden), and to all those in this emerging generation in this changing geography, and to all that come behind them.
But I also challenge YOU with these lyrics, as it is you who will ultimately shape ‘the church’ that Jesus will use to transform them, or ‘the church’ He will have to allow to remain asleep until a generation rises worthy and ready to take up the cause…….my God, please don’t pass us by!!
May those who come behind us find us faithful
May the power of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
May those who come behind us find us faithful
Someone once said, ‘Protecting people is never going to go hand-in-hand with relaxation. Being alert reduces the risk of danger. Without due diligence, there remains an imminent threat of clear and present danger’.
Just remembered….i shouldn’t really let my words be final, so let these be the last words you see here today:
“Why don’t you sense the same degree of danger that this whole generation is facing? Will My Body throw it’s arms around them? Will you give your life in exchange for theirs??”.