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30.8.10

A Word from Bobby Houston

No says it quite like Bobby Houston... I love the way she puts the message across. So sticking with the theme of coming back to Church, here is a word from Bobby's Blog.

Bobbie's Sisterhood Blog: Sixty SomethingI grew up in New Zealand. I say fish and chips with a funny accent. When I ask for a pin to clip something together, I get given a pen to write with. Growing up in that beautiful land where the ocean waters have this beautiful emerald tinge, we were always told that the land had 3 million people and SIXTY MILLION SHEEP!

Those stats have probably changed by now... but sixty million sheep is a lot of sheep. I still get excited when I drive in the countryside and see sheep or lambs. I remember once my dad (who was a brickie... bricklayer) did a job for a couple of weeks on a farm. I was a little girl and he took me with him and that year, every ewe on that farm had twins. It was completely surreal. Actually, I'm just having this memory now, but when we pioneered our church, I helped organize the kids department and we called it "little lambs" for a while. Maybe that was a hangover from my kiwi background.
But sixty million sheepies is a lot of sheep. What I love about God is that he basically counts sheep... and not because He can't sleep.
There's a parable in the gospel of Luke. Jesus likens the kingdom of God and God’s great love for humankind to a shepherd, who despite having counted and figuratively speaking "tucked into bed and safety" the NINETY-NINE, realizes that ONE is missing. So with purpose, intention, determination and an attitude that says "I will not stop at anything, I will do whatever it takes" He goes in pursuit of the ONE... And when He finds the ONE, it says there is more rejoicing over the ONE that was found, than the NINETY-NINE who were righteous or safe.

So sunshine, if you are feeling a little like a "lost lamb"... and it doesn't matter how big and strong, adult and together you might be, if inside you are feeling like the ONE, why don't you allow the seriously good and amazing and divinely epic Shepherd (capital S) to bring ya on home!!!

Love always,
Bobbie (former lost lamb)
Bobbie

Luke 15

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27.8.10

CD Update & Giveaway

FINALLY, after a long wait, King's Square will be released on 4th September. It has been an incredible journey with a great deal of excitement along the way. Already we have had a great number of iTunes downloads and great reviews about this CD in the newpapers. The cherry on top of the cake was the recent BBC Radio interview which Samuel, Lorah & I had the privilege of attending! In order to celebrate the upcoming release I would like to give you the opportunity to have your own copy. Just leave your name and email address in the comment box and I will randomly choose one person to give our lovely CD to :)
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24.8.10

When Church Hurts - A True Story

Shock & horror is what I felt when I first started reading Jana's blog! I had no idea that such abuse even existed in the Church. Too often those that have never experienced this sort of hurt find it hard to understand how real and damaging it is. Have a read of Jana's blog and see for yourself the horrible abuse and control that she suffered. But please keep reading to the end where you see how God healed and restored her too. Yes some nasty things happen in Church but we need to move on, if we don't the devil has won and destroyed the Church that Jesus died for.

Ephesians 5:25
... as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her

When you finally managed to “escape” the church that was so damaging to you did you immediately start attending another church or did you have a season of not attending church?
After we resigned we stayed in the area and actually attended the church periodically for a year in order to see things from a different perspective. It's crazy because we were on staff for 4 years and during that time we knew the church and its leaders were causing more harm than good, but we could not figure out why. We kept thinking the issue was in our hearts...that it was purely our fault. Attending as a by-stander and feeling the freedom to disagree is what helped us to realize the underlying issues that harmed us. But, we did have weekends where we traveled, slept in and just took time to seek God without attending a church service.

How did you go about finding another church?
My husband received a job offer at a church with one of the pastors that hired him for his very first youth pastorate almost 10 years ago. We have stayed in touch with them through the years and knew that they did not operate in the same type of control that our former pastors did. So, I guess you could say the right church found us and accepted us just as we were. :)

After a time of having secular job how did you feel about going back into church work?
It was nerve racking at first. The thought of leaving a job that I had grown to love with employers that I admired was hard. But we spent a great deal of time praying about going back in to the ministry and the church that hired us allowed us to interview them as well. I was able to ask the tough questions of them (pastors and elders) and see their hearts first hand. That helped me to recognize that they operated in a completely different manner than our former church. I realized that they were just as excited about the dreams in our hearts as we were. That was so exciting for me and it helped me to welcome the idea of going back into full time ministry.

What advice would you give to someone who has been hurt and is too scared to go back to church?
Take it slow and be informed. You don't have to jump right back into everything. Sit on the back row and observe...it's okay to take time to heal. :) For your peace of mind do some research on the church that you are interested in attending. What do they believe in, are they heavily associated with anything or anyone that has a bad reputation? You can find out a lot about a place and their leadership just by doing a search in the Internet.

What would you say are the top three things you need to look for when choosing a church?
Wow, this is a tough one...there are so many. Here's my best answer, although it may not necessarily be the top three in general...it's what is heavy on my heart right now for people that have been hurt. I'm sure that later on I will want to add more.

1. Do you feel safe when you walk in the doors? Once you take your seat and the service begins do you feel like you can kick your shoes off and just enjoy a Sunday morning in your Dad's house (God's house) or do you feel like you have act or dress a certain way in order to feel welcome. Is there anything about the service that distracts you from God...if so what is it and why?

2. Who are they connected with and what key phrases do you see repeated on their web-site or publications? This will give you a good idea of what is important to them and it will help you decide if you agree with how they operate. For instance our former church believed heavily in discipleship, but it was viewed through the lens of Spiritual Authority. Looking back on their old publications it is written in plain sight, but I didn't take the time to research their foundational beliefs or the churches and ministers they were associated with. Although they didn't come right out and say they were controlling, their materials, classes and teachings all filtered through this mindset.

3. Do the Healthy Church Test. Find out if they operate with integrity. If you wanted to see the churches financial records...could you? If you wanted to see the churches by-laws...could you? Most of the time if a church is trying to hide something, they will not allow you access to any of this information or they will make you feel guilty or awkward for even asking. If you get a sense that a church is hiding something...it's probably not healthy.

Is there anything that you would like to say to the people out there who are hurting due to poor church leadership?
Every pastor and leader is human, so we are all going to get hurt by them at some point in time and that is never easy. But, most churches and their leadership are wonderful, so don't give up on finding the right church for you and your family. But, at the same time don't feel like you have to put your relationship with God on hold in the process. In the midst of searching for a church...search even more for God. Ask Him to heal your heart and guide you to a church where you can flourish, grow and participate in helping others do the same.
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19.8.10

The Broken World and a Glorious Bride

Tears are rolling down my cheeks. I am hurting, grieving over the state of the world. Not the whole entire world in general, but people I know that represent the state of the whole entire world in many ways. I pray to God but words fail me. What do you pray when there is so much need and so little hope left? I have just heard of yet another marriage that has failed, my heart breaks. I have dinner with someone who has recently lost everything, his home, his wife and his five children. My heart breaks a little more. Someone who we were reaching out to on the street dies of a drug overdose, my heart cries - we were too late. These are some of the many stories we face every week from the lost and dying world around me. The need is so huge.

Then to add to my heavy heart I also hear of Christians who are suffering too. They know Jesus and his love, grace and mercy. Forgiveness has been lavished on them but a human let them down. A pastor or a Christian friend betrayed them or disappointed them or caused some sort of offence. Their heart grew cold and they lost their love for the House of God. They found a safe place in their mind where they justified that it's OK not to go to church anymore. They live as a victim and remain impotent. Their potential lays dormant, their hands lay passive and their lives don't flourish. My heart grieves even more. Every week I seem to hear of yet another person who has taken offence and has decided it's OK to not be planted in a Church anymore. Their offence justifies their decision, forgiveness is forgotten and more precious lives are lost. I understand their pain, I too have been hurt by leaders and by Christian friends. Eric lost a valuable part of his life due to unhealthy leaders. He, more than most, has a reason to not want to go to church. My friend Jana has dedicated her whole blog to this very subject. Most of us have sadly suffered by the hands of poor leadership, but only some of us have moved on and others don't. I cry over you often Christians, more than I cry over the lost because I need your help. I need you to forgive, to seek God's healing power in your life. I need you to come back to Church, we need you. The world is falling to pieces, people out there don't know Jesus and have no hope. We need to tell them about Him, we need to love them and feed them. It is expected that the world would be falling apart, it can't survive much longer under all this sin. But the Church, the beautiful bride of Christ should not be falling apart. She should be radiant and strong. I am so very sorry for the hurt you have experienced. On behalf of Church leaders I want to apologise to you for being treated unfairly. I am a Church leader and sadly may have caused hurt too because I am simply a person on a journey and may not get it right all the time.

Don't be fooled and quote a bunch of scriptures to prove that it's OK not to go to Church. There are an equal number of scriptures speaking about the house of God and the fellowship of the believers. Whether your local Church meets in a grass hut or in a grand stadium it is still your local Church, please go back and get planted so that you can flourish and the Church can grow strong. So that those of us that are trying our best to reach the lost can benefit from your hands, your gifting and your precious life. How many times have you prayed for God to use you? I know so many people who have left church because they felt used! Duh, that's how it works, if you ask God to use you He will. Be happy, be thrilled to bits if you are being used at the moment, don't get offended and leave your Church, feel honoured :)

Psalm 92:13 "Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God."

I shared a few testimonies with you recently of some precious people who are planted in our Church. God does change lives and we are slowly but surely building a strong Church here in Gloucester. Our team works really hard and goes beyond what most people would in order to make a difference in our city. We fast, we pray, we brain storm, we love, we reach out - yet it all doesn't seem to be enough. The need is so much greater than we could ever respond to. We need the Christians to come together, stop fighting, stop being offended, stop holding grudges and come together in unity to reach out to the lost and dying world around us. To take Jesus to them that don't yet know him, to those teenagers like Ewen who needed someone to talk to them. To the street people like Tom who's life depends on us and like Princess who needs to know that she is wanted and loved.

Sadly not all churches are healthy these days, take great care in finding a healthy church. In my next post I will take a look at what might help you identify a healthy church, if you have any thoughts or suggestions on these please leave me a comment below.
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13.8.10

Grab Shell Dude!

He was 15 at the time with a proud display of deep cuts all over his arms. The image is still vividly imprinted on my mind as I knew that these bleeding wounds on his arms represented the state of his heart. Many teenagers came to us with a heart wrenching story full of hurt and confusion. The first time I met Ewen he made a clear statement that he was not to be messed with. His foul language and rough exterior combined with the cigarettes, drugs and alcohol defined him. Worst of all I could see that he really believe that this was his true self. After a few incidents at youth I started dreading his return, it was clear he was there to make trouble and assert himself as a ruffian.
The first time a caught a glimmer of hope was when I ran a session on identity which Ewen surprisingly participated in. I spoke of the confusion that I saw the young people dealing with and delved into the fact that they don't really know who they are. As I spoke I saw Ewen's eyes well up. He nodded continuously as I described what I saw in the lives of young people and then he spoke of his inner turmoil. I had to hold back my tears. Behind his rough exterior was a heart of gold suppressed by anger and confusion. That day changed my life, I began to pray for him and beg God for his salvation. It seemed impossible that someone so rough would soften enough to allow God in but I prayed with his teary eyes in the forefront of my mind. On the 21 September 2008 God answered my prayer. We were a new church plant and Ewen was our very first salvation, our precious first fruit. Even now as I remember that special day I am overwhelmed by God's goodness and mercy.
Since then God has done amazing things in Ewen's life, too much to begin to write here. At school the teachers wrote him off. Almost daily he was in some sort of trouble and his grades were so bad that they didn't expect him to finish school. It wasn't long before the teachers were gobsmacked by the change in Ewen and more than that they were shocked by his improved grades. I guess you could imagine their reaction when he announced his plans to go to university! What the teachers had written off God had declared a future and a hope for. Ewen has achieved the grades he needed to get into the school he wanted. No teachers words define him now. The word of God is the light to his path. Ewen knows who he is and that he is called to do significant damage to the darkness that nearly killed him. His testimony is powerful and his influence in this nation will be too.

Yes God did change Ewen's life but more than that Ewen has changed mine. I love him as my own son and am a very proud mama ;) To add a cherry to the top of the cake, Ewen wrote the most beautiful song on our new album which I had the honour of singing with Lorah. Have a listen here.He is 17 years old now, working, studying and serving God in our church. The enemy does not want him to succeed, the enemy desperately wants him to fail at his studies, fail as a young man and fail as a preacher to his generation. BUT God has a plan for his life, please pray with me this week that the plan of God becomes clear to Ewen and consumes his heart and mind so that Ewen won't be able to hear the lies that the enemy wants him to believe.

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8.8.10

Saved by a Sandwich

I remember the day I met Tom. His sheer size was enough to make a lasting impression on me, he is a very tall man. To be honest he did frighten me at first. He was wearing a black, full length coat and had a dark look about him. Sweat dotted his forehead and his eyes were dull with a very glazed look about them. Slurred speech combined with regular spitting left me praying that saliva didn't land near my mouth and infect me with some sort of disease. I introduced myself to Tom and offered him a sandwich and a cup of coffee, only half a cup of course as he would have spilled it all over himself. I didn't mean this in an insulting way at all, it was just that I had learned to recognise that the shaky hands of a drug addict caused them to spill hot coffee all over the place. I had learned this the hard way, by spending my Sunday mornings wiping up trails of coffee spills all the way from the coffee lounge, down the steps, across the landing, down some more steps and out to the front door of the building. All these things make up the reality of inviting street people into our church.

How did Tom find his way to a church? Through a simple offer of a free sandwich. One of our team found him
huddled on the side of the street suffering from heroine withdrawals. He was shivering partly from the cold and partly from the horrible effects of the drug that had consumed his life. Most of the words said to him that morning were a blur I'm sure, but thankfully he did hear the word sandwich. He was being offered a free sandwich which lead him to our church.

After a few weeks of Tom coming to church he confessed that he felt like a hypocrite. Eric assured him that he was very welcome to only come for the sandwich - no strings attached. He then went on to invite him to join us for the church service if he ever wanted to join us. Tom sensed Eric's sincerity and felt comfortable to stay for the church service. Since that day we have seen God do the most amazing things in Tom's life. He surrendered his life to Jesus, came off drugs & alcohol, got a home and begun the process of rebuilding his life. Eleven weeks after he first walked through the church doors we had the privilege of dedicating his son (in the picture above) to God. It is incredible to see how God has restored Tom's relationship with his son and radically changed this little boy's life.

Only a few short months later Tom was admitted to hospital for an emergency operation. Even though he had begun rebuilding his life, the consequences of years of drug abuse had severely damaged his leg and an immediate amputation was needed to save his life. The frightening truth is that if he was still on the street he would have died that night. God knew this, He knew that if Tom did not come for that free sandwich and start sorting his life out he would not have made it. God knew it would take time for his body to get strong enough to survive surgery. Even though Tom had given up on himself and the world saw him as a lost cause, God loved him and reached out and touched him. It was a very long week that week as Tom was in and out of surgery. At first he was fighting for his life and later the fight was to keep his leg. As the doctors wrestle to save Tom through surgery we wrestled for his life in prayer. The results - LIFE! God yet again saved his life and his leg. Visiting Tom in hospital and seeing him grow as a Christian was incredible. God did something special not only in Tom's body but also in his heart and it was so precious to see.

This isn't where the story ends. Tom has had a life of drugs, prison and all sorts of other "colourful" things. The enemy is not just going to let him go, the truth is Satan wants him back. His testimony is too powerful and his influence amongst the street people of Gloucester is huge. King's Daughters, please will you join me in prayer every day this week for Tom. The enemy wants to kill, steal and destroy this man because of his powerful testimony and his undiscovered potential.
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2.8.10

Princess from a Prostitute

Luke 14:21

"... `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'"

Her body reeked of alcohol and urine and her hair was oily and matted. Unusually long fingernails created an eerie vibe about her and her eyes caused you to quiver a little. This was my first impression of her and I didn't expect to ever see her again. Many people visited our church once for a free sandwich while passing through. I assumed she would be one of these people. Or was it that I was hoping this was the case? Never-the-less I walked up to her and introduced myself and did my best to show her the love of Jesus by engaging in a bit of conversation. As a team we knew that we had to go beyond the polite 'how are you' and show that we genuinely care. She enjoyed having a listening ear and kept my ear busy until I had to politely end the conversation to go into church. I invited her to join us but she wasn't interested. She picked up yet another free sandwich and walked out.

Much to my surprise she started coming to church regularly to get as much as she could from us. Her manner was rude and she was clearly a heavy drinker. We reached a point where we received many complaints about her and were considering asking her not to come as she was taking more than her fair share of sandwiches on Sunday, leaving others with  empty stomachs. She never stayed for the full service and never showed any interest in God. Many came for the free sandwiches only and we did our best to show them love. She was different though, her heart was hard and her intentions were clear. Most importantly she was damaging the atmosphere that we had worked so hard to create in the coffee lounge. Eric & I discussed how to deal with this situation and thought it may be best to ask her not to come. We justified this decision by saying that our other sheep needed us to protect them. It seemed right in our eyes and in other team members eyes, however we still needed to consult God. Eric and I prayed and came back with an entirely different solution!

Luke 6:28 "bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you."

It seems God had another solution, an uncomfortable one, a bit more messy than the one we had planned. We obediently did what the Bible said and we began praying for her. As a result we also began paying closer attention to her, loving her beyond our natural ability and we paid extra affection to her. We learned of her difficult life. How she was an unwanted child of a prostitute. Having grown up in a children's home, she learned to take care of herself as best she could. Life threw some nasty challenges her way, including abusive relationships which I am sure hardened the wall around her heart even more. I grew fond of her. My heart was overwhelmed with love for her. She became precious to me. God gave me a glimpse of how He felt about her. We invited her to our home for meals, we threw a birthday party for her, we included her in our life. Slowly she started staying for church worship and then she stayed a little longer and started listening to the sermons. Finally she gave in completely and came for setup to help and stayed until pack down to help clean up. One particular Sunday after the worship I looked into her teary eyes and listened to how God was working in her life. She didn't say what you would expect, there is no miraculous, dramatic conversation to report. It was in her eyes, the lamp of her body. Something significant had happened inside of her that morning and my heart melted as I witnessed first hand what God was doing. Just to think that a few months ago we had written her off and were going to ask her to stop coming and taking all the sandwiches.

The past two weeks Eric & I needed to take a break from our Church duties to refresh our batteries, so we asked people to cover the midweek events for us. There was no one available so we informed our Thursday coffee group that we would have to cancel for two weeks as no one was available to lead the group. As you probably guessed it, this group wasn't cancelled, this precious lady offered to lead the group. I was thrilled and immediately agreed to her offer. She was a bit baffled and took a moment to assure me that she would not steal the funds from me that I gave her to buy coffee. I replied by saying that the thought never crossed my mind, I trust her. She looked puzzled and continued to reassure me of her intentions. I left the group in her capable hands and had a little break with my family for two weeks.

This past Sunday she walked up to me and I hardly recognised her, she looked radiant. Something happened, something changed. I had observed a gradual change in her appearance since we started praying for her. Her manners had come a long way too. This Sunday was different though, something significant had shifted inside of her. I gave her the biggest hug ever, I am so very proud of her. What we saw as a lost cause, Jesus calls precious. What a mother didn't want, God calls daughter. This lady has only begun her new life and is only starting to let God in, but I see her beautiful and bright future ahead of her. She went from being a street drunk to a leader in eight months, who knows what else God has install for her.

It is simply unbelievable to see what God is doing in our Church. I am going to be blunt, please don't be offended but there is no other way to say it! Most Christians that come to our church from other churches complain a lot and make excuses to do nothing. They tell us what to do and how to run the church. When given opportunities to get involved and help us, most of them don't last more than a month. They are too busy debating theology or questioning our methods. In the meantime street people are being saved, delivered from drug addictions, finding jobs and homes and finding life in Jesus. They are soaking up the teaching, getting stuck into church life and are so grateful for all that God is doing. They have no complaints or excuses! I am pleased to report that people are finding life in Christ while others who have known Christ for years have lost the joy of their salvation. It saddens me and the more I pray for labourers the more I realised that these street people are the answer to my prayer. Today, for the sake of privacy, I am going to name her Princess. Please pray for Princess this week, please believe with me that she has a bright future ahead of her and pray that she will no longer live in the enemies lies and plan for her life but in God's plan. Soon I will report back to you on Princess's progress. Please pray for the Christians in Gloucester, please pray that they wake up from their apathy and slumber. We so desperately need labourers to help us take care of all these precious people and the very people we thought we could rely on and too busy complaining and making exuses. Our existing leadership team consists of teenagers and street people! God bless these precious people.
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