Hi folks! So last week, I went to a non-denominational Christian conference/festival called Naturally Supernatural. And it was awesome. God moved powerfully while we were there, and it was so good to actually designate so much time to praising and listening for Him.
I know this is a little off-message for this blog, but my faith is important to me, and since I do round-ups for all my other conventions (watch this space for the upcoming YALC 3-part series), I wanted to do one for NSN as well! However, it was a super full week, so I’m just going to write up the sessions which were especially valuable to me, so that you might find something useful in them too.
The first day was driving day. We set off in the rain, and it didn’t get much better for a couple of days. But I had Steph and the Google Maps lady and an awesome playlist, so I was happy. When we got up to the Showground at Stafford, Lora had already set up her tent, which I was going to be sleeping in, so I had a bit of time to laze around before the first main meeting started.
The structure of each of the days was fairly regular: morning meeting at 10am, where we all gathered in the main meeting hall to worship God and listen to some teaching. Then there were two teaching/workshop sessions in the afternoon, with an additional seminar slot for 20s/30s. Then some time to have dinner, before we all went back to the main meeting hall at 7pm for more worship, prayer and teaching. There’s always a bunch more stuff going on, including films in the outdoor cinema after the evening meeting.
Because Saturday was arrival day, we just had a main meeting and a film, which we bowed out of early because we were exhausted and it was freezing!
The first meeting talked about the fact that Christianity is a relational religion – we are made to be in relationship with others and with the Father, who is Himself in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes to us on its way to the rest of the world – it’s pointless if we don’t share God’s love further, and that means in practical as well as spiritual ways. The glory of the Lord is goodness, mercy and compassion – and we need to live out of the same place.
Now, I felt like I’d walked into this year’s event with, uniquely, no baggage. Sometimes I go already knowing why I want God to meet with me, but not this time. But when Mike made a call for prayer for people who felt rejected by the church, it was like my body filled with some weird kind of energy, and I practically leapt out of my seat. I went up to the front, where we’d been called to, and started crying. I could feel people’s hands on my shoulder and back, praying for me. All I could think was ‘please Father, let me come home’ – it just kept going round in my head, and I felt like I was waiting so long for God’s response that maybe there wouldn’t be one. I just kept asking, I didn’t know what else to do. I felt like I wouldn’t be welcomed in a new church because of my orientation unless I had His blessing.
All of a sudden, this one strong sentence came into my head, and I knew it was from Him. It was: ‘Who made you?’ It was almost indignant, and I laughed in relief. I knew, and I know now, that God had made me just the way I am, and that regardless of how many told me I was wrong, He would stand with me.
I sort of cry/laughed for a bit. When I eventually opened my eyes, I felt stronger, clearer, and happier – taller even, though maybe the people praying for me were just small? They prayed for me to find a new church, and I made a commitment to do it, even if it took a few false starts. I went back to my friends, still shaking so much that walking felt kind of tricky. I was emotional, but happy, and God’s words were clear in my head. He made me, and no-one should refuse His Creation’s entry into the church family.
After that surprise intense experience, we made our way back to the tents – via a brief sojourn in the outdoor cinema. Naturally Supernatural had well and truly begun.
The first main meeting on Sunday talked about Jesus’ love, tenderness and compassion. Ali Martin pointed out that we can know that God is a good Father, but sometimes we don’t know it in our hearts. Jesus came to put a face to grace, to show us what the good Father looks like and stop the mistranslation. He knows what is in our hearts, and loves speaking into our worries and doubts. His love is unlimited. It’s a feast of goodness and love. Luke 12:22 says “do not worry”.
Then it was off to our first seminars of the week. They were arranged into rough streams, and you could choose how much or little you wanted to engage with each one – though the timetable clearly intended that you complete two streams. The only one I completed was the Justice stream, run by David and Minu Chowdhury-Westlake. The first session was about motivating us to step out and make a difference. When we make mistakes, we don’t have to perish – because God sent Jesus to perish in our place. Jesus gives us life. And if we want to change the world, we need to bring that life to others.
That doesn’t just mean spiritual – it’s practical, and involves systems like healthcare and the justice system – David works with the International Justice Ministry to end slavery. He asked us to think about what our blindspot is, what part of God’s heart we are ignoring. It’s the difference between Cain and Abel. Abel sacrificed something special to demonstrate his heart for relationship with God, whereas Cain just brought something. He did the bare minimum, and in doing that he missed the point. He had a blindspot.
Amos was angry because God’s people were not fulfilling what was in His heart, and they should have known better – they were the light of the world (I think this is a really important thing to take away into the present day). Amos 5:21-24 ends “I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” Love, care, justice and kindness are not add-ons for the especially keen. They are the focus. We can’t love the Lord unless we love others. Let the miraculous flow. Start with the first step, even if you can’t see where His heart is leading you.
The Sunday evening meeting marked the first appearance of Tim Ross, who is completely great. The title of his talk was: I HAVE TO INTRODUCE YOU TO MY FRIEND! My notes on Tim’s talks will probably be the most concise, because he has a lot of love for the note-takers in the room. You should check out his Instagram @timatembassy.
In John 14:15-17, Jesus is preparing his disciples for His transition from earthly ministry to heavenly power. He tells them about the Holy Spirit, who will live inside them and never leave them. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit does five things:
- He leads us into truth. Truth isn’t a denomination or a person – Truth’s name is Jesus.
- He teaches us and reminds us of what Jesus said. But you do have to read what Jesus said first! John 14:26. Otherwise, he can’t remind you of something you never knew.
- He testifies about Jesus. You don’t have to fight this life yourself. He is a legal advocate, He counsels and protects Jesus’ followers. We weren’t present at the virgin birth, the resurrection or the ascension – but the Holy Spirit was! And He can testify on it.
- He convicts the world of sin. It’s not about how bad you are – it’s about how good He is.
- He tells us what Jesus is saying NOW. John 16:13-15 – He still speaks.
In the Monday main meeting, Andy Croft spoke on the Holy Spirit as well – but more specifically, on the gift of tongues. This is when people pray out loud in other languages – prayer languages, that mostly aren’t earthly speech. Growing in spirituality requires that we build up those muscles, and speaking in tongues helps with that because:
- It gives our soul a voice. Sometimes you can’t articulate deep feeling, and speaking in tongues acts as a release for that emotion – like a puncture. It’s not just a prayer language, it’s a worship language. 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 and Romans 8:26
- It draws us near to God. Jude 20. You need to keep yourself in God’s love – and the Spirit draws us back into relationship.
- It can lead to breakthrough. Ephesians 6:18 – it begins to have an impact on those around us, and on the world.
Matthew 7:7-11 – How do we receive it?
- Ask, persistently.
- Believe that He wants to give it to you.
- Step out. Spiritual gifts don’t often feel very spiritual. They often feel very ordinary. Don’t be afraid to step out and try.
In the afternoon, it was back to Justice with David and Minu. We talked about mission, and about how it can happen anywhere. In the workplace, with hard work and positive spirit. By being intentional in the way we share God’s love, and being obedient to Him. Mission makes Him visible in the world, and you can do that anywhere. Before all else, the kingdom of God is a person with a name and a face. Jesus speaks of renewal in Luke 4:18-19 (where he’s quoting Leviticus 25). Of an end to injustice and inequality – like pressing the reset button. No child should be condemned because of parental sin. There is forgiveness, and a new beginning.
So how do you bring together works, words and wonders?
- Love God (worship, Holy Spirit-led)
- Love each other (people stay in church for relationship and community)
- Love the world (proclamation, being Good News)
Don’t despise small beginnings. You can make a difference. Because when you’re in relationship with people, you can’t ignore specific subsets of their needs. They recommended the Cinnamon Network as a place to get ideas and support others.
What’s most important right now? What is God doing already? How can we join in?
The next session was another Justice session, this time focusing on environment care. We discussed the fact that the poorest people in the world will suffer the effects of climate change so much more than the richest, and we need to demonstrate compassion and care to the most vulnerable.
We also talked about the relationship between Creation and God – that God said it was good before we existed proves that it has value outside us, as it expresses God and shows His glory. Creation is sacred, and belongs to God – Deuteronomy 10. And Creation glorifies God – Psalm 148.
What does it mean to have dominion over the earth? How should we rule?
- We are made in the image of God. So we are set apart, and appointed a task – unique amongst all the creatures of Creation. We represent Him on earth.
- So how does God rule? He is love. God does power by serving, through leading, loving, surrounding.
- Obedience. Israel was a tenant of the land, they did not own it, and there were rules to their tenancy. Deuteronomy 28 – when we fail to live out our identities as God’s representatives, creation suffers.
We have regard for Creation because we have regard for the Creator. We must exercise servant leadership, not exploitation. Galatians 2:10 – we must be the touching place between the heart of God and the rest of the world.
We left having been asked: Where has God made you the touching place? What has he called you to do?
Tuesday was something of a rest day. There were no seminars, but there was a carnival set up on the main field, with at least six different bouncy castles. We took the opportunity of a bit of free time and nipped off-site to Asda, so we could get supplies for a barbecue.
By the time we got back, the weather had cleared up beautifully, and we had a lovely barbecue in the sun. We also bought marshmallows, and had a great time toasting them after the evening meeting.
It was such a good idea to have a rest day in the middle of the week – it’s so go-go-go all the time with all the teaching sessions and films and the Toolshed, that there’s barely time to shower, let alone get some food in! But this gave us a chance to collect ourselves and spend some time together, before the second half of the week.
Tim Ross was back again on Tuesday evening, to talk about: UNSTOPPABLE SPIRIT.
We should live our lives as the apostles did in the Book of Acts. AKA The Book of Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles (AKA Some Really Ordinary Dudes Who Barely Knew What They Were Doing But We Open To Do It).
In Acts 9, the Holy Spirit told Ananias to pray for Saul, a blinded murderer. Thomas doubted – he’s famous for doubting – but he went all the way to India to spread the word of God. God can use anyone. And even in the face of persecution (actual persecution, Western Christian readers), people will declare Him – because the unstoppable Spirit is inside them.
- Unity. A mark of the Holy Spirit’s unstoppable power – and which precedes power. Psalm 133 “dwell together in unity/harmony”. It’s irrelevant how we’re different – we’re all here, unified in our desire to be in the presence of God. And when we’re united, amazing things happen. We put all our stuff down so we can lift Him up.
- Power. Acts 2:2-4. The power of the Holy Spirit and His giftings are not the same thing.
- BOLDNESS. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be bold – otherwise we would never step out to do His gifts. We need boldness to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, even in the face of death. Acts 4:8 – “boldness… ordinary men… men who had been with Jesus”. The Holy Spirit comes, and they are filled with boldness, because without boldness, you can’t do what He tells you.
- Love. Acts 7. Verse 59. Love expressed in a way we’re supposed to have for those who persecute. If you can’t be Jesus, be Stephen. Who do you love? My enemies. Pray for them, love them, show them God’s love and compassion.
Let His Spirit work in you. Then let His Spirit work out of you.
And on that wonderful note, that’s the end of part one. You can read on to part two here. Catch you later!