Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Radical Leadership

When you think of the essential characteristics of a leader, what words come to mind? 

Integrity, visionary, inspirational or perhaps courageous?  All these traits are certainly important, but I'd like to suggest another attribute we don't often hear about ... a shepherd's heart. 

The day I heard God's call to lead others, I thoughtfully informed God (like He didn't already know) that I had no clue what to do.

As I prayed, I anticipated that God might direct me to a verse that referred to leading with excellence, the importance of unity or how to utilize the diverse gifts of those on the team.

Instead this was the passage He placed on my heart...

Irish Sheep!
“Woe shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!

 ...strengthen and heal the sick, care and bring healing to the broken”
~Ezekiel 34

Not only was I was not working with people who were sick, but with a warning like "woe shepherds," it was not exactly the encouragement I was hoping for.

However, God began to use these woolly, pastoral creatures and their caregivers to form and shape me as a leader after His own heart.

What I have since come to know about leadership is this...

Every leader must first learn who and how to follow

God is deeply invested in sheep and shepherds

Strategies, vision and charisma are great, but if you have not a genuine love for God's people then your work will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal!   (1 Corinthians 13)


Regardless of your title or position you will inevitably encounter and have to lead people (sheep) who are broken.

Dutch Sheep!
Through this passage in Ezekiel I began to see the depth of God's love toward His people.  It was clear that God took the care of His sheep personally - which to be honest, scared the living daylights out of me!

As I looked at Christ's leadership through the lens of Ezekiel, I also saw the heart of a shepherd - strengthening, caring, and healing the broken.

I also discovered something else very interesting.  It was often the religious leaders and Jesus own followers who struggled to understand His true calling.

They had a very different idea of how Jesus should carry out His mission.  They often saw the broken and outcasts as unnecessary distractions from accomplishing their vision.

This hits home when I think about the times I have viewed others as unwelcome interruptions to my own work.

Christ, in His compassion, would stop what He was doing or where he was going to listen to the needs of those around Him.  In his tenderness, He would reach out to those who were hurting and they left healed and transformed.
Jesus was not distracted by tasks, position or power to remember His true purpose to care for God's sheep.

Jesus knew how to lead, but He also knew who to follow.  He did not operate on His own, but followed His Father's voice and will.

This kind of radical leadership mystified, baffled and even angered those around him.

If we lead like Jesus, I venture to say that those around us will also not always understand or agree with where we place our priorities.

This kind of leadership seems next to impossible with the constant barrage of expectations, demands or multi-tasking that we face each day.

We too will encounter pressures that deter us from our true call to care for God's wounded sheep.  There will be times where we will be tempted to focus on ourselves and our own ambitions instead of healing the broken.

The good news is that we are not alone.  Our Shepherd delights to show us the way.  

The more we know Jesus and learn to follow His voice, the more we will lead like Him.

Reflection Moments:

Ezekiel 34

Lord, you are our Good Shepherd,

Give us your divine love for your people.  Forgive us for the times we have been so consumed with tasks, performance and "good works" that we have have not stopped to listen and care for the broken in our midst.  Reveal the people we need to reach out and tend to this week.  Teach us Lord how to care, strengthen and heal those who are wounded.  We recognize that it is not possible without you working in and through us.  Help us to know your voice and follow after you.  Mold us into the leaders you desire us to be.

In the powerful, healing and saving name,

Allow the Shepherd to lead you, listen for His voice...

Think back to when you heard God's voice calling you to the role you are currently in now.  What was that moment like?  What did you hear Him say?  How did you feel?  How did you respond?

Use a journal and prayerfully consider some of the following...

Where do I see myself right now in this passage from Ezekiel ... as the good or the bad shepherd?

In what ways have I been feeding myself instead of others?

What are the things that deceive and distract from my true calling?
(This may include pressure from people, tasks, performance, reputation, desires or ambitions)

Is there someone right now who needs some care or extra support? 

Who have I been following? 
Write down one or two actions you can take this week.

Let us follow and lead like Jesus
 Strengthen, care and heal the broken along our way
 Now that is radical leadership!

Jesus, Lamb of God

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Live like your on vacation!

Many of you have been asking to see some photos from our recent travels to Ireland and Amsterdam...so here are a few captured moments!

Ever notice when you travel that the soul seems to wake up?

Cliffs of Moher
"The voice of the Lord is over the waters " Psalm 29:3

As I traipsed through Ireland and Amsterdam I noticed my mind and heart slowly come back to life.  My adventurous side kicked in feeling sheer joy with each new experience.  I began to see things with greater clarity and vision.  

Escaping from the everyday routines of life not only restores my soul, but I also noticed something else about "vacation Nicole."  When I am on holiday I actively seek to encounter God.

I walk slower and breathe deeper as my soul fills with gratitude with each new wonder.  I listen and watch with anticipation for God.  I eagerly take in everything all around me in hope of catching a glimpse of Him.  I don't want to miss a thing.

"The voice of the Lord is full of majesty"  Psalm 29
Pastoral walk taking in the mystery of Christ en route to Wicklow Mountains
"The voice of the Lord ...strips the forest bare...in His temple all say Glory." Psalm 29

What would happen if I woke up each day expecting to encounter God?

What if I didn't wait for time off work before I allowed Him to restore my soul?

We may not always be able to afford or get away for a holiday, but what if we lived each day with a vacation mindset instead of on autopilot?

Ken kissing the blarney stone!

What if we were to wake up eager to learn or try something new?

What if we remained flexible to accept the un-expected, un-planned twists and turns that come our way?

What would happen if we stepped out of our comfort zone or

My niece Emmy embracing Dutch fashion

took the time to get to know others to hear their unique stories?

What if we were to slow down and listen for His voice?

What if for a moment we stop the tasks and the performing to simply be with Christ?

Soak in His majesty, creativity and beauty in the ordinary... 

 and the extraordinary all around us. 

My nephew Caleb sitting near the top -  taking in the grandeur of the Giant's Causeway!

Wicklow Mountains
Kylemore Abbey - truly magical

Blarney Castle - with a blog name like arils and castles I would be remiss to not highlight at least one Irish castle!
The vibrant colours of Amsterdam
Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Ireland
Glendalough Abbey
Enjoying Amsterdam via canal

What if we didn't wait for vacation, yet instead made the choice to live life each day attentive and alive in Christ?

My little nephew Xander capturing the sights and memories!

 Let's start today - awake our souls to taste and see His goodness all around us.

Why wait for vacation!
Sharing Poffertjes (yummy Dutch pancake treats) with Ken in the park!

Caleb, Emmy, Ken, Janis and Xan

May you be restored, hear His voice, see His wonders in the ordinary and extraordinary as you walk with Him today.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Freedom Beyond Walls

"God does not have problems. Only plans."
Corrie Ten Boom

It is good to be back home - I have missed all of you over the past few weeks.

While on holidays in Amsterdam and Haarlem we had the honour of visiting the Ann Frank Museum and the home of Corrie Ten Boom.

Both of these extraordinary people have left a profound impact on the world from their inspiring stories of courage, sacrifice and love in the midst of war.

Entrance to the hiding place in Corrie's closet

The false wall was built in Corrie's bedroom to protect the Jewish people from the Nazi authorities
Hearing their stories reminded me of another person who may not be as familiar to some of you.

In his autobiography entitled A Boy's War we get a small glimpse into the life and faith of a boy named David.

David's parents were Australian missionaries who went to China with the China Inland Mission, which was founded by James Hudson Taylor.

It was quite common during that time for MK's (Missionary Kids) to be sent to boarding school for their education.

At the young age of six, David left his parents to attend school.

When he arrived at the Chefoo school in 1939 his life would change.

World War Two unfolded, Japan invaded and occupied China.  David and the other Chefoo school children were taken to Weihsien concentration camp in Shantung Province, North China.

David and his sister Joyce would not see their parents again until six years later.

God Has A Plan

David's story is a powerful reminder that even in the darkest places we are never alone.

Even though David was held captive that did not stop God's plan for his life.  God began to shape David's spiritual journey from within the walls of the prison camp.

A man by the name of Eric Liddell was sent to the same concentration camp as young David.  Many of you may remember that name from the award winning film Chariots of Fire. This Olympic Champion quickly became a hero of faith to David.  

Eric Liddell Biography

"Uncle Eric" became a father figure to the boys and a glimmer of excitement in the midst of the devastation of war.

Just like David, God has a plan for our lives.  He places unexpected people along our path to bring us comfort, hope and help in our time of need.

The Gift of Wonder and Play

Similar to the account of Ann Frank, David experienced the war through the eyes of a child.  David was still an adventurous boy who loved to play.

This struck me as such a powerful lesson in life.

Have you ever noticed that it is almost impossible to play and also be anxious or afraid all at the same time?

When I am in pain or frightened I look for the quickest escape route.  I exhaust myself with worry and grasp to regain some sense of control over my circumstances.  I falsely believe that if I smile or enjoy myself that it is somehow wrong or irreverent.   

I wonder what would happen if instead I surrendered with a child like trust and dared to play just like young David?

Gratitude Sets Us Free

On the last day of our trip we sat in the living room of the Ten Boom family hearing the stories of Corrie giving thanks for the fleas and vermin in the concentration camp.

Corrie Ten Boom
God had a plan to use their horrific sleeping conditions for His purposes. The fleas kept their captors away and Corrie was able to keep her Bible hidden in order to continue to share God's word with the other women in the camp.

David was also able to recognize the gifts of God despite the hardships of captivity, separation, malnutrition and death. He was grateful for Eric Liddell and for his teachers in the camp who took care of him.

David Michell 
David was also extremely thankful for the seven American GI's who parachuted into the internment camp to rescue them.

Photo:  Signed parachute of the seven American GI's who resecued David and others in the Weihsien Concentration Camp

There is tremendous power in living with gratitude.
It is a thankful heart that helps the soul to heal. Gratitude releases us from the cords of fear and bitterness.  Thanksgiving is the armor to fight injustice and wounds that shake our faith. 

Extend God's Outrageous Grace

I have not known the devastation of war like the stories of Ann, Corrie or David.  Yet there have been times in my life where I have lived in a different type of captivity and torment.

I am quick to panic or be discouraged when circumstances seem hopeless and out of my control.  I am guilty of rehearsing painful wounds.  I even struggle at times to forgive over insignificant matters that have held me in bondage.  

David had every excuse to live life fearful and bitter with walls of protection around him.  He did not know if he would see his family ever again.  He did not know where his next meal would come from.  He did not know if he would live as he watched others who did not make it out of the concentration camp alive.

David was able to live in freedom because he devoted his life to trusting the One who is faithful in all circumstances.

The most incredible part of David's story was not just how he handled the years of captivity, but what he chose in his years of freedom.

David dedicated his life as a missionary (he served with Overseas Missionary Fellowship which was the former China Inland Mission).  

What is remarkable about this decision was the place that David chose to serve. 

David lived reconciliation and forgiveness in an extraordinary way. He chose to go to Japan to minister and care for the souls of those who had held him and his sister captive.  Now that is truly powerful!

Many of us struggle to forgive.   Many of us choose to forgive, but never forget.  The truth is that most of us protect ourselves from those who hurt us rather than devote our lives to serving them.

Not David!

David received the grace God gave to him and in return freely extended it to those in Japan. 

It has been an honour to introduce you to one of my own heroes of faith - David Michell, my Father In Law.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Dad in person.  However, I am convinced I do know him through my husband's humility, strength, generousity and grace.   

It is my hope that through sharing Dad's story we will all be inspired to live with gratitude and in freedom by extending God's outrageous grace everywhere we go.

No matter what circumstances you currently find yourself in, take courage and remember the words of Corrie ...

"God does not have problems.  Only plans."
Thank you Dad Michell for being a light in my life!

May your light always shine on!

August 17, 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the liberation.

Here are some photos of my husband (Kenneth) and Mum (Joan Michell) being interviewed in our home for the documentary - Weifang Forgotten Concentration Camp by Producer Elaine Yau of Innowave Limited.

Thank you to Elaine and her incredible team for ensuring these stories are heard and never forgotten!

Rocks Of Remembrance

"When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,   “Choose twelve men from among the people, one fr...