Pictograms from God
God has always provided me with pictograms of what's happening... not 'visions' - that's a mite dramatic, but pictograms, a little picture that has enough detail to allow me to find out eventually what He's saying.
My first one was within a year of coming to faith, when the church body I had been planted in (an AoG church in Spain) experienced a church split, with most going one way, and some dispersing to the four winds.
I asked God to show me what to do, which as a new believer is a sensible option, and He showed me a small picture of a ragged old sheep dog, standing slightly behind and to the right of a flock of nervy sheep, between the flock and the forest, where the eyes of the wolves could be seen. It was obvious that my job, young as I was in faith, was to keep the wolves from stealing the flock, and stop the sheep from wandering off into danger.
So that's what I did, for about 18 months to two years.
By that time our little flock had settled into a new building, and were looking for a permanent home, and I lost the picture completely, it simply faded away.
The original pastor who had led us out of the old church had gone away to study for a few weeks in the UK with a large Pentecostal church group, and then told us he was staying for a year.
A new pastor had been presented from our small number and we were settled, if not secured.
One weekend I attended a conference in Gibraltar organised by a self proclaimed minor profit (like the Jewish tag line: small profit, quick return) and heard a man of God speak word that had a profound effect on my life.
He came from South Africa and was a local pastor, but prior to becoming the local pastor to a small African congregation in the middle of nowhere, Bruce had been a senior banking officer in a major international bank.
He had been offered the CEO job, but chose instead to heed the call of God.
Satan can produce some tempting offers when God want us to do something.
Bruce was invited to speak, being a visitor of some note, and he addressed our conference, which was on church unity!
There were eight churches represented there, and none of them spoke to each other, divided by minor doctrinal differences, none of which could possibly affect anyone's salvation.
"There are ONLY two churches represented here today" Bruce spoke out in a deep and confident South African accent... "There is the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Church of man"..... he paused..... we waited..... "and it's very important that you realise which one you are a member of"
Bruce spoke for about an hour, stopping each few minutes to ask whether he should continue, the organiser grew more and more agitated in the wings, whilst the gathered churches grew more and more enthralled as Bruce spoke.
We all went away changed and I have never forgotten his words.
Bruce came to our small church (we were only about 20 souls at that point) and taught us for three weeks solid, every day and night, with preaching also at weekends, and never asked for a cent to even cover his expenses.
I've known of him travel to a small town in the middle of Australia because God 'told' him to go there, and having gotten to this one street town, asked where the local church was, found it and entered to see three men seated with their bibles.
Bruce introduced himself, told them God had told him to come here and they nigh fell of their stools "'strewth pastor, we've been asking God to send us a teacher for ages, then you just walk in".
God truly does work in mysterious ways!
Bruce married another great bible teacher friend of mine, the 'widder' of a Baptist minister who got assassinated in Costa Rica.
We met in Spain when she was touring with a family friend to recover from the shock of losing her husband of 35 years standing.
I taught her how to drink, something which is seemingly neglected in Baptist circles, but absolutely normal in Spain, and she taught me lots of bible and ground some rough edges of my spiritual walk.
Like I always say, we all have the ability to bless or be blessed in any encounter.
They married and went to the USA, but then Bruce got the call to travel to Ireland (he was an itinerant minister) and so he did, this time meeting two ladies recently come to faith after leaving the Catholic church.
Bruce and Nell went back there and started a bible study, which grew into a house group, and later changed into a regular worship service.
Now 12 years later there is a functioning body of believers, and that all despite the opposition by the local Catholic churches, the attempts to block them from renting or hiring premises.
Not forgetting the night when the local IRA men walked into Bruce's study and just looked at him from within their balaclavas for a long few minutes, before turning and leaving.
Gods Angels were working overtime that night.
Back to my pictogram's.... soon after Bruce left us, we found a large building in the centre of our town to meet in, a former textile wholesale warehouse which left our small group swallowed up in the corner looking like we were lost and awaiting a tour guide.
We took it over despite the fact that the rental was more than we had ever collected, and God blessed our tiny body with unexpected resources and new members weekly. Soon we had two new members who had left their UK church to retire to Spain, having sold a substantive business and who wanted to 'get behind the vision'.... so God moved the whole thing up a notch and we grew slowly day by day (15 years later we are about 150 souls on board).
But I still had no pictogram or direction in which to go, then God gave me one where the ragged old sheepdog was standing in the pouring rain outside a farmhouse door, and looking through the window I could see the shepherd sitting in a comfy armchair with two sleek border collies relaxing by the fireside at his feet.
I understood that one immediately!
Some time later I married my wife, and we left that body to go inland to open up a Spanish 'venta' - this was a twofold venture, I had grown to be a discomfort to the body as I explored Hebraic Roots and had no wish to be further disruptive, and also my son was 12 years old at that point, and I wanted to go inland to separate him from the local street packs that exercised so much peer pressure on each other.
We lived in Ronda, an ancient Spanish town founded by the Phoneticians, occupied by the Romans and which, finally matured, sits in the cleft between coastal Spain and the inland plains that lead to Seville in one direction and Grenada in the other.
Our house was up a mountain track and we lived in the forest surrounded by elm oaks and pine trees. Our water came straight from the mountain and the air was clean and pure and came from the Atlantic coast 100 kms across country to us.
The venta never took off, and we lived there by faith, attended no church (there were none except Spanish gypsy churches and Catholic churches) and learned how to be Christians 'outside the gate'. (and there is another hub coming from that experience).
The pictogram I had for that period was of the ragged old sheepdog sitting in the middle of a field, surrounded by woods, waiting patiently for his master to call him. In the treeline his master stood watching the dog to see if he would stay on command or move of when he got bored.
When that picture faded I knew time was changing again.
We lived there until three years ago when the cursed hotel venture drew me back to the coast and 'civilisation' and the vision faded once more.
When we returned to the coast, we also returned to our old church, with some trepidation, for our departure had been no 'sending out' with prayer and a laying of hands by the elders, but rather a mutual relief that our discomfiture was ended.
But God had softened both mine and the pastors hearts, and once we sat together the brotherly love we had known returned slowly, and we found ourselves back in the comfort of The Ark Christian Fellowship once again.
Having resettled, I sought Gods face again for a new picture to follow, but this time I got words, rather than a picture (maybe I had leaned to read by then?) and the outline of our conversation was that He had spent the first seven years of my walk filling me up, then the last seven years emptying me out, and the next seven years would be me sharing with whoever wanted to receive it, what was left.
So here we are!