Friday, 25 November 2016

A LOOK BACK AT 2016

It hardly seems possible that 2016 is nearly at an end.  I had been meaning to write various blogs this year but that just didn't happen as you will know. The intention was there but not the time or the moment.  

Now the moment has arrived as I am sitting looking back at the year from the perspective of New Zealand.  We are back down under for the Christmas holidays spending time with our Kiwi and Ozzie families.  It gives me time to reflect a little.

Being slightly OCD I have kept account of the number of things as varied as countries visited and ministered in since 2007 - 25;  FHM A Schools and B Schools attended or led since 2007 - 96; birds spotted in Uganda and Tanzania - 170;  beds we have slept in this year - 62,  much fewer now we have our own flat in the UK as a base to land back in.  That says something about me, I know not what though.

We began the year with a brilliant family gathering in Taupo, New Zealand, with all our children and grandchildren spending a few days together with their grandparents. We even had the twins other granny from England and Noah and Lily's other grandad from Auckland there. We recreated a family photo that we took last time we were all together three years ago. Every one had changed! We were all there except Chrissie's husband James who couldn't get time off from work in Australia.  We so value family and as we look at our brood and their broods we feel very very proud and thankful.

The major change for us this year has been the provision of a flat not far from Winchester in the UK.  This was perfect timing and a great kindness by our friends who own the place beside their house in Ropley and are kindly renting it out to us.  It is just what we needed and gives us a place to keep our things and a place to rest and recover between trips.  The timing was perfect as we needed to clear our rooms at the Eden Centre, the ministry base for FHM in New Zealand because of its impending sale.  We couldn't be happier about this.  In the past we have trusted that when we needed it Father would provide the right place and this is it.  Very happy!


 


Mission situations have figured quite highly this year and it was great to return to Uganda to lead a second FHM A School for deaf church leaders at Mto Moyoni in Jinja.  Participants came from 9 different African nations. Our links with DMI, Deaf Ministries International and our friend Gunnar have grown through these schools and in this coming year I am going to S Korea with him for a School there.

The other missions situation was Port au Prince Haiti where we taught an A School.  This was about 2 weeks after the hurricane had hit the country.  I was there at the invitation and with the support of a team from New Day Church, Summerville, S Carolina.  We had just held a B School at New Day in the wake of the same hurricane that had hit Haiti.  A large number of pastors and leaders came to this Haitian School and we are excited about how they were able to received and what the future will bring. At this point it looks like we will be returning in February 2018 for another School. 

Thank you for supporting us in these mission Schools.

In terms of our ministry we continue to speak at conferences and churches and teach and lead FHM A Schools and I am also now quite involved in teaching at B Schools. These have challenged me and brought me great joy and enabled me to dig deeper into the biblical basis and foundation of what we are teaching.

 It has been very encouraging to hear Linda speak at a number of events too.  She has her first event where she will be the main speaker in February 2017 at Northchurch Baptist Church in the UK, where we first began ministry in 1977!  If you are interested in us coming to your church let us know. We try to keep our traveling plans up to date on our "Comings and Goings" page on this website.

I managed to publish another book earlier this year which comes out of my reading, study and teaching of church history.  You can see more about this on the pages of this website also.  Sales have gone very well and I'm encouraged.  If you have bought it and read it and felt like leaving a review on Amazon or Kindle, that would be appreciated.  In the first day it went I hit the best seller list ( for about 2 hours)!   The book "Jesus and his Father " was translated into Dutch and published in the Netherlands in April which was exciting.  With three books out now I wonder if I am done,  but maybe not.  We are looking at another one sometime soon on a topic that has been important and significant for us both. This might be one we write together.  We shall see.

Our health has been pretty good this year apart from the usual selection of coughs and colds.  Linda has had her moments with her old head injury from the previous years fall being an occasional challenge but generally we have been well.  I had my annual mole check this week in Auckland and it seems I have a couple of possibly dodgy cancerous ones on two places.  The Doctor thinks one is a BCC rather than melanoma but this time he wants to cut it out to be sure rather than just treat with cream. The other is a pre-melanoma  So I’m having them done Jan 5th.  He says it will take awhile to heal up as he is going for a large chunk of skin.  Nice - not.  It doesn’t change any travel plans for OZ. But we will be at our daughter's for about two weeks while it heals up and we get the results.  Whatever the outcome I’ll get it referred to the UK if I need any further treatment.  I’m hoping that I might be able to claim it on insurance as he says it needs to be treated immediately as it cannot be left for 3 months till we get back.  This sounds all a bit of a drama and we are not that happy about it but one of the annoying facts of life and aging!

Well that is about it for 2016.  December for us is chilling time with family and then Christmas at sunny Pauanui again thanks to our good friends Murray and Julie.

We end the year celebrating the goodness of God our Father and his faithfulness to us and rejoicing in the birth of his Son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit's abiding presence within us.  Christmas greetings to you especially if you have read this far.

Next year I'll see if I can write some more than this year. No promises. 








Monday, 1 February 2016

A NEW BOOK - FINDING THE FATHER IN THE STORY OF THE CHURCH.


A number of times over the years I have been asked to teach a short course on the story of the church through 2000 years. I have been interested in Church History since my days in college. I had been inspired to study Church History by my tutor, Dr. Raymond Brown, then principal of Spurgeon’s College in London, UK. He loved the subject and it rubbed off. My short course inevitably was superficial and subjective simply because there was so much to include and a large amount to exclude.  Therefore, I tried to paint a big picture rather than a detailed account.  

People started asking me for copies of my notes. I had notes that were not very readable. Also my notes were to be used as prompts and therefore spoken and taught rather than read. They had been collected over the years from all sorts of books and sources and it was very hard to say where I had picked up the information. 

So the idea for this book was born.  However, it was clear I needed to tidy things up and present the material in a more readable format if it was going to become a book. One of my aims when I taught also applies to this book, it was to inspire the reader to dig further and explore the rich wells of the story of the Church. As a result, I have not written an academic scholarly work and by that I mean it is not full of detailed footnotes like a theological or historical treatise. Instead, I have written a story. If you have read any of my other books you will know I like stories.  Where I have referenced something it is primarily to acknowledge the source of a major quotation or a book or author whose influence has been significant to me.

Some people struggle with the very idea of reading history. Famously, Henry Ford the founder of the Ford Motor Company in the USA writing in the Chicago Tribune in 1916 said, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinkers damn is the history that we make today.” 

I profoundly disagree with Ford's statement. Christianity is a historical religion. God has revealed himself in and through history. The Old Testament is a historical revelation of God at work through his relationship with his people. God does not reveal himself through doctrinal statements but through his relationship and interactions with his people through the ages. In the Old Testament, he instructed people to tell the stories of his dealings with them to their children and then their children.  

The great Roman orator, Cicero in the first century BC said that to not know what took place before you were born was to remain forever a child. To have no memory of the past is a serious psychiatric or mental condition. We do all we can to help people to recover their memories. A community with no social memory is suffering a serious illness.

What is history? It is a collection of stories, memories, and writings from all sorts of perspectives. Much is a subjective description of past events by people commenting on what they witnessed from their personal perspective. Sometimes what they have recorded was a description of someone they didn’t like or who didn’t think in the same way as they did, effectively their enemy!  Impartiality, as a result, was easily lost. 

Sometimes history is gleaned from objects, inscriptions, paintings and artefacts from the past that need to be interpreted. Historians build a picture of what they think happened in the past by studying these things. We are very dependent on those whose passion is to describe the events from the past, the historians, theologians and writers who have made the study of the past their life’s work. Increasingly, I am seeing that this whole process is very, very subjective. I don’t think this book will be very different.

However, as I looked at the story of the church, I began to see that it was not just a story. It was not just memories. I saw very clearly that the story was one of incredible depth and the unfolding of an amazing revelation.  I began to see that the early church lost touch with its beginnings and the Church evolved into a vast multifaceted worldwide organisation made up of thousands of varying expressions very different from its original form. Specifically, I saw that there was a steady loss of key biblical truth generation after generation over many centuries. Equally, in time there was a restoration of key biblical truth that God has graciously given back to the Church particularly over the last five hundred years. As a result, this book became a charting of this process. My particular interest in this is because in many ways it has reflected my own journey of rediscovery culminating in the amazing awakening within me of knowing the triune God not just as Jesus my saviour, the Holy Spirit my comforter but also as God my Father. 

In short, the purpose of this book is to try to follow how the revelation of the Father that Jesus brought and that is recorded in the New Testament gradually began to be lost by succeeding generations of Christian writers and teachers and was then given back or restored to the church. This loss was slow, but sadly constant from the late first century to the Middle Ages. Then, from the sixteenth century onward, there was equally a steady rediscovery of the three persons of the Trinity: first Jesus, then the Holy Spirit, culminating in the present day revelation of God the Father and our resulting identity as sons.

The book is therefore more about the development historically of theological truth than just church history. However, the two are deeply connected. To understand the development of theological truth, we need to see where this sits within the big picture of history. Many have heard bits and pieces of the story and know about some sections, so what I have tried to do in this book is join the dots. For many, the story of the church is a jumble of isolated events and people who are not connected, rather like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The reality is that there is a flow to the story, a pulsing of the Holy Spirit as he energizes the people of God in every generation to seek for truth even when all around them there is corruption and stagnation in the Church. The puzzle is actually a magnificent picture!

God’s work in history is a secret work, a mystery even. At times, it is an exciting and happy story, full of joy. Other times, it is downright dreadful and humiliating when it is very difficult to see the finger of God in the process. For example, how on earth could Christians read that Jesus told us to “love your enemies” then think it was still okay to burn them at the stake. Beats me.

Sometimes, the story reads in such soiled and earthy terms as to make us question ‘Where was God?’ It’s easy to see him in Athanasius, Francis of Assisi, the Great Awakening, in revivals and Mother Theresa, but more difficult to find him in the Viking onslaught that wiped out the Celtic Church, in the Crusades and in Auschwitz. In the story, while there is great sadness and darkness there were always moments of great light. There were people who held high the light of the gospel of truth and revelation when all around was very dark.

The great tapestry that is the story of the Church is woven with dark threads as well as bright silken threads. This book is not about the ‘whys’ of history, though I have my opinions that will inevitably pop out. Rather, it is about the wheat and the weeds growing up together alongside each other as in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:24. In the end, the harvest of the wheat is gathered in despite the weeds. We do know how the story ends in so far as it ends for us in the early twenty-first century. Though as C.S. Lewis supposedly said if Jesus does not return in the next two thousand years, they will look back at our era as still being in the Early Church.

So that is what the new book is all about and why I call it Finding the Father in the story of the church. 

The book will be available very soon via Amazon and Kindle and we will have some copies with us too.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

FINDING A PEARL OF GREAT VALUE IN THE PEARL OF AFRICA

We have been coming to Uganda for six years now.  Winston Churchill called Uganda the pearl of Africa.  We have done a number of things including leading Fatherheart Ministries A Schools in Mto Moyoni, Jinja which I have written about before (see blog July 2012).  We are supporting the work of Ingrid Wilts and Winette Hubregtse who have been building at Mto Moyoni over ten years or more.  They have held various weeks and youth schools for the people of Uganda and beyond. 

Almost every time we come here to lead a School there are some people who come from Katwe which is a town in the far west of Uganda close to the Congo border. Over time we have got to know them and seen the group from Katwe grow in this revelation of the Father.  I think of a young man called Benson who could barely look you in the eye when we first met.  Last weekend we travelled to Mbarara in the west and led an A School then held a two day conference.  Again there were 25 from Katwe, a mixture of people young and old, pastors, church leaders, students and young people.  They were smiling and three shared publicly of what Father had done.  Benson spoke for 10 minutes or so about what Father now meant to him and the freedom he now had as a son of God.  It was deeply moving.


I wondered how these people came to be there.  It is at least a 24 hour bus ride from Katwe to Jinja.  I heard a story of a lady from Tonsburg in Norway who was involved in some development work in Katwe. She has visited the place only once apparently.  She attended a FHM A School in Norway a few years ago that changed her life.  She began to sponsor and send people from Katwe to Jinja to Mto Moyoni and Fatherheart events.

Yesterday we went to Katwe, which is three hours beyond Mbarara, in the centre of Queen Eizabeth National Park.  We met Nicholas who worked for local conservation and he guided us for a day.  He had been to Mto for a week.  We stopped for lunch of rice and fresh tilapia caught in Lake Edward.  While we were there his mother came to greet us.  We have met her a number of times. She leads one of the churches in Katwe.  She greeted us with a warm embrace and with tears in her eyes thanked us for what we had been part of in bringing this revelation of Father and sonship to her people and her church and her town.  She said it has changed everything and she will never be the same.  She said all the churches in the town have been impacted.  Over one hundred people from the town have now done Fatherheart Schools in Jinja and Mbarara.  Now they meet monthly to encourage each other on their journey in sonship. There were tears in our eyes as we parted.




Katwe is a very small town, about 2,000 people.  Most of its people live by gathering salt from the saline crater lake on the edge of the town.  It is hard manual labour.  These people are not the wise and learned in the usual sense of the word.  They are poor, they are weak, they are unheard of.  Their churches are not grand and ornate, they are made from brick and mud with tin roofs.  But 5% of the people of this town have a hunger to know God as Father that has taken them across the country and back again many times to get more.  In many ways they are the epitome of what Jesus means when he says these things have been hidden from the wise and learned and revealed to little children.  As Paul said , "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." 1 Cor 1:26- 29.

So many of us in western countries tend to more than think twice about coming to Fatherheart Schools,  quibbling over the cost, the fact that it takes a week, and so on.  Just like I did.  We are so rich in opportunities and can feast on a smorgasbord of Christian delights that may in fact hinder us from knowing what heart hunger feels like.  But these people know something we don't. 



These dear people from Katwe have found the pearl of great price and it is transforming their lives and their communities and they will do anything to obtain it.  They have so little of what this world counts valuable and of worth but they have found something so priceless that they will never trade or lose the pearl of great price.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

70 YEARS ON

70 years ago the war in Europe officially came to an end after six years of horrific bloodshed and slaughter that left millions dead and millions more homeless and displaced.  New borders where drawn across Europe, whole communities were up rooted.  Many who had fled westwards to escape the steamrolling victorious army of Russians, thirsting for revenge, were caught up in all the turmoil. 

Russian Cossacks who had ended up in Austria and had fought with the Germans against the Soviets were forcibly sent back to Russia to face annihilation in the Gulag.  Abortions in the occupied zones of Germany rocketed in 1945 and 1946 as Stalin's army of rapists, as he called them, subjected German women of all ages to atrocious brutality and terror. 

The Nazi death camps had all been liberated and the absolute horror of it all had become known.  The numbers of deaths beggars belief.  The mountains of spectacles, suitcases, and extracted gold teeth speak of families destroyed and lives shattered.  70 years ago the ash filled crematoria no longer belched out black human smoke and the gun fire and bombs had finally stopped.  The church bells began to ring again across Europe as they did in the UK this weekend.

Throughout April and May we have been driving east across Europe.  We started by going through Holland, where the bulbs were again blooming that 70 years ago had been eaten by the starving Dutch.  This year we saw hundreds of Dutch people at a Fatherheart conference filled with the love that comes from God embracing their German neighbours and celebrating that they are sons with the same Father.

We drove across Germany having been with German people who have risen above the national shame that defined postwar Germany and rejoiced in the new hope that they have, that their nation has a true Father and their real Fatherland is in their hearts.  

We spent two nights in Berlin.  We saw the ruined Church that stands as a memorial to the destruction of the city by the cascades of American and British bombs that carpeted Berlin and by the onslaught of the Red Army. The city 70 years ago was a colossal pile of rubble and broken lives. Today it is a vibrant capital to a reunited nation. Yet I could not help but think of the awful consequences that ordinary Germans were facing all those years ago in Berlin.

We continued east crossing rivers that I had only heard about from history, the Elbe, the Oder, on into the east, into Poland.  We met Poles whose grandparent's had fought in the courageous but fruitless Warsaw uprising against the Nazi occupiers. We heard how they pleaded for help from the Russian armies across the river Wistulla, to the east of the city, but who heartlessly watched as Warsaw burned and who did nothing to help. We met one young woman whose grandfather survived the uprising only to be captured by the Nazis and sent to one of the death camps.  Warsaw has been beautifully rebuilt and restored but the scars are still in family memories. 

We stayed in a hotel overlooking the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto that had housed 400,000 Jews before they were sent to the camps for the final solution.  The streets are now renewed and filled with cafes and businesses but the trams still roll past where they once stopped to be filled with thousands of people.  Where shattered lives and families were torn apart as they were shipped off in cattle trucks all those years ago.  We had spent a week with 21st Century Poles and Russians who embraced each other and celebrated that they now see that they have the same Father.  They were young representatives of two nations that had so suffered, nations where there is still fear and suspicion but here were a few showing the way forward.  I felt such hope in my heart.

Today we head south through Poland.  We are going to Krakow, where once a German businessman saved over a thousand Jews from annihilation.  Oscar Schindler had a factory there in the 1940s.  Then we head for Slovakia but will stop on the way at perhaps the most notorious place in Europe, a name that speaks of the total depravity of the human heart.  We will stop at Auschwitz.  We will pause to mourn, to remember, to honour and weep no doubt.   But we will also give thanks that as one inmate of Bergen Belsen once said.  "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."  Betsie Ten Boom encouraged her sister Corrie with these words amid the horrors of the camp.  Corrie survived to tell her tale in the book she wrote, "The Hiding Place."

As Europe celebrates 70 years on, I wonder what we have learned from the past.  Not a lot, I fear.  Europe has had its ongoing wars in the former Balkans.  Russian rockets rain down on Ukraine and former communist Eastern Europe fears the start of another cold war.  Genocide still blights our world in the Middle East and Africa.  What have we learned?  

I have learned that nationalism can be a deadly disease, that reconciliation is possible, that hearts can change, that forgiveness for the most horrific deeds is possible.  I have seen Russians, Poles, Germans, Dutch and British embrace one another as they discover their true identity as God's sons and their true brotherhood in Christ, filled with his love, building relationships with each other.  This gives me great hope.

Friday, 6 March 2015

21ST CENTURY LONDON, MULTICULTURALISM, MISOGYNY AND REAL FAMILY.

I recently spent a week based in Colliers Wood in South West London.  The occasion was a Fatherheart Ministries A School, the first in London.  The event was hosted by Oasis Church which is a large church by British standards. There were about 450 people in attendance at the Sunday morning service.

The meeting was a vibrant life filled service.  I was impressed by the multicultural make up of the congregation.  The Pastor and his wife are Nigerian.  Looking across the crowd during the worship there were people of every shade and ethnic background. There were people from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe and the Pacific Islands.  I asked about the ethnicity and cultural background of people and over 50 nations are represented in the church. They were all sitting together alongside each other with a comfortable ease that spoke of being at home with each other.

At various points in the service participants from diverse backgrounds were involved. There was a moment when members who had lost loved ones in recent days were prayed for by those around them. There was one white English family, a black English family, an Asian family and an African family.  Two recently engaged young couples both of Afro Caribbean origin were introduced and celebrated. Then an elderly Indian couple were applauded on achieving their 40th wedding anniversary.  Finally a family from Pakistan were introduced who were set apart that morning to lead a new Urdu speaking congregation that was going to meet every afternoon as part of the church.  The worship band was made up of whites and blacks.

I found myself weeping for joy at this wonderful celebration of diversity.  More to the point this was London in the 21st Century.  This church was modelling something very remarkable. It was not politically correct multiculturalism but it was the family of God.  People from "every tribe and nation" coming together as a family.  This is what made me weep for joy.  It was family.  There was such an ease about it all.  

The church has for many years taught that God is our true Father and here it was being expressed as these people worshiped, celebrated, laughed, prayed and danced together in God's presence.  There was a palpable sense of his presence among us. I was deeply touched by this.  When I got up to preach I looked out across the rows of muticoloured eager faces that looked expectantly towards me. It was as much as I could do to stop crying. Thankfully Linda opened up with greetings and introductions while I got my self together emotionally.  

As we move around and work in different nations month by month, we are so conscious of the diversity of cultures. We have noticed too that sometimes there are aspects of cultures which are deeply protected but are in fact quite controlling and unhelpful. Sometimes customs practiced by cultures hide all manner of cruel and divisive behaviours that should not be celebrated or encouraged. One such example is the way women are treated in some cultures. The misogyny, the hatred of women, that is at the root of some of these practices cannot be celebrated or protected.

On the FHM A School in the following week. The issue of misogyny was addressed and the men present stood and apologised to the women for the way we have abused and misused women all through history and all over the world.  This had a profound impact on a number of the women present from British to African backgrounds. 

Towards the end of the day two young women from East Africa stood and shared how this had affected them very deeply.  All their lives they had feared men and could not lift up there heads and look men in the eye. They came from a culture where men are domineering and physically abusive of their wives and daughters.  On this day these girls spoke and testified to the sense of freedom that came to them as the men repented.  One said as she spoke that for the first time in her life she could look men in the face without fear.  It was a very special and healing moment. This freedom is rooted in the fact of the loving Father who declares us his sons and daughters.  This was not multiculturalism it was family, the family of God in operation.



Thursday, 22 January 2015

AUSTRALIA DAY, WAITANGI DAY AND NEW DAY

Today is the last day of our summer holiday.  We have been in Queensland, Australia with our daughter and her family for ten days.   We will sadly miss the Australia Day anniversary next Monday which celebrates this country and its culture.  If we lived here I guess we would call it Straya Day and celebrate with a few snags thrown on the barbie on the beach in the arvo!

This morning we stopped by our daughter's place of work at the University of the Sunshine Coast.  How can anyone seriously think about studying and working at a uni with such a beautiful sounding name? While there we saw a group of students relaxing before going to their classes. 

These iconic Australian creatures were everywhere in the campus grounds. The collective noun for a group of kangaroos is a mob, but this sounds more like a group of British soccer supporters to me.  Interestingly, the nick name for the national football team of Australia is the "Socceroos" so maybe mob is a good group name for them.  They are currently doing quite well in the Asian championships.  I have noticed that Australia has some very interesting expressions.  I heard recently a wonderfully quirky Australian saying that describes someone who isn't blessed with a lot of common sense.  It describes them as  "Having a roo loose in the  top paddock."  You just need to see a mob of roos bouncing around a field to visualize this.

The week before last we had some time with our other daughter and her family in Auckland, New Zealand and amongst other things visited the Treaty grounds at Waitangi where we witnessed a Maori cultural show. 
This was a place of great significance in the founding of New Zealand and the desire for partnership between the indigenous peoples and the European settlers. New Zealand's national day in February is called Waitangi Day

All these things were part of the wonderful rest time we have had since Christmas with our family down under. Now we are looking forward to seeing the rest of our family in the UK next month.

So tomorrow we start the journey again as we leave Australia and fly east across the Pacific Ocean to the USA for the first of the Fatherheart Ministries A schools that we will be leading this year. This is just outside Charleston in South Carolina hosted by New Day Church.  The year ahead is going to be busy with a steady flow of Fatherheart Schools and events in 14 different countries.  We eventually return to New Zealand in November.

We have taken time out recently to review the life we lead, the ministry we are involved in and how it unfolds and have felt that we are still walking and living in the grace of God to do this.  One of the clues we have looked for is, does this ministry and way of life bring us joy? Is it fun?  Undoubtedly there are costs emotionally, physically and financially and moments of great challenge, but over all we continue to so enjoy this journey and sense the Father's blessing and hand upon us.  We have received many, many encouragements from friends in all sorts of ways.  There have been expressions of support and love that  have on occasion overwhelm us.  We feel a sense of great privilege as well as joy in this journey as we continue to walk with Jesus depending on our Father as we share his love with this world. 

Thanks for reading my intermittent Blog.   Feel free to follow our journey on the Comings and Goings Pages above and if you want to receive regular news from us send us an email and we will add you to our mailing list.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

CHRISTMAS - 2000 YEARS AGO, 200 YEARS AGO AND THIS YEAR - IN NEW ZEALAND

We are spending Christmas in New Zealand again this year.  We are with the Auckland branch of our scattered family in the beautiful seaside town of Pauanui on the Coromandel Peninsula.  Spring was late this year in New Zealand.  As a result we have the joy of being surrounded by a forest of trees that grow beside the sea all around the northern part on New Zealand. 



These trees are called pohutukawa and are affectionately referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree. They are called this because they bear masses of flowers that are bright red with a yellow touch on the end of each bloom.  They make a stunning seasonal display every year but are usually over by mid December.  So this year being late they are beautifully covering the shores and slopes of the hills that drop down to the sea.



We all know that Christmas is a time of giving which is almost a cliche now. Yet this year we have really seen this in a number of ways.  Our daughter, doing a big pre Christmas shop in an Auckland supermarket, was approached by the manager who presented her with a beautiful huge Christmas ham.  This has been cooked and in the process of being consumed!

Also Linda and I have been on the receiving end of a well orchestrated plot over the last two months involving many friends around the world who clubbed together and have given us a very generous gift to bless and encourage us.  Our friends in the UK 'skyped' us and announced that they had some good news to give us which would bring us great joy!  It certainly was a huge blessing and a great encouragement to us. We don't know who was party to this collection so if you are reading this and you were. Then thank you so much.  There was obviously a lot of joy in the planning of this gift as well as in the receiving of it. 

This brings me to the other good news which brings great joy to all men.  The Christmas message itself is really good news of the joyful plan in God's heart.  He sends his son into our world to bring us, like lost and orphaned children back home to him.  He sent angels to announce this news. This is really tidings of great joy.


This Christmas is the 200th anniversary of the first time this good news was preached in New Zealand.  There are many celebrations across the country involving the "People of the Land" - the Maori and also Pakeha - the rest of us.  Maori means normal and Pakeha means strange which certainly is a perspective.   The first good news preacher was Samuel Marsden, a member of the Church Missionary Society, an Anglican mission from Great Britain.  He had been invited by the local Maori chief, Ruatara, whom he had met in New South Wales.  Marsden encouraged and supported by local Maori preached the gospel on Christmas day 1814. His message was based on the verse "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy." The message of the angels to the shepherds at the first Christmas.  The good news was preached on a beach in Northland on Christmas day under the pohutukawa trees dripping red with the beautiful blossom.


I have the privilege too on the first Sunday after Christmas to preach in a little church on the coast of New Zealand surrounded like Marsden by pohutukawa trees, and I'm going to preach on the same verse. I do like a sense of history!   A joy-filled and blessed Christmas to you too.