Saturday, 1 December 2012

ORAMA, I.N.S. AND GETTING A SUN TAN OR NOT.

Orama means 'vision' and it is the name given to the centre we have been staying at for the last three weeks on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand.  The reason we are here is to teach at the three month long school run by Fatherheart Ministries called Inheriting The Nations School, INS for short.  For three months the students have been sharing in an experience together of studying, resting, enjoying the natural environment and drinking deeply of the amazing love of God as their Father.



Great Barrier Island is about 90 kilometres off the east coast of New Zealand and acts as a barrier from the storms of the South Pacific Ocean that batter Auckland and the Gulf of Hauraki from time to time.  This is the third such school we have been part of.  About 65 students have come from 16 different countries to invest three months of their lives in going deeper into the revelation of the Father's love. The major focus of the school is to explore the Father's love for the nations of the earth and for people to look at nations that he may have put into their hearts.  The very fact that so many nations are represented at the school adds to the dynamic of the school.  To meet and talk with people from all over the world is a huge privilege.  It is an amazing coming together of cultures as diverse as Finland and China, the USA and the Netherlands. What happens as much as anything else over the course of the three months is that people from these vastly different cultures and life settings grow together into a community that begins to really connect and appreciate each others differences and celebrate our communality.

Today was a classic example. It was the last Saturday of the school and the weather was great, bright and sunny but with a typically brisk New Zealand wind blowing.  We all went to the most beautiful beach on the Island facing east in to the Pacific.  We gathered in the shade of ancient puhutakawa trees that were just beginning to show their red flowers that soon will drench the northern coast of most of The North Island. They are also called the New Zealand Christmas tree for obvious reasons.  The long lines of breakers rolled ashore onto the golden sandy beach. An aerial bombardment of Australasian gannets decimated a shoal of fish a few metres out in the swell while students of all ages from INS enjoyed the beach. We all culturally responded so differently to the setting. A group from south east Asia heavily shaded from the glare of the sun sat along side northern Europeans exposing as much white flesh to the sun as possible. One group wanting to get lighter another wanting to get darker. A curious cultural reaction.

One thing that all will share in common after three months together at Orama is a sense of vision about the way we see our world, each other and perhaps more significantly than all these, our vision of God as Father.  Many people have longed to "see" God in that they want to experience him and know him and be known by him. This is a legitimate longing.  In the tranquility of a place like Great Barrier Island it is easy to encounter and experience him in nature and beauty. At Orama there has been also an opportunity to get to encounter him and experience him loving us in a very tangible and personal way. For many it has been life changing.  Their vision is bizarrely of the Father's back!  Following him, keeping in step with him and going where he goes, doing what he does and saying what he says, just like Jesus did.  Pretty good vision really.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

BEN AND JERRY'S, A VON TRAPP AND A REAL HUNGER AT HUNGER MOUNTAIN CHRISTIAN ASSEMBLY

Vermont is full of surprises. This was our first visit to the state. It turned out to be too brief and we are looking forward to going back again next year.  We had been there a week for a Fatherheart School and each day brought new surprises.  First there were the autumn colours disappearing fast as the week progressed and as the wind blew them away. We did get to drive up to the hills on the first Sunday afternoon for a tantalising glimpse of the beautiful surroundings.  Then there were the many tourist attractions that were on offer which will have to wait for next time. Ben and Jerry's Ice cream was founded and created just down the road from where we were staying. Alas we didn't get to take the tour and the obligatory tasting that is involved.

There was also the famous Cabot cheese factory and store, Green Mountain Coffee, maple syrup, cider apple donuts, the list goes on and on.  This is the perfect place for a foodie like me. We visited the von Trapp family lodge, the home of the Sound of Music von Trapps who fled to Vermont at the beginning of the war.  So much to see, too little time.

The reason we were in Vermont was to lead a week long encounter called a Fatherheart School. This was hosted by Hunger Mountain Christian Assembly. An interesting name for a church.  We have been involved in twelve of these school this year and this was the last of the year for us. The purpose of these schools is to teach and encourage people to have a personal experience of God as a Father loving them.  This is not as a one off thing but a life long relationship.  Many are on this journey already but some do not know God as a Father for many reasons. Sometimes it is because of hard experiences they have had in their lives especially if their relationship with their own father has been difficult. These are issues that are raised and looked at during the week.  Many people report that these have been times of incredible healing personally and in their family relationships.  They are often described as life changing.  The places where we will be leading these schools next year can be found on our Comings and Goings page at the top.

This week was no exception. It was accompanied by lots of laughter and joy when people start to discover the freedom they have as being God's sons and daughters.  In the middle of the week there was an open night when many came to get a taste of the schools. Among these was an elderly member of the von Trapp family. She seemed to enjoy the sound of the music too.

Friday, 19 October 2012

NEW ENGLAND IN GLORIOUS FALL COLOURS



I was not expecting the drive to State College from Newark, New Jersey to be so memorable. It was in fact spectacular.  The Fall colours which are legendary, were in just about the height of their glory. I was completely taken by surprise. I have seen autumn colours in the UK and New Zealand and they are very beautiful.  However this was something else.  It was mile after mile of fabulous breath taking magnificence.  

Hyperbole is inadequate here.  For mile after mile every hillside, valley and river bank, was covered in masses of colour. Each turn of the road revealed another amazing view of golden tones and hues.  There were almost every variation of the pallet from yellow to purple, there were golds and russets, reds and browns and colours I have no name for. The colours demanded description but they also defied it. Each tree, normally subsumed and lost in the vastness of wilderness and forest, seemed to be displaying itself individually in its final shout of joy before withdrawing into its winter rest. Each one was distinct in colour or shape.  I felt that each one was displaying the glory of its creator.  Red shouldered hawks flew overhead and an occasional groundhog appeared to survey the passing traffic.

It was truly awesome.  I use that world deliberately. As I drove each turn of the road invited another gasp of beauty.  Beauty is something that our hearts crave and rejoice in when we encounter it particularly in nature.  It was indeed awesome.  Awesome is an adjective that should be reserved for God since he alone is awesome. It means something that calls forth awe and wonder, that stops us in our tracks and causes us to contemplate the absolute incomparable greatness of our God in whose presence we feel so small and insignificant.  The awesome presence of God filled my heart as I encountered the beauty of the scenery along the road. Beauty points our hearts to the Father if we let it.  We have a choice when confronted by awesome beauty. We can photograph it, celebrate it and move on or we can try to capture it, savour it and celebrate beauty’s origin which comes from the master craftsman of the universe God our Father.  He seems to delight in the delight that beauty brings to us.  I felt so loved by him as I drove.  I put a favourite CD on and turned up the volume and sang at the top of my voice.  It was such a great drive!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

MORNING GLORY

One of the signs of getting older is shorter nights I've decided.  I find I am increasingly waking up earlier in the mornings such as today, 5.30 am and I'm up. Ive been on Facebook, answered overnight emails and now I'm writing a post on the blog.  Added to that it's my birthday and its a big one!  I should be really laying in bed and just enjoying.  But I'm actually enjoying being up.  I like the quiet of the early morning.  I occasionally get to see a lovely sunrise as a result.   This one was taken in August from the beach in Zanzibar where we were having a a couple of days break before starting a Fatherheart A School on the main land in Tanzania.   These early mornings are so often times of reflection for me. I know that doesn't work for everyone but they do for me!  

I'm finding that there is great benefit in just sitting and being. After I've done the emails and things and made a cup of tea, there is time in the early morning to sit with my Father.  We don't often say much to each other.  We are just aware that we are together.  I am conscious of his presence. The peace that comes from knowing he loves me and delights in me simply because I am his son is wonderful.  I don't have to do anything to make him love me. This morning the words of a song that comes straight from his heart are flooding my mind.  "Quit trying to please me. Stop beating yourself up. My heart is full of love for you.......then it talks about living in the unforced rhythms of grace. It's by Godfrey Birtill.   It is not that I want to be on my own or I'm tired of people it is more about sitting and resting, gazing, reflecting and wondering at the beauty of the world, the greatness of God, his unwavering love for us and the sheer joy of being in his presence. This is no great surprise nor is it a great new discovery. People have known this for centuries.  However I'm really only just learning it after 60 years!  Better late than never.

Here is the link to the song if you want to listen to it.

http://youtu.be/e9uLzN1elks

Sunday, 29 July 2012

MTO MOYONI UGANDA - RIVER IN THE HEART



On the banks of the River Nile, about 2 kilometres from the source of the Nile as it flows out of Lake Victoria, in Uganda, is Mto Moyoni.  It is a retreat centre literally on the banks of the river. The beautiful gardens stretch down from the collection of bandas, that make up the accommodation, right to the waters edge.  It is a haven of peace.  
To get here involves a rather challenging journey from Entebbe International Airport through the sprawling jumble of modern Kampala which has no understanding of town planning or roads suitable for modern Africa. On a good day it takes about three hours. The senses are assaulted in every way on the journey. Noise, traffic, pollution, crowds of people, animals tethered by the road, women carrying every conceivable bundle on their heads, bicycles loaded with produce and firewood. Bodas (motorcycles taxis) carry whole families, trucks billowing out filthy exhaust,  pot holes that you could lose a bus in, police road checks, convoys of official vehicles roaring down the middle of the road at high speed amid sirens and blue flashing lights, this is modern day Uganda.
On arriving in Jinja we turn off the main road into a side road, then on to an unpaved road into fields and scattered houses. Suddenly we are there at the gates of Mto Moyoni. We pass through a bougainvillea covered arch into the tranquility of the retreat centre.  The centre has been built and is operated by our friends Ingrid and Winette, two dutch women who have been here for many years.  
Mto Moyoni means "river in the heart" in Swahili and expresses the vision these ladies have. They run courses and seminars called Transformation weeks and Fatherheart Encounters. They also make the centre available for people needing rest and relaxation. We are here to lead a Fatherheart Ministries School with 40 people from all over Uganda.  

This is arguably one of the most beautiful places where we have led schools. It is set spectacularly  amongst God’s other book.  In the ten days we have been here I have seen over forty different species of birds from the gloriously dramatic  fish eagle to the eccentrically named red-cheeked cordon blue, which is a tiny, wren sized, blue bird with a red spot on the side of its head.  Troops of red tailed monkeys regularly swing through the garden on their way up river to raid a local village’s gardens. Otters can be seen swimming along the banks of the river and there are even occasional sightings of seriously venomous cobras.
The people that come here have stories of lives of hardship and trauma that are typical for so many in this blighted land once called by the Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill. It is a land torn by years of dictatorship, of rebels kidnapping children and turning them into child soldiers, of every family being touched by HIV and Aids. 60% of the population are literally orphans and 75% are under 25 years of age.
During the week many encountered the Father’s love. One girl, raped only a few weeks ago and now pregnant came ready to kill herself. She left with new hope and trusting her Father to care for her and the precious life she carries within her. Another young man, who announced himself at the beginning of the week as an orphan, left knowing he was a son of his heavenly Father. On the last day he celebrated his 23rd birthday. The first time he had ever celebrated it.
The river of God’s love is flowing in Africa. The transformations weeks continue and the Father encounters. In January there is a month long youth school which will include ex child soldiers and street kids.   For more information about Mto Moyoni, here is the link to their website.  New Website

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Floating on a glassy sea.

The Waddenzee wasn't exactly on my radar to be honest.  Actually I had never heard of it before January this year.  Now I am a seasoned seafarer on that particular sea, too many seas but never mind.


It all began last January when Linda and I were walking along the lake shore of Lake Taupo one glorious summers afternoon.  As we walked and talked a two masted sailing ship full of tourist glided past.  I gazed at it and said to Linda, "I'd love to go on a proper sailing ship one day."  We joked about putting it on our bucket list - that list of things you would like to do before you die.  The problem with a bucket list is that as you tick them off as having done them you have to think of more things to do.  I am a great believer in living life to the full and I think we stop growing when we stop having adventures and challenges.


Anyway, about two weeks later we got an email from some dear friends in The Netherlands asking us if we would like to join them on a Fatherheart Sailing Holiday on the afore mention but hitherto unknown to me, Waddenzee. What is more it would be on a three masted clipper called the Noorderlicht. This means Northern Lights in Dutch which incidentally also figures on my bucket list.


Seven months later there we were standing on the quay at Harligen in the Netherlands about to step into another adventure.  The ship was about 50 metres long and slept 40 people, all like us, land lubbers who couldn't tell their port from their starboard, stern from the bows or belaying pins from their hair pins.  It was a very jolly group.  The weather turned out to be stunning. Just enough wind to fill the sails and not enough to turn us green.


For five days we sailed between the islands and around the sand banks. We stopped at beautiful little ports, sang sea shanties while we hoisted the sails, quoted lines on a very calm day from the Ancient Mariner about painted ships on a painted sea and had a fabulous time.  The pace of life slowed, the phones didn't ring, there was no internet on the ship.  Bliss.


Added bliss was contributed by Koos and Georgine's wonderful food, prepared each day with loving care and visual flare. Each meal was a feast for the senses, something Georgine believes is very important as she brings the love of God the Father into her everyday life.


Each day we shared from God's two books, the Bible and creation.  On two occasions I preached among the sand dunes on Vlieland and another time in a grassy field surrounded by trees.  Many of us encountered the Father's love in a new and fresh way.


As the week ended and we moored alongside the quay again, I wandered about my bucket list. I decided that there was something on the list that would be the biggest adventure of all. It will mean I have reached the end of my list. It is to go home to my Father, that step from these shadowlands, as CS Lewis calls them, this temporary transient life, to the true and the real which is life in eternity with Him. Tolkien, the close colleague and friend of Lewis also saw the reality of this in Lord of the Rings. There is the poignant time of the passing of the Elves, taking ship, along with Bilbo at the Grey Havens to the Islands across the sea.  For all of us there is poignancy in the passing from this existence in our fallen broken and shadowy world to the better, richer, brighter reality that is to come. The wonderful thing for us who know God is that we have already begun that journey.


For me this is the greatest adventure of all.



Monday, 14 May 2012

La Dolce Vita - parading in the Piazza Ducale.

Sitting in the Piazza Ducale, in Vigevano, Italy can be extremely self indulgent. The whole experience is an assault on the senses. It is a veritable feast of Italian life and culture.

For the antipasti, (starters), there is the richness of the architecture. The Piazza is said to be the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing in all of Italy after San Marco, Venice. It's proportions are 1:3 apparently, which is difficult to see unless you are an architect. However it is undoubtedly pleasing to the eye and balanced in its aspect with the Duomo at one end and its colonnaded walkways, providing shade and protection from the weather, on the other three sides.

Next in the feast comes il primo piatto (the first course) which undoubtedly must be the cafes and gelateria, that jostle for attention and offer invitations to share the delights of fabulous ice cream, aromatic coffee and if, like me, you love the distinctive combination of the two that the Italians have created, an affogato, then it must be close to heaven on earth.

Cafes provide the perfect vantage point for il secondo piatto, (the main course), of the experience which is people watching. Italy is a country where parading to watch and be watched has become an art form. Groups of fresh faced young Montagues and Capulets loudly strut like cockerels in 21st Century uniforms of designer jeans and shirts, displaying carefully sculptured combs.  Modern day Juliets saunter casually under the arches on four inch high heels that miraculously avoid the cracks in the paving stones as they pretend not to notice the glances from passing Romeos.

Immaculately dressed and coiffured ladies are seated at cafe tables placed strategically for the best views. They gossip animatedly together amid a flurry of gestures that add depth and feeling to their exchanged stories, all the while keeping their eyes open for passing fashion disasters that add spice to their enjoyment of the main course. An obviously pregnant new bride with her husband, posing for photos in the centre of the Piazza, give them the perfect opportunity to savour the moment. One group of elderly men propped up on their bicycles at the end of the piazza appear to be discussing the latest crisis in the Italian economy by the look of their serious chiseled faces.

Then i dolci (the dessert course).....what to finish and conclude a delightful but brief visit to Italy? Perhaps something a little bitter sweet?  The memory of leaving Italy 29 years ago feeling that we had unfinished business still in the land we felt called to.  Returning as we have this time after so long a gap to speak at a church conference in Vigevano has been healing and refreshing and brought a sense of closure to that time.  I sensed the presence of God in the meetings, loved the whole experience and wondered what our life would have been like had we stayed and not returned to England.  I feel happy and satisfied, grateful and content.  I also wonder if there are still new things on the menu to discover in this land in the future. We shall have to wait and see what God our Father opens up. What is needed now is a siesta.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Birtill and Baxter (Kruger) hanging out together.

A couple of weeks ago we dropped into a Partners in Harvest event in Hemel Hempstead, UK. We met loads of friends but in literally, the last five minutes we ran into Willie and Mandy, great friends from Brockton.  We share lots with them but recently I introduced them to C Baxter Kruger. Now they are hooked too. In our brief chat they asked if we had heard Godfrey Birtill's latest Album "The Wine is Alive". Willie dashed to the car and ran back and thrust a very well played CD into my hands.  His said to me, "You will love Track 3!"  I have been playing it ever since. It's excellent.  It's like Birtill and Baxter have been hanging out together and inspiring each other.

The whole album sings truth and lifts us above so much of our miserable pleading that we call Christian worship, begging God to show up as if he isn't with us already.   It is a mixture of styles and may not appeal to everyone but the words, oh the words are great.  The track that Mandy and Willie really liked is called "It's a wonderful dance!". This song is all about the dance-like relationship of love that exists in  the trinity which we are included in too because we are in Christ.  Here is video of just track 3.


Enjoy!  I did.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bed number 34 and still enjoying it.

We are at the end of another memorable visit to the US. We packed for wintery - spring like weather especially as we were going to be in Pennsylvania in March and Minnesota in April, but in the end we have not had one day below 70F (that's about 21c). We have dragged a load of cold weather clothes with us and not needed them.  It's been wonderful!

We have seen Father pour his loving heart out all over the place and it has been fabulous to behold.  All sorts of surprises along the way too. We are continually asked how we cope with the traveling and the continual change of place, pace and beds, we were in number 34 last night since January.  Sometimes we are asked in such a way and in a tone of voice that suggests that the expectation is for us to respond with a sigh and a sagging of the shoulders that implies "We are suffering for the Lord"!  My response is always, "We love it! We are having the time of our lives!"

In the past I have had the belief that serving God somehow had to be serious business, hard work and certainly not enjoyable.  I met a lady once in a hotel foyer in Kiev who was giving out tracts. I said I didn't need one as I was a Christian. I wished her well and said "Have fun!"  She looked at me with a very shocked expression and said "Young man (I liked that bit) I am here to serve the Lord, not have fun."  When we live like orphan hearted servants we tend to think that it is all work, has to be hard and full of suffering and certainly not frivolously enjoyable.  Since having discovered my true identity as a son to my heavenly Father,  I've also discovered that serving him is so much more fun than I had imagined.  He takes delight in us, he loves his children to work with him on his projects and he carries the load and we get in the yoke alongside him. He takes the strain, pulls the plough and is so happy we are alongside him in it.  It has transformed my understanding of serving him.

Serving has been my default setting for years and I'd retreat into it because my significance was there.  Now my significance is in Him as his son and serving is so much easier and more fun because I'm doing it with him, not for him.  He plans the job and I get to do it with him.  It's not that sometimes it isn't hard, or there is a cost and sometimes there is suffering along the way, but the joy is amazing. It was said of Jesus, "for the joy set before him endured the cross".  So that is what this means.

So how do we cope with the traveling?  Have a guess!!!




Friday, 6 April 2012

T G I Friday indeed!

We have stopped en route from Minneapolis to Florida at Atlanta Int Airport. This airport is absolutely huge! We have a three hour lay over and it is time for something to eat. As we sit and watch the world go by we are being entertained by a really good small jazz quartet. It is all very civilized and makes for a restful wait. There are lots of places to choose from and we settle on T G I Friday's. As good as anywhere. The food is great and we are just about to leave when the irony of it all strikes me. Today is Good Friday. This is the day when the beloved Son of God bought us back with the price of his life and brought us home to the Father who never stopped loving us and waiting for us. Thank God it's Friday indeed.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A special day. Feb 29th 2012

Today is a very special day for Linda and me, but also especially for Linda.  Today she is 60 years old and also celebrating her 15th birthday as she is a leap year baby being born on February 29th. We also celebrate the day 40 years ago when we got engaged. It was at an old church on the marshy coast of Essex in England called St Peter's on the Wall. It stands in the ruined enclosure of the Roman coastal fort known as Orthona built in the fourth century to defend the failing Roman empire from Saxon pirates. Then in about 650 AD the Saxons built this church. 

In 1972 Linda and I stood in that church and I asked her to marry me. We exchanged engagement rings that we both still wear 40 years later.  Now we have been married for 38 years this year.  We have walked together all these years and faced many challenges like most people.  We have grown together over the years. Linda is the love of my life and my best friend, beyond any doubt. Like many we have struggled to come to terms with our own frailty and Linda has supported me when I have failed and when I have stumbled and fallen. She has been been a support and encouragement to me in every way. I do not know how I would have got through sometimes without her. I am so grateful that God brought her into my life. I am such a better man as a result of knowing her and being loved by her.  I celebrate her today. She is like a ruby, red with passion and warmth.

Today we look back over the last 40 years with thankfulness and joy. We have raised three wonderful children each unique and special in their own ways. We are so proud of them and their partners and the seven beautiful grandchildren they have given us. 

We walk today by faith following in our Father's footsteps, having the time of our lives.  Each day is another adventure, each need supplied by a provision from him, each new friend we meet another to treasure.  

Thank you Father for my wife and for all she is and our life together..

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

An evening or two with the author of The Shack

It had been in my diary for some time that William P Young or Paul as he is known, was going to be speaking at a Church in Taupo this week. Paul is the author of the world best seller The Shack. Something like 17 million copies sold to date.

What I hadn't realized was that he would be coming to dinner at the Eden Centre, where we live, for a couple of evenings.  So there we were sitting around the table chatting with the man.  What a privilege.

I have read the reviews on the internet. I have read what some very eminent and influential theologians have said about the Shack. I have wondered why some members of the faith community can become so filled with vitriolic and why they love to strain at gnats.  But that is not new and sadly blights the Christian church and the way we are perceived by the wider world.

 But, I have read The Shack. I read it on a plane flying to the UK from New Zealand a few years ago.  It was difficult because I kept getting odd looks from the stewards and one even asked if everything was okay? This was because I kept wiping my eyes.  It is a profound and life changing book, not just for me but for millions of people around the world.  Millions have discovered that God the Father,  who in the parable that is The Shack, is represented by a black American woman who loves to cook, and here is the point, is actually really fond of us.  Many find it easier to see God being like Gandalf with a bad attitude than a loving Papa who is extremely fond of us.

Paul Young describes his book as a parable. Various  parts represent aspects of Paul's life.  So for example the death of Missy in the story represents Paul's stolen or "murdered" childhood. So what does he mean by a parable?

He said that a parable is not a true story but it uses a story to slip by our defenses and brings truth to our battened down and wounded hearts. This is one of the most significant things about The Shack. It is a parable to our age, to each reader, who like Mack in the book struggles to come to terms with our own great sadness.

The Shack itself represents  the place on the inside of each of us where we hide all our addictions, sadness, pain and secrets.  We hate it. It is a place of devastation for us. When Papa enters our Shack it becomes a place of life, forgiveness, joy, freedom, hope and unconditional acceptance by the One who loves us and has no expectations of us.

It is a book filled with life. It is a book about a loving God who is filled with hope, who really loves all his children.  We are all children who need to know that we are loved unconditionally.

Paul said to us, "I don't care who doesn't like The Shack. My son read it and it transformed his life. That's all that matters". That is just one of millions who have been transformed and have entered into a dynamic, authentic relationship with their true Papa as a result.

I'm looking forward to the next book he is working on. In the meantime I'm carrying on having fun with the Three, Father,Son and Holy Spirit.