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.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

THIS IS AFRICA!

We have just returned from five weeks in East Africa, that is Uganda and Tanzania. One expression we kept hearing was "This is Africa!"  It is used in all manner of situations and serves to bring a sense of calm and patience in every potential crisis or drama. It works well. It makes you smile when the bus ticket you have been sold turns out to be for the wrong bus. Or the waiter at a restaurant thanks you for finding the piece of metal in the samosa that you have been eating.  Or the police officer, like a child with a new toy, delightedly shows you your picture in the new speed camera they have got and he tells you the fine will be 200,000 shillings.  When the power goes off for the third time in the day or papaya salad appears with no papaya just lettuce, after having been told that everything on the menu is available. This is Africa.

We have been working with our friends Ingrid and Winette who run the retreat centre called Mto-Moyoni which we have visited a number of times. We spent three weeks with them at the centre on the banks of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda.


The first event there was a Fatherheart Ministries B School. This is the second of the week long Schools that we lead and teach.  The B School is about living in our true identity and destiny as sons of God rather than as orphan-like slaves or servants who are not secure in their identity and relationship with God.  As this was a first for me to lead and be the main speaker it raised a number of orphan-like patterns of behaviour not least performance anxiety!!  It's all very well teaching this stuff but living it is what really counts. So it was good and painful at the same time. It gave me time to think about my own issues and provided an opportunity to lean on God my Father more like a son than a servant.


Being in Africa is a great place to be as I get time to think and write. No T.V. and limited internet access is very good for me.  I am aware that the idyllic gardens at Mto are a bubble in the middle of a challenging and troubled land. We visited a town about two hours away called Mbale where we had the privilege of leading a leaders and pastor's conference for three days.  We met a couple there who lead a group of about 30 churches for the deaf in Uganda. This is a very marginalised group of people in Africa. At best the care of the disabled is poor and often very institution based in this part of the world. These people are often viewed as ignorant because of their inability to communicate through speech. Sam and his wife were greatly impacted by the teaching of God being their Father and they then came on to Tanzania and joined us for the full week A School. They were both deeply impacted and received revelation of God as their Father. 

 One of the outcomes is that we have been invited to lead an A School next year for leaders of these deaf churches in East Africa. This is an exciting development and one we
feel very honoured to be involved with this. The plan is that Pastors and leaders will come to Mto-Moyoni from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo and Burundi for the School. We will be looking to raise the funds to enable these pastors to attend as most of them are very poor.

After Mbale we travelled to Zanzibar where we enjoyed a few days on the beach before going to Morogoro in Tanzania for an A School. 

Getting from Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam was 'interesting'.  A delayed flight by the ineptly named Precision Air, meant we were able to go by ferry.  This involved a 2 hours sea crossing in the waters of the Indian Ocean. We managed to secure seats on the ferry which was a great blessing and enabled us to pick up transport in Dar in daylight and got us to Morogoro before it got dark. Travelling at night by bus in Africa is an experience to be avoided if at all possible.  It was fascinating to sit on the ferry and watch a movie. It was very thoughtful of the operators to help us pass the time.  The movie was 'Captain Philips,'staring Tom Hanks. This was a recent Hollywood version of the capture of a ship in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates. Perfect viewing as we passed through the waters surrounded by local boats and skiffs remarkably similar to the ones used by the pirates in the film.  That's Africa for you.

Again it was a significant time at the A School. A number of events conspired to try to derail the school but it went ahead with people being deeply impacted by the Father's love. More connections were made as Father continues to open up doors in East Africa. What was very encouraging was the way Patrick who does most of the translation into Swahili for us taught one of the sessions on the Orphan heart in English and was translated into Swahili by his wife Neckson.  There is a real anointing on this couple and we are thrilled that they and Winette from Uganda will be leading a youth A School for street kids in Dar Es Salaam in December.  Just another step in bringing this revelation of the Father into an African cultural context.

Finally I had time to do some birdwatching and saw 109 different species of birds and also had a day in a game park. So all in all it was a great time, hard work and challenging at times but also a chance to enjoy the wonders of wildlife and birds in Africa.  This is Africa and I love it!

Monday, 28 July 2014

THE NEW BOOK FINALLY! JESUS AND HIS FATHER, also on KINDLE



I am delighted to announce that my latest book is now published and available.

It's been a while in production but is finally here.  It is also now available in a Kindle version.  I have been greatly helped in getting this book published by Tom Carroll at Fatherheart Ministries in New Zealand and Ellie Carmen in the UK.  Without these two people it would not be here. Thank you so much both of you.

I have wanted to write about the revelation of God as Father that Jesus taught for a long time.  I have always been fascinated by the people who encountered Jesus that we read about in the four gospels.

When I was a teenager I wrote a play about some of the characters who appear in the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospels. Surprisingly the Baptist Church where I grew up actually put the play on.  I  recently met a friend, who I had not seen for years, who was one of the cast!  We laughed about that memory when we met.


My fascination with the people who met Jesus and were part of his family was a part of the idea behind this book.  In the book I take a look at who they were as people based on what we read about them in the Gospels, then seek to make them more three dimensional by getting them to tell the reader their stories.  Rather like the play I wrote I use a bit of dramatic licence to help bring these people to life.

The main thrust of the book is to explore the nature of Jesus' revelation of God as his Father and the implications of this truth for each of us.  We tend to read the gospels as historical biography but in reality they were four different accounts of the same events recorded by the gospel writers. They collected their information from in some cases their own personal experience but also from conversations they had with Jesus' family and friends who were eye witnesses to the events described.  The eye witnesses individually would not have seen the big picture. It was the Holy Spirit who superintended the whole process as the gospel writers put all this together in their individual accounts.

What we have is the stunning truth of all truths that God has always been a Father to us.  He has loved us consistently and passionately for all time and his desire has always been to be in a loving relationship with us.  In order to bring us back home, he sent his eternal Son Jesus into our world to show us who the Father is.   Jesus then opens up the way back to his Father through his death on the cross.  When Jesus rose from the dead all the barriers were down and the way back with him to the Father becomes available to all who believe.

You can find out how to get a copy of the book by going to the page at the top of the website.

Friday, 13 June 2014

SAINT GOVAN'S HIDING PLACE

The other weekend we had the opportunity of visiting West Wales. Pembrokeshire to be precise. We had been speaking at a Fatherheart weekend conference and during the time off we had the chance to revisit some of the beautiful scenery of the Pembrokeshire coast.

I first went to Pembrokeshire in the late 1960s on a geography field course and enjoyed walking the cliffs and beaches of one of the most amazing stretches of coastline in the UK.  Returning many years later we went to some places that did not feature in the school curriculum.

One such place was a tiny celtic chapel literally carved out of the side of a cliff on the south coast near St Govan's head. This chapel is named after the same saint who gives his name to the headland. This particular celtic christian man according to legend sought refuge from a marauding band of pirates on this windswept section of coast. He hid in the cleft of the rock so successfully that the pirates could not find him. In thankfulness he decided to build a small chapel there to commemorate his escape from being either killed or enslaved and settled there as a monk.  There has been a chapel on the site for nearly 1500 years ever since.



Visitors wanting to find the chapel today have to make sure that the local military are not firing shells across the ranges as it is now within a military training area. At the top of the cliff there is a steep flight of steps down that enter the back of the rock carved chapel.  Inside it is damp and dark with a tiny window which gives a beautiful view to the adjoining cliffs where sea gulls and fulmars are nesting.  On the high cliffs above a pair of choughs were calling their distinctive metallic calls.

The chapel felt very solid and secure. It was comforting to know that for 1500 years christian people and monks had used this tiny place to pray and worship. I paused inside with my hand on the dank wall to connect with those people.  Places like this give a sense of continuity to faith and the past and people like me of long ago. The place speaks of being a hiding place in the cleft of the rock face where physically and spiritually people find refuge. We don’t often need physical hiding places these days in the western world unlike many people in the Middle East and sub Saharan Africa. In these parts of the world life is dangerous and challenging for many, particularly in those places where civil war and Islamic fundamentalism clashes with traditionally Christian areas.  
We all have a need to find a hiding place from time to time either physically or emotionally or spiritually.  Govan in the sixth century found security in every sense of the word. 

There have been times in my life when I have felt like hiding.  In some cases the need to hide was more a case of wanting to run away from facing situations that are hard and demanding. Equally I have discovered that there are times when the need within is to find that place of rest where we can figuratively hide and find a place of security from the challenges we face.  I have increasingly found that place to be within the loving heart of God as my Father. He holds us and embraces us with his secure loving arms. Whilst this is primarily experienced in a spiritual sense the impact has a very powerful effect on me emotionally and spiritually. It engenders a deep sense of wellbeing that impacts me emotionally spiritually and physically.  The imagery of hiding in a cleft of a rock is a powerful symbol that worked for Govan many centuries ago and still works today when we realise that only God can meet the deep need for a hiding place.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

DRESDEN WORTH REBUILDING.

It's been a while since I have blogged but today I felt one coming on so here it is.  

Tonight we are staying in Dresden and have had a great evening walking through the old city and then had a very Saxon dinner, schnitzel, potatoes and asparagus.  Delicious.   It is a very vibrant city and it was a particularly barmy evening for late April.  It was full of tourists and people looking for somewhere to eat.

Not so the night of 13th February 1945.  That night thousands of tons of high explosives and incendiaries were dropped on the city by the RAF and the USAAF.  Dresden was the ancient capital of Saxony and was a leading European centre of art, classical music, culture and Science. It was not a major military target and it was full of refugees fleeing from the east ahead of the advancing Russian army.  That night a fire storm destroyed the city with 95% of the old historic city centre burnt.  Over 25,000 civilians hiding in cellars and shelters were killed by asphyxiation and burning.  It has long been one of the worst and most horrific events of the Second World War committed by the allies.  

We talked with a group of Germans our age last night about this and we all recognised the horrors of war and the culpability of both sides in events such as the bombing of Dresden. We all agreed that without forgiveness and reconciliation there was little hope.  

Looking at Dresden today the city which had been so beautiful, the pearl in Saxony's crown, has been restored. It is not as beautiful as it had been but the people of Dresden over the last 60 years or so have tirelessly worked at restoring the city.  It will never be what it was. That awful night the Dresden of the past, was destroyed and the people traumatised by that horrific event.  But they have worked hard at rebuilding their city for their children and for others like us to enjoy....us, the children of the perpetrators.  Dresden has arisen from the rubble not as a victim to a cruel event of the past but with the knowledge that what it had was precious and worth saving and rebuilding for future generations.  It has been a long hard process but it was worth it. The city has some of the best of the past restored and added new features.  So it is a new city. The German people of Dresden although traumatised by a brutal event have rebuilt.

It is a great example of courage and resolve. Many of us experience tragedy and trauma visited up on us, sometimes by our enemies but also sometimes tragically by those closest to us.  We, as a result, can loose something precious and valuable.  The challenge for us all is to find the resolve within us to rebuild. We may be able to preserve some aspects of the past but the restoration will create a changed and different future.  When we do this we are securing something of great value for our children to whom we owe the very best we can.  For many this requires forgiveness and reconciliation. Our instinctive desire to punish the perpetrators and squeeze them by the throat in order to make then suffer for what they have done is in the long term counter productive and leaves us putting our energy into bitterness and revenge. In the end this is self destructive and we prolong the agony for ourselves.  When we look at the future and those who will inherit the future, we owe it to them to rebuild out of our own disasters and tragedies, to rise up, find the inner strength to go forward, setting an example of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.

Here is a quote from Isaiah 54 that was given to us many years ago when our lives were almost destroyed by trauma and failure. It sums up this hope.

"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with lapis lazuli. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.

All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace."


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Books and things.

HOT NEWS!!

KINDLE

My book 'Falling from grace into Grace and being caught by the Father'  is now available on Kindle from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.   The original printed version is still available but the Kindle version is updated and corrected as an uncorrected version got sent to printers by mistake!  I'm learning. 

If anyone fancies writing a review that would be good!

DUTCH TRANSLATION

I'm excited to announce that a Dutch translation has been done and we are looking to see it printed and available in late March.  I'll keep you posted.

MY NEW BOOK

I'm really excited to say that my latest book,  'Jesus and his Father, by his family and friends' is in the final stages of production.  We are hoping that this will also be available in the Spring (N. Hemisphere spring that is.)

The book looks at how Jesus reveals his Father through his conversations and encounters with his family and friends.  It 'hears' the stories of Mary, his mother, James his brother, his friends, Andrew and Peter, his Auntie Salome and others.  There are fourteen storytellers who tell of their conversations and experiences with Jesus.  Each one recounts their story in the first person, then there is explanation from me about the revelation that Jesus brought to them. 

ILLUSTRATOR NEEDED.

Can anyone draw Zebras and animals?  I've got a children's book I'm working on that needs some illustrations.  Let me know if that is something you can help me with.