Monday, 30 October 2017

MARTIN LUTHER AND THE NEED FOR A NEW REFORMATION

I have been mulling over writing about Martin Luther and the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation for quite some time.  In this 500th anniversary year we have had the opportunity to visit the sites in Germany that are most closely linked to Martin Luther.  I was surprised how "un-touristy" it all was.  I liked Wittenberg and enjoyed listening to a Lutheran service in English in the Castle Church that finished up with a rousing rendition of Luther's great hymn of the Reformation, "A mighty fortress is our God." It was stirring and moving.  The painting by Cranach in Luther's local church where he used to preach, was particularly fine.  It visually described some of the basic tenets of Luther's teaching.

On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther had nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  These 95 statements challenged the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century to question what it means to be a Christian and to reexamine what they believed and taught from a Biblical perspective. 
Much has been written about this in the past and especially this year.  As Luther nailed the statements to the door, the hammer blows echoed around Europe and within a very few years Christianity as it had been known was changed.  Tragically the following years were soiled  by division, persecution and appalling treatment by people claiming that their version of Christianity was the only true one. Thousands were burnt at the stake, tortured and hounded into exile.  Many Christians could not live alongside those who did not think the same as them.  The American colonies became initially a safe haven for many but sadly the divisions were reproduced and multiplied in the new lands across the Atlantic.

There clearly was a great need in the 16th Century for a reforming of the church in a more biblically coherent way.  In my mind it raises the question of  is there a need for reformation today?  Every age and every generation has a challenge to look at what it is teaching and what it presents to the world.  For me the Reformation dictum of "sola scritura" - Scripture Alone has always been important.  The Bible gives us a safe bedrock in which to base what we believe.  However it raises the issue of interpretation.  Saying the Bible alone sounds good but it opens up the whole area of how we interpret what it says, or rather who interprets it.  The Roman Catholic church of the 16th Century said it was the Pope alone who could interpret the Bible.  Protestants disagreed and have argued that all are free to interpret the Bible but within Protestantism there have been endless debates and division based on each other's interpretation.  We have made the Bible a book of academic and theological discussion that leaves most people disinterested.  Indeed today the majority rarely open the Bible or give it a second thought.


It saddens me that there are still people who, through the internet, express disapproval of the beliefs those they do not agree with and condemn them with as much enthusiasm as the Spanish Inquisition did in the past.  

One of the big things that I have discovered in recent years is that the writers of the Bible wrote about what they had experienced first and then put it into words.  Today however, with a so called modern rational approach,  people tend to discount experience and retreat into the mind and an academic dead end.  Luther would have been surprised by this as his great discovery was that salvation was by faith alone which was totally experiential.  In his studies of the Letter to the Romans Luther felt himself reborn.  His reformation began with an experience that  changed him and transformed Christianity.

Today we are seeing the beginnings of a new reformation in Christianity that is beginning to impact the world.  It is based on an experience of God as Father who unconditionally loves us and is for us.  This reformation is beginning to change many across the various expressions of Christianity in the world today.  It is rooted in Biblical Christianity but it begins with not an academic discussion but a revelation of being loved by God himself.

I am longing to see this experience-based approach re form the church today.  I don't long for a first century or sixteenth century version of Christianity.  I long for an authentic, twenty first century, biblically based, love filled, and experiential expression of Christianity. I long for a church where people are individually valued and loved, and are enjoying their Christian life to the full.  I long for a church where the focus of our lives is the trinity of a loving Father, a saving faith in his eternal Son Jesus and an overwhelming experience of his love being poured into us by his life giving and holy Spirit.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

HURRICANE IRMA AND THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD


In the last year we have encountered two hurricanes.   The first was Hurricane Matthew which slammed into South Carolina the day last October before we flew in to Atlanta.  It delayed our arrival by a couple of days and disrupted the event we were due to attend not far from Charleston.

This year was more specific as we landed in Florida for a week of rest and holiday and found ourselves caught up in a mass evacuation of over 6 million people.  We joined the interminable lines of cars heading north and eventually after driving for nearly 18 hours found ourselves in the safety of Orange Beach, Alabama rather than St Petersberg Florida.  We sat on the sidelines of the main event which tore through the Florida Keys, made landfall near where we were meant to be staying and ripped a path up the centre of the state causing billions of dollars worth of damage and flooding many coastal communities. Friends suffered damage to their property and most are still without power.

We met nothing but kindness and help from people all along the way from gas stations to the hotel where we finally ended up. There were many stressed and anxious fellow evacuees staying at the same hotel.  We experienced sympathy, concern and classic southern hospitality which was heart warming.  It confirmed my opinion of America and Americans as being kind, gracious and welcoming if at little parochial at times however as some seemed confused by our accents and why we were there!

We watched the weather channel as the drama unfolded.  We followed posts on Facebook and read comments by many 'religious' people offering advice and direction on how to pray in these circumstances.  The suggestions varied widely.  Some of the advice was wise and sensible.  Some was down right crazy and driven by fear and appalling judgement.   The tragedy of this is that often these rather extreme views are taken as to be representative of all Christians. This has always been an issue and is not new.  This spate of hurricanes, Harvey which hit Texas less than two weeks ago and now Irma which has devastated Florida were both Category 4.  Hurricane Jose is swirling around close to the Bermuda and can't seem to decide where to go. They have caused some parts of the Christian community to rise up in prayer to "rebuke the storm", send it way, meaning 'as far from me as possible and not in my back yard.'  One of the more extreme views found its way into the Washington Post this week.  "We pray that Irma divert from its path toward Miami, and go back out to sea.  We pray in these storms that you will send the hosts of heaven to shred the demonic fury that is driving the coming together of these winds." 

I saw a post not long ago on Facebook which triumphantly proclaimed a tornado had been diverted from its path away from the writer's home because of anointed and powerful prayers.  Then a day or two later the same writer was expressing sympathy for the damage and the destruction in the immediate neighbourhood due to the same tornado that had been "prayed away".  

Back to these hurricanes.  I heard of one group who daily stood on a pier at Jacksonville Beach rebuking the storm and sending it out to sea.  It did the opposite sadly and hit the west coast of Florida which sent a huge tidal surge onto the east coast.  I'm sure there was lots of good intention but I imagine there is also a lot of disappointment now as Jacksonville was particularly badly flooded.

Some people are even claiming, “These hurricanes are not the result of global warming; they are the Judgment of God because of the innocent blood crying to Him for vengeance,”  There are numerous other examples that have cropped up this week.  Even in the terminology of some Insurance companies natural disasters are described as Acts of God.

Are natural disasters the judgement of God, or as some have said, a warning from Him to repent, a way of God trying to get out attention? Bolts of lightening are considered in the same way by many not least Martin Luther who over 500 years ago made avow to become a monk after narrowly missing being hit by lightning.  Earthquakes are similarly viewed. The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti a few years ago was widely believed to be God's judgement on the poorest nation on the planet because of their widespread practice of voodoo.

So what do we make of all this?  Is this the Judgement of God on America and Florida or the tiny islands of the Caribbean?  Why them and not North Korea or Walton on Thames?

The root of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of God and the nature of the world in which we live. When God is viewed through Adam's fallen eyes, he is then seen as a God who people fear and hide from. He is seen as fickle and impulsive in the way he responds to our fearful prayers. He is cruel and arbitrary in his dealings with people.  Man's fallen view of God creates a caricature of him that is driven by our own brokenness and fear.  We live in a world that has been impacted by our fallenness and experiences countless natural phenomena and disasters daily as a result.  Let us look at lightening for a moment.  In the US there are 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year.  1,800 thunderstorms on earth at any given moment, and 100 is the number of times lightning hits earth per second.  Earth is an active place and earthquakes are always happening somewhere.  In fact, the National Earthquake Information Center locates about 12,000-14,000 earthquakes each year!  

As for hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones on average there are about  70 to 110 named tropical cyclones per year across the world, including about 40 to 60 that reach hurricane strength. This range has held remarkably steady within the last 40 years. This is according to University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

So how do we respond to these frequently occurring events? It's not inappropriate to pray but praying within the will of God has always been tricky as often it is our will rather than his that we pray for.  When Jesus' disciple's experienced a potentially life threatening storm on lake Galilee interestingly he was asleep peacefully in the bottom of the boat.  Jesus knew that this was not his time and there was no cause for alarm. However in order to calm the disciple's fears he "rebuked the storm." This is where the rebuking thing comes from.  What does this mean and what happened?  He said, "Stop it!" and it did. It stopped, it didn't divert across the other side of the lake and flood Capernaum, it stopped.  

The apostle Paul got caught up in a horrific Mediterranean storm with hurricane force winds which lasted for two weeks. Paul was not disobeying God, he was living in the will of God for his life but he got caught up in storm. What did he advise? Take all necessary precautions, dump excess baggage, eat a hearty meal to keep strength up, pray, trust God and run before the storm. Seems like good advice.  Finally the boat ran aground on a beach in Malta and every one got saved.  That is a good outcome.

We face daily the challenges of our world. We read in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning waiting for the appearing of the sons of God. We experience that groaning in many ways not least in storms, floods, hurricanes and disasters.  As increasingly the sons of God rise up and step into our inheritance we will see the impact in the people of this world who need to know that God is a loving Father who cares for us and longs for us to find our home and true identity in him.

When the storm comes we step up to the challenges as sons and daughters of almighty God our Father and reach out to our fellow man with all the compassion and comfort that we have received from him.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

AFRICA UPDATE AUGUST 2017

Having just returned from Uganda I thought it would be a good idea to put some photos up and give a pictorial account of the two week trip. 


As many will know the security situation at Mto Moyoni was serious following a spate of burglaries and the murder of the German next door neighbour by thieves who broke into his house.  This created a huge police presence in the immediate area and lots of anger among the local village community who were complaining about lack of police presence in the area generally.
 
We are pleased to say that on our arrival walking in the gates of Mto Moyoni was like walking into an oasis of calm and peace as always.  The staff where relaxed and trusting and very pleased to greet us.  We led a staff retreat one day and shared about the servant heart of sons. This was a wonderful time and we could see that the staff, made up of gardeners, kitchen staff, office staff and housekeepers totally identified with the vision of Mto Moyoni and were living in the revelation that God is their Father.  It was so good to have been with them.

We then held a pastors conference at the youth centre at Mto. This was another great time with open hearts and men and women deeply drinking of Fathers love.  Maggie, one of the Mto Moyoni staff shared and was able to pray the love of the Father over these people. 

At the middle weekend there was a gathering of about 25 people from across Uganda, African and Muzungu (whites) who we have been privileged to get to know over the last 8 years. It was very open and joyful event with a deepening of revelation and love for Father and one another.



The last week was the Fatherheart Ministries A School which welcomed about 50 people, well over half being deaf pastors and leaders.  The other part of the group were all pastors from the region in Uganda of Karamoja.


The Karamajong are a semi-nomadic tribe very closely related to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania.  They are pastoralists( Cattle herders) and live in the north east of Uganda.  They are considered very warlike and different from the rest of Uganda so tend to be despised and feared.  Thus we had two very marginalised groups sitting together and experiencing the love of the Father.


 It was an amazing week.  The level of openness was unlike anything I have ever experienced in Africa or indeed anywhere. 

One of the highlights was the time Philip, a Karamajong pastor who we met in 2009 and was part of the team, shared his testimony.    I was deeply touched by his heart and life, a man who has never had a day in school but had been taught by the Holy Spirit to read and speak English. My heart nearly burst for joy when he talked.  When we shared the Father's embrace with everyone I went to Philip to receive and I was very deeply touched.   The sense of the presence of God was incredible.

It was very good to share the whole time with Ingrid Wilts who runs Mto Moyoni and has lived in Uganda for over 25 years. Also Winette Hubregste who whilst being based back in the Netherlands is still an integral part of the ministry in Mto.  Then for the A school we were joined by Gunnar Dehli who leads Deaf Ministries International and has been a key person in bringing the revelation of the Father into the Deaf community.  Maggie from Mto and Philip were also part of the team

During the week the plans for an A School in South Africa next February 2018 were finalised. We are delighted that Philip and hopefully also Maggie will be joining us on team for that School in Pretoria.  We are looking to cover their flights and costs next year through gifts and offerings.  If you want to help with this here is the link.  Donate towards Maggie and Philips fares.

We are so thankful for the support and encouragement received for this trip. Every thing was covered and we were able to bless  all the pastors by subsidising  and sponsoring them.  
 Thank you for your part in helping us and partnering with us to facilitate this time.