Monday, 5 December 2011

Pyramids and Papyrus.

One of the mixed blessings of getting older is that there are fewer things left to do!  One of my things was to see the Pyramids. That has been now ticked off the list of things to do before I die. But I have added a caveat to this accomplishment. See them properly next time and not from the roof of a rather persistent local's house who really would rather we had paid a lot more money to him and he could then have taken us into the enclosed area at a special rate.... just for you... very cheap...etc etc. Instead we climbed the steps to the third floor roof and had an amazing view across the roof tops of the rambling suburb that is right up against the tourist zone that is the Pyramids and the guarding Sphinx.

A 16 hours stopover on the way back from Tanzania to the UK meant this whistle stop visit to these ancient tombs of the Pharaohs was possible.  We got a taxi from the airport hotel and off we went. Very clear instructions of what we wanted were totally ignored by the driver who preferred to drive through the city centre. Cairo has now topped 25 million people. So the crush of cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, donkey carts and camels has contributed to traffic chaos, exhaust pollution, dust and noise. Every vehicle driver has one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn. The latter is the most employed device. Where roads had two lanes, four vehicles jostled abreast for space, each trying to get an edge ahead of the one behind. The windows are open just in case there was a need to shriek some expletive in Arabic at the one who wins.

We crossed the Nile.  Earlier this year we stood on the banks of the Nile in Uganda at the retreat centre of Mto-Moyoni where we had taught a Fatherheart School in May. This is perhaps 1000 miles or more to the south at the source of the Nile as it flows out of Lake Victoria. Mto-Moyoni means a "river in the heart" and is run by our dear friends Ingrid and Winette. Their desire is that the love of God the Father would flow all through Africa and out into the sea in Egypt. As we looked at the frenetic life on the streets of Cairo I wondered how that would ever become a reality.

Our taxi driver stopped at a authentic "Papyrus Museum".  Free admission, very nice, very good, very clean, very cheap... this last one was the clue. I think it belonged to his cousin who wanted to show us how amazing the production of papyrus is etc. It was. It is. And do you know we could have bought a papyrus picture with our names written in hieroglyphics on it etc. We quickly got the idea. The freely proffered tea was a real sweetener, in every sense.  The taxi driver had lots of cousins in seems all in the tourist industry, all very willing to help us experience the delights of Cairo, all very clean, all very cheap. At the papyrus shop.. opps I mean museum I was shown an Islamic picture which had the 99 beautiful names of Allah inscribed on it. I asked if one of them was Abba.  He said  "No, Allah has no relatives and no sons so how can he be Father?"  I wondered if they know that "Isa - the second prophet after Mohammed" called him Abba all the time and came to reveal him as Abba.  It seemed to me for the river to run through the heart they need to know Abba.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Kilimanjaro revealed.

All this week we have been working in churches and at a World Vision Conference in the N E of Tanzania.  Every place we have been has been on the lower flanks of  Africa's highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro.  I have heard of this mountain all my life and remember watching the old movie called the Snows of Kilimanjaro. I know a lot about this mountain, it is almost 20,000 feet high and is a volcano. It rises above the vast African plains of the Tsavo and Masai heart lands that stretch for hundreds of kilometers in every direction. It has captured the imaginations of countless generations of African tribes who live in its sight.  European explorers, settlers and writers have immortalized it in our psyche. It is shrouded with mystery as much as it is wreathed in cloud.

Arriving at the nearest airport, Kilimanjaro International, I strained to see the fabled mountain from the aircraft as we came into land.  All there was to see were  clouds.   Our hosts greeted us and assured us that the mountain was there, we just needed to look up at the right time.  Each morning I awoke with expectation of seeing the mountain. We had glimpses of the top one day; snowy crags hanging disembodied above, with  swathes of clouds  ringing the lower slopes.   We heard stories of people who had climbed the mountain and reached the summit.  It takes 5 days to get there. The last day climbers rise at 2.00am and reach the summit at dawn. Then they go back down covering in a day what had taken four to get to the top.

Each day the glimpses became more revealing. I began to get and idea of its extraordinary height and I felt its presence. My longing to get a photo and to really see the mountain grew each day.   The reason we are in Tanzania is to speak at a conference with the East African leadership of World Vision. Each day we have been sharing about the love of God who is a Father to us and that we are his sons and daughters. We are speaking about the incredible love that the Father has for us and how he longs for us to come home to him and know him loving us right now. We have had glimpses of his love, but so often our view of him is obscured by the clouds of our own brokenhearted and wounded perceptions of Him, our fear of him, our misconception of him, our tendency to hide from him.  Like the mountain we are longing for glimpses of his reality, to know him and to experience his love for us.

This morning I woke early and went on to the balcony of the room that we are staying in. I looked up to the north in the direction of the mountain and there it was, completely unveiled, bathed in morning light. My breath stopped momentarily in my mouth.  The snow on top gleamed with a compelling invitation. It was calling me to come up, to climb, to embrace the majesty of its awesome power, to experience the mountain.  I was overwhelmed as I stood there because I knew that it was not the mountain but it was the Father who was calling me, who was inviting me and longing to embrace me with his love.  It was God, my true Father, who was drawing me to rise above my brokenness and wounded ways. In that moment I felt again his love for me. It was as if he was showering me in his liquid love and I felt saturated  by his love. I knew in that moment that I am his beloved son and there is nothing I have to do to qualify for his love, he just loves me as I am.  

There was a deep resonance in my heart as more healing flowed into me. There was an all pervading sense of peace and an indescribable joy. Tears of joy soaked my face and hands as I watched the morning clouds gather in a protective veil around the mountain.  But my heart was soaring high above the mountain as I felt the Father loving me.  I know his love is not veiled from us, it is real, tangible and life changing.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Flags and the Rugby World Cup

New Zealand is hosting the Rugby World Cup at the moment. This means the country is in fever pitch and flags are everywhere. Taupo is hosting three teams the Springboks, S Africa's team for the uninitiated, Wales and Ireland. Having a coffee down by the lake we were joined by several Springbok team players the other day. Not that I knew who they where to be honest, they just showed up and fans were snapping photos of them.  We even sat on a plane once with the All Blacks (NZ's fabled team again for the uninitiated.), but it was half through the flight before I realised who they were.  However I digress.  It's the flags that I have noticed.  Everywhere you can see the flags of the various nations being displayed. It has meaning for people. Flags tell you something.

Earlier this year we were in Scandinavia and noticed the flags there too. In Norway at Pentecost, Olav raised a huge Norwegian Flag to celebrate the day. It seemed fitting that the wind of the Spirit was caught symbolically by the flag.  Then in Denmark we celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary and Hans and Bodil raised a huge Danish flag up their 14 metre high pole in our honour. That was very touching.

Malta was covered in flags. Each village displaying a flag of its patron saint. They get the prize for the biggest flags, some the size of tennis courts. Amazing greens, reds and blues. It brightened up the uniformly sandstone colour of a hot and dusty island.  When we arrived in Northern Island it was the Marching Season when again the flags were everywhere. Red white and blue Union Jacks, Orange Order flags, lodge flags. These flags proudly displayed one section of the communities allegiance to the UK. To the other section it seemed to be a provocation and reminder of deep sectarian differences.  Flags mean something. They send a message to those who have eyes to see the meaning.

I've not always seen this before or rather read the message. We have a good friend in Dorset who gets this very clearly. She has made scores of silk, painted banners over the years. She listens to what God is saying to her and paints accordingly. Her banners have gone all over the world now. She believes that by waving them in various locations it sends a message to the unseen spiritual realm. Like all symbols it has meaning.  Pauline's banners have made it to New Zealand. A little church in Pauanui displays and regularly proclaims the presence of God's love and fire by waving a silk fire and river flag, symbolic of the fire of the Holy Spirit and the river of the Spirit that flows from the throne of God. I've seen people fall on the floor under the anointing of the power of God when these flags are waved.  We gave another of Pauline's banners to a group of intercessors in Uganda. Who knows what power this symbol will impart to their prayers and to that nation.

In a few weeks at the final of the Rugby world cup the Eden Park Stadium in Auckland will be full of flags and banners. This bunch of All Black supporters are all expat Brits including Simon (standing) and our daughter Sanna. My guess is there will be an awful lot of black in the crowd.  Go the All Blacks.  There I've said it, I'm turning into a Kiwi, a New Zealander for the uninitiated.


Sunday, 26 June 2011

Danish Pastries, Danish bacon, Sweden and of course Abba.

How different are these two countries and how close! 

I was amazed on crossing the ferry from Sweden that in a short 20 minutes we were in Denmark. Helsignor to be precise, or Elsinor as Shakespeare fans would know it.  Didn’t meet anyone called Yorrik, which is just as well as I am sure I would have made some dreadful puns. Not even a Gertrude or Ophelia but we did meet some great Danes and shared some great food all of a Danish variety. We even got to celebrate the mid summer festival warming ourselves by bonfires along the beach with crowds of people watching  the sun drop into the Kattegat until late into the evening.

The coastal path at Gillilije boasted some memorable spots including one favoured by Soren Kierkegaard who loved to sit and gaze out across the grey sea thinking great and deep thoughts. These mostly eluded me to be honest as I never was much good at philosophy, but we did sit at his bench and like him gaze, think and reflect. “The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about,  nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.”  Nice one Soren!

Then we came across a monument raised by a grateful nation of Israel, to the fishermen of Denmark who smuggled hundreds of Danish Jews to safety in Sweden a few miles across the water in 1943. A sobering moment.

In Sweden we had fun with Abba.  At a conference in Boras the translator was Agnetha and the keyboard player was Bjorn but there was no sign of Benny or Anni-Frid.  The whole weekend we talked about Abba, not the band but our real Abba who loves us with unfailing love.  It is amazing to see lives transformed when they realise that God is not some distant judge with a heavenly ledger weighing us in the scales of his wrath but a loving father who is totally interested in knowing me knowing you, is willing to take a chance on me and says I’ve been waiting for you.  He is a real Abba.

To quote Kierkegaard again, "God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners."

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Island Hopping in Paul's footsteps, in the Med

Visiting two Mediterranean islands, both separate countries, in two weeks is a form of island hopping that I hadn't planned on. But on this journey following in our Father's footsteps that is just what we have done. Cyprus and Malta. One in the east off the coast of Turkey and Syria which is Cyprus and the other Malta, smack bang in the middle, 65km off the coast of Sicily and close to Libya.  Both islands strategically placed between Europe and the Middle East.

Linda and I have never been to either place before but we had heard about both places.  The reason for going to these islands was to lead conferences and teach on the revelation of the Father's love.  We discovered that we were also staying in places that the Apostle Paul had visited nearly two thousand years ago.  We stayed in Paphos on the western end of Cyprus where Paul had preached and planted a church.  According to the legends and tourist books there is a ruined church where there is a stone pillar which reputedly Paul was tied to and whipped at. The fact that the stone was apparently brought to the island in the 3rd Century AD seems to have been overlooked.  But it was amazing to be sharing the love of the Father and quoting the writings of Paul in a place where he preached.  I was delighted to be able to preach the same message about the amazing love that the Father has for us and echo his prayer that we would know this love that surpasses knowledge and be filled to the full measure of the fullness of God.  Knowing this love is experiencing the Father loving us as a reality in the present not just intellectually.

On Malta we discovered that we were back with Paul at the tail end of his life when he was ship wrecked on the Island of Malta. There is a bay called St Paul's Bay where he reputedly came ashore. There are catacombs linked to Christians on Malta and named after Paul.  Interestingly both places, Paphos in Cyprus and Mdina in Malta, the chief men of the city where he visited, became Christians.

There is an ancient Christian heritage in these Island. In spite of this the contemporary churches in the islands have not had much of an encounter with Father's love in the way that we have seen this spreading around the world. So it was a wonderful privilege to be able to minister this to groups of hungry people longing for an encounter with God as their Father.

We are enjoying following in the footsteps of our Father, going where he goes and surprisingly like many tourists and pilgrims have enjoyed following in the steps of St Paul in the bargain.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Snows of Kilimanjaro...well, almost.

Africa continues to fascinate and challenge me.  Three weeks, three East African countries, all so different.  We were in Uganda for the first week at Jinja overlooking the river Nile teaching an Fatherheart A School. Then a week later we were in Tanzania to teach another Fatherheart school about the love of the Father. In between was an overland  road trip across Kenya that took 5 days. Five of us in a Landrover. Ingrid, Winette, Mark and us two. The Swahili word for a journey is safari!!  Well our safari took in the Kenyan Highlands where they grow tea; we stood astride the Equator; the urban sprawl of chaotic Nairobi; the vast plains of the Great African Rift Valley, Masai land and the legendary Masai Mara, then on into Tanzania.

We encountered one of the worst roads I have ever driven on in my life.  The five of us bounced along and around huge pot holes along the main tourist road to the game parks. There were real zebra crossings which helped to ease the pain of the drive but we ended up taking much longer and drove the last 3 hours in the dark on dirt roads to get to the tented camp on the edge of the Mara.  It was worth it in the end but at the time it was pretty hairy.

The day in the Masai Mara game reserve was fantastic. lion, buffalo, giraffe, hyena, jackals, hippos etc etc. Can't describe it. the birds were incredible.  The next day we drove on via Nairobi where we got held up in a Kenyan traffic jam of epic proportions that beggars belief.  Every man for himself, lorries trying to cut across the central reservation getting stuck in the mud and even one turning over. Cars driving the wrong way back up the road. Total chaos. Next day we were heading towards the Tanzanian border, when we hit a road blocked by Masai tribesmen armed with guns and spears, protesting that bandits had come in the night, killed a watch man and stolen their cattle.  It was very threatening so we withdrew and waited 24 hours while it was sorted out.  Next day we caught a glimpse of the snows on the top of Kilimanjaro and eventually got to Lake Manyara where the next Fatherheart School was to be held. 

The Schools were very good. Our African friends said things like, "This is the only hope for Africa." "This is what I have been looking for all my life."  "My life is now turned the right way up."  Linda taught on the nurturing heart of God, reflecting the mother like aspects of God's love for us.  Mark taught on weakness as the key to knowing the power that the sons of God have. Winette shared on forgiving from the heart and Ingrid explained the way we behave like orphans when we do not know God as Father.  We covered all the core topics of the Fatherheart School and had an amazing time.  

I have a little of Africa in my blood from when I was a boy in Swaziland so long ago. It is very humbling to see how God has this door open to us. 

We know we will be going back.  The safari we are on with our Father has only just begun!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Southern Comfort

I have struggled over the years to grow wisteria. Several attempts have failed and other times we have moved on before we could enjoy the lush blossom of this climbing vine as they take up to seven years to produce their first blooms. This year we have been in the "Deep South" of the US for several weeks and have delighted in so many southern comforts of which wisteria is but one. Time and again we were confronted on the journey by strands of trees that had been colonised by climbing wisteria. In some cases the vines reached up over thirty or forty feet. The cascades of deep violet blossoms seemed to hang like curtains in the treetops draping the sprouting new green leaves in soft pendulous swags. 

There is such beauty in the South. The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the soft hills of the Piedmont North Carolina that stretched out before us when we woke up one morning gladdened the heart.  Bird life abounds from the ubiquitous black vultures to the majestic soaring of the bald eagle. Alligators in the Okefenokee swamp added excitement and a brief sighting of a ground hog, added amusement as on this occasion we did not see another and get a re run of the day.

Southern hospitality was added into the mix which ranged from hush puppies and chitterlings from Pearl's Country Kitchen, which challenged the taste buds and the cholesterol levels in the blood, to the most luscious BBQ ribs I have ever eaten in a friends home in Jacksonville. We had crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, grits and biscuits in one home in Georgia. So southern, so comforting, so good, just like the people we met. We shared food, stories, experiences, struggles, hopes and dreams.  We talked of God our true Father, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. (2 Cor 1:4).  All of us shared our struggles and hardships along the journey but we continually sat back amazed at how the Father had sustained us and held us up on the way. Some might say that this is just a psychological crutch. Oh yes and so much better than the comforts and crutches that the world offers!  Having received his comfort I never need anything else.

Sadly not a drop of the liquid variety of Southern Comfort passed my lips on this occasion.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

C. Baxter Kruger, C.S.Lewis and the Shack revisted

A good friend in Australia sent me a gift by email that has enriched our last weekend for a while in New Zealand immeasurably.   We are off on a jaunt shortly that will take us to numerous places and connections with many great friends in the Fatherheart Family around the world.  You can see where we are in our comings and goings on the side of this blog if you are interested. 

Anyway back to the gift. It is a yet to be published, latest offering, from C Baxter Kruger.  If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I am more than a little impressed with this writer.  He is a theologian....stay with me it's worth it....his writings make my heart sing and shout for joy. They are the best. So now he is writing again and this time he is exploring William P Young's theology in his world best seller "The Shack".

Those of you who loved The Shack will stay with me, I'll come to it on a moment, but I know there are those who have had their reservations about this book. Some seem to overlook it is a novel, rather in the genre of "Pilgrim's Progress", than a theological treatise. It is not a book on theology but like anything we say about God, it speaks in theological terms and expresses individual views about God. In Young's case this was also born out of a long journey seeking to find answers to some of life's biggest questions.  Kruger explores this in the early part of the book and gives insight into the story behind the book and inside The Shack.

Some of the things that have been said about the book seems to suggest that its most vehement critics may not have read the book. One high profile critic posted a video on You Tube that challenged the approach of describing the Trinity taken by Young that uses metaphor, story and picture language. It amused and saddened me that the image on the wall behind the critic was an interlinking of three circles that has been used innumerable times to pictorially represent the Trinity. Seemed he may have missed the point somewhat.

However I digress.  Baxter is offering here so much more than a critique of The Shack. He explores in his usual breathtaking, heart stopping way the richness of classic Christian Trinitarian doctrine.  He draws deeply from the early church Fathers and especially Athenasius.  He brings the greatest Christian writer of the 20th Century, (sorry about the hyperbole, but it's my blog) C.S.Lewis, into the discussion and melds thought and imagery, concept and truth together in such a rich way.

I'm deeply challenged in my ministry to be as theologically accurate and true to the biblical revelation as possible. At the same time I recognise we live in a post Christian world of the 21st Century that needs desperately to discover God as Father, Son and Spirit in a way that conceptually engages with our world. Nothing has changed in that regard since before the dawn of time when God the Father conceived in his heart and to have a relationship with us as his sons and daughters.  It was not plan B or an afterthought that sent his Son into the world, full of his Holy Spirit, to bring us home. It has always been his plan and intention, Father, Son and Spirit, eternally relating, in what Kruger describes as a great dance, so that those who believe through faith in his Son can be united with them for all eternity.

C Baxter Kruger, C.S.Lewis, William P Young, I have so enjoyed your company this weekend. If anyone wants a copy let me know.

And Jim in Oz, you are a star. Thanks mate!