Mountains

mount snowdon

I have been to the top of a few mountains in my time. Some I have actually climbed or walked up, such as Snowden in Wales and Table Mountain in South Africa. Others  I have reached by cable car: Untersberg in Austria, Table Mountain again; and some have been accessible by car, such as Mount Rainier in Washington State USA, and Pikes peak, Colorado.

We have gazed with fascination at the devastated landscape around Mt. St Helens, relished vistas of snow covered Alps, and hung on with whitened knuckles on the nail-biting ride up the Road to the Sun  in the Glacier National Park in Montana, USA

I envy my sister Jo who regularly walks the Pennines and has climbed all the Munroes in Scotland. She is one of the ilk who would say, “If it’s there, climb it!”

But you don’t have to be a seasoned climber to enjoy the exhilaration of standing on a peak looking out over a panorama spread before you receding into misty blue ridges, lakes and forests. Even those who find heights make them nervous love to see a great view!

Terry and I have been spending a few days in Wales, and have marvelled at the wild rugged grandeur of Snowdonia: awesome precipices, soaring pinnacles, jagged silhouettes, ridges, folds and plunging waterfalls. Aren’t you glad the world ain’t flat?

Moses went up a mountain to meet God. A cloud settled over the mountain, lightning flashed and the Voice of God thundered. No wonder the Israelites were terrified! From Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments issued forth.

Mount Carmel was the scene of the mighty contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. A couple of years ago, Terry and I stood on that mountain and understood how strategic that location was. The mountain is surrounded by a vast plain and anything happening on top of it would be visible for miles. Fire falling from Heaven onto the altar on its summit must have been dramatic indeed.

Some centuries later, Moses and Elijah appeared together on top of a mountain: maybe Carmel again, maybe Mt Tabor. Peter, James and John  had gone up there with Jesus. It was an extraordinary coming together of Moses who represented the Law, the Old Covenant; Elijah who represented the Prophets, the voice of God speaking to his people; and Jesus, the Messiah they had both dimly foreseen who embodied a New covenant, and who was the Word of God.

Awestruck, the disciples saw these mighty figures radiant with light conversing together.  Later Peter would write that they were eye witnesses of “his glory on the sacred mountain.”

But one place often poetically described as a mountain was only a little heap. Artistic impressions, stained glass windows, pictures and films have traditionally depicted it dramatically elevated and illuminated against a menacing dark sky surmounted by three crosses. In reality it is barely a hill and is now the site of a bus station outside the walls of Jerusalem: Calvary. Just a pathetic mound, a rock formation that looks a bit like a skull when the light strikes it and casts shadows.

Disappointing? Sort of. The arena of the most significant event in history should at least, you feel, have a setting suitably grand. Eyes should be drawn upwards in awe, there should be a sacred hush in a place imbued with solemnity. Instead, battered buses come chugging in throwing out fumes, the bustle of traffic surges past uncomprehending, unaware. This is where the Son of God was crucified.

And yet. How eloquent. The Servant King came down to our level. He did not demand that we climb despairingly, trying to reach some unattainable peak. The Law, given on Mount Sinai, had already shown the impossibility of being good enough to reach God by our own strenuous efforts.

“There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.

He only could unlock the gate of Heaven, and let us in.”

The Word made flesh came from the highest heights and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. He walks with us in our highs and lows; he lifts us from our quagmires of sin and sorrow to reign with him in Heavenly places.

 

Photograph by Thomas Webster

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One on One with a church planter’s wife

A few months ago, Terry and I were in the beautiful city of Masstricht in the Netherlands. Our church in Maastricht is lead by Bert de Hoop. Whilst Terry interviewed Bert, I spent some time chatting with his wife, Mariam (in front of a camera too!)

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New Spheres

wendy

Once a year my three sisters and I try to get together for a few days. Scattered as we are across the UK it provides a great opportunity for fun, fellowship, recalling our childhood days and sharing news  of our children and grandchildren.

And so a starry night in August found us lying on the grass at Angela’s house in Yeovil gazing up at the twinkling lights, hoping to see shooting stars or ignited bits of space debris. The conversation went something like this:

“There’s a satellite!”

“It’s not, it’s a plane”

“Look, a shooting star!”

“Missed it again, I never see them!”

“Speaking of celestial spheres, which one has your church joined?”

“Don’t you mean “apostolic”? Hope we are still firmly on the ground!”

“So which one are you in then?”

“Well, it used to be up north, but it’s more central now. Grand Central I think.”

“Isn’t that in New York?”

“No you can get to it from Euston.”

“Oh. Like the one we’ve joined, the Underground….or is it Groundswell? Ground something…(sings) “Underground, Overground, wombling free…” Something to do with being near Wimbledon Common perhaps.”

“Groundsheet? Ground beef?”

“No, that’s MacDonalds.”

“They’ve gone all ecological haven’t they? MacDonalds I mean.”

“Oh I thought you meant that sphere that’s gone West: Confusion.”

“It’s more political than that; Coalition, that’s it.”

“Sounds like an accident, two spheres colliding. Do the leaders have to wear yellow ties?”

“No, they never wear ties, but I’ve seen them wear yellow wellies, at that camp in the west.”

“Oh, that was at Emission! Told you it was ecological.”

“You’re getting muddled with the Midlands lot, you know, Analyst. They have all the brainy scientific churches there.”

“Analyst sounds a bit introverted; not very outgoing. Not like Radical Mission”

“You mean Relational.”

“Aren’t we all though? “Relational Values”, that’s what it is. No, hold on, “Friends and Relations.”

“Must’ve got that wrong! That’s from Winnie the Pooh! Rabbit’s Friends and Relations!”

“Winnie the Pooh? We used to get everything from the Bible!”

“Remember when Mum used to read to us? Winnie the Pooh, and the Bible; all sorts of stuff.”

 

We were all Morgans then – Wendy Morgan, Angela Morgan, Josephine Morgan and Susan Morgan. Now we are Wendy Virgo, Angela Alsop, Josephine Garbutt and Susan Hall; still sisters though, still family. Still love being together, sharing what we hold dear, our history and hopes for the future.

 

It’s great being family, whatever we call ourselves.

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Reflections On Newday

newday

I snuck in to Newday! The lovely Phil Gray organised a badge for me which was waiting at the gate. Sad to say, I whimped out of actually camping. My friend Carol Bailey had kindly offered her pop up tent, and it was either that or a room at the Premier Inn over the road. I thought about it long and hard….all of 20 seconds, and well, you know, a bed, a shower, an electric kettle…not much of a contest really.

I delivered the box of food which had got left behind at Kingston to the church site, glad that our kids would not miss out on the green Thai curry specially cooked for them….and helped them eat it. They were all happily organised in their tents and although I am about a century older than them they made me feel very welcome and involved.

As evening approached, I found it moving to see thousands of young people streaming toward the Big Top, excited and eager to begin praising God together. They poured in, 7,000 of them, and as Simon Brading began to lead them into worship, the sound swelled rapturously as they clapped, danced and stamped. Lights blazed and drums boomed as guitars  and keyboards played the melodies of Simon’s new songs.

I also appreciated that older songs were in the mix, and there were some very poignant moments, especially after Stef Liston preached a profound and wonderful sermon on Simon Peter on the second night. (Get it on podcast, simply entitled ‘Fish’). We were led into “I love you Lord, and I lift my voice..”, and a hushed stillness prevailed over the huge tent as some knelt or lay on the floor or stood with arms raised in worship. That night, no one was in a hurry to go back to nightcaps of hot chocolate and cake; the presence of God took over.

newday2

Highlights for me were Joel’s series on Jonah with the older teens in the mornings; meeting up with loads of old friends who had come simply to serve the youngsters; watching my grandchildren absorbed in worship; chatting with our Kingston church group over lunch.

I kept bumping into people whom I have known as babies and children but who are now all grown up! And yes, many were the blunders I made, simply because they now look so different. I mean, when you last saw a kid of 13 who is now a giant with a bushy black beard, is it so surprising that you wonder who he is? Or a stunning blonde young lady who simply called herself Vicky….I remember her and her twin when they were 5years old, waking me up at 5.30am to play snap. Please forgive me, all those whose names I didn’t remember; my grey cells are not as agile as they once were, but also, I am bad at making the connections when I think of (some of) you in the context of another country!

What stuck out to me was that amongst all the fun, hilarity, and youthful exuberance there was a seriousness, an intentionality, a desire to seek God, find his will, walk in his ways. It helps kids, in small churches especially, to be in a massive event which shows them that Christians are not some poky archaic little group, but a force to be reckoned with; where there is freedom to express worship in a genre appropriate to their age range, where there are opportunities to ask questions, to talk to leaders, to find friends old and new; and especially to be in a context where they are confronted with God’s mission to the world, and encouraged to find their part in it.

I was also struck with the maturity of the teaching: a strong foundation of theology (which I hope is being laid in all Newfrontiers churches) is being reinforced by such noted teachers as Andrew Wilson and Joel Virgo,  and to my delight, younger teachers whom I had not met before, who are now carrying the baton in this next generation.

All the time God was encountering these teens: some were being saved, some returning from wandering away, some were healed, and many were finding direction for their lives. I was only there four days, but I feel profoundly blessed and deeply convinced that this event must continue for many more years.

Torrential rain nearly destroyed Newday at its birth a few years ago. The local authorities said we should abandon the ground, but God had given us an amazing promise that this conference had national significance: a promise we never even received for the massive Stoneleigh Bible Week!

We refused their advice to abandon ship and experienced an amazing week. Every year has surpassed the previous years. Thousands of teenagers’ lives have been radically changed. Who knows what the future holds for this coming generation and what a vital role Newday will play in the shaping of a new generation for the glory of God?  Few conferences have genuine national, if not international, significance. Few conferences are preparing a new generation. Long may it continue. Long may Jesus be glorified because of Newday.

I make a plea, rooted in a prophetic statement: we can do more together than we can apart! Newday must go on!

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Battles for Hastings

battle of Hastings

It was that rare thing, a glorious sunny Sunday morning. Being Sunday the traffic was light as we drove south through the lush Kent and Sussex country, revelling in the fresh spring foliage, thick clumps of cow parsley in the long grass bordering the roads and fields of buttercups, warm and golden. Cows looked sleek and lambs were large and fat. England at its exuberant, June best! We were on our way to King’s church high on the Ridge at the back of Hastings. We smiled as we passed the sign, “You are entering 1066 country.”

1066 is the date that everyone knows, immortalised by the battle of Hastings fought between the invading Normans led by  King William, and the Anglo-Saxons led  by King Harold. It was a day that shaped the rest of English history, a seminal day, a hinge, a page turner; for William won and became known as William the Conqueror, and the Norman French poured into England bringing new words, ways, ideas, furniture, food and fashion, expanding, enriching, changing the culture. A picturesque village now stands near the battle site, appropriately named Battle.

A few miles away, other battles have been fought and won over the last 35 years. Terry and I lived in Seaford, a small town to the west. One day a man called Don Smith contacted us. He worked in Hastings hospital, and originated from South London. He had recently been baptised in the Spirit and was gathering a dozen or so people to pray and worship in his basement flat. He hooked up with us and joined our exploration into radical church restoration and planting.

Over time, the little nucleus grew and began to meet publicly in schools and halls. As they outgrew each one they were always looking for another! They were truly a church on the move! Eventually they bought a massive building on the hill above the town which had started life as a sports centre for indoor cricket and tennis. Bravely, the little crowd entered the vast intimidating space. It was ludicrously huge, but they kept dreaming, planning, praying and growing in numbers and faith.

The church went through various phases of leadership change. Don Smith moved on to Eastbourne to plant another large and excellent church. John Groves led for several years eventually moving on to Winchester. Currently his son in law Paul Mann leads the eldership team. The church became a sending base and  learnt to give generously in terms of money but also people to other church plants.

The building also went through various metamorphoses as the vast space was sensibly used and managed. Its present stage is now nearing completion. Being strategically placed opposite a large hospital, it is highly visible and can offer facilities for hospital visitors such as low priced parking and a lovely coffee shop with views over the beautiful countryside. There are lots of side rooms where activities such as Alpha courses, youth events and debt counselling are proving fruitful. New offices are under way, and the large well appointed main auditorium can comfortably seat 700+ worshippers.

This Sunday morning, as the worship team took the stage and led us into 40 minutes of glorious worship, my heart was full of thankfulness for the battles fought and won on this bit of turf. It is difficult to imagine how bare and inhospitable this building appeared when it was first acquired; still more difficult to visualise the original small group meeting in Don Smith’s basement! That was the mustard seed from which this beautiful tree has emerged. Doubtless there are more battles ahead; but the church is vibrant, flourishing, growing, alive!

King William 1st came and conquered and changed history. Our King has established a kingdom that will never pass away. I am praying for just as radical an impact for this Kingdom to make on our culture in our day; that will make inroads into government, education, business, economy, justice, family life…..everywhere. There are more battles ahead, but also more victories. Keep praying, keep believing!

 

Photograph by snake3yes

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Lost In France

signposts

So, here we are dans la belle France, in fact dans la even more belle Provence!   On our first morning, although it is not as hot as we had anticipated, the sun is shining which is more than can be said for Kingston on Thames. The view from the bedroom window of the quaint Bergerie (shepherd’s cottage) where we are staying is like a Monet painting: a field full of poppies in the foreground, an ancient and picturesque village behind and a line of blue hills in the background. Fabulous.

Terry is enjoying his book, sitting in the sun, but the surrounding hills beckon and I announce I am going for a walk. We have been here before, so I am fairly confident of finding a path that leads to the top overlooking the valley where nestles the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse. I don’t want to be long because we intend to go to Vaucluse for lunch. I set out and sure enough easily find the path I am looking for. It winds up, stony but well defined, and as I get higher I am exhilarated by the beautiful views toward the Luberon range of hills on one side and the gentle plains on the other.

 

Eventually, I reach a point where a signpost points me toward Vaucluse in one direction and Esperacon in the other. I take the first and continue without deviation, hesitation or repetition. I am now going through forest. Pine trees and thorny bushes are thick on either side. I press on, but the path gets narrower and narrower, and the bushes press in and scratch my legs. I am puzzled: this doesn’t seem like a proper well trodden path! But I keep going until the track peters out altogether. I push on a few yards and stop. No point; I must reverse, go back the way I came. I’ve obviously missed a turn somewhere.

So I turn around and walk back to the path. At least I try to walk back to the path. How difficult can that be? Oh that must be it, over there, of course! But after a few yards, I am faced with impenetrable thorn bushes. I back out exasperated and turn in another direction, following gaps in the trees which must lead to a path…I blunder around trying this way and that, by now becoming genuinely worried. I have not brought my phone with me or even a bottle of water! How dumb must I be, I tell myself.

By now my imagination is running riot. I could blunder around here until nightfall;  I could die of thirst or starvation or fall down a crevasse and no one would ever know. Suddenly a tremendous roar from over head and a fighter plane zooms low across the sky. It is so sudden and so loud it scares the life out of me and contributes to my growing panic. I stand still and speak sternly to myself. “Stop it. Do not panic. Think. Pray.” In fact I have been praying non stop. “Help me please Lord. Show me the path! I’m lost! Help me, oh help me!”

Where is the sun? Which way is south? At this point the sky is cloud covered, but I think I know. Trying to stay calm I decide to walk steadily in a downward direction, dodging through branches and twigs. Suddenly a path! Yes a real path with stones and edges. Enormously relieved I turn left on to it. After about 10 minutes I arrive at a high point overlooking a deep valley. I realise I should have turned right so I retrace my steps (again!) and soon come to the signpost on the main path. By now I am jogging down that path, full of heart-felt thanks that the Lord guided me out of the confusion, despair  and fear of being lost.

Being lost is frightening. Why is that? There is an inbuilt desire to know where we are and where we are going; to be surrounded by the familiar; to be in control. We find security in knowing where we are, and not knowing reduces the most confident person to a gibbering wreck.

Perhaps what is worse is not knowing that you are lost, that you are pressing on thinking you are OK but heading for disaster.

I am so glad that Jesus found me when I was lost. I didn’t know I was until then. But since then I have had a true path to follow. There have been a few short-lived deviations, but he always searched for me and found me and brought me back. I can say like David, “Make me to know your ways O Lord, teach me your paths, lead me in your truth and teach me for you are the God of my salvation.” (Psalm 25:4)

 

I arrive back at La Bergerie, scratched, dishevelled and exhausted. Terry looks up from his book “Nice walk dear?”

Photograph by JMC Photos

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60th Anniversary

60 anniversay

I was sitting on a hard wooden bench in a little hall on a Sunday afternoon in May. It was Whitsunday, that is, the day when we commemorate Pentecost.  I was 7 years old. The teacher was explaining about the day the Holy Spirit came. I don’t really remember what she said at all, but I do remember that at the end of her talk she read a poem about a boy who was challenged to give his life to Jesus. He declined. The poem went on to describe multiple other times in his life when he had the opportunity, but he kept hardening his heart. Eventually the poem came to the death bed scene, where he was given the final opportunity to make that choice. The last line of the poem sonorously proclaimed, “turning over on his pillow he died.” There was a collective gasp from the children present, as we knew he had entered eternity without turning to Christ for forgiveness and redemption.

A somewhat bizarre poem to bring to seven and eight year olds! Some would say it was gross manipulation of a child’s emotions. But as our teacher went on to explain that we didn’t need to go through such a process but could come to know Jesus now, this very day, I knew that He was calling me. It was very clear. She led us in a simple prayer. I prayed it with all my heart and as I asked Jesus to come into my life, forgive my sin and save me, I felt Him come in.

I remember it so clearly. It was as if the lights came on. Everything looked brighter, more focussed. I ran up to Mrs Tilsely Green and hugged her and told her that Jesus had come to me. When my father came to pick up his daughters, I told him. I told everyone, expecting in my childish naïveté  that they would understand and be pleased too. Some were, some weren’t.

The next week at school I insisted on singing a hymn to the entire class. When we were told to write an essay on the happiest day of your life guess what I wrote about? I can still remember the teacher’s comments: “Wendy, you are too young to take life so seriously.” I think I was probably a bit of a pain to all and sundry.

But I have to say that after sixty years, I have never regretted making that decision. For although at the time I thought I was asking Jesus into my life, I began to see eventually that he had been seeking me; he had me in his sights before I was even born! He had a destiny for me.

I am so grateful for my Christian parents who patiently trained, taught and disciplined me, and who showed me that God’s way is best  by demonstrating it by their choices and loving obedience to him. I am grateful that I have been surrounded by Christians for much of my life and I value the Christian community which encourages, supports,  loves and spurs us on. I am grateful that I learned to know and trust the wisdom found in the Bible to guide me through my life. I am grateful for a loving husband, undeviating in his total devotion to the Lord. I am so grateful for children and their spouses walking with God. I am grateful for countless answers to prayer; for daily provision, for health, for amazing adventures around the world.

But most of all, I am eternally, endlessly, unspeakably grateful to the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

60 years has gone in a flash! But I will have endless ages to sing his praise.

Thank you God.

 

Photograph by theirhistory

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