This is my story

India. It all comes back the minute you get outside the spanking new airport of Bangalore: or Benguluru as it seems to be called now. It is a long distance outside the city, and it was rush hour so the traffic was dense. Horns blaring incessantly, scooters weaving perilously in and out, laden buses lumbering along and crowds thronging the streets as dusk quickly became nightfall. India! The colourful saris and kulturs, the rickshaws, the cows nosing about in the rubbish, the stray dogs running around. Smokey fires, smells of curry, cows and coffee. Rubbish everywhere. Sewage.

I’d forgotten.

We arrived at the hostel where we were staying and found to our joy lots of friends also staying there, from India and UK. Much delighted greeting took place in the foyer before we were shown to our room, and were pleasantly surprised. In the past we have slept on beds like ironing boards, but here the beds  were OK and the shower hot and strong.

Next morning over a thousand gathered in a school building for the “Together on a Mission” conference. Over the next few days worship was conducted in several Indian languages: Hindi, Malayalam, Goan, as well as English.

Later my friend Joy-Anne took me shopping. Just mooching around the streets is fun, but buying is an education. I had silk scarves in mind for Christmas presents. We went upstairs in a small shop and sat by the counter as the assistant displayed numerous pashminas, shawls and silk scarves. Glutted by sheer abundance of colour, pattern and texture I eventually chose some beauties and Joy-Anne haggled for me. The whole lot came to a few pounds in English money.

Things weren’t so blissful that night. There was a powercut at about 9.30 pm as we returned to our room. We groped around in the dark until someone brought a candle. It was Diwali so the night was filled with loud bangs and flashes of fireworks; dogs barked incessantly, and trains rumbled through on the nearby railway hooting loudly. The imams started their chanting at 5am and the Catholics over the road competed with early mass. “Silent night” is an unknown concept here. Electric power was still unconnected, but thankfully restored in time for a shower and breakfast.

Later on, I found myself once again standing in worship, when unexpectedly the worship leader led us into an old hymn, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.” Flashback to a 7 year old me in Harringey arena with my mother at the first Billy Graham crusade in London. From then on, through my childhood and teens, Blessed Assurance was a recurring feature of church life.

It was wonderful to sing it again! Who would ever have thought that 60 years on, I would be singing it in Bangalore with hundreds of Indians? I was overwhelmed as we all declared, “This is my story, This is my song.!”

This is my story: heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his spirit, washed in his blood.” This is the song of the redeemed. This is a foretaste of glory when myriads from every tongue and nation sing it around the throne.

This is our story.

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Desolate Journey

Has anyone out there read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy? I grabbed it for something to read on a recent flight. Don’t ever fly via Chicago if you can help it. The immigration line is monstrous. I was standing in it for an hour and a quarter, but I had my book and I read most of it as I and hundreds of others in transit shuffled our way slowly between the ropes.

It was an appropriate context. Immigration facilities are always bleak and drab and the whole exercise feels dreary and tedious …although of course, that stamp in your passport is all-important for entry into the country.

The book breaks in on a journey which has been going on for an unspecified time. A father and son, we gradually understand, are journeying on foot to the East coast of America. But this is not a fun father/son trip for further bonding: this is a weary trudge through unrelenting desolation. We infer that there has been, years before, some catastrophic event which has resulted in the entire landscape being ravaged by fire, but a sort of fire which has been final in its effects: perhaps a nuclear disaster.

 

There are no leaves on the charred and blackened trees, no grass sprouting up from the sooty dust. Old cars and trucks lie rusty and derelict in the roads. Cities are ruined and empty, railways twisted and buckled in the aftermath of a holocaust of heat. Mummified victims lie where they fell; tarmac roads have melted and re-solidified in uneven lumps.

Occasionally there is evidence of other human survivors, living by scavenging, skulking and hunting like animals. The father and son from time to time stumble upon a cache of tinned goods that someone hoarded for just such a time but did not live to use. They trudge wearily, fearfully, doggedly to the coast, presumably in the hope of finding a means of escape: perhaps a boat to another country? But the sea when they eventually find it, is no longer sparkling blue but grey, leaden, lifeless. There is no escape! The lights are going out. No hope. Life is being extinguished in all its forms.

 

It is a sobering read, horrible, but gripping. In such an extremity is there any morality? Indeed, any need for morality? Or kindness? Compassion? Generosity? The father is acutely conscious that to share any food they have or blankets or clothes, with the few unfortunates they meet, is to seriously jeopardise their own chances of survival. So he instructs his son to turn way from, be hostile to, anyone they meet. But the boy is like a metaphor for his conscience: he wants to display some humanity. He has an innate feeling that it is right to do so. Some moral sense is still present.

It made me think. This is what life is like for those who have no hope, no expectation, no future glory to anticipate. What is the point? Who are we? Where are we going? The answers are nothing, no-one, and nowhere. I have been a Christian for so long that I have forgotten what it must be like to have no future and no hope.

 

We have a message! We are going somewhere, we have hope.  “The path of the righteous grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day” Proverbs 4:18. The older we get, the further on in our journey, the nearer we are to the perfect light. Instead of vanishing into darkness, our path becomes ever more illuminated. The dawn is coming, the sun is rising, full daylight is ahead! Yes, the Earth will  be destroyed and thrown away as an old garment, but the new is coming. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see, “ (Hebrews11:1)  “Eye has not seen or ear heard neither has the heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”. (1 Cor 2:9) .We are a people of hope.

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The Church my Family

It is always hugely enjoyable to attend our annual American leaders’ conference, entitled “Equipped for Mission”. As we enter the foyer of the hotel we use, crowds are milling about, some of whom have driven six, eight, even ten or twelve hours to be there. Others have flown in from Mexico or Seattle in the Northwest, or Boston in the Northeast. There are cries of joy, lots of hugs and excited exchanges as people greet each other. Small groups form and go off to eat together, and this year it was warm enough to sit outside in the big plaza where several restaurants are situated. It is hard to carry on a coherent conversation because so many friends are passing and stop to say hello.

The first session starts with a vibrant song led by Jordan Dillon and his excellent band, and hearts and hands are lifted in worship. Over the next three days, the presence of God is wonderfully intimate as we declare eternal truths and welcome the King among us.

John Lanferman, David Devenish, Bryan Mowrey and Terry all bring superb messages which edify, inform, challenge, direct, affirm, inspire. There are amazing stories of conversions, healings and encounters with God. Yet when the prayer times come, many divulge that the battles are hard and demanding as they labour to advance the Kingdom. We are proud of our warriors!

One of the highlights of the conference is the banquet evening. There is good food, a great band, dancing, and lots of conversations: that is if you can sustain the effort of talking  in competition with the band!

On the last evening I was having dinner with my friend Mary Chambers, and she told me of a conversation she had had with a waitress at the banquet. As Mary thanked her for clearing the table, the woman said, “It’s a pleasure serving this crowd! You all seem to know each other, and have fun. You are like one big family”.

Mary explained that we all belong to a group of churches called Newfrontiers.

“A church group!” the waitress exclaimed. But some of you are dancing, some are drinking wine!” She paused, and observed, “But no-one is getting drunk; there’s no arguing or quarrelling, and everyone is happy. And you are all polite and appreciative. It makes a nice change!”

What was happening there in St Louis is not unique. It happens in other venues and contexts where our churches meet. It is good to know that we are exhibiting a different life-style even when we are unaware of it simply by our conversation and behaviour.

Its Kingdom life.

 

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Old Friends, New church!

 

Sunday 16th September was a special day for Terry and me. We drove off down the M23 to Haywards Heath to be with the Newfrontiers church there as they formally opened their new building. It is exciting to reflect that we have many churches now in Sussex meeting in magnificent new premises around the county: Lewes, East Grinstead, Hastings, Eastbourne and of course, Brighton , which now meets in three locations. All these churches grew from congregations which began as a handful of people and now are all crowds of several hundreds. Truly acorns which grew into mighty oak trees!

But Haywards Heath holds special memories for us as it was the very first church which was planted out from the original in Seaford where Terry and I lived. We didn’t know we were planting a church at the time. It was in 1973 that we met Nigel Ring who was working on developing prosthetic limbs for disabled children at Chailey Heritage. He invited Terry to come to his home where he had gathered a number of friends to hear Terry speak about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Many of them received it that night and Nigel asked Terry to come regularly to teach and disciple them.

So Terry went on alternate weeks, always taking a carload with him from the Seaford church. Thus it became a two pronged training track, both groups observing, learning, and walking in their new experiences of God. As time went by, Nigel’s lounge became too small. People were crammed in, sitting on the floor and out in the hall and up the stairs. Nigel decided to enlarge the room and everyone contributed to the cost of pushing out the wall.

Eventually, it became obvious that what was happening could not be contained in a weekday house group. People were thrilled with the new things God was doing among them. They were being baptised in the Holy spirit which precipitated them into using the Gifts of the Spirit. This in turn had an effect on worship which was free and spontaneous. Prayer became vibrant, and as they began to get hold of the message of grace, their whole Christian lives were being transformed.

We had no experience of church planting, and didn’t even realise that this was an embryonic church at first. We wrestled with leaving existing churches and meeting in a new context, and eventually came to see that we could not go backwards into the old dead formality that had been the previous experience of church.

So a coffee lounge was hired in Clair Hall, the community centre right in the middle of town. I remember Terry and I driving with our growing family from Seaford to the first Sunday meeting when about 30 of us met there. Enviously we looked through the door at what seemed to be a vast hall next door…would we ever be big enough to fill it?

Terry continued to lead the Seaford church, but now oversaw the development of this new baby. Gradually, elders were appointed and the baby grew to adolescence. A full time pastor was needed. One of Terry’s most long standing friends, David Coak, was in the congregation. He was the director of a building firm; but God’s call was on his life, and he became the first leading elder, supported by the church.

The church went from strength to strength, and yes, they not only had to hire the next door hall, but filled it to over flowing. In recent years, they have had to resort to two meetings on a Sunday to accommodate everyone. David Coak left to start a new church in Cambridge and Matt Partridge became the next leading pastor. Many people from all over the UK and in other countries can look back now and say that this was their first Christian home. One of these is Adrian Warnock who has become well known through his blog and popular book on the Resurrection.

About 8 years ago, Matt partridge joined forces with David Coak again who had moved to Oxford to start yet another church. Matt’s brother, Jim, became the current leader who has been instrumental in the new building project, and bringing it through to completion.

So it is nearly 40 years since that little group met in Nigel and Janita’s lounge. We never dreamed of all that would follow; that not only would a beautiful church emerge there in Haywards Heath, but that it would be the fore-runner of literally hundreds of others around the world.

Many of the friends who gathered last Sunday are now grey-haired veterans of those early pioneering days! We thank God that that pioneering Spirit is still strong as the Haywards Heath Church rejoices in its new home.

 

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The Queen and the King

 

So did you watch the queen’s speech on Christmas Day? This has become a tradition in England as much as singing carols and hanging up stockings. After lunch, replete with the obligatory turkey and Christmas pudding with brandy butter, we lounge on the couch in front of the TV to listen to her majesty deliver a few well chosen words in her mellifluous voice, meticulously enunciated in the queen’s English. (Of course; if she suddenly came out with an Ozzie accent it would be rather a shock.)

In my youth, my father who fought in the Burmese jungle in the war, would stand to attention and salute while the national anthem was played. Now, sprawling among the tea cups and chocs, we simply remark, “The pearls look nice again”, and “She looks good for her age”, and sundry other penetrating observations.

She has become a master (mistress?) of the bland, politically correct, quick look back at last year’s events, sprinkled with hopes for a better year when everyone works together. To be fair, there has often been an oblique reference to “faith” and “Christian values” and the importance of the family. The nation dutifully– and perhaps cynically– listens.

This year was different. As usual she skilfully blended the national and the personal, mentioning floods in New Zealand and Australia, visits to America and Ireland, troops abroad, and the weddings of two of her grandchildren. Then she moved smoothly into the celebration of Christmas, “the great Christian festival”.  Hooray! Boldly reclaimed as Christian, then.  She then spoke of Jesus, unequivocally, as the saviour the world needs to know.

“God sent into the world a unique person- neither a philosopher, nor a general, but a Saviour with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith….it is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

By the time she was finishing with the last verse of “O little Town of Bethlehem”, a prayer for Christ “to cast out sin and enter in”, Christians were sitting up, electrified, thrilled with such a courageous and overt identification with Christian truth.

Courageous, because England has largely thrown away Christianity. People are unwilling to be identified with something which has been labelled archaic, quaint and irrelevant. Remarks of outright contempt on the radio have made me shudder. Yet there have also been signs of change: a positive article in the Sunday Telegraph on the “resurgence” of church going (quoting David Stroud among others); even David Cameron’s remarks about England being a “Christian country”, vague and woolly though they be, brought the subject into the arena of public debate.

Small indications indeed, but let us take heart! Newfrontiers churches everywhere have had record breaking attendances at their Christmas and New Year events. Alpha continues to draw seekers and inquirers. Many churches are holding prayer weeks. Perhaps in these days of financial uncertainty as recession bites deeper, as jobs are increasingly hard to find, and debt plunges many into anxiety, people will begin to realise their need of a Saviour. Let’s keep praying with fresh faith and expectation:

Our queen has made a simple statement: but what we need most is for the King to be made known and his kingdom to come!

 

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Behind the Scenes with Giants

A few days ago I was travelling in a van with a bishop from Mombasa, a church leader from Cote d’Ivoire, a Christian Palestinian overseeing churches in Israel, a converted Muslim now church planter from Bangladesh, an Indian pastor from Tamil Nadu whose churches baptised 20,000 new converts last year, plus other leaders from Brazil and Mexico. The people in that car represented about 3 million Christians around the world.

 

What on earth do such giants talk about?  Food; family; language. There was a lot of laughter, tentative questions finding out a little about each other: in fact, the sort of inconsequential conversation that a diverse group might make anywhere in the world.   (How many children do you have? What do you like to eat?) These global leaders were drawn together by Bob Roberts, a Texan church planter from Dallas with a huge heart for mission, and it was a massive privilege to rub shoulders with them, and for Terry to preach to them and a number of gathered church planters from across the USA.

 

At first we were all a bit shy. Terry and I were definitely overawed. John Lanferman however, was relaxed and friendly, brilliantly breaking the ice. As the days went by, we got to know each other’s stories. Some live in danger of their lives; one had his house burned down; some had planted churches of tens of thousands; all had remarkable stories of how the love of Jesus had reached them and transformed their lives.  As they shared from the platform we heard moving testimonies, wise comments, and carefully worded opinions all delivered with humility and dignity. We were amazed by Dion Robert’s story of how his church has grown to 40,000 and his movement to 200,000; moved by Daniel’s search for truth in Vietnam; and not unsympathetic to Kenyan Joseph who refused to be confined to the required 20 mins preach and spoke superbly on prayer for 55mins!

 

Terry and I were especially honoured to have lunch with Eddy and his wife Rosa from  Indonesia. Eddy, embracing and utilizing all the Ephesians 4 ministries, has grown a massive cell church. Even more exciting, if possible, were the video clips he showed us on his iPad of a stadium in a city in the Amazon basin, Brazil, which he had recently visited, filled with 50,000 Christians singing and dancing….in fact a vast percentage of the population of the city! The culture has changed, crime and violence virtually disappeared.

 

Day by day as we travelled from the hotel to meetings, the car was filled with snatches of talk in Vietnamese, or French from Dion Robert, as well as English in various accents. There were lots of jokes and gentle teasing, appreciative comments on the contents of the meetings, and some lively discussion. I happened to be the only wife present, and often found myself bemused that I should be in such company! Yet although these men were truly giants in the kingdom of God, they were unassuming, modest, gentle and unpretentious. They were interesting, fun to be with and at times it was difficult to remember that in their own countries they represented thousands. Yet you could have passed any of them in a street and been unaware of their significance.

 

Now here we are, Terry and I, in Mexico, trying to process it all. Yesterday we joined a small Newfrontiers church here in Mazatlan, and Terry preached and prayed for the sick. We rubbed shoulders with ex drug addicts who have been saved and set free from their addictions. There was one guy who had been homeless and addicted, but who came to Christ and has since obtained a law degree!

 

One delightful man, who was leading worship, had been a well known surfer in his youth.  We asked him how he met Jesus. “When I was twenty-one,” he said, “I and my friend were returning from a perfect day on the beach. I was so happy, I thought, ‘there has to be a God’. My friend agreed, and we began to seek him. One day when I was praying, he met with me! My life was changed. That was thirty years ago.”  A simple but beautiful testimony!

 

Daily we thank God for enriching us not only with the fascinating and enjoyable wealth of diverse climate, scenery, food and culture that we have been experiencing: we are also deeply thankful that we have come close to some of God’s choice children, close enough to call them brothers and now dear friends. All have entered by the same narrow gate, by one sacrifice, offered by the same high priest who sympathises with our weaknesses, and ever lives to intercede for each one of us.

 

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Yellowstone State Park

I had left my bottle of water in the car overnight and in the morning it was a solid block of ice! Yes, it was cold, 21F, but the sky was clear blue, and frost sparkled on the trees. We drove into the west entrance to the park on a road that followed a bubbling river. Perched on a dead tree overhanging the water we saw a massive bald eagle, its white head slowly turning as it watched for fish. We watched it for a while through binoculars then drove on through the breathtakingly beautiful countryside.

I had no clear expectations of Yellowstone before we visited it and was completely amazed at the variety of terrain, its beauty and its unique features. There were wide grassy plains where we saw large herds of buffalo (also known as bison), grazing, and at one point we came across one right by the edge of the road. It didn’t seem at all perturbed by our presence but kept its massive head low and continued placidly chewing grass.

We also saw antelope and elk, some magnificent with many branched antlers. Of course, what we most hoped to see was a grizzly, or a black bear. Sadly these eluded us, but there was an education centre near the hotel where we were staying where six grizzly bears and a pack of wolves live in an enclosure. These impressive animals have been rescued having been in some way rendered unable to fend for themselves and are now providing the public with opportunities to observe them at close quarters.

We watched the wolves racing around their enclosure looking for food, and attacking bits of carcase with relish. The bears grabbed pumpkins and ripped them open, and one simply stood on his and squashed it!

Perhaps the most famous and strange feature in the park are the hundreds of hotsprings. The whole area is a massive volcanic caldera, and it is weird and fascinating to look across a beautiful landscape of rivers and mountains and see clouds of steam rising from springs and pools. The cold weather intensified the outpouring of steam, and clouds billowed up everywhere. Sometimes gushing hot water bubbled up, and sometimes steam just floated up from vents in the ground.

The most famous is Old Faithful. Apparently it used to be so predictable you could set your watch by it, but now it is not so consistent. We arrived just after it had erupted, so we hung around for the next one, which was expected to be in another hour and a half or so. It is a geyser which shoots into the air for several minutes, reaching heights of 60 to 80 feet. A large semi circle has been fenced off with a railing around which crowds gather to watch. As we were late in the season, not many people were touring the park. It was freezing, so we were grateful for a sheltered visitors’ centre where we could wait and view a well-put together exhibition explaining the geology of the area.

As the time drew nearer, we ventured out to watch, cameras at the ready. As luck would have it, it kept us waiting, but eventually, a spectacular plume of water shot into the air accompanied by a great pillar of steam and spray. It kept going for about 5 minutes before subsiding. It is a truly astonishing phenomenon.

We also walked by strange pools of boiling mud, the sulphurous air catching in our throats. Another very odd place which we went to on the second day was called Mammoth Hot Springs, where the mineral rich water has poured out over the terrain, calcifying and creating terraces of white rock. Some of the hot pools were vivid greens, blues and browns where algae and various microbes had built colonies in the water and on the rock. It was all a bit surreal and unlike any terrain I had ever seen.

But other parts of the vast park were of incredible beauty. We drove alongside Lake Yellowstone, with a range of snow capped mountains making a perfect backdrop for the vivid blue lake. As we wound upwards through forests of conifers, snow covered the ground and added to the beauty. We stopped to look down over the edge of a deep canyon, where the Yellowstone River cuts through the rock and pours over some spectacular falls.

We ran out of superlatives, just amazed at the magnificence and the variety. The journey back to Missoula in Montana was also stunning, and I felt as if I was in a movie, a western of course, as we drove through grassy prairie land, intersected with rivers, and always ranges of mountains on the horizon. Back in Missoula, the autumn trees have lost some of their lustre, and the leaves are falling fast. It was great to meet up with some of the saints and enjoy a hot chilli con carne!

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Grace is Amazing

 

Terry ended his prayer, and the musicians came onstage. The audience erupted into joyful worship as Jordan led us into “The grace of God upon my life is not dependent upon me, on what I have done or deserved….”We then moved on to sing Simon Brading’s fabulous, “Here I stand, with nothing in my hands, the best that I can offer, is a filthy rag…”  The declarations of Gospel truth were accompanied with tears of joy, hand clapping, and unrestrained shouts as around 300 people worshipped Jesus for his unspeakable gift of grace.  Terry had just concluded the last of three nights devoted to preaching his way through Romans chs 5,6 ,and 7, explaining the foundation of Christianity: freedom from the power of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the consequence that we are liberated from the demands of the Law to walk in the Spirit.

 

Yes: this is the very cornerstone of Christianity, and yet it is amazing that huge numbers of people who consider themselves to be born again are hazy about their freedom, and live lives regimented by laws which they impose upon themselves, or which zealous but misguided  pastors impose on them. Many of us were raised in Godly homes, but our “Godliness” was measured by what we did on Sundays, where we went, or what we wore. In my early days, my sisters and I were not allowed to read secular books, knit or sew or listen to certain types of music on Sunday. Wearing lipstick (or any cosmetics) were considered to be “worldly” and therefore not to be indulged in; and going to the cinema was definitely abandoning oneself to the Devil.

 

At Bible College, I was sure I was saved; yet believed that if I sinned I had to work through some self imposed punishment to be acceptable to God. To confess sin and receive forgiveness just didn’t seem adequate! Being filled with the Holy Spirit helped release me into a new and growing awareness of the grace and love of God. Terry and I often went to Westminster Chapel and were hugely blessed by Dr. Martyn Lloyd –Jones preaching.

But it was in the early days in the little town of Seaford, as Terry began to preach through Romans that we came into an explosive understanding of the amazing truth that when Jesus died, we died in him. Our old lives were crucified at the cross and when he was raised, we were raised with him into newness of life. He had born our punishment and we no longer have to beat ourselves up to make ourselves better. We are not justified by works of law; we are accepted because of what Jesus has done for us, bearing our sins in his body on the cross. The Law, exemplified in Romans 7 as our overbearing husband, will never pass away; but we have died in Christ and the Law no longer has any claim on us. We are free to ‘marry’ a new husband: Jesus!

 

There was an evening, probably in the early seventies when the truth suddenly overwhelmed the small congregation. We leapt to our feet and sang and danced and praised God with utter abandonment. I don’t remember how long this went on, it might have been hours, but I remember the heady joy, the shining faces of those who suddenly got a fresh revelation of Grace.

 

Since then, Terry has preached this around the world. Often people come to him in tears. “Is it really true?” they whisper. Its as if loads of invisible chains are left lying on the floor as they receive life changing truth. It is not a new message, it is the message of the Gospels, of Paul, of the early Christian church, of the Reformers; it is the inspiration for thousands of men and women who have given their lives to announcing this truth. It is the foundation stone of our church planting, our discipling, our training, our evangelism, our marriages, our family life.

 

Sadly, over centuries, the Gospel has become distorted and reduced to:  “Ask Jesus into your heart, and then do your best to be good.” What follows are various rules —which differ from place to place—that you are told you must keep to stay in God’s favour. And they are all completely irrelevant!

 

After the meeting last week, people came up to me to say, “When I first heard this message, it changed my life.” This happens every time. We were in Paris 2 weeks ago preaching it; in Dubai in February, in South Africa, Australia, India, Israel; in nation after nation the Message of Grace has gone forth.

The Grace of God is liberating, powerful, never changing : it is truly amazing.

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In Praise of Old (er) Women!


“I shall be seventy on Friday!” whispered my friend during worship on Sunday morning. Last time I had seen her, eighteen months ago, she was slowly recovering from major illness, and had been pale and weak. Now, looking at her radiant, happy face, I thought I had never seen her look more beautiful.  As long as I have known her, Patty has always been attractive, vivacious, and a woman of faith. She has had many trials and difficulties but has prayed and praised her way through them. Now, she rose from her seat, took the microphone  and testified to the goodness and faithfulness of God, exhorting us to keep abiding in the vine so we could continue to bear fruit. It was powerful, because she exemplifies her own words.

It took me back to Mrs Bendall.  I met her when Anna, my daughter, had just been born. The elderly lady was a visitor in church that morning. She was quiet, a bit shy, but something about her made me want to get to know her. So during the week, I  went to see her, wheeling the pram with Anna lying in it, and 2 yrs old Ben perched on top. (Those were the days when we had prams built like coaches, high, with large wheels and sprung so that the baby swayed gently, comfortably cocooned in its inner depths: not stuck in a bucket on wheels like they are now.)

I loved her from that moment. She adored Anna, being very fond of babies, and often had her on her lap in church. Somehow, in her gentle unassuming way, she became vital to our lives. She actually moved to live across the street so that she could be near us. She would pop in for coffee, babysit, and simply love us. Looking back, I can’t think of any particularly wise and wonderful things she said: she just smoothed our way by lovingly serving.

She seemed to be able to communicate easily with anyone. She was very fond of cricket and always knew the latest test scores. I remember giving her a lift once, and  also in the car was an inarticulate, awkward teenager. In no time this little old lady had charmed him into chatting away about cricket as if he had known her forever.

One day, she told me that she had not married until well into her forties. She was idyllically happy. Then three months later, her husband dropped dead from a heart attack. I wept as she spoke with a gentle sadness, but no bitterness or anger. I remember the soft look on her face as she talked of the love of her life.

I wonder what fierce struggles she had fought and won? Now there was simply a beautiful dependence on God, a deep trust, and a growing hunger for his presence. Always eager for more, at the age of 76 she  received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and was coveting to prophesy.

One morning, we had an anxious phone call from her sister. Could we go and check on her? She wasn’t answering the phone. We ran over and found her body lying on her bedroom floor; only she wasn’t there, she had gone to Glory in the night.

We felt her loss keenly. I will always associate her with Psalm 92 v 12 “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age, and stay fresh and green.”

Liz Holden’s mother, Margaret Etherton, was like that too. Always hospitable, she was a pastor’s dream. She would stand near Terry at the end of Sunday morning, and say, “Just send any people who need lunch down to me.” We used to joke that her round table was elastic, as it seemed to stretch! She once made a chicken provide a meal for 15 people. When we exclaimed, “How did you do it?” she just said vaguely, “It must have been the Lord…” It probably was. After all, if he could do it with loaves and fishes, why not a chicken?   She was a woman of faith and prayer.

Recently, I had a letter from my aunt. She was 102 in August.  She was widowed about 60 years ago, and had to bring up 6 children on her own. Now a great, great grandmother, she is constantly praising God and looking forward to meeting loved ones  in heaven.

I haven’t even mentioned my own mother, who at the age of 82 came to live near us. She had some cards printed inviting all the people in her block of flats to come to coffee, and then gave her testimony, and invited them to church. All her life she was motivated to bring people to Jesus, and prayed through every crisis.

I could go on, giving many examples of faith-filled elderly women. The thing is, now I am 65, I am on the edge being old myself! It is so strange, because I don’t feel old. (I remember my grandmother referring to “those dear old ladies” who were in their 70’s and 80’s. She was 98 at the time!) People without God are terrified of old age because they know life is rushing to its end, and they don’t know what to expect. So they try to perpetuate youth in an effort to postpone the inevitable.

Of course there are unwelcome aspects to aging: less energy, increased aches, droopy skin, wrinkles. I’m a sucker for face creams that promise miracles.(If you know of one that delivers the goods, let me know…) But the old ladies who walk with God have given me hope! You can be fruitful, happy  and serene, enjoying the advantages of growing old. Yep: you have to be old(ish) to have grandkids, and they are amazing! You don’t have to prove anything any more, because you’ve been there and done that (whatever “that” is). And if you don’t feel like rushing about no one is surprised! (Although I still mostly do rush about). You have lots of good memories; you have lots to thank God for, and I do, all the time.

And you know what? We know where we are going…when the old bod drops off, we shall be young again, or better, recreated. I shall join the old ladies’ tea party in Heaven, except we won’t be old any more. “Our youth will be renewed as the eagles…”

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Paris, Je T’aime!


Yes, it was absolutely crazy to go to Paris for the weekend when we are trying to sort out our furniture and pack up 30 years of memories prior to moving house; and we are going away for nine weeks on Friday to the USA and Mexico. I feel permanently out of breath and my brains are scrambled. But this date has been on our calendar for months, and hey, it’s Paris! No-one passes up an opportunity to visit this most beautiful and romantic of cities. Do they? Moi, je t’aime Paris!

So on Thursday, we left Brighton by train and embarked upon the Eurostar at St Pancras, the high speed train which goes through the channel tunnel straight to the Gare du Nord in 2 and a half hours.

What a fabulous, civilised, uncomplicated way to travel! Beats the crowds and indignities of airports, the frustration of congested roads, and the seasickness of ferries hands down.

We were met at the terminus by our friend Gordon Neal who drove us along by the Seine, past the Louvre, Pont Neuf and Notre Dame, and a fine view of the Eiffel Tower to his home in Issy.  Gordon is fluent in French and formerly lived in France. In 2007 while at the Brighton conference, he had a vision one night in which he knew God was calling him back to Paris to church plant. The next day, as he was translating for a prophetic seminar, he was called forward and three notable prophets powerfully prophesied over him, repeating, confirming and enlarging upon what God had already told him.

When Gordon finally hauled himself off the floor he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had to go. He was a business man living in beautiful Montreux, Switzerland, at the time. To relocate to Paris has been an enormously time consuming, energy sapping, finance swallowing operation. But he and his wife Kerry have accomplished it, and others have joined them, such as George and Gill Tee from Coventry. Currently, around 90 people now meet regularly. The main reason Terry and I went to Paris was so that Terry could preach to this embryonic church the foundational doctrines of grace and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But before the church gathered on the Saturday and Sunday, we had Friday to soak up the ambience! So the four of us took the metro to Montmartre and had a happy time wandering through the steep cobbled streets, relishing the sights: typically Parisian tall apartment buildings with their shuttered windows and attics in the roofs, the café tables  on the sidewalks, and the square where passers-by were having their portraits painted. We poked around in the artists’ shops and ate a leisurely lunch (Terry ate snails) at the Auberge de la Bonne Franquette, the very tavern where such luminaries as Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Sisley and Toulouse Lautrec enjoyed convivial meals and conversations.

The autumnal sun had now broken through as we approached Sacre Coeur and the view from this high spot over Paris was breathtaking. The organ was rolling out sonorous notes as we made a brief visit inside the majestic basilica. Feeling somewhat subdued by its massiveness, we emerged and took the funicular down to the Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge.

Ah, Paris! Wonderful in the spring, as we know, but sweet also in the falling autumn leaves.

But more exciting is the vision of a vigorous community of believers, so pulsating with life that it overflows into multiple churches which will affect the culture of this great city. On Sunday morning, about 10 responded to the teaching and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and others were healed of various painful conditions. From small springs flow mighty rivers; from acorns grow huge oak trees.

We believe in a God who has told us to dream big dreams and to have faith that moves mountains. I can believe in a big vision for Paris. I can pray for that.

Will you pray for Paris too?


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