heaven, Uncategorized, writing

“The Heavenlies” – A Peretti Pastiche (Part 1 of 2)


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One

There was an unusual air of excitement in the city of Exeter that hot summer’s evening as the University students began to flood into the local pubs, bars, and Off Licences. In fact, it wasn’t quite evening, still late afternoon, and already the streets were seething with young revellers following the recent culmination of the academic year. The sweet smells of beers and wines fused together and seemed to linger everywhere with the still impressive heat of day. But in and around all of the celebrations, overhanging them all, was a more sober sense of an impending threat.

Paul stood patiently at the bar, waiting. Despite his athletically tall build it always seemed to take an age for him to get served. He was easily over six feet, and, with his striking blonde hair and sharp features, was popular with the girls. For the moment, though, Paul was with his mates. He definitely felt more comfortable when his Christian friends were there. He wasn’t sure why, just that he often felt overwhelmed with the whole drinking thing. He told himself, and the lads, that he wasn’t very good at it; but he knew that he could probably keep up with the likes of Adie and Pete, especially with the amount of practice they had. Paul knew more intuitively than he cared to admit that the sense of being awkward came from somewhere else.

Two other strikingly tall figures stood near to the bar where the group of friends were now gathered. They stood perfectly still and silent, intently watching the group as they laughed and talked together. Paul remained oblivious to their presence as the evening set in and even later when they were standing in the group, towering above and either side of him. Although they showed no intention of using them, both characters were concealing huge, monolithic swords and they were dressed in beautifully plain clothes with no recognisable style or pattern. They stood with perfect poise and posture, impressive in every conceivable way.

It was now dark outside and Paul’s friends were agitating to move on into the City to find more pubs and more fun. A lot of people were out and it seemed as though everyone he knew was either in the pub or roaming the streets. He could see that it was getting raucous.

As the group finished their drinks and moved towards the door, the two strangers moved aside like a vast automatic door, allowing Paul to return his glass to the bar. The barmaid caught Paul’s eye and thanked him, smiling attractively. He responded with a cheeky wink – he was feeling more comfortable now – almost relaxed.

Two

Apathy, Desire and Deceit were perched awkwardly on the corner of the pub’s roof, watching Paul leave from their evil vantage point. An argument had broken out among the three demons as they waited impatiently for a commanding signal to follow Paul.  To avoid any skirmishes with the Lord’s host, Kaalk’s instructions had been for them to remain unseen until his senior command.

Desire was complaining again. Their ambush seemed trivial and insignificant as he fantasised about diving down into the pub with the hoards of other spirits. He prided himself in creating havoc and calamity in the adolescents’ lives – it was his singularly insidious intent. Apathy sat breathing slowly and discontentedly, saying and thinking nothing while Deceit made vain attempts to persuade Desire that it would be better not to wait but to seize the moment right now.

Fortunately for Desire, an eerie cry suddenly resounded throughout the immediate spiritual realm as Kaalk thundered past, wielding a burning sword and screaming obscenities. The other three demons leapt into action, unfolding their leathery wings and brandishing their own swords. They were now in hot pursuit of Paul who was already drinking in the next pub.

As he started another drink, Paul had turned his attention for a moment to a crowd of second-year lads outside the pub. A fight had started. One of them was being badly beaten by another two as several others stared, watched and did nothing. Within moments the crowd vanished as police sirens were heard approaching. Something in Paul’s heart winced as he looked at the boy left lying prostrate on the curb, now unconscious in a pool of his own blood. He wondered how people could be so cruel and his failure to act bothered him.

The two other glorious figures had followed Paul closely into the pub and were now more animated with their hands gently touching his head and chest. They were completely surrounding him. A piercing white light filled the room that emanated from where the two angels stood, shining intensely with palatial majesty as they ministered to him. Aramouth and Guldin knew what approached as they looked at each other in agreement; and they understood why the Lord wanted Paul to stray from their protection.

Between slurps of his pint, Paul continued to stare out of the window, watching the paramedics arrive and the police question others too drunk to talk properly. Adie and Pete were both drunk now and Paul realised that he too was feeling under the influence. He began to think that he should leave when Pete threw a reassuring arm around him. He shouted something in his ear to do with a girl at the bar and handed him another drink, slapping his back as he always did when he was drunk.

Kaalk smashed into the pub as Paul looked at his fresh drink. Aramouth and Guldin rose instantly in billows of air as their wings flexed like a ship’s sail in a storm. They reached for their swords that now shone with heavenly brilliance, bracing themselves for a fight they knew they were not to win. But Aramouth couldn’t resist and defiantly swung his sword in a powerful arch that sent Kaalk flailing to the floor. The other demons had arrived and quickly found Paul still illuminated by the glow of Guldin’s glory. Apathy was first to sink his sharp talons deep into Paul’s mind despite the angelic efforts to prolong his protection. Suddenly, Guldin roared in pain as Deceit bit and clawed into his back. Desire began slashing into Guldin’s wings with his jagged sword, leaving the heavenly warrior crumpled on the floor like an aged cheek. Startled by his friend’s cry, Aramouth instantly spun from his own advance on Kaalk and lifted his companion to safety with his vice-like arm.

Both angels were overwhelmed with grief as they passed through concrete and rafters and steel and rested out of sight, some distance from the city that now echoed with evil laughter. They knew that they had done more than was asked of them and yet every part of them cringed at the thought of their encounter with the kingdom of darkness. All they could do now was wait.

© Nick Franks, 2002

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Blogroll, Uncategorized

Paignton Paparazzi


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Last week-end I went out kayaking in the glorious October summer sun with a friend. It’s called the English Riviera down here for a reason – when the weather is like this it’s like being on the Continent: warmer temps, sparkling ocean, thousands of tourists, flip-flops galore and occasionally decent surf.

View of Preston Beach to Berry Head
Quality little beach where I grew up

I was thinking I’d take my camera out with me on the water to get some spectacular snaps but decided against it because I lost a pair of Oakleys the last time I kayaked. (I’d capsised when trying to retrieve a Tunnocks caramel bar from a million pound luxury craft who’d pulled alongside my kayak to offer the snack. That was the most expensive chocolate I’ve ever eaten).

Out on the water, it wasn’t long before I was wishing I’d taken the risk and brought my camera. Thatchers Rock is about 5 miles out to sea and it was a mission to get there across some (thanks to speed boats) choppy waters. The wild-life out there is pretty unusual too and the whole scene was just luscious.

About 5 hours later, when my friend and I got back to my parked car above Paignton Harbour, I noticed a bit of paper under my wiper saying “Kayak Photos” and  inside was an email address I could use as a contact to get my photos! Turns out that a photographer had spotted us walking down from the car to the beach about 5 hours before and, because of the blue lunch-box I was carrying, recognised me on the water as we kayaked off after that! (My lunch-box was on the front of the kayak).

I was blown away – better photos than I’d ever have taken!

This quirky moment reminded me that someone is probably always watching us and, even if they’re not, Abba always is. He does things like this occasionally just to remind me.

He will for you too.

Generation X, Mental Health, Worship, Music and Song

X Factor – Cattle Market Crush #1


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As a ‘creative type’ I normally love watching X-Factor – it’s often funny, entertaining and occasionally inspiring. But last week I was disgusted by it. I was disgusted by the lie of the devil to a generation of young people who are being treated like ‘talent meat’ while their hearts are puffed up or crushed.

There seems to be this mass hysteria, growing each year, that “if I can just make it then everything will be alright – I’ll get the future that I dream about and that my family deserves “, etc. Sometimes there are contestants that are so deluded about their singing ability that it makes me laugh hard but then there are those who are so genuinely crushed by failure to progress that it breaks my heart. (See below, 2 mins 40 secs).

This is the double-edged lie that is pandemic in our younger millennial and X generations: “If you have what it takes, if you have the xfactor and can win…you will have made it! But if you don’t have the xfactor you won’t have made it, you will have fallen short – it’s all or nothing!”. The reality is, it’s neither. The xfactor, (in this shallow, fickle sense), does not exist.

My concern is that, as important as it is to go after dreams and all that’s in your heart, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world are chasing a mirage. And that’s exactly where the spiritual enemy of Millennials, and Gen Xers, and you and I, wants us….chasing pipe dreams and fantasies that will never, and can never, satisfy.

http://www.unrealitytv.co.uk/x-factor/x-factor-2011-gary-barlow-admits-lots-of-boys-cried-during-judges-houses-spoilers/

I feel so sorry for the devastated ones from the week-end, as I do the others who can’t see the wood of reality for the trees of reason….but I feel equally sorry for the eventual ‘winners’ who take the bait that they really have won. Even Leona Lewis (the most successful Xfactor winner?) really hasn’t won, has she? Has she really got what she wanted? And needed?

“May the God of hope fill you (generations of young people) with ALL joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” – Romans 15:13

Theology

The Furious Longing of God


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Once as kids, my brother and I were in deep trouble with Dad for throwing apples from the garden and breaking some panes of glass in a neighbour’s conservatory. We were naughty boys and Dad was furious. And there are probably occasions you can think of when someone has been furious with you too, maybe when you were naughty.

Because of memories like this, I have always thought of ‘furious’ as a negative word or a ‘fury’ as a negative event or emotion. But this book has taught me otherwise. ‘The Furious Longing of God’ by Brennan Manning is one of those books that got my attention because of its title front-cover picture. It’s always good to pay notice to things like that as they kind of choose you.

‘Furious’ and ‘love’ barely seem to be words that go together at all, but this is what Manning has done in this book. He has shown how the thing we call ‘the love of God’ fits like a glove with the storm-like, tumultuous, irresistible, incomparable force that is the heart of Abba Father for each one of His children.

Tozer is famous for saying that ‘the first thing that comes into your head when you think about God is the most important thing about you”. So, what is that ‘first thing’ for you? Is it a disappointed and slightly irritated God, limited by your weaknesses and short-comings? Is it a distant, aloof God bordering on complacency about your role in life? Is it a sort of sloppy sentimentality relating to an ethereal being that has no real bearing on the choices you make in life? Is it a God who is able but just not likely to come through for you?

Or is it a dancing Father? Is it a picture of a Father who is so indescribably passionate about you that He would do anything, anything, to be with you? Not ‘us’ as a race of human beings. You. Yourself. What if we lived life knowing by experience that our God was first and foremost a dancing Father and that His emotions towards us (Ps.139:17) were like (and only like) the force of the sea as it rages or the heat from the sun as it blazes? The truth is, God is first and foremost a Daddy, to each one of us, whether we want an ‘Abba experience’ or not. But we’re invited to know Him so we can say, “Abba, I belong to You”.

This amazing book that I strongly commend reminded me that,  in all of my desire to be bigger and better and ‘maturer’ and more spiritually fruitful, God wants me to know Him as Abba, as Daddy, and for me to be found as His little boy. This is is the apex of all true spirituality.

Blogroll, Uncategorized

John 21 – (Hoofing) Fish, Beach-Fires and Worship #2


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I’m typing this post with fingers that still have the faint whiff of mackerel – despite several washings – reminding me that yesterday I was pulling fish out of the sea, left right and centre.

The annual Forged in the Fire Fishing Trip was very cool and being at sea for 10 hours filled my mind with snap-shot analogies, parallels, comparisons and pictures relating to the life of faith as a believer in Christ. Here’s just three:

The Boat:

Hoof! There were 12 of us aboard each trawler. Some of the guys were quiet, some were gobby, some were sleeping for hours, some were eating and some couldn’t because they were chundering over the side of the boat. Some seemed to be better and more experienced at fishing than others but, at some point, everyone’s strength came out. Some had all the gear while others had none. But it was a powerful picture of the church as equipment was shared, the sick were accepted & looked after, experience was used and some guys taught others how to catch and gut a fish or sort the tackle out, depending on what type of fish you were going for.

The Camp:

After the return to shore, all of us headed for a stunning natural balcony in the Whitby cliff-face where tents were set up and a fire was built. It was phenomenal to see 24 guys all pitching in, collecting firewood, hauling massive stones for the fire pit, lugging a keg of ale down the cliff-face, sharing tents etc. I’ll never forget it. Within 20 minutes of finding the spot the fire was roaring, (the best bbq I’ve ever seen), and soon after all manner of fish were being amazingly cooked. My friend, Rob, was like an American Bear (chocolate) Grills– cooking the fish with all his trans-Atlantic flare and getting things really going. The scene was like a glimpse of heaven.

The Fishing-Master – John:

The reality is, we might not have caught anything and the fire pit would have been empty if it wasn’t for this guy. He was responsible for taking us out to sea to the right places to drop our lines. Towards the end of the trip I was getting really irritated because the fish had apparently all swam off (we hadn’t caught anything for ages) and all we seemed to be doing is moving around the oceans, getting tossed around, lines up. But John was seeing what I couldn’t see. He had a radar-view of the wrecks that were the hot-spot areas to find fish and so, on his command, we let our lines down and, on his say so, we brought them back up. Sometimes there was only 2 minutes between each descent. It taught me that I had to be ready to ‘drop’. If my line was in a mess I’d miss the window and I’d miss the fish and I’d miss my supper later. John helped us catch 95 fish that day, some as big as 12 lbs! Enough to amply feed 24 hungry men.

Theology

John 21 – Fish, Beach-Fires and Worship


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They were totally knackered and hungry, heart-broken and angry, confused and missing Jesus: The disciples had returned to their grass roots at sea to find the encouragement of a good night’s work…but they caught nothing. Not even one fish.

Like all groups of blokes, there would have been a range of emotions (or at least a range of emotions expressed) as the boat gradually entered the shallows again, but the over-riding feeling would have been tiredness. This was a boat of tired men…tired fishermen, to be exact.

It was dawn when another man, a stranger, called from shore – “didn’t you catch anything?”. Within a few moments John has seen that it was Jesus – a glorified, resurrected Jesus – and within a few more moments still, Peter had put his jacket on and jumped into the sea, striding towards the shore, shells between his toes. This is the first time Peter would have seen Jesus since he betrayed his best Friend, unto death, so he would have been aware of his weakness. The last time Peter jumped out of a boat to meet Jesus he didn’t get wet – he had jumped onto the sea not into it.

Before long there is a fire, a miraculous catch of fish (at least 153 large ones) and a bunch of men strengthening each other just by doing life. There would have been questions galore…there would have been different levels of faith…there would have been shock and awe. But there would have been worship.

What strikes me about this most is that Peter’s reinstatement came after breakfast. Maybe Peter had tried to start the conversation with Jesus immediately (hence jumping into the sea to get ahead of the boat to meet Him) but Jesus clearly wanted the men to sit, eat, rest and enjoy brotherhood. The sense in this is that this aspect of doing life together as men (chilling, eating, sharing, helping, PRAYING) was just as important as raising the dead, preaching the gospel and healing the sick.

Jesus wanted it this way and had planned to be there that morning to refresh and strengthen His company of men.

Today is the same, chaps – Proverbs 17:17

 

 

 

 

Theology

Riveted


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Thunder, Fire, Smoke and Trumpets

There is a staggering moment in Exodus 19 and 20 when God speaks to all of Israel and issues the frame-work of living for all of civilisation. It’s a moment in Scripture that would be amazing on screen as God reveals Himself to a company of weak people through the presence of Mount Sinai. The mountain is literally billowing with smoke and fire (19:16-18) and thunder and lightening frame the scene as Moses climbs to meet with God in the thick darkness.

It’s a scene that is difficult to take in because the pervasive feeling is that the Israelites (near the foot of the mountain) are unsafe – that they are in harm’s way because of the shoe-removing holiness of the scene and the sacredness of what’s happening. We don’t feel unsafe in worship and neither are we. But we are standing before a God who can make Mount Everest burn with fire and billow smoke like a furnace…daily we stand in places like this because of grace. And we are invited to climb!

Break Through to Break Out

God warns Moses that the Israelites don’t break through and touch the foot of the mountain incase He breaks out amongst them and kills them – such is the AWESOMENESS of His holiness and His presence. There is a reality of God’s holiness that we are barely aware of. There is a reality of His presence that we can barely imagine. BUT, unlike these Hebrews, we are invited to break through into His reality and taste and see…that God would break out amongst us.

(Definition of rivet (verb): “to secure; to hold firmly, as in eyes; to engross; to fascinate”)

This holy breaking-out of God in our lives, churches, communities, cities and Nations (ethne) is for the riveting of our eyes….the eyes of our heart. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God, says Jesus. And through all this smoke and fire and thunder claps and trumpet blasts is the invitation to be fixed on God – to be fascinated with Him through temptation and trial and comforted by Him in turmoil and loneliness…to be riveted on Him for the prospering of our souls.

God tells Moses in the next chapter that the purpose of the fear of the Lord is that they wouldn’t sin. The riveting of their hearts on a God of such might and power meant that they wouldn’t sin.

Being riveted on God = not sinning. Being riveted on God = the breaking out of His gracious power and presence. Being riveted on God = Nations being swept up in the God who effortlessly paints scenes like in Exodus 19 and 20.

Imagine the invitation to reach out and touch….(Please see Hebrews 12:8)

Generation X, Worship, Music and Song

RN11 – Influence


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This week, RN11 has just done what it said it would – rocked hundreds of Nations all over the planet.

Headlining the conference was Hillsong NYC’s Carl Lentz, powerfully preaching the gospel of grace and getting rowdy with the guys and gals. He was all about zeal for a life of purity and consecration and, flip me, does this guy know how to preach!

The best headlining band I have heard at RN in quite a few years, Gungor, played on Thursday evening. And they were truly high qual. Their music was anointed, compelling, world-class, and lots of other things taboot. I couldn’t believe how good they were.

But it was the home team at ALC/RN that blew me away the most, AGAIN, pulling together to make the conference mint. Musicians, dancers, singers, AV crew, sound/camera team, caterers, pastors, welcome team, hooverers (after the big exploding ball things) – incredible. Incredible influence. When you’re around incredibly influential young people like this you can’t help but get caught up in it – influencers tend to snowball…..well out of control.

http://rocknations.com/rn11-highlights

Book in now for RN12: www.alm.org.uk/rocknations

Mental Health, Theology

Mobile or ‘Mobill’?


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Whoever said that men can’t multi-task was very wrong!

I recently walked into a public toilet to witness perhaps the best example of multi-tasking I have ever seen: a bloke urinating at a urinal whilst holding his mobile phone with his other hand busy replying to a text, or a tweet, or whatever else that was so important that it couldn’t wait for 30 seconds while he finished, shook off and hopefully washed his hands.

The word ‘cell’ can be used to biologically refer a tiny part of the human body or sociologically to refer to a small group of people. It can also be used architecturally to refer to its other meaning of a small room, such as a prison, (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cell) & technologically to refer to what is regarded today to be one of the most essential items of 21st Century living, (http://ezinearticles.com/?Mobile-Phones—Essential-Part-of-Our-Lives&id=256895).

Since having an iPhone, I have noticed that I have been spending more and more time on it to the point where I have felt like I am virtually imprisoned in my cell phone. It has become one of the biggest obstacles for me in maintaining my healthy margins in life. With its perpetual stream of facebook updates and invitations, emails and twitter alerts, it has become a constant demand on my attention and on-going drain of my prayerfulness. So, the iPhone had to go and in its place came a 10 quid beauty to do the txt and call job.

Ask yourself this, have you ever been on your own in a pubic place and found yourself feeling awkward unless you get your phone out and start playing? We all have. That’s my point. Why do we feel like that?

I have been wondering how much healthier my soul would be if I was to meditate over Scripture or focus in prayer for even a fraction of the time that I spend fixated to the thing. How many amazing, miraculous things have I missed because I have been totally absorbed by the gadgets of the mobile?

Perhaps we should all have a ‘no-tweet-while-peeing’ ban and look up a bit more often – I wonder what we might see!

Theology

We’re All Changing: ‘I want’ to ‘they need’


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There are two kingdoms: the claustrophobic kingdom of self and the expansively glorious Kingdom of God. One is a kingdom riddled with small-minded selfishness and the other is one saturated with the transforming love and grace of Jesus. The mind-sets of ‘self’ and ‘others’ collide.

As believers we are fundamentally subjects of only one Kingdom but daily we stray and switch feet between camps as we wrestle and war with the persistent nagging to live according to our own desires and wants. Like when we get irritated in busy traffic because the laws of our own selfish kingdoms are broken (all these drivers are in MY way). I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want. I want. I want. I want.

But the Kingdom of heaven is a transforming kingdom. A kingdom full of the transforming love and grace of a Saviour who will not relent or rest until every microbe of sin is delivered from every cell of every heart of every one of His children. His grace is teaching us. His grace keeps us. It transforms our ‘I want’ into His ‘they need’. They need. They need. They need. They need. They need. They need. They need.

Be in awe of this grace. Be grateful for this grace. Be confident in this grace.  If you see and feel your need of it…it is changing you.