Riding the Craigieburn Trails

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I stumbled across the Craigieburn Forest almost by accident, while driving the Arthur’s Pass between the West Coast and Christchurch earlier this year. Signs on the side of the road flashed by: “Mountain Bike Trails”. I immediately depressed the brake pedal. “Come on,” I said to Francelle, “We have our bikes on the back. Let’s have a look.” The landscape was Stunning. We jumped on a trail not far from the road and were soon weaving through dense beech forest and along tussock-covered hills, all beneath a 270-degree vista of snow-capped mountain peaks. I only wished we had more time. I knew that one day I’d be back.

mankymap1That day came last weekend, at my sister’s book launch in Oxford, Canterbury. I’ve learned the best plan is to map out your ride in your head before you leave, otherwise you get easily disoriented and lost (with no phone data connection). The trails are well set out on a number of different internet sites (see here and here). One of them caught my eye – the Craigieburn Edge trail. Here’s a description:

“Best suited to intermediate to advanced riders… Riders’ nerves are tested from the start as the Craigieburn Edge trail cuts across a steep scree slope before dropping into beech forest for a thrilling descent.”

Excellent! Sounds like a bit of me. I strapped the bike on the back of the car and set off. The trail starts at the end of Craigieburn Ski Field Rd, which is about a 700m climb from the main West Coast Rd. It was off-road stuff, one lane only with fords. It’s places like these where 4-wheel-drive vehicles come in handy.cbt-1

cbt-2When I reached the top there was a car park and a ski village, but no sign of any bike trail. That’s a pain, I thought. While I was wondering what to do next a Double Cab full of bikes and bikers turned up. This looks promising. I asked them if they knew where the Craigieburn Edge Trail was. “We’re heading there now,” they said. “You can follow us.” Perfect.

Well I was glad they arrived because I would have NEVER found the beginning of the trail. We traipsed with our bikes through the last of the winter snow to the bottom of the ski lift and there, very evident, was the Edge Trail.cbt-3

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After taking a few pics of each other we mounted our “steeds” and headed off.cbt-5The trail was a bit tricky and you had to navigate through the shale and pieces of rock that had slid down the mountain. Every now and then the path disappeared altogether and you had to stop, pick up your bike and walk over the rock. But the view was stunning (as you can see).cbt-6

Here’s a couple of more pics on the same track I leached from :beer-045c1090

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Less than 10 minutes into my ride I came around a corner and my front wheel hit a rock which spun my handlebars violently to the right and sent me flying full speed into the rock face. It was the hardest fall I’ve had yet. I felt a sharp pain in my right arm – really deep at the bone level. I looked down and saw a bunch of skin missing and quite a bit of blood coming out. Fortunately, I hadn’t broken anything. But it was a close call. I probably should have sat down and taken it easy for a few minutes. But, like most bikers, I got back up, straightened up the handlebars, and took off (I paid for this later).

It was only early afternoon and I had a few hours left.  Even with my sore and bloodied arm I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to investigate one or two more trails.  There was one I wanted to re-visit, when I was with my wife earlier on in the year: the Dracophyllum Flat Track.  It’s a beautiful ride along a plateau that weaves through tussock while you have an almost 360 degree view of mountains.

The pictures I took just didn’t do it credit so I grabbed a couple from the web to give you an idea: beer-053img_0684I just love places like this. I love the beauty, the ruggedness and the remoteness of it all.  It’s time where I can unwind, unplug work devices and breathe in the mountain air. I not only see the beauty of God’s creation; I experience it.

Reflecting once again on all this, Psalm 104 came to mind. It beautifully describes the creative power of God in forming the earth. I’ll leave with a few verses:

He established the earth on its foundations;
it will never be shaken.
You covered it with the deep
as if it were a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At Your rebuke the waters fled;
at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away —
mountains rose and valleys sank —
to the place You established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
they will never cover the earth again.
He causes the springs to gush into the valleys;
they flow between the mountains.
They supply water for every wild beast;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky live beside the springs;
they sing among the foliage.
He waters the mountains from His palace;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of Your labor.
Psalm 104:5–13 (HCSB)

The truth will set you free

brokenchainOne of the benefits of living in a democracy is we get to enjoy a lot of freedoms. Take the New Zealand Bill of Rights – it’s a public document – you can look it up online. Under the section “Democratic and civil rights” you’ll find this:

nz-bill-of-rights13 Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.

14 Freedom of expression
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

15 Manifestation of religion and belief
Every person has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.

16 Freedom of peaceful assembly
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

17 Freedom of association
Everyone has the right to freedom of association.

But for many in our society, when they hear the word “freedom”, they are not thinking civil rights. They are not thinking freedom of speech and religion. They are thinking from all moral restraints.  “Real freedom,” they say, “means doing whatever I want, whenever I want, without anyone stopping me.”  And we all know where that kind of freedom takes us – don’t we?

Remember the story of the Prodigal Son. He wanted to leave home. He didn’t like living under his Father’s restraints. So he demands his inheritance and goes off to live a life of self-indulgence and instant gratification.  But it doesn’t take long before he realizes it’s another form of slavery. Thomas Huxley – a famous atheist was right. “A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.”

If we are to be truly liberated or truly free, that liberation must take place deep within. That’s where Jesus comes in. According to Jesus, there is a special kind of freedom that only HE – the Son, can give us.

In John 8:31-32 Jesus speaks these most profound words,

“If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Jews respond in the next verse:

“We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered Him, “and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Well this is a very interesting response isn’t it, considering their history. They were slaves of the Egyptians. They were in bondage to the Assyrians and Babylonians, and then the Medo-Persians and the Grecians. And now they’re in bondage to the Romans.

Jesus replies with these words:

 “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34)

Now this would have hit them like a slap in the face, and it does the same for us.  Jesus is telling us something here about our true problem. It is sin. And sin, Jesus says, is not just something bad we do but a power deep within us that makes us do those things.  We sin because we are sinners.  We are in bondage.  And the more we repeat an act of sin, the more that bondage grips us.

We know this to be true – don’t we?  You remember the first time as a child that you stole something –  perhaps it was some money from your mother’s purse. You felt terrible doing that.  You lay on your bed that night crushed by guilt.  A day later you take some more.  And then some days later, some more. Each time it is less of a struggle. Some weeks later it comes normally.  You have been overtaken by that sin.  You are now completely enslaved.  It’s the new normal.

This is how addictions develop. Take the man addicted to pornography. He begins by looking at one or two pictures.  Just a little bit, I’m just curious, he says. The image flashes and his heart races – he gives him a high. Then he needs a little bit more – something more explicit; more exciting, more lewd. As time goes on his craving increases as his satisfaction level decreases.  He’s on the way to prison. He’s enslaved.

John Calvin mentions this when he says, “The greater the mass of vices anyone is burdened under and buried under, the more fiercely and bombastically does he extol his free will. Isn’t that interesting? The more we are overcome by sin, the more we are inclined to say we are free.

It is from this bondage and this misery that Jesus gives us hope.  He says in verse 35:

“A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” (John 8:35–36)

A slave’s position in a house is tenuous, shaky and fragile. A slave could be sold, or traded or simply got rid of.  But not the Son.  The remains in the house forever.  The Son has the authority to liberate a slave and change his status. If the Son sets you free, you are completely free.  This is what Jesus, the Son of God, can do for us.

Spurgeon calls this text the “The great liberator.” That’s who Jesus is – He is the great Liberator. Can He free me from guilt? Yes, He can free you from guilt. Can he free me from the punishment that I deserve because of my sin? Yes, he can free you from that too.  Can he free me from the power of sin in my life?  Yes, he can free you from sin’s power. Can he free me from the fear of death? Yes he can, for he has taken the sting out of death and death is no longer an enemy.

So we now see our problem.  Our problem is slavery.  We are in bondage to sin.  And we have seen Jesus’ promise that he can set us free from that bondage.  The only question we are left with now is HOW?  Go back to the beginning. Look again at verses 31-32:

 “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Note the chain reaction.  It begins with BELIEF.  That’s the first step. You look closely at the person called Jesus.  You listen to what he says. You hear his claims. And you make a conscious decision: “This man is the real thing. This is the Son of God. He came to take away my sin.” And you put your faith in him.

But that’s only the first step. You can’t stop there. You must CONTINUE IN HIS WORD.  This is the Greek word meno.  It means to stay or abide.  You don’t just visit God’s Word as an occasional guest. You move in and live there. You wake up with the Word and you return there every night.  The word begins to have a deep effect on you. It changes your worldview. It governs and guides your thinking, your attitudes, your speech and your behaviour. There isn’t any area of your life that not influenced by the Word in some way.

And then, what is the result of continuing in his word?  YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH. He’s not talking about rational or logical truth. He’s not saying you’ll know that 2 + 2 = 4. Jesus is talking about spiritual truth. Truth about God and man and sin and man’s need for redemption.  Truth about why we are here and where we are going after we die. Truth about life and death, heaven and hell.  Truth about how sin enslaves and how we can be free, you see.  That’s the truth he’s talking about.

When we know that truth, Jesus says, THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.  Really free.  Truly free.  I like how John Piper puts it: Free is the sense that you have the desire, the ability and the opportunity to do what makes you happy – not just for today, not just for a week from now, but 10,000 years from now.  A freedom that leaves you with no regrets forever. That’s the kind of freedom Jesus promises.

It’s a terrible thing to live in bondage to sin, while all the while thinking you are free. I lived that way for the first 20 years of my life. I looked at Christians and thought to myself, “those poor people – look what they’re missing out on in life!  All that Jesus stuff – studying their bibles and going to church. How boring!  How dull!”  And so I continued to enjoy my life of sin – my so-called “freedom.”  But there was something about those Christians that bothered me.  They had a joy and an inner I didn’t have.

Then one day I started to investigate Jesus for myself.  I read through the New Testament.  And I came one day to these words, “If the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” And I said to myself, I want that freedom. I want that peace and joy those followers of Jesus have. And so I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus. I began to study His Word.  I began to understand spiritual truth.  And that truth has set me free.

Do you also want to be free?  Then recognize your true condition. Believe the wonderful message of Jesus – that he died and rose again for us, to set us free. Come to Him.  Put your trust in Him. Have him break the chains of sin give you true freedom.

For if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.

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One year on

great-expectations

August 1, 2016 marked the first anniversary of our son’s accident. A year ago, on a clear Saturday morning Mark was making a routine ride on his motorcycle from Pasadena to his accommodation in Palmdale, Los Angeles. Instead of taking the freeway Mark took the shortcut through the Angeles National Forest, an area notorious for accidents.  Exactly what happened next no one knows but his bike went down on a curve and he slid into a roadside barrier.lhvrpd5ha85nqvqowih6vi67dbii-wt_rifhjqcd7cm-2 His left leg was completely severed on impact above the knee and his right leg was partially severed off and pulverized beyond recognition.  Through what can only be called a miraculous series of events Mark was picked up by a specialized helicopter crew (with paramedics on board) from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and flown to Huntington Hospital where he underwent a series of operations to try to save what was left of his right leg.  Mark returned to New Zealand in November 2015 where he underwent further hospital treatment before arriving at his parents’ home in Nelson. Knowing this was an important occasion, we (his parents) prepared a special dinner and wrote him a letter which we read out to him after our meal. This is what we said.

Mark,

Well here we are, 12 months down the track from an incident that has changed your life forever. A moments inattention or hesitation or over-reaction (or whatever it was) on the road and look at the result. No one is blaming you or pointing the finger, because we’ve all done it – whether it’s reaching for the cell phone or falling asleep at the wheel. And we’re not the ones who had to endure the pain, the agony, the surgeries and sleepless nights as well as who-knows-how-many weeks in a hospital bed. Nor are we left stumbling around on one leg.

We all feel for you Mark, we really do.

It was unbearable for your mother and I to be so far away from you while the surgeons were working on you, refilling your body with blood while they tried to patch together what used to be two perfectly shaped legs. One of them was a lost cause – they could see that. But there was hope for the other one… maybe.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling we both had as we drew nearer to the hospital in LA. We didn’t know what we were going to see. We didn’t even know if you’d be alive. So you can imagine the relief we experienced when we saw you lying there so peacefully, sleeping as if nothing had really happened.

But a lot did happen. It took some days before we could piece the story together. You came as close to death as any man could – or should. It was only due to an incredible combination of circumstances – the perfect storm, the SEB guys called it – a woman stops, a fire ranger makes a call, a helicopter crew decides to dispatch, paramedics apply tourniquets, a critical care team at a hospital prepares. And then you arrive – on time. JUST.

Some call it luck. Others call it quick response. We call it divine intervention. Somebody was watching you Mark. And he has your days numbered. Fortunately for you (and us), your number aint up.

I know you probably think your life stinks right now. And in many ways it does. But, as a wise king once said, “a live dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).  In other words, it doesn’t matter how low or despicable life gets, life is still life and it’s better than being dead. Your future from here on is to a large degree determined by your choices. You can make a real go of it – in the body you’ve got, and make an awesome contribution to this world, or you could waste and squander it.

You can guess which life we are praying for you.

Love you heaps,

Mum and Dad.

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Remember Your Creator (a message for the young)

sunset-925995_960_720Most young people look forward to being older but not being old. Getting old is something no one really wants but it’s something that happens to us all, whether we like it or not (trust me, I know). And the Bible has a lot of wisdom to offer on the matter of growing old. Here’s one of them:

“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Why? That’s a strange kind of thing for Solomon to say isn’t it? Shouldn’t he be saying “Remember your Creator in the days of your old age.” I mean, that’s when you need to think about God the most isn’t it – when you’re close to death?

No, says Solomon. That’s the mistake many people make. You need to remember God now, while you’re young.

Now why is this? I want to give you a few reasons.

1. You need to remember God in your youth because if you don’t, you are not likely to remember Him when you are older.

Believe me, I’ve been at a lot of death beds. I’ve watched a lot of people die, and I can tell you if they’ve managed to live their whole life not wanting God, why should they die wanting God?  They’ve done without Him OK until now, why change anything?

You can look at the statistics yourself. Most people come to Christ when they are relatively young.

  • 85% become Christians before age 14
  • 10% become Christians between 15 – 30
  • 4% become Christians after the age of 30

You see one of the signs of old age is an unwillingness to change. You get stayed in your ways. You get used to a certain way of doing something and it just stays that way. Look at your parents – when was the last time your dad grew all his hair out? Have you ever seen your parents change their music tastes? Or movie tastes? No, they are not going to change.  Why?  Because change gets harder as you grow older.

  • If you choose to live without God now, it’s likely stay that way
  • If Jesus isn’t part of your life right now, He isn’t likely to be a part later on
  • The longer you wait to follow God, the less likely it will be you will ever do so

That’s why you need to remember God now, in your youth.

2. You need to remember God in your youth because much of the direction of your life is determined while you are young. 

Picture4Before you hit 18 you will have made up your mind about where you are heading in life, whether you like National or Labour (or in my case, neither), what music tastes you like, what kind of friends you’ll have, and what kind of man or woman you’ll want to marry (or partner with, if that’s where you’re heading). And most of your habits – good and bad, will have already been formed. If God has not been a part of you deciding any of these things, you’re in for a very tough time of it.

If you don’t believe me, ask Solomon. Initially, Solomon loved God. He was the son of David and the builder of the temple. He asked for wisdom above any other gift. He started well but got off track. He eventually refused to remember his Creator in the days of his youth. Gradually, over the course of time, he made little compromises that became bigger compromises that in the end, caused disaster. He cultivated relationships with ungodly women and these ungodly women led him into idolatry. Even though he had everything this world has to offer (i.e., wine, wealth, wisdom, women, and work), he was miserable.

I came to Christ when I was 19 – all my habits, tastes, lifestyle was already set. And it was all heading in the opposite direction to what God wanted. So it all had to change. It was like starting over. It was hard. But not as hard as it would be if I was 40 or 50. By following and obeying God now, you can prevent yourself from experiencing a lot of pain.

3. You need to remember God in your youth, because as you get older your life becomes more difficult to manage.

The most difficult thing you have to face right now is getting up in the morning and remembering to rinse your breakfast dishes before you go to school. You don’t have anything to worry about. Your parents do all the worrying for you!

Later, as you get older, it isn’t going to be like that. There is coming a day when you will have to pay for yourself. You will have to pay for rend and food and petrol and phone and internet bills as well as a hundred other things. Right now you’re thinking about what to do with all the spare time you have. But later you’ll be thinking about things you’d like to do but you have neither the time nor the money.

Picture5“What?” you say to yourself, “no time and no money?”  That’s right – just like your parents.  Instead of getting exciting about going out, you’ll be excited to get an early night – because these kids of yours wear you out. You will go from one week to the next; one paycheck to the next. It will be a fight to survive.  As the pressures grow and the weariness of life grows, you will find you will need God more and more every day.

But if you don’t live for God now, why should He help you later?  Have you ever thought of that? He might say – “You’ve had your chance, and you snubbed your nose at me.”

Learn to live and trust God now and it will pay dividends later in life. Jesus will help you through the worst of trials.

4. You need to remember God in your youth, because you might not ever reach old age.

Have you ever thought of that? There’s no guarantee for any of you here, that you will reach old age. There are young boys, young teens, and young men dying every day. They die from accidents, they die from cancer, they die from war (they are dying in the Middle East right as I speak) and they are dying on our roads.

If you are thinking to yourself, “It’s OK, I’m going to follow Jesus when I get older” you are thinking very unwisely.  You might not get much older.

So therefore choose to follow Jesus now, while you can, while the door is open.

Conclusion

I’m sure that many of you here have great plans for your lives. You may have plans for a great career where you are earning lots of money. You may have plans to travel the world and see all the sights. You may have plans to compete in some sport at an international level, like the Olympics. You may have plans to get married and have children of your own. But those plans don’t include living seriously as a Christian. Those plans don’t include Jesus. And so Jesus warned those who put other things ahead of God.  He said,

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it.” (Luke 9:24)

Now is the time to set the direction for your life. Now is the time align your priorities. Don’t leave it until later. Don’t leave it until you are 30 or 40 or 50. For then it may be too late. You’ll become stuck in your ways and less open to God. Make time for God now. There is NOTHING more important in life than being in a right relationship with God through his Son. Everything else is lesser. And without God, it’s all absolutely meaningless.

Have a great life.

NB: This post is based on a message I preached recently at an ELEVATE Youth Service at our church

9 minus 1

wilburA cat has nine lives the saying goes. Well our cat just lost one.

We were enjoying quiet and relaxing Wednesday evening when suddenly my eldest daughter burst through the front door in tears crying, “I just saw a cat get hit by a car – I think it was Nico.”

A numbing sensation took hold of me. A zillion thoughts raced through my head – too many, too fast – I was experiencing a major short-circuit.

 Oh no, I thought.  Surely not. This can’t be.  

Those of you who are closer to us may remember a facebook post we put up a couple of weeks back. Our cat disappeared one day and we couldn’t find him. Almost a week later he suddenly turned up, jumping through the cat-flap. We all leaped out of our seats. He was home.

fb postAnd now this? I walked out the front door and toward the road, hoping against hope that there was some kind of mistake. She saw another cat – perhaps one of the neighbour’s. It just looked like Nico. It wasn’t really him. I instantly spotted him in the middle of the road – his colouring – the familiar white and brown coat and thick fur. It was Nico all right. And he wasn’t moving.

I stepped into the middle of the road, oblivious to the flashing headlights of the cars swerving to avoid me.  Our street is reasonably quiet except for two times of the day – morning and evening. That’s because it’s used as a shortcut from the main part of town to the outer suburbs.  Before and after work – that’s when it’s the busiest.  You chose a bad time Nico, to run across the street.

I knelt down beside him. Blood was seeping from his nose. Darn you cat, what did you have to do this? Don’t you think of looking before you cross the road? 

Obviously not. I gently picked him up. He felt dead. He looked dead. And if he wasn’t dead, he had to be heading in that direction. I’ve seen enough cats bowled by cars in my lifetime. The survival rate is zero, minus 10 (try to imagine being hit by a Kenworth truck on a pedestrian crossing). If they do live, it’s usually only for a few minutes.

I laid him down on the footpath. The tears and sobs from my family in the background only added to my agony. My mind was in a fuzz. How am I going to deal with this? That’s when I noticed his tummy slowly rising and falling. He’s still breathing… poor thing… I’ll take him to the vet. If he’s going to die, at least he can die peacefully and in good care.

Emma decided to come with me. I thought that was brave of her. Francelle wrapped him in a towel and then put him in her arms. The first Veterinary Clinic was closed, but I knew of another one close by our home. I did a 180 and headed back into Richmond. It was about then that the cat started coming around. He put his head up, looked at me, and closed his eyes again.

Still doesn’t look good, I thought… but then maybe…. perhaps – is it actually possible for a cat to survive this? Well my son Mark did, after nearly being cut in half.  God made men and cats. And he made them both pretty resilient. I started praying.

The lights were on at the Town and Country Vet. That’s a good sign. I parked the car and went to the door. It looked like some kind of puppy class going on. I didn’t see any vet staff.  But what do I have to lose? I knocked on the door. A young woman in uniform opened the door.

“Do you know any after-hours vets?  Our cat just got hit by a car. He’s still alive.”
“We do after hours,” she said. “Come right in.”

Praise God, I thought. Then I started getting one of those sensations – I can’t explain it, it’s only something a believer in Jesus can experience. It’s a peace – a quiet assurance that somehow, everything was going to be alright. They don’t always experience it. And not everything always works out right (at least, according to our terms). But I did experience it then.

text 1It took quite some time for Molly (the nice vet nurse who let us in), and a number of phone calls to get hold of the vet.  Meanwhile she did an examination of Nico, taking his heart rate and temperature and asking questions and writing things down. It’s not that much different from A&E (or ER if you’re an American). She even had Emma feed Nico some oxygen to aid recovery. Somehow I never thought you would give a cat oxygen.

WP_20160824_004text 2He still did not look good. Thoughts of internal bleeding seeping into his system went through my mind. I put those thoughts away and started praying again. It seemed like an eternity before I heard a car pull up outside and a man walked in. “Hi, I’m Roger” he said, smiling and shaking my hand. The jolly cat is dying and you’re shaking my hand. He was absolutely calm (unlike me) and went about his business like he was working on a model aeroplane. Well, I guess this is his job.

He felt around Nico carefully, looked into his mouth (white gums is a sign of blood loss – Nico’s were pink). He then gently picked the cat up and put him on his all-fours. The cat stayed upright. Emma and I looked at each other in disbelief.

WP_20160824_006 (2)“Well, well” he said “This is remarkable. This is not the way it usually turns out”
“You mean the cat is OK?”
“Well, he’s pretty sore and concussed but there’s no broken bones or internal bleeding that I can see. I’ll give him a shot of pain-killer and antibiotic – in case he has a slight cut in the lung or bowel, and then you can take him home.”

Emma and I looked at each other again. A little smile broke out on her face. This really was unbelievable.

Or was it?  Jesus says if God takes care of the birds and the flowers how much more will he be looking out for us. Sometimes we think God is only concerned about the big things in life – the things that really matter, like people being crushed in earthquakes (the reports of the 6.2 magnitude quake in Italy were just coming through) and cities being swept away in tsunamis. And he IS concerned about those things – deeply. But he is also interested in the little things as well; particularly those things that matter dearly to those who know and love him.

“Do not be afraid little flock,” Jesus says in Luke 12:32, “because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.” Now I know in the context, Jesus is speaking directly about God providing for our needs which frees us up to give generously and joyfully to others. But this verse also tells us something about the nature of God and what kind of heart God has. It’s about what makes God glad — not merely about what He will do or what he has to do, but what he delights to do, what he takes pleasure in doing.

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He takes pleasure in loving, caring and taking care of his own. God was concerned about Nico because we were concerned about Nico. Our concerns became his concerns. He knew what we could take as a family. And he decided, in his infinite love and wisdom and mercy, to spare us from this grief.

So Nico loses one his nine lives. He has eight left. If he wants to experience them all, he better keep off that road.

He’s not the greatest

Usain BoltUsain Bolt has done it again. He strode into history with third straight Olympic 200-metre gold . The cameras zoomed in. The public address system announced his name. He did his little dance. And the crowd went wild.

For many, Bolt is a god. People love him. They adore him. He is the epitome of human strength, speed and power. And he knows it.

“I don’t need to prove anything else,” Bolt said. “What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?”

Oh dear.  Is that what it’s all about? Proving to the world that you are the greatest? We’ve seen it all before, with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Pele, they reach the top of their game and attain world-wide fame. And then they spend the rest of their days basking in their hard-earned glory.

The truth of it all is Usain is not as fast as everyone thinks he is. Take a look at this visual guide I found:

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I grabbed this from their post:

The world’s most extraordinary human runner would not beat, say, an ordinary warthog. A warthog can run around 30 miles per hour on an average day—no training, no audience, no special wind conditions. Housecats also regularly reach this speed, as do grizzly bears, rabbits, and white-tailed deer. The roadrunner can run 25 mph even though it can also fly. A certain class of butterflies, called skippers, can get up to 37.

The Olympics may have us all misty-eyed at the heights (and lengths, and speeds, and depths) of human achievement. But if we were ever to open the stadium gates to the whole animal kingdom, we’d quickly be put back in our place. I’m not even talking about those fancy calculated situations that try to make things physiologically fair, and thus prove that a human-sized ant could pick up a semi-truck with one leg, or that a human-sized flea could jump Big Ben.

So Usain is outclassed by a butterfly.  Seems that God has the last laugh.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against great sporting achievements. My wife and I have recorded a number of our favourite olympic events. We enjoy watching the outcome of years of discipline, self-control, and fantastic coaching (coaches ought to be up there to receive medals as well). It’s just that we need to keep all things in perspective. Whenever we watch these stunning feats of human achievement and look with adoration as the athletes take the podium, we need to remember who made them and where their strength and speed and power comes from.

And a day is coming when they – along with all of us, will face the only One who can take the title “The Greatest”. And we will bow our knee in humble adoration. Willingly or unwillingly.

This is what the Lord says:
The wise man must not boast in his wisdom;
the strong man must not boast in his strength;
the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.
But the one who boasts should boast in this,
that he understands and knows Me —
that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love,
justice, and righteousness on the earth,
for I delight in these things.
(Jeremiah 9:23–24)

Put no more trust in man,
who has only the breath in his nostrils.
What is he really worth?
(Isaiah 2:22)

When darkness becomes light

gandalf_the_white_by_freddyjay-d5sd753Earlier this week I flew to Wellington for a meeting. When we lifted off from Nelson the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the temperature was just right. When I landed the sky was grey, it was raining and the wind chill factor was down to zero. Within 10 seconds I was nearly frozen to death. I shook my head in disbelief. The distance between Wellington and Nelson is only 125 km – as the crow flies. How could this be possible? Was I really on the same planet?

Take that experience and ramp it up a hundred fold. That was what it was like for the Son of God to come to this earth. He must have wondered what hit him. Perfection encountering deficiency. Holiness encountering sin. Truth encountering lies. Sincerity encountering pretence. Love encountering rejection and hate.

The light came and shone and the darkness does not comprehend it.

“Who are you?” The Pharisees questioned (John 8:25)
“Precisely what I’ve been telling you from the very beginning,” Jesus told them.

But they didn’t get it. Because they didn’t want to get it.

Jesus made it very plain who he was. He is fulfilment of all Old Testament types, shadows and prophecies. He is the Word of life. He is the bread of life – the true manna God sends from heaven. He is the true temple of God. He is the true vine. And he is the way, the truth and the life.

But the Pharisees just didn’t get it. Take the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus for example, which we find in John chapter 3 (my paraphrase):

“Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”
“I don’t understand what You’re talking about” Nicodemus replies.
“Unless you come into the kingdom, you can’t understand”
“I don’t understand what You’re saying”
“Look,” Jesus says “Unless a man is born from above, you cannot see the kingdom of God”
“I don’t understand a word of what You’re saying.”

Note that everything that comes out of Nicodemus’ mouth confirms what Jesus is saying. The natural man – the man without God working in him, is in complete darkness. It’s one thing to be blind and know it. It’s quite another to be blind and not know it. And that is the exact condition of all human beings. We are blind to our own blindness.

Is there any hope for us? Yes there is.

There is a moment – a wonderful moment, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when Gandalf the Grey takes off his cloak and it’s Gandalf the White. And every one steps back – in wonder and amazement. They got it.

That is what happens when the Spirit of God opens our eyes to see the true nature of the Son of God; we see him for who he really is. It is what happens when we hear the words of Jesus – they sound strange, other-worldly, and we struggle to comprehend them. We take a deep breath, close our eyes and BELIEVE in them. When we open our eyes, there he is, right in front us.

That’s when we realize he’s been standing there all the time. We just couldn’t see him.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1–5)

I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)