John

Meet John and Maureen.  John was diagnosed with diabetes in his early twenties, has been struggling with health issues for a number of years.  He was taken into hospital last week with a serious heart condition.  We heard that he might not make it.  Well he did make it, and I got to catch up with him with his wife a couple of days later in their home.

He was surprisingly upbeat.  He wasn’t perturbed by the fact that he came very close to death.  Smiling, he pointed his finger up in the air – “I know the reason,” he said, “My room isn’t quite ready yet.”  No, I guess it isn’t John.

We chatted together on a range of different subjects – family, the people at Grace Church, Nelson weather (always a talking point in this area), and his former work as a tool-maker in the Kapiti Coast.  That’s when my eyes lit up.  A fellow-machinist!  That moved the conversation in the direction of lathes and milling and gear making and the like.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Maureen smiling politely, but looking a little bored.  It was time to move the conversation on.

John then shared about his life as a diabetic.  He was diagnosed early in life, just after the second world war.  Little was known about the disease back then.  He told me about one of his early visits with the doctor.  “Just pull up a piece a skin like this and jab the needle in.  Here’s your insulin.  You’ll need to sharpen the needle every once in a while, but you’re an engineer – I’m sure you’ll come up with a way to do that.”

I stared at John in disbelief – “You re-used the needle?”
He laughed – “Yes, unheard of today isn’t it?”

I forget how far we’ve come.  But that was the way things were.  He was told he must clean the skin first with rubbing alcohol.  Then later he found he didn’t need to do that.  He also found out that pulling up the skin stimulates the nerve ends and causes more pain when you inject.  You are better to push it straight in.  Injecting for John was much more comfortable after that.  Sixty years of three injections a day – well, that’s a hang of a lot of jabs!

John and Maureen took an overseas trip earlier in life, while John was still in good health.  They went to Egypt, Israel and Greece.  The highlight for John was Greece, visiting the cities were the Apostle Paul travelled and standing on the very spot he preached.  “It was magnificent”, he said, “to be there.  I’ll never forget it.”  They went into a restaurant in Athens (or was it Crete?) and people thought they were Americans.  They weren’t getting any service.  When it was made known they were kiwis people were jumping over the counter to come and talk to them.  We laughed about that.  Kiwis’ are loved where ever you go in the world (at least, for the most part).

“We are so blessed,” said Maureen. “God has given us some wonderful years.  We’ve had such a good life.”

There was a lovely serenity about this couple.  They were utterly at peace, perfectly content, trusting God for each and every day, because “days” are all John may have.  One by one, all of the pressures of my day and the tasks that were left undone slowly ebbed into the recesses of my consciousness.  Here was beauty, here was loveliness; here was wholeness.  This was a picture of how God intended things from the beginning.  It was a glimpse of Eden, only with old age and diabetes and decay.  But it was also a glimpse of the new Eden, when all things will become new.

Lord Jesus, may I be like couple this in my latter days. Let me live fully for you now, so when I have lost all strength and vigour, I can end my days in peace and bask in the memories of a life well lived.  Let me live like it’s my last day, every day.  

Mark

Something has happened with our son.  We are not sure exactly what has caused it, but it is quite evident that he’s turned a corner, or is turning a corner in his recovery.

Since returning to New Zealand after his accident he has been living in a portable cabin on our property, which gives him – and us, some space.  The time he spends in there has caused us concern.  He rarely comes over, except for dinner, but doesn’t stay around long to talk and then disappears back into his little enclosure.  He’s been working a couple of days a week for one of the guys in our church who owns a tree nursery, which has been a saving grace, as it gets him out and about for at least part of the week.  But he hasn’t really been progressing in life.  There has been little improvement in anything.

A few weeks ago, things began to change.  He’s been more lively, more talkative and more social.  He stays longer after dinner, just to talk.  He’s been asking what our day has been like and taking a genuine interest in what we are doing.  He’s become bored with gaming and got himself a guitar.  Instead of loud shouting and railings (at his online opponents) hours on end, we hear soft strumming and singing.  And he’s tidied his room.  Mark never (or very rarely) tidies his room.  Something must be going on.

Perhaps the most significant change is he now talking about the future.  Now you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about that?  I talk about the future all the time.”  That’s right – you do, because your future is in the realm of hopes and dreams and possibilities.  Mark’s future, up until this point, has been in the realm of fears and uncertainties.  Try to think about your present life with one leg, and possibly (because the uncertain future of his right leg) no legs.  Everything changes – your work, your leisure, your social life, your home life, your holidays – even taking a shower and making your bed.  Things you once loved doing you can no longer do.   And there are no longer any guarantees.

Watching all of this close up hasn’t been that easy.  It’s all new territory for Francelle and I.  We’ve never had to care for someone who has suffered major physical and psychological trauma.  We are trying to understand Mark and putting ourselves in his shoes (or shoe – it’s  a new family pun).  We are learning when to be tough and when to be tender; when to push hard and when to go easy, and when to speak and when to just listen.  We want the best for Mark, but sometimes that wanting morphs into urging and insisting and we wind up driving him away instead of drawing him in.  It’s a waiting game.  As someone with a little more wisdom than we have said to us lately, “Just be patient – give him time.”  So I’m asking God to help me do just that.

So you might imagine – all this (“this” being the positive changes above) has come as a breath of fresh air.  He came in last night, cheery and talkative.  It was a wet and drizzly day so he wasn’t able to work at the nursery, which was a bit frustrating – not being able to get out.  He asked me how my day was.  We chatted together and he told me how he’s been building his upper body strength.  “Watch this,” he said.  He put a stool close to the edge of the kitchen bench, positioned himself in between them both and then lifted up both of his legs in a horizontal position and proceeded to do push ups.  I watched all this with fascination.  It suddenly dawned on me how far he had come.  He asked me to have a go.  It can’t be that hard, I thought.  I do push-ups most days, after I finish my run.  I couldn’t even get my legs off the floor.

We both laughed.  His was a friendly, hearty laugh.  And there was a twinkle in his eye.  He could do something that I couldn’t do.  Sometimes, in the difficulties and disappointments in life, winning the war on the inside is the most challenging battle of all.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mission

When your life has no purpose, everything becomes rather routine and dull.  You get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to sleep, wake up and do the same thing over again – day after day, week after week, month after month.  It’s life on the treadmill.  Everything stays the same.  The only thing that changes is the pace.  Then at around 45 years of age something happens.  They call it the mid-life crises.  That’s when people start doing odd things like changing careers, buying expensive sports cars or taking up an extreme sport and nearly killing themselves.

Then after mid-like crises (if you’re still alive) you enter those golden years of the 60’s.  The kids are well off your hands and you can sit back and enjoy life.  You have the house, the boat, the bikes, and the caravan all to yourself.  You spend those years going on as many adventures that your health will allow you because now the clock is ticking.  You know there isn’t much time left.

Then you hit your 70s and you’re faced with a new problem: downsizing.  All that stuff you’ve worked hard for all those years – well, the granny flat won’t hold it.  It’s got to go.  Who’s it going to?  Your kids, or grandkids – most likely, if they want it.  Sometimes they don’t want it and you have to sell it, for a tenth of the price you paid for it.  And as you watch it being towed away from your driveway you feel this huge sense of loss and you are reminded that everything you own – all that you worked for, will one day go the same way.  You go out of this world the same way you came in – with nothing.

No one sets out in life wanting to end up like this.  No one starts out in life thinking, “I’m going to waste my life by working as hard as I can and amass tons of stuff I don’t really need only to give it all away and then die unfulfilled.”  And yet most of us do exactly that.

So, what if I told you that there was another way?  What if I told you there is something you can live for that will give you more satisfaction and joy than you could ever imagine?  What if I told you it could mean the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering for countless other souls?  Would you be interested?  Perhaps?  Then you need to have another look at the Great Commission.  It’s the final instruction Jesus gives to his followers.  He intended it for all believers for all time.  Here it is:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

 The emphasis in this text is not “Go” but “make disciples.”  That’s the main verb in the Greek.  All the other verbs – going, baptizing and teaching are contingent upon this.  So literally you could translate this, “as you are going (to work, to school, to the gym, to the grocery store), make disciples.”

A disciple is a learner, a follower – of someone or something.  Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40) So in our case, making disciples involves helping and teaching people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus and become more like Jesus.  That’s discipleship.  It’s not just getting people to pray some prayer and then saying, “You’ll all good now.  See you next Sunday.”  There’s more work to do.  Jesus said we need to teach them to observe everything he commanded.  That means getting into Scripture and helping the person to read and study the Bible.  It means coming alongside that person and saying, “Here, let me help you.  Walk with me and I’ll show you how to do this.”  That’s discipleship – helping people follow Jesus.

Every Christian is capable of doing this.  Every one of us has the ability to come alongside a new Christian and help them understand the Christian life.  Every one of us should be able to say to a younger brother or sister, “Here, let me help you read this.  This is the Old Testament and this is the New Testament.  The gospels are about the life and ministry of Jesus.  Then there are these letters to churches – they are directly for us.  Let’s have a read together.”  Every one of us can teach a new Christian how to pray and confess sin.  We can all do this.

OK, so you see what our mission is.  It’s not hard.  It’s not impossible.  Now for the next question: Why should I enlist in this mission?  Let me give you three reasons:

a) Because Jesus commands it.

One day we will all stand before our Lord and give an account for our days – what we invested our lives in, what we gave our time to.  We are not going to able to say, “Well I just didn’t really understand what you meant,” or “Nobody taught me Greek,” or “I couldn’t find anyone to disciple.”  None of those excuses are going to cut it.  Jesus commands it.  Therefore, we are to obey it.

b) Because you were made for it.

When God saved you, he put the Holy Spirit in you to motivate and empower you to be on mission.  In Ephesians 2:10 Paul says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”  Now that you belong to Jesus, God has lined up for you good works for you to do.  And some of those good works involve making disciples.  Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit…” What kind of fruit?  The answer I often hear is ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ – love, joy, peace, patience kindness etc.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus is referring to.  He’s talking about new believers.  God wants you to be fruitful.  He wants to produce new Christians through you.  That may mean leading them to Christ or it may mean being a link in the chain.  Jesus wants to use you to help someone move one step closer to becoming a Christian.

c) Because lives depend on it.

Do you ever think about this?  Do you ever think about those who are around you – your friends, neighbours, work colleagues, where they might be going?  If they don’t come to know Jesus, the Bible says they are going to a lost eternity.  Your unsaved family member or friend – if he doesn’t believe the gospel, he will one day stand before God and be judged and then cast into the lake of fire.  Does that do anything to you?

Too many of us treat the church like a cruise ship.  We buy our ticket, get on board and then sit on the deck enjoying the view.  We have all the food we could ever eat, spread out in front us, every day.  If we get bored looking at the ocean, there are various forms of entertainment to keep us amused.  The church is not a cruise ship; it’s a rescue boat.  Ships are sinking and there are people in the water.  If we don’t go after them, they will perish.  So we power up the searchlight and we head into those waves looking to pluck every soul from those waters that we can.  And we need all the help we can get for this.  We need people in the engine room keeping that diesel firing, we need people on the sides calling out when they see a bobbing head, we need people into the galley heating up food for those we rescue, and we need people on Comms letting home base know where we are.  We don’t need people complaining that the chairs are too hard and the music is too loud.

You say, “OK, I understand our mission and I see why I need to enlist and be a part of it, but what exactly am I to do?  Where do I start?”  Here are three simple steps you can take to get started.

1. Be available.
This is where it starts.  It starts by surrendering ourselves to God and saying, “Lord, I don’t know what I can do.  But I’m here.  I’m willing.  I’m in your hands.”  God can do great things with people with this kind of heart.

2. Be prayerful.
Start praying for the people God has put in your life.  What about your boss? Start praying for him.  Your work colleagues – even the ones that get up your nose (especially those), pray for them – by name.  Pray for their salvation.  Pray for God to open up doors to speak to them.  Pray for your unsaved friends.  There’s a house on our street that’s been empty for a few weeks.  So every time I run past it I pray for the new people who are going to move in.  I say, “Lord I pray for this family, I ask you begin to work in their hearts.  I pray you will open up an opportunity for me to meet them and talk to them about you.  Thank you, Lord Jesus.”  Look around you.  See a world without Jesus.  Pray for people and then watch with expectation for God to answer.  You’re praying for the things that are at centre of God’s heart.  He’ll be listening.  And he’ll be working.

3. Be intentional.
No gospel conversation happens automatically.  They happen because someone started them.  Start talking more with the people God brings across your path.  Take an interest in them.  Ask them how their weekend went.  Ask them how their family is doing.  Take an interest in what interests them.  Sooner or later they’ll start asking you things.  Be ready for that.  And then bring the conversation around to spiritual matters.

Don’t be unbelieving.  Don’t be fearful.  Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.  He’s put you on this earth for a purpose, and he’s given you a mission.  And there’s nothing and no one you will encounter that Jesus can’t handle.  So roll up your sleeves, set your eyes on heaven and go forth in faith.

Note: this post is based on a message I preached called “The Gospel to the World.”  It the fourth part of a series which unveils our new mission and vision at Grace Church.  You can listen to it on our website here.

 

Emma

Meet Emma, our youngest daughter.  She’s in her final year at Waimea College.  Next year she’ll be heading off to study Health Science at Otago University.  That means she’ll be with us only a few more months.  How quickly the past seventeen years have slipped by!    And yet what a wonderful outcome.  This fun-loving, lively little girl of mine has matured into a beautiful young woman who is thoughtful, intelligent and wise; caring, gentle and conscientious – yet at the same time adventurous, spirited and full of life.  Emma is highly respected in her school, her youth ministry and by her peers.  She’s the kind of daughter that makes her parents swell with pride.

Last Sunday Emma was baptized at our church.  She gave a wonderful testimony about how she came to see her need for Jesus and make the life-changing decision of putting him first in her life.  People often assume that if you grow up in a Christian home where God and his Word are a regular part of everyday life and conversation, committing to follow Jesus is an easy thing.  It’s no big deal.  And it certainly doesn’t require as much of God’s power to save you as it does a murderer or a drug-addict.

But that’s simply not true.

The Bible tells me sin is sin, whether it is clothed with nice Christian morals and carries a bible or wears a prostitute’s skirt.  Because of Adam, we all enter the world spiritually dead.  None of us (actually and truly) seeks for God nor are we consistently and inherently good (Romans 3:11-12).  I know that may sound offensive to some who are reading this.  You likely consider yourself to be a good person.  And there are plenty of people you can think of who are a lot worse.  Compared to Hitler you look like a saint.  But compare yourself to a Holy God and I might confuse you with Lord Voldemort.

It took just the same amount of God’s grace to save Emma, who’s been a sweet little girl since birth and has kept out of trouble (for the most part) as it has me, who spent most of his teenage years eagerly looking for it.  Her conversion might have been less dramatic, but it was equally miraculous and spectacular.  The angels rejoiced with the same energy when she repented as when I did.  Jesus bore her sin with the same pain and agony as he did mine.  The ground is level at the foot of the cross

These things became all the more real to me, as I sat there on the front row, listening to her testimony.  I was filled a mixture of emotion – joy, thankfulness, pride, gratitude, wonder (at the power of the gospel) and delight.  Here is the sum and substance of what she said:

I spent much of my childhood reading the bible with my parents, going to Sunday school, and learning more and more about God.  I knew the story of Jesus’ birth and death inside out, but never really understood the importance of it and what it meant for me – that I was a sinner and I needed a saviour.  Instead, I fell for the common belief that simply going to church and reading my bible would cut it.  I thought that I was doing just fine the way I was.  It wasn’t until I got a little older that I began to deeply think about life and death, and the path that I was walking in.  I started to suffer a lot of anxiety, terrified that I would never be good enough for Jesus, and never make it to heaven.  I found it very difficult to place all my fears upon him, to surrender control over my life.  This resulted many months spent in alternating moods of ‘I can do everything myself’ and ‘I will never be good enough and my life is doomed’.  I wanted so badly to be free, but just couldn’t see a way out.  I had no idea if I was a Christian or not because I just couldn’t really believe that asking Christ for forgiveness and surrendering my life to him was all that I had to do – I expected instant changes in myself and was surprised and disappointed when I found myself sinning again and again.

It was during one such period of anxious depression when I was 15 or so that Mum brought me a bible verse that really helped me; In John 10:27, it says, “My sheep listen to voice. I know them, and they follow me. I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my father has given them to me and he is more powerful than anything else. No one can snatch them from the Fathers hand”.  This is an incredibly freeing verse and I am so grateful that she enabled me to find it – it is one that I will always treasure in my heart.

From then on things improved; something about that verse was immensely freeing to me.  I’m not saying that I never worried about my faith ever again, because time and time again my anxious nature takes a hold of me, and I still struggle with the idea that I by myself will never be perfect in this world.  But instead of seeing that as another chain, I am learning to see it as a freedom- I can never be perfect, but I don’t have to be, because Jesus lived a perfect life for me, and when I stand before the father, he will see me “wrapped in a robe of righteousness”, instead of covered in my own sin.

It is a wonderful thing that Jesus died on that cross for me, I am standing here before you all to show that I have chosen to follow him for the rest of my life.  I know that I will make countless mistakes, but Jesus has promised to never leave me, to guide me, and to teach me his ways.

Well done Emma.  We’re with you all the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Stones

When Christ saves us, he doesn’t save us and then leave us alone.  He brings us into his family.  He makes us part of his church.  This new community has a unique identity, function and purpose all of its own.

Spurgeon once called the church, “The dearest place on earth.”  You might be thinking, “I wonder what church was he talking about?”  Your experience of the local church has been anything but dear or sweet.  You’ve been burned.  You’ve been hurt.

I get that.  I understand that.  That’s because the church is made up of sinners.  And sinners sin – they hurt other people.  But if we only view the church its faults, we’re going to give it up and not want to come back.  We need to see it the way God sees it.

The Apostle Peter gives us a beautiful picture of the church in 1 Peter, chapter 2:

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (verses 4–5)

Picture a building – a house.  But it’s not a physical house; it’s a spiritual house.  There are stones that make up the building, and one of those stones is very important; it’s foundational.  And in this house are a whole lot of priests offering up sacrifices.  So where did Peter get this imagery from?  Answer: The Old Testament priesthood.

But it’s all been changed.  It’s become obsolete.  It was only a shadow of what was to come.  God has replaced it with something entirely new.  And what was the first thing he did?  He put down the cornerstone.  That controls everything.  It sets the building square.  If the cornerstone is off, so is the whole building.  What was the cornerstone God put down?  Jesus Christ.

Jesus is God’s chosen cornerstone for the new temple – the people of God.  He was rejected by men – specifically the builders (verse 7).  Who are they?  The spiritual leaders of Israel.  They looked Jesus over; they did their examination, but he didn’t measure up.  So they cast him aside as useless.  They crucified him.  They put him to death.  And what does God do in response?  He raised Jesus back up.  And He placed him down as the cornerstone upon which he will build his new community – men and women from every tribe, nation and language who have been brought from death to life.

Now stay with me here – Peter says in verse 4, “and coming to Him, a living stone…” Who’s the living stone?  Jesus.  He is the resurrection and the life.  He has the power to impart life.  Then Peter says, “you yourselves as living stones…”  This is precious.  A stone, sitting alone is lifeless.  But when it’s put in proximity to THE living stone, it comes to life.  And when all these living stones are put together, they become the living temple of God.

Do you see the implications of this?  If you are a Christian, you belong to a spiritual building, and that building is the church.  You are one of those living stones.  God has cut and shaped you for a specific purpose.  There is a place for you that no other “stone” can take.  And what is that special purpose?  Peter tells us there in verse 5:

“…you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Now, according to the book of Hebrews, we don’t need a priesthood; Jesus has fulfilled that role.  We don’t make sacrifice for our sin anymore.  The sacrifice once and for all was paid for on the cross of Christ.  We don’t need anyone mediating between us and God.  Jesus is our mediator.

So, when Peter uses the term “priesthood”, he cannot be talking about the unique role given to Jesus.  He’s talking about our ministry to God and to one another.  He’s talking about our service.  Each and every one of us has received a spiritual gift and that gift is to be used in some way to build up other believers.  That’s your priestly ministry.  That’s your sacrifice.  But we have another function as well – look at verse 9:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

You’re a priest in the temple in the sense that you offer up yourself for ministry in the body of Christ.  Your sacrificial service builds up others and honours God.  But you also have a priestly role outside the temple.  You are to proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.  You are to tell people about God.  You are to tell them how wonderful and loving and kind and generous and gracious and awesome he is.  You are to tell them the great things he done for you – he has redeemed you, forgiven you, and raised you to new life.  You are to tell them that they can know this God too.

Conclusion

This new community we are part of – this spiritual house, is no ordinary community.  It is a picture of gospel-transformation.  When the world sees us relating to each other; when they see how we treat one another, serve one another and care for one another, they see gospel transformation in action.  And yes, sometimes it’s going to get messy.  Because real life is messy – right?  And we don’t like our failures and weaknesses being exposed.

I had some of my failures and weaknesses exposed in an elders meeting a few weeks back.  It was getting near the end of the meeting; we’d covered some tough issues.  And then, completely out of the blue, one of the elders questions the validity of something I was doing.  I thought to myself, he’s questioning what I’m doing. Who does he think he is?  He must be an idiot.  And then the guy next to him actually agrees with this and then adds his two cents in.  Oh, how about that – we actually have two idiots in our midst.  And then someone from across the table says, “Well in the bible, we see they didn’t do that.”  Now someone is quoting Scripture at me.  That’s three.  The conversation goes on and I get so frustrated I can’t even pray.  I mean, I’m in a real bad way.  Community gets messy.  Community is confronting.

I woke up the next morning and I know I have to do business with God.  And the Lord says to me, “Who’s in charge here?  Whose church is this?  Do you think it’s your church?  Do you think it’s all about you?  Who raised you up?  Who put you where you are?”  I melted.  I said, “Lord, forgive me. My heart is so full of pride.”  I wrote to the elders that day and confessed my pride.  I said God called me to serve you and I acted like a tyrant.  I asked them to forgive me.

Now if that hadn’t happened; if we had an eldership where no one questioned anything and everyone just kept the peace, that would never get addressed.  My sin would never have been exposed.  But it did get exposed.  And it was for my good, and for the good of our church.  God is in the process of reshaping me.  If you are a living stone, he’s reshaping you. But he can’t reshape us while we are in self-protective mode.  He needs us rubbing up against other stones.

The good news of the gospel is God fully knows us – even in our darkest moments; yet he loves us more than we can ever imagine.  So that means we don’t have to put on a façade; we can be our real selves.  If am truly accepted by Jesus, I don’t have to put on a show for others approval.

Community can be tough and it can get pretty messy.  But with God in control, and his grace always active, we can’t really lose – can we?

Note: this post is based on a message I preached called “The Gospel in Community.”  It the third part of a series which unveils our new mission and vision at Grace Church.  You can listen to it on our website here.

 

Pride

Courtesy of Eric Gieger

I had an experience this week which was a wake-up call for me.  I didn’t see it at the time.  It was only after the fact.

I had a quarrel with my wife – actually, it was three quarrels over the course of a couple of days.  She had asked me not to take photos of her while on our Heaphy Track walk (you may have read my post here).  Her reasons where personal.  Well, being the camera junky that I am, I kept snapping away regardless.  She knew I was doing it but kept her peace.  Then, when it came to writing about the journey and adding pictures, she reiterated her request – “Please don’t put my pictures up.”  I started taking issue with this (for no real reason), not just on one but two or three separate occasions.  It all ended fairly badly with me looking like an idiot.

I knew I was wrong and this had to come before the throne of God.  Jesus would require some explanation.  My wife is given to me to be my close companion.  I am to serve her and lay my life down for her (Eph. 5:25).  I had done everything but that over the past couple of days.  After a good period of confessing my sin and selfishness, I thought it was over.

It wasn’t.

The next day I met with a staff member who was holding me accountable for personal outreach and evangelism.  One of the questions she asked me was, “what is the greatest obstacle for you in reaching out to lost people?”  I paused and said, “fear of rejection.”  I’m a full-blown people pleaser and I know it.  “And what do you think, it is the root cause of your desire to please people?” she asked.  I went quiet.  Then I sensed a voice within me, You know what it is – tell her.  “Pride,” I suddenly said, wondering how it came out of my mouth.  Then the scene of my argument with my wife flashed up in front of me.  I sensed a deep work of conviction by the Spirit of God.  Oh dear, more to do here.

A little later I’m having a Skype session with my personal mentor, Rowland Forman.  I shared with him some of the great things God is doing in our church.  Rowland listened patiently and then read from 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul says, “Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.”  Rowland asks me, “So what do you think is your greatest weakness?”  I went silent as stone, and just sat there, looking at Rowland’s face staring at me through the computer screen, waiting for an answer.  God had me well and truly cornered.

Pride is insidious.  It is incredibly deceptive.  It loves to hide behind masks of respectability and accomplishment.  It’s the one thing God hates above all else (Proverbs 8:13; 16:5).  It evidences itself in many ways, but most often via the tongue.  Sooner or later you’ll blow your cover.  And others see it long before you do.  It’s not like you’ll start talking about how great you are.  You’ll just begin to assert yourself and insist you are right and everyone else is wrong.  And you’ll wind up hurting and offending those you love.

The very next day I came across a post by Eric Geiger.  It’s called 10 Signs You Are More Prideful Than You Realize.  He’s speaking specifically to Christian leaders, but many of these apply to all Christians regardless.   A couple of these really spoke home to me – especially no. 9: Caring more about success than sanctification.  God is richly blessing our church at this present time.  It is all too easy to get caught up in that.  Perhaps one or two of these might speak to you.  Here is the post:

10 Signs You Are More Prideful Than You Realize

Though all of us struggle with pride, we often don’t recognize pride in our own lives and leadership. C. S. Lewis called pride the great sin and the sin we see in others much more easily than we see in ourselves. Following are ten signs leaders are more prideful than they realize. I wrote the list directed to the leader, and it is filled with sarcasm. I have seen them all at some point in my 20 years of leading, which means, according to Lewis, that tragically they have certainly existed in my own heart and life at times.

1. You don’t think you struggle with pride.

You know others struggle with pride, and you wonder why they do, because in your mind they do not have much to be prideful about. You do, but you have fought it off better than most have.

2. You feel you are owed.

You have done so very much for the organization that you have put them in debt to you. They owe you more money, more time, more of a lot of things they are not giving you.

3. You overestimate your contributions.

You secretly, and even not so secretly, pontificate on how much better things are because of your influence and contribution.

4. You underestimate your team’s contributions.

If you overestimate your contribution, you are sure to underestimate the team’s. You believe that you are the multiplier to all their work, creativity, thinking, and focus.

5. You rarely say “thank you.”

Ingratitude and pride are close friends. Why would you thank others, after all? They should be thanking you!

5. You think your successor will have it hard following you.

You wonder aloud to others how the whole organization will need to adjust when you leave because no one can fill your shoes. And if the organization does not adjust, and they put another person in your role, you express how you feel sorry for the pressure he/she will have to endure because of your amazing legacy.

7. You think your predecessor was an idiot.

You love to make snarky remarks about the person before you. It is such good news that you are now here to right all those foolish wrongs.

8. You often compare yourself to others.

It is important to find people whom you outpace in work ethic, intensity, learning, and results. After all, you need constant benchmarks to be sure you are dominating.

9. You care more about success than sanctification.

Your sanctification can come later, it is time for success now.

10. You can’t learn from people different than you.

People who are different than you should learn from you. Of course, everyone should. But they don’t have much to offer you because your context and your approach is just so unique

 

 

 

Our Heaphy Track Adventure

Ever since our move to the South Island Francelle and I have been busting to do one of the great walks[1].  This past week we got our chance.  We teamed up with my sister Jane and her husband Rob to take on the Heaphy Track.  It’s not for the faint of heart or weak-kneed.  The 82 km track winds it’s way through the Kahurangi National Park, from the Golden Bay to Karamea on the West Coast.  It can take anywhere from 4 to 6 days, depending on your fitness level and time available.  We did it in four, staying at the Perry-Saddle, James Mackay, and Heaphy huts.

Scenically, it is quite stunning – which is why it attracts people from all over the world.  We passed through forested mountains, native bush, beech forests and alpine tussock.  We saw giant rata trees, limestone caves and cliffs and beautiful nikau palm groves.  The bird life is also amazing – kakas, wekas, tuis, kingfishers, pukekos, and my night-time favourites – the moreporks.  One of our fellow trampers reckons she saw a kiwi outside the hut and there was a mad stampede out the door to find it.  But alas, the bedlam likely scarred the poor thing off!

DAY 1

Our first day, from Brown Hut to Perry-Saddle, was just magic: blue sky, no wind and nice temperature.  One out of the box for tramping.  It was a reasonable climb – 860m, so needless to say we burned up a few calories that day. 

It’s been a few years since I stayed in a DOC (Department of Conservation) hut.  I wasn’t expecting 5 star accommodation.  When we arrived however, I mistook it for a resort.  I walked straight past looking for something more, well – rustic.  Then Rob explained since the Cave-Creek disaster[2] DOC undertook a massive assessment of their tracks, bridges, platforms and huts and began upgrading.  I don’t think the average New Zealander realises the benefits of this, but the tourists sure do!  It makes me want to get out there and enjoy more of what we’ve got.  Combine God’s beautiful creation with kiwi ingenuity with track, bridge and hut building, and you have a recipe for an all-round enjoyable adventure.

Staying at the huts is an adventure in itself.  You learn to improvise with what you’ve got, sometimes eating out of the same thing you cook with.  You also get to meet new and interesting people.  We met Anna from France, Tom from Australia (who supplied me with a bunch of tea bags for the rest of the trip – thanks Tom!), and a couple from Dunedin who were travelling with their 2-year old (there’s no stopping some people).

You also get some ideas on some really cool gear that people have acquired, like soft green and blue LED headlights for making you way around at night (so as not to blind other people or wake them in their sleep), compact aluminium pots and billy’s and eating utensils.  I made a few mental notes for future reference.  As the sun lowered over the hills, the sky darkened and along with it, the inside of the hut.  It was time to turn in for bed.

DAY 2

Our second day began with some light rain, so we donned on our wet-weather gear.  Fortunately, some kind friends from our church lent us their new packs (thanks Glen & Leanne), complete with inner liners and waterproof pack covers.  Well that saved our bacon, because once the rain started, it didn’t stop for the rest of the trip (except for a few hours of blessed relief here and there).  I would add we were passing through one of the highest rainfall areas of the South Island, but even still it was a wetter walk than average.  It’s in those sorts of conditions you have to make the best of it, enjoying what you can see, looking forward to a hot cup of tea and a warm fire at the end and chalking the whole thing up for experience.

It was a long hike from Perry-Saddle to James Mackay – 23 km.  As the rain continued to fall, the track became more difficult to navigate, water began seeping in through our rain coats (I learned that even if you have a waterproof coat, sustained rain makes its way through pressure points) and our boots and shoes became more and more water-logged.  By the time we reached the hut we were over it.  Even though it was a full house, people were helpful and did what they could to make way for four cold and wet trampers.  I tell you – that hot cup of tea and home-made sultana cake sure tasted good!  We make dinner and were all in bed asleep by around 8:30pm.

DAY 3

We awoke on day 3 to more mist and rain and headed off to the Heaphy hut.  No more climbing however; we were heading down.  Even though it was miserably wet, the rain forest through this section was really something.  Now I know where they get some of those West Coast pictures you see on place-mats and calendars.  The only thing not covered by moss was the track we were walking on.  It really was stunning – red and orange coloured leaves scattered along the path, copper-coloured rocks against the backdrop of every shade of green.

We were told look out for the famous West Coast giant snails (or Powelliphanta).  These native carnivorous snails are the largest in the world. They suck up earthworms like spaghetti.  We didn’t see any live ones but we did find some of their shells on the side of the track.  Check out the size!

Shortly before arriving at the Heaphy Hut, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and suddenly there it was – the ocean!  We made it to other side.  It was nice to arrive at a hut not soaked through and have some time to catch up with our other travellers.  We also met some new ones, like Matt from Denmark.  He kindly gave up his bottom bunk for Francelle who was suffering from a sore knee and wasn’t too excited about climbing up and down from a top bunk (fast-moving trampers get the best bunks – something to keep in mind for future reference).  I had some great conversation with Matt over dinner.  His English was good and I asked him why.  He has been working in New Zealand as a tour guide and wants to do it full-time.  He then asked me what I do and well, that was an opening to talk to him about my faith and what, if any beliefs he had.  This led into a great discussion about Christianity.  I encouraged him not to let organized religion (which Denmark has a lot of) put him off faith in God and to focus on the reality and heart of it all, which is the person of Jesus.  I encouraged him to read the New Testament in modern English.  He said he would. 

DAY 4

Day 4: the last 16 km, from Heaphy Hut to Karamea.  This was my favourite part of the journey by far.  Coastal views, with giant boulders, Nikau Palm groves and bush – interspersed with suspension bridges and streams.

 

It was just picturesque, with the sea spray rising up combining with the gentle rain sprinkling down through the tree branches above.  Francelle however, wasn’t enjoying this part so much with her knee-joint starting to give way.  I ended up taking her pack, which I carried on my front.  It wasn’t that bad because now I was balanced back and front.  Needless to say, that last 2km for both of us was a bit of a struggle.  Hot shower and a good meal – here we come!

DAY 5

There are two ways to get back to Nelson from Karamea: a 5-hour drive by shuttle or a 20-minute flight.  We chose the latter.  The idea is you fly directly over where you walked, but we were prevented from doing that by the weather, and had to take the coastal route.  In fact, it was touch and go as to whether they would fly at all.  There was a break in the clouds about mid-morning; we got the call to get to the airfield as quick as we could.  Even with the cloud build up, we saw some great views of the coast, parts of the Heaphy Track, and the top of Farewell Spit before turning for our last leg to the Takaka airfield.  Lewis, our friendly pilot kept us entertained with jokes about plane parts not working and emergency procedures should we “go in the drink.”  His landing was text box though – well done Golden Bay Air.

I took a ride on their shuttle to where we left our car at the beginning of the track.  They were dropping off another load of trampers – a group of 7 ladies from Australia.

“How was the trip?” they asked.
“Great I said – fantastic walk.”
“And the weather?”
“Well, you know New Zealand…”

I heard the crunch of the tires on the gravel road.  We were approaching the start of the track.  Outside the drizzle was turning into steady rain.  A minute later the floodgates of the heavens opened.  They all went quiet.  Oh dear, I thought.  I threw my pack in the back of the car, turned on the windscreen wipers and headed home, thankful for a warm car and dry clothes.

[1] There are 9 Great Walks in New Zealand, 6 of which are in the South Island

[2] The Cave Creek disaster occurred on April 28, 1995 when a viewing platform in Paparoa National Park collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 14 people.