Mae Sot

The Thailand Team. Back row (left to right) : Brittany, Fynn, Q, Jake, Max and Shana. Front row: Emma, Dave, Rochelle and Denise

In January, a team went out from our church to Mae Sot, a growing city located on the Burmese border, 500 km Northwest of Bangkok.  Our daughter Emma was among them.

maesotMae Sot serves as the main gateway between Thailand and Burma and has a regular flood of Burmese refugees who come over seeking safety and a better life.  In recent years the ongoing refugee situation has prompted NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) and international aid agencies to establish programmes in the town and surrounding area to help with the ongoing refugee needs.

One of those agencies is called Compasio.  Two years ago, Jim and Nitika Ennion, a young couple in our church, sensed the call of God to work with Compasio.  Nitika’s job was to set up an early childhood development centre and Jim, who has a law degree, was to insure Compasio’s work met government requirements.  They also help train the locals and assist in rescuing at-risk children and teens who are living on the streets or city dumps.  When we contacted the Ennion’s and asked if they would like to have a team from our church come and work with them, they were overjoyed.

picture1The team – a mixture of married couples, young adults and teens, were reasonably well-prepared.  They had done their homework, studied up on local customs, had the necessary vaccinations, and even learned some basic Thai language.  It was still a shock for them: People in poverty – without a home and without much hope.  Kids living on the streets, alone and at risk.  Families with no income, living under make-shift huts in the city dump.

picture8It was a wake-up call for them all, to go from such wealth to such poverty; from such abundance to such need.  Here were people – hundreds of thousands of people, not only in need of food and shelter and medicine and jobs.  They are in need of Jesus.  And the only way they were going to see that was if someone explained the way to them.  That would take time and patience (as well as language learning) coupled with loving acts of compassion.  For the gospel must not only be heard; it must be seen in action.

It wasn’t something the team could do in two weeks.  But they could see what was required and learn from the experience.  They definitely came back changed – we could all see that.  They are all the better for it.  And perhaps – just perhaps, one or two of them might answer the call of God in their own lives someday, and leave the comforts of home – letting goods and kindred go, so that others may also come to know the Saviour, to their eternal joy.

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Theology, pastoring and the workbench

wp_20170204_003I love theology and books.  I love preaching and writing.  And I love leading and ministering to people.  But I also like working with my hands.  Normally those things don’t go together.  You have the professionals (doctors, lawyers and engineers), the administrators, teachers and social services personal, and then you have the tradesmen and labourers.  Sometimes you get a combination of two of those, but not often all three.  Perhaps that’s why many are surprised when they find out their Pastor was a Fitter-Turner.  The intellectuals wonder how I got the job.  The plumbers and mechanics think it’s great: finally they have someone who can understand them.

It’s a duplicity (“complexity” might be a better word) that’s been with me since I was young and it frustrated me no end when trying to choose a career path.  There seemed only two options open to me – university or trade school.  I didn’t fancy a desk job all my life, nor did I want to be stuck behind a lathe in pair overalls.  I learned that it didn’t really matter.  I took the Fitting & Turning job and studied physics and engineering in my spare time.  My hands got dirty during the day and my mind got a work-out at night.  My dream job was to be a design engineer who could also make the things he put on paper.

Now I’m a Pastor (God has the last laugh).  It’s not always easy work.  Sermon preparation can be both exhausting and gruelling.  Leading can be difficult (look at Moses).  And not all people can be (or want to be) fixed.  If I’m not careful the whole thing can do my head in.  I need an outlet.  Sometimes I get on my mountain bike and escape into the hills.  Other times I want to get behind a workbench with my tools and have a play.

wp_20170204_002That’s where my new friend Peter Field comes into the picture.  You see, when we made the move to Nelson I had to leave my old workbench behind.  It wouldn’t fit in the Furniture Truck.  So, for the past 18 months, my tools have been stashed in boxes from one end of the garage to the other.  And every time I go to fix something, I have to go rifling through boxes trying to find the right thing I need.  Then, even when I do find it, I have no vice to hold it or any bench to work on.  It’s an engineer’s nightmare.

Peter is a retired wood-worker.  He can make anything.  When I told I’m desperate for a workbench, he said “not a problem.” And it wasn’t.  I picked it up last Saturday.  Isn’t it a beauty?  It’s a sight for a sore engineer-turned pastor’s eyes.  Now, when I want to fix something, I know exactly where the right tool is.  And I have a place to fix it!  So, thanks Peter Field, for making my year 🙂

Footnote: After writing this past the thought occured to me that Jesus was a carpenter.  And he was a scholar (he ran rings around the religious leaders of his day).  He was also wonderful with people.  So I guess he’s my perfect model!

Risen

scczen_ap160218093323_620x310I try to avoid any movies with biblical themes.  They tend to be either cheap, cheesy or wildly inaccurate and wind up undermining the very thing they try to promote.  So when my wife suggested “Risen” for our Friday night flick, I didn’t show a whole lot of enthusiasm.

As it turned out I was pleasantly surprised.

The film focuses on the Resurrection of Jesus but it’s not a reproduction of the biblical narrative, which chronicles the simple step-by-step facts through the pens of his followers.  The story instead is told through the eyes of a non-believer called Clavius, a Roman officer under the charge of Pilate.  Clavius is given the task of investigating the sudden disappearance of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion, in order to debunk the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

That’s when the movie starts getting interesting.

Clavius begins his investigation, interviewing a number of key players including Jesus’ disciples, Mary and the Roman soldiers who were given the task of guarding the tomb.  He’s not fooled by their story that the disciples came and stole his body while they were asleep (a story perpetrated by the Jewish religious leaders), and he is somewhat perplexed by the obvious transformation (joy and wonder) that he sees on the faces of the disciples, as well as the utter absence of any trace of a body.

His investigation finally takes him into a room where the disciples are gathered where he sees the Risen Jesus sitting right there among them. He stands transfixed and mesmerized by the sight of the very same man he watched die on a cross.  Jesus stares at Clavius; the gaze causing him to stagger back and drop his sword.  It’s the best scene of the movie.  Although it is not in the biblical account, one can imagine this is exactly what would have happened.

There are some things that weren’t done very well.  The Roman soldiers appear too flabby, gutless and weak in character.  The disciples appear too old (they were likely in their twenties), Jesus looks too American, and the actor who portrayed Pilate failed to portray an individual with a very complex nature who didn’t want to put Jesus to death in the first place and had a deep disdain for the Jewish leaders who manipulated him to carry out the order.  A little sharpening on those areas and the film could have had the potential for a 5 star instead of a 3.5.

Putting those things aside, it’s a movie well worth a watch – particularly if you are a sceptic of Christianity and the biblical accounts.  It encourages you to be a good detective and do your own homework and come to your own, unbiased conclusion.

Teach us to number our days

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Here we are almost at the end of January.  2016 is well and truly behind us.  Some of us are wondering where the time went!  A year seems like a long time until you get to the middle of September.  Then it appears to be relatively short.

We would all do ourselves a service if we considered how brief life on earth really is.  All of us have a limited number of days.  They may seem endless, but they’re not.  We would be wise to live in light of this perspective.

That’s where Psalm 90 comes in.

The Psalm is entitled, “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.”  This is the only Psalm authored by Moses and it is believed to be written during the 40 years that Israel was in the wilderness.  Moses saw a lot of people die on that 40-year trek.  He would have attended a lot of funerals.  As Moses reflects on this, he writes this Psalm.  And it is interesting how he begins.  It’s not with man, but with God:

“Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” (90:1–2)

In this world everything is temporary, changeable and unstable.  But God is eternal and unchanging.  Before the mountains ever existed he was there.  Before the world came to be – he was there.  From everlasting to everlasting he always was, always is and always will be – GOD.

In contrast to God, who is eternal and unchanging, our lives are frail and fleeting.

“You return mankind to the dust, saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.” For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that passes by, like a few hours of the night. You end their lives; they sleep. They are like grass that grows in the morning— in the morning it sprouts and grows; by evening it withers and dries up” (90:3–6)

A thousand years for God are like a few hours in the night.  Think of that!  Think of all the history that has occurred in the past 1000 years.  Columbus discovered America.  The printing press was invented.  Penicillin was discovered.  There were two world wars.  The Soviet Union collapsed.  God sees all those things and they are like a blip on the horizon – a few hours of the night.

Human life – even the longest of human lives – is insignificantly brief.  It’s like a shoot of grass that sprouts up in the morning but dies at night.  Our lives are fleeting and frail and short-lived.  A person can be at the height of his career, enjoying life, thriving on all kinds of success, and the next day he could be diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live.  We’ve seen it happen haven’t we?  We are only here for a moment.  Then we are gone.

It is in light of these things that Moses makes this profound request in verse 12,

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Of all the mathematical problems, this is the most difficult.  People can number their sheep and their livestock.  They can estimate the revenue of their farms and their business with relative ease.  They can count their cash, balance their accounts and calculate what their retirement income should be. And yet they foolishly imagine they are immortal.  They think their days are infinite and innumerable.  Therefore, they do not number them.

Andy Stanley tells the story of a man who bought 1,300 marbles on his 50th birthday.  He figured that, if he lives to be 75, he would have about a 1,300 Saturdays left. So every Saturday he goes and takes a marble out of that jar and throws it out.  It’s a reminder to him that time is fleeting, and that he only has a short time left.

That’s living in the light of eternity.  That’s living with wisdom.  Measure your days carefully.  You are not immortal.  You will not live forever.  Your life is but a vapour – here one moment and gone the next.  Then you will face God.  That’s a very sobering thought, but important nonetheless.

God has given you a certain amount of days to live and He has entrusted you with certain gifts and abilities.  What are you doing with them?  Are you using them for His glory the good of others?  What will you offer back to God when he calls you to account?

There is so much that we give our time and energy and money to that doesn’t last.  There are so many wasted pursuits that do not further God’s work and have no outcome for eternity.  Now I know there are things we must do in order to live and work and help provide for our families and others.  Those things are good and are honourable to God.  But sometimes we forget that, “the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.” (1 John 2:17)

There are only two things to go into eternity.  Only two.  No more.

  1. The Word of God
  2. The souls of men and women.

Everything else perishes. Your house, your car, your toys – they will all perish.  Your career, your hobbies, your earthly pursuits – it’s all going to perish.  But time given to God and his Word, time given to help get people into heaven and grow in Christ – that lasts forever.

There’s that wonderful poem by C.T. Studd, missionary to India and Africa.  In one of the stanza’s he says this:

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Don’t be foolish and live for the moment.  Live each day for God.  Live with eternity in mind.

Trading the Police badge for a bible

This is Sean, our new Youth Pastor.  He’s been part of our church family here at Grace for a number of years and has just recently made the decision to hand in his Police uniform for  a career in full-time Christian ministry.  This is no mid-life crises.  This is God’s calling.  It’s a bold and courageous move and one that his wife Kiri, was willing to make with him.  We take our hats off to both of them.

sean-tasman

The Tasman Leader (the local ‘rag’ here in Richmond) caught up with it and published a story on him.  I’ve taken a snapshot of it so you know what to look for.  Simply click the link below and go to page 4 and then use the magnifying tool on the side bar to make for easier reading.  It’s well worth a read.

https://www.neighbourly.co.nz/e-edition/the-tasman-leader/12560

Sean completed a one-year certificate in bible at the Shepherd’s Bible College here in New Zealand but realized he needed further equipping for the rigours and challenges of full-time pastoral ministry.  So he is studying through an on-line course with a Seminary in the United States.  It will take him at least 3 years.  He will also work under me in a mentorship so I can help equip him on the practical ministry side.  The elders of Grace Church are fully behind this.  We get to keep Sean and Kiri, Sean gets the benefit of training on the job, and the youth and congregation at Grace get to see what God does with a man and woman fully surrendered to Him.

I think it’s going to be a great 3 years for us all.

 

 

A high-achiever’s recipe for rest

restI’ll admit up front – I don’t do so well at rest.  I’m an active person, always on the move.  I’d rather be doing something than just sitting. Or if I am sitting, I can only sit for so long.  A week before our summer holiday I completed a Strength-Finder Test with a coach.  My number one strength, according to the results, is Achiever.  Here’s a description of how it operates:

Your Achiever theme helps explain your drive. Achiever describes a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by “every day” you mean every single day—workdays, weekends, vacations. No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied.

“So what are you planning to do on your vacation?” my coach asks me.
“I’m going camping with my family at the beach,” I replied. “We are taking the tent, camp chairs and a load of books and are going to enjoy doing absolutely nothing – for a whole week.”
“Good luck with that,” she said. “You’re going to drive everyone nuts.”

Well, she was partially right.  I did have difficulty sitting still at times, and had to look for something to do.  There’s not much that needs doing when you are tenting, but it’s amazing how creative restless people like me can get.  I made a movable shade cloth using a tarpaulin and ropes.  I fixed bent tent pegs.  I used a tree and the car trailer to make a clothes line that could hang wet towels and clothes for five people (that’s quite an achievement!).

Yet believe it or not, I did rest.  I was quite content lying on the beach or sitting in the shade with a book, going for a walk with my wife for an ice cream, or just hanging out with family.

So how did a high-achiever like me accomplish that?  Well I think a big part of it was the environment.  It was achiever-unfriendly.  No computer, no devices and no tools (except for a hammer and a screwdriver), no workbench, no lawnmower or vacuum cleaner.  I think another part of it was the location.  It was out-of-town, away from home and distractions.  Achievers need to be physically removal from their home and work environments from time to time.  It does something to them.  The “I must do something” drive switches off.  They are able to relax.  And I think the third part of it was it was planned.  Come January 4th, I was on holiday.  When the car and trailer were packed and we were driving out the driveway, that was it.  My brain registered, “It’s wind-down time.”

Rest is very important, not only every day, but every week, every month and every year.  God commands it.  Our body needs it.  Our minds need it.  Our souls need it.  We aren’t machines.  We are human beings, with weaknesses and limitations.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  He rested and gave a pattern for us all to follow.

So, for all you high achieving A-types out there, here’s your recipe for rest:

  • Plan it. Schedule it. Otherwise it won’t happen.
  • Find a rest-friendly and work-unfriendly environment – far enough away from your home and work place
  • Unplug. That means EVERYTHING.

That will be a great achievement for you in itself.

Christmas and the end of performance

kogs-xmas-productionLast Sunday was our children’s Christmas production.  No one comes to these things with high expectations, because we all know that kids don’t get things perfect.  And they certainly didn’t on that day. Some kids forgot their lines, some wandered off stage at the wrong time, and others gave up singing and started waving at the audience.  One kid even yelled out, “Hi mum” at the most inconvenient time.

But everyone loved it.  No one cared that is wasn’t perfect.  After all – it’s Christmas.

This got me thinking: isn’t this the whole point of Christmas?  Isn’t this why Jesus came?

Try as we may, none of us are perfect.  We just don’t measure up.  We don’t measure up to our bosses.  We don’t measure up to our spouses (or partners).  We don’t measure up to our parents and we don’t measure up to our children.  And most importantly, we don’t measure up to a holy, righteous and perfect God.

This is precisely why Jesus came into the world.  Jesus came to deal with our imperfection (which the bible calls “sin”).  Jesus was a perfect baby (yes, he cried, but not like normal babies), who lived a perfect life and then died in the place of very imperfect people.  When you trust in his cross-saving work his perfection becomes yours and your imperfection becomes his.  This is the great doctrine of substitution.  It’s the key to our salvation and puts an end to all our attempts at flawless performance.  As the bible puts it,

“For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It’s a divine transaction, which is activated the moment you believe.  From that time on God views you differently.  He doesn’t see your sin.  He only sees His Son’s righteousness.

What does this mean in real life?  It means you can quit trying to please everyone and do everything perfectly.  You can relax.  As my teens say – “Take a chill pill.”

This Christmas, give your husband or your wife a break.  Parents – give your kids a break.  Bosses – give your employees a break.  We’re all flawed and make mistakes.  It’s OK if people forget their lines and wave at mum.

Don’t lose the plot.  This is precisely why Jesus came.