Lockdown

Last night the residents of New Zealand received the message from our Prime Minister that we were going into lockdown due to a probable Covid delta variant in a community in Auckland.  Her hunch was right.  The latest report is there are now 7 covid cases in the community.  And the number is likely to rise.

So here we are again, being confined to our homes and our movements greatly restricted.  It is at these times we need to have the right perspective – a reality check, as to what is really happening in our world.  The good news is there is one who is greater than our government, greater than any Covid variant, and greater than any vaccine. And he cannot be locked down. 

Let me break this down for you:

God never goes into Lockdown. 

He is sovereign and he is free. He is also omnipresent, which means he is present everywhere.  There is no corner of this earth that God cannot access – no country, no hospital, no prison, and no home.  Psalm 115 verse 3 says, “Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases.”  God cannot be contained or restricted.  Period.

God’s Son cannot be locked down. 

When the Jews and the Romans crucified Jesus, Satan thought he had him beat.  He had him not only locked down but locked away for good – in a tomb.  But death could not hold Jesus.  Three days later he rose again from the dead.  He defeated death, not only for himself but for all those who believe in him. 

Now he is seated at God’s right hand, where he rules and reigns forever.  He is building his church, distributing gifts to his body, advancing the gospel, saving sinners, and growing God’s Kingdom (Matt 18:16; Eph 4:7-8; Col 1:6; Matt 13:31-33). 

You and I might be locked down.  We can only operate under certain constraints and restrictions.  But Jesus is not restricted from doing anything. 

God’s Word cannot be locked down. 

Throughout history, Satan has done his best to restrict, impede or completely irradicate the Word of God.  He knows its power.  But he cannot do it.  The Word of God cannot be contained or shut away.  It runs free. 

God created the world by his word (Gen 1).  He sustains all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3).  His word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb 4:12).  By his word, God rescues the lost, strengthens the weak, humbles the strong, comforts the downcast, corrects the wayward and builds up his church.

We may be in lockdown, but God’s Word runs free – in our lives, in the church and in the world. 

So, when you are watching the news tonight and hearing all the bad news and everything that humans in their weakness are trying to do to fix it, remember we have someone who is above all this.  And his interests are to do with far bigger and better things than a Covid variant.  He is building a kingdom and filling it with eternal souls.

That’s good news for all of us.  

We are His

Last week I posted a warning on the dangers of elevating Olympic athletes to a god-like status (you can read that article here). A few days later I read the tragic news of a young New Zealand cyclist who took her life, a day after the closing ceremony in Tokyo. This very capable individual had competed in Rio but for some reason wasn’t picked for the team. She had recently posted on social media about the pressures of elite-level sports. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together. It appears that it was all too much to bear.

Now the nation mourns for her. And so do I. When the pressure to perform (or the desire to achieve) becomes so great that life is not worth living, then something is terribly wrong.  Just as life does not consist of the things we possess, nor does it consist of the people we please, the achievements we make, or the medals we attain.

It was in the course of mulling over these things that I came across Psalm 100:

Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to the Lord!

Serve the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God.

He made us, and we are his,

his people, the sheep of his pasture.   (Psalm 100:1–3)

One line came into sharp focus that I had not noticed before:

He made us, and we are his.

We are creatures; we are not gods.  

We were made by God; we did not make ourselves.    

We are finite; we are not infinite.

We are mortal; we are not immortal. 

We are temporal; we are not eternal.

We are not God; we belong to God. 

We are HIS.

The only way to understand a tragedy like this is to understand it theologically. That is, through the lens of divine revelation. Human studies – anthropology and psychology and psychotherapy provide no answers.

Sin caused us to seek god-like status independent of God.  Instead of ruling and reigning over creation under his guidance, provision and care, we sought to rule and reign without him.  The result in our world is evident – conflict, chaos, and confusion; disharmony and disorder in human relationships and disorientation in ourselves. 

Jesus came to restore us to our God-given identity and purpose.  By way of his death and resurrection, we regain what was lost at the fall.  The broken pieces of the Imago Dei are put back together.  Jesus invites us to abandon our little kingdoms to be part of his eternal kingdom.  There we will rule and reign and priests and kings the way God intended it (Revelation 5:10; 22:1-5).  And we will understand ourselves as we truly are.

I wonder how different things might have been for that athlete who came to the end of herself if she would have known this.  I know that there are many people who struggle with mental health.  We live in a broken world and Christians are not immune to this.  But knowing who we really are, why we are here, and where it’s all heading does make a difference.  It gives us life and hope. 

Kevin Black posted a great little article on this very Psalm.  His words ministered to me personally.  I think they serve as a fitting end to what I’m trying to say:

Today, we still try to play the role of God. And this is a tiresome, possibly deadly pursuit.

But here’s where Psalm 100:3 points us: God is God … He made us We are His …and we are under His care. I forget this. I neglect this. I rebel against this. In a thousand ways, I tend to Lord over my own little universe, and my reward is fear, apathy, anxiety, discontentment, and the deadly pride to think I’m better off self-dependent.

But God—in His tender care— graciously reminds me here that it’s best for me to be subject to Him, to operate under His care, to look to Him alone for all my needs, to acknowledge HIS Lordship and embrace my position as God-dependent. We know that fruitful life and ministry come only through Christ-dependency (John 15:5).

So today, let’s take some soul-level rest knowing that the Lord, He is God. Let’s look to our shepherd, Jesus Christ, for all our needs like a sheep would because we belong to Him.

Olympian gods

I’ve been captivated by the Olympic Games over the past couple of weeks.  It makes for inspiring viewing.  Watching athletes push themselves to the limit – knuckles clenched, faces grimacing, and muscles flexing, as they launch themselves over bars, into water, around cycle tracks and a whole lot more.  The competition is fierce, and there’s often only a split-second difference between them.  Unfortunately, however, someone has to win and someone has to lose.  That’s the nature of sports.  

You don’t get to compete at that level without many years of hard training, pain and personal sacrifice.  To prepare for an event like this, athletes spend the better part of their lives enduring gruelling daily workouts and strict diets.  I’m sure there are many days when they don’t feel like training, but they do it anyway. 

But what happens after it’s over?  They all go home.  The rollercoaster ride of Olympic hysteria and hero-making comes to a screeching halt.  For some, the transition is just too much.  They suffer what is known as post-Olympic blues.  After winning eight golds in Beijing, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps took an emotional dive.  He later confessed, “I took some wrong turns and found myself in the darkest place you could ever imagine.”  All their training life they are taught they can push through anything, but this is something they can’t simply “push through.”  They need help.

When we watch athletes performing extraordinary feats (that we mere mortals could never achieve), they take on a super-human status.  We view them as demi-gods, capable of doing anything.  But they are not capable of anything.  They are frail, imperfect beings who become weary and tired and are subject to sickness, fatigue, and discouragement – just like us. 

Why is that human beings keep striving for god-like status?  There is only one true God; the One who created all things.  He is, as the Scottish hymn writer put it, the “Immortal, Invisible, God-only Wise.”  We are simply his creatures – frail, weak, and temporal.  We were created to glorify him, not compete with him. 

“God knows if you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like God,” Genesis 3:5 tells us.  That was Satan’s lie to the first man, Adam.  The truth is God did intend us to become like him – just not that way.  The result was disastrous, as we all know.  So God sent a second Adam to rescue us.  Jesus is our true super-hero who by his death and resurrection, made a new way.  When we put our trust in him, he comes and lives in us and imparts to us the very life of God.  He promises to grant to us a new body one day – one that will never wear out and decay. 

That has to be better than any Olympian could dream of.  And more.

No Turning Back

This past Sunday was a high point in the life of our church as we witnessed 11 individuals giving public testimony of their faith in Jesus and then being baptized. 

It’s a wonderful thing to watch someone being baptized.  We are witnessing something powerful.  We are seeing the gospel being played out in front of our eyes.  When a person goes down under the water, that symbolizes their union with Christ’s death and burial.  When they come up out of the water, that symbolizes their union in his resurrection life.   They are new creatures in Christ – the old has passed away; the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  But when this event is combined with real-life stories of people coming to the end of their rope, turning in faith in Christ, finding new life and then seeing that reality unfold in their own lives, that is something to behold! 

That is what we had on Sunday, 11 times over.  There was hardly a dry eye in the room by the end of it and people left with hearts full and overjoyed. 

When I arrived at Grace 6 years ago, they were baptising people in the river.  There is nothing wrong with that.  After all, that was the practice of John the Baptist and likely the early church.  But typically only a handful of people turn up, you can’t always hear what was going on (particularly when the wind was blowing), and folk outside of the church never show.  I knew we were missing an opportunity. 

The first thing we needed was a pool, which was made and supplied by one very handy elder who came up with the idea to modify a rainwater tank.  Then there were the testimonies.  This is where individuals make a public declaration of their faith.  But they also get to explain, through their very own life story how the death, burial and resurrection of Christ intersects with all that.  It takes a little work and personal coaching and encouragement because not everyone is a born public speaker.  We have them write it out so they can read it because on the day things can get a bit emotional and they can easily lose the plot.  

The result is something very powerful, especially when there are multiple baptisms.  You can argue with the preacher; you can even argue with the bible.  But you can’t argue with changed lives.  They are self-validating. 

Prior to the baptisms, I gave a clear explanation of baptism so that no one would be confused about what was happening.  Water baptism does nothing to merit salvation.  Water cannot wash away or remove sin.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that when an individual turns from their sin and puts their trust in Christ to save them.  Salvation only comes by way of faith and repentance.  Water baptism follows.  It is the outward sign of the inward reality. 

In Acts chapter 16 we have the account of the Philippian jailer who suddenly becomes aware of his need for salvation.  He cries out to Paul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  And what does Paul say?  “You need to be baptized!”  No, he says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”   Then Paul speaks God’s Word to him – he explains the gospel – the good news of Jesus, the man believes and then we are told he and his household were baptized. 

I closed with some powerful words from an African pastor.  They were found in some papers in Zimbabwe after he was martyred for his Christian faith.  I thought they were very fitting for the occasion.

I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low-living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labour by Holy Spirit power.

My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable, and my mission is clear.

I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colours will be clear!

NZ Police Chaplaincy

Police work can be very demanding.  It can be the cause of many tensions and frustrations for those involved in the work – at multiple levels.  To help deal with this, the New Zealand Police provides chaplains in various regions around our country.  The chaplain’s role is only one of many services to police officers in NZ.  There are trained counsellors and wellness advisors who are specialized in their various fields.  The advantage with the chaplains is that anything shared with a chaplain stays with the chaplain.  Nothing said is reported or goes on record (unless it’s an issue of safety).  They act as a safety valve for the organization.   

Last October I was installed as police chaplain for the Nelson-Tasman district – a very daunting task!  Part of my reason for doing this is I was desperate to get out of the four walls of our church and into the community.  Pastoral ministry is a great joy, but it can completely swallow you if you are not careful.  Caring for God’s people is not my only priority; I also have an obligation to care for those outside of the church.  I’ve found getting amongst frontline police officers a great way to do that.

My eyes have been opened to the work of NZ Police in a way they never have before.  I’m convinced the general public don’t know half of what they have to deal with.  It’s not just the occasional verbal abuse or threats, it’s the domestic violence, dealing with repeat offenders, trying to help at-risk youth, watching offenders get off on legal technicalities, and a myriad of other things.  Yet day after day they endure it all and press on.

They call the role of the chaplain the ministry of presence.  Being present, being available, showing up regularly, week after week is what matters.  Sometimes I have a significant conversation with someone; sometimes I don’t.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is everyone knows there is a friendly face who pops his head in the door from time to time and if you need to talk to someone about something, he’s there.

A few weeks back, I joined with 46 other chaplains in our country for the national conference in Wellington.  It was a great opportunity to sit down and chat with a few “old hands” who have been in the game for 10, 15 and some up to 25 years.  There were some good tips, like leaving your card around the station, joining an officer in a ride-a-long (passenger in a police car), turning up at one of the police training days, joining police on Anzac Day and many other things.  I also got to meet the NZ Police Commissioner, Andrew Coster (see picture below) who was the speaker at our formal dinner.  As a committed Christian, he’s right behind chaplaincy work.  He understands what we are about.  

Andrew Coster (centre) and chaplain Lui Ponifasio (right). I'm on the left.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be joining with one of our community police offers at a local high school.  He’ll be talking about staying safe in the cyber world.  That’s another side of the police I didn’t know much about: prevention work.  The aim is to educate people when they are young, and in doing so, they can prevent a lot of damage in their lives later on.  I’m looking forward that.

Someone asked me recently, “How on earth do you have time to this on top of everything else you do?”  My answer to that is easy.  After getting to know this amazing bunch of people, listening to them talk about their work and having the opportunity to pray for them, how could I afford not to? 

It’s a no-brainer. 

Pray for India

Last night, in the comfort of my own home, I watched scenes of unimaginable horror unfold on my TV in front of me.  I saw people outside hospitals with loved ones dying in their laps and in the back of cars, desperate for medical help.  I saw vans and trucks, loaded with oxygen bottles, careening through the streets at breakneck speed.  I saw funeral pyres with bodies burning in great heaps.  These weren’t scenes from a futuristic Sci-Fi movie.  This is the country of India. 

The nation of 1.4 billion people is in the midst of a tsunami of coronavirus cases.  Monday recorded the worst single day since the pandemic began, with 350,000 new infections, and nearly 3000 deaths.  And there are no signs of it slowing down.  A doctor appeared on camera, pleading with countries from the West to send aid – especially oxygen.  Behind him, a nurse was on top of a young man, vigorously applying CPR to resuscitate him.  The camera quickly moved away.  He had died.

The danger is, in our nice little Covid-free land, to become numb to this.  We’ve seen it all before – in France, England, the USA, and Brazil.  And it’s so far away.  It’s not in our backyard. 

BUT IT COULD BE. 

And that’s what we have to remember.  These are fellow human beings.  They could be our fathers and mothers and sons and daughters who are dying.  How would we respond then? 

Can we do anything for the people of India?  Yes, we can.  We can PRAY.  Pray for the coronavirus to stop spreading.  Pray for medical professionals, caregivers, and researchers.  Pray for oxygen to reach India speedily.  Pray for leaders who are responsible for making decisions.  Pray for the many Christians in India to demonstrate the love of God and reach out to sufferers in tangible ways. 

We can also FEEL for the many thousands of Indians living in New Zealand who have relatives infected with Coronavirus.  They live on your street and work in your region.  Talk to them.  Feel their pain.  Show compassion and understanding.  Invite them into your home.   That’s what loving our neighbours is all about.  We might not be able to care for the dying on the streets of India, but we can care for the living on the streets around us. 

Jesus would ask of us no less.

God and Coronavirus – Part 2

Ravi Zacharias, a philosopher and apologist for the Christian faith says the question of pain and suffering provides the greatest challenge to one’s belief in God. It is also one of the greatest obstacles for the unbeliever. There are two errors I think we can make: saying too much and saying too little. We can say too much and thereby attribute things to God and what he is doing that isn’t true, or we can say too little and give the impression that God has nothing to say, nor does he have anything to do with this calamity. I believe we have to walk a fine line between the two.

One approach is to look at the current pandemic through different lens or perspectives. I came up with 5 such lenses:

  1. the lens of history
  2. the lens of culture
  3. the lens of the fall
  4. the lens of the gospels
  5. the lens of the cross

Last time we looked at Coronavirus through the lens of history. We learned that plagues and pandemics are not new, we have experienced them in the past, in far greater measure and worse outcomes. We also saw how Christians were always on the frontlines, putting their own lives on the line when others fled. They could do this because of their hope in the resurrection, freeing them from the fear of death.

This time we are going to look at Coronavirus through the lens of culture.

2. The Lens of Culture

We are all influenced by the culture we live in. And every culture has its own worldview. A worldview represents your fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the world and human life. It’s what we use to make sense of the world we live in and influences our understanding of things like plagues, disasters and pandemics.

One of the most devastating and far-reaching natural disasters in modern history was the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. Although the death toll wasn’t as high as other disasters, this one deeply impacted people’s thinking about God. The earthquake hit on All Saints Day when churches were packed. The buildings crumbled, killing everyone inside. Fires broke out across the city, making rescue efforts almost impossible. Then came the tsunami, which pounded the coast drowning people who were fleeing falling buildings. Somewhere between 30-60,000 lives were lost as a result and three-quarters of the city was reduced to rubble.

Afterwards, all kinds of reasons were offered up as to why the disaster happened. Some said the earthquake was an act of divine judgment on a sinful city. What was puzzling, however, was a street filled with brothels was left largely undamaged while the churches filled with worshippers were destroyed. Protestants were saying it was God’s judgement on the Spanish Inquisition. The Jesuit Priests responded by saying the quake revealed the anger of God because the Inquisition had not gone far enough! Clearly, people were confused.

There are modern-day comparisons. Many Muslims believed that Allah caused the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Southeast Asia due to immorality, sin, alcohol, and other excesses. Following hurricane Katrina, some said that Allah was heaping vengeance on the United States for the war in Iraq. In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, conservative Christians were saying it was God’s judgment on a sinful city. Others were saying it had nothing to do with God; it’s just natural forces of mother nature at work.

So you see we will come to a different understanding of things depending on our worldview. There are four dominant worldviews that influence people in our world today. We will examine each of these and then compare it with the Christian worldview in my next post.

Worldview #1: Buddhism

About six centuries before Jesus walked the earth, a young prince is said to have escaped the trappings of materialism and found the path to enlightenment. Now known as the Buddha—the enlightened one—he left behind a formula to help others discover nirvana – the ultimate spiritual goal.

The problem of suffering, Buddha concluded, is connected to desire. We desire things, we desire success, we desire wealth, and we desire happiness. All these desires make us vulnerable to pain and suffering. We need to get to a place where we will no longer desire anything—the state of nirvana. Buddha’s conclusion was that detachment is the key to happiness. If you never wish for anything anymore, then you are never without what you wish to have.[1] The answer for the Buddhist, therefore, is be happy with the way the world is – viruses, tragedies, disasters included.

Worldview #2: Hinduism

According to the Hindu those who suffer do so because of sin in a previous life, and suffering in this present life serves to help them to work off their karma.[2] Therefore, since the chain of cause and effect is unbreakable, there is no point in making an effort to relieve their pain; that would only serve to slow down the process of their purification. It is hard to see how this worldview offers any hope at all to people suffering from coronavirus or any other disease.

Worldview #3: Islam

Like the Bible, the Quran teaches that people are descendants of Adam and Eve and are imperfect sinners. Unlike Christians, Muslims believe that humans are sinners because Allah has willed it. They have no understanding similar to the Bible’s teaching that humans, not God, caused sin through rebellion against God.

The very word “Islam” means “submission.” Many Muslims understand that to include suffering–enduring pain or loss is a way of submitting to the will of Allah. Therefore, for the Muslim, Coronavirus is the will of Allah. If people die from it, that is the will of Allah. If people live, that is the will of Allah. In this form of determinism, Allah wills everything.

Worldview #4: Atheistic naturalism

The atheist/naturalist says that ultimate reality in life consists of matter and energy. That’s all life is – atoms and particles banging into each other. There is no God; there is no good and there is no evil. Suffering is a mere fact of existence like the redness of red or the wetness of water. It’s just the way things are. Richard Dawkins, a leading spokesman for atheism says:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.[3]

In Dawkins’ view, terrorists and murderers and people like Stalin, Hitler and Mao who carried out horrific acts of genocide were simply acting in according to their inbuilt genetic programming. No one can actually blame them. They couldn’t help it. Natural disasters are forces working indiscriminately and if you get caught in them it’s simply bad luck. This is what happens when you take Atheism to its logical conclusion. Everything is meaningless.

It is worth noting that all other worldviews hold that this life is not the whole story; we are part of a bigger story. Not so for the atheist. This life is all that there is. We must, therefore, create our own meanings. How do we do that? You find something to live for. You might live for your family or your career or a political cause or accomplishment. But in order to have a meaningful life, life must go well for you. Suffering disrupts this and has the power to destroy your meaning.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor who survived the death camps during World War II. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning he explored the reason why some people stayed strong and kind under terrible conditions while others gave up. His conclusion was that it had to do with a person’s meaning in life. Those who made their career or family or social status their meaning often gave up and died. Others collapsed morally, betraying family and friends in order to save themselves. Those who did not crumble had a reference point outside of this life to orientate themselves. They had a “depth and vigour of religious belief” that surprised those around them.[4]

The atheist worldview, therefore, is hardly satisfying. It doesn’t give us any answers and leaves people feeling that life is meaningless and empty.

How do these different worldviews stack up with the Christian worldview? That’s what we will be looking at next time with the lens of the fall.

Note: This post is based on Part 2 of a series we are currently working through during lockdown called “God and Coronavirus.” You can watch and listen to the message here (the message starts at 12 min 50 s into the online service).

[1] Zacharias, Ravi. Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense (pp. 116-117). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.

[2] Karma (in Hinduism and Buddhism) is the sum of a person’s actions in one of their successive states of existence, which is regarded as deciding their fate in the next.

[3] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Basic Books, 1992), p 133.

[4] Tim Keller, Making Sense of God (Viking books), pp.72-73

When the foundations are shaken

These are testing times that we live in.  Life in our world is not the same as it was two or three weeks ago. We not know what tomorrow holds. We do not know if things will get worse or if they get better. We do not know if we will get sick or if we stay well. We don’t know what will happen with our jobs, our houses and our mortgages. We do not know if we will stay sane in this period of isolation or if we will go crazy. There are so many things we do not know.

It feels like the rug has been pulled right out under us. People have gone from feeling comfortable and secure to being anxious and nervous. We’ve gone from worrying about what the weather is going to be like in the weekend to what food will be in the refrigerator this week. Everything is being shaken. The foundations upon which our lives are built are cracking.

And it’s actually good for us. It’s a Godsend. It’s a divine mercy. God is using this pandemic to show people that our world is temporary, that life is fragile and things we put our trust in – government, health systems, financial investments – cannot ultimately sustain us.

It’s an opportunity for God’s people to demonstrate to their friends and family members and neighbours that we have a foundation that cannot be shaken. It’s an opportunity for us to announce that our God reigns, even amidst panic and fear. It’s an opportunity for us to confidently declare, “The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can more mortal [or coronavirus] do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

In a sermon preached on 18 February 1855 Spurgeon spoke of the fear of death:

“Who is the man that does not fear to die? I will tell you. The man that is a believer. Fear to die! Thank God, I do not. The cholera may come again next summer—I pray God it may not; but if it does, it matters not to me: I will toil and visit the sick by night and by day, until I drop; and if it takes me, sudden death is sudden glory.”

Well, If I go visiting the sick (at night or day) here in New Zealand I am likely to get accosted by the military or Police. But you see Spurgeon’s point. Because of his security in Christ, he did not fear death. We should not either.

Speaking of which, here’s a great new worship song release from City Alight. It’s called Blessed Assurance. Have a read of Psalm 46 before you play it and then let the Spirit of God minister comfort to your soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in Lockdown NZ

Photo courtesy of David White

Well, here we are two days into our lockdown in New Zealand in an effort to keep the rapid outbreak of Coronavirus spreading further. Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern moved the country from level 2 (Reduce) to level 4 (Eliminate) in 48 hours.  It’s an effort to stay ahead of the game and reduce the number of deaths as well as overloading our health system. The whole country has been ordered to do this (with the exception of essential services).  How long is this to go on for? Four weeks.

We have entered a new stage in our country’s history. We’ve never experienced anything like this before. The streets are empty, the shops are shut, and everything is eerily quiet. Even the Auckland motorways are quiet. And that’s saying a lot.

We’ve been told to stay inside our bubble. Your “bubble” consists of the people you are living with. What if you are sharing custody of children? They can move between “bubbles,” but not the adults. What if you have older relatives?  They have to stay inside their bubble. They are especially vulnerable.  What if you live alone? If a friend who lives nearby, then the two of you can form a bubble and move between your two homes. This all sounds very complicated, but it isn’t once you get used to it. And it makes good sense. The aim is to keep the bubbles small and stop the spread of the virus.

As you might imagine, questions abound as to what people can and cannot do. Make a rule, and there will be those who will try and bend it. To be fair though, it is pretty restrictive for us fun-loving, adventurous kiwis.  We find it difficult to be cooped up inside. There’s a great selection of mountain bike trails in my area. That selection is being reduced by the day, as restrictions on travel (as well as potential accidents) is being reduced.

According to a recent article on STUFF, here’s a breakdown of what you can and cannot do:

Can I go to the beach? No. Unless you live very near the beach, you cannot go there.

Can I go on a picnic? Unless the picnic is at your home, then no.

Can I go shopping? No, unless you’re going to the supermarket, bank or pharmacy. All other shops are closed.

Can I go pick up a pizza?  No.

Can I pat a dog I pass in the street? No. Keep your hands to yourself, no matter how cute the dog is.

Can I stop and chat with people I pass in the street? Not advised. Stick to your bubble and keep your distance from others (at least two metres).

Can I drive to a friend or family member’s house? No, unless you are dropping off supplies. You should leave these at the door – you can’t go in for a chat and a coffee.

What if they live down the street? It makes no difference.

What if I wear a mask when I’m there? Still no.

Can I go for a drive around town? No. Only drive if you need to – for example to the supermarket, pharmacy or hospital.

My car needs to be fixed or warranted, can I go do that? Unless you’re an essential worker, the answer is no.

But what if my license is expiring and I need to get a new one? The answer is still no.

Can I take my ‘bubble’ hiking? No. There are no search and rescue provisions in place, should you require help.

What if I know the track well?  No.

Can I go kayaking just off the bank? No.

Can I go surfing? No. Coastguard volunteers are also in lockdown..

What about to the dog park? If your dog park is within walking distance, then yes.

Can I go for a marathon-length run?  No. Keep your common sense about you, your ventures out to get fresh air should stay local.

What if I drive to a good track I know no-one will be at?  No. If you have to drive there, it’s not local.

Can I drive to pick up something I bought off Trade Me or Facebook Marketplace? No.

I’m not an essential worker but I need to pick something up from work. Can I? No.

Can my neighbour come over for dinner? No. If you don’t live with them, they’re not in your bubble.

Can I drop the kids off at a friend’s house? No, although essential workers can make childcare arrangements through their network, within limits.

Can I do a book swap down the street? No.

Can I make like the Italians and Spaniards and start singing out my window? Yes. Go ahead.

Keeping perspective in a virus-mad world

How not to be afraid of the Coronavirus

“Bad news is coming for all of us. If it’s not the virus, it will be something else. We live in a fallen world where suffering and death are inevitable. To live as if this is not true is foolish. The wise and righteous person, however, need not fear bad news.”

The latin word corona means “crown.” The Bible paints a clear picture for us of Jesus, the King of Kings, sitting on a throne at the right hand of the Father. The Word of God, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Lords, He is crowned and reigning right now, even as you read these words. This pandemic is not outside of His jurisdiction (because nothing is).  Each time I hear the word now, I picture a golden crown and the Lord of Everything who is my Savior and friend.

Now, remembering that Jesus is the reigning King of Kings is not insurance against a deadly virus. It isn’t a guarantee that we will come through this untouched by hard times or even tragedy. But it will help to fortify our faith in the Lord, and it will help us to cling tightly to this truth: we can trust Jesus with these bodies, with our future, with our children, with our very souls. His will isn’t always easy to unravel or understand. His plans aren’t always what we would choose to have happen. But that’s only because we don’t know what He knows.

He is good. He is trustworthy. And He reigns absolutely, with care, with love, and with an intimate knowledge of everything that is worrying us today. Let that dreaded word that you will hear and say over and over again in the coming weeks take you to a picture of the One who loves you, the King of the Universe, who is working ALL things together for the good of those who love Him. He is sitting on His throne right now. Can you see His crown?

Mother Earth or Father God?

Venice is enjoying crystal clear waters under Italy’s ongoing lockdown and the skies are clear over Wuhan. Is this a message from Mother Earth or our Father God?

How a “You do You” Culture Has Made Us Vulnerable to the Coronavirus

“Nothing tests the validity of a worldview like tragedy and suffering.  And the coronavirus, as awful and terrible as it is, has done at least one good thing, namely it has exposed our culture’s commitment to relativism for what it really is.  An utterly unworkable and unsustainable worldview.”

9 Ways to Love Your Neighbour in This Pandemic

The title speaks for itself. From an American church perspective but the same applies here.

How NZ Baptist churches responded during the 1918 influenza outbreak

We’ve been here before. Some interesting insight by William Chong as to how churches in New Zealand responded with a pandemic in the past. Here’s what they did in my neck of the woods:

RICHMOND: “…Owing to the influenza epidemic, all Church services are being held in the open-air.”

NELSON: “For three Sundays in November the services were held in the grounds opposite the church, the weather, fortunately. being fine and mild, so that the attendance was not interfered with. It was noticed that several passers-by stood and listened, so it has been decided to hold a short open-air meeting prior to the service each Sunday evening, in the hope that some people may thereby be induced to come into the church.”

And finally, here’s a song from Andrew Peterson that will bring tears to your eyes. In a good way.