The Christmas Journey (Epilogue)

In my last post I wrote about our new Christmas outreach that we are doing this year at our church.  That was on the day we were about to launch.  Now I can report on how it all went.

Over the 3 nights we had over 840 people through with about half of them having no church connection.  The groups averaged 15 in number on Friday and Saturday and then ballooned to around 25 in number on Sunday night (our biggest crowd).  The International Student group numbered over 40!  That made things a little tricky for the Centurions (our “tour guides” for the night), trying to navigate around some tight spaces.  But we managed it all well in the end.

The responses we got from people ranged from being suitably impressed to being completely overwhelmed.  No one gave us a bad report.  There were plenty of, “Thank you so much for putting this on!”  It was really cool seeing the faces of people as they walked through the archway into the marketplace.  That exceeded all their expectations.

The angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will be with child by the Holy Spirit

We had a range of activities to keep people interested during their time in the Marketplace.  Kids could be kept busy making baskets, clay models, Christmas tree ornaments and beads.  There were fresh cherries and berries you could buy in the fruit stall, Turkish delights in the sweet stall or mulled apple “wine” at the tavern.  Basically, we had something to suit all ages and tastes.

What we found interesting however was in the end, it was the final scene with Mary singing and Joseph’s message, that seemed to have the most impact on people, whether they were Christians or not.

Here are some of the comments we got back via Facebook or email:

“Thank you 😊. This was an incredible production. An experience my children and I will never forget and an absolutely beautiful way to ‘experience’ the story of Christmas.”

“What an amazing effort you guys pout in, absolutely loved spending my shekels in the market place, so authentic and busy and so much to see and to the young Mary, what a beautiful voice, very welcoming people, – thank you.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed the performance of all. Even the little ones getting in on the act. I can but imagine all that went on with building the set. Hats off to Mary’s singing. She was delightful to listen to.”

“That was off the chain!! Our teenage boys thought so as well; all 9 of them 😊. Thanks so much for taking us on a journey back to Bethlehem 2000 years ago, such an awesome production well set up and amazing people too ❤.. loved it!”

I remember those boys in the last comment.  They were on my tour (I was one of the Centurions).  I sat around their table in the café after we finished.  One of them started asking questions one after another – I couldn’t answer fast enough!  Here is part of the conversation:

“Hey bro – so Jesus was born a baby.  So, he was normal, just like us”
“Yes and No.  He was just like you and me.  But he had no badness – no sin.  You and me – we think and do bad things – right? We do stuff we regret.  Jesus didn’t do any of that – ever.”
“Did he cry when he was a kid?”
“Then he grew into a man and taught about God and did heaps of miracles”
“Then what?”
“He died – early.”
“How did he die?”
“On a cross”
“What’s a cross?”
“It what the Romans used to kill criminals [I made a symbol with my fingers] It’s a horrible death. They nail your hands to the cross beam and your feet to the pole. Before you can take a breath you have to lift yourself up which means putting pressure on the nail holes which makes it even more painful.”
He looks thoughtful at this point.  He was really thinking.
“So that’s it? He just dies?”
“No – he dies for our sin. While he was on that cross he was taking your badness and my badness on him and suffering for it.  Then he rose again from the dead…”

The conversation went on for another 15 minutes or so.  But it gives you some insight into how many people are really open to hearing the gospel – people that have absolutely no idea who Jesus really is or why he came.  This is why it’s so important that Christians are doing what they can to reach them.  Not everyone will be receptive.  But some – like this one, are.  And that makes events like this worth while.

It was a huge effort on the part of our church family.  By Sunday night we were all exhausted – especially those holding main roles the entire production through.  But it wasn’t only the actors.  It was all the behind-the-scenes people that worked so hard to bring things together as well as the families who were there in costume with their children from 5:00-9:00pm each night.

I’ve been involved with a lot of outreach events over the course of my ministry.  This by far outdoes them all.  I simply can’t wait to get my Centurion costume on again and share the good news of Jesus with more people in our community – as well as having a hang a lot fun along the way.  But that will have to wait for next year.

I’ll leave you with a little scene we captured on video on the final night.  The Inn Keeper gave the Centurions a lot of cheek over the course of the event.  They got their own back by arresting him and dragging him through the market.  Now that got us a few laughs!

Many thanks to:
  • Marty who literally spent hours of his own time building sets and arranging lighting and curtains (and who-else-knows-what)
  • The builders, carpenters, electricians, graphic artists and painters in our church who gave much of their time to this
  • Lizette and Liz and Sue and their helpers who hand-made many of the costumes
  • Kathryn, Katrina, Christie and the Eishler family who were there every day in the last two weeks doing finishing touches
  • The elders of our church who also threw themselves into this by way of prayer and support
  • To Rochelle, our church administer, who worked overtime behind the scenes taking calls and arranging bookings and producing handouts and signs
  • To Jada, who had the vision in the very beginning to make this happen.  She still has fond childhood memories of attending this at a church near her home growing up.
And most importantly, many thanks to:
  • Our Heavenly Father, who cared enough for a lost and rebellious humanity that he sent his own Son to redeem them
  • To the Lord Jesus, whose willingness to lay down his life on our behalf made our redemption possible
  • To the Holy Spirit, who empowers God’s redeemed people, and energizes them for such events as this

SERVE-tember Sunday

If you visited our church a couple of weeks ago, you would have experienced a Sunday with a difference.  Instead of seeing people gathering to sing and listen to a sermon, you would have seen them scattering in two’s and three’s in cars, on bikes and on foot – some with food, some with shovels and spades and others with guitars.  Sound a little odd?  I guess it does, unless you understand the bigger picture.

We started out this year with the launch of our new mission: God’s grace, to us, for the world.  Let me break that down briefly.  God’s grace is the transforming power of God which comes by way of the gospel.  And it’s all about Jesus.  We make a big deal about that each and every week.  The to us part describes the community of people who the gospel creates – the church of God which is being built up through the ministry of the Word, mutual service and exercise of our spiritual gifts.  For the world describes the mission or task of the church.  This wonderful, saving grace is not to be hoarded, but shared with those who don’t know Jesus.

Most churches are strong on the first two.  But they tend to be weak with the third.  That is because by default all their energies are directed internally, to their own needs – so much so that they forget about the people who live around them.  These are the very ones God is concerned about!  And he wants us to share the good news with them.

So how do you mobilize a church of over 250 people to be more outward-focused?  Well that’s a mission in itself!  And there’s no magic bullet for it.  We are trialling a few new things here at Grace.  One of things we trialled was canning a morning service and sending everyone out to bless and serve our community.  This sounds great on paper but when you consider our age range – 80 years down to 8 weeks, we were going to have to be creative.  So, this is what we did:

  • We contacted the Tasman District Council to ask if we could send teams onto the cycle ways to pick up rubbish and pass out gift packages of water bottles and muesli bars to passing cyclists and walkers. They were amazed we’d do this and even supplied us with the rubbish bags
  • We ordered a bunch of high-viz vests with our church logo imprinted on the back for the work crews to wear
  • We bought a few hundred sausages for cooking on BBQ’s on the cycle way and local skatepark
  • We organized a muffin-making brigade to bake hundreds of home-made muffins
  • We ordered 500 colourful gospel tracts to go with the muffins and snack bags
  • We contacted the local Retirement homes and asked if we could bring in a team to sing to and bless the elderly
  • We also contacted the Nelson Hospital and Police Station and asked if we could come in to thank their workers for their contribution to the community
  • We mapped out streets in Richmond city to take gift packages to those who are working on Sunday (Gas stations, auto parts stores, liquor stores, motel staff etc)
  • We appointed a prayer team which would stay on base and pray for the entire operation and for door to be opened

When people arrived on Sunday morning they were directed to a board with sign-up sheets where they selected which area they wanted to serve in.  Then they met with their team to discuss a plan on how they would go about it.  After packaging up containers of muffins, tracks and snack packs, they headed off into the community.

The plan was simple: bless people!  Give a simple explanation of what we are doing (as well as why we are doing it) and give them some morning treats.  We didn’t know how the whole thing would go – whether it would fly or it would flunk.  And we didn’t know what conversations or opportunities might open up.  We simply put the whole thing to the Lord in prayer and asked HIM to do with it as He willed.

After we were done, we all met back at the church for lunch and to share some stories.  Here are a few snippets:

One small team visited a Campervan park close to our church.  When they approached one couple a woman asked, “Do you give away anything else than muffins – like prayer?” (I’m serious – that’s exactly what she said).  It had been a rough week for her.  Her husband has a heart condition and her son is going through a separation.  She had asked God to send her someone that day.  He did.  Rowena and Anisha were delighted to pray for her.

Rowena and Anisha retelling the Campervan park story with Francelle

Vern washing down the house

Ken, one of elders, took a small team to assist a woman in our community called Adelle.  During a visit with her doctor earlier that week, she shared how she was feeling overwhelmed – even her garden had gone to pieces.  Her doctor wrote down a phone number on a piece of paper and said, “If you want help with your garden, call this number.”  It was the number of our church.  Perfect timing!  Ken’s team made short work of it, washing down the outside of her house, pulling out some unwanted weeds, and giving her an instant vege garden.  They left with her beaming, and sending an awesome thank you message later that week.

Adelle getting her new vege garden

The staff at the hospital really appreciated the muffins and words of encouragement.  One of the nurses in A&E pulled out her wallet, thinking we were selling them.  How surprised she was to find out they were gifts!

I went with a couple of guys and hit the gas stations and auto parts stores.  We sure surprised a few people, often having to repeat ourselves because they didn’t believe they were hearing it the first time.  I think that goes to show how little people are appreciated in general – in whatever they do.

Jason blessing a Sunday morning worker at a local dairy

The folks at the retirement homes were really touched by those who went to sing and give small bouquets of flowers to the ladies.  Tears ran down cheeks as worship songs were sung and words of blessing were given.

Note: not everyone had a wonderful “God” moment and nor did many get into deep spiritual conversations.  But some did.  And that was our expectation.  We were simply vessels in God’s hands.  We depended on him to use us as he saw fit.  Some doors opened; some didn’t.  But everyone we encountered was blessed, in some way or another.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely!  What we sacrificed by losing a Sunday service (which was small) we gained in forging teamwork and a missionary spirit.  The faint-hearted were strengthened, unity was built, and people were hugely encouraged.  And those who stayed away that morning – well, they just missed out on seeing God at work – big time.

I’ll leave you with a video clip that shows some of the highlights of the morning (thanks William for your hard work on this):





Post-haste: the Vatican

Pastoral ministry is never dull.  It’s full of surprises.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something happens where your only response is, “Well I’ll be…”  That was certainly the case with my friend Sue.  Sue grew up a Catholic and after a bad experience with the church, decided to steer clear of anything religious.  She turned up at Grace one day through a connection with a lady in our church.  After attending one of our Long Story Short courses (introducing people to the basics of the Christian faith), she decided to give her life to Jesus.  She was wonderfully saved.

Sue came up to me one day after the close of a service and said, “I’ve decided to write a letter to the Pope.”  I gave her a wry smile and said, “That’s a great idea.”  I honestly thought she was joking.  Sue read my facial expressions perfectly.  “I’m dead serious.  I going to write to him and ask for an explanation.  I want to know after all those years of attending mass, praying the rosary and all that stuff that I was never given a bible and never heard that we can be saved by grace.”  This was definitely not a joke.  Sue wanted an answer, and what better way to get it than go right to the top.  “Do it,” I said.  “If God has impressed this on your heart then you need to follow through.”

So she did.

Now Sue has a unique way of sharing the good news with people.  Instead of shoving booklets and tracts under people’s noses, she gift-wraps them.  She has done this with a number of her friends and some family members.  She planned to do the same with the Pope.  Before sending it she asked me to read the letter she wrote.  Here is some of the content:

Your Holiness,

 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus. Ephesians 1:2

 I hope you can help.  My name is Sue, I am 68 yrs of age, I was born in London and have lived in New Zealand for nearly forty years. I was baptised at 53 days old, had my first confession, communion and confirmation at all the correct times. I was educated through Roman Catholic Schools and Church. Through school and church, I was taught the catechism and learnt about the Holy Trinity. As far as I remember we did not have Bile studies in school nor were encouraged to own or read the Bible. I have been unable to attend Mass or Church as I a married a divorced man.

Two years ago, I watch a lady teaching the Word of God on TV. I bought a Bible and it has opened my yes.

Sue then points out some of the discrepancies between what the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church teaches:

The RCC teaches that by going to Confession and attending Mass and Communion you are guaranteed a place in heaven.

The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from ourselves; it is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8–9).

The RCC encourages its followers to pray to Mary and the Saints.

The Bible teaches there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

The RCC teaches Purgatory, and that we should pray for the souls in purgatory because they cannot get out without our prayers.

The Bible does not say anything about Purgatory anywhere.

Sue concludes,

As you can see, I need help.

 I pray each night for our world leaders, that they are doing the best for the people they serve, and more importantly they are doing God’s Will.

 God’s peace be with you

I wondered what the Cardinals might think after they read that one!  No doubt the Vatican receives hordes of letters each day and have a team of secretaries and administrators whose job is to sift through and file them accordingly.

Still, one never knows.  One never knows that a letter like this could be placed in the hands of someone “up the line” so to speak.  One never knows that it might pass under the eyes of some Cardinal.  And one never knows, that this Cardinal may mention a word about it to the Pope himself.

We see in the pages of Scriptures, all kinds of amazing things happening to God’s people when they step out in faith and act out of the convictions of their heart, to do something that they believe would be honouring to God.

Good on you Sue.  You go where angels dare to tread.  And it is that very daring spirit that we need in more of us in the church today.

Note:  According to Roman Catholic doctrine, St Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, and the Pope is not only his lineal successor in that office, but also inherits in its fullness the unique commission given to him by Christ (Matthew 16:18 f. and John 21:17).  When the Pope speaks ex cathedra (literally, “from the chair”) he speaks with absolute infallibility and has authority even over the Scriptures.  Also based upon the claim of an unbroken chain of Roman bishops, Roman Catholics teach that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church, and that all churches that do not accept the primacy of the pope have broken away from them, the original and one true church.  Outside the RCC Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church. That teaching still remains today.





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.


A Christmas gift with a difference

img_4081-3 Last Sunday our Sunday Service was cancelled, but it was for a good reason. It’s the day when we have Christmas with our community.  Grace Church does this every year, in the lead up to Christmas. After years of trying to get people along to a church service they decided to try something different. They would throw a Christmas Party and invite everyone to come.

They don’t hide the fact: it’s a day of entertainment. But it is also a great opportunity to get to know people one-on-one, in a neutral environment. There are no guards up. People are relaxed. And because of that, so are we. Conversations about spiritual things develop naturally, rather than being forced. I think this is the way Jesus intended it to be.


Matty Grant taking some guys through the Good person test

This year however, we did work on being more intentional in getting the true meaning of Christmas across. We invited Matthew Grant from Assist Ministries to come with his flip-chart and walk people through the Good Person test. He had some great conversations with people, where they had to think hard about where they are at with God. Matty told me that after taking a school student through it, the guy said “this is the best test I’ve ever taken ever!”


My wife Francelle (the one doing the stirring!) and Julie setting up for the candy floss

We also had a bead-making table for kids, and each one of the beads is a special colour which represents something about the person of Jesus and why he came. Some of our ladies had some great conversations with children, with their parents standing in the background listening.  Non-threatening, with a good object lesson and a clear message.  It’s a winner.

But even apart from those more intentional steps, people in the community were absolutely blessed. For example, we had a solo-mum who couldn’t believe the various rides were free.  She said, “I took my children to the A&P show some weeks back, and they begged to have a turn, but I couldn’t afford it. And here it’s free!”  Yes it is – all of it.  That’s the way our God works.  He loves giving generously, without requiring any payment.  Therefore so should we.

Sandra lining up a shot with a family

Sandra lining up a shot with a family

Sandra’s photo studio was also a winner.  Many families would love to have a professional photographer take pictures of their family, but can’t afford it.  Sandra (who attends our church) has her own photography business. On this day she offers her services for free. There were plenty of takers lining up for this one.

There’s one other bonus to all this and that is what it does for our church family. We learn to work together as a team.


When I arrived early on Sunday morning, it was like watching an army of ants at work.  Equipment was carried out, BBQ’s were rolled out, outdoor furniture was set up in lickety-split time. Everyone knew what to do and everyone was willing to help.  I guess you could say that’s the way every good organization should operate.  All the same, I think it’s special when you see it happening in God’s church.

img_4052The party finished with a special talk for all the children about the true meaning of Christmas.  For many of them, this was the only opportunity they would get to hear about Jesus and why he came. I think the picture speaks for itself.  Happy Birthday Jesus!









WP_20160621_004[This is a transcript of a conversation I had with a young woman on a plane. My purpose in writing is not to show how spiritual or clever I am  (I’m not that spiritual or clever) but the manner in which the Holy Spirit can aid us, when we are open to his leading, to naturally weave the gospel into a conversation. If you are a Catholic and reading this, please don’t take offense. I have heard that there are people in the Catholic church who truly know Jesus. I just haven’t met one yet.]

Earlier this week I flew to Auckland from Nelson for a mission’s meeting. I asked the Lord to put me next to someone who I could talk to.  It turned out to be an empty seat.  Well, then I guess the Lord doesn’t want me to talk to anyone, I thought. Needless to say I didn’t pray for anyone for the return flight.

I didn’t have to. He put me next to Stephanie.

“Are you heading home to Nelson or going there on business?” I enquired.
“Neither – I’m visiting my Aunty.”
“You have family in Nelson? That’s great. Is this your first visit?”
“Yes, first visit”

“You’ll love it.”

Her accent gave away the fact that she was not NZ born. It turns out she was from the Philippines, on a student Visa studying management in Auckland.  That means she would most likely be Catholic and if not, certainly open to talking about religion.

“So what is the main religious belief in the Philippines – it’s Catholic isn’t it?”
“Yes, Catholic.  A few Christians. Some Muslims.”

Interesting, she sees a difference between Catholic and Christian.  That’s not the same in this country.

“Are you Catholic?” I asked her.
“Yes I am”
“Practicing Catholic or Catholic because of your family?”

“You go to a Catholic church in Auckland?”
“Every week?”
“Yes, every week”

OK, so she’s the real deal.

Then I shared my testimony, about how I became a Christian after bottoming out in life in my late teens. I told her how I had a deep disdain for religion until someone got me thinking about where I was going after I died. After reading the New Testament I found out where I was going. And it wasn’t heaven. That’s why I needed Jesus.  After receiving Jesus, I no longer feared death.

“Do you ever worry about dying?” I asked her
“No, not really.”
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Say this plane went down, right this second and you found yourself standing before God.  What if God said to you, ‘OK Stephanie, why should I let you into my heaven’– what would you say?”
“I don’t know what I’d say.”
“Well what would it take for you to get into heaven?” I asked her
“I guess I would need to have confessed all my sins”
“All of them – like every single one of them?”
“Every one of them”
“What if you missed one or two?”
“That would not be good.  I think I would be… in trouble”

I just looked at her.  Don’t rush – let that thought sink in.

“I guess that’s pretty scary – huh” she said nervously.
“Yeah – I think that’s REALLY scary” I answered.

Another pause. I started thinking where to go next. But she spoke first.

“My sister is a Christian” she said.

Brilliant. God already has someone working her, and better still – a family member.

“Really?” I asked, “That’s interesting.”
“Yes, she keeps wanting me to go to her church”
“But you haven’t been?”
“No” she answered, shaking her head with a smile.
“You really should.  It’s quite a bit different from what you’re used to – not as much ritual. But you’d enjoy it”

She hadn’t yet asked what I do and I wasn’t about to tell her.  I was enjoying being a ‘nobody.’  I thought I’d take advantage of it.

“You know those Christians are always making a big deal about the bible”
“Yes” she agreed, her face suddenly lighting up. “Whenever I visit my sister, she’s always reading the bible”
“Do you know why they do that?” I asked
“No” she answered, shaking her head.
“That’s their authority.  The bible is their sole authority.”
“Your authority is the Catholic church – right?” (tread carefully a voice warned me, don’t lose her too quick).  She nodded her head.
“And the Pope – he is your supreme authority”

She nodded even more vigorously. It really is true.

“Well, for Christians, if the bible says it, God says it.  If it doesn’t say it, God doesn’t say it.”

No answer. Long pause.  Need to get it personal again.

“And I’ll tell you another reason they keep reading the bible.  God speaks to them – like really speaks to them – personally.”

She looked back at me. I had her interest again.

“Do you have a bible? I asked
“Yes, I do”
“Do you ever read it?”
“No I don’t”
“Why not?”
“They don’t really encourage that in the Catholic Church”

No, I figured they wouldn’t.

“And you know these Christians, they make a real big deal about Jesus.  It’s Jesus this and Jesus that all the time.  Have you noticed that?”
“Yes I have – why do they do that?”
“Because God makes a big deal about Jesus?”

Another blank look.

“In the Old Testament, people came to God through the Priesthood – you know about that don’t you?”

She nodded.

“Now he has done away with the Priesthood.  Everyone must come through His Son Jesus”

She nodded but the penny hadn’t dropped. She’d heard this but hadn’t heard it.

“God says if you don’t come to me through My Son, you can’t come at all”
“Oh yes, I understand that” she says.

No you don’t. Another long pause. I needed to get creative. I needed a pen. I found one in my pocket.

“Can I draw you something on a piece of paper that explains all this?” I asked, pulling out a pen.
“Sure, yes” she said smiling.

I took her through the bridge to life. I showed her how man is separated from God because of sin, which he inherited from Adam. She was following me all the way. I wasn’t used to that – with the average Kiwi I have a hard time getting past Adam, let alone sin. I showed her how man tries all kinds of ways to get to God – religion, good works, giving to charity. But none of them work. Because the entrance requirement to heaven is perfection. No one can attain perfection, which means we are all hopelessly lost. That’s why God sent Jesus. He lived a perfect life and then died on the cross in our place. He is God’s provision for us. He is our sin substitute. When you believe in Jesus, he takes your sin and you get his perfect righteousness. People only get to heaven because of Jesus.WP_20160624_003 1

“Do you understand all this?” I asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“This is why I don’t fear death, why I know I’m going to heaven, and why I don’t need to worry about confessing every sin before I die.”

She nodded. I could see she was thinking. Something within me said to leave it at that. Don’t push. Just share.

It was rather quiet on the rest of the flight. I looked out the window and Stephanie just look straight ahead. I wondered what she was thinking. I prayed silently, asking God to work in her heart – to take the religious scales off her eyes so that she would see her need for Jesus. I also thanked God for her sister and asked Him to use her to draw Stephanie to himself.

We said our good-bye’s as we walked off the plane and wondered if I might see Stephanie one day in heaven.  That would be really cool.





A Christmas gift for the community

How can a church be a blessing to its community at Christmas?  How can it display God’s goodness and kindness to people who have not tasted it?  Grace Church came up with a way.  Each year they throw a party outside on their church property, and then invite the community to come and be part of it.  And people come – in their droves.

What intrigued me the most is they do this on a Sunday morning, in place of their regular morning service. When I first heard about this, it kind of threw me.  I’ve always taught about the importance of the weekly gathering of God’s people, where we come under the hearing of God’s word, grow together in grace and exercise our spiritual gifts.  The people of Grace know that.  And for the rest of the year, they faithfully adhere to it.

But they are also taught about the importance of caring for the community that is around them.  God has placed his church in the world to be a light and to reach out to those in darkness.  We do that in both word and deed.  This is the “deed” part for Grace. Sunday mornings are the time when most families are free, and are looking for something to do.  It’s the perfect window for outreach.

IMG_3407I was down there early to help set up.  There was no shortage of workers, busy putting up marques, building sets for games and blowing up balloons.  There was a great spirit about the place, and a united purpose.  Here’s some of the guys setting up the Coconut Shy.  We needed a backboard for the missed shots to bounce off.  A piece of ply and some stakes pounded in with a sledge-hammer and there we have it!

IMG_3399This is Philip (the one with the white shirt). He’s one of our elders.  But he’s also an expert at creating the perfect chemical brew for soap bubbles – like BIG SOAP BUBBLES.  He he is explaining the ingredients.  He was quite excited about it because he’s been working on it for some years.  I heard the word “detergent” and after that he lost me.  It just got too complicated.  IMG_3401But look at the results – isn’t that cool?  Kids get to be inside their own bubbles.  Ingenious.  And so simple. Most of the games and activities were – the hat toss, the candy-floss, the jumpy castle and the family portrait gallery.  The idea is just to be a blessing to families.

And they sure seem to appreciate it.  I got to talk to a number of them.  Take Jack for example.  Jack has just moved into the area from Westport.  He works for a scaffolding company.  “I bet business has picked up for you guys with all the new OSH laws,” I said.  “Tell me about it,” Jack answered.  We chatted about that for a while. Then, choosing the right moment I asked, “So Jack, do you have any church background?  Do you have a faith?”  “I was raised Mormon,” he answered, “But I saw a lot of bad things in that church.”  “Religion has a lot to answer for” I said.  He told me his wife was very open and they might be looking for a church to go to.  “I’d definitely come to this one,” I said. We both laughed.

IMG_3415Welcoming and greeting people is very important at this kind of event.  Church’s can be weird places for some people, so you need to put them at ease the minute they walk in the door.  It takes a certain personality to do that well, and Grace has a good number who fit the bill.  This is Mandy, welcoming a family in the door and explaining what goes on and what cool things the kids might like to do.  Notice the parents are really listening.  Also, people go out the same way they come in.  So not only do they get welcomed in, but farewelled out.  They leave with some info about our church, a kids story book on the birth of Jesus, and a little booklet about what Christmas is all about.

Here’s some more pics of the fun that went on:









I’m really enjoying being part of this church.  I’m learning a lot about what it means to care for your community and be a blessing to those who may have never stepped foot inside a church or they have had a bad experience in the past.  They leave an event like this thinking Christians might not be such bad people after all.  And perhaps (one may never know), they might give God another go.