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):

 

 

 

 

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Carl

Two weeks ago, I received a phone call while sitting in an airport waiting for a flight.  I recognized his voice immediately; it was my friend Carl.

“Hello there Peter, it’s Carl.”
“Hi there Carl, it’s good to hear from you”
“I have you on my list of many people to call.  There’s something I need to tell you and the news isn’t all that good.  I have only a short time to live.”
The news came like a bombshell.  “Carl,” I replied gently, “what happened?”

Carl unravelled the whole story.  Some melanoma growths appeared on his body a few years ago which were removed.  He went in for check-ups regularly after that, but unbeknownst to everyone, the melanoma was spreading.  They found it in his lymph nodes in his neck.  Carl was then operated on and a large number of those nodes were taken out.  That was eight weeks ago.

They sent Carl home to recuperate.  But Carl didn’t recuperate.  In fact, he got worse.

His wife Rina saw that something wasn’t right.  But when she tried telling the medical personal about this all she got was, “It’s just post-op depression.  He’ll come right.”  His condition deteriorated even more.  Finally, with some advice from some friends, she got their attention.  Carl was brought back in and a full scan was done.  A very aggressive form of cancer was growing in his liver and spleen.  It was terminal.

Life expectancy: approximately 3 weeks.

Carl had been a hard worker all his life.  He ate well and lived a healthy lifestyle.  He was looking forward to a new season in his life of slowing down and spending more time with his family.  One of his dreams was taking a river cruise with his wife in Europe.  They had even booked the trip.  Carl had also just received his gold card.  The first time he got to use it wasn’t for travel, but his operation.

But it gets even more difficult.  At the time of this news, his two sons were overseas along with their wives and young children – one working and living in Holland and the other on holiday in Canada.  They both had to be notified: “You need to get home.”

While Carl was telling me all this, my mind was reeling.  I knew this family well.  They were very close and all loved Jesus.  Still, this would rock them.  More importantly, how was Carl himself holding up?  Would his faith in God and hope in the gospel be strong enough to endure this?  Carl answered that in the next part of the conversation:

“Peter, I absolutely for sure, for sure know where I am going.  I am going to be with the Lord.  I am going home.  That’s not a concern.  My concern is for those I know who aren’t.  So while I still have a clear head and I can think straight, I’m calling them all one by one.”

Carl had phoned his mother and brother and sister in Holland.  For many years he had tried to tell them about Jesus and why he came, but they didn’t want to listen.  Now, things were different.  Carl was dying.  They were ready to listen.

Then Rina got on the phone.  She told me about all the visits they were having.  Carl is an engineer in a large company, so he has many co-workers who know him.  They have all made a special trip to come and see him.  As they come in, one by one, he has them sit down and then for 30-40 minutes, he shares with them how they can get to heaven.  No one argues.  No one gets up and walks out.  They all stay and listen.  “Peter,” she said, “I’ve never seen Carl like this.  He has always struggled with witnessing and finding the right words to talk about God.  But you should see him now!  I’m absolutely amazed.”

Something very special was happening here. This wasn’t a tragic tale about a friend who was dying.  God was at work.  Carl’s prayers were being answered.  He wanted to be a better witness for Jesus.  Now at last, he was – and in a more powerful way than he could ever have imagined.  Carl was using his cancer for the glory of God.  Through his slow and painful suffering, others were hearing the message of life.

When the phone call ended, I sat there for a few moments in the airport staring through the windows outside.  This is what life is really about, I thought.  It’s about people.  It’s about relationships.  It’s about knowing for absolute sure whether or not we are going to heaven and helping others find their way there also.  Carl has a few weeks; others may have a few years.  Sooner or later, everyone’s time will be up.  Like someone said to me once: “We’re all sitting in the departure lounge.  It’s just a matter of what flight you’re on” (which was somewhat ironic considering where I was sitting at that time).  How is it that we all get so busy, we don’t have time to think about what matters most?

I was still in deep thought when an announcement came through the speakers.  “Last call for flight 8239 to Wellington. Passengers must board immediately.”  I grabbed my bag and water bottle.  I didn’t want to miss my flight.

Epilogue

When I arrived home, I booked a flight for the next week to Auckland so I could go and see Carl.  It seemed the fitting thing to do.  It was possible he wouldn’t make it until then, or his condition would deteriorate to the point I wouldn’t be able to talk with him.  Too bad, I thought.  I’m going to trust God and take the chance.

I’m so glad I did.  He was alert and very pleased to see me.  We had a beautiful time together, talking about many things – his family, his work colleagues, and the many conversation he’s been able to have with people.  Rina was there alongside of me, constantly adjusting his bed and pillows so he could be comfortable.  The pain levels were increasing, and so was the medication in order to cope with it.  We read some scripture together and prayed and then let him rest.  I stayed a while to talk with Rina and the other members of the family.  Many tears had been shed and many more would in the next few days.

Regardless of the strength of your faith, death is still death.  It’s distressing.  It’s painful.  The greater the love, the deeper the sense of loss.  But Jesus provides a comfort deep enough to match it.  He understands death.  He knows.  He was there.

After dinner, Carl asked if we could sing.  We stood around his bed and sung together – “I Know Whom I Have Believed.”  Here are some of the words:

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

While we sung, Carl closed his eyes and listened.  He knew whom He believed.  He is the same One who imparted saving faith and brought peace to his heart.  He is the One who redeemed Carl for his own.  He was the One walking with Carl right then and there, through the vale of the shadow of death.

It suddenly dawned on me – in a very real sense Carl wasn’t going to Jesus.  Jesus was there with him (and with us all), in that very room.  Carl would soon see him.  His faith would become sight.  And then he will finally be, home.

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.

 

 

 

 

John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma

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

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

But that’s simply not true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new era for Grace Church

You’ve seen it all before.  The Pastor gets up on Sunday, all pumped because he thinks he’s found winning formula to triple the size of his church.  He’s got the hip new mission statement, a sharp-looking website along with gift pens to give to your neighbours.  He’s even got a personal endorsement from Richie McCaw.  The first Sunday he’s got everyone revved.  The second Sunday the wind has gone out of the sails.  A month later its fizzled and three months later it’s dead.  Richie’s picture is taken down and everything is back to the way it was.  And do you know why that happens?  Because God wasn’t it.  He wasn’t in it from the beginning.

When the elders and I set about creating a new mission and vision for Grace Church, we didn’t want it to be like that.  We didn’t want it to be a lot of hot air.  We said, “Lord, whatever we come up with, it has to be of you.”  So for a period of 18 months we set about seeking the face of God, praying and searching the Scriptures.  We wrote, re-wrote and then re-wrote again.  Finally, we ended up with something that we believed fitted with where we wanted to head and more importantly, where God was already heading.

And I think that’s the point many churches miss.  They want to come up with something new, something hip and something cool.  So they dream up ideas and words and phrases and then sell them to their congregation.  The congregation buys it because they think it’s from God.  But is it?

Before we could answer the question, “what is going to be our church’s mission?” we needed to answer, “what is God’s mission?”  What’s his purpose for the universe?  For the Church?  For you and me?  The answer is clear in Scripture: It’s all about His glory.  Everything that God does – whether creating the world, making plants grow or saving people is for his glory.

  • The heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1)
  • We have been created for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7)
  • God calls Israel for his glory (Isaiah 49:3)
  • He raises up Pharaoh for his glory (Romans 9)
  • Jesus does everything for the Father’s glory (John 7:18)
  • One day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)

God chose to display his glory through his covenant people.  It began with Abraham.  God says to Him in Genesis 12:2, “I will make you into a great nation.  I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”  And then God reveals to Abraham his deeper purpose, “All the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3).  God blesses Abraham, but it’s not ultimately for Abraham’s sake.  He blesses Abraham so that he might be the conduit of God’s blessings to all the earth.

“Enjoy my grace Abraham, and extent my glory”

Abraham became a nation. God calls the nation to himself and he says to them, “I’m going to bless you, but it’s not just for your sake.  It’s so my glory and my grace will be made known to the nations.”

“Enjoy my grace Israel, and extent my glory”

And as spiritual children of Abraham (Gal 3:8-9), that is our purpose in the world.  God has blessed us richly.  We experience far greater blessings and spiritual riches than Abraham or the nation Israel ever had.  We have salvation in Christ.  We have forgiveness of sin.  We have been called out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.  We have been made sons and daughters of the living God.  And God’s purpose for us is to make known these blessings to the world.

“Enjoy my grace Grace Church, and extent my glory”

This is our calling.  This is what we are here for.  It’s not for ourselves.  It’s not about us.  It’s about making known God and his glory and his grace – by way of the gospel, to the world.  And here’s what it looks like for our church:

God grace, to us, for the world.

We are recipients of God’s marvelous grace.  This grace comes by way of the gospel.  By faith in Jesus, we receive a new identity and are remade in his image.

This gospel has created a new community of redeemed people called the church.  That’s the “to us” part.  The church is made up of disciples (or Jesus followers) who are growing in grace by the power of the Spirit through the teaching of God’s Word.

God did all this, not just for our sake but for others.  He sends us on mission to reach the world.  And we are not talking about Africa and Asia and China.  We are talking about the people on our street and the ones we rub shoulders with each day at work.  They are the ones God wants to reach.  And he wants us to be the conduit to reach them.

It’s not perfect.  Nothing we do ever will be.  And it’s not the only way we think you could say it.  Someone might come up with something better (and likely they will).  But we think it fits – both with the pattern of what God does in history and with the commission that Jesus has given us, to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).

We are hoping and praying that this mission will put us in good stead for many years of fruitful ministry ahead.  For the glory of God.

Many thanks to Jewel Turinsky who designed our new logo. Jewel worked with us over many months, creating a number of different designs, centred around a tree and leaf motif (we have 7 large oak trees on our church property). We wanted something crisp and modern, and that would communicate something about the new life we have in Christ. We also wanted it to reflect a church that’s alive and on the move. The result is something we are really pleased with –  and is uniquely our own. Jewel is married to Mike and serves as Marketing and Systems Developer for Young Life in Auckland. 

Note:  The content of this post is based on the first message of the “Mission Possible” series which unveils the new mission and vision for our church.  You can listen to it here.

 

The blessing of team

Meet my staff team.  Actually, it’s not my team – it’s God’s team.  He put it together and then He was kind enough to bless me with them.

Ministry in the local church is hard work.  There are sermons to prepare, services to plan and organize, people to visit and problems that need sorting out.  Hardly a week goes by that doesn’t present one challenge or another.  There is no way that one individual (even full-time) can address all these needs.  And the bigger the church, the more complex and difficult the job becomes.

In the past I have simply taken on another full-time pastor.  “Two can do a better job than one,” as the saying goes.   And an extra pair of hands certainly makes a difference.  But you’re not likely to find that kind of person in your congregation, which means you have to hire from the outside.  And hiring from the outside requires a very lengthy search process and a certain element of risk: the individual might not be a good fit.

This time I’ve taken a different path.  Instead of hiring one person full-time, I’ve hired several people part-time.  Instead of one pair of extra hands, I have seven.  And they all come from within our church.  So they’ve already been tested.  And they are committed to the church’s mission and vision.  I know them, and I trust them.  And they know and trust me.

Of course it’s important when hiring new staff, that the individuals are competent and have the necessary skills.  But that’s why this team is such a blessing.  Each one of these beautiful people are skilled and competent in their area of ministry.  They not only make my job easier.  They do things that I could never possibly do.

So let me introduce each one of them to you:

This is Rochelle, our administrator.  She is the front door of our church.  It’s her smile and her face people see and her voice they hear when they come into our office.  And she can do more than answer phones and sign for courier parcels.  She teaches bible, disciples young women, writes curriculum, and helps keep our website up to date and looking good.

This is Sean, our Youth Pastor.  He does that 20 hours a week. The other 20 hours he is working on his MDiv so he can be in full-time ministry.  Sean is an ex-cop, so we have any trouble around the place he’s the go-to man.  Sean has a wonderful blend of seriousness and wit, which helps us all take what we do seriously but not take ourselves too seriously.  We love Sean and the Youth Ministry is flourishing under his leadership.

This is Annette.  Annette takes care of the bookings for the Headingly Centre.  She is the interface between our church and the community.  She welcomes groups into our building, provides what they need and then follows up by asking how it all went and what we could have done better.  Annette has a key role because we want outsiders to feel like they are valued and served.

This is Francelle.  Francelle is our Children’s Ministry Director.  Francelle is great with kids and loves to making the big truths of God real to young hearts.  She is also an equipper and wants to train and equip others to do what she does.  It’s a big job ministering to 30 plus kids.  It takes a team to do it well.  Francelle also has a wonderful ministry to the women of our church, teaching them how to study the Word.

This is Linda.  Linda is our Finance and Accounts manager.  She used to do Rochelle’s job and this job at the same time.  Nobody quite figured out how she managed it.  Now that her role has been scaled back, Linda can put more time into the Pinnacle House ministry which she has a real passion for.  Linda would be the most seasoned person on our team so brings a lot of wisdom and experience.

This is Leanne.  Leanne is our new Outreach Influence Team Leader.  Notice the word influence.  Her job is to encourage, stimulate, and inspire all of us to be more intentional in gospel outreach, starting with the people God has already placed around us.  Leanne has a deep love for God, for his church and for the lost.  She is the perfect person for the job.

This is Jada. Jada is our Sunday Services Creative Director, which means she overseas everything that happens on a Sunday morning.  She also looks for fresh and creative ways to communicate the “big idea” of my message.  She meets with me every week and we go over the Sunday coming up as well as the three Sundays that follow.  On top of that she also keeps our church website looking fresh and up to date, as well as doing video shoots and interviews and… (the list goes on!)

My job is to encourage all these wonderful people, care for them, and ensure they don’t overwork themselves in their role.  With most part-time jobs you clock in, do your hours and then clock out and go home.  It doesn’t work that way in local-church ministry (except with the odd exception).  Your work is also your service to Jesus.  You do it for love, not money.  Your work follows you wherever you go.  It becomes part of who you are.  That’s why most part-time church staff work way beyond their allotted hours.  If the church is not careful, it could take advantage of that.

I don’t want that happening with this team. I want to look after them.  I want to make sure they feel supported and appreciated.  It’s not often a pastor gets a crack team like this.  I am truly blessed.