Letting Go

Last week we had all four kids at home with us, for one night.  They live busy lives and it’s hard to coordinate their plans so that they are all here at the same time. There was plenty of laughs and banter – the kind of raucous you’d expect for the Somervell household.  I got them all to sit on the couch so I could take a picture, which was a bit of a mission because they wouldn’t keep still (hence the slightly blurred effect). “They haven’t changed much,” I thought to myself.  How did we manage to raise such an unruly lot? I can’t even take a picture without some level of chaos!”  

But as I stood there with the camera, watching them horsing around, a deep sense of fondness and affection for them welled up within me.  Despite all the pain, heartache and loss of sleep they have caused over the years, I really did love each of them deeply.  It’s not that I ever doubted this.  But something happens when your kids grow up into adults.  The relationship changes.  You are still their parent, but it’s in a different sense.  They are no longer living in your shadow.  They are their own individuals.  They now make their own choices in life – for better or for worse.  Some of those choices you are happy with; others you are not so happy with.  But you still love them all the same.

You may have heard of a phrase parents often use called “letting go.”  Well, it’s a lot easier said than done (in my experience).  And it’s not just a one-time deal.  I find myself having to continually “let go.”  After all, when you consider my wife and I have invested 23 of our 25 years of marriage raising, nurturing, teaching, training and caring for each of these precious individuals, you can understand why letting them go is a daunting task.  They are not ordinary people.  They are very special.  They are part of us.  They are a product of our love and commitment to each other and to God.

I can’t speak for my wife, but the most difficult part of the “letting go” has been with my two sons.  That might surprise you.  You’d think it would be with my daughters.  Fathers can be very protective of their daughters and find it hard when they leave home.  I have no problem with my daughters leaving home.  I know whose hands they are in.  They are both strong believers in Jesus and have surrendered their lives to his Lordship and loving care.  Whatever choices they make will be, for the most part, wise ones.

My sons however have not chosen to follow Jesus.  They made that decision in their late teens.  They both have their own reasons for that, which I respect.  But I personally find it very difficult.  In fact, rarely is there an hour in the day when I’m not thinking about it (and praying for them).  And it’s not because I’m a controlling father (at least, I hope not).  Nor is it because I’m disappointed that my own sons are not following in my footsteps.  It’s because heaven and hell are serious realities for me.  The Bible isn’t a collection of fairy stories and fables.  It is divine truth, which affects the eternal destiny of every human being, including my four children.

No loving, responsible parent, who holds these beliefs can overlook that.  It’s just not possible.  So yes, I’m still having a heck of a time letting my sons go (in the spiritual sense).  In fact, until they come to Jesus I don’t think I ever will.  I will continue to wrestle for their souls before my Heavenly Father, begging that He will reveal Himself to them in such a clear and profound way that they believe.

In the meantime, I will work on loving each one of them equally, without showing favouritism, supporting them in where I can and praying for them daily.  This is my God-given duty, privilege and joy.

 

 

 

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Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride

Courtesy of Eric Gieger

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

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

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

It wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

10 Signs You Are More Prideful Than You Realize

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

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

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

2. You feel you are owed.

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

3. You overestimate your contributions.

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

4. You underestimate your team’s contributions.

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

5. You rarely say “thank you.”

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

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

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

7. You think your predecessor was an idiot.

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

8. You often compare yourself to others.

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

9. You care more about success than sanctification.

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

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

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

 

 

 

Our Heaphy Track Adventure

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

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

DAY 1

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

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

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

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

DAY 2

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

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

DAY 3

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

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

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

DAY 4

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

 

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

DAY 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The tattoo man

This past Wednesday I flew up to Auckland with our church staff team to be part of a Ministry Leaders Forum.  It was great to get away together and thrash out ideas about how we can do ministry better.  On the morning we were due to leave, I came before God and made a request.  It comes from a prayer someone sent to me a few weeks back:

“God today I would like to present your message of love to anyone’s path I will cross.  If you have any ideas on this –  I am a willing participant:  Holy Spirit help me to hear your voice and help me to have the courage to obey.  I am available to be used by you today.”

After checking in at the airport I looked at our seat numbers and noticed that I wasn’t sitting next to any of the staff members – I was alone.  Well that’s interesting, I thought.  The Bible teaches us that nothing in life happens by accident.  All is governed by the hand of an all-knowing and all-wise God.  So I sent up a quick prayer: “Lord Jesus, you already know who I’m sitting next to, I’m available for you.”

The flight was delayed and then 20 minutes later, it was delayed again.  Finally, we were able to board.  I made my way down the back of the plane curious as to who the mystery passenger that would be sitting next to me was.  Then I spotted him, a guy in his mid 20’s, with tattoos running from his fingers all the way up to his neck.  A nervous thought passed through my mind: “Lord, I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” 

It turned out he was quite friendly (footnote: don’t let tattoos scare you).  He’s a tattoo artist from the Coromandel, and a very talented one at that.  He has people from all over the world coming to see him.  Just recently he did a big job on the back of a high-flying businessman from Germany.  He showed me some of his products on his phone.  I was really impressed.

Then he turned to me and said, “So what do you do?”  Now as soon as that question comes up, I’m committed. There’s no going back.  People hear, “I’m a pastor” and the conversation can die right there. I have to move fast.  So as soon as the word “pastor” came out of my mouth, I turned to him and said, “So what about you?  Do you have any kind of faith or belief?”
“Yeah,” he replies, “I believe in the spirit world. I know it’s real.”

We’re away.  That’s an open door.

Then I ask him how he knows there’s a spirit world.  He says, “I’ve seen them – you know, those who have gone to the other side.”
“Really?” I reply, a little nervous as to where this might be going.
“Yeah, they appear to me from time to time, sometime at the end of my bed.  But they rush at me really fast, it kind of freaks me out.”

Now while all this is going on the plane is experiencing some turbulence.  It’s getting a little bumpy.  Right at the time he talks about these spirit beings rushing at him, we hit a massive downdraft and my seat disappears from under me.  Everyone stops talking and a few cry out. And this guy is just looking at me cool as a cucumber, and keeps on talking.  “That does sound kind of freaky,” I replied, turning a shade of white and working hard to retain composure.

But I knew that the Holy Spirit was absolutely in this and so I said to him, “You know Jesus dealt a lot with the spirit world.  He was working with that stuff all the time.”
“Really?” he says, interested.
“Yeah, you ought to read about it.  It’s in the Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible.”
“I’ve always told myself I’ll read that, but never got around to it.”
“By the way,” I continued, “Has anyone ever told you the Jesus story?  It’s called the gospel.”
“Nope – no one has”
“Would you like to hear it?  It doesn’t take long.  I can do it in a few minutes”
“Sure, go ahead”

So then, while the plane is rocking all over the place I tell him the simple story of who Jesus was, why he was a special human being, his miraculous birth and some of the miracles he performed.  I focus in on his authority over evil spirits – how he can command them to do whatever he wants.  Then I talk about his death on the cross and the resurrection and how what that means for all of us today – that we can be fully forgiven of our sin and have eternal life.  And at the end I said, “So what do you think about that?”
“That’s pretty cool,” he says.

Now he wasn’t ready to make any kind of response just there.  But he was really interested.  I gave him a little gospel tract that tells you how you can find eternal life (I try to carry one with me when I travel), and then I wrote my email address on the back. “If you have any questions, write to me. I’d love to help.”

I was reminded that day what can happen when you make yourself available to God to be used.  All it takes is a little intentionality in a conversation and you can find a way in to talk about spiritual matters.  In this case it was an easy in, because the spiritual realm is real to him.  For others it’s not, so you have to go in another way.

But I’m learning an important lesson in all this: don’t think people don’t want to know. Don’t assume anything.  Here’s a fully tattooed young guy who wanted to know about Jesus.  I wouldn’t have picked that looking at him.  How many people like this man do you brush past each day, thinking they would never be interested in spiritual things but actually are?  I think sometimes we are blinded by our own scepticism and unbelief.

If you put your hand up to be used by God, don’t be surprised when he sends the most unsuspecting people your way.

21 years of Luke

Last weekend we finally celebrated Luke’s 21st.  This was after 4 attempts over a period of 10 months, due to Luke’s last-minute decisions and/or forgetfulness (it all becomes clear if you keep reading).  Anyway, we had a great time with a mixture of family and friends at his cousin’s place in Wellington.  Francelle put together a marvellous feast complete with a fresh farm ham and local produce from our home in Richmond that we stashed in our flights bags before we left.

I know there were a number of people who would have like to have been there so I’m posting my speech that I gave (with Luke’s permission).  I think sums up our Luke pretty accurately.  Have fun!

On April 3 1995 a lively little red-haired boy arrived into the world.  His parents hadn’t quite figured out his name yet.  Would he be James, Luke, Liam or Ewan?  His mother liked the sound of James.  His father leaned toward Luke.

“He doesn’t look like a James” his father said.
“So what is a ‘James’ supposed to look like?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure he wouldn’t look like that”
So Luke he became.

You were a hoot Luke, even in those early months.  Never had I seen a baby so full of life and laughter and expression.  Your brother Mark didn’t quite know what to make of you.  He would watch you leap and bound in the jolly-jumper:

Up and down
Up and down
Bouncy-bounce
Bouncy-bounce
Over and over and over
While you screeched with delight.

“Uke” he would say (Mark hadn’t mastered the ‘L’ yet)
“Uke – what are you doing?”

“Uke” was in his own little world, a world full of excitement and discovery.  “Uke” wasn’t going to simply watch life go by.  He would create life.  He would make it happen.

You used to read your books upside down.  For hours.   We would go over and turn them the right way up.  New pictures! How about that.  We should have realized then you would be one who would like at life differently than most.

We bought you a pack of plastic reptiles – lizards and dinosaurs for Christmas.  From the minute they came out of the box they came to life, appearing in the strangest places around the house –behind shampoo bottles, in bookshelves, under pillows and on window sills. You were in your own little Jurassic world.

Then came ‘Woody’ (everyone remembers Woody). Your aunt took both you boys to Toys-R-Us store in the States. You could pick whatever toy you wanted.  When you saw a big-sized Woody smiling at you on the shelf, it was love at first sight.  He had a pull cord on his back which you would yank repeatedly. Whenever we heard, “Howdy partner” or “Someone’s poisoned my waterhole,” we knew where you were.

Then came school and your world-to-be-discovered just became bigger.  So many new things to learn – so much history and art and culture and language.  With all that came more questions and a greater need to understand this place called earth that God had put you on.

Somewhere in all of that it became evident that although you had an unusual capacity to understand deep things, you had great difficulty understanding the simple things – like remembering where you put things down or getting somewhere on time.  Your parents guessed that this was perhaps just a development issue; that part of your brain was still forming.  Your mother worried it might be because you rolled off the bed as a baby and landed on your head.  In any case, we both hoped you’d grow out of it.

We were wrong. 

They didn’t think it could be possible that a young man with so much talent and intelligence could possibly be so utterly forgetful about – well, almost EVERYTHING.  The list of things you would forget included:

Phone numbers and address
Appointments
Exam times
Flight times
And just about anything else that is important

Like the address of the house we are driving you to (Oh what memories we have of this!).  Here’s how the conversation went:

“I’m sure they live somewhere around here… it’s a white house, with a fence and a big tree.  Except this doesn’t quite look like the same street – can we go back down that street we just passed?  Wait a minute – don’t – I just remembered something, they said they live near a school…”

And then there was the problem of ‘misplacing’ things.  You never lost anything – just misplaced it.  The list of ‘misplaced’ items included:

Eye-glasses
Contact lenses
House keys
Wallets (you went through a few)
Your driver’s licence
Mobile phones (how many have you owned in your short lifetime –  20?)
Bankcards
Even passports

You had two of them. A U.S. passport and a NZ passport.  You could have lost one and still had the other.  But no, you had to lose both.  Usually the conversation went something like this:

“Mum, dad don’t get mad at me…”
OR 
“Dad, we have this problem…”

That’s the line we got driving on the LA freeway the day before you were to fly back to New Zealand.  You were in the back seat.  I remember it like it was day:

“Mum, Dad there’s a little problem…”
“OK, Luke – what is it now?”
“Well, you see, I’ve misplaced my passport”
“Misplaced it or lost it?”
“Well actually I think it was stolen”
“Stolen?  That’s pretty serious.  Did you ever report it?”
“Well I didn’t know it was stolen.. until this morning.”
“And you are getting on a plane tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but it will be OK, because I’m just going back to New Zealand.”
“Oh yeah, and sure, you’ll turn up at immigration and they’ll go, “High Luke, great to have you back. Don’t worry about the passport. We know you – just walk on through””

Luke we love you – you know that.  But there have been moments whenever we wondered if we would ever make it to 60 without having mental breakdown or stress-related heart attacks.

Aside from all of that Luke, we think you are an awesome person.

  • You are intelligent, witty and have a great sense of humour
  • You take a deep interest in people who have a different background, culture and thinking than your own
  • You are sensitive, empathetic, compassionate and understanding

Many people go through life taking form the world anything and everything they can for themselves.  You aren’t like that.  You look for ways to give to the world.  We think you’ll make a fine husband and dad one day.  Just as long as you find a woman who can carry the following:

Your phone
Your wallet
The house and car keys
Your passport and ID
A diary for important appointments
And a record of –  well any important document you need in life.

Happy 21st Luke.  We’re glad you remembered it was on, and you got off that shift at work tonight.

Footnote: Luke was actually down for a shift – on his 21st.  He forgot.  His brother Mark forced him to front up to his employer earlier in the day and ask/beg/plead to make it to his 21st on time.  He did… just.