Thursday, September 23, 2010

Transform Consultation

Billed as a strategic consultation on church based evangelism and transformation of society, "Transform" was 48 hours with 25 other senior pastors from around NZ and a team from Alpha NZ.  These were top people and I appreciated our discussions and the issues raised by our speakers.  East Taieri is a church which has a heart for helping people discover Jesus.  This is about seeing lives and communities transformed.  You can see the connection I felt with this consultation.  Some reflections and insights:

We need to think about the gospel we proclaim.  What do people hear me preach?  Simply that God loves them? Do I include the big picture of the Kingdom of God? Do I warn people of God's judgement?
Max Scott pointed out that "God loves us" (while being true) was actually not part of the gospel presentations in Acts or in Matthew, Mark or Luke.  (Check it out if you don't believe me)  The key part of the gospel presentation in Acts was that Jesus rose from the dead!  And, it was usually given in the context of God's judgement.  Max explored the issues raised in Don Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, Wheaton IL, 2000)

Leadership is key.  It was so energising being around other leaders who shared a vision for seeing people come to know Jesus and living as citizens of his kingdom - working for salvations, justice and peace. We talked about discerning the biblical vision of the kingdom of God.  Preaching it, talking about it, writing it down, discerning how it also springs up from the grass roots...  We also talked about the way the role of the pastor needs to change and develop as a church grows.

Our consultation was very real about the integrity challenges facing the church.  People often don't hear the good news of Jesus because of the way people view the church.  Scandals and judgemental attitudes, internal divisions and dogmatic ignorance, churches perceived to be wasting wealth and yet always wanting people's money, misconceptions about doctrine or practice fueled by the media... all these cause barriers for our witness.  We have seen Cadbury drop from NZ's most trusted brand down to number 32.  In the same way, trust in the church has suffered over the years.

We heard inspiring stories of churches that were both helping people come to know the Saviour, and working for the transformation of their communities.  One church, who are well connected with their community, recently broke the world record for the biggest pot of soup (25,000 litres).  This was raising moral in their city.  Read about it here.  Every great missionary of the 19th Century had two passions: bringing people to Jesus and fighting injustice.  Perhaps we are rediscovering this!

When we hear from time to time of churches having huge numbers of "converts", we must ask, "Where are they?"  The pastors I spoke with were seeing people come to know Jesus, as we are at East Taieri, but it is slower, steady growth as people pray and reach out to others with the good news of Jesus.  Alpha often figured in this.  I'm all for praying for revival, but in the meantime we need to be faithful with the ones and twos.  I'm all for transforming a whole city, but we it often begins with a home at a time, a street at a time.

On the way up on the plane I was able to speak with a man about how Jesus resurrection shows us that death need not be the end.  Yet, I came home with even greater confidence in the lifechanging power of the message of Jesus we have.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Earthquake Experience

Even in Mosgiel, the earthquake woke me.  I was just deciding to wake the twins and make sure they got to a safe space, when the quake stopped.  Returning to bed I prayed for Sophie in Wellington (thinking the quake might have been near there) and for anyone affected by it.  Little did I know that my wife Sue (who was on the 8th floor hotel room for a GP conference) was being shaken around along with the rest of the Christchurch region (including my brother and sister there).  Later that day Tessa and I drove to ChCh to bring Sue and another GP home.  My reflections from what I saw and heard are:

Isn't it interesting that the first response of people in a disaster is to phone loved ones and tell them... they are OK...that they love them... The cellphone has made this immediate communication possible.  Sue was able to phone me at around 5.30am to tell me she was OK.  Until that point I hadn't been worried about her!  When day broke, I found myself phoning my Christchurch family to see how they were faring.

An earthquake (along with other disasters) reminds us that we aren't as "in control" of our lives as we often think.  It exposes the hubris of our age.

Both Prime Minister John Key and Mayor Bob Parker used the word "miraculous" to describe the fact that there had been no loss of life.  In this they seemed to be pointing beyond themselves to a "miracle worker."  In contrast to these two, news media and residents seemed to be looking to local and national government to provide the fix that would make everything better.

Although Jesus taught that wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes would be signs of the beginning of the end (and the return of Jesus) (Matthew 24:6-8), he did not equate them with God's judgement.  On the contrary, I see more of God's mercy in this earthquake (no one died) than God's judgement on Christchurch.  I'm sure Christchurch has it's share of sins, but no more so than Dunedin, or Mosgiel.

Arriving in Christchurch on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the large areas of the city that were not damaged.  It reminded me that the news media had focused on the damaged areas.  This is understandabe and reflects the serious extent of this disaster, but if we only consider the media coverage, we can be left with a biased view. 

One of the lasting impressions from driving through the streets was the sight of people queuing for water at a water tanker.  Not a common in New Zealand.  People knew their need and they knew where to go.  I would love people to realise their deep need of God and that they need to go to the Saviour.  We don't need to queue!

I have also been reminded again of the opportunity for good even in the midst of disaster.  People have spoken of a feeling of "being given a second chance", of experiencing a miracle, of discovering their place in the community...  Without wanting to be simplistic or flippant, I honestly believe God can use even these traumatic experiences for good, such as bringing people to know Him.  (Rom 8:28)

Finally, as a church leader I reflect on how we can best help the people of Christchurch.  We will connect with a Christchurch church and find appropriate ways we can serve them.  This also challenges me about how we can better respond to wider needs such as the floods in Pakistan.

I continue to pray for those in Christchurch and elsewhere who must live through such events.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rocking Up the West Coast

23 years after our first attempt, Sue and I finally made it to Punakaiki to see the famous Pancake Rocks. Last time we missed turning off to Westport and ended up going through Reefton to Greymouth instead. Distracted by our conversation and young love I guess. Anyway, I believe that taking a wrong turn in life need not be the end of the story. God can redeem our wrong turns. In this case our next time on the Coast had to wait 23 years, but it came.

Punakaiki had changed a lot since I had been there as a boy. DOC, with the thoroughness of the post Cave Creek era had constructed an amazing series of walkways, viewing platforms and display boards.  Interestingly the geologists aren't sure how the amazing pancake rock structures were formed.  I appreciated their honesty and transparency.  Sadly, not everyone who writes about origins is as candid.  Some Christians and some who don't follow Jesus claim with unreasonable certainty to know how our planet came into being. 
Sometimes scientists speak with dogmatic certainty about evolution and big bangs which are only theories.  The credibility of science suffers.  Dr George Wall, a nobel prize winning Harvard biochemist, is convinced that is impossible for life to have spontaneously arisen from non-life.  “…That leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation, but we cannot accept that on philosophical grounds, therefore we choose to believe the impossible, that life arose spontaneously by chance."

On the other hand, the credibility of the church suffers when Christians insist with dogmatic beligerence that their understanding of the time frame of God's work of creation is the only way it can be.  My point is that these issues are debated even among those who have a high view of the Bible, so let's have the integrity of those who wrote the DOC signs on the origins of those amazing rocks, and acknowledge when we aren't sure.
Anyway, we enjoyed the spectacular Punakaiki as well as Hokitika and many other beautiful places from Haast Pass to Westport and the Buller Gorge as we travelled through on holiday.
Don't leave home til you've seen the country!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


We left the cinema exhausted, exhilerated and wondering.  Inception is a movie that packs a punch and leaves you thinking.  One critic described it as a doctoral level version of the Matrix.

I won't risk spoiling the movie, or take excessive space on this post, by trying to outline the complex plot of Inception.  Suffice to say it is an action thriller that mixes dreams with reality.  It is a bit like James Bond meets the Matrix, with some emotional moments built in.

Some themes and discussion starters:
One of the characters is "The Architect" who has the job of creating the world of the dreamers.  Makes one think of the Architect of the real world, and how our imaginative, creative ability reflects that of our Creator.

At several points in the movie characters are asked to "take a leap of faith".  What is a leap of faith?  How much evidence should we require.  Sadly the movie also contains a leap of faith which leads to tragedy because the character's faith was misplaced.  Freedom to believe something that isn't true is not some kind of postmodern tolerance, it is the tragedy of delusion.

Guilt for past mistakes racks Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio's character).  Ariadne (played by Ellen Page) urges him to find forgiveness and let that go because it is threatening the whole team.  In the dream level his subconscious emotions have real effects.  Isn't that also true at reality level?  The plot of the movie includes an opportunity of redemption for Cobb.

Layers upon layers of dreams leave cast and audience wondering what is real.  That is a very good question to be asking.  People sometimes contrast the walk of faith with "the real world".  The implication is that someone who believes in a miracle working God isn't living in the real world.  But I think the key question to ask is, what is ultimate reality?  I would argue that the ultimate reality all humans must grapple with is that Jesus died, but Jesus rose again from the dead.  Can that happen you might wonder?  Is that real?  The testimony of Jesus followers is that it did happen.  Over the centuries Christians are those who have discovered the reality of the resurrection.

Not a movie for everyone, but more thoughtprovoking than any action thriller I've seen for a long time.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Parenting - Who's the Boss?

This week Aric Sigman's book "Spoilt Generation" featured on the Six O'Clock News and in our newspapers (click here).  He was brought over to New Zealand by the lobby group Family First (led by Bob McCoskrie) who describe themselves as speaking  "from a family friendly perspective with an emphasis on the Judeo-Christian values which have benefited New Zealand for generations."

Sigman says, "We now live in the time of the child-centred upbringing." The rights of children had increased to a point where parents no longer felt they could say no, felt guilty if they criticised a child rather than constantly lavishing praise, and pandered to what the child was interested in rather than his or her best interests.  He is particularly critical of money rich but time poor parents who come home late from work and then try to make up for that by indulging inappropriate behaviour from their children.  Interesting the way parenting fads come and go!

I haven't read Sigman's book, but what reflections does the Bible bring to this discussion?
  • Children are precious, made in God's image, and not to be exasperated (Eph 6:4)  They are certainly not to be abused, emotionally or physically.
  • However, the Bible clearly expects parents to be in charge.  Children are to obey their parents. Parents are to raise their children in the ways of God.  (Eph 6:1f)
  • Children who do not respect their earthly father, will find it hard to respect their Heavenly Father.
  • There are times when God says, "No" in answer to our requests.  Surely there are times when we need to say "No" to our children in their best interests.
  • Respect for authority is a good thing and it can be modelled and developed in the home.
  • There is a difference between just authority and authoritarianism.
Sue and I enjoy our teenage children.  Like all  families we have our difficult "moments", but by and large the teenage years have been fantastic.  As our children are growing up they are taking on more and more responsibilities and the boundaries we set for them become wider, leaving more choices for them to make on their own.  However, when they were very young, the boundaries were much tighter.  We worked at winning the smallest battles so they knew who was in charge.

Recently I was in the supermarket queue and a young mother calmly told her youngster he was not having lollies from the checkout rack today.  There were howls of protest, but the mother stood her ground and won the battle.  I complemented her on resisting the urge to give in to the toddler's demands just to keep the peace.

I'm not arguing for battling against our children, but because we want the best for them, we will stand firm if they are demanding something that isn't best for them.

God Bless you parents. It's such an important job - but you really are wiser and know more than your young children (most of the time anyway).  That's why you are in charge!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Living from the Inside Out

Last Monday (my Sabbath) Sue and I had lunch in Palmerston.  I was amused to discover a shop with the same name as my blog.

It is a recycle clothing shop!  The other interesting thing is that the reflection on the shop door upset this amateur photographer when I tried to capture the sign on my iPhone.  The photo shows more of what is outside the shop than what is inside.  And yet isn't that the way life works?  Who and what we are inside affects the way we behave on the outside.  This is illustrates part of my conviction about Inside Out (see my post of 16th July).  It was Jesus who said, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Mt 12:34  Good for a preacher to remember!

John Stoddart was reading my blog and sent me a link (here) to an article that gathered wisdom from some mature Christian leaders.  Among other things the article said, "These 'fathers of the faith' also made it clear to us that their leadership is simply an overflow of who they are.  What they have allowed God to build and develop in them has become the reservoir that the Holy Spirit draws upon as they lead people, make decisions and discern the guidance of God.  The deliberate tending of their hearts has helped to guard and guide them as disciples of Jesus and leaders in the kingdom."

 I took one other photo of the shop.  This one shows a little more of what is inside - a cross!  May that be true for me!  Again and again I find, and it is true just now, that it is when I am living close to Jesus that I am most fruitful.  When he is dealing with stuff inside me and keeping me from rebellion, opportunities to share my faith arise and people around me come to know Jesus.

It isn't a magic formula, but it is part of my conviction about Inside Out!


Friday, July 30, 2010

The Marriage Course

Tonight was the last evening of the seven week Marriage Course which Sue and I and several other couples have been leading at East Taieri Church.  This is the course which comes from Holy Trinity Brompton - the church which gave the world the Alpha Course.  Although running this course meant extra evenings out for me, when I already have quite a few evening meetings, it was a good experience for several reasons:

First, it was something Sue and I could (and indeed had to) do together.  It gave us some quality time together talking over those things that can easily get pushed to the edges in busy lives.  You know, things like feelings (ugh!), forgiveness, and the impact of family.  We found it helpful (even after 22 happy married years), so hopefully the guest couples did also.  (We will read the evaluation forms next week).

I feel very tender toward the couples who invested this time and money in their relationships.  Although couples discuss things on the course privately, we had time to talk and get to know each other a little over dessert and coffee at the start of each evening.  Each of those marriages feels very precious to me.  We plan to meet again for a catch up in a month.

While every marriage has its challenges, I was inspired that couples can grow closer and love each other more deeply.  Sometimes I have heard Christians criticise the lack of commitment in society today, but that was certainly not the case with those who came to this course.  Whether they were church couples or not, they showed high levels of commitment to their marriages by attending the course and (as far as we could tell) completing their homework!  The desire to make marriage work is common ground between those who are Christians and those who are not.

This course was not cringy.  The DVD presentations were very professionally done.  Over the top you might say?  Don't get carried away with the excellence thing you might advise?  But when you are inviting friends who are not from church (as I was) you want it to be good.  Thankfully this was a high quality, helpful course.  Even the week on "Good Sex" was dealt with sensitively and well.  This builds the credibility of the courses offered by East Taieri Church.  It will help encourage people to come to other courses or events hosted by the church, such as Alpha.

Hope this is inspiring for you too!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Church staff

Some of my time this week has been replying to the first response to our advertisements for a new Children and Families' Pastor.  It's encouraging to have a good inquiry.  But why do we need to have paid staff in a church?  It's worth asking the question.

All Christians are a part of God's mission, serving in a whole range of ways.  Paid ministers or church staff can't and shouldn't do it all.  We need everyone in the game.  The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to people, so everyone has a contribution to make.  In fact, those who aren't paid for their Christian service have an advantage when it comes to telling others about Jesus.  Writing back in 1927, Roland Allen said, “If he is a paid agent both speaker and hearer are affected by that fact.”  There is strength in voluntary, unrehearsed witnessing - even if there are many things the Christian just doesn't know.  No one can say, "She is just saying that because it's her job."

It's also true that a Christian's whole life is an act of worship or service to God, not just the time spent on church ministries.  We are living for God in our working hours, in the school day, and while caring for our families.

Having said that, staff make a special contribution to God's mission at East Taieri.  Life today is busy and having paid staff increases the ministry hours available to a church.  This means a church with paid staff can take new mission inititatives that churches without such staff simply couldn't manage.  Staff give us that extra capacity and help get us out of maintance mode into mission mode.  Staff help us make a bigger kingdom impact and grow as a church.  A Children and Families' Pastor is a good example.  Could we run Kidzown (our Sunday children's ministry) without a paid staff person?  Provided we have very capable volunteer leaders, the answer is probably, "Yes."  But, would we have the capacity to really grow and develop Kidzown, reaching new families from the communities around us?  Probably not!

Staff bring resources of specialist training and experience.  This can help us develop and lead effective ministries, provided it doesn't discourage other Christians from contributing because they don't feel "qualified".

As growth comes, we need more volunteer leaders and not less, so staff have a crucial role in recruiting, training, inspiring and coordinating volunteers.  Volunteer hours are becoming more and more precious as families increasingly have both parents working and there are so many commitments and expectations that use up our time.  While I believe Jesus calls us to a simpler lifestyle that allows more time for serving others, our hours as volunteers are always limited.

In the Bible we see Paul making tents while he is preaching so that he was not a financial burden for the new churches he started.  This wasn't necessarily a long term approach though as Paul himself wrote “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim 5:18

So, while there is a significant cost to having church staff, they enable us to take steps forward, provided they don't try to do all the ministry themselves but instead stay faithful to their Ephesians 4  role of "preparing God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."

I'm so glad I get to serve alongside such a great bunch of paid and unpaid "ministers"


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inspire 2010

Yesterday I was part of a team from East Taieri that travelled down the Presidential Highway to Gore for the Inspire 2010 worship conference at Calvin Church. We were informed, encouraged and inspired by keynote speaker David Lyle Morris. As a preacher listening to a musician/worship leader I appreciated again the partnership that can occur in worship services with music and the other creative arts and preaching working together to communicate effectively and prompt God's people in worship.

You can discover more about David Lyle Morris and his music here.  I chatted with David, who you might remember sang and spoke at ET in Oct 09.  He is keen to come again so we have pencilled in Sept 2011.  We have a big combined ET service with all the congregations in together at the Hyslop Hall at Taieri College on 5 Sep 2010.  Assuming that all goes well, we could have David lead another combined ET service in Sept 2011.

Some of my reflections:
David and the Inspire team were very encouraging and positive. That encouraging, affirming attitude was refreshing, healing and inspiring in itself.

What a wonderful facility Calvin Church now has!  They used the modern auditorium very well.  The space was ideal for the responsive/interactive stations they had set up for the Saturday morning.  We had plenty of time and room to move around for praying at a cross, painting, writing on stones, viewing a beautiful powerpoint, sharing communion...  For ET people, it was the same style as "The Well" which Night Church have set up a couple of times now.  The quality of worship space was enough to inspire me about a new auditorium for ET!

I appreciated the blend of songs about God and songs that allowed us to express our response to God.  Sadly our repetoire these days is often dominated by songs of response that are actually about what we are doing in our worship, more than they are about God.  I think we are improving in this at ET but still have a way to go.  Inspire began well with a focus on God and yet also allowed for our responses.

The workshops were simple, yet allowed for people to ask questions and engage at a more advanced level.  I learned more about sound (hopefully understand more for times when I need to help music teams with the sound desk in their practices).  I also attended a multimedia workshop and appreciated chatting with one of the younger members of the ET team walking back from that one.  There is so much potential for involving a wide group of people in using their creative arts to build our worship of God.

So good to be there as a team - talking over issues, encouraging, debating, visioning...  Reassuring to know that we are creating worship services together.

On Saturday evening they used a multimedia clip that reminded us that worship is ultimately not all about us and how we feel, but about God!  Sometimes I think we are worshipping the feelings and experiences of worship, more than we are actually worshipping God.  Look at the words of the songs we sing in those "waiting on God" moments in worship together.

Encouraging to see such a range of people (ages, abilities, gifts,...) all contributing to worship.  I was moved to see a young woman with downs syndrome contributing to a painting, and later worshipping God in dance.

Hope this encourages you to be a part of Inspire 2011!  I'm certainly fired up to press on with involving our creative folks, as well as building our music, sound and lighting. 


Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Inside Out?

"Inside Out" is an important image for me in several dimensions of my life.

First, although I have a highly people-oriented role, I am somewhat on the introvert side of the introvert/extrovert scale. I am learning that this means I need to voice what I'm thinking about even while my views are still being formed. This allows my family, friends and those I work with to interact with my ideas early on rather than me announcing formed, firm ideas and leaving them wondering "Where did that come from?" I hope this "Inside Out" blog will help me speak "in draft mode" a little more, getting my inside thoughts out there so people can comment on them and be involved in the shaping of them.

"Inside Out" also captures the way I understand the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Following Jesus for me is not about simply conforming to a whole bunch of external rules and regulations. That so easily leads to dead legalism. Rather, God seems to work by changing me from the inside out, renewing my motives, thoughts and desires. I think that is what Jesus was getting at in Matt 15:1-20. The problem isn't just our external behaviour, but our heart attitudes which lead to that behaviour. This is a key part of my sense of call to ministry. We can't give the ultimate help people need by addressing their outward behaviour. I believe we need Jesus to provide the inward heart change that makes us want to follow God's ways. Ezek 36:26

Related to this heart change is the surprising way Jesus turns my thinking inside out and upside down. Consider his sayings like: "The first will be last and the last first." or "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Jesus so often turns my thinking around.

"Inside Out" also describes my sense of a church active in God's mission. Of course some of the life of a church is focused inward on its members. The members of a church must pastorally care for one another and build each other up to maturity in Christ (Eph 4 stuff). The church gathers at least weekly for public worship. But all this quickly becomes stagnant and boring if it is cut off from what God is doing in the wider world. I believe Christians must overflow with the love of God out to people who don't yet know about Jesus. This inside out mission appears as glimpses of God's kingdom here and there. It might be acts of loving service to people in need, working alongside people to see their communities develop. It might be Christians telling someone about the new life they have discovered in Christ, so they also can come to know forgiveness for sin and new life. It might be seeing an injustice put right, or someone healed, or people set free from evil spirits that had been troubling them. It could be an act of caring for this beautiful planet God has made... These things demonstrate that Jesus is Lord and King, not just inside the church, but also when the church goes out to their workplaces, schools and neighbourhoods.

Looking forward to sharing "inside out" thoughts with you, and reading your comments,