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!