Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Week of Prayer - Discernment Questions

Our next week of Prayer at East Taieri Church is called "Seeing and Hearing What God is Doing in Our Local Community."  We are seeking to develop our missional eyes and ears to notice what God is doing in mission so that we can join in.  Bible verses that inspire us in this include:
John 20:21 Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
Luke 10:8-9 "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The Kingdom of God is near.'"

Our mission statement as a church is:
One people in mission for God's glory,
Growing in Christ and making him known in love through word, sign and deed,
Because all people matter to God.
The challenge for this week of prayer is to choose one of the following prayer activities:
·         Visit a local café, buy tea or coffee, and observe what is going on around you.  Pray silently for someone in the café.
·         Go for a prayer walk along your street.
·         Catch the Mosgiel Loop Bus (which leaves every 40 minutes from the bus bay in Gordon Road by the Blackstone Café and costs $2) and notice what is going on.  Click here for more information. 
·         Pray that a neighbour would be willing to come over for tea or coffee and then invite them.  As you get to know them, listen for what God is doing in their lives.
Some Discernment Questions:
  1. Who do you notice is around at that time of day? What age, race and gender are they?
  2. What do you notice about the housing and architecture, age, and quality of buildings?  How does this change from street to street?  How many places are for sale?  Does the neighbourhood have a sense of permanence of change?
  3. What public places and community gathering spaces do you see?  Are they inviting?  Who is making use of them?
  4. What community services do you notice?
  5. If you pass any churches or religious buildings, what do they communicate to the neighbourhood?
  6. Where and when did you sense God's presence?
  7. What good and beautiful things did you see that are worth celebrating?
  8. What sad or sinful things did you see that concern or grieve you?
  9. What compassion, heartache or empathy was aroused in you?
  10. What would be good news for people in this neighbourhood?  What would church look like for people in this neighbourhood?
Happy noticing!

Reflections on "Living Below the Line"

Living on $2.25 per day for my food was a challenge!
While the food was fairly bland and I got tired of eating much the same thing every day, I had sufficient to eat.  My $11.25 for 5 days bought me:
  • A dozen eggs
  • A loaf of bread
  • A tin of baked beans
  • A small bag of rice
  • 5 apples
  • Some vegetables (some from our garden, but I factored in an approximate cost)
Sue kindly made the vegetables into a delicious soup.  I was very careful not to drop the soup as I put it away in the fridge, realising that it was my main source of flavour for the week.  I was surprised how protective I was of my meagre larder.

It struck me that my budget didn't allow for "luxuries" such as tea, coffee, milk, sugar, or meat.  I did get tired of only drinking water.

Early on in the week I had some mild headaches (probably caffeine withdrawal), but overall I felt quite well.  I played four games of squash that week and had sufficient energy from all those good carbohydrates, although I lost about a kilogram in weight.

One family who took part told me that the parents had eaten less so their teenagers could eat more.  I wonder how often parents go without food so their children can eat - even in New Zealand.

The experience challenged me to simplify my lifestyle, so I have more resources to give to those in need. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Following up the last post about "Living Below the Line", I am interested to hear of people's experiences of taking up the challenge.  Sue and I, for a number of reasons couldn't tackle the challenge last week, but are planning to do so this coming week.

This topic has raised issues of simplicity.  How do we simplify our lives? This is not easy, especially living in a relatively affluent nation like New Zealand.  There are some classic resources to help us such as Ron Sider's "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" and "Living More Simply".

John Wesley was a great revivalist and preacher. But he was also careful with money.  He was born into a poor family, and when he followed his father by becoming a preacher he had no illusions about financial rewards.  His income began at 30 pounds a year – more than enough for a single person to live.  He determined to live on 28 pounds and give the rest away.
In the years that followed his income rose dramatically: 60 pounds one year, 90 the next.  Instead of letting his expenses rise, he kept the 28 pound ceiling, and gave the rest away.  Wesley felt that Christians should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once family and creditors were provided for.  Wesley’s income peaked at 1400 pounds per annum, but he kept living on 28.
This was so unusual that he was investigated by the English tax commissioners.  He limited his expenses by refusing to buy items considered essential for someone of his income.  His simple rules were: “Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.”

Some other key steps:
1. We need others around us for mutual encouragement.
2. Make it a spiritual exercise, not a religious rule.  (I paste below some insights I've gathered)
3. Don't forget to celebrate.

Simplicity – as a Spiritual Practice

Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle that is not extravagant, not lusting for status or power, and not dominated by material possessions. 

Some Hints:

·  The key is in Matt 6:33 “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”  God’s Kingdom comes first – even before a simple lifestyle.

·  Try having a simple (and cheap) meal once a week and giving the money you save to someone in need.

·  Instead of asking, “How can I earn more?” ask, “How can I spend less?”  The greatest saving is the ‘bargain’ you decide you don’t need to buy.

·  Learn to enjoy things without owning them.  Enjoy the beach without feeling we have to buy a piece of it.

·  Avoid making new ‘laws’ about Christian lifestyle, but discover what ‘treasures’ you have that may compete with God for your heart.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matt 6:21)

·  But, don’t be stingy, shabby, small, or mean.  God is not poor.

 Some Benefits of Simplicity:

Ø  Simplicity trains us to be comfortable without having all our wants and desires met.

Ø  It helps break the power of mammon (wealth) over us and sets us free to give.

Ø  Simplicity helps us to be free from anxiety.

Ø  We learn more about being grateful for God’s gifts to us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Live Below the Line

Next week (23-27 September) offers an opportunity to both help eliminate extreme poverty as well as experiencing something that will shape you as a disciple of Jesus.  It is called Live Below the Line.

The idea is that we spend 5 days feeding ourselves with $2.25 a day – the New Zealand equivalent of the extreme poverty line. The reason? To give a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – and who have to make $2.25 cover a lot more than food Live Below the Line is a campaign that's changing the way people think about poverty - and making a huge difference - by challenging everyday people to live on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for 5 days.  Click on the link below to find out more!

You can sign up on the Live Below the Line website and choose which charity you will support.  TEAR fund is one example.

Like the 40 hour famine, this kind of experience has the potential to shape our lives because it addresses both our thinking and our behaviour.  For 5 days we behave differently, and while doing so we will be thinking about the realities of poverty and how we can make a difference.

I believe that developing a simple lifestyle is one of the biggest challenges facing people today.  I know I am wealthy by world standards, so I am not writing this blog as a claim that I have arrived.  But I want to be on the journey.  If we are to end extreme poverty, we need to simplify our own lives.  If we are to be good stewards of the earth's resources, we need to reduce our consumption.  If we are to worship God not mammon, then we need to curb our desire for more.  If we are to have time to reach out to people who do not yet know Jesus, we need to reduce the frantic busyness of our lives.  The practice of simplicity is key.

Let me know what you discover.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Forgotten Ways - Alan Hirsch

On holiday I read Alan Hirsch’s book “The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.”  Hirsh is a missionary at heart serving in urban Australia.  He is a practitioner who gets on with the job, but also a thinker who reflects biblically on the changing culture we are seeking to engage in God’s mission.  Alan challenges his readers to look back to our roots and remember what we so easily forget.  We are called to be a community of people under the lordship of Jesus, defining ourselves and organising our life around being an agent of God’s mission to the world.  This is true both here and there, on the Taieri and in Thailand!

What stops us being active in God’s mission like this?  Sometimes we forget that we are called to be disciples – apprentices who are learning from the Master.  All the congregations at East Taieri Church will be participating in a series in August titled “Called on By God Together.”  It aims to reaffirm our sense of being called to be followers of Jesus, who help others to follow also.  Sometimes we lose confidence in the gospel, forgetting that we are sent out with marvellous news to share.  This is part of the reason I’m keen to host one of the African Christians the Church Missionary Society are bringing here in 2014. They have a white-hot faith in the gospel.

But in Hirsch’s book I read: “for we who live in the Western world, the major challenge to the viability of Christianity is not Buddhism, with all its philosophical appeal the Western mind, nor is it Islam, with all the challenge that it poses to Western culture. It is not the New Age that poses such a threat... I have come to believe that the major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism.  This is a far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us.”[p.106]

Our identity, meaning and purpose are found in Christ, and not in consuming ever more sophisticated goods and services, not even religious goods and services. 

Positively, Hirsch looks at the early church and the growing Chinese church and asks what makes them tick?  He describes the DNA of a missional church as mDNA (missional DNA).  It is this mDNA which codes the “apostolic genius” which pulses through the early church and apostolic Jesus movements through history. [p.76] His working definition of missional church is: “a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world.” [p.82]

He explains the key components of this mDNA using the following diagram.  The heart is having Jesus as Lord.  (Not as simple a thing as we first imagine).  He goes on to expand on each of the other five key elements.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


This Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent. 
Lent is a season of preparation and  (an unpopular word in today's culture) self-disciple.  It begins on Ash Wednesday (Feb 13th) and concludes at sun-down on Holy Saturday (Mar 30th, the day before Easter Sunday).
During the forty weekdays and six Sundays in Lent, Christians traditionally remember the sacrificial life and ministry of Jesus leading to his death on the cross.  Lent is a time for renewing our commitment to following Jesus as his disciples or apprentices. 
The forty weekdays also remind us of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry.  Because of this, some Christians choose to fast from something during Lent.  I've heard of people giving up chocolate or a favourite TV programme.  This might sound silly and even unnecessary, but it has the benefit of reminding ourselves that our wants and desires don't need to rule our life.
Sometimes Christians do extra kind and generous things during Lent to share Jesus' love with others.
This Lent my wife Sue and I have decided to be more disciplined in our prayer together.   We have much to pray about in life and ministry and yet sometimes it can be difficult to synchronise time together to pray.  Hence our resolve.  We have also downloaded some Reflections for Lent (one Bible reading and reflection each week for seven weeks.)  If you would like to do these readings and reflections at home, you can download the resource from the Presbyterian Church website.

When we spend time reading the Bible and seeking God in prayer, we catch the heartbeat of God and hear his call to care for those who are poor, vulnerable, lost and lonely.  Other spiritual disciplines help us train to be more like Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us to others.
May you know God's blessing this Lent,