Friday, October 28, 2011

The beauty of paradise and the filthiness of sin. . .

Though often disguised in pleasure, prosperity, and "prettiness", sin is outright filthy.  There is nothing beautiful about it. It is sin that sent Christ to the cross. In a 3 hour period today I experienced both the wonder and beauty of God's mysterious creation, and the ugly, make-you-feel-sick nature of sin. 

I had the opportunity to hike up to Whangarei Falls today with a friend.  (I was kicking myself that I didn't bring my camera, but I'll go again soon and post some photos for you! The photo to the left is an old one.)  The one hour hike just to get there was completely worth it- massive roaring falls cascading down into a huge green lagoon surrounded by lush rain forest and everything pure "New Zealand".  It was as if we had stepped into a corner of heaven. (Not that heaven has corners, but I think you know what I mean. he he!) The streams fed by the falls lead us to numerous swimming holes with make-shift rope swings and ample places to splash and play. We even waded in the frigid water to sooth our aching knees and feet.  It was truly incredible. .. and I will go again soon and give you photos!

Neighbor's wisteria- gorgeous

With memories of paradise fresh in my mind, we made the trek back home. On our walk back through the streets of Whangarei I was deeply troubled by two things.  We stopped in to say hello to one of her nephews, who greeted us at the door very clearly "high" on who knows what, with an additional cigarette in hand and liquor bottle not far away.  There were three small children roaming around outside half-clothed, completely unaware of the situation they were truly in. This relative is only 19-20yrs old and his young girlfriend was there to accompany him and the children. Ugh. . stomach ache #1.

Then, within minutes we came across a group of teenagers standing outside a house chanting at each other, taunting their friends to "booze" with them, chugging alcohol through a hose and funnel contraption.  It took everything within me not to go right up to them and stand in the middle to keep them from continuing.  (Maybe I should have!)  Ugh.  Stomach ache #2.

Unfortunately, what I experienced today is not uncommon in our neck of the woods.  So many hurting people deceived into thinking that reality = alcohol, drugs, smoking, and sex.  The filthiness of sin- I hate it!  Please pray that we who are children of the King would be a bright beacon of hope and light here in Whangarei, exposing the ugly nature of sin and inviting people into real life with Christ.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

World Population Reaches 7 Billion

Rumor has it that the global population has now reached 7 BILLION!  This means that there are over 7 billion individuals wandering this planet we call Earth; each one with unique stories, histories, dreams, challenges, hurts, and joys.

Aotearoa (New Zealand), with it's meager population of 4 million, only makes up .0057 percent of the world's inhabitants.

It is quite mind-blowing that our Creator God actually knows us each by name.  He doesn't just refer to us by the name that others call us, but knows our true selves.  Perhaps even more remarkable than the fact that God full understands the desires and needs of over 7 billion humans, is the fact that nothing in us scares anything in him. 
Below are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "You Fail Us Not" by 1,000 Generations.  Be blessed!

Failure doesn’t phase You, worry doesn’t win,
Loss doesn’t leave You afraid to start again,
Our sin doesn’t shock You,
Our shame doesn’t shame You at all

Mistakes do not move You, terror doesn’t tame,
Death doesn’t doom You to life in the grave,
Our suffering doesn’t scare You,
Our secrets won’t surprise You at all

There is nothing above You,
There is nothing beyond You,
There is nothing that You can’t do…
There is no one beside You,
There is no one that’s like You,
There is nothing that You can’t do…
Whatever will come, we’ll rise above,
You fail us not, You fail us not,
No matter the war, our hope is secure,
You fail us not, You fail us not,
You fail us not…

Hatred doesn’t hide You, evil doesn’t ail,
Despair can’t disguise You and tell You that You’ve failed,
Our doubt doesn’t daunt You,
Our darkness won’t defeat You at all

You’re bigger than the battle,
You are bigger than the battle
You are bigger than the battle has ever been

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Let the children come. . .

Today was a very special day in the life of  New Hope Church (my new church here in NZ). We celebrated the baby dedication of little Taylor, son of Jessica and A.K., and launched our new "Energise Kids Club"!  Our Kids Club is designed to reach out to the kids in the community who are not otherwise connected with our church, and takes place on Sunday nights.  For the next eight weeks we are going on a "Travel Guide Through the Ten Commandments" with Bible lessons, silly songs, thematic games and crafts, and of course food!

 If you know me, you know I love working with kiddos and want more than anything for them to fall in love with Jesus. Needless to say, I had a blast today!  Please enjoy the pics below.


Friday, October 21, 2011

More Pics from Parihaka

As promised, here are some more photos from Mt. Parahaka, overlooking the home of yours truly down below, Whangarei.

Interestingly enough, when I got to the top, I met some fellow hikers and noticed that the word "Texas" was sprinkled throughout their conversation.  Of course this caught my attention, and I just had to chime in to reveal that I was an American.  It turns out that one man was born in Germany, moved to Texas, then to Sweden, and now resides in Kiwi land!  The other gal is Kiwi, but lived in Oklahoma for many years, and now has returned to the Northland of New Zealand. What a mix of people!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cloudless day, Hike up Parihaka. . .Ahhh

Ahhh. .. sunshine!  Many of you have put up with my whining about the endless rain here in New Zealand, and perhaps you were also wondering when the sun would shine.  Wonder no more.  Today was a warm, CLOUDLESS day!  Now this is spring to me!
 In an effort to take advantage of this phenomenon, I made the hike up Mt. Parihaka today. Mt. Parihaka is a small mountain here in Whangarei, with quite a vista of the harbor, distant mountains and ocean from the top. The trail head is only a 10 minute walk from the church. As I entered the trail, I found it reminiscent of Papua New Guinea: steep, muddy, lush green rain forest. .  .except without the threat of slithering, squirmy reptiles and amphibious creatures.  New Zealand is unique is many ways, one of which is that there no are poisonous snakes, large predators, or really any animals that could harm you here.  (Or so they say.  :-)  Now that's the way to hike.  Enjoy the photos!

(I have more photos I will post soon.  I took some of them on my ipod and still trying to figure out how to sync them to my computer.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

God writes beautiful stories. . .Moses, Martha, Me

" I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?"
~ Psalm 77:11-13

God writes the most beautiful stories, using us as the main characters and supporting cast.  A good novelist will be strategic and deliberate in his or her character development for a story, because after all, without it the plot will not make any sense. In my last 5 weeks here in New Zealand, I have seen God busy developing characters in his grand story of redeeming the world.  Praise the Lord with me as I share a bit:

* Moses: You may remember reading about Moses, an older Maori man who was recently baptized. God rescued him from a violent childhood and from repeating the same cycle again his later years.  He told us the miraculous story of how just weeks after coming to know Jesus, Moses prayed humbly and simply for the supply of some of his most basic needs, one of which was transportation.  After sharing his requests with his church (with no intention of  trying to "get" from anyone there), someone fixed up an old 80s car, showed up and gave Moses the keys right out of the blue!  And it has better fuel economy than any of the newer vehicles!

* Martha:  Martha is a new friend of mine who is growing by leaps and bounds since coming into relationship with Christ.  She has quite a history, but the Lord is giving her new hope and new life now, undefined by the turmoil and darkness of her past!  She is now faithful at church, always offers a helping hand, and has recently gained boldness to reach out to family members with whom relationship had previously been severed.  She is eating up books on prayer and Bible study and eager dive into real life with Christ.  Well, she isn't just eager to dive in, she is IN it now! Thank the Lord!

* Me: I love to journal each day.  Sometimes entries are thoughts and prayers that come from deep in the recesses of my heart while others are mere ramblings about what happened throughout the day.  Yesterday I was reading back through an old journal and once again amazed with God's faithfulness in answering prayers.  Here are some of the "yes" answers he provided:

--  A place to live.  (Weeks after committing to come to NZ last winter, I began to pray for a place to live, preferably not by myself.  I had not yet told anyone about this specific request, but a week later I received an e-mail from Adrienne inviting me to board at her home!  Thanks, God!  Thanks, Adrienne!)

-- Medical Clearance:  I was burdened with paperwork and medical tests to be completed in order to apply for a work visa here.  The tests would cost nearly $2,000.  I had no such funds, nor insurance to cover those costs, so I asked the Lord, the One of has access to all resources, to provide.  And provide He did!  Dr. Gary Morsch and his team of doctors and technicians at Concentra Urgent Care provided all the medical work needed, for only $113, as a service to God and to me.  There you go again, God!

-- Work Visa arrival:  After months and months of paperwork to acquire a visa, teaching license and police clearance, it was just days before I was to depart for NZ and I had still not received my visa and passport in the mail.  . . .and then it arrived with a week to spare!

Many more stories like this exist, and had I more time and space, I would share them all.  Keep checking this blog for more stories of God's goodness and power.  Praise the Lord and open your eyes to see how He is busy doing character development around you and IN you!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The World is Here to Play: Auckland

It has been a few days since you've heard from me.  I have had a big week, which included a 2 day trip down to New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland,  to interview for my New Zealand District Minister's License and  venture once again to the immigration office, continuing saga that is my work visa situation.
The Naked Bus is the preferred way to make the 3.5 hour trek down to Auckland, if you don't have a car. (which I don't) It is a large coach bus that takes passengers all over the Northland region for a minimal price, with minimal amenities to offer (hence the name, "Naked").  Upon my return back to Whangarei yesterday, the Naked Bus made a quick stop down in Rugby Central in the heart of the city centre (Yes, I'm learning to use the British spelling of some of our favourite words!) 

 Welsh and French flags were flying proudly all over the city yesterday and the fans (as well as the vendors eager to sell them things) were out in force!  The place was packed with people from all over the world, streets blocked off, protesters parading down the thoroughfares, and whole lot of big city craziness. I have always thought Auckland an interesting city, but the fact that "the world is here to play" has added a new dimension to this already very cosmopolitan and diverse place.  Even as our bus made its way to the other side of the harbor, air force flew over doing a really eye-catching trick air display! What a time to be in Auckland! Tonight will be THE biggest match yet: New Zealand vs. Australia.  Now there's a rivalry!

I also had the joy of spending time with friends John and Moana and their three precious kiddos, as well as Andrew and Jenna, NTS students who are serving down in Hamilton, NZ.  John and Moana are youth leaders at Mangere church, and serve across our new Zealand district. We joined them for Friday night youth and a little mini golf the next day.  What a blessing to have friends!

Many new things lay ahead this week as we prepare to launch our Energise Kids Club on Sunday afternoons for the community! Please be in prayer for the children and the families that they will represent.  May the Lord use us to love deeply and lead these kiddos straight to Jesus. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Baptism at Kaiiwi Lakes

Yesterday was a glorious day for multiple reasons, the most significant being the celebration of baptism for a man named Moses! Moses is a new believer at the Dargaville Church of the Nazarene, about an hour west of Whangarei, and yesterday was his big day to give a public testimony of how God is changing him from the inside out! 
 I still can't get over just how gracious and compassionate or Lord is. .. He IS STILL in the business of changing people, delivering from sin, overcoming additions, breaking through cycles of violence.  Moses is a tangible reminder that you are never too old to be the recipient of God's love, care and power.
To the left you'll see two very important ladies: Donna and Adrienne.  Donna is my co-pastor here at New Hope Church.  Adrienne has so graciously welcomed me into her home and allowed me to rent a room there (and really become part of the family!).  I thank the Lord everyday for these two incredible women who have embraced me, helped me, and become friends!

Below is a pic with my friend Jae and her daughter, Rubie.  (Baptism also calls for swimming!)

Friday, October 7, 2011

No longer will they teach their neighbors. . .

I have recently been praying that Jeremiah 31: 34 would become a reality here in Whangarei.  See below:

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
   after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
   and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
   and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbors,
   or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
   from the least of them to the greatest,”
   declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
   and will remember their sins no more.”

Can you imagine what life would be like if we all knew the Lord!  It makes me smile.

Yesterday I had the wonderful privilege of attending a home church service with my new elderly friend, Maurice.  He is truly in love with the Lord, and because his health often prohibits him from getting out and about, he hosts a worship gathering right in his own home!  The first Friday afternoon of every month, dozens of senior citizens (most of them 80 yrs +) cram into his living room singing old hymns, testifying to God's goodness, and celebrating communion together. 

I went yesterday and don't know that I've ever been part of something quite like it. They came from all different denominations and life experiences. Some sat; some stood. Others played the accordion, violin, piano, and guitar. .. but all came with a  purpose and sang their hearts out to the Lord. 

As I sat there with my feet planted on the cracked wooden floors and the sun streaming through the window, my heart couldn't help but be blessed.  The music in my ears was sweet, and it rang with the goodness of our God who has shown himself to these faithful ones, many of whom will be meeting their Savior face to face soon. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rock Solid, Sunshine and. . .Fleas?

Don't worry, none of the above are related to each other.  :)

 Rock Solid:
As you may remember, "Rock Solid" is a youth outreach program in which I have recently become involved out in Dargaville, a small rural town about an hour west of Whangarei. Tuesday afternoons are filled with great fellowship, high-energy games, and meaningful God-conversations with 11-13yr olds. Our Lord is in love with 'tweens' and it is our desire that kids fall in love with Jesus and find wholeness that rubs off on those around them, changing their families, schools, and neighborhoods. 
And yes, you'll notice the kids are feeding each other bananas, blindfolded of course.  Isn't that what you normally do?  :-)

Sunshine:  After 3 days of non-stop rain, the sun shone bright and warm yesterday!  Ahhh.  Because we live on the coast of a narrow portion of the North Island of New Zealand, it takes less than an hour to drive from the west coast to the east coast. Weather changes rapidly and most of the time involves rain, but when the sun does shine, it is magnificent and the nearby mountains are a brilliant emerald green.  

For those of you who care, I have a very serious PRAISE to report!  As silly as it sounds, I have now had a full night's sleep for four consecutive nights . . . without waking up in an itching fest at 2AM!  About 20 days ago I somehow acquired dozens of super itchy, annoying flea bites.  They spread all over my body and did not go away for nearly 15 days. 

I tried everything imaginable to get rid of them: allergy medicine, anti-itch creams, washing and rewashing all my clothes and bedding, drinking water upside down, and standing on my hands (oh wait, I do that all the time anyway!).  Anyway, thank the Lord, the fleas are finally leaving me alone and I am sleeping through the nights.  I still have a few bites, but they are decreasing in number and intensity.  Woo hoo!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jonah:God's heart for the city.

Yesterday was my second official Sunday preaching here at New Hope Church of the Nazarene in Whangarei. We had a little chat about Jonah, of all people.

What do you think of when you hear that name?  Maybe a big fish?  Maybe a wicked city called Nineveh?  Maybe you think about Jonah and his selfishness?

In reality, the Book of Jonah in the Bible is less about the man Jonah, and MORE about the heart of our COMPASSIONATE GOD who takes no delight in the death of sinners and is relentless in His pursuit of the lost and broken people.  Don't worry, I'm not going to give you the whole sermon, but I would like to offer this challenge:

-- Where is your Nineveh?  You know, that place, part of town, or group of people you would avoid at all costs?
-- What would your Nineveh look like if they responded to God's conviction and mercy the way Nineveh actually did.  (FYI- This city that was considered "sin city" of their day actually repented and was restored.  The people actually responded and changed!)

Imagine what life would be like for us and our families if we were bold enough to love deeply and offer the hope of Christ to those that , quite frankly, we'd rather not.  Imagine what your city or neighborhood would actually be like if people loved Jesus?  Perhaps the crime rate would decrease.  Perhaps there would be healthy marriages.  Maybe people would be quick to forgive and slow to accuse. Maybe miracles would happen.