Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

To my surprise and delight I received a massive package this week from my church back home in Olathe (Faith Journey)!  In it were items such as sewing supplies, handmade Christmas decorations and photos, evidence that this package was well thought-out and packed with love just for me! To my Faith Journey family I say, "THANK YOU!".

As I sat marveling at all the wonderful goodies in this box, I felt so loved.  It got me thinking about all that went into ensuring that this parcel would reach me in time for Christmas. . .humor me for a moment.

  1) An announcement was probably made at church to put items in the box. 2) A generous friend probably offered to pay for the postage. 3) Dozens of families signed a card; 4) Time was spent knitting the stocking inside. 5) A lesson was planned and followed through with the preschool kids where they created the lovely  handmade ornaments;  6) All these things were packed in a box and my friend made the trek to the post office, paid the fee, and sent them on their way.  7)  Then the box went through two weeks of sorting and traveling by plane and truck over 10,000 miles until it arrived at our local Kiwi Post across the street two weeks later. 

Whew!  What a journey this package has been on!  And all just to bless me for Christmas; to make me smile and let me know I was not forgotten.  I didn’t expect it, nor do I deserve it!  But alas it is here and it is mine.  J

 You know, this is the season of Advent, meaning the "coming".  It is the expectant waiting for Jesus Christ, the Hope of the World, to come.  For Christians, the season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah , as well as the waiting of for Christ's return again.

It’s like waiting for that special package to arrive, but not even knowing that it is on its way.  Imagine the hours just prior to Christ’s birth. The world was totally unaware that the greatest gift, the One they had been longing for, was already on His way! Like the wonderful package that I received, God wrapped his package up in the form of a baby, paid the postage, and used Mary as the courier if you will. (For lack of a better analogy.)

God had all the processes and plans in place from the foundation of the world, so that at just the right time in history Jesus Christ would be born to bring healing to the World and make a way for us to finally be close to the Father God. We didn’t expect it, nor did we deserve it.  But ahhh, the relief now that we know Christ the Saviour  is here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The waiting is over. . .

Advent, a season of "waiting". 
 Waiting for hope.
 Waiting for light. 
 Waiting for resurrection.
 Waiting for God.
 Wait no longer, for the Hope of the World is here.  The Light of the World is here. The Resurrection and the Life is here.  God is with us!  As you enter this season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, know that your waiting will not go unfulfilled.  God is here.  God is now.  God is with us.

I had the privilege of being American for a few days, visiting Whangarei Falls and heading south to Hamilton for Thanksgiving with Andrew and Jenna Stout, and Jenna's parents, Roy and Jenny, who are here visiting from Washington state. Look at these gorgeous cascading waterfalls! Imagine each droplet as it joyfully runs over the edge, eagerly free- falling to the lowest place, and be thankful.  Be thankful that Christ, because of " the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) Like the water, without abandon, Christ took himself to the lowest place, came as a vulnerable baby and endured the cross of suffering for us.
 While down in Hamilton we celebrated Thanksgiving with a whole houseful of friends from all over the world.  Thanks to Jenna's mom's handiwork, we had all the fixins: turkey (though extremely expensive here!), cornbread dressing, cranberry stuffing, pumpkin pie, and all the yummy extras.  :-)

I also had the great joy of joining in on a Bible in Schools class at one of the local schools. Interestingly enough, as secular as Kiwi culture is, they still allow the Bible to actually taught in the public schools! What an open door for ministry!  Not all schools allow this, as it is at the mercy of the opinions of each school's board of trustees and principal, but for those that do, we are thankful! Oh to be in the classroom again- I miss it!

Lastly, yours truly finally got behind the wheel and drove a little bit here in New Zealand!  Next task- actually getting a car of my own!

Thanksgiving has passed, but my thankfulness has not.  Advent is here, but I am no longer waiting.  God is with me, with you, wherever you find yourself on this planet.  Be thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you in America, I say, "Happy Thanksgiving!"  For those not in America, I still say "Happy Thanksgiving!"  :-)

If you are reading this, you must be alive, so let's begin there.  Be thankful!  I have many reasons to be thankful after 2.5 months here in Whangarei, but below I'm going to highlight only two:
1) The lovely and lively kiddos we minister to at Kids Club each week here at New Hope. 

2) The dedicated, hardworking, volunteers and staff at the Salvation Army.:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Good without God?

Read carefully the frightening words on this billboard:
"Good without God?
 Over one million Kiwis are.
There's probably no God.
 Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Neville shared this with us at district assembly last week, reminding us of the social and religious climate of our day and the urgency with which we need to be sharing God's good news.

Just think, someone spent big money to display these billboards all over New Zealand! I checked out the websites listed, and the sign above is one out of many from the official NZ Atheist Bus Campaign and NZ Humanist Society, whose goal is to have these signs and other atheist slogans on public buses and streets all over New Zealand.  They raise money from donors who believe in their cause, while constantly battling the government for increasing rights and privileges.  Scary isn't it?

David wrote in Psalm 14, "1 Only fools say in their hearts,“There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!"  Without God, we have no definition of good, no way to measure righteousness.  There is no benchmark, no standard, no goal.  How would we even know what is "good" or "bad" were it not for a loving God who gives us loving laws to keep us safe, who gives us his Holy Spirit to guide us?  It is impossible to be good without God.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:9-11:  "Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles,[a] are under the power of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say,  "No one is righteous— not even one. 11 No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God.

We cannot be good without God.  But thanks be to God that he has given us righteousness (a right and clean standing before God) through Jesus Christ! What a relief!  Now the questions is, how do we love people in such a way that they want that righteousness too. . . that they want freedom from all that enslaves them here. . . that they want Jesus for themselves?  That, my friends, is our job.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Zealand District Assembly 2011

This weekend I had the blessing of joining over 100+ Nazarenes from around New Zealand for our annual District assembly.  This is a yearly gathering for all our Nazarene churches on the district to reconnect with old friends, make new ones,worship together, receive reports of God's transformative power in the lives of those in our spheres of influence, and rekindle the fire for the upcoming year.  It was a much-needed time of refreshment for me personally, and allowed me to get a better feel of what unique challenges we face as pastors and laypersons in New Zealand.

I have to say I am so impressed with our leaders, especially our district superintendent, Neville and Joyce Bartle.  It is evident that a deep love for Jesus and years of ministry across our region have given them priceless wisdom and foresight.  This incredible couple seems to have the energy level of those half their age!  :-) 

Personal highlights include:
-- Receiving my first New Zealand District Minister's License
-- Hosting a children's ministry workshop
-- Meeting up with old friends
-- Making new friends
-- Learning about "Celebrate Recovery", a program that can help many of our people struggling with addictions and abuse here in Whangarei
-- Cultural dances
-- Real-life testimonies of miracles and changed lives
--  Just being together

This was by far the most diverse district assembly of which I have ever been a part!  In attendance were those from Korea, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, America, Cook Islands, South Africa. .. and I'm sure I am forgetting some.  It was quite a sight; a little glimpse of heaven!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dirt Bike Night at Rock Solid

A highlight for me each week is Tuesday, when I head out to Dargaville to join our fun-loving leaders and teens for Rock Solid, a youth outreach program for 11-13 year olds.  Our leadership team consists of adults and older teens from 4 churches of all different denominations, adding such flavor to this ministry! The large majority of these kids do not attend any church at all and have very little knowledge of the Lord, His love, and His ways.  This is a vital ministry to "tweens" in Dargaville.
Last night we loaded the buses and took the kids out to the beach for a little 4-wheeling action as we watched the sun set over the west coast of northern New Zealand. Enjoy some great pics!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kiwi 101 and Other Randomness

Being an American in New Zealand has its challenges, some of them harder than others.  Some of seemingly insignificant obstacles I face everyday involve basic Kiwi lingo. As soon as I open my mouth I give myself away as a foreigner, though more often than not I don't get the question, "Are you American?", but rather, "Are you Canadian?"  Apparently there are quite a few Canadians here in Whangarei.  "Yachties" they call them, folks who sail the seas on their yachts and end up here in NZ for some of the most spectacular marine life and sites in the world.
Just for fun, I'll  let you in on a few secrets.  (It's amazing how educational grocery shopping can be!)

Kiwi                           American
kumura                       sweet potato
coriander                    cilantro
capsicum                    bell peppers
jandals                        sandals/flip flops
jelly                            Jell-o
jam                             jam
petrol                          gasoline (which is $2.09/litre= $8US /gallon!)
toilet                           bathroom
carpark                       parking lot
footpath                      sidewalk
chips                           french fries

Additional Randomness
-- New Zealand is the youngest society on earth and yet one of the most progressive.  It was the last spot on earth to be populated.
-- NZ has the highest teenage suicide rate in the world.
-- Prostitution is legal.
-- NZ is considered the most secular English-speaking nation in the world.
-- They were the first to give women the right to vote and have a female prime minister.
-- No additional sales tax added on to goods.  The price that is listed is actually what you pay-imagine that!
-- No pennies or one cent pieces exist. Every price is rounded to the nearest 10 cents.
-- Kiwis are VERY proud of this little country, especially when it comes to the All Blacks. (NZ National Rugby team, which won the Rugby World Cup two weeks ago!)
-- Shoes are not required in public places.  I can't tell you how many people (adults and kids) stroll around town barefoot, even in the grocery store.
-- Ginger and Coconut are very common flavors.
-- Kiwis love their fish, especially the Maori and Pacific Islanders!
-- The Metric method of measurement is used.
-- Though they are one of the world's largest dairy producers, it is still crazy expensive!
-- You'll find McDonalds here in Whangarei, but it is quite expensive, considering a basic value meal will cost you $11-12.  No dollar menu here!
--Hell Pizza is a poular pizza chain that uses everything anti-Christian as a marketing tool.

 Thanks to the generosity of folks back home, these two youngins got their very own brand new Bibles last week!