Friday, June 29, 2012

Faith and Rainbows

This won't be the first time I've posted photos of rainbows on this blog.  I've developed a bit of an obsession with them over the years and the fascination continues to grow.  Due to the frequent passing of rain and sun here in New Zealand, rainbows are a common occurance and I see at least one nearly every single day!  Despite this fact, the phenonemon is anything but ordinary, and I still marvel at every single display of colour I see sweeping across the sky.

These grand demonstrations of God's creativity got me thinking.  Could a rainbow be both a symbol of and call to faith?  On a normal day, the colours of the rainbow are invisible to the naked eye.  They only become visible when the perfect combination of sun and rain collide, causing the white light to be reflected by the water droplets and refracted into different colours of the spectrum.  Basically, the water is the agent that takes the sunlight and divides up the colours so that they can now be seen by the human eye.

Like the rainbow, so many things in life are invisible and unnoticeable until our faith is put into action.  Faith is like our sixth sense that allows us to take in spiritual realities and see things that are not, as though they are. The collision of water and light make the invisble visible, resulting in a rainbow, something just as real and definite as the computer screen on which you are reading this blog.

Faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as "the confidence in what we hope for and the assurance about what we do not see." Faith is not merely a mental ascent or a superstitious feeling, but rather an orientation of life around the God who crafted the rainbows and calls out to us from his creation.  It is a continious active belief that God not only exists, but that he is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him. Faith is a shield against the fiery arrows of the devil and a protection against the lies and accusations he sends our way.  Genuine faith must always be accompanied by actions that serve God and serve people.  This is when faith becomes absolutely visible.  This is when the rainbow of faith arches across the heavens and everyone sees it!

Where is your faith today?  Or perhaps the question more appropriately would be, in WHOM is your faith?  Your faith can only be as effective as the object of your faith. Who is it?  If it is God, then even a mustard-seed of faith can move mountains, because the mountain-maker can move whatever he wants.

Be encouraged by the rainbow today.  Have Faith!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What you learn when tragedy strikes.

         Births, deaths, marriages, birthdays, celebrations, crises, tragedies.  These are all rites of passage that we experience on our journey through life on this earth.  These are also times when cultural motifs and belief systems are exposed openly and exhibited through traditions and customs. Basically, how we handle with these significant events show others what we believe to be important in life.

      As a missionary, my "job" is to join God in his mission of reconciling the world back to him, fixing the broken relationship between God and the creation that he loves so much.  For me in my context, this means that I do life and go through those rites of passage with those here in Whangarei, New Zealand whether it is good, bad, or ugly.  This also means that I strive to understand, as much as possible, the deeper parts of the culture of those with whom I live and minister.  Well, last week was bad and ugly; there's no getting around that.  And yet, because of what occurred, I had the dreaded privilege of getting a crash course in Maori culture and observing how God raises beauty out of the ashes.

     Last week  was marked with terrible tragedy as one of our dear teens believed the lie that life wasn't worth it and decided to take her own life.  This event rocked our little New Hope church fellowship, as well as the local high school where she attended.  Unfortunately this is not the only time this has happened in recent months. It is clear that we are in a heated spiritual battle, and as we take up the full amour of God, we are coming out the other side of the battlefield as more than conquerors, standing firm in our faith in Jesus Christ.

 The line from the old Steven Curtis Chapman song is true, "His strength is perfect when our strength is gone; He'll carry us when we can't carry on. Raised in his power, the weak become strong."

Through this situation, I have learned a few things about God, about myself, and about Maori culture.  Let me share just a few of these with you:

-- God IS ALWAYS NEAR:  There is no place on earth, even in the darkest corners, where He is not present.

-- TAKE UP THE FULL ARMOUR OF GOD: We are spiritual beings in a spiritual battle and therefore must fight with spiritual weapons.  Don't be naive and assume that certain hardships can't touch you. Stay in the Word of God and pray unceasingly. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

-- THE CHURCH 'WORKS' : God created something beautiful when he designed the Church, the family of God. Even though this was a very diffcult situation,  not once have I been without spiritual, emotional and physical support from fellow believers.
-- "WHANAU" (family) and "WHAKAPAPA" (genealogy) is extremely important in Maori culture.  Relatives of all kinds came out of the woodwork from all around the world to offer support, make tough decisions, and plan the logistics of the "tangi" (Maori 3-day funeral). 

Never before have I witnessed such strong community and togetherness.  The whanau stayed with her body at the Marae for three days giving speeches, singing songs and sharing last moments with her before completing the process with an official funeral ceremony and burial service.  After sending her spirit off at the burial, we all headed back to the Marae for feasting and a chance to begin the healing process.
 Joy was eager to be restored again and I can't tell you how wonderful it was to once again hear cheerful melodies sung and see faces lifted.  This brings me to my next lesson:

-- JOY COMES IN THE MORNING.  Our hope is in Jesus Christ alone and his complete ability to deliver us from evil and give us eternal life.  There is a time to cry and mourn, but there is MORE time to live and celebrate life.  No one can survive in a state of hopelessness and despair.  Cry a bit, let it out, mourn. . . but don't stay there. Now is the time to look up and see the Savior offering such sweet peace and joy and hope that you can't help but laugh and be lifted up!

Previously mentioned are only brief snapshots of the some of the lessons I learned this week. May you be lifted up today by the Holy God who loves you, lives to bring you life and who says,

 "Don't be afraid!  I am the First and the Last.  I am the living one. I died, but look- I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave." ~Revelation 1: 17-18

Thursday, June 7, 2012

When the Church "Works"

Yes, I am driving a manual!
"It works!  It really works!"
To my amazement, when I put my foot on the clutch, release the handbrake, and press the accelerator, the car actually moves!  Who knew how empowering it could be to learn how to drive a manual/stick shift car in the countryside of New Zealand after 15 years of driving an automatic.  Driving a manual was not a skill I mastered as a young American driver and quite frankly; it wasn't a big deal. This is not my reality now, and necessity has required that I learn the art of the gear shift. It's a challenge, but a fun one, and one that I hope comes without any dents or bruises to myself or the vehicle. :-)

LoveWorks Team from Point Loma
In a similar vein, something divine happens when God's people live and love the way they should: The church works! People are cared for. Relationships flourish. Ultimately, people see Jesus Christ.  I have been blessed to experience this in a new way since moving here to New Zealand.
  •  While the LoveWorks team was here in Whangarei, a brand new family showed up for Kids Club.  After a high-energy evening of fun and faith, the kids gave a good report to their parents.  The following day, the family showed up again on our doorstep, this time asking for help moving to a new apartment, as they had no transportation and little money to pay for a cab. Because of God's providence and impeccable timing, we happened to have a van available and many helping hands eager to serve that day.  Mission accomplished: 1) Family moved successfully; 2) Relationship begun; 3) Jesus smiled.  Since that time, the kids have been to kids club each week!
  • A few months ago, I was in need of a bed  for my apartment.  A friend heard of my need and gave me a bed right out of her own house! Now I give her swimming lessons and in return I receive a wonderful home-cooked meal with her and her husband nearly every week!
  • Rock Solid: Superheroes Night
    Beautiful sunset at Camp Morely last month
  • For many weeks, we had been praying for a troubled teen in our Rock Solid ministry.  "R" had been removed from a stable home environment and placed back in a volatile situation with 'whanau' (family) heavily involved with drugs and gangs.  As a result, we lost all contact with this young man and feared the dangers that awaited him.  Christians from various churches (including some of you) began to pray for away to re-connect with "R".  Praise the Lord, last week I unexpectedly ran into "R" on the street corner and had a very promising conversation with him after nearly 2 months of silence! In addition, while walking in town yesterday, I heard a voice call out, "Hey!  Miss Alison!" only to turn around and discover that it was "R".   God has answered our prayers and provided us with contact again and new information about his unhealthy living environment.  The battle is on and we continue to pray.  Please pray with us.
Mari, Jacob and Bina: Good friends in Auckland
  • This week I received a pleasant surprise from some missionary friends who used to serve in Papua New Guinea and now live in South Africa.  They had accumulated thousands of frequent flier miles whose expiration date was drawing near.  Interestingly enough, the miles had to be redeemed in Australia or New Zealand.  Who did they know that lived in New Zealand?  Me!  And because of their generosity, I was able to redeem the points for some helpful gift vouchers at local stores. What a blessing!  
My friend Stacey and I
See, the Church works! If you are a Christian, and I mean the real deal, then see if you can't put yourself into the working gears of the Church.  Find someone who has a need and fill it.  See the person who is invisible and love them. Like a droplet of water, take yourself to the lowest place and find joy there.  BE the Church and then watch it work!