Monday, February 25, 2013

The darker the night, the brighter the light.

As I stepped out my front doorway and absorbed the stillness of the warm summer evening,  this is what I saw.

  For some reason the full moon was exceptionally bright last night and shone like a spotlight over the city of Whangarei.  With each passing moment, the night sky grew darker, revealing the brightness of the moon all the more. Interesting how that works, eh?  The darker the night, the brighter the light.

And the wonder of it all is that the moon does not produce its own light, but rather reflects the radiance of the sun.  It does it to the perfect degree, emitting just enough of a gentle glow so as to allow us to sleep and yet not leaving us without help in the midnight hours.  How clever and kind of God to give us the "lesser lights" to govern the night sky. 
The stars and moon are signposts of hope, pointing to the God who is ever-present, ever-waiting for people to return home like the Father who says, "I'll leave the light on for ya."  For me, a sense of relief accompanies each glance at the moon, for it says to me that even in the darkest of time, a light still shines.  Even when the "worst-case-scenario" that ever was has become a reality, all is not lost;  there is hope. A light will ALWAYS shine. We are never without help because Jesus Christ, the Creator of  those lesser lights who himself is THE light of the world, "is the same yesterday, today, and forever."
Are you discouraged?  Does life seem rather black?  Look up.  Is life  pleasant for you right now?  Look up.  And then look out . . .  to those around you and be the light in their night sky that reflects the radiance of the Son of God.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Taking the Plunge

Ukulele?  Check.  Sack lunch?  Check. Togs and towel?  Check.  Bible?  Check. A willing spirit?  Check.

With everything packed and ready, we loaded the vehicles yesterday and headed to Ngunguru to celebrate the baptism of 13 year old Hannah, one of our lovely young teens here at New Hope Nazarene!
Baptism is a public proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ and a commitment to love him with everything you've got, a truly blessed sacrament and occasion in the life of a Christian.  As you plunge into the water below your actions communicate an intentional death to your old self and identification with the death of Jesus Christ, while emergence from the water victoriously proclaims the resurrection of Christ, that you are now " . .  a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come!"  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 This was a very special milestone and victory, as Hannah lost her sister just 7 months ago and is in a formative stage of her life as a teenager at a new school, facing many new pressures. What a gift to assist Hannah in solidifying her relationship with Jesus Christ and encouraging others to hold her accountable as she presses on into the future that God has for her.  In addition to baptising Hannah, we all enjoyed good food and true fellowship by the waterside, a life-giving experience for all of us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Google, Lent and . .. Sleep?

Take a guess:  What was the 7th most searched topic on Google by Kiwis last year?

Drum roll please. . .  "Lent".   Surprising?  I thought so too, but in a pleasant way. I find this statistic quite encouraging, because it demonstrates that New Zealanders show a keen interest in spiritual matters, even if it's shrouded by the anonymity of cyberspace. It has been said on many occasions that New Zealand is rated the most secular English-speaking country in the developed world. Though I see some evidence of this in my daily life and ministry, I also see something else: The God who is working through his people to change that reality.

The Lenten season is a 40 day period of time in the Christian calendar, beginning with Ash Wednesday, when Christians prepare their hearts to celebrate Easter and to a small degree, deny themselves and participate in the sufferings of Christ. It is often characterized by repentance, fasting and prayer.  As a child growing up, I had always assumed that Lent was only observed by the Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches and was merely a ritual that didn't apply to me. That has changed.

Though Lent is not actually a biblical holiday or feast, it does reflect the biblical principles of  selflessness, mourning for our sin, prayer and fasting.   Within many Protestant churches the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in observing Lent.   Many people choose to fast things like candy or coffee,  TV or meat, while others take a more creative approach and fast things like facebook or e-mail, etc.
 One purpose of the fast is to turn our attention to the Lord and place ourselves in a posture of need and humility before him.  Fasting something that you normally rely upon each day can quickly turn your mind to your need for God, especially when it comes to food!  He he!

This year I have made the commitment to give back to God something very dear to me and necessary for daily life: sleep!  I enjoy mornings and the freshness of life that they bring, but I also enjoy sleep, especially when the air is cold, the bed is warm, and the rest of the world is slumbering away. So, for the next 40 days I have set my alarm clock earlier an extra 30 minutes to allow for additional time in early morning scripture and prayer.  I approach this season with an excited dread, if that is even possible:
Dead for the struggle of rising earlier than normal; excitement in knowing that God will someday honour this gift that I give to Him and teach me something special during this time.

What about you? Is 2013 the year that you make the plunge and seek the Lord in a more intentional way and find that He rewards far beyond your wildest dreams?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Following the 'Straight and Narrow" in the Land of Winding Roads

photo courtesy of Jesse Briles
photo courtesy of Jesse Briles
New Zealand has an abundance of many things: fertile farmland, sandy coastlines, clever people, entrepreneurial opportunities, pukekos and possums.  The list goes on.  What is lacking however, are straight lines.  Due to the mountainous terrain, you’d be hard pressed to find many roads that travel in a straight line for more than a few kilometres.  An atlas looks more like the frantic scribblings of a toddler than an actual road map.  For the passenger prone to motion-sickness, what would otherwise be a picturesque drive through the countryside is reduced to an agonizing battle with nausea.  With each swerve of the car, the body leans and turns to accommodate the force of gravity, as do the remains of your last meal.  (But please don’t let my ramblings deter you from visiting me in beautiful  Aotearoa!)

I find that any and everything in God’s great world has the capacity to be substance for teaching us of His greatness and His great calling. What are the winding roads of New Zealand teaching us?  If they could speak perhaps they would repeat the words of their Creator, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13) They might paraphrase by saying (in a tone almost reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings”), “Good luck on finding the ‘straight and narrow’ out here.  Its gate is hidden somewhere deep beneath this mountain on which you stand, and the only one who knows its secret location is the King.  Your only hope is to have an audience with the King. ”

Isn’t that the truth?  God is the King.  God knows the tantalizing distractions that present themselves at  every bend in life’s road, turning our eyes from side to side making us sick. He gets it.  He knows that it is difficult for the 13 year old to stay away from drugs when substance experimentation is nearly a rite of passage.  He knows that alcohol abuse and course speech are just considered part of what it means to be a Kiwi.  He knows that Kiwi society doesn’t expect marital faithfulness, and therefore many don’t even bother. And He knows that these things make us sick, really sick. God also knows this:
There is another way.

 “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
There is another way.

And what’s more, all those people who are finally ‘sick’ of being sick on the winding roads of life. . . Well, they are the ones that get an audience with the King.  But how do they possibly get access to the King, when He dwells in the purest realm where the unclean doesn’t even survive the journey to his throne room?  Here’ s the secret:  the King will give you a hearing on one condition:  that his Son has sent you in.  He’ll do anything for His Son, so if you come in the name of his Son Jesus Christ. .. you’re in!
Once you’re in you find that the he himself is the gatekeeper!  He opens wide that narrow gate that leads to the path of life and those that tread upon it find that the straight and narrow is remarkably spacious and full of freedom! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Earthquake and Tsunami strike Solomon Islands

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck just outside the Solomon Islands on Wednesday, triggering a tsunami and displacing hundreds of people.  Today strong aftershocks continue to rock the islands.
 The BBC estimates that the death toll is now up to 9 and could climb.  The Solomon Islands are comprised of a whole slew of small, low-lying islands to the east of Papua New Guinea and are one of the poorest nations in our region.  During my time in Papua New Guinea, I had the privilege of befriending many from the Solomons who had come to PNG to study or serve at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital.
 (To find out more info regarding the ministry of Kudjip Nazarene Hospital click here:

Apparently, unbeknownst to many of us enjoying the festivities of Waitangi Day, a tsunami warning was also issued for the northeast coast of New Zealand, but that has since been cancelled.  (For which I am thankful, considering that I was at the beach at the Bay of Islands that day.)

I hope to receive information regarding the status of our Nazarenes in the Solomons and information on how we can assist with needs in the area.  In the meantime, please pray for God's presence to be experienced and his protection for those trying to make sense of life after such a tragedy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Waitangi Day

As promised, here are some photos and video clips from the Waitangi Day festivities.  The beautiful Bay of Islands and a clear blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for performances by the NZ Airforce 'Red Checkers' (acrobatic air fleet), Royal NZ Navy Band, NZ Navy Kapa Haka Group and a host of other activities such as traditional races using some of the original Maori wakas (canoes).

Waitangi Day is a national holiday that celebrates the Maori cultural heritage of New Zealand and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on Feb 6, 1840.  The Treaty was signed by both the British Crown and the Maori with the intention of giving the Maori full rights as British citizens in New Zealand, while allowing governance by the Queen. The document was written in English and translated into Maori, and then signed by many chiefs and members of local iwi (tribes). However, because there was no exact Maori translation for some of the English, to this day there exists debate and controversy regarding some of the specifics of the document, especially when it comes to land and waterway ownership rights.

 Though there will always be a bit of friction surrounding rights and race relations between the Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealanders, of European decent), New Zealand is one of the most progressive nations in the world when it comes to embracing the culture and rights of its native peoples. English and Maori are both official national languages.

I was thankful to enjoy the many displays of patriotism and commeraderie, and a fun day with new friends.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"God Defend New Zealand"

               With "Waitangi Day" (Formerly known as "New Zealand Day" before its original name of "Waitangi Day" was restored . .. more on that later. . . ) approaching tomorrow, I thought it might be good to give a few of you non-Kiwis a bit of New Zealand culture.  Let's begin with the beautiful New Zealand National Anthem. Five verses have actually been written for "God Defend New Zealand"  but what is most commonly sung is the first verse in both Maori and English.

English Version

"God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand."

Māori Version

E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai
Verse 2: 
Men of every creed and race,

Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.
Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country's spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.
May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations' van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.
Tomorrow, along with thousands of others, I will be travelling up to the Bay of Islands to participate in the Waitangi Day festivities.  I hope to post photos and give you a bit more insight into why this day is so significant to New Zealand heritage and some of the controversies surrounding it.
Until then. . .