Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sharing Life This Easter

As a kitchen full of busy bees tirelessly cooked french toast and sausage, friends, family and new guests poured through our church doors for a very special Easter worship celebration! We packed out our little worship facility with over 35 people from all walks of life: some we knew, some we didn't, but all eager to share life this Easter.

The sanctuary was transformed into a cafe with a very special 3-D backdrop (created by Donna, Mili and Casey), focusing our attention to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanks to Jenna and Jesse Briles, we enjoyed beautiful table decorations and even had a lovely photo corner!
Discussion, scripture readings, singing, holy communion, and a message on "Sharing the Resurrected Life" were on the agenda for the morning.  But more valuable than anything we could have said or organized was the sense that the risen Christ was actually with us. Thank you, Father, for such a meaningful way to celebrate your ultimate love that sent you to the cross for our ultimate good!

This is now my second Easter as a pastor here in New Zealand, and each year I learn something new (or many 'somethings').  The longer I am here and the more I preach, the more I grasp the reality that people need . . .  life.  They don't need my clever words delivered in a some special sermon; they don't even need a stomach full of good food.  They don't really need emotionally-charged music or elaborate programmes.  All these things are good, but when I've run out of clever words . . . when the food has long run its course through the digestive system . . . when the music has faded and the programme strategies no longer work. .  . life goes on.

What people need is real life; life free from sin and full of purpose and meaning.  This life can only be found in Jesus Christ, the God-Man who was crucified, dead and buried, and then victoriously arose from the dead to display his superiority over every authority and power imaginable.  This is the GOOD NEWS of Easter! And a personal relationship with this God-Man Jesus Christ. . .

 This is life.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Carnival a Big Hit !

Our free Family Easter Carnival today was a big hit!  The young (and young at heart) joined us throughout the morning for sausage sizzle, egg decorating, colouring contest, face painting, silly games, garage sale, and much more!  We praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve our community and share Christ with our neighbours in this fun and creative way. 

    Tomorrow we celebrate the risen King of Kings with a very special Easter worship serving including a free breakfast and holy communion.  We are praying that many of the folks with whom we were able to rub shoulders today will join us for this very special time tomorrow.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Race Relations Day: World Peace?

 One step into the auditorium revealed that we were in for more than we bargained.

Saturday was "Race Relations Day" here in Whangarei.  An invitation was extended to me earlier in the week by a friend from Indonesia to attend this special event and watch her perform some traditional Indonesian dances. I was under the impression that this would be a drop-in multicultural festival of sorts, a chance to experience some different ethnic foods and meet new people.  Apparently what I expected and what was planned were two different things, because our "dropping in" 30 minutes late meant that we missed most of the Maori powhiri and stepped right into a full human rights programme.  The event was organized by the local Baha'i congregation and the human rights commission, with a proud transgender individual introducing the theme of the evening.

"What do you want to see for a better Aotearoa (New Zealand)?" was the question posed to the audience. Responses ranged from a desire to see restoration of the earthquake-ravaged Christchurch, to a land of full tolerance and acceptance.  I detected a common thread that seemed to link all the answers and it was this: the deeply human desire for peace, meaning and belonging.

The mantra broadcast by secularism today is that if people would just get over their differences, the human race could somehow reach a state of unity that would lift itself into a better world, a world of peace.  Unfortunately this is a deceived way of thinking, because what many people do not acknowledge is that an enemy lurks whose prime goal is to destroy peace at all costs. There will always be conflict.  There will always be misunderstanding.  Humankind does not have within her the capacity to find rescue from the confused cycle of living in which she finds herself.  

But God does!

The hope-filled message of Easter is that there is One who exists outside the cycle, One who can penetrate from the outside and provide a way of escape, and ultimately a way of peace.  He is Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who entered the human story, died on a cross as a ransom for all people, and then proved his superiority over all powers by raising from the dead. This is REALLY good news, people!

There will never be peace on earth until Christ rules.  So until then (when Jesus Christ returns, judges all evil and puts things to rights), the only way to experience peace on earth is for Christ to rule your heart.  The lyrics of one of my favourite songs says it so well:

 In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Envelope from "The Lord"

A few days ago I received an envelope in my post box that simply said,  "To: Alison.  From: The Lord".

 In this mysterious little parcel was $50 cash.  I have some suspicions about who the generous donor might be, but to try and find them would rob them of the blessing of giving anonymously. At any rate, the Lord has used someone to bless me specifically and I am grateful.

As I've said before, anything and everything in our world is potential teaching material in the hands of the Master Teacher . There is always something new to learn of the character and love of God.  Yes, a random envelope with $50 is a very tangible gift, easy to identify and understand.  But what about those "blessings in disguise", those lesser-known,  often unappreciated gifts from God?

What about the conviction that pierces your heart when you have strayed from God's design and path for you? Could this discomfort be the very thing that protects you and brings you back into a healthy relationship with God and others?  (" Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? Romans 2:4 NLT)

 What about the chronically ill loved-one who demands your constant care and devotion?  Could this actually be a gift to keep you from drowning in the superficial things of the world? Could this teach you faithfulness and sacrifice, making you more holy like the holy God who sacrificed his very life so that you may live free?

What about the rainstorm that makes your laundy line soggy and the roads slick?  Could that rain be the very thing that your dry land needs so that it can ultimately feed you and the ones you love?

Look around your life today.  Look at your sphere of influence.  Look at the ones you love. Look at your talents and skills.  Look at your inadequacies and struggles.  Look deeply around your world . . do you see any "envelopes from the Lord"?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Sponge Effect: Children's Ministries Brunch

It's often said that "children are like sponges", describing their endless curiosity and naivety.  Have you ever stopped to consider the intricacies of what that really means?  Ponder these two questions:

Q: What happens to a dry sponge when it encounters moisture?
A:  The sponge absorbs all the moisture it can.

Q: What happens to an already saturated sponge when it encounters moisture?
A: The newly-introduced moisture just runs off the top because there is no room left in the sponge.

Now consider this. What happens to the kiddo who is sent to school as a dry sponge and is confronted with all kinds of philosophies, lifestyles, behaviours, temptations and the like?  Because there is nothing else taking up room in their mental and spiritual "sponge", they'll just absorb and assimilate all that new information into their life and worldview as if it were truth.

But what happens to the kiddo who is sent to school as a sponge that is saturated with the truths of God's Word,  a secure identity, and the knowledge that they are loved and precious?  When exposed to false doctrines or unholy ways of life, their inner "sponge" just lets it run off and those lies don't take root.  Do you get my drift?
This is why ministry to children is SO vital!  Our young people are not just the church of the future; they are the church TODAY and God is using them now as genuine missionaries and ministers among their friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, families, etc. . .in a way that only a child can.

With that in mind, we hit the highway and headed down to Auckland in the early pre-dawn hours in order to host a children's ministries training brunch.
My goal for this brunch was threefold: 1) to foster a sense of unity among the Sunday School teachers and children's ministers of all the churches in our district, 2)  to assess the the needs on our district, and  3) identify the "movers and shakers" in our current children's programmes so that we could invest in leadership training.

It was a truly blessed time and I thank the Lord for helpful discussions, the sharing of ideas, powerful prayer and lots of fun.  Enjoy the photos from some of your brothers and sisters here in New Zealand.