Thursday, November 28, 2013

Someone loves me!

Today is November 29, 2013 here in New Zealand.  Just another day in Aotearoa.

In the USA, however, it is only November 28th and things are quite different.  Families are gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, eating way too much food and enjoying the company of loved ones.  Thankfully cyberspace and Skype allowed me to interact with those I love 10,000 miles away on this special day . . . after which I sat back and had a good cry.
Then, as per my normal routine, I headed across the road to the post shop to check the mail only to find that a massive package awaited me!  As I submitted my little yellow ticket to the postal worker to retrieve the contents from the PO BOX, the clerk excitedly announced "Somebody loves you!"  She passed across the counter a large box wrapped in brown paper with my name all over it!

Christmas came on Thanksgiving Day!  I couldn't run fast enough to get home and see what treasures await me in this box.  Opening the box brought me to tears as I pulled out one gift after another. . . after another. . .after another, from siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, all intended to make me smile.  

I cried.  I laughed.  Then I cried again. Somebody loves me!

Thank you to my Olathe family! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Intentional Instability?

Creating activities and obstacle courses that are safe, yet intentionally unstable is part of my responsibility as a gymnastics instructor for young children.  Before children can begin to perfect technique and skill, they must first learn how their body works and gain the ability to control muscles, fall safely, and avoid injury.  Navigating uneven and unsteady surfaces in a safe environment allows them to explore movement through play and discovery, producing within them a confidence necessary to handle more difficult challenges.

In short, learning how to "figure things out" in a safe environment can be a good thing for kids. 

Here are photos of a few of the circuits that we have created for our preschoolers. Remarkably, once children have advanced out of this program, they are better equipped socially, mentally and physically for succeeding in our mainstream gymnastics classes.  I teach students across a broad spectrum of skill levels and notice a difference with the students who have come from the "Play Gym" programme; they adapt to new skills and responsibilities quickly.

As much as I love the sport of gymnastics and am grateful for the opportunity to do something I love here in New Zealand, it's not my intention here to convince you enroll your youngins in a programme near you, nor is it to talk about all the benefits of exercise and physical movement.

Actually, I want to entertain this whole idea of intentional instability.  It's absurd really.  Don't we spend most of our lives trying to stabilize the unstable?   We say that we would never create for ourselves uncomfortable situations or purposefully place obstacles in our own path,  but the truth is that most of us do it frequently without realizing it.

I have a notoriously bad sense of direction.  Thankfully this is improving, but only slightly.  As a teen and young adult, I was often accused of making "long cuts" or making things harder than they needed to be.  Why take only 40 minutes to drive to the airport when you could take an 1.5 hours?!  

If only all of life's interferences were as inconsequential as a lengthy drive to the airport.  Unfortunately, there are much weightier things in life to deal with like relationships with spouses and children,  parents and siblings, co-workers and friends. Disaster and hardship come unexpectedly and suffering writes a chapter or two in our life story. Temptations lurk everywhere, hungry to swallow the unsuspecting. 
In the middle of all of that, if we choose to detour from the principles of integrity that God has clearly laid out in his Bible, our  journey suddenly becomes more hazardous and the obstacles we face aren't so safe anymore.  With each choice to reject God's truth we enter into an imbalanced approach to life and create unnecessary hurdles for ourselves and those around us ... and if we don't run back to Christ in repentance, those  hurdles will no longer serve to make us stronger, but will work to destroy us.

The good news is that there is always a chance to run back, to confess our sin to God and our need for him.  When that occurs, God takes our unintentional instability and makes it intentional.  He gives it purpose, like an obstacle in the gymnasium that is actually designed to be conquered, producing flexibility, adaptability and confidence in the overcomer.

Life is an obstacle course, there' no doubt about it!  Some of the obstacles are designed by our all-knowing God who, as the ultimate coach, understands the benefits that will result when they are completed.  Other obstacles are our own fault, plain and simple.  We get ourselves into situations in which we shouldn't be.  Still others are placed in our path because of the choices of other people.  Some are even put there by the devil, yet allowed presence on our path by our sovereign God, who knows that nothing is impossible with Him.

Regardless of where your instability comes from, know that when given to God, it can become purposeful and serve to produce within in you character, perseverance and an ability to prevent major injury to your spirit.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Turkey Talk

Living in the land of kiwis means that I don't eat many turkeys.. . at least on Thanksgiving that is!

(Interesting note: Both are flightless birds.  Could there be a sermon illustration coming on here?)

 Unlike the USA and Canada (celebrated 2nd Monday in October), New Zealand does not celebrate a Thanksgiving Day.  For us lonely Americans residing in the southern hemisphere, November 28, 2013 will be just another day of work and life will carry-on as usual.  Or will it?

I may live 10,000 miles away, but that does not make me any less of an American, or more importantly, any less capable of celebrating the goodness of God and the blessings he has poured out upon me day in and day out. 

So, let's talk turkeys.

As a child, when my friends and I were being a bit silly, I distinctly remember a my friend’s mother  referring to us as "turkeys".  This was like her way of refraining from calling us something much worse, drawing attention to the fact that our behaviour was unnecessary and unhelpful, like a turkey roaming the barnyard with its head bobbing back and forth, looking quite ridiculous.
You know what happens to turkeys in America, don't you? They get eaten  . . .on Thanksgiving!

Consider this quote:

“I don’t want to hang around in the barn yard with turkeys when God has called me to soar with the eagles!”

Weeks ago those words struck me and unsettled my conscience.  At once I was convicted, thinking, “Yikes, I’ve been acting like a turkey lately!”  The pressures and demands of life had begun to act like a tether tying me down to the low things of this earth, clouding my understanding.  They'd deceived me into thinking that my domain of life was somehow down here, limited to what I could see, feel, taste, touch and understand. This is not reality however.  I was born to soar with eagles on a higher plane.
Perhaps you're reading this blog and you've also realized that regretfully you are part of this turkey club.  Your feet are stuck in the mud of sinful cycles of defeat because of the thoughts that you entertain which result in ungodly behaviour. 

 Did you know that you were actually designed for a new plane of living,  a new level above with the eagles?  If you are in Christ, you are destined, or perhaps better said.  . . designed  . . . for an extraordinary life, a life of victory! 
Isaiah refers to this remarkable path for the godly, this new plane of living, as the “highway of holiness”.  Look at this:
Isaiah 35:8 (NLT)
8 And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there.
Here’s the deal folks, what the world NEEDS from us is the same thing that God REQUIRES of us: HOLINESS!
Interesting how that works, eh? The very thing that only God can equip us to be is  the same thing that the world most needs. 

Stick with me.
The lost need someone to hold the light so that they can get found.  They need to people to prove to them and give them hope that it is actually possible to walk with God.
I love the Brit Nicole song that says, “Don’t be afraid to stand out.  That’s how the lost get found.”
When I was a teenage girl I needed older teens and other woman to stay sexually pure and live with integrity, showing me that it was possible to do the same.  It gave me hope that I didn’t have to fall like everyone else, that it was indeed possible.
I needed others around me living with passion for the One True God in order to inspire me to strive for great things.
I needed Christian friends around me choosing to stand up for the Lord when it was unpopular to give me hope that I could do likewise. 
Do you get my drift?
What we need, what our families need, our spouses need, our children need, our communities most need  is an empowered Church actually BEING the Church! It needs husbands and wives who chose love each other and stick up for one another.  It needs people who love sacrificially, who are strong against temptation and live with integrity, who flee sexual immorality.  Really, what the world needs is those who give them enough of  taste of godliness that it makes them hunger and thirst for righteousness . 
It’s time we stop acting like turkeys, as if our destiny went no further than the barnyard of this earth!  We were created to soar like eagles. Before I run away with this analogy too far, let’s see what God’s Word has to say about all this.
We all know we’ve gotta stop acting like turkeys (and most of us want to), but the how?  How does the rubber meet the road?
This is great news!  Pay close attention:
 Divine Nature:

Here’s the first thing you’ve gotta know:  This message is for those who have chosen to accept Christ as their Saviour.  If you don’t have  a relationship with Jesus Christ right now, the first thing to do is to repent of your need for God, turn from your sin, and trust Christ for your salvation from sin and self that would send you to hell.
When you accept God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ, something called, “Justification” happens.  That means Christ puts you, an unholy sinner, in right standing before a holy God.
Then, he puts his very own Spirit within you and the process of “Sanctification” begins.  As we’ve learned before, Sanctification is a big word for being holy or set apart for God.
This holiness begins at justification so that we can begin to live as Christ lived. 

As a result, we change the world and bring about God’s kingdom, setting prisoners free, proclaiming freedom for the captive stuck in harmful patterns,  recovery of sight for the spiritually blind who don’t know the truth about the One who is the TRUTH.
Now here’s the really exciting part: 
We have been given the Divine nature (God’s nature); therefore we are more than just sinners saved by grace.

 2 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)
3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires
Did you see that?  We actually participate in the nature of God!  To define “nature” is to talk about the innate qualities or character of a person.
Do you know that it is out of character for a Christian to sin?   When you become a Christian, God has a victorious and amazing life designed for you. To believe that you are no different than the people around you and are bound to break God’s laws and sin everyday is a lie straight from the devil himself, trying to keep the Church powerless and trick them into thinking they can’t overcome, can’t live any different, can’t give people hope for change. That is a lie. 
The truth is that God has holiness in mind for us.  In fact, the Bible says that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. 

Unfortunately, some people have given the word holiness a bad rap and associated it with long skirts, no make-up, no jewelry, no fun.  Holiness is being set apart by God and for God. .. it means possessing the righteousness of Christ that empowers us to live a life of triumph!
Let me say this again: It is out of character for  a Christian to sin!
1 John 2:1 (NLT)
1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if  (NOT WHEN) anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.
See, we have been giving God’s Divine nature.  We get Christ IN us!
1 John 4:15 (NLT)
15 All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.
1 John 4:17 (NLT)
17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
( NIV: “ In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.)
Galatians 2:20-21 (NLT)
20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
We reap what we sow.   If we preach that we're just poor sinners saved by grace, we will live defeated and won’t change the world like God has in mind for us.  BUT, if we live out of the divine nature of which we are partakers, then we will be the triumphant church like the church in the book of Acts. . .and even greater!
So as you can see, we need to correct our thinking, because as Proverbs says “what a man thinketh, that he is”.  What you think and believe will dictate your behavior.  We are more than mere sinners saved by grace.  Yes, we are that,  thanks be to God!

 BUT we are so much more!
God in his grace has given us even more. . his own nature. . .his own self to live within us and help us overcome temptation and live without fear. . .all the time!
Understanding this is paramount to then living it!
Let me conclude by sharing what God's Holy Spirit seemed to preach right to me a few weeks ago:
Holy Partnership
The ability to soar with eagles and to live holy lies not upon my shoulders alone.  I could never do that.  Because it is God’s Holy Spirit who sanctifies and makes holy, it is not something I could ever achieve on my own.  
However, the ability to live a life that is triumphant and successful is not solely dependent on the Holy Spirit either.
A holy life that is pleasing to God is the result of a partnership between me and the Holy Spirit.  It only works when we work in tandem. ..and of course that’s what we need to do when we're in relationship. 

When we are in Christ, we are in relationship.

Before, I too often relied on the fact that it just God’s Holy Spirit that sanctifies (which is true).  But I inaccurately thought that to mean that His Spirit would somehow possess me and automatically override all my own thoughts and actions, as if I had no say in the matter.  If the Holy Spirit took over, then I could become like a robot and automatically overcome temptation, automatically be a bold witness, automatically be faithful.. . without any effort on my part.
That sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it?  God does not make us his robot when we are filled with his Holy Spirit any more than he made us robots at the beginning of the creation of the world.

 I had subconsciously posessed the faulty thinking that the Holy Spirit would just take over for me and I wouldn’t have to use my God-given brain and reasoning anymore.  The problem with that was this: 
When I didn’t overcome temptation  . . .or I wasn’t bold. . .or I wasn’t being faithful,  then I became quite disheartened, because I equated that defeat with meaning that I must not have had God’s Holy Spirit in the first place.  And if I didn’t have His Spirit then that meant I wasn’t saved. . .and then I was really doomed. 
See what a lie that is? It steals our assurance of salvation.  But here’s the truth, the good news:  We who belong to Christ have been given God’s nature, reborn as a NEW creation, of the incorruptible seed of God.  Therefore we have all access to God’s power and help.  My role is  to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit who lives within me. Your role is to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit who lives within you.  Remember, greater is He(Christ) who is in you, than he that is in the world!
Basically, we've been given permission to get to work.  We get to put in a little elbow grease and make an effort to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  So, when I am tempted with that same hang-up, that same sin that always seems to revisit me,  entangle me and stick me in the barn with the turkeys. . . I call upon God’s Spirit who is within me and I work at resisting that, at renewing my mind, and replacing that bad habit with a good one. 

 I have the permission to work at doing the things that God shows me in his Word.
And the cool thing is: it works!  This partnership works!  As I co-operate with God’s Holy Spirit, I am kept from falling.  I don’t repeat the same sins and cycles over and over and over again.
Are you getting me here?  This is hope-filled news!  It is possible to live victorious like Christ!  In fact, it is actually God’s design.  So many people aren’t living it, because they’ve been fed the lie that they’re just a sinner whose been forgiven, no different than anyone else.
But you know better.  You are NOT a turkey.  You are an eagle.  So spread your wings and start flying on that highway of holiness!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nazarenes Respond to Typhoon Haiyan

Brisbane storm rolling in
G'day from Brisbane, Australia!

     I am currently just "across the ditch",  participating in the Australia Northern Pacific District Assembly and enjoying the company and hospitality of old friends here.

But while we are enjoying heat and sunshine, peace and prosperity, our Nazarene brothers and sisters in the Philippines are suffering immensely, hoping just to survive the next few hours.  You all are very well aware of the indescribable heart-ache and devastation that Typhoon Haiyan has caused and hopefully you've been able to find ways to respond through prayer, donations, and physical support.

Please click the link below to see details on how our Nazarene brothers and sisters are being affected and how we are responding.

  Nazarenes Respond to Typhoon Haiyan


At the end of this newsletter you will also see a very encouraging story about our All Nations Church of the Nazarene in Auckland and how God has used them to bring hope to a very culturally diverse group of people over the last 60 years!

PLEASE take a moment and click on the link to read from our regional update.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Grumpy"ness and Graffiti

 There I stood, annoyed and perturbed, but not surprised.   Our church had once again been tagged by a local gang of kids with too much time on their hands and a desire to make their presence known by gracing our windows with their "artwork".  "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", they say, but to be honest I was not beholding anything that I deemed beautiful. In fact, much of it was filled with ugly language.

Graffiti or "tagging" as it is called here, is a common occurrence and quite frankly, a real nuisance.

I had just returned from a Saturday off work, enjoying my first- ever game of golf in New Zealand.  I began to grumble under my breath as I washed the paint off the windows and checked the property for damage or evidence of criminal activity.  Thankfully there was no break-in,  no theft, no damage.

Window cleaner and a little elbow grease did the trick.   It was really no big deal to clean, but my spirit was sour as I removed the paint job that donned the glass panes all along the back of the church.  Then the holy Spirit checked me:  "Why grumble Alison?  'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' (Matthew 5:44)  That is the test of holiness, of perfect love. "

My complaining was replaced by praying and my bad attitude with a heart of thanksgiving that God has placed me here in Whangarei and has sustained me now over two years.  I was thankful that the paint came off easily, that nothing was damaged or stolen. .. but most importantly that I had the opportunity to affect change in the lives of the youth because I was now praying for them.

Interestingly enough, at the close of  Kids Club the following evening, God painted a brilliant rainbow across the heavens.  Now that is something beautiful to behold!  Thank the Lord that he has the ability (not to mention the patience!) to change a grumpy heart into a happy heart.