Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nothing Short of Miraculous

This stunning sunrise was captured by my dear friend Jess on Christmas morning at the Ngunguru Sandspit, about 25 minutes from Whangarei.  This is nothing short of miraculous, but off course we wouldn't expect anything different from the Lord, would we?!

 None of these photos were edited or enhanced.  What you are viewing are the fingerprints of God, pure and simple.

As 2014 soon becomes history here in New Zealand, I am reminded that each breath I breathe and each day I am given to live is nothing short of miraculous.  An even greater miracle, more beautiful than the brightness of the sun reflecting off the sea, is a life lived to the glory of God.

May the old prayer of St. Patrick be our prayer for the new year:
"Above and below me,
Before and behind me,
 In every eye that sees me,
Christ be all around me."

Thanks, Jess, for using your skills and resources to photograph the handiwork of God!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Song in the Night: This Christmas Is for YOU!

As I lounged in my chair last night, enjoying a soft summer breeze , I was serenaded by a symphony of cicadas and crickets, reminding me of the Creator's unceasing activity.  It was indeed a song in the night. I then looked up into the night sky.   His glittering stars and glowing moon seemed to say to a hushed earth below,  "I've left the light on for you.  It's time to come home."
Sometimes we forget this simple fact: the world still turns throughout the night hours.  In fact, it has to. Were life to stop when things went dark or the earth ceased making its orbit around the sun . . .
Well, we'd never see the sun!  The morning would never come.  The light would never dawn.

But the world does keep turning.  The globe always makes its annual trip around the sun.  Night does in fact turn to day.  Darkness is penetrated with light.  Nocturnal creatures like my beloved cicadas, or the cute little kiwis that scurry along the New Zealand forest floor all remind us that life goes on . . . even in the dark.

God goes on. . . even in the dark.

Songs can be sung. . .even in the dark.

Do you believe this?  This is the essence of faith, the message of Christmas:  That God, though invisible to the naked eye, can be visible through the eyes of faith.  That God, who dwells in approachable light, has made himself approachable through His Son Jesus Christ. That God, while we are asleep and unaware, is slowly turning the dark to the light, pulling us from the shadows to reveal the brightness of His love.

 Isaiah 9:2 (NLT)
2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

I find it quite interesting that the Christmas accounts in the Bible are full of "shady" characters.  They are shady not necessarily because of their behaviour, though scripture is replete with stories of God using personalities who are less than desirable, turning ragamuffins into princes and tax-collectors into philanthropists. They are "shady" because they are night dwellers, operating under the cover of darkness.

Consider this:  

The shepherds, to whom the angels first announced Christ's birth, were watching their flocks at night, faithfully guarding the sheep when everyone else was asleep. Perhaps some of them were even raising lambs that would be used for Passover sacrifices that year. Ironic , don't you think, that God, the Good Shepherd and Lamb of God, made himself known to lowly shepherds out doing the dirty jobs of the night?

And of course we cannot forget the wise men.  They were astrologers, men of the night who studied the stars.   It's awfully hard to examine celestial beings at the height of midday.  The most opportune time is most obviously as night when the rest of the world is dreaming away, anticipating the light of day.

These unexpected bands of the non-religious were the very recipients of the miraculous signs that heralded the Saviour's birth.  Perhaps because they were indeed people caught in darkness, they represent all who are hidden beneath the inky blackness of sin.

Jesus even told the Apostle Paul that he had a part to play in all of this.

Acts 26:17-18 (NLT)
17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.

God is always in the business of turning darkness to light.  That is why we celebrate Christmas.  Not for its trappings or festivities.  Not for the movies, trinkets and treats.  Not for the sales and deals on meaningless goods no one needs anyways.  Not even for the feeling of "goodwill" that many seem to sense during this blessed season.  Without Christ transforming life and bringing hope and light, there is no Christmas.

This Christ whose birth we celebrate, is the same Messiah who went on to live a perfect life with no sin, and was killed on a cross to pay for all of our wrongs which had separated us from God the Father.  This same Christ then proved He was God, holding ultimate power and authority over evil by raising from the dead.  This same Christ is the One who now gives his Holy Spirit to all who will make room for him in their repentant hearts.

This is the Christ whose light shines in the darkness. 

This is the Christ of Christmas.

This is the Christ who gives songs in the night.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Te Harinui" - A New Zealand Christmas Carol

Six days until.. .  You guessed it!  Christmas Day!
This also means six days until we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the gospel in New Zealand.
I thank God for men like the Maori Chief Ruatara and Rev. Samuel Marsden who brought the message of hope in Jesus Christ to our shores two centuries ago, absolutely transforming life for all of New Zealand!  Had Marsden not accepted Ruatara's invitation to share the gospel with his Maori people, our precious Aotearoa would be a very different place.

We have a beloved Christmas carol that commemorates this historical event, written by Willow Macky in 1957.  It is thought to be New Zealand's first Christmas carol.
"Te Harinui" is translated as "Great Joy".

Te Harinui

Not on a snowy night
By star or candlelight
Nor by an angel band
There came to our dear land

Te Harinui
Te Harinui
Te Hari-nu-i
Glad tid-ings of great joy

But on a summer day
Within a quiet bay
The Maori people heard
The great and glorious word 

 Te Harinui
Te Harinui
Te Hari-nu-i
Glad tid-ings of great joy

The people gathered round
Upon the grassy ground
And heard the preacher say
I bring to you this day

 Te Harinui
Te Harinui
Te Hari-nu-i
Glad tid-ings of great joy

Now in this blessed land United heart and hand
We praise the glorious birth
And sing to all the earth

 Te Harinui
Te Harinui
Te Hari-nu-i
Glad tid-ings of great joy

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Kids Club Christmas!

Tonight marked our last Kids Club of 2014 and we went out with a bang!  Goofy games, sweet treats and a lot of discussion about what it means to celebrate the Christ of Christmas!  Enjoy the photos, and yes, those are human Christmas trees you're looking at, not to be mistaken for mummies or marshmallows.  He he!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The "Monster" of the Ngunguru River

In the early, pre-dawn hours of the morning last Saturday, I rolled out of bed and made my way to Ngunguru to meet a friend for what would be an epic kayaking journey.  When all was said and done, we completed 20KM (about 13 miles) in 4 hours!

  The scenery was stunning, and as the sun rose on the water, it seemed that every bend in the river gave us a new perspective to enjoy.   For the majority of our four-hour trek not a human was in sight. We were not alone however, for the jumping fish, blue herons and hawks kept us company!  At one point, a large and mysterious river creature travelled rather swiftly and purposefully just beneath the surface of the water, revealing only the smallest tip of a fin or tail and leaving a most obvious wake. What was it, you ask?

 The murkiness of the river prevented us from identifying the "monster", but it was obviously a predator of some sort.  A bit creepy . . . but thrilling, nonetheless!   We could tell you that we found the Lock-Ness Monster; that would make a good story indeed!   But because this is a salt-water/ tidal river, we concluded it was probably just a baby shark or sting ray on the hunt. (They are common in this area.)  Instantly I became even more thankful for the reliable kayak that kept me on the water and not in it!  He he!

 Finally, with our arms and shoulders burning from hours of endless paddling, a brave paddle-boarder emerged out of the mangroves and greeted us, looking just as fatigued and exhausted as we were!  Another human!  We knew we could not be far from home. Though every muscle fibre seemed overworked and  non-compliant with our brains,  quitting was not an option.  Only a few more kilometres to go and there would be an end to this long and arduous journey.    It was so worth it!

The moral of the story. . .giving up is not an option. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Make Me Brave : Talent Show 2014

As a gracious audience cheered on, each child took the stage, presenting their special "item" for our Kids Club Christmas Talent Show.  Some sang songs, while others danced, and still others demonstrated karate moves or showcased artwork.   It was an evening of creativity (and a bit of organized chaos! ;-).

As both director and spectator, I was truly touched by one thing more than any other.  Allow me to share:

One of our young singers was plagued with stage-fright, breaking into tears and ready to exit the stage in embarrassment, when two older girls took it upon themselves to join her on stage and sing along.  They clung to her side, confidently yet humbly singing with her as if nothing had happened, giving her courage to finish her performance.  Soon after, her father joined the crowd on stage and we soon had what looked like a small choir!  This was a picture of grace: treating each other better than we deserve and making each other brave by doing life together.

Thank you, Jesus, that you make us brave and give us the opportunity to share that courage with others.

Who can you give courage to today?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Super Typhoon Hagupit Hits Philippines

The Philippines seemed to get slammed with one massive storm after another.  Nearly one year, to the day, after Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) brought widespread devastation to many of the islands, they are bracing for the worst once again.  Super Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) is on its way.

Many of our Nazarene churches in the Philippines are already functioning as shelters and evacuation sites.   PLEASE pray for the effects of the storm to be less than expected, for preservation of life, and for the Church of Christ to be a bright beacon of light and help in the midst of disaster.

Please click the link below for more information from our Asia- Pacific World Mission Communications Department stationed in Manila.

Click Here:   Super Typhoon Hagupit

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winding up to wind down.

 2014 is swiftly coming to a close and here in New Zealand, December not only means Christmas festivities, but the end of the school calendar as well. 

This week has been filled with end-of- year meetings, BBQs, school prize-givings, and the like.  Next week will likely be just as busy as we prepare for our Kids Club Talent Show, Gymnastics Display, and Food Bank Hamper Day.   It's almost as if things are winding up in order for them to wind down. (See photos of our Rock Solid BBQ on Tuesday.)

Like a spring tightly wound, our schedules grow smaller, allowing for less and less breathing room.  Our brains become saturated with endless distractions, allowing for less and less thinking room. Our bodies crave sleep, allowing for less and less effectiveness in our endeavours.  There will eventually come a point when the spring has, well. . .sprung!  The energy stored inside the coil will find a path of escape and who knows where it will fly!

Before the coil of your life gets to that point, consider this:

Jesus Christ never ended a day in life with regret.  He never woke up regretting what he said, did, or thought yesterday.  Ahhh.. .what would that feel like to have a day, a week, a month like that?
Don't let your busy schedule leave you with regrets.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Ebenezer"? What's that?

One of my most beloved hymns (and there are many) is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, penned by Robert Robinson in the 18th century.  
The second verse makes use of some fancy language to speak of a rather strange item, an Ebenezer.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come .. ."

As a child I was puzzled by "Ebenezer".  Who was it?  What was it?  And what on earth did this have to do with blessings from God?  The only Ebenezer that I knew was Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ classic, The Christmas Carol.  If you've ever wondered the same thing, let me set the record straight:     

An Ebenezer is a stone of remembrance of God’s provision.  It is a way of saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped me.”  In fact, this special stone of remembrance takes us back to the Bible, to Joshua chapter 4. 

Joshua 4:1-24 (NLT)
1 When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,
2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe.
3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight." . . .
. . .  20 It was there at Gilgal that Joshua piled up the twelve stones taken from the Jordan River.
21 Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’
22 Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’
23 For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over.
24 He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”
Fellow Americans reading this blog right now will know that this Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the USA!  The President will grant a pardon to one very fortunate turkey, millions will watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and families will gather to stuff themselves silly and enjoy sweet reunions.

 Though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday here in New Zealand, I do believe it is always appropriate to be thankful and reflect on the goodness of God.  And, the very story that we just read in Joshua gives us license to celebrate.

I know you did not visit my blog today to get a full-length, three- point sermon, so I will leave you with only one morsel of food for thought today.  (Stay tuned for more in future posts.)

 Notice that the Israelite tribal leaders were to gather stones from the MIDDLE of the Jordan River as they were passing through.  They were still en route to the other side. They had not yet seen the completion or fruition of the promise that they would make it to the other side, but were to pick up stones from the MIDDLE as they crossed through.
This in and of itself was an act of faith, choosing ahead of time to thank the Lord in the MIDDLE of their obstacle, believing that a great reward did await them and that one day there would be amazing stories to tell.   
 It takes a lot more faith to praise God in the middle of the battle than when you’ve come out the other side. What are you in the MIDDLE of right now?

 When hindsight is not at your disposal, can you choose to praise God in the MIDDLE of your struggle, when the future is unclear? 

God is God of the MIDDLE.
Right now you do have the gift of hindsight, at least up to this point in your life.  Stop and take stock; do an inventory all the the ways in which God has blessed you and helped you in the past.
 Perhaps you can even create for yourself an Ebenezer stone to serve as a visual cue, a reminder to be thankful.  

How has God protected you and your loved ones?
In what ways has God provided for your daily needs?
When have you received encouragement from others, showing you just how much God cares for you?
Has God given you the power to overcome temptation?
Did you feel God comforting you in a difficult situation? 
How has God convicted you when you've gone astray, using His kindness to lead you to repentance and get you "back on track"?
Were you able to offer support to someone who needed it and received an internal blessing from that exchange?

I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift.  Never let praise be far from your lips! A good memory is a gift from God!