Sunday, August 31, 2014

Am I waiting on God, or is God waiting on me?

"I can't say I understand much about waiting on the Lord.  It seems He is always waiting on me."

Each day I read these simple, yet powerful words that are scribbled upon a post-it note, adhering itself to my laptop. They come from my 88 year old landlord, a surrogate grandfather of sorts, who now seems to be nearing the entrance to his eternal home, resting on the thin veil between heaven and earth. He said these words over a year ago and they have both haunted and inspired me ever since.

Many people talk of waiting on the Lord; in fact scripture speaks much about it.  The verses below, and a myriad of others, compel us to learn the art of patience, to be full of God's Spirit so that this fruit (patience) may blossom in us and others may taste of its sweetness. Here are some candid examples from the book of Psalms:

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." ~ Psalm 27:14

" Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes." ~ Psalm 37:7
12 Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.13 But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold. 14 In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test." ~ Psalm 106:12-14

"I wait for the Lordmore than watchmen wait for the morning,  more than watchmen wait for the morning." ~ Psalm 130: 6

However, on the other hand, we read Joshua's words to the Israelites, rebuking them for waiting too long and wasting time taking care of business they already have authority to handle: 
"3 So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you? Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me." ~ Joshua 18: 3

Consider this: is it possible that God is waiting on us to develop the skill of waiting upon him?  A dear sister of mine here in NZ aptly noted the patience of God when she said this:

 "God, of all people, is not one to rush things." 

 So well said. Waiting upon the Lord, whether it be for clarity regarding a significant life decision, healing, or waiting for evidence of spiritual progress in a loved ones' life, is not easy.  In fact, it requires work.. . a lot of work!
  Waiting does not mean laziness or inactivity; it does not mean walking aimlessly through life until lightning flashes from the sky to reveal some grand design.  The art of waiting upon God means to work diligently doing the next good thing you know to do that pleases Him, staying focused and living with integrity in the meantime. It means searching the scriptures, praying a lot, and sharing fellowship with other Jesus-followers who are also developing the skill of waiting.  Then, somehow in the process, in the obedience, in the selfless service. . .God makes himself known in a unique and special way. .. and the waiting is over.

 "I can't say I understand much about waiting on the Lord.  It seems He is always waiting on me."


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tonga: Take Two!

"Enjoy your time in the Kingdom."

These words spoken to our mission trip team came from the mouth of a local Tongan man nearly one year ago.

For him the words were merely a patriotic and generous gesture, voicing his approval of the life that he has made for himself in the nation known as the Kingdom of Tonga.  For me, however, those words were were incredibly insightful and challenging, because they turned my attention to the Kingdom of God, in which I live everyday regardless of my location on the planet.

God's government is not a democracy, neither is it socialist nor communist.  It IS a kingdom, and a kingdom of light at that!  It is a kingdom where God has full authority and right to rule, and whose presence can be felt among His children.  It is a realm where the economy is upside down, a place where the last will be first and the first will be last.  In this kingdom service is considered greatness and the poor inherit all riches.

Yes, I think I'll do that; I'll enjoy my time in the Kingdom!

With these words still ringing in my mind, I anticipate what a return to the Kingdom of Tonga will be like in a just a month's time.  Lord willing, our small NZ team will once again board a plane and spend a week supporting the amazing ministry of the Mango Tree Respite Centre, a compassionate ministry site that seeks to serve those with disabilities living in poverty.  We will be engaging in more "blessed messy-ness" through sensory learning and interaction with parents and young children.

Please pray for the work of the Mango Tree Centre, for the people of Tonga, and for our team's partnership with the ministry there.

Our trip is scheduled for Sept 27-October 4, 2014!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Battle against "Bible in Schools" in New Zealand

The car horn honks and as I turn my head, I see small fingers rolling down a window to reveal the face of one of my Bible in Schools students.  "Hi Miss Alison!", she shouts, grinning from ear to ear.   This melts my heart and makes me smile.  
In an effort to save petrol costs and enjoy the great outdoors, I walk around town as much as I can.  On any given day as I to and fro throughout the city, I might run into five or more children from gymnastics, kids club, Rock Solid, or Bible in Schools.  What a privilege! Connections with these precious young people is what makes me come alive and I am so touched when they take the time to acknowledge me as I walk along the road.  How boring my life would be without the opportunity to be a blessed by the presence of children and speak truth into their lives.  What would life be like if I could no longer go into the public school and teach biblical values to students?  What if those special connections with the kids and their families no longer existed?

There is a growing battle here in New Zealand between the Secular Education Network (SEN) and the Churches Education Commission (CEC), which facilitates Religious Education programmes (aka "Bible in Schools") in over 600 public schools nationwide and trains volunteer teachers like myself.  Bible in Schools is not a required part of the school curriculum, nor does it technically happen during "official" classroom instruction time.  At primary schools where Religious Education is allowed, students and parents are given a choice to "opt out" of the once -a -week 30 minute lesson with no questions asked.  It is up to each school board of trustees and parents to decide whether or not they want to allow the programme in their particular school in the first place.

This has been the case for many schools around NZ for decades now, but it looks like times are changing. For years, the expressed purpose of the SEN has been to remove religious instruction from all NZ state primary schools, repealing the New Zealand Education Act of 1964. The battle is becoming more fierce as more and more parents are "opting out" of Bible classes, even taking the matter to the NZ High Court. As one would expect, the subject has evoked much passion and debate, which has only escalated in recent days.

For my fellow Americans reading this, you will know that the Bible has not been allowed in American public schools for decades.  What you will also know is that the removal of Bible and prayer in schools also resulted in higher crime rates and a host of issues making the education process much more difficult.  Well, now the issue has made its way to NZ and those wishing to enforce a clearer "separation between church and state" are fighting hard to chuck out the Bible.

There is so much more that could be said and written about this subject, but it is not the purpose of my blog to get into political debates.  I would ask, however, that you pray for the Lord's favour to be shown on "Bible in Schools" and that those involved, like myself, would continue to be a light in the lives of children in their families, taking advantage of every moment that we do still have, and "making hay while the sun still shines."

God still cares about our kids and his principles still make this world a better place.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Birthday Blessings: If Jesus and I were peers.

33 years young.
I moved here to New Zealand just after my 30th birthday and now I find myself crossing the 33rd threshold.  I can't help but notice that Jesus' public ministry took him from age 30- 33, after which he was crucified, dead and buried.. . only to rise again!  How delightful to think that if Christ were walking on this earth in the flesh today we'd be peers, contemporaries, fellow sojourners in the race of life.  I would imagine we might be good mates, maybe hang out for a "cuppa" every now and again or hit the beach for a good surf.  This is not to say that we would have been equals- far from it!  I only say that life would have been quite interesting with him around. 
We never would have quarreled (well, at least not coming from his end.  Lol!) and I dare say that I would feel the most secure I've ever felt in my life. 

Well, Christ IS here with me now through his spirit.  He is not merely my mate, He is my God, my Saviour, and my Deliverer.   I can't see him with my eyes, but what I can see is the beautiful people that He has put into my life to show me His love.

I was truly blessed this weekend by many of those individuals and families reminding me of my value and worth. From early morning birthday serenades to handmade cards, to lunches out and free microwaves, I was blown away with the thoughtfulness and care offered to me!

Thank you, Father, for the deep and fulfilling relationships that you have allowed me to enjoy in this little town at the top of the bottom of the world. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not Forgotten

You are not forgotten. 

When we live simply so that others may simply live, that is the message that we communicate. 

 You are not forgotten.

 The TEAR Fund New Zealand “Not Forgotten” tour kicked off last night in Whangarei with former sponsored child Richmond Wandera, from Uganda, and Omega Livine, from the Parachute Band. What a challenge and blessing it was to hear  first-hand accounts of how TEAR Fund (Also known as Compassion International) child sponsorship literally changed life and reality for Richmond and his family!     
When he was just a little boy his father was murdered, leaving his mother, young and uneducated, to fend for the family.  As a result, his family had to move into a leaky tin shack in one of largest slums in east Africa, surviving on scraps of food and dirty water, and exposed to malaria-carrying mosquitoes on a daily basis. But far worse than the physical poverty in which he found himself, was the loss of dignity and sense of self-worth he experienced.  He felt that there were no longer dreams to dream and that he was quite simply . . . forgotten.
 He was separated from classmates, because he could no longer afford to attend school, and lost other  friends to various diseases that took their lives.

Then something happened. 

The invisible ceiling that seemed to prevent his dreams from ever becoming a reality was shattered when he first became sponsored by a 15 year old girl in New Zealand.  With great excitement and delight he described the elation he felt when he first found out that he was going to be sponsored!  This was a legitimate ray of hope, a way out of the monochromatic life in which in he’d been forced to live and an invitation into something that was full of colour and contrast.
Not only did he now have reliable access to medical care, clean water, and food, but he also could return to school and rebuild friendships lost when his family had to leave their town and move into the slum. It was also during his years participating in the Compassion Programme that he was introduced to Jesus Christ and gave his heart to the Lord!
 He has never been the same since.

Richmond went on to actually graduate from university with a BA in Accounting, one of the few in his entire country.  He is married now and is traveling around NZ to help advocate for the TEAR Fund and assure people of the impact that this programme has on real-life children. 

Three things he pointed out were these: 1) Sponsorship changes the child; 2) Sponsorship changes the sponsor; 3) Sponsorship changes the church.
Though I’ve already been sponsoring a little boy in Tanzania through TEAR Fund/Compassion International for many years now, I decided to take on another little tike from Indonesia.  

After all, why can’t I live simply so that others may simply live? 

If you are interested in child sponsorship, two of the most reputable and responsible child sponsorship programmes I know are : 
 TEAR Fund/ Compassion International and Nazarene Child Sponsorship.  Both are rated extremely high for their fiscal responsibility, commitment to long-term development and holistic care, and their healthy partnership with local churches in the communities in which they serve.

Check out the websites.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back in the Swing of Things

As a pastor, Sundays tend to be quite busy and hectic. Amongst the flurry of activities, however, there is great blessing and reward.  It felt so good to be back with my crew at New Hope Church, reuniting after an entire month away and catching up on all that occurred in my absence.
This evening I was back in action with all the neighbourhood youngins for Kids Club!  Though many of us would never admit it publicly, it feels good to be missed.  We all need to be needed. ..  I felt that way this weekend upon my return to this amazing place called Aotearoa. What a gift.