I'm looking forward to the next 4 days - MINTY 3 is a fun time of rest and relaxation, reflecting on the year that has been and looking to the future. So despite it being late and me being tired I felt somewhat compelled to put fingers to keyboard and share 2 or 3 things which are at the fore of my mind. This is made more pressing by the fact on Dec 7th we are heading back to Europe for 6 weeks - our first 'home leave'.
5 things learned over two years of living 'elsewhere'...
Loss and Gain can sometimes be the same thing:
We came here and lost a lot of things, that was painful and at times still is. Talking with friends and family in the UK and Germany still feels painful, knowing that we won't necessarily see people soon. But the loss has led to gain - not just in the swap of one job for another, but the gain of a sense of how transitory all of this is. It is beautiful in its transitory nature, losing it is a real LOSS but the loss of all things and the gaining of a clearer sense/vision of Jesus, whilst not numbing the loss, makes it of greater worth than keeping all of the things we once had to hand.
The Gospel is not a 'broken tool':
There are times in the midst of being part of building up something that has been through rough times that there is a need for 'new' tools, novel approaches and innovation. The good news about Jesus is not 'broken' though - it doesn't need re-vamping, it just needs a fresh proclamation. It has been great to see new people come to faith, students discipled, people at church respond positively and fresh growth as the gospel has been taught and applied well. There are pressures to give up on 'evangelism' but the evangel - the good news, the gospel - is not something we can, should or attempt to move on from.
Culture is weird - and not just 'your' culture:
Culture is set of values, core beliefs, unspoken assumptions and 'to die for' commitments that reside in our hearts and lives. We don't really see it or feel it's impact until we meet the 'alien'. I thought I was pretty aware of being a Brit, living in a mixed cultural marriage/family, but I've come to realise that I didn't know how much I didn't know. Mingling with Kiwi's, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Mish Kids... the list goes on and on... means that I've learned that culture is weirder, more impacting and more important in reaching people with the truth about Jesus that I'd previously thought possible. Cultural clashes have reduced me to a giggling heap and a sobbing wreck at different times. Culture is weird, my culture and yours: don't think you 'have a culture' you need to get out more! ;o)
God doesn't slumber or sleep and the world is round so some people are always awake too:
Time differences have made me realise that when the Psalmist penned 'Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep' (Ps121) he proclaimed the God who is the God of the whole earth. Once again I discovered that in my Euro-centric brain I thought of it as a bit of poetic anthropocentric hyperbole but here in NZ it has come to mean a whole load more to me; not because we are awake when Europe sleeps but because God's care is 24/7.
People are incredibly fragile and precious:
The gospel is all about God and it is all for people. People are broken and fractured by the very things we choose to make us strong and free. Here, on the other side of the world from where I was born, I've discovered new depths to the power of the gospel to plumb the depths of human sin, to call it out and to minister grace and eternal life. People who were once just full of sin are now full of grace because of Jesus. It is a privilege beyond expression to serve God in ministering the gospel of grace as one of those people, to people who need to know God's glorious grace.
Paul Windsor has blogged recently on the split of head and heart in the lives of NZ Christians - it's got me thinking about the impact of this great divide and the Biblical call to live undivided lives.
At TSCF's Student Leadership Conference last week we thought about constructive leadership and what it looks like in today's world. We studied Nehemiah in small groups and Nigel Pollock spoke from the book in the evenings. Mornings were spent in leadership training 'streams' for newbies, returnees and soon-to-be leavers.
The call to Undivided Life is at the core of constructive leadership - not only did we see that Nehemiah saw no differentiation between his public position, private devotion and his part in God's plan but we pondered how living for God today (in Jesus Christ) makes the call and challenge of living an integrated life all the more acute and attractive. ANY division in the heart of the Christian individual or community belies the reconcilation wrought by the Lord Jesus;
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
And so, as the academic year draws to a close in NZ and as the students plan and prepare for a new year (starting March 08) and go to the workplaces and family homes in New Zealand and further afield they go charged with the call to live under the transforming grace of God.
It is no less an appeal and challenge for TSCF's staff team and I feel it all the more acutely as Ines, the kids and I prepare for our first stint of 'home leave' in Dec and January. There have been many lessons learned in the last two and a bit years for us as a family, as individuals and as part of the TSCF team. Our prayer is that the appeal to be 'reconciled to God' will go out from our lives and lips as we seek to live unidivded lives through the coming months.
I've also been laughing out loud at some posts from Nathan Burley - it's a bit of an 'in joke' but I thought I'd share his posts with you, in an attempt at writing an unidivided blog: thinking and laughing in equal measure...
The Maori legend of New Zealand's origin tells of Maui - the demi-god - standing in a boat and hauling a huge fish out of the pacific. The fish became NZ's North Island, the boat became NZ's South Island.
The above advert caught my attention recently for 3 reasons.First: It brilliantly showcases the stunning beauty of NZ. I'm not THAT widely travelled but NZ is a remarkably beautiful country. Even in it's largest city as I drive to and from the TSCF office I see mountains, lush native vegetation, stunning harbours and amazing skyscapes. I LOVE living here.
Secondly: It alludes to the legend of Maui and respects the cultural assumptions that the land (the actual physicality of the geography) expresses and defines the people who live on it, and changes those who come here. I think both of these points are true.
Thirdly: It is hopelessly naive in its portrayal of this nation. This is not the place to come for eternal youth (1 year in NZ is the equivalent of 14 months elsewhere - at least as far as your skin and the UV rays it receives is concerned) - people age faster here than almost anywhere else on the face of the earth. This is not the place to come to live forever; it is proudly and fiercely one of the most secular nations on earth. Secularism is concerned with the now, not the possibilities of eternity.
New Zealand is not 100% pure - it is a nation in much need of the clear, consistent and persistent proclamation of the truth about Jesus in a way the majority of the population 'get' and can respond to.
Come this Monday I'll be driving the length of the North Island to head to the TSCF Student Leadership Conference. I can't wait. The weather forecast is good, the company will be great and the landscape will be breathtaking. But none of these compares to the excitement of the week ahead, being called and calling others to stand in the places God has put us - calling people to eternal life in Jesus Christ; who really is 100% pure.
Right now it's 26C in the sun here in Auckland. Summer has arrived, despite the fact that it is bonfire night in two days! The video above is a TV advert which has quickly become iconic here. It makes me laugh every time, thought I'd share the joy!
With summer comes the end of the academic year. It is now exam period and a week on Monday (11th) the Student Leadership Conference (SLC - sometimes called the Summer Love Conference...!) happens once again in Paraparaumu.
This year we are studying Nehemiah in the Bible teaching and an annual round of leadership training seminars in the morning. We've dubbed the conference "constructive leadership". Nehemiah was used by God at the fulfilment of his promise to end the exile, a herald of the end of judgement and a rebuilder of the ruins. The student world in New Zealand needs leaders who, a little like Nehemiah, see what is necessary and undaunted by slim resources, open opposition, cultural hurdles and unveiled godlessness keep on building.
Pray with us that this year's SLC will be used acutely by God to raise up, train and energise leaders for the task ahead.