It is a story that is tragically repeated all over the world. Kindness in the face of wickedness is not rewarded but punished.
What strikes me in this though is that Austin Hemmings' Christian faith, his eldest daughter has had some contact with the TSCF group at AUT. In their grief the family are speaking of Austin with a clarity that makes their pain palpable. Do pray for them.
It also strikes me from those who are musing about this death what a difference a hope in Jesus makes:
"Now he is gone, leaving a wife without a husband and three teenage children without a father. They - and we - mourn for him. And they should know - as we all know - the only comfort to be had in this sorry and senseless affair: the man they grieve for now may have been a typical Kiwi bloke, but he was a hero. It is cold comfort indeed, but they should be profoundly proud of him." Editorial, New Zeland Herald
"Dick Hemmings said news of his son's death had been "pretty rough, but his life was an apprenticeship... There are greater rewards ."
For the second time this year, Christians in NZ, are grieving very publicly. The question arises again about where God is in the midst of the pain, the seemingly random violence and the suffering of His own people? And again the answer is clear - He is present in the midst of it. His existence in a fallen world, under Judgement, is not contingent on good things happening to good people and bad things happening to bad people. The question is not IF God exists, but what SORT of God He is.
The editor of the NZ Herald thinks, from the sidelines "the only comfort to be had in this sorry and senseless affair: the man they grieve for now may have been a typical Kiwi bloke, but he was a hero. It is cold comfort indeed, but they should be profoundly proud of him" but Austin's father, and the rest of his family, is SO much more correct "there are greater rewards..."
Death is now a toothless enemy of the people of God (1Cor 15:50-57) and the result in the hearts and lives of God's people, much to the confusion of those who deny Christ or are ignorant of him? The result is not a denial of God but an unshakable confidence in HIM.
"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1Cor 15:58
I'm praying that the Hemmings family would know that resolute steadfastness and hope - Austin's life and death are not 'in vain' - as well as the 'warm' comfort of Christ (2 Tim 4:6-8).
I'm also praying that the people of New Zealand will be confused, intrigued and challenged by the Hemming's hope in the midst of intractable loss.
It is sometimes startling that in the familiar lies a depth and profundity which is easily passed by in the hurry of ordinary life. Tonight the words of the Wesleyian hymn "O for a Thousand Tongues" came to mind as I was thinking about how we express our desire to know Christ better.
Several friends have written in the last few days to encourage and remind me of God's sufficient grace in all of life's trials and triumphs. Weaknesses of body and mind over the last few months have made me mindful of the frailty of my flesh but also of its unattractive strengths. For even at its weakest and most humbled, it is no stranger to sin in thought and word and deed. The selfishness that the heart can turn to, the envy and greed for more than is currently at hand and a sharp word to those who happen to pass by, a doubt sown and a gripe shared around – all serve to poison the heart and mind, no matter how weak I might have felt, as well as share the necrotising impact of a heart discontent.
And all the more; Jesus is made apparent and real. To know Him at all is to be discontent with discontentment, to answer our own hearts' wicked schemes with the Glory of the Sovereign Saviour and to drink deeply great drafts of the life-giving Grace of the Gospel of God, which will save all who call in faith on Jesus Name.
Are there words enough? Are there words of love, devotion, gratitude and intimacy that can encapsulate what He has done? Can I, in these short paragraphs, convey what needs to be said? No. Thank you is the beginning…
Charles Wesley came to Christ in the context of recovering from illness, a year later he wrote an 18 stanza poem/hymn to celebrate his first anniversary of coming to truly know Jesus; from which would arise the hymn we know as "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing". I've mostly sung it with a rousing chorus in large congregations. But it strikes me tonight, that it is a song born of immense gratitude and arising out of a desire to find adequate words to express the beauty that is found in Jesus alone. I quote the poem in full; thankful that, nearly 300 years on, these words 'work' for me. How about you?
Glory to God, and praise and love
be ever, ever given,
by saints below and saints above,
the church in earth and heaven.
On this glad day the glorious Sun
of Righteousness arose;
on my benighted soul he shone
and filled it with repose.
Sudden expired the legal strife,
'twas then I ceased to grieve;
my second, real, living life
I then began to live.
Then with my heart I first believed,
believed with faith divine,
power with the Holy Ghost received
to call the Savior mine.
I felt my Lord's atoning blood
close to my soul applied;
me, me he loved, the Son of God,
for me, for me he died!
I found and owned his promise true,
ascertained of my part,
my pardon passed in heaven I knew
when written on my heart.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear Redeemer's praise!
The glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace.
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
'tis music in the sinner's ears,
'tis life, and health, and peace!
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.
He speaks, and listening to his voice
new life the dead receive;
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.
Hear him, ye deaf, his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your Savior come,
and leap, ye lame, for joy.
Look unto him, ye nations, own
your God, ye fallen race!
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
be justified by grace!
See all your sins on Jesus laid;
the Lamb of God was slain,
his soul was once an offering made
for every soul of man.
Harlots and publicans and thieves,
in holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
from crimes as great as mine.
Murderers and all ye hellish crew,
ye sons of lust and pride,
believe the Savior died for you;
for me the Savior died.
With me, your chief, you then shall know,
shall feel your sins forgiven;
anticipate your heaven below
and own that love is heaven.
TSCF (NZ) was one of the 10 founding nations of IFES : but at times we're left off the map. It happened last year at the IFES World assembly too. It's not too bad really - God knows how to find us - perched here on the edge of the world's time zones, a small nation in a big ocean, isolated from our nearest neighbours by at least a 2.5 hour flight.
I love student ministry - I'm convinced that this is what God has called me to. This week I've had text's and emails from several students, some rejoicing in the opportunities on campus, some struggling to feel qualified or empowered to do the work, others taking their first steps toward life after graduation, one excelling in her course and grateful to God for it another seeking to honour God as he pushes through hoping to complete his degree. I love it. I miss it terribly.
This morning from the quote for the day widget on my igoogle home page:
For me the last week has been full of "what if... I had worn a bike helmet on May 13th; ...I don't get back to being well enough to work; ...we win the lottery (we don't play it we won't)"
Then i remembered the BIG "IF" - the poem by Rudyard Kipling
I hate this poem with a passion. Not only is it 'anti-patriotic' of me (it's one of the 'definitive' English poems) but it also seems to run against a self-empowering desire of the current cultural melee. Being a 'man' does not come down to stoicism, dispassion or being invulnerable to pain. We do not have 'the Earth and everything that's in it". It is not ours to own.
IF (at least the way in which we use it most often) puts the emphasis in the wrong place. Essentially it places us central to our own story. We become the heroes of our own history, the main actors in the play we author - "If..", If I were in charge it would play this way or that...
But the plain and simple truth, the inescapable reality is that we are not the central players in history, God is. There IS a better if though
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Col 3.1-4
IF we discover that Jesus is the center and pinnacle of History, If we come to Him then we have life in Him, life that does not fade or faulter with the passage of time. Eternal Life that comes with the assurance of the One who is The Life. Life that persists in the face of struggle, that is not tainted by the harsher realities of this world nor tarnished in comparison to the best this world has to offer.
Life in Christ - made me stop and think this week. IF I have been made alive in Him, my hopes, my fears - my life - are all wrapped up in Him, under His sovereign care. It changes the whole perspective on what it means to live. It also changes the core 'what if...' to "IF I have been made alive in Christ..." what does it mean to live for Him in the midst of every circumstance of life. The answers come in terms of character rather than circumstances.
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Col 3.12-17
Praise be to the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit!
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
There are some people I've known since their time as students, witnessing them work out and live out a life following Jesus on campus, watching as they graduate and move into wider life and ministry. Dawn and Jonathan Clark are just two of them. Dawn and Jonathan Clark are but two. They both did Relay, romance blossomed, they moved on to jobs in teaching and local government and then joined UCCF staff, Jonathan as a Regional Staff Worker in Nottingham and Dawn as Relay Administrator, working alongside me for 3.5 excellent years. They then went into a phase of 'succession planning' and produced 3 lovely kids.
I love the Clarks for their open friendliness, their love of God's people but most of all their warm-hearted discipleship, following Jesus humbly and passionately. They headed off to Athens to work with the IFES movement there around the same sort of time that we were settling in here. Dawn and Jonathan escaped the heated indolence of Athens July & August and dropped into UCCF Forum, a GB national student leaders conference to talk of their work (and probably to do some sneeky seed sowing and hoping that others would hear the call to go to near and far for the sake of the gospel). Dawn writes powerfully about how God moved and how his people responded in their blog.
I read Dawn's thoughts and was provoked in a number of ways:
- It was at Forum in 1992 that I resolutely responded to a talk about world mission, I remember praying "Father, I will go to the ends of the earth, to wherever you send me". I think at the time I thought of valiant mission in dangerous territory, under a blazing African sun or an Amazonian jungle. I did not think of New Zealand and when, 13 years later, I arrived with wife and kids in tow did not imagine that this is what the 'ends of the earth' would look like but we are ever more confident that this is where God would have us.
- 10th December 1988 I was asked a question that still leaps up out at me. Working, in all places, at a Roman Catholic retreat centre, in a gap year between school and Uni, my supervisor in a meeting asked me if I was ready to suffer in the service of Christ. Truth was that I was still very young and immature in my faith, I'd been a Christian about 18 months and could hardly articulate it in that way. I knew that I was being challenged, not by my supervisor but by God. I said yes that day but knew it was not a valiant and brave thing - though I fought it in the months and years ahead (and fight it still today) I was confronted with the fact that to follow Christ leads through Gethsemene to the Cross and onto the Glory of Resurrection and Life. The verb 'to suffer' occurs more times in the New Testament than the Old, is often on the lips of Christ and is a repeated refrain in Paul, Peter, James and John's letters and the writer of Hebrews applies the verb to Jesus, to those in the Old Testament who waited for Christ's coming and to those who hope in Himsince the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Apparently at Forum this year John Piper spoke of the normalcy and essential relationship of gospel living and suffering. The students had already had a mild taster in that the site had been deluged and they were living, sleeping and meeting in mud up to their ankles. They responded to a call to live a gospel life, suffering as part of the package, and many responded.
- The last few months have brought home afresh that gospel living is not a remote from suffering. There are extraordinary tales to tell of protection, prevention and preservation in the midst of gospel living; I have one or two of my own to share. Normal Christian life, however, is not shielded from all kinds of suffering. Dawn and Jonathan Clark suffer more than the heat in Athens, friends in Turkey, the Middle East, in Muslim Africa and even here in Aotearoa/New Zealand are living lives of extraordinary grace and witness in the face of loss, hardship, isolation, loneliness, ridicule and sorrow. They make me proud to be a follower of Jesus, they make me want to follow him more closely and they encourage me to lift my eyes to a better place where there will be no more tears, death, loss or sorrow: with Christ, face to face, an eternity of joyful gain upon gain.
Curator: Latin for 'overseer' or 'guardian'. A specialist responsible for either a single exhibition or for an institution's collections and their cataloging.
Milo Monday: during term time, regardless of weather, a group of AUT CF students get to campus for 6.30 am. They set up a table, their CF banner, set plastic cups, and bring out two large pans. One heads off to a common room to fill the pan with boiling water and carry it back to the table. The water is mixed with Milo powder and condensed milk. Milo (very nice Milo at that) is made. At 7.00 am (ish) all is set up and ready to roll. For the next two hours students are offered a cup of Milo by blue t-shirted CF members. Some refuse the offer. Others hurredly take one, some stop, drink and chat. It isn't earthshattering in complexity. It is neither 'power' or 'proclaimation' evangelism. It is having a huge impact on campus though. Christians are making contact with CF through it. Non-Christians are expressing appreciation of it. CF has a good reputation with the powers that be because of it. CF members grow together in service, in community and in courage through it. God is honoured in it.