Tuesday, September 29, 2009

fifty not out

As a way of celebrating my fiftieth birthday I invited a bunch of friends to go with me on a pilgrimage to Marsden Cross in the Bay of Islands - the site of the first preaching of the gospel in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Along the way we stopped at various places where I told a little of my story decade-by-decade, as well as sharing a hymn and introducing friends from each decade.

It went a bit like this...

#1 - the decade of heritage and hunger
I now recognise that one of the ways in which God has poured his amazing grace on me was by placing me in a family with a long and strong Christian heritage. While I have had no dramatic conversion, I did kneel beside my hepatitus-ridden sister's bed in Chandigarh on 5 March 1967 and accept Jesus into my heart. I remember having a hunger for God from those early years. Nowhere was this more evident than in those evening services at Edgehill in Mussoorie where I used to love to select Keswick Hymnbook #213 at every opportunity.

Stay'd upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest;
Finding as he promised, perfect peace and rest.

[from "Like a River Glorious"]

#2 - the decade of choosing and calling
Delhi Bible Fellowship and Mt Albert Baptist Church became the contexts in which I grew as a Christian. Slowly I gained an appreciation that God had chosen me and therefore considered me to be choice. Looking back I recognise that I suppressed a call into 'the ministry' - opting for the family's default option of medicine. However, rather curiously. I failed to be accepted into Medical School. Within days of that failure I became convinced of God's call to be a pastor as I sat one Sunday night by the purple pillars in Mt Albert Baptist. A few months later - as the Russians were invading Afghanistan - I found myself listening to John Stott open up the early chapters of Romans and just knew that biblical exposition was the calling on my life.

O teach me, Lord, that I may teach the precious things Thou dost impart;
And wing my words that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart.

[from "Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak"]

#3 - the decade of foundations and fragility
I cannot imagine my life without the foundations provided by my theological education at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, my time as a pastor at Georgetown Baptist Church (Invercargill), and my marriage to Barby and the impact which she and our five children (Stephen, Alyssa, Martin, Bethany, and Joseph) have had on me. The love I had for them - but even more, the love they had for me! And yet during these very years I knew unimaginably dark times as I confronted my own emotional fragility, really for the first time. I knew depression and I certainly gained an empathy for those for whom suicide seems the best option. But I also began to learn that a secret of the Christian life was not the strength of my grip on God's hand, but the strength of His grip on mine.

Hold Thou my hand, the way is dark before me, without the sunlight of Thy face divine;
But when by faith I catch its radiant glory, what heights of joy, what rapturous songs are mine.

[from "Hold Thou My Hand"]

#4 - the decade of aspiration and acceptance
After thinking that I was called-for-life to be a pastor, that call lifted like a cloud as I approached my thirtieth birthday. Surprisingly, I started the decade not so much as a pastor, but as a lecturer (at Bible College of New Zealand). Aspiration as a lecturer was fanned into flame. I wanted to be the best I could be. These were the years where I discovered a parental-like love for students and a delight in watching their punga-like growth. I already miss them! Then even more surprisingly, I closed the decade not so much as a lecturer, but as a leader (as Principal at Carey Baptist College). On the basis of what?! Five years at little Georgetown was all that my CV contained. I remained a reluctant leader as it was an isolating thankless life, particularly in those middle years, for which I was unsuited. But still I gave myself fully to it and tried to be the best I could be as I accepted it as the call of God on my life.

O choose me in my golden time, in my dear joys have part;
For Thee the glory of my prime, the fullness of my heart!

[from "Lord, in the Fullness of My Might"]

#5 - the decade of hurt and hope
With that tsunami on that Boxing Day something broke inside me. A veil was lifted. I saw the world with new eyes. I began to feel its pain with fresh intensity. I wept uncontrollably, repeatedly. My children were getting to me. Alyssa worked in Kolkata's slums and came home and immediately put "compassion: to suffer with" on her wall. Stephen commenced research into Africa's darkest realities and eventually went off to Uganda to advocate for refugee children, among the most vulnerable people in our world. The Bible was getting to me. "From one man God created all the peoples of the world", implying they are all equal and all equally precious. The implication of the global village was getting to me. If we live in a global village then the global church is a village church where the poorest of the poor are my near neighbours. At the same time I was rediscovering the most overlooked truth in the Western church: the Christian hope. A day is coming when all wrongs will be righted and all rights will be vindicated - and that for all time. While we are scared of that day, the most vulnerable and the most oppressed in this world long for that day - and even sing about it, as did the Psalmist. I began begging God for a role even closer to this action. He has been gracious.

All men shall dwell in His marvelous light, races long severed His love shall unite.
Justice and truth from His sceptre shall spring, wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King.

[from "Sing We the King"]

nice chatting


Thursday, September 17, 2009

kampala and delhi

I am on my way home after a 'listening' visit with Langham, as distinct from the usual 'training' trip, to East Africa and North India. The idea is to absorb the conversations of key people and then to participate in decisions which can progress the work the next stage.

In East Africa, the Langham Preaching coordinators from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania gather amidst the occasional burst of gunfire as the second day of riots heat up. We evacuate our little hotel situated at the heart of the troubled area and gather at a (brother's) niece's place, overlooking the 15th green of the Kampala Golf Course. Not too shabby - and safe. Listening to Mercy (Kenya), Frank (Tanzania), Julius and Barbara (Uganda) for a day is a privilege.

But throughout my time in Kampala my heart keeps moving DOWN a generation... My son Stephen is working there. Within weeks of completing his BA/LLB(Hons) he is off on a plane to work as a volunteer in a Refugee Law Project for a year. His work revolves around gathering the stories of refugee-children in a way that builds his ability to advocate for them. My heart is full of admiration for what he is doing. After a full Mon-Fri in the office with refugees and people, he heads off on Saturdays to walk through the slum-y areas of Kampala to chat though a questionnaire he has devised for the children. I saw the pages and pages of handwritten notes from conversations with child after child, each one valued and respected. While his focus remains on the children, his Dad can't help notice the inadequate funding, the inadequate housing, and the inadequate social networks with which he lives - yes, it is hard to say good-bye.

In North India, fifteen leaders gather, amidst the incessant sound of car-horns, for two days of consultation about how to have Langham Preaching commence in the region. There are pastors and theological educators, student workers and doctors. We gather in a massive suburb called Noida (across the Jumuna River) which didn't exist when I lived in Delhi. Crossing the Jumuna, I am reminded again why the Commonwealth Games in 2010 will not include the triathalon. There is no large body of water in Delhi safe enough!

But throughout my time in Delhi my heart keeps moving UP a generation... My parents and my parents-in-law gave a combined total of 65 years to the church in North India. My in-laws finished up as Senior Pastor of Delhi Bible Fellowship (DBF). [NB - it was within that church community that I took early and decisive steps in my walk with God]. Thirty years later, on that first night, I find myself sitting across from Devendra and Robin, two of the pastors of DBF today. I hear them talk of Internship programmes and a School of Biblical Teaching which has an influence extending well beyond DBF. Dream come true stuff for the in-laws! I wish they could have been sitting where I sat.

My parents founded one of the earliest and most effective indigenous mission organisations that there is today anywhere: the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA). Forty years later I find myself sharing a room with Raju (on the far right above). Raju was an Indian neurologist in London doing very well for himself, thank-you very much. Then he heard God's call to an EHA hospital that was about to close. It had become so dysfunctional. He made his offer and laid down his conditions... Just six years later the impact of that hospital as the beach-head for work in community health, education, micro-enterprise, evangelism in a manner which is transforming an entire district is breathtaking. Dream come true stuff for my parents. I wish they could have been sitting where I sat.

I was left to enjoy it all vicariously...

nice chatting


Sunday, September 06, 2009

a bucket list (final)

[NB - I have added now the suggestions of readers to create my final ten selections]

I guess you know the movie The Bucket List. A couple of old guys make a list of things they'd love to do before they kick-the-bucket and off they go and do them.

I guess you've seen the big fat books at airport bookshops along the lines of One Hundred ... Before You Die. Movies to watch. Places to visit. Golf courses to play. That sort of thing.

I've been thinking about a bucket list: ten books of less-than-one-hundred-pages to read (and reread) before you die. But I am not quite there and need your help to finish the list...

Here are my 'first five' - I need you to suggest another five!

ONE John Stott, Your Mind Matters (IVP, 2007)

TWO Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: reflections on Christian leadership (Crossroad, 1989)

THREE Amy Carmichael, If (CLC Ministries, 1992)

FOUR John Baillie, The Diary of Private Prayer (Prentice Hall, 1996)

FIVE Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (SCM, 1954)

SIX A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Authentic Lifestyle, 2004)

SEVEN Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell (Eerdmans, 1991)

EIGHT Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (IVP, 1968)

NINE C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (Harper, 1946)

TEN Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Epworth, 1959)

(We'll remember the love for cricket and go for eleven...)

ELEVEN Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Eerdmans, 1999)

nice chatting


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

beattitudes unplugged

While on the subject of major influences in my life...

Dave and Angie Andrews (based now in Brisbane) came to live with us in New Delhi when I was barely a teenager. They view my parents as kinda like surrogate parents so I guess that makes them kinda like surrogate siblings - and they've been a big influence over the years.

They've launched a new project calling the church back to the Be-Attitudes in the Sermon on the Mount.

Here is a bit of a promo...

[NB: enter "Plan be: Blessed" into the youtube search engine and you can find the video on each beattitude]

Dave has sent the whole package across. Seriously - if you have any influence over decisions about resources being used in small groups in your orbit, I urge you to take a look at this option. There are full study-guides for each beattitude, supported by short readings from a book written by Dave as well as a DVD which contains street-chat with random people on the meaning of each beattitude. It all looks inexpensive (but professional) and accessible and interactive and practical ... not to mention prophetic!

[I am a bit out of the 'loop' now for resources like this, so apologies if everyone already knows about this one - and I am just a bit slow!]

nice chatting


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

scholar as pastor

It is the first of September. Spring has sprung. The daffs are up. The lambs are out. And the magazine for the alumni of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) arrived in the mail...

It is a particularly good issue. As I read it through I find myself saying to my daughter Bethany, "You know my three years at TEDS were the most important years of my life." It's true. It shaped me.

As I thumb through the pages I note a few familiar people - like my friend in those dorms, David Kyle Foster who went on to write the classic text on sexual brokenness and who came to TEDS from a bit of a career in Hollywood. Boy, was I a wide-eyed 21 year old when he told me that!

Then I see mention of the John Piper and DA Carson evening to a packed church of 1500+ people back in April - on the subject of "the pastor as scholar and the scholar as pastor" and a link on the web ...

... and I decided to treat myself for the latter part of the afternoon. I listened/watched Don Carson for 64min on the subject of "the scholar as pastor". Vintage D.A.C. The stimulation of mind and stirring of heart in that seamless way which so impacted me almost thirty years ago. Some of the same old stories recycled to good effect. I revelled in all the memories. I thanked the Lord for the privilege. Alongside John Stott, he is quite simply the biggest influence on my life. Easily misunderstood, he has always been for me the scholar-pastor about which he speaks in this talk.

I suspect the Q & A afterwards is also good - but I haven't got that far yet.

Go on - why not treat yourself as well?!

nice chatting