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"]