Tuesday, September 21, 2010

two sadnesses

Sometimes my heart is so cold and hard.

For example, last month when the TV News gave the first ten minutes to the story about the stranded whales in Northland, it barely moved me. In fact I was aghast that the story hogged so much headline time. I could argue that my heart was more inclined towards Pakistan (and it was) - but sometimes I would like to be able to summon more compassion for animals in distress (just as I wish some people would summon less compassion for them!).

However there are two related areas which stir my compassion.

One was brought to mind by a headline in the online BBC news service this morning. They are making an inventory of all known plants in the world. While the radical reduction in numbers of species is due more to the fact that many plants are currently named more than once, the story caused me to reflect on how I feel about species of plants becoming extinct. I feel sad about it. It is more than a failure in conservation - it is a failure to fulfill the divine mandate, given to us at the beginning, to steward the earth.

The other one is ever before me. In my first eighteen months in this job with Langham Preaching, I will be making five visits to Melanesia. China may well be home to 1/5 of the world's people, but Melanesia is home to 1/5 of the world's languages. That is a staggering statistic. God's commitment to peoples and to languages and to words is central to His purposes in the world. There is nothing He wants to say to a people that cannot be said in their own mother-tongue language - and He wants to be able to say it so desperately! And when the story of a language dying-out surfaces, something in me dies as well. "You mean there will be one less language heard in the chorus around the throne?" Yes - it is very sad. It also will be seen to be a failure, at the end. A failure to fulfill the divine mandate to reach the peoples of the world.

nice chatting


Friday, September 17, 2010

two resources

Over the years I have had my doubts about whether the Bible really has the sort of priority it needs to have in the life of the so-called "EPC" (evangelical-pentecostal-charismatic) churches of NZ. [NB - it probably says something that these groups have been clumped together like this!]

Ironically, it is these EPC churches which trumpet a commitment to the authority of Scripture, but if such a commitment was a crime and the prosecuting attorney was sent to investigate, the question must be asked - again and again - whether they would find enough evidence to bring a conviction? In personal life? Family life? Small group life? Local churches on a Sunday morning?

The Bible tends to be assumed, rather than articulated. A commitment to the Bible tends to be more theoretical, than it is practical. There tends to be talk about it - and not often a lot of action with it. Believe you me, the evidence can be gathered! In the Baptist circles with which I am most familiar, at times I have discerned among leaders a fear of making the Bible too important - as if elevating the Bible necessarily leads to diminishing Jesus, or some such logic.

And yet the situation is improving.

This evidence is there too. The success of the E100 Bible-reading project. The state of our theological colleges where biblical studies is being taken more seriously than ever. The interest in biblical preaching at the grassroots can be overwhelming at times. The re-emergence of groups like TSCF with their commitment to the Scriptures ... it is all very heartening.

Then this past month I stumbled across a couple of resources:

1. An article on the Bible by a Langham colleague, Mark Meynell, entitled "First Things First ... and Last" which has been published online here. It is just SO helpful. I am thinking of photocopying it for a discussion in our young adults home group. Mark is also a Senior Associate Minister at All Souls in London and keeps a remarkable blog going here.

2. The two volume daily devotional by DA Carson, entitled For the Love of God is available now on-line here. Carson makes his way through the Bible following the Robert Murray McCheyne plan which is about reading four chapters a day. On each day Carson selects just one of these passages and offers a page-long meditation. It is meaty (yes, sometimes I have reached for my dictionary) and provides a much more nourishing feed than many of the daily devotionals on offer today. One thing that is so helpful in the online version is that whenever there is a biblical reference mentioned, the full text comes onto the screen by hovering the mouse over the reference.

I commend both of these resources to you

nice chatting


Monday, September 13, 2010

two biographies

Two biographies are on my mind and in my heart.

I read the first one this past weekend. DA (Don) Carson's story of his Dad, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Crossway, 2008). The simple story of an ordinary man. As I read, I was reminded again of how God's ways are more deciduous than they are evergreen. The seasons are all there.

There is the springtime of God's call to be a missionary pastor in French-speaking Quebec. There is the long winter of years and years of "slogging perservance" (75) as a pastor in a tiny church in Drummondville with no apparent fruitfulness. The discouragement led to depression which contributed to resignation. No sooner had he moved to Ottawa then God decided to send summertime with the "wind of the Spirit blowing across French Canada" (116) - right through the areas and peoples where he had laboured for so long. 50 churches became 500 churches in a decade. But there was a summertime that came to Tom as well, freed to do the things he enjoyed alongside a senior pastor and able to be involved in projects like the translation of English TEE resources into French. And then there was autumn...caring so carefully for his wife Marg through Alzheimers' gradual decline and eventual death.

I remember Don's stories about his Dad from when I was his student. I started at Trinity in a Greek class under Don Carson in the very year (1981) which is described as a "great year" (119) in Tom's life as he knew God's singular, but brief, blessing on his ministry. I remember the moistened eyes. Tom Carson was 'an ordinary pastor', "perennially insecure" (117) with deep feelings of inferiority and failure and yet here we are, decades later, reading his story and being drawn closer to God as a result. Such are the ways of a sovereign and gracious who stands outside time and space and yet works in that time and space, beyond what we could ask or imagine, in and through the lives of those willing to trust and obey.

Pieces of the story will remain with me. In Tom's journal, as son Don headed to Cambridge for PhD study: "Oh God, may he walk with Thee" (104). Don's own reflections on "the chasms of discouragement" (91) through which so many pastors walk (on pp91-96) which brought to my mind some of my own dark days in Invercargill. The theological stalking by Carson senior of the emerging Carson junior with an article in Christianity Today by the latter attracting the hand-written comments in the margins by the former, "no sign of liberalism here" (123). The poignancy of reading that Tom died alone as Don, having just travelled across the timezones to be at his side, went home for a quick shower and a nap.

The second biography on my mind and in my heart is also simple and ordinary. It is the story of my Dad written by Mary Tallon, Surprised by Obedience: a biography of Raymond Windsor (Pause for Effect, 2010) for which we are having a Book Launch in Auckland on Saturday 2 October and it will be available here.

Actually I grew up realising that my Dad's life was no ordinary life. While in India I was aware of the scrapbooks back home in NZ containing his exploits as a concert pianist, a rugby player and a baritone singer. I could take you to the classroom in India where my History teacher surprised me by using my Dad as an illustration of a 'renaissance man'. Over the past 15 years I have had the privilege of preaching in about 110 Baptist churches in NZ and without exception (it is true - I have kept track of this!), at the conclusion of the service, someone has always come up to check out my pedigree and tell me a story about how my Dad has influenced their life. And now watching his health decline so steadily as Parkinson's exerts its spreading influence creates its own poignancy ...

I haven't held the finished book in my hands yet. And while it does not aim to be as polished a piece as the story of Tom Carson (nor likely to have the same readership!), I confess that the two stories stimulate the mind and soften the heart in similar ways - drawing from me the priority of "trust and obey, for there is no other way", knowing that one day God will open the way (and turn the seasons).

nice chatting


Monday, September 06, 2010

two earthquakes

There were two earthquakes in Canterbury last week.

One was the actual earthquake that has created such fear and anxiety throughout the region and headlines around the world. Every image and every sound-byte is still so compelling. The bill will press on beyond NZD2 billion. The great 'act of God' in this disaster is that no one seems to have died.

The other earthquake was the collapse of South Canterbury Finance, the largest finance company to collapse so far. The bail-out and guarantees from the government (and tax-payer) will also push on towards NZD2 billion. That is a sizeable amount for this small economy. Take the time to read Rod Oram's column in the Sunday Star Times yesterday to sense the scale of this disaster.

Of course the thing which fascinates about this second earthquake is that it involves the company founded by NZ's most prominent Christian philanthropist, Alan Hubbard - which provides no little energy to the column by Paul Holmes, arguably NZ's most celebrated journalist, as he lets loose in the Sunday Herald here. Scroll down to the second half of the article and feel the poison. Alan Hubbard has been the 'act of God' for many, many Christian organisations in New Zealand. Organisations known to us all have been propped up by his generosity. It is stated that he has given away NZD200 million. Now what happens?!

The after-effects with both these earthquakes are from over. But one thing is for sure - with both of them, this is a great time for the people of God to shine and to be the 'acts of God' for others ... while reflecting, with gratitude, that we live in a country where the financial cost of 2 billion TIMES 2 is pretty much covered and that the personal cost has not involved human death.

nice chatting