Monday, April 24, 2017

24 & 25

As a New Zealander, I will continue to remember ANZAC Day (25 April, tomorrow) each year - but as a Christian I have decided to remember the Armenian Genocide (24 April, today) as well. The latter started the night before the former in 1915. The former is about a slaughter of thousands of Aussies and Kiwis in fields and cliffs and trenches as they invaded a foreign country, while the latter is about the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians in fields and mountains and deserts as they were deported from their home country.

Adolf Hitler, as he gathered together his own genocidal aspirations, once asked, 'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' (see here). The rationale is easy to follow. If they didn't remember the Armenians, they won't remember the Jews. He was wrong about the Jews. They were remembered. He was right about the Armenians. They were forgotten.

Here is a map of the countries (in dark green, with light green signifying some sort of 'regional' recognition, whatever that means) that fully recognise the Armenian Genocide. Not so many of them...

I guess this map bears witness to the influence of Turkey in the world today. There are so many countries wanting to keep in good standing with them. Although I do expect far more from my own country, sitting there as a grey comma on the bottom-right corner of the global page. Shame on us!

Building up to this year's commemoration of the genocide, I read Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul. How good a writer is she? Just exquisite. It is a story with different layers to it.

Foodies will love the way each chapter is given a food title (Cinnamon, Garbanzo Beans, Dried Figs, Golden Raisins etc) - with that specific food mentioned in passing in the chapter, but then with these foods feeding into a recipe later in the book.

Another layer has to do with families, two of them - with the focus on a young woman from each one. The author lingers, again and again, in her descriptions of people: their appearance, their character, their secrets, their hopes etc. I felt myself drawn irresistibly into these two sad and dysfunctional family circles.

Another layer?! Well, you guessed it. One family is Armenian Christian and the other family is Turkish Muslim. The genocide is the backdrop to the way their lives become separated and then intertwined down the generations and across the oceans.
[NB: the plot shares a feature with the recent Broadchurch series - and so not for the faint-hearted].

This morning I woke to a link posted on facebook by a friend, with photos of the genocide (the map above is from this collection of photos). This is what prompted me to drop what I was doing and to write a quick post to highlight this day once again. Grainy. Black-and-white. Authentic. Take time over each photo, with the descriptions and the narrative. Don't rush it.

I know what I hope 2017 will include. This new movie on the Armenian Genocide, The Promise. The early reviews are not that convincing, but amidst my traveling (I don't expect it to be in Indian theatres) I hope I have the opportunity to see it.

nice chatting at the start of such a sad couple of days.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

a scribbled agenda

It took a little while for me to see it. But one quarter of the way through the 24 hour retreat, it dawned on me. The small gathering included a number of my inspirations down through the years. All in one room. About 15 people in total. A Murray here and a Merrilyn there. Two Ians on a couch. Kim in a chair. A Duncan in the sun. Peter in the corner. Mary in conversation. Sam in absentia (but his voice still heard). You get the idea. It was like a little slice of Hebrews 11 for me.

Much of the discussion focused around the decline of the church in New Zealand. Even though I live overseas (the only one in the group doing so), I find that my default setting is still the NZ context. As I travel, the conversations ignited in my mind and heart tend to be about the way forward back home. As I listened, I scribbled some rushed responses into the front pages of a book I was reading at the time. Here they are, ten of them:

1. Embrace a practical commitment to the authority of the Bible, not just a theoretical one.
How many people in our churches read their Bibles regularly? How many home groups go deep into the Word? How many sermons remain in the Bible for the duration of the sermon? One participant, in a recent calendar year, spent 44 Sundays in different Kiwi churches. Across the denominational spectrum. He needed his Bible on just 3 occasions. Far too often the Bible is being assumed rather than articulated. We become what we soak in. We are what we love. If we spend more time with Reality TV than with the Bible, then guess which one will influence us more?!

Back at Marsden Cross for the sixth time (but the first time in seven years)
- the site of the first preaching of the gospel in Aotearoa - New Zealand
2. Find aspiration in the far northwest, rather than just the far northeast. 
I understand the allure of the USA. They have the marketing power. They have the resource base that keeps their pastors and their publishers, their seminaries and their seminars in the headlines. But why look their way for help with mission when they are faltering so badly in mission themselves? We should be filling our imaginations with stories - and our hands with skills - drawn from places like Asia, rather than America. They know a fair bit about effective evangelism over there.

3. Exchange this tired obsession with relevance for something better: be intriguing
The impulse behind relevance is the desire to be present in the world, fitting in with it, flowing with its trends - and updating our approaches to suit these changes. It is the salt impulse and it is a good one. But it is not good enough. We've been duped for a generation. It is not working. We are also called to be light. Be distinctive with distinction. Be a contrast community. Draw a line in the sand (rather than rub it out). Stand out. Make it more obvious that we belong to Jesus. Risk being abused. Be attractive, not just incarnational. Lift curiosity. Intrigue. The numbers may go down - but the authentic mission will go up, in His way and in His time.

4. Find a wall and break it. See a border and cross it. Enter a conflict and pacify it.
There is nothing much miraculous in like-minded (or like-looking, like-earning, like-educated, like-aged etc etc) people hanging out together. There just isn't. That is a club. One of the ways the gospel makes its power known in a society is through stories of reconciliation and forgiveness. We need to hear God's personal call into unfamiliar settings that are unlike us and quietly be agents of reconciliation. Let's drench Aotearoa-New Zealand with these simple, little stories - and celebrate those committed to living such lives.

5. Rescue holiness from coming a distant third in the imaginary race within God's character.
Being motivated by the love and justice of God is great - but it is not enough. We need to soak in the fullness of who God is. How can we expect Him to be at work through us if we neglect to embrace all of who He is? It doesn't make sense. He is not a buffet from which we pick and choose. The holiness of God - and the holiness of his people - has fallen into a deep recession in our generation. [NB: this is partly why #3 is an issue]. This not as obvious in the majority world! Holiness is not less than ceasing from things like greed and lust and pride - but, oh, it is so much more. It is what enables God to come and live among us and in us, releasing his Holy Spirit to be at work through us as well.

6. Return Jesus to being Master and Lord, not just Friend and Saviour.
I've loved this feature in the vibrant form of Indian Christian spirituality. Hearing people pray, pouring out their longings to Jesus. Again and again it is 'Jesus, oh Master'. The default setting in their lives is that Jesus is someone who controls and directs their lives. They live for him. They are at his disposal. Eavesdrop on Kiwi Christian conversation, as I do when we come home, and what is heard? C'mon - be honest with me. That is not the instinct. We want Jesus to be at our disposal. Jesus is to live for us. It is the wrong way around. We much prefer Jesus to be our friend, rather than our master.

7. Step into the public world - with truth and grace - and feel the heat of suffering for Jesus.
The Christian life and witness needs to be lived publically, not privately. People around us should know we are Christians by the way we live and by what we say. Written into a similar context, 1 Peter makes it clear that suffering for Jesus' sake should not surprise us. It is the expectation for every believer. Plus it is as plain as the nose on our faces that there is some correlation between the presence of such suffering and the effectiveness of mission. Is this not evident in so many places around the majority world? Why the reluctance, if the way forward is so clear?

8. 'Building lifelong followers of Jesus' - yeah, I know this is true - but, wait, there's more, far more.
Yes, yet again, my concern is with something that is true, but not true enough. There is shrinkage here. Jesus is far more than a guru to follow. The 'following Jesus as a disciple' paradigm is big in the Gospels - but what is big in the Epistles? There we find what one scholar calls the most revolutionary truth in the New Testament. We are 'in Christ'. We are united to the founder of our faith. This needs far more reflection - and conviction. Living in India, the land of gurus, shows me how relevant Jesus-as-guru can be - but also how shallow and incomplete and insufficient it is.

9. Be patient
Do the right things in the right way - and then be patient. Wait. Hope. Pray. Persevere. These are the biblical mandates that come to the people of God during exile and during winter. It is tough in New Zealand, very tough. I am full of admiration for pastors and leaders who hang in there. The exile will end, the winter will end - but only under God's sovereign and providential direction and probably related to profound changes within a people of God content with starting small, going deep and persevering patiently.

I am mistaken. I thought there were ten scribbles written on the inside cover of Mark Labberton's Called. But I see it is only nine :).

nice chatting


Monday, April 17, 2017

all blacks' values: them & us

The other day I did something I don't often do. I purchased a rugby magazine. The cover had themes you might expect for a NZ rugby magazine: 'world domination ... secrets of the All Blacks' success ... why are the All Blacks so good?' But it was an article tucked inside the back cover that caught my eye (and warranted the purchase of the $9.90 magazine - GULP?!): It is titled 'A First XV of All Blacks Values: the qualities and skills that make the All Blacks the team they are'. Here they are:

Mental Resilience
Core Role
Continual Improvement

It is an impressive list of 'qualities and skills'. Who could possibly quibble with any of them?! But it got me thinking. In the exact way they are described for the All Blacks team, how many of these cross over into Christian teams?

Let's have some fun...

Sacrifice. This is about going without alcohol or friends in order to spend time in the gym getting fitter and faster. It is about sacrificing one part of life in order to make another part (the rugby part) better. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the sacrifice to make is not some part of me - but all of me - and it is not for the improvement of myself but for the service of others and of Jesus. 

Respect. This is about the legacy in which an All Black participates as they wear the jersey with the object being 'to hand it back with the legacy in better shape'. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams (with an eye on the pastoral epistles) the key legacy that is received is the gospel, with the focus being on stewarding it carefully and passing it on faithfully, in the same shape, rather than in better shape. 

Gratitude. This is about never stopping 'being grateful for the privilege' of spending time in the team - something for which they've worked hard and which they deserve. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams this gratitude is placed within a grace-framework and so to be on the team is 'a grace given' and something we do not deserve. That leads to a far deeper gratitude.

Acceptance. This is about being content with a role on the bench as a reserve and the disappointment that comes with not making the starting 'fifteen'. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. A willingness to serve in relative obscurity in supportive roles, away from the public performance, is a big part of contributing to effective teamwork.

Speed. This is about having speed across the ground, but also speed in getting off the ground, speed in seizing the gap (offensively), speed in closing the gap (defensively) - as well as speed 'in the mind, referring to attitude'. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams (with an eye on the parable of the soils) there is a recognition of the value of a slow patience and that the best fruit takes time to mature.

Trust. This is about the confidence placed in the game plan and in each other. 'Many times in the last five years it is trust in what they do that has enabled the ABs to win test matches late in the piece'. There is this self-belief. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the primary trust is neither in one's self or one's teammates - but in God. There is this confidence that He is in control and that He provides.

Mental Resilience. This is about the resolve that is needed to counter adversity when the team comes under pressure and the scrutiny is intense. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams, this is not merely something that is whipped up from within, it is something that grows as we reflect on what is beyond and what is certain and assured in our future.

Awareness. This is about how there is no 'off switch when behavioural expectations are lowered'. It is a 24/7 lifestyle filled with expectations. Failure can be fatal. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the pressure is there to live a consistent life, in private and in public 24/7, but to do so with the power supplied by the Spirit. Failure to do so has consequences, but it need not be fatal.

Open-mindedness. This is about the willingness to be flexible and to change. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams there is a time to be close-minded as well. There are convictions that hold us, that never let us go - and that we never ever change. As GK Chesterton expressed it, 'The object of opening the mind, like opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.'

Dedication. This is about 'a devotion to the mastery of basic skills'. There is always a need for more practice of the small skills. Success often comes through an attention to detail. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. The close attention to simple skills - like saying thank-you, or saying sorry, or listening to understand rather than to respond - is at the heart of it all.

Accountability. This is about 'the continual search for improvement' and so 'there is no hiding or glossing over mistakes'. They are corrected. And the leaders and best players feel the pressure - and are corrected - the most. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. There is a pursuit of excellence and it is the leader who sets the example, humbly acknowledging mistakes quickly when they are made.

Leadership. This is about how everyone in the All Blacks is a leader (as is explained so well in the biography of former All Black coach, Graham Henry). Each person takes responsibility for their own lives, leading it well. True. In Christian teams there is cross over here, as the leadership possibilities of each person in the team, not just some special elite, are drawn out and enhanced.

Honesty. This is about truthfulness in all aspects of training and performance. Things don't get brushed over or swept under the carpet (hmmmm, are these writers struggling to find 15 distinct values because haven't we been here before?!). True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. 'Integrity' might be the word used, with a reminder of the psalmist longing for 'truth in the inward parts'.

Core Role. This is about doing your job (which is kept minimal and simple) and trusting the players around you to do theirs. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. A team that functions like this evokes biblical images of a body, or a building, where everyone is indispensable and there is an interdependence, rather than an independence or dependence, in the way people work together.

Continual Improvement. This is about being better than your last performance and when that hunger is no longer there, it is time to quit. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams there will be a discomfort in talking like this adrift from the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives. The hunger never goes away. We never quit. The Spirit keeps identifying things to work on - and keeps giving the power to help us build holy habits in those very areas so that we can become increasingly Christ-like.

While all fifteen 'qualities and skills' sounded so good with that first reading, on reflection there is a need for a nuanced critique. In the exact way they are described for the All Blacks, there are some 'qualities and skills' that are true enough in Christian teams: (acceptance, dedication, accountability, leadership, honesty, and core role) ...

... while there are other 'qualities and skills' that are not true enough for Christian  teams and they need to be refocused, reframed and reoriented (sacrifice, respect, gratitude, speed, trust, mental resilience, awareness, open-mindedness, and continual improvement).

nice chatting


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

after saturday, comes sunday

"Are you saying that Assad is NOT the biggest problem in Syria?"

"Yes, I am."


So I took up her book and read. I'm still thinking about it! The book almost needs to carry a 'WARNING: READERS' ADVISORY'. It is not for the weak-minded (or the faint-hearted).

I heard Elizabeth Kendal speak at a conference in Melbourne over Christmas. Articulate. Informed. Passionate. Impressive. She is a 'religious liberty analyst and advocate' (

I can be consumed by this desperation to understand what is happening around the world, particularly with regards to my Christian sisters and brothers. When Elizabeth gave me a copy of her book, After Saturday Comes Sunday, with its subtitle, 'Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East', I thought to myself, "I'm in - I am going to make time for this book." Within a few paragraphs her intent is made clear: 'eliminating the ignorance, unraveling the confusion, and dispelling the hopelessness' (xv). I stuck with her the whole way.

The title comes from an old Arabic war cry. 'As sure as Saturday (the day of Jewish worship) is followed by Sunday (the day of Christian worship), first we'll kill the Jews, then we'll kill the Christians' (1). Chapter 1 shows how this is exactly what has happened in the original heartland of Christianity (Iraq & Syria).

What did I find helpful?

1. Kendal gives me a different perspective. I love pushing myself to see things from a different angle. Take the All Blacks. I prefer to read the British and Australian press, rather than the jingoistic, sycophantic NZ press! Take the Arab Spring. The Western narrative is one where the masses rise up in popular revolutions desiring Western-style democracies. 'This narrative is complete and utter rubbish' (108) - and Kendal demonstrates why this is the case. The West is overwhelmed by a naivete and 'what they failed to appreciate was that who falls was far less important than who rises' (117). In reality, the Arab Spring has nothing to do with democracy. Long before 'post-truth' ever emerged, I had become deeply cynical about perspectives streaming from places like the media and the university. Kendal has done nothing to ease my troubled soul.

2. Kendal sides with the church. God knows that nobody else is doing so... Kendal is all about standing in solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. That is what drives this book. This is the priority for me and it should be the priority for the global church. Doing whatever it takes to keep oil pipelines flowing should not be a factor for us. 'The Christians of the Middle East need all the help they can get' (xv). Christians here are 'in an existential struggle for their very survival as a people in their own historic homeland' (124). It is a genocide that is going on. 'Christians are being targeted, and not merely for persecution, subjugation, and exploitation - but for elimination!' (213). As one Patriarch in the church expresses it, 'the Western world is not only indifferent, it is an accomplice' (211). The sense of betrayal felt by Christians in the Middle East as they look towards countries like the USA that they would expect to be supportive of their cause is shamefully sobering.

3. Kendal has done her homework. Not since Philip Jenkins' have I read someone who offers so much in helping me find a pathway through the complexities of this context. Forgive me for an extended quotation, but here is an example of what I mean:
A century of Western hegemony has come to an end, and the West, having overturned the balance-of-power dynamic that existed through much of the twentieth century, is now in the process of departing the arena. It leaves behind a complex and multi-layered struggle through which regional forces are staking their claims, securing their interests and advancing their agendas. 
One layer of this struggle involves the region's three imperialistic powers which are competing for territory and influence: ascendant Iran versus the Arabs (led by Saudi Arabia) versus neo-Ottoman Turkey. 
Another layer involves the seemingly eternal struggle between the region's two Islamic sects: the Sunnis versus the Shi'ites. 
Yet another layer involves the region's two political axes: the east-west, Iran-led, Shi'ite-dominated Shia Axis or Axis of Resistance (comprising Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus, along with Lebanon's Hezbollah and other "resistance" groups such as Hamas) versus the north-south, Turkey-Arab-Sunni Axis (which itself is split between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood factions). The fact that Russia backs Damascus while the US backs its Sunni allies merely adds fuel to the fire. 
Rising up like a mushroom cloud in the midst of the chaos - indeed, exploiting and feeding on the chaos to advance its own ends (as is its modus operandi) - is the global movement of transnational jihadism. This movement - which is committed to establishing a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East from where it will wage jihad against the West - has now split into two mutually hostile factions: the pragmatic, pro-resistance al-Qaeda versus the inflexible, anti-Shi'ite IS. While the transnational jihadist element adds another layer to the conflict, it also transcends it while infecting every other layer (19).
There you have it. How helpful are those five paragraphs?! But there is so much more to help me understand. The Sunni:Shia divide makes my head hurt - and Kendal helps me out. Anyone else get annoyed with how Western education thinks that the history of the Middle East started with the Crusades? Quoting historian Thomas Madden (and countering the Robin Hood narrative, while still making Jesus wince, I'm sure):
The Crusades were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense (45).
For me the most riveting part of the book was the story which she places alongside the successful Iranian (Shi'ite) revolution in 1979. The siege of Mecca (68-78), a failed Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia. It happened at the same time. Where is the movie?! Some Islamic clerics end up snookering the king and the House of Saud and secure from him 'an unlimited flow of Saudi petro-dollars with which to spread intolerant, pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian, Wahhabi Islam right across the globe' (77) ... all the time being protected by 'a US security umbrella' (80). Go figure.

[NB: I'll never forget driving to Phoenix airport with an Arab friend and an Iranian taxi-driver. I didn't understand a word of their extended and animated conversation ... but then, after awhile my friend turns to me with a pithy summary of their chat, "He is saying that Saudi is the mother of all the problems in the Middle East" - to which my friend then adds, "and the father, too"].

Yes, the US (and the EU, the UK, the UN - and U and I, too) don't look so good in this book. How is it that they can be such tight allies with the very country that sponsors jihadism? Duh?! Isn't it obvious? Oil. Economy. The days of seeing any enemy of the Soviet Union as their friend may be over - but what about the lessons learned from the alarming number of those friends who then became enemies?! Hmmm. At one point Kendal compares the speeches at the UN from Obama and Putin in September 2015:
Obama sang the the Turkey-Arab song, insisting that the Syrian government is the problem ... (a song that) is nothing but propaganda designed to hide geopolitical ambitions behind a veneer of humanitarianism ... Obama must be condemned for his selective indignation (220) [ie where is his condemnation of Saudi Arabia?!]. Putin's response was 'a superb and rational rebuttal' (221) - and she quotes a lot of it. 
4. Kendal takes me to Syria. Before you join the chorus of support for bombing in retaliation for use of chemical warfare that kills babies, you really should read 'Myth Busting the Syrian Crisis' (123-142) and weigh her argument carefully. I don't know if she has it exactly right, but she has my attention. She makes sense. She lists some of the 'myths' around which the Western narrative about Syria is built:

(a) Assad has limited support.
(b) Syria is isolated.
(c) The Syrian crisis is driven by an evil murderous regime that is murdering its own people and is guilty of crimes against humanity.
(d) The support given by America, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to those opposing Assad is driven by humanitarianism and a devotion to human rights.

She disagrees with each one of these assertions. That takes some doing! For her the desire for regime change has little to do with human rights or pictures of babies dying from chemical weapons. Rather it is all about the battle for regional power and it is a battle for control over oil/energy supply lines.

In gathering her argument, Kendal introduces the reader to 'asymmetric warfare' (130-136). This is warfare between unequal forces - one weak, one strong - but warfare in which the weak prevails over the strong. This is the war that terrorists wage, for example. They use different strategies to do so. One is the use of psyops, or, 'psychological operations'. Be it the way language is used (for example, whether you use the word 'regime' or 'government' makes a big difference) and propaganda. Another is the use of human shields (for example, jihadists establishing their bases next to hospitals and kindergartens). Then there is the use of 'false flags' (wearing your enemy's uniform, for example).
While powers weak and strong have learned to play this game, it seems the masses are yet to catch on ... Like the public in general, most journalists are appallingly ignorant of history, religion and how asymmetric warfare works. This needs to change. Instead of just parroting and amplifying propaganda - be it acquired from shady 'local sources' or an official press conference, journalists must be independent thinkers, discerning investigators, and truth seekers. They must double and triple check their 'facts', to ensure that they and the public to whom they report are not being duped, manipulated and exploited (136).
5. Kendal offers some practical steps. [Mind you, providing new understanding is immensely practical in and of itself]. A couple of Appendices - on Christian Solidarity and on being God's Human Instruments - are useful. I am going to read her Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin regularly (

Even as a timid chap, I am going to keep asking God for the courage to travel to difficult countries and offer the simple solidarity of friendship to those I encounter. This Easter especially I am going to have Kendal's words in my heart - 'Just as the deadly cross of Friday extinguished life, the deathly silence of Saturday devoured hope (228) - and then rejoice in the Resurrection we associate with Sunday and deepen the intensity of my longing for The Day and what it will mean for Christians in the Middle East.

I am going to watch this video a few times and remind myself of true truth (by the way, a great Schaeffer phrase that needs to be resurrected amidst all this post-truth talk):

6. Kendal leaves me with an image. I love images. We should all know by now that the 'blood of martyrs is the seed of the church' is a bit of nonsense because in most situations 'the blood of martyrs simply sank into the sands' (237). Kendal loves her garden and writes of the value of 'blood and bone' (fertilizer). Keep scattering the seed of the gospel and then it is the blood of martyrs, together with 'the sweat of labourers and the tears of intercessors working (together) like irrigation' (237) that helps prepare the soil for that seed.
What we need is more sweat and more tears: more sacrificial giving. more intelligent strategic advocacy, more passionate intercessory prayer, and, of course, more urgent and intentional scattering of the seed (237-238).
I am not enough of an expert to know if everything Elizabeth Kendal writes is accurate. My hunch is that she is mostly right. My conviction is that my engagement with the Middle East will never be the same again. Thank-you.

nice chatting


PS. Word is that the book can be a bit expensive online ... it is available from MECO in Australia for AUD30 + postage. Write to to order a copy...

Sunday, April 02, 2017

remembering okta

With my peripatetic lifestyle, there is a singular joy attached to landing in Auckland. I am home again. Children (and grandchildren) are not far away. Earlier this morning there was the added anticipation that a quick 'de-planing' and passage through immigration created the possibility of seeing my daughter (Lys) and her daughter (Lucia) before they flew south to Palmerston North.

It was not to be. We missed them by a few minutes. But that anticipated joy had already been eclipsed by sadness. As we taxi-ed on the runway I received a message that Okta, my friend and Langham colleague in Indonesia, had died suddenly in Lampung (Sumatra).

Okta at Taman Safari
As soon as I unpacked I was trawling my computer for photos. Two memories of Okta came into focus. One was the trip to the Taman Safari, further up the hill from Bogor in Indonesia. What a fun day it was. A little snake-whispering - and then a photo of the two of us that I will now cherish for forever.

By 2015 Okta had become a key member of our Indonesian team. At our first global forum in Turkey we had a representative from Indonesia on the list, but a special request came to add Okta as well. We agreed - and how good a decision did that prove to be?! Okta lit up the occasion with his warmth, his enthusiasm and his personality - as these photos demonstrate. What memories he created for all of us.

Okta conquers Turkey
Okta conquers us
Okta loved having us all display the 'L for Langham'
Okta's commitment to the Langham Preaching ministry was remarkable. Over the years, he scaled down his work as a veterinarian and began working with Langham full-time as a volunteer. In fact just last week he finished up in the office in order to dedicate his time to training and encouraging 'preaching clubs'. Okta was a single man - but with parents and siblings still alive and so please keep them in your prayers.

I love how Dr Dwi Handayani (another member of the team in Indonesia) expresses it: "The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope that we will meet you again Pak Okta Rumpak."

not-so-nice chatting this time


Sunday, March 12, 2017

you are what you love

This book shifted me. Maybe I should say that in theory, it is shifting me - but whether anything happens in practice, time will tell. Lets start with a few appetizers:

'We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires' (11).

'You are what you love because you live toward what you want' (13).

'Our primary orientation to the world is visceral, not cerebral' (33).

James K. A. Smith's You Are What You Love is very Pauline (Phil 1.9-11): 'It is not that I know in order to love, but rather: I love in order to know ... The place to start is by attending to our loves' (7).

Here are some of the shifts for me...
1. At a personal level, I need to recalibrate the way I see my journey into holiness. It is not just mustering up disciplines, it is about orienting my loves and wants, aiming them at God. 'Our sanctification is more like a Weight Watchers program than listening to a book on a tape. If sanctification is tantamount to closing the gap between what I know and what I do, it means changing what I want' (65).

As I am writing this post, I have one eye, and a lot emotion and imagination, attuned to cricinfo as I track with Kane Williamson towards another Test century. To be honest, I am being a bit obsessive about it. It is too big 'a want'. A relatively innocuous desire like this can do its damage. 'If love is both habit and hunger, then our tastes and cravings for what's ultimate will be changed in the same way' (64) - by feeding hungers and nurturing habits. 'Not all sins are decisions' (54):
... our sins aren't just discrete, wrong actions and bad decisions; they reflect vices. And overcoming them requires more than just knowledge; it requires rehabituation, a re-formation of our loves (54).
2. I need to change the way I understand (and teach) 'worldview'. Some years ago I noted the change between the first (1988) and second (2004) editions of James Sire's landmark The Universe Next Door in which he moves from a solely intellectual description of 'worldview' to one that is more inclusive of the affections. Smith is moving along this same trajectory. If we think human beings are 'brains-on-a-stick', then we will fail to see surrounding cultural practices as liturgies, 'as habit-forming, love-shaping rituals that get hold of our hearts and aim our loves' (38). These cultural liturgies are 'rival modes of worship .... that affectively and viscerally train our desires' (23, 32). Worldview is a matter of the affections and the imagination, not just the intellect. Pastors need 'to be ethnographers, helping their congregations name and 'exegete' their local liturgies' (54).

This is a poem that is quoted twice in the book (11, 91)
The case study Smith uses as an illustration must be one of the most discussed aspects of the book. It is brilliant. He takes the reader to the shopping mall and the way consumerism acts as a 'cultural liturgy' that takes over our hearts, shapes our behaviour and stains the way we encounter God (40-55). He considers the 'shopping mall through a liturgical lens' (55) and asks, in this experience, 'What are the things you do that do something to you?' - because 'the mall is 'a formative space, covertly shaping our loves and longings' (55). A bit like Calvin who spoke of our hearts as 'idol factories'...
[NB: the author speaks about consumerism here:].

This took me back thirty years. Fresh out of seminary and heading off to be a pastor and my father said something to me which struck me as odd at the time: 'Don't forget to engage with peoples' feelings because that is what drives their behaviour - not so much their thoughts.' I think he was right.

[A similar case study could be built around the immersion by a generation of Christian young adults in Friends, followed by Big Bang Theory. Twenty years of soaking it up. These cultural liturgies have so formed their loves and habits regarding relationships and sexuality that the counter-liturgy in the Story comes across to them as implausible and impossible. It is very, very sad. We are what we soak in...].

3. At one point Smith asks, 'What if education weren't first and foremost about what we know but about what we love?' (155). Now, that would cause a shift! He talks about shaping students in the same way as we shape our children: 'the faculty in loco parentis ('in place of parents')' (158). Just as the pastor's love is the same brand of love as the parent (1 Thess 2), maybe so also the teacher's love? By the end of a course I often feel that way... He talks about the spiritual practices which faculty can embrace (and shouldn't we add administrative staff as well?) in order to cultivate this direction. A bit of Bonhoeffer's Life Together surfaces. But maybe unlike it is with children, do we need to rethink the place of compulsion in the formation of students? I remained unconvinced about the value of making things compulsory with adult learners... In a lovely touch, Smith writes about the transformative impact on a class that buying a coffee-maker had, of arriving early to welcome his class with freshly brewed coffee - as 'a kind of incense for early-morning learning' (163).

4. There is one area where I find the author encourages me not to shift. This obsession we have with 'remaking the church in order to 'speak to' contemporary culture' (75). It is misguided. Later, 'we cannot hope to restore the world if we are constantly reinventing the church' (178). Such people think that it is the church's out-of-dateness that is its biggest problem. Smith sees it differently. In fact he is quite subversive. 'In order to foster a Christian imagination we don't need to invent; we need to remember' (181). It is an immersion in the Story that is needed, not an immersion in the latest trends. We are restored by being 're-storied'. Using the earlier example, rather than making church more like a mall in order to fit into the cultural flow (because if we do this, this does something to us!), we need to invest in the 'counter-liturgies'. It is going against the cultural flow, in an intriguing way, that is the key.

This approach is then taken to four combustible areas: worship, youth ministry, weddings and the home.

With worship (57-81), Smith advocates a move away from it being solely an expressive activity, something we are doing, and on towards it becoming more of a formative activity, something that is being done to us. 'Worship is not primarily a venue for innovative creativity but a place for discerning reception and faithful repetition' (78). In the following chapter (83-110) he gives some ideas on how this can be done - and even offers advice on how to persist in a church context where this is not happening (99-103). He makes a special plea for including confession in worship (103-110). Stop being so fussed about what might appear to be irrelevant or too churchy for the possible unbeliever in your midst and get on with being faithful to biblical worship. How can we expect God to be at work among us if we are not worshipping as he us wants to do? My money is on the unbeliever being drawn closer by watching authentic confession more often than we think - and, if not, that is no reason to stop doing confession.
[NB: the author speaks about worship here:].

With youth ministry (143-154), Smith reminds us that 'effective Christian formation of young people might look like a failure for a time' (146). How true. The lack of patience and the need for measurements of (numerical) success plagues youth ministry. 'We have effectively communicated to young people that sincerely following Jesus is synonymous with being 'fired up' for Jesus, with being excited for Jesus, as if discipleship were synonymous with fostering an exuberant, perky, cheerful disposition...' (146-147). Subversively, he makes a case for the love of tradition among young people and that instead of looking for the next big thing in youth ministry, 'we should be looking behind us' (151) - way behind us because 'the future of the church is ancient' (7).
[NB: the author speaks on youth ministry here:].

With weddings (118-126), Smith worries about the liturgies of narcissism that afflict the event. The 'spectacle of the wedding' is the focus: 'It is why we spend more time fixated on the spectacular flash of the wedding event than on the long slog of sustaining a marriage' (120). I've become disillusioned by Christian wedding ceremonies. Basically, I won't take them anymore ... unless there is a commitment to them being both a serious sacrament and the launch of a missional partnership.

With the home (126-136), these are my favourite pages. Smith ain't gonna buy any 'idolatry of family' ideas. He actually prefers the word 'household' ... 'because I don't want to fall into a narrow picture that assumes we are all parents. God calls some of us to singleness (1 Cor 7.8), and not all of us live in parent-child homes' (203). Good man. I love the way he calls us 'to situate our households in the wider household of God' (133). Amen to that one. We should be concerned about
the ethos of our households - the unspoken 'vibe' carried in our daily rituals. Every household has a 'hum', and that hum has a tune that is attuned to some end, some telos. We need to tune our homes, and thus our hearts, to sing his grace (127).
Smith includes some moving stories from his own household. For example: (1) On the 'formative power of the family supper table', I've read the story on pages 132-133 aloud a few times and wept every time; and (2) On the value of family traditions and memory-making, I love the story about taking his kids to a cathedral in France (150-151).
[NB: the author speaks about life in the household here:].

James K. A. Smith is a relatively new discovery for me as an author. Slowly, I plan to make my way through his books, with one other reviewed here. I like to read by author, rather than by topic - and slowly expand my list of favourites authors and read what they write. This guy is on that list.

BTW, he has a delightful eye for illustrations. Very much the principle I teach - that the best illustrations are about seeing the spiritually significant in the utterly ordinary. CS Lewis in Mere Christianity reigns supreme on this one. But likening the Augustinian quote about 'hearts being restless' with a beachball in a pool is seriously impressive (14). So also is the way a visit to a grocery store leads to a recognition that we don't 'think our way to new tastes' (59-64). I love the way he lingers with Balthasar's observation of the similarities between the way a mother is with a baby and the way God is with us (111-113).

nice chatting


PS: two (less than) 2 minute videos - and there are a set of ten on youtube...

Friday, March 03, 2017

ahh, the elderly

The other day I sat behind an older man clutching his ear with his hand during the singing. I picked what was going on. The music was too loud, but he desperately wanted to remain among the worshipping people of God. He wasn't making a fuss, and clutching his ear seemed to be his best option. As for me and my house (which is just Barby and I, to be fair), I think it is a poor option. A shameful option.

It is great to see emphasis given to youth and childrens' ministries...
BUT if we are going to build this around the compelling 'the youth and children are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today' statement - why are we not also affirming that 'the elderly are not the church of yesterday, they are the church of today'? Why is this not equally compelling? The logic is the same. You could even argue that the case for the elderly is even more compelling, given that, on average, they are closer to meeting their Maker than the children and youth. And eternity matters - right?!

It is great to see initiatives among people with disabilities...

Long overdue. Here in Bangalore, you can't walk far from here before you find such ministries, mostly gospel-inspired. I delight in the smile of one of the gardeners here - so uneven and limited in his walk with his disability, but welcomed and valued in this community. On our evening walks, we pass his little home - and the sunshine in his smile and the width in his wave makes my day. BUT if we are offering employment and building ramps and including sign language, why are we not also turning down the music just a bit for the elderly? Is that much lost by doing so? Is this not a legitimate disability as well?

In recent days, my heart has been inclined again towards the elderly for three reasons.
A Movie. An Exercise. A Passage.

a movie
Every now and then a movie tugs at my heart and I watch it again and again. We Bought a Zoo has been one example. I love it. I just do. And now a new one is eclipsing itHave you seen The InternRobert de Niro has recently retired (hardly elderly, I realise - but stick with me) and lost his wife. He joins a trendy, booming entrepreneurial on-line sales company as an intern, as part of a scheme pitched at retirees. He is so untrendy, starting with turning up to work in a jacket and tie - and all things technological are foreign to him. Now this is Hollywood and so not everything in the movie is praiseworthy ... but because of his servant-heart, his character, his wisdom, and his caring for people of all ages he has a transformative influence on the company. A company that is obsessive about relevance and success is subverted and improved by an odd, but intriguing, person in their midst. Methinks it is a great case study for a church leaders' retreat...

an exercise
A Langham friend of mine in Australia (Jill McGilvray) is a counsellor and does some teaching as well. I was captivated by an exercise which she does with pastors-in-training. She gives five post-it notes, from three different colours, to each student. On the five green post-its they write five things they are glad they own. On the pink ones they write five activities they enjoy doing. On the yellow ones they write five people that they love. Easy-peasy.

Then she gives her talk on ministry to seniors. Off she goes - but she has an alarm on her phone to go off every few minutes. When it does, each student picks a post-it, screws it up, and throws it to one side. This is the pain of growing old. It is the gradual sense of loss that fills every direction in which they look and live. Things and activities and people. Jill lives in this loss a bit, helping pastors-in-training feel the pain. Then they are asked to go and pick up each post-it, unscrewing them one at a time, and becoming more thankful that the things and the activities and the people that they love and enjoy are still with them.

a chaarpai
a passage
Next week I'm doing a series through Ecclesiastes for the first time in two decades. It is the first book of the Bible that I loved, as a preacher. I wrote about this recently. While it is an odd and difficult book, it is an honest one. I imagine the author as an elderly person. In NZ settings I refer to him as a kaumatua (a Maori elder). At other times he has been a grandfatherly sage. Next week, after tossing lots of ideas around with those who know far more than me, I have settled on him being a guru on his chaarpai as achhe din comes to an end. [NB: achhe din - literally, the 'good days', is a phrase used widely in India's public life]. While the scholars differ on this one (don't they always with Ecclesiastes?!), many feel that the emotional centre of the book is 12.1-7 where guruji takes us on a tour of his body as it declines into death. By this time he is pleading with his disciples to 'Remember their Creator' before the achhe din pass and the 'days of trouble' come. Eugene Peterson is so good in capturing this emotion:
1-2 Honor and enjoy your Creator while you’re still young,
Before the years take their toll and your vigor wanes,
Before your vision dims and the world blurs
And the winter years keep you close to the fire.
3-5 In old age, your body no longer serves you so well.
Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen.
The shades are pulled down on the world.
You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt.
The hum of the household fades away.
You are wakened now by bird-song.
Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past.
Even a stroll down the road has its terrors.
Your hair turns apple-blossom white,
Adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body.
Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest,
While your friends make plans for your funeral.
6-7 Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.
To be honest, one more thing is on my mind.
Movie, Exercise, Passage - but also, today...

A person
As I write, at this very moment, one of my very favourite people among the elderly is moving home. She knows Ecclesiastes 12.1-7 from the inside, with all its pain and frustration - and losses. I have so much else I should be doing, but I wanted to write this post on this day, as a tribute to all that she and Uncle Brian have meant to me over the years. Love you so much, Auntie Audrey. God is with you.

nice chatting


Thursday, February 23, 2017

basis and focus

There are two divisions about which the preacher must be wary.

One is dividing Spirit from Word. 'In biblical thought the Spirit of God is as closely connected to the Word of God as breath is connected to speech' (John Woodhouse). They belong together. Don't elevate one above the other. God's speech cannot be separated from God's breath - much like the case is for us.

The other is dividing the Christ from the Bible. Knowing them as Written Word and Living Word suggests something - surely?! They belong together. And yet I've worked in settings were there is a palpable fear that the consequence of honouring the Bible is the diminishing of Christ. No. It ain't necessarily so. It is possible for the Bible to be the basis and Jesus to be the focus of our lives and ministries.

My Langham colleague, Stephen Williams, recently visited Wittenberg in Germany. During a skype last night he mentioned to me a painting by Lucas Cranach in a church in Wittenberg. All he said to me was: 'Luther has one hand on the Bible, the other hand is pointing to Christ - with all the congregation looking at Christ and not at Luther'. Ahh - perfect. As soon as the skype was finished, it was off to google to find this painting. Here it is:

I did a bit more research and found that the painting is part of what is called the Reformation Altar (see below). It is a way of describing the church visually. The three paintings across the top are the three sacraments, widely accepted in the Protestant church: baptism, eucharist, confession. Underneath this threesome lives our painting, depicting a kind of foundation for the church - the crucified Christ as revealed in the written Word.

nice chatting


PS: Stephen wrote to me to ask whether I had seen "the little girl - possibly Luther's daughter - who is the only one not looking at Christ. She is looking out at us and inviting us into the painting, as if to say - 'this is for you, too.'" No, I hadn't noticed - and that is very, very cool. Love it. Can't get enough of it. An evangelistic painting.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

shedding light, opening windows

It is becoming one of my favourite teaching sessions. The goal is to shed light on a critical word in the character of a preacher and then to open a window on the places in the preaching ministry where this word has relevance.

We start by splitting people into pairs. "I am going to put a single word on the whiteboard and in your pairs I'd like you to agree on another single word that describes its meaning for you. OK?!" This past Thursday I had the mother of all whiteboards with which to work. It covered an entire wall. Pedagogical heaven.

Up goes the word: integrity

After their discussions, each pair is invited to write their word nearby to 'integrity' on the whiteboard. Always, always, always - the range of words is fascinating. Rarely is their much repetition. 'Integrity' has so many layers and nuances. The semantic range is wide. The connotations are endless. Each pair speaks to their word - and the conversation gets started, as we listen and learn from each other.

What I didn't say is that I ensure that each pair shares the same mother tongue, or heart language. In this country there are plenty of languages from which to choose! So the next thing I ask them to do is to agree on the word in their language that best describes integrity. Up on the board it goes - again, nearby to 'integrity'. People love their own heart language. It is fun to hear the settings in which this word is used by their people. Through all of this interaction, light is shed on the meaning of integrity.

Having shed light on what the word 'integrity' means, the windows are opened on the preaching ministry itself. Where is integrity a challenge for the preacher? "Come up with your three most important reflections. OK?!" After some discussion in their pairs, they are invited to write one of their reflections on the whiteboard. But there is a catch. If their idea is already up there before they get there, they have to select a different reflection from their list. In this way everything written on the board - on the far left above, where the windows can be seen - affirms something different about the challenge of integrity in preaching.

Then I like to turn to the Bible for a few minutes (although I forgot to do this on Thursday - gulp?!). "What are the words in the Bible which convey the idea of 'integrity'?" This week they embark on an assignment where they are to find 'logos-pathos-ethos' in the Pastoral Epistles. Methinks they'll have a few words by the end of this exercise. 'Blameless' will emerge, I'm sure. It always does. Another exercise is to have each pair agree on one person in the Bible known for their integrity and one person known for their lack of integrity. Get the names up on the board and draw out of the class the reason why this is the case...

After all the discussion, it is great to return to the pairs and have them share with each other where a specific challenge with integrity lies for them - and have them pray for each other, in their heart language!

... and then, finally, we get to the written notes I've prepared :).

nice chatting


PS 1: I had decided to write a post on this exercise, but when I discovered that the photos had light being shed and windows being opened, there was no holding me back.

PS 2: My focus here is on preacher training - but the same exercise could be done with leadership training.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

house and home

This morning it was off to offer a prayer of blessing for the house of some close friends that is taking shape. On the rural fringe of Bangalore. I loved it. As a boy, in both rural and urban settings in North India, I enjoyed being absorbed into scenes just like this one. The memories flooded back. The bricks. The plumblines. The little cement mixed into the lots of sand. The skills. The women hard at work, with the someone in charge watching - and sitting! Nothing much has changed in 40 years.

We waited for the doorway to arrive, as this was deemed to be the opportune time for a prayer. It was put into its place. I shared a few words about what it takes to turn a house into a home, a financial asset into a ministry base. I urged our friends to step through that doorway and reflect on how their home can become:

a place of refuge, offering a haven to the troubled and the abused.
a place of welcome, enabling the outsider to become an insider.
a place of belonging, stewarding a space that builds an identity and leaves a legacy.
a place of rest, calming the stressed and energising the weary.
a place of worship, liberating the believers to pray and praise.

May this be true about your home as well!

nice chatting


Sunday, February 12, 2017

lyrics for living 12 (fulness of my might)

It is early Sunday morning, my preferred time to write a blog. For me this task is in every sense a sabbatical activity, recreative and restorative. This morning I am feeling overwhelmed by nostalgia. Later today I will be back preaching from Ecclesiastes...

In many ways Ecclesiastes is where it all started. It is the first book of the Bible I loved, as an expositor. That first series, almost thirty years ago, is still with me: The Memoirs of a Grandfatherly Sage. Truth be told, the guy is writing his own blog in these twelve chapters. He would ease so easily into our fake news, alternative-facts, post-truth discussions today.

Then came the invitation to speak at a TSCF/IFES Student conference, exactly twenty years ago (1997): Swoosh Spirituality: Ecclesiastes Confronts the Nike Generation. Here dawned my first love as a preacher. Opening the Word and opening the World in the course of the same sermon (series). Biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis. The Stottian 'between two worlds' and 'double listening'. I remember spending so much time exegeting Nike, so that I could patiently tell its story alongside the Ecclesiastes one, but with God's Word having the final say. My conclusion? Pretty much as this picture, which we created for the series, suggests...

On another occasion I worked through the book at a Presbyterian church in South Auckland over Easter. Afterwards I received a caustic note, with the damning appraisal: 'synagogue sermons'. It took me another fifteen years before I concurred. Now I teach, with some feeling as a result, that these series from Old Testament books need to be both theocentric and christotelic. One further series stands out in the memory: Selley's Spirituality. 'Selleys' was a fill-the-gap product available at the local hardware store and this time I tried to make a case for the way Ecclesiastes addresses issues that the church in New Zealand had forgotten. The one other thing I remember is doing some writing for a magazine and an article called Kiwi Kulture: Consulting a Wise Advisor. Yes, lots of nostalgia this morning. This ol' fella has been a friend along the way for a very long time...

But something else happened in that 1997. After being invited to consider the principalship of Carey Baptist College (Auckland), in a conversation that lasted most of 1996, everything was dropped, inexplicably, in that October. It was all very odd. A letter arrived and that was it. 'Not interested. We've moved on.' No explanation given. I don't remember being too dislocated, as it was not a role for which I would have thought myself qualified to apply for anyway. But then that March morning, a few months later, is still with me. I was in Kathmandu, visiting m-workers in a role I had with Interserve. An email arrived from Barby with two shattering pieces of news. My little niece, Rachael, had all but drowned in the family swimming pool ... and the job of principal at Carey had been offered to me, out of nowhere. A few days later I was flying from Larnaca to Athens - and as that plane dipped down into Athens, I looked out the window and my heart strangely turned and warmed to this opportunity. I knew the call of God to it from that moment.

Why am I meandering through all this nostalgia? Well, when the time came for the induction service in Dunedin later that year, I was asked to choose a hymn that was meaningful to me. I could almost hear my ol' mate whispering in my ear. 'You gotta choose this one'. Baptist Hymnbook #446. As I am going to tell folks later this morning, Ecclesiastes is a bit like a Maths' school book. They are both filled with questions and puzzles ... and the answers can be found in the back, in chapters 11 & 12. This is the way to live. These words in this hymn capture it so well. They had taken on anthem-status at this time in my life.

Lord, in the fullness of my might, I would for Thee be strong;
While runneth o'er each dear delight, to Thee should soar my song.

I would not give the world my heart and then profess Thy love:
I would not feel my strength depart and then Thy service prove.

I would not with swift-winged zeal on the world's errands go:
And labour up the heavenly hill with weary feet and slow.

O not for Thee my weak desires, my poorer, baser part!
O not for Thee my fading fires, the ashes of my heart!

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

I cannot, Lord, too early take the covenant divine:
O ne'er the happy heart may break whose earliest love was Thine.

Oh, how I used to love to sing out this hymn, oftentimes with a trickle down the cheek. It used to get to me, but I am becoming too old for it now! This is a nostalgic trip. I feel kinda sad. The words no longer have quite the same resonance with my longings. It is pitched at younger people than I am now. I hope there are still some who might open their hearts to it - and maybe a musician or two who can create a good tune :).

Still, I think I might read it as a closing prayer later this morning. It fits my text - Ecc 11 & 12 - so well.

nice chatting


PS: Not surprisingly, I cannot find a version on youtube that can commend this hymn. Sorry - but organ accompaniments with unfamiliar tunes do not count!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

forty days and forty nights

It was exactly forty days and forty nights. Enough time for a flood, or for some testing times in the desert. However for Barby and I it was a more celebratory season, as it was about going home to New Zealand, via Australia, for the wedding of our daughter.

While New Zealand is world famous for being a beautiful country, there is a beauty that captures the eye in every single other country that I've visited. Australia is no exception. The commitment to speak at the Belgrave Heights Summer Convention was preceded by a holiday with our sons in South Gippsland and then across on the Great Ocean Road.

The last photo is of the Yarra River flowing through Melbourne, rated 'the world's most liveable city' (using thirty different criteria) for each of the past six years. It is not hard to see why. We had an opportunity to move there more than twenty years ago but it was not to be. The Convention, coming within the global Keswick family, is held in the Dandenong Ranges about 50min east of the city. I upgraded my longtime interest in 1 Peter with the help, in particular, of Karen Jobes' fine commentary, building a series around a 'brightening the anti-christian blues' theme.

On arrival it was an unexpected thrill to see the smiling faces of this family. Martin and Joy were single students when we were at the Bible College of New Zealand more than 20 years ago. Joy was in our cell group and we remember some of the early discussions around marriage. Well - now they have three gorgeous children: Jonathan, Sarah and Hannah.

The thrill of seeing them immediately dissipated when I recalled that Martin's PhD was in 1 Peter and was published by Cambridge University Press without needing to change a syllable (well, that is what I like to tell people). Young Hannah got into 'taking notes' mode - so much so that she nicked numerous conference booklets, taking out the pages and taping them into her booklet ... so that she could really take notes.

Then it was onto New Zealand as the family gathered for Bethany and Jonny's wedding. Barby's 95 year old father, Charles Warren, made the trip all the way from the USA as did all four of her siblings. Two of them had never been to New Zealand before.

So many highlights...
Watching the bride with her Grandpa on arrival - with her Mum and aunties in the background:

Watching Grandpa eat a Kiwi meat pie at Piha (so that is three icons in one photo!):

Watching Grandpa enjoy his great-grandchildren - and vice versa:

Watching our sons enjoy being together (sometimes with the help of a niece and/or uncle):

Watching our grandchildren:

Oh yes, and the wedding:

nice chatting