• Turning to God from idols

    And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God — I Thessalonians 1:7-9.

    Gurung was born into a family of Gurkha warriors in a small village under the shadow of Mount Everest and, as he grew up, he learned to trust in the power of the “kukri” sword that his father had placed in his hand when he was just a lad. With his other hand he also learned to spin the prayer wheels in the Buddhist monastery near his house, fully believing that every spin of the wheel would carry his prayers to God and ensure him a safe and prosperous life. But neither the kukri sword nor the prayer wheels brought him the good karma that he longed for. The sword soon provoked fights and got him into increasing trouble with his neighbours and, however hard he spun the prayer wheel, he could not seem to find any way out of his problems. Gradually he descended into depression and another god — “Rakshi”, or Nepali whiskey, came into his life and took it over. Slowly his health deteriorated and eventually he landed up in hospital.

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  • Clean Clothes

    Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator  …  therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
    — Colossians 3:9-12

    A large chunk of my childhood was spent at Sakeji, a school for missionaries’ children in the North-West Province of Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia. Life and customs were rather different in those days, and one of the features of the boarding school regime was that on Sunday we were made to dress in our Sunday best: grey shorts and Persil-white shirts, freshly washed and ironed in the school laundry. Inevitably, however, the pristinely laundered image did not stand much of a chance for, once Sunday School was over, we were allowed out to play in the African dust for an hour. Then, after that, came Sunday lunch with the double treat of the week: ice cream with chocolate sauce, followed by two slabs of chocolate fudge to take away. With that kind of exposure, those clean white shirts — like the overalls of Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoons — were doomed. By the end of the day they simply had to come off, and head back to the laundry again for the next round of cleaning.

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  • Joy in Unexpected Places

    Always be full of joy because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again: “Rejoice!”
    Philippians 4:4

    Joy can be found in the most unexpected places and not least in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The theme of joy pervades the book from beginning to end: in fact, the words “joy” and “rejoice” appear no less than fourteen times throughout this short letter. Yet who would know that, when Paul wrote it, he was facing death in a Roman prison — hardly a place that would be fill the average human being with much joy. So one might ask what kind of joy was this? Was he always on that kind of high? Or was this some kind of perverse masochism on his part, deriving a warped sense of pleasure from his own pain?

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  • Growing in your knowledge of God

    Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.
    — Ephesians 1:15-17

    The Apostle Paul had a very special place in his heart for the city of Ephesus and for the Christians there. After all, he had spent three long years in that city and so much had happened during that time. He and his good friends, Aquila and Priscilla, had patiently taught God’s word there, in spite of considerable opposition from both Jews and Greeks. It had been hard going right from the start, for Ephesus was a city renowned for its sorcery; it was also the stronghold of the Greek goddess Artemis, and her supporters were not likely to give up easily. At least once he landed up in prison in Ephesus, and even suffered the threat of being taken out to the Great Roman Theatre to face the lions there. Things went from bad to worse and eventually there was a riot, stirred up by a man called Demetrius and his silversmith colleagues, who were understandably upset that they might be losing trade as a result of Paul’s preaching. On this occasion he barely escaped with his life, but such was his conviction in the importance of the task given to him that he never worried about his life anyway.

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  • Face-to-Face with Grace

    We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping, but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it — and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.
    — Galatians 2:16

    As an earnest young monk of the Augustinian order, Martin Luther did everything possible to keep the rules, fully believing that he would please God this way. So when in 1510, at the age of 27, he was sent on a mission to the “holy” city of Rome, he eagerly seized the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Lateran Church and climb its Holy Staircase. These stairs were said to have been transported from Pilate’s Judgement Hall in Jerusalem — the same stairs that Jesus climbed before he died — so the pilgrims believed that if they climbed all 28 stairs on their hands and knees, kissing each step and reciting the Lord’s Prayer as they went, then their souls would be instantly saved from hell. Did Luther ever reach the top? There are conflicting stories, but somewhere on that staircase he blurted out the words, “What if it were not so?” and came to the realisation that, however high he climbed, he was never going to be able to please God simply by following a set of prescribed rules.

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  • Treasure in Jars of Clay

    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
    —2 Corinthians 4:7-9

    On a dull day in December 1946, Juma, a young Palestinian shepherd, was herding his goats up the dry, dusty Qumram Wadi, close to the shores of the Dead Sea. He had often dreamed of finding treasure in one of those hidden valleys, maybe stashed away by the bandits who roamed the rough roads, but this day his mind was on more mundane matters because one of his goats was lost and he urgently needed to find it before nightfall. Idly he tossed a stone into a nearby cave and listened for a bleat, but all he heard was a crack and a tinkling sound. Going inside to investigate, he discovered an old cracked pot and, inside it, an ancient leather scroll wrapped in a piece of rotting cloth. His face filled with disgust and disappointment, but little did he know that he had stumbled on a priceless treasure — a 2,000 year old manuscript of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, preserved for all those years in a plain old clay pot.

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  • Matters of utmost importance

    I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me:
    Christ died for our sins,
    just as the Scriptures said.
    He was buried,
    and three days later he was raised to life,
    just as the Scriptures said.
    — 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

    Another Easter has come and gone and, apart from new highs in the consumption of chocolate Easter eggs, people are still largely indifferent to what Easter is all about. Although mention of the word “resurrection” will still raise some hackles, and Charles Foster’s recent book, The Jesus Inquest,* reminds us that the Western mind, with its emphasis on cold rationalistic investigation, has always found it difficult to cope with the idea that Jesus might have come back to life after he died.

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  • All creation is groaning

    For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
    – Romans 8:22-23 (New Living Translation)

    At 12.51 pm on Tuesday 22 February, the earth below the city of Christchurch creaked and groaned, as a previously unknown fault line cracked open with a rumble and a roar, shaking the people of the city with the ferocity of a lion shaking a rat. Within the space of 40 seconds the inner city was devastated and people’s lives were turned on end. Yes, the earth groaned big time, and people groaned too as they saw homes destroyed, heritage buildings in ruins and lives cut tragically short. And today the groaning continues even more strongly across the Pacific in Japan, where the same has happened again, this time in a three-fold disaster of even greater magnitude.

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  • How’s 2011 shaping up?

    Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
    – Acts 14:21-22.

    Maybe, like us, you are lurching from crisis to crisis? First it was the Christchurch earthquake, with a chimney that toppled down and sliced through the roof of the garage below; then shortly after that our oldest son was sent to Afghanistan on active military service; by year’s end my elderly stepmother in UK developed a gangrenous ulcer on her foot and her condition was steadily deteriorating; eventually the New Year saw me winging my way to UK for a funeral and back to NZ the same week for the other son’s wedding.

    However, by comparison with others we know, we have been relatively well off. One young couple in our fellowship live with the burden of a seriously premature baby weighing only 675 grammes at birth. Will she or won’t she survive? If she survives, will she grow up with major handicaps? Another family watch over the hospital bed of their son who has suffered third degree burns in a house fire.

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  • Downtown Rotorua

    Take a stroll in downtown Rotorua, in the vacant lot between the Central Business District and the lakefront, and you will find a wasteland. Here nothing grows apart from rough patches of browned off tussock grass and a few scrubby manuka bushes. Follow your nose and you might find a clue to the barren nature of the landscape: misty plumes of steam rising into the air show where the water holes are, but the water in them is muddy brown and stagnant, and the air all round is heavy with an odour like rotting eggs, better known to scientists as hydrogen sulphide. The sulphur is in the water, rather than the air, and it is this sulphur that inhibits all forms of life. Nobody would want to drink the water: indeed nobody would be able to drink it, for it is water that ultimately brings death.

    Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you …  you would ask me, and I would give you living water … “Anyone who drinks this water [from this well] will soon become thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life”
    — John 4:10

    But wait. Who would have any idea that less than 5km from the city centre there is a completely different world?  Follow the road north out of town and there you will find yourself in a veritable Garden of Eden, dubbed the “Rainbow Springs”, which bubble up with a totally different kind of water. Here trout play in clean, crystal clear pools and the landscape around is carpeted with soft green ferns and lush native bush.  The air rings with the sound of tui and bellbirds, and wildlife of many other species make their home there.

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