Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Sugar High

This week I have been eating on $2.85 a day to raise funds for TEAR Fund to fight human trafficking.  It has (mostly) been a great experience.   As I mentioned last week, the objective is to identify with those in poor communities who live on $2.85 a day.  These people are particularly vulnerable to being sold or trapped and trafficked into modern day slavery.  Women and children are often forced to work as prostitutes.  TEAR Fund works to strengthen communities so people are less vulnerable, to rescue and rehabilitate people from slavery, and to bust up the human trafficking networks.  It’s been great to be able to raise money to help. Thank you to those who have supported me.  As I write I have raised around $200.

One interesting experience from the week.  It was a colleague's birthday on Wednesday.  She is also doing live below the line.  One of our team kindly made a cake and worked out that each slice cost 35 cents, so that we could eat some without blowing our budget.  It felt good to be able to celebrate, and yet do so in a way that kept us "living below the line".

The other interesting experience was the sugar high that hit me.  My body must have got used to doing without sugar.  This week my budget has stretched to some extras, but the extras have been a piece of fruit.  Not quite the same sugar load as a piece of cake.  About 5 minutes after eating the cake I felt the sugar kick in.  The rest of the team noticed it and gave me a bit of a hard time.  It lasted about 45 minutes.

Several reflections:
First, I was surprised that if I was careful I could manage a couple of little luxuries - even on $2.85 a day.  I couldn't afford a cup of real coffee obviously, but I did manage a few instant coffees.

Second, it made me realize how my body must normally be full of calories and stimulants like caffeine.  Our culture promotes high energy, excitement, entertainment and stimulation.  One of the most common and scathing criticisms we level at something is that it was Boring!  To connect with people in this culture we need to be high energy, exciting and stimulating, but I believe we also need to bring a refreshing (Paul Windsor would say "intriguing") challenge to our culture so that we don't "entertain ourselves to death".

Third, sometimes it takes an out of the box experience to have the shock value necessary to refocus my global vision to see and identify with the world that God loves and sends us out in mission to make a difference.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Live Below the Line

Live Below the Line
I have a pretty comfortable lifestyle as a pastor of a church in New Zealand.  I guess I don't make as much money as I might if I had stayed working in chemical engineering, but I have plenty.

That's part of the reason I’m doing the “Live below the Line” next week. Monday to Friday I'm eating for less than $2.85 a day.  I’m doing it to raise money for TEAR Fund and their fight against human trafficking.  There are an estimated 21 million people trapped in slavery worldwide.  Women and children are especially vulnerable.  They are often taken or sold from very poor communities, they are taken to brothels and forced to work as prostitutes.
We can help prevent this happening, rescue and rehabilitate those trapped in slavery, and prosecute those responsible – bust up the criminal human trafficking networks.

So sponsor me if you want to help at this link:

But I’m also doing “live below the line” to remind me that I live a wealthy, comfortable lifestyle, while the majority of people caught up in human trafficking come from poor communities who live on $2.85 a day or less. (807 million globally).
It changes something inside me when, with God's help, I say no to the deceitfulness of riches and yes to attempting to live more simply so I can give generously to those in need.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

How To Love Those Who Spit on You

Prompted by God through our current preaching series in Luke, and remembering a challenge from Dallas Willard to get serious about discipleship, I decided to write a resource that would help us "love our enemies and do good to those who hate us." Luke 6:27

I post my attempt below.  I welcome any comments or suggested improvements.  For those reading who are Christians, may you grow as an apprentice of Jesus.  For those reading who would not describe yourselves as Christians, may it give you an insight into the surprising, refreshingly different kind of life that I believe Jesus calls us to live.

How to Love Those Who Spit on You

Jesus has shown us what life in the Kingdom of God is like (e.g. Luke 6:20f) but how can we actually live like that?

Loving people who spit on us is too hard for us.  Instead of just trying harder, we can train as an apprentice of Jesus in everyday life.  This is really just one example of living a distinctively different life because you are following Jesus.

Jesus is the Way.  His Spirit is the means. His example is our pattern and inspiration.

 1.      Consider the Goal – Jesus call to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. (Lk 6:27)  Be inspired by Jesus example in Luke 18:32 and Mark 14:65; 15:19.

2.     Face up to where we fall short of this goal.  Be specific in prayer with God.

Repentance is not an emotion.  It is not feeling sorry for your sins.  It is a decision.  It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking you had, or could get the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world.  And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth.  Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts.  Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.  Repentance is the most practical of all words and the most practical of all acts.  It is a feet-on-the-ground kind of word.  [from Eugene Peterson’s “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society” pp.25-26]

3.      Ask God to help you see what is going on inside you.  (You might need help from a trusted friend or advisor).  Why do you find it hard to love those who spit on you?  Is it because you hate it when people don’t like you?  Are you are scared what they might do to you?  Do you feel criticized when people don’t like you?

4.      Choose or develop a spiritual discipline (a spiritual training exercise) to address the issue you face.  (This is something you can do that will put you in a place where they Holy Spirit can do what you cannot).

a.      If you find yourself answering back and then regretting it, try experimenting with the spiritual discipline of silence.
b.      If you find yourself doubting your own self-worth as someone created in the image of God, then meditate on Psalm 139, or the love of Jesus expressed to the woman in John 8:1-11.  This is about being secure in Christ.
c.       On the other hand, if you find yourself being arrogant or stubborn, you may need to seek God for humility.  The spiritual discipline of confession could help you with this.
d.      If you are fearful for your safety, memorize some verses that reassure youy that God is on your side.  E.g. Ps 27.
e.      If you find yourself looking for the approval of others for your feelings well-being, then spend some time alone with God trusting in his approval and love.
f.        If you find yourself isolated and feeling alone when someone is spitting on you, then spend some time with trusted friends who can support you.
g.      If you find yourself growing in anger or frustration toward the person, try praying for God’s blessing in their lives.
Like training for a marathon, these exercises all take time to bring results. 

5.      Can you forgive the person?  (Remember – forgiveness doesn’t mean they don’t need to face justice).

6.      If it is safe to do so, and you believe there is opportunity for reconciliation, consider how you could meet with the person to seek reconciliation. 

Some questions to think about and discuss:

  • ·         What do we do about relationships that don’t improve?  What did Jesus do in that situation?
  • ·         Are you tempted to focus on the “sovereign work of the Spirit” side of the triangle, and neglect the others?  Why might that be?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Walking Where Jesus Walked

One of the great privileges of our time in the holy land was walking where Jesus walked.  I don't mean the precise locations which after 2000 years are often disputed or uncertain, but the towns and villages, roads, hills and lake sides where Jesus walked. It has made me aware of both Jesus' humanity and his divinity.

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
 His humanity first of all.  Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and even Jerusalem, are ordinary places. Life goes on in these towns and cities.  We experienced bustling markets in Jerusalem and saw people fishing in Galilee.  We visited the church of the annunciation in Nazareth and imagined the angel telling Mary she was to give birth to the Saviour of the world. Quite apart from the fact that she was a virgin, it must have been difficult to think that anything so miraculous could happen there.  "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Fishing Boat on the lake of Galilee
When Jesus got up each morning there is a sense in which it would have been like any other morning. The empty slopes up from the lake of Galilee where Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes were ordinary hills, yet they became filled with the extraordinary.  We were sailed on the lake and the team members spoke about what God was saying to them through the time in the Holy Land and Galilee in particular.
The challenge for all of us is to expect, recognise and participate in the extraordinary things that God will do in our ordinary day. I'm not saying that there aren't special kairos moments in the history of salvation. I will say more about that in a moment. However, we can't wait for the "superspiritual moments" or the "superspiritual people."  God has always worked through ordinary people.  I believe God delights to do mighty things through humble people.  Isn't that what the announcement to Mary was all about? Even if one doubts that God exists, one cannot doubt that some extraordinary things happened in this place.

On the other hand the very miraculous nature of the events pointed me to Jesus divinity.  Just like the disciples in the boat after Jesus had calmed the storm on Galilee, I found myself thinking, "Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?"  We drove by Cana where Jesus carried out his first miracle turning ordinary water into the best wine of the wedding.  This picked up a theme of our sabbatical for me, "What miracle do I need Jesus to perform?"

Door at the Church of the Annunciation
The divinity of Jesus was also apparent in the unfolding of salvation history.  Although the birth of Jesus occurred in an ordinary town to a humble peasant girl, it occurred at a special time in history. When Jesus began his ministry he said, "The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news."
Christians over the centuries have revered the holy sites we visited, often building churches there to remember the events.  Some tourists are put off by the gaudy monuments and icons remembering what happened there.  Certainly there is a danger of worshiping the place instead of the one who was at work there. However, overall I found it helpful to remember that these everyday places have in a sense been "set apart" (made holy) by the special events that occurred there.  The door at the church of the annunciation depicts the life of Jesus, surrounded by the earlier events that prepared the way for this new relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This pictorial telling of the Bible stories has been a common theme throughout the churches of the Holy land and Europe. In days gone by, many people couldn't read.  Perhaps that will become more important for Bible stories again in cultures where people read books less and less.

1st Century ruins at Capernaum & church over Peter's house
One final reflection on the divinity of Jesus.  One notable difference between Jesus and other rabbis of his time was that usually students/apprentices/disciples sought out a rabbi they wanted to follow. Jesus on the other hand chose his disciples and called them to follow him.  This was very real to me as we walked on the shores of Galilee, past what archelogists are almost certain was Simon Peter's house.  Jesus invites us to follow him.

The site of the Sermon on the Mount near lake Galilee
I remember a key moment in my call to ministry reading Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) and an exposition of these chapters by Don Carson.  There was a sense of that call being reaffirmed as I sat praying and re-reading those words of Jesus on the site where he delivered them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Stories of Hope from Bethlehem

My previous post about the conflict in the holy land may be difficult to grasp at first reading, so let me tell some stories to give more context.

Shepherd's Fields Greek Orthodox Christian School, in Biet Sahour, Bethlehem, is one ray of hope. We visited this very impressive school, met with students and were briefed by the principal George Sa'adeh.  George is a Palestinian Christian, who went to school in Bethlehem, and later graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering from University of Southern California. Shepherd's Field School as a picture in the foyer which portrays the hope of the kingdom of God - peace and reconciliation - the lion lying down with the lamb.
The Lion lies down with the Lamb - Foyer Painting
This school provides excellent education for Palestinian children (both Christian and Muslim - without prejudice). The Palestinian Authority has little money.  Israelis restrict buildings and agriculture in Area C (over 70% of the West Bank) so the Palestinian economy is crippled, but the five year olds were so bright and happy, with a sparkle in their eyes. Even the senior students we met with (16-17 year olds) expressed hope for their future training and careers, although the sparkle had gone out of their eyes.  Only around 5% of Palestinian graduates get jobs.
Safe play area for children of the Shepherd's Fields School
We finished our visit with turkish coffee in the new library, built with money donated in memory of the principal's daughter Christine Sa'adeh.  George told us their story:
Christine Sa'adeh
George, his wife Najawa, and daughters Christine (12) and Marian (15) were driving in their car through suburban Bethlehem on the evening of 23rd March 2003. They were going grocery shopping.  Without warning, Israeli soldiers opened fire on their car which was hit with 30 bullets. It seems their car was a similar model to one being driven by Palestinian militants which soldiers had just shot.
Christine died. George was shot in the abdomen and back. Marian was shot in the leg.  Najawa suffered minor injuries.
George told what happened: "I saw two army jeeps on Nasser Street and thought about reversing away, but Palestinians know that can be fatal, so I drove towards them very slowly.
"I put on my indicator to show I was pulling out to avoid their vehicles. Just as we passed in front of them, the windscreen was blown in and bullets started flying around the car. I pulled up and screamed at the soldiers to stop the firing, but it continued. I looked behind and saw Christine slumped down, covered in blood."
Despite all this, George continues to work for peace and reconciliation, welcomes Muslim students and families to the school, and has numerous Jewish friends.  He says:
"I've always taught my students that we should live together in love and harmony in the Holy Land, but what's happening now is terrible, people are just getting crazy," he said. He was doing his best as a true Christian "not to allow hate into my heart at those who killed my beautiful little girl".

Salim Munayer, a Palestinian Christian and Director of Musalaha, Reconciliation Ministries, told us, "Hating someone is like drinking poison hoping they will die.  Unforgiveness can't remain."
Several of our team were privileged to hear Salim preach on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Signs of Hope!  St Jerome (347-420AD), who also died in Bethlehem, is reputed to have said: "Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books, and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you."  
This has been true for us in seeing the places were Jesus was born, lived, taught, died, rose and ascended.  It has also been true in seeing the example of these Palestinians living their lives "in Christ" in the holy land today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let Justice Flow Like a River

Christians being baptised in the Jordan river
At one level the solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is simple.  As the Hebrew prophet Amos said, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." (Am 5:24).  If we could see justice and righteousness like this it would bring peace to this land.  Why then hasn't this happened? Fear, defensiveness, selfish, stubborn human hearts... People on all sides of this conflict so easily get blinkers on and can't see beyond their own situation.  That's true for all of us I'm sure.
One wall which separates Israeli and Palestinian (Bethlehem, West Bank)
One of the barriers to hearing God through Scripture (which I have been looking at over my Cambridge time) is not being able to see beyond the story we have constructed for ourselves. I suspect many Jews could hear Amos 5 from their scriptures and think only of justice for them having more of the land, and not of justice for the Palestinians whose land they are occupying and confiscating in what the UN and the International Court of Justice describe as illegal settlements.

Israeli Checkpoint
On the other hand, Palestinians can easily adopt a victim mentality and blame the Israeli occupation of their land for everything.

After 6 days in the Holy Land I can't pretend to understand this whole conflict.  However, the advantage of being here with World Vision is that many doors were open to us to see things in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (West Bank) and meet people which tourists would miss, especially if they were on a tour organised by Israeli Jews.  We met with the Australian ambassador to Israel, David Sharma, who gave us helpful insights, but also acknowledged that the longer he is here the more complexities he discovers.  We have met and spoken with Israeli Jews, Israeli Messianic Jews, Israeli Arab Christians, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, and western Christian World Vision staff.  (Phew! That list in itself takes some understanding and has several subtle but important nuances.)

So, as I try to process everything, let me tell you about some of the things I have seen and heard.
This will give insight into the different narratives or viewpoints that one hears in the Holy Land. Many Western Christians will only really be aware of the narrative presented by the State of Israel, and various Zionist supporters including Christian Zionists.  I am trying to take the advice some Palestinian Christians gave us and not be "for" or "against" either side, but to be "for justice", or as I would say, "for the God of justice and for actions that bring glory to God."

The dominant narrative from the state of Israel has been the need for security.  We visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem) and saw the horror of the systematic murder of 6 million Jews (as well as 5 million non-Jews such as Poles, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals and mentally and physically disabled people).  It is clear that the Jewish people are determined that this should never happen to them again.  Israelis live under threat from surrounding countries that have been at war with Israel at various times, and they can also face violence at any time within Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  Some Christians, motivated by a particular understanding of biblical prophecy and end times, regard the modern nation state of Israel as the chosen people of God who are entitled to their promised land and can do no wrong.  Unfortunately this results in Western Christian support for Jewish and Secular Israelis forcing Palestinian Christians off land they have owned for centuries.  It can even come across as "these Palestinian Christians are holding up the return of Christ by not letting Israelis occupy the promised land in fulfillment of prophecy."
A Palestinian Shepherd near Bethlehem, with an Israeli settlement in the background.
The wall stops Israelis and Palestinians meeting and talking.  It contributes to the fear each has of the other.  When a new Israeli settlement (like the one in the photo above) is established in the West Bank it exacerbates the problem because access roads cut off neighbouring Palestinian villages from each other.  They aren't allowed to use or cross the new Israeli roads.  Israeli settlements have continuous water and electricity, while  Palestinian villages have restricted water and electricity supplies.

Palestinians can mix together during the day in Jerusalem..  However, when you look at the city, East Jerusalem where Palestinians must live is clearly poorer.  We were told that Palestinian incomes are approximately one tenth of Israeli incomes.  West Jerusalem has the money, shopping malls, and modern construction.  I find it hard to see how peace negotiations can succeed when the power and wealth difference is so stark.  Palestinians have little to bring to the negotiating table.

While most Palestinians are Muslim, there is a small percentage of Palestinian Christians (about 1.5%). These Christian brothers and sisters feel largely abandoned and ignored by the world (including Western Christianity).  They told us "We are the forgotten church.  Christians in the West don't care about us." Life for Palestinian Christians is harsh. If they have the opportunity many choose to leave.  The number of Christians has fallen from 20% in 1947 to 1.5% today. Many Palestinians are determined to stay

We met with some Messianic Jewish leaders.  (These are Jews who have come to believe in Jesus as the messiah). At least one of these leaders saw the need to find reconciliation and peace with Palestinians.  He works with a Palestinian Christian leader we met in an organisation called Musalaha seeking to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus.  He faces some criticism from some Messianic Jews for this.  We also met with a group called Rabbis for Human Rights.  They similarly face criticism from some Jews - but at least they cannot be accused of being antisemitic.  Their activities include:

  • donating 3,500 olive trees each year to Palestinian farmers whose lands are either at risk of land taker-over, or have been victims of violence by Jewish extremists.
  • organizing volunteers to harvest olives in solidarity with Palestinian farmers who face harassment.
  • assisting with the many legal cases where land owners are facing displacement.
  • assisting close to 1000 underprivileged Israelis each year with their socio-economic rights.

Again and again we were impressed with the eloquent, humble, yet determined people working for peace and justice.  It gives hope for this region!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jerusalem - First Impressions

Sue and I have been privileged to join a tour of the holy land while we are on this side of the world.
Arriving in Jerusalem has been one of the most precious travel experiences of my life.
Sue at the tower of David
We visited the tower of David, which is a museum in Old Jerusalem.  While the main structures date from the 12th Century with upgrades from the Ottoman empire, some of the structure dates back to Herodian times, and the history of Jerusalem goes back 4000 years.  Reading the historical displays was like an Old Testament survey, because of course that is much of the history of this city.  This has reinforced for us that the Bible isn't just a made up story.  The story of God is anchored in historical events.

This is a holy place for Jews, Muslims and in a slightly different way for Christians also. As such it has been a focus of conflict for centuries, often changing hands, often violently. It also struck me, by contrast, that at various times Jews, Muslims, and Christians have been able to live here together peacefully. That is the challenge Jerusalem faces today.

We have been struck by the compact nature of Jerusalem, and indeed Israel as a whole.  It was a short drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and a short walk from our hotel to the Old City.  In the classic photo below, you can see the short distance from David's tower to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, and then beyond to the Mount of Olives.  Again this raises the ever present and complex issue of Jews, Muslims and Christians coexisting.
The view over the Old City, Dome of the Rock to Mt of Olives
It was a short walk from the evening service we attended in Christ Church (the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East), to the Western Wall (the most holy site for Jews), and then just above that wall is the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque (holy sites for Muslims).

We were able to join in with two different church services.  A small Baptist church in the morning, and the Anglican service in the evening.  Both sought to be aware of the complex religious context and the worship and prayers reflected that.  Reading a Psalm about Jerusalem and praying for the peace of Jerusalem have never been so poignant for me.  Christ Church in particular sought to appreciate their Jewish roots in a liturgical and historical context.  Both were conscious of the call to show God's love to everyone, including people of other faiths.

The Western Wall at night with Dome of Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque above.
Although there are so many historical sites here, Jerusalem is a living city.  We had some delicious falafel wrap for tea at a little restaurant/takeaways and then walked around the corner on stones that are likely to be the roof of ancient houses, down some steps to a lower level with the remains of a synagogue and a market where Jesus could have walked.  Then down some more steps, through a gate and we were at the Western Wall.  Orthodox Jews pray at the wall twenty four hours a day.  Just above them on the temple platform is, strictly speaking, under Jordanian jurisdiction, and many Muslims go to there to pray. It was instructive to see the level of devotion to a place.
Jews praying at the Western Wall
While coming to Jerusalem is a wonderful kind of pilgrimage for us, we believe praying a prayer at home in Mosgiel is just as effective as a prayer prayed in Jerusalem.

Walking back to our hotel led us through little streets lined with shops, closing for the day now, but where people made their living.

We look forward to learning more about this fascinating place when the formal tour gets underway tomorrow.