Maturity and change

I first learned the meaning of the word ‘puberty’ in a health class at my intermediate school. To be honest I spent most of the lesson trying not to laugh as the teacher talked about human sexuality and the changes that were coming our way. Puberty sounded fun, well sort of. I was told that everything was about to change. Everyone was on the way towards adulthood, if you liked it or not!

At the time of my 11th birthday I was about the size of a hobbit. Like most of my mates I was weedy and small framed. After that health class things to a turn for better because I began having visions of becoming a man. Watch out world I’m growing up which really meant that I was finally growing a proper set of muscles. No more being picked on. No more getting smashed during bull rush at lunch time. I was so upbeat about my forthcoming manhood I asked mum to add another set of razors to her weekly shopping so that I could tame the beard that was about to be unleashed.

By the end of the year, things hadn’t quite gone to plan. Nor the next year. Nor the year after that. No chest hair. No growth spurt. All I could muster was patchy facial hair that resembled newly laid grass. I was at the mercy of my hormones who were obviously absent during my health class a few years back! 

When Christians talk about being “changed” they mean it is an on-going process to be Christ-like. What Jesus did by dying on the cross and being resurrected has put an end to sin, death and evil. Followers of Jesus find their identity and the very means to fuel transformative change within the resources that God gives. The writer Dallas Willard states that there can be a perception that spiritual transformation only really occurs by some sort of “lightning strike of the spirit.”  Get that strike right then there has to be change!

There have been many times that I have approached spiritual change like I thought about puberty at age 11. I looked at my small frame and I know through Christ there is life (John 3:16). I want things to change. At times I desire to grow up and be mature however my “hormones” haven’t kicked in yet. Sin still keeps me childish. There are echo’s of Paul’s famous passage in Romans 7.

Here’s the temptation: If only I get “zapped” by God one more time, then I may finally grow up! 

The apostle Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 4:16- ‘That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day’. Paul isn’t meaning that there is a disconnect with our bodies from our soul/spirit. 

He is reminding Christ followers that God can be invited in a process but He is also active in the constant process of change to lives. The ‘renewed every day’ is our invitation to respond and act appropriately to the work of the Holy Spirit.  We can choose to act and align our will (our decisions and actions) to Christ’s invitation towards change. By the grace of God we can find the empowering of the Holy Spirit even in our frailty.

This is a beautiful thing.

Maturity and change

Rugby club rooms

club2In the year following Richie McCaw holding the Rugby world cup for New Zealand my eldest son wanted to play rugby. He became the first Zintl to play. For Matteus it was a year of new experiences and the odd missed tackle. Every once in a while the parents from the team would get a warm invite to the rugby club rooms to have a few drinks. Being right into football (Go Germany), I never was that interested.

I figured that rugby club rooms were similar to a football club rooms. They’d serve the purpose of being a gathering place for players and their families to connect. Each environment would be awash with its own traditions; passionate patrons, cheap jugs, and fostering conversation deeply grounded in their code.

The day came where I finally got my chance to visit the rugby clubroom for Mattues’ end of the year prize giving. We all went as a family. As we ascended the stairs we were met by some kids running about. The walls in the foyer were filled with portraits and faded shirts of players long past their prime on the field.

The atmosphere was warm enough and filled with much conversation. The diehard regulars were front and center. They held the main table, almost as guardians of the club. Amongst their fellowship they knew all tales of rugby heroics as well as their own cherished heritage.

As a pastor I have become acutely aware of new people who come to church. Sometimes it’s not hard to spot someone at the back who feels a little out of place or nervous. Sometimes as a church we do welcoming and relationships really well. Sometimes we don’t for all sorts of reasons; we get overloaded, busy or are ourselves a tad dysfunctional.

Back at the rugby club rooms, the boot was well and truly on the other foot. This time I was the one who was nervous. I was the outsider. I didn’t know where to sit or what to talk about in rugby terms. I simply didn’t know what the social norms of my new environment were. In hindsight it was a timely reminder because it was right then that I sensed God say that my “rugby clubroom time” is what it’s like for most people who’d come along to a church.

It can be rather fashionable to knock “the church” like a piñata these days. People have disappointments on some level about how other people can treat each other. Sadly this is true for the church also. A hefty critique is not the point of this blog entry. I do want to emphasize that being a part of a church means that we have our own traditions, language, culture, theology and liturgy. The centrality of Christ and the fore mentioned elements define us as a community. It is because of these things that new people won’t understand or get right away. That’s a point of great consideration.

As the church may we be reminded of what it means to host, commune and to connect with others. I once heard a speaker say “May we be committed at the core but be open at the edges.” That sounds easy to say I know that it’s hard to model.

We’d do well to on occasion to venture to places and spaces in which we are the visitors… mine is that rugby clubroom.

Rugby club rooms

What the kids have taught me

KidsMatthew’s gospel in the 18th chapter records Jesus setting the scene on the Kingdom of God. He begins by outlining that humility is a prerequisite for accessing the kingdom. Jesus uses a living metaphor: a child. Children are trusting, immature, small, overlooked and vulnerable. The teachings of Jesus can seem to be paradoxical. Children know very little, are prone to tantrums and are on the way to mastering their bodies. Adults are (usually) mature, capable and secure. Children tend to want to be grown up. Adults tend to want to be adults… having stated this most adults I know secretly desire to be young again but not like children.

In being a parent to three amazing kids I often catch glimpses of what I once was when I was a child. Usually I don’t need to tell my kids to play. Its beautifully natural to them. Kids often laugh a lot and at things that I don’t or shouldn’t laugh at… like farts! Their tendency to trust astounds me especially when my youngest calls me to catch her in my arms when she jumps from high place.

In being an adult I have mostly forgotten my time as a child… to jump and trust. To laugh.

For almost a year I have been the interim Children’s Pastor at Passion Kids, the children’s ministry at Grace Vineyard. I have had a very unique opportunity to experience leading a kids ministry. It has been at times super challenging but is often more than rewarding also. I’d love to tell you about an ‘alternative church’ that happens on most Sundays.

When all the adults gather in various services on a Sunday morning there is a whole other expression of church that most people don’t see. It is underpinned by a beautiful bunch of people who take the time to loving relate to children. They are the same people who take the time to sit by the wriggly kids and they too delight in humorous conversations. Of course I am talking about children’s leaders.

I started out in ministry leading teenagers and some 15 years later I find myself leading a kids. Before I transition out of this role and on to our next venture of church planting, I have taken the time to reflect on some things that the kids have taught me:

Care for those that care

Our children’s workers are simply amazing. They serve often week in and out not to babysit but with a heart to see God move in their lives. Take the time to encourage often, even if that means thanking them of the ‘unseen’.

Stories tame the wild child

Kids love stories. When someone starts telling a story I can almost see every kid lean in to hear what will happen next. Throughout the Bible we find some of the most outrageous and redemptive stories. Stories don’t just entertain us they draw us in. As Christ followers we have the best story to tell.

You can never have too many biscuits

Some of the best conversations we have had is when we break for morning tea. Everyone gets a biscuit and a drink of water. It is during the ‘munching’ that we have kids share about the best and worst of their little lives. We hear about the excitement of a new toy or that annoying younger brother. For a moment we get to hear the frustration, hopes and dreams of children.

Jesus loves kids

There is something incredibly special seeing kids of all ages respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God is accessible through Christ and it is even within the reach of mere children. In Matthew 18, Jesus says that the kingdom is for those who turn from their sin and also will be like a child. In leading the kids we have a great responsibility to set an environment of trust, good communication and sensitivity. It’s not amazing every week but when those moments happen they are beautiful.

This is in part what the kids have taught me!

What the kids have taught me

The Vineyard church- part Two: Back to the Future

delorean-back-to-the-futureThe movie ‘Back to the Future’ introduced me to the theory of time travel. The thought of driving a silver DeLorean car as a time machine was sublime. What would it be like to get front row seats as you witness the great moments that have shaped the world such as the invention of the coffee machine or casual stroll through ancient Rome? A time machine certainly would appease anyone’s fascination with the future. That reminds me- as its now 2015 where can you buy a hoverboard?
There are many different thoughts on understanding reality. I make no claim to be a physicist yet it seems that ‘time’ could be understood as if we are swimming along a swift river. We are carried along with its daily current sometimes over man made rocks unable to pause at the river bank nor reverse back up stream. We can only go forward into the present, never back.

When we are young the ‘river’ seems to flow deep and slow. Children find that their birthday or Christmas is always too far off. When the day finally arrives it too evaporates quickly. As we age the river becomes more turbulent. Each year races by with haste. Birthdays become too frequent and eventually as oldies we find themselves listening to the classic hits radio station.

A popular motif of movies or books within the time travel genre is that a machine is made to prevent mistakes, stop evil and even to reverse suffering. The inventors can go ‘back up the river’ against the flow. The ‘flux capacitor’ offers a means for humanity to almost be like a god. The characters get to bend the rules because they have power to right the wrongs. Further themes emerge that people cannot yield that power and responsibility because people are people they bring their brokenness into the past, present and future. It is inevitable that the time machine must be destroyed!

Outside of time

The biblical story gives us the account to the origins of time. “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” (Genesis 1:1). Right at the start of the story and of human history, the author is present. How creation unfolded with life upon the planet is up for some debate but regardless Christians understand that they have the means to commune with God in the ‘now’ knowing that time is no barrier to his purposes. Time nor even the heavens cannot contain God (2 Chronicles 2:6). Prayer itself an act of communing with God who is ancient, good and active amongst this world. God was there at the beginning and will be restoring all things (Acts 3:21) at the end, which is really a new beginning!

Now and future

Pain, injustice and suffering would seem to counter that God is not present in time. Evil acts themselves have become a critique to God’s goodness or inability to prevent wrongs from happening. There are times when no sense can be made of the happenings in the world.  Understandably we hope for the time machine.

Jesus taught most about the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that is experienced in between two different ages or periods of his “rule and reign”. In terms of different ‘ages’ I am not meaning mere history so it was only for that particular time and therefore holds no relevance now. Jesus’ opening announcement was that the “time of the Lord’s favour has come” (Luke 4:19). The coming of Jesus; his death and resurrection is God’s redemptive plan. Jesus is God’s act to undo the wrongs.

In terms of ‘time’, this is the age we find ourselves in now. Hope has come. There is the end to sin, evil, death and suffering. Yet these things have not happened to their completion, this is the ‘age to come’. A very real tension comes as we ‘live between the times’, in part ‘now’ (Matthew 9:35) and the fullness at the ‘end of the age’ (Hebrews 2:8).

Regardless of what happens today or in the future, hope can be in found in Christ. We become a part of God’s redemptive plans to demonstrate the kingdom in all its beauty and power. We get to be a part of God’s story; inviting the lonely, praying for the sick and loving as Christ did.

Jesus- may your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

For further reading on basic Vineyard theology on the ‘Kingdom of God’ check out this short PDF from Lloyd Rankin- Pastor at Urban Vineyard and National Director in New Zealand.

The Vineyard church- part Two: Back to the Future

The Vineyard church- Part One: Wine and welcomes

One day our receptionist at church received a rather interesting phone call. Emerald is one of the warmest and genuine people you will ever meet. Her role is particularly diverse between being the first friendly face of our church through to mastering church administration. The phone call Emerald had went something like this.

red-wine-bottle-and-wine-glass-psd-bEmerald: “Hello, welcome to Grace Vineyard. Emerald speaking. How can I help?”

Man: “I’m a builder. We have just been working on a very old house. Under its foundations I ended up finding a vintage bottle of wine.”

Emerald: “Ok, that’s nice but I don’t understand how we can help.”

Man: “We’ll I think that it must be worth quite a bit. Is there anyone there that I can talk to about this?”

Emerald: “You have called Grace Vineyard. We’re a church.”

Man: “A church? But the phone book says that you’re a vineyard.”

Emerald: “We are called a Vineyard but we are a church.”

Man: “So there’s no one there to help me with my bottle then?!”

Emerald tells me that she gets these kind of calls all the time. Enquires range from people wanting to book a vine tour through to hosting wedding receptions. Such is the life of a church receptionist!

What is at the heart of the Vineyard?

Amongst many things it’s a church that you can come as you are!

Through Jesus the kingdom of God is accessible to everybody, which includes the weak, the lonely, the poor, the dreamers, the popular and unpopular alike. There are no people to impress nor hoops to jump through. God has taken the initiative; life and transformation is found in relationship with Christ.

As a Vineyard church our hope would be that someone visiting (like a builder seeking ‘wine’) could turn up to find a bunch of very ordinary people who genuinely desire to follow Jesus and to live out his kingdom. As a church we will probably won’t get it right all the time. We will be honest about our failings while being hopeful that God could use us to make just a little bit of a difference in the world.

The Vineyard churches began in Aotearoa/New Zealand through people like that: ordinary passionate folk who want to see more of God in our community bringing healing, hope and life. Many of these founding leaders are still pastoring today in Auckland, Wellington and other parts of New Zealand. They faithfully lead churches who desire to make disciples of Jesus who will in turn make disciples of Jesus.

In the future we hope that The Story Vineyard church will gather people in Wellington with a similar heart and welcome.

To see the beginnings of the Vineyard in Aotearoa/New Zealand check out these web sites:

The Vineyard church- Part One: Wine and welcomes

What does a pastor actually do apart from writing sermons?

I love going to parties. Usually I see before me a whole room of new people to meet. Other times I’ll feel more introverted and talk the night away to just one person. At most social situations there is a certain inevitability in my conversation with a new person. That tricky point comes around my vocation of being a pastor.

Depending on that persons worldview my job can make for some interesting or awkward conversation. It can seem rather mysterious to people who are outside of church that Christians would be employ a person to be their leader.

What does a pastor actually do apart from writing sermons?

The other day I had such a conversation. Thankfully it wasn’t one of the awkward ones. We talked about our jobs, he was a police officer. The cop and the pastor, some people think we are the same! I tried to paint a picture of what the kingdom of God is like. I explained that most of my time is spent around people. Also some of my time needs to be around seeking the leading of God. My role sees me leading ordinary people in ways that are to equip, encourage and challenge in Christ. Basically to see people become disciples of Jesus. I didn’t use those exact words.

As a pastor I am also there in the best and worst of times for people. I get to dance at weddings. I get to celebrate the new life of those being baptised. I also find myself there in times of great sadness, grief and betrayal. I count it a great privilege to represent Christ in those times.

In the book of Acts we find that the early church used their combined resources to give to the poor and to see the kingdom of God extended. As the church was growing they trusted the leading of the Holy Spirit when they commission leaders who were first and foremost servants to the greater kingdom purpose. A prerequisite of a church leader was both that they were called of God and their character was Christ-like.

What does a pastor actually do apart from writing sermons?

They love people. They often love difficult and angry people too.

They love the church. They are for the kingdom. Although they are nowhere perfect themselves they respond daily to serve Christ faithfully. Their hope is to reach all people with the gospel and to cultivate communities that model health and maturity.

the-pastorFor those who like to read I suggest buying Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Pastor: A memoir’. I was gifted this book by another pastor about a year ago. It is a sensitive and honest account of a local pastor.

To friends in ministry; pastors, vicars, kid’s pastors and even youth pastors… know that you are needed more than you realise!

For the king and the Kingdom!

What does a pastor actually do apart from writing sermons?

The subtle van ride

When I watch a piece of film I like to look out for the finer details. This is a good insight into the director’s ability to tell a good story. It’s easy to miss the things that seem small. The subtle can reveal the most. As for following Jesus I honestly wish I could say that I could always identify the small details and subtle God moments. Too often I’m distracted, busy or even fearful which can hinder my awareness of what God is doing.

As a follower of Jesus I have had many moments of great mystery, which means I don’t totally understand God’s leading. I have also experienced times of great awe in which God revealed his activity. This is an invitation to get involved. I use the word ‘revealed’ because God isn’t always obvious. Even when I read the accounts in the gospels, the disciples of Jesus were always playing ‘catch up football’. In God revealing his plans he is also revealing his character and nature.

One Friday night I was driving down a part of the city in Christchurch that had mostly university students. From memory I was heading home from some event. There I was driving my people mover complete with a baby seats when I happened to slow down at a set of traffic lights. As I waited for the lights to change to green, beside me a bunch of drunk students came walking along my side of the road. One guy caught my eye. Cheekily he pulled out his thumb and asked me for a ride. In that moment I glanced the other way.

The van was barely moving from the change of lights when I felt God say that I was to pick them up. Instant conflict. I need to confess: I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual at that moment. I reluctantly slowed down to pull over and the boys came a running. I thought: God what have you got me into? I didn’t think I had anything divine to say. All I knew was God had said to pick them up. When God leads sometimes you get the prompting in the overall direction yet the finer details are sometimes scarce.

The boys were loud. I was unusually awkward. I made a bit of small talk all the while pondering if I was meant to reveal my motive. “Boys, I know you’re a little drunk but God has commanded that I pick you up!” Hmmm, that sounds weird! They asked if I could take them down the road near a mall. Five minutes later they piled out thanking me. More mystery!

In his book ‘The Gift of Being Yourself’, Canadian author David Benner writes:

“Most of us learn to discern God’s presence by first looking for it in the rearview mirror. That is the value of a prayerful review of the day.”

I have often wondered why God asked me to pick those guys up. I didn’t feel led to tell them of Jesus right then and there. No one looked sick to pray for. They were more on the ‘tiddly’ side.

Maybe God desired my obedience?

Maybe God wanted me to risk? To keep me on my toes?

Maybe God loves people deeply, even when they’re drunk? University students too!

In the gospel of John chapter five, verse seventeen Jesus says this: “My Father is always working, and so am I.” I think that verse might just sum up my time with the boys well. Jesus demonstrated and proclaimed that God is always ‘at work’. Christians are to take their cue from Jesus and to also look for the ‘working’ of the Father in the world. These invitations come to us in all manner of ways, both overt and seemingly subtle.

Lord, would you show us where you are working today… even in the small!

The subtle van ride