A rugby great

As a wimp and a geek myself, rugby has never been my favourite sport. However, I have been surprised that even I have been interested in the Rugby World Cup currently being contested in NZ.
There have been some impressive games and watching rugby being played at this level is quite awesome – these are big, powerful men moving with great skill and agility in a brutal game. Any one of those tackles would put me in hospital for a week!

The commitment, training and practise needed to be an All Black is beyond anything most of us would be prepared to do. They really do need to be obsessed with rugby to make the grade. It takes absolute passion for the game to even be considered for selection.

Then there are some players who are exceptional, standing out amongst these top athletes even. Every Kiwi knows who Jonah Lomu is, a mighty man amongst mighty men (see him in action here).

Other players stand out not only for their athletic ability but also for the stand they take for Christ in an environment dominated by very macho attitudes. Men such as Michael Jones who refused to play on Sundays, leading to criticism and not being selected for some international tours. Yet the good he has done as a role model for Samoan youth is beyond measure.

I was impressed to discover that a member of the Scottish rugby team, Euan Murray is taking a similar stance regarding playing on Sundays. I love what he is quoted as saying:

 “It’s basically all or nothing, following Jesus. I don’t believe in pick ‘n’ mix Christianity. I believe the Bible is the word of God, so who am I to ignore something from it?”
“I might as well tear out that page then keep tearing out pages as and when it suits me. If I started out like that there would soon be nothing left.”
(BBC Sport)

Even for ‘non-sporting types’ like me there is inspiration, an example and a rebuke to be gained from top athletes, more so when they are intentionally giving glory to God for their abilities. We can all appreciate the discipline, training and all out dedication to the sport exhibited by sports people. Paul encourages us to put their example to work in our devotion to Christ.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)

Join me in praying for the Shan people

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, Introduction

During the month of October I am dedicating myself to praying for the Shan people of Burma, Thailand and China. I did this last year and God has planted a desire to persist in prayer for this ethnic group. Please consider joining myself and many others around the world in praying for the Shan in October.

Most Shan people have not even heard of Jesus. Many of the places they live are remote, inaccessible, conflict zones and off-limits to foreigners. The relatively few Shan who have heard of Christ have many barriers to overcome in following Jesus. Please join in praying for these people that God will break down these barriers and bring many to faith in Him.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
(James 5:16b-18 ESV)

Shan State is the largest of the seven states in Burma, with a population of approximately 8 million people, 4 million of whom are of the Shan ethnic group.

Shan State is rich in natural resources, such as gems, minerals and teak. Large hydroelectric dams are also planned for the state.

The Shan are ethnically related to the Thai and have a similar language. The Shan call themselves “Tai”. “Shan” is a Burmese language term. Their cultural religion is Buddhism, and also strong animist beliefs. Most Shan people live off the land, generating a small income from agriculture. (Report: Crisis in Shan State)

Some ideas on how to approach this month of prayer:

  • Download the Shan Prayer Guide and personally devote one month to pray for the Shan, reading a new entry each day and meditating on the verses provided.
  • During Sunday school, small group, or family devotion have a time of reading an entry and praying together.
  • Meet with a friend or co-worker over lunch once a week and pray for the Shan during that time.
  • Exercise by going on a walk with a friend or spouse, reading one entry before going, praying for the Shan as you walk together.
  • Write out your prayers and meditate on God’s concern for the Shan people during your day, pleading for their relief and salvation.

Other posts related to this topic:

More Information:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Map of Burma: prayforburma.org  (below)
Image of Shan village woman: iStock 

Evil is ruthlessly competitive

For God alone my soul waits in silence;from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
How long will all of you attack a man
to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
(Psalm 62:1-4 ESV)

Waiting in silence

David’s soul is still in God’s presence. He draws near in reverent obedience. This is an active stillness, there is intentionality and purpose involved. There is focus – a fixed confidence in God which stills all anxieties and drives out little nagging concerns. From God alone comes salvation.

Confidence that only partly relies on God is vain
(C.H. Spurgeon)

The attack of evil

Have you ever had a great ‘quiet time’ (or whatever you choose to call it) in the morning, only to begin the day and have everything turn to custard? Perhaps this is what happened to David. “In God alone my soul waits in silence”. Only to be told at breakfast that the butler has sold the sordid details of the Bathsheba incident to the tabloids.

In reading about verses 3-4, I came across this description:

Evil, being ruthlessly competitive, is attracted to weakness, to give a last push to whatever is leaning or tottering. It is also attracted to strength, the target of its envy and duplicity. It is in total contrast to the goodness which spares the bruised reed, is glad “when we are weak and you are strong”, and achieves its ends by “the open statement of the truth”.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)

It stands to reason that David, king of Israel, would be the target of duplicity and underhanded attempts to displace him from his position of power.

What about you?

For all who walk with God there will be ruthlessly competitive attacks of evil probing for our weaknesses and fully exploiting every vulnerability.

  • Where does your strength lie?
  • What are your weaknesses, vulnerabilities, hidden things that would be painful if exploited or exposed?
  • Who would like to see you fall or be taken down a peg or two?
  • Why?
  • How do they seek to take you down?

In what ways does evil, attracted by a hint of weakness, try to give you one last push and get you to fall?

Preach to yourself

Evil attacks and David reminds himself of where his hope needs to be fixed, he strengthens his heart in God. At the beginning of the psalm he boldly states that his soul waits for God alone. Now we get to the place I am more familiar with, telling my soul that this is what I should be doing. I have to tell myself (firmly, forcefully) that God is my only rock and my salvation, my fortress, I will not be shaken. If I pause to consider the evil trying to tear my down, I must then remind myself that on God rests my salvation, on God rests my glory. I have no glory of my own, evil cannot steal what I do not claim. My security, my refuge, is God.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
(Psalm 62:5-7 ESV)

Trust in Him at all times!

Remember that confidence that only partly relies on God is vain. It is no good stumbling around in the twilight dimness of semi-trust. Trust God whether life is going well or disastrously. When we do trust fully in God it is easier to do what is necessary to get to the place of silently waiting for Him; pouring out our heart to Him.

Pray for your kids – peace-loving

Young boy and girl in a fight

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.(Romans 14:19 ESV)

Unless you only have one, very young, child then peace is unlikely to be the foremost thought on you mind when they are awake.

Sibling rivalry is just one of those behaviours we have to endure in our kids, but it is not something we want to encourage.

There are dozens of books written on how to control and improve children’s behaviour, how to be a better parent &etc. However, while we should use what means we can to teach good behaviour to our children, we cannot give them a heart of peace. God can.

It is good and right and necessary to ask God to give our kids hearts to pursue peace.


Download the prayer prompts:

Image of kids fighting: iStockphoto

Self-induced anxiety

When I start justifying my own choices to myself, it is a good indication I’m probably heading down the wrong road.
I found this to be the case in deciding upon the best option for hosting this blog. There was a low limit on how much disc space was provided with the plan I was paying for at my previous host, meaning I genuinely needed to assess whether an alternative would be better than paying for more data.

After some research I decided upon another provider and transferred the blog. However, the new option was slightly more expensive than what I’d been previously paying. With a small blog and low visitor numbers my heart was telling me that paying for huge bandwidth and storage capacity was overkill.

For a blog which is growing rapidly and generating an income from advertising it would be an excellent option, but that is not the direction I want to take. Yet this was the path I was burdening myself with in order to justify an more expensive hosting option.

As I have engaged with the blogging community, particularly those who have positioned themselves as experts, the general assumption is that most bloggers seek more visitors to generate income through advertising and other mechanisms. Although I never completely embraced this as my own goal, I did assume the principles used to make a blog successful in that way would also make my own blog better. There is some truth in this, also some self-deception.

If money, popularity or growth is the primary goal then more and bigger is better; more visitors, a bigger audience. Is this my goal?

Growth had in fact become my goal, wanting reassurance that there is some merit in what I write because more visitors arrive at the blog. Yet a reasonable proportion of these visitors arrive here via random Google searches for stuff I don’t even focus on – how does that ‘show’ any merit in my writing?

This goal of growth is one I gave myself. It is certainly not a goal given to me from God. I am convinced that what I should be doing is to write stuff that honours God and builds up other Christians. To quote Ann Voskamp:

A successful blogger is a serving blogger
(What is Success?)

In the Kingdom of God the values we are accustomed to in this world are turned on their head, it is an ‘upside-down kingdom’. To be successful as a child of God I must become a servant, even as I write.

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(Matthew 23:11-12 ESV)

So my crucial tools for blogging in the Kingdom of God are not Google Analytics, PHP, CSS or an awesome web host; rather the crucial ‘tools’ are to love God and serve Him.

You, with a keyboard – you are an artist.
You with a blog – you are filled with the Holy Spirit.
You telling your story – speak it with boldness.
Ann Voskamp, (What is Success – Life in the Upside Down Kingdom)

New home

Welcome to the new WordPress.com home of Words of Eternal Life, I hope you like the new scenery! (The header images are all of places familiar to me in the south of the South Island, New Zealand.)

Busted stuff

As always when moving stuff around the internet some links have been broken. Most of these will be links to images and I am fixing these as quickly as I can but as there are at least 200 to go it will take some time! If you happen to notice anything else broken please leave a note in the comments and I will get on to it also.

Categories and tags were also cleared during the move, they are a lower priority for me to fix but it may make finding stuff a little harder. If there is something in particular you are looking for try using the search box above – just type in a key word or two and hit enter, hopefully the search results will show what you were looking for. If not, again leave a comment!

Why do you keep moving the blog??

Excellent question! The initial reason for deciding to seek a new hosting provider is that although my previous host was very reliable and gave fantastic customer service, there was a low (500MB) cap on how much disc space I could use without paying more. This was becoming a limiting factor and I knew other providers were offering virtually unlimited disc space for a similar price to what I already paid.

Unfortunately finding a provider that is as reliable is not so easy – they all have faults. Eventually I settled on one which seemed to be a good compromise but it still cost a little more than I had been paying and involved much more technical work to set up. This extra work takes me a lot of extra time, and was consuming all my ‘spare’ time, creating other problems (such as an irritated wife!).

This cost in time and money caused me to reassess and opt for the technically easy and financially cheap WordPress.com option. It has limitations, but they are such as I can live within for the time being.

(More details on my odd decision-making process in the next post.)

Other posts related to this topic:

Image of house drawing: iStockphoto
Broken link icon: DryIcons

The pastoral scapegoat

After writing this post and submitting it for publishing, I realised that it does not fully reflect my thinking on the topic. Do read the two comments below the main body of the post as they illuminate this a bit. I’ve also seen the huge benefit that finally employing a part time pastor in our little church has brought and this has further changed my viewpoint. I’m leaving this post on the site as it is a reminder to me that I’ve always got much more to learn and can easily get cocky in my views.


the-pastoral-scapegoat

“We are too small to be able to afford to pay a pastor, the church will have to close.”

Bad call!

Employing a pastor is not a necessary requirement of a healthy church. In many cases it is really a convenient way to make life easier for the elders and church members.

Many small churches are struggling to balance budgets, yet the last expense to be cut is usually the pastor’s salary. As an elder myself I would never want to make a pastor redundant, but after our part-time pastor resigned a year and a half ago we did not employ anyone to replace him. Despite some doubts, our congregation is still thriving, we have an excellent Sunday school program, great sermons and heartfelt worship singing each week.

I would like for us to employ a pastor, but my reasons are largely selfish – it would make life easier for me. It would probably also tempt me to disobey God. My responsibility as an elder is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). I cannot push that responsibility onto someone else by casting my vote to pay them a salary from the church budget. The commission to shepherd (pastor) God’s people was given to me when I accepted the office of elder.

Likewise, no Christian can delegate their obligation to love one another onto a pastor by virtue of contributing to his salary. Responsibility for serving God’s people lies with all believers according to the grace God has given (1 Peter 4:10).

At its best, a group of believers would act in accordance with the exhortations of Romans chapter 12. Those with particular abilities use them for building up the whole group. God promises to give what we need to serve Him, so we can assume that He will place within each group the skills, or ability to acquire the skills, required to fulfill the purpose He has for that group. The leaders in such a group of believers would be:

  • Experienced
  • Stable and above reproach
  • Humble
  • Willing servants
  • Committed to the wellbeing of those in the group (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Peter 5:1-5).

What is missing from this picture? Plenty, if you are using contemporary churches as the measuring standard. A couple of obvious things are buildings and a pastor. But if we use the New Testament as our standard, buildings are barely mentioned and neither are pastors.

We do see elders as a required church office in the Bible, and that those who labor for the gospel and in preaching are worthy of wages for their work. It is OK to pay those who labor in ministry, but nowhere are we told that a church must employ a pastor. The responsibility for shepherding (pastoring) lies with the elders.  If we can trust God to give all we need for life and godliness, and if we believe that spiritual gifts are given for the common good of the church, then it is reasonable to assume that within each congregation of His people God provides grace to corporately fulfill His mission without dumping most of the work onto one man.

In order to follow such an ideal of church leadership we have to adjust our expectations. By accepting that God gives the grace to achieve His call on each fellowship, we also have to accept His standards and priorities for His work. We know God doesn’t judge outward appearances and that He is happy to accept people who are shunned by everyone else. So elders, brace yourselves for a shakedown of any appearance-based expectations and to be called-out on substandard shepherding.

Inspired by Aisling

fear-and-faith

My first blog (Words of Eternal Life) was born as a flow-on effect from a tragedy that deeply touched my heart in October 2009 when two-year-old Aisling Symes disappeared suddenly and despite extensive searches could not be found. As the search continued and fears for Aisling’s safety grew, a Facebook page was set up to offer support for the family. I had not previously used Facebook, but wanted to leave a message so signed up to the site.

Facebook confronted me with both a marvelous mechanism to connect with people and also a fantastic array of utterly trivial and quite pointless time wasters. I did notice, however, that some people were writing excellent articles and posting them on Facebook. Then I realized these were in fact blog feeds and this started me pondering whether I should confront the low-grade content on Facebook with something a bit more edifying to the soul than Farmville and the likes.

So little Aisling induced me to join Facebook, which then seeded the idea of starting a blog. What you are reading is the result, and being born out of the memory of Aisling it has a sober tone to it, an awareness of how precious life is and how essential faith in Christ is given that life can be so short. My prayers go out to Aisling’s parents and sister and I thank them for their own faith in Jesus which is also an inspiration and encouragement that Christ is sufficient for all we need.

Seek wisdom as gold

seek-wisdom-as-gold

How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
(Proverbs 16:16 ESV)

Last week I wrote about listening to advice in order to gain wisdom. An obvious question in response is, “why should I even want wisdom?”

Fair question, here we have an answer – it is better to gain wisdom than to possess gold. My old High School used this proverb as it’s motto. Given the current price of gold is NZ$2,214 ($1.824 US) this is saying something significant.

It’s not as though gold is under-valued in the Bible, it is mentioned 455 times – more than heaven (422 times), money (123 mentions) and salvation (122 times). Knowing how much we covet gold, God has gone and paved the streets of heaven with the stuff! (Revelation 21:21).

Even if gold is not your thing, there are plenty of other reasons to seek wisdom:

  • Wisdom protects better than money (Ecclesiastes 7:12).
  • Wisdom preserves the life of the person who has it (Ecclesiastes 7:12).
  • Wisdom and discretion give life to your soul (Proverbs 3:21-22).
  • Wisdom will deliver you from the way of evil (Proverbs 2:12).
  • It delivers a man from adultery (Proverbs 2:16).
  • Wisdom gives strength (Ecclesiastes 7:19).
  • It is better than strength (Ecclesiastes 9:16).
  • Wisdom brightens your face (Ecclesiastes 8:1).
  • Blessed is the person who finds it (Proverbs 3:13).
  • Wisdom brings hope to your soul (Proverbs 24:14).
  • Whoever gets wisdom loves their own soul (Proverbs 19:8).

With reasons like this to encourage us, it is obvious that only a fool would disdain wisdom.

So what should we do? Get wisdom! (Proverbs 4:7).

Image of gold bar: BullionVault