Posts Tagged hope

Holding Hope

(I found this draft post in my files – it’s a year out of date, but I like what Paul and Tracey had to share, so up it goes…)

So, following on from my previous post, in which I described my impressions from my time with Tracy, the Baptist community pastor for Kaiapoi, I spent some time with both her and the senior pastor, Paul over lunch. They invited me to ask them questions, and I focused mostly on what it was like for Paul, my counterpart, to lead the congregation in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.

IMG440Much of what Paul said reinforced what Tracy had already said.  For instance, he talked of the increase in the suicide rate; not so much among the young (who already have a horrendously high rate of suicide) but among older folks who just can’t keep going.  He talked of the feelings of tiredness and exhaustion which come with coping with being in a broken environment for two years now; how early optimism and the “We can fix this” attitude gets slowly eroded simply by the passing of time.  How the initial losses of home and security and (often) jobs, are compounded over time by the losses of friends and familiar landmarks.

A regular theme here is the phrase, “We’re off the map.”  They explained to me how an earthquake is such an unexpected event, and for each place, such a unique event, that there is no real resource for them – no road-map or guide-book for how they should be coping or what they should be expecting.  They are moving into uncharted territory in the ‘here be dragons’ zone.  This, of course, only exacerbates the stress and increases the load of each new day.  I know full well how pastoral work is difficult at the best of times; in the midst of earthquake consequences and recovery it becomes impossible for human strength.  And there’s the key.  Because they are forced to rely upon God’s grace for each day’s needs, they are convinced of his power to help and to heal.  The reasons for despair in their community are, for Paul and his congregation, an opportunity for optimism.  They look forward to the time when “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21.4)

Because of this basic orientation towards hope; towards a future that is in God’s hands and is good, Paul and co. continue to hold hope for their people.  Paul says that “A ‘woe-is-me’ attitude is not good enough as the default position for Christian ministry.” Hand-wringing and lamentation have their place, but to stay there is to betray the best  part of the Gospel.  Paul looks to the story of Nehemiah leading the people of Jerusalem in rebuilding their city walls, and points out that while Nehemiah lists the various occupations of the wall-rebuilders, there are never any masons or engineers in the lists; it was ordinary people with ordinary occupations who got out there and dealt with the section of the wall that was closest to them.  He also notes that they did actually know what a wall should look like; they had the thing rebuilt within sixty-odd days.  “We don’t know what our future looks like,” says Paul, “But we do know that it belongs to God.”  Thus they have to rebuild in faith, and the first steps might be tentative, but they are foundational, and so essential.

And what are they putting in these foundations?  Paul is awaiting delivery of a strip of red carpet.  “We’re going to ‘roll out the red carpet’ for the Holy Spirit.”  It is God leading his people in their day-day lives that will bring the best expressions of the Kingdom coming.  They’ve recently begun giving away money in their services; with the proviso that the person taking the cash has to ask God how to spend it and it has to be spent on someone else, and they have to come back and tell the story.  The first sum was taken by a forestry worker who returned to tell, with tears in his eyes, how God had lead him to buy blankets for those who were sleeping in their cars still, as a bitter winter rolls around.

There is an emphasis upon fun and laughter – good medicine for the soul.  And “courage grows in company”, says Paul.  Getting people together – for any old reason – helps to build  resilience into people’s lives; helps to remind them that they are still part of a community – albeit a community that is hurting and changing and transforming into something new.

At this point Paul quotes Jesus’ saying about putting new wine into new wine-skins.  The past is gone and the loss hurts and grief is necessary – but the past is gone.  Something new is happening, and the something new demands new ways of doing things, new structures and new systems.  It’s this forward focus that will bring the community of Kaiapoi through these dark days – and it will still be a community because of the efforts of those like Paul and Tracy who are building foundations of hope into people’s lives.

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I Wanna Be SUPER-CHRISTIAN! (Sermon for Advent, 4)

I wanna be Super-Christian!

I want to get up before dawn every morning without fail

and spend three hours in prayer and meditation!

I want to fast twice a week

without thinking once about my waist-line.

I want to be able to perform miracles of healing

and cast out demons,

and diagnose short legs and roots of bitterness

with a single glance of my compassionate eyes,

and then, with a mere gesture or a whispered word,

set people free from whatever it is that binds them.

I want to be so filled with faith that I never have a single doubt

and I never have to work again,

because all my needs are meet by God.

I want to be so free from materialism that I own nothing,

but can still give away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

I want people to immediately think of me

when they’re asked what a great Christian looks like.

And I want to be so immensely humble

that I’m never aware of this mass adulation.

I want to be so good at evangelism

that I just have to walk into a room for everyone to be instantly converted.

I want to be able to read and remember a book of the Bible a day

and actually understand everything I read.

And everything I write

(or at least, everything my researchers write in my name)

becomes an instant best-seller.

And not just in Christian bookshops either.

I want this direct line to God,

so that I always know exactly what He wants me to do

and he always knows exactly what I want Him to do.

And he does it.

Because I’m such a fantastic Christian.

I wanna be Super Christian.

What a pity I’m just me.

And the Bible says this:

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,

but do not have love,

I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 And if I have prophetic powers,

and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,

and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,

but do not have love,

I am nothing.

3 If I give away all my possessions,

and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,

but do not have love,

I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient;

love is kind;

love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5 or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,

endures all things.

8 Love never ends.

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;

as for tongues, they will cease;

as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;

10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child,

I reasoned like a child;

when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,

but then we will see face to face.

Now I know only in part;

then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;

and the greatest of these is love. [1]

According to the Bible, nothing else really matters apart from love.

Only love is eternal.

Hope and faith are right up there,

but hope is all about the future

and one day that future will arrive and we will need hope no more.

And faith is our trust in the one who we do not now see,

but one day we will see him face to face

and our faith will be taken up into adoration.

Faith and hope will one day be redundant,

but love…

love is eternal.

When Paul wrote those words to the Corinthians,

he was writing to a church where people saw themselves as super-Christians.

Earlier in this letter he said he was writing to them,

“so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.

7 For who sees anything different in you?

What do you have that you did not receive?

And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!

Quite apart from us you have become kings!

Indeed, I wish that you had become kings,

so that we might be kings with you![2]

Paul can be really sarcastic when he wants to be.

To this church full of puffed-up people

who thought that the goal of Christianity is to become super-spiritual

he prescribes a radical change of direction.

It’s not about you, he writes, it’s about other people.

It doesn’t matter if you can speak in tongues or prophecy or move mountains;

what matters is how much you love.

It’s important to anchor Sunday morning sermon thoughts in reality,

so having your own personal examples of what Godly love looks like

is far better than having a few vague words from the pulpit.

So can we just pause for a few minutes

and talk amongst yourselves at your tables.

Ask each other this question:

“Who do I know

or what have I seen

that has shown me what real love is?

1 Corinthians 13 type love?”

Anybody want to share the example of Love they thought of?

Of course, Jesus is the greatest single example of love that we know of.

Paul points us towards him when he wrote to the Philippians:

2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ,

any consolation from love,

any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,

2 make my joy complete:

be of the same mind, having the same love,

being in full accord and of one mind.

(and here’s where he really begins to warm up…)

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,

but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

4 Let each of you look not to your own interests,

but to the interests of others.

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8               he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

This passage is one of the most important Christmas passages in the Bible,

because it talks about Jesus’ birth in the same breath as Jesus’ death,

and it shows us that the birth, no less than the death,

was an act of humility and obedience and love on Jesus’ part.

By entering into creation with us;

by becoming one with the world he made

Jesus healed the division between creator and creation.

In his body He is the bridge between heaven and earth.

And in his embrace of creation,

his holding and enfolding of sinful humanity into the inner life of the Trinity,

he didn’t stop at the manger

but continued to the cross and the grave.

Manger scenes tend to be prettily painted and very sweet.

I’ve done that myself.

The danger is that we miss the amazing indecency of what actually happened!

There was the out-of-wedlock conception,

There was the long journey in the final days of pregnancy,

There was the inability to find a decent room,

and the agony of birth – amongst animals!

There was the use of a feed-trough as a cradle.

There was a frightened and jealous king

who slaughtered an entire village of baby boys,

and there was a frantic flight by night from the danger zone

and being a refugee in a foreign land.

Jesus birth wasn’t especially pretty or lovely.

It wasn’t even a standard first century birth;

It was awful.

It was a pointer to the death that was to follow.

When God chose to close the gap between us,

he didn’t just come to the good things and the good people;

he came to the lowest of the low – shepherds and tax-gatherers.

Foreign astrologers and village no-bodies.

And in becoming human, Jesus embraced sin, and pain, and sickness

– and death.

Even death on a cross.

It is because God has entered into the very worst of human evil

and has destroyed it from the inside

that we have hope today.

Jesus has kicked down the doors of death

and thrown open the gates of the grave.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Christmas is the beginning of Easter

and Easter is the completion of Christmas.

The two holidays cannot be understood apart from one another.

This has obvious implications for us:

This means that Christmas is not all about getting stuff

but is all about giving to people.

Giving hope and forgiveness.

Giving respect, and care and attention and compassion;

those things that mean so much more than stocking-fillers

and make such an amazing difference in the lives of lost individuals.

Please turn again to those around you, or simply sit and ponder,

and  ask yourselves:

“what can I do this Christmas that will make a difference for someone else?”

(Close in prayer)


[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2]NRSV, 1 Cor 4:6-8

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From Kaiapoi

I’m sitting in the office of Tracy, the community worker for Kaiapoi Baptist, and just trying to get my head around all I’ve seen and heard in the last hour or so.

Firstly, Tracy is a dynamo of passion and commitment to this community.  As we cruised around the streets of Kaiapoi and the nearby beach suburbs she poured forth an intimate insiders’ view of what has happened, what is happening, and why.  We talked about the fact that for many in Kaiapoi, the September earthquake was the major event, rather than the February one.  Much media attention is focused on February’s quake, which killed people – largely because it occurred during the day – but Tracy tells me that the nightmare really began in September.

“What was the impact of the February Quake, then?” I ask.

“Brokenness upon brokenness,” she replies.

In Kaiapoi, 20% of the homes are red-zoned.  One in every five!  We drove around through neighbourhoods that were utterly deserted.  Here and there a lone resident hanging on in a miraculously livable house – or just a stubborn person refusing to move.  For many such neighbourhoods, however, the council is having to cut off their services, and then all but the most obstinate will be forced to go, whether their home has been damaged or not.

Worse than the red-zoning of houses, however, are the land assessments; many areas have been assessed as TC3, meaning that rebuilding on that land will require stringent earthquake resistance measures.  Insurance usually only covers like for like, and so a great many can’t afford to rebuild on their own property. Again, they have to leave.  A large number of residents were retired or near retirement.  They’ve now had to use their retirement savings, or obtain new mortgages, in order to build in a new part of town.  Rents have skyrocketed, land prices in the new subdivisions have increased in value, and building materials are at a premium as demand drives prices higher and higher.  Additional price pressure comes from Christchurch residents, looking for somewhere new to live, and moving into this outlying community. With all these pressures, everybody can name friends, family and neighbours who have simply left the area, leaving social voids that echo the empty spaces along so many streets, where homes once stood and now weeds grow amongst graffiti-ed rubble.

We also drove around the new suburbs, sites of busyness as new homes pour like wet concrete over flat farmland.  Houses here have to be built to certain specifications – three-level rooflines and the like – and again the standard is often a higher one than that of the homes that the insurance companies are replacing.  So again, people are facing new mortgages at a time when they thought that they were freehold, or much larger mortgages than they thought they would ever have to endure.  People who had retired or stayed home to care for children are returning to the workforce.  People with one job are looking for a second – or third – job to make ends meet and make repayments.  Families are seeing less of each other as financial burdens increase.  Communities and neighbourhoods that were settled and pleasant places are disbanding and scattering and there is no choice in the matter.  This is a refugee situation in a first world nation.

These physical and financial impacts are merely the surface of the emotional and social impacts.  Domestic violence increased 30% following the September quake, so DV services from Rangiora relocated to Kaiapoi.  After the September quake, councils and insurance companies made plans and laid out a road-map for recovery, and things were under way when the February quake happened, and everything changed again.  People no longer feel that their life is under control, and men, especially, are reacting to this.  Nothing is stable, nothing is reliable.  Who can you trust?  How can you plan when the rules keep changing?  And post-trauma stress is real.  Tracy remembers the screams from the church child-care centre when the February quake hit children who were beginning to recover from the life-shattering event of the previous September, and the looks on the faces of parents who ran from everywhere to be with their children.  She talks about what it’s like to be a quake survivor feeling the thud and crash of demolitions going on nextIMG435 door, when every sudden noise brings back vertiginous memories of floors swaying and ground dropping and bucking and ceilings cracking, sagging, showering you with plaster, and the earth at your feet gaping open and gushing forth liquefaction like some primeval wound.  I stood amidst the mess of the aftermath, and the sheer brokenness of the homes around me was a tearing ache in my spirit.  Imagine what it must have been like in the terror of the moment.

And then, she says, you finally have a nice new home, and life seems to be going back to normal, and yet you still feel completely abnormal; filled with grief and anger and pain and anxiety, and what do you do with these feelings now?  Now that the crisis is ‘over’?  People feel guilty, she said, for still feeling bad when their neighbours might still be wrestling with insurance company intransigence, or changing council requirements, or serious injury.  So feelings get stuffed, and emerge in other ways.

And yet there is also hope.  As I type, I have in front of me a black wooden block with a big red heart painted on it, and the single word, ‘hope’.  These were gifts from the ‘Ark’ childcare centre to their community.  Psalm 23.4 (look it up) is on the back.  Tracy is filled with passion and enthusiasm for her community, not just as the response of a warm and generous heart to the pain of her friends and neighbours, but also because she has seen so much of what God can and is doing for this place – especially through his people here.  Though the church, too, has suffered, it has become a centre of healing.  Unlike so many agencies that were established and funded to provide help in the days after the quake, and have since closed their doors, Kaiapoi Baptist isn’t going anywhere.  It belongs here and will continue to make a difference.  Its dinners, its film evenings for seniors (Kaiapoi has lost its movie theatre), its children’s groups and activities, its networking amongst the agencies and councils make it a strategic player for recovery.  The connections of the church to the community are personal, prophetic, and powerful.  They don’t just speak hope, they are that hope in the lives of so many.

How does that work?  That’s for the next post…

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