By Rodney Macann
The past month or two have been times for me of immense privilege. I’d like to take you on a journey as I track significant events where, by virtue of my role as a Baptist leader, or in one case a husband and father, I’ve been drawn into the lives of others.
This period began with one of the most gut-wrenching weeks of the past four years. First I heard the news of Timothy Lee’s mountain biking accident and later the same day I heard that Mark Lau Young had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Both Tim and Mark are pastors who I’ve been in relationship with over recent years, both men are in their 40s and they are both pure gold.
Tim was hurled into a tree and suffered multiple spinal fractures. There was doubt he would survive the first 24 hours and the diagnosis was that he would be tetraplegic.
With Mark, the jury was out in terms of the seriousness of his situation except for the fact that stomach cancer is very serious and he would undergo chemotherapy with the hope of an early diagnosis.
This amazing family that we are part of then got into gear! Mark told me how great his church and colleagues were. He is loved and respected by his pastor colleagues in the Wellington region and in the wider network of the Hosanna churches. In our own Wellington pastors clusters I’ve frequently heard him described as an awesome guy – one of the ultimate Kiwi bloke accolades. Prayer hit the road and continues!
With Tim the response was also fantastic. Assurances of prayer support and offers of practical help were coming in from all over New Zealand and from as far away as Europe. I had the immense privilege of telling him about this. His smile muscles were working pretty well as we shared together.
A totally different experience was travelling to the Baptist World Alliance Congress meetings in Hawaii. This is an event that takes place every five years and it’s high on inspiration and encouragement. I was involved with the music so witnessed some of the backstage organisation and co-ordination (occasionally lack of it).
One of the disappointments was that over 1000 people had been refused visas to enter the United States. This is the post-September 11 world that we live in. However there were still several thousand people representing more than 100 different countries. Again there was this great sense of family.
Two thousand years after the event, gathered from all over the world, some wearing national costumes (although I didn’t see too many shorts and jandals), here we were celebrating as the family of the risen Lord Jesus, part of still the fastest growing movement in human history. The times when we gathered to share in worship were rich in variety, gift, enthusiasm, opportunity for participation and great preaching.
I want to comment on the preaching. Preaching is alive and well. The preaching that connected strongly with me was where I experienced true “heart communication.” We had some great examples of that – David Coffey on the opening night was inspirational. Nobody was light on content but what thrilled me personally was when people preached from the heart.
We had two great examples of that late in the conference. Earlier one of our brothers preached a very solid message on the importance of preaching – proclamation. We then had two outstanding messages where the word was well and truly proclaimed.
On the final night of the conference we had Paul Msiza, a black South African who is general secretary of the Baptist Convention of South Africa and president of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship. When he was preaching we had the sense that he was carrying the pain and need of Africa and that he stopped when he was exhausted, preached out. It was magnificent, powerful and moving.
In the last service we again shared truly great preaching from Lance Watson – senior pastor of St Paul’s Baptist church in Richmond, Virginia. Lance, an African American, started by telling us that as an African American preacher he was unused to being told what to preach on, he was also unused to being given a time limit, however he had thought of this new beatitude: “Blessed are the brief for they will be invited back!” He was not particularly brief and we were all grateful for that. He brought oratory reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr and a wonderful re-telling of Acts 3, where Peter and John were involved in healing a lame man outside the temple.
Lance’s preaching was an amazing experience because of the growing engagement of the congregation. As he went on, more and more people leapt to their feet encouraging him until you could only just hear him above the chorus of “amen, preach it” etc. For me it was a joyful experience unlike anything I’ve previously shared; others were moved to tears.
As I write, I’m in the middle of pastors conferences. These again have been that rich mix of heart communication and a sense of family. We’ve had sessions that we described as “Soul Food” led in Auckland by Mike Norris, vicar of St Pauls, Symonds Street and in Rotorua and Waikanae by Digby and Jane Wilkinson.
Both Mike and Digby, through a mix of their own stories and scripture, took us back to the beginnings of our own relationship with Jesus and took us on a journey. Tapu Misa, a NZ Herald columnist, shared something similar.
It was particularly poignant for me because there were rich parallels in my personal family experience. In the week between returning from Hawaii and embarking on the pastor conferences, Lorna and I shared our 40th wedding anniversary with family and friends. It was again that rich mix of heart communication and family. Inevitably, we recalled those days when it all began, the early excitement of falling in love and the developing and maturing of a relationship through the years.
Following our celebration I didn’t sleep very well as I found myself lying there tracking back through the significant moments of our lives together. It was a blessed sleeplessness, something I wouldn’t normally enjoy!
In the pastors conferences we were given space to reflect similarly on our relationship with Jesus. The relationships certainly have not been journeys of perfection, but so much to be thankful for.
As I’ve shared in different contexts over the past month or two there has been a common thread. Again and again I’ve heard people say, “It’s all about relationship” – and it is. We’re in this triangular relationship with God and each other. And when you are in relationship it is all about exploring what it means to be family. Although there is an undoubted intellectual component with that, in the end it’s all about “heart communication.”
God thought the world had potential, so he sent his son – no! God so loved the world that he sent his son. The greatest command – love God and love your neighbour, love one another as I have loved you. The greatest teaching and the greatest discipleship program only have meaning if we are people who are exploring, developing and living in relationship – becoming that family of God who welcomes all.