I was in Christchurch airport a week ago, my flight was delayed by fog and I met someone from Christchurch, also delayed by fog. We started talking and I told him I worked for the Baptist churches of New Zealand. Somehow it seemed more natural to do that at this time. He responded – “I’m very impressed with the Baptists” and proceeded to tell me about receiving a knock at the door of his home soon after the quake and a young woman, I’m assuming from St Albans Baptist because of where he lives, said she was there on behalf of her church to offer help – provisions, companionship or even counseling. They were covering their parish. Because of the quake we now have parishes.
Later that day I was in Dunedin sharing with Alex Gayle, one of our pastors. He told me how he had driven up to Christchurch and spent a week there sharing with the Breezes Road church, in one of the badly affected areas. He took someone from his church with him and along with others from Breezes Road was visiting people in the area. They talked with people and Alex offered to pray. He said about 90% responded positively and no-one responded negatively to the offer.
In the midst of this tragedy there will be many who have found a new sense of purpose and confidence in terms of who we are as followers of Jesus. Bob Parker, the mayor of Christchurch, not known for being part of a church community, recommended to the people of the city that they go to church on the Sunday after the quake. And they did. We were in Christchurch on the following Monday meeting with pastors and many spoke of the people who were with them for the first time on the Sunday. Throughout history, Jesus followers have been there at the times of crisis and God has been experienced in a new way. This is a tough time but it is also a time of opportunity. I’ve told a couple of stories but there are many stories to be told. The response from our churches to the people of Christchurch has been fantastic. There are also many stories yet to be written and told.Prior to February 22nd I’d been a part of discussions where we had talked about what seemed to be the low ‘God confidence’ which makes it difficult for us to acknowledge who we are and to share our faith. I believe February 22nd has brought about some changes. In recent times we’ve been very aware of being under assault by a group of very vocal, very articulate and very well publicized atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Hawking. I read a good article by Graham Watts, a lecturer at Spurgeons College. He says Dawkins is very keen on portraying God in ways that most believers would find problematic. I don’t believe in the God that Dawkins rejects. On February 22nd I was at the New Zealand Leaders Congress and in the main morning session there was a very good address reminding us that in the proclamation of the Gospel in the early church it was all about Jesus – his life, death and resurrection. The actions of the early church may have spoken very strongly of a God of Love but that was not the essential message, or if God’s love was spoken of it was always in relation to it’s outworking in the coming of Jesus. I found that a very helpful reminder. Going up to a victim of the quake with a simple – its OK God loves you, invites a “yeah right” response.
In January I was meeting with a secular music foundation that I serve on. It includes some distinguished, strong minded Kiwis. We were having a meal together and the subject of God came up which led to a lively discussion. I went away from the meal feeling dissatisfied that I had missed an opportunity to turn the discussion to the Jesus I follow, believe in and who changes lives rather than the more general discussion about the existence of God. In that particular context I take comfort from the fact my foundation colleagues respect who I am not simply as a Kiwi singer but as a church leader. That wouldn’t have always been the case. I believe the current argument is not – why does God allow tsunamis and earthquakes but rather the Jesus who through the Holy Spirit and His people can bring transformation, and that is something to celebrate.
Back to Christchurch - We’ve taken the decision to move The Gathering from Hamilton to Christchurch. Very simply we want to affirm the city and bless our pastors and churches by offering the best we can to Christchurch. A lot of planning has gone into this Gathering with us making some significant changes from previous years. Our baptist family business – welcoming new pastors and churches will take place on the Thursday night at the great new centre at Lincoln Baptist church. Friday morning will be our business session. We then make a fresh start and move into full conference mode on Friday afternoon. This sees us move to Lincoln University where we continue til Saturday evening. We’re then encouraging all of our pastors and church teams to stay for at least the Sunday morning and disperse to the Canterbury churches and bless them with your preaching and presence in the morning services. Our theme is Being the Body – Nobody Missing, Our chief guests include Mark Holmen from the U.S.A. www.faithbeginsathome.com Mark will open the conference section then speak on the Friday night and on the Saturday at a special pastors’ lunch. We also have Ian and Mary Grant bringing their perspectives on Christian parenting and on the Saturday night we have a world mission focus with John Dawson, a kiwi currently resident in the U.S.A. who is the international head of YWAM. We want you to bring your teams, and to encourage that we have a full range of workshops and seminars, plus planned down time for the team. There are major advantages of a Campus Gathering with all of our venues close together, meals on site plus accomodation for the first 500 to register. We’ve been offered a great deal by the University. Lincoln is one of the areas largely undamaged by the Februrary 22nd quake. We’re looking at mass bookings for flights from the upper North Island as we want to keep the cost down. In taking this decision we consulted the Canterbury pastors and then the upper North Island pastors who will have to travel most and we received a very enthusiastic response. We believe God has opened some great doors for this to happen, particularly the availability of Lincoln University and Lincoln Baptist’s willingness to host the first section. Note that the Gathering is the second weekend in November, not the usual first.
Finally, one of the things I love about my role is getting out, meeting with pastors, hearing your stories and appreciating the giftedness, vision and commitment shown by so many of you. I remember George Bush lamenting it was a pity the French didn’t have a word for entrepreneur. Well we have the word and we have the gifting with many of our pastors and churches. It’s not in the original lists although I’m sure with some creative translation we could work it in there, and I’m sure its something the Spirit smiles on. I’ve seen it as pastors and churches have moved from crisis to opportunity in a whole heap of contexts. May the Lord bless you with that gifting and the realization of your dreams and visions. This is a time of opportunity.
The Lord bless you in the midst of ministry