we're back

We returned home this evening after a great week away. I will hopefully post some pictures tomorrow but we took around three hundred and I want to sift through them and post the best ones. If you simply can't wait to see some pictures Brooke has put a few up on her blog.

In the meantime, if you're interested, I have a new mini-review/discussion guide of the film "Everything Is Illuminated" up on Ransom Fellowship's website (there is a link to the discussion guide under my Articles & Talks section). If you haven't seen this movie yet go and watch it before you read any of the questions in the discussion guide. It is a great film that will make you laugh and cry. Well, it made me laugh and cry at least.

Anyway, the pictures are coming soon!


dial up is slow... very slow.

Hey all,

All the folks around here are on holiday for the next week or so. This means that Brooke and I have some free time to explore the North Island. We left Monday and headed up to Paihia where we stayed the night. Tuesday we spent about 6 hours on the water doing a boat tour of the Bay of Islands. Start with tons of beautiful scenery, add a gorgeous day, mix in several dolphins and seals in their natural habitat, and top it all of with the fact that I was with my wonderful wife and you end up with a near perfect day. Tuesday night we stayed the night in Russel which is directly across the Bay from Paihia.

Wednesday morning we went out on a boat looking for more dolphins. It was much colder this morning and we didn't see any dolphins until the very end of the boat trip. So while this trip wasn't as good as yesterday's it was still pretty cool. After the boat trip we had luinch in Russel and explored a bit then drove along the North coast to Kaitai. We're now staying at a Backpacker's\Hostel type place with very old dial up internet. It's amazing how quickly you get used to faster technology and then become impatient when you have to wait longer to check email. Okay, maybe that's just me.

Anyway, we have a few more days of travel and exploration and then we'll be back home. We will both have tons of pictures to post on the blogs so stay tuned.


finding comfort in God's losers

For the last couple of weeks I've been reading through Genesis and I finished today. I've been thinking about the various accounts and people recorded in this book and I have been struck again by how screwed up most of the "saints" recorded in the Bible are. The patriarchs in Genesis have issues too numerous to list here and throughout the rest of the Bible the examples don't get much better. By and large God's people are portrayed as deeply and severely flawed.

I know I shouldn't delight in other people's failures but in many ways I do take comfort in the failures of the men and women whose actions are recorded in Scripture. I find comfort in them because they remind me that God is used to dealing with people as screwed up as I am. I am deeply and severely flawed too. It's so easy to believe that the gospel is true for other people and that grace is available for people who don't have my cold heart and corrupted mind. Then I'm reminded of faithful failures like Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter and Paul. In them I find clear pictures of God's forgiveness and love going out to even the vilest offenders and I can see how grace is available for even me. I know this idea isn't new or original but it is one that brings my soul freedom from doubt.

It saddens me that many people view Christianity as a religion for people who are more moral than others or who have their crap together. It saddens me even more that many Christians help propagate this image. Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost, to bring health and life to the spiritually dead. This is the message I need to hear over and over again. From the dawn of time God knew how much of a loser I'd be and he sent his Son to rescue me and my fellow losers anyway.


my new ink

Since nothing very exciting happened today, and since Joe requested it, I figured I'd post a few pictures of my new tattoo along with a brief exlanation. This new piece was a combination Christmas, birthday, and graduation present which is what allowed me to "go big" (Special thanks to those friends, including my wife, who specifically wanted me to use their gift on a new tat. You guys rock!). I also figured that if we end up on the mission field long-term this might possibly be the last tattoo I get. I hope that's not the case but I am sympathetic to the fact that most supporters wouldn't appreciate "Tattoo Fund" being a line item in our budget.

After about 15 hours of sitting under the needle this piece was finished two days before we left for New Zealand. It was designed and done by Nate at Allstar. I've had him do several of my smaller pieces and he is simply an amazing artist. I didn't give him much to work with for this design, just a couple of vague ideas and a few symbols, and he came up with something that I personally think is incredible. Thanks Nate!

The tattoo incorporates several ideas that I will just explain briefly. First, the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a mythical creature that is consumed by it's own flames then rises again from the ashes. There are several versions of the Phoenix myth from various parts of the world. Sometime in either the second or third century A.D. Christians began using the image of a phoenix to symbolize the real physical resurrection of Jesus and the hope of a real physical resurrection of all believers in the future. In my opinion the Phoenix can also represent the daily spiritual resurrection of Christians as they strive to put the Old Self to death and put on the New Self and are renewe and strengthened by God. Artistically the Phoenix on my arm is a blend of Eastern and Western designs and Nate did a great job of blending the two.

The three symbols in the tattoo are three different symbols for the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). The Biblical teaching of the Trinity is one that captivates me (I have two other trinitarian symbols tattooed on my body.) When exmined through the strict laws of Logic the Trinity is absolutely logical and yet is a mystery far beyond our ability to grasp. I could go on and on about the wonder and beauty of the Trinity, but I won't. Since the Phoenix represents resurrection as the hope of salvation these symbols are appropriate adornments for the bird. Salvation involves all three members of the Trinity: Out of his love the Father planned our salvation and sent the Son who perfectly earned and achieved our salvation and then sent the Spirit to apply the reality and benefits of salvation to us.

The space nebulae portion of the tattoo is supposed to represent eternity. I believe the entire universe is created and therefore temporal just like everything else we see but I couldn't think of anything to better portray the concept of eternity. In its mind boggling vastness outer space is the best example of the everlasting nature of God. The symbol of the triangle interwoven with the circle is supposed to represent the eternity of the Trinity. This was the reason for trying to bring some sort of visualization of eternity into the tattoo.

Okay, so now you know way more about my tattoo than you probably ever wanted to. You can blame Joe for that. If your curious about my rationale for tattooing you can check out my article titled "Decorating or Desecrating the Temple?" But be warned, the article is even longer than this post.


catching up

We've done quite a bit since I last posted so let me try to catch you up. On Saturday we went out with some new friends who showed us some very different parts of Auckland. In the morning we went to the Otara Market, which is basically a big flea-market type gathering with a bunch of different Polynesian and Maori vendors (as well as a few other ethnicities). We got to the market a bit late so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time there. We’re planning on heading back at some point so I will post a picture of the market at a later date.

From the there we headed out to Mission Bay, which is a pretty “flash” part of town. The bay itself is situated on the Waitemata Harbour and has many cafés, restaurants and shops lining the main street that follows the beach. Incidentally, we were later disappointed to find out that none of the sand on the Mission Bay beach is actually from Mission Bay. It has all been brought in to make the beach more user friendly. However, while the beach itself was semi-fake it did offer an incredible view of Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is actually a volcano. The island appeared about 600 years ago when the volcano erupted and formed the landmass you see in the picture. You can take a ferry over to the island and hike up Rangitoto and Brooke and I are hoping to do this is a few weeks.

We had lunch at Mission Bay and then headed over to a Netball tournament. Netball is similar to Basketball. From the picture you can see that one of the differences is the absence of a backboard. Also, in Netball you aren’t allowed to move with the ball (no dribbling). There are a lot of other rules I wasn’t able to pick up on, it’s a pretty fast moving game. Nitika’s friend Dallas was playing in the tournament with his provincial team and they ended up winning the tournament.

There were four women who had birthdays on or near Saturday so that night there was a big birthday bash at the house we’re staying in. This was a good time of talking with people and getting to know them better. Some of the younger crowd hung out at the house until pretty late and it was good to spend that extra time with them and just to have people in the house with us.

On Monday we headed into downtown Auckland with our friend Rebecca and she showed us some cool spots in the city like Ponsonby and K Road. There were tons of cool shops and (more importantly) cafés along these roads. Later we visited the University of Auckland where Rebecca had an afternoon tutorial. There is a marae near the University. A marae is basically a piece of sacred Maori meeting land. It was very interesting to see the contrast of the marae with the modern city that surrounds it. Brooke will probably post some more pictures of this most recent trip to Auckland (be on the look out for more cool trees!).

I apologize for the long post. We are hoping to have Internet access in the ministry house sometime later this week. When this is up and running I’ll be able to post more regularly and keep the posts shorter.


coffee talk: take three

Brooke and I were in an adventurous mood the other night so we decided to head into downtown Auckland the around 10:00PM. It was a very interesting experience and we are looking forward to many more excursions into the heart of the city. One highlight was the street musician we encountered. After giving him a few dollars in change he performed an orginal rap that he wrote about growing up in South Auckland and realizing the disillusionment that came from expecting too much out of the "city of dreams."

The other highlight, besides just observing a new city, was the discovery of Esquires Coffee. This is a cafe fairly similar to a Starbucks. However, one key difference is that on Fridays and Saturdays they are open 24 hours. Now that's my kind of place. The one in the picture sits about twenty-seven meters away from the Waitemata harbour (I think that's the name).

In other coffee news I think I'm officially a regular at the Columbus Coffee shop I've been frequenting. Yesterday while I was working on some stuff one of the employees who I had talked once before came and sat at my table and asked exactly what it was I was doing with the church here. I think he's having difficulty figuring out how a person who looks like me is a pastor type. We had a nice conversation and I was able to learn a little about where he comes from and how he views life in Auckland. That same afternoon he introduced me two other people in the shop that were into that "church stuff." One was another regular who works with a ministry in Otara and the other was another employee of the shop who attends a different church in Otara. For those of you in St. Louis, Otara is roughly the New Zealand equivalent of East St. Louis. I'm interested to hear more from these guys. Anyway, more words and pictures soon.


totara park

All of the pictures for today's post were taken at a park that’s about five minutes away from the house we’re staying in. Totara Park is a large reserve that abuts the Auckland Botanical Gardens. Totara has many well maintained paths for tramping (hiking). You can wander around hilltops or plunge into dense thickets, follow the meandering journey of the Puhinui Creek or lazily tread the lush green meadows with the grazing cows. There is also an incredible lookout point with great view of the Auckland isthmus. Simply put this park is beautiful. Did I mention that it’s only 5 minutes away? Who’s jealous?

The beauty of creation continually amazes me. There’s beauty in the land around St. Louis but I think we tend to take for granted that which we see everyday. Several times since being in New Zealand I’ve had to just stand in silence and look around in awe. The crazy thing is that I’m told the Auckland area, and the North Island in general, is pretty drab when compared to the scenery on the South Island. I can’t wait to travel there in about a month.

When I look at all this beauty I can’t understand how some people are devoted to the idea that it all came about as a completely random and mindless fluke. I know how a person can theoretically accept that macroevolution is a logical explanation for the existence of things. However, apart from the fact that this theory doesn’t stand up to true scientific scrutiny, how can one look around them and seriously believe it’s all a big cosmic accident? How can such a person have any appreciation for the exquisite beauty of the created world? I know some do, but I just don’t get it.

When I look at the diversity, intricacy, order, and interdependent nature of the world it seems obvious that someone or something had to design it. Many people will say that I’m avoiding true science and projecting my religious “values” onto the facts. But, to adapt an oft used illustration, if one were to find a pocket watch with diverse, intricate, interdependent parts that worked together in an orderly fashion wouldn’t it be natural, scientific, and sane to wonder who designed it? If believing this makes me a religious nut, then a religious nut I’ll be.

I’m not trying to say that merely looking at the created world proves Christianity to be true (it doesn’t). However, for a society like the one in New Zealand that is increasingly secular and atheistic maybe the first step at reaching people is simply getting them to take a long look at the glory that surrounds them.


coffee talk: take two

For those of you who are interested a slightly different version of my post "Finding Common Ground" has been published in the online magazine Catapult. You can read it by clicking on the "Coffee Community" link under Articles & Talks in the sidebar. I've also included a direct link to the Catapult website under my Edification section in the sidebar. And if you have the time you can check out a few of the new blogs I've added to the Blogroll. Cheers!

i've got crabs

Our first Sunday in Auckland went off without a hitch. In the morning there was a Children’s church service and adult Bible study at the ministry house we are staying in. The Bible study is a more informal discussion of various topics. This Sunday Andrew finished up a series of studies on the doctrine of Scripture based on the Westminster Confession. I didn’t see what happened in the Children’s church but Brooke went and she said it was quite well done. We’ve noticed that what the folks of Redeemer are trying to accomplish with the neighborhood kids is quite similar to some of the ministries of New City Fellowship in St. Louis.

After the morning activities we headed out to Maretai (say My-right-eye fast and that’s the pronunciation) Beach with our friends Lou and Rebecca. We met some of their friends and sang “Happy Birthday” to Rebecca. The weather wasn’t the best but the sun did sneak out of the clouds for a bit.

Lou and I took a walk on the beach and caught up since we hadn’t seen each other since last summer. When we got to a particularly rocky part of the beach Lou introduced me to some coastal wildlife. He turned over a large rock and a couple dozen crabs of various sizes exploded in a flurry of activity as they scurried about looking for a new rock to hide under. This prompted the Midwesterner in me to turn over a bunch of rocks and laugh in amazement as I discovered crabs everywhere. In retrospect I probably looked like a little kid. Oh well. We also discovered some sea snails, barnacles, and starfish on the rocks. So cool!

Sunday night we attended our first worship service at Redeemer church. It was good after months of preparation to finally be worshipping with these folks who have been praying for us and whom we’ve been praying for. After the service we all headed back to the ministry house and had a meal together during which they wanted us to both share a bit about our past and how it is we have been brought to New Zealand. All in all it was a pretty full day.

lots of water makes for cool trees

Saturday was a very gloomy day. It was raining when we woke up and pretty much didn't stop until sometime after we went to bed that night. This was fine by me since I tend to like dreary weather that's wet and cold (I know I'm strange) but Brooke was pretty miserable and cold. All this rain explains how things remain so incredibly green around here. It also explains how the Gum trees that were originally brought over from Australia (I think) get so tall. I'm fascinated by these trees. The picture doesn't do them justice.

On Saturday we also attended our first Kiwi wedding which was a bit strange since we didn't know the couple. They attend Redeemer Church and we were kindly invited so we could meet some more folks. It was a nice wedding and fairly similar to your average Protestant wedding in the States. There were a few differences though. In New Zealand it's apparently common for the couple, the minister and the witnesses to sign the Registry (the same thing as a Marriage License) during the ceremony. That was pretty interesting. The other noticeable thing was that there are a few more speeches during the reception including one from the groom. I thought it was pretty cool that the groom was able to say a little bit.

Hopefully the new couple will find brighter weather where ever they head for their honeymoon.


Kia Ora!

Greetings from New Zealand! After a nine and a half hour lay over in LAX and then a very long flight across the pacific we landed safely at 5:10 AM on Wednesday morning (that would’ve been about 12:30 PM on Tuesday for those of you in the state).

We spent the first day meeting people, settling into our new home, learning a bit of the local lay out and various other things. Brooke was way more jet-lagged than I was and spent three hours sleeping while I was learning to drive on the left side of the road.

Wednesday night we had dinner with the Bracefield family. Tony Bracefield is the community pastor for Redeemer Church and the Administrator for Grace Theological College. His wife Sue made us a tasty meal and we had a good time getting to know them and three of their four children.

After dinner Brooke went home to get some more sleep and I attended the Northern Presbytery meeting, which lasted three and a half hours. The meeting was very helpful in giving me a broader perspective on the ministry of GPCNZ.

On Thursday Brooke and I spent a few hours discussing some plans for our time here with Andrew Young and Tony Bracefield. We then had lunch with the Peter and Margaret Reynolds (the people who are largely responsible for us being here) and their daughter Rebecca. It was great seeing the Reynolds in their own home. They are very excited to be back in New Zealand and are very excited to start serving people.

Tonight we are having dinner with the Young family and then attending a meeting of GTC’s Board. So overall our first couple of days have been full but good. We are excited to see what God brings about over the next twelve weeks.


ahh, the boredom of waiting

Well, we are on our way to New Zealand. We left St. Louis at about 10:00 this morning. We had a smooth flight to L.A. and have been sitting here for the past seven hours. The flight really was smooth though, probably the best I've ever had.

We have aout two more hours before we leave LAX and fly overnight to Auckland. So after months preparation the day has finally come. The next post of mine you read will be coming direct from the land of the Kiwi's (hopefully with a few pictures!)

Take care. Talk to you all soon.


my mentors

On Friday night we had dinner with two couples. While their wives are pretty cool, the male halves of these couples have played a significant role in my life over the last four years. They have been my friends, encouragers, correctors, trainers, and supporters.

I had class with Jerram my second semester at Covenant and it was like someone breathing life and hope into my view of the possibilities for Christian life and service. Every class I've had with him since has been pure delight and I have grown from his instruction in innumerable ways. I worked with Jerram for one year at the Francis Schaeffer Institute and for the past three years as his teaching assistant. He has taught me what it looks like to truly love people and to demonstrate the grace of God in a tangible way. The thing about Jerram is that everything he teaches with his words is completely backed up by his life.

While I have never had a class with Donald Guthrie (a.k.a. "Big D", a.k.a. "the Don", a.k.a. “the Guth-meister”), he has still taught me much. I have had the privilege of co-teaching several Sunday School classes with him over the last several years and have learned through osmosis about teaching well ("coverage is the enemy of understanding" or something like that). The Don has taught me how to better look at the "Big Picture" when it comes to life's ups and downs and to take the long-view approach. In doing this he has tempered some of my impetuous nature.

While we didn’t have dinner with them on Friday there are two more people that I have to include on this list of mentors: Denis & Margie Haack. If you haven’t read their publications (Critique & Notes from Toad Hall) you are missing out. There’s a link to their website (Ransom Fellowship) somewhere on this blog, go check it out. They have shared their lives with us and have constantly demonstrated to us what proper authenticity looks like. When Brooke and I look at them we see a picture what we want to be like as a couple striving to love and serve Jesus.

Well, this post is now longer than I intended but I wanted to share with you some of the people who have been examples of grace, love, and mercy in my life. These are my mentors.