Monday, October 29, 2012

The cost of coming home

One more night in Vietnam, and then another in transit in Singapore until we are back with the family and the familiar.

There is something about Vietnam that creeps under your skin and spills into your soul. I think it may be the sheer unfamiliarity of it all. The chaotic order, frenetic and tranquil all at once. Beneath the sweat and heat and dust is an exotic treasure of color, taste, texture and design. It's like gorging yourself at a smorgasbord of the senses. It's the kind of place that you'd want to come to for a Sabbatical, or maybe to write a book. Just a completely different rhythm of life.

Anyway, that's for another time. There was not much Sabbatical in Saigon(HCMC) this time. We loved our reconnection with Thu Thiem Church, a community with 25 different nationalities, which has begun to grow rapidly since coming out of its former house church format. It's led by Steve and Jenny Murphy, a business couple who served on eldership with us in Johannesburg 10 years ago. They and their team are doing a remarkable job. It's a church coming of age, growing in missional traction, which is not easy considering the governments' watchful approach towards outsiders and their churches. God met with us in profound ways as we worshipped, preached, and prayed. My highlight was being there on the day that a young French-Vietnamese man called Chris, who lived in Los Angeles and has now returned to Vietnam, got baptized. The Gospel of the kingdom seems to be lurching forward like a hundred scooters from a Saigon traffic light.

Singapore is more familiar to us. More ordered, less overwhelmingly foreign and more classically urban. I would describe it as a world class city, and RHC, the church we have now returned to for the 3rd time in 4 years, takes after it's city in many ways; exceptional, intentional and warm.

We love going back to churches. Friendships are quickly rekindled and progress can be clearly seen. There were a number of poignant prophetic moments in meetings, and we also had a rich time with some of RHC's emerging leaders. Sometimes though, in God's economy, flying to a distant city to play a few games of Mario Brothers with a church leader's 4-year old son can be as valid as preaching to a packed auditorium at multiple meetings.(we did that too.) The Gospel is relational, and church planters and their families often need good friends more than they need good advice. It can seem costly at times to leave your kids and church and routine to do this. But Jesus left his home in heaven to bring us home to God, and following Jesus will involve leaving the family and the familiar for us too. (Mark 10) We count it a privilege to walk with Simon and Tarryn and the remarkable people of RHC.

I got lost on a run one day in Singapore. I didn't have Simon and Tarryn's address, just a few landmarks in my mind and like most guys, I didn't want to ask for directions. An hour and a half later, exhausted and confused, I hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to the hawkers market where there are four ice cream shops. I told him I only had $10 so if he could not find it by the time the money ran out I'd be in trouble. His reply was astonishing. "It's not about the cost. It's about getting you home." He left his normal route to get me home.

Could that be our heart in disciple making, wherever we find ourselves? In Singapore, Burma, or Brea. Let's be willing to leave family and the familiar for the sake of seeing people find Jesus, and find home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Mill and the Waterfall

I love waterfalls for their their sheer, gushing weight and wonder.
My first sighting of a serious waterfall was Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The locals call it "Amanza Adumayo," which translated means, the "smoke that thunders." Aptly named. The mighty deposit of Zambezi River water causes an immense cloud of mist to sit above the falls and engulf the onlookers.

No less majestic are the Niagra Falls, which can be viewed from either Canada or the United States. There is great contention as to whose view is more spectacular, but one thing is for sure, the view is greatly enhanced if you are simultaneously eating a pile of buffalo wings from Buffalo, New York, even if they have been smuggled over the border back to Canada, like my friend Mike Holmes did for us!

Some people, however, do not simply stare at the spectacle of a waterfall. They find ways to harness its power. I received a stunning water color painting of a waterfall by my friend Sean Barrett for my 40th birthday. To be precise, it was actually of a flour mill above a waterfall. The mill is more visible than the falls. It’s a mill that my father has restored in the last five years with the help of some of his engineer friends. some scuba divers and the South African Airforce.

The mill was built as part of the Reichenau mission by a trapist monk named Abbot Frances Pfanner in 1887. The turbines of the mill are under the waterfall, and the velocity of the tumbling cascades drive the turbines, which empower the mill to grind flour from wheat grown in the area. For many years the mill was the primary processor of wheat into flour, but over the past few decades, the turbines stopped working and the mill became a beautiful but broken relic – little more than a majestic room with a view. Until my father began dreaming and planning to restore the turbines. That required the help of an S.A. airforce helicopter, some dedicated engineers, and some intrepid scuba divers who dived down under the falls, unbolted the turbines, got them lift out of the water, flown away to a workshop, restored, flown back, and bolted back in place. On our last trip out to S.A. my dad took us to see the mill, which was beautiful, but more importantly, fully functional.

For me, this is a metaphor of what it means to receive apostolic ministry gifts into the life of the church, like we have received these last few weeks. It has been a weighty deposit of Jesus power, majesty and beauty. But can it be more to us than a 'two-week-wonder?'

Some of us have viewed outside ministry coming in to a church as informers to teach us something profound, or 'performers' to show us something spectacular. But Paul says they are imparters (Romans 1:11) - sharing spiritual gifts with us to make us strong and equippers (Ephesian 4:11) – training us for works of service.

No doubt we have had some amazing times as they have ministered. Many have understood the grace of God and the Father's heart in fresh ways. Numerous people have been physically healed. There have been stories of people being set healed of emotional scars they have carried for years, and others who have encountered the presence of God like never before.

But the job of Ephesians 4 ministry is only done when a church begins to walk in the gifts it has experienced. The waterfall is not just for admiring. It is meant to turn the turbines, which power the flour mill, which puts bread on the table of hungry people.

Can we ensure that the powerful deposit of apostolic ministry that we have enjoyed are not just impressing the saints with works of wonder, but that they are equipping the saints for works of service? The waterfall is for the flour mill. I pray that these past few weeks would empower us all to serve Jesus, his church and His mission.

p.s. Rynelle and I leave today for a two week trip to minister in two churches in the Far East. One is in Singapore and the other is in Vietnam. We have returned each year to encourage these churches for a few years now, and are loving seeing them walk with greater strength and vision each year. Please pray for us as we go, and keep the flour mill turning at home!