...and what I learnt from it
I must apologise. Usually I make some post notifying you that I won't be around for a while - it's only polite. But this time I was caught somewhat unawares by a number of things.
First was the lead up to Christmas & all the business for anyone associated with a Church at that time of year. Services to help organise, props to move for the Nativity Play (fortunately I managed to avoid an acting role this year!), people to deal with - there seemed to be more work than usual. Then New Years and I was rostered on to preach & perform other duties, all of which take time. I didn't manage to get to my blog for even a short piece. In fact I felt several times felt that God didn't want me to get to it - that I actually did need a break.
Here's some of what else happened over the weird Summer.
A Friend Goes Home
We got into the New Year and heard that an old friend up north had died. John had been in a Cult near where we lived in North Canterbury when we were first married. New Zealand has more Cults per capita than any other country and this Cult was an offshoot of one Pentecostal stream that went severely off the rails. The group had literally built themselves a Fort on a farm 10km north of town. They believed Jesus was going to return to their farm and so they had buried firearms around the district so that they could protect Jesus from all the bad people - yes, they seriously believed God isn't big enough to protect himself.
They also had some other idiosyncrasies such as requiring all the men with jobs outside the community to spend an equal amount of time working on the farm every day. You can imagine that would make for some very tired men. Another idiosyncrasy was the concept of "Tithing from Caesar". This was a doctrine that taught them to steal from their "unbelieving" employers - who were not of course people deserving respect because they didn't belong to the Cult. I know - just where is that written in the Bible?
John related a story where he'd been asked by the Leader to help discipline a man who was beginning to stray from the truth by holding his head underwater in a bathtub. It was this that started him reconsidering whether he was really following God.
What really got him though was that the leadership made the mistake of allowing him to study the life and teachings of Jesus in the Bible. He realised that his friends were not following Jesus, especially as the leadership (obviously male because only men can know God's will right?) had, as so often happens in these groups, began to start claiming certain "rights" in regard to the young women. Rights such as insisting those about to be married had to lose their virginity to them before their wedding night. How the Brides (and the Grooms) felt about this we can only imagine, at least they were secure in the knowledge that this was definitely God's will. The Leader said so.
I often used to see John's wife walking around town in her long dress & her head covering and pray for God to set her free. She was such a lovely lady - always so friendly & kind - I couldn't stand seeing her and her sweet little children trapped in the Cult. This is also the attitude I have now towards Muslims - many of them such lovely people, but trapped in a Cult where their leader Muhammad also went off the rails sexually and subordinated or distorted every piece of morality to his own honour and the worldly advancement of the power of his Ummah and Deen.
I find it most helpful to think of Islam and the world's largest and most grotesque Cult. One can easily hate a Cult yet still pity & love those trapped inside it.
John & his family eventually left the Cult and were immediately treated as though they were dead. They lost all their money & material possessions which the Cult had required of them when they joined. Others who left went for many years without seeing children or grand-children. They all paid that price though because, essentially, they had finally encountered Jesus and they knew they had to change.
John went into the Presbyterian Church and became a minister and a counsellor. Over his life he helped untold people through personal difficulties and also helped many to see God more clearly. He paid a great price but he made a great difference. Thank you John. Well done good & faithful servant.
A New Stage
Just after we heard of John's passing my wife & I had an interview for a vacant Pastorate in the Province. Sue is now the new Vicar of a small Anglican church in the Marlborough Sounds and I will be helping her (someone has to make the tea & take out the rubbish). We'll be moving house ready for her new role at the start of March. So that'll be a change (don't really like changes) and also mean less money (don't really relish that either). However we really know that this is God's idea so that's that. I can always give up my easy life of unemployment & drive trucks if we run out of food.
My Racing Problem
On the other hand... I completed my fourth & fifth motorcycle racing events this January. These were the first two Rounds of the National Superbike Road Racing Championship. I currently lie 12th in the 250 class which sounds quite grand until you realise that's pretty much last place (the girl in 13th injured herself) & even though I've managed to pick up some points this was largely due to other people falling off so I could sneak up the placings. Heaps of guys faster than me didn't even enter for some reason. Lots of fun though and the people involved are just some of the best people you could ever hope to meet - friendly, helpful, genuine. It's a privilege to be around them.
The crashes though - Crikey! My competitors in this class are mostly teenagers. Some of them so young it seems they haven't even had pimples yet. That means they are brave but it also means they don't understand what it means to crash heavily & really get hurt – or hurt other people. They throw everything into the races thinking they are the proverbial "nine-foot-tall-and-bullet-proof". To date, 3 or 4 of the six races have been stopped early due to bad crashes.
Our last event in Timaru had Race Two cancelled completely after 6 riders fell. One of them, Joey, who is 16 or 17, fell and was run over by a following machine (completely unavoidable) which busted his pelvis. Imagine shards of bone floating around the internal organs & possible spinal damage. He had to be choppered off to hospital. Another lovely young friend, Alex, was knocked off by a second rider & aggravated a previous back injury. He was in quite a bit of pain. In an earlier race in another class his Dad, also a terrific bloke, had fallen and been hospitalised.
I felt like a WingCo in charge of a flight of Hurricanes who had lost 20% of his chaps to the Gerries when their Sortee had been ambushed by a pack of 109s over the Channel. What happened to all my lovely boys!? I have to admit it was really unsettling for me and by the time the last race arrived I had completely psyched myself out and had to pull out. As I've mentioned previously I love going fast on a motorcycle & competing but this side of things - I just wasn't prepared for this. You see, one can't even afford to glance at a friend who has just crashed as this usually means one also wanders off line & crashes. You've just gotta stay focused - be selfish. Don't feel for them. Don't even think too much about them between races. It simply goes against years of conditioning & human nature. It's taken me a while to sort out.
At Last - a Holiday!
I might be a bit strange (OK, more than a bit) but I usually hate holidays. Often I get sick. If not, no matter how much I appreciate a rest, after a couple of days I start to get really bored doing nothing. I start looking for work to do - something to learn, a hill to climb - anything. So it was with some trepidation that I anticipated our family holiday in the Cook Islands. My wife & I have been together for 30 years now & she hardly ever asks for anything so when she wondered aloud if we could go to Rarotonga for our anniversary I pretty much caved immediately. She really does deserve it, even if I have to drive trucks for the rest of my life to pay for it. We were accompanied by our two daughters and son-in-law and I looked forward to walking the interior of the Island, swimming and doing stuff.
Unfortunately I got some sort of dysentery almost as soon as I got off the plane. I got the chills, followed by a fever, cramps and the dreaded trots. Not for the whole 7 days thank goodness. Just for the last five. World's most expensive 5 day weight loss programme. I'm still coming right. I hate holidays.
There was one extraordinary thing that did occur though!
A Dream from God
Now this is odd, this will interest you.
Years ago when I met Jesus (forgive me for the use of this sort of religious language, but as that is exactly what happened I don't know how better to put it )... when I met Jesus after a bad motorcycle accident, I had a dream one night. In the dream God showed me my life, including my early decision against him, my decision to change to follow him and my life since then as he saw it.
In the dream I had walked to a beach I knew and stood on the shore looking at the sea. I knew I could choose whether to walk to the left or right along the beach. I felt I should turn right but instead turned left. As soon as I did so a huge wind sprang up. The wind was so strong it blew the sand off the beach & huge boulders were being blown along by it. I had a white towel that I held up to protect me from it - as if it could! - and I continued walking like there was no wind. Then I stopped walking and the wind stopped. I heard an Angel singing (I don't know if you've heard an Angel, but once you have you'll know that there is nothing on Earth as beautiful as that voice). The Angel's song seemed to me to represent my life (I was 21 at the time). The Angel was kind of explaining to me through the song what I was looking at and how my life had changed since I met Jesus.
I looked inland from where I was standing and saw a lot of happy children running & playing on swings, slides & a roundabout - a Playground. The children were singing the most beautiful song - almost as beautiful as the Angel's song - and they were all very happy & carefree. I realised that this is what God wanted my life to be all the time I had been rejecting him. This is where I was always meant to be - with these happy children!
I looked back down the beach - the way I should have gone at first & the way I was now going to walk - and the scene was transformed. The sand was white pristine sand, there were Coconut trees hanging out over the water and the water itself was a brilliant turquoise. A real Pacific Island scene - the most beautiful place.
But the really weird thing was this: every leaf, every grain of sand, every drop of water was somehow completely bursting with Life. Things weren't just inanimate - everything was overflowing with Life! Really completely alive! I find it frustratingly hard to communicate this.
Now back to the modern day: I found myself on a beach in Rarotonga, with the wind coming from over my left shoulder - the same quarter as in my dream 36 years before. I looked to the right down the lovely beach and saw my wife & one of my daughters walking towards me, surrounded by sand, water and Coconut trees. I realised that God had done what he had shown me he was going to do with my life. He had given me Real Life. This was just what Jesus had said: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly". That is my wonderful God.
Life still presents difficulties and struggles; losses & griefs. So having a life which involves God and is under his blessing certainly doesn't mean having a painless life without struggle. Life is still a battle, disasters happen - our son still died for instance. I think there is a difference from Heaven's perspective though. That beach in real life did not look anywhere near as fantastic as the beach in my dream, but from Heaven's perspective the vision in my dream was how things really are, not merely as they appear. It’s useful to remember that.
To Blog or not to Blog, that is the Question
So I get back from the "holiday" and find myself asking the question: Do I keep doing this website? I have new responsibilities pending, new time pressures and just because God wanted me to do this 2 years ago doesn't mean it's still his will. This blog takes time and effort and there are already other much better websites than mine (to which I regularly refer people anyway). Besides that, there is always the faint likelihood of one returning ISIS member getting back to New Zealand and taking offence - and we know what that might mean.
So I carefully considered the question before God. As it happens I don't often get encouraging notes from readers (I don't take this personally - how many times have you or I visited even an extremely valuable website and not given a thought about simply saying thank you to the person responsible?) but as I was considering my course I received 3 nice short little notes of appreciation. They made all the difference.
So I think God wants me to keep going. It’s quite a commitment, but hey - it's not my life any more, my life is God’s, so it's the least I can do. And what can the returning jihadi do to me that God does not allow & cannot prepare me for? So, even though I am still not feeling exactly fit as a fiddle, let's begin again to see what's going on in the world of Islam, Sharia and the West shall we?
It's an exciting time to be alive.