This picture was taken on the last Sunday we were at Davidson's Mains, our home church in Edinburgh, before we left for New Zealand at the end of 2005. It is amazing how much the boys have changed over that time. The tree in the background to the left of the church is one of my favourite trees. It reminds me that God does not change through the seasons of the year or the seasons of life.
Recently I had a Sunday back at Davidson’s Mains. It is always refreshing to be there but this particular Sunday was especially relevant. It started with Anne was sharing some of the vision of the church for supporting mission and told a story about someone being generous so that “you don’t have to worry about money”. This was interesting to me because it struck me at that point that I was sitting there worrying about money.
We have been tremendously blessed to see many people partner with our work in New Zealand and the Pacific. The Pacific Partnership Trust has £ in pledged monthly income. TSCF in New Zealand has seen its income grow from $375,000 in 2004 to $1,400,000 in 2009. We have been able to meet our commitments for the last four years. But many of the staff funds in New Zealand are tracking below target, funds from the UK have been adversely affected by the weakness of the pound and the global economic downturn has had an impact.
I have been having hard conversations with a number of staff in New Zealand about reducing hours or salary. Our own support is a few hundred short of target for the first time in 4 years. It is a privilege to live by faith but it is hard when the numbers don’t add up. It is when things are tough that you realize how easy it is to put trust in money rather than in God. There is a tremendous amount of security in money and that security really needs to be rooted in God rather than in the idea that is encapsulated in the poster below.
This was where Jerry’s sermon on the day from Zechariah 8 proved to be particularly pertinent to a number of issues we are facing at the present time.
The ten points below are his but some of the additional comments are mine as they relate to our context.
1. The Lord loves you. v 2
We know this in theory but it is easy to lose sight of it in practice. God is with us and for us and works for our good through all circumstances. God does not desert or disappoint. A spiral of discontent or anxiety often starts with questioning, rejecting or doubting God’s love. This is not an abstract concept it is real and relevant and true.
2. The Lord has a big future for you. v3
The people are encouraged to consider the “citadel of truth” and the “mountain of holiness” that is to be. We often drop our horizons to seeing our immediate felt needs being met. God is doing much more. He has caught us up into his eternal plans and purposes. Sometimes we can be tempted to think that plan A is marriage, children, successful career, thriving ministry, prosperity and comfort and that plan B (God’s plan) is the consolation prize for those who don’t win plan A. The future belongs to God and he is preparing his people for that future and working through us to build that future. Some of the building blocks of that may well be marriage, children, careers, effective ministry and possessions but these are means to an end not ends in themselves. We need to give up our small ambitions and embrace the bigger hope and call of the gospel.
3. The Lord is restoring community. v4-5
This is a great picture of different generations dwelling together. Young people play in safety while the elderly look on. This intergenerational vision in the streets of the city is a beautiful picture. Fracture in relationships is one of the results of the fall. Someone said to me recently that breaking apart good relationships is a key strategy of the evil one and that restoring and building relationships of quality and depth is central to the work of God. One of the challenges when facing difficulty is not to turn on each other and to compound the problem through faction, divisions and a culture of blame. Singing together in safety affirms and expresses the fellowship God has with us and desires us to share with each other. Seeing some harmony restored in community in a number of different contexts with students, graduates and staff has been one of the big encouragements of the last four years but it is a fragile thing. Of the increase of his shalom there will be no end. Even in our selfishness and weakness we are called to participate in this.
4. With The Lord nothing is impossible. v6
Hudson Taylor said “ I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God; first it is Impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” God does things that confound human wisdom and exceed human capacity. The more obstacles we face the more opportunities there are for us to see God overcome them. Nothing takes God by surprise and there is nothing that God cannot do. What is tough about this is keeping in step with what God is doing. If we wait till everything is in place that we think we need before we move we lag behind God, if we jump in foolhardiness rather than faith we can find ourselves attempting the impossible alone. God can do more than we hope for or even imagine. The impossible is his speciality and we have seen it happen time and time again. I remember speaking to the TSCF board in 2005 and talking about the need to get to $1,000,000 of income and to see the staff team double just to get to the baseline that we aspired to be doing. Both seemed impossible. When I first spoke at Davidson’s Mains about our support needs in 2005 I seemed impossible that God could provide, yet through the generosity of many 4 years later we are still going.
5. The Lord saves. v 7-8
This is the business that God is in. His work of redemption is at the heart of the biblical story. He does what we cannot do. He makes a people for himself and gathers them to him. He promises to be their God. This community is gathered
from the peoples of the east and the west, it is international and multi cultural. This past year we have seen 40 or so students coming to faith in New Zealand. Many have been looking at the bible with Christian friends for 18 months to 3 years. Some have been Kiwis, some from other lands. God has saved them. There is rejoicing in heaven for each one. We are encouraged by this, but we know we are just scratching the surface. We long to see many more rescued by the grace of God.
6. Your labour in the lord is never in vain. v 9-13
When things are tough or progress is slower than I would like I sometimes wonder “what is the point of this?” These verses have an architectural idea and an agricultural one. The point in both is that God finishes what he starts and that he calls us to participate in what he is doing. So “the point” is God’s work, in God’s time for God’s glory. Paul finishes 1 Corinthians 15 with the words “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” This is because their work is rooted in the truth of the resurrection and the certain promise of Christ’s return. It is remarkably easy to lose sight of this and to be tempted to give up. In a success orientated culture that values quick fixes and expects happiness and self gratification it is a radical call to faithfulness, service and perseverance. We work to equip students and graduates for the long haul.
7. The Lord loves doing good. v 14-17
After a time of judgement God speaks of his determination to do good. The people are called not to be afraid but rather are to determine to do good as God does. Sometimes the term “do gooder” is used as an insult, implying interference or judgementalism. What is spoken of here is participating in what God is doing by doing good and speaking truth. God delights in this and hates falsehood and lies. Jesus once asked why he was being called good because no one is good apart from God. Goodness is a key facet of God's character. As many of my friends in other countries love to say: "God is good - all the time!" God loves doing good and loves us to be like him. We are to practice our good deeds before others so that they see our father in heaven. Doing good points people to the One who is good and we can only do good because of him.
8. The Lord will turn your sorrow into joy. v18-19
The fasts of the past will become the festivals of the future. This word of God to his people at that point in history reflects the bigger arch of God’s purpose through history. There will a new heaven and a new earth, there will be no more death or sorrow. There are seasons of suffering, heart ache and loss but these do not last forever. God works out his purposes. He blesses his people so that they see his goodness in the land of the living. Ultimately there will be vindication and celebration for eternity. Love truth and peace in the meantime and to remember through tears sometimes that there is a party coming.
9. The Lord has released a flow of grace v20-22
God is doing a new thing and the word of that is getting out. People will come from different cities and seek the Lord. The new thing that God is doing flows out to those who do not know him and draws them into his kingdom. I believe that the grace of God is in every situation that we encounter and that our challenge is to see it and participate in it. We don’t want to keep on doing the same old things, we want to join in with what God is doing. To long for his grace to be released so that people throughout these islands and beyond seek him, his salvation and his will. We work to see a new generation of influence raised up who will be leaders in every aspect of life and work and who will be conduits of that grace to others. I believe that the Catalyst Graduate work is a new thing of great significance that God is doing in this generation. I see signs of similar awakenings in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. New things involve risk. They involve stepping out in faith and trusting in God’s gracious provision. God’s work done in his way will never lack his supplies.
10. The Lord brings healing to the nations. v 23
God’s words “In these days ten men from all languages and nations will take hold of the hem of one Jew” looks forward to Jesus. Jesus will bring all things together through his death, resurrection and return. Right now we have a new term starting on campuses throughout the Southern Hemisphere and the South Pacific in particular. In New Zealand we meet people coming from all over the world. We know that Jesus is the hope of the nations. It is our privilege to be involved in developing leaders around the Pacific, we are starting to explore how North America can partner in that and we continue to invest in Ecuador, India, Bangladesh and many parts of South East Asia, as well as the nations of the South Pacific. With issues of poverty, injustice, inequality, the environment, terror, disease and war constantly before us we look forward to that tree in Revelation whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We work to see people from every tribe and nation there to join in that great day and to build his kingdom here until he comes.
So as I still sit worrying about money, or rather concerned for the lack of it. The challenge to me is to look to God. The God who provides and who is faithful.
Or as the caption to this picture goes: “Don’t let the fence take your eyes off the view.”
I am thankful to be part of communities of God's people where God's word is opened. I am grateful for all who partner with us in this adventure of faith in different ways. An old missionary once said "Prepare for the worst, expect the best, and take what comes." Which sounds slightly fatalistic but I guess is intended as an expression of faith. The reality of living by faith is often more challenging than the idea. We move on in faith together. Or as God says...