Friday, January 24, 2014

beyond doubt

You know how a book can stay on your shelf and remain unread for years?  Then you pick it up, get into it and exclaim 'how come I didn't read this ages ago?'.

Well, let me introduce you to Cornelius Plantinga Jr.'s Beyond Doubt. As always, read on to the subtitle: 'Faith-Building Devotions on Questions Christians Ask'. 135 devotionals that must be read aloud, collected around broad headings: God, Humanity, Christ, Salvation, Church and Last Things. There are 27 questions asked in the book and each question receives five responses - hence, the 135 entries.

After reading the second one together, aloud - Barby just looked at me and said, "We have to buy this book for each one of our kids". And so it shall come to pass...

Why? Let me try and pull together a few observations from our early forays into the devotionals in this book.

They are honest. Plantinga lingers with doubts and confusions and opens them up before engaging with them. He is not scared. He gives voice to the deep questions that we have.

They are tender. We are only getting started, but already, on most occasions, I find my voice quivering and my eyes moistening. The caring love of a pastor that seeps into his words really touches us.

They are deep. The guy is a heavyweight theologian. He has been the president of a seminary. He knows his stuff. It is profound. It is balanced. It is wise. We are feeding ourselves on it.

They are simple. We even read the Introduction aloud. 'If readers detect seepage from my reading of good children's literature, I would be pleased'. Yes, it does show. He has been hanging around kids.

They are short. Reading very slowly (which is how it must be done), you'll be done in less than ten minutes. Lots of short sentences which encourage us to go even slower.

They are worshipful. Each devotional opens with a biblical verse and then, at the end, there is a homemade prayer. To frame his thoughts in this way builds a still and quiet sort of worship.

When I shut my eyes and dream about the content and style and purpose of a book I'd love to write in my golden years before I depart this earth, if God grants me that much time - this is kinda like what it would be like. I confess that this is also why I like it so much.

So, here are a couple of things to consider:

(a) Why not make it a belated New Year's Resolution to read through this book in 2014? If you stumble a bit - like we all do with resolutions - there is still hope. There are only 135 entries :).

(b) Why not buy two copies and give one as a gift to someone who is stumbling along in a spiritual journey which has either embryonic, or vestigial, overtones of Christian faith? Maybe even read it together. Face-to-face? On skype?

As for me - I fly back to Bangalore tonight and will be making a bee-line for my study hoping (against hope, I suspect) that Plantinga's Engaging God's World made the cut and is sitting on my shelf AND then ordering Plantinga's new book on preaching - Reading for Preaching - to which a Langham colleague (Pieter Kwant) just happened to alert me as Barby and I were settling down to savour Beyond Doubt.

Now, I know I am an enthusiast, And I know that many of you know that I am an enthusiast. And so there is one thing you need to know about this post. Barby made me do it :) ... sort of. kind of.

nice chatting


Thursday, January 16, 2014

olive doke

Some conversations are for keeping.

Dinner with Conrad... in England.
It was a cold wet night in Sheffield. I was perched at the end of a long table in a restaurant on a night set aside to celebrate the contribution of Jonathan & Margaret Lamb to Langham Partnership. Next to me was a new member of the international council - the Zambian leader, Conrad Mbewe. (Conrad blogs here. Wander around youtube and you'll find clips of a powerful preacher. I won't mention the ones which refer to him as 'the African Spurgeon', as it must be a cause for embarassment to him).

Anyhow, I'm pretty stoked to be sitting where I am sitting. The questions lining up in my mind are turning into one of those Indian queues, with each one pushing and shoving its way to the front. Family. Ministry. Testimony. ... and then we arrive at Conrad's doctoral studies.

Before that... in Zambia
Conrad introduces me to Olive Doke. Never heard of her. 56 years as a missionary among the Lamba people in Zambia. An integral part of Conrad's spiritual inheritance. A single woman. She deserves 'a biography that can be put side by side with those of David Livingstone and William Carey'. Actually Olive is related to Carey through her mother. She is Olive Carey Doke. At her funeral the minister honoured OCD by preaching on OCD: Obedience. Consecration. Devotion. When Zambia became independent in 1964, guess who was 'asked by the new African political leaders, as the only woman honoured guest, to lead the procession into the Anglican Cathedral in Lusaka'? Olive Doke.

paul kasonga
But let's hurry on to Conrad's thesis (which, in the intervening months, has been accepted - congrats, Dr Mbewe!). It tracks the relationship between a pioneer missionary (Olive) and an indigenous leader (Paul Kasonga) and how paternalism shifted to partnership because of the mutual respect and admiration shared between these two very different people. Adding poignancy to the story is the fact that Paul suffered from leprosy and had periods of time when digits and limbs were wasting away, or even dropped off.

Paul became 'the acknowledged African leader of the Lord's work ... in the whole of Lambaland', with Olive working alongside. On one occasion, while all the missionaries were on furlough, and Paul was left 'in charge' - a little revival broke out. Don't you love it when that happens?

After Paul died, Olive wrote his story: Paul the Leper - Apostle to the Lamba. [Yes, it has been ordered]. As Conrad asks, 'Where do you find missionaries writing biographies of indigenous leaders today?' Or, what about missionaries choosing 'a leper to be the first official local leader of the church'? When Olive died (at 80 years of age), her people buried her next to Paul.

Before that... in South Africa
In the thesis Conrad pauses, on more than one occasion, to reflect on the heritage in which Olive was raised. Her grandfather (William Knibb) was a missionary at the heart of the struggle against slavery in Jamaica ("yes, Martin - you can wikipedia him" - forgive me, just a little aside to my son). Her uncle died as a missionary in the Congo. In her teenage years, Olive lived in Johannesburg where her Dad, Joseph Doke, was the pastor of the Central Baptist Church. When she was 16 years of age, her parents welcomed Mohandas K (later, Mahatma) Gandhi into their home. He had been assaulted, left unconscious, by some of his own people (Pathans) who wanted him to advocate a quicker, more violent, solution to the oppression of Indians.

Conrad includes Gandhi's own reflections:
Mr Doke and his good wife were anxious that I should be perfectly at rest. They therefore removed all persons from near my bed. I made a request that their daughter, Olive, should sing for me my favourite Christian hymn, Lead Kindly Light. Mr Doke called Olive and asked her to sing in a low tone. How shall I describe the service rendered me by the Doke family?
Joseph Doke became Gandhi's close friend and first biographer. On return from Sheffield I was determined to probe this story further. A leading Indian historian (Ramachandra Guha, whom I had encountered in his history of Indian cricket) was about to follow up his classic on Indian history, India after Gandhi - with a prequel titled Gandhi Before India. You gotta love a guy who can come up with titles like that. I am almost finished it. Central to those formational years was Gandhi's friendship with a number of Jews and Christians in his inner circle, especially the Doke family (... such a shame about the 'Christian' Briton and Boer oppressors who stuffed up the witness of the Dokes). After being nursed back to health in their home,
Gandhi became very attached to the Dokes, to the father and daughter in particular. After he had left their household, he would, from time to time, send Olive playful notes ... . These letters reveal an unexpected tenderness in a man whose missives to his own sons were far more censorious and prescriptive (Guha, 275).
Gandhi maintained this personal correspondence with Olive for many years, always starting his letters with 'My dear Olive'. Conrad Mbewe writes, 'In a country that was already divided along racial lines, this friendship taught Olive that someone's skin colour was not important. What mattered most was character. This was to help Olive when she later met Africans like Paul Kasonga'. Or, again, 'Doke learnt lifelong lessons in her home as she saw her parents treating people of a different race with respect - against the very attitude that was prevalent in their own community'.

I know what many of you are thinking... To the Western mind, all sorts of questions hover around these two relationships with Paul and Gandhi. It is at the heart of Olive's intriguing story. Conrad signals, rightly, that a further area of research is 'the dangers in male:female intimacy'. As for me, I am willing to let OCD be OCD and give her the benefit of any doubt!

Before that... in New Zealand
Although originally from Britain, the Doke family went to South Africa from New Zealand where they had arrived in 1894. Olive was 3 years of age. They answered a call to Oxford Terrace Baptist Church (Christchurch) in the same year that the celebrated preacher and author, Frank Boreham,  arrived in Mosgiel. Doke was Boreham's mentor. Boreham wrote Doke's biography, The Man Who Saved Gandhi, which is serialised on the Frank Boreham blog. It is no surprise to discover that in his few years in Christchurch, Joseph Doke was at the forefront of the fight for justice for Chinese immigrants in Christchurch.

One day in the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, as Frank Boreham preached, a little girl (12 years of age) gave her life to Jesus. She tells some of the story in this little piece. Her name was Olive. The OCD journey had begun - and look where it took her. Gandhi. Kasonga. Mbewe ... and now me - and you, I pray. This is the way God loves to work. Small beginnings. Slow fruiting. We just never know what God is going to do through us and that is why it is crucial that we trust and obey all the way home.

Oxford Terrace Baptist Church is one of half a dozen NZ churches that support, financially and prayerfully, Barby and I in our work with Langham Partnership. Its church building was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquakes. Here I am, in July 2013, standing next to a sign at the front of a largely empty plot of land where the grand building once was. But the living church continues on. More Olives are ripening, even in your orbit. Attend to them. Love them. Nurture them. Believe in them - for the sake of Christ's mission in the world.

nice chatting - gee, it was really nice chatting.
I've been looking forward to this one for weeks.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

raga, namo and arke: a dummies guide

If' you are looking for a story of political intrigue to consume you through 2014, look no further than India, the world's largest democracy. I can't wait to open my newspaper each morning.

Are you in for the ride? Can this dummy give you the dummies guide?
I know you don't think it is relevant - but then I don't think that highly of relevance, so that one doesn't work so well on me. Be good and stick with me here. You'll love it.

In one corner there is the Congress Party...
nehru with gandhi
This is the party of a family dynasty in India. Remember Mahatma Gandhi, right?! He is the one who made life so tough for the British that they had to go home. Was there a greater force for political good in the twentieth century? I doubt it. But Gandhi was assassinated a few months later and it was Jawaharlal Nehru who became the main man - and the first Prime Minister of India, as President of the ruling Indian Congress Party.

[This is one of the places where you have to have some empathy for Pakistan. Nehru had 16 years as a revered Prime Minister, establishing the country. His equivalent across the border, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had barely 13 months...]

Jawaharlal Nehru
Indira Gandhi
(Sanjay) & Rajiv Gandhi (married Italian-born, Sonia)
(Priyanka) & Rahul Gandhi
[PS: these Gandhis are no relation to the Mahatma & it is not spelt like 'Ghandi' :)].

Check out some life stories. Indira (by Sikh) and Rajiv (by Tamil) were murdered by extremists (both while serving as Prime Minister). As a younger man, Sanjay died in a plane crash above Delhi - a handful of kms from where our home was - right at the height of his ruthless influence. After Rajiv died, Sonia became President of the Congress Party and won not one - but two - national elections. Largely because she is not Indian-by-birth, she handed the office over to others, with Manmohan Singh being the most recent, and current, Prime Minister.

sonia with raga
Coming now into the present. Last week Manmohan Singh announced his resignation (at 80+ years of age) and what about this next week? Yes, you guessed it. People are expecting Rahul Gandhi ('RaGa'), now old enough, to take on the Congress leadership and be their candidate for Prime Minister later in 2014.

But there is a little problem. Well, two related ones. One is that the tide ebbs and flows with the Congress Party - and at the moment it is seriously ebbing. Related to this, it appears that charisma has gradually leaked out of the dynastic line. RaGa is not very inspiring. He does not seem to have the presence of his great-grandfather. Interestingly, guess who drifted into the public eye this week? You are so clever ... Priyanka!

In another corner there is the BJP Party...
The recently appointed leader of the BJP is Narendra Modi (or, 'NaMo', for short. They love acronyms here in India. With this approach the NZ Prime Minister, John Key, becomes JoKe). The BJP has a Hindu fundamentalism identity. Onto this NaMo latches an effective track record, according to supporters, in governance and business while he ruled the state of Gujarat (the Mahatma's home state, by the way). NaMo brings all this to the masses as an older man who is a fiery orator wrapped up in a charismatic personality. It is a potent combo (Hindu identity + business acumen + personality) with wide appeal. So different to RaGa. NaMo is always having RaGa on about needing the family dynasty - shehzada!

However NaMo has this massive dark spot in his past. It is horrid. Ten years ago, while Chief Minister of Gujarat, these anti-Muslim riots occurred in which hundreds of people lost their lives. Everything about NaMo - at the time and ever since - seems so non-committal. But the Americans, for example, are so convinced of his involvement that they will not grant him a visa. Many Indians still come to similar conclusions.

So NaMo is popular (to some), but scary (to others).

How are we doing? Are you still with me?! I hope so.
We've put RaGa and NaMo in their place - but that is about it.
I haven't even got to the good bit yet.

First you have to remember a couple of things about India. One is that in its diversity it is a bit like Europe, but far bigger, with more languages, cultures - and people. How it all hangs together is a bit of a mystery to me. The other thing has to do with its governance. A bit like the USA and Australia, India has both a federal and a state system. The same political parties offer candidates in both systems of elections, with the state ones often giving an indication of how the national one will go.

Here is where it has become so absorbing in the last few weeks.
Here is why I can't wait to get to my newspaper.
At the moment NaMo and RaGa are struggling to find a good headline for themselves.

In a third corner is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - which means 'common man party'.
It burst on to the national stage before Christmas when 4-5 states had their elections. Everyone was expecting the BJP to do well and the Congress to do poorly - and that is what happened. But in the state of Delhi (which is the place from which the country is governed nationally as well), the AAP entered the election. A new and tiny party, at best. Their political platform is based around attacking corruption and getting a better deal for the 'common man' (starting with water and electricity). Their leader is this ex-IT guy (and yes, he does look a bit nerdy and geeky - apologies for those offended by the stereotypes) called Arvind Kejriwal. He rides to work on public transport. He lives in a modest home. He eschews security personnel hanging off him. The broom, sweeping away dirt, is his image. All his followers wear this little white topi, or hat. When he speaks it is calm and sensible.

AAP didn't win the most seats in Delhi. BJP did (32, up 9) - but not enough to govern. In coalition with a decimated Congress Party (8, down 35), it quickly became clear that the AAP (28, up 28) could and should rule. It was the 'unthinkable' outcome. And so here is Arvind Kejriwal (I haven't seen ArKe in the media yet - but why don't we start a little trend, shall we?!) as the Chief Minister of Delhi.


ArKe is the anti-politician. It is 'politics from below'. He is the architect of 'a hitherto unthinkable political revolution that does not derive its power from religion, caste, class, or cadre.' He believes in holding public referendum as a means of listening to the public. It is 'politics growing from the heart, not from a thesis'. Within days of taking office, the initiatives are flowing. For example, a HELPLINE for those confronted by people asking for bribes. It has been inundated. I wonder what new initiative this day will bring.

You don't have to be a political scientist to pick what is happening in this country. Hundreds of thousands of people are signing up. It is galvanising a younger generation with the same sort of energy that the Pope is doing in Catholic circles. The pressure is on the AAP to set up party structures outside the state of Delhi. And the big question? Does the AAP have enough time to wield influence in the national election later in 2014? It is gonna be a fun space to watch.

Who knows what will happen? Not me!
I don't mind having a crack at a dummies guide - but a discerning guide is not really an appropriate assignment for a guest, like me, in the country to make.

nice chatting


Thursday, January 09, 2014

first eleven: most molten

With this blog, I don't focus that often on personal stuff about myself. It is more about gathering ideas and resources that I don't want to lose and filing them under a set of labels where I can find them easily. But when I do become more personal they tend to be topics that soften me - because I am a bit of a sook. So here goes my final list, roughly in order of the millilitres of tears expended in their writing and reflection.

12th man    dmin: the journey 
Trying to exorcise the DMin was a long and painful journey. More perspiration, than inspiration - mingling with the sweat were a few tears as well.

#11    unforgettables from the nougthies  
Making memories is a glue that holds families together. Remembering memories is one of the best ways to remain in a molten state. Here are one decade's most memorable.

#10    pilgrimage
The way God has led the family in which I grew up - and now what he has asked of us within our own family - is to keep the focus on pilgrimage, with all its upsides and downsides.

#9     those unlike ourselves  
A basic principle of living life well crystallised for me in the training of preachers. It is increasingly important. The compassion which flowed by engaging these two images will not be forgotten easily.

#8    a mother's poem, a mother's prayer, and a mother's plea
This poetry has come to me through my mother, my grandmother and my daughter - and it is a largely sad little triumvirate that has greatly enriched my life.

#8     christchurch comfort 
In listening to Sri Lankan pastors, in the land of the tsunami, pour out their hearts in prayer for my people most evenings - and then in reading Isaiah 40-60 early every morning - God drew near.

#7    mk musing
The experiences of the 'missionary kid' creates plenty of emotion. I am no exception. For example, as a child, those separations from parents were tough - but I'd not trade the life in for anything.

#6     pakistani scandals and the messiah over syria
Emotion is never far away when I draw near to the peoples of the world and listen to their stories. It happened both in moving among the people of Pakistan and in flying over the people of Syria.

#5     fifty not out  
It will be a day in which I luxuriate for the rest of my life. Although I neglected to invite my own brothers (something I regret so much), the day opened up just as it did in my dreams.

#4     turning eighty (dad) and turning eighty (mum) 
My parents are very dear to me. These were my tributes to them on their eightieth birthdays.

#3     subdued by obedience  
My life is not my own. It is given over to serving Jesus my Lord in His mission in the world wherever he chooses - but that is not always an easy choice to make.

#2     path of blessing 
Parents cannot guarantee how the kids will turn out. It doesn't work like that. Who hasn't wept over this one? But goodness, deary me - there is still a lot that can be done and prayed over...

#1     remembering dad with song 
I miss my Dad. I just do. Nothing has helped me more with my grief than listening to him sing these simple, powerful hymns - particularly one night in the company of faithful and patient friends.

nice chatting


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

first eleven: most scenic

I travel a lot and so I see a lot. Not so much touristy stuff. More the people of God in different settings. This can thrill the soul. Every trip abroad by a Jesus-follower should make a priority of visiting Jesus-followers in cultures so different from their own. But then some of best scenery sticks close to home and to the familiar. Here are some highlights:

#11    oxford dale budapest
My first ever visit to John Stott's place in SW Wales ('The Hookses') was exciting for me - and made all the more so when I clicked what must be one of the best ever photos taken of the location.

#10    with peterson at raukokore
It was the final frontier in NZ for me. The East Cape. Perfect weather. Quiet pre-Christmas traffic. Beautiful vistas - but even they could not match what I saw when I stepped into a little church.

#9     langham delights
My very first training trip with Langham Preaching was to the Solomon Islands and Pakistan (with a 50+hr trip in between). First impressions stick and I still see these ones so readily in my imagination.

#8     on a date in chennai
Breaking the rules for these first elevens in that this one has already appeared - but I had such fun clicking and writing this post that I just had to include it again.

#7     marsden cross
2014 is a huge year for the church in New Zealand. Two hundred years since the gospel was first preached at this very spot. Each of my many pilgrimages has been precious for different reasons.

#6     madness in morocco
One of those times Barby and I did take a week together. Still chuckle about how the train trip to Stansted Airport (from London) cost more than the plane trip to Marrakesh.

#5     huia heritage
How does an unspectacular little valley become such a magnet for us as a family? Simply because generations have walked the same roads, lived in the same cottages, climbed the same mountains.

#4    two generations 
The best scenery of all are the faces of our children and grandson from whom we are now separated. But these photos, replicating ones taken almost twenty years ago, bring great joy.

#3     thirty years and counting 
Of course, the best familial scenery is my wife. We've been eyeing up each other with various levels of intent since before we can remember - and the beauty in these photos provide an ample rationale.

#2     the glorious south
For me, the south of the South Island will always provide the ultimate in natural scenery.

#1     images that stick
Having children so interested in our upbringing  in India - and then so captivated by the two visits we have made together (in 2000 and 2010) will always provide the most memorable scenery.

nice chatting


Thursday, January 02, 2014

first eleven: most ignored

'That's a bit over the top, isn't it, Paul?' Most ignored. Yes, it probably is. But I wanted to keep the 'most' going and so saying 'least read' didn't fit. Plus this is more than posts that were not read much. This is the second eleven for 'most important'. These are posts that were not read much (less than 100 'views') and which I could have included in the 'most important' list. Here goes:

'12th man'    ppk governance
With apologies to the Psalms - 'taste and see that good governance is good.' When you have so tasted, it is so hard to be satisfied with anything less. In my experience, the goodness starts here.

#11    what works
Over the space of a few weeks I had the privilege of seeing the fruit of effective mission work, over the decades, up close and personal. I gathered the common denominators before I lost them.

#10    offense and defense

I am always up for the challenge of a little juxtaposition between the world of sports and the biblically faithful missional life to which Jesus calls us. This may be the most important comparison of all.

#9    ted, steve, paul
Having had the privilege of living in different cultures, the flaws in my own home culture seem more obvious. The born and bred Kiwi hates me talking like this - nevertheless, still they should listen.

#8     first eleven: worship leading and worship wars
I don't sing. I don't play. Today that pretty much disqualifies me from an opinion on worship worth hearing. But I do blog and opinionated opinion is something that I definitely do have.

#7     epuni and stoke
I love the local church. Always have. Always will. There is something alluring about smaller churches growing healthier and deeper (and larger!) by sticking to doing things God's way - and being patient.

#6     a leadership resolution
         learning about leading (I) and learning about leading (II)
         leadership imperatives (part one) and leadership imperatives (part two)
5-in-1. Oops. Being principal at Carey Baptist College was my defining experience of leadership. I had to learn a lot in a hurry - and here are reflections before, during, and after this experience.

#5     funeral spirituality
They say the Victorian Age spoke little about sex and lots about death. We are the opposite. Lots about sex and little about death. Here's to being different. Check out mike and tony and god as well.

#4     the story of mission, seat by seat
It is so simple, it is almost silly. And yet it is a little picture that comes to mind again and again as I move between cultures, trying to find the balance between proactivity and reactivity.

#3     the mistake of maturity
Assuming what should be articulated, building the fifth floor without having a ground floor in place - ahh, this is a behavioural disorder too common among senior leaders, like pastors and lecturers.

#2     what does it mean to be a christian?
Speaking of being a Christian in terms of 'following Jesus' is true (of course it is), but it is not true enough. It is incomplete (at best) and sub-biblical (at worst) - and this has its implications.

#1     fear and fear
Can there be a biblical word that is used in such contrasting ways - and yet with both meanings having such significance on the understanding of the spiritual life? I think not.  

nice chatting