Monday, 22 December 2014

Love, the guest, is on the way.

It still brings me to tears that God became man to redeem us ordinary folks - that the Creator of the universe would be born in such humble circumstances and announce His coming to shepherds. The incarnation changes everything. Among them, it puts the lie to the Atheist claim that we need to be powerful, and Hollywood’s claim that we need to be popular, and the religious instinct that we must be perfect to reach God. 

We are none of these, and yet God became man out of love for us, be we poor widows, rich tax collectors, parents, children, businessmen, or backpackers. 

And that was just the beginning. He is at work even now to restore the entire universe under His rightful reign. As our pastor put it, to bring peace on Earth by defeating or transforming all His enemies. And we, weak you and me, get to be part of that work as members of His body! Making disciples of the nations, bringing light into darkness in every corner of the Earth, using the gifts and talents God has given us for His Glory. Praise God! 

So in honour of the God who loves a good celebration (Deut 14:22-27), indeed who made the very sun, moon and stars to remind us to feast (Gen 1:14), may your Christmas be merry and your New Year exceedingly happy indeed as we remember and await our Lord. 

Or, to quote one of my favourite Advent hymns:  

People, look east! The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.

Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

White fields

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”- John 4:34-38 ESV

Whenever I have read this passage previously, I have thought, "Oh, how nice, the fields are white for the harvest - they just have to go out and reap."

This past week has been the week of realising what white fields really mean.

When you look at them, and you are the one about to go a-reaping, you realise how big they are. You realise this is going to mean sweat and strained muscles and sunburns and very late nights.

More specifically in our case, we saw dozens of hungry, tired travellers pouring in to rest and be filled -- and we didn't know if there would be enough chairs, food and godly company to give them the welcome we hoped.

Last Thursday at Pilgrim Dinners, we had 53 guests. That means that in just 2 weeks, we doubled the number of guests. Thankfully, we had extra helpers turn up on the night, and several of our helpers could run out to buy extra food. I think we used every chair in the accessible part of the building (including those rolly office chairs) and we packed every one in like sardines.

The question on everyone's minds as soon as we were packing up was, "What are we going to do next week? What if it just keeps getting bigger?" (Peirce gave a rather hard-hitting talk on "Good" and how it is impossible in a world without God, and how we can never qualify ourselves for salvation by being "good", so now we've been joking that he needs to start preaching hellfire-sermons to stop so many people from coming.)

We've been thinking about what Jesus said:
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” - Matthew 9:37-38 ESV

So we do pray earnestly: Lord of the Harvest, send out more labourers. Pleaseenable us to gather fruit for eternal life.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Highways, Byways, and Bus Stops

'Master,' the slave said, 'what you ordered has been done, and there's still room.'Then the master told the slave, 'Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled.' - Luke 14:22-23

The second week at Pilgrim Dinners was an instance of God’s sovereign grace

At 7 of the clock, when dinner was meant to start, we had zero guests. Seven happy team members doing last minute prep, one happy team member playing lovely live music, but zero guests. ‘It’s ok, it’s only 7,’ thought I. 

Fast-forward all of five minutes, to 7:05, and we had… zero guests. At this point, hope flagged. “Praise God we had people last week,” I thought, “maybe God gave us those folks to encourage us to endure a week with no one?” Not much of a pump up

Jump with me forward another five minutes, to 7:10 on the clock, and... zero guests. We had some very tasty food plated and ready, a great vibe to the room, and I’d prepped a talk on Faith which (rarely for me) I was feeling I’d really nailed in the writing, but… we had no guests. We had our posters up across the valley, we’d fliered backpackers, and sent cars to shuttle guests from the two hostels, but… no guests. None, zip, zero

“Ok,” thought I, “let’s sit down, and I’ll give the talk to the team. It’ll be good for us too."

And then, out of the nowhere, praise to God, 12 people appeared: 8 Japanese travellers, a couple from Korea, a guy from the Netherlands, and an Aussie youth. And the twenty of us + kids sat down and did Pilgrim Dinners, with a great discussion after. 

Now where did these folks come from? Very much God’s sovereign grace through one tenacious team member, who did not lose hope but like the slave in Luke 14 kept going out asking folks to join us, long after we were meant to start. She even braved the local bus stop and asked some hoodied youths to join us (hence our lone Aussie, who was more scared of us than we of him, considering his friends had to dare him to come, and they kept checking on him to see that he was still alive). 

It was a great night, for which we praise God and have learned a good lesson - keep asking. And so we pray and ask again for guests to come each Thursday to Pilgrim Dinners, so that one day they would fill our Father's house at the Great Banquet.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

At the Gates

Enjoy the community artwork on the walls!
Did they have this in OT times?
"Fellowship is having your church friends over, and that's great, but hospitality is inviting the stranger in. ... Hospitality by definition means meeting the stranger at the gates...and bringing the stranger in."
- Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, in this interview

In the world of the Old Testament, the community gathered at the city gates. Elders and judges sat and heard cases. News and current events were shared. Strangers arrived here, looking for hospitality. (In Genesis 19 and Judges 19 you can read two stories of strangers arriving at the gates and being offered hospitality. Things don't go so well from there on, but the horrifying developments of these stories are partly why they were included - hospitality was a very solemn duty and violating it was serious.)

So where or what are the city gates in Huonville, Tasmania? I suppose you might make a case for a local pub, or perhaps the visitor information centre. But for us, it is the public library, where many travellers come to read the newspaper, check email, and glance over community notice boards.

On October 30th, we took ourselves and our hospitality to "the gates". We laid tables, heated up pots of curry and chili con carne, prayed, and waited for the strangers to come.

And they came. 

Yes, those are baby legs on my lap.
On the first night, five of them came, from Taiwan and Hong Kong. They shared a meal with us, they listened attentively to Peirce's talk on God, and they discussed it with us. 

They asked questions. They listened. We asked questions. We listened. I talked with "A" about her fear of the supernatural world and the fact that she hasn't carried on her family's traditional ancestor worship. I shared with her that as Christians we are free to both acknowledge the reality of the spiritual world, and not live in fear of it. Another guest, "M", claimed his only belief was in naturalism, but admitted during our discussion that naturalism offers no explanation for the origin of all things.

So please pray for us every Thursday, as we go to the gates, and welcome the strangers in Jesus' name.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Announcing Pilgrim Dinners

In blogging, the best is the enemy of the good. The year has been a full one, but you wouldn't know it from our blog.

For example, you wouldn't know that we are nearly a month out from starting weekly Pilgrim Dinners (30 October). Many of you readers were encouraged by our Huon Mission at the beginning of the year. Well, keep reading, because it turns out that was only the beginning of something much bigger.

A little after the Huon Mission, we had an epiphany: why not “do Pilgrim Hill now” in a permanent sense? We don’t have our building yet, but there is so much we can do already. So we settled on a strategy that we believe with God’s blessing will be effective in reaching backpackers in the Huon: a plan for Pilgrim Hill now - in part, if not in full.

Now, Pilgrim Hill's mission is to make disciples for Jesus by showing and telling the Gospel through hospitality. But how can we do hospitality without having a building or beds to offer? Answer, by offering free dinners from a hired venue in the centre of Huonville for the backpackers who flock to the Huon for about 7 months of every year.

It’s a way to begin offering kindness, community, practical love and Gospel truth to travellers - many of the same travellers who will be hosted overnight when the hostel opens.

The project is called Pilgrim Dinners, and the plan is an evening meal with a discipleship component. Our team will run the free dinners with the support of volunteers (like you), who prepare and assist in the meals and evangelism. 

The evangelistic component will usually be a short talk, but will occasionally be another event (film night, bush dance, etc) with the express purpose of disciple-making through showing and telling the fullness of the Gospel.

God willing, we start 30 October, in the lead up to the next picking season, and finish at the end of the season in the Autumn, with time for development in the Winter. We’ll start with one dinner a week, plus Bible studies and special events. Seeing how things take off, there are plenty of opportunities to expand.

Naturally, we are very excited about the months ahead. Excited enough we may just start blogging again. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The other side of the boat

Serving an Australia Day meal to over 100 seasonal workers in the Huon Valley.
Peirce is giving his talk on "Redemption" from the top of an apple crate.

We were hours away from putting on our 4th and final outreach dinner for international fruit pickers and seasonal workers at Lucaston Park Orchards. The previous dinners had gone smoothly. We'd set up in a covered outdoor venue with nicely laid trestle tables with table cloths and simple flowers.

The aim was to show love and care to the workers in the form of a meal, a conversation, and a short talk about Christianity. In return, we received warm thanks and sincere questions. We felt we'd been doing pretty well. Depending on the evening, we'd had anywhere from 50 to just 5 workers, and that was fine.

We were organised. We were ready.

"Go fish on the other side of the boat," Jesus said once, and the disciples broke their nets.

Just hours before our final dinner, on January 26th, otherwise known as Australia Day, we learned that a conflicting event had been organised for the workers (I should say, very kindly organised, without knowing there was a conflict).

While hardly the end of the world, this did feel like a very disappointing end to our Huon summer mission. We had a crew of no less than 7 Pilgrim Hill volunteers coming along, whom we'd have to call right away and ask to stay home.

After taking a moment to pray together, Peirce and I discussed our options. There was just one more possibility - the two events could be combined? We could bring our food and people and help make the Aussie barbecue even more of a hit with the workers. The answer was yes! Even better, we got the all-clear for Peirce to give his planned final talk, on "Redemption".

So, a few hours later, our plan for a sit-down meal summarily abandoned, we showed up at the Orchards with a lot of meat pies, sausage rolls, and pavlova (Australian traditional fare, for those not in the know) to go with the sausages ("snags") already provided.

Lest I sound too chirpy, I want to be honest - the whole event necessitated an attitude change on our part. We couldn't be organised. We couldn't do things "our way".

We were setting up a trestle table among farm equipment and an impromptu rivulet at the same time that the workers were pouring out of the packing shed, hungry and curious. We were trying to keep an eye on our 3 children (5 and under), who showed a marked fondness for disappearing into tractors and running off into the apple orchards (understandable).

Peirce adjusted quickly to giving his talk on top of an apple crate (see photo) to over 100 people, when he'd been expecting to give it sitting down in a sedate dinner setting with less than half that number. The guests at our previous dinners had all been Asian seasonal workers, mostly from Taiwan and Hong Kong, who listened politely and attentively to something that was very new to them. Now he was springing an overt Gospel message on a large group of people, many of whom were from post-Christian cultures like Sweden, France, Belgium, England, Scotland, the US and Canada, and might not be expected to be quite so polite or interested.

So how did it go? One worker walked away, but the rest stayed and listened while they ate, though they had no obligation to (we gave them their meal first). Surprisingly, there was even applause at the end of Peirce's talk. Several people came up and thanked us warmly.

We had the opportunity to talk with them afterwards about Christianity. I talked at length with a Russian woman, whom you can see in the photo (short blonde hair) leaning against the apple crate to Peirce's right. She had investigated and rejected Russian Orthodoxy, then converted to Islam, and now finally rejected strict religious legalism for a more permissive unitarian theism. She asked me a lot of questions and I had the privilege of sharing with her about the Trinity and salvation by grace, the latter of which seemed to be completely new to her. Upon leaving I asked her if she would like me to continue praying for her. She broke into a smile and said, "I would like that very much."

On January 26th, 2014, we had a glimpse of Pilgrim Hill. We tasted God's providence, which shatters our organised little schemes and messes them up, leaving us with broken nets, and hearts full of His goodness.