Sunday, March 11, 2012

FAREWELL TO NEW ZEALAND


Tomorrow Vivian and I will be leaving New Zealand for the final time; at least, it will be our last as far as we know. We will leave behind some good memories and we will miss some very good friends that we have made here. New Zealand is a beautiful country with many very kind people. It has interesting traditions and history and many admirable qualities. We have also enjoyed worshiping with the believers in our little church in the small town of Maraetai Beach. We will miss all of these.
I will also say that apart from these things, I leave behind one of the most difficult of working situations in which I have ever ministered. This I will not miss a great deal. We first came to New Zealand about two and a half years ago hoping to get the churches here interested in assisting the churches of the Pacific islands in pastoral and leadership training.  However, the specific churches here in New Zealand with whom I was originally to partner largely excluded me from working with them because I had a desire to work with all Bible believing churches. They did not. They only wanted to work with those who were of their own specific denominational similarities and some even held me in suspect because I used more than one particular translation of the Bible.
Those of you who know me or have read any of my books know that I have a deep love and a great burden for the church of Jesus Christ (Please read especially my book, Portraits of the Church). I have spent my adult life trying to instill in churches the passion to conform to the image of Christ, and it genuinely grieves me to see such self pride expressed in the church. It is, after all, predominantly pride that causes one church or denomination to believe that it alone has complete understanding and that all others are in some way living in opposition to the teachings of Christ.
My own view has always been that we are all on the road to a better understanding, that none of us have reached perfect knowledge of all that Christ taught us, and that the only way that we will progress is by studying the Scriptures together.
We must hold the Holy Scriptures alone as the ultimate authority – not some denominational doctrine or mission policy. I am a firm believer in a strong Biblical doctrine, but unfortunately, church denomination doctrine does not always reflect unmodified Bible doctrine. Denominational doctrine or practices can even sometimes actually hinder us from growing in truth, rather than establishing us in truth. It is an unfortunate fact that church doctrine is sometimes put in place for the protection of the church denomination rather than for the growth and the fellowship of the saints.
Of the sixteen or seventeen countries in which I have worked with churches, I must say that this present one has been the most difficult. Denominationalism among Bible-believing churches is stronger here than I have seen in any other country. Some workers with more experience may dispute that statement, and I am willing to stand corrected, but I can only speak from my own personal experience. I will continue to pray for the church here and also know that, like all of us, the only thing that will help is the grace of God.

Of course, this initial loss of connection with anyone to work with here when we first arrived caused Vivian and me to try somehow to slowly get to know people in the far off islands of the Pacific. This was not an easy task and I must say that even now, we have just made a beginning. But despite the circumstances that we found when we arrived here, we were not left alone in this effort. Some other brothers here did help us and the Holy Spirit opened up channels of communication for us. For example, a small Bible College name Fowey Lodge welcomed us into their work and we have greatly appreciated their friendship and ministry.  In this and in various other ways, we have gotten to know many people in islands hundreds of miles from here.
Through all of these experiences, we have come to learn that there is a great need for pastoral and leadership training in the Pacific islands, although the hunger for this training is not nearly as acute as that which we experienced in Latin America. Again, this is a hunger that only the Holy Spirit can instill, and there are those in the islands that share this vision. Fiji Bible College of Lautoka, Fiji is one of those. It is their stated ministry goal to get Bible preaching back into the pulpits of the Pacific Islands. This single Bible College has been more a source of encouragement for me personally than the discouragement that has come from other sources.
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But now, Vivian and I are mostly looking forward to returning to our little farm in Wisconsin. We do not yet know what we will do, but I plan on getting a few cattle of some kind, and doing a little logging. Hopefully, I can make some kind of living this way. And of course, we look forward in the next four months to visiting those of you, our faithful home churches, who have been our Ropeholders these last 20+ years, both through rewarding times and through difficult times.
I will also continue to write. In fact, I am currently writing a book on a subject that Jesus meant to be a source of uniting churches under Him, but which has instead become a source of division. This is the teaching of the Lord’s Supper, on which distinct churches hold extremely strong beliefs and have closed their ears to hear what others are saying.
One thing that has been interesting to me in this study is that of the four gospel writers, only Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of the actual institution of the Holy Communion, but each of these only dedicates about a half a chapter of their book to it. John, on the other hand, does not talk about the actual moment when Jesus and the disciples partook of the bread and the wine, but explains far more than any of the other writers the teachings of Jesus that took place that evening in the upper room. In John’s gospel, chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 are all dedicated to the teachings of Jesus in the room that night. There is much in those chapters that we have missed in regards to the attitude surrounding the Lord’s Supper. Hopefully I can have that book out some time next year (2013).
So, as Vivian and I and our boys have had to say farewell to other countries where we have lived and have come to love, we also now must say farewell to New Zealand, another country and people whom we have come to love. But the connections remain, and we maintain the expectation that we will see our New Zealand and Island brothers and sisters in the Lord again at a future time.

Vivian and I are traveling home through Fiji, where I have some meetings, so we will be home in a few days. I will post again when we get settled in Wisconsin.

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