The Brevity of Life

 

I recently returned back to the UK to attend the funeral of my 25 year old sister Katy. It was a huge shock to learn of her passing. With a legal career, a potentially imminent marriage and everything to live for, she was killed in a road collision, two days into a holiday in Bali.

Katy had some lovely, confident, upwardly mobile friends who spoke well of her at the funeral. The message that came across in the many tributes was of one who worked hard and certainly played hard, but who was utterly unprepared for death.

It reminded me of the strange book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes or The preacher. This book, part of the wisdom genre in the Bible, articulates in ostensibly pessimistic terms, the brevity of life.

“ . . . Meaningless, Meaningless, says the preacher, all is meaningless. . . What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2:22)

We want to be happy and we do not want to consider the brevity of life and the certainty of death. We refuse to think about these things by filling our lives with other things.

Our generation, like no other before, have given ourselves wholesale to a repertoire of diversions that distract us from addressing ultimate questions about our mortality. We are submerged beneath an abundance of trivia in our fully wired, always connected, completely digitized world of social media and limitless sources of entertainment.

In his first two chapters, the writer of Ecclesiastes bursts the bubbles of pleasure and profit, materialism and laughter- even education. The sharpness of death pierces all our pretensions of ultimate happiness through these means.

But, the message of the book is not ultimately negative. The message is that the reality of death is meant to show us how to live. The source of our ultimate enjoyment is God. God is the one who ‘ gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness (2:26) When we know that that gift is not a stepping stone to greater things, we realize we are not meant to master our destiny or achieve ultimate gain through our careers. We are dependent creatures made for relationship with our creator.

Terry Pratchet, recently wrote an article for the Times in which he said: ‘ Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.’  This is why the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes exhorts the young person:

“Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” (12:1)

My certain death must invigorate my current life. Putting one foot in the grave is the way to plant the other in the path of life. Enjoyment is the gift of God and I am commanded in this book to enjoy God’s world. I enjoy it most fully when I come to know Him and come to realise that the gospel ultimately deals with death as Jesus absorbs the sting of it in my place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year 4 at GIS

We are back in Chiang Mai for year 4, supporting missionaries and their children here in Chiang Mai. Rainy season means the route to school is often flooded but the temperatures are not as brutal as the spring. We are still sharing a building with a Thai school that has doubled in size and we are still trying to raise funds to build a new school as we are only allowed to stay here another 24 months.

The challenges, teaching in an international environment, are unique. Korean students (30% of school population) are very very different from American students (49% of the school population). Some Korean students begin each day at 4.30am with a compulsory morning prayer meeting. Korean students tend to be very driven and get all the top grades. Yet they struggle in class discussion or in producing creative work. Some Korean students related this morning how they spent their summer in a test preparation boot camp. The day began at 6.30am and ended at 6pm.

All students spend a lot of time on the internet in-front of a screen. Here at Grace, students are given a chrome book which they bring to all classes. They submit their assignments via google classroom. This enables schooling to proceed if the building has to be shut due to political upheaval or if the student has a period of prolonged absence. Students spending long periods of time in front of a screen get drowsy, struggle with concentration and can become addicted to pornography.

Some students feel abandoned by their parents who are often members of undermanned pioneering teams and who spend long periods of time away from home doing ministry.
Being asked “Where are you from?” can be a stressful experience for an MK. The longing to belong and the feeling of not belonging are ever present.

In addition to missionary kids, the school has a population of Thai students (now up to 20%) many of whom come from Buddhist homes and who have not encountered Christianity before.

My role at Grace as head of RE is to help all students to give logical and genuine reasons for their own personal beliefs even as we explore the beliefs of those from other religions. I also want each student to pursue a relationship with God.

In my bible study methods class, many are opening it for the first time. Others start to understand it for the first time while others develop skills that will enable them to be bible study leaders. We examine its claim to authority, authenticity and reliability. We examine its plotline and note that many of the great stories we love copy the Bible’s narrative of a situation where the prospects seem hopeless and then the intervention of a mysterious hero who with great sacrifice brings redemption.

The very first verse of the gospel of Mark says: ‘ The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Gospel means ‘ good news.’ Truly it is fantastic news in an age of fake news. The news is that God has revealed himself through Jesus. When we look at Jesus all the guessing games about God stop. Not only that but Jesus has come to bear my sin away and to make me right with God so that I can enjoy a relationship with my maker, lover and Lord.

Easter/ Songkhran reflections

Happy Easter! In Thailand, this year, Easter weekend overlaps with Songkhran. Songkhran is the start of a new year where the gods are beseeched to bring the needed rain to plant crops after the long dry spell. In Chiang Mai, 1 million visitors descend on the city to partake in the biggest water fight in the world.

songkhran

The Easter break at school provides a much needed rest after a long stretch from January during which the pollution and consistent 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures make teaching and studying difficult. The smoke from the burning fields provides a film of smog and haze that remains over the city for a couple of months until the spring rains which have thankfully begun slightly early this year.

For Chris, the break provided an opportunity to connect with a friend and long term missionary to minority groups in China. Having worked with Uighur people in Xinjiang, Todd is now working to translate the bible into Hui and to nuture an insider group of followers of Jesus in Yinchuan. These followers remain outwardly Muslim but know Jesus as their Lord and saviour. Todd was a great companion on a short trek just north of Lijiang in Yunnan province. We had a great time hiking, eating Yak and discussing theology. Yunnan is only an hour’s flight north. The air and the skies were wonderful and the cool temperatures a great tonic.

Photo taken from the Naxi guest house, Lijiang, Yunnan.

Photo taken from the Naxi guest house, Lijiang, Yunnan.

The way the school year is structured at Grace is somewhat bizarre. We now have only seven weeks until the end of the year. Sam is intending to study for GCSE’s next year, so will home school. He has continued to struggle with energy levels and persistently inflamed glands. Recently he has been diagnosed with a mild form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. We are thankful that this doesn’t totally debilitate him. He continues to enjoy making videos,the latest of  which you can view here.

Lois loves school and continues to thrive. Joe and Isaac are also flourishing in many ways. Joe has a friend in the neighbourhood who spends most of his evenings with us watching The Flash. Isaac has less friends nearby, but is growing up to be a charismatic extroverted little boy: The life and soul of a party.  As a family, we sense God’s protection and care, if not certainty concerning our future direction.

Ann continues to serve in the uniform shop and in elementary school classes. Occasionally she teaches piano and she manages the household finances, which is no small task when income is irregular. However, as we come to the end of another school year, we do reflect on how God has provided for the six of us to serve missionaries in Thailand.

Easter Sunday is my favourite day of the year. The fact of the resurrection is the bedrock of our faith and the reason for our continued hope. As Paul writes: ‘If Christ did not rise from the dead. We of all people are most to be pitied.’

Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits of our own. As my body begins to creek and my knees begin to weaken, I rejoice in the fact that one day I will not just get my young body back, I will have the body I always wanted. Our future is physical. Just like the pollution in Chiang Mai covers the glories of what lies underneath, the pollution of the curse presently covers the glory of what will be when redemption is total.

The seeming irretrievability of things that are lost can suck the life out of us. But one day everything will be retrieved. The resurrection is a giant receipt stamped across history proclaiming that the debt for sin has been paid in full. Christ was not reaping bad karma on the cross, he was purchasing salvation for all humans willing to receive it and for the entire cosmos.

 

 

 

 

 

Mission and Truth

The Webb family are here in Thailand to help serve missionaries by teaching their children. The aim is that the missionaries can be confident that their children are receiving an excellent education while they serve in mission in Thailand and in 24 nations in this vicinity. Both the school and our little house church are occasionally involved in mission to the Thai people giving us a little taste of front line mission work as we also relate to Thai culture day to day.

christmas photo

We were uncertain whether this school year would be our last in Thailand. Sam needs to start GCSE courses which Grace does not run and we had thought that 3 years might be the duration we serve in Thailand before returning to the UK. However, we do not have any job to go back to in the UK so we are thinking that we should stay at least another year. This may mean that Sam is home schooled next year so that he can access GCSE online courses.

To assist our thinking in terms of our future, we hope to attend a conference in Switzerland this summer called ‘Breathe’ which will enable us the chance to catch a breath and seek God as to the next steps.

breathe

This Summer, Ann and I will have been involved in full time Christian work for 17 years. Though we have had many ups and downs in that time and possess many weaknesses as well as some strengths, we do feel that our life’s call is to serve God’s mission in this world and to partake in the first request of the Lord’s prayer: ‘May your kingdom come!’

Mission is certainly an unpopular concept in the world today. Having just watched The Life of Pi with my RE class, I realise that a prevailing ideology in the West is that no one story can make sense of our world. The Christian story may have some value, but so do the stories told in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many other faiths. To insist on the exclusive truth claims of one story runs counter to a so called ‘tolerant’ outlook.

The Life of Pi

The Life of Pi

 

The concept of ‘truth’ took a battering in 2016. The Oxford English Dictionary coined ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year and electorates across the world took it as a given that all politicians are liars. Yet Jesus Christ spoke some terrifically counter cultural things about truth.

At his trial, Jesus said ” . . . everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37) ‘What is truth?’ Pilate responded; but didn’t hang around for an answer. Most counter culturally of all, Jesus claimed to be the only ‘way truth and life’  for all people. (John 14:6). He was not another religious leader pointing to truth. He claimed to be the ultimate source of all truth.

Foucault and Nietsche said that truth is a power play that leads to oppression. In our post modernist, relativist world, to say a statement is true is simply to say that a person or culture believes it to be true. Hence the popular refrain, “Well, that’s true for you.”

According to this view, one person can say “Jesus is Lord” and another can say “Allah is Lord”, and both statements will be true, if they accurately express the sentiments of the speakers. “Thank you Lord Vishnu for Jesus Christ” cries Pi from his life raft. This view seems to advance tolerance and civility, but it does so at the expense of logic, meaning and truth. That price is too high.

"Thank you Lord Vishnu for introducing me to Christ."

“Thank you Lord Vishnu for introducing me to Christ.”

Christianity stands or falls on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead in Jerusalem after being crucified by the Romans. Were this proved objectively false, Christianity crumbles and becomes just another story. I, for one, would become an atheist.

Because of the objective truths of Christianity, I am a Christian. Because Jesus is the only way to God, I am a missionary. Whatever position we hold, we exclude some others. It is just as arrogant to say that ‘Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus were wrong in their exclusive claims’ as it is to say ‘Jesus is the only way’. Saying there are no exclusive truths is an exclusive truth claim.  Everybody makes truth claims. Making a truth claim doesn’t lead to oppression, it is the content of the truth claim that leads to oppression.

Jesus said that the truth sets us free (John 8:32). The modern idea that you have to get away from the truth to be free is silly. Freedom is not creating your own truth.  Freedom is submitting to the truth. As I get older, I realise that I can’t eat everything I want. I am constrained in what I can eat,  if I want to be released into the freedom of good health and long life. Freedom is the presence of right restrictions which accord with the truth who God made us to be. A fish on the grass is not free. The fish needs to be restricted to the water.

fish-out-water-fisherman-was-holding-caught-34836337

There are a lot of gods put out there. But only Christianity says that God became a person and went to the cross. How can I trust God? Here is a God who lost his freedom for us. Here is God who was the ultimate free being but who surrendered his freedom so that you can trust him and be free. God does not give us an abstract truth, he brings a personal truth to us to set us free. This is why we continue to serve him in Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decisions! Decisions!

Wow, The last eight weeks here have been intense! For the first two weeks, we were helping the school get operational at SBS: That meant lugging boxes of books and equipment to classrooms and to storage. A tremendous amount of work has taken place in order to share a school building.  I was also trying to get my head round teaching a new subject: Ethics, to the senior and junior classes (16-18 year olds). We failed to recruit a teacher for the Religious Studies department so my teaching load has nearly doubled.

moving

Ethics is a fascinating but somewhat frustrating subject. It has to do with what is morally right and wrong. In class we have traced philosophical thinking on morality from ancient Greek to modern times. If people haven’t given up on moral standards altogether,  what most would now adhere to is a form of Utilitarianism (what is moral is what produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number). Teleological ethics considers that the ends justify the means. In class we watched the movie ‘ Spooks’ the Greater Good. MI5 agents constantly had to make decisions in order to bring about what they perceived to be the greater good. Sir Harry Pearce was constantly choosing between several calamitous alternatives in order to do the greatest good. At times he was forced to lie, steal, murder etc, in order to protect his country.

 

harry-pearce

Today telelogical ethics and the ‘death of God’ (Nietzsche) has resulted in a loss of objective morality, (man has to step in and do his best to be God)  objective beauty  and objective value. The film star Raquel Welch said, ‘I am just a piece of meat.’ Where do you get your worth from if there is no God?  From your job? From how many likes you get when you update your Facebook status? From your looks? From being loved by another? From the power you hold as a bureaucrat? All of these are transitory.

As a Christian, my value comes from being made in the image and likeness of a God who loves me. This doesn’t mean, however, that decisions and choices are easy. Right now we need to make choices about our future, guided by God. We are looking at applying for jobs in the UK to start in September. I don’t know where we should live and work and we need a miracle to get all the kids into the right schools if we are to return to the UK. Perhaps we should stay in Thailand but we need to raise more support following the devaluation of the pound. I am very grateful that God knows the future and we trust He will work everything together for our good.

Psalm 25: 8-9

“Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
 He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.”

 

 

 

Moving and the Call of God.

 

Save our school

Save our school

Grace international school is moving to a location about 5 kilometers away and will be sharing a school building with a small bi-lingual school called Satit Bilingual school. This is following the ruling of the courts that the school was illegally purchased and needs to be restored to its previous status as a sports center and handed back to the neighbourhood committe.

As a family we are so sad that this has happened. The children will no longer be able to cycle to and from school and the sports programs affiliated with the school. Yet, we recognize that the decisions that the school has taken have been necessary and guided by God.

https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0B1FuF23tiglNek5RSEdPelV5Umc

The process of moving is a colossal project involving teachers and administrative staff packing literally thousands of boxes of books, science and PE and music equipment and the kitchen which has catered for at least five hundred people each lunch time. The school building at Satit is far from complete. Rooms and offices need to be built from scratch, wires assembled, sports facilities constructed and the whole place needs to be furnished and made fit for the integration of 570 new students plus over 100 staff and Thai ‘blue collar’ workers.

IMG_0106

The Staff here have embraced the change and regard  this opportunity as a provision from God. The move will involve a stay of two years at this temporary location before moving to a newly built school on land that was purchased some years ago about 10 km away.

The school needs to raise around 3 million dollars in order to fund this rebuild. Around $500,000 has been raised so far.

The subject of moving and and knowing God’s call is a subject explored a lot in the bible. Abraham and Sarah, the Patriarchs of the Jewish nation and the founders of three religions, were told by God to ‘ . . . Go from your country, your people and your Father’s household to the land I will show you.’ (Genesis 12:1)

The call was radical. Abraham and Sarah, though descended from the line of Adam and Eve’s third son Seth, were moon worshipers and involved in a community whose religion included child sacrifice to moon gods. Similarly, the New Testament describes a Christian’s calling to follow God in equally radical terms:

‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air. . But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ- even when we were dead in transgressions .’  (Ephesians 2:1, 4)

Anyone who has been called to follow God and walk with God has experienced the most radical internal change possible.

The call was missional. Abraham and Sarah were called in order to bless all the families of the earth who had rejected God’s rule. Similarly, when God calls a person to follow him, his intent is that that person be a blessing to the world. The reason the school exists here is to bless Asia with the good news and good deeds of the gospel. The school like Abraham and Sarah and any christian has received a missional call to the nations.

The call was to journey with God.  Abraham and Sarah had a personal relationship with God that involved many ups and downs. Faith and distrust, obedience and disobedience marked their journey. Life is turbulent and involves  many changes and transitions. The story of the bible is the story of movement, from Mesopotamia to Canaan, to Egypt, to Canaan, to Babylon, to Palestine, to Rome and the ends of the earth. The patriarchs and early Christians were constantly on the move.

‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land  like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ (Hebrews 11:8-10) 

We must admit that we feel tired of moving and travelling. We want to settle and yet feel very unsettled. We too are exiles and our true city is not in this world. Next weekend we travel back to the UK to reconnect with people and we return to Chiang Mai at the end of July.

Please pray that we and the school would be faithful in our journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change

Change is a constant experience for Third Culture kids. We are just coming to terms with the fact that things are going to change a great deal in the missionary community here in Chiang Mai.

In December the school received news that the land, we as a High school operate in, no longer belongs  to the school. It belongs to the neighbourhood (moobahn). The neighborhood want to restore the sports centre which was  purchased by the school 15 years ago. The school purchased the rather run down sports centre in all good faith and with legal representation but the courts deemed it an illegal purchase due to a clause in the deeds.

Our options now are to build on land that we do own in the Moobahn or to move to a new site half an hour away which has been purchased. Either option will cause disruption and requires a great deal of fundraising. The unique sports programs, with the amazing facilities, that the school presently has, will also be disrupted.

grace sports

wonderful facilities the school has enjoyed for many years

 

Many families here are transitioning either this summer or next. Restructuring, following financial mismanagement in the International Mission Board, (IMB) has meant that teachers and other support workers need to return to their home countries this summer. Other events have occurred this year which have led to the sudden departure of key school staff and their families.

I need a religious studies teacher for next year and there are many other vacancies. The need is acute as the school supports vital ministries in this part of Asia. There are 114 people groups in Thailand and Chiang Mai is a base for reaching them.

For many students the prospect of returning to their passport country is a daunting one. The religious studies department has a unique opportunity in preparing them intellectually and spiritually for such a return.

This term I have developed a unit called Popologetics using Ted Turnau’s insightful book of that name.

popologetics The unit seeks to prepare students to use analyse media. Art, music and movies reflect the worldviews and philosophies of our generation. We are seeking to understand how to interpret various genre and how to expose idols.

This week we are analyzing two recent hits:  Hozier’s ‘ Take me to Church’ and Lily Allen’s ‘The Fear’

The first blatantly exalts the ancient religion of sex worship while castigating the Roman Catholic church.  The second expounds the feeling of meaninglessness and absurdity many feel about life when they stop to think.

Alongside this approach we are looking at intellectual roadblocks to the Christian faith including theodicy, hell, a perceived lack of evidence and the claim of the so called new atheists that science has buried God.

I am very grateful to Richard Dawkins for challenging the Christian world to adopt a more robust apologetic and avoid cliche’d and skimpy arguments for faith that can easily be dismantled.

Our recent discussion has been about how science is founded on the rationality of the universe. Science flourished in the West due to Christianity. No such flourishing occurred here in Asia. Without belief in a rational mind behind the universe- science is absurd. How can one trust ones own mind and thoughts if they are merely a product of natural selection by chance?

Everything continues to  evolve here in Chiang Mai. Yet in the presence of change,  the great logos behind this universe is not changeable, unpredictable  in his essence or impulsive.  Samuel writes “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).

Most importantly, our salvation is secure because the One who secured it doesn’t change, nor does He change the rules on us so that we may be saved one day and lose our salvation the next.

God has brought us to Chiang Mai and he has provided us the means to be here. He has done this through many of you who continue to support us which is no small matter for a family of 6.

Catherine Von Schaegel’s great hymn:  Be Still my Soul, set to the tune of Finlandia is especially pertinent:

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; your God will undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and wind still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul; though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then you will better know his love, his heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.
Be still, my soul; your Jesus can repay
From his own fullness all he takes away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Webb’s Christmas Letter 2015

So much has happened in a 2015, it seems difficult to write about our overseas experience succinctly. This year I am going to divide our news up into 7 points all beginning with ‘ H ‘.

IMG_2622

Four excited children with their Christmas stockings.

  •    Home?

Despite having lived in Chiang Mai for 18 months now,  it is difficult to say where ‘home’ is.  We still often refer to Surrey as ‘home’ but we don’t know if we will return to Surrey. We certainly enjoyed our summer break back with Ann’s parents but not being in our own ‘home’ for that time had its own challenges. Ann has made the house here look much more homely. We have been able to get BBC i player and regularly watch Doctor Who but because of the time difference we pretty much missed the rugby world cup back ‘home’.

 

thailand

Rice fields, northern Thailand

  •    Heat/ Hearing of the court

The hot season here was  boiling with temperatures in the 40s. The heat makes the already pesky neighborhood dogs go crazy, let alone the human beings! However, we are so grateful to have a swimming pool in the school campus where we regularly cool off. This might not be the case after Christmas as the school is being sued for illegally purchasing the sports center 10 years ago. The judgement of the local court was in favour of the plaintiff and for the school to vacate within days. The school appealed to the supreme court and we await the decision  as to whether the supreme court will hear the case of the school on 18th December. The supreme court may well uphold the previous decision, not hear the case and rule that we need to vacate the buildings. We may need to find somewhere else to continue to educate the high school students from 2016. Please could you pray about this -especially that we would all react well regardless of the decision.

  • Hua Hin.
juniper

Juniper Tree Hua Hin

This Christmas, as last, we will spend in Hua Hin where there is a retreat centre for missionaries called the ‘Juniper Tree’. We are looking forward to some family time as school term is pretty hectic. We will meet up with a couple of families, living in China, we got to know last year. After this I will return to Hua Hin in the new year in order to cycle back to Chaing Mai (1000 KM). This is to raise some finance for a new classroom, as whatever the ruling of the court, we will need to build a new school in the near future.

 

 

  • Head of department/high school/ homework

This year I am head of the RE department here. This involves supervising two staff. Fabri has arrived from Italy to teach in the Middle School and Dan has been co-opted from the administration to teach ethics and comparative religion. Dan will be leaving us this summer so I need a high school teacher from next August. Is anyone interested? Sam has moved into the middle school this year and with that move has endured an increase in his homework load. Isaac has started Kindergarten and is learning to read and write. Lois and Joe are both doing well on the elementary side.  All four kids are looking forward to the “soccer” season in January.

  • House church
finger

Lois’ healed finger.

Together with 5 or 6 other families and a few singles, we get together on Sunday mornings for House Church. Having divided House Churches in January, we now have much more responsibility. It has fallen to me to divide up our teaching series and to do a lot of the preaching. We have gone through chapters 1-6 of Daniel and most of 1 Samuel. Ann also plays the piano most weeks and we have lots of small children to host. It can be quite challenging to prepare alongside the responsibilities at school. Please pray that some of the folks who have recently joined would take up the reigns and help teach and host too.

All age talk at house church

house church

House church drama teaching the book of Daniel

  • HealthIMG_2535

When living overseas, health can be more of a concern. You don’t tend to get stung by scorpions in the UK. In October, Lois had a horrific accident which nearly severed the top of her finger when she trapped it in a toilet door. Praise God that it has healed so well. Ann has also felt better this term thanks to drugs for hashimotos. We are presently investigating helping Sam to grow as he is much shorter than all his classmates.

  • Hope

On Sunday at Church I was preaching on the genealogy from Matthew’s gospel. It does seem a strange way to begin the New Testament. Yet Matthew, skillful writer as he was, is showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of all stories. All the categories that were set up in the old, Jesus fulfills in the new, but not only that, Jesus fulfills all stories. He is the Mocking-jay, born in district 12- Galilee of the Gentiles. He goes to the capitol to give His life to save people from the tyranny of sin and death. He is the ultimate ring bearer. He comes to change our beastliness into beauty and to remake this fallen world. In so doing, He turns all the world’s values upside down. Included in his genealogy are 5 women – all with scandal affixed to their name: the incestuous and deceptive Tamar, the prostitute Rahab, the Moabitess Ruth, the adulteress Bathseba and his mother Mary. Kings and prostitutes sit down together in the Kingdom of God as people who have been shown grace. That means there is Hope for all of us this Christmas. Jesus begins a new generation- the seventh seven. He fulfills what the year of jubilee foreshadowed. He comes to cancel all debts, to free slaves and to bring rest. Our lives, including whatever 2016 has in store, are set in the context of this grace and this hope.

Sending our love at Christmas time to you all.  May God bring you this Hope and peace.

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Parents evenings with a difference.

Parents evenings in schools in the UK could be tense affairs especially if you needed to address issues concerning the behaviour of several students. Depending on whether you taught a subject up to A-Level, you could be required to partake in six such evenings in a year. Thanks to OFSTED’s limitless demands for numbers on spreadsheets, parents would know, from reports, what national curriculum level their child was working in your subject. While most parents were also a little nervous but generally amicable, some parents wanted you to give them gloat-ready statistics and phrases that they would put on Facebook. Others seemed to have come for a fight.

Parent teacher conferences at Grace International school bear no comparison at all. Two working days, including an evening, at the end of the first quarter, are assigned to these conferences. This allows for parents to return from their field of service in China, Mongolia, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos , Cambodia or other parts of Thailand to meet with teachers and spend the half term break with their families. Teachers are treated to  a wonderful meal, prepared by  parents who live in Chiang Mai, at the end of the first 10 hour session.

I met parents who have spent most of their lives working among minority Muslim groups in China, I met doctors working with Karen, Hmong and Luo and Shan hill tribes. I conversed with parents seeking to run businesses in Cambodia and Laos through which they can finance church planting and gospel work. Finding out about their ministries and praying with these people both for the child and the wider family  was as important as relating their child’s academic progress. Many parents affirmed that they could not do what they do without being confident that their child was in good hands at Grace.

In Colossians 1:6 Paul rejoices that ‘. . .the gospel is bearing fruit and growing.’  Despite, decline in the ‘western world’, two days of parent teacher conferences, here in Chiang Mai prove this to be as  true in 2016 as it was in 66AD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come and join us . . .

Five weeks into a new school year and it is apparent that the school needs some more teachers to join us. The mission community here relies on and greatly values the support of teachers who enable their work to continue.

come and join us

Mr Coe addressing students in an assembly.

The aim of the school is to provide quality education for the children of international workers located in South-east Asia. The primary goal at GIS is to allow these families to continue to work in their fields without having to compromise the education of their children.

We particularly need high school English teachers. Presently students are receiving tuition via on-line courses, which is not ideal. At the higher levels, students study ‘Brit Lit’ and American Literature.

Having previously possessed the snooty attitude that there cannot be such thing as an ‘American classic’ this year I have repented and read two classics for the first time including:  ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and most recently: ‘ The Scarlet Letter.’

The latter is set in Puritan 17th-century Massachusetts, where a young woman named Hester Prynne has settled while waiting for her husband to join her from England. His delayed arrival leaves her vulnerable to her passion, and the opening scene of the book finds her serving her sentence on the town scaffold for bearing a child out of wedlock. Her punishment includes wearing a scarlet “A” on her clothing, marking her as an adulteress for the rest of her life.

scarlet letter

The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne, 1850.

Hester’s husband happens to arrive at this inopportune moment. He offers her his forgiveness, but extracts a promise that she will never reveal his identity and assumes the pseudonym Roger Chillingworth. His mercy does not extend to the unnamed father of the baby, as he dedicates his life to finding and punishing Hester’s partner in crime.

The years go by and Hester raises her daughter as quietly and piously as she is able. But the physical scarlet letter pales in comparison to Pearl, Hester’s “scarlet letter endowed with life,” and thus Pearl grows up under the shadow of her mother’s shame and the public’s scorn.

On the other hand, Pearl’s father fights his own guilt privately; it eats away at both his soul and body, in spite—or perhaps because—of the veneration he receives from the townspeople due to his role as their pastor.

He tries everything to assuage his guilt, from “confessions” of his general vileness to self-chastisement, even secretly standing on the scaffold as Hester’s sentence had required her to do publicly. Meanwhile, Chillingworth works to ascertain the identity of this man who did him wrong, watching his physical and mental deterioration with dark delight.

“The Scarlet Letter” is much more than a story of adultery in Puritan New England. It is a story that deals with universal themes—guilt, shame, and absolution—in a complex way.

The book begins with a masterful depiction of Hester’s shame from the public revilement. But the far greater guilt is borne in private by her lover. Although Hester is the one to carry the outward mark of her sin, the father of her child carries even deeper inward marks. She comes to find some sort of peace and purpose, while he grows increasingly tortured by his unconfessed sin.

the_scarlet_letter_by_rojo123

The scarlet letter in the sky

Throughout the book Hawthorne emphasizes the inability of man to relieve his own guilt and restore his own peace.

The nature of repentance is a major theme, showing that religion and penance is insufficient for redemption. Hester’s lover, reflecting on his own hypocrisy, exclaims, “Of penance, I have had enough! Of penitence, there has been none!” The book shows, as does Jesus’ teaching, the difference between religion (which either crushes you or makes you proud) and the true gospel of free grace.

This book haunted me and yet made me grateful for the One who has not only, on the cross, taken the burden of future separation from God but offers to take the burden of the present hell of shame and guilt.  It reminds me of the One who bore my scarlet letter in my place.God knows the scarlet letter burnished on our hearts. Yet in Christ he offers to ascend the scaffold and bear it in our place, taking away the condemnation.

“Come, let us discuss this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool. (Isaiah 1:16)

What a great opportunity to study such works with ‘Christian’, ‘pre Christian’ and Buddhist students in this school.