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.

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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 ‘.

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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.

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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.

The gospel according to Divergent

This week I assigned my class the task of writing a blog in order to link the movie ‘Divergent’ to the Christian gospel. Here is my attempt.

The city is Chicago. The protagonist is a sixteen year old called Tris. The date is the day that young people must choose which faction they will belong to, in order to contribute to society for the rest of their lives. Each young person has taken a simulation test in order to guide their choice. As Tris narrates: ‘ Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality- of humankind’s inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray.’ (p42)

All the five factions gather to witness the choosing ceremony.

The factions divide into God given characteristics. Tris and her brother Caleb are born into an Abnegation family. Abnegation are the selfless faction that serve the faction-less poor in the city. They reject vanity, dress in drab plain clothes and are regarded by the other factions as ‘ stiffs.’ On the opposite extreme are ‘Dauntless.’ This courageous faction police the city. They embrace risk but are reckless and end up causing danger. Amity love peace and live a simple life but they are unprepared to stand up and fight when it is needed. Candour love transparency but tend to speak the truth in inappropriate ways. Erudite are the scientists, the researchers and philosophers but they end up using their knowledge for evil means.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-YSzUi9cKiZw/UyiNDhbLnmI/AAAAAAAACEg/ZSeDxGvj_n0/s1600/Factions.png

The five factions

Divergent, like a modern Lord of the Flies,  elucidates the biblical doctrine of human depravity. It is human sin that is to blame for all the ills in society and humans cannot fix it.

In the last two centuries various political theories have been put into practice by governments across the world: Feudalism, Absolute monarchy, Apartheid, Fascism, Communism, Islamic theocracy and democracy. All have failed, and alongside various economic theories, are destined to fail. The heart of the problem is not lack of education but rather the problem of the human heart. As Jeremiah the prophet wrote 2,700 years ago: ‘ . . . the human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.’

Tris corroborates this assessment of human nature when she writes: ‘ human reason can excuse any evil; that is why it’s so important that we don’t rely on it.’

Tris chose to embrace the ‘ Dauntless’ faction, throwing off the shackles of her legalistic past. But her test results had proven inconclusive. Her proclivity was to several factions. She experienced the teenager’s worst nightmare. She did not fit in. As a result she is targeted by administrators of the society. Yet Tris herself, and her love interest ‘Four’ are flawed individuals who make rash choices and find themselves unable to overcome murderous forces that are too strong for them.

Tris and ‘ Four’

Divergent points us by way of contrast to a world we long for which is free of manipulation, injustice, violence greed, perversion and evil. Our aspirations for this kind of world are only met in the truly Divergent saviour Jesus Christ. In the greatest act of dauntless abnegation, he confronted the hypocritical religious elite and died in order to pay the penalty that, warped and perverted humanity, deserves to pay.

Because he rose again, the last unfulfilled prophesies of the bible state that Jesus will return in order to redeem this fallen world to effect its complete redemption and as JR Tolkein wrote in Lord of the Rings: ‘ make everything sad become untrue.’ Only He can do it.

The momentous choice all young people made on choosing day is eclipsed in significance by the choice all humans are called to make today. The choice is to serve King Jesus or to serve king self. As the aging leader Joshua charged the Israelites several thousands of years ago: ‘ . . .And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve . .’ (Joshua 24:15)

 

 

 

Building Community

All who believed were together . . .’ (Acts 2:42)

My first week back in Chiang Mai has involved a staff induction where we start each morning at 7.30am for worship before getting down to the business of planning lessons and building community between us as teachers. In my department of three, we have a Brit, an Italian and a guy from north Dakota. Across the school, and in our community, we have people from many different backgrounds and almost every denomination you can think of. Its important we have started the term with worship each day. Working here involves not just teaching but doing life together. Its not easy because human nature is to be selfish.  I am much better at talking about community than practising it. Yet worshipping together at 7.30am has been just what we need to start each day.

staff working together

Staff problem solving

Why?

When the church began , a multi-cultural group, not unlike ours, came together every day and in their homes they devoted themselves to teaching, the fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.  These people had  come to Jerusalem from Parthia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia. (Acts 2:9-10) There were also people from Libya, Egypt, Crete, Arabia and elsewhere.

International day

International day

Some people say that religion is a matter of temperament: some people like to be religious and go to meetings. Others say that religion is a matter of culture. If you are from Italy you are Catholic, If you are from Thailand you are Buddhist, if you are from Scotland you are Presbyterian etc. Yet the early church community, like ours, contained people with a plethora of different temperaments and backgrounds. The appeal of Christianity and the reason for its early spread was that its message reached out to Romans, Jews and Barbarians. Churches contained slaves and masters and men and women were equally involved. Christianity means that you have a close connection with people you would have previously despised.

The account in Acts chapter 2 describes how the earliest Christians shared their financial burdens and devoted themselves to one another in community. Christian community reflects the ultimate harmony that exists between the persons of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Though inexplicable, the trinity is the source of all harmony. Christianity is the religion that produces the most beautiful music, whereas religions without a God who is  relational and loving in his essence submit but do not sing.

Worship is the dynamite which led to the generosity, mercy ministries and evangelism of the early church. It remains the dynamite which fuels our work today. Why is this?

CS Lewis: makes the point that enjoyment itself is incomplete until it is expressed. My enjoyment of England’s Ashes victory is consummated by my sharing it with my British neighbour. Stuart Broad’s spell was all the more enjoyable because I watched it online with my  family and with my British neighbours. We revelled in it and enjoyed it much more because we were able to see it together.

Broad taking a wicket during his Ashes winning spell at Trent Bridge

Broad taking a wicket during his Ashes winning spell at Trent Bridge

Every beautiful object demands praise. It is as if that which is beautiful has to get out and liberate itself with praise. As Tim Keller says: “Your joy not completed until it utters itself and somebody else says: ‘yeah’”

The more beautiful the object the more that object surges and has to be expressed in praise.

God demands to be praised.  Yet our worship each morning at 7.30am was not demanded of us by the program. It was the event in the day we all wanted to be at. Our community is not like when communists get together or republicans (often because of their predjudices)  We get together to praise the one who was broken because we know we are broken. We evangelise because we see him as an absolute beauty and we have to celebrate that.  We also have to be sensitive. Ann doesn’t care about Broad’s 8 for 15. But its still good news and it still definitely happened. Christ died for our sins and rose again to conquer death and enable us to be justified. It definitely happened and its great news.

But what creates community in our context is praising him for his brokenness for us. Our worship helps us break our barriers of political persuasion and race and temperament and class and work towards being a true community.

Students at a middle school assembly.

Students at a middle school assembly.

A year in Chiang Mai.

Psalm 40: I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

As I look back to this year in Chiang Mai,  I am so grateful. God brought my family here in response to my cry as I wallowed in the ‘slimy pit, the mud and the mire’. I am not referring to the building site I worked on last summer, which I enjoyed, but to a depression of soul after the failures and sorrows of the previous years.

mud and mire

‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.’

Here in Chiang Mai, which is now ‘home.’ God has set my feet on a rock and given me a firm place to stand. When everything is shaking, I can stand on that which is unshakeable. When what we stand on shakes and is mobilized then we are immobilized. But though the whole world shakes, all the time, God is an unchanging rock.

God has given me a dream job. I am part of his mission here in Asia teaching missionary kids and enabling their parents to continue to undertake their medical ministries, their anti trafficking, and anti slavery work, church planting, prison ministries, translation work and all kinds of sensitive ministries in this part of Asia. The school exists to enable parents to be confident of their children’s education. So many missionaries leave the field in other parts of the world in order to return the their home countries for the sake of education. Its great to be part of that kingdom work the outcome of which will be:  ‘ many will see  and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.’

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Pirate murder mystery costume

Teaching here is a joy.  The students are both respectful, resourceful and are learning to think critically. I have so enjoyed watching lots of movies and analyzing them. We have had many debates on predestination,  eschatology, the significance of various individuals in history and as a class sponsor of the Sophomore year (grade 10/ year 11)  I have reveled in being part of a supremely well organized  murder mystery pirate party. Yesterday I took a pasting from them during  a massive dodge brawl on the tennis courts!

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Sophomore year at Grace

 

It hasn’t all been plain sailing here but we have all had our horizons broadened and will be more equipped for ministry in the future, wherever we are led.  Though at times, they have been very challenging, the children have done very well to adapt. They have all done well academically and Sam and Lois particularly have excelled in sports.

Next weekend we return to the UK to Ann’s parents house for eight weeks. We will be speaking at 5 different churches and visiting family and friends. We are all looking forward to the cool weather, to watching TV and playing in the garden. Yet, many missionaries have told us that home visits are not easy times for the family. Please pray that we can chill out and refuel. Last summer we did not get a break at all. The children finished one school year, only to start another almost immediately. They have done very well but are very tired.

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House church meeting at our house

This weekend will be our last opportunity to meet as a house church. The church will change beyond recognition after next week as half the church transition to new ministries and new opportunities overseas. Among those leaving are 5 seniors. The Coe twins will move to the UK to start university and the three Americans will move to the States, also to begin college.

I am preaching this week on the blessing God instructed the priests to pronounce at the end of each tabernacle service:

24 ‘“‘The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face towards you
    and give you peace.’”27 ‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’

smile of God

‘. . . the Lord make his face to shine upon you.

Although we have found some Americans here to have some obscure practices and theology, there is a culture here of affirming and blessing. To bless means to delight in and to expensively commit to another’s good. One remarkable facet of this blessing is the line: ‘ . . . the Lord make his face to shine on you.’ Previously Moses had been told that nobody can see the Lord’s face and live. The turning of the Lord’s face is a poetic way of describing his smile: his close relational presence. This blessing was announced at the end of the service after all the animal sacrifices for sin had taken place. Thus the Israelites were taught that we can know God’s smile and presence when our sin has been atoned for. The priestly sacrifices couldn’t actually remove sin but were a picture of what Christ came to do in his ultimate wrath bearing sacrifice. Because of Christ’s sacrifice we can know his smile. Because he bore the curse we receive the blessing. Whatever happens next nothing can separate us from the love and the blessing of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craving Authenticity.

Our generation simultaneously craves authenticity  and retracts from reality. We are a generation that increasingly despises religion with its external primness and posturing, sin management and elaborately crafted masks. At the same time we are a generation raised on and addicted to social media; posting beautiful photographs snapped during brief periods of ceasefire.

Teen novels of choice today are increasingly dystopian (society is characterized by human misery) Novels like Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all present society and human nature as corrupted and about to face apocalyptic disintegration.

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Divergent

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Mockingjay

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The Maze Runner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sense that everything is about to collapse, and that the adults are, at best, not much help and, at worst, the source of the problem – is arguably the underlying narrative of many works of Young Adult fiction over the past decade or so, including many zombie and vampire tales. You can even find traces of it in Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl and certainly in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

In our classroom this term, we have watched and analyzed two older movies: The Truman Show (1998)  and The Matrix (1999). In the Truman Show everything is inauthentic. Truman Burbank  (played by Jim Carey) has been raised from birth on an engineered island with hired actors, including the nice wife and neighbours.  Truman’s world slowly unravels when he finds clues that reveal the seams. He knows something is wrong; He must decide whether to discover his reality or stay content on his perfect island. At the end of the film Truman makes it to the edge of the world and is seen slamming his fists against the set to find a way out. He is interrupted by the voice of his creator coming from the clouds. There he explains everything. Truman asks “Was nothing real?” to which Christof replies “You were real.” At the final moment Christof excitedly blurts out “Well say something dammit, you’re on TV.” Truman gives his trademark catchphrase and walks through the open door and out of the world he has been an unwitting prisoner of for all his life. The music is jubilant, triumphant and we see the fallen face of Christof. Our last shot of him is one of a rejected father slumped in his chair, grieving the loss of his son.

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The Truman Show

In the Matrix, Thomas Andreson (Neo) , a computer hacker comes to realize that the whole world is in bondage to an Artificial Intelligence that powers itself from the energy provided by human foetuses. This is the Matrix, a fantasy world. The real world exists in exile where aboard a ship called the Nebuchadnezzar, a small collection true human beings, including a traitor, plot the redemption of the world. Their faith is in the prophecy of an Oracle who predicted the coming of a Messiah type character who would spearhead the battle to free humanity.

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Matrix

Every story we have examined points towards the great story of the gospel. Each story has a situation of doom in which the prospects seem hopeless. The corrupted world cries out for redemption. The resolution provided by the gospel of Jesus Christ seems too good to be authentic.

Yet before, the good news is announced, the bible says that humanity has swallowed a huge lie.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The god of this age is Satan. As in the Matrix, human beings are blinded to the reality that without a rescuer we are ‘ dead in our disobedience and our many sins’. . .obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. . .All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger’ (Ephesians 2:1-4 NLT)

Satan, has duped the human race into ridiculing this stark reality as CS Lewis notes:

  • “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
    – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

Both ‘materialists’ and ‘magicians’  reject reality. Famously Morpheus offered Neo a red pill or a blue pill. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

red pill

‘You must be born again . . .'( John 3:3) 

The rabbit hole goes deep. The Apostle Paul’s verdict on humanity is that ‘ there is no-one righteous, not even one.’  ‘They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshipped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!’ (Romans 3:10, 1:25)

The red pill is a hard pill to swallow. As in the Matrix, it means a new birth is necessary.  Jesus made this point to a superbly upright religious man and a member of the Sanhedrin:  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’  (John 3:3) Taking the red pill is a choice to reject both the illusion of materialism and the inauthenticity of religion. As Jesus said: ‘ . . . if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.’ (John 8:36)