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.’

pirate red

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!

IMG_0109

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.

house church adjusted

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.

divergent

Divergent

catniss

Mockingjay

maze_runner_cover_p_2014

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.

truman

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.

matrix

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) 

 

 

 

Extraordinary people and Extraordinary blessing.

The people we rub shoulders with here in Chiang Mai are both ordinary and extraordinary. Unassuming and humble in manner, every meek facade seems to mask a dauntless resolve and an incredible testimony. This term we have had the privilege of hearing more of the life stories of those I teach and those we worship with.

Some of the staff and students, including the present principal, fled here after the terrorist attack on Murree Christian School in Pakistan in August 2002. Recently a number of Christian Pakistani families have narrowly escaped death, fleeing here for their lives, leaving everything behind. Sam and I play cricket with several of them on Saturday mornings.

Last weekend, Bob ( name changed), one of our fellow Elders in the house church we attend, shared, along with his wife, the testimony of their experience of terrorism. During a church service in Islamabad in 2002, an Islamist terrorist targeted the congregation with grenades. Eight were killed and many including Bob’s son were seriously injured.

isis-090941

‘ I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God’. (Revelation 20:4)

I teach several students whose parents have received a call from God to love and serve Muslims. Some are still in highly dangerous situations, others are here for respite and re-evaluation, others are preparing to return knowing they could pay the ultimate cost in an increasingly radicalized environment.

The School exists so that 575 students from 344 families who are serving in 24 nations can be educated, cherished and nurtured. Many parents have told me that they could not be in mission if it were not for this school. The school is extraordinary.

Having said this, this term is extraordinarily long. We do not have a half term break at Grace so we plough on for fourteen weeks from New year to Songkhran (Buddhist water festival) with each day slightly hotter and slightly more polluted than the last. At the moment the temperature is only in the mid thirties. It still has another 10 degrees to rise before the rains are expected at the end of April. We are not looking forward to this extraordinary heat blast. Gladly this year has been cooler than others so far.

songkhran

Songkhran water festival

 

One example of the extraordinary uniqueness and initiative of the students here, is their efforts during ‘Spiritual Emphasis’ week which has just passed. Each year, the school gives a week for the students to focus more on their spiritual journey with God. There are assemblies each morning, workshops each lunch break and further sessions each evening. The week culminates in a ‘ ministry day’ where the students go out to local Thai schools to serve by running lessons for a day. The grade 10 class I accompanied organised themselves into Factions (inspired by the book and Movie Divergent). They made and printed colour co-ordinated T-shirts and ran games, English lessons, art and craft and drama workshops for excited and appreciative Thai elementary pupils.

IMG_0098

Candor and Amity factions teaching English

 

I am constantly reminded what an extraordinary blessing it is to be here and serve here, supported by extremely generous family and friends who make this all viable. The needs here are great. The number of staff vacancies for next year seems daunting. Each person and family that comes needs to raise financial and prayer support, pack away all their earthly belongings and enter into the unknown. Yet due to the ripple effects in God’s kingdom, every member of staff is supporting outreach to millions. Could God be calling you?

One of the things God has called us to here, is to help lead a house church. Two weeks ago the church multiplied but already both new groups are almost too big to meet in a normal sized house. I preached the first sermon in our new church on Sunday to nearly 50 people. Next week Ann is leading worship. We would value your prayers for guidance as we serve in this ministry as well as in the school.

IMG_0107

Factions and their flags. Ready for action.

The Webb family need to come back to the UK after term finishes at the beginning of June until term starts again 3 August. We need to reconnect with friends and family and we need to raise more support. Just as we started to fret about being able to purchase flights, we were given the exact amount through various one off donations. Once again we are bowled over by God’s extraordinary provision for us and so thankful for faithful, generous friends and family and for their prayers and support.

family departing

Teaching theology to high school students

We are now two and a half weeks into a new term and I’m excited about my role which  is to teach Theology to around 80 high school students. I have young people aged between 14 and 18 in my classes. Its very exciting being able to do this as I want the students to be able to give a personal, reasoned, intellectually rigorous and persuasive defence of their faith when they leave school.

god's big picture

The course taught previously is biblical theology which involves tracing the narrative of the bible from start to finish. I have decided to divide our time into three:  looking  firstly at world-views and contemporary culture using Ted Turnau’s excellent book: Popologetics. Next we will trace the theme of ‘the kingdom’ through the bible using Vaughan Roberts’ superbly accessible book God’s big picture and then we will select some topics of systematic theology using Wayne Grudem’s Introduction to Christian belief.

 

We have had great fun with the first of these units analysing the world-views of song writers,  movie makers and play writes.  In scrutinizing the plot of Kung Fu Panda we noted how the western idol of self belief is married with the eastern belief that the universe has a destiny for you. To find inner peace, as wise Oogway instructed the anxious Shifu: ‘ . . . you must abandon the illusion of control and submit to the destiny of the universe.’  Turnau’s advice on how to critique popular art has led us to ask the questions: 1. What is the plot? 2. What is the medium and genre of the art you are studying? 3. What is true and beautiful in this imaginary world? 4. What is false and evil and what are the idols it exposes. 5. How does the true gospel trump and replace the idol?

 

master-oogway-and-shifu-2

Alongside this, we have discovered that in our world there is no such thing as an unbeliever. Every human being, either knowingly or unknowingly, bases their life decisions on a set of pre-suppositions which they take by faith.  We have traced how the Enlightenment has led to the intellectual community assuming the pre-suppositions of philosophical naturalism. Poor old Descartes must be turning in his grave. (This is of course an idiom not a theological statement).

In recent decades, however,  the foundations of modernism and enlightenment thinking have been eroded by post modern thinkers. On a street level, most people in the western world today are more ready to accept a belief in the supernatural. They are suspicious (very rightly) of organised religion and assume that there is no world story that has a monopoly on truth. ‘Truth is relative’.  ‘There are no absolutes’. Which is of course an absolute statement making the whole claim inconsistent and incoherent. This inconsistency we see at government level where politicians champion tolerance and free speech while gagging and even criminalising those who might speak against homosexuality or for the exclusive claims of Christ. This is a point Douglas Murray skilfully articulated this week in The Spectator: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9416542/religion-of-peace-is-not-a-harmless-platitude/

So I have enjoyed these first few weeks of the new term. I’m spending a lot of time preparing lessons.

popologetics

The family are doing well too.  Sam and Lois are representing the school in soccer.  Joe will start training twice a week too. Isaac seems a little happier at nursery. Ann is excited that her Mum and Dad will be joining us for 10 days from next Wednesday.

We all miss blighty and the snow. We hope to make it back in June if finances allow. Thank you so much for your prayers.

Love the Webb’s

 

 

Webb’s Christmas Letter 2014

The Webb’s Christmas Letter 2014

2014 has been a momentous year for the Webb family. We have spent half of it in Surrey and half of it in Chiang Mai. I have been a speaker at two weddings and had to turn down another, I had four jobs and attended four job interviews.  It has been another year where God has proven his faithfulness and overflowing grace to us.  It began with many tears, fears and uncertainties. Returning to teaching after fourteen years in Christian ministry was hard to say the least. My heart was not in it and I (Chris) knew that we would move from Surrey in due course but had no idea how I would provide for the family and where we were meant to be. The children were happy in their schools, and nursery, in Send, but for me, even entering the village was traumatic. We had recently moved house. We had changed churches a couple of times and felt unsettled in every way.

Family preparing to depart for Thailand. August 2014

By Easter, things were no clearer. I had resigned my teaching job and some kind builder friends agreed to employ me as a manual labourer.  We had joined a church on our doorstep: New Life Baptist Church, where the Pastor and his wife supported us greatly and continue to do so.

new life church

New Life Church, Old Woking

As a step of faith we raised some money so that I could be supported to work, half time, with my good friends George Osbourne and Erik Jespersen at the Lighthouse in Woking. I also volunteered to work at New Life, meeting up with various men as a form of mutual encouragement. My weeks consisted of laboring on Mondays and Tuesdays, meeting with drug addicts to study the bible on Wednesdays and Thursdays and often preaching on Sundays.

In 2014, I had job interviews in Southampton, Cambridge and Oxford: But the match up of our gifts and experience and the opportunities was not appropriate at that time. In May, I had an interview over Skpye with a panel from Grace International School Chiang Mai. I have often had dreams (literally) of working in an International school and though Ann was fairly skeptical at the outset, I felt in my heart that this was the place God was preparing for us for the foreseeable future. Nobody recruited us. Ann found the school on the internet, noticed a vacancy for a bible teacher and a spiritual life director. I applied for both, got appointed for the former and God has provided the means. (teachers are unpaid). Ann spent the summer frantically preparing for our departure. She did a super- human job in this respect. She flew alone with four children. I had needed to depart early to attend staff orientation and furnish our house ready for their arrival.

Our time in Thailand has been tumultuous but generally very positive. Grace International School exists in order to enable missionaries to stay on the field, confident that their children are receiving a good all round education within the Christian worldview.

grace

Grace international School

Sam has flourished in this environment, enjoying a freedom that he did not know in the UK. He has adapted to a different educational model with some advantages and disadvantages over the National curriculum. He has excelled in soccer and advanced in his ability to think critically.

Lois has excelled in all sports, earning a gold medal in a swim meet. She has adapted very well to her new environment and our house is often filled with little girls who come to hang out and watch movies.

Joe has grown in his understanding of the gospel this last semester, recently making a personal commitment to follow Christ. He still struggles with food phobias and is more highly strung than the two older children.

It is fair to say that Isaac has settled less well. He does not yet attend school and the culture shock of attending a Korean run nursery has affected him. Ann and I often struggle with his poor behavior and choices. We think he will be much happier when he attends school at Grace.

House Church Christmas Outreach which attracted 50 Thai guests.

Ann has spent the semester obtaining appliances, making the house hospitable, looking after Isaac, generally adapting to life in Asia while doing some private piano tuition, helping with recess and occasionally hosting and playing piano in our house church. Simple tasks like shopping take much longer here. The heat and the humidity is sapping. Friends have been a fantastic help.

Looking forward, we are committed to serving at least another year here. I anticipate that at some point we will return to church based ministry in the UK. But for now we are experiencing a period in our discipleship where we are learning more about cross cultural mission and raising our own third culture kids as well as discipling others. I love the challenge of teaching bible study methods and theology to high school students.

This Christmas we will visit the beach in Hua Hin before welcoming family.  We are hoping to return to the UK during the summer break in order to visit family and friends.  We trust God to supply the as yet un-raised funds for this. Thank you so much for your friendship, love and support. We love to hear your news too.  Please send us yours by email.

Love from The Webbs.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Chiang Mai is a centre for mission of all kinds. One particular focus of outreach are the hill tribes located mainly to the north and west. Several folks from our house church are involved in reaching out to the Shan people and other minorities.

Matt Coe, our neighbour, who is the advancement director at Grace International School, had a burden several years ago that the school should also be involved in outreach to the disadvantaged and persecuted Karen people. The Karen are another diverse people group who have fled over the border to escape Burmese soldiers, who in some cases had been ordered to clear their land and raze their villages to the ground.

Matt, Bronwen and chris

Although the situation is marginally better in Burma now, the minority people groups have suffered much at the hands of an army who sought their elimination. Karen state, in Myanmar remains full of deadly land-mines. Matt’s burden was to link up with a migrant school called Thoo mweh khee school on the Burmese border and set up an exchange. This exchange programme has been running now for six years.

Last week, Grace again welcomed a contingent of around seventy students and half a dozen teachers from the school. Ann and I hosted two Karen girls for four nights. The Karen are mostly animistic or Buddhist in religion but many are also Christian. Our girls were both Christians who wanted to pursue careers in one case as a teacher and in another as a Pastor! The experience was eye opening for all of us. The girls had not used electric showers or flushed toilets before. I had the incredible privilege of teaching all seventy of them the story of Hosea which graphically portrays God’s outrageous and persistent love to those who have spurned and rejected his advances.

402360

karen at our house

 

This was not my first interaction with Karen people. While Pastor at Send Evangelical Church in 2008, I took the opportunity to visit our long term missionaries Robin and Rosemary who had spent the prime years of their life discipling a small group of believers among the Pwo Karen people. I spent a week with them in the village observing the corn harvest, the translation work and a hosue church service in Pwo Karen.

Robin and Rosemary also came to visit us two weeks ago in Chiang Mai where their mission was hosting its annual field conference.

We have a great house here in World Club land and though it has taken a long time to obtain the appliances we need ( we very much miss our bath and dishwasher) we have recently been able to open up our home and also host house church here.

house church adjusted

 

 

These last few weeks have been very busy for all of us. Lois has excelled in swimming, winning a gold medal in breaststroke at her first swim meet. Josiah is being stretched with extra classes to accommodate his advanced abilities in maths and Sam is playing soccer every Saturday morning. Isaac is slightly more settled at nursery which is a great answer to prayer.

For Ann and I our next major adventure will be travelling to Phuket on 28th November where I will be conducting a wedding and preaching for Andy and Sharon Cheung. Andy was a former volunteer with Friends International and attended Send Evangelical Church for a season. We need your prayers for enabling us to sort out the practicalities including child care and cover for the lessons from which I will be absent. These have caused us some stress in recent days as plans we had in place have needed to be re-arranged. Andy and Sharon would also appreciate prayer as this wedding has had to be rescheduled. and new locations found, several times.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support. Truly we are completely reliant on you and on our great God.

Reflections on reaching 40 not out.

Having reached the age of 40 yesterday, I have decided to write some reflections both as a cathartic journalling exercise for myself and because I retain enough arrogance to believe some people might read it. I post this probably for the same reason that most people post things on Facebook. We want a verdict of affirmation on our lives. However, I want to try to resist that motivation as many opinions and lifestyle choices I have made over the last 20 years, especially, are now extremely counter cultural.foot massage

My first reflection on being 40 is that I am past my physical peak, whenever that fleeting peak was, even though I cycled 3 hours this morning to try and prove otherwise. Even the lycra does not totally disguise the onset of sagging boobs and furrowed face.

People say that life begins at 40 when the brain cells die at a faster rate and forgetfulness, poor concentration and focus take hold. I regard that adage with scepticism. People say that you are wiser in your 40s which is a good job for me since wisdom (the art of making savvy choices) is something I am definitely not blessed with as a natural possession.

However, the big choices that I have made in these first 40 years have been good ones. I chose a great woman to be my wife and a wise and generous family to marry into. Before that, I am glad to have chosen to study History at Leicester University and to have gone on to do a PGCE and then be a history teacher. My decision to leave teaching after a couple of years, was ostensibly, a strange one, and in some ways regretful. But I met some incredible people while working for Friends International at Surrey University including my wife. I also had the opportunity, among other things, to travel to China and conduct a wedding in Penang because of this choice.

Leaving Friends International after seven years was the right thing to do. Being a Pastor was the greatest challenge of my life and exposed weaknesses in me that I wish had not been exposed. The decision to come to Chiang Mai, was made quite suddenly and with plenty of risks attached. Yet I am sure it was the right one.

chris and ann horizons

But it was my decision to become a Christian in the first place, in my first year of university, that was the most significant decision of my life. Like many 19 year olds, attracted to a new philosophy, I was arrogant, ignorant, legalistic and insecure. This is not British self deprecating piety speaking, but the objective truth. While the Bible instructs us to ‘. . .make the teaching of Jesus attractive.’ (Titus 2:10) I did not. I am quite sure that I repelled friends and family with my new found faith. If that was you, I am deeply sorry.

Nevertheless, God met me at University and began a process of change and salvation in my life. The verdict that matters in life and death is God’s verdict on us. On account of my faith in him (which is a gift), I have been credited a free righteousness which I could not earn. This is because Jesus came to save sinners. Sin is defined in the bible not only as breaking the law of God but also as serving other gods: normally good things God has created but which make poor saviours e.g.: people’s approval, sex, money, pleasure, leisure, food, sport, family, success.

I have turned to these false saviours from time to time but have never found ultimate satisfaction in them. That is because God has designed the world so that ultimate satisfaction is found only in relationship with our creator.

A trend on Facebook recently has been to nominate the books that have been most influential in one’s life. I am sure people post with mixed motives. Often, in order to advertise and proclaim their knowledge of literature as well as to edify others.

The books that have had greatest impact on me (as much as my failing memory allows me to remember) are:

Mojo Swaptops: (My childhood favourite: A story about the deliciousness of ice- cream and the wonder of ice cream vans)
Les Miserables (A story of the triumph of grace over law)
The Counte Of Monte Christo ( A story of the need for debt to be paid and justice to be visited)
Resurrection- (Tolstoys last book: The story of a man whose quest for redemption dominates his life.)
Lord of the Rings trilogy ( The story of an epic quest to destroy darkness and ‘make everything sad become untrue.’)
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 v. 1 ( The biography of a Welsh Harley Street doctor who gave up a glittering career to become pastor of Sand fields Church, Aberavon)
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. ( The biography of a German pastor who became one of the first to speak up against Hitler. He became a double agent and was executed on the last day of World War II)
Pilgrims Progress: (The second best seller of all time. An allegory of the Christian life)

bonhoeffer_book

 

The Bible: The bible is the great narrative to which all other stories point. All weddings and marriages point forward to the ultimate marriage between God and His people. Every great experience of food and wine anticipates the great banquet of the lamb to which history is headed. All great friendships point forward towards the ultimate friendship between God and his people. All sacrificial parental love points forward to the ultimate parental love displayed in The Father’s sacrificial and unconditional love for his people.

In my experience as a Pastor, I have noticed that often those who struggle most to embrace the Father’s offer of adoption and redemption have been those whose experience of parenthood was negative. Those who experienced an angry or an absent Father often struggle to trust their lives to an eternal heavenly Father.

Yet, in my experience of being a Father, I find being a parent the most trying, humbling and humiliating challenge in life. It is a challenge that almost nobody can live up to. I have only been a parent for eleven years but my greatest failings have been as a Dad. I have been uncontrollably and disproportionately angry and at times I have been absent. And generally speaking I have great kids. My idols have been exposed through parenthood. I want to have kids I can show off, I want to have kids I can control and who respect me and affirm me.

 

chris and family at horizons

 

My only hope is to cry out to God who has been so patient with me, so forgiving, so long-suffering in his teaching and guiding of me. Only when that truth grips me and gets deep down into the core of my being can I have the necessary patience to be the Dad I should be. Sure, God is angry sometimes too. You can’t avoid seeing that in the old testament particularly. Yet his anger is unlike mine. His anger is his settled, consistent hostility to all that is evil. Our anger is at core basically good. It is given to make a surgical strike against that which gets between us and that which we love. The problem is that our loves are disordered. Ultimately the gospel proclaims that God’s anger fell on his own Son, who willingly absorbed it, instead of on us. The only way to face the Father’s anger is to trample on that gospel and disregard it.

Whatever the next years may herald, nothing will sustain my family and I like the anchor we have for our souls in the one who is our saviour, friend, Father and lover.

Supporting Missions in Northern Thailand

Despite the many Buddhist temples dominating the landscape, with the accompanying superstition, fear and animism, Chiang Mai is a centre for Christian missions in Thailand. Korean, American and European missions locate in this strategic hub with good communications to the rest of Asia. Chiang Mai, then, hosts lots of missionary families, many of whom have served in other parts of Asia and have extraordinary stories.

 

doi-suthep

I teach several Korean students whose parents are still serving in Myanmar, China, Laos Cambodia and Vietnam. I teach adopted children, rescued from the streets of India; Kiwi and Australian students whose parents run businesses as mission, schools and HIV education centres. We go to church with ‘investigators’ who infiltrate the sex trade in order to expose and undermine it. We live next door to a Thai working Grandmother and Granddaughter, on one side, and a church planter among the hill tribes on the other side. Opposite are our friends Matt and Bronwen, a teacher/recruiter at Grace and a minister to female prisoners at the local jail. In addition, Sam and I play cricket each morning with a crowd of Pakistanis who have recently been thrown out of Pakistan and severely persecuted for their faith.

Along with helping with other social studies curriculum, my great privilege is to teach the bible to the children of various missionaries and some Buddhist Thais. I have the honour of encouraging them to hear God speak to them personally and develop a relationship with Him.  Some are walking with God and share their parent’s faith. Others struggle with being in a Christian school and long for the day they can leave. Many mentally assent to the truths of Christianity but have no personal relationship with Jesus yet. Statistics show that although many students from Grace leave with a vibrant faith that works itself out in a life of enjoying God and serving him, many also abandon their faith at University when they are confronted with a world where they do not fit in. We have much work to do.

This last term I have been teaching ‘tools for studying the bible’ using Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach’s excellent book: ‘ Dig deeper.’ We have learnt how to identify the author’s purpose, how to read passages in context before applying them to our lives, how to interpret different genres within the bible and how to reconcile apparent contradictions. The students write a bible journal every day and seek the living and speaking God. We have learnt many other tools too and are soon to study the whole book of Exodus.

dig deeper

 

As a family we have experienced great highs and lows. I love the teaching and have done some preaching too at the school chapel and at house church. There are lots of sports at Grace but sadly no cricket team. I keep fit by cycling up the hills that surround the city. Lois and Joe have joined the swim team with training twice per week. Sam is going to play soccer but has been set back by a nasty injury to his chin after he went over the handle bars of his bike. He is recovering well, however, and is enjoying school and serving in the community as he and many of his class members regularly visit a local orphanage called Mango House. Isaac has found it hardest to integrate, not being at school yet and struggling at pre school. Ann spends a lot of time with Isaac which means less time getting to know people and learning Thai. She has, however, enjoyed the company of several ladies nearby and as I write, she is having dinner with her prayer partners. Weekends are often difficult as family trips can be fraught. Please pray for harmony in the family,  a sense of peace and opportunities to offer hospitality to others.

 Prayer items

Thank God that Sam’s hospital visit went well and that he is recovering.

Praise for Grace International School which enables missionaries to stay on the field here in this part of Asia, confident that their children are receiving a great education.

Praise that friends have lent us a vehicle for the time being.

Pray for harmonious family times. Pray that we would get on well and be able to offer hospitality to others.

Wisdom and financial resources to fund and know how and when to obtain a driving licence and purchase a vehicle.

We are so appreciative of your prayers.

 

With much love in Christ

 

Chris, Ann, Sam, Lois, Isaac and Joe.