The very worst missionary. Part 1.

Let me begin by saying that the title isn’t necessarily reflective of what the post is actually about. It is not naming and shaming or even listing out all the attributes of  ‘the very worst missionary’. In fact, it is simply a place where I’m going to throw out my thoughts on the following: What does a missionary ‘look’ like? Do you have to go far to be a missionary? How do you even know if you are meant to be a missionary? Like I iterate in most of my posts, I don’t actually have the answers. I’ll just set the scene with what I may think or feel but that doesn’t make it true. Perhaps like you, I am on the journey that is figuring out some of these things along the way. I do believe I know where and who those truths come from. So please be patient with me as I too, try to search the Bible for more of those truths. As for the title? Well, I use to follow a blog called Jamie, the very worst missionary. She made me laugh and sometimes I couldn’t believe she was brave enough to share a particular thought with the world, especially as a missionary :0 ! But it was always her honesty that struck me, as she never claimed to be ‘the very best missionary’. So with these thoughts and as the sentences unfold, I aim for one thing. It’s not to be the very best missionary but it’s actually to be honest and transparent with you, the readers. In order to save this from being one extremely long, drawn out post, I’m going to break this up into parts, so please stay tuned…

A little about me.

First of all, I will not claim any title for myself as I start to write this. I will not say. Hello, I’m Erin. I’m a teacher…youth worker… youth pastor…missionary….whatever other name that could fill in that blank. I’ll just say. Hello, I’m Erin. ‘Cause sometimes, if I am honest, I’m not quite sure where I fit in with it all. Sometimes, I don’t ‘feel’ like some of those things and it leaves me wondering: well what does it mean to be any of those? What exactly is a missionary?

From a young age, 99% of the time, when asked the questions of ‘ What would you like to be when you grow up?’. I was quite confident and excited to reply with ‘an art teacher’. However, I do remember this one time of replying with the answer of ‘a missionary.’ Did I just say this because it was the Sunday school thing to say? I don’t know or even remember the motive. Besides this and the moments that I went on mission trips or volunteered for some sort of outreach activity, I pretty much imagined myself in the art room of a school. This is what I worked towards for many years, its what I did for a while, and its what I occasionally will ponder about whenever I see students pour out of the doors of the local highschool. 

The Call.

If you are wondering how I went from the art room to the church, I have gone into more detail in the post An Unexpected Journey. For now, I’m going to skip those details and focus a bit more on the subject of being called. I guess the first question that pops into my head is, ‘does someone have to be called to missions’? And if so, what does that even look like? How do you know you have been called and how can you even be sure it’s of God? 

I think as Christians, if we are to follow Jesus, we each play a missional role. In Mark chapter 4 and Matthew 28, we read about Jesus asking us to be fishers of men and to go into all the world and make disciples. It doesn’t mention that only certain people are to do this but that we EACH have a part to play in sharing the good news. How can we even keep these things to ourselves when we experience this new life that Christ brings about within us? I always felt passionate and adamant in sharing God in our ‘secular’ (even though I sometimes cringe in reservation at using that word) workplace, in our communities, on our sports field and within our extra curricular activities and past times. I don’t think this is reserved for those only in full time missions or ministry. I think its each of our responsibility and it should be our joy to share our lives with Christ, with one another. I believe that as we follow God and understand more of who He is, as we look to the example of Jesus- we understand that the heart and the intention is always something to flow out into the people around us and not to be kept to ourselves. So what about ‘the call’ to be a missionary? How is that different?

I don’t really, fully know or understand. I believe that we serve an all-knowing God and from this, I trust that He sees needs and reasons that sometimes we don’t. God, being outside of time and even our little world, can see why so and so should go to such and such in order to spread His love and His news. That is my foundation for when pondering the why’s and how’s for God sending people to the ends of the earth. Why did He send my friend from California to Ireland, while I’m here in New Zealand and someone from New Zealand is overseas serving elsewhere? I don’t have those answers but I trust that God does. I think that as we journey with God…as He reveals Himself to us through His Word…as we come to Him seeking guidance… as we wonder what to do and where to go….that He is indeed faithful in leading us. I don’t believe there is a one-fits-all formula in how each of our paths unfold and I have only experienced my story of how God brought me to New Zealand. I do think that the common denominator answer to ‘being called’ will incorporate spending time with God through digging into scripture, being on our knees and serving others. I know that sounds very general! However, it becomes personal and particular when we open our hands in surrender and say ‘God, show me!’. I remember one of the verses that stood out to me during that time in taking the steps to leave Ireland, was from Jeremiah 33.3. It says Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things. God may keep us in a waiting period but He will show us. He will lead us to where He wants us to go. I also think that He will give us a peace about it and it is that, as well as His faithful character, that we can hold onto. Sometimes people feel called to a particular place or to a specific people group or need. For me, I just always wanted to come to New Zealand and as things unraveled, I guess a little of that desire began to make more sense. God might lay things especially on our heart beforehand or even during but it will always be about serving Him and serving others.  Do you think God wants you to stay within your ‘secular’ job and share Him as the opportunities arise? Do you believe God wants you to go somewhere with the intention and primary purpose of sharing Christ with others? Are you going to consider being called?

If you have found this somewhat thought provoking and wish to read more, please keep an eye out for part 2, The Missionary.

Here is a photo taken from my journal in 2011, where I was listing possible options for the future. I don’t even remember contemplating ‘missions’ in NZ at that time, but I guess, sometimes God lays things on our hearts that we don’t quite understand at the time. 

https://underthedogwoodtrees.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/an-unexpected-journey/

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Your Dwelling Place.

Last week, I had the opportunity to walk the Milford track. A four day hike of 53.5km which involved sights of mountains, glowworms and some of the clearest waters I have ever seen! It was beautiful and here are a few photos below to share some of that. 

Before I went on the tramp, I had decided to pick a random Psalm and print it out on a piece of paper to bring with me. (I learned from the first tramp I did, that I wasn’t about to carry a book with me and have some extra weight!). The psalm that I printed out was Psalm 84 and here are some of the thoughts that I had about this as I was walking for the four days. 

First of all, on the very first day, I lost my voice. Very convenient! I figured if I fell and was unable to shout for help, that it was a beautiful place to die. Complete wilderness and tranquillity; with only the waterfalls and the birds producing some of nature’s loveliest sounds. This gave me extra time to be quiet myself and to ponder on some of the truths that are laid out before us in this particular psalm.  A few things especially stand out to me. The sense of what a dwelling place is and that our hearts should yearn for the Lord and His dwelling place. That in this dwelling place we find it better than anywhere else and with no good thing withheld from us. Sounds almost too good to be true!

Psalm 84 starts off with ‘How lovely is your dwelling place , oh Lord!”. I found it interesting to think about the subject of a dwelling place as we hiked from one hut to the next over the course of the time. Going tramping is wonderful for seeing how little you can live with, because once you are out there, unless you barter or kill for something, there is no way of getting your hands on it till you’re out in civilisation again. You would be surprised how much you will treasure a bandaid to put on your blistered feet, or how much your food and snacks can weigh! As I mentioned in a previous post, Stumping the Hump, you learn about what is most important to carry in order to survive and you also think really hard about the luxuries that might bring that extra bit of happiness your way. But the question that arises here is ‘what does it take to have with you to actually make a dwelling place’? Indeed, one of my favourite things about moving into a new place is making it into a home. Decorative pillows, candles, throws, plants….. these are all things that add to the comfort and ambience that I try to create in the place that I live in. When you are tramping, you have to stuff your stinky clothes into a bag to act as a pillow. If you tried carrying a candle or a potted plant with you, you would soon find out that this is the most ridiculous thing you could do to create your dwelling place for those nights in the hut. So what makes a dwelling place then, if my french vanilla scented room isn’t necessarily going to cut it?

A dwelling place has to be more than just the physical, as all that is temporary. Even if we followed the lates decorating trends, we find that they go in and out of season too. So I guess whatever dwelling place we want to invest in, its going to have to involved the security of something that is more lasting. We learn from this passage that, whatever that place may be, that our hearts should yearn for it, even faint. We read that a day in that place is better than a thousand elsewhere! Can you believe that? A thousand days in your most favourite or treasured place and that doesn’t even compare to how good that one day in the courts here!! But what is the common dominator in each of these examples of Psalm 84. Each mention of a dwelling place or courts is followed by our Lord. Thus it seems, that this beautiful dwelling place that sounds too good to be true can only be found with our Lord there. We cannot make it on our own or by ourselves. Not only is our Lord found in that place but ee also learn that He provides for us in that place; as He even cares that the birds finds a home. How applicable to be in such a spot as the Milford with the soundtrack of birds constantly playing. (Did you know that when the settlers first came to New Zealand, there was so much bird activity that they could hear it long before they reached the islands ?) And God ,as it says in Matthew 6, cares for them too. It goes on to say in the same stanza as the birds, that those who dwell in His house are blessed, and like those birds are ever singing… singing His praises forever!

The passsages unfolds to even talk about pilgrimage and that those who seek the Lord go from strength to strength. That even when they go through tough times, they make a place of refreshment as ‘they make it a place of springs’. Springs and pools that are filled with the rain from above. Isn’t it also fascinating that the mention of water is often being described as a picture of the Holy Spirit in scripture. That even though we pass through the valleys, that God provides the Holy Spirit, Himself, to be with us there and from these ‘springs’, we can carry on from strength to strength! The verse that always stops me in my tracks is found in verse 11. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk up rightly. A lot of the time I believe that God does withhold good things from me. Like He is punishing me or it is some kind of experiment that seems to give out lots of good things to other people but not necessarily to me. How wrong I am in that when I encounter the very words of God that say other wise. Following Him. Following His Ways. They guarantee only goodness for us. That doesn’t mean we won’t pass through the valleys and we only dwell in comfortable places. No, we dwell with God, whatever the terrain may be that we are currently in. And that is the best place to dwell. Only good things.

What is your dwelling place? Is it with God- walking with Him along the mountains and the valleys, along the pilgrimage of life? What is in that dwelling place? Is it filled with a veneer of a homey and comfortable setting or is it filled with those pools or springs where you can draw your strength from? Is it better than anything else or your most favourite place? Is it blessed by God as you trust in Him? Is it worth dwelling there for a thousand years of even a day? Does your soul long and even faint for it? Does everything within you call out for the living God? Because that’s where we find our rest, our search for a physical dwelling place ends because our hearts are satisfied with the springs and the courts of our Lord.


God answers prayer.

The subject of prayer encompasses so many things and could take many more posts to work through what it can entail! When you think of prayer perhaps you think of engaging with God, talking to Him, thanking Him, asking Him questions. Maybe you think of what happens to you when you pray- you have peace, the strength to keep going, a growing faith, understanding more of who God is and getting to know Him in a deeper way. These are all the parts that play in that time where we converse with the One who created us, who provided life for us and will always be with us to engage with! Sometimes, we may question or wrestle with whether our prayers have been heard, especially those ones that seem to go unanswered. We may ask ourselves ‘Is He really listening to me?’, ‘Does He hear my prayers?’, ‘Does He answer them?’ For this post, I want to write a little about prayers and their answers.

 This is a photo I took this weekend in Queenstown. I love the colours and it reminds me of how some things are clear to us at times and other things are not. All can be beautiful and appreciated in their various ways.

I didn’t know what to title this post. One of the ideas I had to call it was When God answers prayers, but then I thought that actually…. perhaps…..God always answers our prayers. Does He? I got to thinking more about how the answer might look different to what I thought it would be or from what I had asked for. Sometimes, He answers those specific prayers and we receive that very thing we have brought before Him. Other times, He might have said ‘no’ and that is an answer too, although at times not one that we really want. And what about those prayers that haven’t been answered yet? The seeds of doubt of trying to creep in as to whether God is listening to all those heart felt prayers, poured out and doused in tears? I remember at one stage, feeling like I was in a sea of questions, drowning in them and feeling like God’s hand was the only thing I could hold on to in such confusing times. All the prayers spoken, uttered, cried, and even when there has been no words to possibly express those things. What about those prayers? Did He or will He answer them all? I don’t have the answers to those questions but I have faith that God does have the answers….. and I see a bit of what happens to me in that time of asking and supplication. Oh that we would see more and more of that around us too, as we list off our questions and speak them out amoung all those praying alongside of us.

I’m sure that each one of us have stories of how God answered a particular prayer, leaving us amazed at who God is and excited for what He can do. It concretes our faith in Him and reminds us that He is trustworthy to follow and lean into. We have those ‘big’ prayers and the ‘small’ ones too- the ones that seem impossible to answer and the ones that could almost go a miss. One of my bigger stories includes how I came to New Zealand. As I mentioned before (and in the post, An Unexpected Journey) I was in a sea of many questions and prayers, asking for answers and relief! It was tough and it was overwhelming. However, it is what God did within my heart and my trust deepening in Him. I began to see the ways in which God provided. Ways that I didn’t imagine or expect and they are so much more than I could have asked for. He answered those prayers in the way He saw best. He gave me relief and that sea became especially peaceful as the waves smoothed out for a time to experience those unexpected answers. Take the time to think about those stories along your journey, it will deepen your faith as you know only such a powerful, all knowing God could have done that. No coincidence enters the equation. 

But what about the times that He says ‘no’? Is that an answer to our prayers too? Perhaps you have a story for that one as well. Maybe it’s a little painful to remember, or you might even be thanking God that He didn’t answer it in the way that you thought! I’ve definitely had those times. I’ll refer once again to that confusing time and some of the prayers I had then. It became clear that God was giving me a ‘no’ and wow, am I so very thankful!!!!! I wouldn’t want to be in that position that I had been praying about! I can see God’s protection in so many ways. Can you think of a similar situation you have had? Hindsight is great and I guess one of the things that I have learned is that God’s ‘no’ can deepen our trust in Him too, even if we don’t understand it now or ever on earth! I am reminded of Jesus in the garden, the night before He was crucified, the words He uttered- that pain filled prayer. Not my will, but yours. Even the Son of God exemplified surrendering to the yes’ and the no’s of our Heavenly Father. I don’t think I’m the only one out there who doesn’t particularly like to be told ‘no’. But what if I had the mindset of Jesus on the night He was betrayed, your will, Lord, not mine. Would it make it easier for me to accept that answer? Would it draw me into the arms of a loving Father and not running away seeking ways to answer those prayers in our own way? Would it continue to deepen my trust and my faith in God? Would it help me to understand more that I’m a finite and limited being, serving an infinite and unlimited, big, powerful God? That His answers to my prayers are THE ANSWERS, not a plan B or suggestion, not a trick or something that will destroy. Always for my good and always for His will.

And here we seek the answers for all of those unanswered prayers. What is your unanswered prayer right now? I think we always have one up our sleeve, or in a tear drenched tissue. If we didn’t always have something to bring before God, then we would probably not give two thoughts to Him and continue on in figuring out what to do, where to go, who to be with, all on our own. In our finite and limited ways. Wow, I’m so thankful that I can go to a God who is bigger than me to answer those things! The struggle I have in the times of waiting for an answer, is not to lose faith or sight of who He is. He is the God of promises, promises to provide. He is the God of love, love that knows no bounds. He is the God who hears us, hears all of our thoughts and yearnings. He is the God of wisdom and with that wisdom, love, provision He hears our prayers and He answers them. Today, tomorrow, years from now, eternally. I hold onto the knowledge that God won’t continually leave us in a sea that is overwhelming, restless, unknowing. He will one day answer those things. He will one day wipe every tear as it says in Revelation. I think of Hannah in the Bible and how she prayed and prayed for a son. She poured out her heart despite how it looked to others. She continuously handed it over to God, she did not look elsewhere for those answers or manipulate the situation. She poured out her heart and she trusted. God did answer her, He did bring her that relief. As I think about her example in this. I know that I can still continue to pour out my heart. That it is actually ok to cry and really care about what you are praying for. That trusting God will always bring us peace, no matter if we ever see the results of that prayer in this lifetime. We can take comfort that God does hear our prayers. They don’t bounce back down to earth, or we don’t have work towards being good enough for them to be heard. We only have to surrender our will to His.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5.14

Because I find myself often in the third category, I have recently been writing out all my prayers requests. How encouraging and faith building this is when looking back on all those answers. The ‘yes’, the ‘no’ and the ‘not yets’. It reminds me to thank God for each one of them and be mindful that He is always at work, around me and within me. And as we utter and wrestle from one prayer to the next, remember that He does hear and He does care. He does answer.

Becoming Weaker. 

Recently, we have been talking about Lent at church. Growing up in Ireland, it is a word or practice that is not uncommon to me. I must admit I have never gone 40 days with out anything! But as the days build up to Easter, I have been thinking about what it might mean for us. What is the first thing that we think of when we think about Lent? Usually, it means to go without something…but for what exactly? What is our motive or aim in doing this? Is it to draw closer to God, it is to try and understand more about Him and ourselves? Is it for a personal accomplishment? Is it to lose weight? (Don’t tell me that that never crossed your mind as the days before lent you stuffed your face with every junk food imaginable!) Does God call us to participate in it? We do read a lot about fasting in the Bible and I encourage you to seek them out too, as I do believe it is something that helps us to be intentional in knowing and seeking the Lord.

So this whole going without thing? Is it just food? Is it from certain past times? Watching Netflix? Reading a good mystery book? God forbid, don’t say it…. Social Media!!!! I guess that is up to you to decide and if the whole point of going without is to be intentional in using that time to be more mindful of God, it is probably going to be the thing that has the most strong hold on you or takes up most of your time (or thought life!). I suppose it isn’t suppose to be easy. In fact, its going to be really tough and we are going to have some weak moments. For this post, I want us to have a little think about what happens to us during that time of going without and to also take a look at Jesus’ example to us in this.

Last week I showed a clip to the church called Becoming Weaker. In it, we hear of this man share his thoughts on our own weakness and powerlessness. We hear about how life comes from surrender and that we cannot do it on our own, we need a Saviour in fact. We are reminded that our powerlessness, our fragility is not an evil but can be used to connect with God and with others around us too. It is an experience of vulnerability and how being vulnerable requires that honesty to say I need help! This clip might makes us question if brokenness or weakness is really a bad thing, or is it something good, if it draws us closer to a very powerful God. This video clip also reminds me of the verses of 2 Cor 12.9 and 10 where it says:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore (Paul says) I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Indeed the Bible is filled with passages about brokenness and I encourage you to seek them out too! However, as I was thinking about the subject of weakness, I began to think of Jesus’ example to us in this. Jesus was fully God and man, and in his humanity, we see a glimpse into his physical weakness, such as when He was forty days in the desert. As we were saying before lent can be a time where we go without, so that we aren’t distracted by some of the things around us or in our lives. And this is a little of what we see here as Jesus removes himself to be alone, and He goes for forty days without food. (I can barely go half a day without food, and thinking that I’m going to die of hunger!) In Matthew 4.1-11, we read about this time in the wilderness and it gives us a picture of what Jesus faced and did during that time of physical weakness. 

Here we are told that Jesus was fasting for 40 days and nights. He was hungry and there was certainly not the distraction of the crowds like he might have been used to. You can imagine the physical weakness one might have felt without food to give them energy. During this time, we hear of Jesus being tempted several times. First to make the stones turn to bread to satisfy that hunger. Second to throw Himself off and see if God would save Him. And lastly, He was tempted with power and wealth if He was to worship Satan and not God. Even as Jesus was fasting, there was still the temptation to distract himself from God. In that weakness, we could be tempted to satisfy that hunger, to test God or even to worship something else other than God. But as we look to Jesus’ perfect example, what did He do in his physical weakness? Two things especially stood out to me. He responded by getting past the physical needs that Satan was concerned with and as Jesus usually did he got to the point- the things that really are important. He tells Satan that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ That food may satisfy our needs momentarily but it is God’s words of truth that satisfy us! And to live by them! It is nourishing and it sustains us in our walk with the Lord. 

The second thing that stood out to me, was when He was tempted to worship Satan who promised him temporary things of this world-power, wealth being some of them. But Jesus saw beyond the lies of those deceitful promises. He said ” You shall worship the Lord our God and him you shall only serve.” Jesus pointed to the one who was worthy of our worship. He knew that worshipping another would not lead to being filled or satisfied. He knew it wouldn’t be lasting. But He knew what was everlasting. And as we see here, even in a physical weakness, it drew Him to God. He knew of what was really important in life, despite the distraction or the temptation to get caught up in other things. In this, we can learn that in our weakness, we can go to the source of truth, power and meaning and be fulfilled through the one who is worthy of our worship! That in our powerlessness and fragility, we need God, we need a Saviour!

So with that in mind, what is lent? It is going without, trying to get away from the things that distract us from what’s most important- spending time with God. So whether, its an hour, a day, a week or even forty days that you have put aside, go to that place where you can find nourishment and fulfilment in Him. What will happen to you during that time? You will probably become weaker… you will face the temptations to satisfy that temporary need or to give your time to another. But in your weakness, you can rely on the Lord’s strength to help you! What do you do in this time? You worship the one who is worthy of your time, energy, mind and strength! 
And what would be some of the things that would be difficult for me to give up…. Coffee and Chocolate. This is probably what I would look like on like Day2 of 40!

Seeds & Seasons.

The other week I was asked to share at a Ladies Breakfast. I was told that the topic for that morning was Seeds and Seasons and little did that person know but the night before I was asked, I had been reading about the very subject of seeds. As well as this, I just so happen to have a garden nestled in the backyard of my new home this year. I am very excited about this! Do I know what I’m doing? No, not yet. I will probably spend the first few weeks eating weeds and boasting about how delicious it is to have home grown veggies. But thank God, who is the gardener of my life, that He knows exactly what He is doing. He understands the seed and He works on the soil. He knows what conditions are needed for those seeds to dig deep into the soil and to one day reap a harvest!
Perhaps when some of you think of the word ‘seeds’ in the Bible, you immediately think of the parable mentioned in Matthew 13 and if you have never heard of it, I do encourage you to take some time to read it. I would like to quickly summarise it to paint the picture of seeds, soil and growth. Here Jesus is sharing to large crowds of people and as he describes each soil type and situation, I am sure they were all wondering if this really was gardening lesson or was there something more to it? Jesus describes four types of ground that the seeds fall onto each time. The first is a path and even if we take just a moment to imagine the hard ground that we walk on everyday, it isn’t long before we understand that a seed wouldn’t survive here at all. The concrete is too hard and doesn’t allow anything to get pasts it’s surface. The second one mentioned is that of the rocky ground. So a not as hard as the pathway but is still rough with stone throughout it. There is no depth here either and therefore there is no root and as the elements such as sun beams down on it, it whither away in the end. The third ground mentioned is thorny and the thorns end up choking the seed, and they too don’t survive. Lastly, Jesus mentions what he calls the good soil and it is here that grain is produced up to even a hundred fold, sixty or thirty! So with this picture in mind, I would like to share some of what I had been thinking and reading about when Jacinda contacted me a few weeks ago. It was then that I had stumbled upon a blog post called Seeds by Kelly Minter (as I love to read some of the many good bloggers there are out there) and it was here that a few things stuck out to me about this passage that I had never really taken the time to consider, if I must admit. 
Although I had some understanding that the seeds in the text can represent God’s truths mentioned or shared with people. However, it had never really struck me that the seeds can never be bad, it is always good! (Perhaps when we are gardening and things aren’t coming to fruition, we might ponder as to whether it was a bad seed.) But from the text mentioned, the lack of growth was always due to the type of soil and not from the type of seeds. Indeed, we can see that is due to the condition of the soil that determines its growth and or lack of in that person’s life. 

So what is the soil? As people were more accustomed to hearing parables, I’m sure the large groups listening to Jesus began to see that the soil can represent the condition of our hearts! And it is the condition of our hearts that can aid in producing a harvest, through the power of that always good and never bad seed! So the seed comes across the soil. I think it is particularly interesting to note here that every type of soil encounters the seed. Depending on the soil type it might or might not grow. For a seed to grow roots and eventually produce, it also must have the presence of two things – light and water. Of course the soil and seed need to be watered and how cool to think of this analogy when we see that the picture of water mentioned in the Bibles often represents the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to bring it in, we all hear God’s word and depending on the condition of our heart, we may or may not receive these truths and produce growth. As God’s Word is rooted in our lives, we also need God, the Holy Spirit, to take it from our head to our hearts and then to outpour from our lives. This is the harvest! People coming to know the Lord more and more! How encouraging to hear of the good soils that produces a hundred fold- sixty and thirty! God can do so much more in our hearts and lives, more than we can imagine or do within ourselves. We need him!
Another thing to note about Seeds and their growth is that it takes times for this to happen. Like a gardener, God is patient in seeing to the produce and harvest. He gives us seasons in our lives that allow us to grow. He gives us circumstances and various stages that aid in continuing to cultivate a soft, receiving and fertile soil. Again, I would encourage you to read a little from Ecclesiastes 3,  very much known for being the passage of seasons. We cannot help but hear the word ‘time’ mentioned over and over again here. It takes time in these season, sometimes the seasons sound great and sometimes the seasons mentioned are not ones that I would particularly enjoy going through. But I love how this text begins. First of all it states that ‘for everything there is a season’. And then it goes on to say ‘for every matter under heaven’. Before we read the list of seasons, we know that with God, He gives reason and purpose for whatever season we are going through. Sometimes he uses seasons of a great rain of sorrow, or seasons of immense sunshine and joy. Other times God may choose to use a season of loss like the leaves that fall in autumn and another He may use a season of new beginnings as we see in Spring. All these seasons, to produce a soil that will continue to receive the seed and produce a harvest. All these seasons, to be changed to be more like Him and to grow in Him. How comforting to know that His word promises that it will never return back void and it will produce that harvest.
Lastly, I want to add a little something about both Seeds and seasons that I can see in my own life. This month when I was in Ireland, I was reading some of my old journals, as I have enjoyed journaling since I was even as young as six. I was reading a journal from 2011, a particular difficult time in life for me. I had just finished my BA at Art college and wondering what to do before I went on to do a teaching degree. I was so surprised to see a little to do list on one of the pages, as I never remembered writing down the option of ministry in New Zealand. Although I had contemplated New Zealand at the time, I didn’t realise that I had been thinking about doing any sort of ministry for so long. I was particularly surprised as it was a time of my life that I wasn’t surrendering everything to the Lord, so to see the word ‘ministry’ there struck me. Thankfully, God didn’t answer that prayer then. And I think I can understand why now looking back at it. It certainly wasn’t the season for this to happen as I know that the soil was not in the right condition. The condition of my heart was actually quite hardened at the time. If I could describe it, it was actually quite rocky or thorny. Hardened and a little bitter, my heart was too shallow and tough to receive God’s authority into my life. Indeed, God knew that He needed to work on the soil. I needed to grow through some more seasons before the fruit was ripe and the timing was right. In the end, over the years as I began teaching, I thought that my opportunity to move to New Zealand has passed and certainly the opportunity to work in some sort of ministry. But here I am and God’s direction in that is a whole other story. 

However, my whole point of mentioning this is to be a testament that God will grow us as we receive Him with all our heart and experience the seasons He places us in. That in some seasons, He wants us to be patient and to trust in Him to be at work. It takes time, maybe because we live in a faster paced world, we expect to see results quicker! We might not want the seasons, we simply want to go from the seed to the harvest. But how comforting it is to know that God is always at work, even if its work that is unseen as its in the ground as the roots grow deeper. That he uses the seasons to grow us and it is not in vain. Pouring into chapter three of Ecclesiastes shows us that there is a time for everything and if we are trusting in the Lord, receiving Him with an open heart towards Him, then He will grow us in Him. Remember, the seed is never bad. God is trustworthy! If anything I hope that this has encouraged you to dig deep into His Word, to plant it into a soft and receiving heart, to have perspective in the season that He has placed you in and to be hopeful that He will fulfill His promises to grow you and produce a harvest!

I hope to share some about the garden another time, with veggies of silverbeat , potatoes, courgette……( I can’t even name them all cause I’m a terrible gardener ) it does contain anaroma of mint and the lemon, fejoa and pear trees accompany them in all its abundance. Basically, for all you Irish out there….. I am the next Happy Pear!

Meeting Middle Earth.

If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth. -JRR Tolkien

After travelling throughout the North and South Island of New Zealand, I am not surprised that Sir Peter Jackson decided to use such landscape for the fantastical world of hobbits, elves, dwarves and dragons. With drastic and diverse terrains, natural colour palettes of various hues and the creativity of Wellington’s Weta workshops, some of the most loved books came to life. Although, I have read and watched The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings throughout my teen and adult years, I cannot claim to have the dedication that others around me may have had. For this post, I simply want to share these places and stories with some of those fans and stir an excitement for a beautiful country that I feel quite passionate about. All photos are from my own travels and adventures throughout Middle Earth.

So let me begin with some scenes from both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that are closer to home….

Mt Cook, Twizel and Canterbury.

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Stretching across the central and southern parts of the South Island of New Zealand, the mighty chain of mountains named the Southern Alps was used extensively in filming The Lord of the Rings. The majestic peaks, with their exquisite glacier carved lakes and rivers depicted the Misty Mountains of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

This striking part of New Zealand is known for its stunning alpine scenery and Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. Lindis Pass, a 63km scenic reserve, was also featured as part of Fangorn Forest, and is one of the routes that traverse the Southern Alps.

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Driving through the spectacular Lindis Pass that links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago is considered a must do when visiting New Zealand. -firstlighttravel.com

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Lake-town – one of the most extensive outdoor sets built for The Hobbit Trilogy – was created  on the shores of Lake Pukaki, where the turqoiuse waters run from the glaciers of the surrounding peaks.

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Near Twizel in the MacKenzie country the epic battle at Pelennor Field and scenes involving the Eastemnet Gullies were filmed on the spectacular. Twizel lies just down the road from Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park, where the breath taking opening scenes of The Two Towers were filmed. -firstlighttravel.com

Queenstown and Wanaka.

And here are some of the film locations from more of the South Island.

Lake Wakatipu was used for scenes involving Lothlorien, an ancient forest. “There lie the woods of Lothlorien!” said Legolas. “That is the fairest of al the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold.” The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien.

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See the same gorge, otherwise known as the Anduin River, that the Fellowship of the Ring paddled down to be greeted by the two giant statues on either side on the river. Unfortunately, the statues were added in postproduction… Nevertheless, Kawarau Gorge is pretty spectacular. -backpackerguide.nz

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From Lake Wanaka in the heart of New Zealand’s southern lakes region, you can see the backdrop used for Gandalf’s flight to Rohan with Gwaihir after his rescue from Orthanc. Wanaka was also the film location for the River Anduin, Golden Plain, Lothlorien, Pillars of the Argonath, and Dimrill Dale.

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Te Anau, Milford Sound and the West Coast.

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Gateway to massive Fiordland National Park, the township of Te Anau sits at the edge one of the most picturesque lakes in New Zealand. Te Anau was a base for a number of The Two Towers locations including the Great River Anduin, Fangorn Forest and The Dead Marshes. Milford Sound was the film location for Fangorn Forest, with its beautiful beech trees it’s a stunning place to visit. – firstlighttravel.nz

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With these mountains whetting our appetite, let us now cross waters to the North Island and explore some of the film locations that they had to offer for the trilogies!

Wellington.

Capitol of New Zealand as well as a centre of creativity and flair. Surrounding this area are various filming locations,however, Wellington is also home to The Weta workshops where you can tour through studios with the artists at work. I really encourage this experience as the works of art in both the detail of material and special effects particularly bring to life the war scenes and costumes that JRR Tolkien so describes.

The Wellington region provided the locations for Rivendell, the Auduin River, The Gardens of Isengard and Lothlorein in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most accessible filming location in Wellington is Mount Victoria, which is within walking distance of the city. The forested areas of Mount Victoria were used to depict Hobbiton Woods, where the hobbits hid from the black riders, all of the other film locations are within an hours drive of the city.-firstlighttravel.com

Weta Workshops

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Rivendell

This was a happy surprise as we drove out of Wellington to find Rivendell nestled amoung trees and water.

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The Taupo Region.

The Taupo region was the filming location for Mordor, Emyn Muil and Mt Doom. In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam climbed Mt Doom. You can do the same while walking the Tongariro crossing, often described as the best 1-day walk in New Zealand. It’s a challenging walk taking 7-8 hours, taking you past volcanoes, steaming fumaroles, jagged lava flows, the red Crater and Emerald Lakes. -firstlighttravel.com

Unfortunately, my friends and I were not able to walk the Tongariro crossing as planned, due to the weather conditions. But we did do a little walk, knowing Mordor was close by in the distance. It is still on my list!

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Hobbiton.

And lastly, let us journey to the hills of Matamata, where I know you have been waiting to view the cute little Hobbit holes, home of Bilbo and Froddo Baggins.

The town of Matamata in the Waikato with it’s rolling hills and emerald green grass was the perfect setting for the peaceful Shire region of Middle-earth, the home of the village of Hobbiton. This area of New Zealand is one of the richest agricultural and pastoral areas in the world and is characterised as a large fertile basin through which the Waikato River flows. The Hobbiton movie set has primarily been returned to its natural state, however hobbit holes and other distinctive land marks such as ‘the party tree’ still remain and can be viewed as part of a Hobbiton tour. The Waikato region also offers superb caving and black water rafting.

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Tours of the Shire bring to life a film set that has not been forgotten. What amazed me most from here was the visible evidence of how Sir Peter Jackson was one who gave great attention to detail during his filming. For example, the job of daily hanging up and retrieving the little hobbit laundry on the line was given in order to give the authentic impression of footprints in the grass! Wow.

Another was the tree that sits atop of Bilbo’s home. Jackson had leaves that he had envisioned for the set ,created and attached to the tree!

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Even if you are not a big fan of the books or films, you cannot help but appreciate the creativity and feel the magical and cheery atmosphere of what is Hobbiton.

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You can even have an ale from The Green Dragon, where they brew ales made only for this once in a lifetime experience. It is also the only entry inside as the rest of the hobbit holes are empty and were filmed elsewhere in Wellington.

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This is certainly only a little taster of what meeting Middle Earth is like and I hope you have enjoyed it. If anything, it simply displays the gorgeous views of New Zealand and hopefully entices you to come and visit it for yourself. I don’t believe you will be disappointed!

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Times and Seasons.

                       
Recently, I have been going through a study of Ecclesiastes and although, I’m only half way through, I wanted to share some things from that. Some of us may think of words like ‘times’ and ‘seasons’ when we think of this book in the Bible. Some may especially recall chapter three ‘as there is a time for everything under heaven.’ The poetic language and honesty used by the writer calls us in as we may relate to some of the verses. However, I think we can especially relate to this tension where one moment we are wondering ‘what is the point?’ and the next where we get a glimpse of purpose and the bigger picture.. I am beginning to understand as I pull a part the text and ponder. I am also beginning to see that this book encompasses so much more. I won’t be including every topic or meaning from this book, as scholars may be quick to point out. For this post, I am only relaying snippets that are moving me to take the time to think about and indeed a season to impress some of it’s truths into my life.

First of all, I have been following a study of Ecclesiastes by Kathleen Buswell Nielson. I really like this spiral bound study as it engages you in a series of questions, that don’t just require you to jot down the same words in the Bible. The questions are posed to prompt your thinking, to engage with the text, to understand it’s context and to apply it’s meaning to your life. I love those moments, where you learn something new for the first time. It almost feels like some sort of blind fold has been lifted off your eyes and you have an ‘ah-ha’ moment. The title on the study says’ Wisdom’s searching and finding’ and immediately I am drawn as I too, want to know and display wisdom in my life. Indeed, I think most people would like these things. We have what is called an ‘inflamation of education’ and whether that is from the society that we live in or not, where we are now starting to collect various degrees and certificates, I think it is also because we each long to be wise-to understand and be able to answer more of the questions that life brings about. I guess, as someone who believes in a greater being than myself, must ask the question ‘where does wisdom come from?’ and ‘can I attain it apart from God?’. And this is part of what King Solomon began to dissect throughout his life, with his access to the material and kingly status knowing no bounds. He had everything. A kingdom. People at his beck and call. Wealth. Power. And he knew a few things too. Indeed, he was on a search for wisdom and in Ecclesiastes, we are given a glimpse from his experiences of what he found.

 It doesn’t take very long into the text to see some repetition of the phrase ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ and ‘it is all vanity’. It’s almost overwhelming and exudes some of a ‘what is the point’ mentality. If you stopped reading there then you might be quite confused as to why this is in the Bible. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I will note here that I enjoy the honesty of the writer as we see humanity struggle with it’s limitations and perhaps hopelessness in and of ourselves. BUT THEN… a poem unravels in chapter three that changes the environment for me. Hope and purpose enter the picture and this follows a new phrase, ‘under heaven’. We begin to see a contrast in the description, ones that offer meaning to the various ‘times’ in our lives. While we are under the text of ‘under heaven’, we abandon words such as ‘vanity’ and ‘meaningless’, and we are pleasantly immersed with words such as ‘peace’, ‘love’ and ’embracing’. Even with the inclusion of contrasting words such as weeping,losing killing and war, it is given it’s place in life’s timing. But it isn’t in vain anymore, there is purpose. If I am in a difficult place in my life,where tears flow often, then these truths tell us, ‘it is for a time’. God gives purpose to our pain and He also gives joyful times to our lives too. It’s like we can now withstand the tougher times because we can see the bigger picture, God’s bigger picture. I find this so comforting when I read the following verse and it gives me much strength and patience to carry on.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hands. Psalm 31.14-15

So not only does God take our lives and give them meaning and purpose, but He also reassures us that His timing for those things are in His hands.  For EVERYTHING there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. When we seek God and his wisdom we begin to see our shift from it being ‘all vanity’ and under the sun to under heaven with all of its hope bestowed. And lastly, today as I was reading through chapter three and thinking about God’s timing, I began to liken it to an artist and their painting. As the artist approaches a canvas, they are intentional and involved in their creation. They dip their brush into the colour they think best and begin to make their marks on the blank background. As images forms, we are given a glimpse, although at times it might not be clear as to what the subject matter is, the artist is at work to bring it to completion. At certain times,it might not be beautiful but the artist will make it beatuiful in the end. It just needs some time.Then when the artist deems it a completed work, they will put down their brush and say it is completed. The viewers will understand what is in front of their eyes and take in all the steps that the artist chose for that painting. And as is promised in chapter three, God will make everything beautiful in its time. Even when we might not understand some of the brushstrokes that He makes in our lives. Even when we think we know the best timing. Even when others try to tell us what they think is the perfect time. Even if it involves tears of sadness or tears of joy. God knows. He gives us the wisdom. He has given us examples such as Ecclesiastes to unravel the meaning of the text. He gives us strength for the season He has placed us in. And He will bring it all to completion in our lives as we say But I trust in you, O Lord, You are my God.