Not long after arriving in New Zealand my aunt and uncle took the family on holiday to Alexandra in Central Otago. This was one of the most wonderful times in my life. For a little boy from East Belfast, to stand in the warm clear air of Central Otago was magical. One of my strongest memories from that time was the outdoor swimming pool which had apricot trees near the fence. The apricots were fresh and delicious. In the bible we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23) Imagine for a moment, the people of the church as an orchard full of godly fruit, where the people of our community could get a taste of heaven.
I was sitting at the bus stop last week when an older woman engaged me in conversation. She had been into the city and commented on the shopkeepers who were struggling for business; she expressed sadness at the loss of life of a young woman in her twenties, and then told me she was on her way to visit a friend with cancer. All this in a brief conversation with a total stranger. In each of the situations she mentioned, people need hope. Proverb 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, It’s true isn’t it! A lot of things in Auckland have been deferred recently. I wonder how many people among our neighbours or friends have sick hearts because of hope deferred? Hope deferred does make the heart sick.
In my first ministry, my study window gave me a view of the rolling landscape of rural Southland. I looked out over a farm and enjoyed watching the day to day activities of the shepherds. I watched them on their quadbikes making their rounds and caring for the sheep. I particularly remember sitting in the warmth of the study on a snowy day during lambing, seeing the dedication of the shepherds working in the cold and taking time to ensure the sheep were fed, sheltered and safe. At times I would see him pick up a lamb, carry it to the trailer and take it back to the shed for extra warmth and care. This was a great view for a person starting in pastoral ministry to learn about the work of a shepherd.