Three wayfinders for the Christian this Matariki

It dawned on me, as the tohunga whakairo (Maori carver) led a group of excited schoolchildren and parents in a karakia (prayer), that this was not an ordinary school holiday activity. Before we got to design and make our model waka, we were asked to listen in as he gave thanks to each of the seven stars of Matariki (known as Pleiades in the West, 昴 in China, Subaru in Japan). It’s 2023, and we were witnessing state-approved worship of a different kind!

For those of us with Chinese heritage, this kind of concern isn’t new of course. After all, in many Asian families, Lunar New Year celebrations carry with it all kinds of superstitions and religious rituals. The wise Christian must strike a balance between the commands to flee from idolatry and separate from false worship, to honouring the themes and truths we share in common with our families (such as giving thanks for the past and our people, celebrating the present, expressing hope for the future), while observing how every ritual and tradition is a window into deeper desires and longings that we all share (for example, security, prosperity, and community) and using them as gospel opportunities.

In light of this, here are three resources (or “wayfinders”) I’ve found helpful this week in thinking about Matariki in a redemptive way.

1. “Matariki Resource” (Laidlaw College)

First up is this beautifully-produced video presented by Bradford Haami (Ngāti Awa, Laidlaw College). After explaining the origin and meanings of key aspects of Matariki celebrations (including the Whāngai hau ritual – essentially a food offering made to Matariki as a goddess), he gently and graciously shares a brief biblical framework for Christians to participate in this celebration in a meaningful way “without diluting our own Christianity”.

The heavenly bodies were created by God to declare his handiwork (Ps 19:1), not as deities for people to bow down before. Ultimately, we see in the New Testament how it is a star that points the wise men to the King of Kings (Matthew 2). He concludes:

“All of us can do this: we can gather together, we can share kai together, we can praise the Creator of the heavens and the stars together. Why don’t we let the stars point us to the King of Kings?”

2. “A Christian looks at Matariki” (Michael Drake)

This recently published 23-page booklet is a short, gospel-centred look at Matariki. Michael Drake (Ngai Tahu) has done a great job at explaining the history of how Matariki became our country’s newest public holiday, challenges us to think biblically and graciously about the festival and what is explicitly taught about it, and how we might use or Christian freedom to celebrate the Māori New Year in a biblical way.

Particularly helpful for me were Michael’s observations that for over 200 years, there have been Christian Māori who have acknowledged Matariki in a genuinely Christian manner, and that there is not just one Māori view on Matariki (just as there isn’t one Chinese view on Chinese New Year!). Drawing from the lessons of 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14 and elsewhere, he summarises a balanced, biblical approach:

“…while we have freedom to celebrate any day in ways that make it truly special to the Lord, we are not free to celebrate it in any way that is not Christ honouring or faithful to the Bible.”

Michael Drake, A Christian looks at Matariki (2023), 12.

You can read an online PDF version here (, or visit Michael’s website for e-book and A5 booklet printable options. He’s generously offered his book under a Creative Commons licence. Ngā mihi Mihaere!

3. Worship songs and hymns celebrating God as Creator

Perhaps one more suggestion for celebrating Matariki this year would be to make the most of the worship songs we have that praise God as the Creator of all things, including the stars. After looking at Genesis 1-2 last year for our church’s sermon series, I gained a new appreciation for how the Bible’s creation story was originally crafted as a poetic polemic against other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts (for more on this, see Against the Gods by John Currid). For example, unlike myths that describe the creation of stars in great detail, there is intentionally very little focus on them in Genesis 1:16 besides one throwaway phrase: “and the stars”. Instead, the repetition and focus throughout Genesis 1-2:3 is on a great God who creates heaven and earth through his powerful word (and it was very good)!

We may not know the exact tunes and meters of Genesis 1-2, but there are plenty of singable options when it comes to poetic polemics today. In English, songs like Indescribable by Laura Story, How Great Thou Art and All Creatures of Our God and King are great ways to reframe the narrative of God as our Creator King in our hearts. Yet even the Māori translation of our national anthem honours the God of the Bible explicitly, and could be a suitable song to sing this Friday:

E Ihowa Atua,
(Oh YHWH God)
O ngā iwi mātou rā,
(Of nations and of us too)
Āta whakarongona;
(Listen to us)
Me aroha noa
(Cherish us)
Kia hua ko te pai;
(Let goodness flourish)
Kia tau tō atawhai;
(May your blessings flow)
Manaakitia mai

If you’re interested, here are some other resources compiled by Jade Hohaia (Wilbeforce Foundation) – Te Rongopai & Matariki. But perhaps this Matariki, the best antidote to celebrating tales of a weather god Tāwhirimātea tearing out eyes and casting them into the skies is to let the stars point us to the King of Kings, use our freedom to celebrate Matariki in Christ, and soak ourselves in the singable truths of Scripture.

“Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting: Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”

Nehemiah 9:5-6

A brief history of the Pakuranga and Panmure bridges (1865-2023)

The Auckland suburb where we live has had its fair share of bridges.

Before a bridge, the only way to cross the Tamaki River was “by a leaky and somewhat unreliable punt which frequently had a broken chain or was holed. Delays of up to an hour could occur when stock were crossing. The average number of daily passengers was 180 people, 53 horses, 23 carts, 100 livestock.”

First Panmure to Pakuranga bridge, 1865-1918

The first Panmure bridge was officially called the “Tamaki Bridge”, and was officially opened on 20 October 1865 by Robert Graham, Superintendent of the Auckland Provincial Council. The bridge was 195 metres long and 6 metres wide with kauri decking. The eastern end connected to the western tip of what is now the Pakuranga Road, while the western end connected with the remains of Mokoia Pā (a fortified settlement that was once home to the Maori Ngāti Paoa people) and what is known today as Bridge Street, Panmure.

A unique feature of this first bridge was the inclusion of a 40-foot (23.8 m) span on the eastern end was constructed with iron and designed to rotate 90 degrees to allow boats travelling along the Tamaki River to pass through (hence its nickname of the “Panmure Swing Bridge“). The swing span bridge was managed by a toll keeper who lived in a cottage on the Pakuranga side. On the Panmure side, a steep hill (the remains of Mokoia Pā) awaited and travellers sometimes needed to get off their horses and push!

With the introduction of motorised vehicles at the turn of the 20th century, plans were drawn up for a bigger, taller Tamaki River crossing. By 1918, the first Panmure bridge had been demolished. While the original Tamaki crossing is no longer around, for a time a marina shop was built over the foundation of the swing bridge mechanism (eventually demolished to make way for the Eastern busway bridge). Today, the remains of the historic swivel bridge mechanism are still visible, having been preserved by Auckland Council. As of 2023, additional conservation works and a viewing platform for pedestrians and cyclists are being built over the stone abutment and iron swing span mechanism as part of the AMETI Stage 2a Urban Design and Landscape Plan.

Second Tamaki / Panmure Bridge, 1916-63

By the 1900s, the flat river plains of Pakuranga had become known as “the granary of Auckland”, with farmers growing oats, hay and wheat. The second Tamaki bridge was completed approximately 100 yards downriver on 14 August 1916. Nicknamed the “Iron Bridge”, it was in reality a ferro-concrete structure using sea water in the concrete, sand from Buckland’s Beach and war-time (poor) quality steel. The bridge connected at Queens Road on the western end and Kerswill Place on the eastern end along the Pakuranga to Howick concrete road (portions of which are still visible today).

A much higher bridge deck allowed boats and small ships to pass through underneath. However, before long major safety concerns were raised and planning began for yet another Panmure bridge. The second bridge was eventually demolished in 1963 with the help of a barge-mounted crane. Remnants of the concrete entry gates are still visible on either side of the river.

Third Tamaki / Panmure Bridge, 1959-present

To replace the structurally-compromised second bridge, a third bridge was built close to the former course of the first bridge on the eastern bank. Lagoon Drive was built to serve this bridge. It was designed by AO Barrowclough of Andrew Murray Partners for the Manukau County Council. Construction of this Panmure bridge also included an important water main pipe underneath the road surface. The bridge was opened to the public on 19 December 1959.

Originally a two-lane bridge, the third Panmure bridge was widened to three lanes in 1972. It is still in use today and features a tidal flow system: the centre lane is used for westwards traffic flow in the morning and eastwards in the afternoon. It is scheduled to be replaced around 2040.

Bridge 4: Pakuranga-Waipuna Motorway Bridge, 1974-present

In order to connect East Auckland to the Auckland Southern Motorway, a fourth Tamaki River crossing was constructed in the 1970’s. This bridge was designed by Gavin Cormack (Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner), built by Etude et Enterprises and formally opened on 10 May 1974.

The Waipuna motorway bridge is located further south of the previous bridges. It rises from the eastern side over Millen Avenue and connects with Waipuna Road on the western bank of the Tamaki River and onwards to the motorway as the Southeastern Arterial Road. It’s still the main way (and frequently congested) way to drive from East Auckland to the city, though the addition of the long-awaited Reeves Road flyover will change things significantly.

Bridge 5: Eastern Busway Bridge, 2021-present

As part of the AMETI / Eastern Busway project, a fifth bridge for buses and active transport was designed and completed in 2021. The 205 metre-long bridge comprises two bus lanes, a cycleway and a footpath and forms a key part of connecting the city centre to Botany. Once the entire busway route is complete, Auckland Transport have promised that travel by bus and train between Botany and Britomart will take 40 minutes, even in rush hour.

As construction of the Eastern Busway Bridge occurred during the COVID pandemic, our family enjoyed frequent walks and bike rides over to watch its progress up close as part of our lockdown routine (at the time, there wasn’t much else we could visit!). Some highlights were watching specialist divers build the bridge’s pile caps from the water, seeing the huge green bridge structure gradually cantilevered into position over the river using hydraulic jacks and rollers, and trying out the different detours the construction staff put in as different parts of the bridge and approach were completed.

The bridge was finally opened to walkers and cyclists on September 2021 (a welcome relief during Auckland’s Delta lockdown) and officially opened for buses on 15 December 2021.

Each “Panmure bridge” served its purpose at a different era of our city’s history. Considering that the first swing bridge was opened in 1865, there’s over 150 years of history underneath our feet or wheels each time we cross the Tamaki river.

It’s hard to imagine what the sixth or seventh Tamaki River crossings will look like, perhaps in 50 years’ time. It’s also sparked me to think more and more about how to build bridges between different cultures, and ways followers of Jesus are called to be bridge-builders within the church and with our neighbours. After all, at the heart of the Christian faith is a Saviour who bridges the gulf between God holiness and humanity’s sin. Yet whether it’s 1865 or 2023, we’ll always need a way to get from A to B.

Bible verse colouring pages

For a long time I had wanted to make meaningful colouring pages that don’t only entertain or beautify, but specifically help elucidate and synthesise the truths of scripture. I’d played with the idea for years between kids and homeschool but never could justify doing it properly (although I did learn a lot about inking, lettering and layout in the process). At our church we’ve started providing colouring pages for our kids, and there are many available online for free. However we also don’t skip the awkward parts of scripture, and some of the passages we’ve been covering are really not very popular as kids colouring pages! So I’ve jumped at the chance to draw some myself and thought I’d put them up to download as well.

These are licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA (use anywhere non-commercially but attribute, remix but share under the same license). Also if you use these please leave a comment! It’s helpful to know if anyone uses them, and encouraging to connect with you if you do.

Easter Sunrise Service 2023

In God’s kindness, this year I had the joy of helping with organising the annual East Auckland Combined Churches Easter Sunrise service. As mentioned before by Rev Richard Waugh (who helped to start these sunrise services over 30 years ago), it’s a small but significant opportunity to partner with other local churches to share our Christian faith publicly in a beautiful setting.

I was very thankful for brothers and sisters who shared prayers, readings and reflections, including two of our local MPs Simeon Brown and Naisi Chen and Mike Turinsky from the Howick Local Board. After our initial preacher had to pull out, I stepped in to bring a short message from the first Easter morning.

My outdoor sermons are still a work in progress (share the gospel, less is more, it’s hard to pay attention with a brisk north wind in your face), but for what it’s worth, here is what I shared from Luke 24:27 yesterday morning.

Reading: Luke 24:13–27

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognising him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As we’ve just heard from Luke’s gospel, on the first Easter Sunday two friends were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Chatting and conversing for 11km. If they had owned smartwatches back then, they would have clocked around 14,000 steps.

But before they reach their destination, we see that the risen Lord Jesus starts walking with them. And he asks them: “What are you discussing?” (Lk 24:17)

While Cleopas and his friend didn’t recognise Jesus at first, they weren’t ignorant about him. They knew all about what he had done, and what happened to Him on Good Friday. They had hoped he would rescue their country. They were aware of reports about the resurrection. Yet how does Jesus respond to them? He says they were “slow to believe”, even “foolish” (v25). And if Jesus is just head knowledge to us too, just a bunch of facts, then we too would also be foolish. Needing a change of heart.

Jesus then says:

“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”. (v26-27)

Why did God want us to listen in on this conversation? What might the first Easter Sunday lesson say to us in Auckland, in 2023? Can I suggest three things this verse tells us. Firstly, it is that

1. The good news of Jesus is explained…

Once when I was reading Mark’s Gospel with a work colleague from India, his question was: “Who is Mark?” Our city is changing. More and more of our friends and family will have no prior knowledge of Christianity. Others will only know of stereotypes and caricatures. Still more will have experienced hurt and hypocrisy, handed over in Jesus’s name.

Notice how Jesus stayed with these two friends when they stopped walking, sadness on their faces (v17). And notice how much time Jesus gave them as he listened to them. But eventually our Lord explained the good news to them (v27). And just like the risen Lord Jesus “explained” the Scriptures, we who know God’s story of redemption have the privilege of sharing it. With gentleness and respect. With our friends and family. On Easter Sunday and every other day until Christ returns to judge our world. The good news of Jesus is explained.

Secondly, this verse reminds us:

2. The good news of Jesus is explained patiently and openly…

We all come from different backgrounds. But let’s agree that sitting in Auckland traffic is no fun (Living in Pakuranga, I get to see the scowls on a long line of faces!). Sitting in traffic teaches us to be patient. But at least you can enjoy your privacy. But picture again this Easter morning conversation. As they walk and talk, many others departing from the Passover festival are passing by, overhearing things. And it’s a long walk. To share good news like Jesus did on Easter Sunday, is to do it patiently and openly.

We need patience, because it takes time for friends to change their minds. For family members to understand why we’re broken. For us to sense the burning in our hearts when the good news of Jesus becomes clear to us.

And we need to be open, because in 2023 we cannot expect our non-Christian friends to walk into our church buildings. We cannot expect voices in wider society to speak from a Christian worldview. The good news of Jesus is to be explained patiently and openly: whether on top of a hill in Howick, around your dining table, by the coffee machine, at your family’s bedside.

Finally, this verse says:

3. The good news of Jesus is explained patiently and openly from all the Scriptures.

We live in a time when the Bible is extremely accessible, yet extremely misunderstood. So it will not do to know one verse from Genesis, one from Leviticus, 1 or 2 Psalms. Jesus taught “beginning with Moses and all the prophets” (v27). Because every book of the Bible has something to say about the God of the Universe, our true human condition, and humanity’s need for a Saviour. Every problem the Bible raises: our guilt, shame, our selfishness – God solves by sending his Son Jesus to the world. His death and resurrection saves us from sin, frees us from slavery, gathers a new people who follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the author C.S. Lewis puts it, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

So can I encourage you, if you’re not yet a Christian, to consider visiting one of the 60+ churches in our local area. Find a Bible-teaching church who gather weekly to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” (2 Tim 2:8). As the sunrise behind us signals a new beginning, I pray today might signal a new beginning for you. For Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!   

Thoughts on preaching the book of Haggai

What does a “minor” prophet from 520 B.C. have to say to our post-Christian culture? Quite a lot actually. In the last fortnight, our church went through the book of Haggai and were challenged to “give careful thought to our ways” and to refocus our wandering attention back to kingdom priorities of Christ our great Servant King.

To help prepare for the series, I translated Haggai from the Hebrew text (with occasional peeks at the LXX translation, especially around Haggai 2:6-7). On the text, I found Andrew Hill’s contribution to the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries at a good level of depth and detail for a busy pastor. Michael Prodigalidad’s excellent 9 Marks article gave good pastoral reasons to tackle this book as a church. Some timely help also came from conversations with two Hebrew-reading friends (one who is about to begin her PhD in Old Testament post-exilic narrative – great!)

For preachers, bible study leaders and keen readers, here’s a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • The average church-goer is unlikely to have read Haggai. So it’s important to set the scene and explain where this minor prophet fits within the biblical storyline. I found Vaughan Roberts God’s Big Picture schemas a quick and helpful way to paint the post-exilic picture for God’s broken people, living in God’s place, longing for God’s rule.
  • Preaching Haggai has to be a balance of challenge and encouragement. Chapter 1 has the Lord’s well-known rebuke of people seeking material comfort over kingdom priorities (“panelled houses” over completing God’s temple, 1:4). But context matters: it’s written to people who were already faithful – they’d obeyed the call to leave Babylon almost two decades earlier, they’d begun the rebuild, and were worn out by the constant opposition (c.f. Ezra 3-4). Our listeners today are likewise not faithless people to rebuke, but faithful people who have lost heart, been discouraged, and saturated with the messages of our world.
  • I think that’s also why the LORD repeats the phrase “Consider your ways” (or literally, “set your heart upon your ways”; 1:5, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18). It’s the language of wisdom (e.g. Job 1:8, 2:3, Daniel 1:8), rather than a fiery rebuke. So our tone and posture matters, especially since we’re exposing deeply-held beliefs and values shaped by our society and culture’s materialism (who of us hasn’t been sucked in by the “I want” songs of our age?). But as we repent of our self-centred pursuits and return to kingdom priorities, there will surely be great blessing for God’s faithful remnant.
  • If Haggai 1 challenges the returnee Jews’s FOMO (fear of missing out), Haggai 2’s prophecies tackle their FOBO (fear of better options). After all, a few months into a 4-year rebuild it could be tempting to lose heart when “it seems to you as nothing” (2:3). And after restoring offerings and sacrifices it could be tempting to think holiness can be transferred to a people who are still defiled (2:14). Whether to the people, the priests, or Zerubabbel himself, the underlying fear is one of committing to the Lord’s will for our lives. Haggai gives us a startling vision worth committing our lives to: God shaking the nations with His peace (v6-9), God blessing a defiled people with his holiness (v19), and God promising a great servant He has chosen (v20-23).
  • I think Isaac Watts was well-meaning but incorrect in treating Haggai 2:7 as a direct Messianic prediction in the carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (verse 4 starts with the famous line, “Come Desire of Nations come”). The Hebrew text reads, “they will come (plural), what is desirable/precious of all the nations” (וּבָ֖אוּ חֶמְדַּ֣ת כָּל־הַגּוֹיִ֑ם). Although the LXX renders the subject as singular (“he/it will come”), the object is translated as “the chosen things” (τὰ ἐκλεκτὰ), so it’s more likely a description to the “treasures” among the nations coming to worship the LORD, rather than a single individual.
  • Accordingly, I think it’s better to preach this verse (and prophecy) not being fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah individually, but rather by us corporately as we join in God’s mission to fill His temple with the glory of treasures from the nations (c.f. Rev 7:9-11). As a well-known Maori saying puts it: What is the greatest treasure? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (It is people, it is people, it is people.) As we cross the pew, cross the street, or cross the oceans with the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor 2:15), this proverb and Haggai’s prophecy becomes truly fulfilled.
  • Rather, I think the Christ connection more readily comes from two places. Firstly, in God’s promise to be present with His people as they resume His kingdom-building work (“I am with you”, 1:13, 2:4), we see a foretaste of the risen Lord Jesus, whose Spirit is truly with us — always — as we fulfil His Great Commission (Matt 28:20).
  • And secondly, in Haggai’s personalised prophecy to Zerubabbel (2:20-23), we get another glimpse of Christ from the Old Testament. The Hebrew in v23 literally reads: “For in you I have chosen” (the בְךָ֣ construction is the same as Genesis 12:3 where the LORD says to Abraham: “In you, all peoples of the earth will be blessed.”). But if Zerubabbel is the signet ring, who is the chosen one in Him? Who else? Jesus. Son of David (Mk 10:47). Once a future seed in Zerubbabel’s line, now our chief Cornerstone and foundation of God’s ultimate dwelling place – His church (Eph 2:19-21). There’s no better option than Him.

At our church, we considered Haggai over two talks (though perhaps three would have been easier!) You can hear our English service sermons on SoundcloudSpotify and elsewhere (just search “PCBC English”).