Facing my Fear

Hi everyone, Rob here.

Tomorrow I fly out to Fiji with a team from our church to work on a building project, bless some friends, teach some kids and enjoy the company of a church we have connections with. It will be a great time and the tropical warmth will be a tonic I’m sure. As a pastor I’m fairly sure that I’ll be called on for a few extra activities and that will be great too. But I do have some nerves. It’s not around the cross-cultural stuff, although that can get a bit tricky. It’s not around team unity as we’ll all get along fine. It’s around the actual activity of building.

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Building and home handyman skills was not something I was brought up with, nor have I ever shown a lot of talent for. Whenever I’ve tried I’ve found it frustrating, and something always goes a bit wrong it seems. Now I know that I could find useful activities on the building site and I could play the part of a good servant. However, part of me wants more than that. I want to learn some skills and make a contribution in the actual building.

Now, I’m sure you know the uncomfortable feelings that go with being an old dog trying to learn new tricks. I have certainly carried feelings of shame around my inadequacy in this area. I have felt incompetent as a man, especially a Kiwi man surrounded by other men who are very capable practically. I have felt fairly stupid at times as I struggle to get my head around learning even the most basic of skills. While these feelings have been real, they’ve also been profound lies.

They’ve been built around such things as envy, a false masculine ideal, a failure to be thankful for my own gifts and skills, a lack of grace towards myself and the inability to surrender all of this to God my Father, thus not allowing myself to learn as a son and, as an apprentice to Christ my brother. The truth is I’m not very good at building and that’s just fine. I don’t need to be and God doesn’t need me to be. But it is an opportunity to be a student, and serve as a student. It’s a time to learn and grow. It’s an invitation into humility and a time to lay my shame and inadequacy down.

We all have these places within us that feel inadequate and shameful. They need to be presented to God and healed by his kindness and love. We need to repent of the agreements we’ve made with the shame. We then need to have a true humility that can own up to our imperfections, but still choose to serve and be teachable. This trip is a good step on the journey for me. I still feel vulnerable but that is leading to surrender and trust. I choose to walk with God and be Fathered by him. And while that’s enough, I still want to learn how to make a set of bunks!

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Evil vs Humility

Kia Ora everyone. Rob here.

Soon after the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2, and the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, Genesis 4-6 tells the story of how quickly the world became permeated with evil. Cain kills Abel, Lamech boasts of killing fuelled by revenge, and in Genesis 6:5-6 we read this:

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.

Human evil fills God’s heart with pain. Remember that after creating man and woman he was able to look at the earth he had made and declare it to be very good. So when we treat each other, and ourselves, as less than human, God grieves. When we abuse others with violence, cruelty and meanness, God grieves. When we’re looking out for number one, and stop caring about who we hurt along the way, God grieves.woman-2924698_960_720

So evil is directly related to the question of ‘what does it mean to be human?’ Here are three things that Genesis tells us about what it means to be human:

  • To bear God’s image: to reflect God to the world.
  • To rule in his name: Fill the earth, subdue it, bring God’s image to bear throughout creation.
  • To do it in community – God and people and creation itself together in Shalom.

Revelation 21:3 is now the ultimate goal, but it used to be the original goal.

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Evil occurs when the image of God, our very humanness is desecrated. It’s uncomfortable with humanity as God made it to be, so it seeks to puff us up, and/or diminish us. Pride and shame are evil’s main weapons. Evil wants us to think we are either a god or a worm. If we believe either one we are not taking our place as God’s image-bearers on the earth, representing life in him. Pride and shame also lead to separation from others; we don’t need anyone, or we’re not worthy to be with anyone. Either way we’re projecting our image of ourselves, not God’s image; we’re ruling in our own name, running our own ship. With pride you run your own ship for your own glory, with shame you run it so you can hide whenever you want. So God’s image, God’s reflected rule and true community are destroyed by pride and shame.

Genuine humanity requires a genuine humility. This humility is what’s targeted by the forces of evil. We see this when Jesus was tempted in the desert. The devil tried to get him to turn stone into bread, and not trust in God’s provision. He tried to get Jesus to cast himself down, and not trust in God’s timing. He then, maybe out of desperation, tried to get Jesus to assume the mantle of global emperor, and not trust in his true identity as the King of heaven and earth.

God provides, his timing is perfect and our identity as his children is sure. When these things settle in our hearts and minds, then true humility is ours and evil can more easily be resisted in the name of Jesus. May that be your journey and experience this week and may grace and peace be yours.

 

 

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Pointing to the Creator

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

We’ve just started a series in Romans in our church. One of the many fascinating things that Paul says in the first chapter is this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

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Paul’s point is that creation points unequivocally to a Creator. Therefore, no living or created thing should be worshipped as an idol or god. What struck me is that this is true for every person wherever they live. You could be in a desolate desert, a freezing valley in the mountains or an unspectacular plain, and still be able to recognise that there is a good Creator behind the creation.

This suggests that we have always been invited to dwell in the wonder of how the world works. It’s interesting that in his parables Jesus invites us to just that. In Matthew 6 he invites us to “look at the birds of the air (verse 26)” and  “see how the flowers of the field grow (verse 28).” He wants us to think about seed being sown, harvests, good fruit, mustard seeds and so on. In his miracles he shows mastery over creation, and yet, that mastery doesn’t exploit creation, but honours it.

People used to think that creation was orderly. I prefer to think of it as abundant; buzzing with life and energy and connections. The deeper you look at any aspect of creation the more life you find. From nano-particles to bacteria to the oceans to the mountains, life is everywhere and it’s formed by atoms, molecules and cells of energy and connections. Energy and connectivity extends to ecosystems and, from there, to the whole planet.

This is why there needs to be grief over every creature that becomes extinct, every habitat that’s been destroyed and every fish found with plastic in it’s stomach. It’s why there needs to be a reorientation of the heart towards the joy that God takes in what he has made. Read Job 38-42 for evidence of this. Read the Psalms. Know that God wants us to partner with him in the renewal of his creation, and it begins by allowing that creation to lead us into worship of the Creator.

If you’re anything like me, you love creation’s beauty, but hate to be inconvenienced. Most environmental efforts are disruptive to us and cause inconvenience. It’s easier to drive, to use plastic bags, to use fertilisers and pesticides, to eat a lot of steak and so on. I’m very aware of the war between my good desires and my appetites. But because I love God and I want to love what God loves I’m asking the Spirit to help me choose better. If creation points to him, then I want to help it point clearly, and in so doing, maybe I’ll point more clearly too.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Lifelong Learning

Hello everyone. Rob here.

Some have called the age we live in, ‘The Information Age.’ Let’s be honest. It’s actually ‘The Information Overload Age.’ Wisdom used to be gained through the lived experience of elders who then passed it on to the next generation, simply by living in close proximity to them. Apprenticeship was a way of life. There were also initiation rites and rituals to signify the movement from childhood to adulthood, and the responsibilities that lay with that. This is a very different age, especially in the West. We have outsourced learning. Not just to teachers and tutors, but You Tube, Google and Siri. Adolescence is now a state that seems to last until the mid-twenties. In this age, the most counter-cultural thing we can do, I believe, is to become an intentional apprentice to Jesus Christ,  and assume our role as sons and daughters in the Father’s estate.

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Modern education uses the phrase, ‘seeking to create life-long learners.’ That’s a wonderful posture for the apprentice of Christ to adopt. Of course, it’s not learning to gain more information as such, but in how to live purposefully, live faithfully and live lovingly. But how do we learn and who do we learn from? With the right mindset and posture, we can learn from anyone, but it starts with a humble desire to learn. This leads to asking questions of God, and then following his lead as he uses various people and means to teach us. It’s remembering that one of the names used for Jesus was ‘Teacher’ or ‘Rabbi.’ He’s the one whom we follow in order to learn. Like Mary we also sit at his feet, taking our place as student.

Intentionality is the key. I’m also thinking of two other old-fashioned words – determination and discipline. These attitudes also need to be combined with humble surrender, lest we think that we’re teaching ourselves. Humility also reminds us that we”re in constant need of learning.

So, don’t just read your bible hoping for an encouraging word. Study it. Find out about the background, the history and the context. Try to put yourself in the listener’s shoes. Don’t trust people who give you easy answers that just happen to coincide with their worldview. Ask ‘why’ a lot. Keep asking the Spirit, ‘what do you want me to learn here?’

Read widely about all sorts of things. Let yourself wonder and again, ask ‘why’ a lot. Watch good documentaries. Read in-depth articles. Go beyond the headline. Travel. Ask a lot of questions, especially when you meet interesting people. Get curious.

However, lifelong learning needs to be built on a firm foundation otherwise we don’t have the capacity to carry it all. The foundation is this: God is good, you are loved and in Christ you have life. As we learn we are held in the Father’s arms. We learn in order to live well in and for his kingdom. We learn just how big, how wonderful and how gracious he really is. If we ask God to teach us that, it will help our hearts be open enough to really see.

When I look back on my life of learning I see that it’s when I’m after more of God himself, not mere knowledge about him, that I grow and learn. When my learning is based on  a life of worship then my heart is ready for whatever God wants to teach me.

May Christ be your teacher. May you learn by resting in the Father’s love and may the Spirit of the Living God lead you.

Grace and peace.

 

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Words of Life

Kia Ora everyone. Rob here.

My wife, Kiley, and I have a mutual desire to speak words of life into people. By that I mean that we want to partner with God and be his mouthpiece of life-giving love and grace in what we say, pray and write. Whether it be members of the church congregation wanting to grow in Christ, or our neighbours who simply want to make less destructive choices, the goal is the same – allow God’s Spirit to work in us so that we can speak God’s words. However, as I’m sure you can guess, the reality is somewhat different. The stresses and strains of life, our own woundedness, the enemy’s lies, selfishness and busyness can all conspire to inhibit our listening to God, our courage to speak and, even the willingness to do so.

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Ironically, the person that we are least likely to speak words of life over is our-self. In fact we are more likely to receive condemnation from our words than commendation. Some of the things we say about ourselves are things we wouldn’t dream of saying to someone else. When things go wrong we tend to blame ourselves, diminish ourselves, and even curse ourselves. Now, if you want to be someone who speaks life to and for others, this is an untenable situation. We’re asked by Jesus to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. If we’re speaking cruel words over our own self it won’t be long before we’re speaking those words over others, usually those closest to us. Unfortunately, I know of what I speak. There are a lot of words I’d love to take back, and I’d start with the ones I called myself.

We need new words. We need God’s words and we need faith in order to believe God’s words and take them to heart. We then need to speak those words over ourselves regularly. We need to be reminded of how good God really is and how beloved we really are. The embrace that the father gives the prodigal son is the embrace that he gives all of us. Will we allow ourselves to believe that we are loved like that? Will we take to heart God’s words of love? Words like …

17 The Lord your God is with you;
    his power gives you victory.
The Lord will take delight in you,
    and in his love he will give you new life.
He will sing and be joyful over you (Zephaniah 3:17 – Good News Bible)

“You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” – Luke 3:22, NLT (words spoken by the Father over Jesus, but what’s true for Jesus is true for us!)

 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! – 1 John 3:1 (NIV)

There are so many more! We really are beloved sons and daughters of the Father, heirs of his kingdom, brothers and sisters of Christ. May these words bring you life and may your life bring life to others. Speak well!

Grace and peace everyone.

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Minding the Gap

Hi everyone, Rob here.

Nearly everyone I know has good intentions, myself included. And nearly everyone I know would say that there is a gap between their good intentions and reality, myself included. I really do want to be a loving and attentive husband and father, a good and available friend, a witness in the community to Christ, a caring and compassionate pastor to the broken-hearted, an effective preacher in touch with the Spirit as well as the Word, and so on and so on. No doubt, you have your own list. It’s just that sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m cranky or others are, sometimes I feel inadequate, sometimes other things get in the way and so on and so on. But here’s the thing. It’s the good intentions that point to our deepest reality, and not the shortcomings or the stumbling blocks. The fact that we have a desire to serve God, love God and do his will is a sign pointing to our new hearts in Christ and the eternity set in those hearts.

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I love the argument Paul makes in Romans 7 and 8. He sums up the human dilemma in 7:21-25.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The deepest parts of ourselves want to obey God, but we feel wretched when other forces pull us away from that. We can feel like a slave to sin, but that’s not our true self. It’s our old self and that’s been dealt with through Jesus Christ. So Paul goes on to say in 8:1-2,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 

It is Christ himself who bridges the gap between our good intentions and the reality of life. In him we are free from condemnation, sin and death. Our instinct when we notice the gap is to try harder. We just think that if we put more effort in the gap will be bridged, good intentions will turn into reality and our life will have purpose and fulfillment. But we can’t bridge the gap no matter how hard we try. Here’s the reality.

…we remember ourselves by remembering Jesus Christ – Mark Labberton

Christ bridges the gap by bringing us into his life through his death and resurrection. This is what living a Spirit-led life means. It means that we live the life Jesus would live if he were us. So the answer isn’t trying harder, it’s remembering Jesus and re-presenting ourselves to him. As we do that we take our place once again in the love of God-Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul goes on to say this:

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This is the truth that our good intentions are pointing to. We are beloved children of God. Father, Son and Spirit work together so we can understand this. but the old, sinful self needs to be put to death and the Trinity works together to help us do this also. Rise to a new life in Christ, a new identity. Mind the gap between good intentions and lived reality, but surrender, don’t strive. Remember Christ to discover yourself. Let the Spirit lead you and may grace and peace be yours.

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Jumping the Tribal Fence

Hi everyone. Rob here.

As human beings we tend to be tribal. We’re attracted to people like us. Our friends speak the same language, share a similar standard of living, of education and values. But to live tribally means to shut yourself out from reality. The world is made up of many tribes and tongues, and the bible tells us that in eternity we will all worship together. This means that the deepest places of our hearts, the place where God has set eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11), desires a life free from tribalism and cultural fences. Yet, we also know that to live that kind of life now means going beyond your comfort zone to a major degree. Immigrants and refugees are some of the bravest people you will meet because they are willing to jump the fence.

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We held a lunch for our new people on Sunday. Most of them were immigrants. They chose to come to a new land, overcoming the barriers of language, cultural mores and food issues to make a home here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. As a church the big issue is, how do we echo eternity by creating a home where everyone is at home? Like everything the answer begins with our own hearts. Is my heart a place that’s spacious enough to hold people who are far different to me, who can be hard to communicate with and see the world very differently from my Western viewpoint? This is the reality of God’s heart. There’s room for everyone. If our hearts align with God’s heart then our churches and our homes will as well. Then we’ll learn from each other and grow into the diverse unity that eternity promises.

Unfortunately the tribal instinct is strong and the work needed to break it can feel too hard. I suspect that it’s because we assume it won’t be hard, or we expect the stranger to make the adjustments, not us. I suspect we don’t often pray before our interactions and don’t allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. I only suspect this because that’s too often been me. I like my interactions to echo how I relate to others. I like communicating within my comfort zone.

And yet. And yet God doesn’t let me stay there. I’ve been prompted in the past to dive into how other cultures see God and the story of Jesus. I pastor a multi-cultural church. I’ve travelled and been on a mission trip. I’ve stayed on a marae and loved it. I’ve had my eyes opened to entrenched racism, white and male privilege and the joy of worshipping in a fellowship where I didn’t understand a thing except a mutual love of Jesus. For our hearts to be enlarged they have to be open. The eyes of our heart have to be opened to the reality that we are better together and God knows it.

So we need to do the prayer work. We need to commit our cross-cultural conversations to God’s Spirit and allow him to do the necessary humbling work in us that helps us see the other as God’s image and an essential part of Christ’s body. Racism and xenophobia are about as far from God’s heart as you can get so we all need to repent of the big and small ways that we’ve participated in them. May God heal us and unite us. May we learn from each other and may we grow better together.

Grace and peace.

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