Joy and Sacrifice

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples and for us who will follow in their footsteps. He prays for divine protection; protection of their faith and their hearts. He then says this to his Father in verse 13:

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Jesus wants to give us his joy. Back in chapter 15 of John Jesus tells his disciples this:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Jesus is saying that when we love each other with a sacrificial love, the way he has loved us, his joy will be in us and be complete. And so the writer of Hebrews can write this in chapter 12:2, without irony, talking about Jesus:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

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You can’t put those two things together, the cross and joy, until you realise that Jesus’ joy comes from loving us so much that he would give his life for us. Think about the people you would lay down your life for? Aren’t they the very same people who give you joy? As soon as my children were born I knew that I was willing to die for them. The joy of their existence was enough to motivate me to do that. Now the feeling of love comes and it goes, especially around drum practice time or too many requests for money, but the deep-down joy does not. In our own experiences we have gained a glimpse into the joy of Jesus. The joy of Jesus then, the joy of loving wholeheartedly, is an essential part of being human. It’s something that is returned to us through Jesus coming in the flesh.

He stirs up our longing for joy by teaching us of the reality of God’s kingdom. He invites us to put to death all the sins, burdens, and obstacles that hinder joy, and he overcomes death to show us that his joy is eternal and embodied. He ascends to heaven and pours out the Spirit so that he can live in us and bring us into his joy step by step, moment by moment in this world.

It’s not easy. The enemy is out to steal our joy as John Eldredge reminds us, but it is real. We belong to Jesus and his joy now belongs to us. May the eyes of our heart be opened. May we lay down all of our un-joy at the cross. May we receive the life of Jesus into our hearts and may his joy in us transform our lives in this world.

Grace and peace everyone.

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The Power of Dying

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We’ve been going through 1 Corinthians as a church this year. It’s amazing just how many issues in that book seem so current today: Homosexuality, sexuality in general, gender issues, the divide between rich and poor, lawsuits, status-seeking, celebrity leaders and more. Paul spends most of the letter reminding them that they are a community formed out of a new identity won for them at the cross of Christ. They are not to be like the pagan, status-driven world around them, but a new humanity living life in a new way. As Paul writes,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

tuscany-2392572_960_720The message of the cross is the power of God. Paul will eventually work his way to the resurrection in chapter 15, but it’s the cross that he wants the Corinthian church to be focused on. Why? Because their world is all about status. It’s about the satisfaction of the ego. It’s about self-advancement and self-glorification. While they had experienced Christ they were yet to die to this basic orientation of self. This is why the issues Paul’s addressing are so contemporary. Our western culture shares the same basic orientation to self that the Corinthians do. So we too desperately need the message of the cross.

To come to the cross is to die to self. It is to die with Christ so you can receive the life of Christ. It is to die to the world so that you can enter into God’s realm. It is where the world, the flesh and the devil die to you so that you can live a life of freedom. Both pride and shame are put to death at the cross. Self glorification and self condemnation have no place for the one who now receives God’s verdict on them. What is that verdict? You are my son! You are my daughter! You are my child! No wonder Paul says that the cross is the power of God. Imagine a world where there’s no selfishness. A world where we’ve all died to sin and come alive to God. A world where we’ve all received God as Father and Christ as Brother and the Spirit who will never let us forget our place in the family. That place would be the kingdom of God and it has entered our world through Jesus.

Today is the day for us to take our place in God’s kingdom. Today is the day to once again come to the cross of Christ and receive the freedom that dying to sin and self brings. Today is the day to come alive to God because Christ is also the Risen One. It is also the day to take our place once again in God’s bride, the Church. Like the Corinthians we are forgetful and flawed in many ways, but we are held together by Christ and not our own efforts. There is a joy to be had in community, especially when it’s a community committed to dying and rising with Christ. Find your allies in the kingdom’s cause because you’ll need them.

The Corinthians faced a world that was hostile to the idea of dying to self. In many ways our world is much the same except our temples look like shopping malls, casinos and fancy new sub-divisions. The myth of self-satisfaction is a powerful story. It’s even loosely based on truth. each one of us will be fulfilled, but it begins by dying. It happens by getting our old selves out of the way and being clothed with Christ. May we all “know the grace of a deep and true repentance (John Eldredge).” May we all know the power of the cross.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Made for Something More

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We’ve just had an election here in New Zealand. It was peaceful and for that I’m grateful. However, under our system of proportional representation we have been left with an uncertain outcome. Our government will be decided by negotiations and we, the voting public, must now wait while the process is completed. This is our world. We live all the time with uncertainty, incompleteness, partiality and unfulfilment. The holiday always comes to an end. You pay one bill and another one arrives. You survive the broken sleep of infancy only to be confronted with the ‘terrible two’s.’ Good health gets interrupted by illness. Loved ones die. The beautiful meal always comes to an end. You get the picture. However, maybe these things aren’t a sign that life is hopeless, but a sign that our hearts were indeed made for something more.beach-2432053_960_720

When I visited the Grand Canyon in 2014 I could have sat staring at it for hours. I had a similar experience at Yosemite National Park and at Lake Wanaka and Raglan. Those places of beauty call to me and call out of me a deep longing for eternity. When I’m with friends, sitting around a fire with good food and drink, surrounded by laughter and stories, I long for the great feast when the saints will share their tales. When Roy Bittan plays the beautiful first notes of Bruce Springsteen’s epic Jungleland something in my heart comes to life. We are made for something more and that more is eternity in God’s kingdom.

Both my children won soccer tournaments over the weekend. We’ve all seen the joy of our sporting heroes holding trophies aloft and the feeling was similar for our kids. But the feeling didn’t last. Honeymoons give way to the hard work of actually living with another person. The joy of holding a newborn baby gives way to parenting. There’s a joy when we come to Christ and discover grace, forgiveness, mercy and love. But the hard work of following Jesus in an unsaved world can feel unfulfilling. It can feel like the promise of new life hasn’t been kept. But it’s not our lived experience that tells us our future; it’s the ache and the longing that does.

So we must celebrate soccer wins and good music and a great meal with friends. We must rejoice in those sacred moments of intimacy with our spouses. We must soak in the glorious vistas of God’s creation, because they are a glimpse into eternity. They are a taste of home. In the meantime life is hard, unpredictable and incomplete. We are not home yet. We’re sleeping in tents and eating off scraps in comparison to what awaits. But camping can be glorious. Our incomplete life still contains beauty. Being loved partially is still an experience of love. Life is still beautiful and God is still with us. That’s the point of Jesus. He entered this partial life and says I will carry the scars into eternity. Follow me and bring your scars. All will be redeemed. All with be rescued and all will be made new. In the meantime Love God, love your neighbour, love life itself and carry on.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Puppy Love

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We’ve recently become owners of a 5 month old Labrador cross puppy called Jett. She’s beautiful and she’s also very hard work, especially for my work-from-home wife. We have to work together as a family to ensure that she’s receiving consistent training and messaging about her place in the family. It’s inconvenient at times. The vigilance required is very tiring. Yet, it’s good for us. We’re on a shared mission to care for this dog, and  in return, we get a puppy who delights in our presence.labrador-2692792_960_720

As disciples of Jesus we’re more like puppies than we probably care to admit. When we feel close to God we’ll do anything to stay in that place. Inevitably, though, something will distract us or catch our eye and off we’ll go. We also can’t spend our life just receiving affection. Jett would love it if we could spend more of our time rubbing her tummy, stroking her ears and feeding her treats, but that’s not a healthy life for puppy or owner. God loves to affirm his love for us and spend time delighting in us, but he also wants us to be mature witnesses, faithful workers, loving parents and friends and good stewards of his creation. Disciples receive in order to give. Just as Jett will treat others well if we treat her well, we will love others freely if we allow God to love us freely.

As a young puppy Jett is impulsive, easily distracted, often hungry and, at times, downright naughty. This means that our main role with her is training. Playing and walking with her is still training. Meals are training. Resting is training. Even the giving of affection is training as she learns how to receive love without biting or licking inappropriately (we can all learn that right!). Hebrews 12:10-11 says this:

Our parents disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

We undergo discipline so that we can be trained out of the need to get our own way. Jett is being trained so that she will be a loving presence in our household, not a destructive one. We are being trained so that we too can be a loving presence in God’s creation, not a destructive one. Our instincts need to be shaped by the Spirit to reflect the love of Father and Son, and thus, reflect who we truly are.

We are far more than puppies. Our capacity for good or evil is greater as befits those who are made in the image of God, yet fell a long way. But the lessons remain. We need training. We love affection but we also need to give what we receive. We can bring joy but our instincts need to be honed. We need to trust our loving Master wholeheartedly. Enjoy life because every day is a gift. Unlike us our Master never gets tired. His eye is on us and he delights in his people. He invites us to grow close to him and take on his likeness. We become his friends. Let’s embrace our training and become who we were born to be.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Being and Becoming

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’ve been thinking about my spiritual growth recently. I’m trying to assess where I’m at right now and what do I need to put in place to help me keep growing, now and into the future. It got me thinking about two types of people we need in our lives. The first are the people who let us be. These are people who we feel safe with. Our guards come down, our hearts come out from hiding and we reveal our authentic selves in their presence. We feel known, accepted and loved by these people. The second type are those who help us become. These people stretch us, challenge us, ask great questions, inspire us and see in us more than what we are right now. We find ourselves becoming better, more interesting, more loving people when we’re around them. Sometimes they’re the same people, but sometimes not.cocoon-2123742_960_720

Jesus, of course, was both of these. The vulnerable and hurting found Jesus to be a safe space where they found love, grace and healing. By providing a safe space for their hearts he was then able to bring the forgiveness and mercy that helped them to grow as people. To the Pharisees and teachers of the law though, Jesus was not a safe space. He would expose their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He would make them uncomfortable. If they were willing they could have allowed this exposure to teach them and help them become.

We experience Jesus as both our safe space and the one who exposes us. He is our comforter who heals the broken-hearted, but he is also the true light that shines on our darkness that we desperately want to keep hidden. Jesus is a safe space when we recognise our need for God, and the one who feels like an antagonist when we’re fighting God. Jesus absorbs our blows and when we’ve exhausted ourselves, he will be the one who raises us up. In helping us become, Jesus will draw out the false self, the lies, the sin and the fear that keeps us trapped. As we become fully exposed Jesus will clothe us with his love, his acceptance and his grace. He will lead us into a fuller humanity. He will lead us to our true selves.

We live in an age where people are demanding the right to be themselves. The problem is very few of us are truly ourselves. The need to be must be accompanied by the journey of becoming. Jesus, the new human and the true human is the one who is our guide. We are asked to trust him. trust him when he comforts and when he exposes; when he affirms and when he thwarts; when he stands with our true self and stands against the false.

As we journey with Jesus we also need allies. We need people with whom we can be and people who help us become. Do you have these people in your life? If not, pray for them. Pray that you will recognise them and have the courage to reach out to them. Pray that they will show you Jesus. Pray that you will learn to be yourself and pray that you will become yourself, in the name of Jesus, for his kingdom’s sake.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Boundaries for the Heart

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Last week we looked at the humility of God. I quoted from Philippians 2:7 where it says of Christ,

rather, he made himself nothing…

This doesn’t mean that he made himself a non-person or thought of himself as worthless or having nothing to offer; rather it means he made himself nothing in the eyes of the world. He renounced worldly status. He refused to play the games of power. He wasn’t bound by peer pressure or social mores. By doing so he became absolutely free to do God’s will.avenue-712424_960_720

Christ’s humility led to him having strong inter-personal boundaries. This is an area where we often struggle. We think that being humble and taking the lowest place means allowing ourselves to be humiliated, taken advantage of, burnt out, stressed out or abused. This is not true. It is a distortion of true humility. More importantly it is a distortion of our personhood. Humility simply means having a very clear awareness that our life is in Christ. This doesn’t eliminate our personhood, but rather, enables us to come alive to true personhood in relationship to God.

Jesus was outrageous. He would say no to his mother. He would say no to people who held more status. He would say no to the crowds. He would say yes to the unclean, yes to the sinner, yes to the status-less people of his world. His boundaries weren’t motivated by self-protection, but by love and fulfilling the mission God had for him. When the crowds tried to make him king on their terms he moved away from the crowds. When the Pharisees tried to humiliate him on their terms he exposed their pride and hard hearts. When faced with enormous need he gave freely but would take time out later to reconnect with his Father. He had fun. He went to parties. He let the little kids come to him. And everything, including the cross, was chosen by him. He lived life on God’s terms and no one else’s. Whose terms are we living our lives on?

One of the reasons we have poor boundaries is that we haven’t yet died with Christ. If we haven’t died to ourselves we will still suffer from false motives and selfish thinking. We will still be bound by others opinions, social mores and the desire for status or comfort. We’ll still not be free with Christ’s freedom. We won’t love with Christ’s love. Christ’s boundaries were truly loving. They were designed to bring down “rulers from their thrones” and to lift up the humble (see Luke 1:52). So he would be tough and tender. He would be careful about who could be trusted with the treasures of his heart. He would walk closely with his Father. We are asked to do the same.

The truth is that we have been bestowed enormous dignity as God’s children. He would never ask us to think of ourselves as anything less than precious in his sight. We are friends and siblings of Christ himself. But we are asked to get on board with God’s mission in the world. We are asked to die with Christ so that we can rise with him and live the life he would live if he were us. We are asked to love out of the love we have received from our Father. We are asked to put in whatever boundaries help us to live the life God has for us. Some of you may need to start saying no to some people or activities. Some of you may need to start saying yes. We all need to lay our lives down before God.

May you all know grace and courage as you seek to live life with the humility of Christ. May your boundaries be well-formed so that you may guard your heart well and may the love of God shine through you all.

Grace and peace.

 

 

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Our God is a Humble God

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We’re told in Numbers 12:3 that

Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.

No doubt Moses would have been very embarrassed by this description! What Scripture is trying to tell us is humility was a key to Moses’ leadership. Humility enabled him to put aside his own agenda and listen to God. It enabled him to do what was best for the community and not for his reputation. It enabled him to delegate tasks. It even enabled him to accept his sins and the consequence of not being able to enter into the Promised Land. jesus-1249482_960_720

Humility is a quality greatly valued by God. In Luke 1:52 Mary sings;

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

Why is this? I see two reasons. One is that humility means we’re not putting ourselves first. It helps us get the right perspective. God is God and we are not. Like Moses, we need to die to our own agenda if we’re ever going to come alive to God’s. The second reason is that humility is a quality of God’s. Our God is a humble God.

In church we get trained not to think like this. God is powerful, awesome, mighty, all-conquering, glorious and victorious and that is true! But it’s also true that God delegated authority to human beings. From the beginning he never wanted to lord it over us but to share his abundance and joy with us. When our first ancestors fell and were exiled from the garden God clothed them. God kept looking for ways to bring us home. In Hosea 11:1-4 God says this:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them.

That is the humility that comes from genuine love. And then there’s Jesus.

Who being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

The world wants to tell us that we are masters of our own destiny and that we can do anything and be anything we want to be. They have a point. God has given us incredible freedom, creativity and power. But for us to become the rulers and the people that God designed us to be we need to discover the humility that comes from genuine love. We need to be humbled by God’s humility; the humility that sees the Creator of all things reach down with tenderness and love to his creation. It’s the humility that sees the cross of Christ as the centre of history and the rescue of the earth. It’s the humility that reveals itself as infinite patience in the face of our sinful pride.

We desperately need the perspective that genuine humility brings us. It helps us open the eyes of our hearts and experience the grace of God’s mercy. It also helps us see our fellow human beings as made in God’s image and worthy of our love. It helps us see ourselves as infinitely loved but not the centre of the world. This frees us from worry, striving and status-seeking. As we humble ourselves before our God we find ourselves lifted up with his strength and his life. We praise our God, whose humility reveals his power and whose grace reveals his glory. Christ’s victory meant walking the path of humility and,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Grace and peace everyone.

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