The Fruits of our Roots

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of the joys of a New Zealand summer is the wonderful fruit that comes into season. Cherries, nectarines, apricots, plums and peaches, and all their varieties, will come to us before Christmas. Pears and apples and grapes will follow and life will be good! They all have local variations as well. A Central Otago apricot is different to a Hawkes Bay one better IMO!) and so forth. This season of abundance depends on a number of factors to go well. Abundant sunshine is needed but a bit of rain helps too. Frosts are to be avoided. Hail also. There is also the human factor. Trees have to be pruned and fruit thinned for them to grow to the right size. They have to be picked at just the right time. Too green or too ripe are both problematic. Enough workers are also needed. No workers. No harvest. All of this just so you and I can enjoy a fruit salad on a hot summers day!fruit-2367029_960_720

Often in life we forget how interdependent we are. We need each other and the creation to play their part. When that doesn’t happen, life can take a very tragic turn.  The good thing is that God is in the business of redeeming his world. His light can shine in every darkness. But it also reminds us to be aware that none of us stand alone and our actions have consequences for good or for ill. So the things we buy have a long story behind them as do the roads we drive and the homes we live in. Equally, the impact of what we do can extend far and wide. That decision not to wash our hands or to say a kind word or to share our faith story or to stand up against an injustice or buy fair trade can all create ripples that effect people far and wide.

To know that this is true just look at the impact that the birth of a baby in the little town of Bethlehem 2000 or so years ago has had on the world. Now, sure, this baby was part of a very significant divine master plan, but Jesus was still born in a small town, lived in a backwater province in an insignificant country, occupied by the greatest empire the world had known. He was born among animals, and while angels announced his birth, they did it to shepherds, who were regarded as unclean and societal outcasts. That pattern would continue through Jesus’ life. His disciples were largely uneducated nobodies. He spent time with ‘sinners’ and societies rejects. When he was with the leaders, the educated and the powerful, he insulted them. No wonder he was put to death. He upset the ‘natural’ order of things. His resurrection then vindicated his ministry, his claims and his message. His motley crew of disciples would take that message and it would spread from occupied Palestine to the whole world. All of our lives have ripples, but what kind of effect do we want those ripples to have?

What we want is to bear good fruit. We want our families to be filled with love and our friendships to be supportive and fulfilling. We want to treat people with kindness and help others lives to be better, more whole. We want to tell people that they can experience forgiveness and grace through Christ, but we want to live it out too. This kind of fruit can grow in any conditions, under any circumstances, but it does involve planting our roots down deep, and nurturing the soil around us.

We are connected to our world and we impact it, whether we try to or not. So let’s make our impact one of love and good fruit, that bears the stamp of Jesus. May we be rooted in him so that we grow good fruit and may the world taste the sweetness of Jesus through our lives.

Grace and peace.

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Making Your Heart Roomy

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of my favourite Christmas carols is “Joy to the World.” Among it’s plethora of wonderful words and themes is this little gem in verse 1:

Let every heart prepare him room

This is the big challenge of the Advent season: how do we make room in our hearts for Jesus when there are so many other demands coming our way? Here in New Zealand we’re not just preparing for Christmas, but also for our summer holidays. As businesses go into shutdown mode for a while the demands to “get it done before Christmas” is immense. Our schools have all their end of year functions as well as many of our church ministries. At the same time you’re wanting Christmas to be a special time with family and it can feel like it’s up to you to make that happen. Making room in our hearts for Jesus often feels like the last thing we’re doing, not the first.heart-2912741_960_720

What I suggest is that making room for Jesus isn’t another thing to do. but a posture and mindset to adopt as we do everything else. In Luke 10 we see the story of Martha and Mary as they welcome Jesus into their home. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet “listening to what he said” and Martha “was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha got mad at Mary for not helping but Jesus said this to her:

Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed  – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).

Martha wasn’t doing a bad thing, but she wasn’t doing the best thing according to Jesus. Mary acted in a way that was very counter-cultural. Women weren’t meant to sit at the feet of the rabbi. That would imply that they too would become teachers. Martha’s cry was for Mary to do what she was meant to be doing. That is, help me in the kitchen! Our world tells us to be busy at Christmas. Buy great presents, attend every function, get the decorations up, prepare beautiful meals, be gracious to all and don’t offend anyone through your absence. Keeping everyone and the world happy is an unsustainable goal, especially in December! How do we become more like Mary than Martha then, when the world is screaming at us to be like Martha?

It all starts at Jesus’ feet. Very few of us have hours to sit in contemplative prayer but we do have opportunities throughout the day to go to that place and sit with Jesus, even for a few minutes. It’s good to start the day there and bring the day’s agenda to Jesus and allow him to gaze at it, change it, resource you for it and most of all, show you what is his gift to you in it. Many of these end-of-year functions are gift. They honour people that have blessed us throughout the year. They celebrate journey’s of learning and growing together. If we shift from performing a duty to receiving a gift we create room in our hearts for Christ’s love to fill us for the sake of others.

Not everything in this season is gift however. The crass commercialism is jarring in the face of a story that culminates with a birth in a manger. Some events do little for our souls. Sometimes we take on too much, say yes to too many things and perform tasks that simply aren’t ours to take on. So ask yourself before each new thing; “am I making room in my heart for Jesus by doing this?” That, after all, is the goal of advent. By the time Christmas comes the goal is to love Jesus more, to adore him and for his love to flow through us to others. May we do what it takes for that to happen. For some, that’s shopping less. For others, it’s watching what they eat and keeping up exercise routines. For others it’s carving out quiet space to sit at Jesus’ feet. Whatever it may be, may your heart become roomy and spacious so that Jesus can make himself right at home there.

Grace and peace everyone.

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A Sure Hope in Uncertain Times

Hi everyone. Rob here.

A worship song that’s been resonating with me lately contains these lyrics,

Take courage my heart

Stay steadfast my soul

He’s in the waiting

– Kristene DiMarco, Bethel Music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r49V9QcYheQ)

For a number of reasons the times feel very uncertain. Yesterday I was reading about a massive earthquake threat that lies just off the coast of New Zealand. Then there was the fact that rising sea levels are causing nuclear waste to leak in the South Pacific. From governments to economies to our mental health to the ground beneath us, nothing is certain, nothing is sure. The fragility of life and creation is frighteningly clear to us right now. In the midst of this uncertainty comes God’s invitation to us in Hebrews 10:23-25

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

sunrise-1756274_960_720We know the ending. There will be a renewal of all things. The earth will be redeemed. God will dwell with his people and all will be well. It is a wild and true hope that is meant to be an anchor for our soul. But in this world of uncertainty the anchor can too often feel like it’s slipping. What the author of Hebrews is telling us though, is that it is precisely in times like this that we must encourage one another with hope, love and faith. It is when we are overwhelmed by the present darkness that we must bring the light of God’s kingdom into each other’s lives. Today is not the story. It is merely a sentence. Hold onto hope because the story will unfold in ways that will make our hearts soar.

People who have hope are grounded in the deepest reality. Jesus knew where he came from and where he was going. He lived on earth but did so representing God’s kingdom. As we give ourselves over to Jesus we also embrace our own citizenship in God’s kingdom. This world has no ultimate hold over us because we don’t belong to it. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:14-15,

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.

Advent is a time of hope. It is the anticipation of Christ entering our world. The kingdom has come and soon it will come in all its fullness. Life becomes very intense at this time of year. End of year break ups, family demands and drama, school events, church events, the pressure of the season, but the world has been crucified to you and you to the world. You belong to another realm. You walk through this world, following your king, Jesus, empowered by his Spirit to be an ambassador of his kingdom. You represent the realm of truth, hope, love and justice. You know the story and its ending which is really a beginning. May hope be yours this Advent and may love and peace flow through you, even in these uncertain times.

Grace and peace everyone

 

 

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When God Speaks

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Yesterday was a great day. The sun shone. I got out the bike and enjoyed a nice ride down to the river where I walked among beautiful bush and birdsong by the river’s edge. I found a quiet spot for lunch and invited God to speak into my mind and heart. I asked questions and Christ in me answered them in a way that spoke to my heart and gave me peace. I let myself linger in the afternoon sun, enjoyed more walking and riding, until a puncture ended my revelry. I then took myself to my office and tried to journal all that God had spoken to me. It was really hard to do and I realised that God’s words were already fading from my fickle mind. It took a real effort to not only recall the words I heard, but also recapture the thrill of hearing them.sunset-2952046_960_720

I managed to remember but it really sunk in as I repeated the story of the day to my wife, Kiley. The act of re-telling God’s words confirmed the reality and truth of what I had heard. I’ve noticed this before. You can have a special time with God, but until you tell someone you trust about it, doubts can linger. It can feel afterwards like you made it up, even though, in the moment, it was very real. Do you have someone you can talk to about your life with God? Is there a person you can ring to share your experiences with on the same day they happen? Are you that kind of person for someone?

These acts of speaking and listening are where we come together on holy ground. The experienced spiritual director will have follow up questions like, “what happened to your heart when you heard that,” or, “did you feel something shift when God spoke those words,” or, “was there something else you wanted to ask God.” But the first gift we give is a listening ear and a validation of that person’s connection with the God of heaven and earth.

Not everything I heard yesterday was crystal clear, but a couple of things were. Most of what I heard was encouragement and validation. They were words for my heart, not to create a 5 step plan for my life. There was a course correction, but not a 3-D map. The need for discernment comes when people think they now have the blueprint for their lives. God rarely gives that to us. It doesn’t help our addiction to control and certainty. At the same time God will often give us the next step. He’ll often target the motives behind our actions, not the actions themselves. And it all becomes clearer when you talk with a trusted friend.

But how do we find them? I’m blessed because Kiley is on the same path and gets it. Not everyone’s spouse is on the same path though. We need to ask God to show us who our trusted friends should be. If you’re really stuck then find a spiritual director. In fact, these trained and trusted people teach us how to do this and are a great starting point if you’re new to this life of listening to God.

So, a few lessons from one sunny day. Get out in the wilderness and enjoy life and God. Intentionally enter into conversation with him. He lives in you and is right there. Have your journal on you if at all possible, so after the conversation is finished (you’ll know!), you can write what you’ve heard. Seek out a friend and share with them also. Then, make the changes to your life that are needed to align yourself with God’s purposes for you. May God’s Spirit lead it all.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Scaling the Heights

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Isaiah 40:28-31 says this,

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

mountain-landscape-2031539_960_720This is a time of year when the demands of the world can seem relentless. There is the pressure to ‘get things done before Christmas.’ In leadership positions there is the desire to finish the year well, but also be planning for next year. Schools have their various end of year functions and celebrations. Students face exams. Then there’s the hidden pressure of Christmas and the desire to please everyone. Have you got your summer holiday planned? Then there’s usually a crisis or two to navigate as well. It’s no wonder that most people I talk to are already tired! How do we care for our hearts at a time like this?

This passage from Isaiah 40 tells me that God wants our hearts to soar. For that to happen the prophet tells us to put our ‘hope in the Lord.’ I could hope for a sunny summer and a great holiday. I could hope that I have enough energy to finish the year well and still be a great host for our family gathering. But unless I put my hope in the Lord all those other hopes will be in vain. We are asked to locate our hope in the goodness, the kingdom, the character, the love and mercy of our God.

Two things have been helping me do that lately. One is I’ve been focusing on “the renewal of all things;” the great hope of the coming kingdom of God. The second is that I’ve been allowing my heart to soar in worship. One of the temptations when we’re busy is to become very focused on the here and now. It’s a survival tactic. It’s how we get done what we need to get done. But if we get stuck in that mode our heart will harden and shrivel. We’ll fail to handle disruption and inconvenience. We may achieve the to-do list but we’ll lose some of our humanity in the process.

Think of it as climbing a mountain. To make it to the top you have to focus on your steps. You have to have your head down and make sure of your footing, You need to breathe evenly and use your energy well. But you also need to pause, look around and savour the view. You need to soak in the perspective and clarity that the journey is giving you. You need to check in with your fellow climbers and enjoy the fact that you’re not climbing alone. You need to breathe in the Spirit of God who calls you onwards and upwards. You need to know in your heart that the destination is worth it. Yes, the steps are hard to take at times, but every step is led by a guide who has already taken the journey. Jesus is our guide, our strength and our hope. What’s true for Jesus is true for us so let him lead you.

To push the analogy, oxygen can feel very thin this time of year. But the Spirit of God is also the Breath of God. Let his breath fill yours. Let your heart soar with hope. Everyone gets tired, but God wants us to live in his strength, not ours. So take a breath. Look around. The renewal of all things is near. Take the next step and may God be your hope and your joy.

 

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Grace Expectations

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of our biggest frustrations in life is that people don’t do what we want them to do when we want them to do it. There’s also no doubt that you too are one of those people, just as I am. We let each other down in big ways and small ways all the time. Often that’s because our expectations have never been spoken. We often think that what’s important to us is important to someone else and so it will just get done. But, of course, life just doesn’t work out that way. People have different priorities, face different pressures, see life in a different way. Ironically, our expectations of God are often far lower than for people. Why is that? How can we turn that around?hands-2168901_960_720

I believe it’s all to do with grace. Seeing life and people through the eyes of God’s grace is a liberating experience. We see this in the way Jesus looked at his disciple Peter. At the last supper before his death Jesus promises the disciples a kingdom and then he addresses Peter:

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).

Peter’s response to this was to say, “Lord I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus’ response is to say that Peter will deny Jesus 3 times that night. The grace of Jesus was to know Peter’s limitations. He knew that the testing of that night would be too much for a man who couldn’t see his need for supernatural courage in a time of trial. His promise was that Peter would turn back and his faith would not ultimately fail. Jesus knew that his friends would let him down that night but he also knew that God was big enough and gracious enough to restore them.

Jesus knew that his disciples would fail but he trusted that the story would still end well. He knew that God’s will would be done despite their failure. He also knew that God would take that failure and redeem it so thoroughly that the disciples would come out stronger and more faithful than before. He was gracious with Peter because his ultimate trust was in God and his goodness.

The response of grace is to accept people’s limitations, including our own, even as we fully trust God with our lives and theirs. It is to know that God redeems failure and even uses it for a greater good. In essence it is to trust God more than people because our own experience of grace tells us unequivocally that God is working all things for good in our life and in the world.

When people let us down it sometimes feels like God is letting us down. What Jesus shows us is that when people let us down we need to deepen our trust in God even more. When people let us down we need to turn to God’s goodness and rest in his grace. We are always his children, always loved, always accepted. No person can take that away from us. As we rest in God we need to ask for his eyes to see others because he loves them in the same way that he loves us. We are to love our neighbour even as they don’t do what we want them to do. That is grace. We have received it so we are asked to give it. God’s Holy Spirit will help us as we turn to him.

May the grace and love you have received flow freely from you to others this week and may your trust in God’s goodness deepen and grow.

 

 

 

 

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The Immediacy of God’s Love


Hi everyone. Rob here.

Both my kids believe in the power of a good cuddle. Their cuddles come anytime, anywhere (well, almost!) and in any situation. Even if they’re mad at Mum or Dad they still hug it out. An embrace is an immediate confirmation of affection. It affirms the warmth of a relationship right in the moment. But what happens when we profess and receive love from a God who is unseen? How does that work? Often we need an immediate affirmation of God’s love to us, and yet how can that possibly be experienced? But we are told in Scripture over and over again that God is with us. My proposal is that if God is with us then his love towards us can be tangibly received here and now.dove-2882968_960_720

We all have different ways of communicating and receiving love. We know this as love languages. Gary Chapman’s book tells us that these love languages consist of touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts and acts of service. Most of us love to receive all of those but tend to favour one or two above the others. For example, I’m a touch and words of affirmation kind of guy but I’ll happily receive a gift or a kind favour. God knows our love languages. He gave them to us after all.  But how does he communicate them to us? I suggest God does this through his body, through his creation and through his Spirit.

I’ve had experiences where I’ve pictured Jesus coming to me, putting an arm around my shoulder and saying, “let’s go do this!” They were special moments and yet, disembodied. But Jesus does have a body and it’s us. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

All the love we receive at an interpersonal level is God giving us love through his body. Those cuddles from my kids are God loving me. Those kind and affirming words on Sunday are God’s kind and affirming words. That hard truth spoken in love is God challenging me to live into my true self in Christ. Anything that’s not love is not from God so we need to be discerning. The body doesn’t always work well. Sometimes it’s diseased or wounded, and yet, God brings love through his body.

He also brings love through his creation. God is love and everything he has made was made in love. When a gentle breeze tickles your face and when the sun warms your body, receive that as an act of love. When the spring flowers come up or the waves break on shore, receive that as an act of love. Make it a practice to delight in God’s creation, just as you take delight in the creations of your loved ones. Read Psalm 104 or Job 38-40 to see the utter delight that God himself takes in his creation. It is made from love so that we can receive God’s love.

Finally there’s simply God’s presence with and in us through his Spirit. So often we pray to ‘God up there and out there’ when Scripture says that God dwells in our hearts as well as on his throne. Christ is in us as well as at the right hand off the Father. We are a dwelling place for God and God speaks his love to us through his Spirit that lives in us. The question for us is, do we have ears to hear? The best way for us to receive these words of love is to slow down and deliberately present ourselves to God – “here I am.” Invite God to speak love over you, to speak truth over you and trust the whispers! too often we hear God speak and write it off as, ‘that was just me.’ If it’s truth, it was not just you! If it sounds like your voice that’s because Christ is in you and his truth has gotten into you. Christ’s voice doesn’t sound like someone else’s voice. It sounds like his truth planted into our spirits and hearts, and it may be as simple as “my son” and “my daughter.”

There is an immediacy to God’s love. May we all dwell richly in that love this week. May we allow it to enter deeply into our hearts and may we be bearers of that love in this world that so desperately needs it.

Grace, peace and love everyone.

 

 

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