No Other Life

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’ve been reading in Isaiah recently and I love these verses from chapter 55:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.

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This is the week when the pace of life starts to heat up. School starts back, churches get their programmes running, traffic increases and workplaces get real busy as they try and keep running in this cut-throat world. Advertisers will compete hard for our attention and our dollars. There will be an increasing number of decisions we have to make and we will feel an urgency about them. It will be easy to make an agreement that there’s no time – for quiet times, for prayer, for sitting and listening to someone, for appreciating a sunset, for good music or anything else that helps your heart connect with the God who is your life.

I use that last phrase deliberately because if we forget that God is our life then it becomes easy to try and live life without God. That would be a tragedy because our hearts aren’t made for any other kind of life. Nothing can substitute for knowing God as your life. Nothing else can be your life and nothing else can bring you life. God is the source of life, the river of life and the fullness of life. Through Jesus that life is available to us. We know this but in the busyness of life our choices don’t often reflect that knowledge.

Often we choose noise over silence, checking out over checking in, relief over restoration, movement over stillness, entertainment over joy and striving over surrender. We choose our way over God’s way. We are told that God will provide for our needs. This includes our need for fun, for laughter, for relationships, for food, for connection and for meaning. If we look to other sources to provide those needs we will find that our needs are never quite met. That’s because they are needs of the heart and it’s God who knows our hearts.

Of course this is a sermon to self, a message for me. Lat night I thought a cold beer would bring me peace and joy. Um no! But praying for and blessing my son who starts High School today did. I’ve been craving chocolate but a healthier diet is really helping me. Beer and chocolate can be good gifts for the heart but they are not the source of life for my heart. That is God – The Father who embraces; the Son who rescues and the Spirit who fills. God has my yes and my life. May he fill my life and yours with his.

Grace and peace everyone

 

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Checking In with an Abundant God

Hi everyone. Rob here.

When I’m in one of those spaces where I’m struggling to trust God, I’m a bit anxious, a bit stressed and worried, I become an escape artist. I check out and struggle to engage with reality. The news becomes really interesting, every sports result matters, movies become attractive and so on. You may think that the antidote to this kind of passivity is to take charge, make life happen, get over it and get on with it and, to a certain extent, you’d be right. There is a need to face reality and take action. However, I find that if I move forward without giving myself over to God things don’t go so well. The anxiety and stress return and the desire to escape can become stronger and the escape routes unhealthier. God is my life and I don’t want to live life as if that isn’t true. I need a better way.

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My first step is to name what’s bugging me. This involves asking Jesus to expose my heart and show me what’s really going on. I assume that it’s an internal issue and not an external one. This is important. Many people rush to try and find an external solution. Sometimes that’s needed, but when I’m checking out I know that it’s the internal wiring that’s off. Recently I was asking Jesus what was going on and he showed me that I was struggling to trust God with our finances, my new ministry and the future generally. The enemy then tries to get in with messages of worthlessness and failure. This could get serious but I’ve diagnosed the bug at an early stage and now action can be taken. I renounce the distrust, rebuke the enemy’s lies, pray for help with my faith (“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief” – Mark 9:24) and ask Jesus what he wants me to agree with. This last step has really been helping me, and challenging me.

He wants me to agree with his abundance. That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? The difficulty is that I’ve been cheap my whole life! I struggle to recognise and celebrate abundance. It all sounds a bit health-wealth and triumphalistic to me. But here’s the catch. He showed me that I’ve already lived a life of abundance. He reminded me about the overseas trips I’ve been able to take, the food on our table and in our freezer, the family holidays and so much more. There’s also the blessing of a home, a family and friends. Remember the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable of Luke 15? My older brother just got exposed. I need to hear the words of the father in the parable and my Father in heaven;

You are always with me and everything I have is yours (Luke 15:31).

The antidote to checking out isn’t to take charge; it’s to check in. It’s to check my heart in with the one who has made it new; Jesus. It’s to give him permission to name the real issue, to expose what’s under the hood and give it all back to him so he can put it to death on his cross. It’s to give myself afresh to him and agree with what Father, Son and Spirit are up to in my life, even if it stretches me, challenges me and upsets my categories. I agree with God’s abundance, his open heaven and the provision of his kingdom. I agree that I have already received his abundance. He defines abundance; not the world, not the church, not the televangelists. I just know that his abundance looks a lot like life in all its fullness.

Grace and peace.

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Let’s Be Wholehearted

Happy New Year everyone. Rob here.

The transition from holidays to work is always a difficult one, isn’t it? On holiday you slow down, you spend time in God’s glorious creation, you get away from commercialism and noise, you give your heart and mind time and space to connect with God. Well, I hope at least part of your holiday was like that. There’s always the reality of children’s needs, meals to prepare, packing up and packing down, travel and relatives! Work is often about other people’s agendas, busyness, making things happen, commercial realities and the heart barely get a look in if we’re not careful. Then we add in school and sport for the children, church commitments, community involvement and family needs and we see the heart and connection with God being left further behind. What can we do in 2020 to live a wholehearted life, connected to God in all aspects and areas of our existence?

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Here are some quick thoughts and tips that I think may help us.

  • Make time for silence. My wife is an early riser. Every day she enjoys silence as the sun rises. I’m a night owl. I enjoy silence at the other end of the day. Silence allows us to catch up with ourselves and bring that self to God. In silence thoughts, hopes, fears, worries and joys arise and we can offer them to Jesus and allow him to validate, correct, convict, encourage and love us as we do that. Do not fear the silence!
  • Download the Ransomed Heart App and the One-Minute Pause App. The RH app is great with podcasts, prayers and readings to encourage at any time during the day. The one-minute pause app they designed to help busy people take time out for God through the day. It is literally a led one-minute pause and very, very helpful.
  • Buy Coming Home, the book David and I wrote on the Prodigal Son story. I don’t just say this to get more sales but because I believe it will really be helpful to you. It’s short, cheap, readable and rich in helping you grasp your identity, your worth and your God.
  • Stay in Scripture. I have studied Scripture for much of my life. I encourage everyone to do it but study is not enough. We don’t master Scripture, Scripture has to master us. Spend time meditating over small portions. Gravitate to the Gospels. Get to know Jesus’ beautiful humanity, even as his life reveals God to us. The Word became flesh and all of life changed. Soak in Paul and his glorious reflections on our identity and hope. Please don’t put Scripture on a shelf.
  • Ask God to help you love. Trying to love in our own strength while being busy is a recipe for disaster. God is love so it would make sense to ask him to increase our capacity for love, our ability to love and our willingness to love.
  • Take time to be in his creation. Quite frankly for most New Zealanders this is easy. For some of you city dwellers stuck in a Northern hemisphere winter it’s harder. Do what you can but be intentional about it. Here we can take beauty for granted. May it never be so. May the eyes of our heart be opened so that God’s beauty can always pierce our souls.

That will do for now. May 2020 be a year where you dwell closely with God as he dwells closely with you. May you run into his arms even as he runs towards you. May you know Father, Son and Spirit as you share the life and love that exists among the Trinity. May Jesus be the older brother who trains you as a son and daughter, the friend who walks with you, the Saviour who rescues you, the King who reigns over you and the Lover who has your heart. May the Spirit dwell in you richly and give you life.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Let’s Say Yes

Christmas greetings everyone. Rob here.

As the year comes to an end, I wonder how you’re interpreting the year that’s been for you? My wife, Kiley and I, were doing this last night as we pondered all that has happened for us this year. We had no firm conclusions except that God has led us through. It’s been a year of upheaval and at times, turmoil. There has been a spiritual battle and earnest prayer. At the end of it all, a new ministry is being born and my trust in God is deeper than it has ever been.

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I can only imagine how Joseph and Mary felt when they looked back on the events that came upon them. There was the upheaval of a virgin becoming pregnant, angel visitations, a marriage, a journey from Galilee to Bethlehem and, ultimately, a birth. Then there were mysterious words as shepherds came telling them that angels had come and told them to visit The Saviour, the Messiah, The Lord, who just happened to be in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths. After that there was Simeon at the temple telling Mary that her baby will be a sign opposed and a sword will pierce her own soul. Matthew tells us that they then had to flee to Egypt in order to keep the baby safe from Herod’s evil. Now that was a year! How do you interpret that?

There’s a saying that God’s ways are not our ways. How true is that!? God seems to thrive in creating labour pains. The new comes out of suffering and upheaval. You have to agree to the new in the midst of that upheaval. I heard a comment today that God resources you after you have said yes to the new and left the old behind and not before. I can relate! God is patient in his preparation and asks us to join him in his patience. We tend to want answers to our questions and he just wants us to trust him. He wants our yes, and when we give it we discover that trust is the key to the kingdom.

As you look back on your year the big question is, ‘do you trust God more than ever?’ If so it’s been a successful year. If not you have an invitation to respond to. Mary said yes to the angel. Joseph said yes more than once. The shepherds said yes saying, ‘let us go now.’ Does God have your yes? We don’t know what the future holds. Mary couldn’t know that her yes would lead to a cross, a resurrection and a church. Your yes may be more important than you know. The important thing is that we give it.

2019 has been a storm and God was in the storm. After a storm the weather settles and there’s a sense of things starting afresh. The wind changes direction and it brings cleansing and refreshing. It’s time to set a new sail, turn the rudder and go where the wind of the Spirit takes us, trusting that our good God knows exactly where to take us.

Have a blessed Christmas. See you in 2020.

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Intimate Obedience

Seasons greetings everyone. Rob here.

One of my favourite parts of the Christmas narrative is when Mary and Elizabeth come together in Luke 1:39-56. They are a study in contrasts. Mary is a young virgin, probably just a teenager. Elizabeth is an older woman who has carried the shame of being childless throughout her married life. Both have been chosen by God to fulfil a special task. Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, the one who prepares the way for the Messiah. Mary will give birth to the Messiah himself, the Saviour of the world, Jesus. This is their encounter.

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At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

The joy of the occasion leaps at us. It reminds us that God was at work and doing a new thing among his people and it started with the intimate obedience of these two women. In Elizabeth’s case she is carrying on a biblical tradition of God reversing the shame of childless women in order to advance his kingdom purposes on the earth. Think about Sarah giving birth to Isaac and Hannah to Samuel. Despite this miraculous change in her own fortune, Elizabeth’s joy comes form the fact that she is in the presence of Mary, the mother of her Lord. The Holy Spirit reveals this truth to her and the Spirit leads her into rejoicing.

The two women rejoice together because they have been given a vital role to play in God’s will being done on earth. Despite their lowly status they have been given honour in God’s sight. Mary sings,

My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.

This Christmas season let’s allow their story to speak to us. Despite living in a time where God seemed to be silent, they both maintained a strong faith and stayed open to God and his work. They submitted to God’s way of doing things. For Mary, this meant putting herself into a life-threatening situation as an unwed, pregnant women. She still said yes. They also knew that to do God’s work is life’s greatest joy. This is, perhaps, what we in this modern age need to learn the most. There are pleasures available to us on tap; cheap travel, endless entertainment, craft beer! The illusion of joy is well cultivated on our social media platforms. Despite that, the fact is that doing God’s work is our greatest joy. This is simply because it’s what we are made for.

Doing God’s work may look unusual. It may even be life-threatening or at least, unpopular. It took Jesus to the cross, Paul to prison and Peter to both. Mostly, God’s work takes us to our knees before the feet of Jesus asking for his help and his strength. That’s a good place to be. He will give it.

May God bless you this Christmas as you present yourself before Jesus asking him for the strength to do God’s will, carry his love and rejoice in his name.

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Jesus Had Sore Feet

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In March I’m taking part in a 50 kilometre charity walk. I must be mad. I went for a training walk on Monday, covered about a half of that distance and my body screamed at me. As I was walking I was thinking back to my Israel trip and the terrain that Jesus walked. It was seriously and relentlessly hilly, undulating and uneven. It was rocky, dry and when the heat beat down it must have been incredibly tiring. No wonder he could sleep on a boat in a storm! Now let’s think about the fact that Christmas is where we celebrate incarnation.

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

Incarnation means that Jesus Christ, Son of God, took on our humanity. When he walked on hilly, rocky terrain in thin sandals his feet got sore. When he slept on the open ground I imagine he woke up stiff and sore. He would get thirsty and hungry. He would get bitten by bugs. He would need to go toilet in the open air. But he kept on walking because he loved us. From Galilee to the Jordan River to Jericho to Jerusalem and more, Jesus walked. He walked to proclaim God’s kingdom from town to town. He walked to get baptised and he walked to visit friends. He walked to take his disciples away for teaching sessions and he walked on water just to take a short cut. He walked to Jerusalem and he walked to Golgotha and the Cross. He walked out of the tomb and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee to restore his friends. And he invites us to walk with him now.

We don’t just believe in Jesus, we walk with him. We follow him as the 12 disciples followed him; by putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, even as we keep our eyes on him. This picture of Jesus and us walking together implies effort, sweat, mission, purpose, companionship, community and intimacy. It also implies a certain pace of life. We can’t get ahead of Jesus and we can’t get too far behind either. We look to him, are dependent on him for each day’s purpose. Every day we are asked to recognise our need for him, his love for us , our love for him and our commitment to his Father’s kingdom.

I am seriously middle-aged. My body groans fairly regularly. But so often Jesus faced another hill, another trek, another day on those aching feet and he did it. He did it because he had a higher purpose, a greater goal. The 50 kilometre charity walk is a great goal, but there is a higher goal. Jesus prayed,

Your kingdom come, your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

That’s the goal and we are all invited to walk with Jesus and be part of it happening. So I get up. I pray. I surrender myself afresh. I write, I plan, I say yes to invitations. But I can’t forget the companionship and the community. None of us can. We walk, but we must walk together, follow Jesus together, massage each others metaphorical feet and keep going together.

So stretch your legs, get training, gather your team and walk. May God give you strength, stamina and grace.

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Fish Sandwiches

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I had taken my shoes off and was ankle deep in the fresh water of the Sea of Galilee when I turned to one of my travelling companions and said,

This feels holy.

What made me say that? We were at the spot where Jesus the Risen One, made breakfast for his friends and restored Peter after he had denied him 3 times. There was certainly a sense of awe that the Risen Christ had stood where I was standing. But it was more than that. It was more than a sentimental feeling about a past event, even if that event was world-changing. It was the deep knowledge that he still lives. He is alive and active in his world and you and I are invited to get on board with what he’s doing right now! It was also an invitation to trust him. Jesus knows what he’s doing in the world, in my life, in every life. The sense of holiness came from the realisation that I was encountering Jesus, alive and active, in that place too. I too was hearing him say, “follow me!”

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I love the very human and very intimate picture of the Risen Jesus making breakfast for his friends on the shores of the lake. It tells me that as I seek to follow him today, he still invites me into loving friendship and close intimacy. It wasn’t just Peter being restored that day. That act was an act of restoration for all of them who were there. The act of eating the fish sandwiches made by the One who was dead and who is now alive, was an act of vulnerability and courage. They all knew that he was the one deserving of a feast in his honour, a banquet for a king, but he cooked for them. He honoured them. He offered this loving act to them, and out of that intimacy came resolve and courage. They followed him to the end of their days.

Following Jesus is not like trying to follow a car on the LA freeway or a tour guide in Jerusalem. It’s close, intimate, personal. It comes from knowing that he poured himself out for us, so that we can be his intimate allies, his brothers and sisters as he shows us how to be sons and daughters in his Father’s estate. That level of restoration means that we fell an awfully long way. It also means that if Jesus was willing to pay THAT price, we are loved beyond measure. Receiving that love, experiencing that love and naming that love is what we are now made for. Jesus called it remaining in his love. Do that and following him just happens.

So I choose to meditate at the foot of the cross. I surrender my sinful self there. But I also choose to meditate at a fish barbecue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There I am restored into an infinite, unbreakable love that flows down into my feet that will forever follow The Risen One.

Grace and peace everyone.

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