The Victory of Powerlessness

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’ve been pondering the profound relationship in Scripture between power and powerlessness. We see this relationship described in Colossians 2:15.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.church-2464883__340

The cross rendered the powers and authorities powerless. They did all they could to prevent the invasion of God’s kingdom through Jesus, but their acts of power failed. Jesus Christ absorbed their blows and overcame the power of death that the authorities thought they held. The cross is much more than an event though. It is also a pattern.

Here’s what I mean. The big problem that the story of Adam and Eve tells us is the problem of ego. When they reached for the fruit, urged on by the serpent, they reached for divinity. We made ourselves the centre of existence. The human problem is that we are in the way of our true humanity, and we are still urged on by the voice of the serpent.

If you dig underneath the problems of this world you will find ego as the underlying issue. Environmental degradation, war, crime, inequality, sexual violence – it all comes down to people wanting their own way at a very profound level. Law can restrain this urge, but it can’t remove it. It’s the same with willpower. The solution has to be much more radical than that. Our egos have to die.

Now, having a sense of self is essential to being human. Healthy ego development is utterly necessary. But our sense of self needs to come from the One whose image we bear. Anything that gets in the way of that needs to be put to death. On the cross Jesus takes away our sin. That is, he takes away our delusions of grandeur, our pretensions to divinity, our self-reliance that comes from a fundamental loss of trust that God will take care of us. That is the old self. It manifests itself as both pride and shame; arrogance and insecurity. This is because the unanchored ego is a veneer, an illusion. To keep it going you have to believe lies that are readily supplied by the enemy of our souls. They are basically a variation of “you are everything” and “you are nothing.”

Jesus came to give us our humanity back. To do this he modelled to us the surrender of the ego.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ 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[b] 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 2:5-8)

Of course it was more than being a role model. It was a decisive cosmic victory over the powers of darkness that relied on the illusion of power to keep their system going. What is our response? It is to enter into the death of Jesus so that the false self can die and the true human arise.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Hot Days, Slow Walk

Hi everyone. Rob here.

It’s been a very hot summer here in New Zealand, the last two weeks especially. One of the things that heat and humidity does is slow you down. Too much movement done too quickly and you are bathing in sweat, desperately needing a cold pool to dive into. It makes you think carefully about what needs to be done and when. Hamilton, where I live, has cooler mornings but it stays hot right through to late in the evening, so the lawns get mowed early. The dog gets walked early and late. We plan for swims at friends places. We eat differently. In other words, life gets lived intentionally but slowly.couple-861738_960_720

I believe that this is a great metaphor for the spiritual life. Intentional slowness is a way of becoming aware of what’s needed at any given moment and of what we are capable of giving. It simplifies life but in a way that adds to its riches. It can open our eyes to the hidden ways of God’s kingdom.

It seems that many of us want to put God on fast-forward. Our prayers demand this or that. Church strategies want growth and transformation and maturity in a convenient package. We want to know our calling which is apparently where we find personal happiness and fulfilment. But it just doesn’t work that way. God acts on an eternal timetable. His work is made to last. He wants new wineskins as well as wine. If we are to be the kind of people, and the kind of churches that are to embody the new reality of God’s kingdom, we need to become new in every way. And that takes time!

The danger is by moving too quickly, by trying to get ahead of God, we can end up sabotaging good work already done. It’s a bit like trying to put together an Ikea bed frame. If you try and rush it you just won’t be able to put it together. You need to dismantle the whole thing to get it to work (speaking from experience here!). God constructs but he also deconstructs. He actively dismantles human projects that aren’t part of his kingdom mission. It’s an act of mercy but we need eyes to see what he’s doing.

In our too-busy, fast-moving, digital and downloaded world, we literally can’t keep up. Nor are we meant to. Instead we need eyes to see what God is up to in his world that has invaded ours through Jesus. This can only happen when we intentionally slow down. We have monarch caterpillars on our swan plant at home. I have to stop and stare at that plant for several minutes before I can spot them. God wants us to stop and look at what he has made, at this this world he still loves, until we see him at work. It may not be immediately obvious, and we need to know what we’re looking for. Why not start with Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

When you see that work going on then you know kingdom work is happening. Likewise when you see the fruits of the Spirit in operation – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 6:22-23) – then you are seeing the work of God happening. When you see people repenting and turning to Jesus then we know “the kingdom of God is near.” Where you see Matthew 25:40 happening you know that kingdom work is being done:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

God is at work. May we slow down enough to see his kingdom in our world and may we then be willing participants.

Grace and peace.

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Reconciliation is Reality

Hi everyone. Rob here.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 is a favourite passage of mine and has been on my heart lately. It says this:

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.sea-2777839_960_720

We have been reconciled to God through Christ. It is accepted fact. Do we truly believe it? The deal is that when we look at Christ, we see God. When God looks at Christ, he sees us. Christ was fully human and fully God and truly human and truly God. We find our humanity in Christ and Christ reveals God’s true divine character to us. Through Christ we discover that God is love and mercy and grace. Our sins are not counted against us. Our rebellion is forgiven. We can come home to the heart of God where we truly belong. Like the prodigal son who finds his father’s arms were wide open the whole time, we discover that we too have always been sons and daughters of the true Father.

The reconciling work of Christ is cosmic in scope and scale. Colossians 1:19-20 says this about Christ:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

In Christ and through Christ everyone and everything finds its rightful place again. Our relationships with God, creation and each other are restored when we enter into the saving work of Christ on the cross. When we die to ourselves, our sin and our agenda, we can then enter into the reconciliation that is already true from God’s perspective. His arms are wide open. Through Christ we can fall into them.

This is theological talk but it’s also true reality. Reconciliation isn’t a transactional matter. Too many of us believe that between confessions we lie outside of God’s grace. No! We are reconciled to God always and forever in every waking moment. We enter into that reality through giving our hearts over to him. That includes confessing our sins, but also our trust. It means handing over our idols and worshipping him freely. It means receiving God’s grace, but also his joy, his peace, his hope and. especially, his love. As Colossians 1:22 goes on to say,

Yet now, he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

May this truth blow your mind and thrill your hearts. May you come to see that reconciliation is a constant reality. We just need to enter in with faith. Believe it! Trust it! Invite others in too. Let them know that their sins were forgiven through Christ a long time ago. Now they just need to believe it and enter into a new and true reality. We are all sons and daughters of the living God. In the words of Elrond to Aragorn in Return of the King, may we become who we were born to be.

Grace and peace.

 

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Relating like Jesus

Happy New Year everyone. Rob here.

Last week our family was camping in one of our best beach towns: Whitianga, in the beautiful Coromandel area. The weather was sunny and warm. The surf was friendly and fun. But what made the holiday special was people. Once everyone had settled in, the campground became a friendly, chatty and safe place where friendships were forged among children and adults, if only for a season. heart-2671879_960_720

In the end our quality of life depends on the quality of our relationships. I am blessed with a loving marriage and family, some close friends and a healthy church, but I also know that I have a lot of work to do in this area. I tend to be out an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of person. This isn’t helpful when much of my family and many of my best friends live out of town, and even, out of country. However, this is a better problem to have than relationships that are broken through resentments, hatred, unforgiveness and self-centredness. For the Christian, who knows that relationships matter, these situations can be a terrible burden. It can feel that it’s all up to you to fix it.

Paul writes some very liberating words for us on this in Romans 12:18 where he says:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Sometimes there is only so much we can do. I can’t make weekly calls to all my friends and family and you can’t reconcile with people who don’t want to reconcile with you. You can’t fix someone else’s bitterness. You can’t change people’s opinions to suit yours. Bonnie Raitt once sang, “I can’t make you love me.” No, but we can choose to love even if that love isn’t returned. We can choose to pray for others, but we don’t have to spend much time with people who prefer to tear down than build up. Having effective boundaries is about guarding your heart so that it grows and doesn’t wither. It’s far better to have a short and positive encounter than a long, negative one. It’s also about having the boundaries that Jesus would have if he were you. This means that we need to make room for the broken, the sinner and the outsider. The ones that Jesus let in though, were seekers – people who wanted help. He kept the hard-hearted at arms length. he even said to his disciples in Luke 9:5,

If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.

Jesus had strong boundaries, even though he had a hugely generous heart. The gates to his heart were open for those who genuinely sought God. So, what is God saying to you about your relationships this year? Are your gates closed to too many people? Are they open to too many, and some are causing damage? Have you only been open to those who help you, but have been closed to helping others? Like me, have you been a bit lazy and neglectful towards those who actually help you grow stronger?

May you invite Jesus into your heart. May you be open to him and clothe yourself with his heart and his boundaries. May you see with his eyes and know his invitations to reach out to some, and back away from others. Most of all, may all of us be clothed in the love of Christ so that only the love of Christ passes between us and all people. As Paul wrote, may we all play our part, as we are able, to live at peace with others and be a blessing to this world. May we show a way of relating that points to the goodness of God and his love towards us.

Grace and peace everyone.

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The Beautiful Humanity of Christmas

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Welcome to the last blog post of the year and thanks for joining us this year as we journeyed together in caring for the new hearts given to us in Christ.

How beautiful is it, that when God decided to deal with his people, he entered into our humanity. We were made with the divine image in each one of us, but when the divine came he came to us a human. He did it to show us what God was like but also, to show us what we were meant to be like. A guy called Stanley Grenz says that Jesus came as the true human – what we were meant to be like, and the new human – what we will be like. He was the only person who has ever lived without a sin-damaged heart. The image of God remained pure in him. And he came to give us his humanity; his heart; his intimacy with the Father; his life in the Spirit; his joy, his peace and his life. This is the wonder and beauty of Christmas – that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (1 John 1:14):” That “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16):” That he was made like his brothers and sisters in every way (see Hebrews 2:17).christmas-1091266_960_720

The story of Christmas is that God came to us because in our sin and sickness we couldn’t get to him. He came as one of us so that he could be with us, suffer for us and triumph on our behalf. He now lives with us. The Father and Son have made their home in us through the Spirit. This Christmas let’s take the time to gaze in wonder at the Christ-child, born in absolute weakness and vulnerability to a teenage mum in a room made for animals. Like the Magi, may we see him as our king and pledge our allegiance to him and his kingdom. May we find ourselves worshipping the God who would go to such lengths to rescue us, redeem us, reconcile us and restore us.

Pay attention to your kingdom heart this Christmas and this summer. Your heart that longs for peace, for intimacy, for beauty and for joy. It is Jesus prompting you to remember him and to put all your hope and faith and trust in him. He is good. He has come. He has said Yes, to his people, yes to our humanity. Our Saviour who made himself so vulnerable, has revealed himself as our King, our one and true hope for the shalom of the world. As the carol says:

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ my Savior, your Savior, the world’s savior is born.

Grace and peace everyone and Merry Christmas.

 

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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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