Changing My Mind

Greetings everyone. Rob here.

I’m about to head into a time of sabbatical for which I’m very grateful. It’s God’s perfect timing. For me, that means no sermons, no blogs and no social media. It’s an invitation to simplify and shrink my world; to be present in the here and now. That is actually a challenge for me. I like to think big, think ahead and think generally. I realised the other day that thinking is kind of a hobby for me. Over the years God has been working on me to think less and trust more. Kiley and I were praying the other day about an issue at church and out of her mouth came this gem:

Help him to see that he can’t think his way through this.

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Oh my goodness. Talk about being exposed. That prayer was so true and so needed. God is sorting out the issue and I need to trust him. He is sorting out my own heart and I need to trust him. He is leading me on my sabbatical and I need to trust him. The difficulty comes because I’m good at thinking and we all need to think. Most people need to think more I suggest. But when I’m trusting my own thinking over and above God’s thinking then I’m committing a form of idolatry. I’m reminded of Romans 12:2.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The transformed mind is one that’s acutely attuned to the will of God, which is good, pleasing and perfect. That means a transformed mind is a surrendered mind. As Paul says in the previous verse:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

If God is to renew my mind, fill my mind with his thoughts, then I need to surrender my mind to him. Now, I’ve tried to do this over the years as I mentioned, but clearly God wants to shift some of my default settings. It gets me to thinking that God wants my sabbatical to be more like a backpacking trip than a holiday on a cruise ship. Every day I need to pack lightly, be open to new adventures and trust my guide. I need to let God shape my time and not try to dictate terms. It’s about walking with him far more than it’s about achieving anything. That’s when true restoration comes. Restoration comes from intimacy with God, not from trying to arrange for my own relief .

These are my final words for several weeks. May we all give our minds over so that we may have the mind of Christ. May his thoughts be our thoughts. May his Spirit fill our hearts and minds so that we may bear witness to his love. And may grace and peace be yours.

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Let Us Rise

Hi everyone. Rob here.

As I look out my office windows I see a lot of healthy, strong, leafy trees. I’m blessed to live in this city where trees, flowers and green spaces thrive. Just a few months ago those same trees were completely bare and the flower gardens were devoid of life. It’s a reminder that the God we serve is a God of resurrection. No matter how dead we may feel or look, God can and does lead us into new life.

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I’m holding onto this truth as I head into a time of sabbatical next week. It’s been a testing season of ministry in the last few weeks. In fact, it’s always a testing season in ministry! It’s just that sometimes it’s easier to hold onto the truth of resurrection than other times.

The reality is that you only need resurrection when you’re dead! The other reality is that you can’t make resurrection happen; it can only happen to you. But we can play a part in the dying. For me, God’s been coming after my independent streak for a while now. It’s taken two incidents to wake me up to the fact that it exists. Independence is incompatible with dependent trust. It’s God’s call on all of our lives and I pursue it as a wholehearted disciple of Jesus Christ. This means that when it comes to light that I’ve been too independent in the way I go about my work, I have to choose to embrace that truth and bring it to the cross to be put to death. It may take several return trips before full surrender happens, but every time I go to the cross, I also invite resurrection to come.

The resurrected Christ was unpredictable. He would seem to go through walls, cook breakfast for his buddies, be unrecognisable at times, and then plain as day in the next breath. There’s a profound joy in Jesus as he lives his resurrected life. I can’t define what resurrection will look like in the wake of old ways being put to death, but I know that it means more joy. I certainly want and need more of that.

The Christian pattern of dying and rising with Christ is so that we can reflect Christ more clearly and point to the reality of God’s kingdom as we go about our lives. It’s not about us, and yet, we become truly ourselves in the process. The process itself is anchored by God’s love for his children. Our Father initiates us into his kingdom, into sonship and daughterhood, into a realm of wonder, delight and joy.

Dying hurts. It’s uncomfortable and exposing. It’s also utterly necessary if we are to become people at home in God. We are asked to enter into new life in the here and now, more and more. May we come to the cross and die with Jesus. May we rise from the tomb and experience resurrection. And may the love and joy of God be ours.

Amen.

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Not my Will

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I once read some advice on parenting. It said that we’re trying to communicate 2 things to our children:

  1. You are loved more than you can possibly imagine. You are precious to us.
  2. You are not the centre of the universe.

God our Father is trying to communicate the same 2 things to us, his children. The two statements are deeply related. If we believe number 1 with all our hearts, the more likely it is that we’ll believe number 2. If we don’t believe number 2 we are also not likely to believe number 1. I hope you follow the logic there. God is the centre of the universe. Once we accept God’s love, we accept God’s place, and if the centre of the universe is God’s place, then it’s not ours. praying-hands-2539580_960_720

Another way to put this is that we receive God’s love by trusting him. When we place ourselves at the centre of all things then we’re making a decision against trusting God. The problem lies with the fact that it’s a real battle to not make ourselves the centre of our universe. After all, we make important decisions every day and are given responsibility over our bodies, finances, children, employees and more. What we do and who we are matters and matters greatly. And because of that we need to trust that God Almighty is the centre of the universe. Our lives are too much for us to handle on our own. We are designed to live in utter dependence on the God who loves us and calls us his precious children.

Trusting God for his outcomes and his kingdom purposes means that we can stop making arrangements for our success, our comfort or our convenience. It means we can be honest about our shortcomings and humble about our achievements. It means that Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is always on our lips – Not my will Lord, but yours be done.

The amazing thing is that as we stop trying to arrange for our own validation, as we put God first and die to self, we find ourselves validated by God our Father. As we trust God for his will to be done, we find that his will is so much better than anything we could have arranged. We find that God moves in others and relationships come to experience forgiveness, mercy and grace. We also find that we become more patient with the processes of God and more trusting with his timing.

So, I invite you to surrender that thing you’re anxious about, that aspect of life that you’re arranging the success of, that event that has to be just right for it to be deemed good in your eyes. Give it all to God and may the God of love order our steps, even as we walk with him.

Grace and peace everyone.

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The Need to Re-Connect

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Last week I wrote about how the past never stays in the past. On Sunday I saw a beautiful example of how the holy in the past can come through to the present as well. I took a break from the church where I’m the pastor and went to the Anglican Cathedral in our city. It’s a place I sometimes go to when my soul is troubled, busy or confused. There’s something about the rituals, the liturgy and the Eucharist that connect me once again to God’s grace and love. After the service I had a real sense of being deeply connected to God’s ongoing redemptive story that began in the garden all those years ago.

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There are three aspects that helped with that connection: participation, scripture and ritual.

Participation: Whether it was saying communal prayers, kneeling, singing, passing on the peace, receiving communion while kneeling at the altar or simply standing together, the service was very participatory. We were in it together, and that carried with it the sense of being in it with saints past, present and future.

Scripture: We read from Jeremiah, Hebrews and Mark, with a special ritual before the words of Jesus were read. Scripture saturated the prayers, the liturgy and the hymns. Here’s an example from ‘The Collect’ – a beautiful short prayer offered together by the people:

O God, you give light to the blind and comfort to the sorrowing, and in your Son you have given us a High Priest who has offered the true sacrifice for us and yet can sympathise with us in our weakness: hear the cry of your people and lead us home to our true country, where with your Son and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God in glory everlasting. Amen.

Here you see Isaiah, Hebrews, Exodus and Romans in just a few lines. The effect of this is that mind and heart resonate with scriptural truth in a way that sermons only sometimes achieve.

Ritual: We all have rituals in life and every church has it’s own rituals, whether they admit to them or not. Rituals always carry the danger of becoming merely ceremonial and devoid of significance. The rituals at the cathedral, however, carried weight because they helped tell the redemptive story. There were rituals around the bringing in of the word, the reading of the gospel, the communal time of confession, communion, the saying of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed and more. The ritual would say, pay attention! This is significant. It matters greatly. The fact that these rituals have been carried out for many years added to the weight of them.

Now, I’m not saying we should all head down to the Cathedral and become High Church liturgists! I love my church and how we do things. What I am saying is that we all need to be connected to the story that God has been telling since the creation of the world. This connection to the past, present and future of God’s redemptive plan needs to come to us by a variety of means so that we feel profoundly and personally connected to it. The service on Sunday helped me, but what helps you?

I entered that service with the fallout from a personal failure trying to send unhelpful messages to my heart. I left feeling re-called into God’s kingdom and purposes, and embraced as a son with authority in the estate. Perfect? No. Redeemed? Yes. So, go where you need to go to re-connect with the God of history, the God of past, present and future. Then re-engage with your world because you, my friend, have a vital role to play.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Past, Present and Future

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of the fancy theological words we use to describe God is omnipresent – the ability to be everywhere, fully present, at the same time. This omnipresence extends to time. God is present in the past, the present and the future. This is important to know because the past has a habit of never staying in the past.

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We see this at a national level. The confiscation of Maori land that happened in New Zealand 150 years ago remains a current issue. This is because the consequences of that action are still ongoing and are seen in the poor outcomes for Maori in health, education, crime statistics, income and so on.

We see it at a community level. Some places have never recovered from the day the local freezing works or sawmill or coal mine closed down. I’m dealing with it today at a church level. At a personal level we know the ongoing effects of abuse, insults, trauma, bullying, entitlement, poor decisions, drug or alcohol abuse and more. Whether victim, perpetrator or both, the past doesn’t stay in the past.

To say that God is fully present in the past can be a confusing statement. If God was present why didn’t he stop what happened to me or stop me from doing what I did?! Why didn’t he give me more wisdom (I ask that one a lot!) or more courage? But this is dead-end thinking. It goes nowhere. It also keeps the past in the present. God wants to help us interpret the past so we can move through the present into the future.

So we begin by asking God, where were you? Show me where you were in that situation, that moment? What did you see? We need God to reveal his goodness and love to us in those past situations. We also need to know that God was just and concerned. It would probably help to have an experienced counsellor, spiritual director or pastor to guide the process. A helpful tool could be the Sozo prayer style that puts you in touch with Father, Jesus and Spirit in a very helpful, personal way.

The goal is freedom: freedom from bitterness, hurt and rage, freedom from resentment, shame and condemnation. This has to involve forgiveness – receiving God’s forgiveness of us, forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. It also means laying down our resentment towards God and exchanging it for worship. But this can’t be fully achieved without God’s interpretation on things and his interpretation on us.

When I’ve made mistakes God has shown me my inexperience, my anxieties, my fears, my ego and my areas of shame. As a result he has brought deeper healing to those places. At other times he has shown me where others have fallen short due to their inexperience, anxieties etc. His interpretation is always filled with truth and grace; clarity and love; justice and goodness.

May we all be people who hear the shepherd’s voice.

Grace and peace.

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Better Together

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Last week I got called up for jury service and ended up being on a jury for a 6 day trial. One of the things that the judge kept insisting on was that our collective common sense and life experience would be enough to make a good decision. Sure enough, we worked well as a team, helped each other understand the evidence, showed patience as others caught up and, in the end, made, I believe, a sound decision. It reminded me afresh that life is meant to be lived in community. The give and take, the mutual respect, the patience and perseverance that we showed as a jury is meant to be the norm. It’s what we were made for. Every person needs to be honoured as an individual, but they also need to be part of a greater whole.

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If you don’t have the honouring, you don’t get the community. If people don’t feel valued by the community, then they will distance themselves from the community, or, seek to control it. The difficulty is that there are all sorts of reasons why people don’t feel honoured and we can’t always predict what they may be. People’s wounds come from many different sources and show up in a multitude of ways.

So, as individuals, one of the best things we can do for our community is to allow the Holy Spirit to examine our lives, name our wounds and bring healing to our wounded places. Let’s give permission for the Spirit to bring us to a deep and true repentance for our wrongdoings. Let’s drop the poser and be vulnerable enough to need each other. Let’s come out of hiding and take our place in the community, knowing that we are needed. Let’s remember that we need a loving community to help us become truly ourselves as we walk with God together.

What’s your community? Where’s the place where you interact with others in a way that makes you a better person and a more wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ? For many of you, I hope that place is a local church. I hope that you’ve found a community that’s safe, inspiring, seeking, Spirit-led and Christ-focused, with a humility that makes them dependent on grace. But for some of you that isn’t church in the traditional sense. For some of you it’s a 12 step community like AA or NA. For some of you it’s a small group  or house church. For some of you it’s your support group. But as long as there’s people, God’s Spirit, vulnerability and hope, you’re in a good place. Just know that it might not be your only place.

Churches can be good, and many are. So please don’t make any agreements about churches being the problem. Institutionalized power can be a problem. Spiritual abuse can be a problem. False beliefs can be a problem. Misogyny and racism are definitely problems. But church? Church belongs to God. He’s building his Church he tells us. Churches have problems but Church is not the problem. Instead, let us all start with the mirror. Let us allow the Spirit to examine our lives. Let’s seek healing, help and hope. Let’s become part of the solution, because, ultimately, churches and communities need people of grace in order to become gracious; they need people of hope in order to become hopeful, and they need people of love in order to become loving. May that be us.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

 

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Your Heart’s Wardrobe

Hello everyone. Rob here.

After a series of beautiful spring days, a southerly storm has decided to wreak havoc on the country and upset everyone’s wardrobe choices! It’s a reminder that life does not follow a carefully orchestrated, linear path. Shocks and surprises are always at the doorstep, for better or for worse. The key to navigating it all is, spiritually speaking, a well-stocked wardrobe.

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The spiritual wardrobe contains the beliefs that your heart holds about God. Here’s what I mean:

In the face of injustice, do you believe that God is just?

In the face of scarcity, do you believe that God provides?

In the face of despair, do you believe that God gives hope?

In the face of hatred, do you believe that God is love?

In the face of grief, do you believe that God comforts?

In the face of pain, do you believe that God heals?

In the face of brokenness, do you believe that God restores?

The deeper that those beliefs take hold in us, the more resourced we are for life’s shocks and surprises. These are the beliefs that we see in Jesus. As he feeds the 5000, restores a dead girl to life, delivers the oppressed from demons and forgives the soldiers at the cross, we see Jesus’ deeply held beliefs coming to the forefront of his life. As the pressure came upon him, where many of us would respond with fear, he responded with faith.

This is the faith that acts as the antidote to the lie told by the serpent in Eden; the lie that God cannot be trusted. As a result, this kind of faith is deeply opposed. It strikes at the heart of the enemy’s plans for humanity. He wants us fearful, distrusting and looking to ourselves for our own solutions.

Someone we know recently exchanged a life of false solutions for a life of faith. It was an act of courage and it wont be easy to sustain. But we can already see the appearance of joy and peace in the face of adversity. This is what a life of heartfelt faith and trust can bring. We can become well-dressed for the storms of life and the sunshine.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14)

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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