Selfless Love

Hello everyone. Rob here. I was asked to speak about sacrifice last Sunday. Here’s an excerpt.

Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God for that is a pleasing to God and a true act of worship. When we give ourselves wholeheartedly over to Jesus we learn to see with his eyes, hear with his ears, speak with his words and value what he values. We see that people matter more than wealth and possessions; community matters more than the individual and love matters more than status or honour. Selling what you have and giving to the poor looks like a sacrifice to some, but when you have had your eyes opened to the kingdom, opened to the new creation, opened to the infinite value of every human being, it looks like common sense. It makes sense that participating in the life of God’s kingdom looks different to participating in the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of darkness. When the king of that kingdom is someone who has given their life for humanity on the cross, the way of selfless love makes seven more sense. Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, Paul writes in Galatians 5:13, rather serve one another in love. It is this serving one another in love that sacrifice in Christ’s community looks like.

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So, the big question is, how are we doing on that? This isn’t about selling fields or farms, charity giving or even church donations; it’s about our ability, our willingness and our capacity to love others in the name of Jesus. Here’s a little secret about the early church. They didn’t sustain this selfless lifestyle for very long. Soon the Greek-speaking Jews and the Hebrew speaking Jews were in conflict. The Jerusalem church needed the financial help of the wider church because no one had any assets anymore. When the Gentiles started joining the church there was major division and we all know the Corinthian church had a very serious divide between rich and poor. In other words, sustaining a life of selfless love is flipping hard.  

Why is that? It’s easy to beat ourselves up in this area. I don’t pray enough, I don’t read my Bible enough, I’m too selfish, I don’t know how to love and so on. A lot of this has come from our theology that has always focused on original sin rather than original glory. Before the serpent conned our ancestors into focusing on what they couldn’t have, rather than the abundance they did have, we were glorious. Made in the image of God, together we were created to rule in God’s name and to reflect his love to the world. That’s what Jesus came to restore. That’s what the redemption project is all about. When we lose sight of the image of God in ourselves and each other then we lose our capacity to love. 

And boy, does this world take a toll on the eyes of our heart; on our Spirit-led sight. Ukraine, nasty politics, bad drivers, gangs, rude neighbours, pastors who don’t say or do what we want them to do or say, all take a toll on our sight. And the reality is if we are harbouring any kind of grudge, holding any unforgiveness in your heart, any resentment or bitterness then our ability to love selflessly is severely compromised. This is because we have shut part of our hearts off from God’s gracious yet unflinching love.

But here’s another secret. It’s meant to be hard. If it wasn’t hard we wouldn’t pray, we wouldn’t seek God’s help and we would try and love with God’s love in our own strength. How do you think that’s going to work out? It won’t! You might fake it for a while but it is utterly unsustainable. My last pastoring job did not end well. There were a lot of people to forgive, to give back to God, to release from my annoyance, anger and resentment. I was able to do it, mostly I think, through practicing forgiveness as I went, naming the hurt and pain, giving myself over to God and choosing to keep loving God. The Spirit is always inviting us to love God and receive God’s love. That interaction then flows into loving our neighbour and even, loving our enemy. When we love and are loved by God that’s when we see what he sees and we learn to love with his love. It’s not your love. It’s God’s so let it in. Take a moment right now and breathe in God’s love.

Grace and peace everyone.

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The Next Right Thing

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Where is the hope? Is there good news anywhere? A mass shooting of children in Texas. Bomb and destroy in Ukraine. Nothing but bad news on the climate front. Inflation starting to run rampant. Increased violent crime and the criminals just keep getting younger. Mental health statistics and stories just keep getting worse. And it all seems to be coming closer to home. The impacts of these things are being felt by us all. A young teen tried to assault me last week. Our income is starting to fall behind our expenses. Friends are struggling. It’s no longer just headlines but is being played out in real time in front of us and in our own lives. We need hope. Where is it to be found?

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Jesus tells us the answer: The kingdom of God is like mustard seeds and yeast (Matthew 13:31-33). The kingdom of God is hard to see but palpably present and having a substantial effect on everyday life. Jesus also tells us that as the kingdom of God grows so does the kingdom of evil. There is wheat growing but also weeds (Matthew 13:24-30,37-43). The same parable also testifies that it’s the kingdom of God that triumphs. The mustard seeds win. The yeast works. Evil is headline grabbing but temporary. Goodness flies under the radar but is eternal. So, yes, there is a loud and brutal assault on our hope. But don’t give in to it. Why? Because you are the hope. I am the hope. We are the mustard seeds. We are the yeast. What we do matters and has eternal consequences. How do we respond to the evil of the world? By doing the next right thing even as we give ourselves over to God and his Spirit.

This is where your spiritual practice becomes vitally important. We can only give what we’ve got. If we want to give out the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness) then we have to receive that from the Spirit. In the end it’s not our love or joy or peace that we’re looking to give. It’s God’s love, God’s peace and God’s joy and so on. It’s the life of God in us that we need to nurture in these troubled times. We all know that the world needs more of God and where do you think the world is going to get it from? It’s us. That’s the way God has designed it. We’re made in God’s image so that we can be God in and to the world. Jesus shows us the way. He received his identity as Son from Father and Spirit. He held tight to God’s truth in the testing times of the wilderness. He laid aside busyness to spend prolonged periods of quiet with the Father. In the garden of Gethsemane he gave himself over to the will of God even at the cost of his own life. He obeyed, always.

It’s all going somewhere. The kingdom is here and it is coming in all its glory. Evil will not win. It will be defeated and judged. Right now it may hurt, it may be causing doubt and despair, you may feel just so tired, but breathe. God is in your breath. God is in the trials. God is redeeming all, restoring all and making all things new. So be a mustard seed today. Show kindness to someone. Do something good for the planet. Be a patient driver. It may feel small and insignificant but it’s not. It’s the stuff that the kingdom of God is made of. It’s the stuff that lasts forever.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Barking Dogs

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I was walking home from the library this morning when I heard a dog barking and racing out of its driveway towards me. My first thought: Uh oh. Sure enough, the dog ran towards me and around me barking its head off, hemming me in place. It was annoying more than frightening. I didn’t want to keep walking and have it follow me. Eventually the owner came out and sheepishly rounded up his dog. Doesn’t life often feel like we’re surrounded by barking dogs! There is so much noise, so much angst and anger, so many opinions, with the result that we feel stuck in a life of revolving headlines. How do we rise above it all and remain centred in Christ and filled with his love?

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I’ve noticed that the busier life is the simpler I want my spirituality to be. The noisier that life is the quieter I want my soul to be and the uglier the world gets the more beauty I need. Simplicity, stillness and beauty are antidotes to a world lost in noisy confusion. The discipline comes in making time to pursue these remedies for our heart.

Recently I have been using Lectio 365 in the mornings and evenings. They use small Scripture readings, simple thoughts, calm voices and set prayers. I make time for a lunchtime walk. On Sunday morning I’ll be found at a small liturgical fellowship within walking distance of my home. All of this is good but it wasn’t enough. I’m someone who deepens relationships slowly and with time. I needed more time with God. So, having some time in lieu, I headed off yesterday for a walk of several hours by the beautiful Waikato River. As I walked God revealed areas that needed repentance and change, things to be thankful for, promises to agree with and people to pray for. I finished the walk sore in body but lighter in spirit. Time, beauty, stillness (not silence; the birds were lovely) and simplicity (I just had to walk) created room for God to do good work in my heart and mind. It was good and I’ll probably need to do it again soon.

I need time for my friendship with Jesus to thrive. I need beauty to lift my thoughts beyond the circumstances of my life. I need stillness to open the door of my heart to the Spirit’s work. I need simplicity to set me free from my busy mind. What do you need? How are you going to silence the barking dogs and let the voice of Jesus be heard? What do you need to say no to so that your yes to God has substance?

Jesus, help us to silence the noise, simplify our lives, find your beauty everywhere and make time for our friendship with you to thrive. Amen.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Isolation, Lent and Invitation

Hi everyone. Rob here.

My son tested positive for Covid-19 last night so our family has just entered into a time of isolation. It’s not unexpected as our country experiences its first real nationwide surge of cases. It’s also the first week of Lent; a time where we traditionally lay aside certain things in order to prepare our hearts, minds and bodies for the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus at Easter. I like the way our minister puts it. He invites us at Lent to lay something down, pick something up and give something away. A time of enforced isolation is an opportunity to focus on Jesus and this invitation that Lent offers.

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As I ponder those 3 invitations I do so mindful of the pain that is in the world and all around me at the moment. I am connected to this pain as a fellow human being. We are not islands. The suffering of Ukraine as they endure a cruel and brutal war they did not ask for or even provoke, 3 years of the Covid-19 pandemic fuelling a profound sense of grief, uncertainty and dislocation and a planet groaning under the weight of climate change. Closer to home I see cancer diagnoses, work uncertainty, anger and irritability on the rise and many other challenges to our mental and emotional health. Getting to my own life I see significant work challenges, a marriage that needs nurturing, finances that need careful managing, older parents to be mindful of and children turning into adults before my very eyes. My desire, then, is for Lent to increase my capacity to see with God’s eyes, hear with God’s ears and love with God’s heart in this troubled world. What can I lay down, pick up and give away in order to build that capacity?

I thought I had the answer to those questions a few days ago but isolation has changed things. While work carries on and my phone becomes my office the reality is there’s less to do. I now have more time than I had. At the same time my tidy compartmentalised life is now messy with work and family in the same space. I find myself thinking of Jesus who had the clarity and the ability to always know what the most important thing at any given moment was. At times it was being in the crowd teaching and healing. At other times it was taking the disciples away for restoration and deeper teaching. And at other times it was spending time alone with the Father in the quiet of the night. At times it was giving himself away and at other times it was building himself up and at other times it was building others up. This was the fruit of his Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life.

So I seek to lay down mindlessness – mindless media watching, mindless eating or drinking, mindless chatter or gossip, mindless activity and so on. I seek to pick up prayerful awareness – God’s priorities if you will. This will involve silence, scripture and solitude. I seek to give away prayer, love, kindness and the other fruits of the Spirit. That tells me that I can’t do this on my own. I’ll need God but I’ll also need the wisdom and insights of my church community, my friends and other wise sages.

May your journey of Lent be filled with God’s Spirit. May it enable you to receive the fullness of Easter and to give that fullness away in the name of Jesus. May there be peace in Ukraine and other war zones and may we all grow in our capacity to love as we give ourselves over to God.

Grace and peace.

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Hi everyone. Rob here.

Happy New Year everyone. At this stage it looks as if 2022 will have a similar level of uncertainty as 2020 and 2021 did before it. Covid is mutating and as it does so the world changes with it. Are we also prepared to change in order to meet the challenges of a new world with resilient, hopeful faith?

I love The Message paraphrase of Colossians 1:18-20 as it describes Christ.

He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so expansive, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

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“So spacious is he, so expansive…” Ponder those words. Think about Jesus in those terms. He is not narrow or small-minded or petty. Think about all that is broken in our world and then think about the spacious love of Jesus restoring and reconciling it all. We serve and love a big God. Within that big love there is room for us to also change, for our old ways to become new and for our lives to be transformed. New thoughts, new actions and new attitudes are all possible as we give ourselves over to the expansive love of Christ.

It is this kind of love that our own hearts need to become truly alive. It is also the kind of love that the world desperately needs as it slides into the petty hatreds that come with tribalism, nationalism and sectarianism. God is love and God needs to be shown to be love by those that claim to believe in him and to be led by his Spirit.

For me that leads to an action point that is obvious but seems increasingly hard to put into practice. I need to spend time with God. I know he’s with me always but, and I’m sure you understand, the loudness of the world seems to be distracting my gaze from him a lot more these days. It’s not only the Covid pandemic, vaccine debates and endless speculation, but the ads, the media, the bills, the demands of life and more. I have found myself neglecting one of my core principles:

The busier and more demanding life is, the more time you need to spend in God’s loving presence.

If God is my strength then I need to spend time with him so that his strength fills me. The same applies to his love, his creativity, his kindness and his wisdom. The qualities that I need to do life well all emanate from God himself. they don’t come from me. They are fruits of the Spirit. Trying to do life on my own then is folly. I need God. I need to spend time with him – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We all do. Our hearts need us to. the people we care about need us to. The world needs us to. We need God-given capacity and abundance in a world that tries to take so much from us.

We become like the people we spend time with. They rub off on us and we on them. The same applies to time with God. Purposeful interaction and attention to Jesus means that more of Jesus will get into us and come out of us. I now have a few routines to sharpen up. My getting up routine, my going to bed routine, my transition from work to home and home to work routines all need more intentional focus and awareness. I need Jesus. I need to live out of that truth. Maybe then I too can become lovingly spacious and expansive.

How about you? As you look ahead into 2022 do you see yourself as someone with capacity, with abundance, resourced and ready for whatever may come? Or, like me, do you see that more of God is the only way forward? the invitation is clear. He wants our attention so that he can fill us with his love and his Spirit. Let’s give it to him.

Grace and peace.

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Freedom’s Paradox

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In most western countries there is a debate going on about what it means to be free. In Aotearoa/New Zealand that debate has been been reignited by the most recent Covid-19 restrictions and the promise from the government that it will only be those with vaccine certificates that will be able to access greater freedoms in the future. In other words, if you choose not to be vaccinated you are choosing a restricted life. In exercising your freedom to reject vaccination you will lose your freedom to play a full part in our ongoing community life. Freedom and limits aren’t enemies. They are partners but they need to understand each others role.

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The Bible has a lot to say about freedom. Right from the start in Genesis we read a story that sees Adam and Eve be given the run of a beautiful garden, with one limitation – do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The invitation was to accept the limitation and enjoy a life of freedom and joy. They couldn’t do it. The serpent played on the idea that the limitation was a barrier to freedom rather than a pathway. As the story unfolds we see that by rejecting the limitation Adam and Eve lost the ability to live a truly free life. They were no longer “naked and without shame.”

The parallel with vaccines is clear. If you reject the vaccine your life will be less free. If you accept it then it acts as a pathway to freedom. The more people that accept it the greater collective freedom there will be and the greater sense of community also. Some people will see that as the Government taking away their freedoms. But actually the reverse if true. In an unvaccinated world, with Covid-19 widespread, then restrictions are the norm. If you choose to remain unvaccinated then that is the life you choose. Get vaccinated then you get gifted freedoms that don’t exist in an unvaccinated world. You also receive the gift of knowing that you have helped to protect the vulnerable. I can’t think of anything more Biblical than that.

As Christians we live in the paradox of freedom all the time. Our pathway to freedom begins with surrender and is exercised by service. We start at the cross where Jesus surrendered all his rights as Son of God and Son of Man and submitted to the Roman authorities and their modus operandi of humiliating violence. He surrendered those rights because dying in humiliation was the greatest act of service that he could give to us. By putting sin, shame and ego to death on that cross he made a pathway for us to be free from sin’s curse and the lies of shame and ego. Freedom is when we are longer slaves to sin and self. Paul puts it like this in Galatians 5:13

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Getting vaccinated is an act of love as well as a pathway to freedom. We are always being asked to use our freedom in Christ by acting in love towards our fellow human beings. We are called to be free but freedom serves, freedom gives, freedom loves in the name of Jesus Christ for the sake of his children and his kingdom. And freedom always begins with surrender. In the words of U2,

If you want to kiss the sky, you better learn how to kneel – Mysterious Ways

Grace and peace everyone.

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Love In A Time Of Delta

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We are entering a precarious time in New Zealand as the Delta variant of Covid-19 slowly but surely leaks out of Auckland and spreads through the country. In the meantime the pressure is on to get as many people in the country vaccinated as possible. The government is being bombarded by voices calling out for more freedoms and other voices wanting everything to remain closed. The opposition tells them the things they should have done and businesses, especially in tourism and hospitality, beg the government for lifelines. In the meantime the rest of us are starting to show signs of malaise as the grind of lockdowns and constant disruption take their toll. How do we bring our hearts to God at this time? How do we bear the fruits of the Spirit when our spirits are struggling?

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First of all, let’s not pretend that this is a good time. We’ve had to say goodbye to many of the things that brought us joy, like travel and dinners out, change the way we work which can make us feel less effective and experience days that all look the same, all while the enemy called Covid bangs on the door. It’s not a good time. Let’s name that as true.

Second, let’s bring it all back to first principles. We are loved by God, one with Christ and sustained by the Spirit. We are alive, and while each day has enough trouble on its own, each day also has the promise of God’s love coming through for us. The hard thing when you’re in a state of malaise is to begin the day in hopeful expectation that divine love is coming though for you. But that is the invitation. May the eyes of our hearts be opened so that we can see and receive God’s love coming for us right through the day. May we see it in the sunrise and/or sunset, in the affection of our children, our spouse, our dog! May we taste it in good food and clean water. May we feel it under a hot shower, the suns rays and a shady tree. May the daily provisions that God gives us reach into our tired, weary hearts and bring us to life.

Third, let’s exercise a bigger faith and remember that Jesus is coming again and will make all things new. Our malaise is not the final chapter. It’s a necessary wrestling we have to go through right now but the truer reality is that the kingdom has come and is coming. Even now in the midst of global upheaval the wheat and the weeds grow and Jesus’ coming is closer than ever. As we fix our eyes on that future hope it helps us to open our eyes to where Jesus is coming for us and the world right now. Ánd remember, we see the kingdom in the mustard seeds and the yeast, not the headlines. All around us we see kindness being exercised, sacrifices being made and courage being practiced, all for the sake of others. May our eyes be opened to these signs of the kingdom all around us.

On a sober note, many of those headlines have belonged to the church this last week. An anti-lockdown rally, vaccine skepticism, unhelpful comments and more have flowed from the pulpits meant to be used for proclaiming good news. The kingdom is not found in those headlines either. The truly Christian work being done is when we love our neighbour. Getting vaccinated is loving our neighbour, wearing a mask is loving our neighbour, sticking to lockdown rules is loving our neighbour and letting them know they are loved is loving our neighbour.

Mat God’s love shake you out of any malaise you may feel this week. As you receive that love may it spread to your neighbours and, in that way, God’s love will truly see us through. Grace and peace everyone.

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Play What’s in Front of You

Hi everyone Rob here.

So once again we find ourselves in a level 4 lockdown as the Delta variant of Covid-19 tries to get its tentacles into Aotearoa/New Zealand. It’s an uncertain time and with uncertainty there comes the almost irresistible temptation to speculate about the future, about what may have gone wrong in the past and about what the authorities and others should be doing in the present.

Speculation can help you get in touch with your worries and gears, help you get a few things off your chest and help you feel like things aren’t totally out of control. However, speculation can also make you judgmental, fearful and fear-mongering, and, most seriously, out of touch with reality. Speculation becomes dangerous when we claim certainty for our theories and beliefs when no such certainty is possible. No one in the general populace knows enough facts to be certain about much when it comes to this virus and how it will play out.

Instead of speculation I suggest that we adopt a lesson from video games and the All Blacks! My teenage son enjoys a game on his phone called Brawl Stars. I know nothing about the game except that it involves being responsive to the situations unfolding before you. In the same way the All Blacks, our national rugby team, have a saying:

Play what’s in front of you.

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This doesn’t mean they don’t have plans or set moves. They most certainly do and they work hard to do those to a high standard. It does mean that if and when those plans are foiled or upset in any way, they don’t panic, and they back themselves to deal with the new reality in front of them. Their training then involves an emphasis on skill, spatial awareness, support play and speed of thought and movement. So what does this have to do with the life of the heart?

Jesus tells us this in Matthew 6:31-34

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This is the spiritual equivalent of ‘play what’s in front of you.” You can make your plans to provide for your security but those plans can come unstuck very quickly. On our fridge are a number of invites to kids birthday parties. Those plans are now over because of our lockdown measures. It took one day for those plans to come unstuck. Work plans, holiday plans, renovation plans and more have all changed now. They may simply be delayed or they may have to be abandoned altogether. All we really know is today. All we know is what’s immediately in front of us. This requires a different set of skills.

Long-term plans now have to give way to moment by moment trust. In an uncertain world the only way to move forward is to stay close to the shepherd, to follow your rabbi and give yourself over to Jesus your older brother and Lord. “What do you have for me right now Jesus” is a great prayer to pray in lockdown. It at once helps you to be present to the moment and attentive to Jesus. That’s a win-win situation. So for today I have been maths teacher, I have walked with my wife, donned the work hat as I checked emails and sought to do it at a pace that allows me to be attentive to the need in front of me. I need God’s help for that, especially as this lockdown has carried a lot more uncertainty than the one last year.

I pray that God will give you the skills needed to play what’s in front of you and that as you let go of plans you will let God guide you through the day, moment by moment. May he give you grace and peace as you seek him.

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The Losses are Real

Hi everyone. Rob here.

You may have noticed that it’s been a while between blogs. I’ve recently started a new job at a community centre which is good news. It does mean that I now have less time and less energy as I juggle two part-time jobs. It’s yet another time of transition for me, and to a lesser extent, my family.

It reminds me once again of these words from John Eldredge,

All change is first experienced as loss.”

One of the only consistent things in our life is change. We are in constant transition as we change and grow and as the world and others change around us too. This means that we are also constantly dealing with loss in our lives. What have we done with the losses? Have we grieved well? Have we grieved at all or just carried on without realising the build-up of pain in our hearts and minds?

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My grief at this time is small but it is real. I am grieving the loss of time. I love the feeling of having time on my hands and hate the feeling of being rushed or running out of time. To avoid being resentful about my new reality I need to name the loss and take time to grieve it in the presence of God and his love. I invite the Spirit of comfort to bring his love to me. But the Spirit is also the one to bring clarity and a new perspective. By naming the grief I can also die to it and be ready for a new way of being and doing. I know that I have enough time, but my perception of that isn’t clear yet. I need God’s eyes to see but if I’m caught up in resentment about my loss I will never see.

Like I say this is a minor issue and the fact that I have the time to write this blog means that I’m already starting to see differently and am adjusting to my new reality. What strikes me though is that all of us are going through the change/loss experience to some degree or another at any given time. It is particularly acute in this time of Covid-19. I have just spent the weekend leading a retreat with young foreign-born church leaders who haven’t seen their families for two years. It’s a tough time and loss is the reality for us all.

That then becomes an invitation for us to look at all people, including ourselves, with compassion. Life is hard, often brutal. Jesus knew this. This is why he said in Matthew 6:34:

“Each day has enough trouble on its own.”

And in John 16:33,

In this world you will have trouble.”

Bring your trouble to Jesus. He has overcome the world and when he seek his kingdom we will find all that we need. He will bring us comfort and healing for our losses and pain. He will show us a pathway in which to navigate the constant change of our lives. He will give us an anchor of hope, a river of life and a heart full of love. But in order to bring our trouble to Jesus we need to stop striving to fix it ourselves. You see, we may be able to fix some problems and make a way for ourselves but we won’t adequately deal with the losses. We can’t give ourselves the comfort, healing, love and hope that we need to move through the losses that constant change brings us. For that we need Jesus. We need the one who moved through the cross into resurrection life. Death to life. That is the gift Jesus gives us.

May you grieve well this week and as you bring your losses to Jesus may you experience his life-giving grace and love.

Shalom my friends.

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I’m sitting here thinking about these words that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23:25-26:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

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We put in an enormous effort into cleaning the outside of the cup. What I mean by this is that our energy is largely spent on trying to get the external aspects of our life right. We want a good job, good relationship, healthy finances, nice home and more. Of course we do! All of those things serve to make life happier and more comfortable. The problem comes when it doesn’t work. We so often find that external solutions can’t fix internal problems. We see this in the bible also.

-Being tall, talented and terrific didn’t stop Saul from becoming a bad king

-The building of the temple didn’t stop Israel’s issues with idolatry.

-Being a prophet didn’t stop Jonah from being angry with God for being too merciful

-Statements of repentance didn’t stop the Babylonians invading Israel and the temple being destroyed

-Peter’s statements of faith didn’t stop him denying Jesus when the pressure came on.

-The spiritual gifts of the Corinthian church didn’t stop them becoming spiritually corrupt

For the Pharisees they didn’t want to be ‘Godly’ as much as they wanted to be seen being ‘Godly.’ Their actions were more about reputation and status than they were about knowing God and making him known. The reality is that we all have mixed motives. Our ego gets in the way often but there’s a deeper motive that’s also at work. This is the motive that stems from us being made in the image of God and of having eternity set in our hearts. This means that the only way to live from our deeper motives is to continually bring our egos to the cross of Christ and die to them there. Dying and rising is not a once and for all event. It is a rhythm of life, an ongoing process and a never-ending prayer.

We see this at work in another story Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

1“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Our prayers often involves asking for external factors to change. This parable is an invitation for our prayers to also involves asking for our hearts, minds and motivations to change. It is to humbly accept that we need God’s mercy all the time. We are asked to die to the pride that causes us to look down on others even as we think of ourselves as righteous in doing so. We are then asked to come alive to the humble life of complete and utter dependence on the life of God in us. May we do so patiently, graciously, kindly, lovingly and hopefully.

Grace and peace.

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