Jumping the Tribal Fence

Hi everyone. Rob here.

As human beings we tend to be tribal. We’re attracted to people like us. Our friends speak the same language, share a similar standard of living, of education and values. But to live tribally means to shut yourself out from reality. The world is made up of many tribes and tongues, and the bible tells us that in eternity we will all worship together. This means that the deepest places of our hearts, the place where God has set eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11), desires a life free from tribalism and cultural fences. Yet, we also know that to live that kind of life now means going beyond your comfort zone to a major degree. Immigrants and refugees are some of the bravest people you will meet because they are willing to jump the fence.

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We held a lunch for our new people on Sunday. Most of them were immigrants. They chose to come to a new land, overcoming the barriers of language, cultural mores and food issues to make a home here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. As a church the big issue is, how do we echo eternity by creating a home where everyone is at home? Like everything the answer begins with our own hearts. Is my heart a place that’s spacious enough to hold people who are far different to me, who can be hard to communicate with and see the world very differently from my Western viewpoint? This is the reality of God’s heart. There’s room for everyone. If our hearts align with God’s heart then our churches and our homes will as well. Then we’ll learn from each other and grow into the diverse unity that eternity promises.

Unfortunately the tribal instinct is strong and the work needed to break it can feel too hard. I suspect that it’s because we assume it won’t be hard, or we expect the stranger to make the adjustments, not us. I suspect we don’t often pray before our interactions and don’t allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. I only suspect this because that’s too often been me. I like my interactions to echo how I relate to others. I like communicating within my comfort zone.

And yet. And yet God doesn’t let me stay there. I’ve been prompted in the past to dive into how other cultures see God and the story of Jesus. I pastor a multi-cultural church. I’ve travelled and been on a mission trip. I’ve stayed on a marae and loved it. I’ve had my eyes opened to entrenched racism, white and male privilege and the joy of worshipping in a fellowship where I didn’t understand a thing except a mutual love of Jesus. For our hearts to be enlarged they have to be open. The eyes of our heart have to be opened to the reality that we are better together and God knows it.

So we need to do the prayer work. We need to commit our cross-cultural conversations to God’s Spirit and allow him to do the necessary humbling work in us that helps us see the other as God’s image and an essential part of Christ’s body. Racism and xenophobia are about as far from God’s heart as you can get so we all need to repent of the big and small ways that we’ve participated in them. May God heal us and unite us. May we learn from each other and may we grow better together.

Grace and peace.

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His Bigness, Our Smallness

Kia Ora everyone. Rob here.

Growing up in New Zealand’s South Island I was always aware of God’s bigness. When your landscape is large glacial lakes and a snow capped mountain range, it becomes ingrained in you somehow. This is why I love the natural world: it helps my reverence; it keeps me on my knees. I’m drawn to places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Southern Alps because there are times when I just need to feel God’s bigness, his transcendence, his glory. And also, I need to feel small.mountain-1031130_960_720

While I love the fact that it’s ‘Christ in us’ that’s the hope of glory; that the “Father and Son have made their home in us’; and the Holy Spirit has been given to us a guarantee of what’s to come, I also agree with Richard Rohr when he writes this in his superb book, “The Divine Dance,”

God must be utterly beyond in order to have any significance within.

God has to be big in order to take us anywhere of significance. I love this lyric from Bethel music.

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

Even while we proclaim that God is Abba, Father; that he’s our brother Christ and our friend, the King; that he’s an intimate lover of our souls, we must also retain the need and desire to bow the knee to him. To know that God is the Creator of all, the Lord of history and the One who fills the heavens with his presence, is essential to us being able to trust him with our lives. If God is transcendent then he can help us transcend our circumstances. If God is mighty then he can overcome the obstacles that lay in front of us. If God is the one who redeems all of life, past, present and future, then we can trust him with our life’s story.

If God is only powerful, but never intimate, then we will never invite him into our hearts. If God is only loving presence, but lacks power, then we’d be foolish to trust him. We’d be better off making our own arrangements. But, the God of galaxies is also the God of atoms. He made redwoods and daisies; mountains and moles; canyons and prairies. He is the God who destroyed Pharaoh and his armies, and the God who loved his mother while hanging on a cross. This is a God we can trust. We can trust in his love, and in his power. He will heal our broken places and make a path for our feet. He will lift us to our feet, but may he find us on our knees more often.

If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel – U2.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

 

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Bodily Dysfunction

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

At the core of dysfunctional relationship is the desire to bend others to do your will. It leads very easily to manipulation, bullying, diminishing and even, violence. We see it in political affairs, in workplaces, on the internet and, yes, churches, as well as personal relationships. Wherever people share life together, this desire to control others exists. Now, there’s also a level of persuasion and argument that’s good and healthy. Issues do need to be debated if we are to find better ways of doing things and healthier ways to think. There needs to be honest critique, but this is only healthy if people are respected, and there is a collective goal of growth. pair-707506_960_720

In Colossians 3:12-14, Paul writes this:

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.

For Paul, this is what it means to be people of God. It means treating each other with dignity, respect and love. It means reflecting God’s love for us back to each other. It means dying to every desire to use others for our own benefit. This desire for control is what lies behind lust, rage, greed, slander and many, if not all, of the vices on Paul’s lists. It also lies behind subtler ways of relating also. Procrastination, avoidance, addictions, busyness and more, all have at their root a desire to bend others and life to our will.

We are both victims and perpetrators of this dysfunction. Ever since Adam blamed Eve for his failings and Eve blamed the serpent for her weakness, we have struggled to accept God’s will as perfect and good, and accept each other as necessary allies for our journey. Paul takes it a step further. He invites us to accept others as it is together that we are Christ’s body.

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave of free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Colossians 3:11).

For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Paul’s radically egalitarian message must have stood out as a glowing beacon in those status-driven times. But we need to hear those messages just as strongly today! Paul’s not saying, ‘there are no differences,’ he’s saying that Christ is the head of the church and we’re all equal under that head. There is no superiority or higher status. We can be different races, different socio-economic levels, different genders, have different political persuasions, have different theological emphases and still be one, because Christ is all, and is in all.

This vision of us all as Christ’s body needs to guide us as we relate to one another. It tells us that we need each other and it means that you, yourself, are needed. It tells us that, on our own, we are weak and unsupported with a short life span. It tells us that attacking each other is a self-destructive act. It tells us that any attempt to dominate is a futile act. It tells me that the only response is to be grateful for my fellow travellers and body parts. It invites me to love and support them the best I can, as Christ my head gives me strength.

May the body reject its dysfunction and embrace the health that comes when we come as one under Christ our head.

Grace and peace.

 

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Treating Others Humanly

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I watched a documentary last night that was looking into the different ways that countries approach some issues and the positive results that have resulted. For example, Italy grants at least 6 weeks leave through the year, and this creates happier, healthier, more productive workers. France feeds their children healthy, nutritious and delicious meals for school lunches, showing them the value of healthy eating, and good table etiquette. Finland has an education system that is more about training the brain than sitting tests and it works. Iceland requires near equal numbers of men and women in the boardroom and this leads to saner decision making. More examples covered prisons being used for true rehabilitation and reform, not just as a punitive way to punish; new approaches to drug laws, women’s health, facing the nations past sins in a healthy way, protecting the workers time from demanding bosses and the value of free education. It was eye opening, but at the heart of all these policy initiative lay a common philosophy; care for each other because every human being matters.

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When we embrace this biblical notion of every person being made in God’s image it affects both personal and public ways of being. It doesn’t lead to perfection, but it does lead to a deeper engagement with how our actions affect others. What became clear in the documentary is that as you treat others in a way that honours their humanity, then they become more honouring of others also. This has a profound effect in prisons, schools, as a way of policing, immigration, women’s rights and more. It also makes for better families, businesses and churches. It reflects how God has treated us in our fallenness:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

It’s incredibly telling that salvation came through Christ taking on full humanity and coming as ‘The Son of Man,’ another way of saying, ‘human being.’ He restores our humanity by coming as a human being, dying as a human being and being raised as a human being. As we take our place in him; his death, his life and his rule, we find that we are forgiven, restored and empowered to live a life that loves God and loves others. This happens day by day, moment by moment. through trial and error, repentance and mercy, through pain, grief, beauty, grace, love and loss.

The reality is that nifty policy changes, while good, aren’t the answer to our deepest human ache. That comes from being in Christ and experiencing the unconditional love of Father, Son and Spirit. It comes from being forgiven and free. It comes from being embraced as a son or daughter. It comes from the mercy of God that meets us in our lowest moments, in our shame and in our guilt. May this divine love fill your life this week even as you seek to love others in Christ’s name.

Grace and peace.

 

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One on One Devotion

Hi everyone. Rob here.

It’s the school holidays at the moment and both of our kids have been experiencing some extended Nana time. They’ve been visiting her one at a time, meaning that they get to experience the love Nana has for them, and give it in return, without any sense of rivalry. It’s a time of uninterrupted devotion. This is why couples have date nights or weekends away. It’s why making one-on-one time with our children is so important. It’s also why getting away with God is so important. We need to have times of uninterrupted devotion with the God we love. Not just so we can worship him but so we can receive his affection for us.prayer-888757_960_720

This is a basic human need. We were made for relationship and connection. Our hearts are filled when we give and receive love. Just as the human body needs food at regular intervals to be healthy, the human heart needs regular giving and receiving of affection to be whole. When Jesus was baptised he heard these words from his Father:

This is my son whom I love (Matthew 3:17)

The Trinity itself has this rhythm. Scripture also records these words for us:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

So, how are you experiencing God’s love at this time? Are you experiencing it at all? Do you have a settledness in your soul that comes from being a beloved child of a good, good Father? Maybe you’re experiencing God as Mother right now? Or Christ as brother? Or Spirit as adventure guide? Maybe it’s coming through certain movies, or nature, or family and friends? Maybe it’s coming through music or poetry or art? Maybe in quiet prayer you’ve had the courage to ask, “how do you see me Lord?” And you’ve heard the answer…”You are my son/daughter whom I love.”

We’re told that we are lavished with divine love. It makes sense that God, who loved us so much that he sent Jesus to rescue us from sin and death, would want us to experience this love regularly. God wants us to have a rich emotional life with him. He wants to draw near to us in our tears, our joy and our tantrums. He wants to quiet us with his love as Zephaniah 3:17 puts it. We are loved with the same love that Jesus experienced. Throughout his ministry he would wander the hills at night to be with his Father. Are we making the same commitment? I submit that the health of our hearts depends on it.

For me, at the moment, it’s music, it’s autumn colours and it’s family that is communicating God’s love. But I also know that my receiving it, living it and being secure in it is fragile if I don’t take the time and if I hold back. To give and receive God’s love is an invitation to throw your whole self – mind, body, spirit; past, present, future; private, public; known and unknown – over and into the love of God the Trinity. In the beginning was relationship and the relation was, is and forever will be, God. It’s a relationship that will make all things new and all things whole. So let God love you and may his love flow through you and change the world.

Here’s a song called ‘So will I’ that is communicating God’s love to me in abundance at the moment. Grace and peace everyone.

If you gladly chose surrender, so will I.

 

 

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Guard Your Hope

Hi everyone. Rob here.

As I’ve been taking my daily walk through the park I’ve been noticing that some of the trees seem to be on a significant lean. It’s been a stormy week and I wonder if these trees have deep and strong enough roots to stand against the elements. I was also wondering how healthy the trees are. It struck me that we don’t normally know how sick a tree is until it snaps. Then the rotten trunk is exposed, even though it looked good from the outside. That also got me thinking about Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 where he talks about the dangers of poor soil, thorns that choke, the fruit of good soil, and, later, the wheat and weeds growing together until the end of the age. It all spoke to me again about Proverbs 4:23.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

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This is no time for half measures when it comes to following Jesus. It’s a time to be deeply rooted in him, given over to him, led by his Spirit and filled with his love. It’s a time for vigilance, especially over our hope. There are so many false hopes out there! Hope has to be based on truth and the truth is that Jesus alone is Lord. Therefore, true hope, lasting hope, hope that’s the anchor of the soul, is placed on him. Jesus is our hope. Namely, his words, his actions, his achievements, his character and his promises are our hope. So, here are some words of hope from Jesus for you:

“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The renewal of all things, through Jesus, is our lasting hope. God’s reign will fill this earth.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5)

This is nothing less than the complete reversal of the fall of humanity and creation. We get the tree of life, that God prevented us from having after the serpent’s treason. We get our reign back, We will rule even as we serve our God. We will know God fully. No more darkness. No more evil. No more pain or grief or sadness. Everything broken will be made whole. Our relationships will be filled with joy.

So, here is the warning: Do not let the enemy, or this fallen world, or any other power steal your hope. Guard your heart and guard your hope. Be deeply rooted in Jesus. Let his hope in the renewal of all things and the reversal of all evil be yours.

Grace and peace everyone.

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A Redemption Story

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

I’ve been having a lot of late nights in the last week. Commonwealth Games fever has caught hold, and it’s always a joy to watch courage, talent and perseverance in action. What fascinates me about sport, isn’t so much the achievements, but the story behind the achievements.  In the Commonwealth Games events for para-athletes (athletes with disabilities of various kinds) have recently been integrated into the main event. They’re all athletes together. So let me tell you about Sophie Pascoe. Sophie is a renowned Paralympian who has achieved great success in swimming. Gold medals, world records, the lot. She was also named as the flagbearer for the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team. It’s a tremendous honour and an inspired choice. But I can’t stop thinking about her dad.Sophie Pascoe

When Sophie was just 2 years old she got caught up in the blades of the ride-on lawnmower her dad was operating. She lost one leg below the knee with severe scarring on the other. It’s an accident that her dad has had to live with his whole life. Her story could have gone two ways. She could have grown up jealous of her friends and resentful of her father. That wouldn’t have been a surprise. Or she takes heart and lives a life of courage. She chose the latter. Now, I’m sure her dad was immensely proud of Sophie for all that she’s done and the person she’s become. Of course. Nearly every dad would be. But to see her validated and honoured by her able-bodied peers who recognise in Sophie an example of character and leadership that they would like to follow is something else. It means that Sophie has become the person she is, not despite her accident, but because of her accident. That is called redemption. The action that could have destroyed her is actually a source of strength and life.

So, what are you telling yourself about your story? Where is there a need for redemption? Christ is our great redeemer. That is, he is the one who rewrites our stories. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. As we give our story over to his story, our story becomes one worth living. It gets woven into the narrative of God’s kingdom, without the lies, the accusations, the diminishment and the fear hanging over us. Imagine that! In God’s story there is release from our guilt, freedom from our shame and healing for our brokenness. As we give our story over to God then we can experience those things more and more, until we step in to the full and final redemption at the renewal of all things.

But we need to keep giving our story over to God and let go of the compulsion we have to write our own endings. The other issue we have in our story is, who is the hero? You see, not only is Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith he is also the hero who defeats the enemy and rescues us from his clutches. He’s the one who offers true love and true hope. He’s the one to trust. We are not the heroes of our story but we are friends and allies of the hero. We come to take on his qualities and learn to speak in his name. We too learn to defeat the enemy and push back his advances. And as we do, we reflect the glory of our hero, Jesus, and become active participants and partners in our redemption story.

As Elrond said to Aragorn in the movie version of Lord of the Rings:

Put aside the ranger; become who were born to be!

Trust the hero and give your story over to the true author and may grace and peace be yours.

 

 

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