Intimate Obedience

Seasons greetings everyone. Rob here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jesus Had Sore Feet

Hi everyone. Rob here.

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

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

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

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

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

Your kingdom come, your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

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

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

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Fish Sandwiches

Hi everyone. Rob here.

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

This feels holy.

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

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

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

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

Grace and peace everyone.

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Looking for Peace

Shalom everybody. Rob here.

I have recently returned from an epic trip to Israel and the West Bank and I need to say a big thank you to my sponsors! I had a number of reasons to go. One was spiritual; to walk where Jesus walked. Another was historical; to see where so many significant moments of history have played out. Yet another was political; to see what’s going on now and experience the current reality in a turbulent land. Finally, there was an opportunity to catch up with Christians in the West Bank and to see life through their eyes. I am grateful to say that I experienced all of the above.

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The land of Israel/Palestine has always served as a gateway to the world. People would travel up the Via Maris – the Way of the Sea, from Egypt, or travel the King’s Highway which put them near the Jordan River, and engage in commerce.  Thus, there are layers upon layers of history there. That history, inevitably, involves conflict; political, tribal, religious and economic. The empires of Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome have all vied for control of this little strip of land. Even in the last 200 years the Ottoman and British empires have fought over Israel/Palestine. And then there is today’s conflict.

Modern day Israel was born out of The Holocaust. The persecution and subsequent slaughter of 6.5 million Jews in Europe at the hands of Nazi Germany before and during World War Two created the conditions for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the land of Palestine. This was supported by the British who held the Mandate for the territory and the United Nations. This is a simplified version of course. There was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the various Zionist movements, the shocking failure of Western Nations to accept Jewish refugees after WW2, Western guilt over the Holocaust and many other large and small events of history. So, the Jews were given a homeland, but there was the matter of the 700,000 or so Palestinian Arabs who already lived in the land. To them, it felt like an invasion. They didn’t want to share! This is understandable even without the ethic and religious tensions. Not many of us do want to share. We certainly don’t want to give up control or the majority position. Unfortunately that turned out to be the case and 70+ years of conflict began. It’s my opinion that the rest of the world, particularly the West, bears a lot of the responsibility for that.

Right now the challenge exists for both sides to see each other as part of the land, part of the story and fellow humans worthy of the right to exist and thrive. All of humanity finds this task exceptionally difficult. My own country has had to deal with a history of colonialists stealing land from Maori, of committing atrocities and perpetuating a system where Maori were set up to fail. The United States is the same. Look at almost any country and you see this pattern. This means that part of our fallen humanity is the loss of our ability to see the image of God, and therefore, intrinsic worth in people who are different to us. It’s a tragedy of global consequence.

The problem is huge and so we look to the powerful to fix it. Big mistake! The powerful are usually invested in maintaining division. Start with yourself and look for the mustard seeds of hope all around you. They exist in Israel and the West Bank. I saw it at the beach in Tel Aviv as everyone of all creeds and colours enjoyed the sunshine and a day off. I saw it in Bethlehem Bible College as they equip and empower young people to stay and be part of the solution. I saw it in my Bike Tour host who almost wept at the lost opportunity for peace when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated in 1995.

We follow the Prince of Peace who is not afraid to expose our divisions and our prejudices. The death of our egos and our pride is the pathway to peace. This is a time of major exposure! Start by facing it in yourself. Ask the Spirit to examine your own heart. Where are you struggling to see God’s image in the other? What are your blind spots? I know you have them, because I do. Then bring them to the cross where all pride comes to die.

Our destiny is peace. Blessed are the peacemakers.

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Go With The Flow

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of my favourite things this year has been walking beside the Waikato River that runs through my hometown of Hamilton, New Zealand. There is something so soothing and restorative about water, whether it be rivers, lakes, oceans or waterfalls, and my heart has needed that this year. As I was walking yesterday I was drawn to the spot in the river where the current was swift and steady. There are other parts that are turbulent, forming eddies and cross-currents. Other parts are slow, almost stationery, particularly in the shallows. The swift and steady current was right in the middle of the river. I knew what God was saying: “That’s where you need to be.”

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God was talking to me about the river of life, spoken about in Revelation 22:1,

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

I pictured this river of God’s life, love and will flowing through history. Over the centuries people have tried to go against the flow. Others have stayed in the shallows, not going anywhere. Others are on the banks of the river as life passes them by. God’s invitation is for us to throw caution to the wind, jump right into the middle and give ourselves over to the current of God’s life, love and will. Let me correct that. It only has the appearance of throwing caution to the wind. It is actually the safest move you can make.

This is because God’s future is the only future there is. All other options stand in opposition to that. So the best move we can make is to surrender ourselves to the life, love and will of God as revealed through his Son and our Lord and brother, Jesus. As John Eldredge said at a recent Boot Camp,

The safest place is all in

God is urging this on me and my family at the moment. We’ve all noticed that half measures don’t get us very far and, in fact, leave us vulnerable to accusation, confusion and sin. When we’re all in, fully surrendered, there is more clarity and more purpose. It reinforces to me that you can’t do God’s will unless we do it God’s way. Most if us try and do God’s will our way and wonder why things don’t work out so well. We play around in the shallows, or turn our rudder against the current , because it seems more comfortable there. But we need to be in the flow. God is at work and he wants us on board as he works. We get to be part of it!

Yes, it’s scary. You need to travel light. You can’t be weighed down by unnecessary burdens and baggage when you’re going with the flow. So we need healing for our wounds, freedom in our minds and hearts and a focused desire for the kingdom of God. I’m in. Come join me.

Grace and peace.

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Hiding Places

Hi everyone, Rob here.

A close read of Genesis 1-3 reveals so much of what we need to know about the human condition and how we relate to God. One of the most startling scenes is this one in chapter 3:6-10, just after the serpent had done his work of deception:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.

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The desire to hide from God has been hardwired into us from our very ancient ancestors. Hiding comes from a sense of shame, of unworthiness and a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability. As I venture into this new season of my life the sense of vulnerability is getting stronger and, with it, the pull to unworthiness and hiding.

I have had some very good hiding places over the years. While many may use pornography, alcohol and drugs, the really effective ones are much more subtle. Naked women and red wine have obvious appeal, but if you’re resorting to that stuff then exposure will soon come. Hiding won’t be an option. I’ve found things like intellectual pursuits, apathy, novels, TV and people pleasing to be helpful in keeping my heart hidden and God’s love at arms length. That way you can be hidden in plain sight as they say.

But it’s not life. It can give a good impression of life as can a lifestyle of cafes and bars, holidays and really great Instagram shots, but it’s not life. It’s certainly not the fullness of life that Jesus offers us. To have that we need to come out of hiding. We need to be seen. We need to be naked. God needs to see our wounds, our fears, our desires and our glory. More specifically, he needs us to see our wounds, our fears, our desires and our glory and to name them in front of him. To do that he needs to strip away all that we’ve used to cover ourselves up and hide our heart away. It’s often painful and frustrating. It’s as if we’ve been hiding in a forest and now every splinter is being pulled out.

It’s not just our wounds we like to keep hidden but our gifting too. We shy away from the glory that God has given us but, by doing so, we keep God’s glory hidden also. Jesus wasn’t afraid of being brilliant but he did so to give glory to God, not to blow his own trumpet. The best athletes reveal the glory of their sport: Roger Federer and tennis, Simone Biles and gymnastics, Rory McIlroy and golf for example. In the same way as we let God shine in us and allow our gifts to emerge we reveal God’s glory. Think of the gifted musician whose beautiful playing makes us feel as if we’re entering heaven, or the preacher who expresses a truth in such a way that our heart soars, or an administrator who makes the complex become simple allowing others to shine as a result.

We die with Christ. We bring our pain and our wounds to the cross. We allow them to be seen. We also offer ourselves as people made in the image of God who reflect his glory when we allow his life to shine through us. Let’s give the Spirit permission to fill us so that the life of God and the glory of God is seen in and through us. Let’s come out of hiding. Let’s get rid of our hiding places and exchange them for the truly safe place of living in God’s love.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Why I Need Courage

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Well, here I am sitting in a different office at a different desk, having finished up as a Pastor 2 weeks ago, with a new job title of Director of Brand New Heart Ministries. The title sounds good but it gives the impression of something tangible existing. In reality nothing much exists yet. The Charitable Trust has yet to be formed. There are no retreats booked in, no Spiritual Direction clients, no job description, little money and a book that just a few people own. There is an idea, a dream, a vision, a conviction and a lot of space for God to lead this thing where he wants it to go. Now it’s a case of seeking, listening and obeying. It’s exciting, scary and kind of fun!

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However, there is also doubt, fear and indecision. There is second guessing myself and, by extension, the call of God that came upon me. Some of that is the devil snapping at my heels. Some of it is the unfinished places within me that still need to mature, heal and bear fruit. Some of it is the mucky reality of letting go of what was in order to embrace what is and will be. You can’t embrace when you’re still holding on to something else, even if it’s only by your pinky. There is the natural fear of doing something that you’ve never done before. There is the material reality of not having regular income that gnaws away at you. The older you get the more awareness you have of consequences to actions. Fearlessness is harder to come by. Courage comes and then it goes.

The good and hard news is that this ministry can only work if God is at work in it. I can’t do it through my own giftedness, charisma, personality or skill. There isn’t enough of those things, and so I must pray. I must surrender. I must keep handing my life, my ministry, my desires over to God. I must die with Christ and learn to keep rising with him. But I also need to work. There are things to do, people to contact, structures to establish and so on. Doing those practical tasks from a surrendered, prayerful place is the challenge and the invitation.

So I could give you a salesman’s pitch on why you should buy the Coming Home book. I could try and persuade you to send a cheque to this address. Rather, I would have you pray for my heart and yours; that we would be surrendered, obedient and brave. The world needs us to have the courage of Christ. May it be so. Amen.

P.S For more on the Coming Home book, please click the link below.

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