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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Posted in Christianity, God, humanity, kingdom of God, peace, reconciliation, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Pulled Up and Pushed Along

Hi everyone. Rob here.

At the moment the weather is acting as a great metaphor for my life. It’s sunny one moment and is then followed by a wind gust of gale proportions and a downpour. It’s warm and lovely while I walk through a series of puddles. I have no problem with change but the process of changing and the reality of transition is messing with my head. The call to change remains strong but the gusts of opposition make it hard to keep moving. If I was on my own in the change, it would be almost impossible, but I’m not on my own. There are enough allies on the journey, that partner with Jesus in pulling me up and pushing me along. Praise God for that!

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There’s David, who has put the hard work in to get our book over the line (details really, really soon). When you’re self-publishing there’s a lot of detail, like formatting, that you have to do yourself. David has done this and it’s helped me up and helped me along. My friends Tony and Chris have agreed to partner with me in the new Trust that will administer the new venture (see last post for more on this). There’s the elderly lady who offered a small amount monthly, the ministry that has offered their facilities and others who have offered general encouragement. There’s Kiley and the kids who have kept affirming the call even though it has the potential to really mess our lives up. There are friends who have listened and given good advice.

In short, the message has been affirmed to me over and over that we need each other. Roles change, circumstances change, lives change, but all the time, we need each other. I would be very stuck right now if it wasn’t for the support I’ve received. The difficulty of the transition from pastoring to starting a new ministry would have been overwhelming. I’m not an entrepreneur or a self-starting man. I’m not a type-A individual or the type of guy that ‘makes things happen.’ I need help. I’ve never done this before and it’s a bit scary.

If I’m not vulnerable enough to admit that it’s scary and that I need help, then it makes me unable to receive help when it’s offered. It makes me proud and operating outside God’s plan for the body of Christ. As Paul said, the parts of the body need each other. they aren’t independent entities. Christ gives us all meaning and purpose but it’s interconnected and mutually dependent.

We need each other and every small act of connection helps to build trust between each other. By reading this blog and engaging with it you contribute to this ministry. Thank you. Christ is our head and he gets the glory, but he’s chosen to use the whole body, even the humble parts to see his will done on earth. We get to be a part of it and that part matters. It’s connected to the whole; the Kingdom of God.

May God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Shalom.

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A New Calling

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Regular readers will note that it’s been a while between posts! I apologise for that, but the last several weeks have seen a big change in my life. A month ago I handed in my resignation as pastor of my church, Hillcrest Chapel, in Hamilton, New Zealand. I have served as pastor for 12.5 years, been on staff for a further 3 years and been part of the church for 25 years. It was a big call, but it was because I had received a new call. bridge-19513_960_720

Well, not that new really. For several years the desire to write, run retreats and serve God’s kingdom in new and creative ways had been bubbling away in me. The problem was that I was struggling to do all of that, while also doing what needed to be done as pastor. The church didn’t seem to be the forum for me to fulfil those other desires at this time. And that’s fine.

So, instead of having me battle on, God called me out. He reminded me that he had put those desires in my heart. He showed me that there are hearts lost in the wilderness of self-centredness and in the fog of self-preservation that need rescuing. It’s time to step outside of one church so that I can serve many churches, and the kingdom of God as a whole. The time is now, God said. As I said yes, I felt God’s excitement for what’s ahead and his pleasure in my agreeing to his will.

Soon, a book called Coming Home will be available on Kindle and as a paperback. It’s a book that David and I have written on the story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-32. They represent the wilderness and the fog; rebellion and self-preservation; true identity and false identity, but both remain objects of the father’s unconditional love. So, under the banner of Brand New Heart Ministries, I will be offering retreats and workshops based on the book, Wild at Heart BASIC retreats, spiritual direction and coaching for men, guest speaking and more. It feels scary! That’s good. It means I’ll be praying.

Change like this involves loss as well as opportunity, grief as well as hope, uncertainty to go with faith. I ask for your prayers. I still have a couple of months until I finish at church. May I finish well. We’ll keep you informed about the book and ongoing developments.

Grace and peace to you.

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Endless Possibilities

Hi everyone. Rob here.

A preacher’s phrase caught my attention the other day; “the endless possibilities in God.” He was talking about God defeating every empire, setting hearts free, transforming lives, defeating death and the power of the Holy Spirit. He was waking us up and shaking us out of the stupor of our lives and the easy agreements we make with hopelessness. He was pointing us to the fact that resurrection from the dead is the kind of business that God deals in and that Jesus our Rescuer came to reveal to all of us. God is not done with us. This is not it, in this life or the next. God is growing us, shaping us, transforming us and enlivening us right now so that we are fit for Kingdom of God purposes. And yet, I and we, are so slow to believe aren’t we? The everyday existence that passes itself off as reality is very effective at dulling our senses and our hope. Accompanied by the devil himself, the power of a godless world and our own fallen flesh, our lives can blind us to the glorious hope and resurrection power of the God of the Universe. This blindness can be fatal if we keep making agreements with it, or never wake up to it. We are made for life and we must never, ever forget it.

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Resurrection is true reality. Not only is it our eternal destiny, but it’s also our everyday power. This power has worked in me in recent weeks and is effecting a change that isn’t obvious on the outside but clear on the inside. It’s been a slow, but sure return of hope. It’s been a renewed conviction that God is truly in charge of things and is working all things together for the good of his people. It’s been a fresh grounding in the unconditional love of God. Most of all it’s been a deep reminder of the old and wise adage, “one day at a time.” God is life for today and that is enough.

It’s easy to look at the trials and the things that are hard. They are obvious. I and you face them every day. Not every one will like or love us. Not every idea will work. Not every opinion we hold will be agreed with. We will be misinterpreted and misunderstood. But, for today, I base my life on the reality of resurrection. I base it on the fact that after death, there is life; after pain, there is healing and after division, there is reconciliation. If not in this life, then the life to come.

It doesn’t always feel like an easy choice to make. Moaning and complaining is always easier. Bringing your complaints to the cross is harder. And resurrection begins at the cross. There’s no new life without dying to the old life. If you’re desiring the new, we always need to ask, “what is the old that I need to take to the cross?” I can’t make other people do that, but I can do that for myself.

May the Spirit lead us through the cross into resurrection life. May we know that for today, we have life. May we die to the old and come alive to the new that God has for us and may we know, deep in our bones, that in God there are endless possibilities.

Grace and peace everyone.

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