Jesus Invites Us

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In Luke 5 we see Jesus heal a man with a skin disease. He then tells him to go to the priest and not to tell everyone what happened. Verses 15-16 then say this:

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus often seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the crowds and with healing the sick. Healing was one of the great works of the kingdom. It restored people’s humanity, took away their shame and testified to God’s goodness and glory. It was also an invitation to participate in the new life that God’s kingdom represents. However, for most of us when we’re sick, what we want is to be made well so we can have the old life back. We take paracetamol, antibiotics, apply creams and lotions, visit doctors, have operations so that we can do what we used to do and be how we used to be. I’m sure that the people of 1st century Israel were no different. They joined the crowd and came to Jesus so that they could get their old life back. But that is not the invitation of the kingdom. The invitation is to a new life.

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Jesus took himself away to lonely places so that he could be with his Father and participate in their shared life together. That life is the very life he wanted to pass on. It is the life of the kingdom. We are invited, through Jesus, to participate in God’s life. It is what we are made for. To get in touch with that good news we need to step away from the world just as Jesus did. We need to silence the world’s noise, clamour and demands so that we can hear our heart crying out for God. We need to stop looking for the world’s approval so we can present ourselves to our Father and receive the unconditional embrace that he gives his sons and daughters.

In this time of enforced isolation the world’s demand for more of us has been quietened somewhat for many. Maybe you are starting to hear the longing in your heart for the first time in many years. That longing is for God and his kingdom. It is a yearning for home, a yearning for new life. It is the invitation of divine love. Say yes to it. Agree that your heart longs for God and his love. Agree that his kingdom is your hearts true home. Agree with the new.

So, are you desperately waiting for this lockdown to end so that you can get back to your old life? Let me say it plainly. Our old way of life was killing our planet and killing our hearts. It was too busy, too loud, too demanding, too greedy and too fast. John Ortberg in his book, Soul Keeping, recites a great quote from some African guides who had been pushed to travel a long way quickly and the next day weren’t moving at all:

…they were waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

Our world is filled with many souls trying to catch up with their bodies. My prayer for this lockdown is that they do. And when they find them they find the new life of God’s kingdom together. It starts by saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus. He knows the way to that life. Let him guide you.

Grace and peace everyone

 

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What Are We Waiting For?

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’m writing this on Easter Saturday. It’s the in-between day. The day of waiting. It sits between death and life; despair and hope; the past and the future; the old and the new; darkness and dawn. Waiting is spiritual. It’s an invitation to sit with the unknown, with possibilities, with hopes and dreams. The old has gone, the new is yet to be revealed, and so we wait. We are not waiting for the old to return. We are waiting for the power of resurrection to make all things new.

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We’ve been in lockdown for two weeks and there’s at least two weeks to go. Globally there has been a lot of bad news but mustard seeds of good news too. What is clear is that how things used to be will be no more. The old has gone. It has died. How we work, how we travel, how we shop, how we relate to each other, how we worship has all changed. The age of endless consumption has passed. We don’t know what will replace it. To find out we have to wait.

Waiting isn’t passive. It’s participatory. We participate in putting the old to death and in coming alive to the new. This is true for the kingdom come and for a post-lockdown world. Jesus invites us into the life of the Spirit now. He invites us to do God’s will on earth just as it is done in heaven, but first he invites us to die with him.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! (Romans 6:6, The Message)

Longing for the old way of life is not the way of God’s kingdom. Through Jesus the future has invaded the past and the present. We can only make sense of the past through the light of God’s kingdom that awaits us. We can only have future hope through the kingdom light that has come to us. Armed with a reconciled past and a hopeful future we can live out the way of the kingdom right now, in this moment.

Dare I say that now is the time to be putting our own participation in the age of endless consumption to death. The planet is groaning and as everyone holes up inside it’s letting out a loud exhale. It is breathing well again. Let’s commit to being partners in its renewal. The virus has also exposed rank injustice in our world. It’s one thing to be in lockdown in my comfortable home, in my quiet suburb with a park down the road and well-stocked supermarkets just a short drive away. It’s another to be dirt-poor in a crowded city with your meagre income instantly cut off as the virus takes hold. The poor suffer the most when illness takes hold and a recession hits. Let’s join in the awakening of our consciences and partner with new and creative ways to build a more just global economy. Sustainability needs to replace consumption; fairness needs to replace greed and the idea of enough needs to replace excess.

This is where the new life of the Spirit needs to intersect with our lives now. God is the source of the new. His kingdom is filled with endless resources and possibilities. We will need his compassion, his perseverance, his love to overcome a lifetime of the old and embrace a new way. Right now it’s a crisis and the world needs our prayers and the suffering need our love. As we practice love and compassion right now we are preparing ourselves for tomorrow.

We wait with hope. We wait with love. We wait with patience, grace and purpose. After all it may be Saturday but Sunday’s coming.

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Be Kind To Your Heart

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’ve been doing a series on the three simple guidelines that I use to help me be kind to myself each day.

  1. Have I taken care of my body?
  2. Have I taken care of my mind?
  3. Have I taken care of my heart?

We’re now up to number 3; the heart. John Ortberg in his book, Soul Keeping, says that…

The heart is primarily the seat of the choices we make from the core of who we are.

The good news is that Scripture tells us that in Christ we have been given new hearts. The core of who we are has been changed from self-centred to God-centred. Our deepest desire is to live out of the life of God in us. We’re told that the Father and the Son have made their home in us. Our hearts have been made new but we are not always kind to our new hearts. We don’t always care for them very well. How can we do that, especially in the midst of a global health crisis when many of us are in lockdown mode?

heart shaped candle

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I believe the best thing we can do for our hearts is to worship God. It may sound a bit trite but when we worship God, when we adore Father, Son and Spirit, we bring our hearts home. God is love and our hearts come alive when they are aligned with that love. Worship is where we can present our love for God to God and receive the love he has for us at the same time. As we open our heart to him in worship we give permission for his love to fill our being. It is the kindest thing we can do for our hearts that have been made new by the work of Jesus.

We can’t together with our churches and enjoy our talented musicians or have our voices join together. We can’t all join in the liturgy or give aloud ‘Amen!’ together. But we can soak in worship music via You Tube, Spotify or even CD’s. We can take communion in our homes. We can gaze at the stars and allow the wonder in our hearts to become worship to the God of Wonders. We can pray with Scripture, do online church, read books and do many, many things that help our hearts align with the heart of God, his heart of love.

We’ve been doing these things as a family and I’ve been doing them personally, but it’s still hard. It’s a difficult time filled with uncertainty and it’s easy to pay attention to voices of worry and fear, especially when your job’s on the line or the health of loved ones is fragile. This means that praying off fear is another way to be kind to your heart. We need to come against our old self, the voices of the world and the devil himself in the name and authority of Jesus. We also need to break any agreements we’ve made with worry and fear in the name of Jesus. We need to resist the voices that keep us trapped, that create distance between us and God and that keep us from hope.

So I think we need one more intentional practice. Find something that brings you a bit of joy every day. A daily walk, some Springsteen, worship, chatting and flirting with my wife, board games with the kids are all bringing me some joy. But I need to have the eyes of my heart open to see these things as joy. If I give way to apathy and cynicism my heart goes blind. To go back to my first point, worship opens the eyes of my heart. All other practices flow from there.

I hope this helps you in these interesting times! Grace and peace everyone.

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Be Kind To Your Mind

Hi everyone. Rob here again.

A couple of days ago I wrote that I have given myself 3 simple guidelines to help me be kind to myself each day.

  1. Have I taken care of my body?
  2. Have I taken care of my mind?
  3. Have I taken care of my heart?

We covered the body last time and now it’s time to talk about the mind. We all know Romans 12:2,

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

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We’re not just looking to be intellectually stimulated, but to have our minds renewed so that we may have the mind of Christ. Dallas Willard once told John Ortberg that in the ancient world the mind included both thoughts and feelings. He also defined thoughts as “all the ways a person is conscious of things.” We are aware of things at multiple levels. We not only know things but we also sense things. We have ‘gut feelings’ about things as well as learning from books. Sometimes we ‘just know’ and other times we learn very slowly. The mind is vast and powerful and if it’s not given over to God can get us in a whole heap of trouble.

So what is Jesus thinking about this pandemic? Have you asked him? Is he worried? Is he stressed? Or is he at peace? Is he filled with joy? Is he thinking thoughts of love, compassion and grace? Is he mourning with those who mourn? What’s his truth right now? How can we align our truth with his, the ultimate truth, the true truth? How can we think his thoughts, feel his feelings and be transformed?

Prayer is the obvious answer but how we pray is what matters most. If we just fire requests at God that come from our own best thinking then we are not going to have our minds transformed. To receive Christ’s mind we need to surrender ours. “Lord, I give you my mind. I give you my thoughts, my feelings and all the other ways that I perceive life. Jesus, I ask you for your mind, for your way of thinking, feeling, perceiving, so that I may walk in step with you.”

An obvious fruit of having the mind of Christ will be peace. The world is hurling un-peace at us right now. They’re dumping worry and stress at our door. We need to be very mindful of our media and social media intake at the moment. There is some excellent media out there but endless speculation, worst-case scenarios, constant images of loss and death can lead our mind away from peace and into panic. Jesus is not panicking! We need to die to the world’s answers and come alive to kingdom possibilities. We are going to be needed to help the world heal and so we must give Jesus our minds now! The best way to prepare our minds for the future is to focus our minds on what Jesus wants for us today.

So read Scripture and books/articles/posts infused with God’s Spirit. Control the media you take in. Be realistic. The world will not be the same afterwards. We need to walk with Christ closely so surrendering your own best thinking to him is vital. Give yourself permission to grieve, but don’t neglect worship – more on that next time as we talk about the heart. Take time to listen to his voice. It’s our character that he’s building through this and he’s asking for our co-operation. So pray and listen, pray and listen, pray and listen.

Remember this from 2 Timothy 1:7.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

 

 

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Be Kind to Your Body

Hi everyone. Rob here,

I offer 3 John 2 to you as my prayer and my greeting.

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

What a strange time we are living in! We are now entering week 2 of our lockdown. Some of you may have been doing it for longer and others less, but we have all had our lives utterly disrupted by the spread of Covid-19. There is one message that our government has been sending that I’m particularly grateful for and it goes like this:

Be kind

Most people have been heeding this advice but there are always exceptions. Domestic violence is up by 25%. People have insulted and spat upon supermarket workers because they haven’t been able to buy everything they want. Police have been spat upon as they enforce the rules. Some have policed others with too much vigour and some have just been selfish as they break social distancing and lockdown guidelines. The person we are most likely to be unkind to though, is our-self. Self-care is enormously important at any time, but particularly so at a time like this. The reality is we have never done this before and so we need to release all the pressure that we have put on ourselves to get this right. There is no ‘getting it right’; there is only walking with God.

I have given myself 3 simple guidelines to help me be kind to myself each day.

  1. Have I taken care of my body?
  2. Have I taken care of my mind?
  3. Have I taken care of my heart?

Today, let’s talk about number 1, our body.  

Walk, Path, Walking, Feet, Trail, Shoes, Sport, Legs

Before the lockdown I was training for a 50 kilometre charity walk. It got called off but I got used to walking long distances by our beautiful river. That’s not happening now. I have to settle for shorter walks around our neighbourhood (grateful that local walks are encouraged), time on the rowing machine and press ups. It’s not my ideal but it’s still good. Learning to settle for the good is an act of kindness to ourselves. It’s good for my body to do those things. It’s also good to eat well, stretch and enjoy fresh air. Keep moving. Don’t settle for life in front of a screen. It’s not good for you and you know it. Take breaks, move, walk, run, dance. Take care of your body.

Romans 12:1 tells us this:

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

We live an embodied life, even in lockdown. Our bodies are also limited, decaying and dying. They also have potential that few of us have realised. True worship means offering up this body to God. In doing so we offer up ourselves; our limits and our potential; our goals and our shortcomings; our regrets and our hopes. It would be easy to give ourselves permission to eat too much and move too little in the next few weeks. While I advocate grace, I also advocate resistance.

For me it comes down to this question: Will I be a better human being if I honour my body in this time or neglect it? It pleases God when I become more human. Jesus was the True human and I follow him. I give my body to him. I ask for the Holy Spirit to help me be disciplined. I ask for grace as well as goals and I ask that my body would be a vessel for his love and his Spirit.

May you know God’s kindness to you this week and may you have the grace and capacity to extend his kindness to others. Grace and peace.

p.s We’ll talk about the mind in a few days and then the heart. I made a You Tube video this week talking about Jesus stories. Here’s the link.

 

 

 

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Fragility, Fallenness, Fear and Faith

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We are about to enter a time of lockdown here in New Zealand as we respond to the threat of Covid-19. As far as lockdowns go it’s fairly comfortable. Electricity continues to flow. Supermarkets are open and accessible. We can head out for fresh air and exercise. We are connected via social media to many. We have enough money to get by. We’ve been given wonderfully clear guidance by our Government. There’s a lot to be grateful for. But that is not the case for all.

The fragility and fallenness of human existence gets revealed clearly in times like this. Fragility is revealed in the suffering of the lonely, the homeless, the sick, the anxious and the jobless. Fallenness is revealed in panic buying and unnecessary stockpiling, groups of teens coughing on the elderly, people blatantly ignoring social distancing advice and the propagating of ridiculous conspiracy theories that only fuel hatred and divison. We are invited to respond to fragility with compassion and to fallenness with repentance and surrender.

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Fragility and fallenness come together when it comes to fear. Fear arises out of human fragility. We have a need for connection so we fear loneliness. We love being healthy so we fear sickness. Mostly we love being in control of our lives and so we fear anything that threatens that control. But fear comes from our fallen nature. Life with a new heart means accepting the invitation to die to fear and receive faith, hope and love. Jesus isn’t afraid and so fear is not clothing that fits us anymore.

In dying to fear I do not reject my human fragility. I accept that I don’t want to be lonely, sick or poverty stricken. The choice is to take my fragility to Jesus and receive the gift of his life. Jesus’ life was fragile. Born to an unwed mother, from a backwards town in a backwards province, without status or wealth, disciples also without status, taking on a religious establishment full of corruption and violence that was in league with a pagan empire. His life was so fragile it ended on a cross. He laid his fragility open at the Garden of Gethsemane where he asked for the cup to be taken from him.

Jesus responded to his fragility by completely surrendering himself to his Father.

Yet not what I will, but what you will (Mark 14:36).

Once he’d done that he could step into the suffering that he needed to undergo for our sake. While a few weeks in isolation hardly compares the point is that when we’re completely surrendered to God we become far more equipped to do what needs to be done. We don’t give in to our fragility by making an agreement with fear. We respond with faith, entrusting ourselves to God who holds life and history in his hands. We receive the life of Jesus who is not afraid, but hopeful, loving and joyful. He walked through this and he will walk with us through this.

May you find daily blessing, daily joy, daily peace and daily hope as Jesus fills your life with his. Grace and peace everyone.

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God is in This!

Hi everyone. Rob here.

If you’re anything like me your life is changing multiple times a day right now. In the last 24 hours I’ve had two speaking engagements cancelled and a job interview postponed indefinitely. The day before that saw my children’s sport called off for the season. There is no church to go to on Sunday. On top of that 3 of us have colds and I’ve never been as vigilant about where I go, what I touch and how clean my hands are. There are also questions like, when will school get called off? How long can my wife keep up her in-home child care? Do we have enough money to get through this if income totally dries up? I know that I’m not alone with those questions. But I am also convinced that God is in the midst of this and there is an invitation to turn our gaze towards him. He is our Master, Covid-19 is not. My newsfeed is not. Jesus, catch our hearts.

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What is happening right now is actually very good for many of us. Before Covid-19 the world was running at a frenetic pace. Most people were working too hard, spending too much time on their phones, running from one engagement to another and hustling their way through life. Now there’s hardly anywhere to go. It’s as if we’ve all been given the opportunity to have a Sabbath. Many are choosing to panic, but as people who belong to Christ we have been given different orders.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7)

The invitation is to dwell closely with Christ. It is to commune with him so that his peace, his joy and his gentleness come upon us. It is to let go of fear and anxiety and exchange it for faith and hope. I love how the New Living Translation puts verses 6-7.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

We experience God when we give ourselves completely over to God, holding nothing back for ourselves. His resources are far greater than ours, his timing is better than ours and his entire nature is love so why wouldn’t we trust him in this hour? The invitation of Sabbath is to hand over the things of this world to Christ who has overcome the world. It is to join God in his rest and only take up what he gives us.

Here are some practical invitations that you may want to take up.

  • Do church the way the early church did. Invite a few healthy people to your home. Break bread together. Read Scripture together. Worship together.
  • Go outside as often as you can. Find quiet spots to soak in beauty, fresh air and sunlight. Those are all good weapons against viruses too.
  • Use the phone. Check up on friends and neighbours.
  • If you have the resources, share with those who don’t. Make meals, share your produce, give them a roll of toilet paper!
  • Start and finish the day with prayer, scripture and worship. Give God as much attention as you can. He deserves more attention than a virus does.

Grace and peace everyone.

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