Lifelong Learning

Hello everyone. Rob here.

Some have called the age we live in, ‘The Information Age.’ Let’s be honest. It’s actually ‘The Information Overload Age.’ Wisdom used to be gained through the lived experience of elders who then passed it on to the next generation, simply by living in close proximity to them. Apprenticeship was a way of life. There were also initiation rites and rituals to signify the movement from childhood to adulthood, and the responsibilities that lay with that. This is a very different age, especially in the West. We have outsourced learning. Not just to teachers and tutors, but You Tube, Google and Siri. Adolescence is now a state that seems to last until the mid-twenties. In this age, the most counter-cultural thing we can do, I believe, is to become an intentional apprentice to Jesus Christ,  and assume our role as sons and daughters in the Father’s estate.

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Modern education uses the phrase, ‘seeking to create life-long learners.’ That’s a wonderful posture for the apprentice of Christ to adopt. Of course, it’s not learning to gain more information as such, but in how to live purposefully, live faithfully and live lovingly. But how do we learn and who do we learn from? With the right mindset and posture, we can learn from anyone, but it starts with a humble desire to learn. This leads to asking questions of God, and then following his lead as he uses various people and means to teach us. It’s remembering that one of the names used for Jesus was ‘Teacher’ or ‘Rabbi.’ He’s the one whom we follow in order to learn. Like Mary we also sit at his feet, taking our place as student.

Intentionality is the key. I’m also thinking of two other old-fashioned words – determination and discipline. These attitudes also need to be combined with humble surrender, lest we think that we’re teaching ourselves. Humility also reminds us that we”re in constant need of learning.

So, don’t just read your bible hoping for an encouraging word. Study it. Find out about the background, the history and the context. Try to put yourself in the listener’s shoes. Don’t trust people who give you easy answers that just happen to coincide with their worldview. Ask ‘why’ a lot. Keep asking the Spirit, ‘what do you want me to learn here?’

Read widely about all sorts of things. Let yourself wonder and again, ask ‘why’ a lot. Watch good documentaries. Read in-depth articles. Go beyond the headline. Travel. Ask a lot of questions, especially when you meet interesting people. Get curious.

However, lifelong learning needs to be built on a firm foundation otherwise we don’t have the capacity to carry it all. The foundation is this: God is good, you are loved and in Christ you have life. As we learn we are held in the Father’s arms. We learn in order to live well in and for his kingdom. We learn just how big, how wonderful and how gracious he really is. If we ask God to teach us that, it will help our hearts be open enough to really see.

When I look back on my life of learning I see that it’s when I’m after more of God himself, not mere knowledge about him, that I grow and learn. When my learning is based on  a life of worship then my heart is ready for whatever God wants to teach me.

May Christ be your teacher. May you learn by resting in the Father’s love and may the Spirit of the Living God lead you.

Grace and peace.

 

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Words of Life

Kia Ora everyone. Rob here.

My wife, Kiley, and I have a mutual desire to speak words of life into people. By that I mean that we want to partner with God and be his mouthpiece of life-giving love and grace in what we say, pray and write. Whether it be members of the church congregation wanting to grow in Christ, or our neighbours who simply want to make less destructive choices, the goal is the same – allow God’s Spirit to work in us so that we can speak God’s words. However, as I’m sure you can guess, the reality is somewhat different. The stresses and strains of life, our own woundedness, the enemy’s lies, selfishness and busyness can all conspire to inhibit our listening to God, our courage to speak and, even the willingness to do so.

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Ironically, the person that we are least likely to speak words of life over is our-self. In fact we are more likely to receive condemnation from our words than commendation. Some of the things we say about ourselves are things we wouldn’t dream of saying to someone else. When things go wrong we tend to blame ourselves, diminish ourselves, and even curse ourselves. Now, if you want to be someone who speaks life to and for others, this is an untenable situation. We’re asked by Jesus to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. If we’re speaking cruel words over our own self it won’t be long before we’re speaking those words over others, usually those closest to us. Unfortunately, I know of what I speak. There are a lot of words I’d love to take back, and I’d start with the ones I called myself.

We need new words. We need God’s words and we need faith in order to believe God’s words and take them to heart. We then need to speak those words over ourselves regularly. We need to be reminded of how good God really is and how beloved we really are. The embrace that the father gives the prodigal son is the embrace that he gives all of us. Will we allow ourselves to believe that we are loved like that? Will we take to heart God’s words of love? Words like …

17 The Lord your God is with you;
    his power gives you victory.
The Lord will take delight in you,
    and in his love he will give you new life.
He will sing and be joyful over you (Zephaniah 3:17 – Good News Bible)

“You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy” – Luke 3:22, NLT (words spoken by the Father over Jesus, but what’s true for Jesus is true 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! – 1 John 3:1 (NIV)

There are so many more! We really are beloved sons and daughters of the Father, heirs of his kingdom, brothers and sisters of Christ. May these words bring you life and may your life bring life to others. Speak well!

Grace and peace everyone.

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Minding the Gap

Hi everyone, Rob here.

Nearly everyone I know has good intentions, myself included. And nearly everyone I know would say that there is a gap between their good intentions and reality, myself included. I really do want to be a loving and attentive husband and father, a good and available friend, a witness in the community to Christ, a caring and compassionate pastor to the broken-hearted, an effective preacher in touch with the Spirit as well as the Word, and so on and so on. No doubt, you have your own list. It’s just that sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m cranky or others are, sometimes I feel inadequate, sometimes other things get in the way and so on and so on. But here’s the thing. It’s the good intentions that point to our deepest reality, and not the shortcomings or the stumbling blocks. The fact that we have a desire to serve God, love God and do his will is a sign pointing to our new hearts in Christ and the eternity set in those hearts.

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I love the argument Paul makes in Romans 7 and 8. He sums up the human dilemma in 7:21-25.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

The deepest parts of ourselves want to obey God, but we feel wretched when other forces pull us away from that. We can feel like a slave to sin, but that’s not our true self. It’s our old self and that’s been dealt with through Jesus Christ. So Paul goes on to say in 8:1-2,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 

It is Christ himself who bridges the gap between our good intentions and the reality of life. In him we are free from condemnation, sin and death. Our instinct when we notice the gap is to try harder. We just think that if we put more effort in the gap will be bridged, good intentions will turn into reality and our life will have purpose and fulfillment. But we can’t bridge the gap no matter how hard we try. Here’s the reality.

…we remember ourselves by remembering Jesus Christ – Mark Labberton

Christ bridges the gap by bringing us into his life through his death and resurrection. This is what living a Spirit-led life means. It means that we live the life Jesus would live if he were us. So the answer isn’t trying harder, it’s remembering Jesus and re-presenting ourselves to him. As we do that we take our place once again in the love of God-Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul goes on to say this:

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This is the truth that our good intentions are pointing to. We are beloved children of God. Father, Son and Spirit work together so we can understand this. but the old, sinful self needs to be put to death and the Trinity works together to help us do this also. Rise to a new life in Christ, a new identity. Mind the gap between good intentions and lived reality, but surrender, don’t strive. Remember Christ to discover yourself. Let the Spirit lead you and may grace and peace be yours.

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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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