You Are Not Alone

Kia Ora everyone. Rob here.

Last week I was at our annual Pastor’s retreat for our movement. The great benefit of the retreat is being with others who understand your world, speak the same language, share the same frustrations and joys and struggles. The big message I get from the week is: You are not alone! This is a message that would be good for all of us to take to heart.

Feeling alone is a debilitating feeling. It saps all the energy and purpose out of you. I find it fascinating that in Romans 12:15 Paul says this:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

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If there’s no one to share your pain with and no one to celebrate your joy with, what are you left with? You’re left with isolation, a state that none of us are designed for. It was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) said God. It makes sense then that a tactic of the enemy would be to make us feel alone, isolated, cut off, and thereby, tempt us to make agreements that we’re unloveable, not worth it, and untouchable. Hearts get hardened, addictions take hold, pride and/or shame rule and our humanity is diminished.

But you’re not alone. It may feel that way, but you’re not. Every alcoholic felt that their pain was unique and then they went to AA and discovered they were not alone. When you’re suffering from depression, feelings of isolation can be overwhelming, but you’re not alone. The horribly huge number of teenage suicides in my country tell me that there are far too many carrying around a belief that no one understands or cares. But you’re not alone.

The difficulty is that reaching out to others requires an enormous amount of courage, vulnerability and trust – often more than people feel they can give. If our communities are built on pretense and posing then people will be very reluctant to come out of isolation. If our communities are built on genuine love that gives us the courage to be vulnerable, however, then a different story will emerge.

The church is built on Jesus Christ who made himself vulnerable for us. He knew isolation at the cross. His friends abandoned him. he even cried out;

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me! – Matthew 27:46

Jesus identified with our ‘God-forsaken’ moments and reminds us again – we are not alone. Christ is with us. Christ’s church is designed to be a community where we can be vulnerable because Christ is our refuge. We have a long way to go, but when we’re on our knees at the cross of Christ, letting his restoring love wash over our broken places, then we’re on our way. There’s no posing at the foot of the cross.

If isolation and loneliness is your story then take heart. Christ has overcome the world. Through his vulnerability and courage the enemy is thwarted. Come as you are to the foot of the cross. May you meet the church of Christ there. May you meet love there. May the light shine in your darkness there and may you know, you are not alone.

Grace and peace.

 

 

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Choosing Trust

Hi everyone. Rob here.

One of my favourite places when I was a child was Grandma’s kitchen. She did all her cooking and baking on a coal range so it was always warm and cosy in there. In there we played games, ate meals, devoured her baking, conversed and just hung out. It was a safe place, a refuge and a haven. I wonder what that place was for you growing up? Did you have one? I hope so. Every child needs a memory of refuge and of peace so they can connect with the peace and the haven God wants to provide for us.

I’ve been thinking about Proverbs 18:10 (you may know the song!).

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

God himself wants to be our refuge, our haven, our safe place. In him we are to find sanctuary, validation and our hearts true home. We are invited to dwell within the love of Father, Son and Spirit with full and open hearts. This is seldom our experience however. We seem to gain glimpses of it very now and again but I firmly believe that God wants this to be our everyday reality.

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The elephant in the room is that we don’t always trust God. We have suffered pain, sometimes very intense pain; emotional, physical and spiritual. We have felt the cries of our heart go unanswered. We have felt that the Lord has given and then taken away. We have experienced loss, heartache and suffering and we have blamed God for it.

But if God is good, if God is love and if God is our refuge, then other forces must be at work! We’re told that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). We’re also told that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Paul talks about the powers of this dark world (Ephesians 6:12). As John Eldredge says , we’re part of a love story set in the midst of war.

Jesus tells us explicitly that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33), but he also says, in the same verse, that it’s in him we have peace. We can take heart because he’s overcome the world. But it’s victory through a cross. Paul says that we can rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5:3). It’s clear that there is much set against us and suffering in unavoidable. It was unavoidable for Jesus and it’s unavoidable for us. And yet we are also assured that in Christ is peace and joy and hope. He is our refuge. The Father’s arms are wide open. The Spirit leads us and fills us with life. We are asked to trust God because he is the only way through the forces set against us. If we don’t trust God then there is no hope, no joy, no life and no love, that can overcome the thief who wants to steal, kill and destroy.

The power of the powers is no match for the cross of Christ. Their power dies there and we die to every agreement we’ve made with them. Christ’s resurrection shouts to the world that he is the trustworthy one. He is the one who can make his way through the power of death and he can guide us through also. We just have to trust  him. He knows the way home. Let’s follow him. The Father’s arms await us. The joy of the Spirit is with us. Suffering will come but despair doesn’t have to. Cynicism doesn’t have to. The peace I knew in Grandma’s kitchen is a glimpse into the kingdom of God where laughter and joy abound. May you glimpse that more and more as you choose to trust the goodness and love of our God.

Grace and peace.

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Noticing Life

Greetings everyone. Rob here.

In the middle of winter, as it is here in Aotearoa – New Zealand, life can start to feel like drudgery. The weather’s a bit bleak, energy levels are down, your nose always seems to be running, the kids are inside with outside voices, and the people around you are often feeling the same way too. This means that we have to make a very deliberate effort to come before God and ask for his eyes to see, his ears to hear and his heart to engage with life.

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At other times of the year our bodies and minds are naturally refreshed by sunlight and warmth; flowers and birds; longer days and time outside. That’s not the case in winter, although I do recommend getting outside as much as possible, even if it involves a raincoat and gumboots. What’s really needed in winter is the ability to notice and celebrate life wherever you can find it. This is why we need God’s eyes to see. As the source of life, he can point us towards life. He can refresh our spirits and renew our minds because that’s the effect his life has on us.

So, while today is cold and bleak, I can look out my office window and see the church’s neighbour, an elderly lady, going about her job delivering pamphlets. She also helps at the local school, picks up rubbish, sorts out our bins, seems to know everyone and smiles a lot. I can give thanks for her and the gift she is to our local community. I can also look at the High School across the road and see the kids slugging it out in P.E. I can give thanks for a school of great diversity, their commitment to learning and the opportunities they give our teens to grow. I can also look through our church buildings and celebrate a playgroup, a toy library and a breakfast programme that have all blessed people today.

As the sun tries its best to poke its head through the rising cloud I’m thankful this winter’s day that the God of life is active and intentional in our community. People are going about their jobs of teaching, serving, cleaning and caring. The streets look clean because of the rubbish service yesterday. I’m grateful for that and for the people who value beauty enough to have planted trees and plants, tended their lawns and brought some colour to the world. I’ve also laughed with someone today and that too is a great gift. I suspect that I’ve noticed these things today because I gave myself over to God this morning and intentionally asked for his eyes to see, his ears to hear and his heart to engage. I’ll need to do that again as the day goes on, because winter days are long. What are you asking God for today? Is it just to ‘get through’ the day? Lift your sights. God invites us to participate in his life, so ask for his life and love to flow in and through you. It helps, it really does.

So, may you ask and receive. May the eyes of your heart be opened. May you give thanks for the many gifts that today has for you and may you the grace and peace of God be upon you.

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Fiji Time

Bula Vinaka everyone. Rob here.

As you may deduce from the above greeting I have recently returned from Fiji, where our church has just completed a short-term mission trip. One of the strong convictions we have as a team, is that God was faithful to us. What does that mean? It’s one of the great Christian cliches, but what does it look like in reality?

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For us, it meant that God gave us everything we needed to do his will as a team. Before we left we had a clear purpose. We wanted to do a good, high quality job on the building project and be a blessing that way. We wanted to be united in love and purpose. We wanted to have encounters with the local Fijians that were mutually beneficial and blessed. We wanted to bless the resident mission leaders and their family. They are part of our church and friends to most of us who went. Again, this word ‘bless’ seems like a cliche too, until you realise that it means being bearers of God’s blessing. When you know that, it becomes a missional word. So, as a team, we say that God was faithful because he equipped and empowered us to do his will and carry his blessing to those he wanted us to carry it to.

God’s faithfulness was shown most clearly in the small things. On the building site, everyone was willing to work hard and everyone found useful work to do. The experienced practitioners were patient and helpful to those of us less experienced. We had people who kept things light and brought fun to the table. Others were gentle encouragers. We even had some who were great with the children we had on site periodically. Every day we would have a devotion at morning tea. We shared this task out and everyone came well prepared, shared their hearts and unified us around the God who loves us. God knitted the team together, empowered us to bring our best selves and motivated us to serve through hammers, paintbrushes and drills.

Outside of the building site it was also evident that God had knitted our team together in a special way. We ran a midweek kids club and a kid’s Sunday School, where people’s creativity and heart for children combined to create a memorable time. I was able to preach and share with local pastors. Others gave testimonies. One wrote a drama that was just right for the occasion. Friendships were built with a local worker and local pastors. There’s much more and God’s faithfulness in the little things was seen in ways beyond the team dynamics.

There was the cooling breeze at just the right time. There was the blessings of good food lovingly prepared. Prayer became focused on daily needs: like supplies arriving on time, good health, safety, energy, being a blessing to others, and those prayers were answered.

We are part of God’s ambitious plan: the renewal of all things. But Jesus encourages us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In Fiji we found that we were uniquely knitted together for a common purpose, and that as we presented ourselves daily before God, his will was done through us. I believe these principles do not just apply to a short-term mission trip in another country, but to every community that bears the name of Jesus. This is why small groups matter so much. It’s in the tightness of these groups, within the larger community, that we receive the mutual love and care necessary to uphold us as we go about God’s mission in this world. If you don’t have a loving, purposeful small group to be part of, I encourage you to pray for one.

Grace and peace everyone and…

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again may the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

 

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Facing my Fear

Hi everyone, Rob here.

Tomorrow I fly out to Fiji with a team from our church to work on a building project, bless some friends, teach some kids and enjoy the company of a church we have connections with. It will be a great time and the tropical warmth will be a tonic I’m sure. As a pastor I’m fairly sure that I’ll be called on for a few extra activities and that will be great too. But I do have some nerves. It’s not around the cross-cultural stuff, although that can get a bit tricky. It’s not around team unity as we’ll all get along fine. It’s around the actual activity of building.

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Building and home handyman skills was not something I was brought up with, nor have I ever shown a lot of talent for. Whenever I’ve tried I’ve found it frustrating, and something always goes a bit wrong it seems. Now I know that I could find useful activities on the building site and I could play the part of a good servant. However, part of me wants more than that. I want to learn some skills and make a contribution in the actual building.

Now, I’m sure you know the uncomfortable feelings that go with being an old dog trying to learn new tricks. I have certainly carried feelings of shame around my inadequacy in this area. I have felt incompetent as a man, especially a Kiwi man surrounded by other men who are very capable practically. I have felt fairly stupid at times as I struggle to get my head around learning even the most basic of skills. While these feelings have been real, they’ve also been profound lies.

They’ve been built around such things as envy, a false masculine ideal, a failure to be thankful for my own gifts and skills, a lack of grace towards myself and the inability to surrender all of this to God my Father, thus not allowing myself to learn as a son and, as an apprentice to Christ my brother. The truth is I’m not very good at building and that’s just fine. I don’t need to be and God doesn’t need me to be. But it is an opportunity to be a student, and serve as a student. It’s a time to learn and grow. It’s an invitation into humility and a time to lay my shame and inadequacy down.

We all have these places within us that feel inadequate and shameful. They need to be presented to God and healed by his kindness and love. We need to repent of the agreements we’ve made with the shame. We then need to have a true humility that can own up to our imperfections, but still choose to serve and be teachable. This trip is a good step on the journey for me. I still feel vulnerable but that is leading to surrender and trust. I choose to walk with God and be Fathered by him. And while that’s enough, I still want to learn how to make a set of bunks!

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Evil vs Humility

Kia Ora everyone. Rob here.

Soon after the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2, and the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, Genesis 4-6 tells the story of how quickly the world became permeated with evil. Cain kills Abel, Lamech boasts of killing fuelled by revenge, and in Genesis 6:5-6 we read this:

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.

Human evil fills God’s heart with pain. Remember that after creating man and woman he was able to look at the earth he had made and declare it to be very good. So when we treat each other, and ourselves, as less than human, God grieves. When we abuse others with violence, cruelty and meanness, God grieves. When we’re looking out for number one, and stop caring about who we hurt along the way, God grieves.woman-2924698_960_720

So evil is directly related to the question of ‘what does it mean to be human?’ Here are three things that Genesis tells us about what it means to be human:

  • To bear God’s image: to reflect God to the world.
  • To rule in his name: Fill the earth, subdue it, bring God’s image to bear throughout creation.
  • To do it in community – God and people and creation itself together in Shalom.

Revelation 21:3 is now the ultimate goal, but it used to be the original goal.

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Evil occurs when the image of God, our very humanness is desecrated. It’s uncomfortable with humanity as God made it to be, so it seeks to puff us up, and/or diminish us. Pride and shame are evil’s main weapons. Evil wants us to think we are either a god or a worm. If we believe either one we are not taking our place as God’s image-bearers on the earth, representing life in him. Pride and shame also lead to separation from others; we don’t need anyone, or we’re not worthy to be with anyone. Either way we’re projecting our image of ourselves, not God’s image; we’re ruling in our own name, running our own ship. With pride you run your own ship for your own glory, with shame you run it so you can hide whenever you want. So God’s image, God’s reflected rule and true community are destroyed by pride and shame.

Genuine humanity requires a genuine humility. This humility is what’s targeted by the forces of evil. We see this when Jesus was tempted in the desert. The devil tried to get him to turn stone into bread, and not trust in God’s provision. He tried to get Jesus to cast himself down, and not trust in God’s timing. He then, maybe out of desperation, tried to get Jesus to assume the mantle of global emperor, and not trust in his true identity as the King of heaven and earth.

God provides, his timing is perfect and our identity as his children is sure. When these things settle in our hearts and minds, then true humility is ours and evil can more easily be resisted in the name of Jesus. May that be your journey and experience this week and may grace and peace be yours.

 

 

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Pointing to the Creator

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

We’ve just started a series in Romans in our church. One of the many fascinating things that Paul says in the first chapter is this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

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Paul’s point is that creation points unequivocally to a Creator. Therefore, no living or created thing should be worshipped as an idol or god. What struck me is that this is true for every person wherever they live. You could be in a desolate desert, a freezing valley in the mountains or an unspectacular plain, and still be able to recognise that there is a good Creator behind the creation.

This suggests that we have always been invited to dwell in the wonder of how the world works. It’s interesting that in his parables Jesus invites us to just that. In Matthew 6 he invites us to “look at the birds of the air (verse 26)” and  “see how the flowers of the field grow (verse 28).” He wants us to think about seed being sown, harvests, good fruit, mustard seeds and so on. In his miracles he shows mastery over creation, and yet, that mastery doesn’t exploit creation, but honours it.

People used to think that creation was orderly. I prefer to think of it as abundant; buzzing with life and energy and connections. The deeper you look at any aspect of creation the more life you find. From nano-particles to bacteria to the oceans to the mountains, life is everywhere and it’s formed by atoms, molecules and cells of energy and connections. Energy and connectivity extends to ecosystems and, from there, to the whole planet.

This is why there needs to be grief over every creature that becomes extinct, every habitat that’s been destroyed and every fish found with plastic in it’s stomach. It’s why there needs to be a reorientation of the heart towards the joy that God takes in what he has made. Read Job 38-42 for evidence of this. Read the Psalms. Know that God wants us to partner with him in the renewal of his creation, and it begins by allowing that creation to lead us into worship of the Creator.

If you’re anything like me, you love creation’s beauty, but hate to be inconvenienced. Most environmental efforts are disruptive to us and cause inconvenience. It’s easier to drive, to use plastic bags, to use fertilisers and pesticides, to eat a lot of steak and so on. I’m very aware of the war between my good desires and my appetites. But because I love God and I want to love what God loves I’m asking the Spirit to help me choose better. If creation points to him, then I want to help it point clearly, and in so doing, maybe I’ll point more clearly too.

Grace and peace everyone.

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