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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One on One Devotion

Hi everyone. Rob here.

It’s the school holidays at the moment and both of our kids have been experiencing some extended Nana time. They’ve been visiting her one at a time, meaning that they get to experience the love Nana has for them, and give it in return, without any sense of rivalry. It’s a time of uninterrupted devotion. This is why couples have date nights or weekends away. It’s why making one-on-one time with our children is so important. It’s also why getting away with God is so important. We need to have times of uninterrupted devotion with the God we love. Not just so we can worship him but so we can receive his affection for us.prayer-888757_960_720

This is a basic human need. We were made for relationship and connection. Our hearts are filled when we give and receive love. Just as the human body needs food at regular intervals to be healthy, the human heart needs regular giving and receiving of affection to be whole. When Jesus was baptised he heard these words from his Father:

This is my son whom I love (Matthew 3:17)

The Trinity itself has this rhythm. Scripture also records these words 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!

So, how are you experiencing God’s love at this time? Are you experiencing it at all? Do you have a settledness in your soul that comes from being a beloved child of a good, good Father? Maybe you’re experiencing God as Mother right now? Or Christ as brother? Or Spirit as adventure guide? Maybe it’s coming through certain movies, or nature, or family and friends? Maybe it’s coming through music or poetry or art? Maybe in quiet prayer you’ve had the courage to ask, “how do you see me Lord?” And you’ve heard the answer…”You are my son/daughter whom I love.”

We’re told that we are lavished with divine love. It makes sense that God, who loved us so much that he sent Jesus to rescue us from sin and death, would want us to experience this love regularly. God wants us to have a rich emotional life with him. He wants to draw near to us in our tears, our joy and our tantrums. He wants to quiet us with his love as Zephaniah 3:17 puts it. We are loved with the same love that Jesus experienced. Throughout his ministry he would wander the hills at night to be with his Father. Are we making the same commitment? I submit that the health of our hearts depends on it.

For me, at the moment, it’s music, it’s autumn colours and it’s family that is communicating God’s love. But I also know that my receiving it, living it and being secure in it is fragile if I don’t take the time and if I hold back. To give and receive God’s love is an invitation to throw your whole self – mind, body, spirit; past, present, future; private, public; known and unknown – over and into the love of God the Trinity. In the beginning was relationship and the relation was, is and forever will be, God. It’s a relationship that will make all things new and all things whole. So let God love you and may his love flow through you and change the world.

Here’s a song called ‘So will I’ that is communicating God’s love to me in abundance at the moment. Grace and peace everyone.

If you gladly chose surrender, so will I.

 

 

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Guard Your Hope

Hi everyone. Rob here.

As I’ve been taking my daily walk through the park I’ve been noticing that some of the trees seem to be on a significant lean. It’s been a stormy week and I wonder if these trees have deep and strong enough roots to stand against the elements. I was also wondering how healthy the trees are. It struck me that we don’t normally know how sick a tree is until it snaps. Then the rotten trunk is exposed, even though it looked good from the outside. That also got me thinking about Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 where he talks about the dangers of poor soil, thorns that choke, the fruit of good soil, and, later, the wheat and weeds growing together until the end of the age. It all spoke to me again about Proverbs 4:23.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

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This is no time for half measures when it comes to following Jesus. It’s a time to be deeply rooted in him, given over to him, led by his Spirit and filled with his love. It’s a time for vigilance, especially over our hope. There are so many false hopes out there! Hope has to be based on truth and the truth is that Jesus alone is Lord. Therefore, true hope, lasting hope, hope that’s the anchor of the soul, is placed on him. Jesus is our hope. Namely, his words, his actions, his achievements, his character and his promises are our hope. So, here are some words of hope from Jesus for you:

“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The renewal of all things, through Jesus, is our lasting hope. God’s reign will fill this earth.

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 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5)

This is nothing less than the complete reversal of the fall of humanity and creation. We get the tree of life, that God prevented us from having after the serpent’s treason. We get our reign back, We will rule even as we serve our God. We will know God fully. No more darkness. No more evil. No more pain or grief or sadness. Everything broken will be made whole. Our relationships will be filled with joy.

So, here is the warning: Do not let the enemy, or this fallen world, or any other power steal your hope. Guard your heart and guard your hope. Be deeply rooted in Jesus. Let his hope in the renewal of all things and the reversal of all evil be yours.

Grace and peace everyone.

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A Redemption Story

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

I’ve been having a lot of late nights in the last week. Commonwealth Games fever has caught hold, and it’s always a joy to watch courage, talent and perseverance in action. What fascinates me about sport, isn’t so much the achievements, but the story behind the achievements.  In the Commonwealth Games events for para-athletes (athletes with disabilities of various kinds) have recently been integrated into the main event. They’re all athletes together. So let me tell you about Sophie Pascoe. Sophie is a renowned Paralympian who has achieved great success in swimming. Gold medals, world records, the lot. She was also named as the flagbearer for the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team. It’s a tremendous honour and an inspired choice. But I can’t stop thinking about her dad.Sophie Pascoe

When Sophie was just 2 years old she got caught up in the blades of the ride-on lawnmower her dad was operating. She lost one leg below the knee with severe scarring on the other. It’s an accident that her dad has had to live with his whole life. Her story could have gone two ways. She could have grown up jealous of her friends and resentful of her father. That wouldn’t have been a surprise. Or she takes heart and lives a life of courage. She chose the latter. Now, I’m sure her dad was immensely proud of Sophie for all that she’s done and the person she’s become. Of course. Nearly every dad would be. But to see her validated and honoured by her able-bodied peers who recognise in Sophie an example of character and leadership that they would like to follow is something else. It means that Sophie has become the person she is, not despite her accident, but because of her accident. That is called redemption. The action that could have destroyed her is actually a source of strength and life.

So, what are you telling yourself about your story? Where is there a need for redemption? Christ is our great redeemer. That is, he is the one who rewrites our stories. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. As we give our story over to his story, our story becomes one worth living. It gets woven into the narrative of God’s kingdom, without the lies, the accusations, the diminishment and the fear hanging over us. Imagine that! In God’s story there is release from our guilt, freedom from our shame and healing for our brokenness. As we give our story over to God then we can experience those things more and more, until we step in to the full and final redemption at the renewal of all things.

But we need to keep giving our story over to God and let go of the compulsion we have to write our own endings. The other issue we have in our story is, who is the hero? You see, not only is Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith he is also the hero who defeats the enemy and rescues us from his clutches. He’s the one who offers true love and true hope. He’s the one to trust. We are not the heroes of our story but we are friends and allies of the hero. We come to take on his qualities and learn to speak in his name. We too learn to defeat the enemy and push back his advances. And as we do, we reflect the glory of our hero, Jesus, and become active participants and partners in our redemption story.

As Elrond said to Aragorn in the movie version of Lord of the Rings:

Put aside the ranger; become who were born to be!

Trust the hero and give your story over to the true author and may grace and peace be yours.

 

 

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The Glory of the Story

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

Easter is fast approaching. Some of you may be making plans for a short holiday. Others of you may be working frantically to meet deadlines. Some of you may be wondering how you’re going to make all those church services and still have time to fix the roof and mow the lawn. I’ll be helping to lead 2 services and speak at a youth camp. All of those activities are good and have their place, but if Easter’s actually going to make an impact on our hearts we’re going to have to make some space for it. We’re going to need to turn up to those services with room to receive the beautiful message of Christ’s sacrifice and triumph for us. How will we do that?

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The thing about Easter is that it’s the climax of a story that we are invited to find our place in. A big part, then, of preparing for Easter is reminding ourselves of the story. So we look back to the creation narrative and remember that we were made in the image of God, made to rule over creation in his name and be in harmony with God, the earth and each other. We remember that the longing to return to that place of peace lies deep within us still.

We then remind ourselves that we fell, we lost our vocation and harmony was lost. the image remained in us, but it was dimmed and distorted. We remind ourselves that there is an assault against humanity, our relationships and our connection with God. We have an enemy and the world is at war. We also remind ourselves about Israel, and how, even as a chosen covenant people, given the law, given the prophets, they still found themselves in exile with their land ruled by a pagan empire. God could not be made in their image and he had a better story to tell; a better rescue to enact. The story of Israel puts into sharp focus the faithfulness of God to his promises. The prophecies will be fulfilled. There is a hope and a future for all.

After reminding ourselves of all of that (and there’s so much more to tell!) we can come to Jesus the Messiah. Son of  Man, Son of God and Saviour of the world. He came as the suffering servant whose sacrifice would set all of humanity free from the curse we put ourselves under. As Israel’s Messiah he became our representative. He was the true human and the new Adam. He came because God’s love compelled him. He was the older brother dragging his younger siblings out of the pigsty and back into the Father’s arms. He’s the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and delivers us out of slavery. Through his life, death, resurrection and ascension he conquered the power of sin and death and set us free to become truly human again.

Easter is an invitation to, once again, take our place in the story. We all know that we need help to be the best people we can be. We know that a strange combination of pride and shame – that is, a fallen ego – prevents us from connecting the way we want to with God and with each other. So on Good Friday let the victory of the cross speak to you. There, your ego can die, your sin can die, our loss, our pain, our brokenness can die. The cross is where God says that we don’t have to be defined by that stuff anymore. We become free to serve one another in love, just as he did. On Easter Sunday, revel in the fact that the power of death is broken. The resurrection vindicates all that Jesus said and did, so rejoice in Christ your Lord and give him praise. His story is your story. Resurrection awaits, but it also tells us that the kingdom has come to earth. A new power is at work in the world.

Christ’s ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit will complete the Easter event, but will start a new chapter of the story. It’s a story we’re all invited into. Give yourself over to that story this week. Let the cross and the empty tomb speak to you of the lavish love of God. And may your heart soar as you realise afresh that you are a son and daughter, rescued, forgiven and free, and the Father’s embrace is your welcome home.

Happy Easter everyone.

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Hearts, Hands and Plates

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

We seem to live in a world where people want something from us all the time. Another ‘deal’ has arrived in my inbox. Do these people know how quickly it goes to trash? Advertisers are one thing, but there’s a whole number of worthwhile things as well. Mission organisations making a real difference, charities for great causes, activists preventing real acts of injustice, local organisations caring for the lonely, the sick and the fragile, friends needing help and on it goes. How do we maintain compassion and empathy, while also discerning where to put our efforts, our time and our money? The answer is, of course, we need to walk with God. But what does that look like in this space?help-1300942_960_720

We are all uniquely shaped and our empathy and compassion is also shaped uniquely. This is how God ensures that people’s needs are met. Thus, the first question is what’s in our hearts? What causes grab you? What makes you angry? What brings tears to your eyes? What leads you to you find out more information? What do you find yourself talking about or in arguments about? Those dimensions that exist in our hearts are one clue.

Another clue is what’s in your hand? You may have time on your hands, in which case, volunteering somewhere is an excellent option. You may be time poor but financially well-off, in which case, make a difference with your money. You may be good in the kitchen, in which case, make meals and bake cakes. You may be a handyman/woman, in which case, practical help for the needy may be you. You may simply be kind, in which case, help in a way that puts you alongside people. We all have different gifts and abilities and God wants us to use them.

There’s also the question of what’s on our plate? What else is going on in our life? It may be that your compassion needs to be directed to your family at this moment as they face hard times. It could be that work is asking a lot of you so this is a season to knuckle down and do that. You may be both time poor and literally poor, and so, having compassion on yourself is a hard task. In saying that, we are generally better off when we’re giving out in some capacity. Is there a small, but valuable, thing you could do?

As we ponder what’s on our hearts, in our hands and on our plate, we need to recognise that this is merely an offering. We’re asking to be known, but we also need to give God permission to direct our paths as he’s the one who knows where our hearts and the worlds needs meet. For many people, their calling has come about in unpredictable ways. God led them in unexpected directions. Knowing our hearts, our gifts and our schedules doesn’t give us the right to tell God what we should be doing, but invites God to help us see the possibilities of our own lives. God wants us to make a difference, but in partnership with his Spirit, and surrendered to his will. Ultimately, it’s our willingbness to be led by God’s Spirit what makes the difference. It enables us to God’s will in God’s way in God’s strength, thus revealing God’s love.

As we enter into this lifelong conversation I pray that we’ll gain the compassion of Christ and never stop being motivated by his love for all.

Grace and peace.

 

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Looking Backwards to go Forward

Hi everyone. Rob here.

On Friday I stumbled upon an invitation to a Bible College reunion that was happening the next day. I knew I had to go so, with a bit of scrambling, Kiley and I headed up to Auckland and experienced a wonderful reunion with old friends. But I almost missed it. I had seen the invitation some time before but hadn’t prioritised it enough to have it on my calendar. It reminds me that it’s so easy to overlook the important in favour of the urgent, and they’re not always the same thing. This is especially true when it comes to matters of the heart.time-1739632_960_720

What made the reunion special was that we had all shared sacred time together. We had made the sacrifices necessary to study God’s word, delve deeper into God’s kingdom and experience a new kind of community. The bonds grow strong when you do that sort of thing. At the reunion the various speeches all reminded us of the higher calling that had led us there and love of God that sustained us. We remembered those who had passed. I learned that all had suffered in some way but most were persevering heroically. In the years since many had been out of sight and out of mind, and may well be again, but on this night we remembered that we were one body with one Lord. It was a good night for the heart.

We tend to think that the future is more important than the past. What’s ahead matters more than what’s behind. This is why the urgent takes over. The need to get the kids to sports, get to that meeting, get the chores done, pay the bills and so on. The tyranny of the urgent grabs a hold of us and makes the present and the future the only thing that matters. Other cultures, though, know how to value the past and walk into the future guided by what’s been. As Christians we look to the past for our identity and our hope. Christ came, died on the cross, rose from the dead and he did all this in the past. I sometimes think that we’re so focused on Jesus’ second coming that we forget the power of his first coming. His first coming won a great victory as Colossians 2:15 tells us:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

To gaze at the cross is to gaze into a past act that has eternal implications. All of our past impacts us right now. We live out of what we have taken into our hearts and minds from the past. If we don’t spend time looking at the past with God’s eyes, letting him interpret the words and experiences, the hurts and the joys, then we head into the future blind and struggling to live out a faith that actually works. The love, mercy and triumph found at the cross needs to be brought to bear on all that has gone before us. When we do that it is incredibly liberating.

To see with God’s eyes is to see the past, present and future as a unified whole. Looking into the past with Jesus as our guide is healthy and necessary. We want the right messages to be impacting us and the voices in our head to be coming from the right sources. We don’t want to forget sacred moments or the friends who helped us. We also don’t want to be stuck in the past. We don’t want to be caught up in sentimental nostalgia or entrenched bitterness. We want God’s eyes to see, God’s mind to interpret and God’s heart of love to comfort as we examine our lives with him.

May your past be healed, your present be joyful and your future filled with hope as you journey with Christ this week.

Grace and peace.

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