Attention and Engagement

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Kiley and I were chatting this morning about the amazing opportunity our 14 year old son has this year to go on a 5 week course, full of adventure and discovery, on an island renowned for its rugged beauty. Our hope was that our son would be two things: attentive and engaged. From there fun will flow, character will develop and the experience will be rich food for his soul. Be attentive and be engaged seem like good words for me right now and for most people I would think. They sound easy but we are very distracted creatures. In my own strength I struggle to be attentive and engaged, especially in our information and entertainment soaked world. I need God’s help to pay attention and be engaged, especially because HE is the one I want to be attentive to and engaged with the most.

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Jesus, I notice, was attentive to his Father, his followers, his community and his own heart. He was very engaged with life, with his mission and the people presented to him. He had perspective and wisdom that flowed from this attentiveness and engagement. He was focused but there was still a joy and a lightness to him that was attractive, especially to the poor and the oppressed. This observation reminds me that it’s the life of Jesus that I want. Christ in me is my hope of glory. He lives in me and his life is accessible. I can live my life how he would live it if he were me. But it’s the Spirit who helps us do that. It’s the Spirit who helps us pay attention to the life of Jesus in us. It’s the Spirit who then helps us engage with life as Jesus would.

So trying to do life while ignoring the Spirit seems like a really bad idea. But, like you probably, I seem to be able to do that quite often. I know when I’m ignoring the Spirit because I am, you guessed it, inattentive and unengaged. Just ask my wife! She knows when I’m living out of Christ in me because I have more energy, more focus and more love. When I’m weighed down by own thoughts, my own ego, then I tend to withdraw and shut down. What do you do? What are your warning signs? And what do you do when the warning signs appear?

For me, I have learnt that the warning signs don’t just mean spending more time with God. Sometimes it does, but often it means practicing being attentive and engaged. It’s a short prayer of surrender and asking for the Spirit’s help, and then just getting on with it. As I do what I want to be I start to become someone who lives how I and God want me to live. Kiley prefers it too! But if your weakness is too much action, blundering in without thought, being too busy and hyperactive then you probably do need to withdraw with God for silence and solitude. We often need to do the opposite of what we default to in order to reset the system. If you default to stepping away then practice stepping in and stepping up. If you default to busyness and control, then step down and step away. Walk with God. He will nudge you in the right direction.

Yesterday I had a very early shift, so by late in the afternoon I was almost asleep on the couch. A neighbour came over who is showing signs of becoming more open to us and to God. Instead of withdrawing and letting Kiley deal with it, under the guise of tiredness and self-care, I stepped in, gave him attention and engaged as best I could. The reward was simply feeling better about myself and being a better human. That, after all, is why Jesus came. He wants us to be better humans and he can teach us how. We just need to pay attention and engage.

Grace and peace.

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At The Crossroads

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I love these words of God found in Jeremiah 6:16,

‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls.

He was speaking to a nation that had lost its way. Its path of paganism and compromise with surrounding empires had not been a good one. It now stood facing conquest and exile. God asked them to take a different stance than the self-destructive one they were on. There was a choice and God had already prepared a path for them if only they were prepared to ask.

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I find myself at a crossroads personally. I know that my mission field is the church itself, but I have no idea what form that should take. It is a place of uncertainty and confusion. God makes order out of chaos and so I trust that God will sort me out. But in the meantime there is a path to walk down. It is the ancient path of trust. God doesn’t give us a map. He gives us Jesus and the Spirit and we are to follow Jesus on the path in the power of his Spirit.

Remember that his path led him to a Roman cross. The journey is not without heartache and loss. It is not without suffering and pain. But it is the only journey that leads to resurrection and new life. So, at the crossroads I find myself in I’m not looking for the easiest path or the most exciting one. I’m looking for Jesus himself and I’ll seek to follow whatever path he takes.

He has already led me on one heck of a journey. But the ancient path is not one of returning to old ways or habits. It is always to follow the one who led Israel through the desert and turned fishermen into apostles. It is always a path that leads to transformation, that helps the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. The path I follow Jesus on will lead to death – dying to fear, selfishness, pride and shame. It will also lead to disruption and disorientation most likely. But it will be a path that bears fruit and is filled with love. It will involve a rising to that love and a coming alive to God.

Experience tells me that this ancient path of trust is the only one without a dead end. Jesus is the path of life and the path to life. So, while I stand at the crossroads and appear a bit dazed and confused about where it’s all going or where to next, the reality is that Jesus will show me soon where to go. I just have to keep the eyes of my heart open. Easier said than done of course but Jesus has this way of taking our truest desire and being able to make a way with it. We may veer off at times but Jesus keeps bringing us back by reminding us that our deepest desire is for the life that only he can offer.

May you walk the ancient path of trust in 2021. To be honest you really have no other choice. I’m struggling to think of a year filled with more uncertainty than this one. But there’s also hope and the ancient path is filled with hope and peace and joy. May you follow Jesus well.

Grace and peace.

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God Comes Through

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Have you ever noticed that it rains the hardest at the edge of the storm, just before it passes? The hill is steepest just before the summit. You all know the cliché, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.” Those sayings seem very true right now. The infection rate and death rate of Covid-19 is higher than ever just as the hope brought by working vaccines comes to us. In America there was chaos as violent mobs descended upon Capitol Hill just days before the inauguration of a new administration. Democracy was assaulted just before a demonstration of democracy in action. The darkness of the cross was soon followed by the reality of resurrection. In other words, there is always hope and it’s closer than you think.

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This is why in Romans 5:1-5, Paul puts hope as the final step in a longer process:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Hope doesn’t happen without character. Why is that? I think it’s because hope is a conscious choice to agree with the eternal purposes of God. That doesn’t happen by accident. It comes from constantly aligning yourself with faith and trust in the goodness of God. It means resisting the temptation to make agreements with despair and hopelessness and cynicism. Cynicism is easy. There are 101 reasons to be cynical on any given day but God is the only reason to have hope and that is enough reason for me.

When you are aligned with God through faith and trust you learn to see how God comes through for us every time. I was speaking at a camp recently and while I was in that beautiful spot I took the opportunity to do some star gazing. As I was doing so many of my failures and bad decisions came to mind. Instantly God was there saying, “and I saved you every time didn’t I?” I had to agree. He had. By that I don’t mean that he saved me from the consequences of those decisions but, instead, he kept calling me back to himself and making a way forward for me. He was always the source of hope in every trial and every setback. The key, of course, is to keep presenting ourselves to him, to die to our own agenda and to let him work in and around us so that his will may be done.

So as we reach this stage of the pandemic, as all around us seems to be in chaos, know that God makes order out of chaos. He redeems and restores what was stolen and what was lost. He makes all things new when the old just doesn’t work anymore. He loves us with an everlasting love when relationships seem fragile and fickle. He is the God of life even when the powers of death scream at their loudest. And keep your eyes open. There is hope and it might be just around the corner.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Ultimate Allegiance

Hi everyone. Happy New Year. Rob here.

2021 arrived with the hope that it would herald a new beginning after the turbulence and upheaval that 2020 brought us. Then we had the storming of the Capitol building in Washington D.C, another impeachment, a continued rise in Covid cases and deaths and new strains that make the virus even more contagious than before. It takes more than a change of date for change to come. The world is and will remain a place where the battle for light over darkness, love over hate, peace over war, faith over fear and freedom over oppression is constantly played out. Every day we are asked to take a stand and choose our side. The kingdom of God asks for our allegiance and commitment to align ourselves with Jesus’ prayer:

Your kingdom come, your will be done.

On earth as in heaven.

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If our ultimate allegiance is to God, his kingdom and his will then we need to be careful about who and what we commit to. The storming of the Capitol was a disturbing event carried out by people who believed that their actions demonstrated loyalty to the President, the flag and maybe even God. But when God came to earth he never stormed the capital; he rode in on a donkey’s colt. He didn’t lead a mob but he was condemned by one. He didn’t threaten figures of authority; he surrendered to them. He didn’t commit acts of violence but he was killed by one. When he rose from the dead he showed that he always wielded ultimate power but he used his power to conquer death, not to conquer earthly kingdoms. When we commit allegiance to God, his kingdom and his will then we need to realise that we are committing ourselves to God’s way of wielding power. That is, our power is to be given away for the sake of others. This is so that God’s power can be used in us for God’s purposes.

So as we start 2021 we are invited, once again, to give ourselves, our egos, our agendas, our hopes and our dreams over to God, his kingdom and his will in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s power in us helps us to give away our power so that we can be trusted with his.

God is love and he will never use his power for any purpose that sits outside of his love. His power is surrendered to his love and his love is the ultimate expression of his power. He created in power out of love. He powerfully saves us because of love. He conquered death because of love and the cross is now a symbol of power because of love. It is a symbol that reminds us that ultimate power paid the ultimate price because of ultimate love.

The American President has been working very hard to hold on to political power and found a number of loyal foot soldiers to help him achieve that goal. The fact that he has failed is good news. It provides the opportunity for everyone to rethink their relationship with power. Power can only be trusted to those who are able to give it away. If you need power you can’t be trusted with it. If you don’t or can’t use power in order to serve others you can’t be trusted with it. Only the love of God working in us and through us can make us capable of wielding power wisely. How are you using your power? Does the love of God need to bring transformation there? May it be so.

May 2021 be a year in which you act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Grace and peace.

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A Profound Humility

Seasons greetings everyone. Rob here.

This Christmas let’s not pretend that all is well in the world. Let’s not pretend that we don’t have our own sufferings to contend with. Let’s not pretend that we have all the answers about God and life and faith. But let us also not pretend that Christmas is all about the kids or the meal or the presents, or even about family and charity and caring for each other. I love all those things about Christmas but the big message of Christmas is that the kingdom of God has invaded our world and that God’s reversal of evil and all its effects has begun, is sure and is certain. The kingdom has come and the kingdom is coming and we have a special role to play in it.

But to enter into that special role we need to follow the path that Jesus followed. Motivated by a deep joy, the joy set before him, Jesus embraced a profound humility, an unsettling vulnerability, and a mission of sacrificial love in order to restore our humanity and our connection with the God of life. Jesus came at Christmas because God so loved the world and every person in it, including you and me and every person on this planet. And he wants us to receive that love, be filled with that love and let that love flow out into his creation. We love because he first loved us.

This has not been an easy year and difficulties continue for many, but I know that my family can say that we have loved each other. I know that you have loved others too. And we must continue to grow in loving each other. That’s the message of this season. Love come down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine. That love led the Word to become flesh, to humble himself, to become poor, to become a servant, to die on a cross, for you and me and all of creation. Now death has been conquered, sin has lost its power, and the devil’s claims have been revoked, and you and I have been restored as sons and daughters of the living God, heirs of the kingdom, bearers of good news and of divine love, hope, joy and peace. We are agents of God’s reversal in this world.

Enjoy Christmas and all its joys, but most of all enjoy the love of God and love others well.

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Courage and Joy

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Last night our family gathered around the TV and watched the movie, Wonder. It tells the story of a 10 year old boy named Auggie who has Treacher Collins Syndrome. After multiple surgeries he has a resulting facial deformity. For the first time he starts attending school and the movie tells his story and the story of all those impacted by his condition. By the end of the movie we see that his dignified courage has won him the school’s most prestigious award. From his point of view he was “just trying to get through 5th grade.” His voiceover reflects that,

once in their life everyone deserves a standing ovation.

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That line reminded me once again that life requires us to have courage. We know that it takes courage to love. To open your heart to love is to risk pain and grief and heartbreak. And yet people keep on loving. It takes courage to have faith. Faith is, by definition, a leap into something that can’t be absolutely proven. It takes courage to start a business, become a parent, pursue study, buy a house, drive a car and so much more. Courage is a necessary starting block to build any kind of life worth living. When people display courage, especially courage spent on behalf of others, they do indeed deserve a standing ovation.

Courage, however, isn’t inherent in us. Ever since Adam and Eve refused to take a stand against the serpent we have had a default setting that looks for the path of least resistance. So, how do we learn to take a stand against the things that come against God’s life in us and for us? That is, we don’t just resist obvious acts of evil, but insidious habits like apathy, lethargy, cynicism and despair. A life like that can only come from Christ in us. It’s the courage of Christ that we seek because that is truly human courage.

Jesus’ courage came from being sent from God, filled with the love of God to do God’s good work in the world. We see this in Hebrews 12:1-2,

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I wonder how often we think of joy and courage together in the same sentence? It does make sense. It’s the glimpses of joy that we get from God that persuades us that life is fully found in God and, therefore, I will act courageously in order to pursue that life. If we go back to the movie we see that Auggie glimpsed the joy of friendship, showed courage in opening himself to friendship, endured the pain of betrayal in friendship, but, having glimpsed the joy, pursued friendship again. Courage requires a higher cause, a hopeful future and the pursuit of joy.

Which all causes me to ask myself, “how is my joy?” How is yours? Is there a higher cause that you’ve given yourself to? I think of top athletes, elite artisans and even hard-working politicians who have given themselves to a greater cause. I think of entrepreneurs, inventors, poets, artists, stay-at-home parents, peacemakers and preachers who have found their joy in a higher cause and courageously pursued it. Is that you? Is that me?

My answer is…sometimes? Sometimes I find joy in my writing, my speaking, my actions. But then, there are days like today where every word is hard-won and joy is elusive. And so, I turn to Christ. I want his courage but I also want his joy. It came from a life in God. It came from the Spirit in him and the love spoken over him. I remind myself that what’s true for Jesus is true for me.

Christ in me, I give myself to you. I ask for your courage. I ask for your joy. I love you. Amen.

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Happy Advent everyone. Rob here.

The season of Advent is a season of waiting. We’re all waiting for something it seems: a vaccine, racial justice, political change, a job, love, a miracle, you name it. What are you waiting for? What the first Christmas tells us is that God often responds to the question of our waiting with the most unexpected responses.

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1st century Israel was a small province of the mighty Roman Empire. Herod the Great acted as if he was the true King of Israel but, in fact, was a Roman vassal with only a veneer of legitimacy. Jerusalem was a hotbed of political intrigue as various factions and personalities vied for influence with the increasingly unpredictable and paranoid king. It could be expected that the Messiah in this setting would be a militarily powerful, charismatic and glorious figure with obvious mark of divine blessing around him. God decided on a young virgin, an obscure province, a very humble birth and a baby. God’s answer to a nation entranced by power and influence was to come humbly into his world and offer an invitation to a kingdom that operates outside the usual power structures.

Like many I have been slightly obsessed with the American Presidential Election and the subsequent shenanigans by a power hungry ruler who hates to lose. The media and our own need for drama ensures that we’re drawn into the intrigue and in-fighting. Meanwhile God is inviting us to turn our eyes and heart away from the noise and look for his mustard seeds of new life that are hidden from the cameras and media gaze.

The answers to our waiting aren’t found by looking at the headlines. They’re found by being attentive to God even as we go about our lives. Mary wasn’t doing anything extraordinary when the angel came to her. The shepherds were doing their job when the angels came to them. Zechariah was going about his priestly business when his angel appeared. The key wasn’t what they were doing. It was in their ‘yes’ when they were told what to do. If we live our lives with an attitude of saying yes to God then the waiting isn’t filled with angst: it’s filled with expectancy and hopeful anticipation. When we keep giving God our ‘yes’ we stop worrying about God answering our prayers. We know they’re being answered even as we live and breathe and have our being.

I’m reminding myself of this as I wait to hear back from a job interview, as I wait for more inspiration to strike for my latest book, as I wait for a new year to begin and new plans to emerge. We’re all waiting for something but we are not to stop living while we wait. We are to give our lives to God , living in hopeful expectancy that he’ll show up in unexpected ways and to say yes when he does.

Waiting creates longing and longing can paralyse us if we’re not careful. Let’s be vigilant this Advent. Let’s “wake up and slow down” as an old vicar once said a few advents ago. Another way to put it is, “let’s come alive to God and pay attention to him.” And let’s do it with ‘YES’ already on our lips.

Grace and peace.

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The Practice of Love

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In the book of James we see the old sage dispensing wisdom to his audience. It is wisdom born out of experience. As the leader of the Jerusalem church he had seen it all: Persecution, famine, hardship, the perils of legalism, the perils of liberalism and more. As one of the younger brothers of Jesus himself he knew that the life of faith isn’t easy, but it is necessary. In James 1:12 we see him write this;

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

We know about God’s unconditional love for us. It is true, steadfast and beautiful. It is, also, often hard to hang on to as life’s circumstances throw us about. What James is talking about here isn’t that. This is about our unconditional love of God. This is about us choosing to confess our love for God and practice our love for God even as life’s circumstances throw us about. Choosing to love God is an act of faith, but it is also a rescue for our hearts.

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If we simply focus on our circumstances we find ourselves stuck in a few different ways. First we try and make a way through the circumstance. We apply our best thinking, we make arrangements and, if that doesn’t go well, we scheme and plot and manipulate. We may even resort to making deals with God. But even as we do that we’re focusing on the circumstance and not God. Or we may enter into a fatalistic melancholy where we come to an agreement that this is the way it is and always will be. We give up but become defined by the circumstance whatever it may be. Another way is to hide behind holiness. We start to pray more, read Scripture more, listen to worship music and the like, but sub-consciously we’re trying to earn our way into God’s good books. It’s a childlike behaviour. We look good but we’re still trying to get our way. There’s another path. Loving God.

When we choose to love God we’re not ignoring our circumstances. We’re putting them in their place. We’re relativizing their importance. We’re saying that our hearts first and foremost belong to God. He gets our attention and devotion before anything else. We give God our heart and, in doing so, we entrust all the circumstances of our life to him. We attach ourselves to the heart of God and we detach ourselves from the problems of our life. We haven’t ignored or bypassed them. We’ve simply chosen not to make them an idol that demans our attention.

Is this process easy? Of course not! The circumstances of our life include grief of all kinds, unemployment, relationship fractures, physical pain, untold disappointments and more. Words cannot express how heartbreaking, pain-inducing and exasperating life can be. We are also taught that God is our life and all things are under his hand. It is very difficult to believe that God is good when, deep down, you believe there’s a lot more that he could be doing! But having faith only when we believe that God is doing what we want him to do is no faith at all. Faith takes us out of what we think is best and takes us to a place where we believe that God is always good, always doing what is right, always acting in love even if I can’t see it or understand it. The act of loving God helps us to bridge the gap between the circumstances of our life and the act of embracing faith.

So do it. You can start right now by saying “God I love you. I love you Father. I love you Jesus. I love you Holy Spirit. I welcome you into my heart and I give you my heart. I love you.” Dwelling in a prayer like that, even for a minute, can be enormously freeing to your heart. You start breathing normally, seeing clearly, standing up straighter and feeling more peaceful, hopeful and maybe even joyful. Choose to love God and you’ll discover that it’s what your soul was made for.

Grace and peace.

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The Reality of Transition

Hi everyone. Rob here.

We are all hearing about the word ‘transition’ these days as America deals with the problem of managing a transition of presidential power when the defeated foe refuses to acknowledge the reality of their loss. It reminds us that it’s really hard to transition if you don’t accept the reality that you need to transition. Life is essentially a whole lot of transitions strung together. We need to learn how to transition well if we are to live well. This is especially true when every day brings with it more change. This is life in 2020. How are you doing with that?

Accepting the reality of change seems to be very hard for a lot of us. Witness the protests about the election result in the United States. We struggle to accept the aging process or a change in material well-being. I recently watched a programme about former All Blacks – our national rugby team – and the struggle they have had since retiring from the game. They struggled physically because of their injuries and the need for ongoing discipline nutritionally. They struggled mentally because of the loss of significance, camaraderie and routine. They also struggled emotionally because they had issues from the past that hadn’t been dealt with as they enjoyed the glory days of their rugby career. They made enormous progress through the show because they were willing to accept the reality of their condition. They were overweight, they were struggling emotionally and they wanted a way out and through. Mutual vulnerability gave them mutual strength and support. It all starts with facing reality.

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The problem comes when we don’t like the reality that we’re facing. Will we then try and avoid it or enter into it? Will we go to the doctor or dentist when something isn’t right? Will we seek counselling if we’re not coping well or living well? Will we go to God when we know that we’ve been rejecting him for a long time? Will we reach out to our spouse to bridge the distance that has started to grow between you? Whether we like reality or not, we have to move towards it if we’re ever going to get through it. There’s no way round it. It gets you eventually.

I’ve been trying to practice this in my own life. I recently finished 4 weeks of work that I enjoyed. It ended and I had to name the reality of missing it. In that reality was an invitation that God has the right kind of work for me to do and to take steps of praying, applying and accepting what comes my way. There was also an invitation to keep writing and doing what I’m doing. I received all those invitations for the future because I accepted the reality that a recent chapter was now the past. It’s a small example but it represents the bigger transitions we have to make.

Have you accepted the reality of the pandemic? Of the election results? Of the state of your own mental and emotional health? Of the state of your marriage or relationship with your kids? We need to. We’re invited to so that God can help us die to the old and rise to the new. There may be grief and lament in that process of gaining acceptance. That’s a good thing because we have to name the loss. Change is first experienced as loss I heard. Lean into it. Ask for the Spirit’s help. Follow Jesus. He knows how to do it. Reality is something that God is great at transforming. If we avoid it we also avoid what God is doing in the world. Let’s be part of that by learning to transition by walking with him.

Grace and peace.

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Loving and Ruling

Hi everyone. Rob here.

This weekend my guys group had planned a road trip to Hawkes Bay. This morning we found out that wild weather and downed power lines meant that our accommodation had to be cancelled. We have made other arrangements and the road trip lives on but it’s a salient lesson for all of us. We are not in control. We are not in charge. But there’s a fine line to walk because humanity was given a mandate to rule. We are given kingdoms to reign over. How does this work?

We start with the simple fact that God is God and we are not. He is the absolute sovereign. The earth is the Lords and everything in it as the Psalm says. To him we bow the knee, plain and simple. However, God didn’t create humanity so he could have a master-servant relationship for all eternity. His desire was for us to share in his rule and enjoy his love and his kingdom. He created us out of love and joy so we could enjoy an eternity of love and joy. We were to rule because we participated in a loving relationship with our Creator.

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What happens though, when you turn your back on the Creator and reject the relationship? It means we have also rejected the basis for our rule. Our attempts to rule will now cause harm so God has to thwart our plans to rule. He does so in order that the relationship might be restored. This is why Jesus came. As the Son of Man he came to lead the children of God home to the Father and his kingdom. As we become increasingly trusted apprentices of our older brother Jesus, as we learn to live like beloved sons and daughters of God, the more we will be trusted with kingdom responsibilities.

In practice then, for us, ruling happens when we surrender. We bow the knee, open our hearts, come to the cross and receive love. As we receive that love we find ourselves worshipping and returning the love that is given to us. And so the mutual love that is meant to exist between us and God is put into place. We become agents of love and when we do that then we are ruling in the name of God.

Paul sums up this process in his wonderful prayer found in Ephesians 3:14-19.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Amen. May it be so.

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