Short Snippets of the Weekly Sunday Sermon – Full Audio Version is Available on the Recent Sermons Page
Sunday 25th September 2022
One of the things that continues to amaze me is our seemingly endless capacity to deceive ourselves. It’s like that old Simon and Garfunkel song ‘The Boxer’ says: ‘It’s all lies and Jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.’ And we do, don’t we? When we want to justify a certain course of action we just ignore the things we don’t want to hear. It’s true in the church too.
At the personal level, it’s very easy to compromise what we believe to get what we desire, especially if we’re prepared to ignore certain parts of the bible. But what we’re really doing is wilfully ignoring the word of God, and that can get us into a whole heap of trouble.
The trouble Christians have is that, sometimes, we can be just too nice, so nice in fact that we’re willing to turn a blind eye to those things we know are wrong because we don’t want to offend anyone or make an unpopular but necessary decision. And that can be a real danger for church leaders. Tolerance of false teaching leads to being indifferent about the sin in our midst. Some in the church are clearly aware of what’s happening and have rejected the false teaching being promoted around things like human identity and sexuality. Our church leaders need the courage to address the elephant in the room and name such teaching for what it is, evil.
Saturday 17th September 2022
We live in a society where there are many competing voices, both religious and political, and they’re all wanting to be heard. The trouble is, many of these voices are hostile to the Christian message and the way of life it teaches. So there’s a great temptation for Christians to compromise their beliefs just in order to fit in. What I see is Christians watering down what they believe to be true to a matter of opinion or interpretation, that truth is relative, that there are no absolutes, that all roads lead to God. We call it ‘tolerance’, a loving response to difference. But while it tolerates all things and judges none, it ends up losing any concept of truth. You see tolerance is the attitude of those who don’t believe anything, as a result, no one knows who to trust or what to believe.
So let me ask you: do you believe that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation? If you do, do you believe it absolutely? For some people, this remains the single most offensive aspect of Christianity. But if salvation is really a multiple-choice issue, how do you explain a God who would send his only Son to die a horrible death on the cross? It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? Why would God do such a thing if there were alternatives that were just as effective? So, what’s the answer? Well, the call is to persevere, to continue to hold fast to the faith taught by the apostles, and to overcome the temptation to compromise what we believe and how we live in order to fit in.
Saturday 10th September 2022
Maybe it’s my age, but I seem to get quite a few emails relating to pension savings. Apparently, if these emails are to be believed, none of us is doing enough, we must save more, put more into Kiwisaver, and do it before it’s too late. And it’s not just emails, there’s TV adverts advising us to invest in shares or property, I’m sure you’ve seen them.
But here’s the thing… To me, it seems to be a question of where we put our trust; do we trust God for our future, or are we relying on our own resources to see us through our old age? Don’t get me wrong, careful planning and use of the resources God has given us now is a good thing. But not everyone has that luxury. If how were going to live when times are tough is solely reliant on what we do for ourselves now, then what does that mean for the poor in our society? Who, then, do you really trust for your future? Might I suggest that it’s only in the tough times that we really find out where we put our trust and faith.
Saturday 3rd September 2022
If you’re anything like me then I’m guessing that you get lots of emails and a few letters each week from various sources, most of which end up in the recycling bin. Some, though, I take more notice of than others. There are those that I deal with immediately, while others are put in a pile to be dealt with later. How do I differentiate between these three groups? Well, I usually give the contents a quick scan and if it’s something like an offer for life insurance or another credit card they go straight in the bin. But in other cases, I check who they’re from. I got one from my bank the other week, it was our credit card bill, so I dealt with that one straight away. The point is, the sender of a letter makes a big difference to the attention we give to it.
There are a few letters in the bible too. The trouble is, even though they’re full of helpful advice on how to live the Christian life, we have a tendency to leave them in the pile of letters marked ‘to do later’, treating them as if they’re not really important. It’s a mistake, of course, especially when we remember who wrote them. You see, these letters, though they’re written down by the apostles, contain God’s advice to us on how best we can live lives that are pleasing to him, advice which if we follow it will ensure our place at his banqueting table at the end of time. So maybe we need to pull them out of our ‘to do’ pile, dust them off, and give them a good read.
Sunday 28th August 2022
All too often we act like we’re the most important person in the room. We don’t mean to, but some Christians act as though they have a divine right to all God’s earthly blessings, that all their material desires will be met far beyond their actual needs, treating God’s good gifts as though they were their own, instead of using them for his glory and for the benefit of others. Instead of gratitude they exhibit a prideful arrogance, that the way their church does things is the ‘right way’. But it is not our place to think that we are any better than our neighbour, because we’re not. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Reformed, Pentecostal, Brethren, Independent or Roman Catholic, so long as you love the Lord Jesus Christ and hold fast to his word, and proclaim the Good News of God’s grace to all who come to him in repentance and faith. You see God has not left it open to us to assume were any better than any other church or any other Christian. Sure, we all make mistakes, but let’s not let our differences get in the way of our commitment to God’s mission. As we gather together as church, not everyone God brings our way will be to our personal liking, but they are no less a child of God than we are. So let us humble ourselves, see others as God sees them, and continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to our community.
Friday 19th August 2022
We all face challenges in our lives in one way or another, for some of us those challenges are very real as we struggle with illness or disability. One of the things that keeps us going is the knowledge that, though life is tough for us, God is always with us in our struggles, he hasn’t abandoned us to get on with it on our own. Perhaps the challenge most of us struggle with is our own fear and insecurity as the world changes around us. But change is nothing new, just look at the way we worship God. For hundreds of years there was no music in the church, and the only songs that were sung were the Psalms. There were no seats either; people had to stand for the entire service. Now we sing all sorts of hymns and songs and we sit in pews or chairs. I’ll bet that each time there was a change in the way the church worshipped together, there were those who said “that’s not the way we do it!” It’s easy to forget that all we do today was once seen as an innovation and something to be discouraged.
We must be careful that we don’t hold on so tightly to what we perceive to be ‘ours’, our traditions, our way of doing things, that we miss what God is offering us. We mustn’t stifle God’s Spirit and limit his transforming power in our lives. We should choose a better way, one that reminds us that through his death and resurrection Jesus has set us free from all of that worry, free to be transformed by his mercy and grace to worship him, free to be and do what he created us for, to worship him with all our heart, mind, body, and soul. Amen to that!
Friday 12th August 2022
Too many people hear an incomplete message about Jesus. It’s the one that says that he was a great teacher, philosopher and guide, a healer of the sick and the personification of love. The one that says that since God is love it doesn’t matter who we love as long as we truly love them. The one that never challenges our preconceptions or asks us to change anything about our behaviour or the way we worship our God. But that isn’t the complete story about the Jesus that we read of in the bible.
The Jesus in the bible challenges us about our lifestyles; that we should live godly lives, lives worthy of him, lives which bring glory to God the Father. This is the Jesus who challenged the religious establishment and their preconceived notions about worship and God. That is the Jesus we need to listen to, because one day we will meet Jesus as our judge, and what then? What possible defence could we use to mitigate our inaction or our unbelief? I fear that far too many Christians have become too comfortable, complacent even, with the life they have, and seemingly unwilling to surrender their lives to God and do his will. It’s a sobering thought, that we might be inadvertently working against God, but there’s simple remedy; start each day by dedicating it to the glory of God, and choose to serve his purposes with whatever comes our way that day.
Friday 5th August 2022
Christianity claims to know what the future holds for all humanity, that there are consequences that lie beyond death for all of us who live on this earth, and that these consequences are contingent how we live our lives. For those who put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and live according to God’s will there are the blessings of eternal life in a paradise we call heaven. One the other hand, for those who choose to reject any faith in Jesus the consequences are less desirable, eternal separation from all the goodness that is God, in a place we call Hell. No wonder some people are fearful, perhaps that’s why they look for an alternative future, one that doesn’t have such harsh consequences for their refusal to trust God with their lives.
So how is Christianity any different from any other religion, or from horoscopes or clairvoyants, or ancient prophesies from long extinct civilisations? Well the Christian faith has at its heart someone who has passed through death and back to life again, Jesus Christ, proving once and for all who care to see that death is not the end. He also provided us with a tangible way of living, one which makes sense of our world and of our lives, one which teaches us to live in a way that benefits God’s creation. It is simple enough to be taught to children and yet profound enough to challenge the most intelligent minds. What it isn’t, is self-seeking, it just wants the best for all humanity.
Friday 22nd July 2022
‘Our Father in heaven’. It all starts with that first word – OUR. I guess we all know somebody who’s said to us: ‘I am a Christian but I don’t go to church.’ But the very first word we pray is ‘Our’, isn’t it? So, doesn’t that make a bit of a mockery of such statements? That word is ‘Our’, tells us that the Christian faith a shared experience, it’s not something lived in isolation from other people. I really don’t see any way in which we can pray the Lord’s Prayer and mean it, and then claim to be a private Christian.
Actually, someone (I don’t know who) has even gone to the trouble of writing a short little poem to illustrate this very point. It goes like this:
You cannot say the Lord’s Prayer, and even once say “I”.
You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer, and even once say “my”.
Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for another.
For to ask for “our” daily bread, you include your sister and brother!
All God’s children are included in each and every plea.
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say ‘me’. In short, we cannot say OUR, if our faith has no room for others and their needs. Powerful little word that ‘Our’, isn’t it?
Friday 15th July 2022
The gospel can sometimes feel a bit like a good news bad news story. The good news – and it is indeed incredibly good – is that Salvation is free. We do not have to do anything to earn it, in fact we can’t do anything to earn it, it’s totally and utterly God’s free gift to the world. The bad news, and by ‘bad’ I mean something we don’t really want, is that along with Salvation comes discipleship, and discipleship is very costly indeed. So for some people, following Jesus may not be all they imagined it to be, because they failed to appreciate the cost involved. You see, our natural desire is to control our surroundings, the people and events that surround our lives, but that’s not God’s way. Following Jesus means submitting to his will for our lives, sometimes that means suffering for his name’s sake; being ridiculed for our faith, maybe even losing our job because we took a stand on a moral issue. The tragedy is that for too many people deem the price of following Jesus too high. Let not that be said of us.
Friday 8th July 2022
This Sunday, our theme is ‘Who is my Neighbour’, a subject that concerned a certain ‘expert in the law’ who asked Jesus about it. Many of us live in our houses without ever really getting to know our neighbours, and I get it, its hard sometimes as we all live such demanding and busy lives. And yet, isn’t ‘community’ something most of us long for? Knowing our neighbours not only keeps our community safe as we look out for one another, it can foster trust and a sense of belonging, which must surely help when it comes to sharing the gospel as people are more like to listen to those they already know than a total stranger.
But the term ‘neighbour isn’t limited to those we live next door, or even our street or neighbourhood. Neighbour, in the Christian sense, is anyone who might need our help, whether we know them or not. It might even mean those noisy people down the road who irritate us with their loud music and noisy cars, if they’re in need of help, the Christian thing to do is to offer ours.
Having said that, when it comes to close neighbours, a kindly, helpful one is more likely to be listened to when it comes to spiritual matters than the ‘strange, religious man’ next door! So don’t be a stranger, be a neighbour!
Friday 1st July 2022
Have you ever noticed how some Christians think of their faith from the point of view of what they can get out of it? Take prayer as an example: it’s sometimes seen as a convenient way of asking God for things for ourselves. Think about it, how often do we ask for material blessings or good health, rather than for the salvation of those around us? On one level that’s ok, but only up to a point, because what happens when we don’t receive the things we want from God? Just because we imagine God’s benevolence will prompt him to shower good things upon us, doesn’t mean that what we ask for is right. If we ask with the wrong motives all we’ll be is disappointed and disillusioned. The problem though was not with God, the problem is with us, more specifically our own misplaced desires, driven as they are by our own sinful nature.
The kind of prayers Christians should be concerned with is for the mission of the church and the commitment of Christian workers. We ought to know this already because we remind ourselves of it every week when we say the Lord’s Prayer; when we pray for the coming of his kingdom and for spiritual needs of others to be met. The trouble is we often get caught up sorting out other issues which, in the long run, don’t really matter! Too much of our time is taken up with unimportant distractions like worrying about which hymns and songs we’re going to sing or whether or not we use liturgy in our services. But you know what? In the grand scheme of things, none of that really matters. What is important is the very real need to take seriously the teaching of Jesus; that our motivation and prayers should be directed towards the important business of spreading the Gospel and changing the world, and not making the church into some sort of club run along the lines which suit our personal tastes.
Friday 24th June 2022
Every now and then, and increasingly more so in the last few years, we hear stories about Christians being attacked while they worship, their churches burnt down, and Christian pastors being imprisoned, or worse abducted and killed, it makes one wonder how we would cope if such a thing were to happen to us. But of course, not all persecution is so blatant. For us in the west we’ve been spared most of that, in fact we’ve not suffered to any great extent at all. But things are changing.
Increasingly we’re finding that we seem to be suffering the sort of persecution where our faith is openly ridiculed, where Christians are picked on as if they were the only ones ever did anything wrong, and Christian organisations, especially schools, are attacked and harassed by activists and the media. I don’t think there’s any doubt that, at some stage, we will all be confronted buy some sort of low-level persecution. And some of us, when were confronted with such difficulties, might be tempted to wander off from our faith and make excuses for what we believe instead of being prepared to defend it.
So, if such a thing should happen to you, where will you go to find support and guidance? To whom are you going to turn if someone in authority, your employer perhaps, asked you to compromise your Christian convictions? Who will you go to for help if your family turns against you? Who will you go to for guidance if a family member asks us to attend their same-sex wedding ceremony? Those are all questions that are faced by Christians, somewhere in New Zealand today. So, before any of that happens, might it be a good idea to know who you could turn to for encouragement if something should happen to you?
Friday 17th June 2022
We’ve all been through some difficult times these last couple of years as the world changed quite dramatically and unexpectedly; certainly, I never saw any of it coming. And some Christians are beginning to wonder if we really might be living in the end times, or at least that we might be heading that way. For many of us, that’s quite an unsettling thought. Well, as unsettling as things may be, being fearful of the end won’t help anyone. Even if everyone around us seems to be losing their head, the pastoral letters in the bible urge us to stay calm (see 1 Peter). It’s not exactly radical advice, but it’s certainly necessary. Because when it comes to the end times, too many Christians have been anything but clear headed, some seem to be obsessed with it. Every time there’s some new conflict in the world we get a whole slew of new videos and books on the end times… it’s bizarre!
It’s the sort of thing that the apostle Peter warns us against. He says we’re to think clearly; we are not to try and guess the date of the end, we’re merely to be ready for when Jesus returns; neither are we to withdraw from society, hiding ourselves away in some remote commune, we’re to proclaim God’s praises to the world. We’re to wait, be sober minded so that we can pray effectively for those around us. You see, people who lose their heads don’t pray, they panic. So, as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, in the midst of all our anxieties, we express our hope of salvation through our praise of God and through our prayers.
Friday 3rd June 2022
Judging by the way some Christians live their lives, I wonder whether they’ve really understood what it cost Jesus for them to be forgiven. I think if they truly understood what it cost him, they might be moved to conduct their lives in the fear of God rather than out of fear of what their friends and family think of them. But living to please God kinda makes us stand out, it makes us seem strange, a bit odd, because we’re now different from those around us. After I’d become a Christian, I tried to tell my biker friends about my newfound faith. Of course, I’d changed, and they didn’t like it. They seemed surprised that I no longer wanted to live as they did, and some were openly hostile.
You might well have a similar story. If you have, then you’ll know that it’s one of the hardest things new Christians have to face. Your friends liked you because you liked and shared in the same things they did, it was probably great fun at the time. But you came to embrace Jesus and left behind your former life. You changed, but your friends didn’t, they still pursue the pleasures of this world, still follow the will of men, and they’re still surprised that you don’t join them in their way of life. You see, becoming a Christian, affects more than just ourselves. If we choose to live for Jesus, there will always be those who mock us. But they’ll one day have to give an account for what they’ve done ‘to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead’ (1 Peter 4:5). Yes, living for Jesus may mean being picked on our whole lives, by friends, family, maybe even the government itself, but in the end, we will be vindicated by Jesus.
Friday 27th May 2022
Whenever you hear a feminist criticise the Bible, they usually do it on the issue of perceived gender stereotypes. They paint this picture of a domineering male who rules the roost and the wife just does what she’s told. To our shame, too many men validate their argument. But the reality is male domination is a result of the fall, not God’s design. The Bible is against such actions just as much as any secular feminist. Men who dominate their wives to the extent they reduce them to domestic servitude, are not living out Lord’s command to respect and honour their wives. Marriage is a partnership not a dictatorship, one where each partner puts in 100% effort to make it work, any less and it’s on shaky ground.
Perhaps we could think of marriage being like a dance, the type where the man leads and the woman follows. Now I confess, and my wife will tell you freely, I can’t dance, I’m just not that rhythmically inclined. But I’m assured by those who do dance that when two people dance together they have to know each other well enough to be of one mind, each able to anticipate the others move, otherwise it’s all a bit of a mess. Knowing one another well… that’s the key isn’t it. But like a marriage, it’s all easier said than done isn’t it!
Saturday 21st May 2022
The world we live in isn’t what it used to be is it, but then everyone says that, no matter what time they happen to live in. Today isn’t the same as yesterday because the world changes; people and governments change, and just when we’re getting used to how things are, just when we think we’ve got everything under control, it changes again. Its unsettling isn’t it.
So how are we to live in our changing world? This is actually something that the apostle Peter has a lot to say about is his first letter. First he shows us just how privileged we are that we’ve been chosen by God to be his people, that in spite of our suffering, we can be assured that God is in control and he’s given us a new identity and a new mission.
I think we can all agree that mission is important, but it also seems like the church has lost sight of what our mission is. I’ve been in many a Synod where the main topic of discussion has been social justice issues. The importance of telling people about Jesus was hardly ever mentioned. Mission agencies too seem to be more concerned about providing aid, providing teachers and doctors to poor countries than telling people about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, both of those are good things in their own right, but our mission is incomplete without telling people about Jesus Christ, in fact it’s decidedly lacking. Doing good works is all very well, but it’s not meant to replace our mission to tell the broken, the hurt, the oppressed and abused that not only has Jesus has come to put an end to all injustice, and will return again to bring in his kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace, but primarily to tell them to repent and believe in Jesus and become part of God’s church.
Saturday 14th May 2022
When the leaders of the Jewish people had Jesus crucified by the Romans, they unwittingly rejected the very messiah that they longed for, the one God had sent to be the cornerstone of his new ‘spiritual’ temple for his people, the living stone that began the process of building a new spiritual temple for God. Jesus seemed to them to be a reject, but in fact, he was the most precious treasure you could imagine.
As Christians, God has also called us to come to Jesus, so we too can become ‘living stones’ in his new temple. No longer would it be just the priests who ministered within the walls of the old temple, that means of sacrifice has served its purpose and is now redundant. Today, all God’s people have a part to play. You see, its people, not stones, who are the building blocks that form the structure of God’s new Temple. The church is nothing if it doesn’t have you and me to hold it up.
There’s a rather tired old joke amongst clergy, that if it wasn’t for the people, church would be a wonderful place. But it wouldn’t be much of a church would it. In fact, it wouldn’t be a church at all. No, the church is the people. We are living stones, being built into a living temple, a place where those seeking for truth can come and encounter God in the lives of his people. Our task, as building blocks of the temple, is to bind together in unity to create a strong and stable structure. Being living stones means we need to keep growing, not merely in size, but in strength and maturity, so that the bonds we have with one another become stronger and stronger as time goes on.
Friday 6th May 2022
I think it’s true to say that God expects high standards from his people, which tragically hasn’t always been the case, as the courts can too frequently testify. You really can’t mess around and think that God won’t mind though. It’s one of the reasons why the apostle Peter calls Christians to live out their lives in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17). The concept of the fear of God is often misunderstood by Christians today. There’s even a trend in some church traditions to play down God’s judgement on sin to make him more ‘accessible’. Instead of treating God as he has revealed himself in the Bible, we create a god in our own image, the kind of God we want, one we can manage. When we do that, we no longer fear God or his coming judgement. That is not the God of the bible.
The problem we have is that many Christians have a domesticated view of God. They forget that when they meet him, they’ll meet a lion, not a pussy cat. The fear of the Lord is knowing that the God whom we call Father is also the judge of all the world. It is knowing that he will judge everyone on the evidence of what they’ve done on this earth. Make no mistake, judgement is coming. Peter’s intention is not to make us fearful, but to help us have a healthy respect for who God is, and be reminded that there are consequences for how we live our lives. It’s true that Jesus is our friend and brother, and if we love him, if we’re truly grateful for all that he’s done for us, then we’ll naturally want to please him. But let’s not forget that he’s also God, and as God he deserves our reverence and respect. He is not to be domesticated like some pussy cat, He’s a lion, the lion of Judah, and it’s wise to fear a lion, isn’t it?
Friday 29th April 2022
What are you placing your hope in? Is it a hope just for this world, that you’ll have no financial worries, or that your life will be easier, more comfortable, less stressful? I wouldn’t blame you; it’d be nice wouldn’t it. But is that what God has promised us, an easy life? Judging from most of what we read in our bibles, I’d say no.
The hope that God has given us through Jesus’ death and resurrection is much more than just some vague promise that our lives will be easier if we just ‘believe’, the thousands of persecuted Christians around the world today can testify to that. What he’s given us is a ‘living hope’, a hope that helps us focused on living life, whether our current circumstances are good or bad, with a vision of our eternal future firmly in mind.
As Christians we lay claim to the one hope that will never let us down, the living hope of an inheritance that that cannot perish, spoil or fade kept safe for us in heaven. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the sign that we too will be raised to new life. His Holy Spirit has been given to us, as the guarantee that God’s life is flowing through us and will help us persevere through the trials of this life until the last day. So, as you go about your life this week, I pray that your heart and mind will be strengthened to persevere, to remain strong in your faith in Jesus Christ, and confident of the great inheritance that’s waiting for you in heaven.
Friday 22nd April 2022
What does it mean for us to worship God? I guess we could come up with all sorts of answers, but perhaps that’s the wrong question. Perhaps we should really be asking how does God want us to worship him? In the Old Testament, worship was centred on the system of Temple sacrifices. But in the New Testament, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection changed all that.
New Testament worship is centred on what Jesus achieved for us on the cross, and our practical response to what he’s done. And if I could sum up in one word what that response should be, I would say ‘gratitude’. Grateful worship is done in reverence and awe, our acceptance of the gospel is an act of grateful worship. In practical terms that means giving control of our lives over to God, dying to our own wants and desires, and devoting ourselves to serving his purposes in the world. And we can do that anywhere, there are no special holy places, no ‘sacred spaces’, no special buildings that we have to go to in order to be in God’s presence. Any place is a good place to worship God… and not just on Sundays! We worship with our ears, when we listen to scripture being read, with our lips, through our songs of praise and the words we say, with our hearts, when we care for others, with our hands, when we do good to others. Whenever we do those things, we worship God. And that, I hope, is what we’re all trying to do.
Thursday 14th April 2022
Life… it’s full of surprises, isn’t it? Most of them are pretty good, things like an unexpected gift perhaps, or a financial windfall. Those sorts of surprises put a smile on our face and make us feel good. But there are other sorts of surprises that just confound our senses, times when we look and wonder, not quite believing what we’re seeing or knowing how to respond. So imagine everyone’s surprise when Jesus rose from the dead. No one was expecting it, not even the disciples. If they were, why weren’t they hiding in a locked room and not waiting at the tomb on that first Easter morning? And why had the women gone to anoint Jesus’ dead body if they thought he was going to be resurrected?
This then, is what Easter is all about: The surprising news of a dead man risen from the grave, alive again for all to see, alive for all eternity, never to see death again. The doubly surprising message of Easter is that this sort of ‘risen life’ awaits all those who follow Jesus, a life lived in eternal fellowship with God Almighty, the Creator of all things, who calls to share in the glory of the resurrected Christ. None of us deserve such an offer because, actually, none of us are good enough. And we never will be. The surprising thing is that in Jesus Christ, God has done it all for us. All we have to do is put our faith and trust in him.
Friday 8th April 2022
For the past couple of months, we’ve been studying the book of Revelation at our Sunday services, and this week marks the final sermon in the series. Part of the task of making sense of Revelation has been trying to understand what John was saying to those Christians he was writing to, and not extrapolating his words to make it say something he didn’t intend. They were living under the temptations and threats of the Roman empire, and John likened this empire, and in fact all empires, to Babylon, and called his fellow Christians to ‘come out from her’. But for many, there seemed to be little or no alternative to the Roman way of life. Many Christians were enjoying the wealth and glory that Rome offered, so the gospel call to disassociate from Rome’s idolatry, injustice and prosperity was a massive challenge, to do so meant a very uncertain future. What they needed was reassurance and the hope of a new home. This is what the apostle John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth provide; an alternative to the comforts of Rome, to the wealth and glories of empire, and to the cultural values of a religious past. He’s offering another place to belong, another, better place to call home.
It’s actually not so different to our situation today is it. We all face the temptations of wealth, and the pleasures that this world offers are seductive. And yes, it’s hard to break free from the pressure to conform to the world around us, to ‘come out’ from the seductions of our culture. The question is, are you prepared to do it?
Friday 1st April 2022
One of the central claims of Christianity is that, one day, God is going to call time on the world. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the world of films and TV entertainment, they’re fascinated by the concept, portraying it through natural disasters, climate change, deadly plagues, asteroids hitting the earth, alien invasions, world wars, even robots and artificial intelligence taking over and killing all the humans. You name it, they’ve made a film about it. Unsurprisingly, given the book of Revelation, there’s a whole genre of Christian books and movies devoted to it too, the Left Behind series of films and books being the most well-known.
I used to think it doesn’t really matter what we think about how the world will end, Revelation is quite confusing after all, fascinating but difficult to make any sense of. And anyway, Christians always seem to argue about when and how it will happen. All I knew was that, in the end, God wins… so what’s the point in worrying about it?
What we can be certain of, is that the victory that Jesus won on the cross is no illusion, we can see it in the growth of the church as the gospel has been proclaimed. We also have faith that Jesus will one day return to defeat his enemies and renew creation. In the meantime, Jesus reigns through the message of the cross and the proclamation of the gospel. I still think there’s some merit in being a bit oblivious to the actual details of the end, but nowadays, that comes with this proviso: It might not matter to us when the end comes… so long as we’re continuing to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ right until the last moment.
Friday 25th March 2022
It’s easy to get caught up in the life of the world around us, there’s so much to be tempted by: wealth, fine homes, flash cars, fine food, exotic holidays. We see it, we desire it, we strive for it. We gamble, play lotto, work harder and longer hours as we sell ourselves to the dream and become slaves to our desires. But this image of wealth we hold in our heads is deceptive.
Consider this… Evil commonly exercises power and control through seduction; typically offering the promise of an easier life, wealth, or at least enough wealth to make us feel comfortable, and security. It’s very tempting, for all of us. But it’s a slippery slope that draws our affections and security away from God on to material comforts, and the gospel falls by the wayside. Where seduction fails, control is often exerted through the threat of violence, keeping many in fear of making a stand for the gospel. Either way, Satan gets what he wants as Christians fail to practice what they preach.
You see, evil will always present itself as an angel of light, the answer to our problems, our saviour in times of distress. But, once it has us in its grasp, it will turn on us, destroying all who oppose it. It can offer us all the wealth of the world, but only Jesus Christ can offer us true salvation.
Friday 18th March 2022
Reading the bible can be quite confronting for some people. Non-Christians often criticise the Old Testament for its seeming brutality and images of death and destruction. And you can’t blame them can you, our modern western sensibilities aren’t used to seeing entire cities and people groups wiped out, women and children included. And when they get to reading Revelation, the finality of God’s judgements on the world is alarming. Because, if what we read there is true, then millions, perhaps billions of people are going to die. And yet, this is all part of the gospel message, the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. But it really doesn’t sound like it’s going to be good news for everyone does it.
So what’s our answer going to be when people ask us about our faith in Jesus? Will we tell them the whole gospel? Or just the bits we think they can stomach so we don’t put them off. Is the gospel good news for everyone, or is it not? And if it’s not, what are we going to do about it?
Sunday 13th March 2022
At All Saints we say the Apostles Creed every Sunday, it’s a reminder to us of the basic doctrines of our faith, about what we believe God has done for us though his only Son, Jesus Christ. It also makes absolutely no mention of the devil, because believing in the devil isn’t what makes you a Christian. Never-the-less, the bible does tell us a lot about the devil, that he plays no small part in God’s unfolding plans for the world. God clearly wants us to know about him, to know that the devil is real… and that we can expect to encounter him. But the devil uses many disguises. In Revelation Ch. 13 we see his work depicted as the two beasts, which together with the devil (depicted as the dragon in Ch. 12) make some sort of un-holy trinity, a false god, to deceive the world.
The first beast is blatant in its use of power and coercion, persecuting God’s people for their faith and their testimony about Jesus. The second beast is a different story, its work is more subtle, but just as deadly as the first. He dazzles and deceives; people are amazed and seduced by the pleasures on offer. His work is done through those who’ve acquiesced and joined with the beast in its debauchery. Make no mistake, the devil is real, and he has the power deceive and cause some to doubt their faith in Jesus, using any and every means to do so, whether through the threat of persecution and terror, or the seductive pleasures of the world around us. It’s time for those in the church to wake up from their comfortable slumber, take a good long hard look at what’s going on around us, and decide whose side we’re on.
Sunday 6th March 2022
The forces of chaos seem to be having a field day around the world, the war in Ukraine is especially disturbing. But it’s not just happening in far-off places. At home here in New Zealand the violent breakup of the protests on the grounds of parliament by the police this week is particularly disturbing. There’s a growing realisation that we’re being divided as a nation, divided by race, by politics, and now by our vaccination status.
Emotions are running pretty high at the moment, differences of opinion are creeping in to our everyday conversations, positions are being taken, arguments formed, and before we know it, we’re arguing with one another over things that are actually beyond our knowledge or control. And what does it gain us? Families are divided, friendships are broken, and Satan rubs his hands with glee. So how we respond to all this is important, for all our sakes. As Christians, we’re called to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love even our enemies. But it isn’t easy is it. My prayers this week have been around the call for unity in the Spirit. It’s about respecting those who hold a different view to ourselves rather than just try and win an argument, praying for God’s blessing to be on our families, friends, and neighbours, and praying for Godly inspired wisdom for our leaders – both spiritual and temporal. And I will continue to be thankful for God’s blessings every day. Will you do the same?
Sunday 27th February 2022
The world has seen a great many disasters over the years, some of them natural, like famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados and so on, but I think the worst ones have been entirely man made. In the last 100 years we’ve seen terrible atrocities, hundreds of thousands, if not millions dead that the hands of tyrants.
Then there’s our Christian brothers and sisters around the world being persecuted for their faith, never sure who they can trust, who will turn them in or attack them for talking about Jesus Christ. Even in the west Christians are being forced out of Jobs or mercilessly persecuted on line for standing up for Christian values. So we rightly ask “Why is this happening to us, why doesn’t God do something to stop the suffering of his people in this world, why does he not return now and put an end to our suffering?” But still it goes on. Totalitarian regimes seek to control nations. People rebel and replace them, often with equally corrupt governments, and so the cycle continues. Some might wonder if this is perhaps part of God’s judgment on a fallen humanity, that he lets people suffer because of their own willingness to put up with unjust government, even, dare I say, to vote for them, but I doubt it. It seems to me more like God allows us the reap the inevitable consequences of our actions, while at the same time reserving his judgment for the end times.
The hard answer to those who plead with God to bring about his final judgement is to be patient. There are still those on earth who need to hear the gospel; those for whom God’s final judgement would be the end if it came too soon. From our point of view, the answer to this delay is to get on with the task of sharing the gospel with as many as possible so that the full number of the elect might be saved.
Sunday 20th February 2022
With all that’s going on in the world you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only way to gain control is through the exercise of power. Why does it have to be that way? Well, of course, it doesn’t, but political power, military might, political activism even, are all very seductive. There’s this belief that we can take control of history and steer it towards what we want. But, as we’ve seen so many times in recent decades, in situations of conflict our actions can have unpredictable consequences, rather than solving anything we only make the problem worse.
There’s also this seductive idea that we can bring world peace through globalisation and technology. We create the illusion that we’re all connected and informed, but it’s just an illusion, because we still only see our small part of the world. You see, most people only see what they want to see, because even though we’re connected to the rest of the world, we still invariably only ever listen to the voices in our own small corner, like an echo chamber, we only hear the voices that agree with us. Who today can really survey the whole world and sum it up? Who has eyes to see and comprehend the bewildering complexities of the entire world? No one, no one like us anyway.
But in heaven, there is someone who sees everything. Heaven is the only vantage point where you can survey all things. In the book of Revelation chapter 5, we find the ‘Lamb who looks as though he was slain’, the one who has ‘seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into the whole earth’. Seven is the number of perfection. Seven eyes therefore, represents perfect sight. The Lamb is Jesus Christ, and he sees the full picture, he understands everything and misses nothing. The BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, may well have reporters in almost every country around the world, but only God sees and understands everything.
Sunday 13th February 2022
When you think about God, what do you imagine him to be like? Our answers will of course be quite different depending on our circumstances, some might see God as judgemental, controlling, while others see him as forgiving and compassionate. But are our simplified images of God actually sufficient or indeed even accurate? I suggest not. The apostle John was given a revelation of God’s throne room which we can read about in Revelation Ch.4. Here he sees the throne of God, gleaming with unapproachable light, surrounded by fantastical angelic beings, with thunder and lightning crackling all around. This isn’t just popping in to see your mate, it’s not even like having an audience with the Queen, this is a whole new thing altogether, quite unlike anything on earth.
This heavenly glimpse into God’s throne room is not what we might have expected. God is Almighty God, holy and just in all he does. Any image of what we imagined God to be like probably wasn’t this. More likely it was an image drawn out of our own self-interest; someone we can call on in times of trouble, someone who’ll forgive our never-ending catalogue of sins, someone who gives us comfort when life is tough. Instead, we’re offered an image of God who is transcendent, unapproachable in his holiness, surrounded by the greatest of angelic beings, who can think of nothing they’d rather do than fall down at his feet and sing his praises.
So, if someone ever asks you why you worship God, tell them without hesitation: I worship God because he is… in the words of that great hymn:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
Sunday 6th February 2022
I have a Roman coin at home from the time of the emperor Tiberius, the emperor at the time Jesus was crucified. And on that coin is the inscription ‘Pontifex Maximus’ or ‘Chief High Priest’, and on the other side, ‘Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus’. It’s a symbol, a reminder in every pocket, that the Roman emperor is to be worshipped as a god. This worship of the emperor was a big part of commercial life, the problem for Christians was that to be able to trade meant participating in worship of the emperor. The pressure from friends and neighbours to not rock the boat or make trouble, but just be grateful for Roman rule was enormous. You can see the problem can’t you. How could Christians make a living without compromising themselves with the surrounding culture or getting into trouble with the authorities. To be a faithful Christian meant holding on to their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the true great high priest, and the only saviour of the world. But to say that out loud would be culturally very awkward, not to mention commercially disastrous, and potentially treasonous!
We can see the parallels to the situation the church finds itself in today. How many of us are wary of speaking out on matters of faith? Or expressing our Christian views on matters of morality? Because to do so, especially in a country like ours, is to invite hatred and ridicule, making life so difficult that you find yourself shunned by family and friends, urged just to keep quiet and toe the line, or risk losing your job. But do not be afraid, Jesus says “I am the first and the last”. Jesus had the first word in history, God spoke the world into being, and Jesus will have the last word in history. Jesus Christ is before all human empires, Roman or otherwise, and he will outlast them. Christians, both then and today, may feel like the world is spinning out of control. But that’s not the case, Jesus has a plan, and that plan will come to pass. Rev Andy Carley
Sunday 30th January 2022
One of the comments often heard from non-Christians is that they quite like the idea of a Jesus like figure, but they’re not so keen on God. Their Jesus is all about love and forgiveness, while they imagine an angry god full of judgment and disapproval. It seems that they’re happy to have a saviour who always forgives them, who’s longsuffering, patient and kind; but they don’t want a god who keeps them accountable and demands commitment and obedience.
The people of Jesus day were like that. When Jesus visited his home town of Nazareth, they were quite impressed with him at first, they were amazed at how well this son of a carpenter spoke. And there’s the problem. When they looked at Jesus all they saw was the son of Joseph the carpenter. To them, Jesus was just the proverbial local boy made good. You can imagine them turning to one another and asking “Isn’t this the little boy we watched growing up as he played with our children?” But of course, the answer to their question is actually “No! not even close”. You see, familiarity often has a way of blinding us to the obvious. So no, this isn’t just Jesus the carpenter’s son. This isn’t even Jesus the great teacher, the wise speaker of parables and wise sayings. And it certainly isn’t “Gentle Jesus, meek & mild”. This is Jesus Christ, the son of God. Even Satan acknowledged that. And the things that he’s come to do go far beyond the small-town vision of these small-town people.
So who do you see when you look at Jesus? A good man, a fine teacher, a faith healer of some kind? Or do you see the living embodiment of all that is God? How are you going to respond to him when he calls?
Sunday 2nd January 2022
Thomas Merton, a man of many talents, once wrote that: “The ox and the ass understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today.” He was right. There are plenty of people around today who know the stories about the baby Jesus, but never really commit themselves to doing anything about following Jesus as their Lord and King. Merton rightly points out that the religious leaders in Jesus’ day knew all the prophecies about the Messiah, but when he appeared among them and began to teach what it meant to be a true child of God, they didn’t want to know. The sort of things Jesus taught threatened their position in the community, and undermined their own sense of self-importance. Jesus even had the nerve to suggested that people could have a direct relationship with God, without needing to go through a priestly intermediary. In the words of a particular climate activist, had she been around, “How dare you!”
Many people today, maybe even most, want to run their lives the way they see fit, and not have to worry about what someone else thinks. They certainly don’t want Jesus coming along and upsetting their equilibrium with demands for godly living, let alone giving up their Sunday mornings to go and worship him! Sadly, many of them are also well versed in how to sidestep the issue, who know how to pay lip-service to God, how to play along saying the right words, and express the right sentiments. But it’s not enough to know the Christmas story, knowing the story doesn’t help if it doesn’t lead us to worship and follow the one it’s telling us about. My prayer for this year, for all of us, is that we take seriously the claim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and live our lives accordingly.
Christmas Day 25 December 2021
What do you enjoy the most about Christmas? Maybe it’s the big Christmas lunch or dinner with your family? How about Christmas presents? Do you mind what you get? After all, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? Have you ever gone and bought the thing you really want just to make sure you get it? Or would you rather be surprised? Usually I’m not into surprises, but even I have to admit it is nice when you open a gift and discover something unexpected that you really like.
The Christmas Story is full of surprises too, we often miss them because we’re so familiar with it, but they are there. Here’s three that you may not have thought about: The choice of Mary and Joseph to be the parents of God’s only Son, two young people with little or no prospects in life from a backwater village in the middle of nowhere. The timing of his birth – a time when Israel was at its lowest point since the exile. The place where he was born – not a palace fit for the king of kings but a lowly stable. And God’s choice of witness to this great event – a few uneducated dirty shepherds. As we unwrap these particular gifts at our service on Christmas Day, we’ll find that God is indeed a God of surprises, one who acts unexpectedly in our world, and if we’re not really looking, his actions are easy to miss. Merry Christmas everyone.
Sunday 19 December 2021
Thinking about our response to this pandemic, what can we probably all say right now? We’re over it! We want a return to normality, or at least as normal as it can be after what we’ve all been through. Life hasn’t been easy, and it’s fair to say it’s taken a toll on our emotional, and for some financial, wellbeing. There’s a lot of hurt and possibly even anger out there about the way all this has been handled by governments around the world, not just our own. So… how should we, as Christians, respond?
What we ought not to do is put our heads in the sand while those around us are hurting. It’s tempting, but we can’t, as Pontius Pilate did, simply wash our hands and say it’s nothing to do with me. If nothing else, for the sake of our own wellbeing, we ought to at least think about what we’ve all gone through, and talk about it with each other, as a minimum we should at least acknowledge one another’s feelings.
An important question for us right now is what drives our response, is it our rights under the law, or love for our neighbour? Being concerned for our neighbour will motivate us differently than if we’re more self-orientated. We must be careful, and consider if our response is actually Christian, even if we are right in the eyes of the law. Let’s not be so driven by our concerns and fears that we give up meeting with others at church worried we’ll catch the virus (even though we’re vaccinated). Be other-person-centred, take the time to understand what drives others responses. Show care and concern for those who’ve lost their jobs over their choices around government policies. Don’t exclude others, be a people of hope to whom others can turn when they’re in need.
Sunday 12 December 2021
We’re living in strange, unsettling times, aren’t we? So where might we expect to see God at work in our covid world? Well, judging from our reactions to this pandemic, I wouldn’t be surprised if some might say that we don’t really see God much at all. They would say that the world is in a dreadful mess and God appears to be absent. Well, I’m not so sure about that because, in my experience, our disappointment often comes because we’ve been looking for God in the wrong places. The fact that God doesn’t fulfil all our expectations is a reflection on us, not God! Jesus knew all about this, his life shows us that God acts unexpectedly: he was born in a stable, not a nice religious palace, he spends his life with the ordinary, lowly people, not with the rich and powerful, he preached about God’s forgiveness and compassion, not punishment, and rather than killing wrongdoers, he dies on a cross for them instead. It was all very unexpected indeed.
Yet Jesus is God, and this is how God works. God, you see, is at work all round us through his people, the church, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear. God cares for those who’ve lost their jobs because of vaccine mandates, He cares for those who’ll spend Christmas alone because their family don’t want to be around the unvaccinated. Do we? Will we? Where else might God be unexpectedly at work? What unexpected events or circumstances might God be bringing our way, opportunities to tell people, to demonstrate God’s love grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.
Sunday 5 December 2021
Christmas carols, they’re pretty much unavoidable at this time of year, you hear them in the malls and supermarkets when you’re shopping, although these days they’re often the more secular ones. And I guess we all have our favourites; Mary’s Boy Child, We Three Kings, Away in a Manger, Once in Royal David’s City to name but four. And the most famous of them all? How about Silent Night? It’s got a great story attached to it too, the stuff of legend. But like a lot of famous stories, it’s not entirely true. It is true that Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber wrote “Silent Night” in 1818, but sadly, the story of a broken church organ which meant it was composed for a guitar is more than likely not true.
Distinguishing fact or fiction is important, and Advent, the season before Christmas, is the perfect time to think about these things. It’s not only a time when we look forward to when Jesus comes again, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on our own expectations, and consider our attitudes to the people around us. This Sunday, the second Sunday in Advent, we’re reminded of John the Baptist, something of an uncomfortable figure, even today. He came like a thunderbolt from the sky, dispelling some of the myths about the role of the Messiah and the ‘worthiness’ of the ‘people of God’ – the Jews. The Messiah that came was not what they were expecting, and for some of them, not what they wanted either! His is still a message that shakes us out of our complacency, calls us to respond with discernible actions, and challenges to check our attitudes and expectations. An uncomfortable message yes, but I think one worth thinking about.
Sunday 28 November 2021
You know, at our weekly Sunday service we affirm the essential elements of our Christian faith as we recite the Apostle’s Creed. One of the things we affirm is that Jesus will: “…come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” We say it, but do we really believe it? I ask because all too often, despite our best intentions, we tend to live our lives without much too thought as to what Jesus would like to find us doing if he suddenly returned today. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that he’d catch us off guard and unprepared. I guess that shouldn’t surprise us though, because we tend to fill our lives with all kinds of obligations and responsibilities other than our relationship with God.
Our busyness crowds out time with God to the point that we treat it as if it’s optional, especially, and rather ironically, at this time of year! ‘After all,’ we think to ourselves, ‘I have to go to work, babysit the grandchildren, do my chores, and think about the bills and financial responsibilities I have.’ It’s tempting to think that, maybe, after the rush of Christmas, there’ll be more time to concentrate on reading the bible, praying, going to a homegroup or bible study, and going to church. Sorry, but no, there won’t, we’ll have no more time than we’ve got now. So maybe we should take a look at our priorities instead, and think about what we’d want to be found doing if Jesus really did suddenly appear, because whatever it is, it’s probably what we should be doing anyway.
Sunday 21 November 2021
What is truth? That was a question made famous by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, at the trial of Jesus, although he wasn’t so much asking a question as making a statement, that the truth is whatever he decided it was. He’d fit right in today wouldn’t he. Isn’t that how many people think now? That truth is relative, what’s true for you may not be true for me? Well, at some stage, everyone finds out that truth isn’t always so accommodating to our preferences. Truth has no feelings, it is what it is, whether we like it or not. The times when we most want to know the truth are those times when we feel insecure or threatened by some outside force, like a medical pandemic of some sort. We want to know the truth, to know what to do to be safe. But when truth is relative… we all become a bit like Pontius Pilate, and decide what’s true for ourselves depending on what website or social media post we’ve read that day. Oh dear… look how that sort of thinking turned out for Pilate. He missed the truth, even though it was standing right in front of him, because he was focused on the wrong things.
The world today is focused on the, not insignificant, problems caused by a deadly virus, replete with government mandates about this and that, disrupting our lives. While we watch and wait for answers to our problems, listening to the powerful competing for the limelight, people are still missing the truth about Jesus Christ. What has the Church to say about this? It is time to remind Christian people everywhere that our true allegiance must always be to Jesus Christ, the hope of humanity, and not to any worldly rulers. The one truth we can all rely on is that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Not believing that, doesn’t make it any less true.
Sunday 14 November 2021
We live in strange times don’t we. I come across all sorts of reactions to the current pandemic, but the most common is anxiety, that and fear, fear of the virus, fear of the vaccine, fear of losing our job. So what might Jesus have to say to us about all this? I think it might be something like this: Be aware of what’s going on, but don’t be alarmed, or in the words of the meme, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Be alert, be watchful, and put your trust in God. Now more than ever people need to hear the good news of Jesus, and find communities of faith where they are welcome, vaccinated or otherwise.
We might be tempted to be afraid, afraid of the virus, afraid of others, afraid of the vaccine, but Jesus tells his followers that there’s no need to be fearful, because he will be with us. We will encounter strife in our lives, we always have, but at such times, Jesus calls us to trust him and stand firm, to be messengers of hope to our fearful world. Jesus calls us to endure any hardship we may face, and to trust that he abides with us. When times of testing come, as indeed they have, Jesus promises to give us the strength we need to remain in him. This isn’t a case of enduring through thick and thin, pushing ourselves along to the bitter end, this is a reminder that we are never alone. God is with us.
Sunday 07 November 2021
Christian Aid, a UK a mission agency, has this slogan: ‘We believe in life before death’. It’s a great slogan, one that I think represents part of what Jesus was about when he was with us. Those who met Jesus had a life-giving encounter, one which transformed those who believed in him. He brought forgiveness, he brought healing. But most of all, he brought them hope. I think that’s an amazing gift, but it is also a challenge. It challenges all of us who say we follow Jesus, because we too should be agents of hope, hope in our relationships, in our witness, and in our mission. Both as individuals and as a church.
Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life.” He is the one who brings transformation to the darkest situations. Jesus is the proof that the world can do its worst but will not have the final say. In a world seemingly dominated by fear of a deadly virus, we must remember that we live in the hope of a transformed life with God, one that cannot be destroyed by a deadly disease, one that will last beyond the grave, and it is one which begins now, today, we don’t have to wait for the life to come, if we believe in Jesus, we will never truly die. So be encouraged by the good news of Jesus, the resurrection and the life, that brings hope and life to dark places of our world.
Sunday 31 October 2021
I love history, it was one of my favourite subjects at school. I watch history documentaries on tv and subscribe to history channels on YouTube, I read books on history, and I’m a member of a couple of history groups on facebook. Safe to say then that history is important to me, because… how does that saying go? ‘Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. But that’s not quite accurate. What the Philosopher, George Santayana, actually said was: ‘Those that cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.’ Here’s the thing. Forgetting the past seems to be something we’re all quite good at, the church being no exception. Sometimes we even choose not to remember, perhaps because the past contains some painful or unpalatable truths about ourselves, or because the past doesn’t suit what we want to believe about ourselves now, or doesn’t suit what we want to do in the future.
The people of Israel also seemed to have great difficulty in remembering their past, frequently forgetting what God had done for them, turning instead to foreign gods and kings instead of looking to the LORD for their salvation. Oh yes, when times were good, they were quite happy to serve the LORD, but it never lasted more than a generation or so before they forgot and wandered off to serve other gods. But God expects his people to remain faithful to him, forsaking all other distractions and false gods of this world. Like a marriage, our love for God requires an unwavering commitment to fidelity, anything less than that will have us wandering off, distracted by the things of this world, which will only end heartache and pain. The question for today is, can we say the same words as Joshua? ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD’.
Sunday 24th October
For a short time during the late 1980’s and early 90’s I was a police officer in the south of England. One of the things I learned during that time was that, left to our own devices, humanity can be incredibly selfish. Selfish to such an extent that without laws to guide and restrain our base instincts, society will inevitably descend into chaos and violence. As Christians, none of that should surprise us. We know that there is such a thing as evil, and contrary to what some believe, we are not born perfect. We are born with the desire for autonomy, and where we feel that autonomy is threatened our natural instinct is to rebel. It’s what we call ‘original sin’, the desire to be the master of our own fate, apart from any god ruling over us.
Our Judeo-Christian heritage, with its moral and ethical laws, has underpinned our legal system for over a thousand of years, do away with Christianity, and we also do away with our moral compass. Instead of looking out for the good of others, we’re more concerned with what we can get for ourselves, even if it means trampling over others to get it, hence the slide in to violence and chaos. Inevitably this leads to the need to impose more and more rules and laws to govern the people. A world devoid of Christianity would be a world of many, many laws, laws that require increasingly severe, even lethal deterrents to keep some semblance of order. Our Christian duty is to continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and uphold the moral and ethical law of God in the face of opposition, and invite others to find a place of refuge from the sin that engulfs the world in the arms of our loving saviour.
Sunday 17th October
Have you ever made a promise you didn’t keep? Now that’s something we’d all like to say ‘no’ to isn’t it. But you might be surprised how often we do it without even thinking about it. How many times have you said to someone ‘I’ll pray for you’ and then forgot all about it? It’s not intentional of course, but we’ve all done it. Or what about the parent who says to their child who wants something ‘we’ll see’ or ‘maybe’? It’s a promise to consider their request, isn’t it? But all along they know their answer is going to be no. Let me tell you from experience, that’s as good as a broken promise to a child.
Of all the promises we make, rash promises are the most troublesome. They’re the promises we make without really considering the consequences, or without seeking God’s guidance first. I mean, we’re intelligent people, and we’re quite capable of sorting things out for ourselves, aren’t we? Well, true, but what we mustn’t do is just assume God will endorse our decisions, because what we might assume is common sense can sometimes turn out to be anything but. Jesus actually underlined the importance of this to his disciples in his sermon on the mount: He warned them not to break their promises, better still, don’t make promises you can’t keep at all. But if you do, he said: ‘let your yes be yes and your no, be no.’ (Matt. 5:37). In other words, just do what you say you’ll do, even if turns out not to be to your advantage. If nothing else, that just serves to underline the importance of listening to what God has to say before rushing to make decisions, and might save us a whole lot of potential grief later on.
Sunday 10th October 2021]
What’s your happy place, where does your mind go when you want to get away from things? It’s interesting how some places take on a greater significance than others, isn’t it. For me, I’m a mountains and lakes kind of guy, it’s one of the reasons I like living in New Zealand, plenty of mountains and lakes to choose from. Other places take on significance because they mark certain events in our lives, perhaps the place where you grew up, where you went to school or university, your first date with your husband or wife, where you got married or where took your honeymoon. Places have meaning, not because there’s inherently something about the place itself, but because of what happened there. I’ve had the privilege of being able to visit some of the sites and places mentioned in the bible, Jerusalem, Bethany, Bethlehem, Capernaum, Jericho, and the Jordan river. I thought these sites would be over touristy, a bit cheesy and over the top, but actually, they’re worth going to. It was great to walk on streets where Jesus and his disciples walked, take a boat ride out on Lake Galilee where Simon, Andrew, James and John did their fishing, stand in the river where John baptised the crowds, and sit on the hill where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. There’s no doubt that these are significant places. So let’s be mindful of our significant places, our heritage, our place of being, as it has shaped who we are, and continues to shape who we will be
if you do, he said: ‘let your yes be yes and your no, be no.’ (Matt. 5:37). In other words, just do what you say you’ll do, even if turns out not to be to your advantage. If nothing else, that just serves to underline the importance of listening to what God has to say before rushing to make decisions, and might save us a whole lot of potential grief later on.
Sunday 3rd October 2021
One of my pet hates is when people refer to the communion table as an altar, it isn’t. Now I realise that I might be coming across as a bit petty here, after all, what does it matter, we all know it’s a table. Well, theologically, it matters a lot! You see, the altar was where the temple priests made sacrifices on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of their sins. When Jesus made the final sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all humanity, for all time, the altar (and the priesthood) became redundant. Christians replaced the altar with a table, around which we gather to remember Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection for our sins in communion.
But altars do have meaning and relevance in the life of God’s people in the OT. Both Moses and Joshua made an altar of thanksgiving from undressed stones. They used undressed stones as a symbol that there’s nothing we can do to add to God’s grace, which needs no help or improvement from human hands. The idea here is that we can’t improve on what God has already provided for us. As soon as someone seeks to shape the altar to be more fitting as somewhere to offer sacrifices to God, they spoil it, because they can never make it perfect enough to reflect the nature of God, and because there’s nothing that they can offer that will help to overcome God’s judgement on their sin.
I’m not sure that’s a lesson we’ve learnt particularly well. We may not build fine alters of dressed stone in grand cathedrals any more, but we do tend to work on the basis that if we organise our worship in a particular way, if we do or say the right things, our lives will be more acceptable to God. But, in reality, we’re wasting our time. There’s nothing we can do to add to what God has already done for us to make ourselves more acceptable to him. We need no altars in our lives, just a table where we gather to remember and accept God’s mercy and grace.
Sunday 24th September 2021
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being watched? Well, you are. The simple act of being a Christian who takes their faith seriously means that others have got their eyes on you, watching how you behave, what you say, listening to how you talk about others. You see, there’s a belief out there that Christians are hypocrites, that we don’t practice what we preach, that we’re really no better than anyone else. And you can’t blame people for thinking like that can you, we hear stories all the time about Christians who do terrible things, stories of sexual abuse and allegations of inappropriate behaviour are, sadly, all too common. So we’re being watched, not all the time, but they do want to see what we do when things go wrong.
The odd thing is though, as the royal commission on abuse in care shows, it’s actually not our sin or short-comings that they’re most critical of as many non-Christians are just as guilty… it’s how we deal with it. How we resolve conflicts, deal with breakdowns in relationships, and respond to tragedy is really important. Because, when the rubber hits the road, where our faith really counts is what we do when things go wrong. How we respond in times of trouble shows people who we really are, and what we really believe. How we behave in times of trouble or tragedy is what sets Christians apart from those around them. So how do you measure up?
Sunday 19th September 2021
There is, in all of us, a deep desire to know where we come from isn’t there. Children adopted at birth often long to know who their birth parents are, sometimes they get the opportunity to find, not always with the answers they were hoping for. And there’s the popularity of genealogy websites and DNA tracing in an attempt to find out who we truly are. But the thing is, however we might like to think of ourselves as self-determining, that we’re our own person, at the same time we seem unconsciously aware that our identity is never entirely up to us, that we are shaped by what has gone before, both genetically and culturally.
Jewish people know this very well, as did Jesus Christ, they understood that the generations are connected, that blessings and curses can flow from one generation to another, just as the sin of Adam has been passed on to each and every one of us. That’s why at a Passover meal with his disciples Jesus commanded them to remember him, giving them a way to symbolise his sacrifice for them with the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine. It’s important that we continue to remember this, and teach it to our children.
The takeaway for this week is that we should never forget who we are as a Christian family, or what God has done for us… and long before us, for our ancestors, both spiritual and physical. So remember the stories that went before you, and teach them to others, so that you and your children, and your children’s children may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and that he is to be worshipped and adored. Amen.
Sunday 12th September 2021
One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone. In fact, that’s what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the church in Ephesus: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9). In fact, in the history of salvation, from the rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to the conversion of the apostle Paul, and even our own salvation, it is faith in God’s mercy and grace, that that has seen seemingly undeserving people come under his protection and blessing. We can see this played out in a story from the book of Joshua, the story of the spies’ encounter with Rahab the prostitute in the city of Jericho. Rahab, an underserving sinner just like us, trusts that the God of the Israelites is able to save her when all hope seems lost.
I find that incredibly comforting, that salvation, my salvation, my place in heaven, is not reliant on anything I have done or can do, it’s entirely down to God’s grace, mercy and love. All we have to do is believe, and have faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Sunday 5th September 2021
One of the things God expects of Christians is that we show loyalty to those whom God has placed over us; that we’ll accept and obey their leadership, as long as they don’t contravene God’s laws. We don’t have to agree with them, but we are called to be obedient. That doesn’t always happen in governments and businesses, as we often hear about staff undermining their bosses for personal advancement, managers who exploit their workers for their own glory, and governments who take away their citizens freedoms in order to control them. Within the church, though, loyalty to our leaders is an important part of our life together, as long as they continue to preach the truth of God’s word and act accordingly.
Perhaps then, when it comes to our leaders, be they your boss at work, or your church leaders, you might ask yourself ‘Am I playing my part?’ Maybe you’re one of those whom God has called to be a leader at your work, or in the church. If you are, then remember that if you remain faithful to him, God has promised to be with you. If that’s the case then you need to lead with courage; you need to remain devoted to God; you need to be a student of his word, do what it says, and point people to Jesus.
Or maybe you’re someone whose task it is to work under such a leader. The success of our mission hangs or falls on people who follow godly leaders; who show courage in going where the leader points them; who remain loyal when the going is tough, and provide encouragement to keep on going. God is still calling people, leaders and followers, to be courageous encouragers in his church, a people devoted to God and to his word, a people willing to tell others about the Kingdom of God. Amen!
Sunday 29 August 2021
As a New Testament people, Christians are no longer under the Jewish ritual laws, but enjoy the freedom of God’s grace bestowed upon us through Jesus Christ. Jesus was, and continues to be, the fulfilment of the law, and his teachings give us the guiding principles for our salvation and our lives together as the people of God, they are the very food of life. It’s unfortunate then that some apply God’s grace in ways which dilute Jesus’ teaching in order to make our faith easier and more palatable, both to ourselves and to those around us, adding their own interpretations and imposing their own rules and regulations, so that instead of bringing liberation our faith becomes more legalistic and programmed, which is the very opposite of grace!
The liberation of faith which grace brings us comes from an ever-closer walk with Christ and a love of his ways. It comes about when we obediently follow his teachings and commands, living out our lives for the glory of God and not for ourselves. It is only by having his name engraved in our hearts that we can find true freedom in our lives. Unlike the Jewish traditions of old, Jesus doesn’t ask us to follow a set of ritualistic laws, he instead invites us to follow his ways, ways which become increasingly embodied in our lives as we grow closer to Him. And as we grow in our faith, our lives become increasingly and inextricably linked with his.
Sunday 22 August 2021
Once upon a time the places where we would go if we wanted to find out what was going on in the world were the newspapers and the TV news. Today it’s a little different… we now have the internet, that place of pure, uncensored little bits of information that may, or may not, be true, where that hour you spent on google trumps someone’s hard earned PhD on any given subject! So… When it comes to the news, how are we supposed to know if what’s being said is true or not?
I used to like watching the TV news, these days though I find myself increasingly thinking I’d be better off not bothering, I find myself arguing with the TV, much to the annoyance those around me. I’m sure I’m not alone in that though am I. Why does it wind me up so much? Because most of what we get isn’t news at all, it’s just opinion and commentary, we’re not told any alternate views on the subject, and we don’t have all the facts to hand to make up our own minds. And there are all sorts of conspiracy theories out there, especially now, about covid-19 and vaccines. People have become fearful that they’re not being told the truth, they believe that we’re all being experimented on, that someone somewhere is lying to us in order to control us all. Maybe you think that, and who can blame you, because how do we know what’s true and what’s not? Personally, all I know is that I’ve been taking vaccines for all sorts of things for years, and I’ve never had any problems with them, I know that some have, but that’s the same for every medicine we take. So, the question I asked myself was ‘why would I suddenly be worried about taking this one? I trusted those who make them before, so why not now?’ But that’s just me, my life is in the Lord’s hands, after all.
Sunday 15th August 2021
Earlier this year we had our driveway and garage rebuilt. The trouble with such work is that it often leaves a bit of a mess to clear up afterwards to make the lawns and garden presentable once more, I’m still working on it but we’re getting there. Most of what I have to do is move some soil around to fill in the gaps to get it all level again, unfortunately, along with a lot of moss and weeds that have grown up over time, our once fertile soil has now full of stones and bits of concrete and is in quite poor condition making the task that much harder.
Our lives can be a bit like that too, once fertile ground for gospel growth has become hard and resistant to any move of the Spirit. But it needn’t be that way. Think of the parable of the sower with its good and bad soils, we often quite rightly associate it with evangelism and Christian witness, but it has another application for Christians. You see, bad soil can be renewed and made good again. When properly tended it can once again produce spiritual fruit. But like my lawns it’ll take a bit effort to get into shape. First, we have to break up the hard soils and clear away all the rubble and loose stones, like our inclination to selfishness and unwillingness to serve and be a blessing to others. Then the weeds and thorns have to be removed less they contaminate the soil again; the pleasures and temptations of this world that get in the way and distract us from our mission. Finally, we’re ready for the Holy Spirit to sow the word of God back into our lives and produce good works for the Lord once more.
My point is, infertile Christian lives, like bad soil, can be made fertile once again, it just takes a bit of willingness to let God do the necessary work in our hearts to make it happen.
Sunday 8th August 2021
As a Christian, I believe that God truly loves all people, and it is his desire that everyone would accept his free offer of eternal life through faith in the death and resurrection of his only son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice made on our behalf to pay for our sins. But of course, such an offer requires a response; first a level of humility and acceptance that what the bible says about Jesus is true, that he suffered death and separation from God the Father so that we wouldn’t have to; and second that we actually need his forgiveness, indeed, we’re lost without it, which is a tricky thing to accept when you’re used to calling all the shots for yourself.
But suppose we do that, what then? Well, we still need God’s help and guidance to help us draw near to him, and point us in the right direction to be able to live godly and holy lives. Not all people manage this though, and some fall away, distracted by the attractions and temptations of this world rather than focusing on the next. Those who do follow through on their response to God’s love and allow his Spirit to work in their hearts and minds, will live their lives in grateful thanks for what Jesus has done for us, sharing God’s love with those around them, put aside their natural inclinations to selfishness and criticism, and always seek the good in other people.
The common thread in all this, is that we can do none of that on our own, right from our first response to God’s call, to faithfully living our lives proclaiming the Kingdom of God, is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. We cannot do it without him. Amen, come Holy Spirit.
Sunday 1st August 2021
God, it seems, has a job for us to do, and that Job is to carry on the mission that Jesus left us. Here’s the thing though… although the church has been at it for nearly 2000 years, there’s still plenty left for us to do. Let me enlighten you with a few facts:
According to the 2018 census, 37% of New Zealanders identified themselves as ‘Christian’. Now that doesn’t sound too bad, does it. But don’t get too excited, because actual church attendance is closer to 15%. Yes, just 15% of the population, at best, go to church, what the other 22% of people who claim to be Christian do on a Sunday is anyone’s guess. They are, I suspect, ‘cultural Christians’, those people who like the idea of heaven and of a God who loves them, but aren’t actually prepared to do anything about it. So what about everyone else? Well, 48% of New Zealanders say they have no religious belief at all, or at least none that can be readily defined. Again, I suspect it’s not that they don’t believe in some form of spirituality, in fact I bet they do, it’s just that for some reason or other, they’ve chosen to reject traditional forms of faith.
So here’s a question… Why is that? Why would people choose to reject Christianity as a viable faith option? Where has the church gone wrong? Actually I think there are several answers to those questions, and none of them particularly comfortable. One we can answer though is: What are we doing about it? Well, Jesus has given us a command, hasn’t he? “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” AND… and this is the bit everyone forgets… “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20a). Are you up for it?
Sunday 25th July 2021
When you think of a prophet, what image comes to mind? A number of years ago at the church we went to in the UK there was one particular guy who was remarkably gifted in this area. He spoke and ministered at conferences and churches all over the UK, and then later extended his ministry to the USA where he now lives. He’s also a well published author on the subject, and yet, to me, he’s just this guy I used to do a few jobs for and have a beer down the pub with. He’s an ordinary person whom God chose to work through in this particular way. What he wasn’t, was perfect, like all of us he’s still a flawed human being.
One of the things I learnt from him was that prophets are not necessarily people who can foretell the future, in fact they might not be able to do that at all. What they are, more often than not, are ‘truth tellers’, speaking to us the words of God. They tell us things about God and about ourselves, sometimes things which we don’t want to hear, so that we can approach God in repentance and renewed faith, they call us back to faithfulness to God and his word, and encourage God’s people to keep the faith, do what he commands, and live life accordingly. My point is that, despite what we might imagine or want prophets to be; 1) God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things, 2) it’s rarely about foretelling future events, and 3) more often than not, it’s about offering words of encouragement and prayer to call us back to loving God.
Sunday 18th July 2021
There’s an old joke that goes ‘There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.’ Now I don’t have to convince you of the reality of death, everyone knows about it; we even make jokes about it to hide our fears. It’s a coping mechanism to avoid its inevitability and implications for our lives. But joking about it isn’t the only thing we do. As we try to wrestle and reconcile death with life, we often do one of three things: Some choose to deny death by pretending that it doesn’t exist, that we all continue on in some spiritual disembodied state; Some choose to defy death by chasing the next miracle drug or diet; Still others choose to idolise death, suggesting euthanasia as a better option instead of suffering. Christianity will have none of that. We accept that death is real, and we cannot overcome it on our own. But we also recognise that death is an enemy. Whilst the world sees death as natural, and just the way things are, Christianity says, ‘no’, we are made for life, eternal life no less.
Think about the story of creation and the Garden of Eden, we often get fixated on one special tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but there were actually two important trees in that garden; there was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat, and the tree of life, which they could freely eat from, and which presumably would sustain them forever. That was the way it was meant to be, and through Jesus Christ it can be once again. To find out more about this life that Christians so boldly proclaim, come along this Sunday and find out for yourself.
Sunday 11th July 2021
Forgiveness, it’s a tricky thing isn’t it. Now I’m sure that most people believe that forgiveness is a good thing. Or at least, they like the idea of forgiveness, just not necessarily some of the implications it might have for the way they live their lives. Because, on the face of it, it’s much easier to receive forgiveness than it is to offer it, but even then, some people struggle with accepting forgiveness for what they’ve done. Some people even say that you can forgive yourself, but I’m not sure that’s real forgiveness, it may be therapeutic, because guilt and shame can sap energy, distort relationships, and poison our lives, but is it forgiveness as Christians understand it?
So what is forgiveness? Is it, as some people think, just not dwelling on our past mistakes, pushing negative thoughts to the back of our minds in the hope that we’ll forget? Some view forgiveness as a blank check to do whatever they feel like. They say that God is all about love, so If I do something wrong, I’ll just say I’m sorry and he’ll forgive me, so I’m OK, I can do whatever I like. And then there are those who believe in the idea of forgiveness, but they’re overwhelmed by guilt and shame for what they’ve done, the slate isn’t really clean, so they can never really escape their failure and sin.
What about the forgiveness that God offers, how does this apply to the way we live our lives? Well, we’re talking specifically about God’s forgiveness of our sins. God’s forgiveness is all about making people whole. God’s forgiveness doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste or sense of remorse. God’s forgiveness addresses the truth, is wholly right and just, and when applied to our lives, is wholly transformational. That sounds pretty good to me!
Sunday 4th July 2021
Being the church is more than just being a collection of individuals who gather together once a week to sing a few songs, listen to a sermon, and drink cups of tea or coffee while discussing the latest football results. It runs much deeper than that. It doesn’t much matter what Christian denomination you belong to either, the fact that I worship in an Anglican Church is neither here nor there, I’m a Christian before I’m an Anglican. You see, there is one faith, and one Spirit, who unifies us as his people, the church. All believers who trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour and live according to his will, regardless of denomination, are one, and part of the same church.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that divide us, there are. What it means is that we ought to measure and respond to the significance of those issues based on how they relate to Jesus Christ. If one group people stop believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, then yes, we are separated from them because it’s only in Christ that we’re joined. But if another group believes in the same Lord as we do, but just worship him in a different way, then we are still one church. More than that, we are joined together, not just in or own particular church or denomination, but with a body of believers that spans the centuries. That’s what God has done, and is continuing to do in the power of the Holy Spirit, joining his people together into one spiritual fellowship. Yes, there are times when we have to separate, but for the most part we can say together ‘Amen, come Lord Jesus!’
Sunday 27th June 2021
The book of Revelation tells us that on the last day (judgement day) Jesus will judge the world, all people, the living and the dead, will be judged according to their deeds. Now often, we think that our deeds include all the nice things we have done, and we hope our good deeds will outweigh our bad. But the bad news is that, if we were judged according to our deeds, our bad deeds would far outweigh the good. You see, the Bible teaches that no one is righteous in the presence of a Holy and perfect God, so God is totally justified in judging us. And if our entry into heaven were based on our living a ‘good’ life, only one person would make the cut: Jesus Christ.
But here’s the good news: incredible as it may seem, there is only one ‘deed’ that God will actually judge us on… and Jesus tells us what it is in John’s gospel, chapter 6, where the crowds ask Jesus: “What must we do to do the works [or deeds] God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). What unbelievably wonderful, liberating news that is. To know that though true faith in Jesus, we can be forgiven for all our sins. The only sin that God will not forgive, is the refusal to believe in his Son. Food for thought perhaps.
Sunday 20th June 2021
We’ve been looking at the Apostles Creed over the last few weeks, and this week we come to the part which boldly proclaims that we ‘believe in Jesus Christ, who… suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.’ it’s actually astounding, considering its length, the degree of emphasis that it places on Jesus’ death. In a Creed that’s so economic with its words, the writers are keen to remind us that Jesus suffered, was crucified, he died, was buried, and he descended to the dead. These statements help explain his death and are essential to our understand of Christianity. We might think that a simple ‘Jesus was crucified and died’ would’ve sufficiently summed it up, but the Creed says no, Jesus’ death is so fundamental to our faith, we need to understand it in its fullest scope.
In the bible, the Gospels actually give a significant amount of space to Jesus’ suffering and death, including the events leading up to it. And the cross itself, though intended as a symbol of torture, execution, and power, has become the very symbol of a world-wide religion for the last two thousand years. The creed focuses in on Jesus’ death, because having a right view of these events will lead to a right view of Christianity, because unless you understand the cross, you will never understand what God has done through Jesus Christ. Join us this Sunday as we explore what all this means for us today.
Sunday 13th June 2021
When you look at Christianity from the outside, the claims make about Jesus are pretty outrageous because, by any human reasoning, they’re utterly impossible. Unsurprisingly, the two most objected to claims are Jesus’ virgin birth and his resurrection from the dead. Over the centuries these claims have evoked all sorts of reactions, with mockery and distain probably the most common, and for many today they seem a bit quaint to our ears, naïve even, something for Christians to be a bit embarrassed about, because science tells us it’s impossible. Maybe you’ve even thought that yourself. Well, if you have, you wouldn’t be alone. Belief in the virgin birth has been surrounded by scepticism and mockery for a long time, it really is remarkable that people believed the virgin birth at all, after all, it’s wasn’t as if anyone was expecting it.
The thing with such outrageous claims is that there’s no in between position is there, you either believe it or you think it’s nonsense, Jesus either entered the world by supernatural power, or it’s all a lie. But, if God is truly God, why would we be surprised if it were true? If we believe that God is Almighty, that he is the creator of heaven and earth; and if he is the one who created humanity in the beginning, then surely it is possible for God to continue to act in creative ways. If you believe in God, even in the possibility of God, then of course, you’ll believe that this is possible. That’s why Christians confidently believe it today
Sunday 6th June 2021
Who do you think Jesus Christ is? Christians claim that he’s the saviour of the world, the only Son of God, and Lord of their lives. We could brush them off as wishful thinkers, but what if it’s true? Here’s the thing. If you’re facing that question for the first time, you need to decide whether or not you’re going to accept the claims about Jesus; that he really is the Son of God, that he became human, and that he suffered and died for your sin. You can accept the offer of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus by believing, that through his death and resurrection for you he has provided a way for you to be made right with God. And by turning from your sin and becoming a follower of Jesus your life is now safe in his hands.
For those of us who already acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour, it mustn’t stop there, because if he truly is our Saviour, then he must also be Lord over our lives, which has massive implications for the way we live. Saying Jesus is our Lord is meaningless unless we put it into action, living as his servants in our world. You see, Christianity isn’t merely an accessory lifestyle decision, it’s way of living that involves complete submission to the will of God in our lives.
If Jesus Christ is our Saviour, then we are freed from slavery to sin, not so that we can go on our merry way and do what we want, but so that we can live for Jesus as our Lord. It means we can no longer do the things that were part of our old sinful lifestyle, giving up all those things in our life that are opposed to Christ and his goodness, truth and love. If Jesus is truly Lord of your life, you will gladly do this for him.
Sunday 30th May 2021
What do you believe, I mean, really believe? C. S. Lewis once said: ‘You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death.’ That’s never more true than when it comes to what we believe about God. You really don’t want to go through life thinking you’ve got it all sorted, only to hear Jesus say ‘I never knew you’ on judgement day do you. What we believe, especially what we believe about God, really is a matter of life and death.
What Christians believe has been written down in the bible, and summarised in the creeds of the Church, the three most often quoted being the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These creeds are important because they boil down the Christian faith to the bare essentials, giving us a brief summary of what Christians are supposed to believe. They’re not intended to replace the bible, but point to the truths found within it. When we say the Creeds, we’re not just reciting something meaningless. We’re declaring that we stand for something. We’re declaring that we belong to someone. We’re declaring what is true. We’re trusting in the facts. We’re seeking to obey. We’re responding to the incredible news of who God is, what he’s done, and what is yet to come. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Do you?
Sunday 23rd May 2021 – Pentecost
I’ve been a Christian for 39 years and in that time, I’ve been a member of 9 different churches. Each one had its own culture and its own way of doing things, with varying results I might say; some were successful, others less so. In that respect, churches can be a bit like a vegetable garden in that they produced different results depending on who’s calling the shots. Some are like potatoes, quietly working away, unseen by anyone. On the surface not much is happening, but when harvest time comes, they produce a nice crop. Others are a bit like the carrots I tied to grow in my garden one year. They had all the razzle dazzle, and on the surface it was all go, I was amazed at what appeared to be happening. But when harvest time came all was revealed, nothing of any substance was found.
For the church, when it comes to producing the type of results that are pleasing to God, really good churches are open to being led by the Holy Spirit. They seek God’s guidance through prayer, asking what he wants them to do rather than just ploughing on with their own ideas. In fact, without the Holy Spirit working in our lives, guiding and shaping all that we do, even the good things that we do will wither away, because God isn’t in it. So take some time this week to stop for a minute and ask God: “How might I serve you today?” Leave it to God to decide what you need in order to accomplish that task, rather than trying to do everything in your own strength. You never know what God might do in and through you today.
Sunday 16th May 2021
What do you think about the bible, is it just a collection of manmade stories passed on down through the ages, or is it something more? What you decide actually depends on what you think about Jesus Christ. Do you believe, as the bible teaches, that he is the only begotten Son of God? Or do you think that he was just a good man, a good teacher, but that’s about all? You see, there are many people who think that you don’t have to believe what the Bible says, and that you don’t have to believe everything that is written about Jesus, you can just believe some of it. Maybe you think that not all of it is true, so you’ve decided that there are some bits you can ignore. A lot of people do exactly that. But if I understand Christianity correctly, there is no middle ground. You either believe that the bible is the infallible Word of God, or you don’t believe that it is the Word of God at all. You either believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God or you don’t believe that He is a Son of God at all. You see, if you believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God, and if you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, then you’ll believe that the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are real historical events that were seen and witnessed by many hundreds of people. The early Christians thought so. They were the ones who say they saw Jesus raised from the dead and ascend bodily into heaven 40 days later, so why would they die for that belief if it wasn’t true?
Sunday 9th May 2021
One of the best-known teachings of Jesus Christ is “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). But I do wonder if we really understand what that means for us. You see, this is another one of those frequently misapplied bible verses. We unconsciously limit our understanding of this verse to the following: ‘Jesus Christ demonstrated and exercised his love for us by laying down his life. He went to the Cross to purchase our freedom, and it cost him his life. So we too should be prepared to die for those we love.’
Now of course, there’s nothing wrong with reading this verse that way, but is that how the disciples would have understood it? Look at it this way… it wasn’t just on the cross that Jesus lay down his life. From his descent from the glory of heaven to the humble setting of the manger, through the ordinariness of boyhood in Nazareth, and the years of his itinerant ministry around Galilee and Judea, to the ultimate rejection in Jerusalem. In these and many other ways, Jesus lay down his life in loving service for us. It is true that to give one’s life for someone else is the ultimate sacrifice. However, what Jesus is calling all of us to do is to give up our claim on our own lives, to sacrifice, if you like, our own wants and desires, which are often selfish anyway, and to commit our lives to the service of others, showing God’s love for others as his Holy Spirit works in and through our lives. Is it difficult? Yes. But impossible? No. Not if we truly desire to follow the example of Jesus.
Sunday 2nd May 2021
The bible is full of imagery which helps us to understand how God sees the world. One such image equates God’s people to vines in a vineyard. The thing about vines is that, if they’re going to produce useful grapes, they need pruning from time to time. Thinking about ourselves as vines in God’s vineyard, our fruitfulness also involves us being pruned, and, sometimes, that can be quite painful. I can certainly think of things in my life that God has had to remove in order to get my focus back on him. And just like a grapevine, the things God prunes away aren’t necessarily bad. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a leafy branch on an ornamental grapevine, but if you’re hoping for big juicy grapes, that leafy branch will need to be cut back so that the grapes grow even healthier. There will be times in our lives that God comes along with his pruning shears and take away some otherwise perfectly fine thing that just happens to be distracting us from doing his will.
There’s a warning there isn’t there. Be careful with that favourite toy of yours, or that hobby or sport, those friends, or even that spiritual gift you think you’ve got. Use them by all means as a means of recreation or refreshment when you need to get the stress of life out of your system, but be careful that they don’t take over, or distract you from God’s work in your life, because that’s when God just might come along with his pruning shears and remove them completely.
Sunday 25th April 2021
ANZAC Day has become something of an important, almost religious, occasion in our national life in recent years. It’s become one of the few occasions where young and old stand together to remember the sacrifice of those who fought for the freedoms we hold so dear. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to go off to war, to do the hard thing and put your life into the hands of others. These were brave men who, though likely full of fear and anxiety, did their duty. Those who had faith in God put their trust in the one who is able to bring them safely home, for some of them, though, that ‘home’ would be heaven itself.
We will remember them.
Like many people my age, I’ve had quite a variety of different careers over the years, with many different experiences that have taught me a thing or two about human nature. The one overriding thing that I’ve learnt, despite what we might think about ourselves, is that people are generally quite selfish. An attitude typified by an old boss of mine who lived by the motto ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’ Presumably his goal in life was to amass as large a fortune for himself as he could, and blow everyone else!
Before we mock such an attitude, there’s a little bit of that in all of us isn’t there. It’s a completely natural inclination to act in our own interests. Celebrities are a prime example. All those good causes that they promote… why do they do it, what’s their motivation? I’d love to know how much is genuine care and concern for others, and how much is about creating just the right image to appear good and boost their approval ratings while they rake in the cash from sponsorship deals. Maybe that’s being a bit cynical, but it does raise an interesting question: How much do we genuinely care about others? Are we concerned about the lost and the lonely? Or are we a bit selfish, only really concerned about ourselves and making ourselves look good? What would it take for us to be less selfish and put aside our own comfort for the sake of others?
Sunday 18th April 2021
Shame is the new guilt; did you know that? When I was at school in the 1960’s & 70’s I was taught that there was such a thing as right and wrong, if we did something wrong, we felt guilty about it. But society doesn’t work like that anymore, we’ve moved from a guilt-based society, which bases civil life on knowing right from wrong and living by established rules and regulations, to a shame-based society where truth is all relative and can’t be defined to one set of rules for all.
You see, when society loses its moral compass, ideas of defined right and wrong no longer apply, truth and reason become individualised, people just do what they want and if it turns out to be wrong, they just hope they get away with it. In fact, it seems that something is only wrong if you get caught. And when they do get caught, it’s not guilt that they feel, it’s shame, as they worry what their peers will think of them.
The good news is that, because of what Jesus did for us that first Easter, in dying for our sins and being resurrected, our sins, whatever they might be, can be forgiven. No matter how big or how small, and even though we might feel guilt, or shame and embarrassment, for what we’ve done, in Jesus there is forgiveness, which in turn leads to restoration of relationship with Jesus Christ, and through him, our heavenly Father as well. Just as it did for the disciples that first Easter. Shame, then forgiveness, then restoration… all through the grace of God. Marvellous!
Sunday 11th April 2021
When you hear the name Thomas, what do you associate with it? Most Christians would probably say ‘doubt’. Thomas, one of Jesus twelve disciples, has made such an impression on us that we even refer to him as ‘Doubting Thomas.’ This was not meant as a compliment. Thomas has always had a bit of a bad rap, he’s seen as the one who doubted, the naughty disciple. Doubt is like one of those taboo subjects, and we often feel that we shouldn’t doubt, we worry that people will think less of us, that we’ll look stupid if we do. But doubt isn’t an unusual or particularly unhealthy thing. You see doubt is not unbelief, unbelief is intentional, an act of will rather than a difficulty with understanding, whereas doubt is often a step on the road to belief.
Many people come to faith with doubts, we don’t have to understand everything; indeed, it would be highly unusual if we did. In fact, this is what most relationships are like, we don’t know even half of what there is to know about someone before we get involved with them, how could we! In that respect, every relationship has an element of risk to it. Doubts are a reminder that our relationship with God needs further development and growth, a spiritual reminder that we can’t know it all. We may long for absolute certainty and proof, but we should remind ourselves that we are human and our capacity to understand is limited compared to God’s. Trusting in what God has done for us enables us to have faith in the midst of uncertainty. Remember, we haven’t let God down if we have doubts, our faithfulness is proved when we persevere through our doubts and uncertainties and on to belief in the seemingly impossible, just like Thomas.
Good Friday & Easter 2nd-4th April 2021
Graveyards are not, generally speaking, happy places, they might be places for contemplation, some even possess a certain natural beauty, but they are by their nature a place of tears. The women who had gone to the grave where Jesus’s body had been placed on that first Easter morning were full of sorrow, grief and anguish. Their grief was perhaps more intense because of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. They’d witnessed his pain and suffering, all that violence done to the one they loved, betrayed by one of his own and officially murdered. But the events which followed turned their sorrow into a quite different experience. When they went to the grave that morning they encountered not a dead hero, there had been too many of those already, but an angel giving news of the living Lord, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. The graveyard that day was transformed from a place of sorrow into a garden of joy in which dreams had come true. It is the greatest story ever told.
Sunday 28th March 2021
Having been born and raised in England I do love a bit of pomp and ceremony, especially those grand military parades like Trooping the Colour to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday, or the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We love our ceremonies in the church too, all that fancy dress and so on, and for large public occasions like royal weddings we get to combine the two, replete with hundreds of thousands of cheering crowds lining the streets all shouting their praise at those passing by.
As the crowds who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday found, there’s a certain buzz being in a crowd, a certain excitement in numbers. And at large church gatherings we too can experience great times of worship and learning. It’s easy to be a Christian there. It’s easy to applaud Jesus when you’re in a large crowd all doing the same thing. In a frenzy of celebration, we gladly focus on Jesus, and we can shout praises loudly enough to make any Pharisee complain. It’s between the celebrations, when we go home, that we don’t do so well. Come to think of it, when you leave Church on Sunday, will you give any further thought to Jesus Christ the rest of the week? Or will you be like the disciples who made promises by day and then fled by night, or one of the crowd who praises him one day and then loses interest in Him the next?
My point is, we can’t gauge our commitment to Jesus Christ based solely on the applause we give him. Being a Christian is more than just giving him public praise, it’s about developing a right relationship with God. And the easiest way we can do that is simply to spend time reading his word, in prayer, and with fellow Christians who support and encourage one another to live godly lives. Going deeper with Jesus will sustain us in this life and into the next. Isn’t that what you want? I know I do!
Sunday 21st March 2021
Money, or the lack of it, seems to be a bone of contention for many people. It’s become something of a political football where the rich are lambasted just for being wealthy, and the poor are held up as victims of a capitalist system that doesn’t care. But when it comes to wealth, the answer to the needs of the poor isn’t to jump to some ascetic ideal and force the rich to give it all away. What matters is the attitude of the wealthy to what God has blessed them with and how they use it. The reality for all of us is that all we have is a gift from God and, on a global scale, all of us kiwis are amongst the richest people on earth. Might not seem like it, but that’s only because we’re used to having so much.
Bearing that in mind, there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy… but there are conditions! We cannot be selfish or self-indulgent with what God has given us, perusing our own pleasers or building up our housing portfolio while those around us are suffering. The church is one of the few places where the wealthy company director might stand alongside a poor pensioner or an unemployed young man, or a single mother struggling to pay her rent. It is therefore also a place where the seeds of discontent and jealousy might prosper if we don’t do our Christian duty. So, what’s the answer? Well it is the duty of all Christians to be ready to use what God has blessed us with to do good, to be generous not just in finances but also in good works. When we do that we will lay up a treasure that will last. The best place to invest our money then is not in another rental property, but in heaven!
Sunday 14th March 2021
Respect for our elders is, I think, something we’ve largely lost in our culture, older peoples’ views are often not listened to or disregarded as being not relevant or old fashioned. You can see this blatantly played out on TV. Have you noticed how all the older, more mature news reporters have been replaced by much younger ones in their twenties and thirties, all the older ones have gone! I wonder why.
I think the same is true for those in authority, there’s less and less respect for those who put themselves out to serve others, people like the police, ambulance officers, firefighters, all once respected by the community at large are frequently attacked while trying to do their job. Church leaders were also once respected and sought out for their wise counsel, not so these days, they’re just ignored as a relic of the past best forgotten. But it’s hardly surprising is it, we’ve heard too many stories of leaders abusing their power, taking advantage of the vulnerable, and it rightly offends us.
But the reality is none of us are immune from the temptation to use a position of authority for our own benefit, it can happen to anyone, at any level of leadership. The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy warning him of the dangers and temptations he’s going to face in Ephesus, his advice is as relevant now as ever; be respectful, keep your motives pure, don’t take advantage of others, and importantly, discipline the disobedient and those who teach falsely. Wise counsel from an ‘old’ man… funny that.
Sunday 7th March 2021
One of my favourite things to watch on TV is rugby, it’s not just the game itself that I enjoy, it’s the knowledgeable discussion and banter between the commentators. It’s great to see former players passing on what they know about the game to us mere mortals. But you know how they say you shouldn’t meet your idols, well it’s all very well seeing these once great athletes on TV, only now, instead of being sleek and fit, they’ve developed a bit of a belly, look a little chubby in the cheeks, they’re stars of the past who aren’t what they once were. It just goes to show that, apart from how age catches up with all of us, if we stop training we quickly lose our fitness and skills. But who am I to pass judgement!
The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, along similar lines, only he wasn’t concerned about physical training, but training in godliness. In the Old Testament God commanded the Israelite to Be holy for I am holy. (Leviticus 19:2). So godliness is about displaying God’s character in our own lives, we know them as the Fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23). When it comes to godliness, these are the characteristics that we should focus on. It takes time of course, and more than a bit of effort and commitment, but it will be of great benefit to us as it not only prepares us to live our lives for the glory of God today, but also for the time when we stand before the throne of God in the age to come.
Sunday 28th February 2021
Every three years we get to do a very important thing, we get to vote for who’s going to lead our country. Now regardless of what we might think about our party leaders and their policies, voting is a privilege that we should cherish, one which brings with it great responsibility. You see, leadership, whether that’s at a local or national level, is no small thing, and it’s not to be entered into lightly, and the higher responsibility the higher the standard we’re held to. But despite the disrepute that the others might have brought to the role over the years, desiring to be a leader is to desire a noble task. It is a good work, and a great honour. But just having a desire to lead isn’t enough. So, what should we be looking for in our leaders?
From a Christian perspective, above our natural skills and abilities to do the jobs required of a leader, is what kind of person the leader is. Being kind, being a good communicator, is all very useful, but more importantly, we should be asking ‘Are they honest and trustworthy, do they put the community’s interests above their own, even when it’s of no benefit for them to do so. Are they hard working, clear minded public servants, or in it for their own ego?’ And what about their private life? There’s no such thing for a leader, for their whole life will come under the scrutiny of the media. Are they thought well of by those closest to them, how do they treat those around them when they disagree, and are they honest in all their dealings? These are the questions that reveal what type of leader they are and how well they will govern. Raw talent, on its own, is not enough. Character is the measure that reveals who we really are, especially when no-one else is looking.
Sunday 21st February 2021
If you’re a regular reader of the bible I’m sure there will have been times when you’ve read something that jars against your expectations of how things should be, or at least how you’d like them to be. And that’s entirely understandable, we live in a different age, the world has changed over the last 4000 years of bible history.
For us westernised Christians, it’s the letters of the apostles in the New Testament that seem to cause the most trouble, they clash against our cultural understanding and expectations of what’s right, fair, or wrong. It’s the task of those who teach the bible to get to the nub of what’s being said, and interpret the bible without losing any of its intended meaning for us today. Most of the time that’s no problem, but it isn’t always that easy especially when what we read challenges our cultural expectations.
When that happens it’s really important that we bear in mind two things: One is the cultural setting in which the letters were written… it’s very different from our own, and whether we realise it or not, we’re influenced by our own culture too, and not always for the better. The second thing is that when we come across bible verses that we find challenging, try and remember not to read them in isolation from the rest of the bible, because the wider application of what’s being taught may well be clarified elsewhere. We need to approach the difficult parts of the bible with a sense of humility, accept that we don’t know everything, and consider that our own culture may well have got a few things wrong! If we can do that, we may well be able to see things a bit more clearly.
Sunday 14th February 2021
Before the days of GPS satellite positioning everyone navigated via a compass, it was the most important instrument on any ship, it’s how sailors knew where they were and worked out where they should go. If the compass was broken or lost, they were in deep trouble. They could easily drift onto rocks or run into a reef and be shipwrecked. The compass, if I can call it that, for the Christian is the gospel handed down to us by the apostles, and the word of God that we have in our bible. Christian leaders have a duty to preach that gospel message, and no other, to teach the true and authentic word of God. We must not be swayed by the false teaching around us, but cling to the gospel.
But that’s only part of the good fight. Our lives must be consistent with the gospel too. Our deeds have to match our words. We’re to stand firm in our faith and have a good conscience, which can only come when we live faithfully to the gospel! The danger is that if we lose one, we lose the other. If we abandon sound teaching, it will soon show up in how we live. And if we don’t try to live as God desires, if we abandon our conscience and lose our moral compass, then our faith will end up shipwrecked, just as happened to sailors who lose their compass. So watch out! The only way we can stay on course, is to fight the good fight. To cling to the gospel with everything we have so that we don’t become lost, or shipwrecked.
Sunday 7th February 2021
Every now and then Hillary and I go through our kitchen cupboards for a bit of a clear out. Inevitably we come across odd tin of food that has gone past its expiry date, well past sometimes. Realising that we’ve been using some ingredient that expired a couple of years ago isn’t exactly the best feeling! Well, we haven’t died yet so it can’t have been that bad.
The other day I was bit surprised to find an expiry date on a packet of sea salt, you’d think wouldn’t you that, being salt, it will never go off. Seems like a bit of marketing mischief to me. But there are ways that salt can lose its saltiness. It can be diluted, by adding water to it, and the more you add, the less salty it tastes. Add too much and it’ll have no value as salt at all. Salt can be polluted too, by mixing other things into it, mix in too much and it’s really no longer salt, it might still look like it, but it’s now something else. Where am I going with this. Well, as followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to be the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), but our saltiness can be lost the same way as the salt in my cupboard. Our Christian lifestyle can be so watered down that we lose our distinctiveness. It happens when we stop going to church regularly, or when we stop reading our bible or praying. People look at us and can’t see that we’re any different to them. Or perhaps we slipped into believing things we’ve heard that are contrary to what the bible teaches, and our distinctive Christian identity has been lost due to pollution. The remedy of course is to stay salty – it’s what Jesus wants, so don’t let things into your life that will dilute or pollute your Christian faith.
Sunday 31st January 2021
Jesus often equated God’s relationship with us as being like sheep with their Shepherd. Apparently, one characteristic of sheep is that they don’t think about where they are going, they must be led. One the one hand this is a good thing as sheep have complete trust that their shepherd will never lead them into danger. However, that being the case, they could also be easily misled. Jesus said his sheep would know his voice and follow Him. But we can only do that if we actually listen to what that voice is saying instead of tuning it out and listening to the voices of others, ourselves, or for that matter the devil.
So how do we do that? Well, it is when we become familiar with God’s Word preserved for us in the bible that we’re able to clearly hear his voice. We learn to recognise the truth and apply it to our lives. If we don’t, if we fail to pay attention to what God is saying, to what he’s done and said, it will be all too easy to get caught up in the cultural influences and values around us and find ourselves conforming to a very different gospel than the one to which God called us and be led away from the Kingdom of God, not towards it.
Sunday 3rd January 2021
In 1995 one of the biggest songs of the year was “One of Us” by Joan Osborne. It’s a song of spiritual questioning, about conceiving God in a modern age, and it poses the question ’What if God was one of us?’ Now I’m not claiming that this song has any of the right answers, but it does ask an interesting question, kind of like the central question in all of history, and the answer to that question, if it were known, would do no less than change every conceivable aspect of life for people on planet earth.
The problem is most people today aren’t asking about the existence of God, at least not the God of the bible. But that’s not to say there’s not a lot of ‘belief’ around today, indeed there is, only it’s not necessarily belief in an all-powerful all-seeing God of the universe. Rather it’s a belief in ‘spirituality’, which may or may not involve a god of some sort. So, to answer Joan’s question… what if God was one of us, would we even recognise him? Well that’s another interesting question because, as Christians already know, God already has come among us and many then didn’t recognise him. What does that say about us? The fact is God came among us in Jesus Christ, and God is still willing to come among us, to take part in our human lives by his Holy Spirit. If, that is, we want him as part of our lives. What if God was one of us? Well it’s up to us whether he is or isn’t, isn’t it?
Sunday 27th December 2020
Well Christmas has come and gone, most of us gave and received gifts, and you may have even like some of them! Maybe you were also able to enjoy a family get-together, shared a meal, ate, drank, laughed and talked. I know we did, and it was all very nice. And for many people, that was all Christmas was, nothing more, nothing less. But all of that is really just the cultural side of Christmas. What did Christmas mean for you spiritually? Were you busy just entertaining and unwrapping gifts, or did you manage to consider for a moment what Christmas really means?
There are many people, you may have met one or two, who are quite satisfied with their lives, spiritual and otherwise, without the need for all that ‘religious’ stuff. Indeed some of them even soothe their consciences by volunteering once in a while at food bank or some other community project, or they help out at the annual city Mission Christmas Dinner. They may even say a prayer or two. So they think, maybe, just maybe, that will be enough to get them to heaven, or whatever form of after-life they believe in. After all, it’s better than what most of the other people they know do. Well I wouldn’t be so sure about that.
But I do know an easier way than trying to get there by doing good works and hoping for the best. It is simply to acknowledge what Jesus has done for you, and allow his Spirit to be born in your heart. To come to God in humble submission and allow his Holy Spirit to transform your life. The truth is, there’s no other way to get to heaven, salvation is only through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one who’s birthday the wold had just celebrated, even if they don’t really know him.
Christmas Day 2020
One of the things that Christians have become only too aware of in recent years is that for many people Jesus is no longer the focus of their Christmas. It’s all about the gifts we give each other, the food we eat, and spending time with the family. Jesus barely gets a mention, if at all. It seems that we’ve forgotten that Christmas is not primarily about us, our family, friends, church, or presents, but about Jesus. It’s easy, isn’t it, to get so wrapped up in the great present exchange and Christmas dinner, that we forget what it is we are supposed to be celebrating, the birth of the saviour of the world.
Christmas is being reinterpreted away from the idea of the birth of the Saviour of humanity, towards a time for the family, a time for sharing. There is a secularism which seems offended by our faith. Of course, they still like the idea of Christmas, just not what it means for our lives if we take it seriously. Christmas has become a celebration, not of Jesus, but of ourselves, one which is competing for the place in our hearts that should belong to the Son of God. But even without buying into the world’s ways, we can still forget what Christmas is all about by forgetting about Jesus, and the busier our lives are, the easier that is to do. Which is why we need to remind ourselves that Christmas means not only remembering the Saviour in the manger, but also the impact Jesus has had on our lives. We’re reminded that this baby grew up and went to the Cross to pay for our sins, that he rose again to give us a new life, and that he lives in our hearts today and brings us joy! Not only was Jesus born in Bethlehem, but by faith, and by his Spirit, he lives in every Christian’s heart. Now isn’t that a cause for celebration?
Sunday 20th December 2020 – Advent 4
Christmas is coming and we’ve been busy putting up our Christmas decorations at home. As well as the usual Christmas tree and so on, we have a nativity scene, it’s got all the usual characters, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, wise men, and shepherds, oh and a couple of camels too – not sure why they’re there, maybe they belong to the wise men. The story of the Nativity shows us that God reached out to ordinary people, even unsavoury shepherds, so they and everyone else, wouldn’t miss out on the best present ever. God still reaches out to each one of us afresh at Christmas, people who are just like the shepherds, ordinary people with a less than perfect past. It didn’t matter to God that they weren’t perfect, and it doesn’t today. God is a God who reaches out to us time and time again. Each time offering us a new opportunity to know more of the real Jesus in our lives, to experience an ongoing and deepening relationship with the creator of the universe, the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The profound mystery of our faith which we celebrate on Christmas Day.
You see, Christmas isn’t just about family, presents, and stuffing ourselves ‘til we’re full-to-bursting, in fact it’s not about that at all! Christmas is an invitation to meet with God, to experience the real thing, the living power of God in our lives. Whether that’s for the first time, or for the hundred and first time, we can all meet with him afresh. Now that’s the best gift anyone can receive, at Christmas, or any other time of the year.
Sunday 13th December 2020 – Advent 3
As we approach Christmas it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of consumerism, searching for that elusive gift that we hope will bring happiness to those we care about. Now I loved Christmas as a child, what kid doesn’t, and over the years my parents gave me many great gifts. But the greatest gift I ever received wasn’t from my parents, but form God. The greatest gift I received was in February 1982, when I admitted my need for Jesus and was adopted into God’s family. And that wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. I wasn’t even looking for God, I was far more interested in my Norton Commando. But God pursued me never-the-less. You see, God loves us so much that he even pursued a sinner like me. And when he’d got my attention he called me to a life of obedience and faith in Christ, and gave me a job to do… so here I am.
You see, the greatest Christmas present we can give people is to introduce them to Jesus. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be about, a gift of salvation simply received from God? And what a Christmas present that would be, to know that we have become a child of God. Perhaps it’s time to look past our gifts, and past ourselves as the givers, and towards the greater gift, Jesus Christ.
Sunday 6th December 2020 – Advent 2
2020 seems to have been a year of waiting; waiting for this Covid virus to end, waiting for the lockdowns to end, and now waiting for a vaccine to end it all… if only. But amidst all our waiting there’s this thing called Christmas Day, the day when we celebrate another long waited for event, the birth of someone who was destined to change the world forever, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. His birth was long hoped for, but when he came not many recognised him, he was not what they expected. No wonder God sent a messenger ahead of him to prepare us for his arrival, and even then, not many understood what God was doing. That messenger was John the Baptist.
Isn’t it interesting that the good news of God’s intervention into our lives to redeem us from sin and death, always starts with a messenger. Whether it is an angel whispering in Mary’s ear, or shepherds beholding the heavens open to proclaim the birth of God’s Son, or a skinny prophet standing waist deep in the Jordan river calling us to repent, God always seems to begin with a promise, spoken by a messenger.
John proclaimed that someone was coming, someone so spectacular that it was not enough simply to hang around waiting for him to arrive. He called upon the people to be honest with themselves, to step back from their daily routines and prepare their hearts to receive the one whom God was sending, who would redeem them from their sin, and offer them new life. He challenged them to repent, and embrace the Son of God. That same message calls out across the ages, to all humanity, ‘Come, the waiting is over, prepare your hearts to receive the Saviour of the world!
Sunday 29th November 2020 – Advent 1
This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day, and it’s all about watching and waiting. But while we usually associate Advent with Christmas, it’s also the time when Christians are encouraged to look to the future, to the time when Jesus will return once again to take his rightful place as Lord and King. So, what are we supposed to do while we wait? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t mean that we can all stand around with our hands in our pockets, hoping that one day Jesus is going to appear on a cloud and take us all away with him without us having to do anything.
Actually, I find it kind of ironic that we associate Advent with warm fuzzies and chocolate calendars in anticipation of Christmas Day, because it all it starts with Jesus giving his disciples terrifying warnings of disastrous and disturbing events. A quick read of chapter thirteen of Mark’s Gospel ought to shake us out of our cosy, comfortable, commercialised Christmas ideals.
That’s because Advent is not Christmas. It’s the time we encourage one another keep watch, keep alert, and remain faithful God’s word, as we await the coming of Jesus, not on Christmas Day, but at his coming among us for the second time, the day when he will judge the world. The fact that Jesus has warned us about what’s going to happen should give us real hope for our future. You see, Jesus doesn’t want his return to be a painful experience for anybody. He wants it to be joyful, just as it was the first time, and of course, as we will be when we celebrate his birth on Christmas Day. But in the meantime, as we watch and wait, we should live each day ready to meet Jesus face to face.
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Sometimes, our lives can be like a bunch of flowers. Flowers are lovely, who doesn’t like flowers, they not only look beautiful, they also have a great aroma, well most do! Sometimes though we can be like a bunch of artificial flowers. Now personally I don’t mind artificial flowers, mainly because they don’t demand anything from me. I don’t have to water them, I don’t have to fertilise them, and they don’t give me hay fever. I can just stick them in a vase and their beauty will last forever. They do however have a few shortcomings. They can’t reproduce, and they have no life or aroma of their own. Because they’re fakes. They look good but that’s about all. Real flowers, on the other hand, are far superior, especially when it comes to the pleasure they can give to others.
I have a question about flowers. If a plant doesn’t have flowers on it, is it still a rose or a geranium or whatever? Of course, it is isn’t it. That’s because the flower is just the fruit of a plant, the plant itself is the root, stem, branches and leaves. Even if there were no visible flowers on the plant, it would still be a rose, or whatever. But if it never produced a flower, what then? It’d be pulled up, cast aside and another planted in its place.
My point is this: Good deeds are the fruit of a Christian’s salvation, they’re not the root of our salvation, but they are the flower of a Christian’s faith, a reflection of our love for God. But, and here’s the difficult bit, if we’re not doing good deeds, if our lives aren’t producing the fruit which God expects of us, watch out!
Sunday 15h November 2020
I am unsettled, a bit a bit discombobulated at what I see happening in society. It seems our world is increasingly at odds with itself, especially here in the west. Division and discord abound, one word said out of place or to the wrong person invites the sort of abuse and denunciation that we would never have dreamt possible just a few short years ago. It isn’t nice. Some think that we need to change the way the world works, be more inclusive, create a fairer, kinder society. Sounds nice doesn’t it, quite noble in fact. However, from what I’m seeing on the news it would be a society built on demonising those who disagree, labelling them as deniers, haters and wreckers. They say they want ‘peace and prosperity for all’, but only it seems for those that agree with them. They mis the point.
Here’s the thing, there are those who wish us to be one big global family all with the same values and ideals, but it is an unattainable fallacy. Without difference our world would be a dull and unimaginative place to live. Christians should be clear; real peace and genuine hope for the world can only come when the call of God to humanity is heeded. God invites us to participate in making this peace and hope known on the earth, to offer true hope to a world which seems increasingly in conflict and determined to shatter itself apart with civil disruption and unrest, just look at what has been happening in the USA or Europe.
There’s a better way; honour the past and celebrate our differences, but also continue to look to the future for the hope which God alone can offer. Politics, diplomacy, even armed forces can be an important supporting element for peace, but true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all our efforts.
Sunday 8th November 2020
Jesus warns his disciples that if we really do want to be a part of God’s kingdom then we need to be ready when the time comes for him to return. Over and over again we hear him say “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). That’s not too difficult to understand, is it? Seems clear enough to me. But what does ‘be ready’ actually mean for us? Well for one thing it means that we mustn’t be complacent about putting into practice in our daily lives what God has said in his word. You see there’s a danger that we can become so familiar with the gospel that we fail to take it seriously anymore, it becomes part of our cultural memory but has no real impact on the way we live.
One of my concerns, even within the church, is the great moral disconnect between personal faith, and our behaviour. Some Christians seem to have lost their moral conscience, or at least lost the will to respond to it. The whole message of Jesus’ warnings to be ready had to do with remaining faithful to his word. Being ready meant actively living in faithfulness to God. It is more than just calling yourself a Christian and attending your local church. It’s a commitment to live a lifestyle that is honouring to God. The problem is that there are many people today who wear a sign saying they are a Christian, but they fail to deliver the goods. And then there’s the even greater tragedy of far too many churches who do not deliver on what the sign out front says. They do not teach what the bible says. They are, as Jesus says in another parable, ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, and will be left outside when the doors of God’s kingdom are closed. Sobering stuff!
Sunday 1st November 2020
What’s the one the one thing we all desire, regardless of our race, religion, where we live, or our social status? We all desire contentment, to be at peace with ourselves and the world around us. Everyone, the whole world in fact, longs for the time when we have no more worries or concerns about the future, either for ourselves or our loved ones. The only time I can remember feeling like that was when I was a small child. I hadn’t a worry in the world, I knew, had faith if you like, that my parents would always be there for me, that they would provide all that I needed to be happy, safe, and secure. And indeed, they were, and I was.
But as we grow up we become aware of the world around us, and eventually we realise that everything is not as it should be, or at least not as we’d like it to be. We find ourselves with a sense of lost innocence. That feeling we had of utter peace and contentment as a child is no longer there, whether we realise it or not, something is missing in our lives. And when the tough times come, as they inevitably do, making sense of it all, finding peace, is all the more difficult. Like Adam and Eve after the fall, our eyes have been opened to the harsh realities of a world which doesn’t know God. Attempts to recapture that sense of child-like contentment are elusive as we cannot return to being that small child, nor un-see what we have seen. However, those who choose to trust the one who created them know that God will see them through this life, no matter what it may throw at them. We may never be fully contented this side of heaven, but we need not be concerned or anxious about our future because we are safe in God’s hands.
Sunday 25th October 2020
We humans like to put each other into boxes, in our minds we sort people out into groups… those we like and those we don’t like, those like us and those not like us. We do it as much today as any other time in history. We’ve polarised society into factions of conservatives and liberals, right wing and left wing, rich and poor, victims and oppressors. And in our minds, we can justify all those boxes we put each other in. This is not the way of Jesus, though, not the way we’re supposed to be if we’re to call ourselves God’s children. Samuel Clements, better known as the writer Mark Twain, is supposed to have said something like this: “It’s not the bits of the bible that I don’t understand that bother me, but the bits I do understand” and Jesus’ command to love our neighbour as ourselves undoubtedly bothers some people!
You see, if we’re to take seriously the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, that sort of mindset simply isn’t open to us anymore. Jesus has shown us the way, he loved both those that came to him, and those that rejected him. Just because someone opposed him didn’t mean that Jesus wrote them off as a lost cause, redemption is always possible, even his own family initially thought he’d lost the plot but later came to worship him as Lord and Saviour, with one of them, James, even going on to lead the church in Jerusalem. Here’s the thing, we define ourselves by who and what we love, and our souls are enriched or diminished by the objects of our affection. As we learn more of what it is to love and be loved by God, the quality of the other relationships in our lives are inevitably be enriched and deepened as a result.
Sunday 18th October 2020
Politics and journalism, if there were ever two professions which deserve each other, I think it’s these two. You see, there’s a trend in modern journalism which I find quite disturbing, they seem to have taken a somewhat adversarial approach to their role. It’s almost as though they’ve set themselves up as judge, jury, and sometimes, executioner, seeing themselves as arbiters of the truth, as if they and they alone know what right and wrong and what’s good for us. And none more so than when they’re interviewing politicians. They like to set a trap for their unsuspecting guest to fall into, and when they do, they go for the jugular.
But there’s nothing new in this, it happened all the time to Jesus, people would try to trap him into saying something that they could use against him, especially the religious leaders, who saw him as a challenge to their authority and a threat to their way of life. And it’s in the way they lived their lives that Jesus had the most problems. Theirs was a life of rules and regulations rather than faith, head knowledge about rights and the wrongs, rather than enabling the people to come to know the heart of God. He was very clear that they repeatedly failed to acknowledge God in the way they lived their lives.
I wonder if we inadvertently do the same sort of thing. Come to think of it, we probably all have, dividing our lives into our God bit and our secular bit, worshipping God on Sundays without really paying God any attention the rest of the week. We
forget that God has a claim on us. In fact, each one of us is like a ‘coin of God’. He has stamped his divine image onto each of us, and that comes with responsibilities as we render our whole lives to God.
Sunday 11th October 2020
Have you ever told a lie to someone because you didn’t want to hurt them? I ask that because, sometimes, we say things, with the best of intentions, that aren’t actually truthful, or at least we don’t tell the whole truth, because we don’t want to lose a good friendship. Just think about it for a moment. Christians often talk about God’s love for all people, but at the same time we leave out the bits we think people might not like; the bits about sin, about repentance and the need to change our ways, and about the punishment that awaits those who reject Jesus. You see, the church is very eager to tell anyone who will listen that God loves them, which of course is true, but we also have a tendency to convey the impression that everything will be ok, that it doesn’t matter what you do because God loves everyone.
But that’s a half-truth, a lie in fact. Whilst it’s true to say that God does indeed love all people, it’s also true that God actually requires something in return for his love: our honesty about our own condition. Just imagine how painful it would be to be standing before God on the last day and suddenly realise that you’ve been lied to. Someone told you, a friend, perhaps even a family member, that you didn’t have to change, that you could come just as you are and it would be ok. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t. How would you feel if you were that person? You’d be angry, wouldn’t you? And how would you feel if someone you loved was condemned because of what you were too afraid to say? It’d be awful wouldn’t it? A life transformed by the gospel is special to God. So let’s allow ourselves to be transformed into his image as we tell others, not just about God’s love, but also about his power to change their lives for the better.
Sunday 4th October 2020
Promises, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot of those over the next few weeks. Politicians and electoral candidates will be making all sorts of promises, but as we’ve seen these last three years, promises, even worthy ones, are easier said than done. Of course, it happens at every election, but this time, something’s different, it just feels like we’re being asked not judge our politicians on their failure to deliver what they promised last time, but to judge them on their intentions. Well you know what they say don’t you: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ God save us from people who mean well!
But if we’re being honest here, there have also been times when we’ve made promises ourselves, and then, for reasons that seemed sensible to us at the time, failed to keep them. It starts with the simple things, perhaps you’ve even done something like this yourself, unintentionally of course. How many times have you said you’ll pray for someone, and then forgot to do it? Or what about this one: “If there’s anything you need, just give me a call…” That’s a kind of half-hearted offer, isn’t it? We say it because it sounds supportive, but doesn’t actually commit us to doing anything. None of us plan for this to happen, we just get tied up in the busyness of our own lives and, unintentionally, end up letting other’s down. The answer lies not in trying harder to keep our promises, but keeping our focus on the things that matter, which is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and our promise to be his disciples in the world.
Sunday 27th September 2020
Two thousand years ago, a handful of people turned the world upside down. How? Was it because they were especially smart? Well, there’s no evidence of that. Was it because they were powerful? No, because they were from the bottom rung of the social ladder. Was it because they were strategically placed? No, because they were Galileans, country bumpkins from the isolated far north of the country. They had such an impact on the world because they were totally dedicated to following Jesus. They’d given their lives to Jesus and he’d turned them into fishers of men. They’d made themselves vulnerable, let go of their traditions, and placed their lives in God’s hands.
Of course, it’s easier said than done isn’t it. It’s far easier to follow our familiar religious traditions than it is to trust God with our lives, and step out into the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, religious traditions are fine, but only when they serve the purposes of God. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that when we first came to Christ we did two things; We declared that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, and we made a promise to be his people, to be his servants here on earth. But have we kept that promise? My guess is we probably all have times when we’ve said we’ll do something, but for some reason that seemed reasonable to us at the time, we failed to do it. We don’t like it when people fail to keep their promise to us, though do we. Well I don’t suppose that God appreciates it when we break our promise to him! I guess we can be thankful then that it’s never too late to do something about it.
Sunday 20th September 2020
For those of us who’ve been Christians for many years it’s tempting to see heaven as the place where those who have done well in this life are justly rewarded by a grateful God won over by our commitment and hard work for the gospel. Of course, in our more enlightened moments we know that not how the Kingdom of God works. Indeed, whether we’ve been a Christians all our lives or accepted Jesus on our death bed, we’re all shown the same Grace and Mercy from God, and when in heaven, we will all enjoy the promised feast that we haven’t earned.
You see, it’s human nature to want to think that we are in some way better than some other person or group, that God loves us more because we have earned it by serving him all our lives. We may even unconsciously have this expectation that some people will be treated better by God than others when they reach the pearly gates. However, God is not in the business of showing favouritism. God’s grace and mercy are freely given to all. We serve a generous and loving God, one who opens his arms of mercy to the least expected of people.
So let’s be careful not to be judgemental or envious of others. Should we one day in heaven meet those we once thought of as our enemies remember that what we too have received from God something that we did not deserve, or could ever have earned. Eternal life with God is given freely to anyone who turns to God in repentance and faith, no matter when they came to believe.
Sunday 13th September 2020
Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? After all, we all like it when someone forgives us don’t we! Actually, I think forgiveness is rather tricky. You see, it seems to me that everyone loves the idea forgiveness, until, that is, they need to forgive someone themselves. Then it’s not so easy, because forgiveness actually requires us to love one another, even our enemies, those who have wronged us, and that, we find, is hard to do.
The good news is that we ourselves have been forgiven, by God and probably by those around us as well! But, and here’s the tricky bit, it also includes the noisy neighbours next door, and the young man with his noisy car with the lowered suspension doing burnouts in your street late at night. I’m not so sure we like that idea though, do we, not when we think about how they have affected our lives. We can be very selective when it comes to forgiveness, can’t we. The thing about forgiveness is that it begins with God, and God works in us and through us as he enables us forgive others. But we have to be prepared to open that door and let him in for that to happen. I know it’s hard, there was a time when I felt deeply wounded by false accusations against me, and it took good a few years, more than I care to recall, to learn what forgiveness in that case looked like in practice. You see, forgiveness doesn’t erase accountability, it doesn’t just let someone off the hook for what they’ve done, it’s about understanding that we’re all inherently flawed, and that there’s always the possibility of transformation and redemption through Jesus. And that, I think, is something we can all be very grateful for.
Sunday 6th September 2020
God, it seems, has a funny way of catching us unawares. I’ve been in ministry, either training for it or ministering in various parishes, for twenty years, and I still find myself being surprised by God’s amazing faithfulness and love. When I first went to Bible College I thought I already knew a fair bit about the bible and about God’s will for his church, but the more I learnt, the more I realised how little I know. Even today I find that God is far more gracious and kind than I ever imagined.
The thing is, we like to think we have God all figured out, that we know how God wants us to live and act and trusts us to just get on with our lives and do the right thing. On one level that’s true, God does indeed leave us to make our own decisions in life, but not completely on our own. Our problem is that we think we know God so well we, in effect, put God in a box of our own understanding in the belief we’ve got it all figured out. And that’s a problem. God, of course, will have none of it, hence he can catch us unawares as he does something in our lives that causes us to stumble over our own presumption. In doing so God gently leads us back to himself, his Holy Spirit prompting and guiding us to the only place where we can learn the truth about ourselves, and find comfort and strength to live our lives in grateful thanks for what he’s done for us through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
So next time you think you’ve got God all figured out, just remind yourself that God is far greater than any of us could ever imagine, and no human, however great, can ever fully comprehend his awesome majesty.
Sunday 30th August 2020
Jesus once said ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’ (Matthew 16:24-25). This is one of those often-misunderstood sayings of Jesus. We tend to think of denying ourselves and taking up our cross as either one of the following: Some people liken it to denying ourselves the good things in life, like some monk or spiritual hermit living in a cave somewhere, or at least keeping themselves separate, living in some remote community, very much apart from the world around them. While others liken taking up our cross as some physical or spiritual burden that they must bear, or some suffering they must go through to show their love for God. You’ll be pleased to know that both of those are wrong.
What Jesus means, and what he wants from his disciples, is for us to deny ourselves… by putting aside our own dreams and ambitions in life, so that we are free to ‘take up our cross and follow him’, that is, to live for Jesus and not ourselves, serving his purposes in our world, not our own, and allowing his Holy Spirit to minister to the world through us.
You see, the Christian life is a life of devoted service to the glory of God. When we live for God, we do so as people who still interact and enjoy the world around us, but also as people who have the knowledge of who Jesus is, and the love that God has for the world. Essentially, Jesus is saying if you want to live your life as you wish, you will lose it. But if put aside your life to focus on what God wants you to do, you will find what true life really is.
Sunday 23 August 2020
Odd as it may seem, the events which surrounded Jesus ministry occurred at a time that wasn’t much different from today. It was a time of many competing ideologies and religions, where any prospective believer had to think about what was important, make their minds up, and decide who this Jesus really was. So, I ask you, isn’t that the context in which we find ourselves, today? There are still many competing religious movements all vying for our attention, even within the church! We may have made our minds up, but the people whom we live and work alongside are faced with multitude religious choices. And some of them are earnestly searching for religious faith or meaning for their lives. So, there’s a decision that has to be made, amongst all the different religious voices we hear we still have to decide who is this Jesus.
This is the root of our identity as Christians, to know who Jesus is, is vital. It’s not enough to believe that he was very important, or to believe that he was like other religious leaders, or even to believe he was a great religious teacher. When the apostle Peter declared: “You are the Messiah”, he was saying what has to be said for us to be called Christian. To be Christian means believing, among other things, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Saviour of the world. Anything else, anything less, might seem religious, but it isn’t Christian.
Sunday 16th August 2020
I’ve been thinking about the way we live our lives and how what we do is seen by others. If we do good things people generally think well of us don’t they, and if you’re a Christian they might even say you’re ‘holy’. But what does that really mean, to be ‘holy’, and what constitutes ‘true holiness’? This is important because it affects who can be admitted to God’s kingdom. It would be a mistake to think of holiness as merely our efforts to stick to rules and regulations, doing good deeds, or dutifully turning up at church each Sunday, thinking that’s enough, that’s what the Pharisees did and look how it went for them… not well! No, God looks at our hearts, which can both betray what we really think about other people, and reveal our true devotion to God’s will for our lives.
The conclusion I’ve come to is this. Holiness isn’t strict observance of the law, or in our case church rituals, our holiness is revealed in how we walk about others and seen in what we pray for, much more than any good deeds we might do. If that’s the case then maybe we should all take a look at our own wants and desires and consider if they really match up with what God wants our lives.
Sunday 9th August 2020
Asking someone to come to church with us can be rather daunting, especially if we’re not in that habit of doing so. I’ve been giving this some thought this week and I was reminded of the phrase ‘If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat’. I guess we all know what that means… that we’ll never likely achieve anything unless leave the comfort and security of the familiar. Occasionally though great things are achieved when people are brave enough to do the seemingly impossible. Like in Matthew’s gospel where the apostle Peter walks on the water. Thank goodness we have Jesus to help us.
Just as Jesus called Peter to leave the safety of the boat and try something new, something he never imagined possible, he calls us to step out of the comfort and security of our church setting and become involved in the lives of those around us, walking with them through their trials and tribulations, offering our friendship, prayers and support, just as much as we would for our church family, and yes, inviting them to church with us. The waters may not be calm, indeed they may even feel like we’re in a storm, but we are not alone. We may not be able to physically walk on water, but if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will be safe, even as we leave the security of the boat.
Sunday 2nd August 2020
There’s a bit of debate at the moment about whether NZ citizens returning home from abroad should pay for their government enforced quarantine. This has got me thinking because, as Christians, our actions will be judged against how God responds to those in need, and that is, with compassion. This raises a further question; how should Christians respond to those in need generally, especially those around us. We tend to want governments and institutions to deal with them. And we are right, governments should address the big issues of education, care for the sick, elderly, refugees, the homeless, and financially struggling families.
But we can do something too, and I’m not talking about just volunteering our time for a worthy cause. There’s something that everyone needs, even the powerful and wealthy of this world. And that is to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. It’s a need that we often overlook as we help others, because we don’t want to be accused of having ulterior motives. Sad but true. We also easily overlook that Jesus didn’t just have compassion for people because of their physical needs, which were many, his compassion was driven by their spiritual need to receive the bread of life from him. He is the bread of heaven that never runs out and which sustains us for all eternity. Christian compassion holds those two needs, the physical and the spiritual, together. Perhaps we should bear that in mind next time we’re feeling good about helping someone in need.
Sunday 26th July 2020
You know, most people in our world don’t recognise the treasure that is often right before their eyes, especially those of us who live in the west. I think it’s fair to say that, even though we’ve had the benefit of a Christian heritage, the vast majority of people have not got their priorities right. In fact, they’ve got all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t want to come to church. After all, how many times have you heard someone say that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. In part that may be true, but for most people it’s just an excuse, because I guarantee they’re not at home on a Sunday morning praying or reading their bible by themselves. And almost certainly they are not involved in serving God. No, what they’ve done is make a choice: They’ve decided that other things are more important than having a relationship with God and his people. They’re free to do that, of course, but when they do, they inevitably make that choice for their families too. Their choice has an effect which rebounds down the generations. You see, when parents stop going church their children stop going to church, then they in turn don’t take their children to church.
So that today we have a generation of people that have not had any contact with Christian teaching whatsoever, and that means no spiritual grounding in their lives, and no moral compass to guide them. That’s where we are as a country, with people largely adrift, with no spiritual anchor to inform their ethical, moral and life decisions. Is it any wonder our country is in such a mess?
Sunday 19th July 2020
One of the things about God that every human being that has ever lived can be eternally grateful for, is that God is full of grace, mercy, and abounding in love. He is also patient and kind, something that we are often not! There are times when we’re frustrated with the way things are, times when we want God to act more quickly to address the evil and suffering in the world or perhaps punish some person we have deemed to have wronged us in some way. There are certainly times when we want God to do things our way, to rescue us from our problems, or heal our loved ones. But here’s the thing, God is so committed to the world he created, that he’s given us all, even those we think are too far gone, time to accept his loving gift of salvation. And they can’t do that if we cut them off, ignore, or worse, persecute them. One look at the cross shows us the depth of God’s love and commitment for a people that spurned and rejected him time and time again. For a few short days it seemed that evil had triumphed over good, but the cross showed the world that God’s goodness triumphs over evil.
Our job is not to sit here in judgement of others, because if we did that none of us would be able stand. But to spend our time nourishing our spiritual lives, connecting with God through prayer and the reading of scripture, talking to those who wish to hear it about what God has done in our lives, and being encouraged by the good things which we see God doing in our world. It is there, we just have to choose to see it.
Sunday 12th July 2020
There’s a time and a season for everything isn’t there. No, I’m not talking about the weather, I’m talking about how our world changes around us, sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes for the worst, but change it does, and sometimes unexpectedly. The thing is, when change comes we have to think how we’re going to respond in the Christ like manner that God expects of us. For that we have to be prepared. But if we haven’t paid enough attention to feeding our spiritual lives, through the reading of God’s word, through developing a prayerful relationship with our heavenly father, and through regular fellowship with other Christians, what hope have we got of responding to whatever it is God might be calling us to do?
You see, as any decent gardener knows, like good soil, we need to feed and nurture our spiritual lives so that we’re ready to receive what God might plant in our hearts to do for the building up of his kingdom. We need to be prepared, because when God sows the seeds of change, we need to be ready to respond appropriately. So, are you ready for any changes that might come your way?
Sunday 5th July 2020
Kindness is a bit of a buzzword these days, and the kindest person you will ever meet is Jesus Christ, he said some of the kindest in the whole Bible. In fact, in the old 1662 service we call them the ‘comfortable words’. He said: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Now I’m guessing most of us carry a burden of some kind or other, because life can be hard at times. In that case, Jesus speaks these words to all of us. But if we choose to ignore him and live without God in our lives, seeking strength in all manner of other places, then we’ll be disappointed. Searching after fulfilment elsewhere, even in worthy causes like environmentalism or social justice, without Jesus to help and guide us, will only burden our hearts and souls even more.
Only Jesus promises to share our burdens. He offers his help, not so that we can live a life of ease, but so that we can further his kingdom in a life of service, by living life his way. If we decide to take him up on his offer then we will indeed, as the old service says, find it comfortable for our souls, we will find that walking with him will bring the peace and fulfilment that we yearn for deep down inside.
Sunday 28th June 2020
You know, the more I understand what Jesus came to do, the more I realise that our lives are truly not our own. And the more I realise what the bible means when it says we have ‘been bought with a price’, that we are indeed God’s servants, that he is our master… with all that that entails, the more I realise how woefully short of that mark we often come.
So let me ask you, how much of your life is Jesus really Lord of? Are you holding onto some small part of it to call your own? How about your bank account, what governs your spending there? And what about the good works that you do, are your motives pure, or are they done out of a desire to appear better than you really are? Is Jesus really Lord of your whole life?
The message of Christianity is not just that we can be ‘saved’, but that we can be transformed. We do not have to be a slave to our desires and weaknesses. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can be made new. We are not just forgiven people, we are transformed people who are being made into the image of Christ. Neither are we perfect people, but we are growing in our ability to understand the kind of life God wants us to live and the ability to live it. And we can not only be transformed, we can be used by God for his purposes — and that’s exciting, isn’t it?
Sunday 21st June 2020
O to be wealthy. I’m sure there’s not a single one of us who hasn’t dreamt at some time or other of being rich. It’d solve a lot of things wouldn’t it. You’d be able to have all you want AND be able to be generous to others. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We think of ourselves before others, and give out of what we have left. So why would it be any different if you suddenly had a lot of money? Because I guarantee you this; it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got, you’ll inevitably convince yourself that you need more stuff in your life. Ok, that’s a bit provocative, but I think it holds true. You see, no matter how good our intentions are, we naturally default back to what we usually do, and that isn’t something that’s going to change overnight.
So, how should we manage our money, what’s the proper response to what God has blessed us with? Because, for Christians, wealth comes with a responsibility to manage our money in a godly way, learning to be content with what we already have. No one wants to be poor, but poor by whose standards? We in New Zealand certainly aren’t poor by world standards. What we can all do is learn what it means to demonstrate a generous heart, what it means to be a joyful giver. As God has given generously to us out of his abundance, we can give generously to others out of ours.
Sunday 14th June 2020
As I’ve come to understand it, the Christian life is about hearing and understanding the word of God, and then living out that reality in our lives. And just as Jesus sent out his disciples into the harvest fields, we too are challenged and encouraged to step into the world around us, so that we can put God’s words into action. I guess the question on all our minds right now is this: Where is my harvest field? And what might Jesus be asking me to do?
It’s at this point that Satan wants to deceive us with negative thoughts about our own abilities, he makes us fearful that God wants us to do something we think we could never do, and it’s a lie that’s continually whispered into our ears. But here’s the thing, the disciples couldn’t do what Jesus asked them to do either, it was the Holy Spirit working through them. They could only do what they did because they had a living relationship with Jesus. And that’s where it all starts for us.
So, the answer is actually easier than you might think. Depending on your gifts and abilities, or even your age, God might be calling you to do just one thing, like praying for others, or he might be calling you to help your neighbour in some practical way, and yes, God may even be calling you to talk to those you meet about Jesus. For all of us, though, it starts with having that close relationship with God through prayer and the reading of the scriptures, that we might know God, and ourselves, better. Then, on only then, can we productively look out for, encourage, and support one another, and go out into the harvest fields around us.
Sunday 7th June 2020
This week churches all over the world will be celebrating Trinity Sunday, the day when ministers will attempt to explain to their congregations one of the deepest mysteries of the nature of God, that there is only one God, made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now if that sounds rather contradictory to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone, it is indeed a difficult thing for us mere mortals to understand.
It might seem strange then that our gospel reading for Trinity Sunday comes from the final words in Matthew’s gospel where, after giving the disciples the great commission to go and make disciples, Jesus declares: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ But bear with me for a moment, this is an indication that God is indeed a Holy Trinity. You see, if Jesus is with us now, with us in our struggles and worries, amidst the confusion in our church and society, then he is with us in his Holy Spirit, that was the promise which Jesus made to us.
Trinity Sunday invites us think about God more deeply, that God the Father, and God the Son, have come to be with us in God the Holy Spirit, to strengthen and encourage us as we take up Jesus’ great commission. What an incredible thing that is. Now I don’t think we will ever fully understand the full extent of God nature as a Holy Trinity, but what I do know is that God loves us, and has called us to be his children, to do his will, making disciples as we go on our way, so that we may all know the one true God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Sunday 31st May 2020
We’re finishing off a sermon series on the life of Moses at church this Sunday, and while writing my sermon I came across this quote from Robert Woodruff, a former head of Coca-Cola, it’s quite enlightening I think:
“There is no limit to what a person can do or how far they can go if they don’t mind who gets the credit.”
That kind of sums Moses up, doesn’t it? Moses never wanted to be a leader, he was quite happy minding his own business shepherding sheep in Midian, then God came knocking on his door.
What made Moses such a great leader was his willingness to serve, despite own desire for the quieter life of a shepherd and his awareness of his own shortcomings and failings. You see, God sees all of a person’s life, not just the edited highlights, not just our mistakes, but the whole sum of a person’s character. There’s also the fact that he was teachable. A willingness to serve & and a teachable spirit, that’s what God is looking for in all of us.
So, we might well ask ourselves ‘How teachable am I, really?’ You may well have your dreams and aspirations, you probably do! But are you willing to set aside what you desire, whether that’s to keep a low profile and aim for the easy life or be a leader in the church or your field of work, and instead serve God in whatever way He calls you to? Are you really willing to serve in a role not of your choosing? That’s what Moses did, and look what happened!
Sunday 24th May 2020
Tell me, who of us have never gotten angry at someone for what they’ve done? Answer… none of us! So, before we sit in judgment on anyone else, remember that we all have that same potential to get angry, the only difference is in the way we control it.
One of the things I love about the bible is the way it never tries to sugar coat the truth. The picture we get of biblical heroes is warts and all, not one of them was perfect… and neither are we. Even the great Moses was a man prone to losing his cool. In fact, it’s clear that he never did get his anger completely under control. And that should give us hope. If a man like Moses struggled with frustration and anger, then we don’t need to feel so bad if we struggle with it too.
On the other hand, when we see the consequences of Moses’ uncontrolled anger, it ought to warn us to keep working on controlling our issues. You see, although our acts of disobedience can be forgiven, there may still be a price to pay, just as God forgave Moses for his sin but didn’t remove its earthly consequences. In that single moment of anger at the rock of Meribah, Moses forfeited his right to lead Israel into the Promised Land. The sad fact is, we cannot go back and undo what we’ve done. None of us can. We cannot undo sinful deeds or unsay sinful words. We cannot reclaim those moments when we were in a fit rage, or lust, or indifference, or pride. Like Moses, we can be forgiven for those sins, but we may still have to live with their earthly consequences. Despite all that, consequences and all, I am still so grateful that my sins are indeed forgiven. It inspires me to desire to walk much closer with God, to keep short accounts with Him as I lean on the Holy Spirit to guard my heart. Aren’t you?
Sunday 17th May 2020
There’s a saying that we seem to love, it’s ‘Majority rules’. Whilst we love the fact that everyone can have their say, we also hold to the notion, even if just tacitly, that the majority must be right. That’s kind of how western democracies seem to work as well; we have an election, we cast our vote, and the one with the most vote wins, unless you have MMP as your form of government, in which case Winston Peters wins.
It’s a bit like that in the church too; we have AGM’s to elect parish councils or vestries, and synods reps, all of which in turn make decisions by voting. The majority rules, that’s how democracy works. But what happens the majority are wrong? Some people, despite all the evidence that says otherwise, think they know best just because the majority agrees with them.
Talking of people who think they know best, the Israelites never really seemed to learn from their mistakes did they. They survived enforced slavery and desert wanderings only to reject new opportunities in the Promised Land… because they listened to the voice of the majority.
When they heard the report of the twelve spies sent by Moses to go and explore the Promised Land, they wept, sulked and complained… again. But the majority were wrong. Only two of the twelve spies – Caleb and Joshua – stood firm on God’s promises and lived to enter the Promised Land.
Sometimes the right thing to do is to go against the grain and take the minority position, to withstand unhealthy and negative peer pressure, public opinion and powerful people. You see, in God’s economy, majority doesn’t rule, God does. What we need to do, just as the Israelites needed to do, but didn’t, is to trust God.
Sunday 10th May 2020
It’s easy to be an armchair critic isn’t it, especially of the government, and especially at times like these. But, to be fair, these are unprecedented times, and we’re not the ones having our every decision scrutinised in the media are we. So, it’s kind of predictable that they’ll make mistakes. It’s equally predictable that the keyboard warriors on social media will hammer them for it. Because you can’t please everybody can you.
The fact is, if you don’t want any criticism in life, all you’ve got to do is ‘say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing’. But you can’t do that if you want to serve God, can you. You see, there’s a consequence, a price to pay if you like, of stepping out in faith… and that is that you paint a big fat target on your back for Satan and his minions to take pot-shots at you, and he will use all and every means to discourage you, even those closest to you.
The apostle Paul actually warns us about this in one of his letters to Timothy,
he wrote: …everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2 Timothy 3:12). The apostle Peter also warned us that: …the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ And he urges us to: Resist him and, stand firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
But, we don’t have to fight that battle on our own. If we remain faithful to God and his word, and not respond to our detractors in kind, then, in the end, we will be vindicated. The God of heaven will always come to our aid. Remember what Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
So as you step out in faith remember this; no one ever said the godly life is easy, but it is eventful, and worth all the trouble and effort in the end!
Sunday 3rd May 2020
‘May you live in interesting times.’ Seems like it’s supposed to be a blessing doesn’t it, but it’s actually meant as a curse. It’s an ironic phrase. You see, life is supposed to be better in ‘uninteresting times’, because they’re the times of peace and prosperity. The ‘interesting times’ are those where trouble, fear, and pain seem to find us.
The Covid-19 virus has caused a great deal of fear and pain around the world hasn’t it. Our own government has introduced severe restrictions on our freedom of movement. Consequently, the economy has tanked and will likely take years to recover. Worse than that, people are beginning to lose their jobs and businesses. It might be well said then that we do indeed live in interesting times.
Of course, the government can do what they’ve done because they have the authority to do it. And most people will obey because they recognise the government’s authority to make the rules. They have both a respect for the rule of law, and fear the punishment that the government can impose on them. A healthy fear and respect for authority is especially true when it comes to God. While it’s common for us to emphasise God’s love and grace, how often do we talk about God’s holiness, justice and wrath? There’s a balance that needs to be struck between the two isn’t there. After all, God’s word says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs – 1:7a). The trouble is, we can be far too casual in our approach to God.
Many contemporary ideas about who God is and what he’s like are too shallow. God is not some who merely loves us and comes running, ready to do our bidding when we need Him. Our God is holy, and is exalted above all things. He is the only wise God, the Creator, the sovereign Lord and Master. He tells us what to do, and we have no safe option but to obey. There is no alternative god, one made in our own image. We have but one directive, and that is to do His will. To be God’s people, then, means having a healthy dose of fear and respect for God and His Word, such that when we come to meet with God we do so with the right attitude and respect for the authority he holds over our lives.
Sunday 26th April 2020
How good are you when it comes to listening to advice or accepting help from others? Perhaps you’re a bit like me… I’m old enough to admit that sometimes I find it a bit of struggle. Of course, it works the other way too, some of us find it hard to ask for help in the first place.
Well I’ve been giving that a bit of thought this week, and I wonder if maybe it’s our pride that stops us, because no one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re are doing do they. Or is it that we don’t really trust the person offering to help us? That can be the case sometimes. Or maybe it’s that we don’t like the advice we’re being offered because we didn’t think of it ourselves… some people are like that.
The reality is that life can, and often is, complicated. And complicated lives need all the help they can get. For all of us, whatever we’re involved in, when someone we trust suggests that it is time to make a change we need to listen, and take it to God for confirmation. Solomon, the wise man of the Old Testament wrote: Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. (Proverbs 19:20). Regardless of our life or job situation, all of us can benefit from learning how to accept advice and share the load. May God bless us and help us as we try to learn these lessons and apply them to our lives.
Sunday 19th April 2020
“You know what… You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here?” If you’ve ever had that said about you then you’ll know how much a statement like that stings, nobody wants to be known as a complainer do they. Of course, there are always those who believe that their grumbling and complaining is completely justified, convinced as they are of their own moral or intellectual superiority. It’s human nature, isn’t it, to pass judgment on the actions of others. We’ve all done it, maybe you’re doing it right now, because we all think we know what’s best, well, best for ourselves anyway. After all, it’s not like any of us have made mistakes is it. Oh no, wait a minute, we have haven’t we.
So why do we do it? Why do we want to pull others down, or as we think, ‘put them in their place’? I think it all starts when we see a problem that either we think isn’t being dealt with quick enough, or it’s not being done the way we would do it, or its simply that we don’t trust the one making the decisions. Whatever our reasoning, we seem to manage to convince ourselves that any decision they make is bound to be the wrong one.
So, this week, let’s check our own attitude before we open our mouths about others – and ask ourselves; are we naturally inclined to grumble, or are we able to exercise a bit of humility? You see, the keys to facing our trials without grumbling and complaining lay in our being humble enough to admit that we don’t know all the answers, put our trust in God that He knows what He’s doing, and show our gratitude through our praise and thanksgiving when we come through it.
Sunday 12th April – Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday… What’s it all about? I ask that because, from my observation at least, Easter seems to have become just another public holiday to enjoy, a 4-day weekend of fun and no work, all chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs. As for the real meaning of Easter… well it’s just another story we don’t believe in or understand, if that is, we’ve even heard the story in the first place. It seems to me the world, at least the western world, has collective amnesia. In turning from an empty tomb to an Easter egg as our symbol of hope we have forgotten what a marvellous thing God has done for us. The symbol of the Cross and the empty tomb? That’s just been replaced by the Easter bunny. The real meaning of Easter seems to have escaped us.
I wonder, though, if it were possible to recapture it, to retell the story to a world which doesn’t seem to want to hear it, what would we say? How would you explain the meaning of Easter, the death of one man for the sins of the whole world, the resurrection of the dead, to a world where those are completely alien concepts. Might I suggest that that the first step is to understand Easter for ourselves.
For Christians, Easter Sunday announces the very real possibility of unimaginable joy of being right with God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, alone in all the acts of God, holds the promise of life after death for those that put their faith in him! It brings the hope of a better life, the possibility of being able to know and enjoy a deep relationship with the creator of the universe. And who wouldn’t want that?
Today, millions of people around the world will be celebrating the fact that some 2000 years ago, on a cool Sunday morning in a small, politically turbulent country in the eastern Mediterranean, one man, Jesus of Nazareth, was raised from the dead. So, if Easter means anything, it means Jesus Christ really is Lord, he really is the Saviour of the world. He alone has authority over life, over death, and over salvation. And because of that, the word was changed forever.
Friday 10th April 2020 – Good Friday
Why on earth do we call Good Friday, ‘good’? It seems a bit daft to call something ‘good’ when to all apparent evidence it seems dreadfully bad. This was the day that saw Jesus betrayed and nailed to a cross, after all. What do you see when think of Good Friday, do you see a man, the Son of God, the Saviour simply dying on a cross for the sins of the world? Or do you see Jesus Christ dying on the cross for you — specifically for you – because he loves you? Dying for your sins, for your forgiveness, for your life.
The apostle Paul wrote: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). ‘While we were still sinners…’ Even without obeying him, without us loving him, Jesus still gave up his life for us… because he cared about us; he valued us and showed us his love… while – we – were – still – sinners.
Good Friday is not supposed to be a day of celebration, but of mourning, not just over the death of Jesus, but for the sins of the world that his death represents. Yet, although it’s is a solemn time, it is not without its own joy. Because, while it is important to place the Resurrection against the darkness of Good Friday, the sombreness of Good Friday should always be seen with the hope of Resurrection on Easter Sunday. What we know as Good Friday was not a good day for Jesus, in purely human terms it was a manifestly bad one. It was a day of betrayal, beatings, violence, rejection, pain, loneliness, and death. Make no mistake, it was a bad day.
We all experience bad days and times of trouble at some point in life, and being a follower of Christ does not exempt us from those trials. We are called to take up our cross, meaning that we too will suffer. But on the cross, Jesus left us an example to follow that will help us deal with the bad days, because we too need to realise that we also need to be able to say: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Sunday 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday
Easter is fast approaching. Everyone knows what Easter is all about, well most do… ok some do… those who go to church perhaps. Less people know about Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It tells the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey for the Jewish Passover festival the week before he was crucified. The crowds who followed Jesus into the city were fed up with being oppressed by the Romans, they desperately wanted something to happen. They even looked for God to help them. Then along comes Jesus, their Messiah. Only he wasn’t what they were expecting, he didn’t do what they expected him to do, and they didn’t get the answer they wanted.
Given our current circumstances coping with a worldwide pandemic, I suspect that we too would like Jesus to ride into our world and sort things out. But usually it’s the more ordinary things in life that trouble us, like paying our bills, healing for our sick families and friends, or help with our physical or emotional pain. We want God to help us, and we usually want it all sorted by tomorrow!
The irony is that God does answer those prayers, just as He answered the prayers of the crowd when he provided them with a messiah. The people wanted a Messiah and a Messiah came, but they didn’t recognise Him. The people wanted to be rescued from evil powers that oppressed them, and Jesus did just that. But He didn’t do it in the way they expected.
This story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey wonderfully illustrates the mismatch between our human expectations and prayers… and God’s answers. The crowd were actually disappointed in Jesus, He wasn’t what they wanted, a fact proved so publicly on Good Friday when they all called for him to be crucified. But as the reality of Christ’s mission unfolded over the next few days, weeks, months and years, they would realise that their prayers had been answered, and that their praise on that first Palm Sunday was indeed justified, but not for the reasons they expected.
Sunday 29th March 2020
We really are living through some very strange times aren’t we. Maybe you’re feeling a bit cornered, up against the wall, caught between a rock and a hard place. Maybe your anxiety levels are rising and you’re feeling it’s all a bit too much. If that’s you, then do not despair, know that you are under God’s guidance and protection through this time. God has much to teach us; About community, about connecting to each other, and about what it means for us to surrender our lives into His care, as He leads us through our enforced isolation from one another.
Remember during the Exodus, when the Israelites found themselves boxed in and facing being run down by the Egyptian army? Well their journey to the Red Sea was just as much a part of God’s plan as crossing it. We must do what Moses commanded the Israelites: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today” (Ex. 14:13). And we must remember that God is bigger than the most desperate of situations. He can make a way where there seems to be no way. God is able, in fact more than able, to redeem us from any situation. Our job is to trust God – to keep our eyes on the Lord. So ‘Don’t be afraid. Stand still. Keep quiet. Watch the Lord work!’ To God be the glory!
Sunday 22nd March 2020
This week we received the news that due to the CoVid-19 virus Bishop Jay and the Standing committee of the diocese of CCA have had to make the decision to cease all public worship from Monday 23rd March, and to cease Holy Communion with immediate effect. This it something that all the denominations in NZ have agreed to do.
This decision obviously makes today the last time we can gather together until we are informed otherwise by the Diocese. But that doesn’t mean we stop meeting altogether. Parish council will work to ensure that some form of small gatherings can take place on Sundays, and an audio recording of the sermon will continue to be available on our website www.allsaintschch.org for those who want it. Homegroups will also continue as normal until we are instructed otherwise by the diocese. That’s a lot to take in isn’t it? I realise also that not everyone will agree with this decision, but that is out of our control. Some may also be anxious about the medical impact of the virus, or concerned about the financial impact of all this, that is very understandable… So in this time of anxiety and uncertainty, let’s not forget one another, especially those who live alone. Keep in contact, pray with and for each other, in person or over the phone. And let’s not forget to whom we belong, God will be with us through this difficult time.
Sunday 15th March 2020
God has told us that He is a jealous God, and as such, will not tolerate us putting other gods before Him. We are called to serve the LORD, first and foremost, and to not allow anyone or anything to become a rival in our lives. Looking back at the history of God’s people and it’s easy to see that God didn’t tolerate the idolatry of Egypt or any of the other nations surrounding Israel indefinitely, nor did He tolerate the idolatry of Israel, and He definitely won’t tolerate it in us either. So, ask yourself this question: ‘Do I have an idol in my life right now? Is there anything that I place on a pedestal that I give higher priority to than Jesus Christ? Is there anything more important to me than my service to him?’
The thing is, if we are not careful, we can be serving the god of recreation and entertainment, or the god of family, putting the wishes of parents, mates, or children ahead of God. If we are not careful, we can be serving the god of finances and worldly possessions, or the god of pleasure… If we’re not careful.
We live in a very tempting and seductive world, one where there are many gods we can be serving, but only one God we should be serving. So know this… God does not take pleasure in correcting his children any more than you or I do when we have to discipline our own children. But God loves us too much to allow us to remain in sin and He will bring judgment whenever necessary to bring us back into obedience to His will… while there is still time to repent.
Sunday 8th March 2020
Have you ever had one of those days that went from bad to worse? I’m sure we all have at some time or other. They’re the sort of day when nothing seems to go right. You wake up late for work one morning, rush to the bathroom, have a shave and cut yourself. You put on your shoes and the shoelace snaps. You miss breakfast, rush out to the car and it won’t start, so you make a dash for the bus just in time to see it go sailing past you stop.
You know the kind of day I’m talking about don’t you. We all have days like that, maybe not all those things at once, but days when nothing goes our way. It’s how we deal with them that shows whether we’ve learnt from our past experiences.
But we’re not alone in having bad days. In one sense, Jesus last day was a bad day, the apostle Paul had them, Jonah, certainly had them, and so did Moses. So, when our days go from bad to worse, as they sometimes do, we must turn to God and trust Him. Our dependence on God in the midst of our ‘bad day’ will lead to patience, which will lead to wisdom and maturity. We all want to grow up, but we want to do so without experiencing any growing pains, but that is not possible. So, fasten your seat belts, the ride is often turbulent, but the destination is worth it.
Sunday 1st March 2020
When someone asks you to do something, what’s your first reaction? Is it, ‘Oh yes, I’d love to help’, or does your mind immediately default to the many excuses why you can’t help? Some of them may even be valid, but sometimes doing the right thing is being prepared to be inconvenienced.
Let’s be honest, we’re all quite good at making excuses, we have excuses for just about everything; why we missed school or work, why we’re late, why we didn’t pay our bills on time, why we went off our diet or new exercise plan, and for why we haven’t been in touch with friends. We also have excuses regarding spiritual matters too. We have excuses for why we’ve been missing church, we don’t give more of our time or money to the work of the gospel, or why don’t pray or read our bibles at home. Most of our excuses though aren’t very good ones.
The thing is, God doesn’t want to hear excuses, He’d rather hear our confessions and resolutions. God wants to see genuine repentance and faithfulness in our lives, a willingness to serve Him and His purposes. He’s not without compassion though, he doesn’t write us off at our first failure, in fact he gives us time to come around to his point of view. The reality is that all of us are called by God; into a saving relationship with him, to become godly servants. What he calls us to do will be different for each one of us, based upon our different experiences. But we are all called to serve in one way or another. So let’s allow God to help us overcome our reluctance and our excuses so that we can become God’s faithful followers and servants in the church.