Food for the Journey.2.Being Transformed

Genesis 15.15.1-12,17-18; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 9.28-36

This flag debate has raised the question of our identity. Who are we? What defines us? What makes us the nation we are? Come to that what makes you the person you are? Where you belong in the world, you role, you sum of attributes and experiences? What matters most about you? Our natural Kiwi reticence makes us want to be just a decent enough person, like anyone else. Neither scum nor prince.
And yet there is more to us, there is a life that’s somewhat remarkable, connections that are frankly heavenly; and so many are hardly aware of the reality into which they have been brought by the grace of God.
Peter, James and John are confronted with this, barely perceiving what’s really going on in this mountaintop experience of theirs. They’ve gone up this hill (think Tutamoe rather than Taranaki), and Jesus’ appearance is dramatically changed right before their eyes. Suddenly glorious, heavenly, shining in beauty. Their walk up the hill has tired them, but sleep is no longer possible now. Not has Jesus changed, but he has unexpected company in the Lawgiver and The Prophet. Apparently talking about the new exodus that will liberate us from eh slavery of sin.
It’s like God is reminding them that this is no ordinary Rabbi they’ve been following, not just some brilliant miracle-worker. In a way the disciples get it and in a another way they don’t. They get that Jesus is heavenly, glorious and stands alongside the great figures of Hebrew faith, and they want to build shrines to commemorate this – somewhere they can bring others to tell them what they saw. They want to institutionalise this experience – hold it at arms length – domesticate it.
Suddenly a cloud descends – a frightening sign of God’s veiled presence and out of it God addresses them and their misunderstanding. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” Not an experience to boast about, to build a shrine to, or build an institution around. This is an encounter with the Son of God, the Messiah, the Chosen Deliverer – he’s to be taken very seriously. Though the disciples found no way to talk about this to others for now, it will have filled their minds and hearts with life changing wonder. And maybe the question: what have we to do with heaven, with this heavenly being who looks so ordinary?
Paul tells us that because of the Cross of Christ, we are indeed different, with an almost unimaginable significance. We are citizens of heaven, we belong to the glorious and ascended Jesus, to the realm from which comes our salvation, our hope, our meaning. We are not limited by the things with which we usually identify ourselves: family, culture, history, education and occupation; faults and attributes; quirks and habits; triumphs and disappointments. If that’s our focus we become the sad creatures that Paul reflects on in this letter to the Christians in Philippi whose ultimate end is their destruction, because when offered the resources of heaven they chose to be distracted by the immediate and earth-bound.
However we have an identity that is forever, organically linked to the King of the heavenly realms which means more than just a decent average Kiwi person.
It means God is always with you ands listens to you and notes the things that are important to you and the things are upsetting you. But it also means you have amazing resources with which to help and minister to others – heaven’s life-changing, transformative resources. When you come, in Jesus’s name, to lovingly help or pray with someone you come with His authority and His blessing, you can come with some expectancy that He both hears and responds to your dependance on Him.
Abraham simply believed that God had all that he needed, even when everything looked hopeless, and thus chose to act on what he believed rather than what he feared. He didn’t just believe some promise, he chose to believe the One who made the promise.
All this promise, these limitless resources, this encouragement to believe in a transcendent Lord, calls to the ultimate act of righteousness. That is to act upon what we say we believe, to what we know at heart is possible in the love and grace of God in Christ. The transfigured Christ descended the mountain and lead His disciples onto the world of ordinary people with ordinary needs, but showed them to meet those needs with extraordinary grace and power. What happened on the mountain was to inspire and dare Jesus’ followers in every age to do astonishing things for His sake and the sake of His kingdom.

Food For the Journey.1.even Jesus was tempted

Luke 4.1-13; Romans 10.8-13

Temptation is sneaky; I’ve never been tempted to throw myself off the bridge over the river, drown my self in the surf at Bayly’s Beach, or even to grab a gun and go and shoot the leaders of any congregation I’ve served. Temptation is about things we like. So I’d be tempted to eat way too much ice cream or chocolate, but not to eat banana skins and cow pats. Sexual temptation confronts many of us as does the temptation to do really dumb things that are against the law – like I’ve looked at the long straights near here and wondered fast I could our car to go. Often a severe temptation for many sober Christians – but could get you into trouble you can’t control.

Even Jesus was tempted – and not only that once we all read about here.

Notice how it happened in the environment to which He’d been lead – by the Holy Spirit at that. Hot on the heels of the spiritual high of being baptised, and called “my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased”.

Note where temptation came from. Many will tell you it comes from within us, that our souls are playing with the idea of rebellion, but the Gospel tells us it came from outside – from the Devil – the Enemy, Opponent, Destroyer. It was a triple attempt to spoil Jesus’ ministry right at the beginning. The temptation was NOT a sign of any internal or moral weakness in Jesus. The temptation was in effect to look away from God’s plan and take the easy spectacular route.

Jesus knew the temptations for what they were; but note that each victory was followed by another assault from the Enemy. Jesus didn’t think of these temptations as even remote possibilities – that was not His call.

Jesus repelled each temptation with the Word of God and His own obedience to that Word. You could say His obedient word of testimony defeated the Enemy’s concerted attempts.

Repeating the earlier point, each temptation was to do or reach for something inherently good – bread (He was hungry); power and reputation (then He could achieve whatever He wanted); a Divine sign (that He was special and that nothing could harm Him). It was all for the wrong reason, at the wrong pace, focussed on what Jesus might personally have. It was a programme for a shortcut to what God would do soon enough anyway – claiming something immediate that would fizzle away, whereas God’s purpose final and lasting.

Many in ministry or leadership fall victim to temptation took for themselves that which was only for God to give (if it was in His plan). Often it’s something they had no right reaching for, but thought they sere worth it because they were somehow more special than you or me. But know this, to play with that idea in our heads is to have already surrendered and made ourselves available to the Enemy’s tricks.

God gives us whatever He knows will enable and empower whatever it is He has called to do – His gifts are always plentiful and appropriate and they change us more into His image than anything we might want for ourselves.

In answer to this problem, what Paul writes in His letter to the Romans is about how we stay where we belong with God and become resistant to the while of the Tempter.

Here this carefully:

“if you confess with your lips…and believe in your heart…you will be saved”

Yes but confess what? Believe what?

1. That Jesus is Lord not you, not the preacher or Pastor, not that habit or addiction that you’ve been struggling with, nor the advertisers that tell you that you’re worth it or deserve it, nor the social pressure that says everyone else is doing it, and certainly not that sneaky, slippery character that comes along and tries get you to please yourself. He’s the Enemy, the Opposer, the Destroyer – right? Confess this! Make this your “point of difference”, your team banner.

2. That God raised Him from the dead He is alive! That means He’s present! That means He’s really powerful! And given that He’s been raised to save us and bring us to eternal life – He is motivated by an immense love for us (even at our grubbiest).
Hold that in an impenetrable place in your heart. Not even death can defeat or resist His purpose for your life.

We face temptation (and the Tempter) with faith in Christ, in the God who loves us with an everlasting and unshakeable love. The Tempter is NOT more powerful than the Lord, and hear this carefully he is definitely not more powerful that Lord within. You may know the promise, that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. Greater than anything that is in the world.

So when confronted with what we know within us, is not for us, and because of the Word of God, when we’re drawn to something or someone that will stand between us and God, we need to confess verbally and audibly so that we can hear ourselves say it, that Jesus is in this, as in all things, still our Lord. That Jesus is more powerful than anything and that He alone can save us…and…He will.

If you were drowning, you’re not going to be saved by a well-meaning friend who can’t swim, nor by some self-help programme, nor by the one who pushed you in there in the first place – only the one equipped to save can do it.

Know this and know it clearly; when you’re struggling with temptation, the Lord who defeated death and the power of anything to permanently harm you, won’t beat you up, or make you feel stupid, because you were tempted, or even because you’re finding it hard to resist. He will rescue, clean, love, feed and strengthen you with the inner dwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.

So don’t despair,
don’t give in
don’t give up
instead call out to God with whatever little bit of faith you can muster and He will deliver you, and bless you.

Remember This . 2 . EVERYONE MATTERS…

included

Genesis 12.1-3; Acts 10.1-16; Matthew 18.1-5
I was included and I was amazed. I thought I was on the edge, just a part of the backdrop to a scene in which the great and the good would and should occupy centre-stage. But the lead singer said loud and strong into the mic, “That guy with the afro is Pete our road-manager – actually he’s our peace-keeper – stops us from fighting when we should be working together. Give Pete a hand!”             
Huh! Didn’t see that coming, but it felt good. These were very clever musicians and they actually wanted me hanging around.
And you know the warm feeling of being included, or remembered warmly by people you loved – perhaps it suggests that we have a gift to give someone else. The gift of inclusion, of unqualified acceptance – that looks past culture, social position, appearance, even disregarding a prickly personality.
If you’re enjoying the glow of being a part of something good – is it okay to keep it to yourself? Isn’t that something you ought to be sharing with outsiders, with “fringe dwellers”, with the socially insecure? Precisely because you’ve been included and accepted and welcomed – in Christ and His astonishing, embracing grace.
A community of blessing is what God had created through the medium of the covenant,(such as that He made with Abraham – …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.) This sign of favour was to be a means of including all the nations.
And we see that appearing again in a vision to Peter – understand, he wasn’t being shown a new dispensation from the dietary laws, this was about the peoples of the earth for whom Jesus had died every bit as much as He had died for the people of Israel.
In the stories of the first covenant and of the gospel (the new covenant) and of the new community of God (the church) God was blessing people precisely so they would something with which to bless people previously considered outside or beyond His favour.
For Peter this new Spirit-Filled and enabled circle of favoured ones was suddenly being expanded beyond his wildest dreams. As the Acts story unfolds it is clear that God intends to bring the once pagan Romans into this circle of favour – that they were loved as much, and as much a community in His grip as the Jerusalem community of the apostles and their converts.
Even the unseemly and embarrassing belonged close to Jesus as He ministered on the earth – sure they had issues in their lives to deal with, but so did the group closest to Him. That even extended to small children climbing all over Him, perhaps asking the childish questions that must seemed such a waste of time to His immediate followers. They were specifically not to be excluded – they were instead pointed to as a model for saving faith. How’s that for inclusive, for saying to children that they matter to God?
A community of invitation isn’t about only opening the doors of the church for some people but for anyone who wants to come in and even for people we couldn’t imagine coming in. But listen if Jesus is our model, as He should be, then it’s not just about waiting, even the prodigal father rushed out to greet his tentative wandering son, and the King sent his servants out among the outcasts with invitations to the feast.
So doesn’t that suggest that if we really mean that everyone matters that we should find out who God is sending us to bring “home”?
And doesn’t it mean that if children, even at their most annoying, matter to God, then maybe other people we don’t take seriously, are of equal significance to the Divine Lover and worthy of being found and included?
However, I suspect we still need to learn the lesson about who matters and who doesn’t right here at home – at Forrest Hill Presbyterian. Even with the best will in the world, we will find this side of the apocalypse, that we harbour a measure of prejudice about people in our church, and while it may not have anything to do with culture or ethnicity, it may have everything to do with past history, with embarrassing opinions or habits, or even social standing.
Even the most egalitarian have their blind spots. We need continually to re-learn what love means, and what according significance to another means.
Everyone matters so we are constrained to treat people well, to include them, to work with them as equally loved by their Creator and their Saviour, as inhabited by the same Spirit.
So we look for ways to broaden our experience of those loved by God – I would argue that we do this in order to experience more of what God is really like (since we are the image of God). There are to be no barriers caused by culture or ethnicity. Nor are there to be any barriers to be caused by age or stage in life, or even from what they had done, or been, prior to becoming of the Kingdom of God.
There are not to be barriers even if our theologies are different in the peripheries of belief.
In the process, and finally, we become willing and hospitable bearers of the Good News to any and all with whom the Lord confronts in our role as the local mission frontier station.
Ready for the adventure yet?

Remember This.1. If We Don’t Do it…

1. If we don’t do it…     Isaiah 58.4-10; Ephesians 2.1-10; Matthew 25.14-30                               (Encouragement from the exit door)

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You’re qualified, now put it to work ought to be words spoken at every graduation ceremony. Even if you’re heading for post-grad study, at some point you have to make practical sense of all that knowledge (and, we hope, wisdom) you’ve accumulated. It does happen sometimes that a person graduates in a particular area and then realises that it wasn’t their calling – but it behooves them to find what they are called to and pursue that with all their creativity and energy.

So it is with this astonishing life for which the love of God has qualified us; and for the surprising endowments we call the gifts of the Spirit. As you will have heard me say last week our gifts (and talents) mean nothing until they’re put out there to bless and serve others. What God has qualified us for is a very big hint as to what He intends to happen with the miracle and wonder of your life and our lives. We each have a distinctive calling (as part of the work of a greater whole), but if we don’t do it, if don’t risk, or even try it, no-one else is going to and so it remains undone. The sadness of an unfulfilled dream, an ignored or deferred calling is truly tragic. If we don’t do it…who will, who can?
Isaiah’s manifesto for those who would draw pride from their fasting is a demanding agenda of social, missional interaction with those around them, especially those in need. We often give so much focus to what we do in church, or during a service – you might call it our religious performance – that we lose sight of the reason God has gathered us together into one place. He even told us not to turn away from that practice. The purpose of our Sunday worship is to give praise to God in all His persons, and in doing so to remind ourselves of who He is and who we are, but it is also about refreshing us and restoring us for the following week of the ministry and mission to which each of us has a calling. Even if we are highly qualified to lead what happens on Sunday morning that isn’t the end of the story – it has an ongoing purpose well beyond the walls of the church, our call is still outwards. Our task sounds like the manifesto of a particularly feisty political party, and yet this is a God-given task we can’t shrug. [Matthew’s record of the parable of the sheep and the goats is a terrifying reinforcement of that in Jesus’ own words – so we ignore them at our peril.] The message is simple, “it’s you, the chosen people, that I’ve called to set the world free of oppression”. Hence the Civil Rights campaign in the US was spear-headed by prominent and courageous Christian leaders.
God has fashioned you in the work of His saving grace to make you more than a shining example of His tremendous love. According to Paul, writing to the Ephesians, we are the previously unqualified beneficiaries of God’s life transforming grace, releasing us from the burden of our own disabling sin and rebellion. But we are saved to an astonishing purpose (good works) that has been envisioned and set in place from the very beginning. This goes back beyond our existence to the very founding of God’s wonderful plan for us and all humankind. So you are put together in a way that has a particular work of God in view – that’s what constitutes your calling. For this, as we saw perviously, God has generously enabled you with gifts carried by His Spirit straight from the throne room of heaven.
No talent or gift is so small that you can safely bury it, thinking that no-one will miss it, or miss you. So long as you behave yourself – that’s enough right? What could God possibly ask for than for you to be good? Trouble is, as every parent knows, goodness is entirely based in and measured by obedience. Being good is a thing we do – and yet how many times have you been lead to believe that being good was about NOT doing things, rather doing specific things? So for Jesus, the piety of the least gifted one (one talent servant) was irrelevant to the purpose of his favour and giftedness. There was an expectation of some gain, some exercise of faith, some effort, from even a small gift like his. It is too easy to underestimate the significance of our talent or gift if we relate it to the talent of others, and yet in God’s economy, faithfulness in small ways is a matter of huge significance; both for the gifted one and for those they helped, and for the Kingdom of God. So if you don’t put your talent to work, you are the poorer, as is those for whom you were sent, as is the Kingdom, no matter your gift’s apparent significance or lack of it,
It doesn’t matter how well you do it, so long as you do it for His sake and in an attitude of loving service, what matters is that you do – do it that is! Give yourself a break, and give what you can’t keep. Be a blessing. Look for ways to serve, to help, to lead, to change the world in even small ways. If you don’t know what to do ask…tell someone in leadership that you’d like to get involved and with what gift or talent you believe you have from God.
You will change, our church will change, and ultimately the world will change.

That’s it. I quit!

P1020943

I’m doing it! I’m retiring from full-time, active, ministry in a local church setting. We’re moving to Kumara Country – to Dargaville on the banks of the upside-down river. So of course, I’m thinking about how you preach yourself out of a place to leave behind encouragement, a positive vibe for the future, but also a reminder of what I’ve been asserting for 12 years as the core of what it’s all about – this being a church, a community of saints and sinners, a mission in the hardest mission-field on the planet.

So I’ve crafted a series under the heading: Remember This. 1. If we don’t do it… 2. Everyone matters. 3.It’s all ours already. 4. God is always present. 5. Love each other

What follows as subsequent posts will be each of that series…hoping to encourage and stir up some great ideas for a splendid future for Forrest Hill.

DYING AND RISING . 2 . Alive!

Romans 6.1-14

Future Dread There’s a lot to concern us about the future; global, local, personal, and even trivial issues. Global climate change and terrorism, Euro financial crises; catapulting house prices and the impending vacancy at Forrest Hill; my own health and finances, whether I should keep favouring this cafe with my service, and what should I wear to my friend’s wedding. These aspects of our future are often subject to influences and movements over which we have no control, or tentative control at best. There is a special place in many of our hearts for the futures of our young ones and we wonder what will become of them. Unfortunately it’s not always something we view with confidence or assuredness, because of all the uncertainties and variables that bear down on our futures. And yet as believers in the crucified and risen Lord we have a future, in the short, medium and long term that is in fact quite assured, not just because of Who we believe to hold our future, but because of the environment in which we now live.
Coming Alive [We look at Romans 6] Our past is already dealt with – we have been crucified with Christ, and as such our sin-characterised pasts have died with Him – they no longer have any significance for our present. We are not subject to the agency of the Law, but rather we are now subject to God’s grace. Having died to sin, we no longer live in that reality, rather we “walk in newness of life” by the decision of God, to which we responded with our own decision, which is inevitable because God declares that we are no longer enemies but His friends from now on.
This is our present and the future that lies before us – a future characterised by an important work of God – our sanctification (the work of making us holy i.e. God-like). This is the state of those who have been buried in Christ and raised in Christ in baptism. We are alive in a whole new way, it’s our own resurrection reality, caught up in the resurrection of Jesus’ own defeat of the grace forever. This is not a continuation of the old life, but a complete change to a new life, a transformation – this is after all what being born-again is about. The death of the womb-like grave must be surpassed by living and breathing in the pure, life giving air of the eternal, everlasting life.
I used to think this imposed a moral imperative upon us to live differently, but it’s more than that, in fact this the life we do live, and we do, henceforth, walk towards this new lasting future. That’s what doing Life means. Living in sin is not living, and you and I can’t go back there, even if we wanted to. In front of us from here on is life in Christ that corresponds to His resurrection. From now on the past is precisely that, the past – no matter what creative fiction says, you can’t go back – it won’t be fun.
We live now for God, for His Kingdom, for His mission. We praise God because of what happened to and through Jesus happened for me, for you, for us. So all the honey-traps of our pre-baptism, pre-conversion life are no longer us, no longer for us…they are irrelevant. So as Paul says we no longer make our members available as instruments for sin. They are instead instruments for God’s righteous purposes – precisely because we are under grace into eternity. (Praise God for the riches of His Word.)
Truly Living What then does this mean for us, here and now, in our not quite so everyday world? It doesn’t mean a maddening, dangerous cycle of denial. We must own to what is happening to us and around us, and admit the temptations to fall back into old life patterns and into the clutch of addictions to which we have died. How else can we know those aspects, in the midst of which we need to lean into God, and His ever-present resurrection life? But it does mean not accepting that this or that trouble is my life now. This is no longer me. God has moved me on to Life, having put to death that sin-dominated past and raised me to life with eternal quality and without end.
This is why we read the Psalms and plunge into the wonders of scripture every day; to remind ourselves who God is and what it is He has done and is doing for us; to make available a door for the Holy Spirit to take over for another day and bring to fruition those wonderful characteristics headlined with love, joy and peace. But we also remind ourselves where it is we now live so that we will gladly expend our lives in His service – not just waiting for opportunities to live for Him but actually looking for ways we can bring His realm into the lives of those whose path we cross every day. See how it’s not just an “everyday” world?
The wisdom, the power, the love of God demonstrated perfectly in Jesus are all aspects of this Life into which He we have been baptised and made new. We are daily being renewed into this new world, this land of eternal opportunity. Live in it – now.

DYING AND RISING . 1 . Crucified

Galatians 2.15-21; Luke 9:21-27; Romans 6:6-7; Galatians 5.24; Galatians 6.14

A kind of hopeful burying has been going on around the manse and around a certain house in First Avenue in Dargaville. We’ve been getting our hands and knees dirt-encrusted and a bit creaky in the process of lovingly burying bulbs in the soil. We’re looking forward to the cheery, colourful, surprise of spring flowers.

However if we don’t bury the bulbs, recognising a kind of death, we can’t expect the glorious emergence of daffodils, freesias, and crocuses when spring comes around.
It’s a kind of miracle – because when I pull the bulbs at the end of summer they die – and stay that way in the box in the laundry. No growth, no life, nothing – just a collection of dry, flaky little bulbs waiting out their destiny. And as the season of dying plants comes, Autumn, the bulbs are taken to their burial in the soil – in the borders of gardens, under trees, even in corners of the lawn – arranged to surprise and delight come Spring, the season of new life.
So is a daffodil a bulb lying dead in the box in the laundry? Or is it the triumphant, glorious,
transcendent golden bloom promising the halcyon days of summer?
Finding our identity in a death and more than that. It raises the question of who I am –
really. In Galatians Paul is persuading his hearers who they truly they are, and how they got there. He’s talking about justification (being validated in being put right with God). He is somewhat forcefully reminding them that justification is not something they achieved by status or by bowing to the demand of the Law, that they are not anymore defined by either shame or achievement or religious background. It has nothing to do with any kind of conformity, being made right with God can only take place through grace-enacted faith – faith in Jesus the Messiah. But what is it in Jesus that makes us right with God, that so markedly transforms our identity, what is it about Jesus that saves us? It’s His death, His crucifixion – on our behalf, in our place, paying the price we could never afford, freeing us from the accusatory power of the Law. So instead of trying to prove ourselves as worthy through legalistically conforming behaviour – instead of that we put our faith in the dying and rising Christ.
But what does this mean, what does this faith look like? How do we stay free of the nagging need to achieve and earn our place with God, and the dreadful urge to impress God and others with our “holiness”? Die! – again and again! to the domination and demands of performance based perfectionism. We are set free from sin (Rom 6.7) and from the passions and desires of the flesh or body. (Gal. 5.24) Realise that this is no longer us. In faith, we have died with Christ. If you die to something it has no life for you, no point, no influence, no rights – you’re beyond its reach. (What we are alive to, we’ll discuss in greater detail next week.) And even dying to the Law and sin is not something we do, it’s in Jesus’ crucifixion that we find our own death; that which brings emancipation from the rule of the Law of sin and of death. So having thus died, we now truly live, but its not our life anymore since its Christ who lives in each of us.(v.20) So now living is about Christ’s presence and power driving (and accompanying) us forward in His purposes, enabling, moderating, shaping our lives in transformation rather insisting upon conformity.
So how do we go on living with these demanding bodies and insistent psyches? By faith in the Son of God – that’s Paul’s answer. We live out of our new identity, out of a relationship of obedient and adventurous trust in the One who loved us enough to give up His own life that our lives might mean something worthwhile; His love gives our lives a transcendent value and dimension that neither sin nor even death can destroy.
Live out your new identity by taking up your cross daily, in acts of denying self is what Jesus calls us to do (Luke 9.23) – deliberately, intentionally, following Jesus of Nazareth. Yes -both crucified and risen. What Jesus invites us to is the crucified self, where my choices, and my fluctuating passions and desires no longer determine the way for me – but rather I follow where Jesus leads, what Jesus teaches and encourages and commands. If Jesus is the new environment, the transforming motivation for our lives, there are things, relationships, attitudes that we die to in order to live with and for Him. What are these for you? What does it mean for you to die to self, to take up your cross and follow the Lord? The disciples had to leave behind a whole series of defining roles, acquisitions and relationships to follow Jesus. What does your new identity look like? What are you having to leave behind, to deny? However what do you stand again in this new crucified and resurrected self?
Practising a living relationship with the Lord, the Lover of your soul, which involves prayer of all kinds, and careful reading of the Bible. During that you should always be open to the above questions and issues – we are being constantly put to death and raised to God’s realm and reality, dying to self and rising afresh to life in Christ, in the power of his Spirit.
How does that look for you? Give yourself time to think about it, meditate on it, discuss it with the Spirit of truth.