Wednesday, June 20, 2018

People of the Burning Bush ( Exodus 3:-12, 2 Timothy 1:3-12) ( a sermon recorded)

There are not many times when my sermons are recorded. But When I preached at Glendowie Presbyterian Church earlier in this month they did record the sermon and put it on the internet. In our tradition when a church is vacant a minister in a neighbouring parish becomes the interim moderator and looks after the church. That sunday we had six people becoming members of the Church so I chose to preach about the logo of the Presbyterian church. This may seem a bit egotistical but I know some of you regularly read my sermons but have never heard me preach  so  here is the link if you want to listen... the text and the images that go with this sermon are also on my blog.... here's the link

Monday, June 18, 2018

Contending for the truth: Dealing with disagreement in a Christ honouring way ( 2 Timothy 2:14-3:9)

Dealing with conflict and disagreement are some of the hardest things that we do in life. I hate conflict and my default Conflict management style is avoidance. A bit like this Banksy painting,   If I can sweep it under the mat I will. The only problem with that course of action is that eventually you will trip up over the large lump in the middle of the room. And important things can’t be dealt with in that way.

The Internet was supposed to be a place where information was shared and people could cooperate to solve conflict and difference. At the same time it has become infected with mystical beasts who used to wait under bridges in children’s fairy tales or threateningly lumber along in fantasy epics, but now lurk in virtual anonymity behind keyboards, to pounce and attack anyone they don’t agree with or like. These trolls don’t want to enter meaningful debate and search for truth rather they just type out vitriol and venom. 

Even in the church we find it hard to deal with conflict… It is hard to deal with people who have differing views, on small matters like the colour of church carpet and worship styles and peoples likes and dislikes, let alone when it comes to matters of greater importance like doctrine and teaching, matters that really matter.

In one book on pastoral leadership I read there was a chapter that was labelled ‘learning to fight like Christians’ it maintained that there were rules of engagement for wars, that boxing has rules, and if it had been more recent it probably would have even pointed out that MMA (mixed Marshal Arts) which had been described as ‘organised prison violence’ has rules and so Christian’s also needed to know the rules when it came to fighting, or dealing with disagreement and conflict.

In the passage we are looking at today Paul turns to help Timothy in the task that he has been given of dealing with false teachers in the church at Ephesus. And that is helpful for us as it gives us some insights and practical advice for dealing with similar issues today and the wider issue of dealing with conflict and difference in the Church.  In the section from the start of chapter three, Paul tells Timothy that the end times, that long section of history between Christ’s incarnation and his return, would be marked by such difficulties. You can see the truth of that prophecy in church history. For us today as we participate in God’s mission and grow into maturity and ministry we will face conflict and falsehood as well, so Paul’s teaching is as relevant to us as it was to Timothy.

Last year I was involved in a commission to another Church in Auckland. It was a church where the minister was in deep conflict with his elders. We were called by the Presbytery to sort it out. It was one of the most draining situations, physically, emotionally and spiritually, I’ve ever dealt with, as we listened to both sides and had to discern a way forwards. Timothy had found the same thing with dealing with the difficult pastoral situation in Ephesus, he was burned out. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks in the opening section of 2 Timothy Paul encourages Timothy to fan into flames the gift of God within you. He encourages Timothy to work on his Spiritual vitality. To remember the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life and whatChrist has done for him, and to put into place spiritual disciplines that will help him to continue in the ministry and mission God had called him to: To kiakaha or stand strong in Jesus Christ. Conflict and strife and struggle and opposition and wrestling with falsehood can sap us spiritually and Paul’s best advise is the importance of keeping that relationship with Christ healthy.

Now Paul turns to Timothy to give him the material he needs to work against the false teachers.  He talks of content, strategy, motive and in the midst of that he gives Timothy hope.

He gives Timothy the content he is to use in the conflict against the false teachers…

Paul tells timothy to “Keep reminding God’s people of these things.” These things, refers back to what has gone before, and it may mean the teaching in the section of the letter before this which was as you may remember from last week contained in a song, and talked of the fact that if we die with Christ we will live with Christ and if we endure we will also reign with him, and that God is faithful. That dying to self and enduring may have needed to be reinforced to people because of the false teaching that we are told of in verse 18 who say that the resurrection has already happened, that it was a spiritual resurrection and we’ve all ready made it. But Paul is saying that instead of it being about having already made it, and enjoying heaven now, that the Christian life is about identifying   with Christ’s death and sacrificial love, and enduring till he returns.

But it also applies to the rest of what Paul has been telling Timothy, which could be summed up as Solid teaching that leads to holy living, and faith that has its outworking in love. The gospel in its entirety, in saying the resurrection has already come in some way part of the problem at Corinth as well as Ephesus, and in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul takes some time to reaffirm the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, if the resurrection was simply a spiritual one, then there people can deny the physical resurrection of Jesus and Paul also points them forward to our own resurrection when Christ returns, it is bodily resurrection. Saying the resurrection has already happened and is a spiritual thing had impacted on how people lived primarily that what we do with our bodies does not matter. This had lead to two extremes in Corinth and there is evidence of it in Ephesus. One was an extreme aestheticism, where you’ll remember people had done away with marriage, there was no longer the need for romantic and sexual love, and also focused on food laws as well, our bodies don’t matter anymore. The other extreme was that we could do what we liked with our bodies and it lead to all sorts of practices that did not reflect the gospel teaching.

When dealing with false teaching and in the midst of differing understandings and doctrines  it is important to be reminded again and again of the gospel. The central truth of Jesus Christ, who came and died and rose again.  In the face of false teaching it is as we tell the truth of the good news that the fake news is exposed and loses its attraction and glow in the true light of Jesus Christ. When we differ on matters that are not of so great importance it draws us back to what is really important and central and enables us to see common ground and common good and the basis for love for each other in which we can work through those minor differences.

Paul gives Timothy the strategy for dealing with conflict…

Paul tells Timothy not to get involved in the squabbling about words and godless chatter of the false teachers. Rather says Paul Timothy was to be like a reliable workman who built a straight path, divided correctly the word of truth. The way Timothy handled the truth was as important as the truth itself.  The false teacher wove these wonderful whirls of words, threads of thought that wound round each other and seemed to go no where. Kind of like the comments section on an internet news feed, where people nit pick about what is said or simply see it as a chance to respond with what they think, not search for the truth or solve the issue, and of course it is often hijacked by those lurking trolls. But the metaphor Paul uses talks of Timothy making a straight way in the truth, focusing on it but showing its reality by how it is lived out.

Paul says the false teachers seem to seek out the vulnerable and persuade them in secret, but Timothy is to be open and to teach in public. So all can hear and decide what is right. Paul tells timothy to flee youthful ambitions, here you get the idea of things like wanting to be right and win, and rather to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. In the later verses of chapter 2 Paul talks of teaching with kindness, and with gentleness. That we show Christian love in how we deal with error and conflict. We still care for those who we disagree with. Gentleness is not weak or wishy washy but rather says that we focus on the common good and the truth and are not waylaid or distracted from it by personal insult and slight.

In the book on pastoral leadership I mentioned before, the author suggests real practical ways of doing that. Like leaving a gap after someone has spoken to think of what they have said, rather than taking the fct they have stopped as a chance to say what we think. Taking the time to reflect  back to the other person their position, so they know we have heard and understand before we respond. In his book Soulsalsa Leonard Sweet adds such things as not critiquing someone’s position before we find something to celebrate about them.

That leads on to Paul telling Timothy the Motive for dealing with the false teachers.

 That is to see people come to know the truth in Jesus Christ. To repent and change. It’s not about writing people off or destroying their position and them rather its about them responding again to the love of Christ in the gospel. That God will grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth. The content is the gospel, the way we approach conflict reflects Christ so they will again meet with Jesus Christ.

I use the Bible in One Year programme for my devotions and the day I sat down to write this message the New Testament reading was the second half of Acts 8 and the whole of Acts 9.. It starts with the death of Stephen the churches first martyr, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who we know as Paul. Saul looked after the coats of the people who stoned Stephen to death, he agreed with the killing and he went on to persecute the church. On his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there he encounters Jesus Christ. In Damascus he is blind, and God sends Ananias to go and pray for him to receive his sight, Ananias is scared as he has heard of Saul’s hatred of followers of Jesus, But he goes and ministers kindness to Paul and he receives his sight and starts preaching that Jesus is the messiah. Paul knows that God can change people’s hearts, he knows that the person who is wrong about Jesus can met Christ and have their lives transformed. H knows God’s desire for all to come to know Jesus Christ. That has always got to be the motive that we bring to a conflict and wrestling with false hood that the other person may encounter Christ, and if we are in the wrong that we would encounter Christ and know the truth. It is the right attitude to come with, when we have differences Jesus show me your truth, it is the right attitude we should have for those we disagree with, may they encounter Christ and know the truth. 

In the middle of all that Paul gives Timothy hope. In typical Jewish thought Paul’s teaching is in two halves. Verse 14-18 and 22-26 the focus is on how Timothy  is to deal with the false teachers, but in the two paragraphs is the important thing that give him hope in the midst of the task.

Paul uses the image of God’s household, full of different vessels used for different purposes. The house is built on a solid foundation. Building in the ancient world had a corner stone that the whole place was built of, and often on that stone would be an inscription that denoted whose building it was. We know from 1 peter and also from 1 Corinthians that that solid foundation that corner stone is Jesus Christ, or Christ and Christ crucified. The inscriptions on this stone are that “the Lord knows who are his.” And “that those who confess the name of the Lord will turn from wickedness”. That the vessels in the house depending on what they are made of will be used to everyday mundane things, and other of precious metals will be used in public for special events, important things.

The hope is that in God’s household founded on Christ and Christ crucified, God knows who are his… he is not fooled, and those who truly confess Jesus will turn and live a life that reflects him, they will always follow the truth. There will always be a mix of people in the household of God, just like Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds. It is only when the harvest comes that they will be separated. The hope in the midst of Conflict and wrestling with what is right and wrong belief is that in the end it is God who knows those who are his. It’s not up to us to judge, yes we need to be good workers and build by staying faithful to the gospel and do the things that please God to the best of our ability. But in the end during conflict and as we work through different teachings and understandings the hope is that God knows his own, and if we face conflict holding on to the gospel and treat others with a Christ like love desiring that we all come to Christ, not simply that we win, God knows who are his, and is able to build his Church on his truth.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Prayer of thanksgiving and confession based on Psalm 74

As I sat down to write a prayer for Sunday Morning worship the psalm in my devotions was Psalm 74. Written in the shadow of the destruction of Jerusalem, written in the very real dread that God had abandoned his people. Not the easiest Psalm to write a prayer for public worship from... But you know there are times and situations when it feels just like that. Maybe its like the storm weather has caught us unawares like the Shag in the image with this post was by a wintery wave as it sat resting on the rocks. Maybe it is just the ongoing drain of facing life's challenges and ups and downs, but in such times we are called to have faith in God to trust in who God is and what Christ has done for us... 

I do try and write my prayers in a sort of poetic way, at least its cut up into stropes or verses that have the same number of lines... It's a liturgical prayer for a public worship so it does have fixed elements like confession and asking for God to fill us afresh with his Holy Spirit and I'd love to do that more creatively but in reality I don't want to play round with those elements I want people to know those realities.  i'm not a poet by nature or skill, however as always I hope this prayer is helpful to you. feel free to use any or all of it if you find it useful... or none of it if you don't.  

Lord God

Sometimes it feels like you’ve given up on us,

That you’ve consigned us to the too hard basket

Walked away and left us in our difficulties

We feel alone and rejected, that you are angry with us

Vulnerable to those who would stomp all over our faith

And leave our hope vandalised and shattered

Righteous God

There are times when we don’t find you anywhere

In quite contemplation you are strangely absent

Creation is silent and fails to speak of your grandeur

We go to your house to worship and you are not even there

We don’t feel your loving touch in the care of others

Your warmth in the help of sisters and brothers

Holy God

It can seem that you have deserted us and walked away

Your presence like a long missed precious memory

We feel it, we feel it like a deep sharp pain

but deep within we know it is far from the truth

Our faith is not in the ebb and flow of experience and feeling

It is based in trusting in what you’ve shown us of yourself

All Powerful God

While situations seem so much out of our control 

And we feel adrift in the churn and blur of history

You have shown that you are sovereign, you reign from go to whoa

Beyond our ability to fathom it, you created all that there is

By your hand the earth is our life sustaining home 

We say you are our king and you are our saviour

Saving God

You have shown us that you are there and that you care

You see what afflicts us, you hear our cry

You are not unconcerned but bend down and draw near

You sent your son, Jesus into this world

In Jesus life death and resurrection you have reconciled us to you

And you abide with us, always by your holy spirit

Loving God

We may not feel it but we know it

Situations may seem dire and grim but they are not the end

We cry out to you in the hope you will lift us out

But in fact you come and walk with us and work alongside

We are constrained by time and place and here and now

But from the view point of eternity we will see your answer

Faithful God

In faith and trust we reach out again to you

We confess our sins, that we have done wrong

We acknowledge our guilt, that we have left good undone

We reach out because you are faithful and just

As we confess our sins you forgive us and make us clean again

We reach out knowing we are reconciled with you in Christ

Good God

We know you keep your promise

So we ask you to fill us with your spirit again

We know it is your desire that all may come to know you

So we pray you would aid us to witness to our hope in Christ

To proclaim in word and deed your great love and saving grace

Through us, bring glory to your name, Father Son and Holy Spirit 

Monday, June 11, 2018

the flax seedhead and three metaphors to help us stand strong in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

I’ve taken to going for a walk along the newly formed Onehunga beach in the Taumanu reserve on my days off, with my camera. I’m amazed at the wonderful wildlife along the shore of the Manukau at this time of the year. Herons, pied stilts, kingfisher, shags, gulls, oyster catchers, wax eyes up in the bush on the cliff and sparrows patrolling the carparks for crumbs… and of course the majestic royal spoonbills (kotuku Ngutupapa) which just seem to glow in the late afternoon sun.

Well, when I went for my walk this week,  it was a stormy day and the bitterly cold wind was blowing in from the south west, right up the harbour from the Manukau heads.  The rain managed to stay away till I got to the furthest point of my walk then it typically decided to pour down. On this grey day the only bird of note was a shag so busy doing a classical shag pose at the end of the stone breakwater that it missed an incoming wave.

My attention was drawn to the flax bushes  they have planted All along the walkway. Because there is something evocative about the flax seed heads sticking up against the stormy sky. In the wind they perform this wild bobbing and weaving dance, they bend and seem bowed down, only to spring back up again in a lull, you can usually tell the predominant wind direction by the way they lean, but they don’t break. They stand tall and do what they were designed to do, attract birds to their flowers so they will be pollenated and then send their seeds out to reproduce more flax bushes. They manage to do it amidst adverse conditions and the storms of life.

That picture of the seed heads kept coming to mind as I was reflecting on the passage we had read out to us today from 2 Timothy. Paul is writing to Timothy to encourage him to keep persevering in the mission he has been given. Both in Ephesus but also as Paul faces possible death to take over Paul’s ministry as well. Like the seed head Timothy is to stand strong, kia kaha in Jesus Christ and be about reproducing the ministry of Paul and Timothy in other people, he is to pass on the gospel he has received from Paul to people, who are reliable and able to teach others.

It’s not an easy task, Paul, in chains like a criminal in Rome, calls Timothy to join him in his suffering for the sake of the gospel and the elect, the people who will respond to the gospel and be saved.. Like the seed head to withstand the wintery blast of rejection, opposition and persecution for the sake of seeing Christ’s work and God’s kingdom being spread and growing. The same challenge for maturity and ministry that we are presented with in our world today. To reproduce our faith in others, those around us and the next generation. Paul’s message to Kia kaha stand strong in Jesus Christ speaks to Timothy and to us today.

Paul had written to Timothy concerned that his enthusiasm for the gospel task was waning, It wasn’t that he was loosing his faith in Christ. The faith that he had received from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice was unshakable, but in the ongoing task of battling the false teaching in Ephesus, and with Paul’s own imprisonment, he was what we called burned out, emotionally and physically exhausted. He was bent down in the wind. Paul had called him to fan into flame again the gift of God that was within him. He reminds Timothy of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in his and  what Jesus Christ had done for us, in saving us, calling us to a Holy Life and destroying death itself. What was to be fanned into flame again was that awareness of God’s great love shown in Jesus Christ and the sending of his Holy Spirit. Even in this passage when Paul tells Timothy to stand tall it is in the strength of Jesus Christ. Christ’s call on us as his people to be witnesses and to go to all the nations baptising them and teaching all that Christ has commanded us is doable because Jesus said “lo I am with you till the end of the age.”

But in this passage the second part of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, Paul tells Timothy about what he needs to do to fan that flame to life again. He does it not simply by giving Timothy a to do list, or a set of instructions where if we put Tab A into Slot B we will find ourselves revitalised and full of energy again, it doesn’t work that way. And if you’ve ever wrestled like I have with warehouse flat pack furniture or so I’m told the even more perplexing Ikea kit sets you’ll know it isn’t that easy. Rather Paul gives Timothy three metaphors to reflect on and allow God to give him wisdom from. Like the seedhead on my weekly walk the three illustrations are from real life. The Soldier, the Athlete and the hardworking farmer.

Firstly, the soldier. Paul tells Timothy to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  It is not a war like illustration here, it fits well with what Paul had told Timothy in his first letter that he was to Guard the deposit of faith he had been given. Ephesus was an important city and had changed hands in different conflicts during its history and its gates and walls would have been guarded. In the Old Testament, the picture of people waiting on the Lord and trusting him  is often portrayed with the image of the Watchman on the city walls waiting for the dawn.

It is not a metaphor about fighting, rather Paul brings the application of duty. A soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs rather his focus is to please his commanding officer. The word entangled may come from the cloak that a soldier would wear to keep him warm, but that he would remove when he went into battle or on duty, as it would be easy for his sword to get entangled in it when he had to draw it. But here Paul is warning Timothy about getting caught up in civilian affairs. A soldier needs to be single minded and focused in his call to duty. I watched the movie ’13 hours: the secret soldiers of Benghazi’ about a group of military contractors who were defending a covert CIA base in Bengazi, when the consulate there was attacked, and the ambassador killed in 2012. As the battle they fought to defend their base winds down one of the soldiers says that his time as a contractor is up,  his wife had rung him that day and let them know they were expecting another baby, and he had decided that not matter the fact that it would cause him financial hardship he was going back to be with his wife and children for good. In a good way his heart was no longer in his work. But here Paul is saying that it is not good for a serving soldier to have such divided loyalties.

Now on one level some commentators have suggested that Timothy was following Paul’s example of working to support himself in ministry and was finding the other work taking over, Do you find that insidious encroachment of work on other important things in your life?  or it may be a reflection by Paul of Timothy finding himself distracted by other things. Its not that the issues of this world family and making ends meet and the enjoyment of life are wrong or bad, Paul is warning Timothy of the danger of becoming entangled with them. The focus should be on pleasing his commanding officer. In this case it should be in Pleasing Jesus Christ.

We can find ourselves caught up with the things of this world and allow them to take the place of obeying Jesus as our main focus in life. Fanning into flame the gift of God within us again calls us to the ongoing process of evaluating where our priorities lie, what entangles us and holds us back from that devotion to Christ as our captain.

The athlete. I wonder if one of the things that Paul and Timothy liked doing was going to the games, as Paul often use the image of an athlete with Timothy. In the first century like our own century sports were popular and important, and so Paul uses this illustration of an athlete, who only wins the crown by keeping the rules. In our time the ide of competing according to the rules brings up thoughts of drug cheating or match fixing and people being disqualified and having their medals stripped from them when it is found out they have broken the rules. Even this week we heard that Hussain bolt had been stripped of the Beijing 4 x100m gold medal because a team mate had tested positive to drugs.  Drugs were not the problem in Paul’s time. The rules for competing in the ancient games meant that you had to commit yourself to rigorous training for a ten-month period before the games. Training that affected all you did, that took up all your time and meant you had a certain diet and did certain things. You were not going to win the crown the champions wreath if you didn’t train and you would also bring down the quality of the games.

Again this is a metaphor and Paul does not prescribe a training regime for Timothy rather allows him to reflect on the need for good spiritual practises and routines and disciplines to be fit for the race and to run it in a way that we will win. At Glendowie last week we welcomed six new members to the church, one of the promises that church members make is “to make a diligent use of the means of grace. By praying daily, reading your bible, worshipping regularly and being a faithful member of the Body of Christ?” the number one enemy of spiritual vitality is tiredness, and what it can do is to stop us from keeping those good spiritual disciplines and practises  that keep us connected to God’s grace, this leads to spiritual fatigue but Paul reminds Timothy the way out of that and to stand strong is through keeping those disciplines. If we were to mix metaphors here with that of the soldier the motto of the SAS and other special forces units is train hard and fight easy.

The third Metaphor is the hard working farmer. It is the picture of a farmer working to plant, nurture weed and feed water and care for his crops and see them grow and ripen and then go and harvest them before they go to seed or rot. Paul says that the farmer should be the first to receive a share from his crops. Again some scholars have said this refers to Timothy being able to receive payment for his ministry. But the emphasis is on the hard-working farmer, it ties in with Paul had been saying about passing on the gospel to people who are reliable and will pass it on to others.

 It is the diligent work of planting seeds, helping them grow. Over the past few months as we’ve been leading into thy kingdom come and committing ourselves to praying for five family members and friends to come to know Christ I’ve shared with you a little of that journey in my own life, its hard work. In other seasons it is seeing those seeds grow. It involves weeding, which is what Timothy was doing by countering the false teachers. I had a summer job in one of the industrial scale plant nurseries out in west Auckland and I was a member of a full time weeding gang. It was back breaking work, bent over working your way down rows of saplings dragging a bag full of weeds behind you in the heat of the day. But it had to be done, for those trees to get to the stage they could be sold and would produce a harvest. It is hard back breaking work and you don't often see the results, in fact what usually happened is you'd get round the whole place and have to start all over again.   Then there is the harvest seeing peoples live change and be transformed by Christ and watching them grow in Christ. Which is a great reward, one of the things that keeps me going in ministry is seeing people I’ve invested time and energy in take on Christian leadership. Paul tells timothy Yes the work is hard but the reward is well worth it when we see the harvest. In the book of Corinthians Paul uses the same metaphor to talk of what he and Apollos had done at Corinth one had planted one had watered they’d been faithful in the hard work God had called them to do, and God made the crop to grow.

These metaphors are quite open ended and as Paul says to Timothy it is God who grants us insight as we explore and reflect on them. I invite you to do that. 

Paul finishes his exhortation to Timothy by giving his own life as an example of what he has talked about. His faithfulness to the gospel and his suffering so that others may know the love and transforming presence of Christ. Then in a very kiwi way he finishes the whole thing off with a song, a waiata. Scholars have seen his faithful saying here as a Hymn. One that concentrates on the faithfulness of God to us. Facing the storms and trials of life the call to be faithful, and remember God calls us to be faithful weather it is successful is in God’s hands. But if die with him we will live in him, if we endure we will reign with him, unlike the race all those who finish will be rewarded with the crown of life. There is the solemn warning that if we disown him he will disown us, even if we wrestle with being faithful, Gods very character is that he is faithful.

Like the flax seed head we may find ourselves bobbing and weaving in the wind, we may find ourselves bent down and our faith falling flat, but God’s very nature is to be faithful. The metaphor of the soldier and the athlete and the hard working farmer shed light on what that means for us, but in the end we stand strong and kia kaha and are able to be faithful for the gospel because of the presence of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Prayer of Thanksgiving and confession based on Psalm 71:1-8

I was writing a prayer of thanksgiving and confession for public worship  on Sunday and as part of my spiritual discipline I used as inspiration the portion of the Psalms from my daily devotions... Psalm 71:1-8. 

The image that goes with this post is of a gannet flying above the stormy sea at Muriwai on New Zealand's wild west coast. There are two places in the world where Gannets nest on the mainland, both of them in New Zealand, one at Cape Kidnappers in the Hawkes Bay and the other thankfully at Muriwai just a short trip from Auckland City. The Gannets come and nest on the rocky cliffs above the raging waves of the Tasman Sea. They like the psalmist have found a rock and a refuge on which to live. A sure place from birth right through life as they come back to roost and raise another generation of young.  

AS usual, I've been a bit flowery with my language... it is a fault... feel free to use this prayer, or any part of it, if you find it helpful... or none if you don't.   

Mighty God,

Amidst the raging storms of life

Where wind swept waves crash one after another

And rain fuelled torrents threaten to sweep away

we have found a safe place and a solid foundation

A refuge, a solid rock and a strong fortress

In you we have hope in you we have confidence

Loving God,

When our voices could not be heard above the winds howl

And our words seemed lost in the depth of dark night

It was you who heard that cry for help

It was you by your righteousness who reached down and drew near

It was you who sent your son into this world, to seek and save

To die for all we had done wrong, to forgive and restore

It was you who spoke that truth and new life into us

Faithful God,

It is you who formed us in our mother womb

It is you who we can depend on from life’s first cry to final breath

Who is our guide and friend in childhood years

Who gives us assurance in the uncertainty of youth

Who walks with us through the demands of adult life

And strengthens us in aging years


Our God,

Our life stories are a sign of your great love

They point people to your saving grace in Jesus Christ

They tell of a shelter and home  amidst the wild winds

They proclaim your abiding presence in life’s ebbs and flows

The strength to stand that comes from your spirit’s presence

Our mouths are full of your praise and we speak of your splendour

God who is with us now,

Help us in our times of trouble and strife

Forgive us for the wrong we have done and the good we have left undone

Be again our solid ground today, enable us to stand  

Fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit presence

That we may indeed be a signpost to you in word and deed

 Living out your grace and justice to your glory, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

People of the Burning Bush ( Exodus 3:1-12, 2 Timothy 1:6-12)

 I was Preaching at Glendowie Presbyterian Church this morning, I am the 'interim Moderator there which in our tradition means I'm looking after the Parish while they have a vacancy. Or as I explained it I'm the spare wheel which you take out of the boot and put on till you can get to a garage and get a new tyre that will take you on the rest of your journey. I was preaching because there were a group of six people who were becoming members of Glendowie Church.
 I thought that on a day when we were welcoming people into membership of the Church that it might be good to reflect on our Churches logo… the Burning Bush… and what it has to say about us as a church. In fact last weekend at the members calls, when I mentioned that the Burning bush was the Presbyterian Churches logo some people genuinely seemed surprised. The one behind me is from a Stain glass window at St Peter’s, quite rightly sitting at the foot of the cross. If you come to Glendowie, and I’m assuming that is the case, it’s usually right here in front of you every week in the form of this pulpit fall.  There is the cross of St Andrew the patron saint of Scotland as a background as a link to our Scottish roots, the Presbyterian Church was originally the church of Scotland, and our apostolic roots, the apostle Andrew was crucified on a sideways cross, and tradition tells us, his bones were later taken to Scotland. On your pulpit fall the four stars form the southern cross, identifying the fact that we are here in this place in Aotearoa New Zealand, that this is the place God has called us to serve and be his people. Then in the middle is the burning bush from Moses encounter with God in Exodus three, and the words in Latin ‘Nec Tamen Consumerbator’ it was not consumed… the bush was ablaze with the presence of God but not consumed. That’s our Church logo and hope ablaze with the presence of God but not consumed.

Now you’d think that as a church our logo might be a cross, to represent Christ’s death and resurrection the central event and basis of our faith, or a dove, to represent the Holy Spirit, poured out on all who would believe, and you most commonly see those things in Church logos. Right, St Peter’s has both. But our wider church’s logo is the Burning Bush, and to tell you the truth I really like that as a symbol and what it says to us about God and about who we are as a people and a Church.

So today I am going to talk about being people of the ‘burning bush’. The two passages we are looking at are Exodus 3 which is the narrative of Moses encounter with God at the burning bush and Josh preached on part of this passage last week,  and can I say “it is really great to be with you today”…and Paul’s opening encouragement in his second letter to Timothy. Where Paul is writing to Timothy, in a difficult pastoral situation which has sapped him of his enthusiasm for ministry and Paul calls him to fan into flame the gift of God he has received. If we were using modern language we’d say Timothy was in risk of being burned out and Paul is calling his to reignite the flame and passion for Christ and his mission… a message for us today as the people of the Burning Bush.

Firstly, I love the burning bush because of what it says about our God. At the burning bush we see the character of God that is the well spring out of which Pours God’s saving grace. The God we meet at the burning bush is the God who sent his Son, to die on the cross for us, and raised him to life again and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in all those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ. 

We meet a God who is Holy. Moses sees an unusual sight a bush which is on-fire but is not being consumed, this is not a combustion fire but a living fire, something mysterious and other. An angel of the Lord we are told, but we also hear that God is present.  As Moses draws close to that a voice from the bush which he identifies as the Lord’s says take off your shoes because this is Holy ground. It is holy ground because here Moses is encountering the Holy God.

In the new Bible Dictionary Holiness is called the attribute of attributes when we think of God, God is holy when we think of the attributes of greatness, like being spirit and eternal and all powerful the things that go into setting God apart from creation, making God Holy, other.

Also the attributes that make God good, righteousness and justice and mercy join together as the moral excellence and perfection that the word Holy incapsulates. We see the faithfulness of God, God reveals himself to be the God of Abraham and Jacob, and Isaac, this encounter is a direct result of a God who keeps his promises. In 1 John 1:5 we are told ‘God is light and in him there is no turning of darkness”. This is the God we encounter at the burning bush.

It would be easy to think of such a God as being a distant disinterested deity, a God way above us beyond comprehension and knowing, but at the burning bush we meet God in a different way.

We meet a God who sees, and a God who hears and a God who draws near to save. Moses is told that God has seen the misery of his People in Egypt, he has heard their cries because of their slave drivers, and God is concerned.  God sees, Hagar was Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl who she gave to Abraham so he could have a son, and when she conceives Sarah has her banished and sent off into the desert to die. There is the wilderness she encounters God and her response is to acknowledge “here is the God who sees me”, a nobody a slave you could say has been sexually exploited and unjustly abandoned and yet God sees her. God sees the mistreatment and oppression of his people. He sees it today as well, the battered wife hiding and ashamed, the abused child, the mistreated and exploited immigrant, the deep pains and sorrows which wound and scar us, God sees.

We meet the God who hears.  Who hears the cries of agony at the bite of the whip of oppression and the things that drive us mercilessly, the prayers in the midst of suffering, do not simply resound in the empty void of the dark night, God hears God hears and responds.

We see at the burning bush God draws near, his care is not simply a concern from a far but we have God who comes in response and acts on behalf of his people. In Psalm 113 God is portrayed as a king seated on a throne, high and exalted, but who gets off his throne and in an undignified way stoops and bends down to see and to hear and respond to the pain and suffering in our world.

We are used to the images like the one behind us of members of the royal family amongst the poor, in this case Harry with orphans in Botswana. Using his profile and position for their benefit. We forget how rare they are historically, but it is a great illustration of the God we meet at the burning bush.

At the burning Bush we also met a God who sends someone to bring his salvation in to that situation. In this case he sends a reluctant Moses, again Josh spoke on that last week, and I hear it was a very good sermon. But as we see in 2 timothy, Paul talks of God sending his Jesus Christ to free us from slavery to sin and death to bring us into relationship with him. God’s concern and love results in Jesus Christ, Christ’s death and resurrection saving us and calling us to live a life that reflects the Holy nature of our God. Paul goes on to say that he has been called and sent as a messenger of the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s response to the suffering in the world is to send his people and like with Moses to go with them, with us, with the message ‘to let my people Go”.

I love the burning Bush because if the God whom we meet at the burning Bush who reveals himself to us. But I also love it because of what it says about us.

That Just like the people of Israel in captivity in Egypt, We are objects of God’s love. A profound and wonderful truth, God saw us in our lostness and our darkness, God saw the burden of guilt and shame that weighed us down our brokenness and sorrows.

God heard us, the deep groans of our soul, that longing for hope and forgiveness and for fresh start, that longing to be loved to wholeness again, that lonely cry of separation and responded. We are objects of God’s love, In Christ God drew near, for us Christ came and showed us God’s love and ways, for us Christ died on the cross, so all we had done may be forgiven and we may be drawn into a new relationship with God as our heavenly father, for us God raised Christ to life again, and we can know abundant life lived with Christ, life that goes on into eternity, for us God sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to lead and guide to empower us with his presence to witness to the hope we have in Christ. For us, God drew us together to be a people, his children living out his love for us in the way we love one another. As Paul tells Timothy Jesus Christ has saved us and called us to live a holy life.

But I also love the burning bush because it says that God sends us well and that like Moses, that ordinary, flawed man who felt inadequate for the task he was given, God calls us as well to be agents of his grace and to tell the Good News of his love and grace for us.  You see becoming a member of the Church  is not only finding a place to belong in Christ, but also finding a part to play, in the mission of God. We are God’s sent people. God’s plans and purposes for his people has always been to show to the world what God is like so they to will come and worship. In Psalm 67, God’s blessing of Israel is not only because God loves them, but that the people in the nations may see God’s goodness. AS God’s people Jesus hope for us was that people might see our good deeds our love shown in action, and give praise to our heavenly father. His final words to his disciples to all who would follow on, was to be his witnesses, to go into the world and make disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey all Christ’s commandments. We are God’s sent people to show God’s justice and love in the world.

We are People of the Burning Bush, loved by the God who sees and hears, set free and given liberty to be God’s people in Christ and called and sent. What does that mean in reality? Well  I really like your  vison “to be a vibrant faith community displaying transformed lives”, Your mission statement “ to invite people to faith in Jesus Christ through local mission, to discipline in Christ, and to move members to share and serve to the glory of God“and the move strategy here at Glendowie, because they encapsulate what we’ve been talking about. You want people to come and to know the God who sees and hears and cares through Christ Jesus and to become members of the Church, but that to be part of God’s people and the body of Christ is also to be willing to be involved in going out with the good news of Jesus Christ as well. In personal evangelism and together as a church as you minister to various groups within your community and beyond.  And live it out in Loving and caring for one another so people will see how much God loves them by the way you love each other and them.  

Can I just finish by sharing with you something Justin Wellby, the arch bishop of Canterbury,  shared with the Dioecian of Bath and Wells in the UK as they launched their new mission statement ” evangelism and Mission at the heart of everything”. It may seem strange to finish talking about being people of the Burning bush, Presbyterians, church of Scotland, by quoting the head of the church of England, but hey. Any way  He said that it was a great vision and mission statement but no amount of training and teaching and programme was  going to make it a reality. Rather it would become something that naturally happened as the church was captivated again by Jesus Christ, and his unconditional love, it would just naturally flow out in everything we did and said, if we became captivated by Jesus. If again we fall deeply in love with the God we meet at the burning bush who is holy, and who sees and hears, and cares and draws near and sends, it will give us the spiritual vitality we need to be who God calls us to be  and what he calls us to do. Paul commands Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God within him. The gift of God he says in verse 7 that is within all of us, the presence of the Holy Spirit and he then points Timothy back to the great love of God shown in Jesus Christ his saving us, his calling us, as a source of that vitality. AS people of the Burning Bush, I’d also encourage us to once again fan into flame that love for Christ, to be alight and ablaze once again by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our midst. The Burning Bush is not just a logo, rather it’s the hope for the world as Jesus says in the sermon on the mount “no one lights a lamp and places it under a basket, rather they place it on a lampstand to give light to the whole room.”

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Fan into flame ( 2 Timothy 1:6-18)

Something has changed, between Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his second. It’s not the context Timothy is still is Ephesus where Paul had sent him to counter the false teaching there that was stopping the church fully participating in the mission of Jesus Christ.

Something has changed. Paul’s circumstances have changed, in first Timothy he was travelling and ministering in Macedonia and had left Timothy in Ephesus, now he is in chains and in prison in Rome.  A prisoner for the sake of the Gospel. But Paul’s passion for the gospel his passion for Jesus has not changed. He writes to Timothy again to encourage him to continue in his ministry and mission.

Something has changed. You get the sense that the change has come in Timothy’s life. He hasn’t lost his faith in Jesus, as we read on Mother’s day Paul knows the faith that he has received from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice is strong. But the spark has gone, his enthusiasm for ministry seems to have waned and if we were to use modern terms you could say that he finds himself burned out: The tank is empty. We all face it, it’s that challenging question “have you felt like giving up, recently?”

Maybe it was the constant battle with false teaching and having to explain the gospel of Christ and Christ crucified, not a popular message competing with  the supposed more spiritual teaching of the false teachers. I don’t know about you but sometimes it can sap ones enthusiasm for talking about our faith and about Jesus when other Christians seem to shoot us in the foot when they express their faith in ways that make us cringe and feel ashamed, they put the good news badly or the media picks up on the excesses of fringe elements or the seeming money hungry and our faith is judged by that. Even those who are praised for their good deeds are acknowledged as humanitarians and not people motivated by the love of Christ.

Maybe it was that things were difficult and hard. Paul was in prison, he wasn’t always the most popular of people and now Timothy’s mentor was spoken against and written off. The headway Timothy had made was lost, his relationship with Paul now seen as a liability not an advantage. It is easy to get despondent as we tackle one problem after another. I love Winston Churchill’s definition of success, that success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”,  but you and I know that kind of enthusiasm is not easy to maintain and that success  not easy to achieve.

Maybe it was simply the demand and challenge of an on going consistent ministry. I got given a book as a thank you gift for hosting a seminar here at St Peter’s last Saturday, a book on preaching (text messages: preaching God's word in a smartphone world edited by John Tucker) and I opened it up to an article (by 'depleted no more by Philip Halstead) talking about burn out in preachers. I read  a sentence that talked of frantic schedules, unrealistic expectations and incessant demands causing stress and resulting in anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger depression, fear and alienation.” And a quote from, Andrew Pichard, who I know and respect as a preacher, who said “Preaching was often bad for my health. At the worst of times it became a robber. I allowed it to rob me of health, sleep, and sanity, and I allowed it to rob my family of a husband and a dad”. I know many of you who do things in the church feel that way, it can be a tough grind and a seemingly thankless task. I know it is easy to feel that way and Christian witness and showing Christian love can become one more thing on a never ending to do list in a busy and hectic life.

Something had changed, the zeal and passion of Timothy as a young man was now tempered and flagging. So Paul writes to encourage him to help him fan into flame the gift of God. To recapture the fire. Paul’s encouragement of Timothy is equally helpful for us as we face similar challenges on our road to maturity and ministry following Jesus Christ. For Paul the answer is found in our understanding of God and in the passage we are looking at today Paul encourages Timothy with three things that have not changed and will never change.

The first is to remind Timothy of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in his and our lives.

Paul commands Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands.” Some people have equated this with the ministry gift Paul had told Timothy not to neglect in 1 Timothy 4:14 as it to was imparted by the laying on of hands by the elders. But here Paul is very careful to talk of the gift of God and as he goes on to talk of what it does in a believers life in v7   he talks of God’ Spirit not giving ‘us’ a spirit of timidity but of Power and love and self-discipline. Paul is reminding Timothy to remember the abiding presence of God, by the Holy Spirit in his life. God dwells in us. While it may be easy to forget that and try and do things in our own strength or give in to natural timidity and reticence to be different from those around us, which is the impact of shame in a shame culture, Paul reminds Timothy of God’s Spirit with him, and with us.

A spirit that Paul says imparts three things.

 Power: Power is an attribute of God. God is able to do what he says he will. In Romans 8:11 Paul talks of the same power that raised Christ from the dead is in us and gives us new life. In Acts 1:8 Jesus last words to his disciples were to wait in Jerusalem till they received power and they would be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  Of course at Pentecost we saw that become a reality, as he Spirit filled each believer gathered in the upper room and they began to praise God and Peter preached and three thousand believed in Jesus Christ. It is the spirit of God that enables and empowers us to live for and witness to Christ. Paul even calls Timothy to share his suffering for the gospel, and he is able to face that because of the power of the Holy Spirit. To the church in Philippi Paul in chains says facing hardship and prison “ I can do all thing in Christ who strengthens me.

 Love:  In the pastoral epistles love is usually connected with faith and is seen as the outward visible expression in horizontal relationships of the reality of that invisible relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are not called to love out of our own selves but again it is the Spirit of god living in us that allows us to experience and now the love of Christ and enables us to serve others in a self-sacrificing way. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of God giving gifts to enable us to work for the common Good and in 1 Corinthians 13 says they are to be used in love. It is the grace of God and the presence of the spirit that enables us to love others. In Galatians 5:22 Paul says the fruit of the Holy Spirit and walking with the Spirit in our lives is love.

Self-Control:  The Spirit’s presence allows us to order of lives in tune with the gospel. We are no longer slaves to sin and death, the spirit is the friend who leads and guides us. Self control is what we need to keep the good spiritual disciplines which enable us to become more aware of the Spirit’s presence and aid  as Philip Towner says ‘it allows timothy the clarity of thought necessary to trust in the invisible God despite  the threats of very visible opponents”.

That same Gift of God is with us. Paul calls us as he did timothy to renew our dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God that dwells within us.

The second thing Paul does is he directs Timothy once again to remember Jesus and what he done for us. .

In a sermon to the dioceses of Bath and Wells  Justin Welby, the arch bishop of Canterbury was asked to address their new mission statement ‘evangelism and mission at the heart of everything. In it he said that was a noble ambition and vision, but that no amount of training for or talking about it was going to make it a reality, what was going to make people enthusiastic about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ was if they became captivated once again with Jesus Christ and his unconditional love for us. This is what Paul does with Timothy he reminds him of the Gospel of what Jesus has done for us.  In verses 9 and 10 we have this wonderful exposition of the gospel. It focuses on the grace of God shown to us in three ways.

Christ saved us, the grace of God is shown by his life and his death and resurrection that we have been put right with God. Our sins have been forgiven by Christ’s death on the cross and we are able to experience new and abundant life because of his death and resurrection. It is not because of who we are or what we have done, but it is because of Gods unconditional undeserved grace and love shown in Jesus Christ. We are loved and we have been longed for and sought and God has sent his son into this world to bring us out of darkness as it says in 1 pater 2 into his wonderful light.

Christ calls us to live a holy life, you and I have been invited to live a life in relationship with God as our loving father, a relationship with God that is holy, not out of some sense of unobtainable moral perfectionism but because, we show the love that we are shown by Christ, our lives reflect the one whom loves us. It is a holy life because it is lived in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. A life of meaning and purpose, of hope and transformation. Paul reinforces that in this passage in verse 11 and 12 where he speaks of his own sense of call and how it allows him to withstand the suffering he has to endure while not being ashamed of the gospel.

Thirdly, Jesus Christ has destroyed death and has bought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Paul is able to say we don’t have to fear or worry about suffering for the gospel, while it is very real and painful reality the ultimate reality is that Christ has conquered death and we have the assurance of abundant life with him despite the circumstances we face, and life with him on into eternity because it is lived with and in and through the eternal God.

When we become captivated again by Jesus and what he has done for us and we experience its reality in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit we fan into flame the gift of God within us and we are able to face suffering and hardship for the gospel because of Christ’s abiding presence.

Finally Paul begins to tell Timothy about the practical ways he can fan that flame into a fire again.

Note I said only starts because Paul through out the rest of his letter will encourage Timothy in his ministry again. Here it simply starts with focusing again on the pattern of sound teaching he has received. This is both the content of that teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is to be lived out by loving others and the communication of it to both study it and proclaim it.

One of the key ways that we are made aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and that we can be captivated a fresh by Jesus is through good spiritual disciplines that focus on scripture and prayer.  It is the key way that the Holy Spirit is able to speak into our lives. As we read and reflect on the gospels that is how we again see and know and encounter Jesus our saviour and Lord. Timothy didn’t have them in written form rather he had the oral traditions that were passed on from Paul and the apostles, but by focusing on them and how they apply to our lives, sound teaching in the pastorals usually means the gospel worked out in action… faith and love in Jesus Christ.

It’s interesting here that Paul speaks of two groups of people as well. One were the people from the province of Asia, who were with him in Rome but deserted him and it seems that Phygelus and Hermogenes were of great disappointment to him. Ephesus of course is in the province of Asia so this may have impacted on Timothy. You can sense Paul’s disappointment and pain at this. Then Paul speaks of the household of Onesiphorus who is also from Ephesus and who has sort Paul out and been an encouragement and help to him. Part of the fanning into flame is being aware that Christian brothers and sisters will let us down at times, but also that part of the grace and love of God for us is to be found in the care and love and support of other Christians, part of God’s gift to encourage us and help that love of Christ swell up within us.  We need each other to rekindle the flame. Prayer encouragement support and simply sharing our hope and enthusiasm for Christ.
Something has changed, maybe you find yourself in Timothy’s place and the fire and passion has dwindled to an ember or you feel like there is just some charred wood left in the hearth where once there was a raging fire. Your tired, disheartened or simply feeling the affects of the hard slog of it all. But the logo of our Presbyterian church is the burning bush and it’s moto is ‘burning but not consumed’ So today  Hear Paul’s call to action to Timothy to ‘fan into flame the gift of God which is in you’. Reawaken and allow the holy Spirit to again fill you up and give you the power, love and self-control you need.  Become captivated again with Jesus Christ, Christs unconditional love for us, that you are loved by God. You know fanning a ember into flame again requires some work on our behalf and once again put into place those healthy practices that open us up to the oxygen of the spirit that allows our hearts to reignite with the love of Christ. As that fire begins to burn people will come to be warmed and illuminated by its glow.