Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Coming to grips with Immanuel- God with Us (A christmas day reflection based on Luke 2:1-20 & John 1:1-18)

This image has been my focus for reflection this Christmas. I’ve got four Children and one of the most vivid memories I have of their births is that moment I first held them and I put my figure down to touch their little hands and their fingers closed around mine. Now I know that it is simply a grasp reflex at that stage, but it felt like a recognition and connection. The start of what has been a great adventure and joy in knowing my kids and having our relationship grow and change as they have grown and changed. Having it mature as they and hopefully I have grown and matured.

So the image behind me has all that personal stuff in it. You’ve probably got your own memories and moments that connect with it. But I’ve also used it this year to get my head round the fact that at Christmas we both celebrate the birth of a simply human baby and amazing and mind-blowing truth that as we had read out in John’s Gospel the eternal word of God, that was there before the beginnings, the one who created it all, became one of us.

When I was young we used to borrow a friend’s batch up north for Christmas Holidays and I remembered driving through Orewa on the way up north and passing the camping ground and seeing the tents all pushed up against each other, and John uses that kind of kiwi holiday image to express that God become one of us… He says the word became flesh and pitched his tent at our place. Of course for John it wasn’t camper at Orewa that he had in mind, rather, the tabernacle that accompanied Israel through there wilderness wanderings and was for them the place where God dwelt in their midst. When they became a nation, it was the temple in Jerusalem. But that God in our midst had even got closer.

God steps into a world in the grips of political unrest, in Jesus he steps right into the midst of life’s nitty gritty. Luke starts his Christmas narrative with Augustus as the roman emperor and Herod as the ruler under him in Judea. The family is forced to go to Bethlehem to register, so that taxes can be levied and collected.  He steps into a housing crisis, there is no room except a stable. God’s coming into the world is like a family living in a garage in South Auckland. There is political turmoil, in Matthews gospel which we didn’t read today ,Herod does not want a possible rival to his power so sends death squads to kill all the male children under two in Bethlehem, the Christmas stories finishes like any conflict situation event today with mothers crying for their slaughtered children  and Jesus family fleeing for safety as refugees to another land.  God’s steps into our world and come to grips with its pain and sorrow, its hardship and its joy. 

Like with my kids, Jesus born in Bethlehem grew up as well, john tells us that in Jesus we beheld God’s truth and grace. People were gripped by his teaching, about God’s love and a new of living because of it, caring for the poor, the lost and the least, the kingdom of God. They were gripped by him he reached out and welcomed back those though outside and cut-off, he reached out into sickness and bought healing.

When he was rejected by the powers to be, his hands were gripped, and nailed to a cross, a roman torture and execution device, and he died. The gospel tells us that three days later he rose from the dead and his disciples gripped him again and saw the nail prints and knew it was true. Since that time the world has found itself having to come to grips with this Jesus born in Bethlehem: his offer of forgiveness and new life lived in relationship with God through him and a call to live out his teaching by loving one another. They have to come terms with Immanuel God with us…

Well returning to the image that has been the centre of my reflections this Christmas, I find that it not only shows the reality of God becoming a human being but also that I find in my life I am gripped by Jesus Christ.

I find him gripping and compelling.

I am gripped by God’s great love for us. God’s welcoming embrace

 I am gripped by Christs rich mercy when I see my own spiritual poverty

I am gripped by Jesus death on the cross, the fact that through that all I have done is forgiven, the slate is whipped clean,

I am gripped by the offer of new life in Christ, a life of Hope, peace and joy and love. The themes that go with the advent candles we lit this morning.

 I am gripped by his teaching and its call for us to follow him and live a life full of sacrificial service and love for others, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to show compassion and grace as God’s grace has been shown in Christ.

 I am gripped by the reality of Immanuel, God with us, God’s abiding presence through the Holy Spirit, to lead and to Guide,

 I am gripped by the possibility of light in the face of the same darkness in the world today as the one Jesus was born into.

I am gripped by God’s kingdom and justice breaking into the powers of this world, not with over whelming force or shock and awe, but in kindness and compassion, humility and seeking justice. Treating all with dignity (because they are loved by God) and grace. 

I am gripped by Jesus

This Christmas hopefully the simple of image of a baby’s grip reflex helps us to come to grips with Jesus, Immanuel, God with us… That God has drawn near and become one of us, that God’s truth and grace has been revealed to us, shown in Jesus teaching his life, death and resurrection. That you might come to grips with that reality, you might now the presence of Immanuel God with us. Come to grips with who Christ is.  

How does Christ come today? (reflection on Luke 2:1-35 and Matthew 2:1-12 )

The readings we had today from Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus birth. On one level it is the story of a very human event, a woman giving birth to a baby boy. A very human event, as the birth comes at an inopportune time. Forced to travel to a town where her husband’s family was from to register, so the government could tax the people. Caught in a housing crisis where there was no room. Not even travigo.com  or any other website could have found them a suitable place. They simply have a stable, maybe in today’s world it would be a crowded garage. There is political unrest and the need for the family to become refugees for the safety of their child. It’s a birth that would fit into the many stories of similar children in disadvantaged situations we’ve seen, or experienced here in New Zealand and in the world around us, this year… but not life changing.

On another level there is something profound and divine and world changing in this birth, in the child the stories birth speaks of. There is the long-awaited hope of Israel, that God would act, here as John’s gospel says in a very kiwi Summer Christmas Holiday way ‘the word took on flesh, and pitched his tent at our place. Here in the grip of the power of Augustus of Rome and the paranoid dictatorship of Herod in Judea, God’s kingdom, steps into our world. Not with fanfares or conquering armies and over whelming power, but in a child’s birth, in a stable. We understand that because the importance of the child which Mary and Joseph call Jesus, which means saviour, is revealed to us in  and through the characters we meet in the gospels narrative: Jesus Parents, the shepherds (washing their socks by night), the wise men travelling from the east, (one on a tractor, two in a car, one on a scooter tooting his hooter)  and Simeon and Anna. They tell us the real story and in how Jesus comes to them I believe is insight into how Jesus comes to us today in our lives and our world.

We didn’t read the start of Mary’s story this morning, but Luke’s account of Jesus birth is very much Mary’s story, he has told it as she had told him.  Mary is a woman of faith, she has grown up knowing God and God’s love for his people. She has a hope for God to step in and bring his justice and mercy into the world. So while she is surprised by the angel Gabriel, her response to the amazing idea of having a baby despite being a virgin she responds “may it be to me according to your word.” When she has confirmation in meeting her older cousin Elizabeth who is also pregnant, she breaks out in this amazing song, of God’s blessing on her and the whole of humanity and the hope of good news to the poor and the lowly being lifted. Jesus becomes very real in her life, in fact it is the focus of her life. That leads her to depth of despair and death, just as Simeon had told here in our reading this morning), when she sees her son grown to a man, nailed to a cross and crucified and brings new life as she experiences the reality of who he is when he is raised to life again.

For many people Jesus comes to us in that way… People are bought up in the Christian faith, the faith of their parents, they know the bible stories, they know the reality of God, then there is a time that Jesus Christ steps into their lives and their faith and trust in him becomes their own faith, their own hope, they own it. For some it’s a process of pregnancy, growing inside us,  for others it’s as sharp as the dawning of a new day.

I was visiting a friend who is pastoring at a Methodist Presbyterian union parish and he mentioned John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, the moment when faith in Christ that has guided him all his life became so much more real and personal. John Wesley wrote of it in his dairy

 "In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." 

His faith stopped being just a belief and it became a personal reality of the grace and presence of Jesus Christ that lead to him preaching in fields and streets and great revival and social reform in England and round the world.

The shepherds know nothing of Jesus, but it is revealed to them in a profound spiritual experience. An angel appears to them and tells of them Jesus birth, Then as if the sky has simply rolled back like a theatre curtain there is an angelic army singing and proclaiming Glory to God in the highest and peace to earth’. These outcast men in their society are told the most profound truth, and they rush off to see if it true. When they see what the angel has told them is true they go hope rejoicing, something has changed, here is God’s promised salvation.

I grew up in a Christian home and went to church, but as a teenager I began to walk away from that faith and would tell everyone ‘no I am not a Christian and you can’t convince me to be otherwise. I don’t believe it’, and it was only after a profound Spiritual experience that I came to follow Jesus.  At a church camp, which I’d gone to because they were fun and all my mates were going, after a very boring preacher had spoken, he invited people to come forward and become a Christian, and at that moment it was as if the heavens opened and God was very real and very there and Said ‘Howard I want you to follow me’. I decided to become a Christian.

Many of you have had profound spiritual experiences, the key is to be like the shepherd and go and see the truth behind what you’ve experienced and find it in Jesus Christ.

The wise men come to Jesus through there exploration and understanding of the world. They  are about the wisdom of their age and they are astronomers, star gazers, precursors to the scientists of our age. They see a new phenomenon in the sky which leads them to think something special has happened, they grasp something of its significance so go to see it for themselves. They go to the authorities and the people and places that you’d think would know about such things, and while they find some guidance there they encounter someone for whom Jesus coming is odds with their own asperations and worldview, but they continue their journey and encounter Jesus. They worship him and in the gospel story it is they would proclaim that Jesus birth is not just for the people of Israel but God’s salvation for all humanity. They represent us in the story.

Jesus comes to people today as they are willing to seek and search for truth as well. I am reading CS Lewis’ memoirs ‘surprised by Joy’ and Lewis talks of his process of coming to believe in Jesus as God’s son. He was a professor of English literature at Oxford University and in his discussions of philosophy and the nature of myths and stories and truth with his good friend JRR Tolkien, Lewis talks of coming to the point of believing that the Christian myth was the real myth… later he would talk of a motor cycle ride, maybe you’ve had a similar ride, where he started not believing in Christ, but somewhere along the way he knew he believed.

The Christ who stepped into our world at Christmas time, who grew into a man and spoke of God’s kingdom and love and then was crucified and rose again, still comes into our world today in different ways, but Christ wants to make himself known to each one of us, God’s love for all humanity is at the heart of the Christmas message.  It is the best present we can hope for you this Christmas.

That might be a natural place for me to stop, but we have missed a couple of people in the  Christmas narrative.  Simeon and Anna are sort of the forgotten people of the Christmas story, they are not at the manger, they are not there because of angel choir or shining star, but they are show us how Jesus steps into most peoples lives today. Simeon and Ana are people of faith who when they encounter Jesus and the Holy Spirit reveals who Jesus is to them, just can’t help but tell everyone who will listen about the child… about Jesus. Simeon does it through a formal act of worship, he uses the words of scripture, but declares to the people gathered in the temple that this indeed is God’s salvation come into the world, and Ana Well she just tells everyone.

How does Jesus come today…  in so many different ways in people owning their own faith, through spiritual experience and the tough journey of seeking truth… but you know what Jesus chooses to come into this world through you and me… as we have encountered him  and its changed our lives and we are willing to share it. Most people come to know Jesus because friends and family members are willing to tell the Christmas and the rest of the Christ story to them.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A gift and He makes all things beautiful in his time (Ecclesiasties 3:11)

For our thirtieth wedding anniversary my wife Kris gave me a wonderful Pounamu Toki. We both really liked this particular piece with the deep green colour and the paler flecks running through it. They look like flaws in the stone, but it is those possible flaws that make the pendant stand out and speak to us.

How Pounamu is formed probably explains the colouration... The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand describes the formation process of Pounamu from a geological perspective.

Geologists have determined that nephrite and bowenite formed deep in the earth, probably at depths in excess of 10 kilometres. Hot fluids caused a chemical reaction in zones where volcanic and sedimentary rocks were in contact, which produced narrow deposits of pounamu. High-quality pounamu is usually surrounded by altered material classed as serpentine.

As the mountains of the South Island were formed over the last two million years, the narrow bands containing pounamu were lifted up to the earth’s surface. The action of rivers and glaciers released the stone from its host rock into screes, river gravel and glacial deposits. Pounamu continues to be carried into rivers and down to the sea by erosion. In the more accessible areas, any exposed pounamu has been quickly collected.

then once the stone is collected the artist carver fashions it to bring out the beauty in it. Using the skills and talents God has given him.

I've given my Toki a name (if I am allowed to do such a thing and this isn't just cultural appropriation) I've called it Ataahua which is Maori for beauty. Firstly because it reminds me of my wonderful and beautiful wife and thirty years of great marriage and companionship, which hasn't be accomplished with out its pressures and having to work hard to craft it.

But also because Ataahua is the word that appears in Ecclesiastes 3:11 at the end of the preachers list of all the seasons and times of life... affirming that God makes all thing beautiful in his time. 'I hanga e ia nga mea katoa kia ataahua i tona wa ano:' and that he has placed eternity in the hearts of man.

It reminds me to have hope in God's sovereignty and purposes. It speaks of God's  continued work in my life through Christ's presence by the Holy Spirit; shaping me, making me whole, somehow with the pain and sorrow and the strong depth that are forged in pressure into something beautiful... and a prayer that God would continue to do so and allow me to similarly like a Toki or adze be used to help speak that beauty into other peoples lives.

As a New Zealander (kiwi) I am aware that God speaks to me more and more  through the bounty, culture and artistry of this land.

I was also very honoured to have my supervisor for the past four years rev Tim Pratt bless it before I wore it. It was appropriate to have someone who had spoken into my life and had been a friend for most of my life, to do it...

Monday, December 18, 2017

Bridging the gap: Alone in a dark Universe!...Christmas tells a different story

 This is the message at a local community carols event called Glow in the Park. It's sponsored by the Maungakiekie Tamaki local board (council) and put on by local churches (Mt Wellington Community Church, Tamaki Community Church, St Peter's Presbyterian (that's us), St Matthias Anglican Panmure and Streams Methodist. You can check out the action on our facebook page. We had the gospel Christmas passages read out in five different languages with English translation on our big screen and I had the great privilege of sharing the gospel message... 

I'm not very good at taking selfies but I took one of me on the stage with everyone with their glow sticks in the audience and really managed to miss getting everyone in it... 
Can I show you the world most expensive selfie. In fact it’s the world’s most long distant selfie as well and one of the first. You’d need a real big selfie stick if you were going to use your phone to take this one… If you were born before 14th of February 1990, if you are old like me, you are probably in it.
You see as the Voyager 1 space craft exited the solar system, it preformed one last task it turned round and took a selfie for us, looking back through the solar system it took a photo of the earth from a distance of about 6 billion km’s…. It’s the one on the screen… can you see yourself in it. 
Yeah even with my glasses On I can’t…In fact the earth is less than one tenth of a pixel in this image, and it looks like it is a mote of dust caught in a beam of light. A speck in a cold dark universe. The photo is called the pale blue dot, and a famous astronomer has said that it shows how fragile and alone we are, everyone who has ever lived all we value our whole existence is on that pale blue dot. We are alone in the dark with no expectation of help. It’s a good reminder for us of our fragility and smallness as we tackle how we care for our planet and environment, but its not the whole picture. 
The Christmas story we had read out to us this evening in all those different languages, tells a different story. A story of hope and love for humanity for you and me.  
It tells the Christian belief that the God who made the universe cares about us and in Jesus, the baby in the Christmas narrative, drew near to bring light into our darkness.
It’s a message of hope…That God is not way off and distant… that somehow we simply look at the night sky and wonder if God is even there and if God is does God care. 
This is part of Michael Angelo’s painting of creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and it shows God's hand and Adams human hand almost touching. But there is a gap. And a lot of our religious activity and spiritual practices is humanities attempt to close that gap from our side.
Again Christmas tells a different story. My Wife Kris and I have four children. I remember vividly holding each of them for the first time and putting my figure out to touch their little hands and having them close around mine. That says the gospels is how close God came. God stepped into our world, God closed the gap. I love the very kiwi Christmas holidays way John’s gospel puts it… God pitched his tent at our place.
We often think of that nativity scene of Jesus birth as an idyllic hallmark moment, on the front of a Christmas card from a distant relative. But God chose to step into the midst of the nitty gritty of real life.
He was born in that very rushed trip to the place where Joseph was from. Like a Christmas dash to our family home or to get round all the relies for various meals in one day.
He was born in Bethlehem, as a result of the government wanting people to register so they could be taxed.  You can’t escape the old taxes… or the new ones.
He was born during a housing crisis, the only place available was a stable, and he had a manger as a bed, a manger is an animal’s feeding trough. The modern equivalent would be a garage, maybe some of you can relate to that. Imagine God choosing to enter the world in your garage.
He was born in the midst of political trouble, as his birth, caused the local paranoid dictator, Herod, to plot for his death, and send death squads to Bethlehem to kill all male children under two. How many children in the world today suffer because of conflict and war.
His family had to flee as refugees to another land for safety. Our world is full of similar stories today.
I know leading up to Christmas you are used to the people trying to sell you stuff, putting on the hard sell So I want to simply finish by saying. The Christmas story shows us God’s love for humanity, for you and I.  Jesus steps into the world, his life, his death and being his raised to life again is the way we can come to know God. 
 Jesus Christ can step into your world and your life, amidst all its nitty grittiness and bring hope and love and  a fresh start, if you’d simply ask.
You know as more people come to know Jesus and his love, then the Christmas story can transform this pale blue dot, we live on… in simple overlooked little things…  “like loving our neighbour, showing mercy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity.”
So may Jesus Christ draw close to you and God bless you, this Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent Prayer... for those on the go...

Have you ever noticed how images of advent candles are in peaceful settings? They are designed to look like they are in the quite country church or vast city cathedral at a midnight Christmas eve service... But Advent just does not seem like that. It's busy and rushed and its near the end of the year and life just seems to try and squeeze it out... even church life... This is simply an advent prayer... I started it last year and didn't have the time or energy to finish it, but I've finished it for our  'Carols, colouring in and Christmas cake' all age worship event.  It doesn't fit probably into a Church that is following through the themes of advent each week. It's sort of an advent prayer for those on the go... in the midst of a busy schedule at the end of a long year and maybe its like we are just squeezing it in. Maybe its a fight back against those things... anyway feel free to use it as your prayer or any parts of it that you find helpful. 

Sometimes it’s easy to pray LORD,

And sometimes it’s not

Sometimes our words flow like a rushing stream

Our hearts full of wonder and thanks for your great love

Sometimes it’s as if the well has dried up and there are no words

We are tired, caught in the seasonal rush, its been a long hard year

But when we turn and contemplate advent there are words

There is… Hope…Peace…Joy…and Love

Faithful God, who keeps his promises

Our hope is in you, the one who sent his only son

 Beyond our circumstance and sight, and the deep darkness of night

The light of your truth and grace has dawned in this world

‘Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe’*

In Jesus, the word made flesh, your kingdom has been established

In Christ’s life, death and resurrection, sin and death and defeated

In Spirit led love and service, God’s kingdom breaks into our world today

Prince of Peace,

In the strife within us, our brokenness and pain

Amidst the conflict that rages around us in the world

You have come to bring healing and wholeness

In Jesus Christ, you have enabled our sins to be forgiven

You call us to be one in you and love as you have loved us

You commission us to share in your ministry of reconciliation

And you send us out to be your peace makers in this world

Lord our God, who rejoices over us with singing

We find our deepest joy in who you are and what you have done

You made us for relationship with you, to know and be known

While we had turned our back on you, you reached out to us

When we turn back, you run to embrace, and heaven parties hard

You’ve poured your spirit out on us and are with us to the end.

We can have joy even in the face of sorrow, injustice and death,

Because you have overcome them and they are defeated

Father God who loves us so much

We know what love is because you first loved us

That love came as near as a baby’s hand gripping a finger

It was shown in Jesus hands reaching out to touch and heal

 hands that blessed children, and welcomed outcast

In hands nailed to a cross, for our sake, for our forgiveness

In hands examined for nail scars, raised to life again

A love that will not let us go, and calls us to go and love

Holy God, gracious saviour,

Thank you for hope… peace… joy… and love

This Christmas, O Lord, may we know the reality of them in our lives

We confess we have done wrong and left good you call us to do undone

We pray you would forgive and restore a right spirit in us

We thank you that you are faithful and just and we are forgiven

Fill us afresh with your spirit, to know you more and make Christ known

That in our hope, peace, joy and Love we may bring you glory.

* this line is from  Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn's song 'The Cry of a Tiny Babe' off the 1991 album 'Nothing but a Shining Light'... it is one of the most poetic and powerful reflections on Christmas and I have to admit I find it hard not to include it every Christmas somehow... 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The messianic hope of Psalm 132...

Psalm 132 is a royal Psalm, it is a two-part prayer for the king. It starts by looking back to the high point of Israel’s nationhood, the reign of king David. Not because Israel moved from being a collection of tribes barely eking out an existence amongst hostile neighbours to being a strong secure nation. But because of David’s passion for God and God’s dwelling place with his people.  In practical terms that is shown in David’s tireless work to bring the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with his people up to Jerusalem and giving it a permanent home, among God’s people.

The second half of the prayer looks forward, it is a prayer for David’s descendants, for kings who would be as faithful as David and that God would keep his promise and place a descendant of David on the throne forever.  Israel’s hope was that God would be faithful to his promise.

Psalm 132 is also a psalm of ascent, it has found its way to this present place in the collection in the time of the exile and beyond, it’s part of the dog-eared hymn book of those who would go up to Jerusalem for the three great festivals. It is a prayer when Israel was conquered, and the people were in exile of the hope that God would establish his kingdom and reign again. When faced with kings who did not reflect David’s passion for God and God’s rule and reign it becomes a crying out for change and renewal, a prophetic psalm as people come to worship for justice and righteousness. The books of kings often has the tragic epitaph for king after king, that they did evil in the sight of the Lord, it’s a repeated again and again to justify God’s faithfulness to his covenant by removing the people from the land. But even then that faithfulness is Israel’s hope, God keeps his promise.

AS such psalm 132 is a messianic psalm voicing a hope that God would send someone to reign with justice and mercy. The poor would be feed, people who sought the Lord would know his rescue and salvation, that the forces that oppose God’s righteous reign would be put to shame… there influence, and power broken and destroyed.

As such Psalm 132 is an advent Psalm pointing us to the birth of Jesus Christ and the fulfilment of God’s promise. While it is only quoted twice in the New Testament, both in acts, it is echoed in the description of Jesus as one who has a passion for his father’s house, that like David who would not rest till he had done what God called him to do, not that Jesus didn’t sleep but as Jesus said ‘the son of man does not have a place to lay his head. That in his death and resurrection Jesus acted as a priest a go between God and humanity and bought about salvation. The because of Jesus there is joy. The horror of a crown of thorns has become a radiant crown of god’s love. God has faithfully kept his promise and established God’s king and his kingdom has come.

How does all of Psalm 132 connect with us here today.

Part of our spiritual journey is to pray for the powers to be, our leaders and government, it is what Paul tells the fledgling church in places like Romans 13. Maybe with a change of government there is a hope for a new age, but the focus of our prayer and our hope is not our human leaders, but their acknowledgement of God’s leading, God’s justice and God’s mercy and ultimately our hope is firmly founded what ever the government in God’s saving action in history. God’s chosen king.

It gives us a great reason to keep on celebrating Christmas, there is pressure in our pluralistic society to simply have a festive season, it doesn’t matter what you believe this is the time of year when we all get together as families and celebrate and hopefully give the economy a bit of boost as we spend, spend, spend. Some years it seems to dark to get filled with joy and be all happy, world events look dire, there is tension and misery, and conflict, personal circumstances may seem gloomy or grief stained, and the pain of loss is felt the sharpest. But just as this psalm looks back to the high point of the ark being bought into Jerusalem, we look back at the light and hope and promise of God’s ultimate victory that came into our world, when the word became flesh. AS Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn says redemption ripped through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe’. In the dark we celebrate and have hope in the light come into the world. It prophetically speaks to the dark that it has lost.

The psalm lastly invites us to have hope, our hope our joy is not in our circumstance or situation, but it is the faithfulness of God, that God can be trusted to keep his promise. In Jesus God stepped into our world, the word became flesh, God’s kingdom is established in Christ’s death and resurrection, God dwells with us by the presence of the Holy Spirt to lead and guide us and Christ will come agin to put all things right.

Lets pray

Monday, December 4, 2017

God's salvation plan: Saved to do good for the common good (Titus 3:1-15)

Our faith in Jesus Christ needs to make a visible positive difference through our actions, behavior and relationships if it is genuine.  I’m not talking about moral perfectionism we all make mistakes, we all have our faults and foibles, we all get it wrong. But if there is no discernable difference between the behavior of Christians and the Society around us, then we are either in a place that can only be described as the Kingdom of God, and Hallelujah or there is a disconnect between gospel truth and gospel living in our lives. We need to ask the question, is the church simply an extension of the culture and climate it lives in, or an expression of the Christ it claims to live for?

 “True Christianity”, Francis Schaeffer told the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, “produces beauty as well as truth. If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.”

We are working our way through what are known as the pastoral epistles, and in particular Paul’s letter to Titus. Looking at what Paul can tell us about both Christian living and Christian leadership as he writes to encourage his coworkers in maturity and ministry. Paul had sent Titus to Crete to finish the task of establishing the Church on the island, and for the church in Crete how the Christian faith was to be lived out in society was as major an issue as it is for us in our changing society today.  

After a long introduction, in his letter Paul tasked Titus to appoint leaders, elders and overseers who were able to model and teach how the Christian faith was to be lived out. Titus was tasked with teaching the Christians how to be an example of Christ like living in whatever place and strata they found themselves in their very structured society: He applied the gospel to the Roman household Code, when we looked at it in our café service we talked of God’s call to ‘lead where you are’. Now in the passage we had read out to us today, Paul tells Titus to remind the believers on Crete that God’s salvation plan was a call for them “to devote themselves to doing what is good.”

The passage is set out in a very Jewish thought pattern, the central thing is in the center, in this case it is an expounding of God’s salvation plan. Paul calls it a trust worthy saying which means that it is not necessarily his own words, rather it maybe an earlier formula of the gospel that the Cretans would have been familiar with, that Paul then uses as a rational for God’s people being about the common good. That is bookended by two different sets of relationships. The first is with the wider society, how they are to relate to civil government and interact with people in the public domain, outside the household. Then in the end he applies it to how they are to relate to the false teachers who have been causing disruption in households and the church on Crete. Because it’s a letter the whole thing is wrapped up with personal information and greetings.

We are used to the images of before and after, that we see in ads for all that weird and wonderful fitness equipment and sure to work diets. Paul uses that formula of before and after to talk of the difference the gospel has made. At one time he says… Before…  “ we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslave by all kinds of passions and pleasures, we lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating each other.” Just like the images in those commercials we are not supposed to like the before image that is painted. We individually may not have been like that whole description and it is not saying that humans are not capable of  great good outside of Christ, rather Paul paints a picture of the state that we all have found ourselves in, it is an expression of the fallen state of humanity … foolish speaks of a life lived without reference to God. Atheists often speak of not having their own annual holiday, and jokingly I suggest April 1st,  because in psalm 14;1 it says “ a fool says in their heart “there is no God”. Moving on the rest of Paul’s list is the damaging opposite of the Christian faiths call to obedience, self-control and loving one another.

Paul then talks of what God has done to change the situation. It’s not a fitness machine and our own efforts, but Christ’s death on the cross and his effort for us that makes us  fit into God’s family.  Because of God’s kindness God sent our savior Jesus Christ, not because of what we have done right, but because of God’s righteousness and mercy. The savior has washed us clean of all we have done wrong, which is symbolized by our identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism, and has poured out his Holy Spirit on us to renew us. That we may have the hope of eternal life: That we are heirs, welcomed into the family of God, and have the hope of eternal life. Here is the good news of Jesus Christ in a nutshell.

But with that formula perhaps what’s missing is the after image. People can view it like you would an insurance policy for the afterlife, or maybe even like one of those fitness machines that are so easy to fold up and store away that we fold them up and store them away under the bed and forget its there and you don’t’ change, and occasional you’ll say Oh yeah I bought that one I must pull it out sometime. No says Paul here is the picture of what its like after, we’ve been called to devote ourselves to doing what is good. We are not saved by good deeds we are saved for good deeds, for showing Christ like love and compassion and care, and that says Paul is excellent and profitable for everyone. Its for the common good.

It’s to be worked out in the public arena, in how we relate to government and wider society. It’s a call Paul says to obey and be subject to rulers and authorities. On one level it’s about compliance, keeping the laws and paying taxes. Social structure and order is a positive for society, that Christians are to uphold. In Roman 13 Paul talks of government being appointed by God, with the purpose of defending the innocent, acknowledging the good, and punishing those who do wrong.

It’s more than just compliance however says Paul, we are called to make a positive difference, to be ready to do whatever is good. When the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon God’s word to them through Jeremiah was to seek the peace and prosperity o the city where they lived. AS Jesus put It is about being slat and light. On a large scale John Stott talks of how historian say the Wesleyan revival saved England from a savage and bloody revolution like the one that happened in France, the reawakening of Christian faith lead to social reforms like the abolition of slavery, the end of child labor, the call for universal education, people needed to know how to read so they could read the bible themselves, public libraries and patronage of the arts, the establishment of the RSPCA and animal welfare measurers. We see it today with the mana in which groups like the salvation army are treated in a New Zealand society that tends to be suspicious of Christianity. On a smaller scale we had Steve Farrelly speak at our mature and marvelous service at the start of October, who when he heard of all the reports because of his Christian faith went to a decile one school to ask how he could help and now runs breakfast clubs in well over seven schools round the city and country, and genuinely makes a difference. It was great at the pizza and planning gathering last week to hear the desire for us to be involved in various ways with the issue of poverty in New Zealand. In his concluding remarks Paul brings doing good down to the very practical level of helping and providing hospitality to Itinerant Christian leaders Zena the lawyer and Apollos. That in doing that they will use their resources to provide for other peoples needs and not simply use them for indulgence.

In 1 Peter 2:11-12, Peter uses the metaphor of being an alien in a strange land to speak of how Christians were to act in society, maybe into days political climate it is important to see what is being said here in terms of us being migrants from the kingdom of God. Like many migrants we are very aware of wanting to be good citizens and keeping the laws of our new land but also we want to contribute to it and make it a better place as well so we bring the best of our culture, in our case the best of that culture is Christ.

One of the big challenges of Paul’s assertion of submitting to the government and authorities is what happens when you find yourself facing a despotic, oppressive or cruel and corrupt or evil regime. Do we simply submit?  Paul’s teaching here is helpful. Firstly, as salt and light, we should always be a movement for good in society, that acts as a counterpoint. It is not simply being a people who are opposed to something but who live out a Christ honoring alternative. Do not says Paul over come evil with evil rather over come evil with good, secondly the list of attitudes to people in verse 2 of the passage we are looking at today speak not only to how we are to treat people in society in a loving manner but how we are to respond in difficult situations, The Christian is called to have a prophetic role to speak the truth in love, not to slander and speak ill of people. Peaceable and considerate speaks of a commitment to a Christ honoring response, and gentle is the word meek which means that we are not willing to let anything, no slight or threat or violence stop us from the focus of the common good, God’s preferred future… Our examples are Christ facing the cross, martin Luther king Jr and his nonviolence.

Paul also helps us out in his instructions to Titus on how to deal with the false teachers who were disturbing the Church. Jesus called us not only to love one another but also to love our enemies, and Paul gives a balance between that and the necessity to safeguard the church. He tells Titus not simply to get caught up in the arguments about genealogies and quarrels about the law. That was of no use.  He was not to let the false teachers set the agenda. Paul always addresses false teaching and error by going back to the gospel basics of Christ crucified and gospel living of loving one another, which in Titus he couches in the virtues of Greek philosophy. He also gives them a process to work through. One that we find Jesus giving his disciples in Matthew 18 It kind of has the sound of a process for dealing with complaints in the work place, a series of warnings then dismissal, and to a certain extent it is just that, however in the NIV translation using the word warning takes away from the idea Paul has of admonishing the people who are disturbing the Church. It isn’t simply stop doing what you are doing it’s a sitting down and working through it from the gospel, its always with the hope that people will change and see the truth. It’s only when they proved themselves unwilling to change that Paul uses the idea of removing them from fellowship. Even then this is not to be seen as punishment but with the hope of reconciliation and restoration to the truth.

It’s interesting that Paul can quickly move from this important teaching about the gospel and its implications on how we are to relate to the society around us to simply finishing off by telling Titus news about the movements of other Christian leaders… It’s the form of a Greek letter to do that, but it speaks to us that looking to relate our Christian faith to the wider society is lived out in the everydayness of life. In the midst of our plans for the day and life, and our  comings and goings, the Holy Spirit may speak of people who need our help on practical levels and Paul’s quick to point out that that is where this doing good for the common good starts. The kingdom of God breaks into the realms of this world in small acts of kindness. We celebrated one of our congregation, Dulcie Blairs life at her funeral here on Thursday and the stories that came to the fore of her 95 years were of service and care, of hospitality and a home open to all, a welcome for those who were in need and sharing the precious everyday skills with others (Dulcie cooked for the youth camps Ralph directed for close to forty years,  a knack for making people feel welcome, and for ralph and Dulcie how these things made an impact on the lives of so many, in this church and through involvement in a wider youth camping with thousands of young people. That it had ripple effects in the community and country… A real testimony to how doing simple good deeds impacts the common good. You and I have been loved and saved by God he has poured his Holy Spirit out on us and calls us to devote ourselves to doing Good, you know what that is Christian leadership.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Qualities of Quality Leadership (Titus 1:5-16)

“Most high achievers”, says leadership guru John Maxwell,  “spend time developing their professional skills. They seek to be highly competent. Fewer focus on their character.”  Maxwell encourages his readers along with developing crucial skills to focus on their character as that is equally if not more important than competency. He encourages them to develop integrity, “being scrupulously honest even when it hurts”, authenticity, “being your real self with everyone”, and discipline, “doing the right thing every day regardless of how you feel”. In lists of attributes people look for in a leader these character traits rank highly. Conversely, we’ve seen recently the damage that even highly competent people in positions of power can cause when they are lacking in character… The Harvey Weinstein scandals has bought to light sexual misconduct, we have examples of issues to do with money and the abuse of power. On a grand scale we’ve watched the dictator Robert Mugabe being forced to give up the power he had used force to impose on Zimbabwe for so many years and on a smaller scale heard stories of exploitation of migrant workers in New Zealand and workplace bullying.  Sadly, the church has not been immune to these issues; Gifted and talented, and respected Leaders have fallen to the unholy trinity of sex, money and power. AS Paul sets Titus the task of establishing leaders for the churches in all the towns on Crete his focus is on Blameless Character, that they live out the faith they hold to.

We are working our way through what are known as the Pastoral Epistles, Paul’s letters to co-workers, leaders in the church, as they deal with different challenging pastoral situations.  Letters in which Paul encourages and instructs them, and gives us insight not only to Christian living and community but also into Christian leadership. Leadership which is not just a call to a select few, but to all who would follow Jesus Christ, as we grow in maturity and ministry.

The passage we had read to us today is split into two sections. Firstly, Paul instructs Titus to appoint Church leaders in every town on Crete and he provides Titus a code of what to look for in elders and overseers. Then he moves to set the scene in which the Church in Crete finds itself. The need for such leadership because the church faced false teaching from a group called the circumcision party who focused on ritual cleanliness like the Jewish food laws rather than Christian ethics, so there was a disconnect between gospel teaching and gospel living. It should not surprise us in this environment that character was of such important in the leaders being appointed.

Before we look at the character of the leaders Paul identifies, we do need to make some comment about the leadership structure Paul talks about. In this passage Paul uses two words for Christian leadership. The first is elders, it has its basis in Jewish society, where the family heads who provided leadership for the villages and the nation. Moses consults with the elders and gives them judicial responsibilities. During the time of the judges they formed the basis of local government, and under the monarch they were like an advisory panel whose voice needed to be listened to. They were the magistrates in local villages, with the jewish diaspora they became the leadership model for the synagogues. They were not the main teachers in Jewish society that was more the priests. So when Christianity comes along and there is a need for leadership in churches, it is natural to have adopt the idea of Elders. Of course, as a Presbyterian Church, ruled by elders we have focused on this model and we believe it is agreeable with scripture. It’s not perfect, its not the only way but it is what we have discerned in history as a good form of church governance.

The other word that Paul uses here is overseer. The Greek word is Episkopos, which we interperate bishop, the Anglican church in the US is known as the Episcopalian Church, a church governed by bishops, overseers. Overseers come from Greek culture where they were the slaves put in charge of their master’s household, or business ventures or property. The Old testament example is Jospeh who when he is sold as a slave rises to be overseer of his master Potphar’s household. It fits in very much with the idea of Christian leadership being a service and the early church being built round groups that met in people’s houses. The leader of that basic unit could be described very aptly with the term Overseer.

In this passage the two terms seem to be interchangeable, referring to the same people in each town. In 1 Timothy they seem to be two different offices, as Paul gives similar codes for the conduct of elders in chapter 3 and one for overseers and deacons in chapter 5. It maybe that the church in the towns on Crete were small and so the two roles were synonymous, where as in Ephesus where Paul wrote to Timothy it was large enough that Elders and overseer were different roles. It is easy to get caught up in different styles of church governance and historically that has been one of the issues that has kept the church apart. The focus of Titus is not the structure as much as the character of the leaders.

We need to turn our attention to that.

Paul uses the word blameless twice in his list of what to look for in a Christian leader. We might look at that and think that You must be perfect to be a Christian leader. The reality is that if you wait till you are perfect then you’ll be waiting a very long time. I wonder if part of many church leaders falling into abuses of power and money and sex is that they live with such a high expectation and start believing the hype about them, and it becomes arrogance. Blameless is a legal term which means that no charges can be bought against a person. It’s more than a background check for criminal convictions, its a life style test for present commitment to faith convictions.  Paul is asking for leaders to have a good reputation in the community and the church, a solid reputation, integrity, not simply a pretty façade.

Paul gives a list of positive traits to look for and negative traits to avoid that make up the idea of blameless. Sort like red lights and green lights for a potential leader. Family relationships are in order, there is fidelity within marriage, in a very new and difficult setting like Crete it was important that the whole household believed. That is wasn’t split with the Children involved in the wild side of Cretean behaviour. The false teaching was disrupting households, to counter it they needed to have a household that was keeping the faith and keeping together. It was important not to have a family which could be pointed to as out of control by those outside the Church. I think it is a protection for families and marriages that are struggling as well, not putting them under the added pressure and scrutiny that comes with leadership.

Then Paul gives a list of negative traits, ‘not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursing dishonest gain. ‘These are the direct opposites of what is happening in pagan Crete society and specifically with dishonest gain it mirrors Paul allegations that the circumcision party are in it to make money.  Paul had had to defend himself against such allegations, telling the Philippians he appreciated their gift but was not asking for anything and had learned to be content in all situations. He also tells the Thessalonians to remember that he had worked as a tent maker while he was with them so not to be a burden.

Paul then follows that up with a list of positive character traits, hospitality… which is generosity, sharing what God has given. In a church that met in peoples houses it is also an essential attribute. In Phillipi, part of Lydia’s repose to the gospel was to open her house up to Paul and his team, we must assume that as where the church started and met as well.   Who loves good was seen as the opposite to being about self-gain, it reflects Jesus Beatitude, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,  self-control and disciple speak of having ones emotions and appetites under control. Upright. Speaks of being committed to justice and fairness in all dealing with other people, Holiness in greek ethics meant “living in accordance with the wishes of your god”. It describes the condition of the whole person… we might use the word integrity, our outward actions, are in harmony with our inward beliefs. Jesus would say it ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments’.  In all these traits people would see that the Candidate for Christian leadership lived out the gospel they believed in.

Paul adds a skill to his list as well that the person hold on to the trust worthy teaching they have received and be able to encourage others with sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.  Paul’s not looking for people with a theological degree here, but rather people who  know the gospel and show they now it by how they live. There is a competency element here being able to teach. But also that they set an example for others to see and follow.

How do we bring that from the there and then to the here and now.

The elephant in the room is does this passage say church leadership is only for men…Married men.  As we looked at last week when we looked at the household code and leading where we are, we noted that people have tried to take the household codes of patriarchal society and impose them as binding on todays society. In Paul’s time household leader’s elders and overseers were gendered roles. However,  I’ve mentioned many times that Paul affirmed women in leadership roles, Lydia was the leader of the church in Philippi. In Corinthians Paul talks of Chloe’s people coming to him with concerns about what was happening in Corinth, which implies she was a leader in that church. As we are a society now that values women in leadership, I know we still have a long way to go, we must ask how we apply Paul’s code to women. The answer is that the teaching on fidelity in marriage and other character traits to do with attitudes to the use of authority and money are equally as relevant, for men and women… As we look at 1 and 2 Timothy next year we will deal with some difficult passages about women in leadership.

It’s interesting that in the list of attributes Paul used Greek terms and concepts to describe the qualities of a leader. He has taken the Jewish gospel and translated the best of the qualities that Jesus epitomised and made them relevant for the situation on Crete. The attributes and moral integrity that the Greeks themselves values Paul is able to call Christians to live those out. It’s a key principle for us as well, to see Christian Leadership be about people reflecting the best character traits virtues and qualities that our society holds up for leaders, Maxwell does that by using words like integrity, honesty, authenticity, discipline cover the traits Paul had talked about. This word picture behind me reflects  leadership qualities people saw in Martin Luther King Jr, many which reflect his Christian faith. The list of the top attributes that people look for in a leader today like dependability, transparency; having no ulterior motive, empathy, compassion and care for workers and those we lead, all reflect a Christ honouring life, a person who hears Jesus words and obeys them. That are able to be examples of what it means to follow Christ. In their relationships, inside the family and outside.

When I was at Knox Theological college the then principal showed us this diagram to do with ministry formation, and he asked us which of these quadrants we felt that we needed to work on in our time at Knox. Professional skills and developing gifts, knowledge, spiritual growth, character development. I actually think it is a good way of thinking about not only ministry development but also leadership development and Christian discipleship. To be well rounded in Christ we need to grow in all those areas.

In this passage Paul is not telling Titus to look for the superheros of the faith, the exceptional Christian person, rather when you have a look at the qualities of a quality leader, you see that they are examples of people who have grown into maturity in Christ, it is God’s call on you and I In Ephesians four Paul states that  God’s purpose for Christian leadership and ministry is  that the body of Christ, all of us, might grow into the fullness of Christ and be equipped for every good deed. As we saw when we looked at Paul’s instruction to Titus about people in every status of Cretean society was that as followers of Jesus they are examples of the Kingdom of God in this world, ambassadors for Christ. To be like these street lights starting to take effect in the dusk in a town on Crete, or where we are here and now.  WE are called to a Christ honouring life and as we live that some will be called into positions of leadership in the Church… We are all called to have the qualities of quality leadership… as we serve and grow in the qualities of Jesus Christ. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Lead Where you are!... reflections from Titus 2

This message was preached at a café style service at St Peter's and was designed to get people reflecting on how they could lead and live out the gospel in the situations and places in which they live. It has discussion questions incorporated at the end... 
Recently I listened to a podcast of a pastor from South Africa talking about how their church moved from seeing themselves as simply members of a Church to being people who were all called by God to serve in the city and place they lived, and see the good news of Jesus Christ bring transformation.

He illustrated this by talking about an unemployed woman teacher who asked the church to pray for her to find a job. The next week the pastor got a phone call from the women to say she had got an offer for a job, teaching, but she didn’t want to take it because it was in the worst school in the worst area of the city, the people were the wrong colour, it was full of problem kids, drug dealers and crime. The pastor said that he though as she was called to be a teacher and they had prayed for a job that just maybe this might be God answering that prayer and giving her the place God wanted her to serve. Long story short, She taught at the school and got to know the kids and their families, that lead to the church getting involved in the community.. They got involved in the notorious housing estate next to the school that many of the families lived in. One of their congregation was called to be a lawyer got involved in the body corporate, and used his legal skills to stop apartments being used to manufacture and distribute drugs. 

We might not see it when we look at our own lives and circumstances, but God has called each one us, and placed us where we are and its there that he calls us to serve and to lead, and see his kingdom come. In the passage we had read out to us today Paul continues to speak to Titus who he has left in Crete to establish the church in what is a difficult situation.  We are looking at it as a way of gaining insight into Christian leadership as maturity and ministry.

Paul tells Titus to teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. The gospel of Jesus Christ results in his followers living the gospel out in the society in which they live. Paul relates that to how should Christians live in the very structured society of Crete. Paul give Titus things to teach people who are at different levels in that structure, because of age, gender and weather they are free or slave: from top to bottom, he is to teach them how they can serve God in the place they are. Then he underpins that by articulating the sound doctrine that they are to live out. Paul finishes by exhorting Titus to teach and not to let anyone despise him, it is an exhortation for him to lead where he is.  

On Crete there seems to have been a disconnect between gospel teaching and gospel behaviour, and people in the church were getting caught up in the more indulgent and promiscuous society round them. So Paul starts by teaching Christian character and behaviour.  He also starts with households because he had talked of the false teaching happening in Crete impacting on households. Household is also a metaphor that was used as a metaphor for the Church.

Greek and Roman society was built around a very rigid and enforced social structure. Aristotle summed up the system very succinctly when he put it in a series of three authority relationships…’ Master and Slave, Husband and Wife, father and children’. It was a very strict patriarchal structure, that had very codified and rigid gender roles and expectations.

Paul’s applies the gospel to that structure in a very radical way. He speaks to the older men who would be seen as the heads of the households and in positions of authority, not to be indulgent and simply accept the privilege of that position, rather to be temperate and self-controlled, to be worthy of that respect rather than simply demanding it. In a radical way he talks of being sound in faith, and in love. It becomes not about power but about care and concern and self-giving service. Likewise the older women were not to simply indulge in gossip and wine, but be about teaching younger women to follow Christ. Teaching is of course an important role in the church, passing on the faith to new generations.  The word for older women here up until the fourth century was also seen an official role in the Church of women elder.

Paul is radical in that he also speaks to the people in the positions of less or no power as well, showing them how to live out the Christian faith where they are.  Avoiding the excesses of the culture round them and acting in a way that reflects Jesus Christ.  They may have to do the things that they do because of their position in society, but he changes it from duty and demand to being about service, and showing Christs love, in fact it becomes subversive rather than submissive. To each group he tells them that their behaviour will help further the gospel… The young women while having more equality in ministry and leadership because of the gospel will show by their behaviour in managing their households…remember most women in Greek society were married at an early age and expected to have and bring up children…  will not give people any opportunity to malign God’s people… likewise the young men are to be self-controlled and have integrity, so that the opponents of the church will not be able to have anything to hold against them.  The slaves are told that by the way they show Christ like character that they will do more than that they will attract people to the gospel. These powerless people in society are empowered by Paul to make real change by their trustworthy integrity.  They can lead where they are.

The rigid social order of Paul’s day makes it kind of hard for us to work out how to apply what Titus is told to teach to today’s society. Sadly, some people have tried to apply the social structure and the household code of the then and there on the here and now. Man is the head of the house, women are to submit… with the emphasis on maintaining the power structures. Walter Liefield in his commentary on Titus gives helpful principles to how we are to apply Paul’s teaching to our very different cultural settings.

The first is that in every age and culture Christians need to evaluate how contemporaries of moral integrity view the relationship between men and women and apply Christlike love to that. In our age where marriage is viewed as a partnership between equals then it is easy to apply Paul’s teaching on the Christian household in Ephesians 5:21 “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ”… working out the nuts and bolts are a little harder.

The second is, that in all our interpersonal relationships like at work where we find ourselves in positions of authority or being under authority we show a level of integrity, that is as least as high as those of non-Christian people. I remember a speaker at a young adults’ camp we ran one Easter saying he knew his Christian faith was having an impact when his coworkers asked him to take on an advocacy role in the office. He was known for treating everyone no matter who they were with kindness and integrity and was never caught up in office gossip or complaining about everything, and could be trusted to keep confidences and do what he said he would do. People found that attractive.

The last principle is that while we point to Christ with our lifestyle, it does not simply take the place of sharing our faith and the gospel. At the end of teaching on behaviour Paul articulates the gospel truth that underpins that behaviour. That God has appeared and offers Salvation to all people, calling us to live out the Kingdom of God in this present age. Turning from the ways of the world to the ways of God. That Jesus Christ has made us his very own eager to do what is right.  As well as living out the gospel we need to be able to tell out the gospel.

In a very real way Paul is instructing the followers of Jesus in the places that they are to lead where they are.  To be an example of what the Kingdom of God looks like in a marriage and family life, at work, in the neighbourhood and community in which we live. In how we exercise authority or deal with other people exercising authority. It’s not simply to keep the status quo of a culture or society but rather Christ is about redeeming those structures and societies as people come to know his great love and reflect it…

I want to give you a few moments to have a think through this stuff in the groups you are in round the tables. Here are some questions which may get you thinking….

1.       What are the different areas of your life God has called you to serve in?

2.       In what ways do you see yourself able to offer leadership and reflect the gospel?

3.       How have you noticed that call change as you move through different life stages?

4.       How do you see it reflected in your relationships to people of different gender?