Wednesday, May 24, 2017

God in control of this out of control world of ours... A prayer of thanksgiving and confession and communal lament and affirmation of trust

I've been preaching my way through the psalms of ascent at a retirement village and in Psalm 124 and 125 we looked at Communal laments. Looking at how on a personal and societal level things are not at all good. One of the amazing things about these communal laments is that they contain some of the strongest affirmations of faith and hope in God... Lament goes along with trust. 

This week I'm preaching on Daniel chapter 5 which is a passage about the spirit moving in world history. It is again a passage that deals with the worst of human sacrilege and the decline and decay of empire, and in the middle of that God's sovereign hand, offering last minute grace but also changing empire. In the middle of that Daniel is faithful and willing to move and be where the Spirit moves... In my own inadequate way I've tried to tie this all together in a prayer for the service this Sunday... In the face of terror attacks at a concert in Manchester, continued civil war in Syria, famine in eat Africa, North Korean missile tests and the seeming swirl and whirl of political change.

The affirmation of the prayers of ascent and Daniel are that God is in control. That we are called to live out our transformative faith in Jesus Christ amidst this with the ministry of reconciliation, humble service and selfless love   of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It would be easy to find ourselves shaken to the core,

Distort and full of despair as we see what is happening around us

Bomb blasts murder teenagers and children die in civil war

Famine and conflict join hands to kill with hunger’s cruel grip

The dangerous bravado of sabre rattling with nuclear tipped missiles

The unsettling swing of ideology, and polarizing, politics of popularity  

Amidst the wrestle to know truth from well-constructed fake,  

Lurching from crisis to crisis, climate change and super bug

It is easy to wonder where it’s all going, spinning out of control

But amidst histories crazed forward dance

We stop and proclaim God’s hand is at work

The sovereign Lord, creator of all, is in control

Working his purposes by the Holy Spirit, in this world

Calling his people to follow Christ and to reconcile

Amidst it all God has sent his Son, his kingdom has come

Not in the clash of army or over whelming force

But in humble service and sacrificial love

In Jesus life, death and resurrection

God is at work, his plans for good and not for harm

His desire for people to be forgiven and made whole,

For justice and righteousness to flow

For those whom he has called and made his own

To see what the Spirit is doing and join right in

To be peace makers and Christ light bearers

To love one another as Christ has loved us

Witnesses to the hope and good news of Jesus Christ

Living as Kingdom of God citizens in the realms of this world

Righteous and Holy, God

The one who rules above the storm,

We give you praise for who you are, both sovereign and loving

We declare your goodness and grace that has bought us life

We pray for your forgiveness, for wrong done and good left undone

We thank you that in Christ the slate is wiped clean

We pray for the renewing presence of your spirit

That we might be your people, and do your will  

That we may live, and speak and act to your glory


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Empowered to Proclaim: God's Word in the Power of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 2:1-3:3, Acts 1:4-11)

Do you know what the number one fear for people is?

It’s glossophobia… the fear of public speaking, getting up in front of a group of people and speaking to them. Jay Leno quipped it’s so bad that at a funeral most of us ‘would rather be the person in the casket than the one giving the eulogy’.   I’m not sure about that, but it does sum it up for many of us.

You might think that as I stand up and preach each week and lead worship that I’m immune, but that is not the case. I always tell couples I marry that on the day, I’ll be the most nervous because I’m the one who has to say the majority of the words.  At funerals, I always make sure I’ve got everything I’m going to say written down, including my own name, just in case I forget it. When I’ve had to speak at places like presbytery or general assembly in a debate I quite literally shake and often what I say comes across as emotionally charged. But I stand up and preach because I believe it is what God has called me to do, to take his timeless word and open it up in a timely manner for his people. Praise God he gives me the strength I need to do it by his Holy Spirit.

I think in the Church there is another fear that people have, that is sharing their faith with others, talking about Jesus Christ in their everyday life. I’ll put my hand up and say I’m like that as well.

Heading into Pentecost this year we are working through a series looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament: From hovering over the waters in the creation story in Genesis right through to being poured out in fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel chapter two. Seeing what the Holy Spirit was about then and there and how Jesus changed all that and what it means to us here and now. Today we are looking at the calling of Ezekiel to be a prophet, to speak God’s word, and what that has to say to us today about being called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

Ezekiel is a prophet who speaks to the Jewish people in their exile in Babylon.  He was a priest by profession and at the opening of the book we find him amidst the exiles at the Kebar river, which is a channel off the Euphrates river just to the south of Babylon. We are told that the hand of the Lord, a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, was on Ezekiel, he was anointed as a priest but you get the sense that God has been leading and guiding him in life. Even bringing him to being in the midst of the exiles. There as a priest to be of some comfort for his people as they mourned about where they were. Psalm 137 paints the picture of Jewish gatherings in exile “by the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, there we wept when we remembered Zion”.  Ezekiel has an overwhelming vision of God. God on his throne, carried by these amazing living creatures, four faced seraphs. The image behind me is from the Book of Kells, and it is a representation of the four gospels as each of the faces of those four creatures, the Man, the Ox, the Eagle and the Lion. An amazing image of the reality of Jesus Christ carried to us by the four gospels. Ezekiel’s vision is of God being with his people in exile.  Ezekiel sees the one who is on the throne and falls flat on his face, in fear because he has seen the Lord.  That is where the passage we had read to us this morning comes in. It is the passage of Ezekiel’s call to ministry.

God says ‘to stand up and he will speak to Ezekiel’ and as he says this we are told that the Spirit came upon Ezekiel and it enabled him to stand and to hear what God was saying to him. Ezekiel had an amazing spiritual experience, he saw God sitting on his throne, but what stops that from just being something that overwhelms his senses and leaves him terrified is the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. It gives him the courage to stand in God’s presence and to hear what God is saying. This is what the Holy Spirit is still doing in and for us. As we saw last week the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a seal of his ownership , that we don’t need to grovel and fear God but we belong to him, that we can stand in his presence through Jesus death and resurrection.  In John’s gospel Jesus speaks of not leaving us as orphan’s but making us part of his family by sending the advocate, the comforter. The comforter, the spirit of truth, that will teach us all we need to know and will bring to our minds all that Jesus has said. The Holy Spirit in us enables us to stand and to hear God’s words.

Then Ezekiel receives God’s commission to be his prophet. To take his message to God’s rebellious people. In the Old Testament God chooses individuals to do special tasks for him. Ezekiel is ‘to be sent’ to his people, to speak God’s word to them, whether they will listen or not. He is to be a faithful servant amidst a rebellious, hard headed, stiff necked people. In the New Testament, the disciples are called apostles, and apostles basically means the sent ones. Commissioned by God, and in the passage, we had read to us in Acts Chapter 1 Jesus sends them and all his followers, he sends them to speak his word, to witness to Jesus Christ risen from the death. To witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth. Instead of simply calling and sending individuals in Christ, God now sends his people, all of us, to speak his word to the world.  Just as God gives Ezekiel his Holy Spirit to enable him to do what he is called to do, Jesus sends his holy Spirit, to give us the power to do what God calls us to do.

I was a bit reluctant to use Ezekiel’s call as an example for us because it is unique in the scriptures, Ezekiel does not give God any excuses why he shouldn’t do what God has said.  Most of the people God chooses and calls in the Old testament have big buts. Which has nothing to do with how much they’ve got to sit down with. Rather they have excuses and reasons why they are not the ones to be called.  Moses wasn’t good at speaking, he had a speech impediment, Gideon, was the least important member of the least important family in the least important tribe of Israel, Jeremiah is too young, no one will listen as he’s only a boy, Amos is criticized for being just a farmer from Tekoa, (you can imagine Te koa being this small town down the east coast somewhere, right next to nowhere, which of course is Maori for nowhere) what has he got to say to the people in the big city. Jonah just plumb does not want to do it, he hates the people of Nineveh. It’s not that Ezekiel is perfect, rather in being called to speak to a rebellious people as a faithful servant, he does not get a chance to voice his excuses. It does say in chapter 3:14 that the hand of the Lord leads his home and that he is bitter and angry in his own spirit. The key thing is God chooses ordinary people to do his will to speak his word and to achieve his purposes. You could give the same sort of list of people in the New Testament, and down through church history, however it is God’s spirit that gives them what they need to do God’s work, to proclaim God’s word.

The Key reason I’ve chosen Ezekiel, is because we get something of the process by which God enables Ezekiel to speak his word and to prophecy, which is important for us. It is easy to think of God inspiring people to speak like someone being God’s loudspeaker system, or like God’s type writer. God pushes the keys and the words come out. It’s not the case. Ezekiel is told to speak God’s word, but first he is invited to eat what God gives him. A hand, again a symbol for the Holy Spirit, gives him a scroll to eat. To digest and allow to fill him up. You get the picture of it becoming part of him, being the sustenance for life, and what gives him strength and energy for life. Before we speak God’s words we must know God’s word and allow it to be digested and fill up our lives and be our nourishment and food. Then we are able to let it flow out of us. That’s the process of inspiration. Down through history people have seen things as so inspired they are God’s word for all time but for most of us it is God’s timely word, for the situation we are in…

Did you notice the paradox in how the scroll tastes to Ezekiel. The scroll that is given to Ezekiel is full of lament and mourning and woe. But it tastes sweet to Ezekiel. God is asking Ezekiel to speak to a rebellious people, and the words of God’s covenant of grace has to be bitter to them, they think God will come and quickly bring them back to Jerusalem, but God’s word is that as they have been rebellious for so many generations that this exile is going to last for a long period of time, so much so that they will have to settle down where they live and learn to be God’s people all over again in a foreign setting. It points out that they will have to change their ways so that God can move in a new way. But to a faithful person like Ezekiel, they are sweet because they speak of God’s desire to redeem his people, his unfailing love for his people, that this exile has purpose and meaning in God’s plans and purposes. It is like when Paul talks of the preaching Christ crucified, it is folly to the gentiles and Jews, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God for our salvation.   

In this eating of the scroll we see how God enables and inspires people to speak his word. His word is given to us, in this case it may well have been the Sinai covenant with its list of blessings for obedience and woes or consequences for disobedience and Ezekiel digests it and then it is spoken to the specific time and place and situation through the personality, words, and temperament of Ezekiel. We’ve mentioned the repetition of the phrase rebellious people in this passage and repetition of phrases and words is a stylistic part of the book of Ezekiel, it may well be a mark of how he speaks. Why say something once when you can emphasis it by saying it again and again. With the Spirit being involved in the process and in the person what comes out is equally tht persons word and God’s word to that situation. In the case of Ezekiel and the other books of scripture the decernment process of God's People lead by God's Spirit have seen as being God's abiding word for all time: authoritatively God's word for all people all time.  

You and have the word of God, Jesus Christ living within us by the Holy Spirit, we have the word of God in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament which the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives, the spirit enables us to speak that out to the people around us, to witness to Jesus Christ. The Spirit brings it to mind, gives us the words when we need them. Because God has gifted each of us with our own individuality it’s going to sound like us, but God can use that to speak into people’s lives. We are called to do that weather people listen or not… we are called to proclaim it by  living  it out, and speaking it out.

Let me finish with a great illustration, audio bibles are usually produced with the bible being read by someone with beautiful BBC English. The Jesus story book which Sundayfunday are using is a great example its produced in the states but the stories are read by David Suchet, the amazing English actor, who ironically you will know as Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule  Poirot. He has a wonderful voice. It is done I think because it gives the bible and the story the authority that a BBC voice over might give a documentary. In fact that kind of voice over is called ‘the voice of God’, this is how it is, this is the truth, my BBC English proves it. We can have that idea of this is how God’s word should sound.

But with the rise of the Internet and digital media, there is a democratization of the voices you can hear broadcast… or rather pod cast. People are doing their own content, their own shows, telling their own stories, making their own comment. Bible in action in New Zealand are in the process of producing what they are calling the pod bible. They are  putting the contemporary English version bible online. They have taken 300 volunteers from round New Zealand, men women, young people, older people, people for whom English is their first language and others for whom English is a second or even a third language and got them to read a chapter of the bible each. With their own inflections and imperfections, accents and inadequacies, there amateur passion of the scripture rather than professional polish for the presentation. It makes the scriptures come alive, you hear it in our voices, the voices you might hear down the road, at the mall, beside you on the bus or train, at the football game. 

This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in us. We have been called to witness to what we know of Jesus Christ; it’s not the voice over word of God BBC doco, unless that is you, the spirit allows you to speak and proclaim what you know, how you know it, how it has been digested into your life and made part of you. There are people who have a prophetic ministry and calling, but we are all called to voice God’s timeless word in a timely manner to the very time we inhabit, and it the Holy Spirit that enables and empowers us to do that.

 Jay Hotere died last week. I’d never met him but he had influenced a lot of people who I know and admire. One person placed a video of his testimony on line. I watched it…Jay had grown up in a violent abusive environment and sadly for so many men in our society was starting down the track of repeating that destructive behaviour. He got to the point of wanting to kill himself and prayed well Jesus if your real you’d better let me know because if you don’t I’m going to end it.  The phone rang and it was a mate of his who said, God had been telling him to ring, what was going on, and not to do anything till he got there. Jay became a Christian and his life changed and he helped transform many other lives. The voice and word of God came in a friend’s voice. Adrian Plass is a wonderful Christian broadcaster and author in England and one night read out a very personal letter to god over the radio, voicing his doubts and fears and feeling of being unworthy. When he got home there was a letter on his doorstep, from God replying to all his doubts and fears, assuring him he was loved, and Plass said it was amazing how similar God’s handwriting was to his mothers.

You are called to speak God’s word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Postscript: I am aware that in this sermon I do not make mention of the phrase 'Son of Man' which along with it's mention in Daniel's vision in Daniel 7. Theologically this phrase Son of Man is significant because it is the title that Jesus Chose to use for himself. Son of Man in Ezekiel is a phrase which means 'Mere mortal'. In Daniel 7 it is a vision of heaven where one like the son of man appears as God's anointed one. The title pulls together both the idea of a mere moral, Jesus as totally human called to speak and proclaim God's word, and the son of man as God's son in Daniel.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Not A Silent God... A prayer of thanksgiving and confession.

For presbyterian's the burning bush is a great symbol of God speaking to his people.
it refelcts the fact that God listens, god responds, God calls and god saves his people
It is our churches symbol, this is the stainglass window at St Peter's Ellerslie Mt Wellington

In 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 Paul talks to the Corinthians about the difference between the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and dumb idols. The dumb idols can't and don't speak, but God can and does chose to speak, and he can and does chose to speak in and through his people. plug in gifts of the Holy Spirit which is what this chapter in scripture is known for.  The test for God's word is whether it glorifies Jesus or not... 

This prayer is a reflection on the fact that we have a God who speaks and giving thanks for that.   
A God who speaks through creation, through the story of his dealing with his people, in new testament and old, who spoke in Jesus Christ the word made flesh, who speaks by the Holy Spirit's presence in us and by the Holy Spirits enabling through us.  In return we speak to God, in praise in confession and in suplication. We speak and live to proclaim that jesus is Lord...

So feel free to pray this prayer, it's designed for public worship so feel free to use any or all of it, if you find it helpful and encouraging, or none of it if you don't. I'm always happy to learn and improve so if you've got some condtructive suggestions please leave a comment.

Loving God,

We thank you that you are not a silent God,

We are not left staring off into the void wondering.

Left without a clue as to how to make sense of it all

Rather you have revealed yourself to us.

Creator God

The truth is you spoke and it all came into being,

All of it made good and reflecting its makers glory

The night sky without words declares your greatness

We have no excuse- with clarity and understand from what you made*

* On sunday I changed this line which is a direct quote from Romans 1:20. It was prayed as

"with clarity and understanding what you made shows undeniable truth"

Holy God

We see how you have chosen and lead your people

You have given them the law, how to live and reflect your justice

You have spoken through your prophets, and good news speakers

Your timeless word timely given and preserved in the scriptures

Saviour God

In Jesus Your word become flesh

You spoke with a real voice, in human form

You spoke sacrificial love in the agony of the cross

And new life and hope as you rose from the Grave

Spirit of God, Holy and true

God’s word, Jesus Christ dwells in us, by your power

We hear God’s voice because we are filled with your presence

We now all we need of your truth and remember Christ’s words

By you we are strengthened, enabled to witness and to speak

God who is with us,

You speak to us through your people

The shared words from friend and family

Through apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher and pastor

Spirit inspired Loving gesture and truth revealed

God who speaks with us

We come this morning and bring you praise

We confess our sin and ask for you to forgive

We ask you to fill us a new with your spirit

That in how we live and what we say we may proclaim 'Jesus is Lord' 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Anointed: belonging, service and for all of us... (1 Samuel 10:1-13, 16:14, 2 Corintihians 1:21-22)

When I was a youth pastor we invited a guest speaker along to one of our services. When he turned up he said to me, “he had chosen a particular message of his for the evening”. He told me that, “this sermon of his had a real anointing on it.” Which really puzzled me… I just figured that it was Pentecostal speak for, I’m an itinerant preacher and I’ve got a series of ten or so messages I choose from and this one is one of my better ones.  But I was concerned that he would use terminology that inferred that the message he had was somehow more spirit filled, more holy, more God inspired than other sermons and other peoples sermons

 I’ve heard this word anointed used more and more recently. I’ve heard people call a song anointed, saying that somehow it is more special and more Holy Spirit endowed than other ones. I’ve heard people speak about this person or that person being anointed for a specific ministry, Christian conferences will talk of having this speaker along who will impart a special anointing onto people. This church or that ministry is anointed. It may be just a dialect of that weird church language, Chistianese that I don’t speak. It may just be Semantics, but it puzzles and worries me.

Along with that proclamation of something being anointed comes a sense that its better than everything else, or more special than anyone else, this is the reason it is successful. People will often use the anointing as a way of stopping people being critical or even asking questions about a person or an institution or a way of doing things, because it is speaking against God’s anointed. That can easily become abusive controlling power wrapped up in spiritual terms. It’s dangerous and can be damaging.

Why does this impact on you and I? why share this? Because I think it’s important. You see one of the things that came along with the reemphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal and charismatic movements was that if you were not experiencing all these different manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit, it used to be based around speaking in tongues, then you didn’t have God’s Spirit and you were seen as kind of a second-class citizen of the kingdom of God. You may be familiar with Dr Zuess’ Sneeches who lived on beaches! And the star bellied Sneechers thought they were the best kind of Sneechers because they had stars upon thars. We can miss the fact that in God’s anointed one, Jesus Christ, we have all been set aside, anointed by God’s Holy Spirit to be God’s people to serve together to achieve the purposes of God.

We are working our way through the Old Testament, looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in scriptures: from hovering over the water in the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis, to the fulfilment at Pentecost of God pouring out the Spirit on all who believe. It gives us a chance to look at what the Spirit did then and there, to ask what difference Jesus life death and resurrection made, and what it means for us today. 

This week we are looking at Saul, his anointing as King and the connection with that of the work of the Holy Spirit, at the beginning of 1 Samuel chapter 10, and that disturbing verse in 1 Samuel 16 where it says that the Holy Spirit departed from Saul after Samuel had anointed David and that an evil spirit tormented him.

The book of Samuel follows on from the book of Judges. Israel has got to the point where they are not happy with simply having God appoint a judge for Israel when needed. They are beginning to have  more of a sense of being a nation together, and want a central government to defend them against their enemies. God gives them what they want, he sends Samuel to find Saul… Physically Saul is what you might expect a warrior king to look like, he stands head and shoulders above the crowd. He had just been chasing his father’s donkeys across the hill country, he is physically fit.   So on God’s command Samuel anoints him as King. He pours oil over his head, in Israel before this priests had been anointed with oil to set them apart for their work and now Saul is being set apart for the service of being King, being a leader. It is a symbol of God’s choosing, this is the one whom God has chosen to rule over us. It was also seen as God giving the person all the gifts that were required for the role they were being asked to take on. Given the wisdom to make right decisions, to,as we saw with Gideon last week, have the courage to trust God and to act.

The passage we had read out basically deals with the three signs that Samuel gives to Saul to encourage him that what Samuel has said and done is from God. To prepare him for the role he will take up. To enable his to develop the trust in God he will need to carry out that role. Three signs were, (click)  that Saul would meet some men who would tell him his father’s donkeys had been found, and would convey back to Saul’s father news that Saul was safe and well. Just a simple thing but it could show Saul that Samuel was speaking from God. it also actually dealt with the things that were on Saul’s agenda from his past role as a shepherd’s son. Dealing with the past personal stuff so he was ready for what was to come.   

The second was that he would meet some men going to worship who would offer his two loaves of bread to eat. A simple sign that Samuel was speaking the truth, a sign that God was able to provide for his everyday needs, like Jesus says to his disciples that he can provide our daily needs so that we should put first the Kingdom of God. It was also bread set aside for worship and sacrifice. This bread was only for the priests to eat, it was a sign that he was indeed anointed by God, just like the priests. David would also eat that consecrated bread.

The last one was that at the oak of tabor Saul would meet a group of prophets, dancing and singing and telling forth God’s word, and the Spirit would fall on him and he would join them.  A garrison of the philistines being there is mentioned as well. The sign is that God would fill him with his Spirit to enable him both to speak God’s word but also the courage to face the enemies of Israel. All these things happen to Saul.

It tells us that the Spirit of the Lord did fall on Saul and he prophesised, we don’t know what that actual did, just that people acknowldged it was because the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him. . We know the prophets were singing and dancing and giving praise to God, maybe hesimply joined in. when we praise and worship God we are proclaiming and declaring God’s goodness and God’s story, God’s faithfulness and power to each other and to those who hear us. It maybe that Saul started talking and speaking God’s word… taking what the people knew of God’s activity and applying it to the present situation, speaking truth to power, with the philistines not too far away to speak of YWHW as Israel’s God was speaking truth to the military power of the time. But those present recognised it as coming from God’s spirit. It was out of character which is why one of the men asks if “Saul is now one of the prophets’.

It tells us that Saul changed, he was transformed. But such a spiritual experience  wasn’t a guarantee that Saul was totally different than he had been. He may have at that time been aware of God’s presence and God’s provision and empowering, but as the story of Saul goes on we see that it does not translate into him being willing to trust and wait on God, he seems very determined to go his own way. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not being possessed by the Holy Spirit, it does not over ride our will or our personality, we always must choose to follow and live for Jesus. The power of being King, draws him away from being humble and trusting God. It leads to God choosing another in David and the presence of God’s Spirit departing from Saul and God allowing his to be tormented by an evil spirit. It is not the Spiritual experience that is the significant thing it is that on going right relationship with God, humbly walking with the Spirit, with the Lord that brings lasting change. While David made heaps of mistakes the thing that sets him apart a a king is, that David was a man after God’s own heart.

What does this all have to say to us.

Firstly we ned to do
a bit of theology. The whole of the Old Testament is preparing us and pointing towards the coming of Jesus Christ. People being anointed and spirit filled to achieve God’s purposes and there brokenness and in ability to perfectly keep God’s will points us towards God Anointed one, God’s chosen one, God’s messiah  who would  be filled with God’s Holy Spirit to achieve God’s purposes in reconciling the world to God. Jesus is the anointed one, set aside for God’s purposes, empowered to declare God’s kingdom in word and signs and wonders and in his death and resurrection. It is in the anointed one that you and I are bought into relationship with God and are anointed by the Holy Spirit to be God’s people.

In our new testament reading today, Paul is defending his calling as an apostle to the Corinthians, who think Paul’s change of travel plans, and postponing coming to see them is a sign that he is fickle and not trustworthy, rather than it being a set of difficult circumstances. Paul does not defend that by saying well I’m God’s anointed don’t criticise me. Rather he points to the fact that he and his team are like everyone else, we belong to Christ. He is the one who makes us stand firm, he has anointed us all, poured out and filled all of us by his Holy Spirit.  That is his seal of ownership on us. A message would be sent from a king to a group of people or an individual and it would be deemed authentic if it had the kings seal on it. Made in wax with a ring or a stamp… The spirit’s presence in all our lives is like a down payment a guarantee of what is to come. A taste of eternity with Christ.

Applying that to our lives… anointing is first about all of us in relationship with God. being anointed by the Holy Spirit means we are all God’s chosen people, we have been chosen in and through the chosen one Jesus Christ. God chooses to live with and in us by the Holy Spirit. It is no longer just the chosen one or two, the ones that seem to be more successful or prominent, but all of us, you and even me. We are God’s spirited people. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses the image of both sets of people who were anointed and set aside for God in the old testament to speak of the body of Christ, the Church. He says ‘But You are a chosen people (anointed) a royal priesthood, a holy nation (set aside) God’s special possession’. That you may declare forth the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The spirit of God is on all of us that together, like Saul did initially, we may declare what God has done for us.

It applies to us because we are all anointed for service. It’s not about being successful or having influence in the world, but the road of humbly serving the Lord. God will often make the things that someone does more fruitful in terms of numbers and being noticed, but we are all anointed and gifted to together to witness to Jesus Christ. Paul talks of Christian ministry to the Corinthians as one planting and one watering, but affirms that it is God who brings the growth. It’s interesting we can see mass evangelism having big results and we can forget that most people come to know Jesus through a friend or family member loving them and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

It applies to us because it is easy to equate being filled with God Spirit or anointed in God’ spirit as a spiritual experience. I’ve had heaps of Spiritual experiences and they are encouraging and life changing, they awaken us again and again to the transforming power and presence of God, being filled with God’s Spirit invites us to live in step with the Spirit, It I about a daily walk with Jesus Christ, an ongoing, on growing relationship…We can be about wht God has called us to do because we know he both is able to deal with our past and hold our future in his hands, can put first the kingdom of God because we know God will supply our needs, that he has filled us with his Holy Spirit. That in the end is what allows that anointing to permeate all areas of our life, that in the end is the thing that strengthens us and enables us to live for Christ and that  is fruitful… as it produces in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… it results in Christ, the anointed one, being made manifest in and through us.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A prayer of thanksgiving and confession using feminine images of God (connected with mothering) in scripture... for Mother's Day

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing- Matthew  22;37

Just a quick prayer of thanksgiving and confession for Mothers day this week.
I've taken some time to use feminine images of God from the scripture.

God All sufficient is one possible translation of El shaddai and is a more feminine image of God, one possible origin for El Shaddai is the God who has breasts being able to feed her children, rather than the more common and masculine God almighty... God of the mountains.

carrying on from that "in whom we live and move and have our being" is from Acts, and can be seen as giving a picture of a child in the womb. Hosea 11: 3-4 gives a picture of God teaching Ephraim to walk.

Jesus uses the image of the widow seeking a precious lost coin in Luke 15, a parable alongside the parable of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. Jesus voices his love and desire for that city and his people in terms of a mother hen wanting to gather her chicks beneath her wings. using her body to shield them from harm.... what a great picture of Christ's death on the cross... this is my body broken for you.

I've used the picture of the mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32 teaching its chicks to fly to look at the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to maturity in Christ. if you read in the book of Acts you see a reoccurring pattern of the church getting comfortable and stepping away from its prime mission and then the Holy Spirit stirring things up again and the church moving on in its mission and maturity.

The opening line of the last bit comes from Psalm 123:2-3 and is the second half of the male female servants looking to the hand of their masters(both male and female) as an illustration of our being Attentive to do the will of God.

God all sufficient,

In whom, we live and move and have our being

You made us, created us male and female in your likeness

You look after us and care, nurture, heal and guide

You comfort us in our sorrows, help us to stand and walk with you

Jesus Christ our loving saviour

Like a widow seeking a precious coin, you came to seek the lost

like a mother hen draws its chicks beneath its wings

You came to draw us all back to know God’s great love

You lived, and died and rose again to make us God’s children

Holy Spirit, comforter and Guide

You fill us with strength and light; Christ abides in us

Like a mother eagle you ruffle our comfortable nests

To make us step out and trust ourselves upon your wind

You swoop and catch us when we fall  

As a maid looks to her mistress’ hand, we look to you

We come this morning to give you praise

We ask you to forgive wrong done and good left undone

Restore us to yourself and fill us afresh with spirit breath

That we may live and love to your glory all our life

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Mother's Day Prayer

It's mothers day here in New Zealand this Sunday and I've tried to write a prayer giving thanks for Mothers that acknowledges changing roles as children grow into adulthood. I've tried to do it with warmth and almost a bit whimsical.

 The prayer also tries to pick up and acknowledges the pain of mother's no longer with us. We just had my oldest daughter's graduation from university this last week (BE with fist class honours he said with great pride) and she was the first of the grandchildren to do so in our family. my wife's mother was with us, but it was this morning as i wrote this prayer that Kris (my wife) and I acknowledged that yes there was someone missing (Nana Carter). 

The prayer also acknowledges the pain of people for whom experience of their mothers may not be all love and light. To Acknowledge those who have not had children and those who are still wrestling with the trying and with hope.

Please feel free to use this pray and make it your own, if you find a line or part helpful and good then please use it. if not that's cool. if you have some thoughts on how it could be better please feel free to let me know...

Loving God we thank you for mothers

For loving us as only a mother can

Sharing laughter and smiles

Lavishing affection, affirmation and praise

Acts of service, like loads of loads of laundry and school lunches

Growing along with us to love in ways we do not outgrow

For carrying us and caring for us

Cuddling and cheering us on

consoling and cheering us up

Letting go, stepping back, so we learn how to grow

Calling and listening just when we needed it

For looking after us with all that that entails

Looking out for our best

Just Looking for, when we’ve lost it

And, that Look, when we’ve needed or deserved it

And Looking in to check, just to see how we’re going

For nourishing and nurturing us

Motivating, and yes even nagging us when needed

Navigating with us through the challenges of our ages

Noticing our pain and naming our hurt

Not giving up on us, no not at all

for having us, Holding us and helping us

Healing our scraped knees and deeper wounded soul

Heralding our progress and speaking hope when we fail

Heading us in new directions, even if it was sometimes simply ‘off to bed’

Having us care for them, as age seems to reverse roles

Loving God we thank you for mothers

Our biological mothers,

For mother’s mothers, grand ma’s and those who are  great

Our mothers of the faith

For carers and guardians

The women who have invested so much into our upbringing and life

Mentors, heroines and inspiration to greater heights

Father God,

Forgive us for the hurts we have inflicted on mothers

Knowingly and in ignorance and in good left undone

we acknowledge that mothers are not perfect

help us to forgive the mistakes that are made

In our broken and hurting land we know all is not well

we bring the pain of abuse and neglect to you

We place it all in your loving hands

Today we bring the sharp sorrow for some that she is no longer with us

We bring the struggle of what could have been and never was

And those wrestling with trying to conceive

We hold before you the hurt of it not going as planned  

Seeming to be powerless as, for children, it all gets out of hand

We pray for our Mothers

That you would bless them

Fill them with your spirit

Empower them to love more

Give them wisdom to guide and direct

Give them rest and time for themselves

Lord God we thank you for mothers

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Christian courage: our weakness, God's power (Judges 6:7-224,33-36 2 Timothy 1:6-9a)

I’m a bit of a Marvel movie junkie. DC I’m not to sure about, or the stuff put out by Sony because they had the rights, but the Marvel studios stuff is great… The Avengers, Guardians of the galaxy, Thor, iron man, captain America, ant man. I know it’s not deep engaging serious cinema… its blockbuster fantasy written to a formula: With cheesy one liners, moments of pathos, facing down overwhelming odds then snatching victory in the face of imminent defeat.  Moments of self-doubt and then hardened resolve. Moved to great feats by altruistic resolve and tempted by the corrupting allure of power. Pulp psychology character development moments interspersed with spectacular fast paced, special effect driven action scenes. The obligatory cameo by Comic book legend Stan Lee and that little something extra, the teaser scene at the end of the credits… to want to make you come back next time. I love it for entertainment and relaxation but not for my theology.

It is easy for us to contemplate biblical characters through that mythic lens and see them as super human or heroic figures, rather than ordinary people like you and I, that we can relate to, who God has called and given his Holy Spirit to enable and empower them. One of the people in the Old Testament that I think epitomises that is Gideon in the book of Judges; a very real human flawed person whom God uses to save his people. A man whom commentator Lawson Younger Jr says is characterised by fearfulness and reluctance but who God sees as a mighty warrior. A man who speaks to us of what Christian courage is; our weakness and God’s power.

Leading up to Pentecost this year we are looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, how God has been with, spoke to and moved through his people Israel by the Spirit. It’s a whirlwind survey, moving from the Spirit hovering over the water in the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis  to the Spirit being poured out on all the believers at Pentecost in fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel chapter 2.  It’s not exhaustive or comprehensive, but I hope it gives us insight to the working of the Holy Spirit then and how that changes with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what it means for us today.

The book of judges covers the period in Israel’s history between the conquest and settlement of the land God had promised to Abraham, to the establishment of a king in Israel. It talks of a cycle in Israel’s early history of Israel forgetting the covenant, and falling into worshipping the gods of nations around them, and God who is faithful to his covenant, doing what he said would happen and Israel is oppressed. Then the people will cry out to God and God would show mercy and sent them a deliverer, and Israel would come back to worshipping their God.That cycle continues again and again As a book it sets the scene as does all the Old Testament scriptures for the need of a saviour like Jesus Christ.

The Gideon story fit in that cycle. Israel has once again turned to worshipping the God’s of the people round them Ba’al and Asherah. These were fertility God’s who worshippers could manipulate to give a good harvest by pagan rituals and who did not demand the kind of just society that YHWH, called Israel to be.  The Midenites came and raided and terrorised Israel, they would wait for Israel to plant their crops and just as harvest time came they would swoop in from the desert and take the lot. They had a technological advantage which made them hard to combat… Camels. Camels allowed for swift mobility and the ability to strike out of the desert lands. They have just recently remasters Lawrence of Arabia and you can see that Bedouin tribes were able to use that kind of mobility in the desert to attack the Turks, where they least expected them.  In the face of this the people cry out to God. Unlike in previous cycles, God first sends a prophet who tells them why thing had gone wrong and calls them back to worship the Lord their God. But also we have God going to call Gideon to be the person he would raise up to defeat the Midenites.

The passage we read today is God’s calling of Gideon. Unlike other call narratives in judges, this one is in the form of a theophany: we have this mysterious figure turn up who as the story goes on Gideon realises is none other than the Lord himself. The word angel can mean a spiritual being, or simply a messenger, but in Ancient Near Eastern society the messenger from a king was treated as if that king himself was present and speaking, they were an extension of their rule and power. 

Lets face it Gideon would not be your natural first choice to be a military leader. We meet Gideon in a wine press threshing wheat.  A wine press was a pit in the ground used for treading on grapes to get wine. Gideon is threshing wheat there because he is hiding it from the Midenites. It was usually done on t a threshing floor which was out in the open and easily visible, and the Midenites would see the harvest being bought in and processed and sweep in and grab it. Gideon is afraid of them, but the Lord’s greeting is mighty warrior. Now Gideon may have justified to think God was saying mighty worrier.

 God tells Gideon he will save his people. Gideon gives a series of three reasons against that idea. The first is that while he knows the story of God bring his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, he does not see God doing that sort of thing today. In fact Gideon and his family and village were syncretic in their worship, in the part of Judges 6 we didn’t read today it talks of his family have Asherah pole and an altar to Ba’al, that Gideon destroys. He says that he is the least in his family and his clan is the least in the least tribe of Israel, who am I to do such a thing.  He doubts what he has been told and so seeks a concrete sign, a reoccurring thing for Gideon.

Each time God’s response is the promise of his abiding presence, of his power being with Gideon, and finally in an act of burning up the offering that Gideon prepares with fire. Gideon finally get it that this is God speaking and so begins to obey, and act.

In our reading this morning we jumped to the forces of the midenites and all the people from the east with their wonderful hard to pronounce names getting together to  attack Israel, and Gideon who had learned to trust in God, is filled by the Spirit and blows a trumpet calling Israel to gether and go to war. In fact that are all arrive first class...  as you could say Israels army is Shofar driven... Sorry bad joke). In God’s presence he has found real courage. Of course, spoiler alert, Gideon does become a mighty warrior, he defeats an army of overwhelming numbers with just three hundred men. Not with superior weaponry or technological advantages but with the first example of psychological warfare, in the night they panic their enemies with trumpet blasts, lamps and shouting. And the sword of the Lord, a non-deplume for the Holy Spirit causes the midenites and their allies to think they are being attacked and fight each other and run away. It’s a victory that could only be God.

What does this have to say to us today? How does it connect to the Holy Spirit moving in our lives?

Three things.

Firstly, God still calls people like Gideon, people like you and I to be about bringing his salvation and Kingdom to his people and world. Jesus commissioned his followers to go into all the world and make disciples, to be his witness in Judea Samaria and to the ends of the earth. People like us, you and me, with our fears and our flaws and our reluctance and excuses and reasons why not, our demands, our wish for a concrete sign, our questions and doubts. One of teaching that has stopped many people experiencing the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and seeing God move is the same one Gideon had. But That’s all way back then not here and now. Like Gideon we’ve bought into the God’s of the people round us and we can’t think of God doing something beyond the natural world, moving in us by his spirit.

We can say who are we! How can we make a difference, I’m only one small voice. I’m from the wrong people, a small country. We forget Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians that God uses the weak things of this world to defeat the strong and God uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. The picture that comes to mind is a tired weary seamstress on her way home on the bus across Montgomery Alabama refused to give up her seat because of the segregation laws in that state, and Rosa Park was the spark of the civil rights movement. Her statue is in rotunda of the state building in Washing DC she is the only one seated. A elderly Maori women setting out with her grandchild in hand on a long walk to the capital, wellington, to call for the upholding of treaty land rights for her people, dame whina cooper. Others just want a spiritual experience and will go from this place to that place to seek it, and forget that the manifestation of God’s Spirit is for the manifesto of God’s Kingdom, witness, healing, salvation, peace , justice.

Secondly, like Gideon the power and ability to do the things we are called to do, comes not from who we are but God’s presence with us. What makes the great commission doable is Jesus promise to be with us till the end of the Age. What makes us able to witness to the risen Jesus Christ is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in all who believe. Peter is a great example of this, on the night that Jesus was betrayed he denied knowing Jesus three times, fifty odd days later there he is filled with the Holy Spirit speaking to a crowd of well over three thousand people with conviction and authority. When he is thrown in jail and told to shut up about this Jesus fellow, he and the other believers pray for the strength to carry on, and the place where they meet shakes. He is even willing to step across that barrier between Jew and Gentile, a huge revolutionary step.

In our New testament reading Paul writes to his young intern Timothy, who is in his first solo position in Ephesus, Timothy is timid by nature, unsure of himself and I know from personal experience daunted by the task before him, aware of his short comings and faults. You know I may just be projecting my own issue on Timothy there. Paul encourages him to fan into flame the gifts he has been given, to join paul in suffering and serving the gospel and encourages him by reminding him that God has given us a spirit of power, love and of self-control.’   Paul reminds him of God’s presence with him. Power, love and self-control together paint a great picture of the Spirit of Christ being with him, don’t they? Power without love and compassion can soon devolve into tyranny and oppression, we’ve sadly seen that in the history of the world and church. When it is used with Love and compassion as the focus, it is to see healing and wholeness and good for all. Self-control, a fruit of the Spirit’s work gives us the wisdom to know how to combine both.

Lastly, it is good to have hero’s of the faith people we admire from scripture and history and the world around us that inspire and motivate us. It’s even ok to like super hero’s and if you’ll excuse the play on words marvel at what they can do, but the call of God is not simply on our hero’s it is for the ‘here I am’s!’ the  ‘here we are’ ordinary people that God is calling to be his witnesses who he has placed his Holy Spirit upon his spirit of power love and self-control. Who with all our fears and doubts and failings and faults will be willing to hear God’s call and obey, knowing that God is with us and that makes all the difference, not just blowing our own trumpet, but to step out with Christian courage aware of our weakness and trusting in God’s powerful presence.