The Senior Pastor writes his Pastor's Piece each week to connect with the St Alban's Community and its Alumni. This section of the website contains the current and past editions.
A Breakpoint Commentary by John Stonestreet on February 3rd.
Are you so heavenly minded you’re no earthly use? A new book describes how we often misunderstand eternal life.
Pastor Matt Heard once saw a painting of five prisoners pressing against a small barred window to watch pigeons feeding outside their prison railcar. Their faces reveal wonder, delight and appreciation for the joy of those birds. A sixth prisoner stands in the shadows, turned away from the joyous scene and staring out of a barred window on the other side.
The painting is entitled “There is Life Everywhere,” and Matt thought about how often he saw Christians excited about the idea of heaven, but struggling through an earthly existence they were just surviving rather than enjoying. For many believers, life was like that of the sixth man in the railcar, something that imprisons us and from which only heaven can set us free. But this doesn’t mesh with Jesus’ words, especially John 10 v10, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
This fullness of life, or what Matt calls in the title of his book “Life with a Capital L” is the “capacity Jesus gives me to fully embrace my humanity and experience the privilege of being human.” Matt realized that Jesus didn’t come to save us from human life but to restore us to it as the life God always intended for us: to be fully human and fully alive. Too often Christians act as if the physical aspects of our lives are in opposition to our spiritual lives and are even an evil to escape.
He writes, “To be fully human, I must engage with life in both a physical and spiritual way, and not just as two parallel, unrelated compartments…. Religion tends to idolise the spiritual and secularism tends to idolise the physical. But the boundary between sacred and secular is fabricated. To be fully human is to take down that boundary and live our days in an integrated way, both physically and spiritually.”
In the Incarnation, Jesus perfectly married the human and divine aspects of humanity. As redeemed children of God, Jesus calls us to enjoy this same integrated life. So how do we experience this?
Matt believes we must pay attention to our desires. “My longing is central to who I am as a human being.” Now of course, most of us experience our longings in a fallen sense and misdirected. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we drink and drink and are never satisfied, because we don’t realize that Christ is offering living water that alone can fully quench our thirst. That water leads us to be what God created us to be.
Understanding, demands we take the idea of grace seriously. To do that, we must contend with the reality and gravity of our sin. But when we do, it illuminates what the redeemed life can look like.
To explore this further, listen to my interview with Matt on ‘BreakPoint This Week’ at BreakPoint.org Consider this my personal invitation to embrace your God-given humanity and to come home to the vibrant life a bit earlier than you had planned.
- To extend and coordinate a Sunday Welcome Team to connect with newcomers before and after church, and on subsequent Sundays.
- To establish, coordinate and participate in a Connecting Newcomers Team to follow up newcomers in their homes, connect them with others and help them get well established in our church family.
- To establish and coordinate a Discipling Team to oversee and develop the discipling ministries of small groups, Alpha, baptism classes and one-on-one mentoring/discipling.
- To join the Pastoral Team and assist with pastoral visiting.
- To help establish one new community outreach.
- To occasionally lead worship and preach.
- To assist the senior minister in any other ways as time allows.
A Breakpoint Commentary by John Stonestreet on January 15.
The horrific acts of terror in France remind us that Christ’s kingdom advances in love, not force. G.K. Chesterton said, “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”
Over the years, many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons have mocked religions, including Muhammad and Islam, and outraged radical Muslims. For example, an Imam in London, Anjem Choudary, wrote that the twelve victims in Paris brought their deaths on themselves. “It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.”
On one level, Christians can agree that mocking the religious beliefs of others is deplorable. We have faced that kind of mockery ourselves. Remember the so-called art produced by Andres Serrano in which a crucifix was immersed in a jar of urine? [Or NZ’s ‘Virgin in a Condom’ at Te Papa in 1998?]
So we can identify with the outrage that many Muslims feel when their religion is mocked. Yet, while people of good will may disagree about the degree to which freedom of speech should allow blaspheming the sacred, this incident provides a stark contrast between the worldviews of Christianity, secularism, and radical Islam.
Secularism has no framework to understand the reaction of radical Islam, because the only thing sacred in secularism is personal autonomy. And many secularists fail to distinguish between religions. So we’ve heard comparisons between radical Islam and Christianity. The most ridiculous was when First Look Media’s Eric Bates compared Rev Jerry Falwell suing pornographer Larry Flint in the 1980’s with radical terrorists executing people in France. So appealing to the law is the same as committing murder?
But the massacre in Paris is a perfect example of how Christianity differs from Islam, especially radical Islam. The Paris terrorists thought they were defending the honour of Muhammad and were being faithful to Islamic teachings by killing blasphemers.
Christians are called, however, to respond to insult and blasphemy in a different way. Dr Bill Brown, noted that “Christ never demanded that his ‘honour’ be defended. He told Peter to put down his sword when he attempted to protect him. He told his disciples that the world hated Him so they should expect to be treated badly also (John 15:18-25).”
Chuck Colson said, “Christians don’t impose our views on anyone. We propose. … The Christian Church makes a Great Proposal, inviting everyone to the table, regardless of differences. We’re inviting people to consider a worldview that works, makes sense, which offers shalom and human flourishing.”
The Kingdom of Christ advances through love, not through compulsion, intimidation or even legitimate outrage. The God of Christianity invites people.
That’s not saying we shouldn’t speak up for the truth. Our Lord was never shy about that. But when we speak truth, we do so in love, because following Christ is the way of love.
“The beautiful truth,” Bill Brown says, “is that the history of the faith is filled with those who once spoke violently against Christ and then, overwhelmed by grace, embraced Him as their Saviour.”
Earlier this year, the Right Rev Andrew Norton, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, led a pilgrimage tour of Israel during the Gaza crisis. He writes:
“The travel advisory warned us not to go into the West Bank but the local guide said it was perfectly safe if we were out by 1pm. 'That’s when the celebration begins.' "
The ‘celebration’ happens every Friday afternoon when school gets out and the local youth gather on the streets to throw stones at the Israelis, who respond with tear gas.
I walked the streets of Bethlehem and heard
"Oh little town of Bethlehem how sweet we see thee lie ..."
and remembered all the Christmas Eve services I've attended. I was also confronted with ‘the wall’ - for one side it represents protection and for the other it is a prison. I wept.
My problem solving mind went into action trying to fix things: negotiation, education, justice and as a last resort force. But conflict is never as simple as right and wrong, it's extremely complex. When everyone has their justification there can be no justice.
"Yet in the dark streets shineth an everlasting light ..."
It is going to take a radically different solution to fix this mess. I’m not sure we fully understand the radical message that comes wrapped in Christmas. So long as you are power-full there can be no peace. Maybe, peace-making can only come through the power-less? A baby? A saviour?
Reading the graffiti on the wall, I think of other kinds of walls that we build. They are protection for some but prison for others. Our sin: We are by nature wall-makers. Us and them, ins and outs, right and wrong, black and white, straight and gay and on and on the list goes. Everywhere we build walls.
"Cast out our sin and enter in...”
Christmas is no tinsel-in-the-park sentimental song; it is a message to the heart of our relationships with our friends, family, communities, our enemies and God. While the great joy is announced, it is against a backdrop of great pain that God enters in. You cannot have joy without pain. Christmas has a way of bringing out the best and worst in us. It shines on all that is broken in our lives.
I am silent.
There are too many voices shouting from either side of these walls. A cease-fire on shouting for peace can only come when the gun fire of words fall silent.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!”
"While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love."
This God of watching and wondering love is not unmoved by our wall-making. This is not a passive God watching from a distance. God is active, making the first move.
“So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of God’s heaven.”
It’s your move now. A gift can only be a gift when it is received.
“Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
We pray, "O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.”
“I remember the first children’s Bible story books we were given when my kids were born, that teach the timeless lessons: Adam and Eve disobeyed God and messed everything up, so you should obey your mom and dad. Noah was the best man of his time, so God saved him. Zacchaeus got to have Jesus over for dinner because, you know, God loves small people too.
These children’s Bibles told great stories about heroic men and women who did what God said and everything worked out for them. And if you do what God says, then everything will work out for you too. Right?
That’s what many kids get from well-intentioned Christian teachers, DVDs and Sunday school curriculum. The problem is, it’s not the story of Scripture. It’s more like what sociologist Christian Smith called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” or the idea that Christianity can be summed up as “God wants you to try a little harder to do a little better .... just like those great people in the Bible.”
But when you read the Bible you see just how mistaken this view is. The Bible is a book filled with accounts of broken, sinful, and sometimes stubborn people whom God still chose to use in His redemption plan. It’s about how all of history ultimately leads up to Jesus Christ, God the Word who became flesh, lived among us, and began the re-creation of all things.
I was excited recently to interview two amazing children’s writers, Sally Lloyd Jones, author of “The Jesus Storybook Bible,” and Phil Vischer, creator of DVD series “What’s in the Bible?” (and "Veggie Tales”). These two have produced a goldmine of biblical teaching for children.
Jones says she grew up in a Christian home but viewed the Bible as a rule book and full of moral heroes to imitate in order to earn God’s love. The inspiration for her ‘Jesus Storybook Bible’ ($20 at Manna Bookstore) came when she realized she’d misunderstood Scripture most of her life.
“The Bible is most of all a story,” she said, “of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them ... and if I, as a child growing up in a Christian home ... missed the whole point of what the Bible was about, I wondered how many other children were missing it.”
That’s what her children’s books are designed to prevent. She wants children not to look at Scripture as a collection of moral nuggets but as a unified epic leading to the manger of Jesus Christ, where the only solution to sin and brokenness is found.
Phil Vischer’s journey covered much of the same ground and he admits the message in many “Veggie Tales” wasn’t fully ripe Christianity. “You can say ‘hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so.’ But that isn’t Christianity.”
In his children’s puppet series “What’s in the Bible?” (in St Albans Library or $20 each from Manna), children learn about the unity of Scripture; how each piece fits together to form the great story about Jesus Christ, who came to save us from trying to please God ourselves.
And in the dvd ‘Why do they call it Christmas?’” ($20 at Manna) children can discover the origins of some of our most beloved Christian traditions, and how they each point back to the ‘upside down’ story we celebrate at this time of year: "That the King of the Universe became a child, to rewrite our story, and make us all His children.”
Welcome to St Albans, where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world.
Thank you to those who replied to our survey about church services. The key results are as follows:
For a weekly Sunday Service at 8.30am: 30 people would attend Regularly and 43 would attend Sometimes.
For a weekly Sunday Night Church service, the most popular time was 7pm with 17 willing to attend Regularly and 39 Sometimes. We were also mindful of the 35 who attended the first trial Night Church in November, with a second trial this Sunday night.
Night Church in the Hall is easier to organise as the musicians and speaker have plenty of time to set up and practice before the service. Next year we hope to trial Night Church each Sunday of Term 1 and then review it.
The 8.30am service is more challenging as there are issues of musicians’ practice times and sound checks, especially in the short time between the two morning services. Even if we have separate musicians/keyboard players for the 8.30am service, the challenges of practice and sound check times for the 10am musicians still remain. It also means the 10am musicians have to practice on Saturday every week.
There are two options that would eliminate these challenges.
- The service times could be changed slightly, to say 8.15am and 10.15am, thus allowing more time to practice in between the services.
- The current service times could remain but the 8.30am service could be held in the hall each week, allowing the musicians to practice in the auditorium. Occasional 8.30am services could be held without musicians and those services could perhaps include communion which requires a little more time.
The elders have heard the interest in a weekly 8.30am service and will continue to seek a way to enable this. I am meeting with the worship team leaders before Christmas to discuss this matter further.
Another New Initiative for the coming year will be the establishment of a Ministry/Mission Leaders’ Team (MLT). This arose out of our Month of Prayer and the subsequent discussions. The MLT will comprise of: the Minister, Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor, Newcomers’ Team Leader, Discipleship Team Leader (Small Groups Coordinator) plus a leader from the Worship Ministry, Men’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, Evergreens and Local Missions.
This team may meet twice a term to:
- discuss the strategies for their ministry to express the three primary church goals
- discuss progress on implementing their strategies and the resulting outcomes
- provide mutual support and encouragement to one another in their leadership
- reflect on their leadership and receive some training
- continue to seek God for our church’s direction.
We will report further on this MLT next year.
Remember to make room for Jesus as you make preparations to celebrate his coming.
Today is the start of the Christian season of Advent, officially the Christian New Year! Advent means “coming” and refers to the 4-week period before Christmas. During Advent we prepare for the coming of Jesus the Christ into our world, first as the baby of Bethlehem - the veiled Messiah - and then his second coming as the clearly visible Lord of heaven and earth.
The coming of Jesus is the clearest expression of the mission of God. His coming was God’s rescue plan to restore his kingdom, his rule and leadership on earth, which Adam and Eve rejected by their distrust and disobedience. Every person, ever since, has continued to do the same.
Through first calling the people of Israel to live out his rule, God’s rescue plan was fulfilled in the coming of God incarnate – Jesus of Nazareth - God who became one of us! God shared our human life in his only son Jesus who embodied God and expressed God’s mission. This is the ultimate evidence of how much God loves us and wants to live in relationship with us.
And God calls us to continue his mission - to embody and express his leadership in our world, to show his love to those who don’t yet know him, to work for peace, justice and right living, to care for God’s creation, and to share the good news of Jesus’ rescue plan.
One way to do this is through our Christmas Appeal.
In the midst of our Christmas giving and receiving, our elders invite you to give a Christmas gift to aid God’s mission. This year our elders decided to support The Ray of Hope Boys’ Home in Burma and the Santo Bush Mission in Vanuatu. See the enclosed Christmas Appeal Flyer.
The Ray of Hope (3T) Boys’ Home has been our mission partner through Kiwis Paul & Carlie Somerville since the 1990s. This mission began after a family holiday in Asia when they were troubled by what they saw; so they moved to Thailand for 13 years! They have established about 15 homes throughout Asia which offer children from poor families a secure Christian family home, education, leadership development and Christian teaching. Paul spoke at our service back in August.
Pastor Tony Won spoke to us in August about the Bush Mission to the Kustom Villages of the Santo Rainforest. His family has been at St Albans this year and his boys Justin and Christopher will remain here when their parents return to Vanuatu in January.
We encourage you to give a significant cash gift – something like you spend on a gift for one you love. Please talk about it as a family. This could be the most significant Christmas gift that you give this year. Please return your gift to St Albans in the enclosed envelope.
Last year we gave a record $6,800 to the Christmas Appeal - can we better that this Christmas? Please reflect on how thankful you are that Jesus came into our world and into your life – and how much you want others to know the love and hope that Jesus brings.
Last week I wrote about how important reading the Bible is to Muslims coming to faith in Jesus. Today in this Breakpoint Radio Commentary, Eric Metaxas talks about how young people in western society view the Bible.
“Want to offend a Millennial? You could just open your Bible and read it in front of him. But if you live out the teachings of Scripture, you just might win them over.
Millennials is the name for young adults aged 18 to 33. While 55 percent of Baby Boomers say they’re religious, only 36 percent of Millennials do, with 29 percent of Millennials considering themselves religiously unaffiliated, a record post-war high.
So how is this rising generation connecting to the Bible? Poorly! A new study by the Barna Group states, “Non-Christian Millennials hold ambivalent and sometimes extremely negative views about the Bible.” 62 percent of non-Christian Millennials have never even read the Bible. Yet nearly half of them believe “the Bible is just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice.”
This is the kind of world we live in - one with tremendous ignorance of God’s Word. It’s no wonder our USA has gone so far downhill.
The most common words they use to describe the Bible are “story,” “mythology,” “symbolic,” and “fairy tale.” 30 percent of Millennials state it’s a useful book of moral teachings, but another 27 percent agree that the Bible is “a dangerous book of religious dogma used for centuries to oppress people.” Another 20% say it is “an outdated book with no relevance for today.”
I’m glad to say that the survey gives us some pointers on how to overcome this prejudice - and how not to do it.
Barna suggests that reading your Bible around a non-Christian Millennial is not likely to spark much spiritual interest – just the opposite actually. According to Barna, “When they see someone reading the Bible in public, they assume the Bible reader is politically conservative; that they don’t have anything in common with the person; that the Bible reader is old fashioned; or that the person is trying to make a statement or be provocative. Less than 1 in 10 non-Christian young adults indicate any kind of positive response.”
So what is a more effective approach among this age-group? According to Barna, “personal interactions” with people who have benefited from the Bible tend to bear the most fruit.
Millennials value relationships. We don’t need to be Bible scholars - although that’s helpful - but we do need to practice what the Bible preaches, and be neighbourly.
The survey also suggests that Millennials can hold orthodox views about the Bible and the Christian faith. Nearly all self-identified Millennial Christians who attend church at least once a month and who describe their religious faith as very important to their lives, do believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life and that it’s the actual or inspired word of God.
So when it comes to Millennials and the Bible, it all depends on us! Let’s live out the faith so they can relate!”
Welcome to St Albans, where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world. A very warm welcome home to our longest serving mission partners, Murray and Ruth Salisbury, who are based in England. St Albans has supported them since 1990.
Murray is a Bible translation consultant who works with Wycliffe Bible Translators and travels the world training other Bible translators and teaching courses on the poetry of the Bible, advanced Hebrew and tools for understanding the Bible. Murray and Ruth also lead retreats with Bible teaching and prayer ministry for the refreshment of church leaders and missionaries throughout the world. They have three adult children and two grandchildren in the United Kingdom.
On this home assignment, Murray writes, “We live in exciting times! What God is doing now in some of the world’s hardest mission fields has never actually happened before! We share real-life stories, pictures and moving video clips that will paint an unforgettable picture of how Jesus Christ is building His church in many ‘difficult’ and unexpected places. Despite persecution and opposition, the translated Word of God is having a powerful and seemingly unstoppable impact on individuals, whole people groups and even whole nations!”
The Mission Statement of Wycliffe Bible Translators is: “To train, motivate, mobilize and assist Christians for the task of making scripture available through Bible Translation to all peoples in the language they know best.”
There are more than 7,100 languages in the world and at May 2014 only 511 have the complete Bible in their language! There are another 1,295 languages that have the New Testament and approx. 844 that have some Bible portion. That leaves 4,455 languages without any part of the Bible! Wycliffe’s goal is that by the year 2025 all the remaining languages will have at least been started. Laptop computers and the internet have greatly reduced the time involved in this translation work.
Some years ago Murray wrote, “I read a recent academic paper which reported on how Muslims come to faith in Christ. The most frequent way by far, was through reading or hearing the Scriptures in their own language. This includes missionary radio, Bible on audio and video, the written Word and the Internet. After outlining some testimonies, the report concluded that the most successful strategy for reaching Muslims in our generation would likely be:
1. To point Muslims to the Scriptures, which convince them of the truth.
2. To ensure that the Scriptures are in their own heart language.
3. To make accurate translations of the original text, but also use the right words from their language to aid their understanding.
Prayer is also vital but these strategies depend on the work of Bible translation.”
We are very pleased to support such a gifted and faithful linguist as Murray who, with Ruth, have devoted their lives for nearly 30 years to translating the Bible and training others to do so, trusting in God’s provision for their needs and family. Please remember them in your prayers.
For the past 18 months I have been serving as the Convener of our new regional body called Presbytery Central. This is the senior leadership role in the Presbytery which has paid St Albans for 10 hours per week of my time. This has allowed the Church Council to employ Alison Angel as my assistant. I have greatly valued the cheerful and willing assistant she has been, doing tasks as diverse as visiting newcomers, typing, organising events and cleaning auditorium chairs! Alison finished her role this week.
At General Assembly in October, Presbytery Central was officially established, and Wellington joined the other four regions which have been working together for 18 months. The Coordinating Team asked our elders if I could be released for a further 5 hours per week (15 hours in total) and the elders agreed, provided we can find a good assistant pastor to serve St Albans.
The elders believe that Paula Levy would be a very suitable person for this role, initially for one year, starting on February 1st 2015. Our reasons are below.
It is the Church Council’s responsibility to make decisions about the employment of staff, other than the Minister. After serious and prayerful consideration, we invited Paula to be the Assistant Pastor.
Paula has a Bachelor of Ministries Degree from Laidlaw College, has worked as a youth pastor and student counsellor/advisor at UCOL, has excellent people skills, a passion for teaching and facilitating discipleship, is an experienced worship leader, and has a long involvement with St Albans. She was ordained as an elder here in 2000. Her skills fit the Job Description we have developed very well - in the areas of welcoming and incorporating newcomers, oversight of small groups and discipling ministries, pastoral visiting and some preaching It would be of real benefit to add a younger woman to our staff team.
Paula has also sensed a call to ordained ministry, has tested that call by applying to the Presbytery and has been accepted to attend the National Assessment Course in May next year. Being Assistant Pastor will provide her with valuable experience as she explores this call.
The elders have been in discussion with Paula and Roger about their return to NZ in January, after six of the last seven years in Vanuatu. We are very conscious of the challenges they will face in their re-entry to NZ life. Many missionary families find it extremely difficult to settle back into their own society because their mission experience has changed them, their home society seems to have changed, and their fellow citizens are generally continuing their lives as before.
The elders believe that we have “a duty of care” towards the Levys as their sending church. We need to do all that we can to help them have a positive re-entry. We believe, in discussion with them, that it will be best for them to return to their most familiar environment – their house and schools, church and friends here in Palmy. Employing Paula as Assistant Pastor is a wonderful fit, which meets both our current needs as a church and helps meet their needs as a returning missionary family.
Roger will be looking for employment on his return. Please keep alert for any possibilities in building work, house maintenance or mechanical repairs – a maintenance guy with a house rental company or an equipment hire company.
We also want to ask if any of you would be willing to provide some financial support for Paula, either weekly or monthly, so that we could extend her hours from 15 to 20 per week. Please tell Jennifer Shaw or me if you can offer financial assistance.