Pastor's Piece

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.


Saved to Serve

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Welcome to St Albans, where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world.  Our valuable Month of Worship, Prayer and Fasting concluded last Sunday with a wonderful service.  Last Wednesday we paid off our mortgage on our church building.  We will have a Thanksgiving Service for this on Sunday June 29.  Our financial year ends on June 30th so the elders encourage us to have our offerings up-to-date to help us balance our books at year end.

So where to from here?  We have focussed over the four weeks on the themes of:  Worship of God, Repentance and Removal of the sinful, Relationships within our church family, Developing a Unity of Differents and Surrender of all we have and are to God.  You could call this “getting God’s house in order” for we are God’s spiritual temple of living stones (1 Peter 2 v5).

We now need to be asking ourselves one question:  Why has God saved us?  For what purpose are we in God’s family?

Rick Warren put it well in his book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ that we studied at St Albans a few years ago – “We were Made for Mission.”

Warren writes, “God is at work in the world and he wants you to join him.  This assignment is called your mission.  God wants you to have both a ministry in the Body of Christ (his church) and a mission in the world.  Your ministry is your service to the family of believers and your mission is your service to the unbelieving world ...

Your life mission is both shared and specific.  One part of it is a responsibility you share with every other Christian and the other part is an assignment that is unique to you.

Our English word mission comes from the Latin for “sending”.  Being a Christian includes being sent into the world as a representative of Jesus who said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”....The mission Jesus had while on earth is now our mission because we are the Body of Christ .... What is that mission?  Introducing people to God!”

Paul says in 2nd  Corinthians 5, 18And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.  And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 1 9 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!

Our mission then is to be messengers in words and works and wonders of God’s love and purposes in this world.  Such a mission is a wonderful privilege and a great responsibility.  It also has eternal significance.

What is your ministry in our church family and what is your unique mission in your wider community  –  your networks, neighbourhood, workplace and city?  If you’re not sure – can we help you?

Shalom,    

 

Transformed & Empowered for God’s Mission

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Vineyard Church Founder John Wimber reflects on “Being Good or God’s”.

“We often think that the key to an effective Christian life is to be good.  By focussing on my behaviour, I was in constant turmoil, because my behaviour was never good enough, never meeting Christ’s standards of righteousness.  I struggled in my own strength with not being good enough.  So I always felt convicted of my sin; was always struggling with my guilt.

One day I fell to my knees and asked God to help me.  I sensed God saying, “The issue is not being good; it is being God’s.  Just come to me and I’ll provide goodness for you.”

God explained that he had good works prepared for me but they were his works, and I could not do them for him.  God told me that I needed to begin to listen to his voice rather than try to distil the Christian life down to a set of rules.

I began to listen more during my prayer and Bible reading times.  God put new desires and attitudes in me.  His Spirit began to strengthen me to do things I had previously had no desire for.  I began to hear God’s voice throughout the day.

Now I no longer focus on trying to be good.  Instead I am primarily concerned with doing God’s will; what God commands, I do.  Now my personal life is more like God’s character and righteousness.”

NZ Poet James K Baxter reflects on the work of the Holy Spirit

“...without the power of the Holy Spirit we cannot do the works of mercy that God requires, and that he, the Spirit, must be waited for and supplicated and welcomed when he comes.  Without him we may have good desires but we have no power to perform them.  The crisis of the church is not at its deepest level a crisis of authority or a crisis of theology.  It is a crisis of powerlessness in which our sole recourse is to call on the help and inward power of the Holy Spirit.”

Jim Wallis reflects on six ways to build God’s kingdom:

1.  If you are a father or a mother, make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them.  If you are not a parent, look for children who could benefit from your investment in their lives.

2.  If you are married, be a faithful and loving partner.  If you are single, value your relationships by their integrity, not their usefulness.

3.  As a person of faith, focus not only on what you believe but on how you act on those beliefs.  Ask God how to love your neighbour.

4.  Take the place you live seriously.  Accept responsibility for improving the context of your life and work.

5.  Seek to develop a vocation and not just a career.  Discern your gifts as a child of God, not just your talents, and listen for your calling rather than just looking for opportunities.

6.  Distinguish between wants and needs.  Choose what is enough, rather than what is possible.  Replace appetites with values, teach your children the same, and model those values.

Smart Phones and Community

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New technologies have connected us in incredible ways, yet we can find ourselves living in different worlds.  A new video has taken Facebook and Twitterverse by storm.  It features a poem by YouTuber Gary Turk, who challenges a world of internet users glued to their computers and phones to “look up.”  He says,

“I took a step back and opened my eyes,

I looked around and realized this media

we call social is anything but,

when we open our computers

and it’s our doors we shut.”

The video shows a couple who meet by chance on a street corner, get married, have kids, and grow old together.  But then Turk rewinds, taking us back to that same street corner.  Only this time, the young man is glued to his smart phone and never sees his would-be bride walk past.  Their life together never begins!

“All this technology we have, it’s just an illusion,

community, companionship a sense of inclusion.

Yet when you step away from this device of delusion

you awaken to see a world of confusion.”

There are few things more confusing than the modern phenomenon of loneliness in a crowd.  Everywhere we go, we see faces glued to glowing screens.  And a new generation has never known a world without internet access, instant sharing and mobile apps.  Turk goes on,

“We’re surrounded by children,

who since they were born

have watched us living like robots

and think it’s the norm.

Now the park is so quiet it gives me a chill

to see no children outside

and the swings hanging still.

There’s no skipping, no hopscotch,

no church and no steeple.

We’re a generation of idiots,

smart phones and dumb people.”

This isolation in a super-connected world is only just making headlines.  And there’s another problem:  New “user smart” technology now ensures we often see different headlines.

In an unsettling TED talk from2011, Eli Pariser explains how Facebook, Google, and even major news sites now display different content for different users.  Software keeps track of each person’s browsing habits and uses those search results and news feeds to show us only what the software guesses we want to see.  Sitting in front of screens, cut off from real human contact, we’re becoming even more isolated in what Pariser calls a “filter bubble,” where all we hear are echoes of our own opinions.

We Christians know that, as Christian poet John Donne wrote 400 years ago; “No man is an island, entire of itself.” And the Apostle Paul reminds us, “You are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”  Yet too often we find ourselves living on our own virtual island, cut off from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Well, it’s time to get off our islands.

As Dr. Sherry Turkle explains in her book ‘Alone Together’, we do that not by ditching phones, tablets, computers or social media accounts, but by reclaiming control over them.  She shares some ideas at Breakpoint.org.  As Gary Turk might say, things will only begin looking up when we do!

Adapted from a Breakpoint Commentary by John Stonestreet on May 30, 2014

 

Midway Through The Month!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Welcome to St Albans!  We are halfway through our Month of Worship, Prayer and Fasting and the elders are so thankful for your positive engagement with this month!

100 of us have gathered to pray together on Wednesday & Thursday evenings for the last two weeks.  It has been a joy to worship, pray and listen to God together.  Thanks to Mark & Jenny & Craig for leading us.  It is good to see people meeting others in their groups that they don’t yet know from St Albans.  That is a very positive spin-off for us.

It was especially good to hear of the enthusiasm with which people prayed through the building....even the toilets!  We can always pray against those things that shouldn’t happen there but also recognise that toilets can be places where people can go to hide and cry at times.  And looking in the mirror can also highlight problems of a person’s poor self-image. 

There’s so much to pray about in our building - for people’s protection, relationships and growth in faith; and a sense of God’s presence and peace for those from the community who use our building.  People often comment on “the lovely atmosphere” at St Albans.  We can pray to keep it that way!

It’s wonderful too to hear of those who are trying the spiritual exercise or discipline of fasting – maybe missing one meal a day for a week or fasting from after dinner one day until dinner the next, or fasting from other things in their lives.  My sugar-fast is proving easier than I thought which is a real blessing!

People are also making time to listen to God and humbly sending through the words or pictures or Bible verses they are receiving – some for the first time!  Others are sending their thoughts and reflections.  Thank you for listening.  All words are passed on to Alison Angel who is recording them for us.

Please continue participate in this Month of Prayer, praying and seeking God’s direction for St Albans.

This week our Prayer Gatherings will have a focus on our relationships within our church – for a genuine openness among us to welcome new people into our church family, to recognise how difficult it can be for people from other cultures to join us, that people will be noticed by others, to pray that people will find a depth of family to overcome their loneliness and isolation, that strained relationship will be healed, that we will make time and room in our lives for our sisters and brothers in Christ.

The other very good news is that we will definitely pay off our mortgage next month – before the end of this financial year!  Thank you for your generosity!  We plan to celebrate being “mortgage-free” on Sunday June 29 with a Thanksgiving Service.  We also plan to bless others beyond St Albans as part of our celebrations.  More on that later!

Shalom,    

The Death of Michele

Sunday, May 18, 2014

At times like these we feel all kinds of emotions – shock and disbelief, sadness and grief, confusion and anger, to name a few.  We are shattered to think that Michele was so troubled and overwhelmed that she could see no other way out of her predicament than to end her life.  We have asked ourselves this week, many times over – what else could we have done or said to help Michele?

Depression is a terrible affliction and as a result Michele appeared to be two different people.  On one hand she was a kind, generous, sensitive and deeply caring and creative person.  She was a woman of strong faith and trust in God, a deeply compassionate pray-er and a person who cared for and supported others in a most tender way.

On the other hand, her depths of depression negated so much of her true self.  That was the side she didn’t seem to have any control over and when she recovered from those times she felt so embarrassed and remorseful.  And tragically the combination of medicine, prayer and loving relationships that Michele received, was not able to help her through her darkness and despair.

To us, Michele’s life has ended far too soon.  Nevertheless, Michele has had a good influence on so many people and situations and we should not remember her for these last six months alone.  In fact Michele recently told her sister Gill, “I don’t want to be defined by my depression because that’s NOT who I am.  I want to be remembered as a nice person.”

Michele loved her laboratory work, her floral arranging, being a teacher aide for children with disabilities and had a fun sense of humour and that hearty laugh.  But without a doubt, her greatest love and calling were to her family.  She was devoted to her mother and father, she loved her husband despite her troubled life, and she so loved her boys.

In fact Michele raised and shaped Sean and Josh, together with Brian, into the great guys they are - very capable, thoughtful and compassionate men of integrity, who are faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Michele and Brian were married here at St Albans and Michele has been a member of our church for around 30 years.  She was a faithful worshipper and participated fully in housegroups and ministries, warmly supported others on their spiritual journeys, was a deeply caring pray-er and provided wonderful flower arrangements.  Michele entrusted her life to Jesus and believed in the Christian hope; and I believe that God has welcomed Michele into his eternal home.  I believe this because the Bible makes clear from beginning to end, that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to be angry and rich in love.

Another verse that’s been on my mind is from Isaiah, “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.”  These images remind me of Michele and of God’s tenderness towards her.

Finally, I want to thank you church for the extensive love and support you gave to Michele, especially in her difficult times.

Rest in God’s peace and healing sister Michele.

 

Today is a Special Day!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers out there!  We thank God for you and the good mothers through who we have been blessed.  We also recognise the pain of those who wished to be mothers but were not able to be so.

Today we also begin our month of worship, prayer and fasting, giving thanks to God for our lives and our church and asking God for his words and direction for St Albans.  We will focus on this in our Sunday services with extended times of worship and prayer, and also on Wednesday and Thursday nights from 7.30 to 8.30pm.  We offer these two nights as options for people (you are welcome to attend both nights!) so that many of us can pray together, as they did in those days before and after the first Pentecost.  We will conclude our month on June 8th – Pentecost Sunday!

Please reflect and pray this week on these questions:

1.  For what things can we thank God at St Albans?

2.  What things do we need to confess to God – both personally and corporately?

3.  What do we recall that God has said to us in recent years?

4.  What is God saying to us now?

The ‘Son of God’ movie will be screening at the downstairs Cinema Gold from this Thursday May 15, probably just for one week.  For screening times, see www.dtcinemas.co.nz or phone 3555 656 next week.

This is one of the ten Hollywood movies on biblical themes due out this year.  I saw the movie at the pastor’s preview.  It is a good presentation of the life of Jesus and mainly faithful to the gospels.  It is however only an average movie production, on a low budget I guess, and filmed in Morocco.  It is adapted from the TV mini-series ‘The Bible’ which was the most watched programme on cable TV in the USA last year.  You can rent that mini-series in video shops.

I do wish that biblical movie-makers would use more Middle-Eastern actors as this movie is a rather Westernised production.  It does illustrate well the radicalism of Jesus’ message and the threat it posed to the Jewish establishment.  Some have criticised the movie for not making clear the purpose of Jesus coming into our world – they think the meaning of the Gospel is missing.  I liked that ‘Jesus’ had a warm smile on his face much of the time rather than the serious faces of previous actors.  The crucifixion scenes are not too bloody or extended.  Google ‘Son of God movie’ to see the movie trailer.

A few funnies to finish – comments on mothers from primary school children:

  • Mums have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.
  • I'd like to make my mum smarter.  Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
  • I would like mum to get rid of those invisible eyes on her back.
  • God gave me my mum because he knew she likes me a lot more than other people's mums like me.

Shalom,

 

“T. E. A. M. – Together Each Achieves More”

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A wonderful example of this principle was the beautiful reflective service that a team put together on Wednesday April 16th, as a lead into Easter.  From the Holy Spirit inspired readings to the sound tech, from the candle-lit entrance to the beautiful words leading into communion, and the finale when all the candles on the cross were snuffed out, His love poured out through and into each one of us.  As a macho man said to me the next day, “It was a lovely service.”  In the chaotic world that we live in this was an example of letting go and letting God.

The next morning my devotional book by Andrew Murray and Bruce Wilkinson fell open at a page entitled:  “The Secret of a New Life In Christ”.  They write:  (in italics)

In Galatians 2 verse 20, Paul gives a glorious personal confession of faith.  Murray & Wilkinson want to emphasize two phrases that Paul uses, “for me” and “in me,” for therein lies the twofold secret of the Christian life.  Of the first Paul says, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Of the other he says, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

“For me” points to the foundation of our faith:  Christ bore our sins for us.  While “in me” speaks of our life source:  Christ living in us.  Most believers today get no further than “for me”.  They understand little or nothing of the fact that the believer lives by the life of Christ.  Our Lord referred to this when He spoke of our remaining in Him and He in us.  “On that day,” He said, “you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John14 v20).

Our faith must always remain in the fact that Christ was crucified for us in order that He might remain in us as our source of life.  The Christian who thinks that Christ for me is enough ends up living an impoverished spiritual life, for that which Jesus ultimately promises is Christ in me.  It is only by His remaining in us that we shall live to the glory of the Father.

The message of Christ our life is a glorious one –  that as the Son of God once led a human life here on earth, He now desires to live in every believer.

May God the Father teach us by His Spirit daily, in our quiet time, to fellowship with our Lord Jesus, so that with Paul we may say, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  Christ is our life.

Shalom,    

Prue

your Church Administrator

 

Being Easter People

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A story about Chuck Colson’s 23 year old grandson Max who is autistic.  It is reproduced from Breakpoint’s Daily Commentary on 24.4.14

A few months ago Max's mother, Emily, and grandmother Patty Colson took Max to see the movie “Muppets Most Wanted” at a Boston theatre. As the previews began, things went wrong.

Normally, Max gets a bit excited at the beginning of a film and then he calms down. But life with autism is unpredictable, as Emily wrote later on a special needs parenting site. When the first preview exploded loudly onto the screen, Max covered his ears and shrieked, “I want to go home!” Emily tried to calm him, but as soon as Kermit the Frog appeared on the screen, Max shouted “The Muppet movie!”

When the volume spiked again, Max shouted once more “I want to go home!” That's when other movie-goers let Emily know in painful and blunt terms that Max was not welcome.  As Emily and Patty escorted Max out, the audience began to applaud. “It was the sound of an angry mob chasing us away with their jeers and taunts,” Emily wrote.

It's hard to recover from experiences like that. But God used it to offer a great blessing, not only to Max and Emily, but to hundreds of other special needs children.

Not long after Emily wrote her piece, a woman named Renee asked Emily at church, “Do you think Max would like it if we rented a theatre?

The following Sunday, the Pastor told the congregation what had happened to Max and announced Renee’s idea: “She has rented out an entire theatre so that friends of Max can watch the Muppet movie with Max.”  Many bought tickets.

A local newspaper picked up the story. Hearing of the event, called “Love to the Max”, a limousine company owner offered to take Max and his friends to the theatre in a limousine. The employees fought over who would have the honour of driving Max. A man whose own grandson was autistic won out.

The CEO of a local restaurant offered gift certificates for ice cream or meals. People volunteered to help out at the theatre, doing everything from taking kids to the bathroom to bringing them popcorn.

So many people bought tickets that the Cinema had to expand the event to two theatres. Actually, 500 children, with their families and friends, went to see the movie.

This time, when the Muppets began singing their first number, “the music catapulted Max right out of his seat,” Emily recalls. He began dancing in the aisle. The audience began to applaud as Max danced his way down the aisle, “grabbing hands and pulling others into his dance.”

The children enjoyed the film and as it ended with a final Muppet song, nobody wanted to leave. “Suddenly, people flooded into the aisles and began to dance. Everyone was free. No barriers between us,” Emily wrote. “I looked around and wondered if this is what Jesus envisioned when he said, “Love one another....even the least of these....The joy was contagious.”

 

Journeying through Holy Week

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Welcome to our Palm Sunday service, especially if you are a visitor.  We are very glad to have you with us.  Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week or Passion Week, when we remember the joyful welcome of Jesus into Jerusalem, and look towards next weekend for the climax of God’s mission to our world through his son Jesus.  I invite you to participate in the events of this week listed elsewhere in this newsletter.  If you will be away for Easter, I wish you safe travelling and hope you can connect with Easter events in other places.

Poems can be creative ways to help our reflection, especially of very familiar events and stories such as Easter.  I hope that you will take time this week to reflect, read and pray, inviting God to speak with you afresh of what it cost our God to become the saviour-rescuer of this whole world and of you personally.

Below is a Prayer-Reflection, by Eddie Askew, on the donkey at the heart of the Palm Sunday story.

The Lord needed a donkey just for a short while but we need the Lord always.

Sometimes I feel like a donkey Lord.
Overburdened. Not very bright. Taken for granted.
There’s always room on my back for one more burden... or so people think.
Sometimes they dangle a carrot in front of me, to encourage me to do more.
Sometimes they show me a stick ... still I go plodding on.

But when I think about it, that’s often the way I treat people too.
Unthinking. Unfeeling. Just assuming they are there.

Before I get too sorry for myself, I need to remember your donkey.
Tied up. Doing nothing. Until your call came. Its good to be needed; to know my efforts aren’t all wasted.
That you can untie knots, free me, use me.
And what a use!
God’s son sitting on my back, wanting to use me.
Forgive me Lord for the times I see that as a burden, instead of a glorious privilege.
Forgive me for wishing you’d get on with things without my help and leave me quietly chewing the hay.
Yet I’m glad you need me, want to use me. It makes me feel valued.

There are limits though. The donkey can only do so much.
There came a time Lord, just a few days after that ride, when it wasn’t the donkey taking the strain.
It was you carrying the weight. On the cross.
Taking the burden of a world
gone wrong.
Taking responsibility for all its sin.
Our sin; my sin.
Carrying it all, carrying me,
to the gates of your kingdom.

You needed a donkey Lord, just for a time.
I need you Lord ... Always

.

 

Calling St Albans to Prayer

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Recently Pastor Murray Robertson shared with us some factors that contribute to growing a healthy, larger, missional church.  The elders are making time to explore his input and have considered four areas:

1.  Do we have the best structure in place to enable and release people of St Albans in their visions and dreams for God’s Kingdom?  Are there frustrated people who want to serve God and use their gifts in God’s service but who do not feel supported and facilitated to share their visions and gather others to work with them?

2.  Are there some functional aspects of our church life that are limiting our growth?

Are we as a congregation happy to be like a “small” church where people try to know everyone and “keep the congregation together as one whole”?

Should we have two services every week because when we have a single service we are near 80% of capacity which has been shown to deter newcomers because its hard to find a seat and a car park.

Sociology shows us that an individual cannot have more than about 70 meaningful relationships on average, so this is why most churches stay at around 70.  Sunday services are not primarily a time for fellowship.  We need to more actively encourage people into small groups where their most meaningful relationships will occur and grow deeper.

The minister can also be a bottle-neck which limits growth by trying to do most of the pastoral care, the welcoming of newcomers, the connection of people into housegroups and much of the administration/organisation.  Capable staff and volunteers need to release the pastor to focus on leading the church.

3.  What is the role of the Vision and Mission Statements in our church? 

These statements can be used as a tool or grid by which to measure all our church activities and decisions and also to direct our growth and new projects.  Are our current Vision and Mission Statements able to provide this function in our church life?  The elders will gather a team to review our statements and their usefulness.

4.  What is the purpose of our Sunday Worship Services?

Do we need to refocus our thinking and see our services as primarily providing an opportunity to worship and engage with God.  Rather than looking outwards as our first priority at present, we should be looking upwards to God and be seeking his leading.

I have had a number of people come to me independently in the last three months to share dreams, prophetic words and thoughts about where we are at as a church.  We seem to be in a time of transition.  But it also seems clear that God is trying to do something among us and we need to get prepared.

The elders have decided to call St Albans to prayer for one month, starting on Sunday May 11th and finishing on Pentecost Sunday June 8th.  We are asking that all housegroups stop meeting during this month and come together at a mid-week meeting to worship God and pray as a church, seeking God’s leading for us.  More details will follow.

Shalom, 

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