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.


Angels - Understanding the agents of God

Sunday, July 21, 2013

This editorial is an edited ‘Breakpoint Commentary’ by John Stonestreet on July 12th.  Subscribe to this free daily email commentary or read it online at www.breakpoint.org

What do you know about angels?  Nearly seven in ten Americans believe in angels, while almost half believe they have their own guardian angel.  And one in three says they have felt an angelic presence some time in their life.  But before we celebrate our culture’s return to a more spiritual worldview, let’s realise that much of what we know about angels is probably wrong.  Most Americans get their information about celestial spirits from movies and TV rather than from the Bible.

These popular descriptions of angels are nothing like the awe-inspiring reality.  I recommend the new book “Lifted by Angels: The Presence and Power of Our Heavenly Guides and Guardians” by Joel Miller.  He did his research:  He pored through the Bible, ancient Jewish literature, and an impressive array of writings of the Early Church Fathers.  Miller paints a comprehensive and even surprising portrait of these heavenly beings, in Scripture and in daily life.

“Scripture says angels are like wind and fire, winged, and in some cases many-eyed.  They are spirits.  In the language of the church they are ‘the honourable, bodiless powers of heaven.’” I like that!

“Because they lack physicality like our own, Gregory Nazianzen called them ‘nimble intelligences’ and Basil the Great ‘an ethereal spirit....an immaterial fire’.  The psalmist spoke of angels as winds and flames.”  St Augustine thought we should consider them very much a part of our own world, even as our own neighbours.

Though we do not normally see angels, they are nearer than we think, intensely interested in what is going on here on Earth, charged by the Lord with helping Christians when we’re tempted, when we face opposition to our faith, when we share the hope of the gospel, and perhaps most encouragingly, when we die.

“Lifted by Angels” makes clear that the Lord uses angels to bring our prayers before his throne (Rev 5:8 and 8:3-4) and to send us messages.  Angels aid us in worship, protect us from dangers, and help us cultivate holiness in our lives.  John Chrysostom said, “Let us exemplify the life of angels, the virtue of angels, the conversation of angels.”

And, yes, we actually do have guardian angels.  But Miller also warns against an unhealthy fixation on angels, knowing that they exist not to bring attention to themselves, but to God.

We’ve recently talked about the fact that the devil is real, and that he’s an active agent of evil in God’s world.  Part of being equipped as Christians is to take note of his schemes so we can pray with alertness.

But let’s also note there are active agents of good, given by the Lord so that we can know and serve Him better.  That’s why “Lifted by Angels” is a great [winter] read.

And be sure to check out my recent conversation on BreakPoint This Week with Dr. Cornelius Plantinga and Joel Miller [Google it] to discuss The Unseen World.

 

Baptism Party!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A warm welcome to St Albans, especially to our visitors.  We are one part of Christ’s body in our city, who worship and serve God and support one another in living for Jesus.

Today we continue the international flavour from last Sunday as we celebrate the Baptisms of five people, four of whom are from Asia - Wan, Lela, Yi, DJ and Rebekah.  These people are publicly declaring their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their intentions to live as his friends and followers.  Today they also become members of Christ’s church.

This is a day of great celebration both for us at St Albans and also in Heaven!  The Bible tells us in Luke chapter 15 that heaven rejoices about every person who turns away from doing their own thing in life and from all that is wrong, and who turn to God’s son Jesus as the forgiver of their sins and the leader of their lives.

All this is symbolised in the ceremony of baptism by immersion.  When a person goes under the water they are burying their old way of life and sharing in Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of their sins.  When they are raised out of the water, this symbolises being raised to a new way life with Jesus, who was raised from death and lives as our constant friend and leader.

Baptism is an outward sign of an inner response of love and commitment to God.  Baptism is the positive response to what God has done for us and is doing in our lives.  We simply say ‘Yes’ to God’s invitation to become his friends and followers.  This invitation comes to all people through God’s son Jesus and there is nothing we can do personally to earn it or deserve it.  We cannot gain God’s approval or acceptance, or entry into God’s Kingdom or heaven, through our own efforts or abilities.  It is God’s gift to us and we must decide whether to accept it or refuse it.

Shirley and I are going to Vanuatu in August to visit the Levy Family

The Levys are the only missionaries representing the NZ Presbyterian Church and oversight of them is provided by St Albans and the Presbyterian Global Mission Coordinator.  The Coordinator can fund one person on a pastoral visit to the Levy family at Talua Ministry Training School.  The Levy Support Group at St Albans thought it would be good for Shirley to go, to assist Paula with her teaching of English to the wives of the trainee ministers and to help David and Grace with their NZ correspondence school work.  I was going to carry Shirley’s bags!  When they heard that I was coming, the Talua Principal asked me to give the eight hours of annual Memorial Lectures while I am there, on ‘Leadership’.  We will have a few days holiday in Port Vila after the 12 days at Talua with the Levys.  We are away from August 5th to 25th.

Shalom,

Ten personal decisions that can change the world

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Below is the epilogue to Jim Wallis’ latest book On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.  Jim is founder of the Sojourners Christian Community in Washington DC and CEO of their media work on spirituality, politics and culture.  Their website is: sojo.net

The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make more than our politics. Our common life will never be better than the quality of life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.

Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.

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 faithful to your spouse. Demonstrate your commitment with both your fidelity and your love.  If you are single, value your relationships by their integrity, not their usefulness.

3.  If you are a person of faith, focus not just on what you believe but on how you act on those beliefs.  If you love God, ask God how to love your neighbour.

4.  Take the place you live seriously.  Make the context of your life and work, the area that you take responsibility for.

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. Remember that your personal good always relates to the common good.

6.  Make choices by distinguishing between wants and needs.  Choose what is enough, rather than what is possible to get.  Replace appetites with values, teach your children the same, and model those values for all who are in your life.

 7.  Look at the business, company, or organization where you work from an ethical perspective.  Ask what is its vocation.  Challenge whatever is dishonest or exploitative and help your place of work do well by doing good.

8.  Ask yourself what in the world today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice.  Decide to help change that and join with others who are committed to transforming that injustice.

9. Get to know who your political representatives are at both the local and national level.  Study their policy decisions and examine their moral compass and public leadership.  Make your public convictions and commitments known to them and choose to hold them accountable.

10. Since the difference between events and movements is sacrifice, which is also the true meaning of religion and what makes for social change, ask yourself what is important enough to give your life to and for.

Finding the connection between your own personal good and the common good is your best contribution to our future. And it is the best hope we have for a better life together.

James K. Baxter & the Holy Spirit

Sunday, June 23, 2013

This article by my friend Ron Hay, a retired Anglican minister and English teacher, was written recently for the ‘Christchurch Press’ newspaper.

Forty years after his death, James K Baxter is still arguably NZ’s finest poet.  The Listener summed up his Collected Poems as “the best love poems, the finest religious verse, the most trenchant satire, the shrewdest social commentary, the sharpest ballads, the most compelling private and public poetry we have so far had.”  Another public memory is the bearded, barefoot ‘guru’ figure, symbol of the counter-culture and founder of the Jerusalem community up the Wanganui River.

Little known, however, are two small gems of spirituality published after his death:  Six Faces of Love and Thoughts about the Holy Spirit.  This may surprise some, knowing Baxter’s reputation for wild living in his student years, but over the following decade Baxter came to faith (partly through the writings of Graham Greene and C.S. Lewis) and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.  He became an Anglican at first, but later joined the Catholic Church.

That was not the end of Baxter’s spiritual pilgrimage.  Near the end of his life, he wrote Thoughts about the Holy Spirit, a series of comments on Paul’s prison letters and some poems of praise.  It begins with this moving testimony:

“We are influenced by what happens to us, more than by any book.  Recently in Masterton the Holy Spirit gave me peace and the healing of old wounds through the hands of an undenominational pastor.  It was not something I had expected.  In winter we are inclined to think that the spring will never come.  But the spring is here now, though the outward weather is cold and the roads of Jerusalem are soggy with mud.  My poor soul is putting out some green shoots.  Let us praise the Holy Spirit that he deals so lovingly with us!”

Later comes a new insight and challenge:

“But now I add a fifth leg to the chair of [my] belief, that 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.  Blessed be Jesus!  Blessed be the Holy Spirit, who lifts the poor boats of our souls above the rocks, as the tide does when it rises.  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 dogmatic 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.”

Baxter’s concern for the poor and powerless, his keen awareness of the idolatry of materialism, his stress on community, servanthood and love, run strongly through the book.  It throbs with the joy of personal release:  “How good does one have to be to become acceptable to God? ....God loves us, not because we are good, but because he is good....  To make oneself spruce for God is an infantile delusion.  He accepts us in our true spiritual dishevelment.”

People Passionate for Jesus

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I wrote two weeks ago about our updated Church Goals using the ‘CHiPS’ acronym – Connecting, Hosting, Prayer & Serving, with the “i” reminding us that “i” am invited to participate.

Hosting to know one another better is being fostered by our ‘Dinners of 8’ on June 28 & 29.  An opportunity to meet other church members in a home environment.  Have you signed up yet?  Contact Alison Angel on 356 6591 or 027 501 9123 or alison@heartsongs.co.uk.

We would love to see you there.

Praying together more will recommence on the second weekend of the month with two prayer gatherings for the life and mission of St Albans on Saturday July 13 in our Prayer Room at 8am and 4pm, for one hour.  Can you plan to join us...we hope that one hour to pray together monthly is attainable.

That weekend will also be a special one with a Baptism Service on Sunday July 14 at 10am.  Six adults will be baptised - one Kiwi young person and five others from overseas....three from China, one from Indonesia and one from England.

This reminded me of why we changed our St Albans Mission Statement:“To make disciples of Jesus from all nations.”  We were conscious of the many migrants coming to Palmerston North and of the opportunity we have to share the gospel of Jesus with them. 

This is happening through the wonderful ministry of our Conversational English tutor Rosalind Austin and her team – teaching English to migrants on Monday nights and the follow-on Bible study group she leads on a Wednesday morning.  The three Chinese women being baptised have come through both of those classes.

The current Alpha Course includes five people from overseas.  Last Wednesday night at Alpha, a person prayed, “Thank you God for bringing me to NZ so that I could meet you.”  We are indeed “making disciples for Jesus from all nations.”

Earlier this year I announced a new Vision Statement for our church which our elders spent many months praying about and working on last year.

St Alban’s Vision is

to see people passionate for Jesus -

growing in community & mission,

through experiencing

God’s Love and Word,

being led by the Holy Spirit

in all of life.

A vision statement is a picture of our church in the future.  It states "Where do we want to go?"  It articulates our dreams and hopes, reminds us of what we are trying to build, and is the framework for our planning. 

We thought much about the primary thing we want  St Albans to achieve.  It was “to see people passionate for Jesus”.  Do you agree?

Shalom,

 

Blessings Poured On Messianic Festival

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Steve & Shirley are in Wellington this weekend for their son’s 30th birthday & their grandson Micah’s dedication service.  The article below is by Pastor David Lazarus of our sister church in Tel Aviv, writing about the annual and ancient Pentecost Festival, which celebrates the First Fruits of the Harvest and the Giving of the Law on Mt Sinai.

This year the Messianic Jewish Shavuot Ingathering experienced an unexpected blessing.  At dawn on Festival day, abundant "latter rains" poured over the entire country with roaring thunder and hair-raising lightning.  Israel experienced one of the best recent spring storms, adding even more waters to the rising Sea of Galilee.

Groups from Beer Sheva in the Negev to the northern Galilee phoned asking if the annual Messianic Festival in the Judean Mountains was cancelled.  "No!  If ever there was a joyful time to go up to Jerusalem it is right now."  Over 2,000 believers attended.  As worshippers ascended the Judean steppes, the sun broke through and presented a most refreshing day for all to enjoy.

For thousands of years Israelis have made this annual journey up to Jerusalem for Shavuot.  It has always been a special family time.  Extended families carry the golden sheaves of the annual wheat harvest on the long trek up the rocky mountains to offer their First Fruits to the Lord.  The Messianic Jews of Israel also came bearing a wide variety of their gifts to honour their Lord and Messiah Yeshua [Jesus].

Walking through the pine tree forests, participants were greeted by the sounds of vibrant Hebrew music.  Messianic worship teams from around the country continued through the day offering praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, including our own adult and child vocalists and musicians from Beit Immanuel.  And there was plenty of good Israeli food!

Children’s activities included a Bible guessing game, face painting and tables of books, music, videos and popcorn. Popular with all were the hundreds of brightly coloured seasonal flowers, available for making the traditional Shavuot headdresses which added beauty, fun and smiles to the whole celebration.

This annual Gathering organized by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel included a fair of Messianic ministries, arts and crafts including:

Hachotam: a local publishing house printing Messianic materials in Hebrew for children, youth and adults.

Medallion: offering a wealth of materials in Hebrew for Shabbat School programmes.

Netivah: a national youth centre offering activities, camps and conferences.

Lech L'cha: equipping young Israeli believers for life and ministry, including a 3-month discipleship school and a unique program for Messianic high school graduates to prepare them for compulsory army service.

The Bible Society in Israel: offering new editions of Hebrew Bibles and study materials.

Yuval: a Messianic school for the arts.

Most of the ministries, materials and programmes were to encourage and train young Messianic believers; an encouraging sign within the Messianic Movement here.

Perhaps the most delightful and significant part of these gatherings is the rich fellowship and family enjoyed by all. For many this is the only opportunity they have to renew friendships and pray for one another until “next year in Jerusalem.”

Keeping Our Focus

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A warm welcome to St Albans, especially to any visitors on this long weekend, as we worship God together and support one another in our living for Jesus.

Last Sunday I updated you about the GOALS which our elders set in July last year for this 2012-13 season, believing that these four core areas of our church life needed strengthening.

CONNECT to care and grow

  • Find a mentor or be a mentor for 6 months, meeting fortnightly for an hour. 
  •  A mentor is a more experienced follower of Jesus who can encourage a less experienced follower of Jesus, from their life experience.

From our February survey, there are 33 people in mentoring relationships, including three new ones requested recently.  Wonderfully, more people offered to be mentors than requested mentors and you are welcome to contact me if you would like to have a mentor.

HOST to know one another better

  • Host a St Alban’s person or family once a month.

In the previous 6 months to our survey, about one third of our members hosted 1 to 3 times, one third hosted 4 to 6 times and one third did not host.  This is encouraging.  To further facilitate hospitality at St Albans we will organise a combination of shared Sunday lunches, hospitality Sundays where people are asked to host a lunch or afternoon tea, and ‘Dinners of Eight’ where pre-arranged homes will host 6 or 7 others who sign up to attend for dinner without knowing who their fellow diners will be!  The first ‘Dinner of 8’ will be on the weekend of June 28 & 29.  You can sign up today!

PRAY together more

  • Form a prayer triplet to meet fortnightly and attend a monthly one-hour prayer gathering for St Albans life & mission.

Attendance at the five prayer gatherings on the fourth weekend of the month diminished from 30 attenders to 7.  We still want to hold monthly prayer gatherings on the second weekend of the month - on a Saturday from 8-9am and 4-5pm but will also include small group prayer in our Sunday morning service on that weekend.  A prayer list will be published.

SERVE also in Crewe Crescent becomes SERVE in our City

  • Assist at community kindness days or at the community garden on some Saturdays.

Sadly the Crewe Crescent ministry has not developed as hoped and the community kindness days and community meals have not happened.  While opportunity is still there to help in the community garden on Saturday mornings, and some members do, our attention will refocus on engaging with SERVOLUTION (which we heard about in the recent youth service) and the community service days which will arise from that new mission across our city.

These goals are not compulsory nor the only areas of involvement for our people.  Many of us have other areas of ministry.  These goals are opportunities in which “i” am invited to participate for my personal growth and to engage in fellowship and mission.  An easy way to remember these four goals is the word “CHiPS” –an acronym for the four goals.

Shalom,    

Homecoming

Sunday, May 26, 2013

by our Youth Pastor Jeff

It is hard for me to describe where I am at.  Last month while my wife and kids were in America, visiting with family and attending to my sick mother-in-law, I received news of the death of my Matriarch.  My grandmother had been sick and in hospital; she had been battling diabetes for some time and had developed kidney failure.

Following my grandma’s death, I began to live in anticipation of attending the funeral, seeing family and extended relatives; but more so the anticipation of going back to Africa after being away for seven good years.  So I began praying and preparing for the trip.  As the days approached I was feeling a mixture of anxiety and pleasure.

On 25 April, en route to Nairobi, I was grounded in Auckland airport due to the lack of a transit visa for Australia and spent the night at the airport.  The next day I went to the Australian Consulate to seek a transit visa but that evening my request was denied.

The time following that weekend was great.  It was good to be with my wife and kids after they had been away for three weeks.  I got to hang out with my sister who was visiting us from Germany and we had an exciting Youth Leaders’ Retreat at Foxton.

For the past few weeks I have been praying and reflecting on that eventful weekend, giving careful thought to what might have been going on or what God was allowing me to learn from the whole experience.  I am sorry to report I have no clue what was going on.  I have no idea why I was held up in Auckland, despite going to the consulate to explain my situation.  To be denied the transit visa even though some issues could have been corrected by a phone call, makes no sense.

Oh I wish I could say there was a catastrophic event in Kenya that God protected me from or that I had a dynamic witnessing encounter and led someone to the Lord… and that is why I was held up.  But nothing like that happened.  On the contrary no one was sitting around me.  No one was there and I was all alone.

There are times in our lives that things come down on us; a loved one dies, a family member gets sick, a door of opportunity gets closed or even worse, God feels distant.  You feel stuck, with no understanding of what is going on and find yourself alone, longing for home, longing for someone and with a deep desire for newness.  And there are no great answers for those times.  We must simply pass through them.

Virgin Australia airline kindly credited the ticket for a year, so there are plans for me to visit Kenya in January.  I am forever thankful for all the people who through their generosity made this trip possible and the people who shared a kind word during this grief-filled season.  The words of Julian of Norwich have been of great comfort to me “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”  

Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 12, 2013
Here are two very different but thoughtful reflections on (grand)mothers.
 

What is a Grandmother?

A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own.
She likes other people’s little girls and boys.
A grandfather is a man-grandmother.
He goes for walks with the boys and they talk about fishing and stuff like that.
 
Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except be there.
They’re old so they shouldn’t play hard or run.
It is enough for them to drive us to the market where the pretend horse is,
and to have lots of dimes ready.
Or they take us for walks
They should slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars,
And they should never say hurry up.
 
Usually grandmothers are fat but not too fat to tie your shoes.
They wear glasses and funny underwear.
They can take their teeth and gums off;
 
Grandmothers don’t have to be smart,
Only answer questions like:
“Why isn’t God married?”
And “How come dogs chase cats?”
 
Everybody should try to have a grandmother,
Especially if you don’t have a television;
because they are the only grown-ups who have time.
 
by a 9 year old girl
 

For a mother

 
Mother,
Your voice learning to soothe
Your new child
Was the first home – sound
We heard before we could see.
Your young eyes
Gazing on us
Was the first mirror
Where we glimpsed
What to be seen
Could mean.
 
Mother,
Your nearness filled the air,
An umbilical garden for all the seeds
Of longing that stirred in infant hearts.
 
You nurtured and fostered this space
To root all our quietly gathering intensity
That could grow nowhere else.
 
Mother,
Formed from the depths beneath your heart,
You know us inside out,
No deeds or seas or others
Could ever erase that.
 
John O’ Donohue  
(Benedictus – A Book of Blessings)

Making the Invisible Kingdom of God Visible

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Last month was the anniversary of Chuck Colson’s death.  A tough former US Marines officer and special attorney to President Nixon, he was convicted for his part in the Watergate scandal that ended Nixon’s Presidency in 1974.  Colson turned to Christ before his trial, served 7 months in prison, and had his life and thinking transformed by Christ.  He established Prison Fellowship (a now worldwide ministry to prisoners and their families), the Colson Centre for Worldview and a daily commentary called Breakpoint which provides a Christian commentary on current affairs.

Below is an edited version of ‘Breakpoint’ by Eric Metaxas on April 30.  ‘Breakpoint’ has aired daily on over 1200 radio & social media outlets for over 30 years.

“Chuck was uncomfortable with a simplistic “get saved” understanding of Christianity.  He believed that everyone needs salvation; but Chuck knew that salvation was more than just a personal relationship with God through Christ.

“Throughout Scripture,” he said, “…we are told to read the signs of the times.  Paul tells people to take every thought captive to Christ.  We’re told to be salt and light by Jesus.  To be salt and light means you go into culture and enable people to see that you’re living out the faith.”

Colson called this “Making the invisible Kingdom of God visible” - It united Christian worldview and Christian service.

Colson understood that Christianity is a way of seeing all of life, in reality through God’s eyes.  That’s what Christianity is.  It’s a worldview; it’s a system of thought and life.”

Right thinking about God and life, combined with a love for God and our neighbour, carry both the moral imperative and the spiritual energy to live as Jesus lived.  Like Jesus, we announce by word and deed that the Kingdom of God is present in and through God’s people, the Church.

The results?  Chuck often quoted reformer John Calvin who said, “When the local church is doing what the church is called to do, inevitably the surrounding culture will be affected.”  Chuck added, “If we’re living as Christians, it will happen.”

By God’s grace, Colson left an important legacy.  He told an interviewer, “I hope my legacy will be… the worldview notion and the idea that Christians need to put their faith into action; that we need to be instruments of righteousness, not only in bringing people to the righteousness of God in their salvation, but bringing righteousness into our communities.”  Chuck embodied a Christianity that creates culture and brings health and wholeness to individuals, communities, and nations.

As the Colson Centre President Alan Terwilleger has written, “What we need today is a movement to restore the Gospel of the Kingdom - Christianity as a worldview - to the churches and the public square.”  This was our founder’s vision and it’s our vision today.

Is our desire as Christ-followers to let our relationship with Jesus transform not only our own life but our neighbour’s life, our family’s life, our community’s life?  At ColsonCenter.org we want to help you make the invisible kingdom of God visible.”

Pages