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.


ANZAC Reflections

Sunday, April 28, 2013
 
ANZAC Day ceremonies are always moving as we remember the sacrifices of previous generations of men and women who have served our country in war and defended our freedom and values against those who would impose a more controlling and violent regime on the world for their selfish purposes.  And there were some excellent speeches and reflections spoken and written.  For such sombre moments it is often poetry that catches the emotions best.  
 
One of the most moving is the poem written by the Turkish Army Commander on the Gallipoli Peninsula on that first Anzac Day, who later became the first President of the republic of Turkey in 1923.  The poem is inscribed on a memorial to Kemal Ataturk on ANZAC Parade in Canberra, established after the Turkish Government recognised the name “Anzac Cove” in 1985 where the Anzac troops landed on April 25, 1914.  Ataturk wrote compassionately and generously:
 
Those heroes that shed their blood 
And lost their lives...
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries...
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom 
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, 
they have become our sons as well.
 
Perhaps the best known poem is by Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who after treating the gruesome injuries of battle for 17 consecutive days in Belgium in 1915, wrote this poem to express his pain - 
 
IN  FLANDERS  FIELDS
 
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
 
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
 
Finally, a poem written by our daughter Rebekah Jourdain when she was just 16.
 
THE  DAWN  PARADE
 
The dawn this early morning with it brings,
Not peaceful thoughts for these who gather here.
Tears trickling, merging with the morning dew,
In memory of those that once they knew.
Unspoken horrors echo in their minds,
Of battlefields, bloody, muddy, cruel.
Of friends and brothers, fathers, husbands, sons,
Pure innocence was raided, lost to guns.
Lone poppies, red as blood, adorn them well,
And blanket graves where troubled men do dwell.
Lives were taken, then they heard the warning,
And a haunting bugle joins the cries of mourning.
But the rising sun brings sweet serenity, yet,
Rest now in peace, dear friends, lest we forget.
 
Shalom, Steve

How Should We Then Live?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This was the title of a book written by Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s.  It was about how Christians might live in the light of changing morality and worldviews in Western Culture.  It came to my mind this week as I was pondering the passing of the Redefinition of Marriage Bill.

I watched on TV many of the speeches in the final reading on Wednesday night.  There were some moving stories about the struggle for identity and the pain and exclusion from our society that many gay and transsexual people have felt, and about those who have considered or committed suicide as a way out.

Most Christians would have compassion for such people and would want to see all people, whatever sense of identity and lifestyle they have, being treated with respect and justice in our society, where their behaviour was not harmful to others.  They are all people whom God loves, as we are too.  However we don’t need to agree with this Bill’s way of addressing these situations.

So the question which continues to challenge us as Christians living in a post-Christian, democratic and pluralistic society (or ‘Pre-Christian’ society as some prefer to call it) is, How should we then live?  As we see things change in ways that we don’t agree with, how is it best for us to respond?

Some Christians take the view that it doesn’t matter what government does, our calling is to proclaim and live out the Kingdom of God in our lives and church life in our communities.  They don’t want to engage with the political process because we have a higher calling.  They also see most Christian engagement in politics as creating a very negative image of Christians consistently being against things.  That undermines an effective Christian witness.

The other view is that we are blessed to live in a democratic society where all people have opportunity to express their views: through speaking with local MPs & council members, using the submissions processes, voting in local and general elections.  Some Kiwis have sacrificed their lives for this opportunity.  As Christians, we are called to be salt and light in our communities, in both personal ways and in our social structures.

As our society has become more pluralistic - with many different views of life being lived and expressed – the Christian worldview has become much less central and shared by our society and members of parliament.  So we get new laws and policies that don’t reflect our Christian worldview.  Even the Christian worldview is more diverse.

How then shall we live?  I believe we need to accept the decisions that are made, acknowledging that our society is changing, and continue to engage in the democratic process.  We are called to continue to examine and express our viewpoints as members of our society, and to do so in respectful and Christ-like ways.  And we must continue to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom or culture of God – of love, peace, justice and right-living; as well as praying for our society and its leaders.

Shalom,     Steve

New Presbytery Central

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I know that church structures are not of great interest to many church members.  However, one of the strengths of the Presbyterian denomination is that we are an integrated network of local churches which support and care for one another and we have good procedures for dealing with any issue that arises.  One of the down sides of a denomination which is diverse in theology and worship style is that it can be hard to find a common mind on many matters.

Our regional body is called a presbytery, a cluster of churches or parishes, from about 5 churches (Gisborne) to 55 churches (Auckland), plus local chaplains.  Each congregation is represented by their minister and a presbytery elder.  The presbytery’s primary function is to “facilitate and resource the life, worship, spiritual nurture and mission of the congregations for which it has oversight.... and to cultivate a sense of community among those congregations.”  All ministers, elders, congregations and church members are accountable to the presbytery body to which they belong.

Unfortunately over recent decades many of our 25 presbyteries have functioned less well due to diminishing resources (especially full-time ministers) and are spending much time duplicating the same church business and committee work.  So a new model was proposed to do the presbytery role better and more efficiently through larger presbyteries....actually five presbyteries following the boundaries of the Super 15 rugby or Netball ANZ franchises!

Our new Presbytery Central will be launched at St Albans on the weekend of May 18 & 19.  This will include the former presbyteries of Taranaki, Manawatu Wanganui, Gisborne-Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa.  This grouping will involve 60 Presbyterian and union churches.  We expect the Wellington presbytery to join us at a later date with their 30 churches.  I have chaired the Transition Team for the last 18 months, with three reps from the above presbyteries.

Presbytery Central’s primary aim is to encourage and equip churches in God’s mission.

The Transition Team has asked me to be the Convener of Presbytery Central.  They will pay St Albans for ten hours of my time per week, so we can employ someone to assist me in my St Albans work.  Our elders have kindly agreed to release me for this role although I spend roughly this amount of time per week on Presbytery business now, without St Albans getting reimbursed for it.  All ministers are expected to give some of their time to the work of presbytery and being a senior minister, more things come my way.  Some of my current presbytery roles will end and I have withdrawn from the national leadership team of New Wine.

Although my role as Presbytery Convener is yet to be confirmed by the Presbytery Gathering on May 18, I will start the role on April 29.  The elders have employed Alison Angel to be my assistant and have also appointed her to be the Buzz Holiday Programme administrator after Rochelle Buttar has finished the role to return to primary teaching.

Shalom,     Steve

Servolution!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

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

A huge thanks to Nancy Hazeleger, our Church Offering Secretary, who records our personal offerings throughout the year (if we join the St Albans offering system) and produces receipts at the end of the tax year. This allows us to claim our tax credits of one third of all our donations to approved churches and charities. If you would like help with seeking a tax credit please tell Steve or Prue and we can arrange someone to help.

Our elders invite you to consider giving some of your Tax Credit to our Clear the Mortgage Appeal. So far about 60 households have pledged $53,000 ($28,000 has already been received) towards our remaining mortgage of about $67,000. That is outstanding – we almost have it cleared! We thank God for your generosity.

Servolution is a new initiative in Palmy, seeking to bring churches together to serve their communities in practical ways. Their tag line is “Starting a church revolution through serving”.It is a world-wide movement which took root among some South Auckland churches and is brought to Palmy by the Mosaic Church (the Seventh Day Adventist contemporary congregation).

The aim is to create an army of volunteers to take to the streets and neighbourhoods of Palmy to put “love thy neighbour” into action by uniting churches and community groups. Servolution is not an event but a culture – a culture of service – loving our community through simple acts of kindness. Serving others is a tangible expression of God’s love which can help to remove barriers and soften hearts. It can help people become more open to hear the Good News of Jesus and our testimonies. Check out their website at servolution.co.nz

Community service projects can include: street clean-ups, free carwash centres, mowing lawns & gardening, home repairs for single mums and seniors, replacing batteries in smoke alarms, upgrading school playgrounds, painting over graffiti, painting fences, providing free BBQs, providing morning tea for school staff rooms or police..., the list is endless!

This is another expression of earlier movements like ‘Love Link’, ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ Days, ‘Love Palmy’, and the Externally Focussed Church.

Mosaic Church would love to kick start the project in Palmy this month and invites St Albans participation. Our youth pastor Jeff has been part of planning this initiative from the beginning.

There will be an information night on Wednesday April 10 at Te Aroha Noa Community Centre, Brentwood Ave, Highbury (just off Botanical Rd) at 7pm.

Would you be able to attend to hear about the vision and possible local projects?

Would you like to participate in some way with other Christ-followers from across the city to serve our community?

Please tell Jeff or Steve or Prue.

Easter Message from National Presbyterian Leader

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Right Rev Ray Coster

The adaptations of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, contain what must surely be one of the best portrayals of the Easter story in action.

The character Jean Valjean, speaking of the bishop’s kindness says, “He gave me hope when hope was gone, he gave me strength to carry on”. That is the Easter message as understood by Christian people - the story of the power of forgiveness and of resurrection hope.

As Valjean understands and appreciates, the mercy, forgiveness and new hope that has been given to him – at a huge price – he then goes on to serve, sacrifice and save others throughout his life; even forgiving and trying to set free his archenemy Javert – the man who has a life-ambition to imprison him. Valjean’s line to Javert is pure grace, “You are free, there are no bargains or petitions”. This is the Easter message.

For Christian people Easter, if it means anything at all, means hope. The resurrection experience is all about a new beginning, a fresh opportunity, a new identity. But someone else pays a huge price for this – Jesus.

I realise that for many of us in New Zealand, Easter is more about a holiday from work than anything else. The hope we are searching for is a holiday! So much of our effort, time and energy in life go into work. It is where we strive to find purpose, meaning and even hope. Yet, we still long for a rest from work whenever that is possible. Work never seems to satisfy the deepest need within us.

Many years ago an ancient Hebrew philosopher considered where humanity finds meaning in life. In Ecclesiastes 1 and 2, he summarised the search for the meaning of life in three projects:

  1. The search to make sense of life through learning and wisdom.
  2. An effort to make life fulfilling through the pursuit of pleasure.
  3. The quest for achievement through hard work.

In the end he concludes that none of these projects can deliver a meaningful life.

“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Eccl 2:17).

As a nation we are debating a living wage and the Monday-ising of certain holidays. We want more reward from work and more paid holidays from work. As good as these projects are they will not fully satisfy. The real hope of life is more than work or rest; more than pleasure and leisure. There is a spiritual dimension that brings a greater sense of fulfilment. Satisfaction comes, as Valjean learnt, through receiving grace and giving grace to others.

While we take time for leisure and pleasure this Easter, and enjoy a rest from work, may we as a people also give “hope to people whose hope has gone, and give them strength to carry on”. As Jean Valjean learnt – in all the things of God – when we give away what we have, we end up having more of it ourselves.

Pope Benedict - a Sign of Contradiction

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This is an edited ‘Breakpoint Commentary’ by John Stonestreet on February 15, 2013. Subscribe to this free daily email commentary or read it online at www.breakpoint.org

To say that everyone, from talkback to news media to internet, is talking about Benedict’s decision to abdicate and the upcoming conclave that will elect his successor is not an exaggeration. Why the huge interest?

Partly its that many are fascinated by how the Catholic Church works. But the bigger reason is, agree with it or not, the Catholic Church matters.

To say that the Catholic Church matters, is obviously not the same as expressing doctrinal or philosophical agreement. Many of the news outlets covering this story can hardly be described as fans of the pontiff or his predecessor, John Paul II.

If nothing else, the Catholic Church provides people with a Christian ideal to oppose. Or, to put it in biblical language, the Catholic Church at its best serves as a “sign of contradiction”to the dominant worldviews of our age.

As Russell Moore, a Baptist theologian, wrote in First Things, Pope Benedict “stood against the nihilism that defines human worth in terms of power and usefulness.” He did this in his defence of the unborn and elderly as well as marriage. And he did this by opposing the sexual revolution, religious persecution and torture of prisoners.

Benedict insisted in each case that, according to Russell Moore, “these lives aren’t things . . . but images of God, and for them we will give an account.” While the larger culture sought to “dehumanize them with language - ‘embryo,’ ‘foetus,’ ‘anchor baby,’ ‘illegal alien,’ ‘collateral damage,’ and so on - Benedict has stood firmly to point to the human faces the world is seeking to wipe away.”

While Evangelicals share these concerns, we often tend to see them as a series of disconnected battles. We’ve missed something that connected them and provided a comprehensive alternative to the nihilism Moore mentions.

That “something” is the belief that human beings are created in the image of God. The culture-wide “dehumanization” that Benedict and his predecessor opposed is, at root, a rejection of God Himself. By putting this rejection in its proper context, we can not only oppose its demonic consequences but offer a life-affirming alternative vision of what it means to be human.

Evangelical leader, Chuck Colson, while clearly recognizing the significant doctrinal differences he had with Roman Catholics, also acknowledged his debt to thinkers like Benedict and John Paul. He recognized the important role played by the Catholic Church in its opposition to the nihilism of our age. He also understood that being the most visible “sign of contradiction” would also make it a target.

The ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ network was, in part, an expression of Chuck’s appreciation for that role. It was also a recognition that, our theological differences notwithstanding, what happens over the next few weeks in Rome matters to all of us. As such, we should pray for those choosing Benedict’s successor and be grateful for his willingness to be a “sign of contradiction.”

Money Matters

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Warm Welcome to St Albans, especially to visitors and newcomers. We are one part of Christ’s body in our city, where we seek to encounter, worship and serve God in all aspects of our lives. Today we farewell our Mission Partners Phil and Anna Allen back to England after their 5 weeks in New Zealand.

Thank you for your generosity to our Christmas Appeal! You have contributed $6,069! What a blessing this will be to the Hulse family in Delhi, to Sandra in Nepal and to repair the damaged electrical appliances and wiring in the children’s homes in Colombia where the Paez family ministers. May God bless you for blessing others!

In July 2004 we opened this new church building with a mortgage of about $460,000. After all our monthly repayments and the special “Donate a Brick” Appeal in 2007-09, we have only $65,000 left to pay off. That is also a wonderful effort thanks to your generosity!

Our mortgage is with the Presbyterian Savings and Development Society which provides loans to churches at less than commercial interest rates and without any fees. However, every five years we are required to re-finance with the related legal costs. Our next re-finance is due in July 2014. Our Elders and Finance Team would love to see the remaining debt cleared before that date, both to avoid the legal fees and to free up the money from mortgage repayments to invest more directly in the work of God’s mission.

So we want to launch one final appeal starting this month to “Clear the Mortgage”, “Dump the Debt”, “Make the Mortgage History”!

We are conscious too of the benefit of the Tax Rebate on charitable donations which refunds you 33% of any donation. If you give $300 you can apply immediately to the IRD for $100 back. If you give $1,500 you can claim $500 back. And there is effectively no limit on the amount of donations that can be given. So St Albans can get the benefit of the $300 or $1,500 but it only costs the donor $200 or $1,000.

So we ask you to prayerfully consider what donation you can give in the coming 16 months to help clear the mortgage by June 30th, 2014. It may be a one-off gift or it may be a regular amount given every week or month. You may like to give a gift before the end of the current financial year and another in the next financial year.

We will provide a Response Form soon and invite you to make a pledge to make the mortgage history!

One commitment the elders have made is that we will seek to avoid any extra financial appeals to the congregation during this period - apart from our annual Christmas Appeal. You have responded very generously to a number of appeals in the past year. The elders will continue to prayerfully consider any emergency financial requests.

Every gift will be appreciated and will help – whether larger or smaller. Please prayerfully consider what you can give.

Shalom, Steve

Great Teaching Resources

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A warm welcome to St Albans, one part of Christ’s body in our city, where we seek to encounter, worship and serve God in all aspects of our lives.

Our speakers this morning are mission partners Phil & Anna Allen, who live in England. Phil was a member of St Albans and went to England in 2006 as an IT guy for Operation Mobilisation [OM], helping maintain their computer networks at their head office and in wider Asia. Since then he has married Anna, moved cities and now they are serving in two local housing projects to help vulnerable adults and families in Nottingham. Phil will continue working with OM for one day each week.

I am away this weekend attending the Gisborne-Hawkes Bay Presbytery meeting in Wairoa. This is part of my role as the convener of the Transition Team which is seeking to combine the five presbytery regions from Gisborne to New Plymouth and down to Wellington – basically the same area as the Hurricanes Rugby Franchise! Last Tuesday I spoke to the Wellington Presbytery and next Tuesday I speak to the Taranaki Presbytery in New Plymouth! Then I speak at our own Manawatu Wanganui Presbytery in Palmy on Thursday! This is all part of the informing, consulting and promoting process for the new larger ‘Presbytery Central’, to be formally established on Pentecost Weekend this year (May 18 &19).

The New Wine Summer Festival in January always has an excellent line up of both international and local speakers. I have DVDs of the 12 talks given in the Adult Zone and you are welcome to borrow them for your personal or small group viewing. Here is the list:

Rev Simon Ponsonby
The Teaching Pastor at St Aldate’s Anglican Church in Oxford, England, and gave three talks on: Who we are as children of God, The Importance of the Bible, and Holiness.
Christy Wimber
The co-pastor with her husband of a Vineyard Church in California. The Vineyard Movement was founded by her father-in-law John Wimber. She gave two talks on ‘Convenience Christianity’ and the costs and privileges of following Jesus plus the importance of Mercy in Christian life.
Bishop Justin Duckworth
Spoke once on the two challenges of the Old Testament prophets to the people of God: ‘You are an idolatrous people’ and ‘You are an unjust people’. He spoke of the three main idols facing the church and the Western world.
Rev Steve Maina (from Kenya and the National Director of the Church Mission Society in NZ)
Spoke on his reflections on the NZ church and culture plus Our loss of confidence in the Gospel.
Mary Maina (Steve’s wife and a counsellor)
Spoke on coping with the trauma and aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.
Keith Newman
A NZ journalist and author who wrote the book ‘The Bible & the Treaty’ and spoke on the role of Christian faith and church in the 19th century.

There were two other fine talks by New Wine Leaders Lydia Read of Feilding and Rev Chris Darnell of Pahiatua.

Shalom!Steve

New Year Update

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Welcome to St Albans as summer holidays end and the new school year begins. We warmly welcome newcomers to join our community of Christ’s body, as we support one another in our living for Jesus in 2013.

Much has happened in January –

Jono Roff married Alisha Rayner
(a youth pastor in Auckland) at Kimbolton on Saturday 19th.
Another successful Buzz Holiday Programme
This programme was led by a great team of helpers with about 50 kids attending each day!
A wonderful New Wine Summer Festival
This event took place last weekend at Waikanae, attended by about 900 adults and children, swelling to around 1100 people at last Sunday’s open night. The speakers included the new Bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth, the national director of the NZ Anglican Church Missionary Society, Steve Maina from Kenya, Christy Wimber (daughter-in-law of Vineyard Church founder John Wimber) and Simon Ponsonby (the teaching pastor from a parish in Oxford, England). You can get DVDs, CDs and MP3s of their talks through me.
A number of people have left St Albans for other places:
Daniel & Leanne Marshall, Ian & Poh Leng McLisky and family, Steve and Anne Vautier (all to Wellington); Moira Paterson moves to Waipukurau this week and Genevieve Vine will leave to study in Wellington next month. Altogether 13 households left St Albans for other places in the past year.
Last Tuesday in Auckland,
Many Christian groups made submissions to the Select Committee on the Marriage Amendment Bill. The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ, Presbyterian AFFIRM, the NZ Christian Network, the 70 Christian leaders representing all denominations, and Family First all made submissions against the Bill. Family First presented 72,000 signatures against the Bill and hope to collect 100,000 before long. If you wish to sign the petition, there is a copy on our church Reception Counter.

I also want to thank you for your generous financial giving to the Christmas Appeal for our mission partners, the Hulses, Sandra Berghofer and the hostel appliances in Bogota. The figure is just under $6,000 but the Appeal will remain open until Sunday February 10. Thank you for your generous support of Gods mission overseas.

Finally, would you like to join one of our small groups this year or form a new one with others? Following Jesus is not meant to be a solo journey along the tracks of life but a journey in community where we support and encourage, challenge and mentor one another, as we follow and grow like Jesus together.

Would you like a mentor or small mentoring group to meet with you once a fortnight for an hour, to encourage you on your journey with Jesus? A mentor is not an expert but someone with more experience as a disciple of Jesus who is willing to encourage others with less experience. Contact me if you want a housegroup or mentor.

May we live this year as faithful and joyful followers of Jesus in all aspects of our lives, as we get back into our regular routines.

Shalom! Steve

A Christmas Message from our Presbyterian Moderator

Sunday, January 27, 2013

iPhone, iPad and iCloud are new vocabulary for us. Advances in technology continue to amaze us and are meant to make life easier, to give us more time. But as Albert Einstein once asked his nephew who boasted about the time he saved travelling fast between cities, "And what will you do with the time you saved?"

In 1970 Alvin Toffler wrote his famous book, Future Shock in which he predicted this technological and cultural trend. He got the advances in technology right but not the greater leisure time. One consistent message I hear is how busy people are, how little time they have for themselves, and how they long for a simpler lifestyle.

The Christmas story reminds us of the beauty of simplicity. The Christmas story is not complicated, not busy, not pressured. Mary conceived a child in one town, gave birth in another town – all without pomp, ceremony or the help of technology to announce Jesus’ birth. That first Christmas is such a contrast to the daily pace and demands of our lives.

Our Christmas celebration brings into striking contrast the complexity of modern life and the simplicity of life that many people long for. To help us face this complexity and simplicity we can ask two questions: Who has the good life? and Who is a good person?

Nagging Christmas advertising tells us the person with the good life has an iPhone or iPad, good looks, fine figure and white teeth, enjoys great food and expensive wine, drives fast cars and earns a high salary.

Yet when we talk about a good person, these things are not mentioned. It's the simpler things of life that we still value. The good person has an inner being that is sustained by love. Love like this is not busy or complicated. It has time for people. It genuinely seeks to do good to others. This love is patient and kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, hopes, and perseveres. People who display these simple inner qualities are those we talk of as good people. The Christmas story is that God comes to us to impart love so that we might love others.

We don't want to miss out on the good life but we also want to be known as good people. This Christmas and New Year, in all the busyness and complexity of life, can I encourage you to focus on the simple things of life and make some room for God? There’s much in the simplicity of the first Christmas that appeals to us and gives hope for humanity.

Maybe, just maybe, we could turn off our cell phones, computers and iPads for just one day this Christmas or holidays and experience the joy of simplicity of life for a few hours, to spend face-to-face time with people. Now that would be Christmas!

May God bless you,

Rev Ray Coster

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