CHRISTMAS - A WONDERFUL TIME FOR SOME!
Christmas is here again, and as always we hope and pray that it will be an enjoyable and refreshing time for us
all. It is good for us to remember that while this may be the case for us, not everyone has this experience.
It can be a sad or lonely time for some. For these, the experience of observing others enjoying the Christmas
break can itself highlight negative personal experiences or trigger unhappy memories. Psychologists tell us
that the period beginning a week or two after Christmas is one where cases of serious depression increase.
Perhaps the prospect of the Christmas period brings anticipation of positive times, and if this doesn’t
eventuate, disillusionment settles again. Let’s be prayerful for those who may be in this category.
On Wednesday, Christmas Day, we will have the opportunity of celebrating together the birth of Jesus, and to share in praise and worship of our ‘new-born King’! We have our brief traditional Christmas service at 9:30am. This is a great way to put Jesus first on this special day that we share with millions of believers throughout the world! If you have family or friends who may like to attend a church service on Christmas Day, do encourage them to join us.
Others will have left home by then to visit whanau near or far and if that applies to you, Dorothy and I pray God’s blessings upon your family celebrations, and for safety as you travel. We wish you God’s blessing in your Christmas and during the summer holiday period. May you have a rich, relaxing and renewing time, and enjoy personal re-connections and relationships with those close to you.
Last week I saw a good Christmas slogan on Shine TV - 'THE BEGINNING OF CHRISTMAS IS CHRIST!' This is a
wonderful double-meaning truth, but sadly it won't enter the minds of most New Zealanders this year.
It seems we are at the mercy of commercialisation of the Christmas season, with the money-making world continually finding new ways to promote sales to persuade us to buy more 'stuff'. We have a hazardous obstacle course to negotiate with the promotion of 'Thanksgiving', 'Black Friday', 'Cyber Monday', 'Christmas', and 'End-of-year' discount sales!
This in itself is not a problem if we have the self-discipline to resist temptation! However we are swamped on every side by clever, pressure marketing, and negotiating this is not easy for the most mature among us, let alone children and young people who have to resist the peer pressure that goes with it.
There is a glaring absence of a place for Christ in our secular society today. 'Christmas Parades' in our streets rarely have a place for even a manger scene, (though personally, I have found that suburban authorities are very happy for a church to include a 'Jesus is the reason for the season' nativity float, - and these have always been well received!) Even the beautiful private Christmas lights displays in Franklin Street, Pt Chevalier, had nothing representing the Christmas story when we last took our grandchildren there to see the sights.
Let's make Jesus central in our Christmas this year, and demonstrate that he IS 'The Reason for the Season' - maybe by attending Christmas Day worship, or beginning Christmas dinner with prayer, or displaying an ornamental Nativity Scene in a prominent place in our home. Or ...? We at least, can determine to 'Begin Christmas with Christ'!
Commandment, the English translation of the Hebrew word "Mitzvah", suggests that of a military General
making an order which carries with it the threat of punishment if not complied with. Is it in this tone
that God speaks His Word to us?
A Hebrew scholar, Jeff Benner, suggests that interpretation of ancient Hebrew should be made in the light of the culture and the age in which it was written. The ancient Hebrew were a nomadic people. Their communications were practical and they did not use abstract words. The word “command” is better understood as "direction" - as would have been given to a traveller. The Hebrew word "tsavah" (direction) is a root word of "Mitzvah".
So to conclude, God’s commands are our directions for our journey through life. If we follow them, we will live in righteous-ness and arrive at the destination that God has purposed for us. If we choose not to follow them we will not be in the will of God and whatever happens as a consequence is not a punishment but is due to our choice. Psalm 119:10 says: I seek you with all my heart do not let me stray from your directions (commands). My understanding is that God gives us directions not as a Commander, but as a Father, because He desires that we live in the way the truth and the life.
LIVING IN COMMUNITY
There is an old song:
I love this family of God,
So closely knitted into one.
They've taken me into their hearts
and I'm so glad to be a part
of this great family.
God adopted each of us as His own, so we call him "Father" along with His only Son, Jeshua (Jesus) our Saviour and Brother. His family consists of much diversity - each one of us is unique and quite special. We have such a range of gifts, talents and personalities. Sometimes, we forget that we are made in His image and fail to see Christ in our neighbour. Yet, as much as we do for another, we do for Him. (Matthew 25:40)
Last Sunday, Asha quoted, "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17), referring to how we rub up against each other (on the worship team) and help one another to improve. I remember my father standing in our kitchen before a roast dinner, vigorously rubbing the carving knife against the sharpener to prepare the knife for cutting the meat. This made a harsh, grinding sound. It is not always easy living in community.
Jesus said, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35). I had a sense of this love at the Baptist Hui as people shared, prayed and worshipped together, and we were served so well. We have that here, today. This sense of family provides a safe place to build trust and grow without fear of rejection. We love because He first loved us and empowers us to love one another.
What love, what faith, what hope!
I lay awake at 3am, Thursday, wrestling (again!) with the moral authority of national borders. How does
my parentage merit me a subsidised degree and license to work in New Zealand, as opposed to my
five-year-old playmates in rural Thailand? It makes no sense when I consider our individual selves,
equal before God. But community is also important, and community implies history and boundaries. God
came into history - a specific person in a specific community, geography and time. I am dissatisfied
with the status quo, but know my first moral responsibility: Have I been fiercely generous with this
Living in NZ I ought to be very aware of whakapapa, but since my return in 1991 I have made few links with Maori culture. Baptist churches as a group had something of the same problem but are making visible progress. Two weeks ago I was at the national Hui (our annual gathering of church representatives) and somebody had assisted pakeha like me with pepeha and other small touches that supported the space given to Maori leaders themselves. I want a share of this change, and not just for ABC - could the Church help my workplace full of newish immigrants?
Speaking of new immigrants, there are many other boundaries dividing our neighbourhood. Do we ever even meet its most transient members? How do we get to know our Pasifika community? Which immigrant groups are we connecting to, and which not? Is our leadership still monocultural? Can we connect across age, education and politics? These barriers are penetrated within the family of God, and it was encouraging to see and hear from a diverse array of Baptist leaders. We have friends to help with the questions we face at ABC.
The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:34
CHANGING FACE OF GLOBAL CHURCH
China recently celebrated 70 years since the current regime was founded. My grandparents were
in China at the time, on staff at a school for 130 children of missionaries. When they reluctantly
evacuated in 1951 there seemed so few local Christians and their future looked grim. Indeed, many
did suffer terribly and the state is once again fighting brutally against the church. But despite
the ongoing pressure there are now tens of millions of believers.
This calls to mind the start of Psalm 2 (NIRV):
Why do the nations plan evil together?
Why do they make useless plans?
The God who sits on his throne in heaven laughs.
The Lord makes fun of those rulers and their plans.
The Chinese church has grown in variety as well as numbers. The same is happening throughout the world. The typical Anglican is now a Nigerian woman, and the typical Catholic a Pentecostal in Brazil, but there are also huge church movements beyond our familiar denominations. Some will fade, but the struggling Western church is starting to recognise new treasures we can receive from our global family.
As the gospel takes root in a culture, it generates new insights and triggers unique expressions of joy and hope. The diversity of worship will far outstrip the imagination of Psalm 150:
Praise him by blowing trumpets.
Praise him with harps and lyres.
Praise him with tambourines and dancing.
Praise him with stringed instruments and flutes.
Praise him with clashing cymbals.
Praise him with clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
THE LOVE OF CHRIST
‘For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for
all, therefore all have died’
(2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV).
In Western, and many other countries, the framework of our society and laws have at their heart foundational tenants taken from the Christian Bible. Even those who do not follow Christ find themselves governed by these principles and laws.
Living a life that has been turned over to Christ should set us apart from the world. As a Christian it is the love of Christ which constrains or controls us. The love of the Lord for us, on the cross at Calvary, is without reservation - it can not be earned. It is the love of a Father for His most precious possession - Us. His love never fails.
A successful marriage is one of separate roles but with mutual respect and love. My love for my Saviour is reflected by the degree to which I am willing to surrender to Him, it is the degree to which I choose to be constrained by His love.
Our tithe is not merely of finance but of life and most importantly love, and our God requires not 10% but 100%. If I am to live a life constrained by my Saviour, I need to place all aspects of my life into His care, from the time I wake till the time I go to sleep.
I must forgive my neighbour, love my enemies, pray for those that despitefully use me…
Have I succeeded in this? Sadly - no. The journey into Christ is long, hard and demanding. What have I learnt? Only that the longer I walk with Jesus, the less I know, and the more I need Him and to be constrained by His love.
Today is Fathers Day. When we think about it, we all have, or have had, a father. And some of us
are fathers ourselves, while still others may yet become fathers. Jesus himself said that we are
to experience and address God as our heavenly father! So this is a matter which is relevant to
In our society today, fathers and men in general sometimes get a bad rap - and in the eyes of some, for understandable reasons:
- most crime is committed by men
- most assaults and family violence are perpetrated by men
- most of the global sex industry in all its forms is fuelled by men
- most of politics and commerce are dominated by men
This has led to the sad situation where ‘men’ in general are vilified by some women, particularly
at the extremes of the feminist movement.
However, there have always been good men, and both the world and the church need good men to be at their best! Today our society honours fathers and for the great majority of us, our fathers have a special place in our affections. But also today, we want to acknowledge and honour all of our men for the special place you have in our church family. We need you, and praise God for you!
GOD’s VISION FOR OUR CHURCH
Last week we were looking at “God’s vision for our church”. This is the kind of exercise that
Avondale Baptist will have been through at times in the past.
However, over time, things change. There is the ebb and flow of church life, ministry and mission down through the years, and there is continual change in our society and the community which the church seeks to serve. And as we saw from some churches in the New Testament, each congregation is unique, and its calling and destiny under God vary with the circumstances, personnel and spiritual gifting of the day. So this means our vision, and a Vision Statement, will change from time to time.
What I am wanting to emphasize is that God’s vision for Avondale Baptist in 2019, will not be encompassed totally in a generic statement that could be true for any or all churches, as valid and as Scriptural as the sentiment may be. Rather, God’s vision for his church at Avondale Baptist will include a unique element that “fits” us in the situation he has planted us in. This will be unique to our church and will excite our imagination and faith!
Last Sunday I invited you to email me with your thoughts about God’s vision for us for the foreseeable future. THANK YOU to those who have done that! And if you also have some thoughts to contribute please do contact me via the email address on the back of this newsletter. We are in a formative period for our church. Let’s ask the Lord to reveal his vision for us.
CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER
Often in the Bible we are told to care for one another, and in the churches of the New Testament,
believers were well known for their love for others. In the ‘Family of God’, fellow-believers
are our brothers and sisters and it is important for us to be aware of needs among us. However,
we all have busy lives, and it is not easy to prioritise our time and responsibilities when it
comes to being available to help others, particularly those who are not known to us.
In undertaking pastoral care, it can be helpful for a church to spread responsibility across the church family. One appropriate approach is for particular care needs to be handled through the small groups. Another possibility is to link pastoral care with a Prayer Chain ministry, - though it is still easy for some needs to ‘fall through the cracks’.
This morning I would like to meet briefly with those who have a particular interest in this aspect of our church life, in a one-off ‘mini-forum’ following our service. If you have a heart for this ministry, please stay and join us to discuss this topic, or listen to others!
WHO ARE WE?
Last week was our first Sunday with you, and Dorothy and I want to thank you all for the warm welcome you have shown
to us. We have come to feel that we 'belong' among you very quickly. It was an interesting exercise to learn about
the range of time that you have been worshiping at ABC, the distances you live from the church property, and the
number of languages you all speak! Maybe ABC give us a little look into the make-up of the 'multitude no one can
count' in the book of Revelation!
Last Sunday we began looking at this period of the church's interim time between permanent pastors and I suggested that it is a valuable time for some 'spiritual stock-taking'. We considered "Who are we - as the church, God's 'called out' people?" and looked at some surprising truths from God's Word about who we are in God's eyes. Some who were present then were interested to have the sermon outline, so copies are available in the foyer for those who may like one. Today we continue with the theme of 'spiritual stock-taking', this time from God's viewpoint.
In the days ahead I would like to meet with others involved in the ministry of our church. This is a good way for me to quickly get to meet people and appreciate how the church works.