Sunday, May 1, 2016

Empowered to be the body of Christ and embody Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)... God's Spirited People: the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible and the Church today (Part 5)



I wonder if it’s just a guy thing but I love pocket knives. I had a few when I was a kid and later when my wife Kris’ sister and brother in law went on a trip through Europe they bought me back a black Swiss army knife, customized with my name on it and all these wonderful tools and attachments. It wasn’t as great as the one in the image behind me from an introduction to  EDC pocketknife company , but it had two blades, scissors, screw drivers, bottle openers, tin openers, tweezers and a tooth pick and one of those spikes that are handy for getting stones out of horses’ hooves. I used to take it with me everywhere I went I wasn’t aware that could get you in to trouble, because it’s a tool right not a weapon.
 It was about six months after 9/11 and Kris and I were getting on a flight from Dunedin to Christchurch and I’d forgotten that I’d left it in the bottom of my carry-on luggage ( we had our son Isaac who was a 1 year old with us and our carry luggage was a nappy change bag). AS the bag went through the x-ray machine suddenly I was public enemy number one! “What was this offensive weapon doing in my bag??!!… I was invited to stand up against the wall! Told to put my arms out and was patted down! It was the first time I noticed they had an armed policeman at airport gates these days…suddenly he was there with his hand on his holster! It was the first time I’d ever been through this sort of security and to have this happen… I started freaking out a bit, and didn’t like the way I was being treated, after all this was provincial New Zealand right! This was totally over the top! Fortunately Kris kind of stepped in and calmed me down and we had enough time to run the knife back down to our car before the flight took off.  
There is something wonderful about these great implements that are one unit but have so many different tools that enable you to do many different things. It’s one body but it has a diversity of implements with different uses. I’m sure if Paul had had a pocket knife like that he might have used it to as an example of the one spirit giving different gifts to people for the common good.  Well maybe it is a bit too mechanical an example and Paul was right to use the organic one in our reading this morning


I think Paul as a tent maker might have really liked the versatility and convenience of a pocket knife; all those different tools all together in one place. But I still think even if he had known about pocket knives he would have chosen to use the metaphor of the human body to talk about being the church. Like the human body it’s not a man-made thing, it is God’s creation. When you look at a pocket knife being used the wonder really is in the way the human hand and body works together to make it an effective tool.  The metaphor of the body says the church is not just about mechanical functionality it’s about interdependent relationships. It’s not about simply having a part to play in an organisation, but being a part of a living breathing organism.

We are working our way through passages in the bible that talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: means by which God empowers and enables and equips his people to witness about Jesus Christ, serve, be built up in to maturity in the fullness of Jesus Christ, and that they are ways that God speaks and moves in and through his people. Each of the passages we’ve looked at contains a list of the various gifts given to the church to be used for the common good. In each case the lists are different, they are not designed to be comprehensive or exhaustive, rather give us examples of the great diversity of ways in which God chooses to enable his people by the Holy Spirit. We’ve also seen how each of these passages fit with central and important teaching on how we come together to be God’s Spirited People.

Today we are looking at the second part of 1 Corinthians 12. Remember the big issue in the church at Corinth was divisions and factions. The church was split into different groups, one of the issues or symptoms of those divisions were that at least one group saw the manifestation of Holy Spirit as a sign that they had made it spiritually, they saw the use of the more spectacular gifts and one gift in particular tongues as a sign that they were more spiritual than the other groups. It impacted on the public worship and the life of the church. 

When we looked at the first half of 1 Corinthians 12 last week we saw that Paul’s argument was that there was one God, one Lord, one spirit but that God had given a diversity of gifts to be used for the common good. The list of gifts in that section is used to illustrate that point. In the second half of the passage Paul uses the metaphor of the body to show that while there is a diversity of gifts, because they are given by the same spirit that there is unity.

In the first paragraph he introduces the metaphor of the body. Taking about how the church is a diverse group of people gathered together into Christ.  We are one because we have been baptised by the same Holy Spirit and it is the same Holy Spirit that nurtures and quenches our spiritual thirst. The church at Corinth was made up as Paul says here from across ethnic and religious and socio-economic divides: Gentile and Jew, slave and free. Corinth was very much like our modern cities was very diverse and part of the witness of the church is for this diverse group of people to show unity. Or as Craig Blomberg puts it ”Church should be a place where people gather and get along with each other who have no merely human reason for doing so.”

Paul applies the metaphor of the body to say that unity is not uniformity it is not simply that we belong to the body if we are the same part, have the same gift.  It’s not a matter of that the ‘eyes have it’, or the feet, or the nose for that matter. But each part has been given by God so that the whole can function properly.

The church like the body is not all independent parts that can do without the other parts but rather we are interdependent, we need each other to function and grow, so we can all function and grow.  In fact some of the parts of the body which we don’t hold as highly valuable are the most important some of the ones that are not visible are essential…

The church being like a body means that we care for each member not I couldn't care less because it's all about me …in a body when one part suffers the whole body suffers, I’ve been fighting off a cold over the past few weeks and I can testify to that, when one part does well the rest of the body benefits.  For example exercising releases endorphins to the whole system and make it feel good. 

Then Paul moves on to give us another list of spiritual gifts. This list combines a lot of the different kinds of gifts we have been looking at. Ministry gifts to build up the church, serving gifts and also the spectacular gifts that seemed to be at the heart of the problem in Corinth. All these things are given by God so that the body of Christ can function, each is equally important. Be it very visible and spectacular or mundane and often unseen.  Be it what we might see as a natural ability or a spiritual manifestation.

It seems strange that Paul would start his list by say ‘first of all apostles’, he’d just finished talking of the egalitarian nature of the gifts and now he starts ranking them. But this is not in terms of importance or status but rather that the ministry gifts Paul mentions first apostleship, prophecy and teaching are the things that the church is founded on they come first and lay the foundations. The foundation for the body of Christ is the word of God, or as Paul says earlier in this letter that the foundation the church is built on is the Christ and Christ crucified. Churches and in particular cathedrals used to be built in the shape of a cross to remind us of that.

First apostles: Again Apostles with a capital “A’ refers to those who were witness to Jesus ministry and his resurrection. They are the ones who have passed the gospel on to us.  They are the ones who laid the foundation of Christ and Christ crucified.  But also with a small ‘a’ they can refer to church planters and pioneer missionaries who bought the gospel to a new place.  Paul had to remind the church at Corinth that he had done hat in their city and so had a right to speak to them about what was going on and going wrong.

Second prophets: Prophets are those who take the timeless word of God and bring it to people in a timely manner. They take the gospel truth and apply it to the here and now. It can refer to inspired preaching, or it can mean an inspired message for a community, or group of believers or an individual.   An example of that in Acts 21 is Agabus who binds Paul’s hands before he goes up to Jerusalem letting him know what will happen. The church sees it as a warning for Paul not to go, but Paul sees it as an affirmation that this will happen and not to fear as it is God who is in control.

Then teachers, once again teaching comes in the list because it is a ministry of the word, helping people know the gospel, explaining it so that people will be able to apply it to their lives: Both adult education and also passing it on to new generations.

Then miracles and gifts of healings: Paul moves from more ministry gifts to spectacular again. We have God speaking to and through his people and now we have God moving in power though his people. We are comfortable with the proclamation of God’s word and the gospel and even in the miracle of conversion and transformation in people’s lives, but here we see God showing by works of power that the gospel is true. God loves us and has conquered sin and its consequences, God can heal and bring wholeness, God can deliver and set free.

Gifts of helping and of guidance, Paul moves seamlessly from talking of the miraculous to what seems more mundane and ordinary and back again, Helping and guidance are gifts that are not often in the limelight. Helping has the idea of service and working to sees things work, nuts and bolts people.  ‘guidance’ comes from a word that means piloting a boat and is about people who have the skills and abilities to lead a ministry or church. I’ve been watch a series of video conversations called ‘God at work’ about being a Christian in the work place. It features  Ken Costa who has been in investment banking for over forty years, Costa’s skills in the area of business and finance mean he has made a great contribution to his church leadership and also in heading up the whole Alpha International board. That is his gifting in business and ministry .

Then it moves on to all kinds of tongues. Again this comes last not because it is unimportant, but because it was the problem gift in Corinth and Paul puts it last to accentuate for people there are other gifts. Later Paul will talk of using this gift a lot himself.  I use this gift in my devotional life quite often, simply praying in tongues, I was prayed for to receive the Holy Spirit and it as a gift that was given to me, I’ve prayed for people in some situations and had them tell me they have understood what I’ve prayed because they understand it, it’s their mother tongue.

Again the list is not exhaustive, but is designed to illustrate the great variety of gifts. In the church today there are two extremes when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those who say that the more spectacular gifts are not for the church today and who only value or accept the more natural gifts and those who have rediscovered the more spectacular spiritual gifts and so focus on them, even to the point that classical Pentecostal doctrine used to say everyone who has the Holy Spirit needed to speak in tongues. But this list says to both extremes that they limit God too much.  Both are expressions of the enabling and empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. Both are needed.

Paul finishes his list with some rhetorical questions, He asks if everyone has each of these gifts, do all prophesy? Do all speak in tongues? Do all heal? So he is driving home the point that we are all needed to be the body of Christ and to embody Christ in the world. There is no such thing as the ‘lone ranger’ Christian coming to save the day. Even then the lone ranger had Tonto.

Paul also says that we should seek the greater gifts , it’s not that we should be wanting to be more and more powerful or important, it’s not like some sort of cosmic video game where we  get a bigger and bigger inventory to get us to and through the next level . But that we can be of more service and use to the whole body of Christ.  It challenges us to seek the gifts we see the least in the church in the western world because they are the ones we may need the most, we need to rediscover the gift of evangelism and the gifts that can be seen as ‘power evangelism’. In the news sheet this week is a list of three websites with good spiritual gift tests as a starting point for you to think about what gift you have.


Finally Paul says he will show them a better way, and this leads into the next chapter where he speaks of the importance of love, of loving one another. To the church in Corinth and to the church today this is the greatest gift we can receive for the Holy Spirit, love for one another, this is the only context for the use of spiritual gifts. It is love for each other that is the sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our midst, love and its characteristics that are the fruit of walking with the Spirit. Gifts enable that love and equip us to serve in love, and empower us to share the love and compassion of Jesus Christ with each other  and the world God loved so much that he sent his only Son.

Once again it was school holidays so I again used sermon bingo with the chidren...

Thanks also to the website jigsaw planet for the wonderful app that makes images into jigsaws... It was a real help to my limited crativity... If you want to put together the image of St peter's Church here is the link.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

We wait and put our hope in your unfailing love... ( a prayer)



Just a draft of a prayer based on my relfections  on Psalm 33:20-22 which we are using as a call to worship at church  ... waiting on God and putting our trust in his unfailing love.


O God,

In the midst of our lostness

In the joy of being found

In the efforts of our endeavours: successes and failings

In the glow of great joy and happiness

In the sting of pain and sorrow and grief

Through the shining brightness of doing right

And the gapping darkness of injustice

We wait and put our hope in your unfailing love



O Lord,

Love that stepped down to serve

Love that was rejected and scorned

Love tortured and nailed to rough wood

Love dead and buried

Love raised and alive

Love in ever abiding presence

Love that in glorious hope will return again

We put our trust in your unfailing love



O God Father, Son and spirit,

We have done wrong and left so much good undone

Forgive us, restore us and make us whole

Fill us a fresh with your presence

Lead us and guide us in your right ways

Enable and empower to share your love

To be the body of Christ together in this place

To embody Christ in your world and bring hope

We put our trust in your unfailing love

Monday, April 25, 2016

Empowered for God to Speak And Move In And Through His Spirited People... (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) : God's Spirited People: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible and the Church today (Part 4)


Stain glass art is a great metaphor for us being built together as the body of Christ. The image behind me is of the window in our foyer with the picture of Jesus the good shepherd. It is built up of etched and coloured glass put together. In and of themselves each piece wouldn’t really be much, just a weird shaped piece of glass maybe something you’d think that was broken and only fit to be discarded or dangerous. But put in the right place by the artist it is transformed and plays it part in showing us a picture and telling us a story. In fact we get the word story for the floors in a building in English from the number of stories in panels in the stain glass windows in cathedrals, they were said to be so many stories high. The windows come alive the vibrancy of the colour and the way the work together comes alive as the light shines through them.  That light, shining through different and diverse pieces of glass, give us, in this case, a picture of Jesus Christ. We too are the body of Christ, with diverse and different gifts with a place to belong and a part to play, that as the same spirit shines and moves through each of us together embodies Christ to the world.

We are working our way through scriptures looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the bible and how they apply to the church today. We’ve seen that they are the means by which God empowers, enables and equips his church to witness, to serve, and to be built up into maturity in the fullness of Christ. We’ve seen each of the passages has a list of gifts and each list is different, they are examples not exhaustive:  individually or all together they don’t give the whole picture. Each must be looked at in the context they are given and as part of the wider teaching of the scripture on how we are to be God’s Spirited people. That’s what we are doing in this series.

In 1 Corinthians twelve there are two lists of gift of the Holy Spirit, so we are going to look at this chapter over two weeks. Paul does not use the word gifts of the Holy Spirit in this passage he uses the word manifestations, Paul deals with the more spectacular, Gifts of the Spirit in this section because that is what the church at Corinth is having issues with.

Paul starts his letter by dealing with the key issue at Corinth that it is a church split into many different factions… Paul starts his letter by giving them reason to be one people together. Then in the second half of his letter he deals with questions they had written asking him, questions about the issues that were at the core of their division. 1 Corinthians 12-14 form Paul’s response to certain issues to do with public worship. It seems one or all the factions saw the manifestations of the Spirit as being a sign that they were more spiritual than the other group, it proved they were right, in particular the use of one gift, that of speaking in tongues.. In Corinth it seems that worship was rather chaotic with people using speaking in tongues willy-nilly and all the time, as a badge of their spirituality. Paul addresses this in three ways. In chapter 12 with teaching on being the body of Christ, in chapter 13 in one of the most loved passages in scripture focuses on the importance of love and finally gives some solid teaching on the use of gifts, mainly prophecy and tongues in public worship.  It’s interesting how somethings don’t change and as the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have rediscovered the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our day that these same issues should to come to the fore as well. The manifestation of the Spirit is a sign of being spiritually superior and the emphasis on speaking in tongues.

In the section we are looking at Paul starts by saying he does not want the Corinthians to be misinformed about the gifts of Holy Spirit. This was a challenge to the people in Corinth who thought they had come to maturity and had made it spiritually because of the manifestations of the spirit in their midst.  Paul goes on to say that there understanding had more to do with their pagan past rather than Christian understanding. They used to worship idols of stone and wood who could not communicate with them. Whereas we serve a living God who wants to speak to and through his people, an active God, who wants to move in and through his people.  In idol worship, there would be certain manifestations; maybe people babbling in what seemed to be foreign languages, people giving strange oracles. Usually these were the result of worshippers getting into a trance like state vis drug use or extatic dance. But Paul tells them that it is not the actual manifestations that are important but their intelligible Christian content. In a very Jewish way of thinking he tells them how to test these manifestations.  If they are from the Holy Spirit they will bring glory to Jesus. No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit, it’s not just the words like you were listening to a message to get the key to the code, but rather it is that they fitted with the very radical declaration that Jesus reigns. It calls us not just to look at what is spoken but the life lived by the person speaking as well, are they about the kingdom of God.  On the flipside no one speaking by the Holy Spirit would say ‘Jesus be cursed’, that is utterances or manifestations that  do not glorify Jesus are not from the Holy Spirit, they are either from the person themselves, or as Paul had said previously in his letter they are of demonic origin.

Even in the world today we need to be aware that there are counterfeit spiritual experiences. We are more used in things of the more spectacular spiritual things to do with the occult. People look to horoscopes for guidance, they might think a medium can give them advice and answers, where scripture says why bother trying to communicate with the dead when we have a living and active and communicative God.  They may consult cards, crystals; these things are simply mute idols. There are cults based round a gifted leaders who manifests spiritual gifts but when thee content is tested points more to their own glorification that focusing on the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ.

Then Paul in a very early Trinitarian formula moves to deal with the diversity of gifts, not just the prominence of one gift. The same spirit gives different kinds of gifts, there are different kinds of services but the one Lord, and different kinds of works but one God at work in them all. The word biodiversity is important at the moment, and I think that great diversity of flora and fauna shows the creativity of the one creator, the word and the spirit involved in that creation, so it is with God’s people he moves and speaks to and through us with a great diversity of ways.

Before giving a list of these things, Paul reaffirms that the manifestations are not given to a person to show they are spiritual or have arrived, but rather are there for them to serve, they are given for the common good. Let’s have a look at these gifts…

Words or messages of Wisdom: Earlier in his letter paul had talked of the wisdom of God shown in the cross being foolishness to the world. So there is an idea here of true wisdom being messages and words that draw us back to Christ and his death on the cross. In the opening chapter of Joshua, Joshua becomes the leaders of Israel and is said to have a spirit of wisdom.  It’s interesting that when the people pledge allegiance to Joshua as their commander in chief they says they will follow him but call him to focus and meditate and  be led by the word of God. That was where his words of wisdom would come from.

Closely related to that is Words or messages of Knowledge, that the spirit reveals knowledge to people that they would not otherwise know,  knowledge to help minister to other people’s lives. If you read through Paul’s shipwreck in the book of Acts Paul seems to have knowledge that comes from God, about not sailing and also about how to make sure everyone gets safely off the boat.  Jim Wallace tells the story of speaking to a man at a party about Christ, the man said he didn’t need Christ because his whole life was all together, Jim was rather taken aback a he sensed God say to him “ask him why he sleeps with a gun under his pillow?” which Jim did and the man turned white and started opening up about what was really going on in his life and became a Christian

To another Faith! This is hard for us because we are aware that all of us need saving faith; trust in what Jesus had done for us, but it is linked together in this list with healings and miracles. So it speaks of a spirit inspired faith to trust God in a particular situation. We might mistake this with a sort of hyping ourselves up, but in scripture faith seems to be the steady calm assurance of God’s presence and activity.

Healings by the one Spirit: that God heals. It’s interesting to see that the word used here is plural and that it may refer to gifts of the spirit being given to definite situations and a specific person. It also leaves God’s healing open to be both by supernatural means and a gifted medical person as well.  WE often wrestle with this one and the next which is miraculous power, but Gordon Fee comments historically it is “Only among intellectuals and in a ‘scientific age’ is it thought to be too hard for God to heal people.”

Miraculous Powers, is one I must admit I find the hardest to define, but refers to other things that Jesus and the apostles did alongside healing. It may refer to such things as deliverances. I’m not advocating the old’ Appalachians  snake handling as part of worship, but an example from scripture would be Paul in Acts 20 being bitten by a snake and not dying, which had an effect of leading to the evangelisation of the people of Malta.

Prophecy, this gift tends to be in all the lists of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in this case Paul wants to highlight it and come back to speak about it. But it is the telling forth of God’s word, taking the timeless word of God and in an intelligible way making it timely.  You know that sometimes a verse in scripture will hit home to what is going on in your life. Or a speaker or someone will share something and it is spot on right for you, as if God himself as speaking to you. One night in church a man stopped me on the way out and said he believed God was calling me to go to Bible College, that was the furthest thing from my mind, but it started me thinking about it and praying about it and it was an important step in my call to ministry. Plus it’s where I meet Kris, added bonus.

Distinguishing between Spirits, what we might call discernment. It’s interesting that this comes right after prophecy, because the congregation is to weigh everything that is said to see if it is from God and so this is a gift that goes along with prophecy, being able to discern or know if it from God or just human thought or from another spiritual source.

Finally Paul adds speaking in tongues and their interpretation. He places tongues last and with the added gift of interpretation because this was the problem gift for Corinth and by putting it last he is stressing that it is one amongst many gifts given by the same Spirit. Tongues is giving a message or praying in a language that is unknown to you. At Pentecost it was used as a sign that the gospel was for the whole world, everyone heard the good news proclaimed in their own language.  In and of itself it is a language to communicate between a person and God, but used in public worship it needs to be interpreted to be seen as God communicating. The first time I ever heard tongues being used in church was in an evening service in Titirangi Presbyterian Church. It was done in a very Presbyterian manner. We had a time in the worship service set aside for people to share back what God had been saying. One elder said they believed God had given them a message in tongues and gave it. Then on the other side of the church another elder gave a message in English. The minister at the front asked the person who had spoken in tongues if they thought it was the interpretation and they confirmed it. Then the wife of a third elder spoke up that she could also confirm it because she had spent a few years teaching in Tonga, and while it wasn’t Tongan it had a definite pacific feel to it and she recognised certain words that appeared in the translation in the place she would expect. It caught our attention and was a profound way for God to speak to us as a congregation.

Paul finishes this section by reaffirming that all these gifts are different but come from the same Holy Spirit for the common good.
I want to finish by saying we too are like the church in Corinth, we should not be misinformed about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can often find our understanding or feelings about these more spectacular manifestations of the spirit from our materialistic scientific western worldview, where we do not leave room for God to move in ways that sit outside our ability to quantify and define and explain in terms of the natural…  We are prone to write them off as emotionalism or fake or simply weird But we serve a living active God not a dumb idol, not a God that we need for the ever diminishing gap of human knowledge, a God who wants to move through and to his people by the Holy Spirit, who wants to speak to and through his spirited people… Gordon fee laments “perhaps the greatest tragedy for the church is that it should have lost such touch with the Spirit of God in its ongoing life that it should settle for the ordinary… The hope of course lies that the one and Same Spirit will do as he pleases, despite the boxes provided for him.”


ONce again it was school holidays at St Peter's and our Children were in during the service. To helpthem to keep engauges=d with the message this week I used a twenty questions format. inviting anyone who wanted too to follow me through the message by answering these simple questions... There was a prize for everyone who did...even if they missed a couple of answers.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A prayer of thanks to the Living and Active God... at work in creation, history, in christ, by the spirit, within us today and through his people till Christ returns


This week I am preaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the first part of 1 corinthians 12 (v1-11) and the thing that really comes through to me from that passage i that God is at work, in and through his people. He gives us a diversity of gitty to used in a unified body to continue to achieve his purposes in the world by his Holy Spirit's presence. I'm not sure I was able to capture all that in this prayer of thanksgiving but i offer it if people find it helpful and useful.

Living and active God

We come to give you thanks for your work in our world and in our midst



We thank you for your work in creation

You spoke and it all came into being

We see your breath print etched in galaxy whirl and figure print swirl

Your creativity in the vast diversity of flora and fauna  

Your craftsmanship and care in our being fearfully and wonderfully made

Individual, unique and all loved by you



We thank you for your work in history

Calling a people for yourself

Calling them out of Egypt and through the wilderness

Inviting them to be your people, giving them your law

Establishing them in the land you promised

Speaking by your prophets to keep them on the right track

Your Covenant promise and faithfulness



We thank you for your saving work in Jesus Christ

The creating word became flesh and dwelt amongst us

Proclaimed Good new, recovery of sight, release and freedom

Bring healing and wholeness, forgiveness of sin

Dying so we may be reconciled to you

Rising again that we may have new, eternal and abundant life



Thank you for your continued work in us by the Holy Spirit

Empowering your people to witness to Jesus Christ   

Leading us into truth, by giving us your word

Comforting us by your abiding presence

Gifting us to be built up into unity and the fullness of Christ

Nurturing Christ like love within us, the fruit of your Spirit



We thank you that you are at work in us today

Convict us of our sin and our need for forgiveness

Affirm within us that we are forgiven and made  new

Meet us in our need and breathe your peace

Disturb us when we are too settled and forget to serve

Remind us of your commission and compassion and send us out



We thank you that you are at work in and through us

May we be filled afresh this morning by your Holy Spirit,


Spurs us on to use the gifts you have given to be your body,

Each taking the place doing the part you have called us to

In life, word and deed bringing glory to you till Christ comes again  



Living and active God

We come to give thanks for your work in our world and in our midst

the favour of Him who dwelt in the burning bush... Deuteronomy 33:16

I was struck by a verse out of Deuteronomy 33 as I did my devotional reading this morning.  verse 16 is part of the final blessing that Moses gives to each of the tribes of Israel before his death. It is part of a blessing for the tribes of Joseph... amongst all the God things that Moses blesses Joseph with is this one line which after talking of all the good things of the land refers to...'the favour of him who dwelt in the burning bush'. It is a reference back at the end of Moses life to the calling he received to go and get Israel out of slavery in Egypt( recorded in Exodus 3) . It would have been a precious memory  for Moses the beginning of the mission that had been his crowning work, through which God had forged Israel into his own people.

The Burning bush is also the logo of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand the branch of the Church I belong to. Recently I have been contemplating the burning bush, if you look back over the images in my blog for the last few weeks you'll see photos of the stain glass art work of the burning bush that is right outside the door of my office. I've seen it as a symbol of hope and renewal for this congregation here and for our wider church. I've used it as the image for a poster for a Pentecost gather we are organizing...

In this brief line from my devotion this morning I am encouraged...  Just as Joseph was to be blessed with the favour of him who dwelt in the Burning bush may we also be blessed to know that favour. May the one who dwelt in the burning bush dwell in us the people of the burning bush... May we know the presence of the one who dwelt in the burning bush... the one who dwelt with us in the person of Jesus Christ... who dwells within us by the Presence of the Holy Spirit... rekindle the flame and the call to go and proclaim freedom to those in slavery to sin and death... 'Let my people go'... 





Monday, April 18, 2016

Encouragement for leadership in God's presence (Deuteronomy 31:6-8)




I find the task of ministry and leadership in the church quite daunting… It often feels like what people joking call the Pentecostal two step… standing in one place taking a step or two forwards and then one or two back.  Often facing issues that well I never felt trained or prepared for…

This morning in my ‘Bible in One Year' devotion (see my review)  that feeling and also encouragement came in the form of God’s ord to Joshua and Nicky Gumble’s reflections.

The verse are Deuteronomy 31:6,8  “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.’

The reflections was honest and hopeful.


“Moses would not have said this if there had been nothing to fear and no cause for discouragement. Rather he knew that there would be causes for fear and lots of discouragement. All leadership requires courage to cling tenaciously to a vision and toughness to endure the blame for every difficulty along the way. Both then and now, the people of God need strong leadership that is courageous and not frightened of discouraged by all the opposition and resistance that there is bound to be.

The answer to fear is this: God’s promise that he will go with him (The lord your God goes with you v.6). God makes the same promise to me and you today.”

He then goes on t encourage his readers to ask God to be with us and go before us as we face the ups and downs ebbs and flows of the task that God has called us to do.  After all the abiding presence of Jesus Christ with and withus by the Holy Spirit is the reason we are able to be about the great commission that Jesus gave the church in Matthew 28.

I know that the image of ‘strong leadership’ often bring s up a certain type of leadership style but it is equally a characteristic of all leadership styles. Being strong in the Lord, being  gentle or meek which Francis Faulkes defines it in his commentary on Ephesians 4:2 “the spirit of one being so focused on seeking some worthy goal for the common good that they refuse to be deflected from it by slights, injuries or insults or any personal consideration of any kind’.
Lord help me to trust in your presence knowing you are with me and you go before me. Help me to serve your people.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Empowered To Build Up (Ephesians 4:1-16)... God's Spirited People: the Gifts of The Holy Spirit in the Bible and the Church today (part 3)



There is a new community being built just down the road from us here at St Peter’s: A retirement village, which in its self is a relatively new way older people are choosing to live together. For a long time nothing really seemed to be happening..  It just looked like a hole in the ground, more seemed to be taken away from the site than was built… lots of work was going into making sure the foundations were right. Then Just recently it has sprung up and grown as precut, prenailed wooden frames and precast concrete slabs have been erected on the site. 

To build that community it is taking a large number of people with a diverse set of skills working together. Different tradesmen, or as we’ve started calling them after our Australian cousins ‘tradies’: builders, plumbers electricians, scaffolders… I’m sure we will see roofers, plasterers painters and landscape gardeners, behind that have been architects, engineers, project managers, finance people,
lawyers. One person’s talents are very conspicuous at the moment that of the crane driver. Massive pieces of preformed concrete get trucked past us down the road and then I’ll look out my window and see it flying through the air and placed carefully and precisely where it is supposed to go. As this community is going to be about people, it will also take the skills of nursing staff, cleaners, gardeners, cooks and administration staff: All these people using their gifts and talents together to build up a new community.

We are working our way through the passages in the New Testament that speak of the Gifts of The Holy Spirit, gifts and talents that God has given to the church: Gifts to empower us to witness to Christ, that empower us to serve and as we will see this week empower us to be built up as Christ’s body into maturity and the fullness of Christ where every member is playing it part. Each of the passages has a different list of Gifts none of them the same, they are all examples rather than an exhaustive catalogue. 

This week we are looking at Ephesians 4:1-16 and again we find the passage starting with therefore… We are at that place in his letter Paul where moves from expounding the gospel to exhorting it to be lived out or as John Stott puts it, from ‘Mind stretching theology to its down to earth everyday application’. For the first three chapters of his letter Paul had been unfolding for his readers God’s eternal purpose worked out in history. That through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God was making a something entirely new, not just new life for individuals, but a new community a new way of diverse alienated people to come together as God’s new creation humanity. Paul now moves to exhort people to live up to that high calling they/we have in Christ.

Paul starts by saying that we are called to put certain virtues in place to be the new united people God is calling us to be: Humility, gentleness (also known as meekness which Francis Foulkes defines as the spirit of one being so focused on seeking some worthy goal for the common good that they refuse to be deflected from it by slights, injuries or insults or any personal consideration of any kind’), then we have patience and bearing with one another in love. They all reflect God’s virtues shown in Jesus and  Paul goes on to say that our unity is based on the unity of the God head; we are one because we share the same spirit, are the one body of Christ, we are saved by the same hope, we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism and One God and Father of all. 

Then Paul goes on to say that Christ has given us diverse gifts to enable and empower us to be that unified people. In a rather long and complex sentence which is treated like an aside, Paul talks of Jesus as a conquering king, who has been given all the spoils and so gives out gifts to his people. (We are more used to his incarnation crucifixion and Resurrection being talked about in these terms in Paul's more poetic (or even use of a song) in Philippians 2:1-11) Paul lists five gifts to the church, and it seems these gifts are people who act in a certain ministry or function. 

The first is that some are given to be apostles. This is a word that is used in different ways in scripture. It can simple mean someone sent as a messenger. It’s is used to refer to the twelve with Jesus or the Apostles with a capital “A’ or people in scripture who had been with Jesus and had met the risen Jesus Christ. Paul refers to himself as the least amongst the Apostles. People debate over weather this is still a gift being used today… Catholics will talk of apostolic succession, they can trse their leadership in the Pope back to Peter as the first bishop of Rome, and other who talks of a new apostolic era today.  

I just want to say a couple of things about this gift. Firstly it is given to the church as the foundation of building our community. Our knowledge of and witness to Jesus Christ is based on the witness of the Apostles. They have passed on the gospel to us, they founded the church. We can grow in the knowledge of Jesu Christ because of what they have passed on to us. The gift of apostles is for the church universal and does refer to that first generation of Christian leaders. It si through them that we know the gospel we have been given it, we have been shown through Paul how to begin to apply it to our own situations and circumstances. It forms the foundation for us.

But there are also people who exercise that apostolic ministry with a small ‘a’, people who we think of as pioneer missionaries, church planters or movement starters who seem to bring that gospel to new situations. In the Presbyterian Church we might look to people like John Knox as an example. In the Cook Island’s they look back to John Williams as the person who bought the gospel to the islands. In Rotorua our Cook Island ecclesia would say we do things this way because that how John Williams of the London missionary society did them. I would be very reluctant to say people had the gift of apostle today, and really only time will tell. More recently The vineyard church has grown up as a worldwide movement they would look back to John Wimber, whose emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, contemporary music and a more relaxed cafĂ© style service as an apostolic figure.  

Prophets we had a look at last week. They take the timeless truth of the gospel and make it timely. They connect it to the here and know. Paul could be said t be exercising a prophetic ministry in writing his letters to the churches. He takes God’s word and then applies it too what is happening in the church at that time. One of the keys to understanding the epistles in the New Testament is realising they are written to a certain situation, they are inspired in as much as they speak to us today as well. 

Some to be Evangelists, an evangelist is someone who has the ministry and gifting to make the gospel understandable to nonbelievers in a way that calls them to respond. We are all called to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ and share it but Christ has gifted the Church people who are just gifted at it. Now we tend to have a negative idea of evangelists as the street corner person who we associate with hell fire and brimstone and putting people down. But a gifted evangelist is given the gift to share the gospel effectively.  In the older generation I guess people would look to the ministry of people like Billy Graham. Trent is one of the pastors down at C3 he heads up their Manukau campus,  and he has a gift in one on one evangelism, I am constantly inspired by the stories of people’s lives changed he shares on facebook. My friend Zac doing a PhD in molecular biology is a great apologist for the faith in university circles. They are totally different but both able to share the gospel effectively. John Calvin five hundred years ago in Christian Europe suggested the church didn’t need this gift all the time anymore, but in post Christian New Zealand we need it more than ever. 

Some to be pastors and teachers, these two are linked together. Some see the other three as people with itinerant ministries given to the church universal and these two being the local expression of bringing the ministry of the word. Pastors have the idea of feeding the sheep and caring for the flock, and teachers are those who systematically open up God’s word so that people can understand it and apply it to their lives.  In the New Testament the leadership of the church is spoken of in terms of overseers’ bishops, elders and deacons, but in appointing such people, we are to look for people of integrity and that God as gifted for that role… Paul told timothy that he should do the work of an evangelist, and in appointing elders he should appoint people at to teach. 

Paul goes on to talk of the effect these gifts should have on the church.  That people should be equipped for works of service, so that the body of Christ maybe built up, until we reach unity in the faith attaining the whole measure of Christ. And this has some important things to say to us 

Firstly, it is easy for people to think that these ministries and gifts are the important thing, where ministry happens. But here Paul reminds us they are there to build the whole of the church up into the wholeness of Christ. They are not positions of authority or status but like all ministry they are service. They don’t belong to the people they belong to the church… We are called to be a ministry of all believers. In fact if we think it’s up to the one or two to do it then it’s no wonder the church struggles. It’s becomes very much like a rugby match thirty people in desperate need of rest being watched by a whole crowd of people in need of exercise in the stands. Whereas the book of Hebrews tells us those in the stands are those who have gone before us and they are there to cheer us on as we do the ministry of Jesus in our world today. 

When I was growing up I went to Titirangi Presbyterian Church and in our news bulletin it had the Minister: the whole congregation. Assistant to the ministers: Revd David Strickland.  Did you notice on ours this morning? 

Secondly, when you look at these five gifts that Paul mentions here, you see they are all to do with the ministry of the word. The apostles, the foundation of giving us the words of Jesus, prophets make it timely, evangelists make it transformational, pastors and teachers make it central in the lives of local churches. That centrality of the word of God we symbolise each worship service by bringing in the Bible. We grow into maturity in love for one another as we allow the word of God to minister to us. Listen was the one word that seems to come up all the time this year. Jesus definition of discipleship was to listen to his word and obey it. Here we see that the gifts God gives to the church to build us up are about taking Jesus words and helping us to listen to them. It’s as we do that that we are built us as a church. That it’s by speak the truth of the gospel out of love for one another we become more and more like Christ. 

Now everyone whose doing sermon bingo is wonder how I’m going to fit that last word in well here it is…Beetroot. *

Finally Paul finishes with a great picture of the unified mature people of God. He says it’s the difference between every parent’s nightmare during the summer time, an infant caught in the waves and rips at a surf beach tossed about and prone to get dragged away or drowned with each change of the current, to becoming a strong well-functioning adult able to stand against the current. A strong functioning body, with a nervous system that reacts to the thoughts and will of the its head Jesus Christ, and where all the parts fit well and properly together and play their part in the embodying of Jesus in the world. 

There is a new community being built on Harrison Road, it’s not down the road it’s right here, we are God’s new creation people, it’s not a retirement village, it’s Christ’s very active, very alive body, it’s not being built up by tradies and professionals, it will be built up by the word of God and as each of us, each part, does it work, in the power of the Holy Spirit.    







* it is school  holidays here in New Zealand at the moment so the children stay in the service. One of the ways I try and make the service and the message more kids friendly is to have sermon bingo. Anyone who wants to can get a sheet with words from the sermon on it and mark them off as we go through it. I usually finish up with the last word being before the conclusion so that we don't have a bingo when I am finishing off the application. It is amazing how many adults find this useful as well and the kids are very quite and attentive during the sermon time.