Heaven: a future worth putting your faith in, now.

This is part one of a four part series leading up to the next “INTERSECTION” service on 2nd September. These four blogs will be related to this month’s topic which is called “What comes next?: Exploring Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.” For more information on Intersection, visit the Shore Vineyards website here

This week I am privileged enough to have Dan Sheed, Assistant Pastor at Shore Vineyard Churches, as a guest blogger. You can and should visit his website after reading this.

Firstly: Let’s talk about faith.

Faith, it’s like this: Some believe that faith is a thing of the mind, and others believe its a thing of the heart. What a tragic dualism. Does it really have to be one or the other? Can these two not exist together?

Faith, as Hebrews 11 can prove, is a combination of both of these wonderful positions – we believe in God with reason because we have thought well, and come to a conclusion that He exists, and then we also have this heart-moment – a conviction that He is an incredible God, mysterious and awesome.

Both of these two positions mysteriously merge, like black and white together making green, and we arrive at a new position – commitment. Commitment is the combination of having thought well of God and arrived at a reason of some sort, that combined with a conviction of His activity today, we now have this amazing movement of our lives being lived for Him.

This is what it looks like to have faith – to sign your life up to following Jesus: It’s not a sinners prayer prayed in a hype-induced moment but instead it’s to arrive at a position of reason, and conviction and decide: I’m in, and I choose to live here, in this place of faith right now.

We have a saying in the Vineyard, that “Faith is spelt R-I-S-K” and it is – but only on the one side of conviction. Deep down, we know that we need to step out in some sort of blind trust or obedience to see His hand move – but isn’t it also completely opposite?

Isn’t faith also spelt “I K-N-O-W”? Because we have engaged, thought, wrestled and arrived at a place of not having to risk at all; we know who this God of ours is.

Second. Let’s talk about hope.

In his book Mans Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychotherapist who survived spending the war in a German concentration camp, notes that the ones who survived were ones who had something to go home to. When someone found out their wife was dead, or their son was killed, or their life’s work would never be able to be complete, they gave up. They signed up for being with the dead. Frankl’s observation was that these men did not just simply give up – they lost faith in the future.

Lost faith in the future?

Can we have faith in the future? I thought our faith was in God.

We are hopeful creatures, and God is a God of fulfilling that hope-fullness. Hence why He says these wonderful words in John’s revelation: “Behold. I am making all things new.”

That is our Christian hope – our faith in the future; that is what we can put our faith in – that our God is in the restoration business. That his mission is still to redeem His world, not throw it out. That His mission includes us: we are the ones being made new and restored, and we have a role to play in continuing that job.

This faith in the future, changes the way we live right now. It has incredibly large effect.

Third, love.

A wise friend of mine once said that God’s kingdom – his heavens – is like a thunderstorm brooding over this age of this earth, and every now and then a bolt of lightning strikes down to it. Our job, he said, is to go out with golf clubs and try conduct lightning bolts.

Go out in storms and conduct lightning bolts? Really? We can conduct things of God’s future now?

What was it Jesus said the greatest commandment was again?

Love God, and equally love others.

So: love this awesome Creator who loves His creation, this God who loves it so much He is set in the mission of redeeming the brokenness and hurt in this world…

…and join him in doing it. We get to love others with this same heavenly restorative agenda. This changes the way we treat one another.

Jesus came with a message of God’s Kingdom breaking into this present world – and His Kingdom is one of restoration – it fixes things. This changes the way we pray. (Remember Jesus’ instructions on prayer was to pray heaven to earth.)

Jesus came and told us to get busy putting our actions where our faith was cashed in – to love the poor, to spend ourselves on those less fortunate. This changes the way we do mission.

Jesus came and told us that to see this Kingdom we would have to sell up everything for it and instead live this selfless life in service of this God who is making all things new. This changes the way we hoard our lives.

The common theme?

Love. God’s currency of doing all of this is love, and Jesus invites us to live it out too. To become people marked by love, defined quickly as the ones who love. Remember those words of Paul. He says that we can do all the amazing things of faith and hope, but without love we are useless.

We are useless why?

Maybe it’s because we have stopped living in the direction God is living – one of love for a world that so desperately needs it, so that it may be restored. So that it may be made new. So that it may be as it was always meant to be; perfect.

Could this position of living God’s future now be why John wrote such things as “Let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

Could this position of living God’s future now be why James wrote such things as “Faith or deeds? It’s both!”

Could this position of living God’s future now be why Paul wrote such things as “Love from the center of who you are – don’t fake it.”

Bold words: but from people who had firm faith in their God’s future plan.

A God who’s future plan is one of completing His restoration of sin, brokenness and pain. Now that is a God and a hope worth getting out of bed in the morning for, and future worth putting your faith in, right now.

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Why I am banking on Jesus for eternity

This is part four of a four part series leading up to the launch of Shore Vineyard Churches, new church plant “INTERSECTION”. These four weeks will be related to the first service which is called “Who is Jesus: Facts, stories and questions about the most influential man in history.” For more information on Intersection, visit the Shore Vineyards website here

In my first blog I mentioned the night I gave my life to Jesus.

A month or so after that I was sitting in a math class at high school having a conversation about religion with an Islamic friend (I should mention that my attention at school was rarely given to the actual subject at hand). I had so little insight to offer as a new believer compared with this educated young man, yet deep in my heart I had, despite the things he told me, a great peace that this Jesus I had encountered and begun learning about was indeed the way, truth and life. The conversation was positive, encouraging and stimulating – yet I left with a sense not really fully understanding why I felt so comfortable believing what I believed.

Fast forward a few years that consisted of bible reading plans, pastoral short courses, daily devotionals, and then some poor personal decision making, I found myself in a very different place. I had turned my back on family, friends, and even Jesus, yet I had this profound sense that He had not turned his back on me.

Sitting on the side of a lake on the other side of the world, I heard a whisper.

“Calvin, I love you”

If whispers were fists, I would have had two black eyes, a broken nose and a swollen lip. Never have I experienced four words that impacted me so deeply.

There is no question it was Jesus.

Two weeks later I found myself on my knees in a church service, and then I had what I can only describe as the most major experience of my life. I felt someone hug me. I could feel their clothing, their warmth, their breathing. It was a tight, loving, comforting embrace. I opened my eyes. No one there. Yet the embrace continued.

There is NO question or doubt in my mind that it was Jesus.

For all the theology, learning, historical facts, wrestling with doctrine and mental torture we put ourselves through over trying to prove God, we so rarely allow our hearts to offer an answer. And yet here, in the story and invitation of Jesus, we see a God who craves relationship and intimacy, who longs for us to find comfort and security in Him. We are called to respond to Jesus from the depths of our soul rather than the scope of our education and discipline.

Why am I banking on Jesus for eternity? Because when I read the invitation of Jesus to His disciples I get excited. I love the things Jesus did and want so desperately to be a part of them. I love the idea of blessing the poor, healing the sick and loving the broken.

And when I participate in those things, I FEEL the love and grace of Jesus with me and around me.

When I live a life seeking first the kingdom of God, it feels like I am living eternity right now.

And it means everything to me.

 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.I have made youknown to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

-Jesus (John 17:24-26)

 

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Where Is Jesus?

This is part three of a four part series leading up to the launch of Shore Vineyard Churches, new church plant “INTERSECTION”. These four weeks will be related to the first service which is called “Who is Jesus: Facts, stories and questions about the most influential man in history.” For more information on Intersection, visit the Shore Vineyards website here

“If your God is REAL, then why is there poverty in the world?”

“If Jesus EXISTS, Why do people get sick and die?”

“This thing* happened to me… WHERE is Jesus?”

I’m never quite sure how to answer these questions. How do you answer questions that you yourself have wrestled with multiple times? Agonised over? Had sleepless nights over? These are not normal questions. These are questions that are often birthed in the midst of hurt and despair. Questions that reflect a deep longing for understanding. The standard Christian responses of “God has a bigger plan dear” and “we will only understand it when we die” are, in my opinion, nothing more than a cop out or coping mechanism.

Reality check: S@*# Happens.

I honestly wish that could be my standard answer. But history has shown me that that attitude hardens the heart or moistens the eyes, and rarely brings about positive forward momentum.

No, in order to tackle these things, we need to develop our understanding of our surroundings, our culture, our scriptures, and our God.

And so these questions need to bring about… more questions. Only then might we begin to grow and find some answers.

For example, we may find ourselves with a more robust understanding of our planet. In Genesis we see God saying creation is “good”-  therefore we know it is not “bad”. That means that God, in loving his planet, perhaps does not symbolically “shake up his church” when an  earthquake hits, but rather that earthquakes are a reality of living on a dynamic planet. A planet that, without tectonic plates, could not sustain life of any kind. Perhaps earthquakes are simply the aches and groans of a planet that gives way to our very existence. Just a thought.

What about poverty though? Surely a loving God would click his fingers and abundance would be everywhere right?  Maybe we need to consider more carefully the things Jesus said and modeled. Perhaps we need to remember when He called us His body, that meant that our hands and feet are to do what His hands and feet did. We are to go and bless as He went and blessed. as Mr Wright puts it:

“If we are truly praying to God’s honour, we can never simply pray for ourselves. We MUST pray for the needs of the whole world – where millions go hungry and starve. And as we pray we realize that if we TRULY pray, we may also have to do something about it – (we may have) to become part of God’s answer to our own prayer”

And finally, Jesus may actually not abandon us in times of need, but could potentially be right there in the midst of our brokenness, hurt and despair – longing to love us and tend to our wounds.

What if our definition of miracles and answers to prayer could become so much larger than what it currently is? What if asking questions and seeking bigger answers lead us to realise that in the midst of everything, Jesus IS there, and is working

in us

with us and

through us?

Perhaps then we might find the answer we are looking for.

Jesus… was here… all along.

 

Things Jesus didn’t say…

This is part two of a four part series leading up to the launch of Shore Vineyard Churches, new church plant “INTERSECTION”. These four weeks will be related to the first service which is called “Who is Jesus: Facts, stories and questions about the most influential man in history.” For more information on Intersection, visit the Shore Vineyards website here

Jesus was never intimidated by questions, and asked a few challenging ones of his own. But that doesn’t mean that everything he said was a grey area. Jesus had some very specific things to say.

So I found myself doing a quick check through of the gospels recently to scope a few things out. Feel free to correct me but it seems that…

Jesus didn’t say “Build elaborate and excessive church buildings”

Jesus didn’t say “Protest outside funerals and condemn homosexuals”

Jesus didn’t say “The storms will never come”

Jesus didn’t say “My grace allows you to do as you please”

Jesus didn’t say “Give, and your wallet will grow”

Jesus didn’t say “Eternity starts after you die”

Jesus didn’t say “Establish church hierarchy”

Jesus didn’t say “Follow me and become a down and sombre character about life”

Jesus didn’t say “Judge others ruthlessly for their actions”
Jesus did however, tell us to live a life of radical love and generosity – giving up all that is ours for him (Matthew 13:45-46).  He did tell us to  turn from our own agendas and seek first the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15, Matthew 6:33). He did tell us to bless the poor (Matthew 6:2-4) and to feed his lambs (John 21:15-17). Jesus invited us to follow him (Matthew 4:19) and learn from his ways. He leads us to teach, heal and serve mightily in his name (Mark 9:38-41) . He tells us to mend broken bridges (Matthew 5:24), and shows us how to be advocates for restoration (Luke 8:48). He shows us that greatness is not defined by military power, but rather by the humble and submissive act of serving someone (John 13:1-20).  Jesus tells us to simply remember him by partaking of the bread and the wine (Luke 22:14-23).

And above everything, Jesus tells us to hinge/dress/hang/frame/support every action of our life with a deep deep love for God AND a deep deep love for other people (Matthew 22:34-40)

When I met Jesus…

This is part one of a four part series leading up to the launch of Shore Vineyard Churches new church plant “INTERSECTION”. These four weeks will be related to the first service which is called “Who is Jesus: Facts, stories and questions about the most influential man in history.” For more information on Intersection, visit the Shore Vineyards website here

In some ways, you have all heard this story. Some of you may have heard mine personally, but chances are you have heard a similar story of someone else who perhaps lives in a very different part of the world, or at a different time in history.

It’s a story that goes along those all too familiar redemptive lines. The story involves an average teenage boy who gets OK grades, plays High School Rugby and Volleyball, dabbles a little in social drugs and alcohol, skateboards at every spare moment and enjoys the company of girls way too much. Things are flipped upside down when his dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His life spirals downwards until he is invited to join a pop punk band with a friend of his, and inadvertently finds himself in a youth group, listening to other young people “worship Jesus”. It’s weird – but he wants what these people seemingly have. So he “gives his life” to Jesus Christ. His life is changed forever.

My life was changed forever.

Sure the specifics aren’t the same, but chances are you have heard this story before. But this PARTICULAR story is special and unique in that it is MINE. I gave my heart to Jesus in the basement of my now-pastor’s house that night, and since then I have been on a journey. A journey that has taken me through the inevitable highs and lows of discipleship, but ultimately a journey I wouldn’t change for the world. It is a journey that has made me the man I am today – A man sold out for the kingdom of God and dedicated to sharing the love of Jesus with everyone possible.

That night, Life began. And I don’t mean in a way that life was bad before and now it is awesome and I have everything my heart desires. In a lot of ways my life is exactly the same as before. But it kinda feels like everything became real, more vivid somehow. For you old timers, it was the switch from black and white television to colour. For the new timers it was the switch from dial-up to broadband. Nothing was new –  just more amazing. Life was real, it was happening, and it was happening vividly.

I felt alive.

And then these new words came into my vocabulary. and with Jesus those words became the very air I inhaled.

Hope. Purpose. Love.

Words I had known all my life, Yet I was discovering them for the first time.

As I finish, Let me share a story. Below is a picture of a skatepark near my house. I have skated there since I was 13 years old. Skateboarding there was always “fun” and “cool”. Nowadays when I skate there I go early in the morning. I love the sound of the ocean mixing with the sound of wheels on concrete. I love the fresh sea breeze hitting my face as I fly around the park. The sounds of birds and metal trucks on coping come together to form a song so harmonious I cannot describe it or replicate it. I feel Alive. I feel the presence of Jesus. I feel delight, joy and love.

With Jesus, since I met him, things – experiences, activities, adventures, conversations and whatever else you can think of – have become SO MUCH MORE REAL to me.

And it is, quite simply, worth it.

Browns Bay Skatepark

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Missing the Revolution Train

“He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him”

– John 1:11

Is there a more devastating statement in Scripture? It kills me… and I am sure that in 10, 20, 30 years it will break my heart even more.

The creator God, The living Word and Light, takes on flesh and initiates plans to bring His creation back into alignment with its original purpose. He comes to usher in the kingdom of God – God’s will happening “on earth as it is in Heaven”.

and His people – set apart to BE the light and hope of the world DID NOT KNOW HIM.

Sometimes you have to wonder… How did they miss it?

God’s chosen people…. They knew the scriptures. Loved them even. Some of the Israelites deeply loved God and were passionate about His plan for the world. However they got so caught up in their interpretations of things. Their expectations of things. And these things perhaps were not essentially wrong – but lacked scope for God to move in His own all-loving and all-powerful way.

The Jewish people expected God to deliver a messiah that would restore Israel’s rule. A messiah that would overthrow the roman empire through military means and rebuild the temple. Instead Jesus came…and preached love. Peace. Submission. Generousity. His teachings of the kingdom coming through forgiveness and grace, healing and restoration had pharisees and leaders pointing the finger and calling out words like “blasphemy!”

Jesus wasn’t what they expected. So they rejected Him…to the point where they saw to it that His beaten and bloodied body was hung on a cross.

I think what really scares me is that we so often act like the Pharisees of old. We are quick to defend our views or interpretations of scripture and fiercely throw words around like heresy.

When what we should be doing is looking for the activity, movement and advancement of the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). We need to understand that what Jesus did was REVOLUTIONARY and CONTRARY to the expectations of his time and culture. And we need to be alert to the rhythms and movements of the Holy Spirit to make sure we do not miss our part in the ongoing revolution that is the advancement of the kingdom of God.

What are our views on homosexuality? Racism? Sexism? Vegans? Polygamists? The environment? On the sick, lowly and dying? The prosperous and the poor?

What are our views on anything?

We can have a wide range of theologies or interpretations or use language to justify our means or opinions, but ultimately, the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15), it is advancing, and (in my own opinion) our only outward expression in any circumstance should be a desire to step out of the way and invite God to have His way on His terms.

So, in the words of N.T Wright, are you “working to extend God’s kingdom in the world, or are you standing in the way?”

Blessings.

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Mud in the face.

Then Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

– John 9:6-7

I think we are creatures of patterns. We like routine, we like consistency, we like predictability. And I think ultimately we like control. We like to know what is going to happen, how and why.

I also think we like to put God in a similar box. We pray, do our daily devotionals, give faithfully and bless others. And more often than not we are comfortable with that. Our faith is ordinary, manageable and understandable.

The trouble is, Jesus never did anything ordinary. He never had a routine. There was no method to the things he did.

Jesus, throughout the gospels, heals people of blindness. WHY in this particular circumstance did he spit in the ground, make mud and push it into a blind person’s face?

There are many theological ideas or cases for what Jesus may have been hoping to achieve with this little display, but ultimately, for me, it demonstrates the raw unpredictability of our God. Whenever we think we have Him figured out, or we think we have discovered a program or routine that keeps us “connected” with God or allows us to “see the Spirit move”, He does something different. That at least is true of my own life. And funnily enough, when things arrive in my life left-field, God takes me back to this verse to show me that He does things on His own terms – every time.

All through Scriptures we see the dynamic nature of God. He is Moving. He is active. He is vibrant.

And, in His sovereignty, His will always happens on His terms.

And it pays to embrace it.

 

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Easter Reflections.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried with Him therefore by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too might walk in newness of life.

– Romans 6:3-4

I spent Easter weekend with 40 of my youth at an Easter camp that happened here in New Zealand. It was pretty powerful. 4500 young people from all different churches and communities gathering together to celebrate the amazing story that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the Sunday night I took the opportunity to turn my attention away from the stage and look to the four rows occupied by my youth behind me, and what I saw blew me away and moved me to tears.

Arms lifted high in worship. Young boys praying for their leaders. Girls holding each other and praying fervently. My youth were even praying for youth from other churches!

Simply put it was a snapshot of the new life. A picture of God’s kingdom breaking through. Words cannot capture the immense beauty and joy I experienced in this moment.

And then I found myself somewhat fearful of the future. You see, in the future I will inevitably have to face some tough conversations as these youth get older. Conversations around dating, sex, drinking, partying and more…. LIFE questions to be exact. It took God all of 5 seconds to bring me away from the future fear and call me back to the present reality.

The revelation of NOW needs to be a powerful one in our lives. Through the death and resurrection, we walk in newness of life RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. We need to love, lead and minister with passion, boldness and determination – every single day. We need to continually remind ourselves and those around us that the kingdom of God is AT HAND (Mark 1:15), and we need to live accessing it and praying for it at all times.

And I am confident that if I continually call my young people (and others that I spend my day with) to that NOW, God will take care of the future.

Jesus is risen. Risen indeed. And because of that we walk, we live, in newness of life right now.

Blessings.

 

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timing is everything.

I’m not a very patient person.

Perhaps I am getting better. But I can definitely identify times in my life where I have wanted something so bad that I have gone out of my way to get it. And nearly every time it has resulted in a tonne of debt, damaged relationships, or having to make amends or adjustments at some point down the line. My dad used to always tell me “a good job is quicker done than a bad job”. It used to frustrate the heck out of me, but it has proven to be one of the most valuable pieces of life advice I have ever received. There is no such thing as cutting corners or making something happen when it shouldn’t. It just doesn’t happen.

The lesson I have learned, time and again, through my own faults, is that I do not always know what is best for me, or when it is best for me.

But God does.

Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him”

– Ecclesiastes 8:5-6

We are called to trust and obedience because God has His best in store for us, and in that trust and obedience we will not encounter the detrimental. There is a a right time and a right way for everything good that is planned for our lives, and it is with a discerning, wise heart that we will find it in the right time.

The problem now is that we let it worry us too much. We get so caught up fretting about when the next best thing will happen, that more often than not we miss the best thing God is doing now.

I know I go on about it a bit, but relax, do not worry, and allow yourself to become aware of the awesome things that God is doing with you, through you and for you right now. And in His timing and in His way the best will come.

Guaranteed.

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back in the game

After a few weeks out of the blogging world I am ready to get back amongst it.

It seems that some weeks, things just build up with work and life, and you struggle to find the time to string together some kind of semi-inspirational thought from your daily bible readings. This has been the case for me, but I have also been somewhat discontent with a lot of church culture I see around me. In my wrestling with the world of weekly tithe sermons, more-anointed-than-thou individuals and the thought of having to drink (shudder) instant coffee, my blogging has taken somewhat a back seat.

Which is why I am excited about a new blogging opportunity I will soon have with some friends – a chance to poke some fun at ourselves and learn a little about the kind of church we would like to build in the process (watch this space).

Which frees me to get back to what I (possibly?) do best.

Enjoy. Critique. Enjoy.
Blessings.