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Benchmarks | Sing

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.
— Colossians 3:16b

It's been the month of summer music festivals here in New Zealand which means that news sites and Facebook feeds have been full of pictures of people enjoying the sun, their friends and their favorite bands. There's been pictures of crowds of people together, hands raised and shouting lyrics at the top of their voices. A lot of these pictures have shown me something about our culture: we like to sing. 

To sing is human. It's something we do from the earliest of ages; while watching children's TV shows that teach us the alphabet; in our rooms to our favorite top-40-hits as a teenager; belting out the national anthem before a sports game — though perhaps that could be better described as "melodic mumbling" for some of us. Anyway...

Paul gives an instruction to the young church in Colosse to focus on Christ by singing songs together. This would have been nothing new to these people, as they would have liked music and singing just as much as we do today, but there is a new message in the music: Christ. Because of this they are to sing some old songs, some new songs and some songs that haven’t even happened yet.

Paul's first instruction: sing psalms. The Psalms are a collection of songs, prayers and poems in the middle of our Bibles, and this collection had been the words of prayer for generations of Hebrew people.

It had been their words to songs as they travelled.

It had been their words of praise when they held a celebration.

It had been their words of lament when they were suffering in exile.

It had been their words as they journeyed with God through all that life brought, day-after-day.

These words still relate today. There are words in the Psalms for when we don't even know them ourselves yet, and they have been there for generations. There is a deep well to experience if we would engage and sing these words. Sadly, we have left a lot of these behind.

Next Paul says to sing hymns. These are songs that the people would sing together that weren't in the book of Psalms, but were known to each other. Songs that someone at some point had written, for whatever reason or experience, and other people thought it was good enough to join in with. It has always been good to have songwriters gifting the church with songs that have been crafted for us to sing together, and that is no different today.

Lastly Paul says to sing spiritual songs — perhaps better interpreted as Spirit-led songs. Those spontaneous ones. The ones that just, well, happen. It is good to have spontaneous moments of singing whatever the Spirit is leading us towards. It helps us identify it and put words to it and it helps us to return praise to God for gifting it to us in the first place.

So Paul gives us a rhythm to our singing together: dig back into the rich depth of the Psalms, enjoy the current life of what the songwriters are bringing, and look for the new spontaneous thing that hasn’t even happened yet. It brings us to joy and thankfulness. It gives us a healthy perspective, realigning us towards Christ and His story. The presence of God moves and His activity works in and through us.

And all because of a time spent singing.

Who knew singing could be the platform for such a powerful work?

Maybe it’s because singing is an expression – the bit we can hear – of an even bigger activity lurking under the surface: worship.

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Benchmarks | Joy

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Always be joyful.
— 1 Thes 5:16

A couple of nights ago, my sister-in-law and I teamed up to out-vote my health-conscious wife to have fish and chips for dinner. We walked to the takeaways shop to pick them up, and on the way back decided that we needed a bottle of soft drink to accompany the meal. It is tradition after all. I nipped into a convenience store to grab a bottle of Coca-Cola, and while I was waiting to pay for it I amused myself by reading the label:

“Open Happiness."

Sure. Like happiness is really a black fizzy drink, that if you over-consume, can have you at the dentist getting costly work done.

But, a few minutes later as we sat in the last of the summer sun on our deck, with the hot chips and a cool drink of that black-fizzy-happiness-juice, we were laughing and talking together. We were full of joy. Maybe it was because we had opened some happiness – or maybe it was because there was joy in each of us all along, and it took getting together around that table to bring it out.

Do you open happiness, or is happiness the opening of something bigger?

Here, in this letter to the Thessalonian followers of Jesus, Paul is telling them that to live in this new life is to be one of being full of joy. Read enough of Paul and you’ll see why he would say this. His message is continually the Good News that God's activity is near and is restoring the brokenness found in the world through Christ. Everyone is welcome to join in on this, entering what he calls “the new life". It’s a message of grace drenched hope, one that should make us content, and as a result, joyful.

Joy is different to happiness in so many ways and on so many levels; it's much harder to find than happiness, but once found, it’s a generous treasure that is hard to forget. The author Henri Nouwen put it this way: 

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

It seems joy – like so many of the fruits of the Spirit – is made in us by daily choosing it, making a thousand small Spirit-led choices to be joyful in what ever circumstance may show up. 

So what would a church that has chosen to make “joy” one of it’s benchmarks look like? I think it could change everything – if joy was the fuel, I could see a big fire. When we get together, joy would make us sing loud and serve gladly. It would make us celebrate treasured moments, and help us be content with the mundane ones. There would be a healthy motive for us to live out the hope that we could be to our city, with more zeal and self-sacrfice. We’d feel alive because we are completely aware that we are living a new life gift from Christ himself.

And so we choose to aim for this benchmark, and by God’s grace may we make it so that we can bring out the joy to be found in everything we put our hand to, opening happiness along the way.

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Standing on the shoulders of two hundred years

This Christmas we celebrate two hundred years since Samuel Marsden's inaugural preaching of the Good News in Aotearoa. Over two hundred years the Good News has moved from the Bay of Islands to every corner of our country, expressed in thousands of churches, organisations and ministries, in messages, actions and the arts. 

It's important to make sure that we understand events like this and what they where the catalyst for. There's plenty of things you could look at if you are interested, but two things worth a mention would be this article from our national movement and even more recently the NZ Herald had this article breaking down the events of the day.

We are standing on the shoulders of two hundred years of the Good News being preached and outworked in our country in all kinds of ways. That’s a long time, and within that are a lot of stories, and within this large narrative is, for us, a new story.

I don't want to post more information, or retell the story, but just want to share an excitement in my heart for the heritage we have, in which we are grafted. We are standing on the shoulders of two hundred years of the Good News being preached and outworked in our country in all kinds of ways. That's a long time, and within that are a lot of stories, and within this large narrative is, for us, a new story.

This new story is one of us hearing God's voice to plant a church and beginning to see that 'word' become a reality. Over the last couple of months we have seen something that was just invisible – something that was just in our hearts – start to become visible. People have started to gather around and join in as we begin this journey within this giant movement of the Good News impacting Aotearoa. 

So, because of such an occasion, I have some reflections I hope we can be.

I hope we can plant something that joyfully declares Te Rongopai o Ihu Karaiti – the Good News of Jesus Christ – in word, sign and deed.

I hope we can plant something that plays it's part in this narrative well, making a difference for the good of our nation, standing for the injustices to be found and finding the needs to be met. 

I hope we can plant something that looks back to look forward, knowing the shoulders we stand on – both the good and the bad – and doing all that we can to be the peacemakers in our time for the Church and the world.

I hope that we can plant something that can be a part of the next two hundred years and beyond.

Why we still haven't got out a whiteboard

Last night we had our second monthly gathering with twenty people crammed into our lounge, which was quite a cosy feeling on such a hot, muggy Auckland evening. We shared a meal, chatted, worshipped and prayed, and it was great.

Planting a church is a balance of listening to the Lord for His direction, figuring out what to do with that, and making plans. We have our timeline which we are using as a trajectory, but we don't know all the details yet. I'm becoming increasingly aware that the season we are in at the moment is to enjoy being in God's presence and hearing from Him, and leave cranking out the whiteboard and markers to brainstorm the exact plans for a little while longer yet.

At times people ask me "So, what are we doing?" and deep down I am tempted to try lay out a five-step plan or a bunch of tangible things we can achieve and do. I guess that's just the sign of the culture we live in where people want to know the measurable goals and steps. We want to know what an organisation is doing as a sign of whether it's successful or worth their buy-in. I get that, I fall victim to thinking we have to do this too.

But the words of Jesus call us to a counter-cultural way to make plans and measure success.

In John 15, Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that if we abide in Him we will bear fruit. There is a warning in what Jesus is saying here: don't get this around the wrong way. Jesus' advice is that the first "do" must be to abide in Him, and from that all the right things will come.

The season we are in as we head into Christmas, a January summer break, and then kick off again in February, is to do what Jesus says in this passage. We're going to enjoy the privilege of enjoying Christ while there isn't a hundred other things that can rob us of that, and learn how it feels to make this our first port-of-call in all that we do as a church. 

One of the highlights of last night was that we had a friend, Andy Campbell, visit us as our guest and lead us in worship. To finish the set he used this song, which lyrically echoes the sense I have of what we are to do at the moment:

O Lord we seek your face

Your Spirit, truth and grace

Breathe on us

Spirit, breathe on us

Enjoy this song for yourself, and if you would, please join us in praying that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear what He is beckoning us towards, because until we feel we are getting this right, we won't be getting that whiteboard out in a hurry.


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Advent and waiting to begin

Earlier this week my wife, Gabrielle, hung up our Christmas wreath on the front door. This tells me two things: one, Advent has begun and it’s nearly Christmas, and two, we only have one more month left in 2014 before our big journey of 2015 commences; planting Central Vineyard church. 

A major theme of Advent is waiting, and waiting is what we have been doing for quite a few months now - we’ve been waiting to start this journey, and we’ve had small glimpses of getting things underway while always knowing that the summer break over Christmas and New Year is a big deal for the average Kiwi, so we best keep the pressure off till it’s out of the way.

This time of waiting has become a bit like a “rolling-start” for us (a way some motor races begin, where the contestants, rather than racing from a complete stand-still, all drive slowly beside each other until the light goes green and then it’s flat-out racing). Several months ago we started to gather a small “engine room” core team, we launched our presence and identity online, last month we had our first gathering with a dozen people in our lounge, and this month it looks like it will be above twenty people. Slowly support is growing, word is spreading and there is something emerging out of what had just been an idea and a sense of God speaking to us.

This Advent we are joining with the global Church in waiting for the coming of Emmanuel, but also, we are waiting for the end of a year of waiting, and the beginning of a year of starting what we have been waiting for.

P.S. To make the most of the Advent journey, I highly recommend these videos being released by 24/7 Prayer:

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Please pray this prayer with us

...I saw the Lord...
— Isaiah 6:1

It's humbling to know that all over the world people are praying for myself, my wife and our team that is growing around us. What a thing to know that people are interceding for us, petitioning for us and praising with us.

Some have asked us directly, "What can we pray for you?" Well, it seems that we now have an idea how to answer that question.

It's been said that before you have a vision for God, you must have a vision of God. We don't want to start to create anything with our team without first having a refreshed sense of who God is and what He is speaking over us. We know from John 5 that the Father is always up to something, and we want to start with what He is up to.

And so in saying that, can I ask you to pray this prayer with us as you pray for us and our church plant:

Father, we want to see You more clearly.

Christ, we want to hear Your beckoning. 

Spirit, we want to receive more of what You are already doing.

If you have any nudges of God saying something to you for us, we'd love to know them, so please write us a message and let us know. 

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And so it begins, with fire.

Today I woke up grateful for two things:

Number one, the grease fire that started in our BBQ as we cooked steaks for dinner didn't burn our house down.

Number two, we have started. Last night we began our church plant journey with the first gathering at our house of core team members and people who are interested. A dozen people came to our house to eat, chat and pray, and there were a few apologies from people who would have liked to have been there and couldn't make it.

The night started with a fire on the BBQ, and it ended with one of those Acts 2 moments of “fire” settling on people as we sought the gifts of God’s Spirit together in a relaxed and informal manner, seeing what God was speaking to each of us.

And so we ate, we talked and we prayed. There was a joy in our lounge as we laughed at things together, heard each others stories and the way God had brought us together. But the highlight for me was that we had invited a guest from our sending church to join us for the night who spoke prophetically over us all.

The night started with a fire on the BBQ, and it ended with one of those Acts 2 moments of "fire" settling on people as we sought the gifts of God's Spirit together in a relaxed and informal manner, seeing what God was speaking to each of us. 

Our hope is that these monthly gatherings will steadily keep growing over the coming months, that they will become too big for our lounge and we will have to find another location, but for now we are enjoying the moment. God is leading people to this mission of planting this church in our city, and moving in peoples lives already.

Today I pray that the fire never goes out.

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