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The Spirit of Pentecost

Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 15 May 2018

The Spirit in the Church
Pentecost 20 May 2018

At Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes in a manner that is both reassuring and completely alien; unless we understand this we will be doomed to look in the ‘wrong way’ for the Spirit moving amongst us today.

For centuries Christians have read the accounts in Acts of the Spirit’s coming in Jerusalem, plus other towns in Israel and the Roman Empire, in a manner which has inured us to how strange these episodes are in the Church’s life…but they are. The spontaneous breaking into praise in languages unknown to the speaker but known to those listening; two jail breaks achieved with no human intervention, including the spontaneous release from chains and the mysterious unlocking of prison doors; prophetic utterances which reveal information that could not have been known by the speakers. There are healings and various other miracles which all trace activity of the Spirit which is, frankly, alien. And yet, the fruit is an acceleration of the growth of the Church and of faith throughout the Roman Empire.

We are justified in looking for the Spirit to move again today and we should all be expectant that the Spirit is still moving through the Church to convince and convict those who do not know Christ’s love and grace. The Spirit is in no way finished with the Church or, frankly, with the world which God loves. But the Spirit has not changed and so the Spirit’s activity will not look like it once did. In other words, we can expect it to remain, in part at least, strange.

I too have made the mistake of looking, on many occasions, for the Spirit to move in a familiar way. I was involved in the great move of the Spirit in this country in the ‘70s and ‘80s and it was amazing and gave great heart to the Church. It introduced many young people to both the grace and the sovereignty of God and it convinced us of the desire of God for intimacy because we experienced in many various ways the closeness of God. But that was then and since then I have found many who are disappointed that God is not moving in the same way as God did then. And yet this is precisely what we should not expect.

In any revelation of God, and this is precisely what occurred during the revivals of the ‘70s and ‘80s, both the likeness and the unlikeness of God will be exposed and we must be prepared for that. God is like us in some respects but, as the theologians are fond of saying, God is also “completely other”. We must take this into account when anticipating God working through the Spirit.

Now although we thought we could recognise the likeness of God in the ‘70s because it seemed like the Acts experience in reality there were many things which happened then which were unlike anything in Acts. The rise of new and more modern music and the phenomenon of ‘Spirit -filled worship’ through this took things to a new level. The rise of people falling down under the power of the Spirit – something which had occurred in previous waves of revival - is not recorded in the New Testament. And there were many stranger things than this – things that many others in the Church could not accept were real - and I witnessed some of them.

The question is, where is the Spirit of God today? What is the Spirit doing today? I do not believe that the Spirit has gone into hiding. I simply think the Spirit is working strangely in a manner we do not recognise to bring about the same things – a glorifying of Christ in the world…and I do mean the world.

Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about the Spirit’s role is that we imagine that it is confined to the Church. It is not. Yes, the gifts are given to the Church so that the Church might operate to reflect Christ but the key goal of the Spirit’s activity is to convict and convince the world of God’s love and this is where we probably need to start looking for the next move of the Spirit. I say this because I believe that wherever the Church sets out to address the world’s needs with any kind of real intentionality, the Spirit will attend that activity. The Spirit is the Spirit of God’s mission first and foremost.

So, may you know the moving of the Spirit in your Pentecost celebrations but more so, may you be led by the Spirit to bring the healing love of Christ to the world, for through this are we more likely to witness the strange but powerful moving of God amongst us again.

Yours in Christ

Richard Dawson
Moderator Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

Moderator's Anzac Message

Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 24 April 2018

The commemoration of New Zealand’s involvement in both the first and second world wars has taken
on a new life in the last 20 years or so. Crowds have grown at Anzac Day services, particularly among
the young. Children and young people seem to make up at least a half of the congregation gathered for
this special day and they usually have to sacrifice considerable comfort as they turn up to dawn services
very early on those chilly Autumn days.

There is speculation about what is driving this unusual display of identification with generations past, but that it is exists is beyond question.

The connection today’s young people are experiencing with this violent part of our history is occurring
against a background of growing pacifist sentiment here in Aotearoa, and in the West generally. Indeed,
since the Vietnam War in the 60s, youth have generally been identified with an anti-military stance and a
latent pacifism that dislikes military solutions. This is, to my mind at least, as it should be.

There should always be a policy of military involvement only being considered after all else has failed. The results of military action are almost always relative and incomplete creating – at best – an opportunity to
resume building a peaceful and free state.

The question remains, however, whether military force is able to be a part of a Christian solution to the
political and social realities of human life. Can force ever be said to be a Christian option? Do we have to
settle for violence?

Whatever else may be said on this matter – and it is, admittedly, something that has occupied debate and discussion for centuries – several realities remain uncontested.

Firstly, fallen humankind, sinful humankind will use power to enforce its will on others and that includes
military power. In these circumstances, history often demonstrates that nothing short of a display of balancing power will stop the violence. Military action against Isis or Daesh (as they are otherwise referred to) is a good example. The terrorists who drove the violent Isis crusade represent no one but themselves
and have been disowned by most of the Muslim world.

A letter to David Cameron signed by the Islamic Society of Britain and the Association of Muslim Lawyers
made this very clear when it stated (regarding Isis): “It is neither Islamic, nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations.”

So this group who has no standing with the majority of peace-loving Muslims uses unconscionable force and violence to achieve its aims, and the only thing that will cause those involved in it to give heed to the voices of the innocents caught up in this violence is in fact, violence itself.

And this is, in the end, what has happened: a coalition of western military has supported Iraqi military, and Russia has supported the Syrian military to defeat Isis. It hasn’t been easy and the violence has still not abated, but the alternative was to allow a violent faction take root in the world. And this brings me to my second point.

In this life and in certain situations where the State or, indeed, the world is faced with power that chooses
violence – violence seems to be required to bring about a just solution.

In such situations, however, it must also be admitted that the outcomes are extremely limited and often, in
themselves, full of injustice. Innocent people are killed, violent people are exalted and the states which are left
are often not much better off than before. Despite this, one must ask whether the alternative would have been preferred.

Last century New Zealand lost thousands of men and women fighting a regime which chose violence to enforce its will on its own people and on the nations around it. It was determined to rule Western Europe and, in doing so, to rule the world. Today we no longer live with that threat because of their sacrifice. God forbid it should ever
happen again, but if it does, I wonder if we’d make that same sacrifice so that our children and grandchildren might live in relative freedom again?

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Moderators Christmas Message: Christmas for the Lonely

Richard Dawson (Moderator PCANZ), 22 December 2017

Dear Friends
Christmas is a struggle for the lonely. Nothing compounds feelings of loneliness quite like seeing others celebrate a festival for families, and being asked common pleasantries such as if family are coming to visit. It’s not the fault of Christmas but it’s what happens. Christmas is hard on the lost. Who can begin to be found when everyone’s so busy with each other that no one’s even looking for the lost?
Christmas is tough for the unlovely. Those who feel rejected because of something they can’t help, struggle to feel valued at a time when value becomes synonymous with price. Christmas is great but I feel for the marginalised people who are forgotten at this time of year: the lost, the lonely and the unloved.
I wonder if we could focus on making a difference this Christmas, even for just one person who lies completely outside the circle of our own family, someone who just won’t get to celebrate unless we include them in some way.
Perhaps it’s a person living on their own. Perhaps it’s a solo parent living down the street. Perhaps it’s a couple of little ones you’ve seen playing around your place and you’re pretty sure they won’t be getting much in the way of Christmas fare on the 25th. Whoever and however you choose to help, if we each make an extra effort it would make a huge difference.
I recently watched a wonderful video talk by Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of The Justice Initiative, which among other things has saved many people from death row in America. The key phrase which still rings in my soul from that talk was the first point he made about justice: true justice requires proximity. That is, it requires us to get close to those who are suffering injustice. Isn’t this what Jesus did by coming to earth on this amazing day we celebrate as Christmas? Isn’t this the universe changing version of getting proximate? I certainly think so. I want us this year simply to ask ourselves who we are going to bring into our inner sanctum, to share with and to learn from, who is in the lost, lonely and unloved category.
I hope and pray that you might be greatly blessed this Christmas. Thank you for all you work and commitment to our Church. It makes a huge difference to me and to so many who travel with us in this journey of faith.
God bless you and yours this Christmas,
Richard Dawson Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Spirit in time

Richard Dawson, 23 June 2015

Time is one thing none of can escape from. As the old saying goes… ‘Time and tide wait for no man!’ Time is an unconquerable boundary for most of us and yet there are tantalising clues within the material world that time is not nearly as fixed as we might think. Time, according to Einstein, is relative. It changes according to how space is filled and the faster one goes the slower goes time for the person travelling, though this effect is only noticeable when one gets close to the speed of light. The Bible affirms that God is Lord of Time—God is over time—God is not limited by time and we see this in action largely through the Spirit. It is the Spirit who announces ‘ahead of time’ what will happen (prophecy). It is the Spirit who pronounces ‘ahead of time’ the purpose of a person or an event (word of knowledge) and it is the Spirit who takes past events and makes them illuminate present situations (interpretation). The Spirit moves in and out of times to reveal God and to proclaim God’s glory and if we are to understand God we shall have to move in the ‘things of the Spirit.’ This is why relationship with the Spirit is so central to discipleship in the New Testament. Peter is described as being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ in Acts 4 as he defends his actions before the Sanhedrin. Paul says ‘Be filled with the Spirit and go on being filled with the Spirit’ in Ephesians 5. Only in the Spirit, who is not limited by time, may we relate properly to the God who is above all time and who works in all times to bring all people revelation of the purposes of the Kingdom of God.

The Prayer Closet

Kent Rickerby, 26 March 2015

God asks us to go into our closet when we pray… I can’t do that because it’s full of other stuff.
A closet can be a place of private and special stuff. My closet has lots of shelves, full of special boxes with stuff in them like hopes, dreams, love. Boxes full of family, friends, church. Boxes full of adventure, memories, some with worries or fears, others with future stuff, not yet happening.
The shelf spaces in my closet will never be full because there’s always room for more. What is this strange closet? It’s the closet of my heart. The most private closet there is. Even those closest to me have limited access except for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They know every corner and have unlimited access to everything in there. God knows when my prayers are about wanting things for myself, He knows when my prayers are about things that go on in the world and he knows s when I pray a prayer of thanks to Him for the things He has done and the things He will do.
An amazing thing about the closet space, the private space of the heart is that it can be taken wherever we go, we can pray at any time about anything and God hears it. It doesn’t matter if our words are big or small, long or short, God is not “out there” he’s “in here” He wants us to talk to Him like we talk to a trusted friend, about anything, with openness and honesty. He cares about what we think and feel. What is the condition of the closet of your heart right now? Can you hear God in there having a conversation with you?
What shelf, what box are you looking at? Is it the same one He wants you to look at and pray about?
Open the door to the closet of your heart. Let God in, every minute of every day while your heart beats with the rhythm of life that He gave it. Trust Him with the boxes on the shelves, think of each prayer as a jewel for His crown carefully and lovingly crafted by every good word in the prayers that you speak.

Being Me (2)

Richard Dawson, 2 December 2014

The Bible encourages us to develop a healthy sense of ‘self.’ Jesus’ teaching prefigured a much later recognition of the importance of the individual when he took seriously the needs of people who were socially ‘nobodies.’ In other words they were ‘non persons’ as far as most of the rest of society was concerned. But they weren’t ‘non-persons’ to Jesus or to God the Father. He praised the actions of the prostitute who wet His feet with her tears. He lauded the actions of a Samaritan in helping a man beaten by thieves. He raised up simple fishermen as leaders and He recognised the faith of people as diverse as Roman Centurions, women with long standing disease of the womb and Canaanite women. He recognised people despite their social, political and personal standing and He told stories about people who deliberately squandered their personhood such as the prodigal son. Personhood and individuality were important to Him and so they should be important to us. We do this by making space for people in our circle of relationships—by honouring them first as worthy human beings and then as worthy members of our community. And yes there has to be some reciprocal response and effort but always the initiative lies with us. As members of the majority group it is our responsibility to reach out to those who aren't and invite them in. Acknowledging someone else in this way also requires that we listen and get to know another. So many people find Christian society rather shallow because we do not use the time we’re together to really get to know others and yet they need this to feel they are ’somebody.’

Salt and Light 3

Richard Dawson, 27 June 2013

The key factor linking both salt and light is the work of the Spirit. Firstly Jesus describes the disciples as salt and light—those who have accepted His Word and it’s work in their lives. In doing this they have allowed the Spirit to begin recreating them in the image of their Lord—Jesus. That work makes them both salt and light for it is Jesus who is the true salt and light. So secondly the Spirit works in us to make us into the image of Christ by bringing to life what was once dead spirit. This is, of course, roughly what salt does in a meal—it brings to life what was once rather tasteless and lifeless and in doing so in us it makes us into salt for the world. Again, when we invite the work of the Spirit into our lives we begin to see things we’ve never seen before—both in ourselves and in the world around us. The Spirit gives us new eyes to see with and we become recipients of revelation—the rhema word of God. The Greek word Rhema refers to a spoken word and is used often to denote an immediate or living word of God. There can be no question that God continues to speak today to our immediate circumstances and when we receive and believe such a word it can be described as a ‘rhema.’ There is much more to be said about this but suffice to say that such revelation is, effectively, light in our darkness and warmth for our cold. As we receive such light and bring it to bear on the circumstances of our life we in turn become light and warmth to those around us. Both of these extend from the work of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives and so it is vital that we give God permission to work in this way with us.

Salt and Light 2

Richard Dawson, 27 June 2013

Another fascinating thing about salt and light is that as influential and effective as they are—they are not the ‘main thing.’ Salt isn’t the meal. Light isn’t that which it illuminates. We don’t come to a meal to eat salt and we don’t use light to see light but to see what there is to see—to see the
substance of what is there. This, I believe, tells us something about how we should be in the world. It tells us firstly that we should not expect to be the ones over whom all the fuss is made. Christians and indeed the Church are, in essence, the hidden ones, the ones who are there quietly just as salt is in a meal and just as lights are in dark places. When the lights come on they draw attention to what they illuminate—not to themselves usually. Moreover, since this is the case it reaffirms what we know about God’s relationship to all that is made—that it is essentially good. This statement is specifically used at the end of each day of Creation in Genesis but I think it is easy to forget in a world punctuated by disaster, war and violence. The world God created is essentially good but spoiled. However the spoiling doesn’t take away the goodness, rather it just makes it much harder to see. The Church, important as it is as the chosen vehicle of the revelation of God is not meant to be everything either. It is salt and light and, as such, makes Creation glorious and understandable but it is still not everything. We need to take this to heart and remember our place, for God will use the world and Creation in amazing ways that we cannot yet imagine if only we will play our part—as salt and light.

Salt and Light 1

Richard Dawson, 27 June 2013

Jesus choose salt and light to illustrate what we are to be in the world. One of the fascinating things about these metaphors is that they both imply that there must be contact with the world. Both salt and light work, as it were, by being there. Salt works by being mixed with the thing that it is to effect—by being there. Light also works by being placed in the place which needs illumination—by being there. A candle in the daylight is of little use. A candle in a place of deep darkness is a miracle and a saviour. And this leads naturally to another amazing thing about these metaphors—quantity doesn’t really come into it. I think we so often disqualify ourselves because we estimate the influence we can have and it doesn’t seem much at all. Imagine if the little boy who supplied the 5 loaves and 2 small fish had said “No you can’t have them because they are so small they won’t make any difference!” 5000 people and more would’ve gone hungry that day. Salt must be put with that which it is to influence. It cannot sit back and be apart from it and be at all effective. Light, likewise, works in dark places. As things around us become darker, what we are will always shine more brightly. The Church has always been more effective in times when things around it were difficult and we also will find that our faith becomes more real as it is tested by real trials. The question is, are we prepared to make contact—to be available in a way that allows what God has put within us to shine? If you don’t know, simply ask God to show you the way. What God has put within us is stronger than what is against us!