Kristin Jack, 14 December 2016
December - how did that get here so quick?! So often this is a month not so much about frankincense as franticness; not so much about myrrh, but about blur. It can be a frenetic month as we try to get work stuff ‘sorted’ before the year ends, while at the same time wrestling with plans for Christmas & for the summer break (if we can afford one.) For many people December is the most stressful month of the year. For many others, Christmas is the saddest and loneliest time.
And so we need the message of Advent - that Christ has come and is coming again - to really sink into our hearts. More than that, we need to continually invite Jesus in to be Lord of our hearts, our lives - and our schedules. Now more than ever, we need Jesus to be the core, the centre from which we operate. Psalm 46:9-10 says: God makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow, shatters the spear, and burns the shield. God says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you….don’t let your hearts be troubled, & don’t be afraid” (John 14:27)
Make a conscious decision not to be overwhelmed by either busyness or loneliness this season, but to make Christmas a time when your relationship with Jesus is reborn. If you need to talk with someone, or pray with someone to help you get to that place - myself and Nancy and all the other dozens of ‘ministers’ we have at Leith are totally available.
Richard Dawson, 16 September 2016
The other day I ran up against one of those chaotic moments in life which makes you wonder where God is. A person turned in front of me at an intersection without looking and seemingly not understanding that straight through traffic had the right-of-way. I jammed on the brakes and just managed to stop in time but the dipping of my suspension meant that I touched her left hand bumper and did significant damage to it whilst leaving a little scratch on my bumper. She was suitably contrite and apologetic and I was left with her business card and that weird feeling that this shouldn’t have happened.
Later I was watching the Rio Paralympics which I’ve really enjoyed and heard a wonderful interview with our hero of the day, Sophie Pascoe. She said a remarkable thing. Referring to the accident which left her without the lower part of her left leg she said that she now felt that this accident was a blessing because it had lead to so many good things in her life! Amazing really. I’m sure she and her family didn’t feel that way for a long while but in the fullness of time something good has come of it.
I wonder if you’re in that place of regret right now? I wonder if you’re facing the fallout from one of those chaotic moments which has left you or a loved one damaged, maybe even permanently? I wonder if your life is full of regrets and ‘what-ifs?’ If that is the case can I say to you that God has not forgotten your suffering. Our God is a God who brings blessing out of chaos and loss. As with Sophie Pascoe it perhaps takes considerable time to see this come to fruition but it does, because we have a faithful God who is aware of the chaotic world we live in. Today, know that God does not leave us in this state of grief and shock but will work, in His time, to help us realise the triumph in the tragedy.
Richard Dawson, 5 August 2016
I don’t know about you but more and more these days I find that I simply have to turn away from the news because the state of the world and the amount of conflict I hear about is just overwhelming to the point that it leaves me disturbed and upset. And it’s not just the news. I find that programmes where people are given a chance to ‘speak their mind’ about subjects can degenerate into an opinionated rant against, more often than not, a public figure who has no chance to defend themselves. Worse still, we hear people declaring that they're going to take matters into their own hands and to act in ways which are, if not violent, designed to enact some sort of revenge on the object of their anger.
We live in violent times where violence, if not the first recourse, is almost certainly the second in almost every conflict. It is the Christian duty I believe to stand against this tide and to advocate with everything we can a peacemaking path for all peoples. Nothing but greater damage is caused by a recourse to violence as a means of solving conflict whether it be verbal, emotional, social or physical. Violence has a way of spreading hate by affecting a much greater group of people than those directly involved in the conflict just as war takes a terrible toll on civilians.
Even here in New Zealand, violence costs us all. Our tax dollars are funding medical and legal help for an increasing number of citizens who have been directly affected by violent crime or domestic violence. This is to say nothing of the long road to recovery for families who have suffered the death of a loved one in an outbreak of violence.
The question is, how can we raise the flag of peace in our lives and in the life of our church?
Richard Dawson, 7 June 2016
A surprising amount of human behaviour is, I believe, motivated by failure. Whether it be fear of failure, or wisdom gained through failure our actions often have failure in the background. We often think of this in pretty negative terms but the story of Peter’s redemption from his incredible betrayal of Jesus three times during His trial, shows that God uses failure in some amazing ways and it also shows that He is not fazed by our failure. Perhaps the biggest failure of humankind began with Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden, an event that led to the whole of humankind being trapped in the cycle of sin. Yet God has redeemed us through Christ and continues to show that He can work through and with our failures if we will admit them, face them and not be afraid of them. As Dave Smith of the Kingsgate community Church says ‘The call is greater than the fall!’ Fear of failure is, however, a real issue for it can cause us either to over-perform or to under-perform. Over-performers tend to look to their own strengths to overcome a perceived or real failure which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the strength they are relying on is the same one that caused their failure—in other words, themselves. Under-performers do the opposite. Frightened of ever making a mistake again they do their best not to have to perform again. They hide away hoping they can avoid any situation where they might be put to the test. This is precisely what the disciples were doing locked away in the upper room after Jesus’ death. They had decided that they could not risk failure again so they were better to hide from the world. Jesus’ answer to both over and under-performers is the same… ‘Come to me all you who are weary… and I will give you rest.’ The only performance God is interested in is relationship with Him.
Richard Dawson, 18 May 2016
What can really change a person? What has changed you? Have you been changed by an experience—perhaps a bad experience—a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury? Many things appear to change us but do they really? Or do they simply reveal what is in us already? Many people believe that once the ’die is cast’ humans do not change. They stay good or bad, honest or dishonest, sad or glad, lazy or hard working. This kind of prejudice is as prevalent today as it was in Jesus’ times when, children, women, the poor, Samaritans and Gentiles in general were all considered highly suspicious and devoid of character by Jesus’ own people. Do we look at people with such an attitude? I suspect we do. I suspect many in our society look with great suspicion on refugees, people of a different race or religion, the poor and those who’ve been in trouble with the law. The Bible is convinced people can change but the ‘change-agent’ is not something within them. Rather it is the work of the Holy Spirit when we give ourselves to Jesus. In Christ we find the greatest change-agent of them all for He is the one who can give us new life. Malcolm Muggeridge the former left wing journalist who found Jesus later in life came to understand this because he was turned from a Christian-hating writer to a Christ-honouring one after a significant meeting with Christ. Of this he said ‘I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.’ When we truly meet Jesus we cannot help but be changed and, indeed, one of the best descriptions of the Christian life is that it is the desire and attempt to live all life in the company of Christ—to be continually meeting Him. And this is possible not as we try to do it but as we cry out to God for this privilege.
Richard Dawson, 9 May 2016
After Jesus was killed came the silence of the Sabbath and then Mary’s encounter which was the beginning of a 40 day period during which the risen Christ was seen by literally hundreds of people. Some recognised Him immediately. Others, including Mary herself, didn’t at first. Many things about Him were the same; he retained the wounds from his time on the Cross; he could eat; he did look something like he had before but He was also different. Mary mistook Him for a gardener. In Luke 24 though He appears ‘in the flesh’ the disciples doubt that it is He and are frightened to the extent that He must appeal to them saying “Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” On the road to Emmaus two disciples who knew him well walked several miles with Him and still didn’t recognise him. What’s going on!?
One answer comes from the realisation that in these very special encounters the people who meet Jesus are seeing something more than just a body. Rather they are seeing Jesus partly transfigured again into His eternal self and that very aspect of Him hides something of his nature as a human being. Not that He has lost anything human. Rather He is gaining an eternal frame which like the light which is God—is so bright that we cannot fully comprehend it. We are so used to seeing things that make sense that when we see something that is slightly different it confuses our minds severely. God is not the same as anything or everything else. He is significantly and radically other to the extent that we always need to keep an open mind about what God might do and what and whom God might work through. This is both a concern and a joy. We need to be concerned not to confine God to our ‘normal’ and to realise that God can use anything in Creation to reveal and glorify Himself.
Richard Dawson, 2 May 2016
There can be absolutely no question that we must welcome those who have been refugees into this city. Our own faith is a faith of the refugee and for the refugee. In God’s sight we are all refugees from His love and grace and only because of God’s love and grace do we find a new home back with the God who is our true home. We arrive before God with nothing of any value and we are accepted not as vagrants or interlopers but as daughters and sons of His love. We who were so poor are made rich by God’s love and grace. So the question cannot be one of whether or not we should welcome these people but what real welcome means. Jesus was once welcomed by an important man—Simon the Pharisee, into his house. Jesus was given a place at the table which was certainly a sign of honour and it must have been a considerable risk for Simon to have Jesus there since the Pharisees were already implacably opposed to Him. However, before the meal, a woman of ill repute enters the house and begins to tend to Jesus and wash his feet with her tears and apply an expensive soothing balm to them. The others at the meal are offended that Jesus would even allow this woman to touch him. But Jesus defends her saying that her welcome has been more significant and more real that anything Simon offered. He also explains that because she understood her need and came in the humility of that need, her prayers have been answered. One key learned from this story is that some welcomes can convey more of an “unwelcome.” A hand shake and a hearty “hello” cannot convey anything but the most formal of welcomes. A true welcome requires skin! It requires commitment, time, friendship and resource for if a welcome is not these things then it conveys more an unwelcome than a true welcome. Are we prepared to put skin to our welcome to the Refugees?
An Empty Space
Richard Dawson, 25 April 2016
The post Easter space in the Christian calendar is perhaps the most potent empty space in all Creation. Anyone who has been to sea for some time or who has been in a real desert will have some idea of just how powerful an empty space can be. When there is nothing but the horizon for days on end we not only begin to sense something of the majesty of Creation but we also begin to sense something of the true place we have it in. When what is before us is too big for us to fill in any way we begin to realise the true boundaries of our humanity. This is one reason why God has always lead His followers into deserts of one kind or another. In these places we must give up the prideful imaginings of our heart and begin to comprehend our limits and our needs. Furthermore, in the empty places we find it much easier to focus on one thing—the one thing, as Jesus said to Martha, “that is needful.” I wonder if you’ve been led to a desert recently? I wonder if you’ve found the usual joys of life suddenly gone because opening before you is a huge empty place—a place devoid of a loved one or close friend; a place robbed of health and vigour because of sickness or injury; a place deserted by hope because someone or something has let you down terribly or because you see a madness in the world which seems unstoppable. If so know this one thing—in this space, in this terrible emptiness, in this barren landscape—God is there! This is the one key message we find in the Bible about empty places—they are not empty of God. Indeed, God is especially present there because in that place our hearts can be especially open to God. The disciples went into their empty space after Jesus finally ascended to heaven with a mixture of joy and apprehension. We too need to realise that with every desert—God will make a way though there seems to be no way!
Richard Dawson, 6 April 2016
I wrote last week about life having it’s heart in relationship with God but what does this mean? How can one relate to someone who, for intents and purposes seems not to be there?! This begs the question about the nature of relationship. Most would say that someone has to actually be there for one to have a relationship with them, by which they mean one has to be able to touch them and see them. But in this age of social media and digital communication we can all see that this is just not true. I came across someone having an internet romance 20 years ago. In my first parish I officiated at the wedding of a man whose first wife had left him for a man she’d never met but had fallen in love with over the internet! Now I certainly don’t encourage this but it is clearly possible to form a strong relationship without someone being there. We do it all the time in a more cursory fashion on the phone and by email.
The two major contributors to growing a relationship are 1.) intimacy—the development of closeness and 2.) communication. Communication is major contributor to intimacy and so how we communicate is vital. The Bible is full of encouragement to communicate with God… ‘Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.’ (Jer 33:3) Prayer is, of course the major medium of communication with God and it is as we pray that we find ourselves drawing closer to God. The Bible also assures us that God longs to ‘draw close’ to us. In other words to develop an intimate relationship with us. James assures us that… ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ (James 4) So far from ‘appearance’ being vital to a relationship we discover that we can have a true relationship with God even though He does not ‘appear’ as a human.
Richard Dawson, 6 April 2016
Life! We live in a time in our country when suicide has become an epidemic and it raises the question what makes your life truly worth living? Many of us would perhaps answer with things like family, friends, love, health, achievement etc and there’s know doubt these things are important. But they can’t be everything because there are plenty of people who’ve had all or most of these things and yet for whom life has become either so painful or so meaningless that they’ve taken there own life.
Christians believe that something else lies at the heart of life—something so different and so important that it’s worth giving up much else that would normally be called ‘life-giving’ to obtain it. That thing is, of course, a relationship with God made possible by the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus Christ. Time and again we search for something in life to give us life and though many things are worthy and indeed helpful none can replace the thing which gives true life, the life of abundance, the eternal life which is above all life.
The difficult thing about choosing this life is that it is counter-intuitive in almost every way. You see choosing this life means choosing humility over pride, weakness over power, being second over being first and, sometimes, choosing death over life! Yes, even death now comes to the service of life for in dying to an old way of living we discover a new life we could never have imagined or lived before. What is more we discover a Saviour who has travelled this way before, indeed, was our pioneer in taming death that it might be used to discover life. Today, Easter Sunday, life is made available for all to receive, a life we could never have known had Jesus not given Himself to the Cross and to death only to rise again