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
Nurture your faith
Richard Dawson, 18 February 2016
Give a thought... I’m going to ask you this morning to be a little, just a little, self-centred. You see I want to invite you to consider the thing you call your faith or your belief or your Christian commitment as you would a child. Not just any child, but your child. A child you have parented and are parenting. A child you care deeply about and want to see prosper (for surely all parents want their children to prosper and to enjoy life and all it has to offer.) Furthermore I want you to consider the depth of compassion and love you have for your child. In many ways this is how we need to look at our faith—we need to see it as a child which needs all the love, care and attention of a child and something which, with these things, can prosper and grow but without these things will, quite simply, not.
So…. How will you help your child to grow this year? How will you care for it? How will you invest in that child to make sure that it becomes all that it can become and passes on the love of Christ to it’s child and to others? I don’t intend to answer that today but I do want to make a strong case for us to consider how we might ‘care for our faith-child’ this year. Most parents make some clear decisions about how they will raise their children. They make a determined effort to reduce the risks to that child while still allowing it to explore its environment and make all the wonderful discoveries of a child. Most parents consider how they will educate their children; what schools they will go to, what career they will choose. Most parents consider character education vital; building resilience, kindness, courage, honesty, empathy and thankfulness. Have we considered what we want to build in our faith? Perhaps love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control might be a good start! But how are we going to do this?
Richard Dawson, 6 February 2016
Welcome! We’re in that part of the year when we see more newcomers than at any other time. Knowing how crucial first impressions are when we are meeting individuals we must realise that this applies to communities of people and institutions as well. A negative experience first up with a group of people can leave one with a pretty bad taste for some time. Our Mission Focus this year at Leith is to ‘seek to grow in our ability to intentionally build welcoming, hospitable and generous relationships with other people...’ And we’ve set ourselves this task because mission is essentially relational—it’s about forming relationships which are shaped and formed by the Christ who lives within us. There are many facets of this work. We need to work at times on our language, our listening skills, our facial expressions, our conversational skills and even our basic courage. We may also need to take this a step further and begin to open our homes to strangers and newcomers. A simple meal of soup and bread can make such a difference to a lonely student or a new family in the city. The offer of a coffee sometime during the week simply to provide someone to talk to and share with can be a life-saver to a visitor. There are literally dozens of ways we can improve our ability to intentionally become more welcoming. And this will make a difference to Leith. We can preach all we like about the love of Christ but until it becomes real in us our words will fall on deaf ears. Can I challenge you to pray about this and to ask God to deal with your heart if you find this difficult or even impossible. We need to build our relational capacity this year both as individuals and as a church. This doesn’t need to overwhelm us. Perhaps simply forming the habit of talk to one person for 5 minutes at church whom you would not normally associate with might be a great start!
Richard Dawson, 3 February 2016
I know of several people I’ve met recently who’ve used the principle of the ‘New Year’s Resolution’ to get some part of their lives ‘on track’ this year. Whether it be breaking a bad habit, getting fit, losing weight or simply staying focused, committing to something, making a promise to oneself and telling others about it is perhaps one of the most used and sometimes abused ways of getting started. And, frankly, it’s often quite helpful. I suspect we over-emphasise the idea of commitment in the Christian community at times but there’s no doubting the need to determine godly priorities for our lives if we want to be followers of Jesus. In the end, commitment in a Christian context simply boils down to a decision to go one way or another—to follow Christ or not to. And this then leads to making changes in other parts of our lives. An alcoholic may commit to being dry but that decision then has to apply to each moment and each circumstance of their lives if it is to make a difference. In a similar manner, we may commit to making Christ LORD of our life but that will then need to apply ‘down the line’ to decisions about money, relationships and time.
Can I, then, challenge you this year to determine to let Jesus in ‘down the line.’ Perhaps you’ve been a Christian for many years but never really asked God about how that should effect what you spend your time on—how much TV you watch; how much time you spend with the family. Perhaps you’ve never allowed God to speak into your key relationships—never asked God to be Lord of that part of your life. Commitment to Christ means commitment in these areas as well. Finally, I wonder if you’ve committed what you earn to God or are we still lords in that area? Yes you worked hard for that money but it is the gifts God gave you which enabled you to do that. Commit everything to God this year. Don’t hold back!
Richard Dawson, 6 January 2016
I don’t know about you but the more I read about the future the less enthusiastic I am to get there. From global over-heating to national over-eating everything seems rather gloomy if you read the newspaper at all. Old people seem worried about how young people are behaving and young people don’t seem to like the world the old people made. Many think oil is bad but the other half don’t want wind mills for increased electricity production either. In the words of an old English sit-com—’We’re a rum lot really aren’t we!’ (Trans. ‘The human race is silly’) ‘Rum’ we may be but the future need not be nearly so dark. One of the great things about the Christian faith is that it places the future firmly in God’s hands and by this I don’t mean to refer to some imminent global disaster where all the good people get whisked away by God’s power. The future as predicted by Isaiah is quite different. It is a future marked by a spirit of reconciliation where even natural enemies lie down together… “6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” This is the future of God’s making, the future of ‘many mansions,’ the future of reward for faith and the future of the renewal of all things. It is not a fear-filled future but one marked by joy, peace and the wonderful Presence of God. Above all it is a future where death will no longer part us from the ones we love. This is the vision of the vision God raises for us in the Bible… “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21)
Richard Dawson, 4 December 2015
I’m speaking about the art of being gentle today. It seems like such a simplistic notion when put this way and surely not something that might be at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, and yet my belief is that it is neither simple nor unimportant. Indeed given humankind’s penchant for violence it may be one of the hardest things to establish in our culture here at Leith and in the Church. Make no mistake about it, however, gentleness is a quality that speaks of Christ more than just about anything else for it is the larger part of grace. Gentleness is the ’softness of God’s ways with us’ in the face of God’s grace. As the prophet Elijah was to discover, God doesn’t come with the great wind, fire or earthquake but in the stillness of the night—the softness of God’s touch. And the great question that we must continually ask ourselves is—are we like this? As God’s people and as children of Christ this is what we must aspire to because this is what Christ was like. He was One who wouldn’t ‘break a bent reed or snuff out a smouldering candle.’ And He is like this with us. He is not our accuser. He is not our punisher and He is not our critic. Jesus is, rather, our friend. Those who made the greatest impression on me in childhood for the Gospel were just that; friends, and I am so grateful for their soft touch. You see it was something that really made me sit up and take notice for I could not understand it. I could understand those who disliked me and who told me off and who punished me but those who were patient and loving and gentle—they were a complete mystery! How do we think others see us? Are we considered gentle? Do they trust us? Is our presence welcome? Are we considered someone with whom others can share deeply and expect understanding rather than criticism or rejection. Think on it. We are called to be gentle.
Christmas is Coming 2
Richard Dawson, 22 November 2015
Christmas is Coming A wonderful Christian music writer who inspired many through the 70’s and 80’s was a guy by the name of Larry Norman. Larry is gone now but his influence is still felt in many places. He wrote about real things, real injustices, real faith, real tragedy and in one particularly poignant song called ‘Christmas Time’ which began with the lyrics “It’s Christmas time and the kids are getting greedy…’ The song goes on to lament the loss of true message of Jesus in the kind of Christmas our culture celebrates and I guess we’ve all reflected on the great conflict the Church has between joining a Christmas celebration which has essentially become a pagan festival and taking the good with the bad by recognising that whatever others may make of it Christ is still the reason for the season. But is there anything more we can do to raise up Christ this Christmas? Do we have to just sit back and take it or is it possible to raise Jesus higher this Christmas season? Well yes! Of course it is! Here at Leith for example we’ve been working each year to create a wonderful Christmas Eve service that really inspires families and especially their children to think about Jesus. Please, if you can, be involved in this and help us reach deeply into the community with this event. This year in January we are on duty pushing beds at the hospital on the 10th. We’ve decided instead of running our own service that we’ll all head down to the hospital chapel—push their beds and attend their service and perhaps do a little bit of visiting afterwards. So join us if you’re in town. Is there a way you could serve your community, your neighbours as a living sign of the hope you have in Christ? Let’s do it together—let’s make a difference in Jesus’ Name—let’s not give up on this culture even if it does frustrate us but let’s be gateway for Jesus into it.
Christmas is Coming
Richard Dawson, 17 November 2015
I wonder how you’re feeling about Christmas. I hope you’re feeling a sense of anticipation and joy but I suspect that for many of us this will be mixed at the very least with a sense of weariness, perhaps even dread at the thought of all the work needed to enable the family to enjoy the day or of the pressure to buy something for everyone. Of course we can change the rules around this in our own families and decide to buy collectively or to buy only a certain number of presents and this is a great idea. However this assumes that you have money enough even to make these sort of decisions. What would it feel like to simply have no resources available to buy presents or even to buy Christmas food? The fact of the matter is that a lot of people in Dunedin will be in this position and no matter what pressure we might feel from or around Christmas it’s just got to be a whole lot worse if we haven’t got the resources to make any real choices around Christmas doesn't it? I wonder what we might be able to do about this at Leith? I wonder whether we might be able to make a real difference for at least some of the people I’m talking about? Before we commit to feeding our own perhaps we could think about those around us who can’t commit to anything for their families or children. There are a number of different venues for giving the food bank at PSO being perhaps the easiest to access. I think they also take toys for distribution to poorer families as well. Let’s also not forget our closer neighbours. Do we live next to a solo mum or a widow or widower? Do we have someone in our neighbourhood who may not have family around to do Christmas with. Could we offer to have them with us for Christmas dinner and so welcome in the Christ-child in this way. Christmas should be better for so many don’t you think?
The Rugby Effect
Richard Dawson, 6 November 2015
Is there anything we can learn as a church and as Christians from the All Blacks win last week. I know many of you don’t follow the Rugby and, indeed, think of it as something of a blight on our culture and I can understand this but the feat of being the first team to win back to back titles in this competition and of being now the ‘winningest’ Rugby team in the world given that we have fewer player of the game than many other places in the world should not go un-noticed. These things don’t just happen by accident. In particular the AB’s lost badly in ‘91, ‘95, ‘99, ‘03 and ‘07 and in many of those tournaments they were considered the best team. What has changed? One thing I believe… Team culture. Particularly in ‘99 and ‘03 the AB’s were considered arrogant and aloof. This may have begun to change under coach Graham Henry by ‘07 but clearly prior to this there was a sense of entitlement and indifference towards the opposition who took full advantage of this. What has been so noticeable this tournament is that all that is gone and in it’s place is an essential humility and respect for both players and the wider public. Furthermore, the coach embodied this in his daily comments before the Press. He was respectful always, downplayed the AB’s achievements and showed great restraint always when answering questions around his own abilities. The culture in the team from what I can gather echoed this public display. It was focused and yet aware of the needs and desires of the public and it was nowhere more accentuated than in the amazing act of kindness from Sonny Bill Williams who rescued a young boy from a security guard who had just tackled with undue vigour the boy for being on the grounds illegally. He then handed the boy his winner’s medallion and allowed him to walk away with it. We can learn a lot from this team and this win!