God absolutely loves his creation. So should we!

God absolutely loves his creation. So should we!

God’s creation is superb. God’s creation is vaster than we could ever comprehend, it is intricate, it is ordered, it is infinitely varied, it is full of energy, it is profuse with life, and it is magnificently beautiful.

The splendours of this created universe reflect the much greater glory of its sublime Creator. Human awe for creation can lead to awe of the living God who made it all: ‘since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made’ (Rom. 1:9).

God’s creation established his complete and unchallengeable authority over everything and everyone that exists. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it’ (Ps. 24:1). That means this is God’s world, not ours.

The whole Bible, from Genesis 1: 1 onwards, gives testimony to God’s absolute delight in his creation. The Creator gazed upon his completed creation, and saw that it was ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31). God continues to actively watch over his creation, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb. 1:3). If God loves his creation so much, so should we!

Humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, created to fellowship with God, and also set among the rest of God’s created order to enjoy and care for it (Gen. 2:15).

The bad news. Because of humanity’s waywardness towards God, creation has been placed under a deep shadow of brokenness, suffering, and death, and it groans as it awaits the day of salvation (Rom. 8: 18-22).

The good news. The Cross of Jesus is at the centre of God’s plan of salvation, reconciling us to God. But Cross also looks forward to the liberation and restoration of God’s creation, at the coming of the Lord (Col. 1:20; Rom. 8: 21; Eph. 1:10; Rev.21:1-4).

Some reasons why Christians should care for God’s creation…

  1. We should love what God loves: his creation.
  2. We should honour God by respecting what he has given us.
  3. God asked humanity to care for creation (Gen. 2:15): to benefit from it, and work it, but not to exploit it relentlessly or junk it.
  4. We should remember that while God’s humanity is central to God’s creation, we are all dependent on the rest of creation for our own human health and flourishing. Human greed, selfishness and apathy is now putting God’s creation under serious strain.
  5. Caring for creation is not at the centre of the Gospel. But that does not mean it is not important, or that we can ignore it.
  6. It is the poorest people and the poorest nations who are the worst affected by pollution, famine, and climate change: the Bible consistently urges believers to show both justice and mercy, and to live others as ourselves (Mt. 25:37-40). This applies globally.
  7. Yes, the believer’s future is secure in God, and we look forward to the Lord’s return, but we do not know when that will be.
  8. Christians currently have a great opportunity to give a good example in these matters, and to let the light of Christ shine.

Churches: public scrutiny, or self-scrutiny

Churches: public scrutiny, or self-scrutiny

Many of us will have noticed a recent spate of media pieces critiquing some of our large churches, with a particular focus on some personal grievances about internships. Those churches will no doubt be addressing those concerns, and the church primarily in view has acted wisely in setting up an independent review.

Negative public scrutiny of churches raises the much broader question of how robust churches generally are in reviewing themselves. The reality is, it is helpful for all churches – regardless of their size, model, flavour or tradition – to reflect honestly on their own values, emphases, practices and traditions.

As followers of Christ, we all know that we are visible witnesses to the grace and truth of Jesus, that we are the body of Christ, that we are called to the highest spiritual and ethical standards, and that we are answerable to the Lord.

There is so much about most churches that is wonderful. But no church has all the answers, and no church ever gets everything right. We always need to remember that churches are also human organisations – full of imperfect people, and susceptible to blind spots and failures.

As organisations in society, churches are subject to the laws of the land, just like other organisations. We are legally obligated to have everything in good order, and should always strive to follow best practice.

No church – small, large, or in-between – is exempt from public scrutiny and critique. While secular society generally recognises that churches do much good, it has little tolerance for churches’ perceived shortcomings or ethical lapses.

Arguably, society is increasingly holding churches to account. Perhaps in some respects that is a good thing. But perhaps it is an even better thing when all our churches critically reflect on ourselves, humbly review our assumptions and practices, and make God-honouring changes.

Why does the resurrection of Jesus really matter?

Why does the resurrection of Jesus really matter?

The resurrection really matters, because…

Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is indeed the divine Son of God

By his resurrection, Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

Jesus’ resurrection proves that Jesus’ death was indeed a sacrifice able to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God

Unless Jesus’ identity as the unique divine Son of God was confirmed by his resurrection, his death would have been of no more significance or saving power than any other human death.

Jesus’ resurrection means that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, interceding for those who belong to him

Romans 8 reminds us that Jesus who died and was raised to life is at the right hand of God, interceding for us. Because of the resurrection, we have an advocate at the highest possible level, within the being of the infinite Triune God.

Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates God’s power over death, and that Jesus has opened up for believers a path to eternal life with God

Prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus had declared: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives in me will live, even though he die”. Unless Jesus rose from the dead, that promise would have been false and empty.

Jesus’ resurrection led to the birth of the worldwide church

On the day of Pentecost proclaimed “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it”, and 3000 people were baptized and joined the infant church. But if Jesus had not risen from the dead, there would be no Christian church, and we would never have even heard of Jesus.

Jesus’ resurrection means that Jesus is forever living Lord of the church

We serve a living Lord, and we are led and sustained by a living Lord.

Jesus’ resurrection gives us confidence that one day he will return, to defeat all evil, end all suffering, and make all things new.

Without Jesus’ resurrection, we would see no end to the relentless human cycle of evil, suffering, and death. But because Christ is risen, we look forward in confidence and expectation, to when Jesus fully establishes the awesome reign of God.

Living with the “conversion practices” law: some initial suggestions

Living with the “conversion practices” law: some initial suggestions

New Zealand’s experience with the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation has been far from ideal. Because such legislation was a Labour Party election manifesto policy, and because the Government has had such a huge majority, the select committee process was something of a farce. Many thousands of thoughtful submissions were made, critiquing obvious biases and deficiencies in the Bill, and suggesting constructive improvements. But the select committee shamefully stonewalled them all, and back in the debating chamber so did the majority of MPs.

Parents, schools, counsellors, and churches are now left trying to work out how to interpret and apply the new law.

At one level, the prohibition on coercive and harmful “therapy” practices for LGBT people is a good thing, and was supported by NZCN and many others. Nobody should be subjected to practices that are unsolicited, or demeaning or harmful. It also needs to be said that the incidence of such practices in New Zealand appears to be very rare, especially nowadays.

We can also readily agree with the second stated aim of the law, to encourage “respectful and open discussions regarding sexuality and gender”. The problem though, is that very little in the law appears to facilitate open discussion, but on the contrary appears likely to inhibit or close down any “open” discussion (except when such discussion is endorsing same-sex identity or gender transition.

A key (and contradictory) sentence in the new law, and relevant to both parents and church leaders, allows for “the expression only of a religious principle or belief made to an individual that is not intended to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression”.

On the one hand, the first part of that sentence appears to protect in law the right of anyone to express to an individual religious beliefs or principles about sexuality or gender.

  • A parent could, for example, express their disbelief in gender transition, or express some cautions or beliefs about potential losses or risks associated with gender transition, or say: “I personally don’t believe it is wise for people aged 12 to take puberty blockers, because most people with gender dysphoria become comfortable with the sex they were born into once they have begun puberty”.
  • A parent or church leader could say: “I believe the Bible teaches that God loves everyone, and invites us to follow him and his ways”, or “I believe the Bible teaches that God’s intention for human sexual expression is loving faithful marriage between one man and one woman”.

However, such expressions of belief will need to be respectful and non-coercive, conveyed with compassion and gentleness, and with respect for people’s worth, dignity, and freedom of choice.

The second part of the sentence, however, forbids anything “intended to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression”. This clause appears to directly contradict the law’s avowed aim to encourage “open” discussion about sexuality and gender, is a contravention of religious freedom as enshrined in the Bill of Rights (because Christian faith is not just about “beliefs” but also about personal choices and conduct), and is in effect a denial of people’s rights to seek whatever advice and support they may feel they need.

How this clause may be interpreted by courts is hard to predict, but it would be wise for anyone giving advice or support to anyone else in these matters to ensure that whatever they say, pray, or do is unfailingly respectful, loving, non-coercive, and unharmful, giving full weight to people’s freedom of choice.

Whatever we do, we must be faithful to God’s grace and truth as revealed in Christ and the Scriptures, act with integrity, and be responsive to the Spirit of God.

Post-passports church

Post-passports church

The essence of church is about gathering together as the Lord’s people, for fellowship, worship, prayer, proclamation of Christ, the teaching of the word, encouragement, and serving others.

Through the pandemic, most churches have continued to function, using online options, small groups, and different types of church services, but it has undoubtedly been challenging.

The easing of gathering limits (25 March) this week) and the end of vaccination passport requirements (4 April) will be a welcome relief to most churches. Larger gatherings will be possible, and the church can begin to put behind us some of the complexities and consternations of the last few months.

Let’s pray that, in this new and different phase of Covid, Christians may relate to one another with grace, respect, and humility, that churches may steadily recover their life together, that churches may reach out to those members who have become less connected or have felt disaffected, that we may discern what God has been showing us in these difficult times, and that we may more effectively communicate the hope and truth of Christ around us who those who are spiritually adrift.

NCLANZ letter to be sent to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church

NCLANZ letter to be sent to the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church

15 March 2022

His Holiness Kirill
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Russian Orthodox Church

Your Holiness,

We write to you as brothers and sisters in Christ and as national leaders of most church denominations in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We are deeply disturbed by what is happening in the Ukraine at the moment, the bombings, the civilian deaths, the major refugee crisis.

We are fearful of further escalation of the situation that would put even more people in danger. We are united in our request that you use your voice and significant influence to call for an end to the hostilities in Ukraine and intervene with authorities in your nation to do so. We make this appeal with no political agenda but rather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love transcends the narrow claims of all nations and ideologies.

We are in the season of Lent. In that Lenten spirit, we ask you to prayerfully consider the steps you can take to influence peaceful solutions.

As the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, you have the holy opportunity to play an historic role in helping to bring a cessation of senseless violence and a restoration of peace. We pray you will do so, and our prayers will accompany you, as together we yearn for the biblical vision of peace that is found in Isaiah 2:4:

Then He will judge between the nations
and arbitrate for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer take up the sword against nation,
nor train anymore for war.

Respectfully Yours in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Members of National Church Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand

Rev Andrew Marshall
National Leader – Alliance Churches of New Zealand

Archbishop Phillip Richardson
Archbishop Don Tamihere
Bishop Justin Duckworth
Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia

Pastor Illiafi Esera
National Superintendent – Assemblies of God in New Zealand

Pastor Charles Hewlett
National Leader – Baptist Churches of New Zealand

Pastor Steve Burgess
Senior Leader – C3 Church

Pastor Brent Liebezeit
President – Christian Churches New Zealand

Rev.Roland Hearn
Interim National Superintendent – Church of the Nazarene

Pastor Peter Mortlock
Senior Pastor – City Impact Church

Rev Moegauila Lasei
Chairman – Congregational Union of New Zealand

Pastor Sam Monk
National Leader – ACTS Churches New Zealand

Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja
National Leader – Elim Church of New Zealand

Bishop Mark Whitfield
Lutheran Church of New Zealand

Rev Andrew Doubleday
President – Methodist Church of New Zealand

Pastor Adam White
Leader – New Life Churches International

Pastor Eddie Tupa’i
President – New Zealand Pacific Union Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Church

Rev Hamish Galloway
Moderator – Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

Anne and Alistair Hall
Yearly Meeting Co-Clerks – Religious Society of Friends, Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri

Cardinal John Dew
Roman Catholic

Commissioner Mark Campbell
Territorial Commander – The Salvation Army

Pastor David MacGregor
National Director – Vineyard Churches

Rev Brett Jones
National Superintendent – Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand

Rev Dr Stuart Lange
Director – New Zealand Christian Network