Author: Rob Harrod

Life by death (Rob Harrod)

Recently I had the privilege of attending the annual Men’s Christian Convention here in Christchurch. David Cook from Sydney was helpfully unpacking truths from John 11 and 12, and showing us their vital application to life and ministry. On the second night he highlighted something that has been much on my mind and heart for much of this year. David opened up John 12:23, 24: "And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Here Jesus states that He will be glorified through His death. Through His death on the cross He will be like a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying, and in death He will bring forth much fruit.

How would Jesus accomplish His purpose? How would He save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)? How would the Lamb of God take away the sin of the world? By His death! The grain of wheat MUST fall into the earth and die, and through that death … Fruit would come! Life would come! Salvation would come! (Isaiah 53:8-10). All by the death of the suffering servant in the place of his people. In John 12 we see that this is not only a wonderful picture of what Jesus does, but it also provides a pattern for our life and ministry. This is how the disciples of Jesus must also live, individually and corporately. This Christ-like selflessness must characterise both the Chrisian believer and the church.

We often focus on the individual outworking of this biblical principle, but I want to draw your attention to one New Testament example of this selfless attitude seen in the events surrounding the establishment and early life of the church in Antioch, a major city some 500 km north of Jerusalem and the capital of the Roman province of Syria. Antioch was the third largest city in the Empire after Rome and Alexandria. Here are six examples drawn from the book of Acts of churches and believers learning to think and live ‘us’ and not ‘me’, being willing to fall into the earth and die in order to see real gospel fruit.

(1) Persecuted believers continue to preach Christ. Believers fled from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) under intense persecution. Christians had lost their homes and jobs, and their lives were under serious threat. All because they aligned themselves with Jesus and His Church. The natural tendency in such circumstances would be to go quiet about Jesus in order to avoid more trouble. These believers did the opposite. They arrive in Antioch and freely and boldly preach the Lord Jesus despite the threats (Acts 11:19-21).

(2) A persecuted church still cares for others. The persecuted believers in Jerusalem could have been excused for retreating into a shell of self-interest: keeping their heads down for fear of more persecution. This was emphatically not the case: the church’s ‘ear’ was still open to hear of God’s work in other places, to pray for it, and to help where they could. (Acts 11:22-24) They send Barnabas (the ‘son of encouragement’) to assess and strengthen the work in Antioch. A 500km journey to benefit others! For the Jerusalem church it was clearly not all about them: it’s about their Lord’s glory, the good of their brothers and sisters in Christ, and it’s about the world hearing the gospel.

(3) Barnabas recruits Saul (Paul) to help the church in Antioch (Acts 11:27-30). The gospel work in Antioch was going forward strongly (Acts 11:21-24), but Barnabas longed for it to be established and further extended. He thinks of his friend Saul and believes he could make a significant contribution to the work in Antioch, so he goes off to Tarsus (240km away) and recruits Saul. These two men spend a year teaching many in Antioch, pouring out their lives to build up the church. Barnabas doesn’t care that the gifted apostle Paul might become more prominent – all he cares about is the fame of Jesus Christ and the good of the church.

(4) The generosity of the church in Antioch toward their brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30). Hearing of the real need of the Chrisians in Judea because of a widespread famine, the Christians in Antioch (even though most of them have never met any of the believers down there) determine to send financial "relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea."

(5) Very different men work together (Acts 13:1).The leaders of the church at Antioch were a very diverse bunch. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus who had been a prominent encourager in the Jerusalem church; Lucius of Cyrene in North Africa, perhaps one of the founding members (Acts 11:20); Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and was probably from a noble family; Simeon, called Niger; and Saul from Tarsus in Cilicia, who had been a Pharisee and fanatical persecutor of the church! These men, despite their differences in personality, background and gifts, worked together selflessly for the good of the church and the glory of Christ.

(6) The church in Antioch surrendered key leaders to frontline mission (Acts 13:2,3). Led by the Holy Spirit as they worshipped, prayed and fasted, the church set apart two of their most able, useful, influential and much loved leaders to a new work. This was not easy, these men still could have been very useful to the work in Antioch. They sent away two beloved pastor-teachers for the benefit of others and the glory of Christ. This became known as the first of the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, through which many came to Christ and churches were planted throughout the Roman empire.

May the Lord help us, as individuals, families and churches, express the same selfless spirit in our lives and ministries today! And may the Lord use us to bear much fruit to His glory!

More precious than gold (Rob Harrod)

Having had the opportunity of recently doing some further reading on the background to, and beginnings of, Gospel work here in New Zealand two hundred years ago, I was again impressed with the power of God’s Word to accomplish His purposes. Re-reading the classic ‘Christianity among the New Zealanders’ (1867) written by one of the early CMS missionaries, William Williams, is an ongoing challenge to trust God to do His work through His own appointed means. These early missionaries had a real and deep confidence in the power of God’s Word as a "hammer that breaks the rock in pieces" (Jeremiah 23:29) and as the "sword of the Spirit" that cuts deeply into men’s hearts (Hebrews 4:12). Consequently their ministry was all about bringing men, women and children into living contact with the Word of God that both saves (1 Peter 1:23) and sanctifies (John 17:17).

The translation of the Bible into Maori, its printing and distribution, and its preaching and teaching were central to their ministry. Their confidence was not in their organization, their resources, their finances, their methodologies or their gifts; it was in the Spirit of God to use his Word as the "power of God for salvation" (Romans 1:16) and for the building up and equipping of God’s people (Acts 20:32). We need to recapture this same confidence in our day.

A small 31 page book of Scipture portions in Maori was printed in Sydney in 1827. It is interesting to note the chapters of the Bible that were chosen to form this book. It included Genesis 1-3 (establishing God as Creator and Lord and man’s fall into sin), Exodus 20 (setting out the Ten Commandments), John 1 (setting forth the wonderful person of Christ as the Word of God and the Lamb of God, and the necessity of faith in Him) and Matthew 5 (with something of the character and priorities of the true Christian).

God was pleased to give a great and growing hunger for the Word of God to many Maori in the 1830s, 1840s and beyond. William Williams records a great illustration of this when he tells us of a Captain Symonds of the Royal Navy who was traveling through the North Island and wished to ascend the snowy mountain of Tongariro. He was opposed by local Maori on the grounds that it was a sacred place and if the tapu were violated some evil would befall them. Symonds and his party offered gold to an old Maori chief to induce him to change his mind and let them climb. This chief’s response was memorable: " They offered us gold, had they brought us some [New] Testaments we would have consented to them going up the mountain. Tell the strangers that if they return in the summer, and bring Testaments with them, the tapu shall be removed." The Bible was valued more highly than gold!

May God bring about such a high valuing of the Bible as the Word of God once again in this country. May He turn people around from being lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure into being true lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4). May we once again see in the words of King David, that God’s commandments are "more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold." (Psalm 19:10). And may God make us sincere and genuine Christians whose lives and words point others to Him and illustrate the truth of His Word.

What did you expect? (Rob Harrod)

We have the privilege of being involved in helping facilitate the planting of a new church. The Lord has wonderfully provided many resources, human and material, for this work, and we are deeply thankful to Him for His abundant provision. Yet we are a small church ourselves and we know the challenges ahead as later this year we will ‘lose’ some much-loved and committed brethren as they become part of the new work. So there is an excitement about being involved in the extension of God’s kingdom in this way, but we know that it comes at a cost.

Thinking about this ‘bittersweet’ experience ahead for our church has again caused me to reflect on the nature of Christian ministry. Progress often comes at a real cost. Serving Christ in this world will not always be ‘smooth sailing’, but is often beset with difficulties and challenges. As Paul put it in Acts 20:23, he knows that "the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." He expects that Christ will continue to build His kingdom in the world, and he expects that he will know trials in the process. Throughout the New Testamant it is made plain that the carrying forward of God’s purposes in the world will be vigorously opposed at every step. Paul also said to young believers and churches at the end of his first missionary journey, that it was "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22) These gospel realities must shape our ministry expectations. We must not nurture false, unbiblical expectations that, in the end, work against true hope and undercut gospel perseverance.

The early Christians in Acts laboured in hope – yet it wasn’t the false hope of unhindered progress and easy, universal ‘success.’ The church at Antioch commissioned two of their much-loved leaders, men who had been foundational to the ministry of the Word in their midst (Acts 11:26), to take the gospel to other places. At the clear leading of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-4) they parted with Paul and Barnabas on this first missionary journey. Surely everything will go smoothly and the work will prosper, after all it was so clearly a work of God! Yet, almost immediately, these Holy Spirit-directed missionaries are strongly opposed by an influential false prophet in Paphos (13:6-8). Then, in Pisidian Antioch they are contradicted and reviled by Jewish leaders (13:44), before a ultimately being driven from the city (13:51). In Lystra a crowd attempted to stone Paul to death, and he was dragged out of the city, with his enemies assuming he was dead (14:9). What was the report of these two men back in Antioch at the end of this ‘mission trip’? "Brethren, we must have mis-read the leading of the Spirit – we almost died out there!" No, they joyfully reported that God had "opened a door of faith to the Gentiles"! (14:27) Many people had been brought out of darkness into light, disciples had been built up and equipped, churches had been established, and leaders raised up (14:21-23), all through "many tribulations."

Likewise, in Acts 16, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man calling out for help, and concluded that the Lord was calling him to preach the gospel in Macedonia (16:9,10). Thus, again clearly called of God, Paul and Silas go to Philippi, the leading city of Macedonia. Surely everything will go smoothly and people will flock into the kingdom of God in great numbers! But, no, again they face strong opposition, are severely beaten and thrown into gaol and find themselves with their feet in the stocks in the inner prison. You can almost imagine Silas leaning over to Paul and saying "Are you sure it was Macedonia?!" If these men had expected zero opposition and instant and total success they would have been sadly mistaken. Yet again on this journey the gospel went out faithfully, a number of people were converted and churches were planted – all in the face of intense and prolonged opposition.

What is the clear message of this for the church in every generation, and for us in the 21st century? We have a right expectation of opposed, costly progress to ultimate triumph. Jesus Christ WILL build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! (Matthew 16:18) Jesus warned His disciples that they will have tribulation in this world, but that they should be of good heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). So as we seek to preach the gospel, make disciples and plant and strengthen churches, we know we are in a real battle, we expect that we will be opposed at every turn (1 Peter 5:8,9), and we know that no ground will be won without a fight. Yet we are confident in the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. May the Lord strengthen us to labour in hope and to persevere through "many dangers, toils and cares" for His glory! And may He deliver us from all false hopes that undermine our faith and perseverance.

Proverbs and Ministry (Rob Harrod)

I am reading through Proverbs at the moment, and we have also been working through Proverbs 1-9 in our men’s meetings this year. I never cease to be amazed at, and thankful for, the relevance of ALL the Bible to ALL Christian life and ministry.

This morning I have been reading Proverbs 14:21-30. Woven throughout this passage are some of the defining characteristics of both the fool and the wise. As Christians who want to honour God in all of life and ministry, we want to embrace the characteristics of the wise and avoid the sins of the foolish. Character is fundamental to ministry. Ministry is not so much about having the right tools, strategies and methodology, as walking with the Lord , depending on Him, and being like Him. How does this passage in Proverbs help us in this area?

I was particularly struck by the characteristics of the fool in this passage. I am highlighting these that we might avoid foolish lives and foolish ministry. Here, in effect, are six ministry ‘killers’:

1. Being a despiser of neighbours (v.21). To be a person with a hard or closed heart, who has no real interest in others, and will not extend themselves to help them – this attitude has no place in ministry. This is contrasted in the context with being generous to the poor. To be selfishly going through the motions of teaching, preaching, discipling, etc with no heart for the good of people is totally out of step with the attitude of our Saviour, who had a compassionate concern for others (Matthew 9:36), and called His disciples to love their neighbours as themselves (Matthew 22:31,32).

2. Being a deviser of evil (v.22). If we are going to benefit and encourage others in ministry we need to give time to thinking and planning good, rather than evil. All too often we put far too little time thinking and praying about how we can build up others, and how we can develop the ministries we are part of. "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works." (Hebrews 10:24)

3. Being a mere talker (v.23). It is sadly all too easy to be a good talker about faith, the Bible, theology and ministry, etc and yet fail miserably to live a life worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). We are called to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers or talkers.

4. Being a lie-breather (v.25). Ministry demands integrity and trustworthiness. People need to be able to believe what we say, and know we will follow through on our commitments and promises. Speaking the truth in love is foundational to God-pleasing ministry (Ephesians 4:15,16).

5. Having a hasty temper (v.29). As James writes: "Let every man be … slow to anger, for the anger of man does note produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19,20). Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit and must be reflected in every facet of ministry. Being quick to anger is often a sign that it is really all about me.

6. Being full of envy (v.30). How envy destroys fellowship and ministry. Constantly wishing we were someone else or somewhere else, that we had his opportunities or her gifts is crippling. As this verse graphically puts it, "envy makes the bones rot!!" A tranquil heart, resting in God’s wise and good Kingship, seeks to get on with serving God where He has placed me, trusting Him for the results.

Of course at the very foundation of all this is the centrality of the fear of the Lord: "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life" (v.27). May God give us all grace to grow in wisdom and godly character, that our service for Christ might be acceptable to our Master and useful in His kingdom.

OUR MISSION FIELD (ROB HARROD)

One of my (challenging and delightful) responsibilities in the just completed school term was to teach Christian Studies to a class of about twenty-five 15 and 16 year olds at a Christian School. Early on in the term, as an exercise to show the status of Christianity in New Zealand society, I divided up the sections of a weekend issue of the Christchurch Press newspaper amongst the class and asked them to look for any Christian references, eg. to God, Jesus, faith, church, the Bible, etc

The class got to work and searched through the pages of the Press. In the end we could only come up a handful of references including:

* In the ‘World’ section there was a report of a recent debate at the University of Cambridge between the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins argued that religion was "redundant and irrelevant."
* Some eagle-eyed members of the class noted the names Christchurch and Christ College. Obviously somebody in our city’s past saw some significance in the name of Jesus.
* There was a mention in the death and funeral notices of a church. But interestingly no mention of God or the Bible!
* An article on volunteers mentioned church agencies like Presbyterian Support who help out people in need.
* There were letters giving opinions about the future of Christchurch cathedral.
* ‘Hell Pizza’ advertised their product.

In each instance we learned NOTHING substantial about God, Jesus, or the Bible’s teaching. How amazing that as God’s creatures, made in God’s image, living in God’s world, dependent on His grace to breathe, eat and live, so many people in our society know nothing certain about God and have little or no real interest in finding out. While the paper had major sections on sport, entertainment, jobs, cars, finance, housing, travel, shopping, local and world news, etc, we could find nothing about our Creator and the Saviour of the world, or the good news of the Gospel.

If this is in any way representative of the trajectory of our culture, and I think it is, it is no wonder that legislation, like the bill on same sex marriage, can pass through Parliament. This is our world. This is our mission field. We live in a Western society in which there is a deepening ignorance of biblical Christianity, where the true and living God has been marginalized and is largely seen as irrelevant to daily life.

What is our response to this sad state of affairs? It should not be to despair, to retreat, or to give up. After all Christians have been in such situations many times before in history. Rather we must look our mission field in the eye, face up to the real situation we are ministering in, stop wishing we lived in some other place or some other time, pray for the compassion of Christ to characterize us, and get on with our Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) with a steady trust in our all-conquering Saviour who has promised to be with us always.