We’re no different to you, Sonny Bill

Following last Saturday’s test match between the All Blacks and the Lions, the New Zealand media spewed forth a tirade of criticism toward Sonny Bill Williams for his most unfortunate shoulder charge on Lion’s wing Anthony Watson.  It was a Red Card event.  Sonny Bill was sent off for the rest of the game, leaving the All Blacks to fight the rest of the game out with only 14 men.

The media showed no mercy.  Their swords were out.  The headlines said it all – ‘SBW joins the hall of shame’, ‘A red day for Sonny Bill’, etc., etc.  Read a little further and it doesn’t get any better:

“SBW. Sonny Bill Williams, New Zealand’s best known and most polarising sportsman. Insert variations here, and thousands did in the aftermath: B for blundering, maybe even brainless; W for, well, take your pick. What was he thinking? In one of the biggest tests of his and his team-mates’ careers?

 At normal speed it looked an error of judgement. The slippery surface and the fact Anthony Watson was falling in the tackle were flimsy arguments for the defence. On replay it was a brain snap of epic proportions, and completely needless.”[1]

 “There were no arms and there was no concern for the opponent’s safety. He caught Watson flush on the jaw and the winger went down. It was the tackle of a man who still hasn’t got the violent stupidity of rugby league out of his system.”[2]

Wait a minute.  Let’s take a step back.  What are we actually dealing with here?  This isn’t a moral failure of some kind.  He hasn’t been caught with another woman in a public restroom (as another All Black was).  He didn’t beat up someone after a night on the booze.   It was an error of misjudgment during play.  Sure; it was serious – and extremely dangerous.  He could have put the other guy in hospital.  But it wasn’t intentional.  And from what we understand, there was no malice in it.

Under the Mosaic Law he would have received leniency.  Under grace he could receive full mercy.  He received neither from the New Zealand public.  How do we get it so wrong?  Why are we so quick to acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent (or at least, less guilty)?

To render such harsh criticism toward Sonny Bill for this action is not only unfair; it’s utterly hypocritical.  Why?  Because we are no different.  Are we to say that we never, in the heat of the moment, act rashly or out of character; that we never verbally shoulder-tackle our wives or husbands or kids, or that we never say or do something thoughtless that inflicts pain and injury on others?

Come on New Zealanders.  Get a grip.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, there’s a good lesson here – about prideful fault-finding.  Jesus puts his finger right on it in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, CSB)

Now this text is often misinterpreted to mean we should never judge other people under any circumstances.  But that’s not what Jesus is saying, because he goes on to explain the kind of censure he is forbidding: self-righteous, smug and hypocritical judgement.  Judgment that sees a tiny tear in someone else’s shirt while yours is nearly ripped in half.  Judgement that over-exaggerates small character flaws in others while minimizing (or completely ignoring) gigantic faults of your own.  Judgement that pronounces Sonny Bill a monster for a misjudged tackle while you, in a flash of anger, assassinate a family member for sitting in your chair or taking your pillow.

The beam of wood in your own eye prevents you from accurately seeing the tiny splinter in someone else’s eye.  In short; your sin blinds you and renders you incompetent to make any kind of accurate judgement on another individual.  It’s a lesson from the carpenter’s shop (where Jesus spent much of his life). I find it hard enough to see with just a bit of dust in my eye.  Multiply that obstruction by 1000 and, well – you get the picture.

So then, the answer is we shouldn’t judge?  Not at all.  The answer is when we see someone mess up, we do some self-diagnosis on our own behaviour for that day, or the week, or the month.  Who did you offend?  How did you inflict injury on someone?  Where did you mess up?  Be as severe on yourself as you are on others and the problem will be fixed.  Better still, be even more severe on yourself than you are on others and everyone else will look like an angel.

I think if we followed Jesus’ advice we’d all look at Sonny Bill’s misdemeanour in a more accurate light.  Instead of seeing Hitler reincarnate, we might pat him on the back and say, “That’s OK mate, we do this sort of thing all the time.  We’re just like you.”

Footnote:  For North American readers this incident occurred in a game of Rugby, not Football. There are very tight rules for what you can and cannot do in a tackle.  These guys don’t wear pads.  Shoulder-charges are illegal.  He was clearly wrong as this clip shows.  He was handed a four-week suspension after a judicial hearing.

 

[1] http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/all-blacks/94296806/lions-tour-sonny-bill-williams-brain-snap-joins-all-blacks-hall-of-shame

[2] http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/opinion/94049674/mark-reason-a-red-day-for-sonny-bill-williams-and-new-zealand

Risen

scczen_ap160218093323_620x310I try to avoid any movies with biblical themes.  They tend to be either cheap, cheesy or wildly inaccurate and wind up undermining the very thing they try to promote.  So when my wife suggested “Risen” for our Friday night flick, I didn’t show a whole lot of enthusiasm.

As it turned out I was pleasantly surprised.

The film focuses on the Resurrection of Jesus but it’s not a reproduction of the biblical narrative, which chronicles the simple step-by-step facts through the pens of his followers.  The story instead is told through the eyes of a non-believer called Clavius, a Roman officer under the charge of Pilate.  Clavius is given the task of investigating the sudden disappearance of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion, in order to debunk the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

That’s when the movie starts getting interesting.

Clavius begins his investigation, interviewing a number of key players including Jesus’ disciples, Mary and the Roman soldiers who were given the task of guarding the tomb.  He’s not fooled by their story that the disciples came and stole his body while they were asleep (a story perpetrated by the Jewish religious leaders), and he is somewhat perplexed by the obvious transformation (joy and wonder) that he sees on the faces of the disciples, as well as the utter absence of any trace of a body.

His investigation finally takes him into a room where the disciples are gathered where he sees the Risen Jesus sitting right there among them. He stands transfixed and mesmerized by the sight of the very same man he watched die on a cross.  Jesus stares at Clavius; the gaze causing him to stagger back and drop his sword.  It’s the best scene of the movie.  Although it is not in the biblical account, one can imagine this is exactly what would have happened.

There are some things that weren’t done very well.  The Roman soldiers appear too flabby, gutless and weak in character.  The disciples appear too old (they were likely in their twenties), Jesus looks too American, and the actor who portrayed Pilate failed to portray an individual with a very complex nature who didn’t want to put Jesus to death in the first place and had a deep disdain for the Jewish leaders who manipulated him to carry out the order.  A little sharpening on those areas and the film could have had the potential for a 5 star instead of a 3.5.

Putting those things aside, it’s a movie well worth a watch – particularly if you are a sceptic of Christianity and the biblical accounts.  It encourages you to be a good detective and do your own homework and come to your own, unbiased conclusion.

Trading the Police badge for a bible

This is Sean, our new Youth Pastor.  He’s been part of our church family here at Grace for a number of years and has just recently made the decision to hand in his Police uniform for  a career in full-time Christian ministry.  This is no mid-life crises.  This is God’s calling.  It’s a bold and courageous move and one that his wife Kiri, was willing to make with him.  We take our hats off to both of them.

sean-tasman

The Tasman Leader (the local ‘rag’ here in Richmond) caught up with it and published a story on him.  I’ve taken a snapshot of it so you know what to look for.  Simply click the link below and go to page 4 and then use the magnifying tool on the side bar to make for easier reading.  It’s well worth a read.

https://www.neighbourly.co.nz/e-edition/the-tasman-leader/12560

Sean completed a one-year certificate in bible at the Shepherd’s Bible College here in New Zealand but realized he needed further equipping for the rigours and challenges of full-time pastoral ministry.  So he is studying through an on-line course with a Seminary in the United States.  It will take him at least 3 years.  He will also work under me in a mentorship so I can help equip him on the practical ministry side.  The elders of Grace Church are fully behind this.  We get to keep Sean and Kiri, Sean gets the benefit of training on the job, and the youth and congregation at Grace get to see what God does with a man and woman fully surrendered to Him.

I think it’s going to be a great 3 years for us all.

 

 

A Christmas gift with a difference

img_4081-3 Last Sunday our Sunday Service was cancelled, but it was for a good reason. It’s the day when we have Christmas with our community.  Grace Church does this every year, in the lead up to Christmas. After years of trying to get people along to a church service they decided to try something different. They would throw a Christmas Party and invite everyone to come.

They don’t hide the fact: it’s a day of entertainment. But it is also a great opportunity to get to know people one-on-one, in a neutral environment. There are no guards up. People are relaxed. And because of that, so are we. Conversations about spiritual things develop naturally, rather than being forced. I think this is the way Jesus intended it to be.

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Matty Grant taking some guys through the Good person test

This year however, we did work on being more intentional in getting the true meaning of Christmas across. We invited Matthew Grant from Assist Ministries to come with his flip-chart and walk people through the Good Person test. He had some great conversations with people, where they had to think hard about where they are at with God. Matty told me that after taking a school student through it, the guy said “this is the best test I’ve ever taken ever!”

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My wife Francelle (the one doing the stirring!) and Julie setting up for the candy floss

We also had a bead-making table for kids, and each one of the beads is a special colour which represents something about the person of Jesus and why he came. Some of our ladies had some great conversations with children, with their parents standing in the background listening.  Non-threatening, with a good object lesson and a clear message.  It’s a winner.

But even apart from those more intentional steps, people in the community were absolutely blessed. For example, we had a solo-mum who couldn’t believe the various rides were free.  She said, “I took my children to the A&P show some weeks back, and they begged to have a turn, but I couldn’t afford it. And here it’s free!”  Yes it is – all of it.  That’s the way our God works.  He loves giving generously, without requiring any payment.  Therefore so should we.

Sandra lining up a shot with a family

Sandra lining up a shot with a family

Sandra’s photo studio was also a winner.  Many families would love to have a professional photographer take pictures of their family, but can’t afford it.  Sandra (who attends our church) has her own photography business. On this day she offers her services for free. There were plenty of takers lining up for this one.

There’s one other bonus to all this and that is what it does for our church family. We learn to work together as a team.

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When I arrived early on Sunday morning, it was like watching an army of ants at work.  Equipment was carried out, BBQ’s were rolled out, outdoor furniture was set up in lickety-split time. Everyone knew what to do and everyone was willing to help.  I guess you could say that’s the way every good organization should operate.  All the same, I think it’s special when you see it happening in God’s church.

img_4052The party finished with a special talk for all the children about the true meaning of Christmas.  For many of them, this was the only opportunity they would get to hear about Jesus and why he came. I think the picture speaks for itself.  Happy Birthday Jesus!

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When the Mountains Move

blog-picThe following is based on a transcript of a message I delivered to Grace Church last Sunday on how Christians are to think rightly about the recent earthquakes in NZ as well as natural disasters as a whole. You can listen to that message here.  

Two significant events occurred in our country recently that have got people talking and attracted a lot of media attention.

The first and most significant event was a massive earthquake, 7.8 in magnitude that erupted 15 km just north Culverden three weeks ago. It progressed northwards at a speed of 2 km per second over a length of 200 km in a complex sequence that tore apart roads, caused massive landslides, ruptured underwater pipes and sewage systems and brought down buildings. The greatest damage occurred in Kaikoura but it also caused widespread damage to many high-rise buildings in Wellington as well as the port.  Miraculously there were only two deaths but that does not in any way minimize the event. Mountains have moved. Coastlines have changed. The seabed was lifted in some parts up to two metres.  Repairs and reconstruction is going to take months and cost our country billions of dollars.

That’s the first event. The second was a sermon preached by Brian Tamaki at Destiny Church the day before where he stated that it was sexual perversion and homosexuality was the cause of the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch quakes.  Quoting from the Old Testament he said,

“Leviticus says that the earth convulses under the weight of certain human sin… It spews itself up after a while – that’s natural disasters. Because nature was never created to carry the bondage of our iniquity.”[1]

His sermon went viral causing public outrage and a media storm. Prime Minister John Key called his comments “ridiculous.” The mayor of Kaikoura called them “pathetic”.  A petition launched by Change.org to remove Destiny Church from tax-free status now has reached 125,000 – which is a little worrying because if accepted could set a precedent for the government to deregister any church when people don’t like what we are saying.

This isn’t good. It isn’t good for the cause of the gospel or for the NZ church.  Now I think most New Zealanders are sensible enough to realize that Brian Tamaki is a bit of a loose cannon and not all Christians are like him.  But the truth is what he says and does affects us all. And don’t think all this will simply go away after a few weeks because it won’t. It’s likely to stay with us for some time.[2]

There are several issues that I think need to be addressed and I want to take them one at a time. The first one is this:   Are earthquakes simply natural disasters or are they the result of God’s judgment on sin?

The answer to that question is YES. “Yes,” earthquakes are natural and “yes” earthquakes are the result of human sin.  That is, every earthquake on our planet has a spiritual root for their cause, but not in the way that Brian Tamaki espouses.  Let me explain.

In the beginning, when God finished creating the earth he looked at all he had made and it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  The Hebrew word for “very good” means beautiful, beneficial, and well-ordered.  I don’t believe it was the same earth that we see today. There were no flaws in it – no imperfections defects or faults. There was no disease or death, there were no floods or tsunamis or hailstorms or famines or earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

So what went wrong?  The two individuals God put on the earth rebelled against God’s good and kind and benevolent rule. They wanted to be like God. They wanted to be self-ruled. And they got it – along with its consequences. God warned them that if they rebelled – if they sinned, they would suffer greatly. And we learn in Genesis 3 (the account of the fall) that not only human beings suffered the effects of the curse but also the earth.[3] They physical creation “groans” Romans 8 tells us and awaits the day when it will be released from bondage.  That will be when Jesus returns and God creates a new heaven and a new earth, restoring this present earth to its pre-fall state.

So all the havoc we see occurring on our planet – the severe weather patterns; the floods and tornadoes and hail and snow-storms and droughts, and the sliding tectonic plates are all a direct result of the fall of man.  This planet is like a broken eggshell.  It’s full of problems. And we (that is, all of humanity) are the cause of it.

So, whether it’s an earthquake in Christchurch or Kaikoura or a tsunami off the coast of Japan or a snowstorm in New York or a famine in Somalia we shouldn’t say, “God must be judging that city” or “God must be angry with that country” or “There is sin in this place or that place”; instead we should be saying, “Yes – human sin brought all this about.  And that sin is in me.”

You say, “OK then, so God has nothing to do with natural disasters – floods and tornadoes and snowstorms and earthquakes and the like. He simply set all these things in motion and then walked away.”

No, that’s not true either.  According to Psalm 135:6-7 God controls the weather. Psalm 77:16 says he controls the skies and the rain. Jeremiah 51:16 says he controls the wind.  Job chapter 37 is a remarkable chapter.  We find that God – rather than being absent and aloof is very much involved in what is going on with our planet.  Here are a few selections from that passage:

God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend. For He says to the snow, “Fall to the earth,” and the torrential rains, His mighty torrential rains, serve as His sign to all mankind, so that all men may know His work.” (Job 37:5–7)

He saturates clouds with moisture; He scatters His lightning through them. They swirl about, turning round and round at His direction, accomplishing everything He commands them over the surface of the inhabited world. He causes this to happen for punishment, for His land, or for His faithful love.” (verses 11–13)

Listen to this, Job. Stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God directs His clouds or makes their lightning flash? Do you understand how the clouds float, those wonderful works of Him who has perfect knowledge?” (verses 14–16)

What does all this tell us?  It tells us that God is in control of EVERYTHING that occurs on this earth – even the weather. His invisible hand is on all things, even when we cannot see it.  Any Christian that says it is God is not in charge of ‘natural disasters’ is going to be out of sync with what the bible clearly and repeatedly teaches.

So, God is in control of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Yes he is. But it’s not necessarily his judgement on any specific sin. That appears to be the case. Has there ever been a time when God did send an earthquake as an act of judgement?  Yes he has.

We find evidence of that in the opening chapter of the book of Amos:

The words of Amos, who was one of the sheep breeders from Tekoa —what he saw regarding Israel in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” (Amos 1:1; emphasis added)

We are told this earthquake occurred during the reign of Uzziah king of Judah, in the 8th century B.C.  Isaiah chapters 2-6 give us a vivid picture of the moral and spiritual condition of Judah during this time. And it wasn’t good. King Uzziah started off well, and God blessed him and the nation. The nation prospered. But the success went to the king’s head and he became proud. So did the people. They started following other gods and then slipped into gross sin. And God warned again and again through his prophets that he would judge them. And the specific judgement would come by way of a massive earthquake:

 Then suddenly, in an instant, you will be visited by the Lord of Hosts with thunder, earthquake, and loud noise, storm, tempest, and a flame of consuming fire.” (Isaiah 29:5–6)

This is the earthquake Amos refers to. He speaks further in the book of a land being shaken (Amos 8:8), houses being smashed (6:11), altars being cracked (3:14) and event he Temple being stuck and collapsing (9:1).  This was no ‘natural disaster’ or random tectonic plate movement. God brought it about. It was divine judgment on Judah’s sin.

picture1For years bible scholars have searched for clues as to where and when this occurred. Then archeologists found the remains.  Excavations began in the 1950’s and continue to today. The more they dig, the more biblical evidence – cities, kings, and earthquake damage they discover. The evidence points to a large regional earthquake around 750 B.C. with the epicenter being north of Jerusalem – most likely Lebanon just above the Dead Sea Transform plate.  After examining the intensity of damage of the ruins geologists estimate the earthquake to be at least magnitude 7.8 – the same as the Kaikoura quake.  Only the human destruction was much worse. Six cities were toppled by this quake over a distance of 400 km. There was utter devastation.

You say, “OK then, so the earthquake in Isaiah and Amos’ day was God’s judgment on disobedience and sin.  So how do we know God wasn’t doing the same in the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes? Maybe Brian Tamaki got it right?  

Firstly, because that earthquake came with a divine warning. God sent his prophets to tell them it was going to happen – and why.  Amos 3:7 says, “the Lord God does nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  God doesn’t go around the place beating people over the head who are not behaving well, and then saying “Guess who?”  If he is punishing or correcting us, he clearly tells us why.  Secondly, the earthquake was judgement on God’s people, not Gentiles. And this is no small point: the only biblical references to God using a sizeable earthquake as a means of judgement were to teach his people something – not Gentiles.

There are two exceptions to this however.  One is the flood in Genesis 6-10 where God brings catastrophic judgement on the entire earth (which by the way, came with a clear warning).  The other is the devastation God will unleash on the entire earth when His Son returns.  The Old Testament refers to it as The Day of the LORD. It will be a great and terrible day. And every description of calamity and disaster we find in the Bible – whether it is earthquakes or floods or hail storms or tsunamis, are glimpses of what will one day come upon everyone on the earth. The book of Revelation paints the picture in graphic detail.  Chapter 16 speaks of plagues and firestorms and darkness and water turning into blood.  It also speaks of flashes of lightning and thunder and then in verse 18 –

And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth—so great was the quake.” (Revelation 16:18)

The book of Zechariah describes the same event in chapter 14,

You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come and all the holy ones with Him.” (Zechariah 14:5)

So does God have any message for the people of Christchurch and Kaikoura?  If he is not judging them for some specific sin, what is he doing? What is he saying?

I believe it is this:

“Wake up New Zealand.  Wake up from your slumber. Stop ignoring me. Stop living as if I don’t exist or you don’t need me. I am the one who gave you life. I am the one who gives you food and water and grows your crops and blesses you with good things. I sent my son to die for you. He paid for your sin on the cross. It’s all done. All you need to do is believe. I am trying to get your attention.  The shaking you have experienced is nothing with the devastation you will face when My Son returns. I desire that none should perish but all come to repentance. So come to me.  Come to me and live.”

 That’s God’s message for the people of Kaikoura.  And that’s God’s message for all of us. God is not judging the people of New Zealand for their sinful behaviour.  God has already pronounced his judgement on those things when he put his Son on the cross.  That’s where we find God’s act of judgment today. As Jesus said to Nicodemus,

 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.” (John 3:14–18)

When God put his Son on the cross, he said to the whole world, “This is how seriously I take your sin. This is what sin does. Sin brings about death. But I love you so much I’ve sent my Son to take your place. If you come to him and believe in him, I will receive you. I will forgive you.  But if you reject him, there is nothing more I can do for you. You have brought about your own judgement.”

So then, in conclusion, how should Christians respond to these events?

With godly fear. Our God is not to be trifled with. He is not to be messed with. He ought to be feared. We must not treat him flippantly. We must not presume on his mercy and grace. We must not think we can do whatever want and imagine God will turn a blind eye. He will be faithful to discipline his covenant people.

With continued prayer. We need to be people of prayer. We need to be spiritually alert. “The end of all things is at hand,” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:7, “therefore be serious and disciplined for the purpose of prayer.” Earthquakes are not our problem.  Satan is.  “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12)

With gospel hope.  Christians ought to be the most hopeful, most confident and most optimistic people in the world.  Think about what’s coming to us!  What a future we have! What a hope! This ought to propel us forward, each and every day, to confident and joy filled living – particularly in times of uncertainty and fear.  People will see it. They will notice it. And they will come asking us about it.

With love, compassion and care.  Whenever there is a disaster of this nature, there will be people hurting. In this case, only two lives were lost. But many more lives will be adversely affected. Some won’t be insured. Some will lose income.  Small business will fold. We need to demonstrate compassion, love and care to people who are distraught, troubled and suffering. And we are to do what we can to help and assist them. Because I believe this is what our Saviour, if he were here today, would do.

[1] Tamaki is quoting from Leviticus 18 where the LORD God warns his covenant people not to follow the practices of the nations around them. If they don’t heed the warning God promises to drive them out of the land – “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it has vomited out the nations that were before you.” (Leviticus 18:28). It has nothing to do with earthquakes or physical rupturing of the earth because it cannot “cope” with human sin.

[2] That very evening National MP Paul Foster-Bell announced he wss gay, saying preacher Brian Tamaki’s claims about homosexuals causing earthquakes meant he had to speak up.

[3] “The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17–18)

Honouring our local JP’s

heroI’m going to admit it – I’m not very knowledgeable about JP’s (Justice of the Peace).  I don’t know much about them or what they do. All I know is when you have an official document that needs signing, they are the ones you call. So needless to say, when one of our church members (a local JP himself) invited his colleagues to our service last Sunday, it was time to do some homework.

First of all, there are quite a few of them around.  We have 7000 JP’s in New Zealand, spread out around the place with 29 regional associations.

Secondly, they are there to serve the community for no reward. They can’t charge. Their services are completely free.

Thirdly, their functions fall into two categories, referred to as ministerial duties and judicial duties.  All JP’s are required to carry out ministerial duties but further training must be undertaken by JP’s before they may provide judicial duties.  Ministerial duties include:

  • Taking oaths and declarations
  • Witnessing signatures
  • Certifying copies

Judicial duties would include:

  • Hearing summary offences
  • Presiding over preliminary hearings
  • Conducting traffic courts
  • Hearing bail applications and requests for remands and adjournments

Lest I bore you with any more of those details I want to tell you what we did to honour these individuals at our service. (If you wondering why they were there, our local association of JP’s attends a church service once a year in our community.  We had the privilege of being their hosts this particular year).

We began our service by honouring their presence. We wanted them to feel part of the family. Then we gave praise to God in song as we always do, choosing one or two songs they might be more familiar with. Then their President, Terry Byrne, addressed our congregation with some background to JP’s in our country and explained something about who they are and what they do.

Unfortunately for Terry, just as he got up to speak, one of the little tots in the front row decided to start making a fuss.  The fussing increased to a crying and then a full-out wailing. If that wasn’t bad enough, his little brother (or sister) decided to chime in with him. So there they were: two toddlers wailing in perfect harmony (or should I say, disharmony), while this very articulate and gracious man battled on with his speech.  He actually didn’t miss a beat. I thought this was a remarkable feat, considering the circumstances.

Then I came forward to pray.  For me, this was the most important part in the service. I did some preparation because I wanted to pray meaningfully and biblically.  I didn’t want to pray something off-the-cuff that would be shallow, superficial and worst of all – untrue. I wanted them to know that prayer is a great privilege for God’s people and is only possible because of what Jesus has accomplished for us. I wanted them also to know that they are not in their role by accident, but are God’s servants doing God’s work for mankind.

This is what I prayed (verse references were left out):

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for the awesome privilege of coming before you, as your people, to pray. We thank you that your Son Jesus made this possible by his perfect sacrifice on the cross.  And so we come before in his Name and trusting alone in his work.

We thank you Father that we live in a society where there is justice and peace and order.  We recognize that this is from you, for “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; faithful love and truth go before You.” (Psalm 89:14)

We recognize also that the keepers of justice – the Judges and law makers and Police offices are established by you, for your Word tells us there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God (Romans 13:1).  They are your servants, doing your work for the good of our society and the glory of your Name.

So we thank you for these servants who are here today – members of the Justice of the Peace, who help and aid in this important work.  Thank you for their dedication and commitment to serve their community.

Give them wisdom in carrying out their work. May they act with utmost integrity, treating all individuals fairly and justly so that they can defend the cause of the oppressed and needy (Proverbs 31:9).

We know they do this work voluntarily; thank for that Father. May you honour them for that.  May they sense that their work is part of something bigger than what they see; that they are in fact serving you. And most importantly of all, we pray Father that when they one day meet you, they will be on good terms with you, having found peace with you through your Son and the great message of salvation, which has gone to the ends of the earth.

We ask these things in Jesus name and for his glory,

AMEN.

My desire is that they left our church feeling they were welcomed and appreciated in a deep and meaningful way.  My prayer  is when they heard the preaching of the Word of God they tasted something of the goodness and grace of God that might move them one step closer to knowing Jesus personally (if they don’t already). And my hope is that one or two of them, perhaps, may even decide to come back.

He’s not the greatest

Usain BoltUsain Bolt has done it again. He strode into history with third straight Olympic 200-metre gold . The cameras zoomed in. The public address system announced his name. He did his little dance. And the crowd went wild.

For many, Bolt is a god. People love him. They adore him. He is the epitome of human strength, speed and power. And he knows it.

“I don’t need to prove anything else,” Bolt said. “What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?”

Oh dear.  Is that what it’s all about? Proving to the world that you are the greatest? We’ve seen it all before, with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Pele, they reach the top of their game and attain world-wide fame. And then they spend the rest of their days basking in their hard-earned glory.

The truth of it all is Usain is not as fast as everyone thinks he is. Take a look at this visual guide I found:

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I grabbed this from their post:

The world’s most extraordinary human runner would not beat, say, an ordinary warthog. A warthog can run around 30 miles per hour on an average day—no training, no audience, no special wind conditions. Housecats also regularly reach this speed, as do grizzly bears, rabbits, and white-tailed deer. The roadrunner can run 25 mph even though it can also fly. A certain class of butterflies, called skippers, can get up to 37.

The Olympics may have us all misty-eyed at the heights (and lengths, and speeds, and depths) of human achievement. But if we were ever to open the stadium gates to the whole animal kingdom, we’d quickly be put back in our place. I’m not even talking about those fancy calculated situations that try to make things physiologically fair, and thus prove that a human-sized ant could pick up a semi-truck with one leg, or that a human-sized flea could jump Big Ben.

So Usain is outclassed by a butterfly.  Seems that God has the last laugh.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against great sporting achievements. My wife and I have recorded a number of our favourite olympic events. We enjoy watching the outcome of years of discipline, self-control, and fantastic coaching (coaches ought to be up there to receive medals as well). It’s just that we need to keep all things in perspective. Whenever we watch these stunning feats of human achievement and look with adoration as the athletes take the podium, we need to remember who made them and where their strength and speed and power comes from.

And a day is coming when they – along with all of us, will face the only One who can take the title “The Greatest”. And we will bow our knee in humble adoration. Willingly or unwillingly.

This is what the Lord says:
The wise man must not boast in his wisdom;
the strong man must not boast in his strength;
the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.
But the one who boasts should boast in this,
that he understands and knows Me —
that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love,
justice, and righteousness on the earth,
for I delight in these things.
(Jeremiah 9:23–24)

Put no more trust in man,
who has only the breath in his nostrils.
What is he really worth?
(Isaiah 2:22)