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Pastoral Passage

Welcome to the pastoral passage


This is the weekly pastoral passage as published in our news letters. We hope you are blessed.

By philip, Jul 11 2018 08:36PM

In recent study in the Gospel of Matthew I've noticed that Jesus' invitation to take his 'easy yoke' of religious instruction is followed by two stories demonstrating the burdensome nature of the meticulous religious practice of the day (Matt. 11:28-12:14). Jesus' word on his instruction being an 'easy yoke' is a startlingly liberating word for those from more rigorous religious communities than what is common for most western Christians today. Compared to earlier ages, I think it is rare for people to feel external pressure toward conformity on very many points of faith and practice. I wonder if Jesus would have felt the need to say this if he spoke to us today.

The thought that we could perhaps take from this passage for today is not that we should relax in our Christian practice and progress (which we may), but that we should be willing. After all, we are called to 'train' for godliness (1Tim. 4:7), and also, after all, the All Blacks would not be the greatest team in the world [sic] if they didn't willingly put themselves through the rigors of discipline and training to be what they are meant to be.

So on the thought of being 'willing', let us be spurred on by two statements that Jesus made. The first comes from 12:8, where he declares himself to be 'Lord of the Sabbath'. He said this to make the point that he is the one with the authority to determine how the Sabbath is to be observed. He may have relaxed things on this issue – but he still remains Lord. Are you willing to allow him to be Lord and to submit to his instruction? The second comes from 12:12, where he reminded people that their religion should be marked more by doing what they should be doing than by abstaining from what they shouldn't be doing. Are you willing to make sure you faith is marked more by doing what is righteous than by avoiding what is wrong?

Be willing!

Chris Northcott

By philip, Jun 8 2018 04:50AM

It has been a wet and cold week. On Wednesday I was riding my motorbike on the Southern Motorway and it was so cold my hands were hurting. I was riding past cars and could not help noticing that there were men of about my age sitting in a warm and modern vehicle. At about the point the hail began I found myself wondering what I was doing. How is it possible that 30 years on I am still wet and cold on a motorbike when the rest of the world has moved on?

Let the pity party begin! The reality is that I have made all the choices that enable me to be where I am today. You have too. Some of our choices have been wise, others less so. Some have been based on a deep barely understood compulsion, but not many. Much of what we do is not actually a decision at all, we just move with the herd.

Recently I was reading the story of Lot in Genesis. In Chapter 19 we find Lot at the gates of Sodom after a series of steps that led him into the midst of a wicked city. It still astonishes me that Peter calls Lot ‘A righteous man’, appalled at the depravity of the city, yet he seems to have been drawn like a moth to the flame. The point is that it is easy to move with the herd. It takes great determination to do something different.

Peace, Chris Ellwood.

By philip, Jun 1 2018 03:19AM

I am a pastor ('shepherd') for young people One of my responsibilities is to warn them about the things that shift their focus from faithfully following Jesus and hinder their growth in grace and faith. Looking around today, one thing that I find difficult to challenge is what I'm going to call 'soft' secularism. It's my own term as far as I know, but here's what I mean by it: a predominant interest in the activities of everyday, non-religious life. Everything that makes us too busy to pray, read Scripture, be in fellowship with others, and so on. I think this 'soft secularism' is the real cultural temptation Christians need to watch for. This concern could be likened to the concern for converts in other cultures relapsing into their traditional non-Christian beliefs and practices.

What makes it hard to say something about this is that these are things that people can take pride in their achievements for. Sports, music, jobs, study and so on are all good things. And as a youth pastor I know that no single youth group event is decisively important. Yet all the same, these things of the world often squeeze out the things of Christianity. If there is a timetable clash, world trumps church. This is secularism – in a soft, non-aggressive sense.

I read a reflection recently by a departing lecturer from Laidlaw College. He has observed a cultural shift among students over his 25 years of lecturing: once, students needed encouragement to get out and get involved in their churches and their communities. Now, students have such busy and complex lives they need encouragement to set aside time to properly invest in their studies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that "salvation is free, but discipleship is costly." Christ will have his cost: If no price is being paid, where is the discipleship? Cultural and academic underachievement MIGHT need to be a mark of faithfulness to Jesus in our busy and cultured society.

Chris Northcott

By philip, Oct 25 2017 04:56AM

Recently I have been teaching selected psalms in my young adults group, and have found it more difficult than other series I have taught. How a given psalm coheres, develops or applies doesn't always easily emerge. The commentaries I look at don't always help. It is in these times I am reminded of my need for light on scripture from the divine Author, and for good 'teachers' who can help me grasp the text in a way that helps me to explain and apply.

Pleading help from God for understanding a passage has been something that has helped me in the past. But it is when I have been driven to prayer that has actually been the times when I have gained the breakthroughs that have been the most helpful. Spurgeon likened the practice of prayerfully reflecting on a text to hammering at a chunk of rock containing precious gems – for a time it may not give way, but after some persistence it will suddenly crumble open and surrender its treasure to you. I have found this to be true.

Much of my best learning and understanding can be attributed to 'teachers' that have shown me helpful ways to think about Scripture. Sometimes these are sermons, often they are commentaries – books written to explain a section of the Bible. Not all are useful, and some are not user-friendly. But the best are like seasoned adventure guides. They know their terrain well and have long experience of sharing it with others. They escort their journeyers through the Himalayas of Isaiah or the Sahara of Leviticus or the Redwood forest of Matthew. They show us things we would miss and help us through what is beyond our own skill. They can help us to see the whole landscape and how the parts contribute to the whole. The best commentaries combine a rare balance of competence, clarity and clear-sighted purpose. These ones have been my best teachers.

These are some of my thoughts on my experience struggling with scripture. I've shared them so that you can be encouraged to do likewise as you read and consider the Bible – to persistently ask help from the Spirit who inspired them, and also find 'teachers' who you can be led by in order to maximise your experience of grappling with the Bible.


Chris Northcott.

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