Getting Ready for Christmas

advent-reflectionsThe lead up to Christmas can be such a busy time and it is easy to lose sight of what Christmas is really all about.

This series of thoughts for the days leading up to Christmas are designed to help focus on the reality of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Rather than just focusing on the nice sanitised nativity that is so often presented I try to ask questions like ‘what was that like?’ or ‘How did that feel?’

I hope and pray that these reflections will help to keep us focused on the real meaning of CHRISTmas during this busy season of advent.

Advent 1: Surprised by an Angel (Luke 1)

Zechariah was in the temple where God’s presence is found, so why was he surprised to meet an angel?

Advent 2: The God who Promises the Impossible (Luke 1)

Do we still believe that God can do the impossible or have we come to think that the impossible is greater than God?

Advent 3: When life is FRUSTRATING!!! (Luke 1)

Zechariah was unable to speak but his faith and relationship with God thrived despite this. When life is frustrating do we turn towards God or drift away from him?

Advent 4: The God of Miracles (Luke 1)

For years Elizabeth had only known a twisted feeling of failure and embarrassment within but now she carried a child who was growing inside of her and she was so grateful to God for her miracle.

Advent 5: God is in the Ordinary (Luke 1)

Meeting an angel is probably not what you would expect to happen when you are doing something ordinary like washing the dishes or working on your wedding dress!

Advent 6: A Special Child (Luke 1)

Jesus was running the universe with his Father one minute & in the next he was a foetus. Why would he do this? Why would he limit himself to the confines of a human body?

Advent 7: Mary says YES (Luke 1. 39-56)

It is surprising that Mary didn’t need to think about it for longer before saying yes because becoming pregnant whilst unmarried was going to cause her some real problems in her culture.

Advent 8: Mary served God Gratefully rather than through Gritted Teeth (Luke 1.39-56)

When we obey God, do we do so with joy or through gritted teeth?

Advent 9: Receiving a new Perspective from God (Matthew 1.18-25)

Joseph encounters an Angel and his perspective is changed. Often we look at God through the lens of life but how different would things be if we looked at life through the lens of God?  This is what Joseph does and it meant that he and Mary knew God leading them forwards.

Advent 10: Jesus is God With Us (Matthew 1.22-23)

Have you ever wondered why the angel said that Jesus would be called Immanuel?

Advent 11: Change Takes Time (Luke 1.57-80)

Nearly a year earlier Zechariah hadn’t believed what God had promised but over time his faith had grown. Are we willing to allow the time for our faith to grow or is our impatience getting on the way of what God s trying to do in our lives?

Advent 12: A Long Time ago in Bethlehem

A decree from Augustus meant that Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. God had previously said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so was Jesus born there becasue of the will of Augustus or of God?

Advent 13: The Journey to Bethlehem

The Road to Bethlehem was a hard place to be for Mary & Joseph. God didn’t transport them miraculously but he was with them for every step of the way.

Advent 14: Did Mary Cry?

Joseph must have knocked on lots of the doors of his family members in Bethlehem but none of them had room anywhere clean and comfortable for Mary and himself.

Advent 15: Clean enough for God?

Some people think that their lives aren’t clean enough to invite Jesus to be a part of but the birthplace of Jesus reminds us that God isn’t fussy about where his presence dwells.

Advent 16: The Wrong Sort?

Shepherds in Jesus’ day couldn’t go to the synagogue or temple because they had to watch over the sheep. They were poor and insignificant people who were not able to go to the Jewish equivalent of church. So, what does it tell us about God’s priorities that shepherds were the first people to be told about the arrival of his son, the saviour of the world?

Advent 17: That is Amazing News!

Before their encounter with the angels, the shepherds had no expectation that God knew or cared about people like them but they were about to learn the truth and if God was communicating with them then they were in!

Advent 18: The Long Road to Bethlehem

The journey of the Magi started hundreds of miles from Bethlehem but it also started hundreds of years earlier when the angel Gabriel visited Daniel.

Advent 19: The Long Wait Until Christmas

Instead of waiting in isolation from God and getting frustrated, Simeon and Anna were waiting with God and getting excited.

Advent 20: The bit that feels Awkward to Talk About

The Magi traveled to find Jesus which is wonderful, but they were led to him through astrology which feels err, a bit embarrassing.

Advent 21: The One about Strange Gifts

Have you ever wondered what the unusual gifts of Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh symbolized?

Advent 22: The bit that feels too Horrible to Talk About

There is a part of the Christmas story that I don’t recall seeing in many or even possibly any Nativity plays. As we face up to the darkness, we will see the light appear to shine even more brightly.

Advent 23: Jesus was a Refugee

Mary, Joseph and Jesus escaped in the night. They left behind everything that was familiar and traveled to live in a foreign land so that they could survive.

Advent 24: What do we really need for Christmas?

What do we really need for Christmas?

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The one about the Snowman and Summer

With Frozen 2 coming to cinemas I was reminded of this blog I wrote a few years ago about Olaf’s ‘Summer’ song.

Honest about my faith

Summer is nearly here

Have you seen Frozen? I have two young daughters and so have seen bits of it lots of times but haven’t made it all the way through yet. One of the best bits (of the bits I have seen anyway) is the summer song. Olaf the snowman is really looking forward to summer to which Kristoff replies ‘I’m guessing you don’t have too much experience with heat’. If you’ve not seen the movie, you can watch the song on youtube link at the end of this post.

Jesus said: “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. (Matthew 24.32-33). Jesus had been answering the question: ‘Tell us, when will all this happen?…

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When was the last time that you realized that you were wrong about something to do with following Jesus?

So, when was the last time that you realized that you were wrong about something to do with following Jesus?

If your answer is ‘I don’t know’ and you’re not Jesus then I would suggest that you have a problem.

The Bible is full of language about growth, change and journeying, some examples are:

  • Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12.1)
  • Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3.12)
  • Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2)
  • And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3.18)

We are supposed to follow Jesus as his disciples, devoted to life long learning. Obviously we can pass on the things we have learnt to others but in doing so we must never lose sight of the reality that we too are disciples who should be trying to continually learn from and to become more like our master.

In Acts we read about Saul who lived his life fanatically trying to serve and to please God but then he had an encounter with God on the road to Damascus, he realized how wrong he had been and his life was never the same.

Once upon a time I believed that the Bible taught that women couldn’t be called by God to be Ministers and I was puzzled by the Christians who weren’t seeing what appeared to be clear in scripture. While I was studying theology I wrote a paper to show that my understanding of the Bible was right but as I engaged with the various passages at a deeper level I was shocked to realize how wrong I had been.

Once upon a time I believed that Ministers are called to primarily to build churches up but then I realized a few years ago that Jesus is building his church and that our part of this work is to make disciples. This changed the way I engaged in ministry as I started to consider how to make disciples who can then in turn make disciples rather than just trying to keep the church functioning whilst doing a bit of evangelism on the side. The realization that Sunday services shouldn’t be the only gateway to discipleship and church came as quite a shock to me but as a result of embracing this, people have come to faith and been discipled who otherwise wouldn’t have been.

Once upon a time I believed that the point of church was to primarily to equip people to live out their faith in church life but then I encountered the concept of whole life discipleship which made sense of the scriptures in a whole new way.

Cleopas and his friend met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and when reflecting on their journey with him they said ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

I hope and pray that our hearts desire is that Jesus would open the scriptures to us and that our hearts would burn within us as he leads us through change as we grow in our faith, becoming more like him.

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Praying for England on St George’s Day

Praying for England on St George’s Day

Honest about my faith

England flag in sunlightIt’s St George’s day. I’ve seen a lot of people today and not one of them has mentioned about it, as I drove around Colchester I didn’t see any England flags. If I hadn’t seen various things online I never would have known.

I think we live in a great country, but I think that there are also significant challenges that we are facing.

I’ve decided to mark St George’s day by praying for our nation. Will you join me?

As I have prayed, I was remembered this photo that I took recently. It was a beautiful day and the flag rippling  in the wind with the sun behind it was a beautiful sight. What it reminded me of was of our real need for the light of God to shine in and across our nation.

There is a lot of worry, fear and depression in our nation and I…

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So You’re Still Around?

I was at a meeting of Ministers in Colchester organized by New Wine and one of them greeted me with these words.

‘So you’re still around?’

They had made a very reasonable assumption that I had moved away because of my new job when I had actually remained in the area.

As we worshiped together later I began to wonder if we ever have a ‘So you’re still around attitude with God?’

Do we expect to encounter God in a gathering for worship?

Do we expect to encounter God at work?

Do we expect to encounter God in everyday life?

Do we expect to encounter Go when we are in trouble?

Do we expect to encounter God when life is full of joy and happiness?

We know that Jesus said that He is with us always but do we have the expectation that He really is with us always?

It occurred to me recently that for a people who believe that the all powerful and loving God is with them that we can try really hard to live our lives in our own strength, only calling on Jesus when all else has failed.

So, if you’re a ‘so you’re still around’ person in your expectation of encountering Jesus in the everyday, can I encourage you to call on him more. Try ‘thanks that you are still around’ at regular intervals in the day. Look for God’s presence and listen for his leading and you might be surprised what happens.

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Broken Beyond Repair or Ready to be Restored?

How does this photo make you feel?

What do you see?

Is this a broken and beat up boat doomed to disintegrate on land or is it a boat that is ready to be restored and returned to the sea to fulfil it’s potential?

How about you? How do you feel? Do you feel bruised and broken and ready to give up or are you open to God’s transformation with the belief that anything can change?

How about the places where we minister? Are we looking at some situations as though they are broken and beyond all hope or do we believe that God can really make all things new?

God,

Help us to see and to be honest about the reality that we face but help us also to look to you and to be open to your Spirit working miracles and leading us into the new things that you have for us.

Thank you that you meet with us in our brokenness, bringing healing and hope. Help us to take your hand and to follow your lead that we might step into all that you have for us.

Amen

The photo was taken by me along the Essex way between Mistley and Wrabness. There are no copyright restrictions on the picture and so you are free to reuse it.

 

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A Prayer for the UK

They lived in a time of despair and uncertainty, a people looking for hope and to these people, God makes a promise:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. (Isaiah 9.2)

The Jews who first heard this message through Isaiah hundreds of years ago would almost certainly have taken it to be a promise of a military leader who would come and defeat all of their enemies. Their hope was to become a secure and sovereign nation again and they longed for God to make this a reality.

We now know that these words spoke of Jesus who was the Messiah but in an unexpected way, he rescued us all, not from other nations but rather from separation from God.

Jesus came into this world and the people who met him saw who God was, they received hope and they discovered what it was to live in the light.

At this time of great uncertainty in our nation we need the light of God to shine even more brightly and so this is my prayer for the UK at the beginning of 2019:

Jesus, may we see your light shining even brighter this year.

May all those who are walking in darkness find the hope and salvation that only you can bring.

Help us, your people, to let your light shine in us and through us.

Amen

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Jesus Wept

The shortest verse in the Bible provides us a deep and profound look into the heart of God:

‘Jesus wept’

As Jesus approaches the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he broke down and cried.

When Lazarus was seriously ill Jesus had been sent for but he hadn’t responded. Jesus could have left immediately and healed Lazarus and in doing so he would have saved himself the deep pain of mourning the death of his friend.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise from the dead but this didn’t stop him feeling sorrow and pain in the meantime. The miracle was around the corner but Jesus felt the deep pain and loss as any of us would as he was surrounded by sorrow and grief.

In this famous story in John 11 we encounter Jesus who clearly knows it is all going to be okay in the end. He allows the tragedy to unfold and at the beginning of the chapter he appears indifferent. By the end of the account though we see the pain that Jesus felt and this makes it all the more astonishing that he didn’t intervene sooner.

God doesn’t always spare us the pain of life but we do know that as we endure the sorrows that life can bring that he weeps with us.

God is at work! Sometimes he rescues miraculously, sometimes he intervenes in other ways but in every circumstance he walks with us. As we cry out ‘why God’, our words don’t bounce off an indifferent God, rather our cries are received by the God who weeps with us.

God feels pain but he doesn’t run the universe in a way that causes him the least stress and anguish and he doesn’t distance himself from our suffering.

One day God will make a new heaven and a new Earth and in this new creation there will be no more death, suffering or pain. It would be easier and much less painful for God to begin this new creation now but instead he waits and is at work in the suffering and brokenness of this world. He is at work in the sorrow and sadness bringing hope, love and comfort to everyone who will receive from him.

If you are consumed by sorrow and suffering then I hope and pray that you will know the presence and comfort of Jesus who weeps with you.

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From Scattered Sheep to Sent Shepherds

It’s amazing how you can read a very familiar part of the Bible and yet see something new in it!

Recently I was reading about the time when Peter said that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26):

31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

What struck me was the quote from Zechariah 13.7 which talks about the sheep being scattered when the shepherd is removed.

Peter couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he would deny Jesus but I think that he also couldn’t imagine a scenario without Jesus being with him. (Although Jesus talked openly about his death, the disciples don’t appear to have understood or to have taken this on board).

Peter did deny Jesus and no doubt he felt terrible about this and so it is wonderful when he meets with the risen Jesus and is restored (John 21).

Jesus says to Peter ‘Do you love me?’ and when Peter responds positively Jesus commissions him to take care of and to feed his sheep.

Jesus takes Peter, the ‘Scattered Sheep’ and commissions him as a ‘Sent Shepherd’.

It’s reassuring to know that Jesus doesn’t respond to our failure with rejection, but instead he sees our failures as growth and learning opportunities.

Jesus’ question to Peter isn’t about professionalism, level of commitment or even holiness. It is about love! If we love Jesus and we allow his love tom transform the way we are living then how much we succeed or fail doesn’t matter.

Peter was far from perfect. In Acts 10 he says ‘NO’ to God but even in that moment he was open to change and he learnt from his conversation and encounter with God. By the end of that chapter his attitude is different as he surrenders to God afresh.

Some of you reading this might feel like ‘Scattered Sheep’ but you need to know that God doesn’t write us off to be afraid, alone and lost forever. God longs to restore, strengthen and to build us up. If we love him then he will help us to become ‘Sent Shepherds’.

God is looking for our love, not our perfection but if we do love and walk with him then he will help us to grow and to become more like him.

Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13 and the start of that chapter speaks of the Messiah, what he would accomplish and the resistance he would face.

‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity’ (v1)

Jesus, our Messiah, died to offer cleansing from sin and impurity. We don’t need to be perfect to know him because his sacrifice cleanses us.

We don’t have to be good enough to know Jesus but we are called to love him.

Zechariah 13 finishes with these words about God’s faithful people who he would

put into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

This was certainly Peter’s experience and it will be ours if we continue to love, look to and to call on God. At the end of the  struggles and difficulties we will be left with ‘They are my people’ and ‘The Lord is our God’.

If I owned sheep, I wouldn’t promote one of them to become the shepherd but this is what Jesus does and is doing!

God, I pray that as we love, look to and call on you more that you would transform and change us. Help us to be secure enough in your love and acceptance to accept that we will fail and that when we do to have the confidence that you will lovingly restore us. Thank you that you will never leave us or forsake us. Amen

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It’s Your Superpower too!

He spoke to me in a moment that I wasn’t feeling my best.

I had a lot on my mind and I was feeling weighed down but he didn’t know that.

He said

‘I’m glad you are going to be our regional minister. You are so creative and I appreciate your creativity’.

He was just being honest and the kindness of his words would have been appreciated on any day but on that day his words changed how  I was feeling dramatically and made a huge difference.

You have a superpower!

Yes, you. You really do have a superpower and it’s called encouragement!

Encouragement is so simple, it costs us nothing and yet it can make such a HUGE difference.

I got home yesterday evening after a long and heavy day. Everything had gone well but I was absolutely exhausted. I needed to send a quick email before I switched off and as I started to type an email popped in that said

Thank you for your MOST helpful focus on dreams  (you can read about that here) which affected much of my thinking and praying over the summer holiday.

I now have dreams for the coming term!

Every blessing as you think and pray about your dreams as you begin regional ministry.

It only takes a few seconds to say a kind word, to send an email, to write a card or even to give someone a chocolate gorilla.

Who can we encourage today?

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