Monday, 22 December 2008

Jesus - Hope of the World

The Sunday before Christmas is always an eventful day, and today was no exception. In fact this morning we nearly had our own live nativity – I noticed a young woman heading for the door at the end of the meeting, bent over apparently in some pain. I went over to ask if she was OK and realised that it was someone I knew was pregnant. Her husband suddenly appeared and said that they were off to have a baby…! Now knowing Chris, I wasn’t sure if he was joking, but I wasn’t going to hang on to find out! Well I later heard that Christine gave birth half an hour or so later to a little boy. Congratulations Chris & Christine!

So to the evening carol service. I do love these occasions, and like everyone else, enjoy seeing what Marcus will get up to in his graphic and legendry presentations of the Christmas message. This year he was literally drawing it all together on a ten metre illuminated white board. What struck me was the presence, wedged between the cosmos on the left of the board and the state of humanity on the right, a simple crib. How small, how seemingly pathetic. Who would think that here was the answer to all the world’s brokenness and darkness? In our wish to be considered intelligent we really struggle with this, and philosophers and scientists in book after book shout their offence. Yet the cosmos & the angels knew it and celebrated the birth, and Satan and his demons knew it and sought to prevent the birth, and you and I can know it, or rather know Him who came to live among us and die for us. And in knowing Him, Jesus, the hope of the world, we are changed! And better still, we shall see him one of these days, as He really is, risen, ascended, magnificent - and we will enjoy eternity with Him!

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:21-24

Have a great Christmas


Sunday, 14 December 2008

Salt, light and the Kingdom of God

As I watch and read news reports of the awful situation in Zimbabwe, I feel deeply moved and quite overwhelmed. I can barely imagine what it must be like to live in those conditions. Contaminated water, nothing to eat, cholera rampant…. decay everywhere. You would have to be quite a hard-hearted individual not to be moved with compassion, so it was not a difficult decision to give away a part of our recent Gift Day offering to the Newfrontiers Appeal.
When I read that there is a desperate need for purification chemicals to restore Harare’s water supply, it made me think of how the church is called to be salt & light in society. Salt speaks of stopping decay, and light speaks of dispelling darkness. If you follow the analogy through, it must mean that right now the church in Zimbabwe has a vital role to play. Of course, the aid agencies will also play a vital role – if allowed – but let’s also be praying for the churches, some of whom we know as friends, that they will be able to demonstrate God’s grace in a desperate situation.

Of course it’s not just in Zimbabwe that the church needs to be salt & light. In our nation, and all over the world, there are signs of sickness in society. We too have a vital role to play as God’s instrument in the world. Michael Eaton puts it like this: 'The kingdom – the royal activity of God – uses the church as it’s channel of influence out into the world… The life of God becomes visible in us.'

And as you feel prompted to give, remember that generosity lies at the heart of the Gospel. The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Corinth, and us, to excel in this grace of giving (2 Cor 8). And here’s the thing – although we want to give purely out of a desire to bless others, we find that in giving, we become the richer, though not necessarily in monetary terms. The Message translates the words of Jesus quoted in Acts, rather well: ‘You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, 'You're far happier giving than getting.'" Acts 20v35.

So, with the festivities of Christmas a week or so away, please pray for Zimbabwe as you practice generosity!

I shall be visiting the new Newfrontiers church in Valencia this week – more salt, more light! Have a good week.


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Seeing clearly...

I had my eyes tested this week. I’m convinced that the letters on the bottom line get smaller every year! It’s always nice to see things clearly, but nowadays I need more & more help from a good pair of glasses – is that a B or a D….?
Speaking of seeing more clearly, a favourite method Jesus used to help his hearers to better understand spiritual truth was to use parables - stories that carried spiritual meaning. Of these parables, one of the best known & loved is The Prodigal Son, although of course, it is never called that in the Bible. Anyway, as I was saying, parables were used by Jesus to help us see things, spiritual realities, more clearly, and this parable is particularly helpful because it gives us a glimpse of what God is like in his attitude towards the wayward (the prodigal son) and the well intentioned (the older brother) – which just about includes all of us.

Now when it comes to seeing God more clearly we are on very important ground – get it wrong here and the whole life of the believer is affected. Is God scary, sad, good or bad…? What we believe here matters. Now I really don’t want to mention that book ‘The Shack’ again (see previous blogs), but just to say that that book will not give you clear vision of what God is like, in fact in my opinion, it is distinctively unhelpful. So for all those who keep mentioning it to me, may I suggest a far better read that will give you clearer insight into what God is like – The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. No, that’s not a typo, that’s the title; Tim Keller points out that the word ‘prodigal’ doesn’t mean ‘wayward’ but actually means ‘recklessly spendthrift – to spend until you have nothing left’ , and therefore it is most appropriately used to describe God in his grace & generosity. Wow, you want to read it already, don’t you?!

I just love this parable, and it has helped me enormously in my understanding of the warmth and commitment of God the Father towards us. And I have read some excellent books written on it, such as Henri Nouwen’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ (outstanding) and Helmut Thielicke’s ‘The Waiting Father’ (nearly as good), so could there be any fresh insights in Tim Keller’s book? Answer – oh yes, absolutely!
When I heard Tim Keller speak a couple of weeks ago he happened to say that his wife reckons that the best sermon he ever preached was on the parable of the Prodigal Son – and wives are good judges, believe me!
So I hope that this has encouraged you to spend your money wisely when reading Christian literature – Go get a copy!!

I leave you with a few lines from the introduction: I believe that if the teaching of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous Parable of the Prodigal Son would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way to the bottom. (we’re back to clear vision)… I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by any other text.’
It should be in the King’s bookshop this week – it’s one of those nice little hardbacks that make great presents!