Day 53 - Issue 23

December 13, 2017

Luke 1:52 NLT

'He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.'

As a child I developed a strange obsession when going shopping with Mum. I first remember it when we were seeking to buy a plastic sword and shield so I could become a knight of the Round Table. As we walked to the toy shop, I repeated over and over in my head, “Let them have a sword and shield.” To my great disappointment they didn’t; my approach had failed.

Positive thinking is no way to guarantee anything. While optimism probably leads to a richer life than its opposite, pessimism, it cannot reverse life’s ups and downs. It merely informs my attitude. As Mary visits with Elizabeth, as expectations rise with the stirring of the Spirit between them, Mary bursts into a prophetic poem; one that was possibly treasonable if proclaimed on any street corner under Roman occupation. However, it wasn’t provoking a political uprising to destabilise the status quo. It was, in fact, far more radical, for it presented the unseen reality of God’s kingdom. This kingdom, always the sphere of God’s rule, was now breaking into this world through the incarnate Messiah.

Hence, Mary informs the principalities and powers that have exercised their authority across the earth that their day of reckoning is fast approaching. This is an epic moment; it’s the hinge of history, the first sign of spring in Narnia, the anticipation of Aslan’s return and the end of the White Witch’s reign. God does not forget but God’s timeframe is not governed by earth-bound events.

Somehow, wandering the malls surrounded by Christmas stuff, driven by a need to buy gifts and indulge in fine food and drink, means the very reality of Christmas is buried ever deeper. Christmas informs us that the immaterial is, in fact, so much more solid. God’s kingdom, while it may only break in in part until the end of the ages, breaks in each time we choose to live by kingdom values.

QUESTION: How might you make a fresh commitment this Christmas to demonstrating the kingdom all year?

PRAYER: Sovereign Lord, lift up the humble, humble the proud and bring in your kingdom.

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Day 52 - Issue 23

December 12, 2017

Luke 1:41 NLT

At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

I remember the impact baptism in the Spirit made in my life. I had been a Christian for two years and was struggling. The terrier in me just kept going at ‘Quiet Times’ and prayer meetings, but in truth it was as dry as old bones. I was beginning to question why I bothered. One evening at a Christian event including Clive Calver and Graham Kendrick, I made my way to the front in response to an offer to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I always believed in putting myself in the place where God might be, no matter how I felt.

My attention was held as Clive said, “I won’t pray with you now. If you say yes to the Spirit, God will demand everything of you.” He sent me off into the night to ponder these words and said if I returned he would pray for me. I wandered not knowing how to ponder, but knew I wanted more of God. In intrigue more than faith, I returned. Clive prayed and I encountered God in a deep way. I was surrounded by love. I felt completely safe. I sensed something of the infinite.

Mary reaches her cousin’s house and as they greet, Elizabeth’s baby leaps within her. Already the gift of God is active in a joyful yet very ordinary human scene. Mary discovered that the trust she had placed in God was real as Elizabeth confirmed Mary’s pregnancy before Mary knew, apart from the angel’s declaration. When God works, human constraints are of little concern. God moves as he chooses, despite the plans and processes within which we order our lives from local to international level.

Baptism in the Spirit might prove controversial. I say, call it what you will but my life exploded in God with new vigour and meaning from that night on. Along with my conversion, it’s an incident I can neither rationalise nor dismiss. Its reality remains so palpable that I can’t deny it, however much I want or try to. Reality bites, yet it opens an avenue into God’s heart that sustains hope and life within the harshest reality.

QUESTION: What opportunities do you have in your normal routine to step out and trust God?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift, filling and outpouring of your Holy Spirit.

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Day 51 - Issue 23

December 11, 2017

Luke 1:38 NLT

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Trust is an amazing gift to present to anyone. When Katey and I got married it was enthusiastically but with little real knowledge of what marriage actually meant. I was marrying the girl of my dreams, while assuming I’d continue to live my life the way I always had. I failed to recognise that Katey was a fully formed personality in her own right. So it wasn’t long before the fireworks began to fly. We needed the encouragement and help of good friends to help us adjust and lay foundations that might ensure a long, stable and enriching marriage.

It disappoints me when I hear some of the language used as people describe their marriages. They speak of deals, as if relationship is transactional, or keep secrets from each other. I am no judge; however, for me to discover my spouse kept secrets from me would be devastating. It is also a good discipline in times of prayer together to share the very worst of myself, knowing I can trust this to my wife and still be loved.

Mary is confronted by an angel and invited to entrust her life entirely into the hands of God. She questions, naturally, yet chose to set those questions to one side and respond to God. As I ponder on this story, it highlights how slow I am to entrust myself to God beyond the questions I carry. The journey with MS and now Jayne’s chronic pain condition present some difficult questions that I haven’t any answers to. Do I continue to trust God with my and my family’s welfare? Or do I establish a number of parallel, alternative strategies to compensate when God fails to show? Trust triumphs through personal choice.

QUESTION: What choices have you delayed, or built alternative strategies for, just in case God fails to show?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, trusting can be hard, yet I would trust you with all of my heart.

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Day 50 - Issue 23

December 8, 2017

Luke 3:12 NLT

Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

Some years ago it was the fashion to wear a bracelet imprinted with the letters, ‘WWJD’. These stood for: “What would Jesus do?” It provided a provocation to check if one’s thoughts and actions lined up with Jesus’ way. Yet, this is not the question that is most important, it would seem. Here those approaching John for baptism asked the simple question, “What should we do?” I am the only person who exercises control over my own choices. I determine the degree to which I implement what I hear Jesus say.

When Katey faced MS, my mind thought, “WWJD?” I gathered the elders, stormed heaven’s gates in search of physical healing and fasted till I dropped in search of a miracle. This is what I saw Jesus do in the Bible and so this provided my roadmap in responding to the diagnosis. My efforts apparently went unheard and unrewarded. Like those who berated Jesus upon the cross I cried out in anger, “So you can heal others yet choose to ignore us! How can we trust you?”

I felt guilty even as I spoke back to God in this way, yet had no need to, for this is how I felt. It was a milestone on the road of attending to the voice of God along my walk of Christian discipleship. Slowly I turned the question around and began where Jesus always wants to begin, with me. I now searched for an answer to, “What should I do?” The obvious stared me in the face. Love and care for Katey.

I was constantly battling with uncertainty mixed with disappointment; an inner emptiness tinged with regret and a sense of loss for what I once had, both in marriage and in Christian ministry. Yet, in all of that clutter I was inching my way closer to God. I was discovering how I might manage all those swirling thoughts that sought to capture my mood and dictate my behaviours. I began to step from childhood into adulthood, taking responsibility for my own overall development, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.

QUESTION: Take time now to ask, “Jesus, what should I do?” Pay close attention to all God says.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to be growing in obedience and take steps even today to follow you.

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Day 49 - Issue 23

December 7, 2017

Luke 3:11 NLT

John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

I remember my Jewish PhD supervisor remarking how Britain only seems to have one festival to celebrate and this was his explanation as to why everyone went so ‘crazy’ throughout the Christmas holiday period. It is sadly known more for its overindulgence rather than the welcome of the Son of God. The fruit of the post-war secularist dream seems only to have led to a loss of community and the celebration of the cult of personality. The very nature of Jesus’ birth in the earth reveals that at the heart of all true love lies sacrifice and service.

In fact, the battle we each have as friends of God is the battle with the selfishness of self-care. It’s Paul who speaks of taking an interest in the ‘other’, valuing them above ourselves (see Philippians 2:3-4). This is in harmony with the choice of Jesus to embrace incarnation. Stepping from heaven to earth was for the benefit of humanity. No surprise that in preparing the way of the Lord, John the Baptist speaks to the root of humanity’s fracture, selfishness.

Generosity has in many instances been reduced to the value of the gift I give to those I love, and Christmas is all about gift-giving. Parents struggle to afford what peer pressure demands they give their kids, and we run up huge debts. We feel in some way we are defined by the symbols of wealth we acquire. Yet, generosity simply means a willingness to share what I have. On two occasions, once travelling by train in India, the other in China, as the family in my carriage opened up their packed lunch, they invited me to join them. We did not share the same language, yet the universal language of love was unmistakable and inclusive.

Sadly a loss of generosity has created a society in which we grow to fear each other, react to difference and seek to find scapegoats for our own pain. Generosity, however, offers opportunity to build bridges as opposed to walls. Unsurprisingly the first visitors to Jesus were the shepherds, largely regarded as unsavoury thieves and mischief-makers in Jesus’ day.

QUESTION: How might you mirror God’s generous gift of Jesus in your approach to Christmas?

PRAYER: Lord, you said the giver is blessed. Help me to be a generous giver. [See Acts 20:35.]

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Day 48 - Issue 23

December 6, 2017

Luke 1:16 NLT

And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.

One of the discoveries I made in caring for Katey was that once the muscle tone wasted, her body was exceptionally heavy. This was important, for many times I needed to move her so that she might sit or lie comfortably. While Katey made every effort to cooperate, there literally was no capacity within her limbs to lift, so it was like moving a dead weight. So we discovered turning was indeed a challenge.

The angel prophesies that John will turn the hearts of Israel towards God. Turning involves moving something to a different position. The people of Israel were to be challenged by John to closely consider their surroundings and move from their current position to view the kingdom of God from an entirely fresh perspective.

Advent provides a timely season for such consideration. What are my life’s circumstances, and what position or stand have I adopted? I know I slipped so easily into self-pity while caring for Katey. I entertained a sense of entitlement arising out of my suffering. Such surroundings squeezed the life of God from my mortal frame, and my focus narrowed, becoming completely consumed with self. Like Herod, I only had an eye to my own welfare. I grew selfish and self-absorbed, if not obsessed. It took effort to lift my eyes and commit to a hazardous journey towards an unknown destination, dictated by a star, much like the Magi. I had to let go of my surroundings and change my position.

As we make our way once again to stable and crib, to bow the knee before Messiah, we must consider our approach. It’s all too easy to clumsily crash into this sacred event and tumble into a new calendar year without pausing to reflect and respond to God’s call. This Advent offers each of us the opportunity to reflect upon where we find ourselves and consider the extent to which we both know and engage with God’s purpose for us. Accepting the path of pain that Katey and I were invited to walk was overwhelmingly difficult, yet within it we found Christ.

QUESTION: What do you think God’s purpose and calling on your life is?

PRAYER: Lord, show me your paths that I may walk in them.

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Day 47 - Issue 23

December 5, 2017

Luke 1:13 NLT

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.

In an age where activism is applauded, it is counterintuitive to slow down one’s pace of life. As we rush towards Christmas, the speed of life increases. Social activities, the preparations for the great feast itself, family and friends to organise throughout the Christmas holiday, and innumerable special events, such as carol services. Life can become frenetic.

One thing accompanying Katey with her MS taught me was that not everyone can live at the pace life dictates. A serious illness both disables physically and isolates socially. Unable to keep up, you have to learn to walk alone some distance behind the rest. On pilgrimage the same can happen. Anyone with a walking impediment tends to be left at the back of the pilgrim line as eager seekers after God press ahead, straining towards the next encounter. The good news is that God chooses to walk at my pace. I’m reassured, God will be with me every stage of life’s journey; he never leaves me behind.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had waited a long time for a hope they no longer believed could possibly be fulfilled. No doubt they had experienced what most childless couples experience, a measure of well-intentioned exclusion. For they never held a baby shower, nor saw the family gather around their new-born. Stories of nursery and school were forever third party narratives, and while lovingly embracing and encouraging nephews and nieces, their pain was always present. They lived a pace of life different from their peers, yet always looked to God for strength and encouragement.

Zechariah could not believe the angel. Habits were formed, choices made, rhythms established. A child was almost certainly a joy yet also a massive interruption, especially now that youthful strength had drained away. He had no words to express joy and consternation, faith and doubt. So the angel appropriately sealed his lips, and let the story unfold on its own. There are times when we hardly dare believe, and keep quiet in anticipation of something for which we have no words.

QUESTION: What do you most fear or look forward to at Christmas?

PRAYER: Lord, still my heart and lips that I may perceive you and your ways for me.

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Day 46 - Issue 23

December 4, 2017

Luke 15:20 NLT

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

Here in the Oratory, we grew vegetables for the first time this year. Jayne is our ‘propagator’ and she carefully nurtured these veg from seed to crop. Spring proved a busy time with sowing and then waiting before shoots appeared in the small pots. However, the growing shoots soon needed to be transplanted into larger pots for their further growth. Later, outside they had to fend for themselves against the elements.

There are plenty of shoots throughout the Old Testament that speak of the reality of God. However, they appear offering hope, only to disappear again with no lasting harvest. Throughout Advent we wait to see if these shoots might actually produce a crop to feed and nourish us. Each day we recall another indicator of God’s love and the approaching manifestation of God in the earth. Jesus is the realisation and fulfilment of all those signs. Yet, the success of God’s incarnational vision is placed in the hands of individual women and men.

Jayne and I had little gardening experience, but we followed instructions, grew our vegetables and dined off the fruit. Nothing tastes finer than that which is the result of one’s own endeavours. However, the heart of our success lay within the quality of the seed that was planted.

During the next four weeks as we make our way to Christmas, the redemption of the world lies deep within the heart of God and well beyond our comprehension. Yet, we are invited to make a journey once again to Bethlehem to welcome the saviour, preparing our hearts and lives once more for this event. Advent offers us the opportunity to reflect on a year past and renew our pursuit of God. It invites us to consider who we are waiting for and what attitude occupies our heart in the waiting.

QUESTION: What has God been growing in your life the past year?

PRAYER: Lord, continue to work out your purposes in my life.

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Day 45 - Issue 23

December 1, 2017

Romans 12:2 NLT

'Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.'

Around this time of year we endure one of America’s least appealing events, ‘Black Friday’. For me it’s a celebration of all that is wrong within our world, commercialism and the commercialisation of the human spirit. Media love to report not on the thrill of the bargain but the violence of consumers competing for the same item. The truth of scripture is acted out as God’s image-bearers are consumed with the spirit of the age and become so easily conformed to the values of our day.

Whether it’s our mood or our outward participation in life, it’s easier to be dictated to by prevailing feelings and culture than it is to live out of simple thanksgiving for all God is giving. I admit it can be a challenge to draw comfort and security from the basic truth that I am one who is loved and accepted by God at all times. Somewhere within me there’s a voice that speaks of the need to be dictated to by my prevailing mood made up of the thoughts and feelings that flow throughout my being, as well as comparing me with the guy next door or who works alongside me. I fail to follow God’s invitation to fix my eyes on Jesus and set my heart and mind on things above (see Hebrews 12:2; Colossians 3:2).

This is a time to give thanks that because of Jesus, we’re invited to be transformed, which means to modify, revise and amend our perception of self and the world around us. We can now live calling upon different values and looking through enlightened eyes. We are no longer earth-bound, squeezed into a shape dictated by the values that surround us, like a favourite shirt that no longer fits us. We can choose to live out of the treasury of God’s blessings, no matter how we feel or the appetites stirring within.

QUESTION: In what ways do you conform to the pattern of our world where God may want to bring transformation?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you have redeemed my whole life so that it may be shaped into your likeness. Please continue that work in me today.

 

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Day 44 - Issue 23

November 30, 2017

Isaiah 12:4 NLT

In that wonderful day you will sing: “Thank the Lord! Praise his name! Tell the nations what he has done. Let them know how mighty he is!”

Due to her American family background, Jayne always celebrates Thanksgiving here, without the benefit of the holiday. We dress the house with autumn colours and set a table for ourselves and guests.

Once we sit down to the meal, it is not just the eating and friendship that counts. God enjoys pride of place at our table. At some point during the meal, we will invite everyone to state something that they are grateful for from the year now behind us all; something for which we can give thanks to God for. We have had those without any faith in God participate and of course they have the option of sharing or not. Yet, the majority do and have little problem when we then go on and offer a general prayer of thanks for all God has done in the year.

A little later during this meal, we pause again, this time to identify one thing we are looking to God for in this year ahead. Often we will then ask the person next to the one making their request to pray for it, once all requests are shared. Also these requests we write up on a book so that we can return to see how God acted a year from now at the following Thanksgiving. After all, we want to remain committed to seeing how God takes hold of these prayers in our lives.

In these two simple ways, while we enjoy a fun time together, we make known God’s deeds publicly and we also “call on his name” (NRSV), just as the prophet Isaiah suggests. Not everyone will be at the following year’s meal, yet we seek to find out how their request has fared over the twelve months.

Finally, given this is at the start of Advent, it offers a celebration that is not confused with present exchange and the other aspects of the Christmas season that can all too easily hide Jesus from view. It is a meal during which we celebrate life, friendship, our shared humanity and include God in a direct way.

QUESTION: What prayers has God answered over the past year?

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness and love.

 

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