Thursday, December 07, 2006

Advent Calendar

It's that time of year again! Everyone is counting down to Christmas! In our house we have a traditional picture calendar, not a chocolate in sight I'm afraid! It's rather unsophisticated - in this age of edible advent calendars, electronic advent calendars, and so on.

I like the picture on the front of our calendar. There is a manger under an open sky. Mary and Joseph are alone with the baby. The first Christmas was an unsophisticated affair. And yet, behind the simplicity of the event, what an amazing spiritual significance. Immanuel - God is with us!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Christmas is Coming

Angels are dancing in Albert Square, central Manchester ... the Christmas lights are on. This year the square hosts a traditional Christmas tree surrounded by three angels with trumpets. How faithful to the original Christmas story! Angels announced Christ's birth to Mary and Joseph before the event, and to the shepherds immediately afterwards.

There are two problems though. First the angels are surrounded by a metal ring-fence, so one has to appreciate them from a distance. Second, the whole of Albert Square is swamped by a Christmas market, which quite diminishes the effect of the festive decorations.

This is representative of modern society's approach to Christmas. If we are to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas at all, then we only do so remotely, from quite a distance. Get close to Christmas this year! Think about the historical narrative in the Gospel records. Think about the apostolic interpretation in the Epistles.

Then again, don't let your Christmas be overcome by rampant consumerism. The Christmas Spirit isn't shopping! Recall the baby born in obscurity - heaven's riches exchanged for earth's poverty. (2 Cor 8v9).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Prayer Challenge

Have you seen the Special K challenge? It involves eating cereal for two weeks, with guaranteed improvements to your waistline! Well, I'm suggesting a prayer challenge with guaranteed improvements in your spiritual experience! I started yesterday, I'll let you know what happens in two weeks. Why don't you start now? Here's how it works. Decide on a suitable time of day and place. Then spend 10 minutes every day for the next two weeks talking to God. Try to go to the same place at the same time, each day. Who knows what the results will be?

There are plenty of Bible examples of people who had regular prayer-conversations with God. And they had amazing experiences! If you follow this through, it's guaranteed that something similar will happen to you! Think about Lydia, down by the river in Philippi. She found God (or God found her) for the first time properly. Daniel discovered old enemies (fellow courtiers) and new friends (hungry lions) in the palace at Babylon. Nehemiah got extended leave for a massive holiday DIY project. Elijah ran the weather forecasting industry out of business.

Finally, what about Jesus? His prayer life led to self-sacrifice on the cross. When he said to His Father - "Not what I want, but what you want. Let that happen" - he knew it would mean going all the way and giving his life. But he was prepared to go anywhere, do anything for God. Even to Calvary!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No timetable for departure (or arrival!)

Tony Blair repeatedly fails to clarify his departure plans. Everyone knows he is on his way out, but no-one is quite sure when, least of all himself it seems. His colleagues excuse this behaviour as necessary to safeguard his political legacy. On the other hand, his critics suggest that he is attempting to cling to power for as long as it takes to undermine his most likely successor.

The Bible promises that Jesus Christ will return one day, but "no-one knows the time, or the day, when the Son of Man will return. Not even the angels know it. It is the Father's secret." (Mark 13.32) He will come to establish himself as supreme world ruler. His government will be fair (Isaiah 32.1), firm (Rev 12.5) and for ever (Dan 2.44). What a marked contrast to present governments which seem so corrupt, weak and temporary!

So why are we waiting for His return? The Bible explains that God is still patiently waiting for people to turn to Christ. The remarkable truth is that if we submit to His rule now, then we will share in His rule in that coming Kingdom. (2 Tim 2.12)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cross Character

A man's attitude as he approaches death ought to be a cameo of his life's character. Consider the impetuous cry of Horatio Nelson, the unstinting commitment of Robert Scott, the optimistic vision of Martin Luther King, and so on.

Now think about the attitude of Jesus of Nazareth as he hung upon a Roman cross. John 19:25-27 provide a good summary.

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother; his mother's sister; Mary Cleophas and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother and his beloved disciple [John], Jesus said to his mother, "Madam, look, this is your son." Then he addressed his disciple, "Look, this is your mother." So from then on, that disciple accepted her into his own family.

Three great virtues of the Lord Jesus Christ were also displayed in his followers at the cross.

  1. devotion
  2. care
  3. obedience


If the Son of God had not been devoted to his Father, then he would never have gone to the cross. But his unquestioning devotion had brought him to Calvary, and would take him through Calvary.

Some of his closest acquaintances were so devoted to him that they followed him to Calvary and stood by him, even in that place. At Calvary, it was not only shameful to be associated with Jesus of Nazareth, it was also dangerous. How little stigma is attached to his Company in 21st century western society!


If the Son of God had not cared for us, then he would never have gone to the cross. But because he loved a world of helpless and hopeless humans, he died so that we could have our sins forgiven through faith in him.

It is clear from his words that he expects his followers to show the same self-denying care - first to one another ("This is how all men will know you are my followers, when you love one another" was his advice) and then to the world at large ("love your enemies" was his most stark and difficult command).


"He became obedient to the point of death, and that a cross death." Marvel at the extent of his obedience to God the Father! Without that obedience, we would never be able to pay the price for our disobedience to God. But the Bible clearly teaches that his obedience more than compensates for our disobedience, (as ever, with the "by faith" disclaimer!).

His clear expectation on the cross was that his followers would carry out his dying requests in loving obedience to him. His commands still stand today. And obedience is still expected. The first command "You must be born again!" is prerequisite to all others ... faith is fundamental to following Him. With that foundation, we can exhibit devotion to duty, care for others, obedience to God - just like Him.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mindless Violence

Last Friday night, my friend and I became the victims of mindless violence. A Liverpool youth accosted us, accused us of insulting him and promptly hit us both, hard. Without explanation, indeed, without reason. Causeless, mindless violence.

Over the last few days I have been thinking about our experience. It helped me to imagine a little about how the Lord Jesus must have suffered, as he faced "such contradiction of sinners against himself". They "did not know what they were doing" as they mocked him, battered him and utterly abused him. Was this just mindless violence? In one way - yes - since the perpetrators had no thought about the significance of their actions. However in another way - no - since the victim knew exactly what was coming his way - before as well as during the horrific events of his Passion. He was fully aware of all that "the Father had given him to do" - and fully ready to accomplish it. He never acted mindlessly. He "humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, and that a cross death". Why? He did it for me!

"He was wounded for my disobedience
bruised for my immorality
He took the punishment to bring me peace
And because of his beating, I am healed"

Thank you Lord! Once a victim, now the Victor!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Peace-Loving Israeli

The concept of shalom permeates Jewish society. From a casual greeting "shalom!" to a title of Divinity "SHALOM" (Judges 6.24) the word is often on their lips. Shalom means peace, the state of rest, well-being, completeness and prosperity (according to W.E. Vine).

This shalom sentiment seems a far cry from the current actions of the state of Israel as portrayed in the Western media (bbc, cnn). But let's think for a while about one Jew whose every word and action epitomized perfect shalom.

He said things like this:
  • "Let tired and troubled people come to me and I'll give you shalom" (Matthew 11.28)
  • "I bequeath shalom to you, my shalom I give to you freely" (John 14.27)

He did things like this:
  • Bring immediate shalom to nature, on a stormy night at sea. (Mark 4.35-39)
  • Grant lasting shalom to people, afraid and doubtful as they were (John 20.19-23)

The greatest shalom He offers is in our relationship with God. Naturally we are estranged from God, alienated by our sinfulness. He can provide us with forgiveness, reconciliation and shalom. How? Because he
"made shalom by the blood of His cross." (Colossians 1.20)

In His death, He suffered all the trials, troubles and torments so that we can come to know and enjoy the perfect shalom of God in our hearts. The angel song of "Shalom on earth, good-will to men" can become a reality to us when we accept Jesus as Messiah, Saviour, and Lord in our lives.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Of Nazareth and Liverpool

1st century Nazareth was held in the same low esteem as 21st century Liverpool. Yesterday the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme described Liverpool as a "shabby old sea-port". The recent award of European Capital of Culture 2008 is seen by many as a bid to improve Liverpool's poor culture, rather than celebrate its riches. Indeed universally, Liverpool's citizens, the scousers, are mocked for their rough accent; their supposed dishonesty, laziness, and lax morality; not to mention their cheap sense of humour.

And 1st century Palestine had a similar scapegoat city - namely Nazareth. The northern, Galilean dialect was scorned by sophisticated southerners. "Your speech betrays you," says an aristocratic servant to Peter, accusing him of speaking in the same uncouth tones as his Master Jesus.

Nathanael expresses the conventional wisdom with a bite of sarcasm. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" He found it inconceivable that the Messiah should be associated with such a disreputable place.

Now, strip away the accent and focus on the words. Don't worry about how this man spoke, rather consider what he said. Amazing things like "Come to me and I'll give you rest from all your troubles" and "I'm the true and living way. No-one gets to God except through me."

Again, forget the background and focus on the person. Jesus of Nazareth, yet he was completely different to the stereotypical Nazarene. This man stood out in every company of people. His dignity, authority and generosity amazed everyone who came across him.

Why should the Messiah submit to such humiliation, to be associated with a "shabby old" place like Nazareth? The
Biblical reason is that He became poor in every sense, in order to make others rich. The poverty of Nazareth (and more importantly, Calvary) mean that people like us can enjoy the riches that freely flow from his life (and more importantly, his death).