Thursday, December 20, 2012

The cadence of Christmas

We all have Christmas traditions and rituals. At this time of year we dig out the carol sheets or dust off the Christmas vinyl. We contact people we haven't been in touch with for the past twelve months. We replace all the blown bulbs then hang up our Christmas lights. An old friend of mine used to read Dickens' Christmas Carol every year. All good things to do, but we must not let familiarity dull the splendour of Christmas. My great concern is that we might lose the wonder of Christmas because of its regularity. I feel this particularly as I listen once again this year to the remarkable lyrics of some Christmas carols. Wesley springs to mind: Pleased as Man with man to dwell / God with us Immanuel. Also The holly bears a berry as red as any blood / And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good. Timeworn words for Christmas, but they express timeless truths for Christians.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is Christianity conservative?

Is Christianity conservative? (That's with a small 'c', i.e. non-political, but thoroughly traditional.) I know that certain wings of the church are labelled as conservative, including the Christian fellowship I currently belong to.

But here is an interesting thought. Jesus Himself was entirely non-conservative. In His day, He was seen as an ultra-radical, a perceived enemy of the establishment. His message of life-changing, joy-filled, sin-forgiven relationship with God shook contemporary religion to the core. How can the church He founded retain its radical origins?

Inertia avoidance is a difficult practice. We humans are good at organising, codifying, regularising - effectively setting up our own teetering towers of tradition on top of the principles of Christ. Every now and then, God uses people to demolish these towers. I think of great people like Hugh Latimer, Martin Luther, Hudson Taylor, George Muller... in effect, true Christian radicalism is simply a return to first principles, as elucidated by Jesus - and transposed effectively into a new contextual setting.

What about today? How can we be 21st century radical Christians? We need to get back to the Bible, and prayerfully see how it applies to us and our society today. Personally, I am challenged by the following points:

  • Early disciples were never ashamed to speak about their Master - I rarely represent mine.
  • They lived and breathed the Bible. 'Remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said' [Paul] was a common prefix to many of their remarks.
  • They had little regard for possessions, career prospects and social status. In our materialistic Western society, Christians are unduly influenced by the value everyone else (especially the media) places on these things. 'Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' [Sermon on the Mount]

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Wedding Planner

Spring is in the air, and the wedding bells are starting to ring. My family and I are really looking forward to a friend’s wedding in a few month’s time. We have RSVP’d and started thinking about presents and outfits and so on.

Jesus tells a story about a wedding reception in Luke 14:7-11. In those days, the bride and groom didn’t draw up a careful seating plan to avoid awkward Great-Uncle Angus having to sit next to miserable Cousin Margaret. Instead, people raced into the banquet hall and grabbed the best seat they could, as near to the top table as possible.

Jesus suggested a different tactic. ‘Sit at the back,’ He said, ‘Then you will get a pleasant surprise when you are called to a better seat, and everyone will respect you.’ If you start in last place, you will be called to the front sooner or later. This is a wise observation that resonates with our culture. Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare? Who won the race eventually? More recently, Bruce Springsteen sang about, ‘Waiting for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last.’ So many popular novels and films are based on ‘rags to riches’ storylines, whether fact or fiction.

However the greatest example of this starting-in-last-place principle is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He was so humble: a poor carpenter, a homeless Rabbi, an innocent prisoner, a submissive victim who was ‘obedient unto death, even death on a cross.’ Why did He take the lowest, worst place? Because He loved a lost world of sinners, and died to ‘take away the sin of the world.’ [ref]

Where is Jesus now? He is alive from the dead, in heaven on God’s throne. He has been exalted ‘far above all’ by His Father. He has gone from the lowest place to pole position in the universe.

We can experience God’s forgiveness when we trust in Him. This is the only way to the top table in God’s kingdom. We get to know the riches of God’s grace when we humbly repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a personal application of the rags to riches transformation: God ‘lifts the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes.’ [ref]