Monday, 17 December 2012

From the cosmos to the cradle

(With Luke chapter 2 in mind)

Picture the nativity scene. A well-groomed Mary and Joseph are sat comfortably in their seats. Freshly washed linen swaddles a placid baby in Mary's arms. Some very respectful farmyard animals graze nearby. Well-wishing shepherds and long-travelling wise guys from the East turn up - and they show up with some carefully considered gifts. 

It's scene of contentment and order. One that we've been able to identify since we were little children in the school play. 

That's the final scene anyway. The baby has been born, the gifts and pleasantries have been exchanged by the visitors and the whole setting pretty much hangs in time until we pick up the story some thirty years later - and the baby Jesus has become a healing tradesman-prophet with exceptional oratory skills.  

But what about those cosy, cute scenes in the early days!? What a quaint little image to warm our hearts in preparation for the feasting, boozing and present unwrapping in just over a week's time. 

As a guy who has recently witnessed childbirth, I can only imagine how messy things actually got for Mary and Joseph. The toned-down, photoshopped image of the stable and the manger must have been totally gruesome in reality. The mind boggles at the lack of support and sterilisation.  Mary was in her early teens. Joseph was a calloused-handed carpenter. There were no beds, midwives, pain relief - nothing. 

It must have been horrendous. 

It's easy to lift up praise to God as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords - victorious, great, powerful. But it's equally important to recall those times when He was helpless, small, naked and crying.  

To recall just how far He had to come in order to begin His work of intervention and salvation on our behalf is vital. From the cosmos to the cradle. 

How messy must our situation be that it requires God to come down from Heaven!? To go through any one of the circumstances that He went through while walking on Earth - being a baby, eating, working, washing, learning a trade - the list is countless - so that He might literally be able to walk in our shoes (and that's before even mentioning the crucifixion that His life resulted in). 

Many of the carols we'll sing this Christmas will contain the word 'Emmanuel' - God with us.  

For the other 364 days of the year, He is still very much with us. But this Christmas time, look deeper into the quaint nativity scene. That messy scene depicts the early moments when God stepped down into 'real world', in order that we might know that He really is forever with us. Through our mess, sin, folly, pride and shame came a tiny little baby who quickly grew in wisdom and understanding to become a King who overcame a crucifixion just 3 decades later. 

From the very beginning to the very end, it's a captivating set of facts.

Friday, 14 December 2012

When I was younger I used to quite like taking communion at church. My mouth would be so parched from all the beer and smoke from the night before, so the shot of fruity grape juice was always a welcome relief.

Last night I sat in the living room of some friends of ours - there were seven of us there in total. The first (and only) people who have yet to commit to join Everyday Church Southfields in about 100 or so days time.

We took communion together. The bread didn't taste like flesh and the grape juice didn't taste like blood, but it did help us to remember what the most successful of all pioneers and visionaries ever sacrificed and achieved.

Many, many centuries later, we're feeling the sense of adventure from the mission ahead. It 'aint gonna be easy; we will (and already have) made some difficult decisions and it will certainly take our all. It's not quite on the same scale as the mission that Jesus faced (!), but it feels thrilling and costly nonetheless.

My wife and I have been reading through the book of Philippians recently. In chapter one, the author, Paul, says: 'I thank my God every time I remember you; in all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.'

More will sign up, we're sure of that. But last night it was such a privilege to break bread with 6 partnering pioneers.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

I was chatting to someone recently who is grappling with an identity rooted in something that is doing him no favours at all. Something he has been trying to run free from for about as long as I've known him for.  

It got me thinking about my identity as a Christian man. After a while, I was taken aback to discover the amount of little lies I had allowed to creep in to my identity as a 21st century Christian, living in London. Lies that have not necessarily been massive stumbling blocks or thrown me off balance, but things that I have tried to put in place to build up who I am in Christ (with emphasis on the fact that it was 'I' and not'Him' who did/does these things!) 

Regardless of the scale, I think I walk taller (and therefore with pride) because I don't get drunk any more; because I give my money; because I don't watch porn; because I have a Bible verse inked on my arm; because I gave my kid a Biblical name; because I live in a church; because I committed and got married young...and even because I write a Christian blog!  

Things that COULD glorify God, but because they're what I've 'worked' for, they often subtract from what He did.  

I think there is a desire as a 21st century Christian to be edgy, with a gritty story of faith. I often hear of people who say they have a boring story because God raised them in the security of a Christian home - as though His grace from an early age may be seen as mundane! 

Trying to become the Christian 'someone' that you think culture needs is dangerous. Standing firm and effecting the surrounding culture as a Christian, starts and ends with Jesus. I think we like the thought of being cutting edge and not too far removed from culture.  

When we try and stay casual in our being 'sold-out' for Him, it usually means we worship reservedly, evangelise too covertly and give safely.  

I have huge dreams and plans for what I'd love to see God do in my life. Some of them are already under way; some are some way off yet. But a fatal thing I could do in the process is try and fabricate my own path, when His direction and timings remain so trustworthy.  

Paul marvellously says in one of his letters to God's people: 

'So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.' (Colossians 3 v1-3) 

Just one identity and agenda.