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Christmas – The Glory of the Story

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Have we missed the glory of the story? Have our ears grown numb to angels appearing, Joseph dreaming, the star gleaming and the Christmas meaning? Do we smile with fondness at the quaint little tale, as we focus on decorating, entertaining and pre-Christmas sales?

Many missed the glory of the story. With all eyes focused on Caesar’s census, few heads turned to see the Almighty’s arrival. There was no advertising campaign and little promotional build up. Bethlehem had no room and Herod had no clue.

Yet into the silence came not armies or trumpets, but a baby’s cry. The backdrop was a dirty feeding trough within a smelly shed. The audience were disreputable farmers, horoscope readers, a pregnant virgin and a bewildered bloke.

All this took place while earth slept. Few noticed or seemed to care. Yet his entrance signalled a change. Time swivels on him. People swear by him. History points to him.

Into time stepped the timeless one.
Earth’s newest creation was the Uncreated One.
The world’s youngest human was the Ageless One.
The God of Angel Armies became the weakest human.
The All Powerful One had yet to learn to walk and talk.

This paradox of humanity and divinity would reveal what God is like.
The one who spoke through prophets was now speaking through his son.

The King of heaven exchanged his throne for a cradle.
The Creator entered into his own creation.
The Author put himself on the page.
The Infinite became an infant.
The Giver became the gift.

A gift missed by the masses but seen by the lowly on the fringes.
A gift, not perfectly wrapped with a ribbon and bow, but one messy and helpless.
A gift with no return policy or gift receipt, but sent as the rescue package for a broken world.

The gift of a sin forgiver who perfectly fitted the gap between God and man.

Outsiders and foreigners rushed to the manger. One day, fishermen and freedom fighters would follow, while sinners and saints would sit at his feet.

He was called a king yet he didn’t sit on a throne.
He spoke of a kingdom yet he didn’t own any land.
He was followed in the street yet he stooped to wash feet.

All were welcomed. All were invited to become part of a Kingdom being established.

At Christmas we don’t just celebrate the past birth of a baby but we anticipate the future coming of a Saviour.

Today we stand looking back on his birth.
Today we gather to reflect on his life.
Today we too are invited to worship this King.

some reflections from leaders retreat…

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leaders do 3 things:
1. see the future
2. communicate it
3. pull the resources for it together

we overestimate what we can do in a year, but underestimate what we can do in 5

rekindled

a vision for the future but a plan for the now

1. character
2. competence
3. chemistry

the need for credibility – do people buy into you?

people don’t follow worthy causes, they follow worthy leaders.

“the leader finds the dream and then the people, but the people find the leader and then the dream.” Maxwell

inspire or influence? // teacher or Father?

credibility requires vulnerability and integrity

what are you living for and what is holding you back?

5. Natural & Noticeable

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I want to be more like Jesus in my friendships. Being there for people in every circumstance of their lives. Being real in every situation of yours. Spending time with them. Modelling out a lifestyle that is different. Talking about our relationship with God in a way that is natural rather than forced. After all, I have been created as a relational being.

A few years ago I was in the midst of a difficult decision regarding my future. I had a choice to make and I was desperate to hear God’s voice in it all. I spent much time praying about it, thinking it through and chatting with trusted friends about it to try to discern God’s will for my life.

After a while I took the decision and was busy sharing about it with people at my church for the next wee while. I was making sure I sounded really spiritual about it. I kept mentioning words like prayer, discernment, will, dreams, passion and listening to God. Everyone seemed pretty impressed with my decision…and the way I went about it!

Around the same time I was playing a few frames of pool with a mate. I love this guy and know I can be myself with him. Plus, he has a good pool table too as well as Sky Sports so I like going round to his house. We watch and play sport together all the time. I would count on him as one of my best mates. We always have a laugh together.

And so he was asking me about this decision I had just taken regarding my future. Now me and this mate don’t have those type of conversations that include words like fasting, prayer, meditation and discernment. Sport is our thing. So I found myself coming off with an answer which included none of those words. Instead I said something like “I just thought it through and it felt right mate. Wanted some security, ya know? Same as anybody really.”

I knew instantly that I had failed my friend. I hadn’t been honest with him as a mate. To be honest, I was worried what his reaction would be if I told him the truth. So I avoided it all together.

As we played on, I knew that I wanted to share what had really been going on in my head. I kept missing shots and wondered if God was speaking to me!!! I knew I should be as open with him as I had been with my minister, my mum and my mentors. And so I went for it. As openly and as naturally as I could, I shared about what God had been laying on my heart and how I felt He wanted to use me in this next stage of my life. I went on to talk about how prayer was an instrumental part in the decision and of how I believed this was where He was leading me. I spoke of passions, dreams and desires.

He listened intently and we went on to have a very open and honest conversation. And we had so many more in the months that followed. Friends openly and honestly sharing their lives with one another. I’ve been sharing the things that God has been teaching me. We’ve been helping each other along the way I reckon.

And from that point on, I was determined that Jesus would become such a natural part of my conversation with my mates, no matter whether they followed Jesus or not. I wanted my life to be more open and my friendships real.

And that has meant that I’ve been spending more time playing pool, or at the gym, or grabbing a kebab, or watching football. And in all these places I’ve been seeing God at work in really simple yet special ways.

I mean, we hear all these evangelism training sessions and methods about picking the right moment to share your faith. To me that just seems false. None of us have to build up to talking about the film we saw last night or the football team we love. We just go for it…naturally. And so if we get excited about these things and share them easily, then why should it be different when it comes to talking about Jesus?

Cos He means more to me than any earthly thing and so I shouldn’t need to pluck up the courage to share that with those around me.

For too long we’ve been chucking tracts at people and ducking away from meaningful relationships. Let’s begin to allow God to be part of our everyday lives so much that we begin to journey alongside those who need us the most.

So who needs your friendship? Who has God been calling you to journey alongside? Who needs you to model out a life of Christ that is different to all they ever encounter?

2. Focusing & Forgetting?

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I’ve led worship at a huge variety of events and in countless churches right across the denominational spectrum, and there’s one thing I hear constantly that really gets to me every time. It always comes at the start of a service and usually goes something like this:

“Tonight, this is the time to leave your worries behind you. Let’s get rid of all thoughts about what we’ve done this week or what’s ahead next week. Please forget about work and let’s just use this time to focus on God…”

Cue music.

Cue a time to forget about the rest of our whole lives.

Cue an hour to leave our secular persons behind and become a sacred being for that one time this week.

Cue permission to do whatever you like this week so long as you forget it about just in time for next time you’re here.

What’s the point in leaving our lives behind at the door as we step into church? To me, that’s going to breed yet another generation of Sunday Christians. If we forget exactly how we feel, then how is God going to affect and change our every day reality.

Thinking about what’s going on in our lives and focusing on God are not two mutually exclusive things – they should co-exist!

God’s way is different. We don’t want to forget, we want God to transform.

Here’s what I prefer to say:

“Tonight, if you have worries at work, hassles at home, doubts in your mind or hurts in your heart, then this is an opportunity to encounter God in the midst of it. This is a chance to bring all this stuff to God’s throne as part of our worship, and see what He has to say to us, teach us or restore in us. As these things fill up your mind, let’s focus on God…”

Cue music.

Cue a time to allow God to meet with us no matter what shape were in.

Cue an hour of engaging with the Living God which will continue into tomorrow and the next day because He is engaging with our life.

Cue permission to be changed, moulded, shaped, restored and renewed.

When we come to God, He wants ALL of us. Everything.

That means every smile, every song, every prayer, every hope…but it also means every doubt, every worry, every stress and every hurt.

We’re commanded to bring an offering to God when we worship. Sometimes it’s even described as a “sacrifice”. God wants our worship to Him to be the most meaningful thing in the world.

Something that’s real. Something that engages with all our thoughts, emotions and senses. Something that’s in the here and now, but affects our present and future. Something that changes us.

1. Unsung & Unaware

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A few years ago I heard a woman being interviewed at the front of a worship gathering. Let’s call her Deborah.

The interviewer urged Deborah to share a bit of her journey towards becoming a full time missionary. I was intrigued…

Deborah told of how for over 20 years she was the Personal Assistant of the General Director of a rather large corporation. She spoke of the eventual monotony of her job and how she sensed there was something more to life than simply this run of the mill job. Finally after two decades of this job of this “dead end job”, Deborah handed in her resignation and enrolled in full time study at a Bible College.

Following her studies, Deborah stepped into the much sought after land of full time Christian ministry. In fact, she managed to get a job with a well known and rather large Christian ministry. Deborah had finally answered the call of God upon her life to move into Christian service.

Fantastic!

Deborah was applauded, thanked, encouraged and prayed for from the front. She was ensured that this particular group of people would continue to hold her in their prayers…particularly due to the nature of her missionary work.

And her role in this company? Her job description? Her raison d’etre?

Wait for it…

Personal Assistant to the General Director.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Deborah, she was great and had just landed a super job. But when was she more a missionary? When she worked with a bloke who loved Jesus with everything He had? Or when she was rubbing shoulders with, assisting, aiding, working alongside and dealing with someone for 40 hours a week who didn’t know much about Jesus?

I always hear people say they feel called by God to be a pastor or an overseas missionary. I’ve rarely heard someone say that they’ve heard God call them to be a painter and decorator. Or a cleaner.

Why not?

Maybe it’s because we have fooled ourselves into thinking that God has a value system that goes something like this:

1.    Minister/Pastor/Preacher/Big name evangelist
2.    Overseas missionaries
3.    Full time workers for churches or missionary organisations: youth pastors, worship leaders, church planters etc.
4.    Those who make a difference in society: doctors, nurses, teachers etc.
5.    Everyone else

I believe this is a twisted view of God’s call upon our lives. For too long the majority of our churches have felt like second class citizens and second rate Christians. It’s time for the hidden heroes to be affirmed and celebrated, applauded and encouraged.

God wants to be involved in every single area of our lives, not just the seemingly spiritual or sacred. Perhaps the posts that lie ahead may even make you feel uncomfortable, stirring you to action with a passion to grab hold of every moment, every breath, every encounter.

I hope so. Because I feel uncomfortable writing them!

I’m the last person who should be writing about this stuff.

Because I’m like Deborah.

Because I work full time for a Christian ministry organisation and sometimes I’m even described as a missionary by people in my church.

But I’m not convinced you see.

In fact, I reckon that the lady in my church who helps school kids cross the road every morning is the missionary. I’m not.

Because in my church I get prayed for publicly, affirmed audibly and encouraged eternally. Meanwhile hundreds of unsung heroes continue living their lives for Jesus, unsure if their ‘insignificant’  jobs and lives even matter and unaware of the difference God can make through them in the world.

If you’re unsung, unsure, unaware or even uncomfortable then this is your turn!

May the myth of this value system be dispelled and may that bring about a realisation that you too can be a transforming influence to those around you in the unique situations where God has placed you.