Tag: christmas

Family vs Followers

Family vs Followers

In Luke 8:21, we find Jesus surrounded by a crowd of people, desperate to see or speak to Him, or perhaps to ask for a miracle. Someone, presumably at the back of the crowd, shouts out to Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside waiting to see Him. I hope Mary didn’t hear Him because His response didn’t come across so lovingly:

‘Jesus answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who listen to God’s teaching and obey it!”

We know Jesus loved and respected His family, and we have been commanded to do the same (see the 10 commandments as one example) so I don’t think these words meant what it sounds like they do to us today. To me, it sounds like Jesus is either uninterested in seeing them or does not feel they are good enough to be with Him. I don’t believe either of these to be true.

  1. What do you think Jesus did mean when He said these words?
  2. How do you think the crowd, Mary and Jesus’ brothers would have understood what Jesus said?
  3. What do Jesus words mean for us ‘who listen to God’s teaching and obey it’ today? Who does that make us?
Planting seeds

Planting seeds

Luke 8:4-15

I think most of you who read this will be familiar with this parable that Luke recounts in chapter 8 but here’s a quick summary just in case:

Jesus told this story to help His audience understand the message He wanted to share. A farmer planted some seeds. Some fell on the roadside and was eaten by birds (these seeds represent the people who hear God’s teaching but the devil takes it away so they cannot believe it), some fell on the rock (these seeds represent the people who hear the message and believe it but when something challenges it, they let their faith go), some fell in the thorny weeds (these seeds represent people who let worries, riches and treasures in their lives affect their ability to do anything with the teaching they hear). The rest of the seed fell on good, fertile soil and grew well (these seeds represent the people who allow the Word of God to change them and are fruitful in their work). Jesus challenges those of us who hear the message to listen to the message and really hear it so it can change us.

I am very familiar with this bible text as I have grown up in church and this was a story often told in Sunday School, but every time I re-read/ hear it, I discover something new about myself and the place I am at in my life and faith at that moment. I have defined myself as a Christian my whole life, and got baptised aged 11, at which time I knew I wanted to give my life to God. At this point in my life, I was like the seed that fell in the fertile soil and grew strong and healthy and was fruitful.

Right now, I don’t see myself in any of these seeds. At this moment in time, I am the seed Jesus didn’t talk about (at least in Luke’s version of the story), the one that got caught up in the wind and travelled far from the Gardner and despite being desperate to grow and be fruitful, lacks the sun and water required to do so. Although I know God is nearby, right now, I don’t feel Him . I think most of us have been in this position in our lives, and the most important thing to remember is that although we might feel alone, we are not – God is there with you. The most important thing is to keep trying to grow so that you can get closer to Him and He will use you.

What seed are you right now? Maybe, like me, you don’t feel that you are like any of the seeds in Jesus’ parable. If that’s the case, what sort of seed would you be? This is a scary thing to talk about as it requires a lot of trust and non-judgement from those you talk to so if you don’t feel comfortable sharing in the comments, that’s fine. Perhaps you could share other times when you have been one of the seeds instead? It might be an encouragement to those who read it to know they are not alone that place.

Chosen?

Chosen?

Luke 7:36-50

Did you know that Christ or Messiah means anointed one? Yes? Well did you know that ironically, unlike Levitical priests, Jesus was not anointed? However, just because He didn’t participate in a ceremony in which oil was poured over Him, like David did before he became King, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, the oil of gladness (Psalm 45:6-7) and was chosen.

I don’t feel that my life has had a clear purpose. I have done things I have enjoyed, I have helped others where I could and pushed on doors that seemed to be opening in front of me to see where they led, but I haven’t ever felt that I had one main purpose in life that I should be preparing for. I don’t know what I have been anointed/ chosen for. Maybe that’s because I am still in the training phase of God’s plan for me, and will be given my mission when I am done, or maybe I have missed that anointing along the way in the busyness of life.

In the start of this passage from Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is visiting Simon, a Pharisee. I don’t know if Simon hadn’t had people over before (unlikely) or if he was just a bad host, but he had not greeted Jesus with a kiss or washed His feet, as was the custom at the time. The woman who entered the house afterwards was not to know this, yet she took it upon herself to kiss Jesus’ feet and wash them, not only with water and soap, but with her tears, her hair and an aromatic perfume!

There is some confusion about who the woman is that washes, kisses and pours perfume over Jesus’ feet. Some believe her to be a prostitute in the area, as in Luke’s account, she is described as a ‘sinful woman’, but in Matthew’s version of events, this woman is identified as Mary Magdalene who’s brother, Lazarus, is raised from the dead. Many people presume this woman to be a prostitute due to the wording used in Luke’s writing but ‘sinful’ is very unspecific. I am sinful, you are sinful, we all are sinful. Acknowledging that we don’t know, I am going to imagine in this instance that she is Mary Magdalene. Not because I want it to be her but she isn’t a one off ‘perfume pourer’. Later in the gospel, Mary is identified as the one of first people to see Jesus alive after His resurrection, and that is because she and some other women had taken spices and perfume to the grave. Although her name is not mentioned, it is quite possible that she was also involved in helping prepare Jesus’ body after His death. This process involved using various spices, oils and perfume to preserve the body.

I started out by explaining that though Jesus was chosen and anointed with the Holy Spirit, He was never officially anointed (i.e. with oil like a Priest) physically with oil, perfume or other substances. Looking at what we have read and found out in the last few paragraphs, I can see I was wrong. Jesus was anointed with a substance like a Priest, it just wasn’t done in a formal way by a recognised figure. Instead, it was carried out at the time Jesus was doing miracles and other parts of God’s work and at the moment He started the process of becoming more God like, the moment of His death on the cross.

With this in mind, I can recall a couple of occasions which people have spoken things over me which at the time sounded ridiculous, but that now, make total sense. I had been anointed by a Mary character but because it wasn’t God directly, I didn’t pay much notice.

Are there times in your life that you didn’t feel chosen or anointed at the time, but with the understanding that not all of us are formally anointed into a role or position, now you can see where God used others to anoint you into His plan? Take a short time to reflect on this properly. You never know what you might have missed that could take your life in a totally new, God planned, direction!

Lead us not into temptation…

Lead us not into temptation…

Luke 4:1-13

Are there moments in your life that you feel tempted? I am not tempted easily by others, but I am not good at controlling my own temptations. If there is a bag of sweets by my bed/ chair, I won’t just eat one, I will eat the whole packet… and then feel sick, yet I will still do it again next time.

When I started my chronic illness journey, I was unable to eat or drink due to an oesphageal disease called achalasia. I am 5 years on from my surgery now and thankful for the ability to eat and drink again, but because it is nerve related, the issue is not completely fixed, so my consultant gave me rules to ensure that I got the best, long term results. Oddly, these are the ‘rules’ I am most tempted to break, even though they are put in place to protect and help me.

When Jesus was tempted, He had fasted for more than a month and then was faced with bread and water as a temptation. During the times I haven’t been able to eat for a few days, the things I craved the most are the basics such as bread, pasta, fruit and vegetables. I have experienced extreme hunger and thirst and was tempted every day to eat or drink, leading to pain, nausea and spasms/cramps – not pleasant. Jesus was better at resisting, but he still experienced temptation. He was tempted to turn a stone into bread, to have power and ownership over all the world, and to test God’s power, but everytime, He said no, and the devil lost the battle. Though all these things would have sounded great to Jesus, food, power and control over the Father, none of them would have been right or good at that time. If he had submitted, the devil would have gained control and power over him, and the events that followed would likely have been very different.

My example of temptation is small compared to some of the major temptations that people face, particularly those, which like Jesus’, would affect the lives of other people too, but temptation is temptation, no matter how big, it matters. If we can overcome temptation in small situations, such as saying no to eating that extra sweet which we know we shouldn’t really have, then we will be well practiced when we are tempted to join in gossiping with our friends or giving up time with God to sleep in or watch TV.

Although Jesus won the temptation battle this time, the last line of this passage reads, ‘ After the devil had tempted Jesus in every way, he left him to wait until a better time. ‘ He didn’t leave Jesus forever, the devil left as he wasn’t winning this time, but he planned to come back and I am sure he did.

We can try our absolute hardest not to give in to temptation but you can bet that the devil will be back. The only ways we can prevent him coming back with bigger and better temptations, is to keep avoiding temptation in the small ways and ask God to help us overcome them when they come.

In Matthew’s account of this story, he tells us that when the devil left Jesus, God sent the angels to look after him. When we have spiritual battles, such as those of temptation, and we manage to win the fight, God will be there at the end to comfort and care for us, and repair our armour, ready for the next time. We are not alone. God is always with us, and we can call on Him to help us whenever we need to.

The Reason for the Season

The Reason for the Season

We know the Christmas story so well as a result of the Christmas films and Nativity plays we watch but there is so much we don’t know. Despite it being one of the most important stories we have, only two of the 4 gospel writers include Jesus’ birth in their books, Luke and Matthew. As we can see here, even then, neither of them go into a lot of detail about the birth itself:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.’Luke 2:1-7

’18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.’Matthew 1:18-25

Behind all the magic of the Christmas story is a historical event that really happened to a young couple, shamed by society for an unbelievable virgin pregnancy, who travelled for miles by donkey whilst heavily pregnant, slept in a stable and gave birth to the Son of God there with the threat of a jealous King trying to kill their special baby boy. Whilst we get caught up in the beautiful, fun, incredible aspects of the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph balanced that with all the real, difficult parts of this time in their lives. It is likely Luke didn’t bother including these details because the people of the time would have understood the background context, or maybe because those details distract from the point of the story. That is, the birth of Jesus, God in human form, born to a young girl who lived a normal life with her fiance, a humble carpenter, who took her to Bethlehem, as was required, to be counted in the census, where Mary gives birth and puts her baby in a manger.

This is the reason for the story so why add any frills? Anything beyond these facts is unnecessary distraction to it. Jesus is the reason for the season and let us always remember that. We can enjoy all the decorations, food, presents and other festivities that come in December but let us make sure never to forget what, or rather, who, it’s all about – Jesus.

Surprise!

Surprise!

We have moved from one surprise in chapter 1 verses 5-25 (the angel appears to Zechariah) to the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary.

When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, they told him not to be afraid and in this section of the chapter, Gabriel repeats this to Mary. I guess even then if an angel were to suddenly appear in front of you, it would make you jump and run away so this was a necessary phrase for the angel to use.

Just like Gabriel did when announcing the arrival of John to his parents, they went on to say all the great things Jesus would do when He was born – ‘He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of King David, His ancestor. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will have no end!’.

Then, the angel goes on to explain that this will happen because the Holy Spirit will come down and the power of God will cover her and make the baby holy – the Son of God.

In a recent session in our house group, we looked at the story of Moses by the burning bush in which Moses tells God he can’t go to the Pharoah and talk to him about God and ask him to let God’s people go because he wasn’t able or confident enough. When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, she reacts in a similar way, telling them that she is a virgin, therefore, there is no way she could have a baby, but unlike Moses, she is convinced and accepts what is to happen in and with her. ‘I am the servant of the Lord. let this happen to me as you say!’ What an amazing to response to an event that would have sounded completely impossible to Mary, and one that she knew would spread as gossip throughout the area and bring shame on her and her fiance, Joseph.

In the film, Aladdin, there is a scene in which Aladdin falls off a balcony and then appears again stood on a magic carpet. Aladdin reaches out his hand to Jasmine to invite her onto the magic carpet and as he does so, he asks her, “do you trust me?” to which she says “yes” and climbs aboard the carpet with him and they fly off into the distance.
(clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eitDnP0_83k) .
Gabriel tells Mary about some of things Jesus will be and do in His life and announces Elizabeth’s surprise pregnancy, ending their speech by telling Mary that God can do anything! This is the God version of ‘Look what I can do, do you trust me?’ and Mary responds “yes”.

I wonder how we would react today to an event like this? An angel, an impossible situation and a prophesy from God. Have you ever experienced something that made you doubt your experience but knew full well despite that, it was real and God was in it? If so, we would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Luke writes about Jesus’ life

Luke writes about Jesus’ life

Study of Luke 1:1-4

I don’t know if you do the same, but I often find myself wondering why a particular book or passage has been included in the bible when there were so many others that were not included. When it is simply a list of people’s names or the family tree of a seemingly unimportant person. Sometimes we are given a clue, but we rarely know the full background.

Unlike other authors in the bible, Luke doesn’t leave us hanging! He starts his book by explaining the reason for his writing, and a bit of background and context for it. We are going to take some time today to study the introduction to Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:1-4) by reading the text and answering some questions below to help us dig deeper. Let’s get started!

  1. This book was written with the intended audience of just one person – Theophilus. Why did Luke want to share these stories and experiences with him?
  2. When Luke tells us that ‘many have tried to report on these things’, what is he referring to?
  3. It is possible that Luke wrote this book as an encouragement and book of lessons to Theophilus to help him in a time of doubt with his faith or darkness in his life. Have you experienced a period of darkness in your life or doubted your faith recently? If so, what helped you out of it? Is there someone you can do the same for?
  4. Luke concludes by saying ‘I have arranged it in order to help you know that what you have been taught is true’, referring to the experiences, lessons, and other scripture Theophilus had read and known about Jesus. What do you know in your heart about Jesus?
  5. Although Luke does give us some background information, what else do you wish he told us about his life, time with Jesus or what happened after Jesus’ death and resurrection?

‘After careful research based on many eyewitnesses, Luke wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus is the eternal God who came in human flesh to seek and to save those who are lost. Faith in Jesus Christ is rooted in the accurate historical record that has come down to us in Luke’s Gospel. It is not an optional idea that you might want to consider if it grabs you. It is absolute truth to be believed and handed on to others.’ – Steven J Cole.

Preparations

Preparations

When this subject first came to my mind I didn’t feel I could blog about it because in the Christian calendar, we often associate preparation with the end of the world and Jesus coming back again, not Christmas. But with major Christmas adverts already on the TV, light switch ons taking place around the country, Christmas food in the shops, Christmas songs starting to squeeze onto the radio, we cannot deny that Christmas is on the way and with it, all the busyness and preparations it brings.

In my household, Christmas food, music, decorations and movies (other than the cheesy Hallmark movies on TV on a lazy Saturday evening), aren’t allowed until 1st December. That doesn’t mean there is nothing Christmassy going on behind the scenes though throughout these weeks leading up to then. My family are preparing the mixture for the Christmas cake, looking at where to get our Christmas tree, organising which local events to attend, budgeting for presents, designing cards and working out when we can visit family.

Besides Christmas, I am in a time of preparation right now in my personal life and with regards to YouBelong. At the end of this month, I leave my office job to focus on YouBelong and improving my health. It’s exciting but there’s so much I want and need to do that it has become a bit overwhelming.

I mentioned at the start then when I think of preparation from a Christian perspective, my brain automatically goes to Jesus second coming. But Lent is also a time of preparation. Traditionally, Christians use up perishables such as eggs, milk and butter, ready to fast for 40 days. Fasting is used by many Christians, and people of other religions too, as a way to focus on God in the days, weeks or months leading up to a big event or moment so as we can pray to Him about a particular thing with an element of sacrifice and without distraction.

After all that has happened in 2019, all the encouragement, affirmations and prayer, I feel more strongly than ever that I am making the right choices around leaving work and using my time to do YouBelong, despite it not being a financially secure, simple option. But as I head into this time of preparation, God feels far away and silent. This brings doubt to my mind. Am I doing the thing God wants me to do or is it what I want to do? Is that why God isn’t talking to me? If God isn’t making it very clear that He is with me in this, is it right to be plowing ahead?

For a long time, this has concerned me but someone very important spent 40 days in the desert, the same person who we fast for, and it was in this time that God was silent. Jesus was alone. He was challenged and faced conflict, doubt and extreme hunger and thirst but still God didn’t show up. But at the last moment, when Jesus pointed to God the Father saying, ” Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. ” At that point, God sent His angels to tend to Jesus and after that, He came back into the towns and villages and the miracles and wonders of Jesus started flowing bountifully!

My plans haven’t worked out, but God’s have. When I sit down to take steps forward, doing careful planning and trying to do the right thing, I don’t get anywhere. But when I sit back, and allow God to take control, He brings the right people to me at just the right time and shows me where to go next and gives me glimpses of what the future will be.

Sitting back and doing nothing over the Christmas period might mean we go without Christmas dinner, our family don’t get presents and the house doesn’t get decorated but in our lives, preparation can be just as, if not more, successful, when we sit back and wait on God to do His thing. If you are heading into a busy time in your life, or perhaps you feel like God is far away, maybe He is preparing you right now for something big and you need to take some time out to be with Him in the silence. Maybe try fasting – it doesn’t have to be food. Giving something up like watching TV in the evening, going on social media etc. are all things we can give up and that when we think of them, we can instead pray to God and listen for His direction without distraction.

There is more to think about, and some action points from Joyce Meyer here if you want to dig deeper into this topic. And if you are going through a time of preparation, I would love to hear from you so we can travel down this road together.