“good news of great joy” (Fear not Part 1)

It’s Christmas and I am starting a new series called “fear not”, but fear not I am not writing this in-between eating my turkey and opening my presents. I wrote it in advance but the title is quite Christmassy don’t you think? When angels appear to Marry (Luke 1:30), Joseph (Mat 1:20) and the shepherds (Luke 12:4) they prefix their announcement with “do not be afraid“. When the angles say to the shepherds “do not be afraid, I bring you news of great joy that will be for all the people” it surely can’t just mean “don’t be afraid of us” (although it does mean that too). The words grow until they join with this refrain as it sounds through the whole of God’s word, filling the heart of the reader with courage to face a world in which, as Max Lucado puts it on the back of his book Fearless “each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear”. Mankind has lived in fear for so long, and this first Christmas marks the beginning of the end of that fear.

I was working on the next installment of my bible blog when (as often happens) I realised that the next few words that  I was reading in the bible where of monumental importance. Suddenly it seemed to me that the whole bible became a resonating box for these two simple words. As I read them over and over again, their meaning was magnified by what I knew of the whole story the bible told from Genesis through the Gospels to Revelation.

“fear not” Gen 15:1

My thinking and exploration of them lead me to a couple of books. The first is Max Lucado’s Fear not Promise book which is absolute dynamite for blowing away fear. It is a real firework box of verses that explode with noise and colour in my little room as I worship and read from it. It also contains excerpts from another book by the same author called Fearless and it is this one that I just have to blog through. I can’t let the amazing truth that it describes fall to the ground. I must collect it. I must meditate on it. I must live it. I must share it round.

I am currently blogging through two other books called “2000 years of Charismatic history” and “God’s greater glory“. Since I have not got very far with either of these I have no great expectation of completing this one in a hurry!

Before I start here are a few excellent verse form “Fear not”:

“Don’t be afraid. Just have faith” Luke 8:50 NLT

When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him. Isaiah 59:19

Don’t be afraid…Remember the Lord, who is great and powerful. Fight for…you sons and daughters, your wives, and your homes. Neh 4:14

Fearless starts by looking at the story about Jesus calming the storm. (Mat 8:23-24) He notes that getting into the boat with Jesus is no guarantee the life will be plain sailing. The word for storm is seismos. Matthew uses it only two other times. Once for Jesus’ crucifixion  (Matt 27:51-54) and the other at his resurrection (Matt 28:2).

When trouble came we wonder if God actually cars. We don’t tend to question his power but his love. When the storm hits the dispels accuse Jesus with the question “Do you not care!?” (Mark 4:38)

“When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of the house, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases people.” p9.

When you are spinning and feeling sick it’s a good idea to fix on something that is not moving. Ballet dancers fix their gaze on a point as they twirl and then flick their head round to fix on it again.

The disciple saw demons scatter like bats out of a cave. “he drove out the spirits with a word” (Mat 8:16).

“the gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these 21 urge us to “not be afraid” or “fear not” or “have courage” or “be of good cheer”. The second most common command, to love God and neighbour, appears on only eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously.” p10/11

I think I will list several of them here:

Mat 10:31   Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (ESV)

Mat 9:2   And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (ESV)

Matt 6:25   “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (ESV)

Luke 8:50   But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” (ESV)

Matt 14:27   But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (ESV)

Matt 10:28   And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (ESV)

Luke 12:32   “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (ESV)

John 14:1,3   “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me…And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (ESV)

John 14:27   Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (ESV)

Luke 24:38-39   And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (ESV)

Matt 24:6   And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (ESV)

Matt 17:7   But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” (ESV)

Matt 8:26 “why are you fearful, you of little faith”

Me – Little faith can let in big fears. The antidote to fear is faith.

Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” (ESV) Luke 8:50

Max then makes it clear that fear is not necessarily wrong in itself. Its right be afraid of angry dogs, or bullets whistling through the air. Fear can be a good motivator to back off or get out of the way.

“The promise of Christ and the contention of this book are simple : we can fear less tomorrow than we do today. p13

I want some of that! Fear not and have a very happy Christmas.


Christmas : Drawing it all together

A couple of years ago I did a talk at our church Christmas carol concert inspired by Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual” talk. As he spoke he illustrated the concepts on a massive white board. This really drew me in (if you will pardon the pun) and kept my attention so I decided to experiment with the style. When Christmas came I built a massive back-projected white board 7 meters long by 2 meters high and used it to illustrate my points. I have just found the audio and redrawn some visuals to go along with it. The actual context of the talk is based around the idea of separating everything into the visible and invisible  and showing how it all points to Jesus. I hope you like it.

play part 1 on YouTube.

play part 2 on YouTube.

play part 3 on YouTube.

play part 4 on YouTube.

The reason for recreating it was to begin to explore how far I can take the idea of illustrating truth with doodles. This was relatively easy to do as the talk was designed to be drawn out but I would like to try other talks and see if it’s possible to illustrate them in this way.

“Just stepped out of a salon” thinking : my 100th Blog!

A few weeks ago I celebrated my Blogday and now I’ve got to my 100th blog entry. That feels like another mile stone and an opertunity to look back at what its been like to blog for a while.

Recently a friend showed me a copy of  “Bible Study Magazine “. It’s brilliantly laid out with catchy titles like “Galatians : Taking a stand” and “Smack down – Peter vs Paul”. In it there is an article by a man called Swindoll (ages 75), founder and senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. He writes:

Charles Swindoll

“I learned years ago that thoughts disentangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips, and I want to disentangle my thoughts by writing them down”

I have certainly found that to be true. Taking the time to write ideas down forces me to organizes my thoughts in such a way that faulty thinking is shown up and deeper insights are mined out.

Swindoll goes on to says that the difference between reading the bible and studying the bible is

“a piece of paper and a pencil…you begin to study when you start writing things down”.

I think blogging counts too!

Interestingly enough, he ties his bible study in with his Sunday preaching. I do the opposite. Maybe that’s why I seem to have so little time! I find the discipline of studying the bible primarily for myself such a joy. Of course when I prepare to preach, I preach to myself first, but it’s still the case that I am studying first and foremost because I have a preach to deliver. The challenge is then to press into the word and immerse yourself in it to such an extent that you emerge, not preaching because you have to say something but preaching because you have something to say (Think I got that way of putting it from Rob Bell).

Maybe it does work the other way round when you get older and wiser and less driven and can preach out of your personal bible study. Right now I find the task of preaching so all consuming and overpowering that it’s easier to carve out some time to refresh myself in the word without thoughts of communicating to hundreds of people. Blogging seems far less overpowering and is definitely a secondary, submitted, concern as I think about stuff for myself.

Having said all that I can feel the dynamic changing slightly. The more personal bible study I do the easier preparing a preach is becoming. Springs of truth discovered in the secret place flow out in public declaration.

One final gem gleaned from this article. He mentions a time when he preached a Christmas message from the point of view of Joseph. He says Joseph often gets overlooked.

“Here Joseph is engaged to this young woman whom he loves. Both are teenagers, and she whispers to him “I’m pregnant”. How would you handle that? To most of us, he is a figurine in the Nativity scene with his hands behind his back. But, he is one remarkable man. He was willing to take on the gossips of the Nazarene neighborhood. He was willing to stand loyally by his wife. He was willing to go to Egypt for two years to protect his wife and child. And he was willing to teach his son the carpentry trade. He is one great guy, but most people have no idea. His story is about being a man of God, a protector of his family, and standing his ground.”

I will store that away for some future Christmas talk.

The 100th blog is a good time to think about some blog highlights. I have really enjoyed blogging through Hawking’s new book “The grand design”. I have now finished the blogs and set them to come up over the next few weeks. I have also enjoyed following Christopher Hitchens, re-reading my notes from Bill Johnson (I have some more conferences coming up so will blog my notes on them if I make any), and engaging with some provoking news paper articles.  I am currently doing far too many series at the moment which is getting a bit much in terms of work but I’m sure I am getting more out of the books and seminars because of it. I’m trying to finish a few now so I have more time to blog about other things plus get on with my bible blog.

Every day we brush our daughters hair so it doesn’t get too tangled. Blogging is a bit like that – A regular disentangling of ideas. Nothing fancy, like an essay or book or article, just an attempt to look reasonably presentable. One day I might attempt a French plat but for now here’s to another 100 blogs and more shiny bouncy “just stepped out of a salon” thinking!

The nativity play

I went to Katie’s nativity play today and felt my eyes mist up as I watched her really enjoying playing the part of Mary. I couldn’t take my eyes of her or stop beaming back at her. I suspect she has no idea how much I love her and how delighted I am with her. Not delighted because she said her lines so well, nor because of her acting skills, but simply because I love her.

Does she know how much she is loved? I doubt it but it will protect her and provide for her, and each day strengthen her spirit and cause her to grow and flourish and thrive.

I really value these little glimpses you get as a parent into the love of God for us. He feels not just the same way about me as I do about my daughters but infinity more so. Purer and more enduring than I can imagine and completely independent of my “performance”. I do not, cannot know the extent of his love for me but I will flourish and grow in it.

I’m going to put on Jesus Culture again and enjoy God for a bit.

…And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all