A Father for Christmas

I was asked to give a talk to our toddlers recently. I get 5 or 10 minutes to share something of the real meaning of Christmas. Last time I focused on the kingship of Jesus. This time I looked at the way he brings us into a relationship with his Father. The theme that the group had been exploring over the last few weeks was angles and stars so I decided to do the story with helium balloons for the star and the angle and normal balloon for other people and props in the nativity. Here are my notes.

A long time ago people didn’t know God or at least they didn’t know how much he loved them. Some where even afraid of him because they had done things wrong and they knew God would be cross. They hid and felt alone in the big wide world. But God did love them and did something very special.

First he put something in the sky. You will have to help me here because my memory is not that good. Was it a big shiny sausage? (hold up long red balloon looking like a sausage!) Or a big shiny star?

It was a star! A star appeared in the sky. Who wants to have the star and who wants the sausage? Now the star was pointing to a special person.

Some wise men saw the star and followed it. Who wants to be wise men? There are your presents. There is something in them. If you blow them up you will find out what their presents were. I hope I have spelt them right!

Now, meanwhile, on a hill some Shepherd’s were watching over their sheep. Who wants to be a Shepherd…you’ll need some sheep.(give out white balloons with sheep faces and tails drawn on them).

Something appeared to them. Was it a banana or an angel? It was an angel. Who wants to have the angel and the banana? Oh and there is a brussel sprout here too! (green balloon with wavy lines drawn on it)

The angel told the wise men where a special person was.

So the wise men followed the star and the Shepherd’s followed the angle’s direction and they came to a stable. In that stable was Joseph and Mary.

Who wants to be Joseph? (I think he might have been a builder, so here is a saw). Who wants to be Marry? Now marry had the special person, a tinny baby called Jesus. (give Mary small balloon with baby face drawn on it).

Jesus was God’s son. God had sent his son into the world so that people could know God as their father their daddy. Their dad. Just like Jesus, God’s son knew God as his father.

And even today, because of what Jesus grew up and did people can come to know God as their loving heavenly father. No one needs to be afraid or alone any more. Here they are (throw out lots of smiley face balloon people).

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The heart of the matter (How to read the bible part 2)

I am blogging my notes on a talk I gave at the UEA a few days ago entitled “How to read the bible”.

It’s possible to miss the point of the whole bible. When I was looking for a version for my children it took me a while to find one that communicated it clearly. Let me read you the introduction to “The Jesus Story Book”:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing….Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes.

So what is then? Listen to what Jesus says to the Pharisees:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you posses eternal life. These and the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me and have life. John 5:39-40

The bible is not about you or me it’s about Jesus. It’s not about Abraham or Othniel , its about Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. In a great video on youtube Tim Keller hammers home this key point:

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden (his garden, a much tougher garden) and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Abel, who though innocently slain, has blood that cries out not for our condemnation but for our equital
  • Jesus is the  true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar, to go into the void not knowing wither he went.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Isaac who was not just sacrificed by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from me. Now, we at the foot of the cross can say to God, now I know that you love me because you did not with hold your son, your only son whom you love from me.
  • Jesus is the  true and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the king and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.
  • ….
  • Jesus is the  true and better Ester who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one. Who didn’t just risk his life but gave his life. Who didn’t just say “if I perish, I’ll perish” but “when I perish I’ll perish, to save my people”
  • Jesus is the  true and better Jonah who was cast out in the storm so that we could be brought in.
  • He’s the real Passover lamb, he’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light the true bread.
  • The bibles not about you!

The bible is about Jesus. What John says of his gospel is true of the whole bible. It’s written to reveal Jesus as the son of God so that we would know him and have life in him (John 20:31).

So how do you read your bible? To find out how to live? To see examples to copy? These are very, very secondary reasons and they can turn sour and make you  miserable unless they are submitted to this primary one. I read my bible to see and savour Jesus. To know him. To encounter him. To delight in him.

To the Psalmist God’s word revealed and made knowable God himself. He says:

“Blessed are they who keep all his statues and seek him with all their heart.” v2

and again in verse 10:

“I will seek you with all my heart” v10

I love the way he starts of talking about God in the third person “his laws” and by verse 4 he is talking in the second person saying “your ways“. He is not interested in impersonal facts, through God’s word he is seeking a relationship with God. To him God’s word provides landing lights and a safe touchdown into a loving relationship with his saviour.

One commentator wrote that:

The composer of Psalm 119 poured over the Torah, the law of God, and understood its various divisions as few others do. He knew that God’s law represented His Name, His character and His will; that it was a transcript of the Almighty’s own soul and an everlasting fountain of blessing.

The reason he finds God’s word as sweet as honey (verse 103) is that he loves God. I love my wife’s voice, the way she looks, the way she moves, because I love her. I am besotted with her. For the Psalmist, as for me, reading the bible is a matter of the heart. As we read it we are enjoying and deepening our relationship with our wonderful saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having looked at the Psalmists heart, in the next blog I will consider what is going on in his head.

“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!