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 Glory!


Glory.

It’s a word I’ve revisited this week.

Today, Good Friday, at the foot of the “wondrous cross”  I viewed glory with new eyes.

Glory is about splendour, victory, success, being in the hall of fame. Admired by your peers.

And when it comes to Jesus, glory is about resurrection, the ‘glories’ of heaven, endless worship.

But as Paula Gooder led us through John chapter 17 at Spring Harvest this week, I realised that there are 2 sides to this coin called glory.

In prayer Jesus said:

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5.

Good Friday today. A dark day, a necessary day, a wonderful day. 

But surely glory is the bright resurrection sunlight of Easter Sunday.

Glory is the vision of Jesus by John the Revelator.

But I learnt this week that glory has 2 strands. Splendour yes.

But also glory is that moment when you see someone as they really are.

So where is Jesus glorified? He is glorified in the blood sweat and tears of the cross.

We see him as he really is and see what God is truly like.

We see a king who so loved the world that he did this.

Such love.

Glory.

We see a perfect God who forgives those who kill him, and those of us down the centuries who ignore or reject him.

We hear the cry of a Son who experiences an inexplicable sense of fracture in his relationship with Father and Holy Spirit. 

We see a God man on a mission who cries “Mission accomplished”.

To be fair we cannot begin to describe all that we see and hear.

But we catch a glimpse of glory.

And one day when we see him “in glory”.

And it will be glory, for we will see a lion who is a lamb. A risen radiant Christ who at the same time bears the marks of the nails that bought our freedom.

Glory…

Sermon blog: Drive my car

Matthew 16:21-28

It’s been quite a time for Jesus’ apprentices (the disciples). Especially Peter.
Jesus has taken them away for some tuition. It was in a place called Caesarea Philippi. A place north of the sea of Galilee.

It was a place generally associated with pagan worship.

In this unlikely place Jesus held a brainstorming session.

“Question 1. Here’s the first question for discussion today. What are people saying about me? Who do they say I am?”

There are a few suggestions. Some bright sparks raise their hands.

Jesus is ready with the pen and white board.

“Some say John the Baptist”.

“OK”.

“Others say Elijah”.

“OK”.

“There are people also who say you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets”.

“OK”.

All rather far-fetched theories if truth be told. You see all those men were dead, some of them for hundreds of years.

Effectively people were saying that in some way these people, even John recently beheaded, had come back from the dead – in the shape of Jesus.

And how could Jesus be John? They were cousins. Some would have seen John baptising Jesus in the river.

But it was fun to share the theories. These were the things they had heard.

“Question 2. So what do you say about me? Who am I?”

There’s an awkward silence, interrupted by the shuffling of paper.

James and John look at the floor. They avoid eye contact with Jesus. Matthew has a sip of mineral water. Thomas grabs another handful of pretzels. Philip and Andrew fiddle with their mobile phones.

It’s closer to the bone now. Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter.

After what seems like an age, Simon Peter speaks up. You can always rely on Simon Peter to have an answer. He’s rarely backward in coming forward.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.

The correct answer!

Peter has heard the truth from God.

Interestingly you could say that his brother Andrew told him, when they had started to follow Jesus: “We have found the Christ”, but now it seems he knows this for himself.

It’s a high point for Peter. God is going to build something on the back of this confession of faith.

But then oddly Jesus tells them to keep all this quiet.

But the apprentices are buzzing.

Peter is walking on air. If he could he’d get a certificate printed – and show it to everyone –

“Apprentice of the Week!”

“Surely if Jesus were Lord Sugar”, he thinks, “I would be HIRED!”

It’s a high.

We all get them.

We have a breakthrough and learn something new or experience a deepening of our relationship with God.

We see a friend or colleague come to faith in Jesus.

We spend time with thousands of other Christians worshipping at a New Wine or Spring Harvest.

We have success in our work. A promotion.

We marry the man or woman of our dreams.

But after that high, so often can come the low.

After the euphoria comes a dose of reality.

Just a short while after winning the Premier League, the results aren’t coming and you’re out of a job.

It’s at these sort of triumphant moments that Peter is often heard to open his mouth and put his foot in it.

Peter who had got it all SO RIGHT, was just about to get it SO WRONG.

It was an important lesson and Jesus was ready to move things on. The apprentices had a dream that this Jesus was really going to be someone. He was going to rise up and get rid of the Roman occupying forces.

So as Jesus continues there is puzzlement. Perhaps even annoyance at his words.

“Here’s the plan. I’ve got to go to Jerusalem”.

“This is it!” his apprentices are thinking.

“And I’m going to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders”.

They stop checking their text messages, not quite sure if they just heard him right.

I suppose it’s OK. Jesus won’t win the nation’s freedom without some sort of struggle.

But as they listen on, his words are astonishing and alarming.

“And I must be killed”. Their heads are spinning. They’re getting that sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs. They are so thrown by this they don’t even hear him say “and on the third day I’ll come back to life”.

Someone needs to say something!

No one knows what to think, never mind what to say to Jesus in this moment.

Well, except Peter of course. You can always rely on Peter to say what he’s thinking. To say what many of the others are thinking.

In Peter’s mind, Jesus has really lost it. He’s said some odd things, but what is all this about?

So, not wishing to make a scene, he takes Jesus to one side. It is time for the pupil to show the teacher what he has learnt.

Jesus is here to win, not to be a loser.

“No way Jesus! What are you talking about? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is not what is going to happen. You need a rest. You’ve been working too hard”.

But there is no gentle let down for Peter. He has crossed the line. A mere man telling the Son of God what to do.

Jesus is so firm “Get behind me Satan. You are trying to trip me. You may understand human things, but have no idea about how the mind of God works”.

And so Jesus goes on to teach his apprentices again.

There’s another side to all this that they need to understand. That his way is a way of suffering.

And it’s not just his way.

It’s theirs too.

“If you want to come with me, you’ve got to deny your own comforts and dreams. If you’re going to follow me, you’ve got to carry a cross like I’m going to”.

Jesus chooses the way of suffering, and if they are truly his apprentices they will do the same. They are not to seek a path of glory for themselves.

“If all you want to do is hang onto your life, then you’ll end up with nothing. If you are prepared to lay all that down, then you’ll find real life”.

“You can have everything anyone could ever want in this life. Money, status, fame, perfect relationships, power, a wonderful home, possessions. But if you add all that up, it means nothing. You are the loser”.

“You can’t buy a real life”.

“There’s more to this life than looking after yourself. And if you live for me that will have its reward”.

“I’m coming back after 3 days as I said. And you will see what I have been talking about”.

Then they’ll see that his way has been right.

It’s such an encounter between Jesus and Peter.

It takes something for a pupil to stick his hand up in a lesson and say “Actually Sir, you are wrong”.

Not many of us would have the nerve to do this.

But Peter takes this to the ultimate degree, as he takes Jesus on one side.

This is a man telling God what to do.

Crazy!

I mean, none of us would ever do something like that?

Would we?

The words “Never” and “Lord” don’t work together.

In his Message version of verse 24, Eugene Peteron paraphrases Jesus’ words like this:

“You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am”.

Elsewhere the evangelist J John has compared our lives to a car.

Who’s in the driving seat of my life?

What about you?

Am I trying to drive my way, or am I trying go his way?

Do I, like Peter, actually think I know better than God, what is good for my life?

Recently my wife and I were on holiday in Somerset and we got lost on the way to our destination. We knew we were doing something wrong when we saw the sign for London!

This has happened too often recently.

Enough!

We have always resisted the urge but we popped into Halfords and bought a SatNav.

The shop assistant was helpful and described the different features. As well as making sure you are going the right way it will also warn you when you are approaching speed cameras, and will tell you if you exceed the speed limit.

“Great” I said. “It’s going to be like having 2 wives in the car!”

Perhaps you like having someone in the car when you’re driving, telling you what to do.

My wife comes from a family of 4 generations of back seat (or passenger seat) drivers. She will always tell me when the speed limit is about to go down. And to be fair that is pretty useful.

I’ve noticed though that she never tells me when the speed limit is about to go up!

My youngest daughter is more concerned with the finer points of my driving. She will tell me when to change gear. “Can’t you hear that the engine is racing”.

It’s got to be something pretty drastic for me to give advice to a driver.

My mother-in-law has always been good for driving advice too. It’s been a while since all these women have been in the car with me at the same time.

She would instruct me to go straight across at the traffic lights. She would always add helpfully, “when they’re on green”.

Her mother was apparently pretty useful to have in the car on a long journey too. If her daughter and son-in-law were uncertain of the way, she would offer, “it must be that road over there, because that’s where everyone else is going”.

Helpful advice.

While I’m not one to give advice to drivers myself, as I’ve got older I have come to hate being a passenger in a car or even on public transport. I can be a nervous wreck if I think the driver is going to take a corner too fast. I’ll hang on and press my foot to the floor as if operating a brake.

I would much rather be in the driver’s seat. In control.

It takes something to let someone else take the wheel.

It takes something to let someone else take control of your life.

Peter wanted to assume control of things. He was right. Jesus was wrong.

He couldn’t see how absurd that idea was.

That the one who made him, who was there when the universe was created, might not actually know how life works.

The Christ, the Son of the Living God, is certain to know best.

His design for your life is best.

Is Jesus even part of your life? Is he in that car?

For so many “it’s my life” and it’s up to them how they live it. Looking back on their lives they’ll sing defiantly:

“I DID IT MY WAY”.

They’re the people who Jesus talked about. People who can appear to have everything in life, but actually, when you add it all up, they haven’t got anything that truly counts. They’ve wasted their time and energy on stuff that doesn’t matter.

You can try and live life your way, but Jesus came and announced himself to be THE WAY. No need for holy SatNav.

Follow him.

So you let him in the car. He’s a welcome passenger – good for a bit of advice when you need it.

J John says there is no doubt that for most Christians, Jesus is in the car. Maybe he is in the passenger seat. Perhaps he’s a back seat driver trying to grab our attention.

I’ll listen to him occasionally. I’ll go the way I want to go. I’ll trust my own intuition and wisdom. I’ll go the same way as everyone else seems to be going.

Maybe when I get stuck I’ll call on his help.

I don’t seem to know very much about the presence of Jesus in my life.

He needs to be in the driving seat; not me.

J John goes further and makes the point with some Christians that the situation is even worse. Jesus is not only not driving, he’s in the car, but he’s in the boot.

Some Christians put him in there to take him to church, where they get him out for an hour or so a week, and then they put him away again and drive home.

No one can see the difference in these people’s lives that being a follower of Jesus brings. The rest of the time they live for themselves. They buy the same stuff. They have the same ambitions as their colleagues. They even play fast and loose with their relationships.

Jesus needs to be in the driving seat; not them.

Perhaps they’re like Peter. Jesus says a lot of good stuff, but some of it is just too hard. He can’t really mean that literally.

Or maybe they’ve stopped hearing Jesus all together.

You see Jesus does not call his followers to do anything that he himself was not prepared to do.

He is our supreme example.

But he is much more than an example.

He is a Saviour.

He was ready to suffer even though he is God.

He was ready not just to become a man, not just to suffer, but also to die.

The way of suffering was his victory. His way of suffering is our hope.

His victory over death, which his apprentices seemed to be oblivious to, when he mentioned it, is a victory over our death too if we will trust in him.

His life is our life. Life in all its fullness.

There’s a cost to following him for sure, but it is THE WAY. The only way that makes sense. And it will be worth it, for Jesus will bring his reward.

Ask him into your lives, to take complete control. To take the driver’s seat. Get it the right way round.

Follow HIM.

But maybe you’ve done that. Hopefully you’re not one of those Sunday Christians who keeps Jesus in the boot out of harm’s way.

If you are, remember Jesus is for life not just for Sundays. He is there in every part of your life if you will let him be.

Or if Jesus is just an occasional advisor, then think again.

Maybe there are just parts of your life that you want to keep as they are. You really don’t want Jesus changing things too much.

It’s all about surrender.

It is about recognising one very important fact, as John Ortberg shares in his book “The me I want to be”:

“There is a God. It’s not you.”

As the song went “Everybody wants to rule the world”.

But it is God’s job to be God.

Let Jesus live in you by his Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is the one who will enable you to live in this way.

To be filled with the Spirit is not so much about receiving more of the Holy Spirit. It is about the Holy Spirit having more of us.

Putting our lives in the hands of the one we can really trust.

Let’s think about our response this morning.

It’s time to surrender:

  • Your life to God
  • Your plans
  • Your ambitions
  • Your finances
  • Your ministry for him
  • Your reputation

To you Jesus wants to say “I’m in the driving seat; not you”.

Mike + the Mechanics: Still flying


Mike & the Mechanics at Plymouth Pavilions 3.3.17

Great music gigs in Plymouth in the South West of the U.K are like the proverbial omnibus. Nothing for ages and then 2 big shows come along at once.

It’s months since the tickets were booked but now here we are. The calendar in the kitchen simply marked “Ant + Bev’s night out”. Parts 1 and 2 actually.

Mike & the Mechanics this week. Elbow next. Wonderful indeed.

This is the third time that my wife and I have seen the Mechanics. The first occasion was 26 May 1999 with the two Pauls, Carrack and Young promoting the criminally underrated “M6”. Presumably an early birthday treat. My memory is that the sound was not great.

Then again on 15 May 2011 (6 years ago?!) with the new line up including vocalists Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar (thanks to the oracle Alan Hewitt for providing the dates!), touring their new album “the Road”.

My memories of that night are that the band were impressive. The new singers were a good fit, neatly slotting in Roachford for Carrack and Howar for Young. The set list seemed to be on the short side.

What struck me though was the apparent lack of confidence in their new songs. They were touring to promote a recently released album, but played only 2 or 3 songs from the new CD, one of them a totally different interpretation “ I don’t do love”.

The band have been back to Plymouth since but I passed up the opportunity as there was no new material and there seemed to be little point in my mind.

The double header of Elbow and Mechanics seemed too good to miss and, as the date got nearer it also became clear that a new album “ Let me fly” was on its way. A first song “Don’t know what came over me” got a radio premiere a few days before on Radio 2 ( the song did not feature in the set).

This news was greeted online by the inevitable prog snobbery (“it’s not prog!”). As a dyed in the wool all eras Genesis fan, I have found so much to enjoy in the various side projects, not to mention a lot of musical common ground with the wife, which ultimately enabled me to introduce her to the “proper” prog classic stuff.

So I wondered, after 6 years how are this band doing? And are they ready to back their new music before a live audience over a month before anyone will otherwise get to hear it.

Support act Ben McElvey played a 35-40 minute set. A singer songwriter, Ben was ideal. I’m not a fan of support acts as I have said before, but his tunes were catchy, just him and his guitar. He is plainly enjoying the experience of this tour.

As the Mechanics took the stage, my question about the new stuff was quickly answered. The opener “Are you ready?” Was the first of half a dozen new songs exposed to the masses (interestingly nothing featured from “the Road”, “M6”, or the miss hit “Rewired”). As the title suggested it was an ideal anthemic start up number enabling Howar to get into full voice.

Rutherford, suited, was looking in superb shape for a man of 66. My wife and I both commented on a) how slim he is b) what a fine head of hair he has (unlike some of his former working colleagues).

“Another Cup of Coffee” is introduced by Roachford as a song for the band to expresso themselves. Who knew it? Mike’s Mechanics are comedians too!

The tour advertised as the Word of Mouth 2017 tour is not though one of these tours where a whole album is showcased. The first of just two songs from that album is “Get up”. But hey this is Plymouth so nobody did. Andrew and Tim pogo-ed their way through an energetic performance.

“Silent running” followed.

Two more new songs followed, “Save the world” and “The best is yet to come”.

The next song is introduced by band leader Rutherford after a conversation about school bands. Roachford was in a school band called The School Band. “What was the name of your school band, Mike?”

“Genesis”.

Priceless deadpan song intro.

The band launches into an exhilarating rendition of Mike’s 1986 protest song “Land of confusion”, Howar’s vocal really suiting the Genesis songs. As well as the music, I couldn’t help thinking, if he thought this was a land of confusion in 1986, what about now in 2017? Imagine the Genesis video reworked with May for Thatcher and Trump for Reagan!!!!

2 new songs are then given the acoustic treatment. “High life” and “Wonder”.

The title track from the new album is next up, followed by a title track from the archives “Beggar on a beach of gold”, Howar giving it his all.

Time for another tangent as Roachford introduces his own hit “Cuddly toy” It’s a tour de force performance by singer and band alike. It’s also ironically the first standing ovation of the night. Somewhat belatedly Plymouth takes the invitation to “Get up!”

One more Genesis diversion with “ I can’t dance”, starting with just Howar and Rutherford on stage. Mercifully the silly walk is omitted although a short walking routine from Mike sends Tim stumbling backwards into stage equipment. Like a professional he carries on.

“Over my shoulder” is another song to get the intimate acoustic treatment. Keyboardist (and part time bass and acoustic bass player) Luke Juby gets a good reception for the whistling solo. Multi talented musicians!

The band is completed by Gary Wallis on drums and percussion and Anthony Drennan, whose guitar credits include the Corrs and Genesis among others, on guitar and bass.

The set closes with another big number for Howar. A personal favourite from the Paul Young catalogue “All I need is a miracle”. He’s a great showman is Tim, commanding the stage, showing his background in stage and musical. It’s another standing ovation and the band leave the stage to rapturous applause.

2 encores follow. “The Living Years” still hits the emotional spot, with Roachford in fine voice.

Finally “Word of Mouth” which is another crowd pleaser. Whether Howar had his West East North South geography quite correct I don’t know but no one cared.

During this song we’re transported to a full on rock show as each band member is given their solo spot. Roachford gives his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. In a parallel universe former public schoolboy Rutherford lets rip into “Purple Haze” and Wallis is handed an extended drum solo, before the final audience singalong.

It’s a great night. The Mechanics are still in good health and sounding great. And looking forward to the new album which we are regularly reminded is out on 7 April. My mum will be 88 that day? Maybe an idea for a present. Err no…

A couple of dishonourable mentions. To the chap who had to be escorted out after about 20 minutes of the set, unable to walk in a straight line (hope he thinks he got value for money). And to my neighbour who spent all night texting.

T shirt purchased at the merch stand, on the way out I overheard someone say “we’re back here next Thursday” . Me too!

Sermon blog post: Make my joy complete

Philippians 2:1-11

It is a wonderful thing to lift our voices in worship. To praise God for all that he has done for us, particularly through Jesus.

The centre piece of our reading this morning, was probably an early Christian hymn, celebrating the sacrificial love of Jesus our saviour. And his restoration to his rightful place.

But the passage we read reminds us that our acts of worship together in our church fellowships have to stand in a greater context. That goes far beyond the confines of a church building. Or a certain period of time on a Sunday. That permeates every part of our lives.

So elsewhere the apostle Paul could encourage his readers in Rome to offer up their bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

True worship will affect our hearts and emotions but will also affect our behaviour towards one another in our churches and also our everyday attitudes and actions and words and aspirations.

There is no part of our lives that should not be worship.

1. Make my joy complete

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is one where joy is a hallmark. It is one of the threads that runs through the whole letter.

Joy so often as we see it equates with what we’re going through in our lives. It’s those good experiences in our lives that make us happy.

But this letter reminds us that true joy or happiness is not dictated by the ups and downs of life. It runs much deeper.

In the final chapter he encourages them “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice!”

It’s in that context that he makes his claim “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” – a verse we so often rip out of context.

For Paul’s circumstances were not what we would think as happy ones. As he wrote he was in prison. He talks openly about his chains. But he rejoices and he encourages the Philippians “Make my joy complete”.

Paul is already rejoicing as he writes. In the opening chapter, he exclaims:

• “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel”(1:4,5)

• “I will continue to rejoice…for…your prayers”(1:18,19)

He’s rejoicing in their work with him. He’s rejoicing in their prayer support for him. Later in the letter he rejoices at their concern for him.

But he’s cheering them on for more. “Go further. Aim higher. Make my joy complete”.

2. Why “make my joy complete”?:

So why should they listen to Paul? Why should they want to do this for him. Paul gives them some foundations to build on:

• “Encouraged by being united with Christ”

• “Comfort from his love”

• “Fellowship with the Spirit”

• “Tenderness and compassion”

Paul uses the word “if” but it’s pretty clear that he takes the things he says as given for these Christians. You ARE united with Christ. With him and also with each other. So of course you ARE encouraged by that.

You know Jesus’ love. So you ARE comforted – strengthened.

You have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, but also in the Spirit with one another. The Spirit brings unity among his people.

You ARE tender and compassionate.

So as a church fellowship in Philippi, with all those incentives, “make my joy complete”.

3. How to “make my joy complete”:

So what is it Paul is looking for? He wants them to look at themselves. But more than that he wants them to look at each other. He wants them to look closely at the group of people around them in their worship services:

• “Be like-minded”

• “having the same love”

• “Being one in Spirit and purpose”

• “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”

• “in humility consider others better”

• “look not only to your own interests…”

• “…but also to the interests of others”

Unity in the way they think. How hard is that in our church life with so many opinions! So many different interpretations of what scripture says to us. What a challenge to us even in our own fellowships, quite apart from the other churches we interact with.

Love. Love is the context. Love is the foundation. Love is the atmosphere that must prevail in the church. Paul of course has much to say elsewhere about what that love looks like.

Patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not dishonouring others, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs, not delighting in evil, rejoicing in the truth, protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering.

Even when we struggle to be like minded, that’s the kind of love we need to have in our churches.

Love is about dwelling together in unity and harmony. How sad when in our churches we don’t have love, we don’t live love. We look after no 1.

Be one. Work together. Set your goals together.

Forget about trying to be someone in the church. Put others first. Their interests over yours.

4. The Example of Humility:

He wants to set them an example, and to communicate this, he takes them to that hymn that they know. “Your attitude” he argues, “should be the same as Christ Jesus”.

Remember the song:

• “Christ Jesus…”

• “who being in very nature God…”

• “…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but…”

• “made himself nothing”

• “taking the very nature of a servant”

• “being made in human likeness”

• “and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…”

• “and became obedient to death”

• “even death on a cross”

It’s Jesus who is our supreme example. “He was in very nature God. He didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped”.

Paul is not saying that equality with God was something that Jesus had to seek. He already had it. He was and is God.

So that equality was something that he had. It was his to hold. His status was and is beyond dispute.

So in these verses it is not that Jesus decided he will not try to take power by force. He had no need to do that.

Rather he chose to let it go. Not to hang onto his rightful powerful position.

Father and Son. One in fellowship and nature. God of God.

He opens his hands and lets it go. From his rightful place in the boardroom he steps down to the shop floor.

He makes himself nothing. Out of choice he becomes a nobody.

He lays aside his Godness. And he becomes a servant. Serving God willingly as master. He’s by nature God. He takes the nature of a servant. One of the workers.

He agreed to become one of us. Almighty God taking on the limitations of a human body. Initially as a baby dependant upon the care and protection of human parents. Subject to the weaknesses and limitations of a human body.

That’s a big step down. At the back of my office by the emergency exit there is a warning sign “high step outside”. I always think that’s wrong. It’s not a high step. It should be “low step outside”. Step out and it’s a long way down!

Jesus exited his glory and took the low step. Way down to humanity.

But Paul says there was more.

As a man he made himself subject to death. The everlasting father. The eternal God. The one who was and is and is to come, allowed himself to face the unthinkable. Death.

Face to face with mortality.

But Paul says there was still more.

It wasn’t just that he would die. It was the way that he knew he would die. Even death on a cross. A criminal’s death. A cursed death. A punishment received by the creator from those he had created. Total humiliation and cruelty.

The lion becomes the lamb.

And none of this was a surprise to Jesus. He accepted all this willingly.

5. The Rewards of humility:

No wonder the early Christians used this as a song of praise. The king who lays aside his majesty.

Who lowers himself willingly to such suffering.

But there is a reward for such humility and suffering. The fact that the early believers lifted up the name of Jesus in praise as they meditated on his sacrifice, was a dull reflection of what God had already done. Back to the next verse of their hymn:

• “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…”

• “…and gave him the name that is above every name”

• “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”

• “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”

• “To the glory of God the Father”.

Because of his loving sacrifice, God the Father restored Jesus to his rightful place. A throne at God’s right hand. A place of equality with God.

It’s his name that is going to be praised. He is supreme and always will be .

It’s to the name of Jesus that everyone will bow. Everyone will kneel before him and recognise him for who he is.

In heaven. And on earth. And under the earth.

It’s a reminder that for all of us we will one day come to kneel before him. For some that will be a joy. For others who have rejected him in this life that will be something to fear.

Every knee will bow to him, whatever our attitude to him has been in this life. He IS LORD.

6. And don’t forget: “YOUR attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus”.

It’s a high theme. It’s cause for praise, but let’s be careful not to let this out of Paul’s original context.

This is not just about Jesus. This is about you. It’s about your church fellowship. It’s about those other church groups in your area. It’s about your fellow Christians around the world.

“Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus”. Sing your hymns of worship. Marvel at what Jesus has done for you. Sing about his sacrifice. But hold on to this.

You’ve got to be the same.

If Jesus is God and he lets go of his rightful position for the sake of others, how should we respond? What is our mindset?

Are we grasping? Are we driven by a striving for status and recognition? Do we want to be somebody? Even in the church?

Jesus isn’t like that. Because of his love for you, he let it go. His was not the selfish ambition or vain conceit, if that were even possible given his deIty. He was the supreme example of humility, considering others and looking to their interests.

If he willingly chose that way then how much more should those who follow him?!

Jesus became a servant to all. We are to seek to serve one another.

Jesus the eternal Son of God faced death and drank it’s dreaded cup.

Jesus challenged his followers to daily take up our cross and follow him. For some that would certainly even mean to face death, as many have done in their devotion for him.

At the very least isn’t it about about putting to death our own ambitions, our own drive, and surrendering to his way? Looking for his plans rather than ours.

And as with Jesus, we need to be reminded that there is a reward ahead. Elsewhere we are told that “for the joy set before him” Jesus “endured the cross”.

God lifted him up and those of us who follow Jesus falteringly in this life, will be lifted up, to a time and place where we will see Jesus face to face and amazingly will become like him.

So let’s seek God’s help. For we can’t do any of this on our own. Jesus is our example and shows to live like this is possible.

But more than that he is our saviour if we trust in him. And the Holy Spirit who lives in us can change our hearts and empower us to live for others.

When we meet Jesus face to face we will spend an eternity singing:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”

AMEN

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The Beatles – From me to you: I should have known better!

And so it was from the beginning…

Wednesday.

29th.

May.

1963.

A big afternoon for me.

I am in St Joseph’s, surrounded by nuns, sisters of Annecy to be specific.

In the delivery room I imagine, because it’s difficult to remember, the nuns carry out their midwifery skills to the sound of music.

There’s nothing a nun likes like a good sing, as we know from the films.

As midwife 1 tosses me to midwife 2, she yells “from me to you”. My Mother Mary looks on as I get an introductory slap, beneath a painting of the Lady Madonna.

It’s a romantic way of putting it. In other words, the day I was born, the Beatles, the Fab Four, were number 1 in the hit parade, their second chart topper “From me to you”.

One of my earliest musical memories is of singing a song, maybe at 2 or 3.

“She loves you yeah yeah yeah” repeatedly. Those were the only words I knew.

I remember too singing “ we all live in a yellow sumber reen”. I guess I would have picked these things up from my brother. I certainly didn’t learn them in church!

History of course is that the Beatles broke up when I was just 7. By the time I was getting seriously into music it was the mid-70’s and the band were history.

Our English teacher at the grammar school would talk about the Beatles, chiefly in relation to evaluating the poetry of Lennon & McCartney.

I remember in my student days I had two double LPs, the red and blue albums. I didn’t keep them. The band that had been there for me from the beginning, was discarded just like that, with no sign of gratitude.

I discovered other bands and would avidly collect everything they released, some still to this day.

Other bands and artists would just be regarded as greatest hits types.

And so in the CD era I bought “1”. The 27 number ones all on one disc. In the back of my mind it occurred to me that there were other songs, some which only managed to reach number 2, others that were never even released as singles.

I don’t know when I started , but probably in my late 40’s, I began to descend the slippery slope that I had with other greatest hits bands by starting to buy their other albums.

I bought a Paul McCartney CD/DVD set “Good evening New York City” and watched through the first half with interest as Beatles songs intermingled with familiar solo songs and other songs that were unknown to me.

Into the second half and the lights were coming on for me. I watched and listened almost open mouthed as the band played:

Back in the USSR

I’m down

Something

I’ve got a feeling

Paperback writer

A day in the life

Let it be

(Live and let die)

Hey Jude

Day tripper

Lady Madonna

I saw her standing there

Yesterday

Helter skelter

Get back

Sgt Pepper’s lonely hearts club band

The End

And it dawned on me, not just that I was watching an extraordinary musician and song writer, but what an amazing body of work he had just run through, leaving plenty of other songs untouched.

Who else could have done that?

Hit after hit after hit. Not to mention that I was now familiar with some of the album tracks which were featured in his set. At 48 I had to admit that the Beatles were now one of my favourite bands. I had all their albums. It had taken almost half a century but I had got it.

Recently I went to the theatre to see the musical “Let it be”. I enjoyed the musicianship, the stage sets, the costumes, the psychedelic effects, the nostalgia.

But more than anything it was about the songs.

At 53 the Beatles are definitely 1 of my top 3 bands, maybe even top 2!

I’m reading the books, listening to the albums, exploring solo work, and watching the DVDs. It’s becoming an obsession. But a beautiful one.

Over the years I had heard people talking about albums like “Rubber soul”, “Revolver”, and “Abbey Road” and now I’m appreciating these as classics.

I listen to those early albums too and feel the raw energy. Whilst I would prefer much of the later stuff, some of those early songs are just so catchy!

Another new film out on DVD. The exploration and the enjoyment continues.

It’s not THE END yet….

Sermon blog: You say you want a resolution?


Daniel 1:1-8

2 Chronicles 20:1-4

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

30 New Year Resolutions!

I’m never entirely sure about New Year resolutions. What is it that is so special about this one time of year?

From a Christian point of view I am never sure whether God is too concerned when January 1st comes round again. I mean when do they celebrate New Year in heaven? Do they cheer the fireworks  with Australia or the UK or the US?

I believe after all that God is the God of new starts, and that that can even happen in July!

Or on a daily basis.

It’s a time of year that gets you thinking though. You look back. Maybe you have some regrets. You look ahead and you think “this year will be different”.

So what will my resolution be?

When it comes to it, after all the questions, I don’t tend to bother.

But there are those who will encourage you, “go on, make a resolution for 2017”.

One internet blogger suggests 29 possible resolutions you can make and none of them on the face of it appear to relate to giving up chocolate, so perhaps I should pay attention. Actually she lists 30:

  1. Start a meditating practice – doesn’t say what precisely.
  2. Learn something new everyday.
  3. Pick up a hobby – if you’ve got time…
  4. Play more.
  5. Eat fewer calories – oh I guessed there might be something like that in there! Possibly chocolate?
  6. Write a business plan.
  7. Move more – get up and get active.
  8. Read more books – for example there are apparently 12 Russian books you need to read before you die!
  9. Be more grateful.
  10. Stop procrastinating. Hmm I need to think about that…
  11. Set aside an hour a day to achieve your dreams.
  12. Spend more time in nature.
  13. Start doing planks everyday – apparently that’s a kind of exercise! It’s nothing to do with the old Tommy Cooper film.
  14. Enjoy the little things.
  15. Become more confident.
  16. Be more conscientious.
  17. Increase your charisma.
  18. Increase your IQ.
  19. Increase your EQ – your emotional intelligence.
  20. Learn a new skill.
  21. Bring more peace into your life.
  22. Be kinder to yourself.
  23. Create a positive attitude.
  24. Strengthen your personal relationship.
  25. Tame your monkey mind. Apparently you have a monkey in your head? Shrug…
  26. Keep a journal.
  27. Get your documents in order. I can make recommendations on that if you wish, though I haven’t brought any business cards with me.
  28. Easy – doesn’t say how far…
  29. Volunteer
  30. Write a blog. Then I suppose you can come up with 29 things for other people to do.

It’s an interesting list and I’m sure there are some good things in there. It strikes me too though, as I often think when I consider making a resolution, that many of them are not things which are really ultimately under my control. For example how can I bring peace into my life? How can I be sure I learn something new every day?

So today I thought we’d take a look at this and maybe make some suggestions for resolutions. You will be glad to know that I have not come up with 29 or 30.

Just 3 will have to do us.

There are 3 occasions in the Bible where people are said to have resolved to do something, and each one I think brings out something that we could all learn from and put into place.

Rather than chronological order we’ll take them in logical order.

In my humble opinion.

1       Resolving to live differently

Daniel and his friends were in exile. They had been taken from Judah by force. Things had gone very wrong in the times of King Jehoiakim. It was the end of the line it seemed for a nation that flouted its covenant with their God.

Daniel and his 3 friends Hananiah, MIshael and Azariah thrived in their new environment, as the book of Daniel tells us. There is no mention of any attempt on their part to flee their captors in Babylon and return to Jerusalem.

They were enrolled in Babylon University in recognition of their physical and intellectual qualities and would all go on to graduate with flying colours and hold positions of great political influence within Babylon.

Whilst they seemed to settle in and be very much part of what was happening around them, there would be occasions when they would stand out from the crowd in other ways. Ways in which they would not compromise their beliefs.

They would never forget their nation and more importantly they would never forget their God. They were quite ready to go against any king’s orders in order to be obedient to their God. And each time God would honour that, famously in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, but also at the start of their time in Babylon.

Daniel made a resolution.

The best food was available to these young men. The very food that the royal family ate. Must have been fantastic, but Daniel resolved “not to defile himself with the royal food and wine”.

Now there’s nothing wrong about good food and wine in itself, but this was a matter of principle. It is most likely the case that the first portion of all meat was sacrificed to the Babylonian gods.

Daniel and his friends would not be associated with this. He suggested a vegetarian diet, washed down with nothing but water.

Their supervisor was sceptical, and no doubt concerned at the king’s reaction to this when it went wrong, but we are told God honoured the initial experiment and the men thrived more than any of the steak eating students.

Daniel and his friends had laid down a marker, putting God first and this set the tone for their lives in Babylon and their extraordinary success.

Success built on a resolution to live differently.

Why don’t you resolve to live differently this year? Dare to be a Daniel.

Not saying you need to be different for the sake of it. Not suggesting that you need to be peculiar or weird.

But God calls to be holy. A people who are attractive as they seek to live like Jesus. Doing and saying those things which he taught.

Holding a different set of values. Causing people around us to ask questions. What is it that makes the difference in you? Why do you react differently to difficulties? Why do you seem to be calm when everyone else is stressed? What is it that drives you if it’s not money and success?

2       Resolving to seek God’s guidance

Some time before these events, Jehoshaphat was a king of Judah, reigning in Jerusalem for 25 years. He didn’t always get everything right but he is described in the history books of the Bible as one who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”. Many of the kings of Judah and Israel couldn’t say that! Even on a part-time basis.

We are not told it was January 1st, but Jehoshaphat made a resolution. In the face of a very real danger. Judah’s enemies were getting ready to attack.

Messengers came to Jehoshaphat telling tales of a “vast army” approaching, and we are told that the king was alarmed. Judah, it seems, would have been largely outnumbered.

As a king he could call upon his armies. He had commanders who could advise on the correct strategy for defence and offence against a bigger enemy, but though he was alarmed Jehoshaphat did not panic.

Neither did he go the obvious route and tell his commanders to sort it all out.

Jehosphaphat made that resolution.

There and then – on the spot. He “resolved to enquire of the Lord”. In the midst of grave danger his strategy was to ask for God’s guidance. To pray.

And not only did he pray but he called his whole people to prayer and fasting. Imagine if our political leaders called us to do that today. The contempt they would face!

And so the people got together and prayed as a nation. “God what do you want?”

The rest of the story is worth reading.

In a surprisingly straight forward way, Judah asked God, and God replied. Speaking through a prophet.

“The battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle”.

Yes they were to march, but Jehoshaphat’s trust in God’s promise was so strong, that they were to do so as an army of fighters with an army of singers marching in front.

In obedient trust the army was led by a choir praising God for “the splendour of his holiness”.

“Give thanks for the Lord for his love endures forever”. It’s a funny way to fight!

Whatever the intention, Judah did not have to fight its enemies. They fought each other. The job was done for them.

A victory won on a resolution to ask for God’s guidance and a victory built on the praise and worship of the God they trusted.

You’re not a king. You don’t have that kind of status or responsibility. But maybe a bit like Jehoshaphat you feel under attack.

Maybe as you enter 2017 you feel there are some big challenges ahead for you. Or the world just seems to be one scary place with everything that is going on.

Whether it’s in your family, your workplace or the wider world, it may be that you are alarmed.

So why not make that resolution to “enquire of the Lord”.

Ask God for the solution. Seek his wisdom for the situation. Recognise that “the battle belongs to the Lord”. He can be trusted.

  1. Resolving to trust the cross of Jesus

Paul was God’s messenger. A religious man of great learning, who having set out to destroy Jesus’ followers had become one himself. His life turned 180 degrees by the original “Damascus Road experience”.

He had met the risen Jesus, the one who he was persecuting by persecuting his followers.

And now his mission changed. To spread the news of Jesus the Christ. And he was prepared to travel in the process.

In his travels he and his companions came to the city of Corinth. Like most parts of Greece, Corinth liked to get philosophical. A good intellectual debate would go down a storm. There was nothing they liked more than human wisdom.

While there may have been times for intellectual debate, and elsewhere it seems Paul was quite prepared to get involved in it, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians later he made it clear that his approach when he visited had been a different one.

The church at Corinth was pretty mixed up. There was amazing evidence that God was at work in them in extraordinary ways, but plenty of evidence too to show that they struggled to live out their faith and even to get on with one another.

A large part of their problem was that obsession with wisdom. They had their favourites. Paul. Apollos. Peter. Who was the most eloquent? Who was the wisest, the cleverest? The suggestion seems to be that Apollos hit the spot in the intellectual stakes.

But ultimately to share the gospel of Jesus is not a matter of intellectual persuasion. Paul recognised that there was a greater power at work and it was that power that would change people’s hearts and lives.

Paul did not choose the way of wisdom. Rather he came in “weakness and fear, and with much trembling”. Perhaps they saw him as a pretty unimpressive character as he came to them.

But Paul had one message. One foundation on which his trust lay.

Paul made a resolution.

He resolved to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

That is what he preached. He preached Jesus. He preached that salvation comes through the cross. And though at face value the message may not have been the sort the Corinthians were looking for, the power of God was plainly at work through Paul.

It was that Holy Spirit power that had changed people’s lives and they would have known that and, it seems, needed to be reminded of that as Paul wrote to them.

So perhaps you could resolve to be like Paul. Your beliefs might not be those of those around you. It may be considered foolish to believe in Jesus and his cross and resurrection in 2017, but Paul proved it to be true in his life.

As a church as you go into 2017, how will you communicate the good news of Jesus with those around? Do you look for a new wisdom? Do you author a new message which will be more successful than the old one?

Will you really try to rely on your wisdom and your abilities or will you rely on the power of God the Holy Spirit through the death of Jesus on the cross?

The cross of Jesus always has been and always will be fully effective to save us.

It justifies us before God the judge.

It brings about atonement, taking away the barrier between us and God, making us at one with him.

It reconciles us to a relationship with God .

It seals our adoption as children of God the Father.

It pays the price of our redemption. We are bought back from slavery to sin.

It brings the promise of resurrection, following in the steps of Jesus for an eternal life.

It sanctifies us – purifying us and enabling us to live differently.

It  brings the promise of glorification – that one day we will see our saviour Jesus face to face, and be like him.

Wouldn’t we all rather see the power of God in our lives rather than struggle on in our own way?

So this year tame the monkey in your mind, do planks and read 12 Russian books before you die.

Or:

1) Resolve to live differently

2) Resolve to seek God’s guidance and

3) Resolve to trust in the cross of Jesus.

I would suggest those to you.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas sermon blog: Let it be

LET IT BE

Luke 1:26-38

CHOSEN

It’s a great thing to be chosen.

• To be chosen as a winner of a dozen doughnuts or a new car.

• To be chosen to represent your school in the football team.

• To be chosen for a school or college

• To be chosen for a job with prospects.

• To be chosen for the Olympics.

• To be chosen as a husband or wife.

• To be chosen for promotion.

• To be chosen for a £250,000 investment in your business by Lord Sugar.

• To be chosen for a Nobel prize.

• To be chosen as prime minister.

• To be chosen for entry to the rock & roll hall of fame.

You’ll tell everybody you are so fortunate, so honoured, so blessed, and in some cases you might make a speech thanking a long list of people.

So what about being chosen to be the mother of God’s son? How would that feel? And would it be a sheer fluke like winning the doughnuts or a recognition of your talents?

YOUNG LOVE

Our familiar story takes us to Galilee. Nazareth to be more exact. To a young lady, probably just a girl.

She’s already been chosen. By a man called Joseph, who is a man from the line of King David, not royalty himself, but from good stock.

She was pledged to be married to him. And she was a virgin. She was waiting for her wedding day. Saving herself for Joseph.

The young lady is called Mary. It’s an everyday story of romance and family life. Another couple with their hopes and dreams. Elsewhere we’re told that Joseph was a carpenter. He had a trade, he worked with his hands. But they had hopes. Maybe they talked about their plans.

GABRIEL

Out of nowhere heaven steps into that ordinary life and nothing will be the same again.

We know nothing of the setting, but an angel stands before young Mary, with announcement to be made.

We’re told it’s not just any Angel. This is Gabriel, previously depicted in the book of Daniel the prophet, explaining the meaning of Daniel’s mind boggling visions, and explaining God’s mysteries.

From the throne room of God to a humble town, to a young girl. An angel with a mission.

The angel greets her, he tells her that she is favoured. God is with her.

What did Gabriel look like? – we are not told.

We are not told that Mary is startled by his appearance. Maybe he’s in disguise.

But she is alarmed by his words.

“Highly favoured?”

“God is with me?”

“In what way?”

“Why me?”

Mary is about to hear the news.

She has been chosen.

Chosen by God.

FEAR NOT

People who were confronted by angels in the Bible were frequently struck with fear at their appearance. And the most common words from an angel’s lips seemed to be “Fear not!”

Don’t be afraid.

Mary is more troubled by Gabriel’s words. What does this mean? What is he saying?

It’s here that Gabriel speaks “fear not!”

“You don’t need to fear the news that I am bringing you Mary”.

“You don’t need to be afraid because God is pleased with you”.

An angel bringing good news.

It’s a birth announcement. “You are going to have a baby”.

For so many people the sort of news they want to hear more than anything.

One of our own. A family.

But the angel has more to say.

After all, God doesn’t send an angel to announce every baby. That’s usually left to the doctor.

SAVIOUR

We might dream about what we’d like our children to be, but what hopes before they are born? Probably all we hope for is a safe delivery. We take things a step at a time.

Gabriel has more to say.

“Never mind the scan. It’s a boy.”

Well that’s spoiled the surprise!

“Wonder what we’ll call him?”

And you’re going to call him “Jesus”.

“Oh great that’s decided as well!”

A name which means “the Lord saves”.

And, so not surprisingly, this baby will be great!

He will be called the son of the most high. A grand title for the son of a carpenter!

The Lord will give him the throne of David. Joseph and Mary’s baby is going to be a king?

He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. His kingdom will never end.

Forever?

Never ending?

What on earth is this angelic announcement?

Forever is one big word!

What man could reign forever? The questions are swirling round in Mary’s head.

“Who is this baby? Most high? A King? Immortal?”

IMPOSSIBLE

But she apparently voices none of those questions. One thing puzzles her above anything else. It’s a very practical point.

“How can this be? How can this happen to me? How can I be pregnant?”

A virgin. Pledged to be married. Saving herself for the man she loved.

Virgins don’t get pregnant. She must have thought this was going to happen some time in the future when she and Joseph had set up home together.

It can’t be now. Maybe the thought of now didn’t even cross her mind.

If that was the explanation Mary sought she soon knew different.

Gabriel sets things clear. “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you. This is a holy child. The son of God.”

This is NOT Joseph’s child. We are talking seriously supernatural here.

God’s doing miracles again.

“Your older cousin Elizabeth is having a baby even though she can’t. You are having a son in spite of being a virgin”.

When God says something is going to happen it happens.

LET IT BE

Mary must have many questions, but her response is humble and obedient.

“I am God’s servant. I’m ready to do this”.

Chosen.

Gabriel bids farewell.

Mary knows she didn’t imagine this.

It really happened.

God had called her. She had accepted the job of carrying the Son of God. There was enormity to her calling that she surely couldn’t have taken in.

This meeting from out of the blue.

REALLY?!

Time to pass on the good news to her family.

Perhaps it was then as she thought about it, the words started to jumble up. It starts well. “God has called me and I’m obeying him. I’m going to be the mother of God’s son. This must be the messiah!”

What are people going to think of that? “Who does this girl think she is?”

Some young girl getting carried away with her imagination.

As she meets with her cousin Elizabeth, Gabriel’s word is proved to be true. Elizabeth is expecting!

And Mary is full of praise to God. He is totally in control. “All generations are going to call me blessed”.

This is going to be an amazing experience.

At what stage did it hit home that this was going to be anything but an easy ride? As she explained to her family, to Joseph, her friends?

At some point the meaning of Gabriel’s words must have hit like a sledgehammer.

“I’m having a baby. It’s not yours Joseph, it’s God’s. I haven’t been with anyone else. I’m faithful to you and waiting for our wedding day. But the Holy Spirit has helped me conceive”.

Matthew records that Joseph didn’t believe her. Can we really be surprised by that?

He decides to end their relationship quietly. He doesn’t want her to be disgraced or even stoned for adultery.

Her neighbours would see her walking by. Heads would turn as they saw her growing. Engaged to be married (Betrothal was actually a much greater commitment even than that).

People were not so naïve all those years ago that they didn’t know what made a baby.

Joseph and Mary couldn’t wait, said the rumour.

Maybe it’s not his, said another.

Tongues would wag. Heads would nod. Eyes would wink.

“Oh and this is a good one – she says it’s a virgin birth!”

The talk had started and I would guess that the talk never went away.

A disgrace. A joke.

There would always be talk of that family. Perhaps they would never fully be respected.

But Mary had said “let it be”. I’m ready for this calling.

REALITY

And as Jesus grew up, he left the family business, and gathered a following. Mother Mary encouraged people at a wedding with no wine to “do whatever he tells you”, in order to save the day.

His first miracle. Water to wine.

He taught great crowds. He stirred up a reaction. She and Jesus’ brothers would wonder “is he out of his mind? We’d better bring him home, before he gets in trouble”.

But Mary had said “Let it be”.

What were Mary and Elizabeth’s hopes for their special sons? Jesus and John. A King on David’s throne? His right hand man?

Whatever crossed their minds I bet it never occurred to either of them that they would both be dead in their early 30s.

John beheaded by King Herod.

Jesus nailed to a cross. And

Mary stood at the foot of that cross and saw her son Jesus die. As an old man had once predicted “ a sword will pierce your own soul too”.

But Mary had said “Let it be”.

“Let it be to me as you say. I will follow God into the unknown.”

FOLLOW

I wonder what does it mean for you and I to follow God’s call on our lives. Of course God might share some details, but basically we don’t know.

We don’t know what lies ahead of us if we commit our lives to him, and follow him, with his help.

We don’t know whether when we follow his call on our lives, even if it’s plain we’re doing his will, if it will end in rejoicing or in tears.

For Mary there would be misunderstanding and rejection and confusion and the worst kind of pain. And ultimately great resurrection joy.

Who would understand or believe what she had to say. Who believed in virgin births? Who believed in a God who does miracles?

Things haven’t changed too much. Perhaps we face ridicule or rejection, or maybe just disinterest as we try to share what God has done in our lives with those around us.

Maybe even as we listen to ourselves we think “ how can I expect anyone to understand what I’m saying?”

Perhaps the call that God has made on our lives, has seen us walk a road which has been a road of great suffering, perhaps walking in the valley of the shadow of death itself.

There’s been a cost to relationships or reputation or careers or even risk to life for many who follow Jesus.

But Mary said “let it be”. Will you and I?

WHY MARY?

There’s a question that is still in my mind.

Why Mary?

What was it that made Mary the ideal choice to bear the son of God, to feed him, to protect him, to provide for him, to teach him?

We are not told. All we know of Mary to begin with is what read here.

She is highly favoured. The Lord is with her.

Indeed.

Most highly favoured lady as the song says. What a privilege.

The Lord is with her. That couldn’t be more literally true!

The word favoured suggests that God was pleased with her. She was chosen for a reason.

Whereas we are told for example why God chose Noah to build the ark, because of righteousness, we are not told why God chooses young Mary for this greatest of tasks.

I think it is implied though in the way that Mary reacts to the visit from Gabriel.

There is humility, there is purity, there is honesty, there is obedience, there is faith in a God of miracles, there is trust in him against the odds.

Often in our churches we can be wary of those who over stress the importance of Mary in Christianity. The result of that can be we ignore her all together, but we all need to be clear that she was a very special lady. She wouldn’t get everything right. Sometimes she would question her son’s words and behaviour.

But what an example to us of humble faith.

And there’s a lesson for all of us. None of us can claim that the salvation we receive in Jesus is a reward for our goodness. It is all about God’s grace. But who are the people who God is going to choose to do his work? Surely it is those who are already demonstrating just something of that Mary like faith.

People who when they hear God’s call to service, to costly living, to believe for great things, who even in times of trouble, whisper:

“LET IT BE”.

Mary could say “let it be”, because she was ready to face the unknown future of misunderstanding, danger, ridicule, pain – because this was no ordinary son.

KING FOREVER

This Jesus was born to be saviour. This Jesus was God the Son. This Jesus was an everlasting king.

His life would be cut short, but that was all part of his plan. The greatest plan of all. The plan for God to step into this world in the form of an ordinary looking baby.

Where God becomes one of us, and lives among us. Where a human face and hands and voice can show us exactly what God is like.

Where God in a human body demonstrates power over nature, and sickness and evil powers and the sin in people’s hearts and actions.

Where God the Son teaches the crowds the way to God

the Father and challenges those who rely on their religion to see them right with God.

A man who tells his listeners that there is nothing they can do to earn acceptance by God, and abundant, here and now, and eternal, forever after, LIFE.

But a God-man who does what we cannot do. Who lives the perfect life, and offers that life of perfection, to pay a price that we cannot pay, to bear our sin and wrongdoing on a cross of torture. That we might be forgiven.

That whoever trusts in him will know God’s favour and grace in the most amazing way.

And a God-man who goes on to prove that not only does he have authority over nature, and sickness, and evil, and sin, but has power to BLOW DEATH APART through his resurrection.

Mary said “LET IT BE” and God used her to carry the saviour of the world.

Your saviour, if you will trust him.

If God calls you to commit your life to follow him today, say “LET IT BE”.

If he is calling you to serve him, say “LET IT BE”.

Let it be the most wonderful meaningful joyful Christmas in 2016.