Christmas seems to be getting crazier every year… more things to do… more things to buy… more sales… more tinsel… more… more… more.
And if you’re a Christian like me you hear the same stories over and over again… and while these stories are often well intended or even true after a while they start to sound a bit stale… and that’s sometimes hard to focus on what the real meaning of Christmas is.
For me it’s about one word that translated in English means three words:
Emmanuel: God with us!
Think about it GOD… the creator of the universe and everything in it… someone who is so HUGE that it’s often easier for people to intellectualise him away… to say “I can’t even think of how that would work… therefore it can’t be true” than to think of the vastness of a God who really wants to spend time with you… and that’s part of the irony isn’t it?
A God who doesn’t need us… but wants us, while we desperately and totally need God and yet we don’t really want him most of the time.
God WITH: he wasn’t just God who studied us from afar like some ant farm experiment… he was WITH us.. he came and lived with us… not as a King… not as a person of stature… but one of us… the ordinary… the plain… the broken… and he suffered and he died in a way that none of us would never be able to understand… one commentator calls it the most vicious way any person could invent to kill someone else.
And yet knowing this God came down… to be WITH us… knowing that we’ll reject him.
God with US: You and me… Jesus came to die for us… and he dies on the cross knowing our past sins… and our future sins… and yet he went and died for us anyway… because there was no other way for us to have our sins removed
We can earn our way to heaven… we can’t beg our way to heaven… we can’t even evangelize our way to heaven…
The only way is through Jesus…
Emmanuel… God With US…
When we look at Christmas through the lens of that one word… EMMANUEL… it changes everything.
Why aren’t we telling our kids this all the time… Why aren’t we passing this on?
Don’t we want our kids to experience God’s grace?
Isn’t this the Good News we want them to hear… that there is hope in this world… that there is something to live for in this world… and it’s far bigger than you and it’s far bigger than me… and that’s GREAT… that’s the way it should be… because anything that would be in our control we would stuff up so monumentally that it would never work…
And yes it will be hard – but if life were easy… then we wouldn’t need to rely on God would we?
Emmanuel: God with US… and he’s still with us… so why do you only remind yourself of that at Christmas?
The word awesome is a bit of a funny word isn’t it?…
Awesome… it’s like “I have some awe… but that’s all”… yet we use it to mean “Wow… that’s more than amazing”
An even funnier word is ‘Awful’… it’s obviously a bad word… yet it would seem it should be a much happier word… “I’m full of AWE”
Either way… I like the word AWESOME… it may seem at times to be over used… but I genuinely like it as a word… there is nothing better than hearing someone say to you “You’re awesome”… and it feels just as good telling someone “You’re pretty awesome”…
It warms up your heart… it’s one of those ‘Awwwwww moment’ words
Yet why do we think of ourselves less than Awesome?
You see not only are you made in God’s image… but you were saved from Sin, even when you weren’t worth saving.
Do you see that?
God really likes you… he thinks that you’re awesome enough to save you, even when you had turned away from him… even when you didn’t want to know him…
And he did what only he could do… you couldn’t save yourself… but God loved you so much that he sent his only son to die in your place.
You see you matter to God… anyone would be happy to take a hit for someone who was good… but for Jesus to DIE for us in our wretched state only shows how much you mean to God.
God thinks that you’re pretty awesome.
So why do we hide away in our own self pity… or knock ourselves down?
The rest of the world tries to knock us down… so why should we?
“let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:6 (The Message)
God loves you so much… and not in a cliche sticky sweet way… but God actually likes you… he really likes you!!
He thinks… You’re AWESOME.
I wish you could know that for yourself…
not because of what you’ve done…
or look like…
but because you are God’s masterpiece (Eph 2:10)… God doesn’t make junk.
In this day and age there are heaps of people looking for ‘spiritual enlightenment’ and it’s understandable… because we were made as both physical and spiritual beings…
One of the wisest guys who ever lived a guy called King Solomon once said this near the end of his life
“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11
You see Solomon could see that people had a craving… a yearning… a longing to be set free… not only physically… but spirituality.
He realised it was something that was planted in his very soul.
The problem with a whole lot of the religious systems out there is that they are all about what YOU can do to get to a better place… Now I know myself well enough to know that I just can’t trust myself enough to put that sort of pressure on myself. I mean how good is good enough… surely if this was a make or break deal from getting to a better place surely ‘The Universe’ would have made things a little clearer… but ‘The Universe’ has given us nothing…
I mean where do we stop being good enough? When we’re kids? If so… what age do we stop being innocent?
And I can understand the need to get out and be one with nature… but there is a fine line with being in Awe of what is around us and worshiping it.
You see while nature may make us FEEL better… it can’t save us… or help us… or free us.
There seems to me that there is something bigger than we can see or imagine… and THAT is the kind of God I want to worship.
There is no point worshiping something that is just within reach… something that is just a little bit bigger than our imagination…
So you can be one with nature…
Or you can be free to enjoy life… and a life in ALL it’s fullness.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what sort of knowledge I would like to impart to our Children…
What sort of Legacy will I leave?
I could play football with them, I could sing and play guitar with them, I could act crazy and have a lot of laughs with them… and it seems to me that all that is good… in fact it’s very good, and I would love to spend more time doing that.
But it still leaves me with the question…
What sort of Legacy will I leave?
The guy who has been considered the wisest guy who ever lived said this:
Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
- Proverbs 22:6 New Living Translation -
And it got me thinking… I could teach them all sorts of cool stuff.
I could teach them music and about rugby and the Bible… HOWEVER…
I had this sudden prompting, that all that stuff (yes including reading the Bible) means nothing unless my kids know who they are.
It’s about application…
And it has many layers…
As a Goose-kid: (part of OUR family)
We don’t steal, we don’t hit, we respect each other, we don’t swear, we are polite, we invite people into our play rather than exclude… etc
As a Christian: (part of God’s family)
We believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, We believe that Jesus died for us and paid the price for our sin on the cross… etc
Of Course I could add to the list for days…
but the more we start to unpack all these things the more our children start to have as sense of not only what they are… but who they are… and they understand why some of the things that we do are different to what the rest of the world does.
It’s not because the rest of the world is wrong… but because we (our team) play by a different play book… a different set of rules.
The plan is that as we grow up we develop an understanding so that as our children venture out into the world… we can stand… and not give the standard lecture that we were all given as we head into the unknown…
But we can say…
“Hey REMEMBER who you are…”
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
Deuteronomy 6:6 NLT
In a world full of electronic sounds, remakes and dub-overs, remixes and auto tune it is great to hear a sound that doesn’t manufacture a foot tap with a Phat bass line… but a sound that makes your soul smile with the simplicity of the song… the honesty of the band and the melody and rhythm that mirrors life….
There seems to be a ground swelling of people who are looking for ‘real music’ and bands like ‘Rend Collective Experiment’ New Zealand’s ’Avalanche City’ with their single ‘Love Love Love’ the rawkus ’Mumford and Sons’ and the list goes on…
Now you can add to this list ‘The Vespers’ Indie music’s new secret weapon… armed with ukulele, banjo, love and some really catchy tunes, you can expect hearing some more from this group.
‘The Fourth Wall’ is the bands second album and it has all the potential to do some great things… and while the album has moments of honey sweet sounds and effervescent bubbles of pop sensitivity there is so much more depth and width to this album that you feel yourself drawn into the music.
Like a lot of bands with siblings (lead vocalists Callie and Phoebe Cryar are sisters and Bruno and Taylor Jones are brothers) there is a sound of familiarity… not familiarity in the music but in the sound that is produced… it doesn’t feel forced but feels ‘worn in’… comfortable… nurtured and it is a real credit to The Vespers to be able to have you pulled into the sound.
This album is rooted in faith and in life… and the sounds echo that.
All through the album there is a real folk and roots sound often tinged with pop… or gospel… or bluegrass or gospel spiritual but it is organic and it is real and it is good.
This band is all about people and connecting with them and the title of the album ‘The Fourth Wall’ is a extension of that belief. The fourth wall, in theatre terms, is the invisible wall between the audience and performers… The Vespers are becoming masters of breaking down those walls… and with their great music… their honest lyrics and melodies to pull you in… this is the album to either break you out of your coldest Winter… or help lift your warmest Summer.
Here’s a taste of what The Vespers do best.
A couple of weekends ago I went to one of the very few weekends that my wife and I have together every year… and both Emma I are really blessed to have family who allow us do this one thing every year.
Now it’s not a romantic getaway in a house over looking the sea… and it’s not even time getting spa treatments… It is however one of the most important times of our year, and if at all possible we wouldn’t miss it.
It’s our CM (Creative Ministries) retreat.
This is the time when all our creative types… from musicians, to artists, to song leaders and songwriters within our church go and refocus… a time to add to the creative way we do corporate worship in church. Where we as a creative group can go and really seek God. Specifically it is a great start to the year and sets the tone (no pun intended) for the rest of the year.
This year, God was there in a real tangible way and some people were able to ‘do business’ with him in areas that were left un-dealt with.
God touched me in a real way… but there wasn’t a sense of ‘doing business’ it was a real feeling his presence type thing.
After a time of ministry I went to my room to finish a book I was one chapter off finishing (The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson) a great book on prayer (Oh the irony)… I had almost finished when two of my close friends came in to check I was ok (as I dashed off in a bit of a hurry to finish my book…)
I said “I was fine” and really didn’t think there was anything more to say… and then they both asked if they could pray for me.
I said “yes” of course… if there any time that God can touch your life I found it’s best to take it with BOTH hands… anyway.
Jo started praying and she said somethings that God had placed on her heart… and they were accurate and they were full of truth and love and in that moment… I was broken… I started to cry and God started to deal with some stuff in parts of my life that I had just left to sort out themselves.
It was a new chapter… a clean page.
So far this year, one of the memorable moments is what I have been calling ‘The Great Ambush of 2012′… if I hadn’t of rushed away and spent time by myself I wonder if I would have had that moment… I just don’t know.
What I do know is this…
- I have close friends who are honest enough to come to me to check I’m OK…
- I have close friends who are humble enough to ask if they can pray for me and to seek God for me…
- I have friends who are brave enough to say what God has place on their hearts…
- And I have friends who are willing to ambush me… because they don’t want me to miss out on what God had in store for my life.
- New Years: From here we can do ANYTHING! (screaminggoose.wordpress.com)
- Book 2 of 2012: “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson (jjsanders.wordpress.com)
- We need a new normal (screaminggoose.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: The Circle Maker (iowaministrynetwork.wordpress.com)
I have nothing against Christian schooling… in fact 4 of my 5 kids started off in Christian schooling and like many Christians we wanted to give our Children a Christian education… and like many other Christians we used the excuse that our local schools weren’t up to scratch.
It soon dawned on me… as Christians the Bible says that we are “In the world but not of it…”, it says we were “sent out like lambs among wolves” – so here is the thing – why are we spending our time away from the world and not in it, and spending our times being lambs in a flock?
In New Zealand we are have Christian schools, were Christians get preferential options to be a part of that school while non-Christians have to be on a waiting list.
Isn’t this the opposite of what Christians are to be?
We have Non-Christians who want their kids to be given a Christian education… and we’re telling them no.
We have schools within our community that are struggling… and as Christians we are choosing to walk away from them. Wouldn’t it be great if the Christians had the kids IN their community… their kids in their local community schools… the parents on the boards of the schools.
As I said I understand the idea of giving your kids a good schooling… and I understand the idea of giving your children a CHRISTIAN schooling… but what if a true Christian schooling is actually in our community in our local schools and learning what it is to live as a Christian in a world that doesn’t see them as ‘normal’.
I myself have been apart of the Christian school system, and I loved it… however I know people who were part of the same system that have drifted so far away from God and the church that I have to wonder… what is the point of the Christian school?
We can’t teach our kids to live as leaders and role models within our communities if we aren’t part of those very communities that we are telling them to lead… because all that happens is that we find that our kids are out of touch of what people in the ‘real world’ are struggling with.
We can’t be a part of the change in our communities because we are choosing to stay away from them, we don’t mingle with them we don’t have contact with them and we wonder why we can’t reach them.
Our God sent his son to Earth to live as one of us… among us… he spent his time with those who needed him most.
How can we to change our world… if we aren’t in the world?
Someone asked me why I did my prayer time so early in the morning, and I answered them “Because the first thing I want in my mind was God stuff…”
At the time is was more about first fruits, which is giving things to God first… however the more I think about it and the more I dwell about it the more I realise that it is only part of the reason.
For me it all started when I was looking to find time to spend reading the Bible and just meditating on Gods word, but I was always to busy at night, so I decided to bite the bullet and get up early in the morning… I was really eager at first and started getting up as early as 4:30… but I kept falling asleep… so I pegged it back a bit more (now 6:00 am) – but it’s great as long as I set my alarm it’s just me and God… there is very little chance of me being asked out for dinner, or have someone just ‘pop in’ – but just as important and anything it sets the tone for the day.
I wonder if part of the reason people don’t have a close relationship with God… is because they don’t have God as part of their rhythm of life. It’s so much easier to go out to the movies or to have coffee with someone than spend time with God.
Putting God in a regular part of your life… rather than just on Sunday.
Life’s a funny thing, and something that it seems to me quite regularly is challenge me… not just a ponder… not just a “oh I wish…” but a “whoa!” moment.
It happened to me today.
Someone I know has a website (now I’m keeping it vague on purpose to protect them) – but one of her followers had asked her why she settles for ”fake love” and told her that she “shouldn’t settle for that” to which she replied “it’s kind of too late for that now; my reputation will get only the wrong kind of people ‘fighting for me’.” – now this made me really sad… and it got me thinking “Is this all love has become?” a place for us to use each other for a quick fix of what we call “love” only to find that we are stuck with a ‘bad reputation’ that we are hating because we want to be better than that… but to scared to leave that behind because we have built up protection to help cope with that… I mean leaving that would mean potentially loosing friends.
And that is a really tough question and it’s something that more and more people are dealing with… they hate who they have become, but they’ve been living it so long they have started to believe it… they’ve started to live in this world for so long that it feels like it’s impossible to get out.
And to be honest none of it was a big surprise to me… HOWEVER… this is what challenged me…
IMAGINE if she wasn’t the only one in the group thinking this?
IMAGINE if others were thinking the same thing?
You see what would happen is that people would stop pushing each other down into a world that they are trying to get out of… and they would have created a group of people that work as a support group… people who understand… people who have been there with you.
In the Bible it says this:
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10
You see if you are in a hole that seems impossible to get out of… then you might need help outside yourself. Anything that is keeping you down, isn’t where you are meant to be, you were actually created for much more than that… even if your friends aren’t willing to change, you can.
God wants to give you LIFE… and a satisfying life.
The founders of AA knew this and it’s reflected in their 12 step program in steps 2 and 3:
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
When I read that I think of God our creator… he wants you to be the person he designed you to be even more than you want to change… you see he wants to see you excel in ALL areas.
He wants to see you on the adventure that he has planned for you.
You can try and change… but ONLY God can give you a LIFE CHANGING turnaround.
It never says it will be easy… in fact it say “there will be trouble” – however I would much rather be in God order “trouble” than be stuck in a life outside of what was planned for me.