Dec 312013

Tonight is the last day of 2013, I set up this blog almost a year ago now, and this is my 50th post. Any of those three statements would be enough to justify a post looking back over the last year’s posts, so why not, eh?


This blog has become more and more important to me over the last 12 months, and here are five(ish) of the posts that have meant the most to me along the way, in the order I wrote them. You may have seen them before – if so, my apologies. But here now: my top five (again, -ish) posts!

1. LimpingWrestling

The post that started it all off. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I blog at all, read here. It was my pastor, Malcolm, who I first heard using this image to describe the walk of a Christian, and I found it so very powerful.

2. Weeping the Truth in LoveWeeping

This is one of three posts I have written with tears in my eyes (the others are at number 4 on this list). My reflections on my first proper pastoral visit, and the call to all Christians (including pastors and leaders) to weep with those who weep.

3. The Jesus who struggledStruggles

This is the post that has generated most interest most quickly in the whole time I’ve been blogging. It got shared a lot by many people, which I’m guessing means it struck a chord somewhere. It certainly helped me to remember some of the very real ways in which Jesus identified with our situations.


4. What I’m feeling & What Ralph taught me

OK, so this is two posts. My blog, my rules. November was a very difficult month. It wasn’t without its highs (this blog won an award, for one!), but the sudden death of our wonderful dog Ralph was truly awful. As is probably very normal, I reacted with my heart first, and then my head. These two posts capture both.

In other news, we’re getting a new dog this weekend. She won’t replace Ralph, but she’ll be wonderful in her own beautiful way.

Bride of Christ

5. “Don’t slag off my bride!” says Jesus

One of the reasons I blog is that I have lots of opinions about things, and it’s a way to share them in a way that tries to be constructive. Often these are about the church. This is an example of a message I think we all – myself included – could do with hearing. It also has some lovely pictures of my beautiful wife on our wedding day. Something for everyone.

That was 2013, the year I developed a limp. Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing and joining me for the ride. I have some plans for this blog for 2014 which I’m really looking forward to, so stay tuned (or, more specifically, subscribe below).

I also want to point you to Mel’s reflections on 2013. Mel is my wife, I love her, and I wish I could write even half as well as her. These reflections are honest, and in their honesty beautiful.

One more thing: I read a lot of blogs, but I might not have come across yours. If you blog, put the URL of your site in the comments below, and I’ll add you to my reader. Look forward to reading your stuff.

Happy New Year!

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Dec 222013

This is the final part of my ‘Advent Series’ looking at the openings of the four Gospels. Matthew had a Christmas list, Mark forgot about Christmas and Luke reminded us we have to say yes to Christmas.

Now, what about John? John is very different indeed, and gets to the real meaning of Christmas.

Real meaning of Christmas – reason season

Behind the Tinsel

First, it’s fair to say that we Christians can sometimes sound like a broken record at Christmas time. We are forever telling ourselves and others not to get so ‘caught up’ in all the festivities of the season that we forget the real meaning of Christmas.

We can sometimes sound a little ‘Bah, humbug’ about the whole thing, as if having fun should be discouraged. And at times the sentiment seems to be that non-Christians have no reason to enjoy Christmas because if you take Jesus out of it then what’s left? In truth, if you take Jesus out of it you’re left with great food, presents, parties, family festivities and lots of fun. What’s not to enjoy?!

But, all that said, there is more. We shouldn’t avoid the fun. We should let all the celebrations point us to the simple truth that there is something worth celebrating, moving past the tinsel. But moving on to what?

Behind the Nativity

It could be tempting to say it’s the nativity story we need to remember. Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wise men, etc. All very important stuff. But I don’t think that’s what we should focus on at all.

This may sound controversial, but hear me out. In the same way people can put all the trappings of the season ahead of the Christmas story, we Christians sometimes put the pretty Nativity story ahead of the real meaning of Christmas.

As we’ve seen in Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is more to the Christmas story than the events themselves and the characters involved. John only goes to make that more abundantly clear, in his first 14 verses. He doesn’t mention Mary or Joseph, shepherds or wise men, angels, inns, or any of it! But does he tell the Christmas story? Oh yes!

John gets to the story behind the story. The events of Jesus physical birth are of course important, but there’s something even more important: God became a human.

John takes us right back to the before the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is speaking of the essence of the Godhead, the second person of the Trinity. John describes Him as the creator of the whole world, a light shining in darkness that cannot be overcome, full of grace and truth. This is big stuff, and there isn’t a donkey in sight.

The REAL meaning of Christmas

So when you get behind the tinsel to see the Nativity story, and then behind the Nativity, where do you get? Perhaps the real meaning of Christmas is summed up here in John 1:14,

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Into a world gone wrong, in rebellion against its Maker and spiralling out of control, the Maker steps in. Not to destroy and punish us, adding to our darkness. He comes as one of us, shining light into the darkness. He comes to reveal God to us, to show us all we have wrong. He comes to reveal who we are to us, and what a life lived well means. He comes to restore and redeem, but He does it all by walking our road, knowing our joys and pains firsthand. He identifies with us.

Real meaning of Christmas – word fleshGod didn’t stay away. God entered in.

God didn’t expect us to ascend to Him. He descended to us.

God didn’t leave us in our lies. He revealed His truth.

God didn’t abandon us to judgment. He extended His grace.

This is the real meaning of Christmas: the incarnation, God became flesh. He left His throne and became unimaginably small.

Of course when we get to that heart, the events surrounding His birth take on far deeper significance. When it’s not just a pretty story, but a description of how God chose to orchestrate His coming into our world – wow!

Merry Christmas!


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Dec 152013

This is the third part of my Advent Reflections, looking at the four Gospel openings. First was Matthew who bravely opened with a long list of names (find out why it’s actually fascinating here), and then Mark who ignored the Nativity entirely. Third up: Luke, and it’s about not one mother, but two.

Mary & Elizabeth first Christmas

The wrong baby!

Luke begins with a direct address to his reader, Theophilus. This is a more like a foreword, not the proper start of the Gospel, so I’m not focusing on it here.

But then the action starts. We hear the divine announcement of a little boy, that his mother will inexplicably give birth to a son, and that he must be named … John.

What?! John? Isn’t this about Jesus?

Don’t worry though. Jesus’ birth is announced too, just a little later in chapter 1. But, like Matthew, Luke’s Nativity account begins with parts of the story  we normally quietly ignore in our Nativity plays and Christmas cards. The actual birth of Jesus doesn’t happen until a bit into chapter 2 of Luke.

So what’s it all about? Why put off the important thing? Well, there’s another important thing!

Christmas is God’s plan

One thing this chapter couldn’t make more clear is that Christmas is God’s plan. It was always his plan for these two boys to be born, one the messiah and the other to point people to the messiah. As you read the story, there are over 40 references and allusions to Old Testament ideas and stories. This is the culmination and climax to everything they were waiting for. Luke 1:37 sees Gabriel say this:

“For no word from God will ever fail.”

If God has decided something will happen, said something will happen, it will happen. There were so many promises of Scripture that seemed a million miles away from happening. But they weren’t. God had them in hand, and He was always going to bring them to completion. They just didn’t know how.

They didn’t catch on straight away, but when they saw what God was doing, they couldn’t control their joy. First Mary (1:46-55), and then Zechariah (1:68-79) break forth in verse, declaring God’s faithfulness to His people and His promises.

It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but Christmas is central to God’s plan for the world.

Saying ‘yes’ to Christmas

But God’s plan being fulfilled isn’t the only thing going on here. We also see people reacting to it. We see Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and in a strange way even John himself (before even being born!) respond to God’s plan in different ways.

Because God chooses to involve people in His plans. He uses a priest, his wife and a young virgin girl to bring about the plans and purposes He always had. The plan isn’t about them, but they are central to it.

They react in a variety of ways. Disbelief. Fear. Confusion. Faith. Obedience.

Mary comes out of the first Christmas looking a lot better than Zechariah. Mary – who is given the scariest message – is confused for sure but reacts almost straight away with faith and acceptance of God’s plan. Zechariah, though, doesn’t believe it can be true and is made mute for a few months till John’s birth. Mary said ‘yes’. Zechariah said ‘no’.

Yes at ChristmasI believe Luke holds off from the main event of Christmas – Jesus’ birth – to give his readers time to realise a response is required by those who want to be part of God’s plans.

God’s plans are bigger than you and me – we’re part of them but they’re about the whole created order being restored and brought back to God. But God does want to use you and me in that. He has a mission, and He invites us to join with Him in it.

So before we hit the events of Christmas, there’s a decision to make. Even though we don’t know what the plans always are, even though they might be scary or difficult, will we say ‘yes’, or will we waver and say ‘no’?

This Christmas, I’m deciding to try to say ‘yes’.

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Dec 112013

On Sunday night, I introduced a room full of people to the imaginary world of Lie Land. Lie Land is full of liars. Everything is built on lies. It is impossible to tell the truth in Lie Land. The residents are unable to be or think or say truth.

I then asked them to imagine what it would be like to live in Lie Land.

Lies & Truth

(It’s funny I choose today to write about truth. Mel, my wife, has today blogged on something similar: honesty. Check it out!)

The absence of truth

Lie Land was part of a sermon on Jesus being ‘Truth’ (focussing on the middle part of “I am the way, the truth and the life”). I wanted people to explore what ‘truth’ is, but that’s a pretty daunting question. So a wonderful colleague of mine suggested Lie Land.

It worked brilliantly! People enjoyed a fun but though-provoking conversation, and the general consensus is that it would be a mess living in Lie Land. It would be a nightmare – constant confusion, no trust, nothing to hold onto. But the answer which made me think the most was this: the people of Lie Land would no nothing else, so wouldn’t know they were trapped in lies.

We don’t find joy joyful unless we know sorrow is an option. Light doesn’t make sense unless there’s darkness to compare it with. In the same way, lies can only be seen for what they are when exposed by truth.

Deceit, falsehood and lies are, at their core, the absence of truth. Or, I would say, the absence of The Truth.

Captive to lies

Jesus said to His disciples, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Truth is liberating, and it is liberating because we are held captive by something else: falsehood. If we weren’t, Jesus wouldn’t need to set us free.

In the story of the fall of humanity, we see that the root cause was twisted truth, half truth and outright lying (Genesis 3:1-5). I don’t think the situation has really changed. At the heart of our fallen lives is a fallen and broken understanding of what is true, what is right, what is good.

What we believe and think works itself out in practice, so being fooled into believing lies is a dangerous place to be.

Broken Lies

The good news is this, though: salvation isn’t just about ‘getting saved’ and then waiting around for ‘heaven’. Salvation works itself out, and it leads to restoration and freedom. We may start our journey captive to falsehood, but Jesus tells us we don’t have to stay that way – “the truth will set you free”. He can break the lies.

What lies do you believe?

It might well be there are things you are utterly convinced of that are distorting your life that just are not true. In our own ways, we’re all living in Lie Land.

Paul encourages his readers in Romans 12:2 to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. I think he’s talking about something similar there. Our minds hold us back. What we believe ends up defining us, and many of us believe lies.

It might be lies about God. He can’t be trusted. He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t understand because He’s never walked my path. He can’t be good. He’s got other things to worry about.

It might be lies about ourselves. We’re not worth anything. We know what’s best for ourselves. We are doing fine by ourselves. We’re determined by our past and the future can’t be different.

It might be lies broader than that. Hope is pointless. Nothing can change. Life has no meaning.

This may sound pretty serious. That’s because I think it is. Wrong thinking can destroy a person. We need to be vigilantly looking for the lies that could do that, and letting them have no place in our thinking or being.

The only antidote I offer is this: focus only on Jesus and make Him the yardstick against which all else is measured. If our eyes are on Him, saturated with Him and what He shows us is true, they will be better trained to spot things that are not like Him.

Lets His truth expose the lies.

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Dec 082013

This is the second part of my Advent series. I’m looking at the opening of each Gospel and how they each handle the arrival of Jesus in a different way. Last week was Matthew, who starts with a long list of names.

Today, we are doing the next Gospel, Mark.


It’s like it never happened

This is a little awkward. Mark doesn’t have a nativity story. He starts with these words:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

But then he jumps into John the Baptist, as a grown up pointing people to Jesus. Then he’s into Jesus getting baptised, calling disciples, and – WAIT ONE MINUTE!! What about Mary? And Joseph? And shepherds? This is most irregular.

Mark doesn’t seem that interested in the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. He gets straight into the action of Jesus as an adult beginning his public ministry.

Consequently, this blog post is going to be quite short, because I’m not going to spin a great deal of significance from this omission where I don’t think there is much. But there is one thing I want to try to remember from Mark.

One thing to remember

Some suggest that because Mark doesn’t talk about Jesus’ birth, it can’t be that important. All the Gospels have the crucifixion and resurrection, but only three have something to do with the incarnation. Thus we can deduce – they say – that the incarnation is of less significance. The only reason Jesus entered the world is because he had to in order to then die and rise again in it.

I don’t believe that is true. The incarnation – the coming of Jesus into the world – is of deep significance in its own right. It speaks volumes of God’s character and nature.

But, it isn’t all there is. What I choose to remember from Mark is this: in the midst of festivities celebrating Jesus’ birth, I will also look ahead to remember the life that followed, the death that followed that, and the life that followed that.

Christmas isn’t just the beginning, but it is the beginning of a bigger story.

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Dec 032013

Last night, Mel and I caught up on ‘The Bible’ TV series which started on Saturday night. In a few weeks this link won’t work, but for now it can be found here. We didn’t really know what to expect, but here are some of my reflections…

The Bible

What a great show!

I think it’s fantastic that this show has been made, and that it has received the huge audience it has. Getting the biblical stories – and more importantly, the whole sweep of the Bible’s full story – out in a way that people can engage with is such a great thing to do.

It’s got people talking, it’s raised biblical knowledge, and it’s peaked curiosity.

One of the best aspects is that God was present!! A lot of  film and TV versions of Bible stories seem to remove God, and just look at these as human stories. God is not part of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat at all. But the stories of the Bible cannot and do not make sense without God as the central character. The show doesn’t apologise for that.

Also, seeing the stories brought to life reminds us these are real stories about real people and the events would have affected them deeply. These are not just fairy stories about people who live in a fantasy world. Seeing  joy and pain on the faces of the characters reminds us of the real humanity of characters like Abraham and Sarah.

Kung Fu Angel]

Kung Fu Angel

Sure, there were some parts that were less good. We were confused by the introduction of kung fu angels in Sodom. There were some cheesy moments, and I felt some artistic decisions were based more on making ‘good telly’ than what best demonstrates the flow of the biblical narrative.

But you know what? They were making a TV show, so a lot of that is inevitable and I don’t blame them at all!

Trusting God: the wrong emphasis

It wasn’t long before Mel turned to me and said, “I’m detecting a theme here – you have to trust God.” And she’s right. At pretty much every key moment in the episode, the central character (either Abraham or Moses, this time) says or shouts ‘TRUST GOD!’ The take-home message of the evening was that if we trust God, He’ll come through.

I felt as though this emphasis skewed a major and important theme of the whole Bible, and especially the Old Testament. Why, Dave?! Surely trusting in God is important! Surely one of the great aspects of Abraham and Moses is that they DID trust God! Yes, of course. I’m not denying that for a second.

But this constant refrain – ‘Trust God’ – becomes a very human-centric theme. It is all about the characters and whether they trust God. In the biblical accounts of these stories, the focus is not on the trust of people, but the trustworthiness of God.

This contrast came into sharpest focus for me right at the end of the episode, when Moses comes down from Sinai with the 10 commandments and says this to Joshua:

“If we trust God, He will be true to His promises.”

That’s not quite right. That starts with us and makes God’s faithfulness dependent on ours. Time and again, the Bible says the opposite. It starts with God – he IS faithful whether or not we are. He isn’t true to us because we are true to Him. Rather, because He is true to us, we need never fear being true to Him.

It may sound like semantics, but I don’t think it is. Theology and the Bible start with God, not us. We are faithful because He is faithful.

Will I watch next week?

OF COURSE I WILL!! Like I said, I thought it was a fantastic show which can only do good in terms of raising the profile of the Bible. It opened up new and fresh conversations in my marriage about the Bible. It will do so in families, groups of friends, and churches up and down the country.

It can also point people to the truth at the centre of our faith, rather than what is normally in the public eye – the political machinations of the church in our country, and our failures.

And also, it’s a great show! I think there is a flaw in the ‘theology’ of the programme, but it is still a great show. It’s an interpretation, and no interpretations – books, TV shows, sermons – get it totally right. We must be like the Bereans of Acts 17 – eager to learn and grow, but careful to check it out against the original to see if what’s presented is right.

If you didn’t watch the show, do! Catch up, and then watch this week’s instalment. And then talk about it with someone!

What did you think of the first episode? Leave a comment below.

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Dec 012013

Advent 1It’s Advent, and I have a plan. Each Sunday in Advent, I’ll post some thoughts on the beginnings of the four Gospels. Each Gospel introduces the arrival of Jesus in strikingly different ways, and it’s worth a look! Today, Matthew!

What a way to start a book…

Have a look at the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel. Go on, take a look. It starts with this:

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”

A genealogy? Really?! But he’s not kidding – he goes on to list 38 names in the family line of Jesus. It wouldn’t get published today – it’s not a way to grip your readers (unless you’re Tolkien). This is the least exciting Christmas list in the world…

But in Jewish thought and culture, seeing someone’s family line was like seeing their CV. It told you what stuff they were made of. So, what are the credentials of Jesus? How good is his CV?

Who do you think you are

The magnitude of Jesus

On one level, this is a pretty good genealogy. Matthew starts with a BIG claim – “the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham”. Three big claims! But then he uses the genealogy to prove it.

He’s the Son of Abraham. Back in Genesis 12, Abraham was called by God, told he’d have a son, and that through his son the whole world would be blessed. On one level that son was Isaac, through whom the nation came. But the world was yet to be truly blessed by a son of Abraham. Matthew is saying, ‘Here he is! Look at first 14 generations of my genealogy – his roots go all the way back to Abraham’

He’s the Son of David. David was the king extraordinaire of Israel – the mighty leader who defeated Israel’s enemies and ushered in  peace and prosperity for the people. David was good, but a better king was coming – they knew that. Someone from David’s line would once again rule. Matthew’s comment: that’s Jesus too!

Finally, Jesus is the Messiah, the promised one. Way back in Genesis 3 this person is promised, but  hope rose highest when Israel were most in need, during their exile in Babylon. It was in their exiled years that the great hope for a messiah was stirred and great passages looking forward were written. Matthew can trace His roots from the exile too – he is rooted in that part of history too.

So he can finish with a summary, in v17:

“Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.”

In other words: ‘This guy’s the real deal. He has roots in all of it, and He’s the answer to all of it!’ It’s an impressive genealogy, for sure.

The messiness of Jesus

But this genealogy is odd, even weak, in one particular way. It includes women – this was just not done, except very rarely when a very impressive woman was part of the line. Not so here – the women here are anything but impressive.

In v4, we read of Perez, ‘whose mother was Tamar’. Judah’s first son was married to Tamar, but he died before giving her a child. As was custom, she waited for and married his next, but he also died. Instead of waiting again, she disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced Judah, her father-in-law, and produced Perez. Pain, heartache, prostitution and shame. Jesus stepped into that line.

In v5, we see Rahab’s name. Rahab was a prostitute, too. What little girl grows up hoping to spend her life selling her body to men who will use and abuse her for sex? This is a picture of broken dreams, hurt and deep sorrow. But Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus – he came from and for people exactly like her!

Also in v5, we get Ruth. Ruth is a lovely story, but that doesn’t hide the fact Ruth (like Rahab, actually) wasn’t Jewish. She was Moabite. Is it possible that Matthew includes her to make the outrageous claim that Jesus came not just for Jewish people but for everyone? Yes!

Finally, we read in v6 that ‘David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife’. That sentence could carry on with ‘… until David was overcome by lust, forced an affair with her and had her husband killed.’ This is a story of lust, adultery and murder, a picture of much that is wrong with the world, of sin. Jesus didn’t bypass that when He came to earth – He stepped right into it.

The Jesus Matthew portrays is very messy – in touch with everything bad. He really did know our struggles.

Holding onto both

Two crownsThere can be a tendency for us to focus too heavily on one part of this or the other. We celebrate the splendour of Jesus, the fulfilment of everything God had promised, the revelation of God’s complete purposes. Or we are thankful that God in Jesus identifies and came near little old me.

Neither of these things is wrong, but what Matthew’s opener challenges me to do is hold onto both. I naturally swing to one part of that – you probably do too.

This Christmas, I am going to make an active effort to remember the majesty of Jesus and the messiness of Jesus. To remember the baby in the manger is the king of the world. To remember the king of the world stepped into the harsh realities of life.

Merry Christmas!

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