Thursday, 25 December 2014


While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2: 6-7

What we give this day will have been wrapped. Hopefully with care, with love, with the desire to give something special.

However, it seems to me it’s Christians living in the tension of places such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, West Africa, etc. who can more easily identify with the reality of Jesus’ birth. Our sophisticated, but also sanitised experience is the exception, rather than the rule.

Our challenge is to see today’s celebrations of Jesus’ birth, in the bigger wrapping of God’s unfolding purposes. But see we can. This astonishing entrance into our world is literally a world-changer. That’s the story of the last two thousand years. What a pity if don’t become part of the on-going story.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Advent - Christmas Eve. Are you full yet?

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. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’) John 1: 14-15.

Jesus was full of it … grace and truth. How can you be full of two things at once?

I remember when Maggie was pregnant the second time. My anxiety was ‘how can I have enough love to go round? Clearly, I had a fair bit to learn about the nature of love and in the eventuality I discovered I could love one wife and three children with all my heart.

Then there’s loving Jesus: which must mean the one full of two things at once.

I can't say I love either grace, or love, it must be both/and. … and loving means I need to love with grace and grace with love, just like he did and is.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

To all who received him …

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1: 12-13

The amazing reality of where it’s all headed.

Once born. Cultivated in the darkness of the womb and emerging into the darkness of the world.

Twice born. Cultivated in the light of God and emerging into the light of his kingdom.

I’ve been to two carol services in different churches over the last week. At one a guy came and asked the Minister to be baptised – late forties I guess. At the other someone shared their story of how they’d returned back to God –another prodigal returning.

The word ‘father’ doesn’t appear in here, but it’s the unwritten word, written large and in bold type I’m seeing. Knowing God as Father is what being born of God is all about.  

Monday, 22 December 2014

busy, busy, busy?

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:6-7

I feel sorry for the inn-keeper. Maybe it’s because I readily identify with him. Gabriel intruded on Mary’s sleep, she couldn't help, but notice him. The shepherds couldn't miss the light show in the sky, coutesy of the heavenly host. The wise men had a star to follow. The inn-keeper? He was busy, busy, busy, he didn't notice what was going on, right under his very nose.

Would he? Would we, if we weren’t so busy? Is it possible to know what we’re looking for, but be so pre-occupied with the everyday, mundane, ordinary, we miss the saviour of the world because he’s disguised … in the everyday, mundane, ordinary?

I know it is Lord, but open my eyes today.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Liverpool 2 v Arsenal 2

You don't need to be as biased as I am to suggest we were the better team today! Not last seasons result, but we're getting there. Happy advent.

Me? You must be joking!

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Matthew 2: 3-4

So, we’ve ‘done’ the carol service. Ticked the box for another year, or maybe we’ll fit in a midnight service on Christmas Eve?

Herod wanted to find Jesus. He wanted to discover if the baby was real. He wanted to eliminate the opposition the person he really wanted on the throne in his life … himself. Of course, Herod’s the bad guy, the latest Bond enemy, the one we love to hate. That is, until we see ourselves in the story.

Surely, not me? I’ve fitted in my religious homage. But who is on the throne in my life?

The answer to that one will be revealed and everyone will see … in attitudes rather than presents.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Disturbed by Jesus?

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Matthew 2:3-4 

It’s easy to label Herod as ‘disturbed’, but what impact does Christmas have on us? Disturbing evidence is all around us, the morning after the ‘bad Friday’ before. Today, High Streets around Britain bear testimony to this years Christmas disturbance.

Being disturbed by Jesus can be hard to admit to: the ‘prince of peace’, ‘holy one of God’, ‘saviour of the world’.

Evenso, I’ve discovered admitting being disturbed by Jesus is never the place he wants me to stay. That’s not his desired destination for my route to Christmas. Sometimes, disturbance causes me to react, to look elsewhere to lay the blame. When I dare look in, however, I’m one step from finding what the bringer of disturbance really has to give.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Looking in the wrong place?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ Matthew 2:1-2

It sounds a bit odd. They’d travelled all that way (at least 30 days at 25km/day), but when they ‘arrived’ they didn't know where to look. However, I wonder how many of us will turn up at a carol service, this weekend, in a similar state of unpreparedness?

I’ve been following Jesus for many years, but I still find myself places and only then asking ‘where is he’? One thing, which I’m sure Jesus would love to see change for us all, is having that awareness of travelling with him, rather than travelling towards him. Being with, as opposed to looking for.

If I commit to being with, next year I may not need to spend so much time looking?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Beyond confrontation

'Do not be afraid Mary you have found favour with God'. I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her. Luke 1: 37-38

Richard Rohr says, in his meditations for advent, ‘the word of God confronts, converts and consoles us – in that order’.

Mary was certainly confronted and I can only just begin to imagine how disturbing this intrusion was. Then Mary was converted … ‘I am the Lord’s servant, may to be to me according to your word’.

Only then did the sense of God’s presence overwhelm her and Mary bursts forth on praise. Still plenty of uncertainty, plenty of reasons to not be at peace, but the reassuring presence of God cast out any fear.

The problem is we want consolation now, but the way to it is through confrontation, which means acknowledging it’s not my way, which is best.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pray for the people of Peshawar

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

Yesterday the news broke about the horrific slaughter of 141 people, mostly children, in Peshawar. In too many places people remain in darkness. The world has not changed much in two thousand years and yet …. for two thousand years the light has been coming on, sometimes one at a time, sometimes a whole burst at once.

Advent is a time I look back over the 38 years since I first came to know Jesus. At times the light has been just enough to see one step in front. At other times it’s as if the floodlights are on.

Maybe today, though, you will pray with me for the people of Pakistan, that light might dawn. Come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Can you see in the dark?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. Isaiah 9: 2-3.

Hindsight is great for seeing in the dark - certainly better than carrots! Me-requisite for looking back is the light is back on. It’s easy, for me, reading these wonderful words at Christmas … Jesus is our ‘light of the world’ and everyone else is ****** 
My pre-requisite for looking back is the light is back on!

However, Lord, right now it’s dark out there and I need to see the light. I’m humbled reading from Iraq “please pray for us, we never fear from such terrorist attacks” Looking outside-in the light is flickering, but not from their perspective. For them the light has come. They have seen a great light: Jesus. Please Lord, me too, right here, right now. May I take the next step according to your word.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Me afraid? You must be …. an angel!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them (the shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2: 9-10

I think people who live expecting the unexpected are those who have trained hard, planned well and are, consequently, well prepared for anything.

Not these guys. Let’s face it, the shepherds just don’t fit anywhere.

That’s actually the good news for many of us, because God has placed this motley group of societal misfits centre stage. In our crib scene we set up every advent we began with the basic essentials – Mary, Joseph, Jesus and this lot! We had to extra for the wise men, so they waited a year, but the shepherds … absolute necessity.

It’s because the angel announced good news for all to the shepherds, we can not just believe, but believe we are in God’s focus.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

OK wise guys ...

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ Matthew 2:1-2.

I love these wise guys. Maybe it’s the mystery. Despite the legends, we hardly know anything, certainly, about these magi.

What I do know is they challenge me every year. They make me sit up and ask how far I’ve journeyed following God this year? They had a rough idea where they were going, but why, where were un-answerables .. until they arrived.

By my standards they didn't even seek God in a way I approve of (all that star stuff), but they pursued the light as best they could.

The thing is with God is, he gives us just enough light for the next step. Maybe advent is a good time to stop before I take another step forward and just check. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Producing fruit for Christmas?

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Matthew 3: 7-8

John the Baptist has always been a disturbing character. Advent is about preparing our hearts for the coming (and coming again) of Jesus, rather than preparing for Christmas. But I don’t want to wake up, first thing in the morning, to this - being accused of being among a brood of vipers. A bad day just got worse!

Oh dear, is that the point Lord?

May I need disturbing (again!). There is little point knowing the carols off by heart if I do nothing about their truth.

Maybe that's where we all need to start producing repentance fruit? Maybe this Advent we stop thinking about God in a manger, but start acting as if he's already come?

Friday, 12 December 2014

The truth, the whole truth, or nothing of the truth?

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 
Luke 2: 4-5

Mary was pregnant; Joseph knew it. No one would believe the truth; he didn’t himself. Did he start to do the right thing, before God, before he accepted the truth, or not?

Peter Morgan, scriptwriter for The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, says his motivation was born out of the horror of his own, initial, interpretation of the news: “I had him locked up for good in my own head from the minute I saw him.”

I remember watching the news myself. It was local, everyone wanted resolution … probably more than the truth?

Look again this advent. Have you missed the truth because of the way you’ve been told the story? Dare to ask: where am I in it.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Blessed? Who says? God says!

My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed ...
Luke 1: 47-48

Blessed? Who says? God says! However, the still staggering thing reading Mary’s response, at this stage of the greatest story ever told, is she said. Mary translated God’s words into her life; to the point she knew she was truly blessed by him.

I regularly preach about the blessing of God as being freely available and accessible for people. I know, however, a lesser percentage translate God’s blessing to the point they know.

My understanding of the Hebrew mind-set tells me knowing was less about concepts, understanding, or theories. They only knew when they’d embodied what they’d been taught.

Mary knew the blessing of God pre-evidence, pre-confirmation, pre-support. When you really know nothing else matters.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

No thing impossible?

Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.

Luke 1: 36-37

‘No word from God will ever fail’. Sometimes my problem is knowing it’s God … but then knowing …. it often feels like a bigger problem! The word I use publicly is ‘challenge’ and whilst my ‘challenges’ are not unique, they can feel like it.

Being told she wasn’t the only woman, under the spotlight of God’s miraculous intervention, may not have been much comfort for Mary.

After Gabriel had left, she was still left with …. ‘my problem’.

Except Mary didn’t use that word. Mary dived right into the flow of God’s word. ‘I am the Lord’s servant’ – wherever, whatever that word brought Mary would stay with it.

No thing is impossible for God, but no response from me?

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

He had it in mind

Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1: 18, 24.

Looking back, I notice the discrepancies between what I thought I’d do and what I’ve actually done. I can beat myself up over good intentions not translated into action, but … just occasionally, I get it right.

Here, Joseph got it right. ‘He had it in mind’, but he didn’t do it. There are times when it’s good I’m not a man of my word, because ‘my word’ is not always the best word!

Joseph lived, like us, in the tension between doing what we know is right and doing what we think is our right.

Joseph acted his way into a new way of thinking.

Where would I be if God simply left me to my own devices?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Who am I listening to?

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1: 18-19.

I remember last year Malcolm asking me: ‘why didn't God tell Joseph sooner it would have saved a lot of aggro’?
Maybe God did, but he chose not to hear. We must take care we don’t misread the Bible because God speaks, even here, frequently through people, rather than in extra-ordinary ways.
Maybe God did tell Joseph, but he chose not to hear – precisely because God spoke to him through Mary?
It was said of the USA, in the run up to 9/11 they ‘were unable to hear anything, which didn't agree with what they thought they already knew’.
What is it I think I know? What is it I need to hear? What is it I’m not listening to?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Advent day 7. Not everybody can wait.

‘ … no word from God will ever fail.’

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her. Luke 1: 37-38

“More than one window was open when I got home’ – mum’s verdict on Isabella’s first encounter with an advent calendar - dad was on duty!

Not everybody can wait. I’m tempted to say ‘nobody’ - if we’re looking for a 100% success rate. What we choose to wait for is often selective. With God’s words, however, the choice is whether we wait in faith, or frustration, as we can't pester him into an early submission.

I’m still astonished by Mary’s response. Absolute trust in the seed of God’s word. It would be months before anyone could see any evidence and even then she knew hardly anyone would believe her side of the story. 

Some story! Who’s writing yours?

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Advent day 6. May it be to me?

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Luke 1: 26-27

It's all so matter of fact. However, imagine what Mary saw, on the horizon of her future day one, pledged to be married to Joseph. It certainly wasn’t this guy Gabriel rocking up and the news he brings was well off her radar. Let’s face it, although we read ‘Mary was greatly troubled at his words’, Gabriel’s greeting was the least of her worries!

Despite all this, before the end of this conversation, which couldn't have lasted very long, Mary is saying: ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word’.

That’s what I call obedience. Mary’s done nothing. She’s 100% in God’s hands. She’s secure in that place.

‘Lord may it be to me’.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Advent day 5. Let your light shine – you can't be serious!

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Luke 1: 6-7

It’s all we know about Elizabeth. It was probably all other people thought they needed to know. Oh Elizabeth … ‘righteous’, ‘observing’, ‘blamelessly’, ‘but’. I guess the full-stop after ‘childless’ and ‘well advanced in years’ acted like an eclipse over all her great qualities.

I wonder what’s in danger of eclipsing yours?

It’s interventions like this, the one true living God in the lives of ordinary people like us, which need a bigger profile in the ‘Christmas story’. “The light shines in the darkness’ is not an announcement of some divine light bulb switching on, to shine searchlight like from a distance, but light with us, in us.

Let your light shine on me – will you pray that today?

Don't live with a full-stop.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Let the new Anfield commence

Work starts on Monday to raise the capacity of Anfield to 59,000. I realise you could find that out anywhere, but this is what it looked like when I was first adopted into the Kopite family. It's all a bit emotional!

Advent 4. A time for re-shaping?

The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.’ Luke 1: 19-20.

All I said was ‘How can this be?’ The problem is, it isn’t always as simple as what I say, or don't say. Gabriel read Zechariah’s heart and God reads mine (and yours). I can sometimes get away with saying the right thing (seldom with Maggie, never with God).
Lord maybe you’re inviting me … into silence? Maybe advent is about opportunity ….  to change in my heart what would be better re-shaped before I next open my mouth?
Clearly, the Zechariah who emerged out of silence was a different Zechariah than the one who entered it. Lord, dare I believe it’s in the silent place you find the room to really enable me to appreciate your re-creative power?