Tag Archives: Christmas

What do you want me to do for you?

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 The good fairy waves her magic wand and gives you three wishes.

“I’d like a strawberry ice-cream please.” 

“I wish my nose was smaller.”

good-fairy Only one wish left and the world is still spinning on its tear-stained axis.

“Oh, let everyone in the world have strawberry ice-cream and small noses!”

 Well, with a bit more wit our hero could have asked for another million wishes… Or he could have turned to prayer and looked at the infinite power of promise associated with it in the Word of God.

But what on earth do you ask for? God’s promises far outweigh a fairy’s wand, but how do I handle the power, choice and responsibility that the promise of prayer gives me? Can I still have lots of strawberry ice cream or do I now pray for peace in the world at Christmas?

Let’s take a look at four people in the Bible to attempt to get an answer.

The blind beggar Bartimaeus, the devoted disciples James and John, and the glorious King Solomon. All of them had to handle a similar prayer promise.

 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,”Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”    Mark 10:46-52

Batimaeus had no destination. He had no vision and simply begged an existence from what other people gave him. He eked out a passive life ofbartimeus crying to Jesus survival from yesterday’s stale crumbs. His asking – or rather begging, was all about getting through to another need filled day. He needed a new beginning, a fresh call from Jesus. He had the courage to cry out and repent. If you’re in your own stale, visionless rut ask Christ to have mercy on you, and get ready to jump up. “Ok, what do you want?” said Jesus. “Ain’t it obvious! I’m blind!” It was indeed obvious, but Jesus wanted him to take personal responsibility for his lack of vision and speak out his need in faith. Do you really want to see? Or are you secretly secure in visionless mediocrity? Bartimaeus found his sight and got back on the road. He discovered a desire to obey and found fresh momentum in following Jesus.

Going back a few verses we find James and John.

“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45

jamesjohn1Here we have folks in the ministry praying for position and power. A lot of prayer energy goes into building the status of a church or mission rather than saving the lost! “You do not know what you are asking” may be the sure reply to many of our competition motivated prayers. A heady presumption stimulated by unhealthy ambition blinds us to the suffering and service which our prayers must inevitably own. This is the world’s way of praying and its fruits bring jealousy and division within the body of believers. Jesus immediately brings the remedy. Humble, sacrificial servant hood. Will we end up professional career missionaries staking our claim in the “Jesus market” or will we again surrender our rights in order to follow our servant King?

From a servant king to a reigning king. Let’s look at Solomon.

That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  2 Chronicles 1:7

Solomon gets a great promise. Most knee jerk reaction responses to such a revelation would probably be found on any Christian television channel – and in most prayer meetings. Well, what would you ask for? Money…healing…victory…ice-cream?

“Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place.  Now, LORD God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth.  Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 2 Chronicles 1:9-10

 This is such an important request. Seek wisdom. The fear of the Lord, a quiet abiding in his Holy Presence, is such a beginning to the incarnation of wisdom in our lives. Jesus may well have been thinking about this event when he spoke to his disciples about prayer and provision in Matthew 6:29. We are blessed by the exhortation to seek first his kingdom. This kingdom rule has much to do with wisdom. Seek wisdom “and all these things will be given to you as well.”

 Solomon’s heart’s desire was for divine wisdom. More than just intellectual facts but a daily cleaving to incarnated wisdom that cries out in the wisesolomonstreets and fashions the earth. He desired the giver more than the gifts. This disciplined heart desire for wisdom released God’s pleasure and generosity over his life.

 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” 2 Chronicles 1:11-12

So here we have it. How do I handle the powerful “yes” of prayer?

  1. Channel it through eyes wide open to vision and purpose, sustained in living word and dynamic obedience – “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
  2. Root it in the reality of a heart committed to follow Jesus in humble sacrificial servanthood – “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  3. Live it in a love relation with wisdom which listens and longs for divine revelation. Seeking first such wisdom will open the heart of heaven – “Since this is your heart’s desire…”

So, what do you want for Christmas?

Renewing innocence…

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“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd  as snakes and as innocent as doves.”   Matthew 10:17

doveAs the Christmas season comes brazenly upon us, it may be of value to consider the immense battle that was raging over that simple abode in Bethlehem which cradled the innocent, vulnerable body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 2 v.14-15, makes an overwhelming statement in linking this simple incarnation to the total overthrow of the evil one:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

The “power of death” is, unfortunately, only too present each festive season. Devastating typhoons in the Philippines, war in Syria and fractious gatherings in Egypt, remind us all of the tremendous challenges this short life on earth presents us with.

“Why do the innocents always suffer God?”

God’s answer to this doesn’t always come echoing into the cloistered chambers of intellect, but, like the “Wisdom” of old, it cries out in the dusty streets and tracks that lead to suffering humanity. God’s confession of faith moves beyond a doctrine into a crucified groan.

I’ll attempt to put a few words to the groan.

The problem begins with the event of sin and a total war with evil. We are born into battle whether we like it or not. Here endeth the first lesson! Cold comfort for some. However, God commits himself to a remedy, including my own personal healing. Receive the balm of two words.

“Innocence” and “Perspective.”

After fifty-four years on this earth I have no problem in being “as shrewd as a snake” – it is second nature to me. This “shrewdness” no doubt forms the foundation of most of our “normal life” which follows the principles of good sense and self-preservation. God calls us to a higher nature. He sends us afresh to be “as innocent as doves”. Can you hear the call to innocence this Christmas?

The wolves tempt us to shrewdness but God calls us to innocence.lamb

Innocence is bloody and painful in its purity. Innocence is vulnerable. Innocence is abused and battered. Innocence pays the price for sin and overcomes evil.

Let me introduce you to the “Trickle down factor”. Imagine innocence being at the lowest point beneath a gigantic septic waterfall of sin. All the grime and evil trickles down to land at the lowest most vulnerable point. Christ took this place on the cross. It was not so much his physical suffering – (the overkill of Mel Gibson’s film), but the horrific, scandalous reality of his ultimate innocence becoming the ultimate victim. God totally committed himself to the innocent victims of the world, drawing the whole pain and sorrow of history into himself and redeeming it. The punishment which brought us peace fell on him.

This “trickle down factor” is a general rule throughout the cosmos. The innocents continue to pay – and yet God works a glorious transformation of such suffering into glory, as His innocent heart beats in harmony to broken innocence the world over. This lamb like heart is revealed in Revelation 5: 5-6.

John, the faithful old apostle is wounded on Patmos. He sees the scroll of human history opened before him, the pain, the judgment, the sorrow, the superficial lukewarm churches and his own weakness and inability. He is driven to tears.

 “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

 Do not weep, a lion has won! This reminds us of Jesus’ words to Mary in the garden of resurrection. “No woman, no cry.” (Bob Marley translation!)

John’s teary eyes look hopefully to heaven, expecting to see a powerful lion over its prey…instead he sees crucified innocence.

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song:

 “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

 Wounded innocence is enthroned in the very heart of God. It is His total identification and compassionate commitment to a world of “trickle down” suffering. Broken innocence overcomes, is transfigured in glory, and initiates a celebration of the nations.united-nations

The Lamb’s wounds do not seep with the poison of bitterness and despair but are transfigured to become triumphant emblems of the ultimate missionary triumph.

We need to allow our own hardened, “shrewd” hearts to soften and embrace the mysterious glorifying power of Christ’s love.

Bridges and Thring in the wonderful hymn “Crown Him with many Crowns” capture the mysterious beauty of such sacrifice.

           “Crown Him the Lord of love :

            Behold His hands and side.

            Those wounds yet visible above

            In beauty glorified :

            No angel in the sky

            Can fully bear that sight

            But downward bends his burning eye

            At mysteries so bright.”

The-Crucified-God-Moltmann-Jurgen-9780800628222Unable to explain everything, and attempting to steer clear of heresy, and the idea of “salvation through suffering”, I would tentatively venture the thought that, despite the evil consequences of war against innocence, there is a measure of victory and glory in the pain as Christ, in becoming flesh, sucks all of suffering humanity and history into his death and takes it to be transfigured into the very heart of God.

Jurgen Moltmann also shares some deep insight into this question from his book the crucified God:

“How is faith in God, how is being human, possible after Auschwitz?” I don’t know. But it helps me to remember the story that Elie Wiesel reports in his book on Auschwitz called “Night.” Two Jewish men and a child were hanged. The prisoners were forced to watch. The men died quickly. The boy lived on in torture for a long while. Then someone behind me said: “Where is God?” and I was silent. After half an hour he cried out again: “Where is God? Where is he?” And a voice in me answered: “Where is God?. . . he hangs there from the gallows…”

A theology after Auschwitz would be impossible, were not the “sch’ma Israel” and the Lord’s prayer prayed in Auschwitz itself, were not God himself in Auschwitz, suffering with the martyred and the murdered. Every other answer would be blasphemy. An absolute God would make us indifferent. The God of action and success would let us forget the dead, which we still cannot forget. God as Nothingness would make the entire world into a concentration camp. Let me break off here, and now try, step by step, to penetrate into the mystery of God’s suffering, attempting to show how the horizon of humanity exists in the situation of the crucified God.”

You’ll have to wait for the next article for the balm of “perspective”. Here’s a bit of Baudelaire to get you thinking.

“Le mal se fait sans effort, naturellement, par fatalité; le bien est toujours le produit d’un art.” Candle-flame-and-reflection

In the meantime, ask the Lord to give you the grace to abandon yourself afresh to innocence, to risk the suffering, the intercession, and to glow with the genuine Christmas light, sharing in the bright mystery of glorified woundedness.